Vampire House and Other Early Cases

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Justinia Wright and her brother, Harry, are my favorite creations. They weren’t the first of my imaginings to spring to life on paper, but they are the ones who have been in my mind the longest.

Tina and Harry sprang to life shortly after I read Raleigh Bond’s short story “Meet Athalia Goode” in an issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine way back in 1982. However, it took seven more years before I chronicled their first adventure: Festival of Death.

What I realized in writing my first novel is that I wasn’t ready to write a novel. The manuscript went into a filing cabinet drawer and stayed there for 25 years. When I pulled it out in 2014, the book was hopelessly out of date. I kept the first chapter, with modifications, and rewrote the novel; sticking more or less to the original idea.

The result was a much better story. Sometimes, one simply isn’t ready. Sometimes, one needs to learn more. And sometimes, one must simply wait and experience life.

Vampire House and Other Early Cases of Justinia Wright, PI is now available for pre-pub purchase for a mere 99 cents. Do get a copy before the price goes up on Halloween.

This new addition to Tina and Harry’s oeuvre is a collection seven cases that chronologically pre-date Festival of Death and form a prequel of sorts. Hence my numbering of the volume as Book 0.

I enjoy short stories and short novels very much. Prefer them, in fact, to the massively thick tomes that seemed to be popular today.

The reasons I enjoy short works, I think, are two: I grew up with them and I often find I don’t have the time to do a larger work justice.

Think about it. Books for kids are short. In many cases they are actually short stories or novellas. One of my favorite books is Wingman, a YA “novel” by Daniel Pinkwater. It is a mere 73 pages of large print text and pictures. Yet, it is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. Good things do come in small packages. Which is why I’m baffled when I read or hear of folks who don’t like short stories because they don’t contain enough character development or the storyline is too skimpy. Some of the most powerful pieces of fiction I have ever read are short stories. Stories such as “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken, and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway are merely three among many.

The other reason is time. A 500, 600, 700 page novel a major time investment. Especially if I want to keep all the characters and story lines clear in my mind. That takes a degree of concentration, which if I’m busy is sometimes difficult to muster. Reading a hefty novel is something that requires, for me anyway, more than one or two sittings and sometimes reading a book of substantial length may take me upwards of a month. I’m not the world’s speediest reader. A short book, on the other hand, I can knock off in an hour or a couple days at the most.

As the average age of the fiction buying public gets younger, I think the demand for shorter works will increase. The Millennials and Gen Z folks have never known a world without computers. Statistics reveal a different pattern of reading for these people. Information and entertainment is consumed via their smart phones. They are used to short presentations which are often video. Presentations and attention spans are shorter. Think YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, and one minute vids on Snapchat or other social media. Short is in. And considering half of all books are read on a smart phone, there is a compelling case for short fiction. I think there is a real danger that fiction as we know it might just wander off into oblivion under the onslaught of other entertainment forms. That’s something to think about.

Short is in. In spite of what Amazon and the Big 5 want to believe. Amazon’s penalty in KDP select for short works by switching to payment by the page read. The Big 5’s insistence on mandatory long page lengths for novels, so they can justify printing. That kind of thinking reveals those folks to be dinosaurs catering to us Baby Boomers and older folks, who unfortunately are facing the end of our days. Short is in, whether we older folks like it or not.

Vampire House and Other Early Cases of Justinia Wright, PI is a collection of short stories and a short novel. They were fun to write and are hopefully fun to read. They’re packed with humor, sibling rivalry, dastardly villains, a touch of love, and puzzles to solve.

I love Tina and Harry and I hope you do too. Vampire House and Other Early Cases is only 99 cents until Halloween. Take the treat now! A mere buck for a rollicking good time.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Let’s Sample a Murder!

Next week I’ll publish The Conspiracy Game, the 4th book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

Back in 1982, when I read Raleigh Bond’s story “Meet Athalia Goode”, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine made the complaint there weren’t enough female detectives. Which, at the time, was very true. Other than Miss Marple and a Sharon McCone mystery, the only other female sleuths were out of print Victorians.

However, 1982 was a seminal year. For it saw the appearance of the second Sharon McCone mystery and the introduction of Kinsey Milhone and V. I. Warshawski. Since then, there has been an explosion of female sleuths to the point where they now seem to dominate the field.

Justinia Wright was born in 1982, in the hopes she’d be my claim to fame. Unfortunately another seven years would pass before her first adventure, Festival of Death, was committed to paper. And in so doing came the realization my fiction writing skills were not yet up to the task.

Another twenty-five years would pass before I’d re-write and much improve Festival of Death. Now there are three novels, three novellas, and five short stories chronicling her adventures.

I hope the two initial chapters from The Conspiracy Game wet your appetite to read more of the stories of my favorite characters: Justinia and Harry Wright. Enjoy the sample!

The Conspiracy Game

The Conspiracy Game1 online-copy

1
She’s Not Here

Friday Night into Saturday Morning
September 19th to 20th

Cut a flatworm in half and you get two flatworms. Unfortunately, private investigation agencies aren’t flatworms. Take the best detective out of the agency and you’re left with an agency that doesn’t have its best detective.

Which helps explain why Bea, my wife and assistant, was at home in the office holding down the fort, while Ed Hafner and I were sitting in my car waiting for a man by the name of Darren Clay to emerge from the bar we’d tracked him to. I was getting paid all of $475 to find the guy and serve him the summons. And because Ed was sitting next to me, I wouldn’t get to keep all of it.

Ed is one of the three freelancers Tina hired when she needed extra hands, feet, ears, and eyes. Only Tina didn’t hire him. I did. Harry Wright, the guy now running Wright Investigations.

“Any idea when she’s coming back?” Ed took a bite out of his burger. The “she” he was referring to was Tina, my sister, and the Justinia Wright behind Wright Investigations.

“No. I don’t even know where the hell she is, Ed.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but that must’ve been one helluva big fight she and Lieutenant Swenson had.”

“It was big. In fact, it was gargantuan.”

Tina and Cal Swenson have been on and off lovers since before I came to live and work with her, some half-dozen years ago. Through it all, they remained friends. However, this time was different. Not only did Cal read her the riot act for withholding evidence and obstructing justice, he threatened to yank her license, and told her he was sleeping with his partner and wouldn’t be coming back to live with her. Couple the threat and the revelation with the fact Tina pulled a gun on him and, yeah, it was very much one helluva big fight.

Four days later, Tina packed a suitcase and left. Not one word as to where she was going or what she’d be doing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Just said, “goodbye”, and that she’d be in touch. And keep in touch she did, up until six weeks ago. A weekly text message saying she was fine and then, “I’ll be out of touch for awhile. Always remember, I love you, Harry. Bea, too.” And that was it. Now nothing and I’m worried sick about her.

Bea and I have done what we can to keep the home fires burning. We’ve fed her cats. We’ve kept the agency open taking whatever work comes our way. It’s not a lot, though. Without Tina, Wright Investigations is just one among many. The work, such as it is, does keep Bea and me in practice. We’ve also learned shorthand. Just in case. One can’t always use a digital recorder and being able to take down a conversation in shorthand seemed to me to have its advantages.

Ed was shaking his big head. “Yeah, that’s too bad. Me and the missus, we have us a doozy every now and then. But we always work it out. Got the kids, ya know?”

“Kids make a difference.”

“They sure do. Makes ya think about something other than yourself.”

Our quarry emerged from the bar. “Okay, Ed, here we go.”

We got out of the car and made for the intended recipient of the summons I had in my hand. He was preoccupied with the hotty on his arm. Ed and I moved in. He got behind the couple and I positioned myself in front.

“Darren Clay?” I asked.

“Who wants to know?”

“I do. I have something for you, if you’re Darren Clay.”

“Get the hell outta my face.”

He took a swing at me and I got out of the way just in time.

Ed grabbed him and the hotty started screaming. I turned to her and she took off running back to the bar. A crowd was beginning to gather. Ed had Clay in a half-nelson. I shoved the papers into Clay’s jacket pocket, told him he was served, and headed for my car. Ed let him go and the clown ran up behind me, pushed me down, and smacked my left cheek with his fist when I started to get up. That was before Ed caught up and koshed him a good one. Clay dropped to the pavement like a sack of groceries.

A guy from the crowd charged Ed and got backhanded by Ed’s sap. He too lay crumpled on the ground.

A siren was blaring and a cop car pulled into the bar’s parking lot, screeching to a halt. The crowd vanished at the same time an amplified voice told everyone to freeze.

“Aw, hell,” Ed muttered.

We froze and two officers got out, guns drawn. They got within ten feet of us when one of them said, “Harry Wright, is that you?”

I recognized the voice and face. “Hi, Josh. Yeah, it’s me.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Josh motioned to his partner and they holstered their weapons.

“Just serving a summons to this fellow.” I pointed to Clay. “He didn’t want to be served. Took a swing at me, I served him, then he pushed me down and punched me. Ed, here, incapacitated him.”

“And that guy?” Josh point to the other fellow, who was now picking himself up off the pavement.

“He attacked Ed and Ed defended himself.”

“Ed work for you?” Josh asked.

“Yes.”

Josh turned to his partner. “They’re okay, Seth. I know Harry. Helped stop my daughter from being kidnapped four years ago.”

Clay was getting up. “I want to press charges. They attacked me.”

Josh turned to Clay. “Were you served a summons?”

“It’s in his coat pocket,” I volunteered.

“What’s the summons for?” Josh asked.

“Domestic violence,” I answered.

“Shit.” Josh’s tone of voice and the look on his face were not at all friendly. “Get the hell outta here before I beat the crap out of you myself.”

Clay spat. “Cops. Mofo bastards.”

“Get the hell outta here and get out fast.” Josh’s voice was quiet, but there was plenty of emotion in it and not the kind indicating he wanted to be best friends.

Clay and the other fellow left.

Josh turned to me. “Nothing to worry about, Harry. Go home and get some ice on that shiner.”

“Thanks, Josh.”

We shook hands.

Ed and I got into my Focus. I started it up, put it in drive, and began the trip to Ed’s place to drop him off.

“So you rescued his daughter?” Ed asked.

“Stinky, actually. I was there, but Stinky’s the one who talked the guy into letting her go.”

“Yeah, that’ll earn ya some points. Sure miss Stinky. Wasn’t much to look at. Sure did get results, though.”

“That he did. Our lucky night Josh answered the call.”

“Yeah. Should buy a lottery ticket.”

“Maybe two.”

“Yeah. Maybe two.”

***

The time was twelve after two when I walked through the back door. The lights were on, which meant Bea was waiting for me. Buddy, her Affenpinscher, greeted me, tail wagging. I scratched behind his ears and walked on in to the living room, where I found my honey lying on the couch with Isis, Tina’s Sphinx cat, cuddled next to her, both sound asleep. I leaned down and kissed her.

“Hi, Hon, I’m home. Let’s go to bed.”

Her eyes fluttered open. “Hi, Harry.” She reached up to touch my face. “Oh, my God! Harry, you’re hurt! Let me get ice.” She got off the couch. “Lie down.”

“Bea—”

“Lie down. I’m taking care of my man.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, Buttercup.”

Into the kitchen she went and Isis was relegated to the floor where she was joined by Prudy, Tina’s Maine Coon, Manley, Tina’s Manx, and Buddy. The critters sat in a row looking at me to see what all the fuss was about. In a minute Bea came back with an ice bag and towel. She put the ice on my face and I held it there.

“Get the Arnica from the medicine cabinet, would you please? It’ll take care of the bruising or at least lessen it.”

“Okay.” And off she went. Soon my little Bea was back with the medicine and a spoon. She sat next to me on the couch. At five-three and not even a hundred pounds, she doesn’t take up much room. I put a couple tablets into my mouth and let them dissolve under my tongue.

“Speaking of ‘Buttercup’,” Bea said, “Cal stopped by earlier.”

“He did? What did he want?”

“He wanted to see Tina. I told him she wasn’t home and I didn’t know when she’d be back. He seemed at a loss for words, so I invited him in. He then asked if she’d be available tomorrow.

“I said, ‘I don’t think so, Cal. She’s not here.’

“He said, ‘Look, Bea, I know you’re—’

“And I said, ‘Honest, Cal, she’s not here. Hasn’t been for months.’

“When I said that he mouthed the word ‘months’ and sat on the deacon’s bench. I said, ‘Yeah. She’s been gone for like six months, I think.’

“He was like in shock and just sat there for awhile. I sat next to him. I held his hand. I think he needed it.”

“Probably.”

“Then he asked if she was seeing someone and I told him I didn’t know because we haven’t heard from her in like six weeks. He turned his head and looked at me and said, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He looked down at his hands and put the hand I wasn’t holding over mine.

“He was quiet for quite awhile, finally he said, ‘I’ve really messed this up. Nikki and I aren’t seeing each other anymore. She’s even gone back to Vice and uh, I… Aw, shit, Bea. I love Tina and I really screwed things up royal.’

“I said, ‘You were pretty shitty to her, Cal, and hurt her really bad.’

“His voice was very soft. I almost didn’t catch it. He said, ‘I know.’

“Then he got kind of official and said, ‘You haven’t heard from her in six weeks? Have you notified anyone?’

“I said, ‘Cal, who can we notify? We don’t have any idea where she is.’

“He stood and said, ‘I’ll see what I can find out. I’ll let you know.’

“We said goodbye to each other and he left.”

“Interesting, hon. It might be a case of too little too late. Tina isn’t going to forget what he did and to be honest I can’t blame her.”

“I know, Harry. That’s what’s so sad. I thought I messed up relationships. Those two… They take the cake. They’re crazy in love with each other and constantly blow it up.”

“Yes, they do. It’s pretty bizarre if you ask me.”

“It is. Let me see your face.”

I took away the ice and she leaned down and kissed the bruise.

“That’s to make the owie go away.”

She moved to my lips and kissed them. I put my arms around her and kissed her back. The kiss deepened and when our lips parted, she murmured, “I love you, Harry.”

I whispered back, “I love you, Beatrice.”

She giggled. “That’s a mouthful.”

“It is.”

“Here. Let me fill your mouth with something else.” She kissed me, filling my mouth with her probing tongue. She started to withdraw and I sucked it in, held it, then let go.

She sat up and took off her shirt and I lightly ran my fingers across her bare flat chest. Her little nipples were erect and hard. I raised my head and kissed each one.

“Take me to bed, Harry.” She stood.

I got off the couch, scooped her up in my arms, and climbed the stairs to our room, kissing her all the way. Then, in our bed, we loved each other for a long, long time.

***

Bea is the most passionate person I know. In our lovemaking it is no holds barred with her. And to think she was so insecure when I first met her. All she needed was someone to accept her and love her for who she is. When I did, she burst into bloom. She’s become a confident woman and doesn’t take much crap from anyone.

Before she came into my life, things were okay. Now? Without her, life would be a great big black hole.

Tina and Cal are the same really. They love each other and are good together. However, each one is afraid of something and, whatever it is, it tears apart two people who should be together and too often aren’t.

2
Liquid Night

Early Sunday Morning
September 21st

The alarm went off at six. Early for a Sunday morning, I know, but Bea and I were working on a case. We needed to be at Summer Tollefson’s townhouse to photograph dew on Dale Arneson’s car, as well as the “V” I’d marked with permanent marker on the rear passenger-side tire. All this to prove Dale was violating his separation agreement with his soon to be ex-wife, Judith. She was of the opinion Dale’s girlfriend, Summer, was a bad influence on little Jimmy Arneson. Therefore, when Dale had weekend visitation, there was no Summer. At least that was the agreement.

In actuality, in Dale’s world there was nothing but Summer. And this was the second weekend we’d caught Dale, Summer, and little Jimmy spending, hopefully, for their sake, quality time together. Two more weekends of photographing the separation agreement violation and we’ll have earned our three grand and Judith will have gotten her proof to ball-bust the man who once was the love of her life.

I parked the car on the street. The wind was gusty and the temp was in the mid-fifties with an overcast sky. Probably no dew to photograph. A few people were out and about. Joggers, walkers, a cyclist. A walker waved and said, “Good morning”. I waved back.

With camera in hand, I walked up the drive which separated the two sets of quad homes. Dale Arneson’s car was in the same spot where it was last night when I’d taken a picture of it with the house number. A look at the “V” indicated the vehicle hadn’t moved. I took pictures of the “V”, of the car and house number, and that’s when I realized someone was in the car.

“Great, Harry,” I said to myself. “You’re slipping up in your old age.”

How long had the person been there? Why hadn’t he or she started the car? And why hadn’t I noticed. Too doggone eager to take the pictures and skedaddle on back home. I took a closer look. The person was a man sitting behind the wheel. And the man was Dale Arneson. He wasn’t moving. He didn’t see me, even though his eyes were wide open. My guess as to why he was’t moving and didn’t see me was that it had something to do with the fact the front of his shirt was very wet with what looked like blood.

***

Lieutenant Cal Swenson of Minneapolis Homicide, the same Cal Swenson who broke my sister’s heart, had finished taking Bea’s and my statements, told us he was working on trying to locate Tina, and said we were free to go. And go we did.

On the way back to home, sweet home, I decided to let the police break the news to our client that her husband was dead and her son, along with her husband’s girlfriend, was missing. The information wasn’t something I wanted to give Judith Arneson at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Besides, I was just a wee bit pissed someone had stiffed us out of fifteen hundred bucks and felt my tax dollars needed to do some work. So let the Minneapolis police department tell Judith her kid’s missing.

When we arrived at the little mansion on West Franklin, which we call home, there was a strange car parked at the curb and end of the walk to the front door. Bea stopped and I got out of her little Fiat. While she parked in the garage, I walked all around the machine that was a chunk of solidified liquid night. Bea joined me.

“What is it, Harry?”

“At first guess, I’d say it’s a car.”

She hit my arm. “Of course it’s a car, silly. What kind of car?”

“An expensive one, is my guess.”

“Like the Maserati I gave you, which you never drive?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Only I have a feeling this machine would make the price tag on the Maserati look like chump change.”

I looked at the symbol but it didn’t conjure up any automakers I was familiar with. My car’s a Ford. Yes, Bea gave me the late Alicia Harris’ Maserati. The late Alicia being Bea’s former hife, which is a Tina-ism for the spouse in a same sex marriage. And Bea is right. I never drive the thing. Rarely drive it is probably more accurate. Mostly because where I’m often required to go it’s risky to drive a junker, let alone a car costing an eighth of a million bucks. Besides, I’m a Ford guy and I like my Focus wagon. I do have to say one thing, though: in looking at the vehicle before me, no one at Ford could even dream of something like this. The machine parked at the curb was a creation of true exotic beauty.

The piece of sculpted midnight was unoccupied. I shrugged, took a look up and down the street, and concluded the car probably belonged to someone visiting one of our neighbors and the person was just rude enough to park the thing in front of our walk.

“Come on, Babe, let’s go in and get some breakfast.”

Holding hands, Bea and I walked up the walk to the house. She had her key ready, unlocked the front door, and I pushed it open. Our noses took in the smell of bacon. Bea and I looked at each other and ran to the kitchen. There was Tina, cooking eggs and bacon. Buddy was sitting at her feet hoping for a handout, along with all three of her cats.

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Minneapolis – Fun City

There is just about everything available for the Minneapolitan and the visitor to do in Minneapolis and the surrounding area. Which is why ace PI, Justinia Wright, is proud to call Minneapolis her home. And if one wishes to venture further there is the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior; Duluth, with its locomotive ride and port city allure; the Amish communities near Harmony; and the very artsy town of Lanesboro, which is on the Root River Trail, an extensive trail system in southeastern Minnesota.

Minneapolis and the metro area, however, have plenty to keep one occupied and never bored. If water is what you want, Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, has it. In fact, the Land of 10,000 Lakes has more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii. In Minneapolis alone, there are twenty lakes and wetlands, several of which form the beautiful Chain of Lakes Parkway.

Lake Harriet

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Lake Calhoun

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Lake of the Isles

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There are abundant opportunities for boating, canoeing, swimming, and fishing.

If you like winter activities, there is ice fishing, ice skating, and the ice cycle on Lake Calhoun.

ice-cycle

Minneapolis abounds in greenways for walking and biking and has 129 miles of on-street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street bikeways, with plans to add another 40 miles.

Midtown_Greenway_looking_west

Minneapolis has a lot of winter. If you love winter sports, then the city has much to offer. Such as 20 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails to play on. If downhill skiing is your thing, suburban Bloomington has Hyland Hills ski slope and Wild Mountain is only an hour away in Taylors Falls and Spirit Mountain in Duluth is only two and a half hours away.

To be honest, I think most residents of the Twin Cities really love summer. Perhaps because the season is on the short side. And there is plenty to see and do during the summer.

The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the country by average daily attendance and the second largest in total attendance. And USA Today named the fair the best in the country in 2015. The state fair runs for 12 days in late August and ends on Labor Day. Attendance in 2015 was over 1.8 million.

Other places to visit are the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (okay, I cheated with a fall pic)

Three-Mile-Drive-Fall-Portal

the Minnesota Zoo

Three bears cropped

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

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and Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha_Falls

Believe it or not, Minnesota has a thriving wine industry and wine tastings are a delightful thing to do on a summer day and many wineries are a mere hour drive from Minneapolis. And the wine is really top notch.

Minneapolis boasts over two dozen microbreweries and brew pubs. Eating and drinking has never been so good.

When I moved to Minnesota in 1969, this is what the skyline looked like

Mpls skyline late '60s

The observation deck of the Foshay Tower offered an unparalleled view of the metro area as it was, at 32 stories, the tallest building.

Four years later, the IDS tower was built which at 57 stories and 910 feet is the tallest building in Minneapolis. This what the skyline looked like in 1973.

mpls skyline 1970s

In the past 43 years a building boom has taken place. This is the skyline today.

2008-0712-MPLS-panorama

The view from the Foshay is still nice, but not like it once was.

There is something for everybody in Minneapolis and the surrounding area. I hope you’ve enjoyed the taste of the City of Lakes I’ve offered these past weeks. We’ve only scratched the surface. And perhaps in the future we’ll investigate further.

Next week, we’ll have a preview of the 4th book in the Justinia Wright, PI series: The Conspiracy Game. Where political mayhem comes to Minneapolis.

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Minneapolis – Art City

City Scene

Watercolor by Minneapolis Artist Raihana Dewji

Raihana watercolor-city scene copy 2

Minneapolis and the Twin City area is a hot bed of artist activity. It’s no wonder our famed private eye, Justinia Wright, loves to call Minneapolis home. An accomplished painter in her own right, Tina loves the artistic atmosphere that pervades the city.

Minneapolis boasts two world class art museums. The Walker Art Center is one of the top modern art museums in the county.

Walker art center

The other is the superb Minneapolis Institute of Art, with over 89,000 works of art from around the world.

The New Entrance

MIA-new entrance

The Old Entrance

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Minneapolis is also home to The Museum of Russian Art, which houses a collection of 20th century Russian art that focuses on the Soviet era. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibits with more general connections to the Russian-speaking world.

These museums are fabulous places to while away a lazy afternoon.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which shares acreage that includes the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Children’s Theatre, is consistently rated by The Princeton Review as one of the best Midwestern Colleges, which is a rare honor for a visual arts college. The school has been recognized by I.D. magazine as one of the top ten design schools in the world and the school’s master in fine arts program is rated in the top fifty in the nation. All that in a little Midwestern city college!

The first weekend in August is the Uptown Art Fair. The second largest fair in Minnesota. Only the State Fair is larger. The three day event draws nearly 400,000 visitors to the Uptown neighborhood and upwards of $2 million in art is purchased. It is the place to see local, regional, and even nationally known artists displaying everything from leather goods, superb woodworking, pottery, sculpture, and paintings. For the art lover, those are the three most glorious days of the summer. One can also take in live performances and eat pounds of tasty artery clogging fair food.

Organizations such as the Minnesota Watercolor Society, Outdoor Painters of Minnesota, and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association provide artists a means of support, networking, and promotion for their art.

To see a sample of what Minnesota artists are doing today, take a look at these Pinterest boards: Art: Mn & Wisc and mnartists.org.

The art scene is alive and well in Minneapolis. It’s a good place to be an artist. And while Tina only paints perfect copies of other artist’s work, she’d have to agree: Minneapolis is near and dear to the artist’s heart.

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Minneapolis – A City of Music

Minneapolis Skyline and the Stone Arch Bridge

Wayne Moran Photography

Justinia Wright has two great passions in life. They are music and art. And fortunately for her, the Twin Cities Metro Area offers rich experiences in both. Minneapolis boasts the world renown Minnesota Orchestra and St Paul is home to the equally famous St Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The Minnesota Orchestra Performing

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In addition, fine regional orchestras can be found in Duluth and Rochester. However the music scene is in truth virtually inexhaustible as there are over two dozen small civic orchestras in addition to many college ensembles.

But Minneapolis doesn’t only have fine orchestras and chamber ensembles, the Minnesota Opera is one of the country’s most imaginative and innovative opera companies. And Philip Brunelle’s choral ensemble, VocalEssence, is one of the nation’s premier choral groups.

VocalEssence Choral Ensemble

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A number of well known contemporary composers of serious (“classical”) music live in Minneapolis and the Twin City area, including Libby Larsen and Dominick Argento. The recently late composer Stephen Paulus also made the Twin Cities his home.

Famous pop music artists who started their careers in Minneapolis or grew up in the city include Prince and The Andrews Sisters.

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And we can’t forget the many local groups that have a niche following, such as Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Soul Asylum.

Minnesota is a musical state and the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro Area has something for everybody. In this post I’ve tried to give an idea of the breadth of what the music scene encompasses. Keep in mind, though, I haven’t even scratched the surface.

It’s no wonder Tina gets upset when her brother and sister-in-law talk about leaving Minneapolis when they retire. She can’t imagine any place better.

The Iconic Lake Harriet Bandshell

480-harriet-bandshell

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Minneapolis: Home of Justinia Wright, PI

Later this month The Conspiracy Game, the fourth book in the Justinia Wright, PI series, will be published. And to prepare for the book’s release, I am devoting this month’s blog posts to the city of Minneapolis, where Justinia Wright works and plays.

This week we’ll cover a bit of history and some interesting facts about Minneapolis, the bigger half of the Twin Cities.

In 1819, the US army established Ft Snelling where the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River. The US federal government wanted to make sure the United States was represented in an area claimed by the British and the French, not to mention the native American tribes actually living there.

The next three decades saw various treaties secure the area for the US and a flood of settlers from the east moved in. On the east side of the Mississippi, at St Anthony Falls, in 1849, a townsite was established and the town called St Anthony.

In 1854, on the west side of the falls, another townsite was platted. Suggested names for this town were Albion, All Saints, Lowell, Brooklyn, Addiseville, and Winona — all were rejected. The town’s first schoolmaster, Charles Hoag, is said to have come up with the name Minnehapolis, which he took from Minnehaha, mni (the Dakota word for water), and polis (the Greek word for city). Hoag noted the “h” in Minnehapolis was silent. The townsfolk voted and accepted Hoag’s name, minus the silent “h”.

The territorial legislature, in 1856, officially recognized Minneapolis as a town and in 1867 the town was incorporated as a city.

The first industry, making use of St Anthony Falls to generate power, was lumber and from 1848 to 1887, Minneapolis was the lumber capitol of the US. But it wasn’t lumber that put the city on the world’s radar, it was flour milling. From 1880 to 1930, Minneapolis was the leading mill city in the US and in 1884 passed Budapest as the world’s leading flour miller — which gave Minneapolis the nickname “Mill City”.

Today, the sawmills and flour mills are long gone and the economy has diversified. For a time, Minneapolis was a banking center and an important rail hub. Finance and rail, along with trucking, are still important parts of the city’s economic portfolio, to which have been added industry, healthcare, computers, and high tech. Five Fortune 500 companies call Minneapolis home.

The Minneapple, as the city is sometimes called, is a diverse city. Certainly not on the order of, say, the Big Apple, but diverse nonetheless. In the span of a mere 60 years the city has gone from 98 1/2% German and Scandinavian heritage to over 1/3 of the population being being comprised of a variety of ethnicities. Minneapolis has, for example, the largest Somali community in North America and has hundreds of Somali owned businesses. There are large Asian, Hispanic, and African-American communities as well. The first Muslim elected to the US Congress was African-American lawyer Keith Ellison, representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

The cultural scene in Minneapolis is alive and well with many artists calling the city home. There are numerous art museums and galleries, theaters and performing groups, orchestras, and musicians in the city. Minneapolis is ranked the third most literate city in the US.

In But Jesus Never Wept (Justinia Wright, PI #3), Tina’s brother, Harry, asks her why she moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis.

Tina put down her book. “What’s wrong with Minneapolis?”

“Too damn cold here.”

“It does get cold. It also gets hot and muggy in the summer and all the lakes are breeding grounds for a zillion mosquitoes. I didn’t come here because of the weather. Every place has its problems. I came here because it is the Midwest and we grew up in the Midwest. I came here because I liked the multi-cultural nature of what is in essence a small city. I have what I grew up with and I have something of what I liked about San Francisco. Minneapolis and St Paul have a little bit of everything. And I like that. They are conservative and liberal all at the same time.”

Minneapolis and her twin, St Paul, do indeed have a little bit of everything. And in the coming weeks we’ll explore more of what makes the City of Lakes a wonderful place to call home.

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Christmas in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to Justinia and Harry Wright, sister and brother private detective team. It also happens to be my home.

Minnesnowtans are well acquainted with winter. The cold, the ice, the snow. The traffic jams and snow-clogged streets. Ever try parking at the curb-side meter when the snow is three feet high and the curb is nowhere in sight?

While many of us prefer to worship at the feet of Helios, there are those intrepid sons and daughters of the original settlers in whose veins the blood of ancient Norsemen flows. And they love the winter. Positively love it. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow angels.

However, I don’t think I’d be far off if I said everyone loves the Yule season. Therefore, in the spirit of the Yuletide, below are pictures of downtown Minneapolis from the 1920s to the present. Happy Holidays!

mpls 1920s

1945 mpls copy

nicolet mall 1960s

The picture below is how I remember Nicollet Mall looked when I first moved to Minnesota. Nicollet Mall in the ’70s.

mpls1970spowers-christmas-tree copy

Screen-Shot-2013-12-02-at-11.31.39-AM

metrotransitbus

Carl Nesjar Ice Sculpture 2014 xmas

20081221-0002

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Agatha Christie came to loathe Poirot and finally killed him off. Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, brought him back to life, and finally retired him.

Personally, I find it difficult to hate my children. Perhaps, though, they haven’t been with me long enough. I haven’t chronicled adventure after adventure to the point where I’m sick of the chronicling. To the point where I feel them to be too intrusive or where they’ve moved in and taken over. Hopefully, though, that day of loathing will never come.

However, even though parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children, I admit that I do. And the two who are my favorites have lived in my imagination the longest. They are Justinia and Harry Wright. That intrepid sister and brother team of private investigators doing their best to make sure the most exciting thing in Minneapolis and St. Paul is vanilla ice cream.

Why are Tina and Harry my favorites? I’m not sure I can say exactly. For I am certainly very fond of Lady Dru Drummond. My spunky, very modern journalist, who knows what she wants and does her best to get it. I very much like her 1950s alternative history world, with all those retro-futuristic gadgets and, of course, airships.

And what about Bill Arthur? My anti-hero turned superhero (well, almost) of The Rocheport Saga, who, after the apocalypse, does his best to stop at least a portion of humankind from descending into a new dark ages. Bill is very likable. He’s unassuming, makes mistakes and owns up to them, is devoted to his adopted and natural family. He is human, all too human. An ordinary guy in very unordinary circumstances. I like Bill and his world very much.

One of my newest children is Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch was an enjoyable tale for me to write and I enjoyed reading it as well. Who can’t love this slightly roguish professional gambler with the touch of ennui searching for the antidote to his loneliness? And there be airships here, too.

Or George? Poor George, in Do One Thing For Me, slowly realizing he’s descending into old age dementia, beset by the unending grief over the death of his wife and taunted by the promise Beth offers him. Or is Beth just a figure of his dementia?

I love all my children. I just love Tina and Harry more. Is it because I enjoy most writing up their adventures? Recording the sibling banter between them? Dreaming of what it would be like to live their somewhat dreamy lifestyle or to enjoy one of Harry’s fabulous meals? Perhaps.

Tina grew out Raleigh Bond’s Athalia Goode, with a dollop of my sister, and pinches of Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, Nero Wolfe, and a sprinkle of myself to round out her creation. Harry is the faithful Watson and wise-cracking Archie Goodwin all rolled into one, with perhaps too much of myself included for good or bad measure.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m personally invested in these characters. There’s something of me in them that isn’t in my other children. Maybe that’s the reason that drives me on to write about their lives and their campaign to fight crime.

Book 3 in the Justinia Wright series, But Jesus Never Wept, should be out in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. And if the Muse is kind I may also have a freebie story available for Christmas.

I’m 15,000 words into Book 4 and have 645 words written to start Book 5, which follows Book 4 immediately in the Justinia Wright timeline. Both should make their appearance in 2016.

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I’m hoping Bill, Dru, and Rand don’t get too sulky about it. After all, I do love them. They, too, are my children. Tina and Harry, though, are my firstborn. Hm. I’m a firstborn…

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Harry Wright’s Mac and Cheese to Die For

I confess right here and right now — I love to eat. The aromas and flavors of meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, grains, spices, herbs, cakes, pies, bread are as delightful as a walk through a scented flower garden. But not only do I love to eat, I also love to cook. Consequently, food appears in some shape or form in all of my novels and many times in my stories.

Undoubtedly, one telltale sign I’m a foodie is my cookbook collection — hardbacks, paperbacks, and ebooks. I also have bookmarks on a wide variety of internet recipe sites. Another indicator is the near ecstasy that is evident when I venture into a grocery store or a cooking supply store. When I write, a cookbook is always nearby.

Harry Wright is private detective Justinia Wright’s brother. He is also her majordomo, chef, and assistant. With the alacrity of a juggler, Harry turns out fabulous gourmet dishes on a daily basis. Dishes such as Porcini Parmesan, roasted veggie with goat cheese sandwiches, caramelized onion tartlets, ratatolha niça, and Cock-a-Leekie.

At times, though, Harry will take a walk down the comfort food aisle and then we see dishes like NuNus and Hot Dogs and Mac and Cheese. Sometimes Harry leaves the dish simple and sometimes he fancies it up.

Today I thought I’d give you his Mac and Cheese to Die For recipe, which appears in the forthcoming Justinia Wright, PI novel But Jesus Never Wept. He doesn’t call it that. For him it’s simply Mac and Swiss Cheese with Bacon Crumbles.

The recipe below is a composite, he tells me, of several recipes out there on the World Wide Web. Let me know if you think it is to die for. Enjoy!

Mac and Swiss Cheese with Bacon Crumbles

Ingredients

Macaroni – 1 pound (Harry uses elbows)

Butter – 5 tablespoons

Flour – 1/4 cup

Milk – 3 cups (Harry uses whole milk)

Salt – (Harry uses about a 1/2 teaspoon)

Black Pepper – (Harry uses fresh ground and about 3/4 teaspoon)

Mustard – 1/4 teaspoon dry (Harry prefers a good English mustard, such as Coleman’s)

Swiss Cheese – 3/4 pound shredded

Monterey Jack – 3/4 pound shredded

Bacon – 6 slices, cooked crisp and crumbled (Harry’s been known to add a couple more slices)

Parsley – for garnish

Basil – for garnish

Rosemary sprig – for garnish

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and your liking. (Harry only cooks his pasta al dente.)
  2. Warm milk on stove or in microwave.
  3. Melt butter over medium high heat and whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk to make sure there are no lumps and to cook flour, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. Add the warm milk and whisk the mixture until smooth. Reduce heat and gently simmer for four minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. When the sauce has slightly thickened, add salt, pepper, and mustard.
  6. Add cheese and stir until sauce is smooth.
  7. When pasta is cooked, drain, and reserve a 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  8. Add sauce to pasta. If sauce is too thick, add a little of the water to thin.
  9. Top with the bacon crumbles and parsley, basil, and rosemary sprig.

Good eating!

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Justinia Wright, PI

I don’t know how it is for other writers. I can only speak for myself. However, I’d like to think other writers would feel the same. When I create a character the process is very human: a baby is born and he or she slowly matures to adulthood. In other instances, he or she springs forth from my head — as did Athena from the forehead of Zeus. In either case, one thing is clear: I love my children.

The child I have lived with the longest and who I confess I love dearly is Justinia Wright, private eye extraordinaire. Her origins go back to 1982 and Raleigh Bond’s short story “Meet Athalia Goode”. You can read about all that in my post “Out of Thin Air”.

Tina runs Wright Investigations in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her older brother, Harry, is her “Watson” and majordomo. I first chronicled their exploits in 1989 in the novel Festival of Death. Being my first novel, I garnered a couple of rejections, realized it wasn’t very good, and put it back in the drawer where it quietly lay for some 25 years.

Last year I looked at the novel after completing The Rocheport Saga. A lot had changed in 25 years. Technology, society, and me. The novel was hopelessly out of date. Chapter 1 was about all I could salvage intact. So I set the book aside and wrote three novellas to get my head back into Tina and Harry’s world. Those stories form Book 2 in the series, Trio in Death-Sharp Minor. With the novellas completed, I re-wrote Festival of Death. The re-write is far and away better than the original. I published Festival last November and Trio last December.

Sad to say, sales have been poor. Then again readers have a gazillion mysteries to choose from and I’ve done very little marketing. That will come, however.

This month I’m publishing two short stories which chronologically predate Festival of Death. The first I offer free starting today for a week or so: “Minneapolis’s Finest”. Tina solves a mysterious break in for an old friend.

The second story will appear around Thanksgiving. “Sauerkraut Days” has Tina helping the local sheriff with the murder while attempting to set a world record in the sauerkraut eating contest.

Come December, writing time for Christmas, But Jesus Never Wept, number three in the series, will be published. I have the book back from my Beta reader and the cover art is ready to go. All it needs is a couple more read throughs to catch those nasty typos.

I had great fun writing But Jesus Never Wept. Tina is forced to face the demons lingering from her life before she became a private detective. We learn more, too, of Tina’s and Harry’s childhood. Philosophical, ethical, and theological questions abound. And on top of it all, true love takes a left jab and a body punch and is down for the count.

Early next year, the fourth of in the series should make its debut. And just in time for the political season. Campaign espionage and blackmail, with a dash of murder, have Tina and Harry scratching their heads.

I love the private eye novels. I suppose I have Conan Doyle to blame for that. My modest collection of Sherlockiana, Victorian sleuths, and Holmesian pastiches looks over my shoulder as I write this. Perhaps it’s what I want to hear, but I hear those sleuths saying, “Forget the sales. You love her. Tell her story.” And I suppose I shall.

Checkout where you can get the Justinia Wright books on my Novels page!

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