Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tracy Grant--Game Changers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been a huge fan of Tracy Grant's Regency intrigue novels since the very first book, have followed them through the game changes (see below!) and always eagerly anticipate a new adventure. Tracy, like me, fell in love early on with Georgette Heyer's Regency novels, and then with Golden Age mysteries, then went on to create her own unique world. I don't know anyone who combines fascinating and accurate historical detail with romance, mystery, intrigue, and memorable characters as well as Tracy. 

How could anyone resist this description from the latest Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch book, London Gambit, which comes out Thursday!
On a moonlit London night, Suzanne Rannoch slips away from a glittering Mayfair party to assist a wounded man who has escaped Paris one step ahead of Royalist pursuit. That same evening, Suzanne’s husband Malcolm, himself a former spy for Britain, is summoned to the warehouse of a shipping company where a thief has been knifed to death. These two seemingly unconnected incidents prove to be the opening gambit in a deadly game that will test the Rannochs’ skill, strain their divided loyalties to Britain and France, and entangle not only fellow agents and spymasters, but their friends and family. The stakes are their security, their marriage, their very lives.

Tracy has taken the challenges faced by most series' writers and doubled them--or is it quadrupled? (You will see!) Dealing with the peculiar problems of series characters is a dilemma close to my heart--here's how Tracy does it.

TRACY GRANT: I love series, both as a reader and as a writer. As a reader, I love to follow the twists and turns and speculate with other readers of the series. I worry about favorite characters and checking back in with them is like reconnecting with old friends (with Debs' Gemma and Duncan, I feel I know them and their world so well it’s like stepping into their house for a cup of tea or sitting across from them in a pub over a pint). With my own writing, my mind inevitably thinks in terms of a series. After a book, I’m always wondering what happens next for the characters and even when I get ideas for new characters, I want to fit them into the pre-existing world. 

Recently, I was asked whether I have the series planned out or make it up as I go along. The answer, I realized, was a bit of both. My series is particularly complicated because I started out telling the story of Charles and Mélanie Fraser and then when I changed publishers and couldn’t take the series forwards, I decided to go back in time and tell their back story. But I had to change their names, so they became Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. Different names but still spies for opposite sides in the Napoleonic Wars (he for the British, she for the French) who end up married to each other. Eventually I had to move the Malcolm and Suzanne books into a sort of parallel universe for a book or two to catch up the two series and move forwards to the books I had originally planned to write in Fraser universe. Not the way I would have chosen to do it, but it did allow me to dramatize their history at the Congress of Vienna and the Battle of Waterloo and in Paris after Waterloo, which I loved telling.  

Because I  went back in time, I more or less knew how I wanted those early stories to play out. But there were still plenty of details to fill in and some points where what I thought was going to happen didn’t fit where the characters actually were when I got to that point on paper. With my last book, The Mayfair Affair, and my new release, London Gambit, I’ve moved into uncharted territory,  taking the series forwards in time, not locked into any plot twists in prior books. But there are still certain developments in the overarching plot of the series I know I am writing towards, some of which I’ve had in mind from the start, some of which have occurred to me along the way, The Mayfair Affair introduced a fairly major new romantic pairing for the series. I had actually intended to get one of these characters together with another ongoing character at the start of the series, but I decided several books ago that these two characters were a better match, and I was really excited to finally get to the point where their relationship could progress. Other things I’ve thought I was writing towards end up playing out differently when I get to that point in the story and realize what I thought would happen doesn’t make sense given where the characters now are.

London Gambit contains a major plot twist I’ve had in mind for some time, though I wasn’t sure precisely where it would occur in the series. It’s something of a game changer for the series. Even when it occurred to me that this plot twist would fit logically in London Gambit, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to go there. I dithered. I felt like I was being mean to my characters. I considered softening it. I started writing the book with the plot twist in mind, but wasn’t sure I would really go through with it. I even drafted scenes not sure I would include them. Then I discussed the possible plot twist with a writer friend who has read the series from the beginning. When I said I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go this far, and I felt I was being mean to my characters, she said, “That’s probably when you know you’re writing the exact right thing.”

I realized she was right. So I drew a deep breath and went through with the plot twist. And I’m glad I did. It opens a lot of very intriguing possibilities for future books that I’m eager to explore. At the same time reading over the galleys, I still felt a pang for my characters. Which I suspect proves that my writer friend was right - this was a good choice to make.

Writers, do you plan your series out in detail or make up events as you go? Have you ever felt conflicted about a game changer twist in your series? Readers, what are some of your favorite game changer moments in series you read?
DEBS: I cannot wait to read this! And, oh, so many times I've dithered over whether or not I can really put my characters through the plot twists I've come up with--and found, like Tracy, that it was exactly what I needed to do. 
REDS, readers, what do you think? Do you want your characters to be challenged? 
Teresa (Tracy) Grant studied British history at Stanford University and received the Firestone Award for Excellence in Research for her honors thesis on shifting conceptions of honor in late fifteenth century England. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her young daughter and three cats. In addition to writing, Tracy works for the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, pianists, and stage directors. Her real life heroine is her daughter Mélanie, who is very cooperative about Mummy’s writing. Tracy is currently at work on her next book chronicling the adventures of Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Those Old Snaps

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Our last week's chat about grandmothers sent me on a frantic search through boxes in my attic.  I did not have a single picture of my dear grandmother that I could put my hands on. We used to have quite a few framed family photos in our central hall and our stairwell, but when we painted a few years ago I took everything down and stuck them in boxes--which ended up in the attic. As did most of our dozens of old photo albums. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of storage space in our big old house, except in the attic--which is HOT in the summer. Not good news for photos, old sticky-paged photo albums, or, heaven forbid, the boxes and boxes of my parents' old slides. (Oh, and not to mention the fact that all this stuff, especially those old slides, are flammable. Yikes!)
Debs at 9 (I think)
Debs' brother Steve

Trolling through the mess, I came across a legal-sized envelope filled with loose photos. There was the only picture of my great-aunt Ruth as a young woman, and the earliest photo of my grandmother. And there was the ONLY photo of my dad's parents. There was a studio portrait of me, and another of my brother, that I didn't even remember.  And lots more, and that's without even starting on the albums. I thought, if I don't take care of these, they'll deteriorate beyond saving. And if I don't label these, no one will know who these people are...

A couple of years ago, I bought a little Canon photo scanner, and I've had a pile of acid-free photo albums for years--all untouched. I cannot figure out how to find the time, or to organize, this project, and yet it breaks my heart to see the past fade away, and people forgotten.

REDS, do you keep old photos? (You all seem to have handy photos to post.) How do you manage to do it?

And then there's the thought--now we are all digital, which I guess is better. But is it sad that we are leaving no physical record of our lives NOW?

HALLIE EPHRON: Fortunately for me my husband is diligent about printing photographs every so often and putting them in an album. When our library got a wonderfully fast scanner, he spent hours and hours in there scanning our old photographs and so we have most of the 'keepers' online (in Dropbox) as well. Digital is easier to share, and it makes a great Christmas gift to send a relative a carefully culled collection of old photos on a flash drive.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Can Jerry come to our house? Our photos are tragic. In boxes, and some in a few albums, totally inaccessible. Luckily I have a family photo gallery on the third floor hallway wall, and there are many on display, and I have three old albums--at least I know where they are. I do love actual photo-photos--they seem more real somehow, and I love how you can date them by the scalloped edges, or the fading color, or the weight of the paper. (How do people look completely different now?)  Yes, digital is great, although now we have thousands of photos of every darn thing.  And every event.  ("Where's that?" I'll wonder. Luckily the phone tells me.). And it's fun to flip through a family album. Sitting in front of a computer together is just not the same.

This is a photo of me with  my little  sister Nina at the Lincoln Park Zoo--circa 1954.  Someday, that will someone's old family photo. It makes me think--I should label the back.

Hank and Nina

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh gosh, we are desperately in need of Jerry too. I was looking at the boxes of loose photos in the bottom of my closet this weekend but like Debs, it feels like an overwhelming project. I have a small wedding album, and an album my mother made of me as a baby with cute captions, and a family album my father and I put together. But there are hundreds more--and yes, I  too am the keeper of many slides, and old reel movies from growing up--the kind that jerk around and make you dizzy to watch. And we have a video of our wedding, which I know is disintegrating.

Somewhere I read about a company that digitizes everything--you simply put the stuff in a box and send it to them. I'm having trouble even getting to that LOL! (Never mind finding out what they charge...)

Lucy watering

DEBS: You all were SO DARNED CUTE!!!!

Hallie, we need Jerry, too! Do you think he would come to Texas if we promised barbecue and tacos? Or margaritas?

Hank, yes, so interesting. Why do people look completely different now? I have a framed photo in my hall of my daughter at the same age as me in the photo above, and the whole feel is so different. 

And Lucy, for my daughter's last birthday I had all her childhood home videos put on DVD. It was hours and hours of stuff I can't even remember taking! And I don't even want to tell you how expensive it was. Shocking. But at least I can think I saved something for posterity.

How about you, readers? Do you save the old photos? Do you have a system for them? Or are you happy with the ephemera of digital? (Just thinking about video and floppy discs, which we thought were the ultimate in technology, now gone the way of the dinosaurs...)

PS Here's a bonus, one of the photos I found when I was looking for one for the grandmother post. This is my Nanny, holding a photo of me she's just unwrapped at Christmas. I'm guessing this was 1978, just before I left for Scotland to get married. And Rick had taken that photo as a going away present for me. Life is really weird sometimes, isn't it?


Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Oh, Kaye!" Chats About Shopping - Bluejeans, Bras, Bathing Suits - Oh, My!

Before we get to my post about shopping, I'd like to offer my most sincere congratulations to the Malice Domestic Agatha Award winners. 

Best Children's/YA - Andi Unstoppable by Amanda Flower. 
Best Short Story - "A Year Without Santa Claus?" by Barb Goffman.
Best Non-fiction - The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. 
Best First Novel - On the Road with Del and Louise by Art Taylor. 
Best Historical Novel - Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King. 
Best Contemporary Novel - Margaret Maron for Long Upon the Land.

What a fine group, huh?! 


Okay - here we go.
I love to shop.

I love pretty clothes.

Pretty Shoes.  Pretty Bags.  Boots.  Scarves. Hats. 

Coming home with a pretty new dress makes me a happy girl.

And coming home with a new white shirt is never a surprise.  Sometimes Don Barley, smart-ass that he is (oh yes, I love him but he is a smart-ass), will say, "Oh, look.  A new white shirt.  52 white shirts is just never enough."  (For the record, I do not have 52 white shirts).  Although, as you may have gathered, I pass by few white shirts that I don't fall in love with.  Cotton.  Silk.  Linen.  What looks nicer with jeans, pants or leggings than a white shirt?

( oh, yes, I'm partial to a guy wearing a white shirt with nice fitting jeans also.   Indeed.)

So.  Yes.

Donald Barley has a few white shirts in his closet also.

Speaking of jeans.

We all know how hard it is to find the perfect pair of jeans.  It always has been.

It's a royal and major pain.

Finding a style you like that fits the way you want in the right size should not be so difficult!

And I always worry that when I go into the fitting room with 12 pairs of jeans in different styles by different designers in different sizes, the lady in charge of fitting rooms is going to think I'm a sneak thief!

Well, actually, no, I don't think that at all.

Usually, the fitting room lady is more than sympathetic having been through this same scenario many times herself.


Yesterday I went shopping.

Not for jeans.

I did that a few months ago and found jeans I loved so I bought 3 pairs of them.  Isn't that what everyone does??  Don't you just have to do that?

No.  Yesterday I went shopping for new bras.





Same as shopping for jeans.

First I looked for a bra I liked the looks of.

Then I grabbed that bra in several different sizes.


Let me tell you.

It should NOT be this difficult.

And it's exhausting!

That bra I liked and tried on in several different sizes?

No.  Nope.  Nada.  Ugh.  Nothing!  Not a one of them fit properly.

I got dressed.  Put those bras back on their flimsy little hangers with the straps woven through those dumb little teeny narrow slits at the top of the dumb plastic hanger and took them back to the floor.

Found another bra I liked the looks of and grabbed it in several different sizes.

But this time I was a little smarter and looked for yet another bra I liked the looks of and grabbed it in several different sizes also.

I walked into the fitting room with more bras than I am going to admit to here.

I found one bra that fit well.  In a size that just does not sound like "my" bra size.  

That's okay.  I don't care what size it is.

I am not questioning it.

It's perfect.

I once again put those damn bras that didn't fit back onto those stupid plastic flimsy-as-all-get-out hangers with that absurd little thingie that I had to put the strap through and over (I only broke 3, I think) and returned them to the floor.

Then I looked for more bras exactly like the one I liked so I could buy them all.  In every color. 


The next time I need to buy bras, THAT bra will have been discontinued.



There were no more bras like it.


Not in white, nude, black, red, purple, pink or polka dot.  Not in zebra, or leopard, or giraffe print.  

I came "this" close to just sitting down in the floor and crying.

Instead, I got tickled and the sales associate got tickled.  After a good laugh she offered to see if there were more in the warehouse.  And there were.  Hooray!!!!  Three of them.  I don't even remember asking what color they were.  Who cares!   The only good thing about this experience (besides the good laugh) is that she told me they were on sale - "Buy one, get one free!"  YeeHaw!  

Four new bras.  For the price of two - wheeeee!!!  Who doesn't love a bargain?!

I considered, at this point, shopping for a new bathing suit.


As I said, I was exhausted.

So I did what a lot of smart women would do.

I came home and had a glass of wine.

Your turn Dear Reds - do you have a bluejeans, bra or bathing suit shopping story you want to share?  Or any shopping story?  A love to shop or hate to shop kinda woman - which are you?!

The Best Diet Book Ever

Nancy 3rd from left, Lucy/Roberta 2nd from right

LUCY BURDETTE:  I'm very excited to host today's guests, Nancy Parent and Dr. Joseph Parent, as they are such good old friends. Nan was my absolute best friend in high school. We spent as much time together as possible, including musical theater (she had talent, me not so much) and the yearbook (see picture above.) We also wrote a book of maudlin love poetry together, with a red construction paper cover covered with cut out hearts. (We are both grateful that this artifact has disappeared.) After 20 years as an editor at Disney, she now works a freelance editor.
Joseph in high school

Joseph was Nancy's older brother, adorable and enigmatic. (He was hoping I'd describe him as athletic instead of adorable, but as a teenager, that's not what I noticed. LOL) 

He went on to become a psychologist and become a master instructor in Buddhist meditation and study.
He is best know as one of the top golf psychology experts in the world, and author of the bestselling Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game.


But today they are here to talk about applying their talents to a different field in their new book: The Best Diet Book Ever: The Zen of Losing Weight. Welcome Nan and Joseph!

First about the dynamics of co-writing. How did you guys divide the work? And how did that go?

Nancy: We both contributed our personal experiences and insights to the work. I had a lot of anecdotal material that related back to my trials and tribulations with dieting over the years.

Joseph: I wrote about the peak performance principles and methods of awareness, self-acceptance, and habit-change that I present in most of my other books. I also introduced the techniques that worked for my own personal weight-loss program, checking with Nancy to be sure they’d click with the people she knew who were involved in groups doing dieting work.

How did it go? She’s a dream to work with – great instincts for how to put things, what to add, and what to leave out. And great insights about what dieters go through, to which I could apply the Zen principles. 

Lucy: Joseph, could you give us a little blurb about the book and explain how Zen Buddhism is related to dieting in a nutshell?

Joseph: It’s a fresh new perspective on the weight-loss journey: the freedom to make positive, rewarding choices instead of the pain and sacrifice of strict diets. Making such choices and setting small, attainable goals makes you feel more empowered to succeed than the usual negative, self-punishing approach to losing weight.

No recipes or menus—just simple, effective methods that help you shed the pounds and keep them off, without restrictions or struggle. Dieters learn how to enjoy food more, and win 'the battle of the bulge' at the same time!

What does Zen have to do with dieting? Zen means “action with awareness,” being completely in the present moment. Zen methods broaden the mind, engendering confidence, focus, and awareness, as well as energy, stamina, and peaceful equanimity. The more you cultivate the Zen qualities of presence and awareness, the easier it will be to achieve your dieting goals. 

Lucy: interesting that you say you have to feel what it would be like to lose weight rather than just hearing about it and thinking about it. Can you give us an example of an exercise you recommend for this?

Joseph: There are exercises that give you true glimpses of the future, experiences of what it will feel like to weigh less and be slimmer. That’s the best way to reinforce your intention to lose weight, and inspire you to overcome inertia and take action.

Here’s an example:

The Weigh-Less Exercise

This is a vivid way to immediately experience how good you'll feel when you are literally lighter on your feet:

Put ten to fifteen pounds of groceries in a shopping bag. [Note: How heavy a bagful you choose depends on your weight. Please be careful not to use more than 10% of what you weigh, and no more than 20 pounds.]

Sit on the front edge of a stable (not rolling) chair and hold the bag against your stomach. Then stand up and feel how hard you have to work. Repeat three times.

Next, put the bag aside and stand up without the extra weight.

Feel how much easier it is, how good it feels with less weight on your legs and knees. Now you know—maybe your legs aren’t so weak and your knees aren’t so bad. Maybe they’re just overworked!

Next, carefully pick up the bag and walk around for a minute or two. (You can climb a few stairs as long as you don’t strain yourself.) That’s what it will feel like if you put on those extra pounds.

So if you’re not sure you’re ready to start losing weight, this might at least inspire you to make the changes that will prevent you from gaining weight.

It’s an important motivator that will inspire you to:

· Start the weight-loss journey without delay,

· Keep going through periods of no-change or discouragement, and

· Maintain your weight once you’ve reached your target.

Lucy: In the book you say "there needs to be time to be aware of what's going on, and space to respond rather than react. Without awareness of a decision point there is no option, you eat. With awareness you have options of eating or saying, "No, thank you."" Tell us about the NINJA system.

Joseph: The NINJA System® stands for Necessary Intention & Non-Judgmental Awareness. To overcome an undesirable habit, it is necessary to establish a strong intention to make a change. You then apply non-judgmental awareness to the targeted habitual behavior.

If your choice is to weigh less, you’ll feel out of sync when your actions don’t match your intention.

Like a flower blossoming naturally, by just noticing, without adding judgments of good or bad, you’ll catch yourself sooner and sooner.

At first you only notice what you did after it happened. Then you realize it while it’s happening. After that you catch it just as it starts. Eventually you become aware of the impulse that drives the habit, and at some point even the impulse no longer appears. The habit is gone. 

Lucy: did writing this book together change the way you two eat?

Nancy: Yes. Definitely for me. I used the NINJA System® to help me deal with a longtime night eating habit. I used the concept of "shrinking the window" (intermittent nighttime fasting) to speed up my weight loss. One of my favorite quotes from a Zen story in the book is "when you're eating, just eat." Don't read or watch TV when you're eating. Focus just on eating. You'll slow down and be much more aware of what you are eating. You will certainly enjoy it more. And it's such a simple concept. Definitely easy to remember!

Joseph: I’ve also taken to heart the “Shrink the Window” technique of intermittent fasting as well. Although I was already practicing mindful eating, I started setting down utensils between bites, and that slowed down momentum eating and helped me enjoy my food more. I’m more aware of how I feel as a meal goes on, so I’m more likely to stop sooner. I really dislike feeling too full. As the teddy bear said when asked if he’d like dessert, “No thanks. I'm stuffed.”

Lucy: Nan has started on a new career adventure this year, her own editing business. We'd love to hear more about that process! ​What kinds of projects are you working on, and how does it compare to working for a big corporation?

Nancy: First thing I did in my new freelance career was a line of books featuring new IKEA characters to be sold in their stores. We created a number of different formats under their LATTJO brand which focuses on all kinds of "play." My favorite was a punch-out theater set complete with scripts, backdrops, props, etc. I'm currently working on several projects for Disney Publishing Worldwide. My heart will always have a soft spot for the Disney characters, so it makes me very happy to write and edit for them.

The hard thing about freelancing is looking and asking for work. The advantages are being able to set your own schedules, do errands during the week instead of every weekend, and having the freedom to take on projects like THE BEST DIET BOOK EVER. Loved being able to do lunch and work with Joseph throughout this process. 

(And projects I'm looking for are anything children's book related writing or editing--especially preschool projects. I can help ready picture books manuscripts for publication. Contact: nancyparent at live dot com)

Lucy: Reds, they'll be stopping in all day today. Questions about dieting or editing or ???

Nancy Parent is a 20-year veteran of Disney Publishing Worldwide, editing and writing hundreds of books for the MouseWorks and Disney Press vertical imprints as well as Disney global publishers. In addition, Nancy has written and edited for DreamWorks, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, Reader’s Digest Children’s Books, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Fox, Suzy’s Zoo, and Lyrick Entertainment. Her picture book, Holly Bloom’s Garden, was co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Flashlight Press. Her humor book, Meditations for Toddlers Who Do Too Much, was also co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Andrews & McMeel. Nancy resides in Burbank, CA. She has practiced the "art" of dieting since she was 10, trying every program in existence and concocting a few of her own. She is now using The Best Diet Book Ever to maintain her most recent weight loss of 25 pounds. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Missing Malice and Eating Pie

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh boy, am I feeling sad about missing Malice Domestic this year! Our Hank is the toastmaster, and Susan and Hank and Rhys are up for Agatha awards, along with so many other friends. It's a giant cozy party all weekend and I hate not being there to schmooze with other authors and readers. Sigh. But it just didn't work out for a variety of reasons, and I know lots of you are sorry to miss it too. So I thought at least we all deserved pie!

This is a new-to-me Irish recipe that I found on Pinterest, adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking by The Baker Upstairs. My lemon-crazy dinner guests loved this little pie cake. I thought it might have needed a dab more sugar, but they disagreed, so I took extra whipped cream:).

Irish Lemon Pudding/Pie/Cake

  2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
2 lemons
1 1/4 cups milk

For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 to 2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch pie pan and set aside. Zest the two lemons, set that aside. Squeeze these lemons for their juice. (I didn’t measure, but they were 2 large lemons.) 

Separate the eggs and whip the whites in a clean bowl until stiff. (I did these first in my Kitchenaid mixer.) Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then add the flour and make sure all is mixed well.


Add the lemon zest and juice, followed by the milk, and mix again.

Now fold the stiff egg whites into the cake mixture. Mine looked a little lumpy at the end, but I didn’t want to mix too hard.

Scrape this into the prepared pan.

While the lemon pudding-cake bakes (40 minutes, until lightly browned and set), whip the cream with the sugar and almond flavoring.

Serve the cake warm or room temperature with whipped cream and any fruit garnish you choose.

 ps. John and I might have liked it even better cold the next day...

Good luck to our nominated Reds and friends--be sure and keep us posted about--everything! We have all our fingers and toes crossed back at home! xoxo