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Authors reveal secrets behind their writings


What does a "night of mystery" suggest to you?

A Gothic mansion creaking and groaning in eerie moonlight as a lone, menacing figure approaches from across the moors? A midnight search for clues to a grisly murder along a chilly, fog-shrouded river?

How about a night at the bookstore?

At 7:30 this evening, at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Annapolis Harbour Center, a "Night of Mystery," featuring five female Maryland mystery writers, will be presented.

The panelists are Sujata Massey, Chassis West, Judy Fitzwater, Barbara Lee and Marcia Talley, prolific, successful authors with multiple published works in the genre.

Massey, a Baltimore resident, has written four mysteries featuring super-sleuth Rai Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer living in Tokyo who explores the cultural contours of contemporary Japanese society while unraveling the intricate murder plots that come her way.

Shimura's latest case, "The Floating Girl," involves manga, the Japanese art of cartooning, and will be a prime topic for tonight's gathering.

Chassis West of Columbia honed her craft writing Nancy Drew mysteries before earning a nomination for an Edgar award - highest honor of the Mystery Writers of America - for her first novel, "Sunrise."

West's latest mystery featuring Leigh Ann Warren, her black police officer from Washington, is titled "Killing Kin." In this yarn, the policewoman's partner (and former fiance) is missing, and she becomes one of many - good and bad - trying desperately to find him in a case leading to an exciting climax in the woods of Western Maryland.

Some of the wittiest mysteries these days are being written by Fitzwater, who a few years ago responded to the letters of rejection she was receiving from publishers by writing "Dying to Get Published." That mystery, highlighted by the murder of a literary agent, won her a contract, and her audience is growing.

In her fourth novel, "Dying to Remember," Fitzwater, a Germantown resident, follows sleuth Jennifer Marsh to her high school reunion, where old mysteries from a prom night years before resurface with lethal implications.

For five years, Barbara Lee of Columbia has been delighting local mystery buffs with the adventures of Eve Elliott, an advertising executive-turned-Anne Arundel County real estate agent who specializes in unraveling intrigue along the Magothy River.

Eve is a funny, self-deprecating character we'd be interested in knowing even if she weren't knee-deep in thorny cases such as the current "Dead Man's Fingers," in which water-skiing accidents, zoning board controversies and community resentments bubble over into another tale of murder and mayhem on the Magothy.

Talley, an Annapolis resident, has just seen her first Hannah Ives novel, "Sing It to Her Bones," go into its fourth printing in the Dell Mystery series.

Talley's second novel, "Unbreathed Memories," has Hannah, a Naval Academy wife and cancer survivor, wading through the skeletons in her family closet while piecing together clues to the murder of her sister's psychotherapist, who has taken an untimely swan dive off a balcony.

"I'm really looking forward to our evening together," Talley says of the bookstore discussion and book signing. "We're all friends, we've signed together before, and we really do pull for one another."

"This is a wonderful opportunity for mystery fans to experience a mystery writer's mind at work," says Darlene Swanson, the bookstore's community relations manager. "They'll talk about how they construct their plots, what the inspiration is for their writing, and how they go about the process of creating mysteries. I'm very impressed by all of them."

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