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Today, a friend – an actual one, not just a virtual one – posted a picture on Facebook of some ducks in a pond near her home in CA. The pictures weren’t too clear, as often happens when taking photos of distant objects with a cell phone. (And I have the blurry Facebook posts I’ve added to prove it.) I tried to identify the species, thinking at first they were mallards. But their heads weren’t green, but were white with a black stripe from crown to nape. I spent all too much time checking images and descriptions of various ducks, teals, and other water birds, and finally posted, “I’m stumped. The pix aren’t clear enough for me to ID them. They’re not mallards – no solid dark or green head on the one on the left – but the rufous breast indicates it may be. I was thinking it could be a hybrid mallard X black duck or mottled duck, but neither species is in CA.”

To which another friend replied, “Shucks, Ilene – ‘duck’ will do!”

To which I replied, “Not for a birder!”

After which I realized (and posted) the observation that I enjoy bird watching and both writing and reading mystery books for the same reason: to find a solution.

When reading mysteries, I try to outguess the author (and, sometimes, the protagonist) by finding out whodunit before the end of the book. If the author has played fair and seeded enough hints throughout the book, I’ll sometimes succeed. But even if I’m surprised at the end, I’ll have the fun of the “ah hah!” moment when I realize what I had overlooked. On the other hand, if there are facts the author has withheld, then not only won’t I succeed, but I’ll be frustrated and annoyed at the end of the book.

When writing mysteries, I have two problems: 1. Confounding the reader without cheating them, while not being so simplistic that there’s no real suspense. 2. Constructing a complex mystery without writing myself into a corner I can’t write myself out of. It happens. Often. Which is why the delete button was invented.

In birding, there’s also the experience of solving a puzzle. (I’m referring now to identifying a bird, rather than recognizing it without any conscious thought.) Both birding and reading and/or writing mysteries involve the same kind of attention to minutiae, plus the unraveling and organizing of details that seem inconsequential at first: when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic.

And in both cases, there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment at having arrived at the answer.

As for the mystery ducks, I used the same set of steps mentioned above, “when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic,” to arrive at the solution that they are immature red-necked phalaropes.

Unless they’re not. In which case, they’re Miss Scarlet in the dining room with a rope.


NJ is the punchline of many mean-spirited jokes. Find out what residents of South Jersey know and why they disagree with the rest of the US – and North Jersey.  Check out my guest blog on Annette Snyder’s site “Fifty Authors from Fifty States” at http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com.

And if any of what I wrote sounds familiar, it’s because I cribbed from my own previous blogs on the topic!


Small but interested audience last night at the Moorestown Library. But my next appearance promises to be a crowded one – if the weather cooperates better than it did last night.

I’ll be exhibiting (and, I hope, selling) my books at BooksNJ 2015, Sunday, June 14, 1:00-5:00 PM, on the grounds of the Paramus Public Library.

And speaking of panels, I’ve been asked to be on one there (time TBA):
Killing in New Jersey:  Murder in the Garden State
Michael Stephen Daigle
Ilene Schneider
Dave White
Maureen Wlodarczyk
Panel Leader: Lori-Ann Quinn

The BooksNJ website (http://www.booksnj.org/) promises:


Friday the 13th (that’s March 13) will be a lucky day for me. At 10:15 AM, I will be on a panel at Crimelandia, the 2015 Left Coast Crime conference in Portland, OR (less snow than Portland, ME). It’s called: How Did That Body Get There?: The Amateur Sleuth.


A nice mention of me in the Feb. issue of South Jersey Magazine, in the “Southern Exposure – Names to Know” section, under the headline “Local people making a difference in in South Jersey and beyond.”


Check out my new guest blog, hosted by Lesley Diehl, “author of cozy mysteries featuring sassy, country gals who enjoy snooping,” at http://www.lesleyadiehl.com/blog. Lesley asked, “What’s so funny about murder?” My answer: “Humor is subjective.”


In honor of Chanukah (starting the evening of Dec. 16), CHANUKAH GUILT is only 99¢ on Kindle for 2 weeks (today to Dec. 23).

Now there’s no excuse for not buying the 2nd edition if you already have the 1st. And you get the bonus of a rewrite that allowed for appending an alternate solution.


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