Inside Murderous Means

Dysfunctional families can be complicated. So can writing a mystery. Imagine writing a mystery centering around a dysfunctional family, which is what happened in MURDEROUS MEANS, #6 in my Southern California mystery series. Was it tougher to write? Maybe. But also more fun.

Book Cover: Murderous Means by Lida Sideris

I like playing around with words. I came up with the name of this blog* after a visit to Boston Harbor where most of the boats have memorably clever names (the Codfather, the Reel Deal). I was thinking of those names when I came up with the Means Well Ranch, the perfect setting for an odd, not even close, family named the Means. Oh, those family dynamics! Gets me every time.

Telling the future can be complicated, too. How about that psychic/medium/fortune teller who insists the Means family matriarch didn’t just die in her sleep. What’s that about? Exploring the psychic world opened up many opportunities for shenanigans in my book. I’ve never been to a séance, have you?  Rather than attend an actual (or is it pretend?) one, I threw a séance into my book and let my heroine and her sidekicks handle it. 

A hands-on mother can also be complicated. Especially when you’re an adult child. Just ask Corrie. Victoria Locke definitely has her own ideas about everything, especially about the direction her daughter’s P.I. work should take. Victoria somehow manages to fit herself into each situation, risky or not, much to Corrie’s chagrin, but Corrie can’t get rid of her. Or maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t want to. Corrie’s never exactly told me. Victoria is there mostly to watch Corrie’s back and to be part of the thrill of the investigation. If she knew how exciting cracking a case was, she would’ve joined in sooner! The mother-daughter scenes make me smile the most while writing them. Do they remind me of my own mother-daughter scenes? Maybe, a little.

I had a different story in mind, when I first started writing this book, as well as a different criminal, but my characters showed me I was dead wrong (forgive the pun). 

* It’s not “Follow the Lye-da.” It’s “Follow the Lee-da.” Get it?

Need a Lift?

Do you feel down sometimes? When that happens to me, I turn to an immediate mood lifter: gratitude.

November is the month to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, reminding us to be thankful for all of our blessings. The rest of the year, I write in a gratitude journal to make sure I keep all the good stuff in front of me.

I recently heard a story about how a grateful attitude dramatically changed a person’s life: An inmate in a San Diego prison was constantly being placed in solitary confinement, due to his aggressive nature. When his thirty days in solitary would be up, he’d be back almost instantly.

One time, a guard slipped a pamphlet on gratitude in the prisoner’s tiny solitary space. At first, the man became very angry, but having nothing else to do, he read the pamphlet, which suggested taking a deep breath, for starters. He did and noticed he felt a little different. A little bit better. Next, he turned to giving thanks, sarcastically at first (“Am I supposed to be thankful for being stuck in this miserable stink hole?”), but as he continued thanking, he noticed a change. His words became less sarcastic and more sincere. And, for the first time, he felt a little compassion for himself. As this thanksgiving continued, his heart began to soften.

After his thirty days were up, the prison guards were astonished to see him emerge with a smile on his face. His behavior changed dramatically enough not only to avoid solitary confinement, but to earn him an early release.

Without the right attitude, I can’t write my books. To get the right attitude, I remind myself of all that I’m grateful for by writing in my journal. It feels good, it feels right, to give thanks and helps me to focus on the better parts of life and cast away the rest. Studies have even shown that a tiny bit of gratitude produces positive results such as lifting one’s mood, lowering blood pressure, having fewer aches and less stress. 

Gratitude is an expansion of the heart, leading to peace and calm. My writing flows when I keep the right frame of mind, for which I am always thankful. What writer doesn’t want that?

Keeping Things Real

My upcoming release, #6 in my Southern California mysteries – MURDEROUS MEANS, hints of the supernatural and things that go bump in the night. 

The story takes place in a small Western style town in Southern California, halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Have you heard of Los Ranchos? Probably not. It’s an imaginary setting in the Malibu canyon area. 

The idea seed was planted after I read an article about clairvoyants and mediums. I even included a séance scene, which nearly sends heroine Corrie Locke reeling away into the night, leaving the case in her wake. Do you believe in ghosts and otherworldly happenings? Corrie doesn’t. Or does she? 

Murderous Means was the first novel I didn’t write completely by the seat of my pants. The beginning and middle were mapped out, but not the ending. Name gathering helped my idea seeds germinate.

The past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people. One encounter introduced me to a name I’d not heard before; one that lit my imagination: Gifty. I met the real Gifty briefly in a virtual meeting. Her voice was low and melodious. Her manner was gentle. As I researched the origin of her name, Gifty, the character, jumped right into my novel. Meanwhile, I visited one of my favorite book stores and chatted with the lovely manager. She had another unforgettable name. Very James Bond-girlish: Heidi Honeyman. With the real Heidi’s permission, her name ended up in my novel. Then I met Caleb Wiseblood, a talented journalist. Guess where his name ended up? 

When I’m conjuring up characters, the right name helps me create a clear picture of each one in my head; the sounds of their voices, their physical appearances, how their minds work, how they dress, and so on. If they’re real to me, they will be to my readers, as well. Even after a book is done, my secondary characters stick around for a while, until I start the next novel. I kind of liked the company of the Murderous Means bunch, but we’ll be saying goodbye soon, as I hunt down names for my next cast of characters.