"A House on Jefferson Street" - Michael McGowan

            They say write what you know, which for a guy who has written stories about vampires and psychics, has always seemed like a tall order.  But in my years of writing, I’ve discovered that this adage is less about bringing the workaday you into your fiction than it is about making it a vessel for your worldview, your aspirations, and occasionally your nightmares.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I began the experiences that lead to A House on Jefferson Street nearly twenty years ago.  My own emotional horror story became both a catharsis and a steel trap to run my protagonist, Monica, through in a heightened version of one of the darkest year of my life.

            At the root of both Monica and my story is the location.  I graduated from college in 1998 and quickly dove into looking for a full-time teaching position.  I grew up in the Tidewater area but couldn’t land a job in any of the nearby school systems.  As the summer progressed, the radius of my job search expanded.  Then in August I was offered a job by the Brunswick County school system teaching ninth grade math (strangely my certification was only up to eighth grade, which should have been my first clue that they were desperate to find warm bodies to fill classrooms).  Brunswick County and its seat, the town of Lawrenceville, were about two hours away from home, but it was late in the summer and it seemed as if I didn’t land a teaching job now I’d be stuck working part-time jobs until the next school year, so I took it.

            Naturally I assumed that, working in Brunswick county, I’d be living there, too, however during one trip I realized this wasn’t going to be a case.  Unless you were buying a house, or were living in low-income housing, there weren’t any options.  Being a recent college graduate who had a thirty-thousand a year contract but hadn’t actually earned a paycheck yet, it turned out I was too poor for the former, too rich for the latter.  So I looked east.  Twenty miles down the road was Greenville County and the city of Emporia.

            The main thing that the reader should know is that while much of what happens in A House on Jefferson Street is heightened and exaggerated, it’s built on a very real foundation.  The house in the story does exist.  I lived there, and for nearly a year paid $300 per month rent for three bedrooms, an incredible deal which would probably be my only stroke of luck in this entire scenario.  And while the overarching events that happen to Monica are designed to be the stuff of a creepy and atmospheric thriller, they’re either inspired by or connected to real things that happened to me during that year.  The in-classroom fight that kicks off the story actually happened.  And like Monica in the story, I had a fellow teacher inform me that a few of the kids on my roster weren’t going to show up because they’d been locked up over the summer.

            But while it is true that most of the grief from that tumultuous year came from my work in Brunswick, somehow it was the experience of living in Emporia that still sticks with me the most.

            Being a kid raised in the suburbs, everything I knew about “small towns” I knew from either movies or television or peoples’ wistful assertions that life is just somehow better in a small town.  People there are friendlier.  Everyone knows everyone, the pace is sedate, and you don’t have to lock your doors. 

            None of this turned out to be true, except that rural life can be pretty sedate.  Of course, so are the final moments before a lethal injection.

            Emporia turned out to be a bundle of contradictions.  If you went a few blocks down the street from my house there was a small, locally owned grocery store.  Go about two miles in a different direction there was a strip mall with a Roses and a Farmer Jack.  Emporia remains the only place where I have, and probably will ever, have actually eaten a burger and fries at the lunch counter of a pharmacy, however if you venture out to the main drags of the city that are meant to service travelers rom 58 or I-95 you’ll find the usual suspects of food mart gas stations, fast food franchises, and restaurants designed to at least simulate a good sit-down dinner while still getting you out the door fast.  The city had a Christmas parade, but it also had gangs and drugs and poverty.  In fact everywhere seemed to be a simmering pool of tension.  Racial, regional, inter-familial.  If I had assimilated more into the towns and the cultures the story I wrote might have been more of a straight-up mystery about a murder and the societal rot that brought it to fruition, but being a person who has never made, nor kept, friends easily, I spent most of my time held up in an emotional fortress keep.  Like Monica in the story, I had no support system to return to at the end of the day.  The house on Jefferson Street was a refuge, but on the long weekends and during the long nights it was also a prison, like Lloyd Henreid in The Stand, trapped even though the world outside was essentially dead.

            If all of that was the fuel for the story, the spark came one particular night.  I woke up to hear what seemed to be a sound coming from the downstairs.  I’ve always let my imagination go too far, turning simple sounds or shadows into an indication that something malevolent is happening.  However that night, despite knowing this, the sound seemed both too close and too familiar.  The windows in the house all had cheap Venetian blinds and when you closed or opened them the blades made a plastic-on-plastic scratching sound. 

            This sound was like that, and I had the mental vision of someone breaking in through one of the downstairs windows, pushing through the Venetian blinds as they made their way in.

            Needless to say, in real life there was a simple explanation.  Next to the house was a 7-Eleven, the only one in Emporia, at least I think at the time.  Particularly on weekends the parking lot was a hotbed of drunks caterwauling random profanities.  But that night all that was happening was a store clerk emptying trash into the dumpster.  Why I misinterpreted this so badly is a mystery to me, but when I needed something to wake Monica up in the middle of the night, that moment came back to me in a flash.

            A lot of things in Emporia have changed.  Sometime after I left the city got a Wal-Mart and the pharmacy where I ate lunch fell prey to the carnivorous maw of progress.  But the house on Jefferson Street is still there.  The few times I’ve gone past it while traveling I’ve thought and hoped that the people who live there now are happier than I was then, that they don’t feel as alone and isolated.  I hope they don’t find themselves in the same kind of place that I did, years later, tasked with writing a story, and only having hopelessness and darkness to draw inspiration from.

Michael Sean McGowan is a teacher and the author of two novels Pawns and The Shadowlands.  He also contributed to the original Virginia is for Mysteries.  He lives in Virginia Beach. Visit Michael on Facebook and Twitter.




"Bikes, Boats and Berries" by Lee Wells

“Bikes, Boats and Berries” is set on the Jamestown/Scotland ferry. While my story starts on the Jamestown side of the river, the ferry is key to the setting.

The story follows FBI IT Tech, Allison Mitchell, as she attempts to enjoy a quiet day off. As she soon discovers things don’t always work out the way you plan.                           

The ferry has always held a fascination for me. A trip across the river to the Jamestown side is like traveling back in time. As the ferry approaches the Jamestown wharf you catch glimpses of the recreated ships and Jamestown settlement. They offer hints of the historical treasures hidden in the surrounding woods.                                

Of the four ferries that service the route, the Virginia remains my favorite. While the oldest and smallest of the fleet, it is the only one with an open observation deck. There is something special about standing at the railing, as the ferry glides over the water. I promise it will bring a smile to your face.

Lee A. Wells is a native of Southeastern Virginia and resides there with her husband. Raised on a hardy diet of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stephen King, she loves a good mystery, especially if there is a dash of horror tossed in for flavor.  She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter. Find Lee on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, and flyingmeerkatcreations.wordpress.com/events/.


"Cape Charles Coffee Caper" by Yvonne Saxon

One of my favorite coffee mugs is emblazoned with "I don't have a problem with caffeine. I have a problem without it." It was a gift. (from someone who knows me very well!)  It was actually a search for coffee that led to the idea for "The Cape Charles Coffee Caper."  While on vacation, my sister and I went out for a day of shopping, thinking that we'd find a little coffee shop and have breakfast first. We drove. And drove. We passed on the gas station mini-mart coffee knowing that surely, in this quaint little tourist town, there would be good coffee somewhere. We were wrong. We kept driving. We finally gave up our silly notion of a nice hot breakfast and pulled into the first shopping center with a grocery store that we saw. There would be cold caffeine drinks at least. (If you've never had a coffee headache, you probably wouldn't understand) As we parked, my sister noticed a storefront that said "Pie and Coffee."

We were saved! So I took some ideas from the coffee shop trip, put them together with a question, (who brings the coffee to out of the way coffee shops?) added a couple of colorful characters, a crime, and there was the story.

Cape Charles City on the Eastern Shore is a remote but beautiful location, as well as a favorite tourist destination with great coffee shops! (None of which even remotely resemble the coffee shop in the story, by the way!)


"The Tangled Web" by Kathleen Mix

Like most Virginians, I like the sound of airplanes. I dislike the noise of the commercial jets that fly into and out of the international airport, but I love the distinctive pop of an antique rotary engine, the roar of a restored Warbird, or the whine of an aerobatic Pitts about to go into a spin. When a familiar or unfamiliar noise reaches my ears, I instinctively shade my eyes and look up to see what interesting object is causing the sound.

Aviation and the pilots who dare to ride in experimental aircraft are an unending source of fascination and pride. At some time, they all asked “what if…?” and innovation was born. Someone had to look at a propeller spinning before his nose and wonder if he could time the release of bullets to pass through the blades without shooting down his own plane. Someone had to wonder if the lift and drag on an airplane would combine to allow the aircraft to fly upside down. Someone wondered if he could go higher and faster. Someone wondered how to cross oceans. The helicopter was conceived to fill the need for a vehicle that could take off and land in a short field. Today’s Osprey continues the tradition.

I’m not a fan of noise, but I am a fan of technology and progress. I stare upward at air shows because the aircraft are entertaining and the tail draggers of the last century are the fore-bearers of modern aviation. Their smoke and stunts require skill and daring, characteristics that have always served pilots well. When I set part of my Virginia is for Mysteries II story at the Virginia Air Museum, I wanted to draw attention to the pieces of our history they display.

Think about these engineering marvels the next time you hear an interesting sound. Then look up. Is it a B52, a crop duster, or a pilot in a powered parachute? The next time they fly by, maybe they’ll be familiar to you, recognizable by the unique sound.


Kathleen Mix is a multi-published Virginia author. She loves to hear from readers. Email her at Kathleen at kathleenmix.com, visit her website, or connect with her through Twitter @kathleenmix. 



"Coming Clean" by Meriah Crawford

One of the main characters in my story is a woman named Andrea. She was inspired by a good friend with whom I used to teach, who was kind enough to let me use her real name in this story. Andrea is smart, determined, kind, funny, and a lot of other very good things, and we've taken some great trips together over the years. Neither of us ever shy away from adventure—like the time we went driving off into the wilderness of Belize, in a sketchy car with a sketchy local dude at the wheel, in search of monkeys. Though it turned out he didn't know where the sanctuary (http://www.howlermonkeys.org/) was, he found it. The monkeys were amazing! And the guy turned out to be a great guide—and very pleased to see the monkeys, too. It's one of many memories Andrea and I both treasure.

So, one time when I sat down to write, I found myself thinking, what if Andrea and I headed out on a road trip together and something went wrong. Really, really wrong. What could it be? Well, I can't say much more about the story without spoiling things, but I will say that if I ever had to experience something like what happens to them, Andrea is one of a very small list of people I'd want to be there with me. (Though, I'm sure she'll have mixed emotions about reading that.) :-)

I hope you enjoy the story, and visit my website (below) for more of my work!

Meriah Crawford is a writer, an editor, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a private investigator. She has also been a horseback riding instructor, library page, programmer, prepress tech, graphic designer, technical editor, software tester, systems analyst, program manager, and has even been paid to put M&Ms into little baggies for bingo.

Meriah’s published writing includes short stories, poetry, and a variety of scintillating non-fiction work. For more information, please visit www.meriahcrawford.com.


"Reunion in Shockoe Slip" by Maggie King

I love visiting the historic Shockoe Slip section of Richmond, Virginia. Centuries ago it served as a trading post but today visitors will find an eclectic shopping and dining district. Restored warehouses, taverns, cobblestone streets and alleyways create a little of yesterday with a little of today.

In the middle of this charming and restored area is the Fountain Bookstore. The Fountain is the kind of place where serious readers while away the hours as they browse. They may get so lost in the world of books that they fail to notice the stamped tin ceiling, wooden shelves, and exposed brick wall that display oil paintings created by local artists. In my story, “Reunion in Shockoe Slip,” a successful mystery author is signing copies of her latest bestseller when her lover from years ago appears before her.

Nearby is the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, whose stated mission is to “bring the farm to the city and suburbs and provide area residents with local, wholesome food in a warm, rustic environment.” The Urban Farmhouse is housed in the storefront of a historic warehouse, close to one of the oldest farmers markets in the country. Nancy and Roger, the successful author and her former lover, continue their reunion in this atmosphere of urban chic, refinement, and culture.

Then the story takes a downward spiral into darkness and violence as the characters travel to an unsavory yet unspecified section of Richmond.

I’m intrigued by contrast and this story offers plenty of it. The difference between the trendy, upscale Shockoe Slip and the unsavory section of Richmond is stark. We learn that Nancy and Roger were drifters thirty years before but made 180 degree turns in their lives and are now thriving in their chosen careers. And they may very much want to maintain their status quo. Do they succeed?

The “downward spiral” suggests otherwise.

My fellow Virginia is for Mysteries authors will be signing copies of volumes 1 and 2 of the anthology at the Fountain Bookstore on Saturday, April 9, from 2-4pm. Stop by and say hi! Learn how we select story settings, marvel at the location and subject suggestions they receive from readers, and suggest to them sites you consider mysterious. 

Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group, a Hazel Rose Book Group Mystery, and the upcoming Murder at the Moonshine Inn (2016, Koehler Books). She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. Visit Maggie at maggieking.com.

"A Colonial Grave" by Kristin Kisska

My short story, “A Colonial Grave”, is a dual-narrative mystery set in Colonial Williamsburg. The location was an easy decision for me as it had been an annual summer travel destination for my family, ever since I was a little girl.


My memories are graced with the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages, tour guides dressed in traditional colonial outfits, church bells ringing, and long strolls down Duke of Gloucester Street while licking melty ice cream cones.


On one particularly memorable visit, I made a pair of hand dipped candles in a vat of melted beeswax at the Brush-Everard House. This was an experience I’d hoped to share with my children. Over the years, however, the candle dipping shop had been repurposed as research indicated it hadn’t been a traditional occupation in Colonial Williamsburg. To counteract my disappointment, I memorialized the lost art candle dipping by including it in my short story.


A couple summers ago, while visiting Colonial Williamsburg with my children, we stumbled upon an active archeological dig site, one I later learned is an ongoing collaboration between the College of William & Mary’s Archaeology Field School and Colonial Williamsburg. Though the area had been roped off, visitors could observe and chat with the archeologists. They even displayed the bits of brick, pottery and glass they’d excavated.

My muse inspired me as I watched people sift through colonial dirt. What if an archeology student had excavated a bone? And better yet, what if the bone belonged to the victim of a cold case murder?

My mystery, “A Colonial Grave”, can be found on page 92 of Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II. Enjoy!


Author bio:

Kristin Kisska used to be a finance geek, complete with MBA and Wall Street pedigree. A member of Sisters in Crime, Kristin is now a self-proclaimed fictionista. Her short stories can be found in the mystery anthologies: Murder Under the Oaks and Virginia is for Mysteries- Volume II. When not writing suspense novels, she can be found Tweeting @KKMHOO or on her website~ KristinKisska.com. Kristin lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and three children.

A Mystery at Luray Caverns - Maria Hudgins

I used to be a high school teacher of Earth Science and I love caves. For one thing they keep the same temperature year round so all you need is a light sweater, and for another they are beautiful. Virginia’s Shenandoah region is blessed with a string of caves, the best known of which is Luray Caverns. If you haven’t been there, you really should go. It’s just off I81 northeast of Harrisonburg.

When our Sisters in Crime chapters decided to do Volume II of Virginia is for Mysteries, we wanted to put a map of the state with our story locations marked, as we had done in the first volume, but this time we wanted to better showcase sites all over the state. Since our members live in the Tidewater and Richmond areas, naturally our stories were concentrated there. I immediately thought of Luray and Blood. Don’t ask me why. That’s how my mind works.

It’s about two hundred miles from my home to Luray, so a round trip is an all-day event. I packed up my dogs, Holly and Hamilton, plenty of water and treats, and took off on a beautiful July day. I worried about what to do with the dogs when I got there, so I started out just scouting the surroundings. Talking to a guide in the breezeway near the main entrance, I discovered they had a place to park your pets. Problem solved. I bought a ticket and joined the next group going down. As I walked through, I thought about what it would be like if they had to evacuate the whole place. I’ve no doubt the orange-shirted guides know what to do, but thinking about it morphed into this story, page 49. Read it.

Maria Hudgins lives in Hampton, Virginia. For thirty years, she taught high school sciences, including biology, earth science, oceanography, and chemistry. Maria is the author of five travel mysteries set in exotic locations, two ebook mysteries, and short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine and Virginia is for Mysteries. Visit Maria on Facebook, Twitter, and www.mariahudgins.com.


“The Witches’ Bridge” - Adele Gardner

My story takes place in a fictional version of one of my favorite places in Virginia, Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg.  I’ve been attending Howl-O-Scream with my brother Theo, and often my sister Melody, since it first began, and I look forward to it every year.  If you love Halloween like I do, this is the place to be!  Get yourself a pass and go back as many times as you can!  There are so many spooky treats, from haunted mazes (at a variety of fear levels) to roving monsters to spooky music to Halloween song-and-dance numbers (including the Count in the Sesame Street Forest of Fun).  The decorations throughout the park are fantastic.  All the shops are filled with ghoulish goods, and some of these haunted mazes are so creepy I find myself actually believing I’m trapped in the catacombs with living skeletons!

 One year, I actually saw something so frighteningly real it inspired this story.  I stood in terror, wondering if I dared intervene, while a man bounced a protesting woman in his arms, dangerously close to the railing of a bridge.  But thankfully that real-life story did not take the direction mine does.  What happens in my story is entirely fictitious.  And I’ve always found Busch Gardens to be an extremely safety-conscious and safe place.

 Can you tell I love Halloween with a passion?  Every year, I celebrate by creating new costumes, running through as many haunted houses as I can find, and writing more Halloween stories and poems, usually by night on black paper with a raven nearby . . . a little black cat . . . and, I hope, some ghosts.  I really loved sitting in my backyard and writing “The Witches’ Bridge” in the days leading up to Halloween.  And I must confess - some of my best ideas for stories and poems are ones I’ve jotted down in the spooky ambiance of Howl-O-Scream!

Theo & Adele Gardner, terrified at Busch Gardens Photo by Theo Gardner

Theo & Adele Gardner, terrified at Busch Gardens Photo by Theo Gardner

Adele Gardner - Adele Gardner goes by her middle name to honor her father and mentor, Delbert R. Gardner—poet, scholar, and WWII veteran — for whom she’s literary executor. Adele’s Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Hidden Lane,” appears in A Study in Lavender. She’s had over 325 short stories, poems, artwork/photographs, and nonfiction published in Daily Science Fiction, Legends of the Pendragon, The Doom of Camelot, American Arts Quarterly, The Cape Rock, and Magill’s Choice: 100 Masters of Mystery and Detective Fiction.

Her poetry collection, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, appears under the byline, Lyn C.A. Gardner. Visit Adele on Facebook and www.gardnercastle.com.


"Within This Circle" Ken Wingate

“WITHIN THIS CIRCLE” is set at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In my story, Charles Worthington is certain he will obtain the promotion he has so long desired. When he doesn't, a succession of four deaths and an exposed love affair plunge him toward a path of self-destruction.

When I decided to write a murder mystery to submit to the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, my palette was totally empty. My friend Judy suggested the idea of MOCA. The concept of having a murder mystery originate in a highly regarded arts museum inspired me. The story came together quickly as I began assembling the characters. They were to be of the upper-class of Virginia Beach. The CEO of the financial company in the story would be an art enthusiast, so MOCA was his first choice of venue for its annual celebration. The main characters lived in the upscale neighborhood of Bay Colony. This would be a murder among some of the most affluent citizens of Virginia Beach, so MOCA was the perfect location. Its beauty and elegance strongly contrasts to the ugliness of jealousy and revenge captured within the paragraphs of the story.

Ken Wingate writes short stories, poems, reflections, and songs that are shared in performances, recordings, and messages. Ken worked in the music retail business for thirty years and returned to his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia to focus on writing. When not creating in his writing room, Ken enjoys movies, music, and red rock mountains. Ken would like to express his deepest gratitude to Judy Morgan for believing in him then and now, for being his greatest inspiration, and for encouraging his creative nature. A toast, to a most perfect and ideal love! Follow Ken on www.kenwingate.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

"Murder in the Name of Love" Debbiann Holmes

When asked to write this blog, it made me think back to my childhood where my love for writing began. It wasn't writing, at first, that grew the love of the craft; rather it was the love of transforming myself into a different world as a different person. My earliest recognition of it was after I watched the movie Heidi. I took the part of the crippled girl, Clara, acting out my own scene by falling out of a make believe wheelchair and dragging myself down the hallway, escaping something or someone. My mother, seeing me drag myself, instantly became alarmed until I explained I was playing a part in my own made up movie. My imagination grew to include childhood friends playing out characters and situations of many stories I created. Little did I know the love of creating people, places, and situations would grow into the craft of writing. As I grew older, I threw that love into reading and watching movies. It's the escape and the ability to experience different live styles that made me finally decide to put pen to paper. 

While living on a boat located at Ocean Marine in Portsmouth, VA, I had the opportunity to meet many exciting people on these gorgeous yachts that frequented the marina on their way to exotic places. As I learned about the dangers of modern day piracy along with the tales my nephew, who was in coast guard, told me about them a story of mystery and romance took hold. That story plays out in the trilogy of "Unforeseen Circumstances," "Compromises," and "Surrender." I joined this writing group full of new and experienced writers to grow my craft. That was the when my first short story of "Murder in the Name of Love" was written for Virginia is for Mysteries II.

 The story begins in a hotel at the Virginia beach oceanfront near the statue of King Neptune where our main suspect for a murder committed at Fort Monroe is residing. Our heroine, a burgeoning new mystery writer, works her way into his room to try and uncover the mystery if he truly is a murderer or just an unfortunate suspect. 

Debbiann now lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, having since moved off the boat and on to other exciting experiences. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. She is in the process of co-writing a blog which will  have a slant to helping people by sharing life lessons to help with a variety of life experiences such as overcoming fear, living happy in a relationship, among other topics. 

Why I'm Drawn to the Mystery Genre - Linda Thornburg

I recently watched the 2001 film, The Chronicles of Vidocq with Gerard Depardieu. The movie is based on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, a French criminal who later became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale and reportedly head of the first private detective agency. The villain in this movie wears a mask that is mirror like and reflects back to those who look upon him. 

As I think about why I am drawn to reading and writing in the mystery genre that metaphor seems appropriate. I like to read and write about the darker aspects within us all, including myself, because it’s a way of at least taming, if not completely understanding, the violence we face every day in newspaper accounts, websites and television programs that purport to tell us about the real experiences of our society, and sometimes the violence we face in our own lives. 

In my more virtuous moments I wonder if such fascination with mystery fiction only adds to the nearly overwhelming problems of an already violent society. I once heard a writer exhort her audience to eschew the culture of violence and turn to the spirit of creativity that exists within each of us instead.

But I think the answer is not so simple. Aristotle believed that literature is cathartic, a purging of emotion. Creating or reading within mystery genre provides plenty of opportunities to purge darker emotions, but it also provides opportunities to study character, the whys and wherefores of actions and what drives us to do the things we do. Some people read mysteries because they deliver a juster view of the world; the villain usually gets caught and punished. Others read them for the ambience created by the author, a window into a world one would not otherwise be exposed to. I read them for these reasons, but also because the good ones contain grains of truth about character and the human condition. We all face times when the choices we make determine in a big way the course of the rest of our lives. Good fiction, especially mysteries, should capture and clarify some of those times.

Linda Thornburg’s short story “Used” appears in Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II. She has been a writer for more than thirty years and currently manages the website memoriesintostory.com. She is the coauthor of a series of fourteen books on career exploration for teenage girls, Cool Careers for Girls. 

The Emergence of a Story by Rosemary Shomaker

The Virginia mystery I concocted for the Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II anthology features a secret between two 19th Century girls, Tessing and Lettie, from different cultures, races, and “stations” who share a friendship in rural Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Theirs is a simple secret, attributable to young girls and their playtime. The secret is not harrowing or dark, and because of that, the story does not frighten or worry the reader. “Lacks tension” is an accurate judgment of one reviewer. Still, bear with me. This blog post is about how ideas emerge.
I learned that mystery fiction should have one or more of these bases: something unexplained, something missing, or some secret. Questions of who killed Professor Plum, how did Jane Doe die, and why was the bakery torched suggest plots for the unexplained. An abduction or a theft may fill the bill for a missing situation. The secret base; well, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, “[Rosie], you’ve got some ’splaining to do!”
After visiting Clarksville and Mecklenburg County, I started a story about the disappearance of a woman with clues provided by the apparition of a 19th Century manor resident. Then I began a story about Clarksville, greed, and a boating murder on Buggs Island Lake. Neither of those stories panned out. Instead, the history and charm of Prestwould Plantation stayed with me, and the interesting account of the Skipwith Family’s provincial reign won out over my attempts to fictionalize dastardly deeds. In the formula for a mystery using a basis of a secret, the revealed confidence should be of life-changing magnitude. The secret of “Artifact of a Friendship” doesn’t rock the world, I’ll admit, but it does reveals much about relationships, and about the power, healing, and gifts of memory. I plead “guilty” to writing a gentle mystery. It's the story, in the end, that I wanted to tell. Maybe next I’d write about the friendship from Lettie’s perspective, and deceit, theft, and murder could then abound at Prestwould Plantation. 

This story’s tone, style, and setting, however, do contribute to Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II by delivering an uncommon offering. With its window into Southside Virginia that toggles across time, the story provides a lively jaunt for the reader.

Rosemary Shomaker writes about the layers beneath seemingly ordinary happenings. She’s an urban planner by degree, a government policy analyst by practice, a fiction writer at heart, and a member of Sisters in Crime. Rosie’s short stories populate several anthologies. “Death in the House” appeared in Virginia is for Mysteries. Follow Rosie on the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Facebook page.  

"Death in the Great Dismal" by C.B. Lane

Despite my story, “Death in the Great Dismal,” murder and mayhem at the Great Dismal Swamp is, thankfully, not a frequent occurrence (knock on wood!). Nonetheless, the federal wildlife officers who patrol and protect the wildlife and visitors at that and other national wildlife refuges are highly trained federal law enforcement officers. Once they’re screened physically and psychologically, they undergo sixteen weeks of “land management police training” at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, the same place that officers destined for work with NCIS, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, some Homeland Security divisions, and many other federal branches train. After this, they have three weeks of classroom work and scenarios covering wildlife refuge specific laws and regulations. But, even then, they’re not quite finished. They undergo ten weeks of field training with two different field training officers on wildlife refuges. Then, every year, they have an intensive “in-service” training to ensure their skills are sharp and they’re up to date on the latest laws and policies. In addition, they get together locally to do drills and practice with their firearms.

These are the men and women who stay on site during government shut downs, thrash their way through blackberries and greenbrier to find downed planes, respond to grisly accidents, patrol in boats in the worst winter weather to protect our waterfowl, and confront people who don’t want to talk to them. They’re also the ones who help elderly tourists change flat tires, rescue stranded canoeists, jump into water to help people out of their sinking cars, or just chat pleasantly with visitors to the refuge.

So, while life is usually pretty peaceful at the Great Dismal, there is always something going on at a national wildlife refuge, and these dedicated, honorable federal wildlife officers do their best to protect and serve the public and the wildlife.

C.B. Lane grew up in Virginia Beach. After college in Blacksburg, Peace Corps in Senegal, and work in Northern California, she settled in Suffolk, where she lives on a farm near the Great Dismal with her husband and two wiener dogs who bark at everything that moves. C.B. received her MFA in Writing from Spalding University and is a member of Sisters in Crime. She has written short stories, is a frequent student at the Muse Writer’s Center in Norfolk and is working on a novel set in southeastern Virginia just after the Civil War. C.B. blogs at cblanewrites.wordpress.com.


It's Wine O'Clock Somewhere" by Jayne Ormerod

Yorktown Battlefield, Part of the Colonial National Historic Park, Virginia.

Yorktown Battlefield, Part of the Colonial National Historic Park, Virginia.

“It’s Wine O’clock omewhere” has a REALTOR® as its POV (point of view) character.  My day job is that of finding beautiful homes for buyers and listing homes for those needing to move.  They say “write what you know.”  In fact, the bomb shelter described in the opening scene was something I discovered in a house near the beach.  I took pictures and everything, knowing full well that it would end up in a story someday.  I chose to set the story in Yorktown, Virginia because, also like my character, I didn’t appreciate history until I was an adult.  I find America’s Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown, Virginia offers fertile ground for story ideas.  When in the area, I also make time to visit the Yorktown Riverwalk District. The calamari mentioned is based on a menu item at my favorite place to stop for a snack and a drink.  When it comes to the wine references, again I follow the “write what you know” advice.  Salud! 

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town and attended a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her accountancy degree she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor). She married a naval officer, and off they went to see the world. After fifteen moves, she realized she needed a more transportable vocation, so she turned to writing. Jayne writes cozy mysteries about small towns with beach settings.  Learn more about Jayne and her stories at www.JayneOrmerod.com.

DOWN BY THE RIVER by Rosemary Stevens

As February and the official publication of Virginia is For Mysteries: Volume II grows closer, I can’t help but reflect on the concerted effort by all authors and editors involved to make VIFMII the best book possible. I’m proud to be a part of this creative endeavor and hope that readers enjoy every page.

As for my story, do you remember the days of the big, downtown Richmond department stores? When I was a little girl growing up in Richmond, a big treat was to go to Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes. The store window displays, the smell of the bakery, my wrist under the perfume fountain, Santa, the tea room, and when I was older, meeting friends under the clock.

As a teen, my first job was working for Thalhimers in ladies sportswear. At the time, I dreamed of becoming a clothes buyer for the store, with frequent trips to NYC and maybe even Paris. It wasn’t meant to be, but I’ve never lost my love for those two department stores.

But what if there was another teenager working at a department store with similar hopes and dreams? Maybe back in the 1970s before modern technology and forensics. What if she befriended the wrong person?

Rosemary Stevens

Raised in Richmond, Virginia, Rosemary Stevens took home the trophy for Vocabulary Student of the Year in high school and went on to study marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University. An early career selling cemetery plots was perhaps a portent for a life-long love of detective fiction.

Rosemary is the author of eleven novels and has won both the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and the RT Reviewers Choice Award, also for Best First Mystery.  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her family including two Siamese cats.  Visit Rosemary on the web at www.rosemarystevens.com. Rosemary has a Pinterest page for DOWN BY THE RIVER. You can see it here: https://www.pinterest.com/rosemarystevens/


War and Murder at Nimrod Hall - Vivian Lawry

In high school, I hated Ohio and American history. I didn't want to memorize the dates of battles, the names of generals, the placement of Ohio's 88 counties and their county seats. In college, I avoided taking a history course of any sort. But after graduate school, historical fiction, biographies, and memoirs ignited my interest. I find social history, and the civilian parallels to military history, fascinating. Thus, I am more interested in sex during the Civil War than in mapping troop movements at Gettysburg, what was happening in medicine and sources of corruption than who was in charge of which part of the armies. Thus my story for Virginia Is For Mysteries, "Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery" was born, with the amateur detective being Clara, a good-natured prostitute who specialized in serving men with benign fetishes in and around Richmond during the Civil War.

I enjoyed writing Clara, and readers seemed to enjoy the story, so for Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II, I decided to take Clara from Richmond to the West. But why Nimrod Hall? For one thing, it's historic, the property established as a farm in 1783. For another, I've enjoyed summer writing workshops at the modern (but rustic) Nimrod Hall of today for more than 10 years. It still stands near the Cowpasture River, and has the original fieldstone fireplace. 

I'm familiar with Bath County, Millboro and Millboro Springs, and Warm Springs. In addition, the Bath County Historical Society is the baby of Richard L. Armstrong, the man who wrote a booklet titled, The Civil War in Bath County, Virginia. He was very helpful and willingly shared his thoughts. If you are ever in Warm Springs, stop by—and then enjoy the waters at what are now called the Jefferson Pools.

Ultimately, I was able to weave local war history and the names of its actors with the Civil War railroad system, the history of Nimrod Hall and its public scandals into a story in which Clara arrives at the farm to become enmeshed in murder and intrigue that never happened—but could have!

ivian Lawry is a founding member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime and served two terms as chapter president. She writes mysteries, historical fiction, magical realism, and memoir-based prose. Nettie’s Books was a finalist in the Best Unpublished Novel Contest sponsored by James River Writers and Richmond Magazine. Her short stories have appeared in more than four dozen literary journals and anthologies, from The Alembic to Xavier Review to Virginia is for Mysteries. She coauthored two Chesapeake Bay Mysteries, Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart. Her most recent book, Different Drummer, is a collection of offbeat fiction. Vivian collects carved wooden Santa’s, dictionaries, and Depression glass. She lives and writes near Richmond, Virginia. Visit Vivian on Facebook and read her blogs at vivianlawry.com.


"Corked for Murder" by Teresa Inge

“CORKED FOR MURDER” is set on a main corridor in Chesapeake, Virginia, near the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

In my story, wine shop owner Halee Matthews discovers the dead body of a bridesmaid in her wine room after hosting a wine tasting for a bridal party.

When Halee sets out to clear her name after being accused of murder, she discovers wine and a drunken bridal party make a perfect pairing for murder.

I based the story on a wine shop in the Hickory area of Chesapeake where locals shop and tourists stop in to buy wine on their way to the Outer Banks, a popular tourist attraction one hour away.

Teresa Inge

Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hot rods. She assists two busy executives and is president of the Sisters in Crime Virginia Beach Chapter. Teresa is the author of “Shopping for Murder,” and “Guide to Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries, “Fishing for Murder” in the FishNets anthology and has coordinated anthologies. Visit Teresa on Facebook, Twitter, and www.teresainge.com.

The Mill Mountain Star - Roanoke Virginia

"Spring Cleaning" is set at the base of Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. In my story, medical records manager, Douglas Weimer, gets more than he bargained for when he’s moved onto a new team and receives a project with a drop-dead delivery date. His new assignment gives new meaning to deadlines.

When I was little, my family visited Roanoke, where my mother grew up. I was enchanted with the star on the top of the mountain. It was a beacon that could be spotted for miles. When I went back with my husband in the early 90s, the star was the only landmark that looked familiar. The town had changed so much since my last visit.

In my story, the star has special meaning for the main character. To him, it’s more than the giant neon statue that’s been a fixture on Mill Mountain since 1949.

Heather Weidner


Heather Weidner has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.  Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather lives in Central Virginia with her husband and pair of crazy Jack Russell terriers. When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys kayaking, photography, and visiting the beach as much as possible. She is President of the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter. Heather's debut novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes will be out in May 2016. Her story “Washed Up” appeared in Virginia is for Mysteries. She writes the blog Crazy for Words and is a guest blogger for a variety of sites. Visit Heather on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and www.heatherweidner.com