D. R. Martin & Richard Audry Books


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The Unspeakable Doris Schattenheimer: Updates on King Harald & Johnny Graphic

Readers of the King Harald books might remember Doris Schattenheimer, a minor character—only four very brief appearances in the first two books. But in the third book Doris, a friend of Aunt Bev’s, quite accidentally finds herself marooned with Beverly Engebretson and her nephew Andy Skyberg during a blizzard. Doris ends up playing a key supporting role, without saying a single word.

I didn’t even plan on having Doris in the book. But it became apparent that Aunt Bev needed a sidekick and her old friend Doris slipped right into the role. And like the two Darryls in the second Bob Newhart series, Doris’s fate is to be seen and not heard—though I hope laughed at in her silent but industrious way. (I discovered, to my surprise, that she had once been a champion arm wrestler.)

Last night my wife and I had dinner with a novelist friend and handed off the third King Harald mystery for its first beta read. I’ve been working on the book intensely since last summer and it’s very nice having it out the door. All I’m seeing at this point are the trees and I need someone to have a look at the forest.  Have I hit my marks? If not, how might I  fix the problems? Best of all, I don’t have to think about the thing for a few weeks. I’m real fond of Andy and Harald and Aunt Bev, but I’m a little sick of them right now.

I began the third and final Johnny Graphic ghost adventure last summer, but haven’t worked on it for a while. Now that King Harald is elsewhere, I am back into it. I started the Johnny story in 2006, not realizing that middle-grade fiction is one of the hardest fiction genres to sell for indie authors. My advice to would-be middle-grade indie novelists: Don’t do it, unless you’re fine with selling no books.

But the thing is, I love the Johnny books more than any of my other series. For sure, they’re the most fun to write, as I channel my inner 12-year-old. And it’s going to feel awfully good, giving Johnny and his friends a proper ending to their story. I owe it to these characters.

 

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King Harald’s Snow Job — First Draft Done

I just finished the first draft of my third mystery featuring King Harald and his “boss” Andy Skyberg. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be making several more passes, adding additional brushstrokes and details. Then it’s off to my beta readers for their first impressions.

The new book is called King Harald’s Snow Job and in it, Harald and Andy are dragooned—by Aunt Bev, of course—into duty at a holiday gift fair. But the resort where the event is taking place gets socked in by a big blizzard. No one is going anywhere.

It’s not exactly a locked-room mystery. The Beaver Tail Resort and Conference Center, after all, is a sprawling facility just outside Hobartville. But all the action takes place within its confines in a period of about thirty hours. I drew a rough map of the resort and holiday fair, which made it easier for me to visualize where events would unfold. But I haven’t gone so far as to do what some classic mysteries used to do—include maps and floor plans in the book.

My copy of an old S.S. Van Dine mystery, The Bishop Murder Case, contains a good example. It’s an illustration of a block on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, to help readers sleuth along with Philo Vance. I’m not enough of an artist or map maker to do anything similar. And besides, I expect readers will be perfectly fine visualizing their own version of The Beaver Tail Resort.

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Duluth Street Photo Show Now Online

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Last July I had the pleasure of having a show of my old street photography in Duluth, Minnesota—at the Red Herring nightclub. The show was curated and put up by Duluth photographer Kip Praslowicz. And a great time was had by yours truly and the 70 or so other folks who showed up for the opening. Once again, my fifteen minutes of “fame” rolled around.

Kip has just put up the show online and you can visit it by clicking here or on the photo above. (By the way, that’s the “Man Who Loved Pearl Fishers.”) If you happen to connect with any of the images, they are available for sale in two sizes at very reasonable costs. Just get in touch with Kip through the website.


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Character Demands to Be Let In

Eccentric characters are at the core of almost every cozy—more so, sometimes, than even the mystery plot itself. IMHO, it’s being in a world with these characters that makes cozy-reading such a delectable pastime.

When I start plotting one of my cozies, I make a list of the main players—my usual denizens of New Bergen and the transitory personalities who make the plot go round. I’m always trying to figure out which ones I can have a little more fun with. Sometimes I don’t figure out who the quirky, offbeat characters will be until I’m well into the first draft.

As I’ve been working away on the third King Harald mystery—tentatively entitled King Harald’s Snow Job—I realized that I needed an additional character or two to complicate Andy’s life over the long weekend the story takes place. I had originally toyed with the idea of having a blogger in my cast, but didn’t develop that idea. Then I came to realize that I needed that role filled after all. Thus, Justine Juveland, blogger and stalker, came knocking at my door. And coming in right behind her was her burly boyfriend Bobby, surname as yet unknown.

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Since I’ve already written something like 60% of the book, I’m now in the process of going back and embroidering Justine into the weave of the story. Despite taking herself very seriously, she’s adding some light notes. And I’m sure more scenes using her will be coming along.

It feels good to finally have all my characters in their places. But there is a ne’er-do-well ex-husband who is also nagging at me for inclusion in the novel. We shall see.


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Where the heck is Beaver Tail County?

For fans of the classic Cat Who series, one of the enduring mysteries has always been where exactly is Moose County? Where do Qwilleran and his two sleuthing cats—Koko and Yum Yum—actually live and bust crime? The author, Lillian Jackson Braun, described the location as “400 miles north of everywhere.” But readers are pretty sure that the place is somewhere in Michigan. I’ve always figured the Upper Peninsula. But others speculate that it’s north of Detroit, on the thumb of the mitten that Lower Michigan looks like.

When I came up with the idea for the King Harald mysteries, I set it in a place called Beaver Tail County. And I’ve purposely been vague about where that is. All I’ve ever said is that it’s about two hours up the interstate from “the Cities.” I wanted Beaver Tail and New Bergen to be my own creations, taking bits and pieces of my home state and mashing them together.

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Now if you’re from the American Upper Midwest, you’ve probably guessed that “the Cities” is shorthand for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, here in Minnesota. I’m not aware of any other urban areas in this part of the country that are so nicknamed, although Iowa and Illinois do have their Quad Cities. (I’ve visited there several times, once for a project involving John Deere. A fun four town. Bix Beiderbecke country, too.)

But even though I’ve located New Bergen two hours north of the Cities, in my mind it’s a medley of areas that I love in the state. Beaver Tail County is farmland and prairie and pine forest and lakes and rocky cliffs. It has pretty little towns that resemble Grand Marais and Ely and Lanesboro and Northfield and New Ulm. It even has a well-ranked college, St. Magnus.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a cozy series like the King Harald Mysteries is that I get to create a little town that I myself would love to live in. And since I’ve made Andy interim mayor of New Bergen, I can even control the politics. Now if only someone could create a Holodeck simulation of New Bergen, I’d be ready to take up residence.

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Looking to Agatha Christie for Inspiration

Book three of the King Harald Mysteries is moving along, though slower than I had hoped. The tale plays out in only about twenty-four hours and all the action takes place at a vacation resort socked in by a blizzard. As I anticipated, I’m finding it tougher to write within those constraints of pacing and plot. All my other mysteries have had more elbow room, in terms of time and real estate. Although my work-in-progress is not a locked-room mystery per se, I thought I might find some inspiration watching how one of the titans of mystery handled a similar situation.

Several years ago Acorn, the distributor of British TV shows, bought a controlling interest in the Agatha Christie estate. And one of the first fruits of that new arrangement is the moody, stylish production of And Then There Were None. A few decades ago the title had been Ten Little Indians, now considered culturally insensitive. And Christie’s original title can no longer even be said in any kind of polite company. In this new three-part television version, the bit of doggerel nursery rhyme that the murders embody is called “Ten Little Soldiers.”

The plot, of course, is that ten strangers are invited to a house party at a mansion on an isolated island. The first evening there, they are accused—via a phonograph record—of all being murderers. Then they start dropping like flies, each in the manner of the little soldiers. The first one chokes to death (cyanide), the second fails to wake, etc. And, to everyone’s dismay, the boat that is supposed to fetch them fails to show up. The ten are stranded with a secret killer in their midst. Or, more properly, I should say that nine are stranded with the killer.

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I haven’t read or seen the story in many years (in fact, since I was in a high school production of it, playing Dr. Armstrong). Even though I didn’t find much in the TV show that helped me out of the pickle I’ve gotten myself in, I still enjoyed seeing again how the great lady of mystery deals with murder and mayhem in a grim, isolated location. Of special note in this Acorn production is the performance of Toby Stephens in my old role of Dr. Armstrong. Of course, he does a much better job than this former seventeen-year-old member of the National Thespian Society. But then I wouldn’t expect anything less from the son of Dame Maggie Smith.

Thank goodness, nothing as dark and deadly as Christie’s plot is going to unfold at the Beaver Tail Resort and Conference Center. No one will die horribly. But—spoiler alert—at least two toes will be broken. And so will my heart, if I can’t figure out how to bring all the plot threads together for a really gung-ho finale. Maybe I need to pack up my unfinished manuscript and book a nice quiet room for a few days on an isolated island…

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St. Paul Pioneer Press Reviews Mary MacDougall

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Two of my Mary MacDougall books just received a very nice review from Mary Ann Grossmann of the St. Paul Pioneer Press—one of the Twin Cities’ two major daily papers. Here is some of what she had to say:

“In the spirit of Nancy Drew and the Corner House Girls… Likable Mary is a bright, inquisitive young woman, although she’s sometimes too headstrong. It’s an old-fashioned series in the best sense of the word. Audry captures the turn-of-the-century period perfectly, when young women like Mary were trying to burst out of Victorian expectations to become their own person.”

You can read the whole review here, as a part of Mary Ann’s Minnesota authors roundup.