Archives for posts with tag: mystery

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.







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.—

There is no “forth wall” in a participatory murder mystery dinner theater; the actors are seated with the guests and must stay in character while eating dinner.  The scripted  scenes take place  in the middle of the audience and between those scenes the actors mingle;  they answer questions, argue with each other, spread gossip, share information and clues and sometimes, even “die”, hopefully next to a doorway so they can disappear.

The plays always involve the audience and everyone in the audience becomes a character. The plays include Lights,  Camera, Murder where the audience is told they  are extras rehearsing a scene,  in “Reunions are Murder” they are members of a family , in  Murder They Vote, they are delegates to a convention and in Cruising Is Murder they are passengers on a cruise ship.  Some audience members take their parts very seriously and make up whole identities and stories, others say they want to just sit and watch but invariably  end up participating and trying to solve the murder.   All of this goes on during dinner; sometimes the people seated at a table don’t realize that one of them is an actor until he or she does or says something.  This  sometimes confuses the waiters.  An  actor playing a gambler, was shot during the salad course and removed from the room by the rescue squad (two other actors)  The waiter, puzzled, asked, “is he coming back?  Should I still serve his dinner?” Another waiter said, upon seeing a woman clutch her throat and collapse, “now I understand why she didn’t order an entree”.   Sometimes a guest will offer to bride a waiter or server– “tell us who did it”  or a guest will try to “help” the detective by tackling the trying-to-escape  murderer.  That’s a little too much participation.  Actors in interactive shows learn to be alert and careful and, when they are threatening the audience with a gun (a starter pistol, no bullets) learn to keep their backs to the wall.

Actors on a stage with a forth wall rehearse and block movements and pretty much know what to expect; actors in participatory theater have to think and react quickly to many unexpected developments. That’s live theater and it is challenging and different and, most important, it’s fun!–

I started writing murder mysteries in 1986 when I was asked to  organize an interactive  murder mystery dinner theater  at a resort. I searched libraries and contacted agencies that leased plays  but I  couldn’t find a suitable script; this was before the internet and before participatory mysteries became popular.

I was, (in addition to being an actress in local theater) a free lance newspaper reporter.   I  wrote articles about businesses, travel and shopping, did interviews,  even published a shopping newsletter but I had  never tried writing fiction.  A book was on my “someday in the future” list but it looked like the future had caught up with me.  I needed a script–yesterday.

So, I wrote a script.   Murder In The International Hotel, was staged at Coolfont Resort in West Virginia on Friday, June 13th, 1986. It had a  sinister gangster, a glamorous singer, a debonair detective in a tuxedo, a mysterious couple, a suspicious photographer, even a handsome playboy with his leg in a cast  (an important clue) and of course, a murder (or two)  That phrase “A murder (or two) was used in all of the advertising; I still use it today.

Since then, I’ve written many, many scripts  and created dozens of characters , Countess Maria the psychic, Elizabeth Crandall ( society hostess), Duke Carleton ( shady Casino owner)  Senator Bobby from Texas,  Ms Maddy the matchmaker and many others who are, sometimes  more real to me than actual real, live  people.  I created a who  Mystery world,   Greenway  country club, Appleton University, The Best Deal Auction House, The New Wave Art Gallery,  Brookings Publishing Company, the island of Topaz, a government agency FACE which stands for Federal Agency for Criminal  Examination, even a whole country, Latvaria  which is an emerging nation in Europe .

I became so  attached to these people and those places;   I  wanted to keep them in a more permanent form than the plays so a few years ago I   put  them into a book, Murder In The inn and a sequel  Another Murder In the Inn and finally, since there were so many characters and places and plots, into a book of short mysteries, Murder Is Served.  

I sometimes wonder if all this would have happened   if I had been able to find a mystery script back in 1986?––

Chocolate covered raisins, mushroom toasts,  gazpacho,  spinach balls, English muffin pizza, spicy meatballs—when I started writing the Murder In The Inn series I decided that Sandy (the heroine) and Noah (the butler/housekeeper) would serve simple appetizers and wine every evening.  Sandy isn’t much of a cook so  she makes  simple and easy things that  don’t take a lot of time to prepare. That’s actually the way I  cook; I like recipes that are quick to prepare and don’t have too many ingredients.  When I see a recipe that has more than six and a long paragraph of instructions my eyes sort of glaze over and I quickly turn the page.

My favorite cook book of all times is the I Hate To Cookbook by Peg Bracken.  I wish I had written to her while she was alive to thank her for “Stayabed stew” (dump the meat, a can of tomato sauce, a splash of wine  and veggies into a roasting pan, set the oven for 250 degrees and let it cook for 6-8 hours) and “Sweepsteak’ (cover a roast with dry onion soup mix and bake in covered roasting pan)

Some of my recipes  come  from family and friends , others just have been a part of my cooking life for so long that I have no idea where I got them.    A few of my loyal readers have told me that the recipes are the best part of the Inn books.  Really? How about the plot, the characters, the clues?  On the other hand, a compliment is a compliment and I’ll take any I can get. Here are a few of my favorite Recipes from the Inn.


(this might sound horrible but trust me, they are delicious)

Ten slices of white bread, crusts removed

one can of cream of mushroom soup

one stick of butter (melted on baking sheet)

Preheat oven to 375, roll out bread slices until flat

spread each piece, liberally, with mushroom soup

roll up each slice  like a jelly roll

roll each slice in melted butter until coated

Bake until brown (about 20-30 minutes

cut each slice into three…serve hot.



(a strange combination of ingredients  but ..try it.  )

One pound of meatballs  (you could make them yourself but

Sandy (and i) cheat and buy the already prepared frozen ones

One cup of grape jelly,

one cup of ketchup

Mix jelly and ketchup together in a crock pot

add the meatballs

cook several hours…Served hot.


one can of chicken gumbo soup

one can of tomato soup

one can of water

two tablespoons of vinegar

Combine in blender until blended

chill in refrigerator, served in glasses of bowls

You can float a cucumber or green pepper slice or both on top.

There are several more recipes in Murder In The Inn.  The sequel, Another murder In The Inn, revolves around a murder during a Fitness/exercise week so there are several diet recipes at the end of the book.  There are also exercises but…that’s another article!