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Behind the Scenes

Mystery writers share their secrets in Duxbury

Mystery writer Sheila Connolly is one of several authors who have had their short stories published in “Stone Cold.”

Mystery writer Sheila Connolly is one of several authors who have had their short stories published in “Stone Cold.”

Mystery author Sheila Connolly finds plots everywhere. After she moved to Middleborough a dozen years ago, she caught up on the local gossip.

“People share stories,” she said last week. “I talked to my hairdresser, and she told me about two murders.”

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The idea for Connolly’s story in the recently published “Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold” anthology came from a friend’s experience in a nursing home.

“It’s a twist on the locked room murder,” Connolly said. “Somebody is in a nursing home. The door to the room is locked, everything is locked, and there’s a blizzard going on outside. So who killed her?”

"Scandal in Skibbereen," by Sheila Connolly

Connolly is one of the murder mystery authors who will take part in a Duxbury Free Library program called “Death in Shorts,” a panel of mystery writers and editors whose short stories have been included in “Stone Cold.”

The writers will read from their stories and discuss how they plotted, constructed, and populated them.

Editor Leslie Wheeler of Level Best Books, the book’s Somerville-based publisher, will moderate the Feb. 23 program.

In addition to Connolly, the best-selling author of the Museum Mystery, Orchard Mystery, and County Cork series; the panel includes Katherine Fast, a former Duxbury resident; and James T. Shannon of Dartmouth, a retired English teacher from Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett.

Fast’s stories have been published in several anthologies and e-zines. “Black Rock,” her story in “Stone Cold,” is “sort of gothic,” she said.

Its protagonist, Raven Lightfoot Moon, wears the image of a crescent moon on her face and sneaks around the wild west coast of Ireland.

Fast, who used to live in Duxbury’s Mosquito Hill section and work as a market research consultant, does the design and layout of the Level Best Books anthologies.

She said her characters are sometimes based on people she knows in real life. Murder victims in past stories have been based on an in-law and a former beau.

“So be nice to me,” Fast advises.

Shannon’s story “Badass Bill” features Gilbert Souza, a crime-solver from a Portuguese Fall River family who has been featured in other stories by Shannon.

Mystery writer Sheila Connolly says short story writing is a challenge because “you’ve got a very small opportunity to introduce a character .”

Souza lives in a Boston suburb now, but when a body shows up, he’s sure the crime is the work of Bill, one of four brothers who hung around in a pool room in the old neighborhood.

Shannon’s first novel, “Dying for Attention,” is scheduled for release next week.

Its central figure, Chug O’Malley, is a journalist and talking head seeking to step away from his high-profile media role while he writes a book about a high school.

But when murders take place, the killer sends anonymous notes to O’Malley, asking him to “make me famous.”

Wheeler, the program moderator, also has a story in “Stone Cold” and is the author of three Miranda Lewis “living history” mysteries, the first set in Plimoth Plantation, where she saw “lots of possibilities for evasion and suspicious behavior.”

“I was struck by how the village would make the perfect setting for a mystery,” Wheeler said by e-mail, “because it’s a place where the interpreters have two personas — Pilgrim and contemporary — and the lines between these personas aren’t always clear. . . . When my sleuth tries to get information, how does she know when an interpreter won’t tell her something because to do so would be to step out of character, or because they don’t want to because they’re hiding something?”

Westwinds Bookshop of Duxbury sponsors the program along with the library. “Supporting local authors is something we always try to do,” said Brooke McDonough, the bookshop’s manager.

The focus of the Duxbury program will be on writing short stories, Connolly said.

“It has to be so much tighter,” Connolly said.

“Five thousand words. You’ve got a very small opportunity to introduce a character and get your readers to care about her — in the first two pages. It’s definitely challenging.”

Her latest series, the County Cork Mysteries, features “a protagonist from Southie,” Maura Donovan, who travels to Skibbereen (“Scandal in Skibbereen”) in Ireland, where she discovers she’s related to many locals.

Maura settles in happily enough, but when a New York curator arrives in town looking for a long-lost painting from the 17th century, trouble follows. One morning, a body is found on a manor house lawn.

Connolly’s murder plots tend to follow her own travels. She visited northern Italy recently with 40 classmates from her Wellesley College class.

A murder mystery titled “Reunion With Death” followed shortly thereafter.

After careers in fields ranging from investment banking to genealogy, Connolly said she came late to writing. She now writes and publishes a lot to keep three murder mystery series going. “And I love it,” she said.

Behind the Scenes

“Death in Shorts”

Sunday, 2 p.m.

Duxbury Free Library, St. George Street

Free tickets; reserve at

www.duxburyfreelibrary.org

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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