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A boxed set of the first four complete, full length Morelville Mysteries featuring Sheriff Mel Crane and Agent Dana Rossi plus a special Companion Guide. You get:The Companion Guide featuring 16 articles full of insight into the Morelville Mysteries series.Book 1: Relic – Cases collide for two star crossed ladies of law enforcement!Customs Special Agent Dana Rossi was forced to start her life anew after a bad breakup with her former girlfriend and the loss of job that she loved. These days, she spends life on the road, moving from one case to another until one day when runs run right into the path of Sheriff Mel Crane. The feisty, sexy butch cop is as determined to uncover a counterfeiting ring in her county as Agent Rossi is to conduct an undercover investigation of her own with a tight deadline: finding and then stopping a ring of smugglers bringing high end designer knock-offs into the states.Could their cases be related? When repeated vicious attacks on Mel and on her home accelerate the danger for her and also their attraction to each other, they become desperate to find the truth and solve the two mysteries. Can they find a way to work together to resolve both cases while coming to terms with their growing feelings for one another?Book 2: Busy Bees – Romance and Murder Mix in the Latest Story Featuring Sheriff Mel Crane and Special Agent Dana Rossi!Customs Special Agent Dana Rossi is down but not out after being shot and seriously injured during her previous assignment. Will romance blossom or will sparks fly when she agrees to shack up in Morelville with the beautiful butch Sheriff Melissa ‘Mel’ Crane and her extended family while she recovers?Will murder get in the way of love? If murder doesn’t, will life in a house with children or a political campaign keep them apart? Can Mel solve two major crimes and keep her former job on the road loving girlfriend happy in a tiny town?Book 3: Dana’s Dilemma – Elections and Old Loves Combine with Deadly Results in the Newest Romantic Mystery Featuring Sheriff Mel Crane and Special Agent Dana Rossi!What happens when Mel runs for Sheriff, an Amish girl runs away from home and Dana runs – er, limps - for cover? Can anything else possibly go wrong for these two ladies of law enforcement? Sure it can…and it will!Can the two sometimes lovers work it all out once and for all and finally have a happy life together or will more crime, murder and mayhem get in the way?Book 4: Hitched and Tied – Mel and Dana attempt to bring their growing relationship full circle but family, duty and family duties all conspire to get in the way.A victim with close ties to the Cranes escapes a deadly assault with his life only to die from his injuries minutes later. Mel has few clues to find the fighter turned murderer and the further she goes with her investigation, the more the situation deteriorates. Meanwhile, Dana’s trying to plan their wedding but the family is resisting.
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The Morelville Companion
A Loose Guide to the Morelville Mysteries Series
To my readers, with many thanks
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2016
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
The Morelville Mysteries Full Circle Collection Boxed Set
Chapter 1 - Dana
Chapter 2 – Dana in Deep Doo Doo
Chapter 3 – They Meet Again
Chapter 4 - Mel
Chapter 5 – Mel and Dana Meet a 3rd Time
Chapter 6 – Dana
Chapter 7 – Mel
Chapter 8 - Dana
Chapter 9 – Motocross & Madness
Chapter 10 – Dana’s Dilemma
Chapter 11 – Mel & Mayhem
Chapter 12 – Cases Collide
Chapter 13 – Stalkers and Smugglers, Oh My!
Chapter 14 – A Meeting of the Minds
Chapter 15 – Relic
Chapter 16 – Mel: Death Defying
Chapter 17 – Waterlogged
Chapter 18 – Dana: Attorneys and Gangbangers
Chapter 19 – A Plan Forms
Chapter 20 – Finding Relic
Chapter 21 – Ops
Chapter 22 – Dana’s Game
Chapter 23 – Teamwork
Chapter 24 – Two to Tango
Chapter 25 – Down to Business
Chapter 26 – Thwarted
Chapter 27 – Regroup
Chapter 28 - Reset
Chapter 29 – Crawl, Walk, Run
Chapter 30 - Rodeo
Chapter 31 – Denouement
Chapter 1 – Prologue
Chapter 2 – Is it Murder?
Chapter 3 – Taking Liberties
Chapter 4 – Inquest
Chapter 5 – Dana
Chapter 6 – The Truth...Maybe
Chapter 7 – Tap Dancing
Chapter 8 – The Hive
Chapter 9 - Homecoming
Chapter 10 – Double Trouble
Chapter 11 – County Mountie
Chapter 12 – Home on the Range
Chapter 13 – TGIF...or Not
Chapter 14 – Eye of the Survivor
Chapter 15 – Family Fun Day
Chapter 16 – Back to the Grind
Chapter 17 – Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Chapter 18 – Twofer
Chapter 19 – Pants Down
Chapter 20 – Comparing Notes
Chapter 21 – Sticks
Chapter 22 – Bzzzz
Chapter 23 – A Brilliant Idea
Chapter 24 – Swirling Vortex
Chapter 25 – Just a Friend
Chapter 26 – Confessions
Chapter 27 – Jonesing
Chapter 28 – Home Locked Home
Chapter 29 – Kelly Did or Kelly Didn’t
Chapter 30 – Beans
Chapter 31 – Soft Evidence
Chapter 32 – Big Sandy
Chapter 33 – Coon Ridge
Chapter 34 – Denouement
Chapter 1 – Manic Monday
Chapter 2 – Putnam Hill Park
Chapter 3 – Settling Up
Chapter 4 – Money, Money, Money
Chapter 5 - The City Club
Chapter 6 – Feed Store and More
Chapter 7 – An Ex Comes a Calling
Chapter 8 – Meet Up
Chapter 9 – Trouble
Chapter 10 – PI Dana?
Chapter 11 – Ex Pest
Chapter 12 – We Have a Floater...
Chapter 13 - Evidence
Chapter 14 – Breaking Amish
Chapter 15 – Witnesses
Chapter 16 – Crane is a Drain
Chapter 17 – Blow Back
Chapter 18 – Lions and Tigers and Lawyers...
Chapter 19 – Escape
Chapter 20 – The Past Revisited
Chapter 21 – Bright Lights
Chapter 22 – Indictments
Chapter 23 – Aggie
Chapter 24 – Mel
Chapter 25 – On the Move
Chapter 26 – Secrets
Chapter 27 – Troutman is a Douche
Chapter 28 – Losing Hannah
Chapter 29 – Ransom
Chapter 30 – Collared
Chapter 31 – Catching a Kidnapper
Chapter 32 – Denouement
Hitched & Tied
Chapter 1 – Yes
Chapter 2 – Falling
Chapter 3 – Cue it Up
Chapter 4 – It’s all About the Fair
Chapter 5 - Carnival of Animals
Chapter 6 – Heat Wave
Chapter 7 – Sharks
Chapter 8 – When Pigs Fly
Chapter 9 – Show Time
Chapter 10 – Claim Check
Chapter 11 – Sold!
Chapter 12 – Free Day...or Not
Chapter 13 – Last Ride
Chapter 14 – Just Another Fun Day
Chapter 15 – Sterling Moon
Chapter 16 – Sayonara
Chapter 17 – The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 18 – Feeling Low
Chapter 19 – Huntress
Chapter 20 – Stakeout
Chapter 21 – Place your Bets
Chapter 22 – Gossip
Chapter 23 – Meet the Rossi’s
Chapter 24 – Back to Business
Chapter 25 – The Setup
Chapter 26 – The Sting
Chapter 27 – Hitched
Chapter 28 – Tied
About the Author
Also Written by the Author
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Hi, I’m Anne Hagan, the author of the Morelville Mysteries series and the spin off Morelville Cozies series. I’d like to take a moment to introduce this special companion guide to you.
The first Morelville Mystery novel, ‘Relic’, was released exclusively to Amazon in December of 2014. Since that time, six additional books have followed in that series and one for the cozy series. All of those were also released exclusively to the same single retailer. ‘Relic’ is now available via most major retailers.
The boxed set, The Morelville Mysteries Full Circle Collection, which you’re receiving this guide with, is comprised of the first four novels in the original lesfic themed mystery series. Each book contains a stand-alone mystery but there’s also an ongoing romantic sub plot that runs throughout the four stories that culminates – comes full circle, so to speak – in Book Four, ‘Hitched and Tied’.
This four book set is not available at Amazon. This companion guide, made up of previous blog posts about the series, isn’t available there either. Right now, you can only get it with this set...er...you can, of course, go out and dig through all of my posts to get the 16 missives from my head that follow but why do that when you can easily read them all right here?
I appreciate you buying this collection of eBooks. Thanks for being a reader and thanks for reading.
Originally published February 4th, 2015
A note from Anne: What follows is a blog post, as written, that was meant to appeal to my audience at the time I wrote it – mostly other writers. As a reader, please feel free to skip down to the fifth paragraph for my take on why I write the books that I do.
When you write novels and you sell what you write, you spend a lot of time wondering just how many books you can sell. You'd very likely be lying if you said you never ran calculations to see how many books you'd have to sell to make a million dollars or to make 'X' amount of dollars per month, and so forth. We all like to dream, after all.
In a perfect world, our novels would sell to a target market that ran from ages 13 to 80, male and female, from all races and from all walks of life. We all know it isn't a perfect world. Even a blockbuster best seller doesn't appeal to everyone. Most of us will never taste the sweetness of having anything more than, possibly, a niche category best seller.
Certainly, you should write the story you want to write but, if you intend to sell your work, you should consider penning a story that a reasonably sized group of people would be willing to buy and read. We've already established that everybody is not in your audience. You need to figure out who is.
Who is your ideal reader? What does he or she like to read? What's she like, overall? Where does he live? How old is she? Those are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself. Once you've established who your target market is, you need to make sure your book is a fit for it and that, once it's published, you advertise it to that market.
Personally, I've always been a fan of mystery fiction. As I've aged, I've gravitated toward sleuths who are like me; middle aged females. I'm also a member of the LGBT community and I like it when my protagonists reflect that too but it isn't an absolute requirement. If you write a mystery with an over 30 lesbian sleuth that has a half way interesting description, I'm probably going to want to read it. Give her a female foil and potential love interest and you can surely count me in. Guess what? I'm not alone.
When I wrote my first book, ‘Relic’, a mystery, there were a lot of ways I could have gone with my dual leads. They could have been male and female in the most traditional sense of mysteries. They could have been young to appeal to the YA audience. The book could have been clean of both graphic sex and any sort of gore description and been an almost 'cozy' mystery (you can’t get around the two leads in the book being law enforcement professionals). I had to define who I wanted the book to fit.
I chose to have my story resemble the books I most like to read. I like writing what I would want to see and I like writing what I know about. I could have gone other ways with the book and, probably, sold more books and made more money. Leaving a little money on the table, so to speak, is less important to me than enjoying the craft of writing and producing something that other women like me want to read but often have a hard time finding.
Originally published February 18th, 2015
Map of the Fictitious Village of Morelville, OH
My spouse grew up on a farm just outside of a tiny, unincorporated Ohio village. Her grandparents had a home in the village. That's where her mother grew up and where she spent a lot of time growing up herself. After we met, she lived with me in the Columbus, Ohio metro area for several years but just over a year ago (*back in late 2013 as I write this guide - Anne) we bought a house in this little town and moved here. I based much of the local color in my book Relic on this little slice of heaven.
No, this village isn't called 'Morelville'. Morelville doesn't actually exist. It's a figment of my imagination that's been set down in an area that I'm also quite familiar with a ways away from here. For the sake of better story settings, it's fictitiously set in Muskingum County Ohio near the Blue Rock State Park and State Forest southeast of the small Ohio city of Zanesville and just east of the Muskingum River town of Philo, Ohio.
Around the village I actually live in, mushroom hunting for Morel mushrooms is a popular sport in the spring. The name 'Morelville' stems - pun intended - from the mushroom collecting hobby so many around here enjoy. That and a lot of the other activities depicted in book one – the one with the Morel Mushroom on the cover) and that will be depicted in book two, ‘Busy Bees’ are common throughout this area of Eastern Ohio in the foothills of Appalachia. Rodeos? We've got them. Hunting, quad riding, motocross, bee keeping, moonshining, oil drilling? Check! Those things are all done around here and much, much more. Amish? Yeah, they exist in a 5-7 county area en masse very near Muskingum County. Are they actually in that county? Not many but there are a few. I've extended their reach just a bit to add a little more local color. They played minor roles in book one. They'll be a little more prominent in book three.
A lot of book two takes place in the limits of the city of Zanesville rather than in the village of Morelville. For the second installment, I use a lot of real city locations mixed with a few that are made up. The Hive restaurant, for example, really does not exist but the 'Y' bridge most certainly does as does Genesis Hospital, the Delong funeral Home (though its name is longer) and several other places. The Blue Rock State Forest also exists and there are oil drilling rigs all over eastern Ohio but the farms and rigs I say are near there are made up. If there are real farms and rigs in the area, it's pure coincidence.
It's fun to me to make up places for the action of my stories to take place but I do think that it's important to give my readers some frame of reference that's realistic.
Originally published June 24th, 2015
A note from Anne: What follows is a ‘Quick Guide’, that was written for Morelville Mysteries series readers before the release of Book 4, ‘Hitched and Tied’ so it’s a bit dated for a full accounting here. I’ve chosen to include it because it does give a little detail about some of the supporting characters in the book and a little more information about the Zanesville setting I use throughout the series.
Dana Rossi: A Special Agent with the investigative division of the United States Customs and Border Protection Service. At the start of Book 1, Dana is 34 years old and approximately 5'6" inches tall. Click the link for a full character profile of Dana.
Melissa 'Mel' Crane: Mel is the fictional County Sheriff of the very real Muskingum County, Ohio. She was born and raised on a farm near the tiny fictional village of Morelville and she currently resides in the village with her twin sister Kris and Kris's two children, Beth and Cole. At the start of Book 1, Mel is age 35 and approximately 5'10". A link to a full character profile for Mel is here.
Karissa 'Kris' Crane: The twin sister to Mel, born minutes later, prefers to be called Kris. She and Mel live in their grandparents (now deceased) former home in Morelville along with Kris's children by a previous marriage to Jeremy David Roberts.
Cole Roberts: The 15-year-old son (as of book one) of Kris Crane. Figures in Book 1 and prominently in the upcoming Book 4.
Beth Roberts: The 13-year-old daughter of Kris Crane. Beth figures in Book 1 and more prominently in the upcoming Book 4.
Jesse Crane: Father to Mel and Kris and grandfather to Beth and Cole. Married to Faye Crane. Featured in Book 1 and more prominently in Book 4.
Faye Crane: Mother to Mel and Kris and grandmother to Beth and Cole. Married to Jesse Crane. Featured in all books (and may someday get her own cozy series...just sayin')
All of the books have other recurring and one time characters. Book 3 features some people from Dana's past in the form of exes. Book 4 will introduce Kris's romantic love interest (straight) Lance, and Dana's parents and brothers.
Morelville: Morelville is an entirely fictional village that comes right out of my own head. It has similarities to the tiny unincorporated village that I currently live in but it has myriad differences too. For purposes of the story, I've placed it in Muskingum County Ohio in an area that is actually rolling farm land surrounded by dense forest. If you go there, you won't find Morelville, only cows and trees and a corn field or fourteen.
Zanesville: Zanesville is a real city (town) with a population of about 25,000 people. It's the County Seat of the real Muskingum County, Ohio. Throughout the book series, I use actual locations in Zanesville to depict completely fictional events. I also make up locations in Zanesville that do not now exist nor have they ever. Some locations that do get repeated mention, like the Sheriff's office, I've located more conveniently to the action of the stories. Genesis Hospital is referred to often in at least three of the books. The hospital is real and there are many fine professionals working there to provide the very best healthcare possible. Events and staff members at the hospital are entirely a figment of my overactive imagination and are no way reflective of anything or anyone at the real life Genesis facility.
Originally published December 19th, 2014
I’m a few chapters into my 2nd novel in the Morelville Mysteries series now. I’ve managed to kill off a character and to start building the mystery surrounding that. Without going into a lot of detail (no spoilers here!), one of the keys to that tale will involve illegal drugs and drug trafficking. In my imagination, I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to go with that particular story line. One of my leading ladies, Dana, is a Customs special agent. A drug trafficking story line is made for her line of work.
A couple of nights ago, when my spouse turned in early and I wasn’t at all tired, I stayed up flipping television channels. I ran across the show ‘Drugs Inc.’. I ended up spending the next two plus hours staring at the tube in stunned amazement. I’d seen programs in the past about the war on drugs but I’d never seen this program which is a bit different. It goes inside the drug trade and shows a lot of what’s going on from the point of view of successful drug dealers on the street level. Some junkies and addicts manage to make it on camera too.
Now, I’m not naive nor was I born yesterday. I’m well aware that illegal and illicit drugs are big business. I also know that there are drugs out there that are in huge demand that I’ve never even heard of. The first show that I saw from about 10 minutes in focused on one of those drugs, NMDA and especially Ketamine. It’s in high demand and causing major law enforcement headaches in Canada and it’s spreading rapidly in the U.S.
The next episode was all about the trade of ‘Molly’ a very pure form of the club/rave scene drug, Ecstasy. Anyone who’s lived in a major metro area for any length of time has heard of that, seen it used or knows someone who uses it. Molly is just the most recent, in high demand, iteration of that. This most pure form of an otherwise synthetic drug has a basis in sassafras oil that comes from trees found only in Thailand. Its widespread use is causing multiple problems internationally.
While I watched, I surfed the net looking up these drugs with regard to their effect on the users and their capability to produce an OD, among other things. The things that I found were as stunning to me as what I was seeing play across the television screen. Everything gave me much pause but it also made me start re-thinking my story. There are so many different places to take it now that I hadn’t the faintest notion of when I started planning it that it’s almost scary.
Originally published April 10th, 2015
1. Zanesville, Ohio and Muskingum County are used a lot in the stories. Both are very real. Morelville doesn't exist - it's a figment of my imagination. I set it down in Muskingum County because it worked there and it made sense to have Mel, as the county Sheriff work out of the County Seat, Zanesville. What you didn't know is that Morelville is based on the very real, teeny, tiny unincorporated village that I actually live in. Some stuff you just don't have to make up!
2. The Dana Rossi character is me - if I was 6 inches taller, several years younger and had done what I originally intended to do with my life. I've been in the military; I work for the government but I'm not a Customs Agent. I always wanted to be an investigator though...or a writer. Now I'm a writer who writes about investigators. It's certainly less dangerous this way!
3. The Mel Crane character is my spouse - if she were a cop. Everything about her screams my wife. Her language, her mannerisms; everything. Well, okay, not one thing. My wife has zero patience. Mel has all the patience in the world. I guess I wrote in a character trait there that I wish a certain someone had, ahem...
4. Faye and Jesse Crane, parents to Mel (Melissa) and her twin sister Kris (Karissa) are my spouses’ parents and they have their life. We lost my spouses dad unexpectedly about four years ago but everything about Jesse Crane is him other than that he would talk a bit more than Jesse does...sometimes. I don't feature Faye and Jesse in the third book, Dana's Dilemma which is still in process but they'll be reappearing in Book four which is unnamed at this time (*All as of the time I wrote this post several months back – Anne). Incidentally, my spouse really does have a twin sister but the Kris of this book series only slightly resembles her. I gave her some of the same traits and background and some that were different so I could exploit the different ones later. Stay tuned!
5. My villains in all three books are based on real people from in and around this little town that I live in that Morelville is based on or they're based on someone in my past life. When I say based on in this case, I mean from an appearance, mannerisms and attitude perspective and, in some cases, just a little background that gives them their back story. That in no way means that any of the things the bad guys do in my books was ever done by anyone I've used as a character model - far from it. The character model for 'Relic', for example is actually a friend whose background was perfect for the story. Like I said, sometimes you just can't make stuff up that's as good as what real life presents you with.
Character Profile – Sheriff Melissa ‘Mel’ Crane
Originally published March 29th, 2015
Melissa Raye Crane is the imaginary county Sheriff of the very real Muskingum County, Ohio. She bears no resemblance whatsoever to the current Sheriff of the county or to any of the Sheriffs that preceded him. Melissa prefers to be called 'Mel'. She's tall for a woman at about 5' 10", broad shouldered and physically fit. She has short dark hair that she sometimes wears a little spiked and deep brown eyes.
Mel is 35 and the older (by minutes) of a set of identical twin girls, the only children of Faye and Jesse Crane. Mel's slightly younger sister is Karissa 'Kris' Crane. Their birthday is in July.
Mel and her sister Kris live in the old family home of their grandparents who are now deceased. The house is located in the tiny fictional village of Morelville, Ohio which is named after the morel mushrooms that grow so abundantly around there in the dampness of a good spring. The village is home to approximately 500 people who live in the village proper. There's a store, a pizza shop, a post office and a gas station in town. Kris is the afternoon/evening shift manager at the gas station. Kris's children, Cole age 15 and Beth age 13 live with her and Mel. Their father is not in the picture.
Dad/Grandpa Jesse Crane is a farmer who runs a small family farm with enough grazing land to keep a herd of about 40 longhorn cattle happy. Longhorns aren't common in Ohio or, really, anywhere in the Midwest or the East so he does a neat bit of business breeding his cows and selling their calves. They also raise some hogs and chickens but mostly for family consumption. Jesse does hog butchering and hog roasts for others in the area. He also hunts. Mom/Grandma Faye Crane tends to massive gardens and fruit trees spring through fall and cooks, cans and freezes food with abandon. Kris's children spend most of the summer with their grandparents raising livestock to show at the late August Muskingum County Fair.
Mel joined the Sheriff's department as a dispatcher not long after graduating from high school. She worked as a dispatcher until after she turned 21. Once she was 21, she was called on a lot to assist with the searching and processing of arrested females since there were few female deputies in the department. The Sheriff then, the completely fictional Caden Carter, convinced Mel to go to the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy to become a deputy upon graduation. Like all new Sheriff's Deputies, Mel then put in a couple of years as a jailer in the county jail before going out on patrol and on other law enforcement assignments.
Mel realized she was gay when she was in high school. Living in such a small village and having exposure only to the small city of Zanesville (a real city used fictionally in my stories), she didn't have a lot of opportunities to meet like-minded women. Instead, she threw herself into her work and excelled at patrol and at investigations. She moved up through the ranks of the department very quickly. When the elected Sheriff Carter was killed in a botched drug raid when Mel was 34, she was appointed as the Sheriff to fill out the balance of his term. She's a good Sheriff but she prefers on the ground police work to pushing paper and playing local politics.
Mel never expected to meet a woman she could fall in love with. She never expected to meet someone like Customs Special Agent Dana Rossi.
Originally published March 30th, 2015
Dana Marie Rossi - Dana to her family and friends and 'Dana Marie' to her mother when she's angry - is a 34-year-old Special Agent with the United States Customs and Border Protection Service. She's about 5'6", and a bit on the thin side but fit (when not recovering from certain wounds...). She has long brown hair she often wears in a ponytail to keep it out of her face.
Dana grew up in Western Pennsylvania where her parents and her brothers still live. One of her brothers is a local cop in that area. She joined the Army out of high school, did a four-year tour as a military police officer (where she served time overseas during the first Gulf War) and then moved on to college after that where she got a degree in law enforcement. While she was in college, she met Nate, a native of Chicago. They married after their college graduation and settled back in his hometown.
While on the waiting list for a slot in the Chicago Police Academy, Dana took a job working private security and investigations for a small Chicago based firm. She found she liked the work and that she excelled at it. After a couple of years with the company, she took an offer to work with a much larger firm doing investigations primarily and she withdrew from the applicant pool for the police department.
Dana began having strong feelings for another woman that she worked with that was in a committed same sex relationship. As she reflected back on her life, she came to the realization that she'd always had those sorts of feelings for certain women she'd become close to. At the age of 29, and after many long talks with Nate, who she lived with more like a close friend than as a husband, they split amicably. They had no children.
Dana came out and began trying to date women after her marriage dissolved. She met Terri, her first real female love interest, and after a short time they moved in together. Dana quickly found that Terri was not all that she seemed at first and that she was also controlling and domineering. She began to look for a way out of the relationship but, as she was spending a lot of time on the road with her investigations job, it wasn't easy to extricate herself quickly. It was nearly a year before she was able to break away. Terri controlled everything and left Dana with only a bag of clothes and toiletries she was able to get out with by feigning like she was going on another work trip.
Once Terri found out that Dana had set up a new bank account and that she wasn't coming back, she began to contact all of 'their' friends and turn them against Dana. She also started to harass her via phone and email and she began calling Dana's employer non-stop. Eventually Dana's employer got fed up with Terri's antics and, when Dana couldn't convince her to stop, she was fired.
Dana couldn't afford to stay in Chicago with no job and a blackball against her name in the security industry. She went home to her family in Pennsylvania (PA) to stay while she figured out her next move. While back in PA, she ran into an old high school friend who was working for the Customs service. After hearing about Dana's background, he convinced her that she should apply for an investigative position with them.
Dana applied and, after several rounds of interviews where the whole sordid Terri story came out, she was hired on and moved directly into Special Investigations. She was assigned to the very real Chicago Field Office to work for a bunch of very fictitious people that only exist in this author's mind. She didn't bother to establish residency again in Chicago as her job had her living life on the road most of the time.
Special Agent Rossi ended up in Ohio when the smuggling case that's detailed in the first book in the Morelville Mysteries Series, 'Relic' drew her there. She had a desk in the very real Cleveland Port Office for a time. The Port Office is also populated by people who are only figments of this author’s imagination. She shared a small apartment with another made up by me Customs employee, Cheryl, who was assigned to the very real Ashtabula, Ohio Port Office. By the time she became the lead on the Ohio based investigation, Dana had been with the Customs service for three years.
The only reason Dana wound up in Morelville in the first place and meets Sheriff Melissa Crane is because she had an informant that lived in the area. She had no way of knowing that the tiny village might end up becoming the center of her universe...at least for a while.
Originally published April 8th, 2015
There are pockets of Amish people all over the southern half of Ohio. In the southeastern quadrant of the state and to the east as far north as Canton, you can find them wherever you can find tillable countryside. They are abundant around the little village that I live in and, about 20 miles away, they practically own the town of Coshocton. They're also the largest cultural set in the village -fast turning city - of Berlin (Ohio) and of Millersburg named after it's Amish founders. Surnames like Miller, Gingrich, Yoder and Hershberger are as common around here as Jones and Smith are in the rest of the country.
Go into any Amish owned or operated general store or gift shop these days and you're likely to see an interesting site: romance books focused on Amish relationships. They're being sold primarily to the 'English' customers of these Amish businesses, of course. The vast majority of Amish women don't read such things...at least not that we ‘English’ would ever know about. There seems to be a pretty strong market for the books that has no doubt been fueled by the nationwide exposure the Amish orders are getting on their culture and lifestyle from hit television series like 'Breaking Amish' (TLC), 'Amish Mafia' (Discovery) and 'Return to Amish' (TLC). Women are buying these books full of sweet (read 'chaste') romances.
In the village where I live, interaction with members of the Amish order that predominates in this area is pretty common. They use the post office and buy supplies and feed at the store. They eat in the pizza shop. They buy ice and sometimes fuel (for those whose particular church allows power tools) at the gas station. There isn't a homeowner in town who hasn't contracted at some point with an Amish roofer or carpenter. Most have bought livestock feed or lumber from Amish millers, vegetables from Amish farmers, and baked, canned and dried goods (like noodles) from Amish women.
Amish roofers put a new roof on our garage shortly after we bought this house. We bought it with the full knowledge that the roof leaked like a sieve. During the replacement work, we had an interesting conversation with a young Amish man who just didn't get the concept of a female head of household and no men around to speak of. His father and boss, long used to dealing with the 'English', just laughed at his confusion and told us 'Amish man' jokes.
Young Amish carpenters set the posts and fixed the support beams for the deck that leads from our back door some 48 feet to our above ground pool. They were from an order that completely forbid the use of power tools of any kind, even those powered by battery. The dug holes for and placed 30 4"x 4" support posts by hand. They affixed support beams with huge lag bolts - by hand. When it was time to lay the decking, our then 17 and 19-year-old nieces helped by running drills as the Amish carpenters set the thousand plus screws the whole operation took. Of course, in the heat of July and with an open pool before them, you can imagine what the young ladies were wearing. The young Amish men didn't have to imagine it at all...
With books featuring the Amish for an 'English' audience already out there and sold in Amish stores, with the Amish featured on cable television, and with the proliferation of their interaction with the worldly people around them - including with me personally - it's an enticing thought to use them or some sort of interaction with them in a story. If you've been following this blog at all, you know my current published books, 'Relic' and ‘Busy Bees’ are works of lesbian themed mystery fiction. My next book, 'Dana's Dilemma' continues the series and features the same two lesbian protagonists. The book has a secondary story line focused on an Amish character.
Have I crossed the line? Is it bad to include an Amish or former Amish character in a book that has lifestyle themes so different from the Amish lifestyle? Thoughts?
Originally published May 14th, 2015
We're mostly omnivores out here in the heartland. Where I live, farming - both crops and animals, raising vegetable gardens and hunting are a way of life. Even most kids that live in the 'city' (defined as a nearby town of about 17,000 people) are involved in 4H or FFA or both because either farming or some other type of a land based lifestyle is represented somewhere in their families. People out here eat meat with their meals and they enjoy it. They bond over summer cookouts and hog roasts and over county fairs and fall hunting rituals. It's all part of the culture when you live in farm country, USA.
When my spouse and I started dating, my son fell in love with her family's farm. He hung out there with her nieces and nephews. They were all involved in 4H and so we got involved too. 'The boy' loved it. He raised a dairy market feeder calf one year but that was a difficult project for him because we had to keep the calf at the farm and we lived more than an hour away in the suburb of a major metro area. We relied a lot on the nieces and nephews to help out.
In subsequent years, we raised chickens and turkeys right in our suburban garage in a poultry palace one of my nephews helped to build as part of a carpentry 4H project. One of our fondest memories of those times is the way the neighbors would all come out to gawk when we rolled the big pen out of the garage to clean it and let his turkeys wander around in the yard while we did it.
County Fair time was a fun time and it was a hard time. Kids don't always do what they should do when they should do it. Animals almost never do what you want them to do or exactly what you hope they will. Couple those things with the constant watchful, vocal presence of members of P.E.T.A. and of the Humane Society of the United States (NOT to be confused with your local humane society) and you had a recipe for a little heartburn...sometimes a lot.
More than a few of my city living lesbian friends are vegetarians or vegan. They espouse the benefits of an all-vegetable lifestyle. I get where they're coming from. I just don't happen to agree with them. Life in the big cities is quite a bit different than life in the small towns and tiny villages of the heartland. Food out here is as much about community as it is about nourishment. There's less pretension and more shared spirit. Unexpected guests show up at dinner time? Grab a plate! There's always room for one more.
'Hitched and Tied' will be as much about county fairs, kids raising livestock and learning responsibility and about learning how to feed the world in subtext as it will be overtly about mystery and romance. Not a meat eater and can't accept people who are in the subtext of a story? Maybe you should just skip this book...
Originally published May 31st, 2015
The best made outline for a novel - or, in my case, the best made template for one - sometimes gets sidetracked by where the characters take the author. For example, when I first contemplated the story line for Book 2 in the Morelville Mysteries series, Busy Bees, one of the detectives with the Sheriff's Department only had a minor role. As the story evolved, the role became much more pronounced and it became a thread left hanging at the end that carried over into Book 3.
Now, well into Book 4, Hitched and Tied, following the template I created, a minor character with a bit part became far more important to the story. While writing the single scene featuring Barb Wysocki, bar owner and former love interest of Sheriff Mel Crane, the dialog just flew and before I knew it I had a full chapter and a new plan going forward.
Sometimes characters take you places that you never expected to go. Sometimes they even take you places that completely change the story and for the better. I'm excited to see who else steps up in Hitched and Tied and takes off with the story.
5 Harsh Realities of Setting a Story in a Hick Town
Originally published June 15th, 2015
A note from Anne: What follows is a blog post that was directed more at the myriad writer friends I’ve acquired in my short time as a self-published author. I’ve included it in this Companion compilation because it gives so much of the setting background that I build my novels on.
Morelville is a hick town. It's a figment of my imagination based, in part, on the real life tiny, unincorporated village (population around 400) that I live in. This imaginary rural place is set in the heart of the very real Muskingum County, Ohio with the County Seat, the City of Zanesville (population 25,435), as a back drop in my stories and sometimes as a major player. Zanesville can't be classified as a hick town but it's certainly surrounded by and influenced by them and it's in those sorts of small town, hick town settings where Sheriff Melissa 'Mel' Crane lives and plies her trade and solves crimes as the County Sheriff.
The Urban Dictionary defines a hick town as:
1. A town with one, if any, stop light.
2. Most of the inhabitants drive trucks or other oversized SUV
3. Cow/horse pastures everywhere
4. If you're lucky, 2 convenience stores, a gas station, and a liqour store
5. One road in and out
6. Usually full of Hicks, Rednecks, Country boys, and similar.
7. Most everyone knows each other and loves their town
Let's examine those points and determine hick town status for the Morelville setting specifically, shall we?
1. Morelville doesn't have a stop light. You have to go to Zanesville to see one of those. Zanesville has many.
2. People farm in and around Morelville and there's no way to get around in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in the winter without four wheel drive. Everyone owns some sort of truck or SUV.
3. Cow and horse pastures are everywhere in the immediate vicinity of Morelville.
4. Morelville has a general store where you can buy food, toiletries, hardware and feed, a gas station, a pizza shop and not much more. It's a mostly dry town where 'liquor' (read, BEER) has to be carried out from the pizza shop, a bar out of town, out on the state route (see ‘The Boar’s Head in Book 4: Hitched and Tied, coming soon) or a gas station with a license to sell it in the next town over.
5. There's one main road into Morelville, period. It's surrounded by farmland and forest on the other three sides so no road goes 'through' it. That's not to say that there aren't dirt tracks everywhere for the oil men, the loggers, the hunters and the moonshiners...especially the moonshiners who can get in and out of town without ever approaching the main road.
6. Place a check mark here - it goes without saying.
7. Ditto point six, above.
So what are the harsh realities of having such a town as a setting for stories? I'll tell you:
Harsh Reality #1 - No Transient Coming and Going
Unless your setting is some sort of off the beaten path tourist attraction, you're stuck with creating stories that involve only the usual residents, the occasional serviceman/deliveryman, out of town visitors and, once in a series, a drifter that just appears as if from nowhere. When you set your stories in a geographically separate local without any sort of tourism trade, you either need very strong characters that can carry your plot in one off stories or you need to consider having it be in close proximity to a slightly more urban local. The Morelville of my stories sits about a half hour away from Zanesville.
Harsh Reality #2 - Working with an Insular Environment
People that don't like tiny community living find a way out and they leave them. Others never stray far at all. They're lifers. Some leave for a time, find they don't like life outside the friendly confines of a tiny village or burg and they return. Many who live in the proverbial hick towns of the U.S. don't much care what's going on in the outside world or care about the changes in thought, customs and cultures. The world passes them by on these points.
Writing a story set in hick town from a socially progressive perspective just won't ring true for your readers. That isn't to say that you can't have people of color, non-European nationalities or people with alternate lifestyles in your stories - far from it. It is to say that you have to walk a fine line to stay true to the mores of the typical hick town while introducing people and situations that are different without coming off as preachy and heavy handed.
Harsh Reality Number 3 - Everybody Knows Your Characters Business
Move into any small town anywhere and within a few hours of telling a single person your name and what house you've purchased or you're renting, at least half the adults in the village will have heard all about you and, if anyone knows you or a family member of yours at all, within a day, the entire village will know or think that they know your life story. You have to write portions of your stories set in such locals with that in mind. There are no true secrets. People may have something slightly wrong or they may be missing a small piece of the puzzle but everybody knows something about everybody. Twist that fact and use it to your advantage.
In all of my books, Sheriff Mel Crane, of course, knows a lot of people and has learned a lot of things based on her day to day duties but, inside Morelville specifically, her own mother, Faye Crane, stepped up in books one and two and provided key pieces of information to her. Those came from a lifetime of living in one tiny area and being in tune with what's going on there. That, and having a memory like a steel trap!
Harsh Reality #4 - You Have to Use Everything at Your Disposal
Make your setting a good one. Hick town doesn't have to mean boring. Your characters have to have someplace to go and something to do besides stand around at the general store all day. Their environs, if you intend to write a series of books, can't be an oasis in the desert. Readers will be bored if your entire book is conversation among people coming in and out of the barbershop or if it's completely set inside of one home. Have grandpa take junior fishing, send the city girl out to the barn for something, have your main character stranded on a dirt road in the woods...you get the idea.
Harsh Reality #5 - Once You've Created it, You're Stuck with It
If you intend to write a series of books, a saga or even just a couple of sequels, you best make darn sure you like the little hick town you've created. Why? Because you're stuck with it. Readers will get to know it, hold it in their minds eye and take comfort in it. Taking your characters out of that setting for more than a couple of chapters if it's, say a cozy mystery series set there, or for more than a book for just about anything else will turn your fans off.
When I created the Morelville series, I didn't want to be completely tied to Morelville. Book one, Relic, leaned on it about 50% of the time and book two, Busy Bees did even more so but book three, Dana's Dilemma, took place almost entirely out of town. My readers hadn't come to expect the stories to be set all in one locale. For a spin off cozy mystery series that I'm contemplating, that won't be the case. Morelville will be the center of the story universe. I'm glad I created a town that has some flexibility because I'm hoping for some crossover readers between the two series.
Originally published July 24th, 2015
*Spoiler Alert!* Mel and Dana have a rough road from point A to point D but they do get there. In honor of their journey, I put together a boxed set, the Full Circle Collection, that includes all four books that cover their love affair (and several mysteries along the way) from it's shaky beginning to it's sweet resolution and prequel to the next stage of their lives.
The set includes *Relic (Book 1), *Busy Bees (Book 2), *Dana's Dilemma (Book 3) and *Hitched and Tied (Book 4). You'll meet Dana and Mel as they first meet in the gas station where it all started and follow them along through murder, mayhem, injuries, doubt, and redemption to where they finally end up as a loving couple ready to take on the world together.
The Morelville Mysteries series will continue after Book 4; Book 5 is actually in the works now. Of necessity, the story changes as the series switches from a focus not only on crime solving but on romance to one that is primarily about the crimes. Both heroines will still figure prominently in each story, but I didn't want to leave them hanging out there forever in a never ending will she/won't she romance. They have bigger fish to fry...er, and plenty of family issues to deal with now that they're all official.
If you want the whole saga to date, all in one neat little package, this set is for you. The next book in the works, *'Viva Mama Rossi!' takes the ladies in a whole new direction. You can read a little about Mama Rossi here and more about the book here. Look for it in late August or early September. I'm also planning a special release, just in time for Christmas, of a sixth book in the series. The details on that project will be released much later. I think I've offered up enough spoilers for one day.
*All of the starred links lead to Amazon pages for the individual books. ‘Relic’ is available from multiple outlets. The other three, as single books are only available on Amazon or in this widely available boxed set.
Originally published July 18th, 2015
In Book 4 of the Morelville Mysteries series, Hitched and Tied, I fully introduced Dana's family to Mel and to the series. They'd only been briefly mentioned before other than Dana's ex-husband Nate (Books 1 and 3) and Nate's family (Book 3).
Dana was born and raised in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania suburb of McKeesport and her parents Marco and Chloe Rossi still live there. As the series begins, Dana is a 34 year old woman and the only daughter of Marco and Chloe. She is the older sister of both Vince (the middle child, a Pittsburgh cop) and Nicco, who goes by Nick, (the baby, an IT director) Rossi.
Dana's always been an independent sort who isn't as close to her own family as Mel is to hers. Even given that, it's evident that Marco, Chloe and the boys are all very close and that they all love Dana very much. Chloe Rossi is especially is supportive of her eldest child in a way that Mel's own mother Faye sometimes fails to be. Chloe worries no more about Dana doing police type work than she worries about Vince doing it and doesn't see her daughter as a woman doing a man’s job. She also doesn't care at all that Dana is gay, only that she is happy and she sees plainly and accepts that Dana is very much in love with Mel.
Chloe Rossi is a housewife who's always looking for just a little more excitement. She and Dana's dad are both 56 years old. Marco is still working in Pittsburgh steel mills and, though his health isn't what it used to be, he plans on putting several more years in to beef up his retirement. Chloe longs for a life where they can do things on a weekend whim rather than planning things around the mill schedule, where they can relax in the heat of summer and get away in the cold of Pittsburgh winters. She's a risk taker who likes to go to casinos and gamble a little (with her girlfriends or with Marco) but only what they can afford for her to lose...not that Chloe ever thinks about losing. She thinks she's got the knack and she's usually right. Lady luck always seems to be on her side.
To make a little extra fun money and to save some too, Chloe learned to do nails once her children were all in school. She's been doing them for years for friends and family and she's quite the regular at the beauty supply store where she gets her materials and catches up on the latest trends and the latest gossip. While she's working on women's manicures and their paint jobs, they often talk as if they've known her forever or talk about the earth as if she isn't even there. She's become a good listener, a skill which she adds to her keen sense of observation.
Chloe is an Italian woman at heart. She can be sharp tongued and quick witted but, beneath a sometimes slightly gruff exterior, lies a curious, determined woman. If she wants to know something - anything - she'll find out and she'll charm you or shame you into telling her.
No, not the woman; the story!
Originally published July 23rd, 2015
I took a break for a week after book 4 in the Morelville Mysteries series, Hitched and Tied, was published. I know what some of you are thinking; I took a vacation before it was published that actually delayed it being published too. Yes, you remember right; I did. The vacation was a much needed mental health break. The week I took off after publication was to charge up a new writing strategy in my mind. It worked.
The Morelville Mysteries series will continue. Rest assured Mel and Dana fans, there will be other adventures for them. I'm working on Book 5, 'Viva Mama Rossi' now. I'm also planning at least a book for Christmas about them with an all new mystery to solve.
In Book 4, I introduced Dana's family very briefly. I built a lengthy character profile of Dana's mother, and shorter ones, for my own information, of her father and brothers. Chloe's character just begs to be explored more and, frankly, I've been becoming more interested in trying my hand at writing traditional mysteries (more recently referred to as Cozy mysteries). A Cozy series with her as the lead protagonist could be a lot of fun.
I started outlining Book 5, on Monday. I started writing it Wednesday...it's the fastest an idea has ever jelled for me. It will be a hybrid because it's going to be a very blended book. Mel and Dana get the mystery surrounding an 'accidental death' to solve while they're - away - and, meanwhile, back at home Chloe and Mel's mother Faye, are tearing up the village over another death that they're the only ones to believe wasn't an accident. The plot is both hard boiled in that, even though Mel and Dana's death is older (it happened a month or so in the past), they're still professional law enforcement officers (er, Dana was...) and cozy in that Chloe and Faye are definitely not. It's going to be fun to write!
Finally, for those of you whose big beef with the first book, Relic, was that I had more than one protagonist (two: Dana and Mel), get ready; this one has four!
Originally published November 13th, 2015
A note from Anne: For those of you just getting to know me and my books, I’ll tell you that my wife and I are also haunted house entrepreneurs. She worked for years in the haunt industry and I have a little acting experience in it myself and a whole lot of business experience. The lead in to this next post that was published in November of 2015, refers to our first venture in the commercial haunt side (i.e. not haunting our own home for the fun and entertainment of family and friends.).
Happy Friday the 13th! It's the 3rd and final one for this year and, it almost goes without saying, a day us haunted house entrepreneurs love...too bad one of the three didn't fall on a Friday when our haunt was open in October!
Enough of that...I want to talk to you about dogs today. Specifically, I want to talk about Boston Terriers. Some people say their cute, some say their ugly...I say whatever. I never owned one but I'm a dog lover and I think they are A) Adorable and B) Funny as Hell!
In the fifth book in the Morelville Mysteries series, Viva Mama Rossi!, Dana's Mama Chloe Rossi gets her a dog. Don't tell me that I forgot to say "Spoiler Alert". You already read the title; if you haven't read book five yet, you had to have figured out that Dana must get a dog at some point. Anyway, Chloe gets her daughter a Boston Terrier. 'She' chooses the breed because it's lively and fun and she thinks it will be just what Dana needs to lift her spirits. The dog doesn't play a major role in that book but it gets a little more billing in the first book of the Morelville Cozies series (that was just released), The Passed Prop. Her terrier, 'Boo', will get a larger role in Book 6 of the Mysteries series, to be released in early December of this year, 'A Crane Christmas'.
I've had big dogs and little dogs in my life. My most recent dog was a pug (RIP Caesar). He had a good run but this summer, his 11th, he was really struggling badly with multiple health problems. We had him put down humanely. It was one of the most heart wrenching things I've ever had to do. I just try to remember the good times, especially from ages 1-4, when he was a ball of energy.
As much as Caesar was a ball of fire when he was young, most Boston Terriers are all of the time. If you've never seen them at their craziest, just check out these YouTube videos:
I LOVE the balloon one. One day, when my son was in high school, I'd dropped him off at school and was headed to work. I got caught behind an elementary school bus that was stopping on a busy road every 30 yards to pick kids up. At one stop, a mom was waiting with her little girl and three Boston terriers. She gave the three terriers a red balloon and between them, they went totally stupid over it. I laughed about those three little dogs all day. Every time I went by that house after that, I looked for them but she never had them out there again, that I noticed.
When it was time for me to write a dog into the story, I wrote a Boston terrier in on purpose. It wasn't even a question what I was going to pick. Check out the videos above and you'll see why and, if you're so inclined, check out Viva Mama Rossi!, and The Passed Prop too and see what 'Boo' gets herself up to... Bigger Boo doings are coming in future stories.
Originally published December 13th, 2015
Readers of the entire Morelville Mysteries series are aware that, since the end of Book 3, Dana's Dilemma, Sheriff Mel Crane has been down to one detective in her department. The young go-getter Shane Harding has been a good sport but he just can't do everything and take on every case. Mel's been having to jump in to assist a lot on investigations which has resulted in the neglect of some of her 'Sheriffly duties', as Shane calls them, and in less attention paid to her wife Dana and to her extended family.
Well, no more! In Book 6, 'A Crane Christmas', due out late next week, Sheriff Mel and Shane get a little help when Mel hires a seasoned deputy detective from an Indiana department, Janet Mason. So, in the spirit of giving you a little information to whet your appetite for the story to come, here are a few details about Mason to help you get to know her:
She's 30 years old (five, nearly 6 years younger than Mel), lesbian also, blondish and femme appearing but a tomboy through and through.
She grew up in Zanesville, Ohio and her mother still lives there.
After high school, she got an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice.
The Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy (OPOTA) wouldn't take her right after she completed her degree because she wasn't 21 yet so she joined the Army and became a military police officer.
A girlfriend during the time she was getting ready to get out of the Army convinced her to try for a slot in an Indiana sheriff's department that was close to Indianapolis. The relationship between the two women ended but Janet stayed on the force and loved her job, making 'detective' fairly young.
Her mother's illness brings her home to Ohio.
There's more of course, but you'll have to read the book to ferret the rest out. To be fair, I'll share this; I created a character profile board on Pinterest, in case anyone wants to see what inspired 'Janet', in my mind’s eye. I don't own any of those seven pictures so I can't post them here without giving proper credit for each one. Enjoy! And, incidentally, if you'd like to follow me on Pinterest, I pin all sorts of book related stuff and other stuff too. Here's my Pinterest profile link.
So, what do you think of Janet Mason, so far?
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