Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cooking with Love @lucyburdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Do you remember reading  Laurie Colwin’s classic memoir Home Cooking, A Writer in the Kitchen? I'm rereading it now--she was a foodie before the term even existed. She made cooking sound so easy and so fun. For a while, she volunteered cooking lunch for over a hundred ladies at her church. Her mother’s recipe for spaghetti casserole has always stuck in my mind.

Our MCC church in Key West, pastored by my character and also the real Reverend Steve Torrence, conducts a similar program called Cooking with Love every Saturday. John and I have donated money to this cause, and in one case I donated a percent of sales from a book signing. I also spent some time making sandwiches there for the homeless some years ago. (There is a scene in the first Key West mystery, An Appetite for Murder, taking place right at this event.)

Once a month for the past two months, I've acted as sous chef for a Saturday cooking event. My friend (and also character) Eric is the lead chef. How does someone cook for 150 people--inexpensively? In a small kitchen without any fancy equipment? 

Everything is enormous and heavy, from the pans to the ovens...

As the experienced member of the team, Eric chooses the menu and shops--a chicken and stuffing casserole, green peas, and frozen strawberries for dessert the first time, and a curried chicken salad the second. John and I (among a group of others) go the day before to help with chopping and opening cans. Saturday mornings bright and early the lunch is assembled, while other workers pack food bags to go out with the lunches.

At 10:30, the food is lined up and more volunteers rotate through with biodegradable containers to pack lunch for 150. Then volunteers swoop in to deliver the lunches and the food bags to the people on their route—mostly lower income senior citizens.

Natch, Hayley Snow will help her friend Eric with Cooking with Love in the next book. Why? I have no idea yet, but I hope it will come to me...

Cheree, our big boss
Let me assure you that if I harbored any dreams of becoming a professional chef, they are gone... it's not as easy and romantic as Laurie Colwin made it sound LOL!

Have you ever made dinner for 150 people? Any super-simple recipes to share?

Margaret Turkevich, you are the winner of Sherry Harris's A GUN ALSO RISES! Please send a note to her at sherryharrisauthor at gmail dot com.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Three Million Words by Sheila Connolly #giveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: For your Saturday reading...our friend Sheila Connolly had multiple careers before turning to writing. But by now she figures she has three million written and published words, including her new release, #7 in the County Cork series. Wow! It's a wonderful story. Welcome Sheila! (and ps, she's giving away a copy to one of you lucky commenters...)

Sheila at age 4
SHEILA CONNOLLY: I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer, much less a mystery writer, but I should have known better. At least, all the evidence was there.

It all began with a Band-Aid. Really. When I was eight, I had a close friend who lived in the house behind us, and we roamed all over the neighborhood together (our parents would have been horrified if we’d bothered to tell them). One day we were sitting under one of the elderly apple trees in my front yard and discovered one of those metal snap-top Band-Aid containers, and near it, a used Band-Aid (aha! Call Forensics!). It was a part of the yard that few people ever passed through, much less with a box of Band-Aids, but the two of us sat there and made up an entire story to go with the skimpy evidence.

In eighth grade I wrote and illustrated a short book about a mouse. In Spanish. In high school a friend and I wrote a short play about a group of people getting trapped in an elevator. In French. (And also a terrible poem titled Daffodowndilly, now lost to history.)

Perhaps my favorite example: my mother’s second husband once lived next door to Edward Adams in suburban New Jersey. In case you don’t know, Edward Adams was the son of Harriet Stratemeyer, who in turn was the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, head of the large syndicate that published (among other books) the Nancy Drew Series, which I devoured at a young age (when my 50-cent allowance could pay for one book).

But wait! There’s more! I knew Ed Adams, so when his daughter was touring colleges, he asked if I’d give her a quick tour of Wellesley (which grandmother Harriet and I just happened to have attended), and a place to sleep. Of course I was delighted (although she ended up going to Harvard and became a doctor, not a writer.) It was years before I realized that I had done a favor for the grand-daughter of Nancy Drew (Oh, all right—she didn’t actually write all the books, but she wrote many of the plots and oversaw production and so on. Close enough.).

Why did it take me so long to realize I was supposed to be a writer? I made detours through biology, art history, municipal finance, professional genealogy, and non-profit fundraising. (You may notice that none of those careers lasted.) What was I thinking?

I finally started writing seriously in 2001. I made a brief stab at mysteries with romance, but I simply don’t have a romance voice, so I turned to mysteries full time. And I loved it. I think I’ve used everything I ever learned in all the other temporary professions, and I still have a lot of material to work with. 

When I started writing, I had no idea what I was doing, much less how to get anything published—that was a very distant dream. I just knew I loved doing it. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do. All these years later I still love writing, and I’ve still got plenty of ideas.

And that title for this post? By the end of this year, I will have 
three million words in print, not including the abandoned drafts and simply bad early efforts. That would have been unimaginable when I started, nearly 20 years ago. And I am grateful for all the people who have helped me (and not laughed at my orphaned manuscripts), and particularly the people who have read my books and made nice comments.  Thank you, everyone!

Lucy: Sheila will be here today answering comments and questions, so bring them on!

ABOUT THE LOST TRAVELLER: Boston expat Maura Donovan came to Ireland to honor her grandmother’s last wish, but she never expected to stay in provincial County Cork―much less to inherit a house and a pub, Sullivan’s, in the small village of Leap. After a year-long struggle to stay in the black, Sullivan’s is finally thriving, and Maura has even brought back traditional Irish music to the pub. With a crop of new friends and a budding relationship with handsome Mick Nolan, Maura’s life seems rosier than ever―but even in Ireland, you can’t always trust your luck.

It begins with Maura’s discovery of a body in the ravine behind the pub. And then, the Irish gardaí reveal that the victim’s face has been battered beyond recognition. Who is the faceless victim? Who wanted him dead? And why was his body dumped in the backyard of Sullivan’s Pub? Even after the dead man is finally given a name, nobody admits to knowing him. In the tight-knit world of Leap, no one is talking―and now it’s up to Maura to uncover the dark secrets that lurk beneath the seemingly quiet town.

“This seventh in Anthony and Agatha Award nominee Connolly’s ‘County Cork Mystery’ series (after Many a Twist) is a thoughtfully executed and charmingly talkative cozy. The Irish setting is authentic, Maura is a delight, and the characters are gaining depth as this series matures.”
—Library Journal starred review

“Inviting...As usual, Connolly’s lively characters and lovely landscape enhance her well-wrought, thought-provoking plot. Series fans won’t be disappointed.”
—Publishers Weekly

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Mystery Series

LUCY BURDETTE:  I am very excited to have been invited to give one of the Friends of the Key West Library lectures next month. I think I've decided to talk about the pros and cons of mystery series, both from the perspective of a writer and a reader. But there are so many directions I could go. What do I love about writing them and reading them? What are the pitfalls? How long should a series go on?

I have always read series and also always written them. Why? I think this might be connected to how attached I get to the characters. If a book is great, I don’t want that to be the last word on those characters. I want to know what happens next in their lives.

So help me out here. Which do you enjoy most, writing series or standalones? What problems have you faced? 

HALLIE EPHRON: I've written both series and standalones, and right now my heart belongs to standalones. It's definitely more work having to create a whole new set of characters and a setup each time out. But I feel like I put my characters through so much in a single book, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make them go another round. They need to get on with their lives.  Having said that, my new novel is the first standalone I've written which really could be the first of a series. Not sure how my publisher would feel about that... I'm thinking about it. 

RHYS BOWEN: I've also written both. I love writing a series because it feels like visiting old friends. The setting is familiar, the secondary characters recur, so in many ways it's easier. Fans come to love a series and talk about the characters as if they are real. They come to think of them as friends. On the other hand I am now writing my fourth stand alone and relish the freedom that gives me to explore such different times and situations. But I do get letters asking me when there will be a sequel, so I think there is a need to revisit favorite characters.

JENN McKINLAY: I'm a series junkie. If I really enjoy the characters, I want to know more and more and more about their lives. The middle ground that I love is the continuity book/series. This is where you have protagonists in one book and then their friends or siblings or partners in crime or what have you, are featured in the next book. You see this a lot in romance but Tana French has mastered it, too. It keeps you in the world but it's not the same character's eccentricities driving the plot. I have yet to write a standalone but perhaps 2019 will be my year!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Interesting discussion, because i just had a conversation with a writer friend of mine who is in talks with a potential new agent. The agent requested the uncompleted ms for Book 2 in a prospective series; she came back with much praise for my friend's writing, but passed on repping the book. The agent said new series have become a hard sell right now, because publishers are looking for stand-alone psychological thrillers and domestic suspense, a la WHAT SHE KNEW, INTO THE WATER or THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10. My friend is considering changing up the unfinished manuscript, bringing the backstory forward and focusing the story on the dysfunctional family and unreliable characters, turning it into a stand-alone.

Of course, that's not to say if any stand-alone is a huge success, the publisher wouldn't immediately try to turn it into the first in a series...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my gosh, I'm in love with standalones. When I started writing TRUST ME, I had no idea how different it would be --completely overwhelmingly different. In a series, (which I still love writing and will continue to do so) the ultimate suspense cannot come from the possibility that the main character will actually die. I mean---Jane Ryland's gotta come back for book 5. Right? So it's a challenging juggle to deal with that--the reader knows Jane will survive, and so the focus comes on creating page-turning suspense in the lives and futures of others.

But in a standalone--whoa. Anyone could die. When I realized that--and now it seems so obvious--I actually gasped. And anyone could be lying, and anyone could be guilty, and anyone could turn out to be good or bad. There are no reader expectations whatsoever. The freedom is astonishing. Plus, it is absolutely ALL on the table--and all the loose ends must be tied up. In  THE MURDER LIST, I really went for it. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm a series junkie, too, always have been. Although I do make exceptions for standalones, Rhys and Hallie and Hank and Jenn! And Roberta with your WIP! But I've always loved getting to know continuing characters and settings, that sense of being able to dip into the lives of old friends. Nor have I had any real desire to write a standalone. I have so much fun with my big cast of characters that I haven't felt a great need to stretch beyond them, and every book has a new set of characters as well.

Not that  I would say no if a terrific standalone idea suddenly took hold in my brain, but it would NOT be the sort of book that Julia has been told editors are looking for--so maybe I should just stick to what I'm doing...

LUCY: that wouldn't be me either Debs--too scary to keep something like that in my head for a year! Now your turn Red readers, what do you like/not like about mystery series? How long can one reasonably go on? If you were in the audience, what would you want to know about the nuts and bolts of the process?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Some Real History in this Mystery

LUCY BURDETTE: So happy to welcome our friend Sherry Harris back to the blog. Today she's talking about her new book which has a fascinating backstory...I'm going to let her tell it...

SHERRY HARRIS: Thanks, Reds for having me back! I can’t believe I’m here to talk about my sixth novel in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries, The Gun Also Rises.

When my editor at Kensington and I were talking about the sixth book I knew I wanted Sarah to organize a book sale for someone. A book sale full of mysteries. My editor thought adding a Hemingway-like character with a missing rare book would be interesting. I read a lot of Hemingway during my high school and college days. And I will never forget an enlightening discussion with a professor about the symbolism in Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” when I did an independent study. But that was a long time ago.

In preparation for writing The Gun Also Rises I started reading more about Hemingway and came across a fascinating story some of you may be familiar with—especially if you’ve read The Moveable Feast—but I had never heard.

Here’s the short version: in 1922 Hadley Hemingway was traveling from Paris to Lausanne, Switzerland to meet Ernest. She packed up his works in progress including the carbon copies.
Ernest had been working on Nick Adams stories for months. Hadley stowed her bags and went to buy a bottle of water. When she came back the bag with the manuscripts was gone. A conductor helped Hadley search the train but the manuscripts were never seen again. If you would like to read more about the story here’s a link

I sat there stunned. Could anything be more perfect? But how could I use it? Should I use it? Back to my editor for permission to change from a Hemingway-like character to using the event from Hemingway’s life. He was as interested as I was in the story and told me to go for it.

 I decided that Sarah would find the missing bag with the manuscripts in her client’s attic tucked in with all of the mystery books. She takes them down to her client who is stunned that they are in her house. She asks Sarah to give her some time to process the find so Sarah goes back to the attic to work. When Sarah returns, she finds her client injured and that the maid has stolen the manuscripts. During Sarah’s search for the manuscripts she runs into a suspicious rare book dealer and a fanatical group called The League of Literary Treasure Hunters. They are convinced Sarah knows where the missing manuscripts are and follow her all over town.

The story still intrigues me. At the time Hemingway was a well-known war correspondent, but he wasn’t the famous author he is today. I keep picturing someone thinking, “There’s a nice bag.” They steal it and dump all the manuscripts in the nearest trash bin. Who knows? Maybe they did Ernest a favor with all the rewriting he had to do.

Readers: Are you familiar with the Hadley story? Any guesses as to what really happened to those manuscripts? I will give away a copy of The Gun Also Rises to someone who leaves a comment.

Here’s more about the book:

A wealthy widow has asked Sarah Winston to sell her massive collection of mysteries through her garage sale business. While sorting through piles of books stashed in the woman's attic, Sarah is amazed to discover a case of lost Hemingway stories, stolen from a train in Paris back in 1922. How did they end up in Belle Winthrop Granville's attic in Ellington, Massachusetts, almost one hundred years later?

Before Sarah can get any answers, Belle is assaulted, the case is stolen, a maid is killed, and Sarah herself is dodging bullets. And when rumors spread that Belle has a limited edition of The Sun Also Rises in her house, Sarah is soon mixed up with a mobster, the fanatical League of Literary Treasure Hunters, and a hard-to-read rare book dealer. With someone willing to kill for the Hemingway, Sarah has to race to catch the culprit—or the bell may toll for her . . .


Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the upcoming Chloe Jackson Redneck Riviera mystery series. She is the President of Sisters in Crime, a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.

In her spare time Sherry loves reading and is a patent holding inventor. Sherry, her husband, and guard dog Lily are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next.

She blogs with the talented women at

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

And Along Came T-bone

LUCY BURDETTE: I've had a cat in my life ever since the year I turned 13. I was desperate for two things for that birthday--Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, and a kitten. My mother was wise enough to agree to the kitten. It was January, though, and not the kitten season. She found one who'd been returned to the pound by his adoptive family. We called him Tigger, and I still have the receipt stamped "No Refund."

You might remember that both of our furry family members died this past summer. I have missed them terribly and worried I'd never find animal friends so wonderful. And I needed time to grieve, and negotiate what would be next with John.

But Monday my birthday came around again (a frightening number of years past 13) and I decided, with much encouragement, to go take a look at the Florida Keys animal shelter.

The shelter is located out on Stock Island, and it's tiny and bursting with animals. The volunteers and workers are very eager to get to the new building, most likely in February. This is the office and waiting room--on the other end was a gray cat in a cage named "Saucy," a gila monster, hamsters, an enormous snake, and many birds. And this being Key West, there was a rooster behind a gate.

My friend Stan went with me--I can't begin to describe how overwhelming it was to see 60 cats in four tiny rooms...How to choose? I was thinking of a tiger, either yellow like Tigger, or gray like Evinrude in the Key West mysteries. 

This guy had nice stripes...

Black cat on shelf

Cat in sink

Rocky was adorable but he seemed very shy

We met T-bone, who'd been spotted by a friend from the gym...

And then along came Ramp, a very frisky kitten who launched himself onto my chest and clung there purring...

I said to Stan, "I guess I've been chosen." So we went back to the office and told them I'd sign on for Ramp.

"Oh," said Del, the administrative assistant, "Ramp has a lot of heat around him." (Cat-shelter speak for he's hot.) "We've got four applications already on him."

"Ok, what about T-bone?"

"He has a hold application on him, too."

So I went back home, disappointed and unable to choose another. Two days later, my gym friend emailed again with photos of T-bone:

He greeted me at the door 
Played and purred
Followed me to the other rooms

The people with the hold are not ‘this cat specific’

Go adopt him

And so I did. He spent the first couple hours in the laundry room while I read in the hall and chatted with him. 

"T-bone, what do you know about social media?" I asked.

"Not much, mom, but I can learn."

And then he came out and there's no going back...

At the end of his first day...(gotta love the two-toned paw...)

And here's the next morning...

I admit to being completely besotted. So you'll be seeing lots of T-bone! And ps, here he is at the Marathon Vet Hospital on Monday, because yes, he developed a virus and got sick as a proverbial dog 4 days in. He says he's fine now, thanks for asking.

And here he is yesterday, feeling very much better and very much at home. 
Stripes on stripes

Thanks to my sister Sue, Bunnie, Leigh, Renee, Cheryl, and Stan for nudging me along. And to the wonderful folks at the SPCA who rescue so many animals and take care of what they need so they can find homes. If you're looking for a cat, go there....

If you had or have a special animal friend in your life, how did you find them?