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One Writer's World

Three New Mystery Writers

Crime fiction has a certain magnetism that draws writers of varied experiences and interests, who introduce readers to unexpected and perhaps unexplored corners of the world. Three writers new to the genre have done just that in Wolfsbane: Best New England Crime Stories 2023.
Two of the three writers are social workers, so they bring to their work an overabundance of experience with human beings at their most intense, perhaps not at their worst but possibly at their most extreme.


In Michael Ditchfield's "Undercover in Alcatraz," a young man soon after his marriage is approached by two federal agents who persuade him to undertake a short stint as a criminal in Alcatraz. The job is simple enough—just gather certain information—and the pay is good. But like all things in life, there's a lot more to the proposal than going undercover in a prison.


In "The Snitch" by Sean Harding, we remain on the outside but life isn't much better. An ever-patient informant waits for his handler to pay him, and to show up on time. He has little status in his life, no prospects for anything better, and a meager network through which to earn his pay. But he makes friends easily with a young girl, and we learn what kind of character is hidden within a man who is held in contempt by most people on both sides of the line.

Christine H. Chen brings a different perspective from her multicultural background. After numerous short stories in diverse publications, Chen turned her skills to mysteries, and managed to serve up a gem. In her story "Lost and Found" the generations cross history and cultures before they can meet. Only then can an act against the victim be understood.

These are only three of the twenty-one stories in the forthcoming Wolfsbane, the third anthology from Crime Spell Books in the ongoing series to highlight New England writers. We are proud to publish the first short stories by Michael Ditchfield and Sean Harding, and the first crime story by Christine H. Chen.

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On Vacation—sort of

I've never quite understood the idea of taking time off from writing in the summer. On the face of it, this seems like such a reasonable idea that no one would question it. Doesn't everyone need time away from whatever they're working on? A board member for the nonprofit where I used to work insisted that all of us needed time away to rest and refresh. She emphasized the need to return with a new perspective, after shaking loose the minor confusions and disagreements that inevitably occur in a group of people working closely together. It sounded great to us because we liked time off to do other things. But as a writer, I wanted time off to write, to leave my day job behind for a few days or weeks without feeling guilty.

This August seems an especially good time for a vacation. June was monsoon season in New England. Gone are the sunny early summer days with warm mornings and cool evenings. Now it's all rain. July changed that, swapping the rain for the sun. We had heat. Nothing like what was happening in the West and Southwest and South, but hot for us. I grew up in this area so I expected a few hot days in July, but not what we got. And then it ended.

August is turning out to be perfect.

The perfect time for a vacation, a time of sitting on the beach or on the dock or on a boat or in the park, anywhere but inside at a desk. And yet, this month of August as it begins finds me happily right here typing away. My imagination seems to have selected August as the perfect time to start a new mystery featuring Anita Ray, the Indian American photographer living at her aunt's tourist hotel.

At first I thought I'd start a new Anita Ray slowly, find an idea and flesh it out. I did that, but when I sat down to write the first scene, ideas and characters appeared who weren't in the one-page description I'd written. I checked it to see where the scene would go, didn't find a spot, and forgot about the outline. The scene that came the following day seemed to make sense, so I kept going.

After two and a half weeks, I have fifteen thousand words, sixteen scenes, almost sixty pages, and no idea where all this is going. Some peculiar detail in the first chapter turns out to be an important clue for a behavior in the fifth chapter. A walk-on character has had so much to say in ambiguous terms that I fear I'm stuck with her. She's certifiably crazy and refuses to go anywhere else. Anita Ray is learning to cope with her.
When writing my previous books I've created a rough outline and checked it every scene, to see how things fit together. Although I often wasn't sure how things would turn out, I did have one option in mind. This time I have none. Not a one. I have a dead body—but I don't know if he's a victim of a murder or an accidental death or even a suicide. Somewhere along the line I have to find out, and I guess I will.

I may not have planned on taking a vacation from thinking, but I seem to have done so. This Anita Ray mystery novel is writing itself while my orderly plotting brain has gone on vacation. The words are coming out, they're interesting and intriguing, and some part of my brain seems to know where it's going. Now, on vacation, I'm just along for the ride.

The title is, fittingly, The Lure of Mohini, the stunningly beautiful and seductive female form adopted by Vishnu to deceive and tempt the demons so they miss out on their share of the heavenly ambrosia. I've certainly fallen for the lure of Mohini, and follow along helplessly. And I hope she knows where she's going. I'll let you know when I find out.

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