Archives for category: Writing Mysteries

I finished applying color to my lips and cheeks and looked closely, critically at myself in the mirror.  Not bad, I thought, in fact, I look pretty darn good.  No one is going to guess that I forgot my make-up case and—– but wait, let me start at the beginning

I’m the producer/director of Mystery On The menu, an interactive theater company I started in Washington DC in 1986  and, like most small business owners, I have to do a little bit of everything. I write, produce, direct and act in the plays (the fun part) , book shows, write contracts, figure payroll and taxes (the business part).and handle all of the publicity and public relations.  I  have an accountant and a lawyer but that’s for the big stuff, I do the everyday things all by myself.

Mystery on the Menu, MM for short,   performs at hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruise ships and, back in the nineties, aboard trains.  I chartered a private car on Amtrak and  presented the mystery show during the ride to and back from New York or Atlantic City.  We would murder someone (an actor) on the and figure out “whodunit” on the return trip.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with make-up.  Wair, I’m getting there.  Every business needs publicity, needs to become known, to attract clients; paying for effective advertising is expensive so when a local television station asked me to appear on their program I said yes immediately.

‘Here’s the thing,” the manager of the station said, “we’d like to film you on the train and the best time would be at 5:30 in the morning before the train leaves the station.  You don’t mind coming up to Baltimore do you?”

I lived in Washington DC so I had to get up at 4 am to get to Baltimore by 5:30.  It’s actually only a half hour car ride but I always allow extra time just in case of, well, in case of anything.   He named a date and I agreed even though it was the day after MM was doing a big, late night show .

“I don’t need much sleep,” I thought, “I’ll have everything ready so all I’ll have to do in the morning is get up, get dressed and go”

That’s just what I did.  I got up, grabbed a bagel, a thermos of coffee and my bag, jumped in my car and headed to Baltimore.  I didn’t do my hair or make-up; I figured that I’d have plenty of time for that when I got to the train station.

I arrived, parked my car, went into the ladies room, opened my cosmetic bag and found, not lip gloss,  mascara, foundation, brushes etc. but, starter pistols!  Three starter pistols!  I had picked up the prop bag from last night’s  show instead of my cosmetic bag. Well, they’re both white and I was in a hurry.

I ran outside to the train station; the only person in sight was the camera man, a huge African American guy in jeans and sweat shirt, not the type you would ask for make-up!  Anyway, I was a professional, the president of a corporation. I didn’t want the station to know that I was all alone and unprepared.  I looked around frantically, no stores but, aha!  A news stand! I rushed over.  No make-up but stacks and shelves of newspapers, candy, cigarettes, magazines, crayons, key chains, jewelry…Wait! Crayons!   Hmmm.  There’s a possibility!  I bought a box and hurried back to the ladies room.

“Let’s see, the brown for my eyebrows, turquoise for eye shadow, red for blush, orangey- red for my lip”s.  I was coloring diligently when the door opened and a while-haired lady in a black pants suit  came in.  She stared at me. I was so tempted to take out one of my guns and say.”give me your make-up” but I didn’t.  I just smiled as if it was a perfectly normal thing to be coloring my face with crayons at 6 o’clock in the morning.

I checked my face in the mirror, (see opening sentence) and went out to meet the cameraman. We climbed aboard the train, filmed the scene and I drove home.

The segment aired that night and friends began calling.

“You looked great,” they said, “It must be nice to be a television star and have a make-up crew do your make-up.”

I just smiled, said ”thank-you”  and never told a soul about my emergency cosmetics.

 

 

 

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I’ve been writing and producing interactive murder mysteries since 1986 when I sort of stumbled into the mystery business by accident.  All I wanted to do was act in a participatory murder mystery but there weren’t any theater companies in Washington DC (where I lived) who were  doing  them so I decided to write and produce my own play. I did so, enlisted several  actor/friends, found a venue and, on Friday the 13th (an appropriate date) presented An Elegant Murder  to a very enthusiastic audience of over 150 people.
I was completely satisfied and ready to return to my “real” life of acting in regional theaters, writing for a local newspaper and enjoying, with my husband, our four almost grown children and our new home in Georgetown but,  some completely unexpected things began happening.

Newspaper articles reviewing ” An Elegant Murder” appeared and called it “a fun, new form of theater”,  the venue where I presented the show (Coolfont Resort in West Virginia) sent a contract for six more mysteries  over the next year, the owner of an art deco train contacted me about presenting mysteries on the train between Washington and New York and the  manager of a local radio station called to discuss presenting a mystery show at a fund-raiser. He added that that Vincent Price would be the guest of honor and would it be possible to somehow work him into the plot?

Does an actor ever say “No”? Of course not so, within the space one month, I became the producer/director of  my own theater company,Mystery On The Menu, wrote three more mysteries, formed a core company of ten actors, conferred with lawyers and accountants about contracts and book-keeping  and negotiated contracts with  several  businesses and resorts for future mystery plays.  I was in business; Mysteries were hot!

Since that time I’ve done thousands of mysteries aboard trains, cruise ships and buses, at resorts, hotels, restaurants, museums, conference centers, private homes and gardens.  I’ve written dozens of different mysteries and created characters who are sometimes more real to me than actual people.   Seven years ago, when the economy and therefore the mystery business started slowing down, I developed the  economical one- woman murder mystery series and called in Murder Is Served.  It proved to be a very profitable idea, people loved the idea of becoming a character and being a vital part of the play.

I’ve had a wonderful, successful twenty-seven  years but maybe, maybe  it’s time to quit.   Mystery On The Menu  was once  one of the  only murder mystery companies  in the country,  now there are  dozens and more springing up everyday.   When I started out in 1986  it was impossible to find a script for a participatory murder mystery  (which is why I started writing them) now hundreds (even free ones) can be found on the  internet with the click of a mouse.   This year I only did  the  ” A Very Merry Murder” holiday show two times as opposed to the year when I did it in five different  locations with five different  casts on one night.  My agent for the cruise line shows retired, three cruise lines decided not to do murder mysteries in their enrichment programs and my new, public  show, Bingo! It’s Murder , which I thought would be so successful, is selling very, very slowly.  

Maybe it’s time  to quit and concentrate on finishing my novel.  I’m writing  the third in my Inn series, Murder In the Inn and Another  Murder in the Inn were published a few years ago; now I’m working on Murder in Another  Inn.  I certainly have enough to do, swimming, line dancing, reading, traveling, people-watching on Lincoln road , traveling, going to the shows at the Hollywood beach bandstand, playing pickleball but…I miss my mystery shows.  I miss seeing people participate and ask questions and laugh; i miss the fun of seeing characters I created come to life. I miss the satisfaction, the high that comes from hearing applause for something I  created.  However, business is slow!  Maybe I have to face facts, be realistic.  Maybe it’s time to quit but…wait!  Someone just called to make reservations for six for the bingo show and a restaurant emailed about booking a mystery for a private party….maybe it’s not!

mysteryonthemenu.com

murderisserved.com

A few years ago I published my first mystery novel, Murder In The Inn, followed, the next year, by Another Murder In The Inn and now, I’m working on Murder In Another Inn .  This might seem like a lack of imagination in titles but there’s  a good reason.  The first two Inn books  are set in Washington DC where I lived but, since I moved to Miami Beach, I decided that the  protagonist, Sandy, the owner of the Inn,  should move too.  Sandy, and her husband, the comedian Joey Jason, will decide to buy  a bed and breakfast inn in Miami Beach and become snowbirds, dividing their time between DC and Florida.  I’ve  become very attached to Sandy and Joey,  Noah the house-keeper, Janie, Sandy’s step-daughter and Allison, Sandy’s twin sister and it feels so good to be  writing about them again; its sort of like catching up with old friends.  I’m going to write the book in the same format as the first two; each chapter  will begin  with a telephone message from Sandy and continue with her narration of the events.

There will be lots of new characters like  Chef George, the celebrity chef, Sophie, the owner  of the catering company Sophie Says Eat, Tommy Silk, a dance instructor at Smooth as Silk Dance Studio, Marsha, the president of the Temple Sisterhood, Jay Harmon, the best-selling author,  and Joshua Greenburg, , a young, single rabbi.   They and several others  will be staying in the Inn and will participate in a murder mystery week-end, a Jewish Passover Seder and a book-signing event.  Janie will begin a romance with a very unlikely suitor and of course, there will be a murder (or two) to keep Sandy busy

I think about the book and the characters constantly; they are almost as real to me as friends  I see everyday. I  talk to Sandy and Janie and Noah  in my head and almost dream about them.  I can see the book, I can see myself holding it in my hand and turning the pages.  I picture  it on Amazon and in bookstores. I feel like it is already written and finished but it’s  not even half-way there, except in my mind. I’ve been  been working on it on and off for a few months but now, I’m going to get serious and focused. So far I’ve  completed a brief outline, a rough draft  and a  character description detailing each person’s personality and  relationship tothe others. That was a  really fascinating thing to do, I didn’t  know, until I wrote it, that Marsha was divorced from Chef George or that Sophie had a terrible temper or that Melvin owned Glass restaurant. I get so attached to my characters, it’s really hard to murder one of them and even harder to decide which one will turn out to be the murderer.

My plan  is to  write a thousand words a day plus edit the previous day’s work and to have the book finished by my birthday in April. I’m going to blog about my progress from time to time because  I work best under the pressure of a deadline, even if that deadline is self-imposed.  I’m going to pretend that I have an editor breathing down my neck saying “write, Write, write that book.” I’m going to imagine  that there are hundreds of readers clamoring for it and empty shelves in bookstores waiting for it.   I’m starting tomorrow morning, right after I swim and eat breakfast and read the newspaper and check my email.

www. booksbybarbara.com

Two years ago I wrote a seven character murder mystery play called “Bingo! it’s Murder” It takes place in a bingo parlor and the audience actually gets to play several games of bingo as the characters appear, until a murder happens and a detective takes over. I named the characters Belle, Irene, Nick, Oliver and Ginger. Why is that important? Well, what do the first letters of every name spell? Ooh! As someone who shudders when people name the lawyers in their plays something like Dewey, Cheatem and Howe I’m sort of surprised at myself but…I had to do it!
Several theaters have expressed interest in producing “Bingo! It’s Murder: and one is actually planning to do so in 2015 but i’m the kind of person who likes things done “yesterday”. I’m getting impatient so…I decided to turn “Bingo” into a One woman play and produce it myself using people in the audience as the other characters. I’ve already produced several other plays using that system and it’s been very successful and cost effective. Take a look at my website, murderisserved.com for more information about the one woman plays.
“Bingo, IT’S MURDER” will be presented in Miami Beach the end of February, I’m busy buying bingo cards…should I get the disposal paper ones or the heavier, re-usable ones? finding bingo trivia for the before-play game…did you know bingo was first called Beano? and buying cute, clever and inexpensive prizes. I love dollar stores!
Everything is in place, all i need is an audience. I’ve sent out press releases, emailed information to my mailing list..(want to join?) tweeted and put information on Facebook and distributed flyers. Anyone want to make a reservation?

barbara@mysteryonthemenu.com

MYSTERY ON THE MENU NEWS

Sept/2013

Barbara Fox, Producer/Director/Editor

Email Barbara@mysteryonthemenu.com                               

 

      Who We Are/What We Do

Mystery on the Menu is an interactive theater company presenting original participatory  murder mystery plays for corporate, private and public events any day, any location, any time for any size group.  The plays can be tailored to specific  events or businesses and can be as short as one hour or as long as a week-end. Mystery on the Menu performs at hotels, restaurants, resorts, offices, private clubs and  aboard trains cruise ships and busses. Please visit our websites

            mysteryonthemenu.com

               murderisserved.com

                                                                          

          UPCOMING EVENTS_

  

      INVITATION TO MURDER

A one woman interactive mystery featuring

Barbara Fox & members of the audience who  receive   parts to read.  Everyone shares information, exams clues  helps solve the crime

Fri, Oct 4th, 7 pm–$21pp

Miami Beach Botanical Garden-

   Mystery/soft drinks, cheese/chocolate

                        and

Sun, Oct 6th –11 am

Mystery/juice/muffins, croissants

              

   $21 pp.  Resv. Required—786.683.6078

_______________________________

      PLAN A MYSTERY EVENT        

 The holidays are coming !Mystery on the Menu has shows for them and for other events (office and condo parties, birthdays, Fund-raisers, team/building, theme parties)

         Halloween Is Murder     for Oct.

        A Very Merry Murder   for Dec.    

 

I  will work with your group to tailor a show just for your business or special occasion.  Call    786.683.6078 or email Barbara@mysteryonthemenu.com for a free consultation.

           MY NEW  BOOK!

  ACT TWO FOR THREE   is available at Amazon in  kindle and soft-cover.

                     CONTEST!!!

 Answer the following questions. Receive an original murder-mystery story with YOUR  NAME as a featured character!!

CLUE—read the book to find answers

 

 1-What did Jenna bring to the party?

  2-What are the names of Liz’s twin grandchildren?

 3-What game did Natalie like at the barbecue?

           Email answers to Barbara@msyteryonthemenu.com

______________________________ 

         FINISH THE MYSTERY

  I started the story, you finish it.   The winning result will be published in the following issue and the winner will receive two tickets to an upcoming mystery show.

                MURDER AT TEATIME

The Snowbird Club was holding a tea in honor of  member  AliceAnne Cunningham who had just published her first mystery-for-teens, “Murder At The Prom”.   The other guests were society hostess/president of the club Elizabeth Crandall,  Dr. Audrey Taylor,  hostess of a radio advice show,  Lily Rose, pre-school teacher on a cable television show,  Madame Celine, a noted fashion designer and  Arlene Bright, president of Bright Ideas Advertising agency.

While the ladies were having tea. a  singing telegram messenger, Tony Heller, burst into the room and played the guitar while he sang a congratulations song to Alice Anne,  He stared at one of the women and asked “what are you doing here? Suddenly, the lights went out and there were gun shots   When the lights came back on Alice Anne was lying on the floor… dead!

 

Who shot Alice Anne?  Send solutions to:

 Barbara@mystery onthemenu.com  

All entries become the property of Mystery on The Menu and cannot be returned.

I’ve been writing interactive murder mysteries since 1986 and  in that time  I’ve  created a whole collection of characters  who have become almost more real to me than actual, live people  Some of my favorites are   Elizabeth Crandall, the society hostess, Dr. Audrey Taylor who writes the advice column Ask Audrey Anything, Countess Maria, the noted fortune-teller,  Danny (Duke Carleton) the notorious gambler,  Robby Ray the famous singer, Ms. Maddy the matchmaker  and Senator Bobby whose campaign speech is short and simple.  “I stand on my record”

These people pop up in several different plays.   Sometimes  they are suspects, sometimes, (although its getting harder and harder for me to write it)   they are the guilty person or even the victim!   I’d really rather  create a whole new character for the victim or the “bad guy”,  a  new character who I haven’t bonded with, who I don’t especially care about or like.  I love Elizabeth and Countess Maria and Dr. Audrey,  Robby and Ms Maddy;  Duke and Senator Bobby make me smile. It feels wrong,  almost cruel and unfeeling,  to kill them or make them into criminals.

The setting of the play determines who the characters will be. Reunions Are Murder,  about a nineteen fifties high school reunion,  has a cheer-leader, a class president, the football hero, a prom queen and the greasers.   A Corporate Crime has the CEO, , his ambitious assistant, the advertising and marketing directors and the competitor;  “Lights, Camera, Murder” features the director, the stars, the jealous understudy and the financial backer and “Murder At Sea” has the captain, the cruise director, the entertainer and the chef.

Finding just the right name for  these people is a challenge; I  sometimes  make several changes (Laura, Joan, Angie??)   until one sounds just right for the character.    Since the plays are participatory I  include complete backgrounds, histories and relationships for these characters so that the actors who play them are prepared  and can answer any questions the audience might ask.  And they do ask!

“Where did you meet your bride?”  “How long have you worked at The Crumpert Cookie Company?”   “What did you do before you were a Senator?”  “How did you get started in show business?”  The actors in the show have to know the correct answers so as not to mislead or confuse the audience.

I recently met a woman who has the same name as one of my characters; it’s hard to think her as an activity director because,  in my mind she is ….i won’t print her name—the former actress who now makes Wolf Dog Food commercials

The characters  are truly real to me ; I  wanted to remember them, keep them in a more permanent form than the plays so I put several of them into mystery novels , Murder In The Inn and Another Murder In the Inn  and   Murder Is Served (short mystery stories which use all of the characters that didn’t fit into the Inn books).

I’ve also created a whole “mystery world” but, that’s another article.

mysteryonthemenu.com—-murderisserved.com

I wrote a book!  It’s called Act Two For Three and it’s about three friends  and how they adapt to changes and new things in their lives, things like internet dating and starting a new career and traveling and taking computer classes.  They adapt so well in spite of or maybe because of their age.  They are (shush, don’t tell) over seventy!

The book  (I wrote) actually started out as a play based on my character and the characters of two of two  good friends.  They read the play,  liked it and we, (since we are all actors)  decided to produce and  present it as a staged reading for clubs, organizations and groups.  The first scenes of the play are included in the book (I wrote)

Turning the play into a book and writing and editing it  was so much fun; now comes the hard part, the  not- fun  part, sending “Act Two For Three” out into the world and hoping that a few people will buy it, buy it and like it. It’s sort of like sending a child off to school for the first time.  Good-bye book…I hope you make a lot of friends!

ACT TWO FOR THREE   will be available in a few days as both a soft cover and on kindle from Amazon.com

mybteryonthemenu.com—booksbybarbara.com