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Writer Wednesday–Murder on Rosemary Street: The Custer’s Mill Mystery Series

January 13, 2016

I have a confession. I dislike scary movies and books; therefore I shy away from traditional murder mysteries. I read primarily to calm down into a restful state and fall asleep. That’s not to say I enjoy reading books that put me to sleep! But I don’t want a book to keep me on the edge of my mattress turning pages either.

So when a colleague and two of her friends—excellent writers all and educated with degrees in education, literature, and business—launched the Custer’s Mill Mystery Series loosely based on small town life in Broadway, Va. (where my daughters all went to high school), I thought, well that’s cool! It’s the kind of place where you find intriguing characters all over the place that MAKE you want to write a book.

As a senior in college, on Saturdays I tended a knitting store on Main Street in Broadway, so the owner could have off each Saturday. One gossipy townie in particular dropped by almost every Saturday just to have someone to talk to. She seemed like a character straight out of Gopher Prairie in Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. My writer daughter is working on a novel (still seeking a publisher) based on high school drama in that small town.

DoreenInParade

Daughter Doreen marching in a parade on Main Street, Broadway, Va., in front of the building I worked in at one time.

So I wasn’t sure how I’d like my colleague’s mystery. Still, she and one of her writing partners are mothers of friends of two of my daughters. And as a fellow author, I had to buy the book, to support the author community, right? My husband is also distantly related to one of the authors through her husband’s Culler family. Of course. It happens in a small community.

MurderOnRosemaryStreetBook

I was not disappointed. I bought a copy of Murder on Rosemary Street and had the three authors sign it: Mary M. Smith, Tammy Fulk Cullers, and Barbara Larson Finnegan. Their creative pen name is Mary Fulk Larson created out of one part of each of their names. Tammy added to her signature, “I hope you like the story.” I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s a story line beyond the murder.”

And there is. Oh there’s the who dun it, of course, and a few lines and maybe slightly implausible plot turns that felt a little cliché, but by the end I cared enough about the characters to actually tear up in a scene for which I will not reveal a spoiler: two key guys find a harmony of sorts. (Fitting fodder for my “finding harmony” blog, eh?)

The story line in this book is a librarian (two out of three of these authors have worked for libraries) and a new county detective (conveniently single and raising an elementary-aged daughter after the death of his wife), several chatty women making up a “Friends of the Library” committee, and various friends and family members of the same. The elderly town matriarch and wealthy spinster (and yes they use that term) knows something about the past and is on the verge of revealing it when, whoops, she is poisoned. This sets in motion the action for the book.

By the end there’s enough intrigue for me to imagine future books in this series (they’re already plotting) where they will develop certain key characters in new scenarios. Along the way, on a separate blog, they’re telling real stories of real history and people for Custer’s Mill, the town’s name before it was renamed “Broadway” as legend goes, because the people were so rowdy or maybe seedy on the biblical “broad way” to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Why thar’s a story raight thar, don’t cha’ think? Speaking of Virginia lingo/grammar, the authors play that with a light hand. Not in an annoying or hard-to-read way like my line above, but just enough with certain characters to make it feel genuinely Virginian.

The novel and concept reminds me a little of Jan Karom’s delightful series based on another made up town, Mitford, North Carolina, and the bachelor pastor in those books who captures our hearts. As yet I did not find this book as humorous as Karom’s, and hers are mostly not murder mysteries, but this first book by “Mary Fulk Larson” introduces a series that likely promises the same clean read, high moral standards, and no R rated language or scenes. I guess “cozy mystery” is the Amazon term for this kind of book. A book you could feel fine recommending to your mother—or your young son or daughter for that matter.

What intrigues me even more than a new murder mystery series is a writing partnership involving three people. You have to of course have a lot of creativity and imagination to write a novel, but in working with two other people, you also need a lot of give and take and compromise. And time! Yet I can see how it works beautifully here. Barbara Finnegan said they plot out the action and characters and then each write different chapters, and then all assist in editing the book at various stages. Their various writing styles and particular writer whims and angles meld well and I could not detect any signs of, oh, Barbara wrote that chapter, or Tammy wrote this, etc. It seems seamless.

MurderOnRosemaryStreetAuthors

The authors: Tammy Fulk Cullers, Mary M. Smith, and Barbara Finnegan, who make up the penname: Mary Fulk Larson.

I’m fascinated by this partnership and the path they took to independent publishing because faithful readers of this blog might recall my confession a while back that in my files is an unfinished novel. (Doesn’t every wanna-be writer have one?) Perhaps I should buddy up with a writing partner. My daughter has used a writing partner to flesh out her unpublished novels. Michelle has also weighed going the indie publishing route (folks used to call that self-publishing or even, a little snobbishly, vanity publishing) but so far she’s holding out to find an agent and publisher (currently put on hold as she and her husband grow their family).

The world of publishing is changing. While every author, I think, aspires to be published by a bricks and mortar, deep-pocketed publisher with access to network TV gigs and funded book tours, gone are the days when traditional publishers are the only route.

I wish the writers of the Custer’s Mill Series well. Sometimes I wish I could find a way to revamp and finish my novel (and yes these writers had to totally restructure their novel when an agent recommended they put the murder first thing in the book, an arduous time consuming task). Meanwhile, I’ll stand in line for their next creatively composed story.

Unlike the stereotyped shush-y librarian in Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, these literature loving writers would never discourage folks from reading library books in an effort to keep them clean.

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Did you grow up or near a small town like Broadway or Gopher Prairie? What did you like or dislike? Any stories or memories of “town characters” everyone kind of knew? I’d love to read your glimpses here!

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Do you like murder mysteries? 

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Purchase Murder on Rosemary Street here. 

A ready made Tweet to share:

This first “cozy mystery” by 3 women offers a clean read, high moral standards, and no R rated stuff http://wp.me/p31taW-1lZ

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9 Comments
  1. No memorable library glimpses for me. Most of the books I read were gift books from family members. I do have memories of town characters though: the village drunk, the crazy lady on the roof.

    How neat that you met the author(s) of a murder mystery, actually a trinity of women with degrees in lit, education, and business, the perfect combo for book content and the marketing that inevitably arises with publishing. Another great post, Melodie!

  2. Your “lady on the roof” story sounds memorable. Perhaps that’s what some in Rachel Held Evans’ neighborhood thought of her as she took to her roof to write A Year of Biblical Womanhood (have you read?). And too bad they took her off the roof for the new cover of that book.

    In this book, regarding who wrote what parts of the book, Barbara, my colleague at MennoMedia, said yesterday that truly many parts they can’t remember any more exactly who wrote what–as they wrote and rewrote and edited. I’m most intrigued by their partnership.

    Thanks for the props!

    • Yes, I’ve read Evans’ book and chuckled through most of it. That’s one woman with chutzpah!

      Yes, the partnership of these women is intriguing. After I get my memoir written, the idea of co-writing appeals to me, one idea sparking another. How or with whom I know not.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    The book sounds interesting. Cozy mysteries are very popular in our church/school library. But I did not see it in CBD catalog or in our public library consolidated catalog. Only on Amazon and that does not list the publisher. I can’t buy it for those reasons…cozy does not necessarily mean clean, squeaky clean. I would need to read it first. It says there is a free kindle version with Amazon Prime.

    • It is squeaky clean. I don’t think you would find anything offensive. It is self published and it just came out in Dec. Do you have a Kindle?

  4. Athanasia permalink

    I have read all the Karon books except the last 2. I took me 3 times to get through the first one; the colloquialisms and unknown terms were bothersome. I have asked multiple people what liver mush is and no one knows. The closet we can figure out is braunschweiger which sounds exotic and delicious. “liver mush” sounds disgusting 🙂 but could very well be the same thing!

    I do read mysteries, cozy or murder. My youngest has been reading the Agatha Christie ones the last couple years. I decided to start re-reading them as I have not read any for 20+ years. She reads them from the library on her ereader…I need to check them out. My mother and I enjoy the Christie series that they show on PBS occasionally.

    I agree with their agent, have the murder at the beginning. Nothing more irritating when you are reading a murder mystery and you have to keep waiting and waiting. That was a good suggestion, in my opinion.

    I know many small towns, yes, though we grew up and still live in the rural area outside the town. Many of my relatives live in small towns throughout the state and country, though I do have some in med and larger towns/cities.

    • I do remember some things or terms in the Karon books that I didn’t quite get but the humor and descriptions kept me wanting more, and I just skipped over what I didn’t know. I agree liver mush doesn’t sound good. I do like mush though–I should write about that sometime. Do you know what I’m talking about there.

      Interesting that you have the same thought about not wanting to wait a long time for the “main event” to happen in a murder mystery.

      And yes, loved the Christy book and TV series! It always reminds me of the year I spent as a volunteer in Appalachia …

      Thanks for chatting, Athanasia!

      • Athanasia permalink

        Hi , we mixed up the Christie and Christy, it looks like. I’m rereading the Agatha Christie mysteries. Those are the different series, like Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence…have you read those?

        I have read the original Christy novel and watched the show when it was on TV. My library has that one, the youth series based on the TV show and the episodes of the series. I’ve been to the Smokey mountains twice and the scenery was beautiful. There was a black bear in our campground on our 2nd visit. We drove through W. Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky , camped here and there. Also very scenic. Especially on Blue Ridge Parkway.

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