Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.
Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way. In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.
I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.
We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written. The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.
When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)
I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?
In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60′s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.
In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says: Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.
That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.
In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.
In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read: When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.
Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.
On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts, Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.
A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.
I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”
If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.
One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!