Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sally Bell's Potato Salad for Memorial Day Picnics

LUCY BURDETTE:  Memorial Day is a day to honor those who died serving our country in times of war. Here's one of our favorite posts, in which the Reds talk about how war touched each of us personally.

But it's also become the weekend to celebrate the beginning of summer--and we do that so often by eating! When John and I drive to Florida in the fall, and back north in the spring, we have developed one must-stop lunch place. Sally Bell’s Kitchen is in downtown Richmond and when you walk in, you feel like you’ve fallen back to
an earlier time, with grandmothers in aprons and hairnets making you a Southern lunch. You choose your preferred sandwich and cupcake (strawberry in this case, though the caramel icing is killer,) and then potato salad, a deviled egg, and a Parmesan wafer are added. And the packaging is adorable—each lunch comes in a little white cardboard box, tied up with string.

We love everything about the lunch, but especially the potato salad. This is what I'll serve at a Memorial Day picnic. It's a little sweet, and lower-sodium, and we like it a lot.

Servings: 6-8

    2 1/2 pounds medium red-skinned potatoes, washed, with bad spots cut out (about 7-8)
    1  teaspoon BENTON’S TABLE TASTY (or 1/2 tsp salt if you don’t need low sodium)
    1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used Woodstock organic)
    3 tablespoons Rick’s pickle relish with juice (or other sweet, high-quality)
    1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or Kozlik's Amazing Maple)
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
    5 large hard-boiled eggs, just the yolks folks
    2 tablespoons chopped red onion
    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

    Cut the potatoes into quarters, cover with water and simmer until tender when pierced with a knife, 20–30 minutes. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl and let cool slightly.

    Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, pickle relish, Dijon mustard, sugar, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. Table Tasty in a small bowl for dressing.  Add onion and parsley.

Using a large wooden spoon or potato masher, coarsely smash potatoes.
    Add egg yolks to potatoes and coarsely smash them together. Then gently mix in the dressing. Cover and chill.

 Dust the top of the bowl with paprika.


What will you remember over this Memorial Day weekend? And what will you be eating?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Julia on What We're (Thinking About) Writing Week

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hallie's post earlier this week about "ruby slippers," ie, the Maltese Falcon, ie, the Macguffin got me thinking about the different types of mysteries I'd someday like to try. I don't mean hardboiled versus cozy - I'm talking about the gimmick, the particular plot device that fuels the story.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time working on the structure of my books. I've produced a book written along two opposing timelines, one going past, one heading to the future. I wrote a book with framing scenes bracketing past and present episodes. The one I'm working on now, with three interlinked storylines in three different eras, is giving me the devil of a hard time.

But I don't tend to think in terms of the plot device, which is a shame, because just like writing haiku or sestinas instead of free verse poetry, adhering to a form can spur a writer on to greater heights. The mystery genre itself is a type of restricted style, with its requirements of crime and solution. But except for those two items, there really isn't anything that can't be shoehorned into A Mystery. Cozy, caper, romantic suspense, genre blending, hardboiled, noir...the list goes on and on.

I've used a couple of classic devices in my series so far. I've written The Detective Becomes The Suspect (All Mortal Flesh) and The Ticking Clock (Through the Evil Days). But like many crime fiction authors today, I start with characters, and where I want them to go, rather than the plot, which has led to (I humbly think) a rich, detailed tapestry of life in the imaginary town of Millers Kill, NY. Now, however, nine books in - okay, eight and a half - I'm beginning to feel the urge to challenge myself with a stricter form. Readers already know the characters in my books pretty well, right? So why not see if they work as well in a canon or fugue, instead of a symphony?

I'd love to do a Locked Room Mystery, which I think could translate very well in the modern age. With wifi, apps, and executable software around, as well as slightly futuristic - but already here - nanobots and genetically tailored medicine, there must be more ways to kill someone in an inaccessible room than ever.

I've also long loved the Country House Mystery exemplified by And Then There Were None and The Mousetrap. Updating the concept of a group of strangers trapped together without any means of communicating with the outside world would be a challenge in our always-connected present. Could I fit the form into Millers Kill? I don't know, but I'd love to try.

Dear Readers, what are some of the classic mystery devices you'd like to see updated into the modern world?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reds on Writing: Debs on the Tortoise and the Hare

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Seventeen (almost, more on that in a minute) novels, and I'm still looking for the Magic Bullet. I know, of course, that there is no such thing, and when I speak to writers' groups I always emphasize that. But... Here's where it gets sticky.

I am admittedly slow. But this book has been a bear. On the first of July, it will be two years since I turned in the manuscript for TO DWELL IN DARKNESS. TWO. Now, that's bad. Even for me. Although there has been a book that took longer. (I'm looking at it, stacked on my desk, and the one that came after, which was half the length and took half the time.)

Dear hubby says that I lack project management skills. And that I procrastinate. Both are probably true. I SAY that multiple view point, multiple story line, and sometimes multiple time line novels are HARD. And I am a plotter and a planner, a writer who has to work out who all these characters are and how everything fits together in the intimate history of the setting... At least those are my excuses, and I'm the first to admit they probably are excuses.

BUT, I say. Surely there is a way to do it better, and faster, and that I'll get the next book finished in LESS than a year. My agent, after twenty-three years (Yikes!) just laughs.

And I'm now in what I think of as the Chute. The book--GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS-- is in the publisher's schedule. (February, 2017!) It has a cover. It's up on my website, and doesn't it look gorgeous?  

A big chunk of the manuscript has gone to the illustrator, wonderful Laura Maestro, so that she can start on the accompanying map.  And I have to finish the last...(mumble, mumble) pages in the next two weeks. (This is my new downstairs library table/desk that was pristine two weeks ago. It's now a mess of multiple outlines and notes and books--and cat. Imagine what it will look like two weeks from now...)

I think this makes me the Hare.

The good news is that I know how it all fits together now. (Chapter/scene outline done all the way the way to the end!) I have to get to a certain point before I can do this, but once I do, it rocks.

REDS and writer friends, I want to know. Do you write a regular, set amount, from beginning to end? Or do you find that books reach a tipping point where it all comes together and you blast through to the last page? 

And what about other big, long term projects, everyone? Are you tortoises or hares?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reds on Writing: Trunk Novels @LucyBurdette

When the subject of trunk novels (finished or unfinished manuscripts that have been stashed away before publication) comes up, I have plenty to say. The first book I ever wrote, FINAL ROUND, lives in a trunk. As it was told, Cassie Burdette, a lady golfer whose personal baggage limited her professional success, had the bad luck to get involved with the murder of a superstar golfer. 

Recognize anyone?

On the basis of that manuscript, I landed an agent and she sold a 3-book golf lovers mystery series to Berkley Prime Crime. But FINAL ROUND was rejected because Cassie was serving as a caddie, carrying the bag for a man on the PGA tour. They wanted her to be shown as a golfer, not a caddie, in the first book of the series. 

    "But she has issues," I explained, "that prevent her from playing at that level."

    The publisher didn't care. 

    So FINAL ROUND went in the trunk.

    During the time I was waiting and hoping to hear news of a sale, I wrote a second installment in the series in which Cassie falls for a gorgeous professional golfer in the Dominican Republic. Tropical setting, voodoo, a dangerous romance: What was not to like? But my new editor determined that foreign settings weren't selling. Into the trunk it went.

photo by Daniel Johnson

After eight mysteries published, I attempted a non-mystery "breakout" book, featuring a jilted real estate agent and the detective from my advice column mysteries. My agent felt it wasn't representative of my strongest work. Thunk, went the manuscript, into the trunk.

photo by Greg Wagoner

Next I started a book about a psychologist who was tricked into co-leading a happiness group and finally found happiness herself. I got involved in writing something else and didn't finish it. Thud: on the pile, in the trunk. 

    And then came the book I fondly call "the homeless baby thriller." But three-quarters of the way through, I got distracted by writing a proposal for the Key West food critic mystery series. And that led to a gallop through seven published novels. So the thriller went to gather dust with the other trunk inhabitants. (Help, help, it's getting very crowded in here!)

Poco, the original zany Aussie

Oh, and don't let me forget the children's book about a zany Australian shepherd who gets in trouble with all the neighbors. Trunkward bound after a clumsy first draft.


So though I recently celebrated the publication of my fifteenth book in fourteen years (KILLER TAKEOUT), I've actually written parts or all of 21 books. But there's very good news in this: I've learned more about writing well with each book. And all but the first two are still interesting ideas that I'd love to go back to one day, if life ever slows down. (In truth, I’m working on three things that I feel a little superstitious about, so I’ll wait to tell.)

    Someone told me once that he'd pitched a golf mystery to an editor who told him that writing about golf would kill his career. But I’ve survived. And honestly, I don't have a moment of regret. And here I give you the opening of my first ever novel-fresh from the trunk:

FINAL ROUND by Roberta Isleib, circa 2000

    The first streaks of sun lit up the golf course like a carpet of emeralds.  I rolled my neck in slow circles, easing out kinks left over from a long drive and a series of lumpy mattresses.  A palpable hum of excitement and hopefulness hung over the practice range, which teemed with golfers grooming their swings for today's tournament.

    Despite the pastoral backdrop, I knew the tension that permeated these early minutes would surge over the next few days.  For professional golfers, competition was more than just a game.  Take the first tee, where a crowd of fans narrowed the hole to a chute with living, breathing walls.  And suppose the only image that flashed through your mind was shanking the ball off the toe onto some spectator's bald head.  Or worse yet, making no contact at all.  Or maybe the guy you needed to take apart that day was your best buddy off the course.  Even so, you had to grind away without a thought about how he felt.  No question about it, competition could be murder.   

    I'd worked hard to get here.  Except I never imagined I'd make my appearance carrying someone's bag, not using the clubs myself.  And there were things I missed about playing.  Like the feeling of striking a shot so pure, so perfect, you knew it was your best.  Or say you were playing an opponent who had the game to kill you, but you'd clawed a path to two holes up anyway.  Or maybe you were coming down the home stretch all square and your hands felt like concrete blocks, but you needed to chip close to give yourself a chance for bird.  And you knocked it stiff.

    Yeah, I missed it.  Gods knows, I grew up in a family that could make eating mashed potatoes into a contest.  Even our dog was competitive:  you had to fight him for a place in the front seat of the car.  But right now, my job as Mike's caddie was to stay in the background.  Kind of a Hillary Clinton to her Bill, only without the humiliating Monica Lewinsky part.

Well, now that I look it, there was a lot of golf in them there pages! I think I improved as I went along:). 

Cassie's first published adventure on the LPGA tour, Six Strokes Under, is still available as an ebook.

Jungle Reds, anything in your trunks? Doesn't have to be writing--could be any project you started and didn't quite finish...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What We Wrote... Long Ago

RHYS BOWEN: As you read this I will be doing something quite different and amazing. I will be attending the opening of a play at the Unicorn Theater in London. And the play is based on a children's book I wrote many years ago called SEPTIMUS BEAN AND HIS AMAZING MACHINE.
How cool is that? I've never seen my work performed before on stage. I've seen a few things on TV but by the time they came to the screen they weren't really mine.

So I thought I'd share a snippet of Septimus Bean as I wrote it.  It begins:

Back in the days of King Albert the Third
There arrived at the palace, as maybe you've heard
A strange looking man who was both long and lean.
He went by the name of Septimus Bean--
and he came with a strange and amazing machine.

It was terribly long and incredibly high
And it seemed (from the ground) to reach up to the sky.
It had wheels, it had bells, it was painted bright blue.
But the king asked "Septimus, what does it do?"

Septimus doesn't know, so the royal family has various suggestions, none of which work, all of which are disasters. Then the king suggests the thing has wheels. It must be a new fangled carriage. Septimus tries it out. it gathers speed, goes up the drawbridge and takes off.
He has invented a flying machine... only
They go to greet him and find the machine, crashed into hundreds of pieces. AND

The king stood and looked at the torn-up machine
And sighed "What an ending to Septimus Bean."
Then there came a faint voice (it was too dark to see)
"I'm not ended, King Al. I'm up here in this tree."

Next morning they went sadly back to the green,
Where in twenty two parts lay the broken machine.
Septimus Bean looked it over, and sighed.
"It's hopeless," he said. And the princesses cried.
"You'll soon build another, I'm sure," said the Queen.
"You'll fly through the air once more, Septimus Bean."
But Septium shook his head sadly and said,
"The world must wait. I'm going to bed.
I'll never more try to invent a machine.
You can all just forget about Septium Bean."

But as Septimus turned and walked sadly away
from behind came the laughter of children at play
And there were the princesses out on the green
climbing all over the bits of machine.

"Look mother, look father," the princesses cried.
"We can swing, we can climb, we can seasaw and slide."

So Septimus has invented a playground and is a hero.

And the theater has told me that they want to end with a real playground on stage that the audience can climb over. Isn't that fun?  I'll report on my Facebook Page (

Did any of you read this book when you were young?

Artwork credit Art Cummings.