Friday, November 15, 2019

Happy Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day!

JENN McKINLAY: No, I’m not kidding. This is a legit holiday. It’s in the national day calendar and everything. Here is my proof:

You're welcome! Apparently, it was named a national day to encourage people to clean out their refrigerators in preparation for the upcoming holidays. And I just want to say that the picture above is clearly not a real person's fridge. I mean, there's actual shelf space in there! That is not normal. 

I don't think I've even seen the shelves of my refrigerator since the day we bought it. Plus, there are no weird lab experiments of moldy growing things that have acclimated to the cooler temperature and have started to evolve into sentient beings. What? Just me?

Hub, bless his heart, is the great condiment collector. He loves to barbecue and every time he fires up the grill, he has a new sauce to try. For some reason, we never seem to use the entire bottle, so the lowest shelf in our fridge is where condiments go to die.

My issue is different. I buy a lot of fruits and vegetables, because I really want to be the person who is going to eat them. Sadly, I'm not her yet. They tend to linger in the crisper, which more aptly should be called the wilter, until they get mushy and are then shuffled out to the compost pile in the backyard accompanied by the sound of my dry heaves.

Another fail (mine) is leftovers. No one in my house eats leftovers unless it's meat, potatoes, or homemade mac and cheese. That's it. Everything else should just go straight into the garbage, do not pass Go, do not collect $100 dollars. And yet, I carefully box the leftover spaghetti, fried rice, tuna casserole, and assorted whatnot into snazzy Tupperware containers (Ugh, plastic!) that fill every nook and cranny until we celebrate the great removal day, which is apparently today!

I don't know about you all, but refrigerator cleaning is not on my short list of things I want to do -- unless I'm on deadline -- and it generally falls somewhere between taking the car through the carwash (Fun!) and doing fork recon in one of the Hooligans's rooms (Eek!). However, given that I could not shove one more item of Tupperware into the fridge last night, I have a feeling National Clean Your Refrigerator Day is coming for me!

How about you, Reds and Readers, how is your refrigerator maintenance? Do you need a national day to get it done? Also, do you eat leftovers? I might have some for you!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Planes, Trains, and Snowmobiles by Paige Shelton

JENN McKINLAY: I have a high bar for friendship, which basically consists of do you have a sense of humor and do you like baked goods. My friend, Paige Shelton, made me laugh out loud  the first time we met and we share a deep and abiding love of cake. As you can see, she's my people and her latest book, Thin Ice, is coming out in just a few weeks! I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek and it's fantastic! Here's Paige to tell us more about her journey to Alaska, the setting of Thin Ice.

Available December 3rd!

PAIGE SHELTON: I was watching the news the other night, and it seems a few airports are going to allow non-travelers through security so they may greet their loved ones at the gates, just like in the old days. I guess that’s a step forward, except I can’t think of many people I’d walk through the security line for just to greet as they deplane. Still, I appreciate the idea. 

I love to travel – but probably only in theory. In truth, unless it’s a road trip with no strict rules attached, the travel part of any good trip has turned into the worst part of the adventure. 

I do love to be at my destination, my bag hoisted up onto one of those folding luggage racks, the idea of unpacking already forgotten for the chance to head out and explore. That’s the good part, the destination.  

Except when it comes to traveling in Alaska. Not only was my research trip for THIN ICE made up of wonderful and interesting destinations, much of the travel was fun, too. 

The Juneau airport was a joy. It’s small, but not too small, and very easy to get from plane to luggage to rental cars or cabs. They even have giant freezers inside the airport to hold tourists’ caught fish until it’s time to head home. Everyone was polite, helpful, and didn’t seem to be in a crazy rush. When we landed, I wondered if we’d have the same luck when we took off for home again; we did. 

Though we rented a car, we used Uber a couple times in the city. One of our vehicles also contained a beautiful, friendly, and well-mannered Husky dog, so win-win-win there. I didn’t even know dogs weren’t supposed to be on board until recently, but I wouldn’t have protested anyway, and I will request a guest Husky every time I Uber now.

We took an Alaska Marine highway ferry over to Gustavus, which is where Glacier Bay National Park is located. The scenic route gave us four hours of good views, time to enjoy some snacks, and a moment or two for naps, though no whales were sighted. As we boarded the ferry, I noticed a job posting on the dock that said something like: “Tired of the same old, boring office job. Come work for us and you’ll never settle for ordinary again.” I thought briefly about taking the bait. 

We boarded a big tourist boat for the trip out to the glaciers. No napping on that one. Too much to see – birds, bears, sheep, tired kayakers who needed rescue (yes, really happened), although no whales there either. I was pretty sure they were watching us, though. I mean, it seems as if all the whales in the world travel near Alaska; I’ve seen the pictures. 

We finally found them! They were all around us as we roamed the ocean in a small fishing/whale-watching boat. Seeing the whales might have been the best part of the whole trip, even if the boat was small and the ocean was really, really big. We saw so many whales, I lost count. 

Photo of whales in Alaska from Pixabay

There were plenty of vehicles, like cars and vans, in the small town of Gustavus, but tucked inside barns and under tarps, snowmobiles and dog sleds awaited winter. I was told that the few paved roads are sometimes cleared, but other modes of transportation become necessary when the dark, snowy winters hit. I’ve ridden snowmobiles before, but never in Alaska. I’ve never ridden a dog sled. Maybe I’m going to have to go back in the winter. 

Just so we could experience it, we took a seaplane back to Juneau. I must admit, I was terrified, but the trip in the small plane, flying so low, was extraordinary. Like exercise though, I was glad I’d done it but don’t look forward to doing it again. Ever. 

I wish we’d had the time to hop on a train. I’ve heard that all the trips out of Anchorage are amazing.  Maybe I’ll have to go back in the winter and the summer. 

As expected, there were lots of cruise ships everywhere. We thought about taking a cruise, and it would have been wonderful, I’m sure, but I’m glad we saw some of Alaska the way we did. I loved the ferries and the other boats, and even the seaplane (kind of), but you can’t go wrong. No matter how you venture out to see this gigantic state, the transportation truly is as much fun as the destination.  

Safe travels!

So, how about you, Reds and Readers, what's the craziest travel transportation you've ever taken?

Paige Shelton is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Farmers' Market, Country Cooking School, Dangerous Type, and Scottish Bookshop mysteries. Her first suspense novel is Thin Ice, debuting in 2019. She's lived lots of places but currently resides in Arizona. Find out more at

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What Would You Do with a Billion Dollars? by Kate Carlisle

JENN McKINLAY: I'm thrilled to have my bestie visiting today! And because she won't brag on herself, I will. Check this out: A trifecta of bestsellerness!!! Have you started the Fixer Upper mysteries yet? Don't miss out!

The latest Fixer-Upper Mystery, SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH, came out on October 29, in paperback and ebook. Coming soon in audiobook. Read chapter 1 for free at

And now here's Kate to tell us more about her latest bestseller!

KATE CARLISLE: What would you do if you had a billion dollars? A billion. A thousand millions. Would you quit your job? Would you start a business? Would you move to a different town, a different part of the country, a different country altogether? Would you have more than one home? What would you do for your family and friends?

A billion is such a big number, it’s hard to wrap one’s brain around. Let’s say you did everything I listed above. Even if you were wildly extravagant, you’d probably still have, oh, nine hundred million dollars.

I think that once you got past the irresistible self-indulgences, you would realize that you have more money than you could possibly need in a lifetime. Then you might start thinking on a grander scale. After you’ve taken care of yourself, your family, your friends, and your community, eventually you might start to think about how you could effect real change in the world.

What would you do with a billion dollars once the newness of wealth wore off?

This was the question that inspired my latest mystery novel, Shot Through the Hearth. In it, contractor Shannon Hammer has been hired to renovate the Victorian farmhouse of and build a barn for a young retired tech billionaire, Raphael Nash.

The size of Rafe’s wallet is matched only by the size of his heart. After moving to Lighthouse Cove and falling in love with Shannon’s friend Marigold, Rafe starts the Marigold Foundation, with the lofty goal of eradicating poverty and saving the environment.

Rafe had the vision, the intelligence and the energy to bootstrap himself from humble beginnings to being one of the wealthiest men in the world. Now he intends to put all of his talents toward saving the planet for future generations. As the book starts, he tells Shannon that he’ll be hosting Future Global Survival Con in their quaint seaside town. Here’s a taste from chapter one:

“I’ve already booked a few dozen speakers,” Rafe said. “We’ll have demonstrations and lectures and workshops on all sorts of future-forward ideas from every area of business, education, arts and sciences, space, communication, food and farming.”

“You’ve already lined up all these people?”

“Yeah. Well, most of them are friends, so it wasn’t too hard to twist their arms.” He sat forward in his chair, getting into the subject. “We’ve got an eco-fisheries expert whose passion is tide pools. And another, my friend Julian Reedy, is a world-renowned plant expert who is determined to prove that plants can communicate with humans.” He grinned. “Oh, and wait ’til you see the Stephanie vine. She’s this huge, fast-growing plant that moves and grows in reaction to human pheromones. She’s extraordinary.”

“Stephanie is . . . a plant?”

“Yeah. You’ll see. It’s very cool. And another buddy, Arnold Larsson, is a pioneer in the field of smart mice studies.”

Mice?I shivered. One of my deepest, darkest secrets was that I was deathly afraid of mice. But I wasn’t about to mention it here and now.

“Everyone who comes to the conference will be invited to submit a grant proposal and give a short presentation on how they would change the world. I’ll be awarding a number of grants to help them finance their projects and ideas, put their words into action.”

But while Rafe’s goals are noble, with that much money up for grabs, not everyone’s motives will be altruistic. In fact, someone will die. . . 

Contractor Shannon Hammer is measuring murder motives in the latest Fixer-Upper Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of A Wrench in the Works and Eaves of Destruction... 

Shannon's good friend and retired tech billionaire, Raphael Nash, is loving his new retired life but he can't stay unoccupied for too long. He's started the Marigold Foundation that helps fund small companies and individuals who do humanitarian work around the world. It's an exciting time in Lighthouse Cove as Raphael hosts the first ever global conference inviting big thinkers from every area of industry to give presentations on eco-living. 
Raphael's old business partner arrives in town with a grudge and a plan to steal him away from his important new passion project. Shannon knows her friend has no intention of giving up Marigold and is proud of Raphael for sticking to his guns. But when his former associate winds up dead, all signs point to Raphael. 
It's up to Shannon to hammer out the details of the murder before her friend gets pinned for the crime... 

Question of the Day: If you had a billion dollars, what would you do after you had taken care of yourself, your family and your friends?

Kate Carlisle is the New York Timesbestselling author of two ongoing series: the Bibliophile Mysteries featuring San Francisco bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright, whose rare book restoration skills uncover old secrets, treachery and murder; and the Fixer-Upper Mysteries (as seen on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries), featuring Shannon Hammer, a home contractor who discovers not only skeletons in her neighbors' closets, but murder victims, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Travel Misadventures by Gigi Pandian

JENN McKINLAY: One of my very favorite people to connect with at writing conferences is the super talented Gigi Pandian. She's smart, funny, adventurous, and a brilliant word smith, but also, she shares a deep and abiding love for Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, with me. Read yesterday's post for more on that. We are reader soul sisters, for sure! Now here's Gigi to tell you more about her (mis)adventures in research and writing.

GIGI PANDIAN: “Misadventures” is a much more appealing word than “nightmares” or even “hassles,” isn’t it? That’s my story and I’m sticking with—even though my latest misadventure involves breaking my ankle while exploring an off-the-beaten-path Cambodian temple.

Ugh, I know! Perhaps the most unexpected part of that experience was that it didn’t end up ruining the trip, but quite the opposite. Instead of cutting the trip short, we relied on more people to help us get around, and in the process met wonderful people who we otherwise never would have met.

And by forcing me to slow down, fracturing my ankle had an additional unexpected benefit. With my leg propped up with an ice pack in Phnom Penh at the Raffles Hotel Writers Bar, I wrote a draft of my locked-room mystery story “The Cambodian Curse,” about a seemingly impossible museum heist of a Cambodian statue, and I figured out the treasure in The Glass Thief—the new Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery that’s out today.

I don’t know about you, but I love traveling for the same reason I love reading—to take me to destinations more surprising and wondrous than I could have imagined. Travel is an adventure, and that’s why we embark on trips that take us out of our comfort zones. It shouldn’t surprise us that it involves unexpected snafus—or twists, as we’d call them if we were reading about them.

I admit it. I don’t always find life twists as fun as the ones I read about. (Roberta—I’m thinking of you when you lost your passport in India!) As my ankle swelled from apple-size to grapefruit-size on our 2-hour car ride back to Siem Reap from the temple of Banteay Chhmar, I was not a happy camper. We were only halfway through our trip. Should we stay?

By the time I pulled out my notebook that sweltering evening, we decided to treat it as an adventure. I’m a writer, after all. I better have a good enough imagination to turn an injury into an adventure. I’d sprained my ankle before, which is what I thought this was at the time, so I knew how to get around with an injured foot. I iced it, wrapped it, and put it in a brace. We were already halfway around the world in a country I’d never previously visited. We were staying. 

How could I not? None of my research compared to history and culture coming alive. Especially in a country like Cambodia that’s been through so much strife, from French colonialism to the bloodshed of the Khmer Rouge. Many of the historical Buddhist and Hindu temples from the thriving Angkorian Empire are only now being cleared and excavated. Banteay Chhmar, the Angkorian temple where I broke my ankle, is currently being excavated, so it doesn’t have wooden steps and walkways for tourists. Over the course of several hours, we only saw half a dozen other visitors, and only two of them fellow Westerners. We had a marvelous guide to show us around (thank you, Mr. Pel!), but still had to step carefully. By the end of our day there, I got sloppy. Which my husband still won’t let me forget—he’s the one with a bad foot, so he was far more careful than I was. I took my mobility for granted. Oh, the things we take for granted!

Of course I’d rather not have broken my ankle, but I’m still glad I went on the trip. Some of my travel misadventures have been more fun than others—being trapped in the Louvre during an art heist was definitely better than having to sleep on the cold floor of an Italian train station after missing a connection—but in spite of how much I adore being curled up on my couch with a good book, what I gain from understanding and experiencing more of the world will always pull me out my front door again.

What misadventures have you encountered on your travels? Did you still think it was worth it?

THE GLASS THIEF is out today! In the latest installment of the multi-award-winning and USA Today bestselling series Publishers Weekly calls “everything a mystery lover could ask for,” historian Jaya Jones travels from San Francisco to Paris and Cambodia to solve two impossible crimes before a killer strikes again and a priceless treasure vanishes forever.

The book just received a *starred review* from Library Journal! “Charming and eclectic characters populate this Indiana Jones-esque adventure, which comes highly recommended for
fans of locked-room mysteries in the manner of Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters.” 

p.s. Gigi is hosting two virtual book launch parties today to celebrate, one at 7am Pacific Time for early birds, and one at 7pm for night owls:

USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood
traveling around the world on their research trips, and now lives outside San Francisco with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories.

Sign up for Gigi’s email newsletter to receive a free Jaya Jones novella and Accidental Alchemist recipe card downloads:

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Brush with Greatness by Jenn McKinlay

Firstly, Happy Veterans Day! To all those who've served, we thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

JENN McKINLAY: The only Malice Domestic conference I've ever been to was in 2012. It's very difficult to get to Bethesda from Phoenix - two flights and a train - but on that particular year, Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, was going to be there and I knew if I was ever going to meet my childhood idol, this was it. 

Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz
There were several events, all of which were standing room only crowds. Ms. Mertz was everything I thought she'd be and more - smart, funny, kind, and with a wicked twinkle in her eye. I was thrilled just to be in the same room with her. When she left, being assisted by an escort, she walked right by my table. 
This was my moment! I sprang out of my seat and accosted her -- as one does -- and she didn't rear back in horror but instead smiled at me as I stood there incapable of saying a word. Me. Without speech. Inconceivable! 

Finally, I choked out a "thank you" and she looked at me, opened her arms for a hug and said, "No, thank you."
At which I cried all over her, like a big dope.
 So that was my moment with the author without whose work I likely  
never would have become a writer.

So, how about you, Reds? What was your brush with author greatness?

RHYS BOWENI’m always rather embarrassed when a fan comes up to me and does the whole fangirl thing. I’ve had one woman rush away and burst into tears (am I that scary?).  But then one day at a conference I found myself sitting at the signing table next to Tony Hillerman. And I’m screaming to myself “I’m sitting next to Tony Hillerman!” And I turn to him and gush “I love your books!”  I wish I could have told him that I only started writing mysteries because of him, but I could hardly get out those four words. So we all have our fangirl moments.

HALLIE EPHRON: The most ‘in awe’ I’ve ever been was when I ended up seated beside Jane Smiley at an event in Steinbeck country in California. I’d just read MOO and A THOUSAND ACRES and been blown away. All I remember is she was very nice and SERIOUSLY tall. Also at the table was Karen Joy Fowler, assuming I'm not mixing up my events. I’d read her amazing mystery novel, Wit’s End. I wanted to slow down time.
Jane Smiley

JENN: Tall girls rule, just sayin'

Lucy with Ann Cleeves 
LUCY BURDETTEI have fawned over too many people to mention, I am definitely fan girl material. Maybe the first time was Diane Mott Davidson and was she at Malice? I remember that she signed the book I bought to both my sister and to me. The first Bouchercon I ever attended, where I knew absolutely no one and was totally petrified and deeply unpublished, I had a lovely chat with Stephen White. Do you remember his series about a psychologist detective in Boulder Colorado? Love that character! And Michael Connelly more than once... You know what also was very cool was having Margaret Maron moderate the best first novel panel at malice domestic. Remember that Julia?? She was wonderful.  

JENN: I just got this pic of Lucy with Ann Cleeves from the new England Crime Bake this weekend. She really is a fangirl!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, meeting Margaret Maron at the Malice Domestic where you and I were Best First nominees was my fangirl moment. She was one of my writing idols, and one of two authors whose work seriously influenced my own when I was starting out (the other being Archer Mayor.) It was SUCH a thrill having her moderate the panel we were on, but I'm not sure I even spoke to her privately, then. I didn't want to pester the great woman.

Then, that evening, I was sitting in the bar (as one does) and she came by, squeezed my shoulder, and said, "I really loved your book." I can't recall what I said - probably something like "A buh bub a bubba uh." When we went up to our hotel room that evening, I told Ross, "Don't touch that shoulder. That's Margaret Maron's shoulder." 

Photo from
I got a chance to make it up in a more eloquent way, however, in 2012, when I was invited to contribute to Books To Die For – The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels. I wrote an appreciation of Bootlegger's Daughter. I still haven't nerved myself to ask her to sign it, though.

Hank with Sue Grafton
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yikes, I just got back from Bouchercon, when I interviewed James Patterson. And I have to say, he was adorable. Charming, funny, brash, and generous--and a real troublemaker---in a good way. Everyone adored him. I've interviewed Dan Brown, also terrific, engaging and quite brilliant. But in my writer/reader heart? Once I was signing next to Jane Langton. I almost could not breathe, she made such a difference in my life with her A Diamond in the Window. But the best of the best may have been at Crimebake in..2009? When I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned around, and there was SUE GRAFTON holding Prime Time--and asking for MY autograph! Can you even imagine? I was so lucky that someone got a photo of that moment--and here it is. It still makes me smile.  

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  At what I think must have been my very first Malice, my then-editor introduced me to Reginald Hill (She edited the US versions of his books.) All I could manage to squeak out was, "I love your books, Mr. Hill," and I'm sure I must have sounded like a complete dope. But he is still one of the writers I most admire, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet him.

And then there was P.D. James, who I had the honor to share a program with at St. Hilda's mystery conference in Oxford. I acquitted myself a bit better, but she was so sharp and witty and I was undoubtedly the gauche American.  She was also, however, unfailingly gracious and didn't make me feel too big an idiot. What an icon she was.

(Jenn, I was also a huge fan of Barbara Mertz in all her guises, and I LOVE that photo of her.)

JENN: Hank I was a huge fan of Jane Langton as a kid and A Diamond in the Window was FANTASTIC!

So, what about you, Readers, what are your crazy fan moments?