June 15 @ Grousable Books: a nutty musical number, Andrea Kress, The Lady Vanishes, and more

Grousable Books Newsletter

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In this issue: A nutty musical number, Andrea Kress, The Lady Vanishes, from pantser to plotter, and Thomas Jefferson cukes.

I Think I’d Better Think it Out Again

Yes, it’s the song that Fagin sings in the musical Oliver! But I changed the lyrics to reflect my frustration with the marketing aspects of my career as a writer.

So if you want to see, and hear, something pretty nutty: 

Or watch on YouTube here

No applause, please. I know, I’m no singer. But it had to be done.

Author of the month: Andrea Kress

This month my author focus is on Andrea Kress, who writes historical cozies. This is the first of the Berkshires Cozy Mystery series, set in the 1930s. 

Murder at Highfields cover

In Murder at Highfield, nurse Aggie Burnside leaves New York to join a friend who lives in the Berkshire Mountains. She’s drawn into a case where a judge is murdered, and supplants the bumbling police inspector in solving the mystery. Take a look!

Mystery Movie: The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938), with Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, opens with a miniature train set, then takes you live into the hotel where a number of people are stuck overnight due to an avalanche. This way all the main characters (the two British men traveling together, the wealthily afianced young woman, the illicit couple, the roguish scholar, the dottering old lady) are introduced.

Still from The Lady Vanishes

The brain patient, the nun (Estelle Winwood), and the couple trying to solve the mystery of the vanished lady.

Dame May Whitty’s character (the dottering old lady) is on the train and disappears, but the afianced young woman (Margaret Lockwood) is the only one who admits to having seen her. The roguish scholar (Redgrave) helps her as a lark.

This was the film that got Alfred Hitchcock appreciated, and it contains a number of his signature tropes: playful sexuality, humor, an enemies to lovers relationship, one person believing what others don’t, shadowy hints of foreboding, random murder, and imminent dangers to characters one has come to like. There’s also a head injury that makes the main character question what she sees. Even the chugging of the steam train seems to go from reassuring to sinister. …. And yes, the fact that it’s made in 1938 does play a role in the story.  

From pantser to plotter

There’s an old saying that writers are either plotters, carefully planning out and outlining their book before they write, or pantsers, those who write “by the seat of their pants” without a plan. Most, of course, do a bit of both. 

Having done years of historical research and lecture outlines where I had to be a plotter, I was so happy to be a pantser as a novelist. And yet…


If you follow my newsletter you might get the feeling I’m stuck on the prequel to the Tommy Jones Mysteries. It’s not “writer’s block” but I’ll admit I’m in a bind. I set the Murder at the Gasworks aside to do other things, including publish my cozy Bummer at Luna Beach. And when I came back to my draft, I realized I’d literally lost the thread. I think I know who done it and why (which is a first for me!), but I’m at the half-way point and don’t know what comes next.

Taking a look again, writing summaries of all the scenes, what jumped out at me were the “doubles”. Two bodies, two detectives, two women working to help, two gasworks, and one boy: Tommy Jones. Perhaps this larger idea might get me back on track!

Thomas Jefferson cukes

I’ve tried and tried to grow cucumbers, but we get a lot of gray, overcast, semi-coastal days and they don’t do well. I’ve tried different locations and different cultivars: Japanese, gherkin, lemon, English, burpless.

But last year I was given a packet straight from Monticello of Long Green Improved Cucumber (Cucumis sativus).

cucumber plant

I love Thomas Jefferson. I do. I’ve read, in additional to his political writings, his garden notebook and his love letters. Yes, I know the Louisiana Purchase was an abuse of presidential power, but I wrote a paper in college on his Embargo of 1807 and I think it did great things for American industry. He walked up Pennsylvania Avenue to get inaugurated instead of taking a carriage. I’m a fan.

Now I confess that these particular cucumbers were not grown by Jefferson. The cultivar wasn’t around until the mid-nineteenth century. But they come jumping out of the potting soil, every single blessed seed, and grow and grow. The cucumbers are delicious. The fact that they’re somehow connected to TJ’s favorite place to be just makes them better.

And more!

Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books. You can post comments there too.

Until next time, keep grousing!