The Element of Surprise — Welcome Guest Mary Angela

Welcome, Mary Angela! Mary writes the Professor Prather cozy mystery series. Passport to Murder is the second book in the series. She is giving away a copy to a commenter! Join us in welcoming Mary!

You know the holidays are coming when you buy a new outfit for your Elf on the Shelf. Recently, I purchased one for our elf and her friendly reindeer because “Come on, Mom. They’re a team!” my girls argued. ’Tis the season for waffling mothers, and if there’s one month my kids can talk me into anything, it’s December. They could ask for a chimpanzee right now, and I’d wonder if the zoo was offering a rebate.

Even if you don’t have little kids at home, you’ve probably heard of the Elf on the Shelf. Pinterest has entire boards devoted to this miniature menace: he writes messages, hides in weird places, and often gets trapped. Thankfully, our elf, Cheery Cherry, isn’t nearly as crafty. Sometimes she’s downright lazy after a long day of being creative. Still, she’s a big fan of board games and candy canes and, of course, reindeer. Actually, now that I think about it, the elf and I have a lot in common. First of all, we both fly around the house during the holidays making people happy. Second, we devote much of our time to leaving surprises.

It’s one of the best things I get to hear my readers say: the ending surprised me. I had no idea. I thought it was insert-the-name-of-a-would-be-murderer. It’s like unwrapping a gift every time I hear those words. Human beings are creatures of habit. We get up, we go to work or school, and we go to bed. Rarely does anything shake our routine. It’s no wonder my kids race down the stairs, even on school days, to see what that crazy elf has done. It’s the same reason they race down the stairs on Christmas morning and the same reason we race to the end of a novel: it’s fun to be surprised.

Mysteries should be anything but predictable, and like the elf, I work very hard at creating the element of surprise. It’s the feature of the mystery genre I enjoy most. After teaching English for many years, I love writing a good plot, an afterthought in some of the literary works I teach. My novels are filled with viable suspects and, much to the chagrin of elves everywhere, no tricks. Although I enjoy surprising plots (the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is my absolute favorite example of this), I always play fair with my endings. I know readers enjoy being surprised, not cheated, by a plot twist. A lump of coal might describe an ending that disappoints. As a reader, I’ve been there. Expecting a sweet treat, you find yourself frustrated by a character who hasn’t been mentioned in the last twenty-six chapters. Oh Christmas miracle! Where did this person come from? Maybe an elf made merry with the pages.

This time of year should be filled with mystery, magic, and happy surprises, like being invited by the Wicked Cozy Authors to guest post on their blog. Thank you so much for having me today, ladies, and thank you readers. It’s a gift to be in your company.

Readers: Do you like surprises? Do you have a favorite?

© Julie Prairie Photography 2016

Mary Angela is the author of the Professor Prather cozy mystery series, which has been called “enjoyable” and “clever” by Publishers Weekly. She is also an educator and has taught English and humanities at South Dakota’s public and private universities for over ten years. When Mary isn’t writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. For more information about Mary or the series, go to


54 Thoughts

  1. Your elf has stolen my heart–and the reindeer ran away with it!

    I’m with you on surprise endings, thank you very much. Cozy mysteries are the ultimate puzzle and to be satisfying, all the pieces need to be in the box. Part of the fun for the reader is swapping all the bits around to see how they best fit and finding the pieces scattered on the pages throughout the book. Not fair for the author to hold back the key bits for the end and then, like your elf, tossing them on the last page with a big, “Hah, were you looking for these?”

    1. Thank you! I love swapping around the pieces of the puzzle in a cozy mystery. It’s one of my favorite things about reading and writing the genre.

  2. Yes, I like surprises. I love it when something in a book surprises me, like a good twist. My favorite surprises come from my friends, daughter and husband. My good friend recently surprised me with a painting she did just for me to put in my reading room. It’s a picture of an open book with the world beyond it, and it has a beautiful sky and flowers. Its so cheery. She said that’s how I look to her. ( : That was my latest favorite surprise.

    1. What a wonderful surprise and painting! Books open up new worlds for us as readers, don’t they?

  3. I love surprise endings. I love it when I’m wrong about who I think did it. I tell my husband all about it and he looks at me like I have 2 heads. He is one of the wierdos that doesn’t read unless it’s a magazine about old cars. pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

  4. I love a good surprise. When I worked at a hospital, we did Secret Santa and I loved leaving little cryptic clues and goodies leading up to the day!

    1. Secret Santa! I adore that game. It’s full of clues and surprises. And I’d forgotten all about it until I saw your comment. Thanks for the happy reminder!

  5. I love surprises, especially when a book surprises me. I am looking forward to being surprised by your books!

  6. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds, Mary! I love a great twist in a book or a surprise visit from a loved one! I also love surprising others with gifts or notes or by making them a favorite meal!

    1. Thank you, Jessie. I’m thrilled to be here! I love surprising my kids with notes in their lunch boxes. They love it too.

    1. Thank you for inviting me, Sherry! By the way, I loved your post yesterday about smells and reminders of home.

  7. Personally, I love the Elf on the Shelf. After all, Christmas is for the young and young at heart. It’s fun to come up with something new and how to play it out. The real joy comes from the eyes of the little ones excitement in finding out what he’s been up to this time. 🙂

    Had me laughing out loud with the statement about wondering if there was a rebate. I’m always looking for sales, bargains and rebates. Secretly it makes the gift more special to me if I know I made a smart purchase or got it for an amazing price. Why can’t both win – the recipient and the giver?

    Absolutely LOVE surprises and mystery. I think that’s why I love reading cozy mysteries so much. There is always a surprise or twist that keeps you interested wanting to read more. It’s like when my husband brings me “just because” roses. They are a surprise and have more meaning to me than say birthday flower which you might be expecting. The ending may be the say (telling me he loves me) but it’s how and when he gets to the end result is what I love the most.

    1. Hi, Kay. I love the Elf on the Shelf, and I love sales and rebates! I’m a huge bargain hunter, and I agree with you about deals. They’re great for the giver and receiver.

  8. I have tremendous admiration for any writer who can surprise me, and then when I look back I see that all the clues were carefully planted.

    I’m dating myself when I say that I remember when the great-great-grandpappy of those elves appeared on dishwashing soap bottles back when I was in high school. Who know they would multiple like this!

    1. I agree, Sheila. Surprising readers is hard work, and I applaud mystery writers for their effort.
      Who knew the elf got his start on dishwashing bottles? Thanks for sharing!

  9. I love surprises, too, and good cozies are the best for creating them. I’m always disappointed when the solution could have not possibly been figured out because the reason for murder was some event or cause from years before that was never alluded to. That’s coal in the stocking. And I’ve always loved elves!

  10. Hi Mary,
    Loved reading about you. I love surprises too. One that’s on the top of my list . Is when I retired three years from working at Northwood Elementary school. The children and staff lined up and down the hallways and give me a wonderful farewell. ❤️

  11. Surprises are a very good thing in mysteries! The best surprises for me are finding a letter in the mailbox from a dear friend who I have not heard from in a long time or getting a surprise visit from our children and Grands. Long ago my mother bought one of the elves and we enjoyed it for years, but it got lost in a move. I need to buy a new one for our little ones to enjoy.

    1. Hi Judy! I love letters. It’s a treat to find one in the mailbox.I hope you and your grandkids enjoy a new elf!

  12. I absolutely love surprises – in my mysteries. I’ve had enough bad surprises in my life in the last couple of months to last me for a while now.

    I don’t think I’ve heard of this series before. I will have to be sure to check it out.

  13. I enjoy surprise endings in books too. On the other hand, I do not like surprise parties. As for other surprises, it really depends. I am much more tolerant of surprises in fiction than I am in real life though!

    1. Good point! It’s nice when surprises happen in fiction — not always in real life.

  14. Welcome to the Wickeds, Mary! I love surprises–in books, movies, theater. In real life, not so much. I’ve written on the blog before how my former boss used to come into my office and say, “Tomorrow, I’m going to tell you something that’s going to blow your mind.” Because she’d learned that running into my office and telling me something that blew my mind generally didn’t go well.

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I agree. A surprise from the boss is not always fun!

  15. I love surprises, and one of my favorites was the Kitchen Aid stand mixer my husband surprised me with the year we were first dating.

    1. What a guy! I love my stand mixer this time of year, when I double batch nearly every recipe.

  16. I enjoy surprise gifts any time of the year, especially from my sweet husband.

  17. I love surprises, in books and in life. Unfortunately, my husband is terrible at keeping a secret and the minute he buys me a gift, he wants me to open it, not wait until Christmas or my birthday. I refuse every time, unless he has a good reason for me to open it now.

Comments are closed.