Thursday, April 21, 2016


Please join me in welcoming Debra H. Goldstein to Killer hobbies today! Her newest mystery, Should Have Played Poker launched yesterday!  May Jongg and mysteries--oh my!

Tracy Weber

When I was a child, I thought Mah jongg was a game for old ladies – like my thirty-five-year-old mother and seventy-seven-year-old grandmother. The way I saw it, even though they were at different stages in their lives (the height of fashion versus pink-haired with wrinkles), both of them joined a group of friends for an afternoon of gossip, dessert, and excitement if they won 50 cents. Now, I know those afternoons and evenings were all of that, but also were a time when people came together to play a tile game that truly required skill, concentration and thought.

For those not familiar with Mah jongg, it is a game played with small tiles that, like cards, represent four suits: winds, craks, dots and bams. There also are eight jokers and eight flowers. The object of the game is for one of four players to manipulate fourteen tiles to match one of 50 plus hands listed on a pre-printed gamecard.
The composition of the groups of people who play together are varied. Some are contemporaries who have played for years while other Maj games are comprised of people of all ages. The two main things they have in common is respect of each other’s playing ability and enjoyment of each other’s company. The location of games is equally as varied. Community centers, country clubs, coffee shops, and private homes are just some of the places people play.
My group, with women age forty through seventy, meets for three hours once a week at a Barnes & Noble. Not only do we enjoy the competitiveness of the game, but we usually manage to solve most of the world’s problems between hands. It was my personal experience with Mah jongg that made me realize as I wrote Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery, that a senior citizen Mah jongg group, comprised of pink-haired women living in a retirement home, would not only provide comic relief but would be the perfect intellectual foil for my twenty-nine-year-old female protagonist.
To be honest though, this group’s inclusion in Should Have Played Poker isn’t my first encounter with my pink-haired ladies. In 2010, in a short story, Legal Magic, I used the same Sunshine Retirement Home Mah jongg group as the catalyst for the mystery and the soul of a male protagonist. After the story was published, I continued to like the characters but never seemed to find a scenario for them until three years later when I got the idea to have a young corporate attorney forced to team with the Mah Jongg players to solve her mother’s murder.
The recycling of characters into another written work isn’t uncommon. Many authors find themselves liking a secondary character so well that they go out of their way to find another story for that character to tell. Perhaps one of the best known examples of this is Huckleberry Finn, who Mark Twain first brought to life as a minor character in Tom Sawyer. Unlike Huck Finn, who was able to move from being a narrator to carrying an entire book, the majority of these colorful characters would be on the page for far too much time if made the protagonist. Their purpose is best served providing comic relief or being a sounding board for other characters. Because they only are enjoyed in small bites, the characters can be repeatedly recycled in stories, novels and novellas.  
I’m sure my Mah jongg players will reappear in my work again. Have you had any characters with minds of their own who have popped in and out of your writing?
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of ShouldHave Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Mardi Gras Murder and The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Welcome to Killer Hobbies, Debra. I enjoyed your post, including how your own playing of Mah Jongg inspired your stories--and that your characters like to reappear. Mine have sometimes reappeared in other stories, but mostly the characters I loved in series that I'm not currently writing come and sit on my shoulders and ask to come back!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

The problem is when there are too many characters sitting on one's shoulder. I'm trying to figure out what it would be like to link all of them into a story.....could be interesting. Thanks for leaving a comment.