Thursday, October 20, 2016

C. Michele Dorsey's different kind of book launch

HALLIE EPHRON: How great is it when Publisher's Weekly gives your second series novel a starred review and calls it "outstanding," and "mighty good page turning fun!" Congratulations to C. Michele Dorsey whose second Sabrina Salter mystery, Permanent Sunrise, earned that rave.

The book is #2 in a terrific new series. After her debut in No Virgin Island, former television meteorologist Sabrina Salter’s new life in paradise was idyllic, sprinkled with new friendships, romance and a successful villa rental business, which just landed Villa Nirvana, the newest and most opulent villa in the Virgin Islands. But island life isn’t all sun and sand.

During the villa’s opening weekend, Sabrina discovers the body of a bride murdered on the eve of her wedding to the villa owner. How inconvenient. The case gives the police a new reason to scrutinize Sabrina and her business, which they suggest provides inadequate security for its guests and should lose its license. 

Michele channels her love for St. John and her love for crime fiction into this series. But she's gone a little off the beaten path to celebrate this launch of her second novel. I'll let her explain.

C. MICHELE DORSEY: Somehow, a second launch was feeling a little off to me, or as in the wisdom of the great Barbara Ross, kind of like a baby shower for a second baby. It isn’t that we don’t love and welcome that second baby as much as the first. It’s more that the joy is more subtle and relished. A little less like, “Whew, you finally published one of those suckers,” and more like, “Good for you, daring to put yourself and your creation out there again.” And then there is geography. With readers from all over the country and especially those in the Virgin Islands and Caribbean, an inclusive launch would have to be online. Unfortunately, a glass of virtual prosecco falls a little flat.

Still, I wanted to honor those who have supported me, propping me up when the doubt and dismay weigh me down. The people who have generously shared with me the joy my writing has brought them. And especially those who have made me laugh when I was taking this writing gig way too seriously.
When Hurricane Matthew fell upon Haiti, I finally figured how I could do this. In a time when we are divided politically, few can argue that lightning has indeed struck twice on this tiny Caribbean nation where children have suffered unimaginably and cholera is a way of life.

So today, I  created a fundraising page on Sow A Seed, an organization, whose mission is to bring hope, reduce hardship and promote sustainable change in the lives of impoverished children, placing a special focus on orphans in the Caribbean. And yes I sent the prosecco and appetizer money to them (it won’t show for a bit) in honor of my readers, and with the hope there will be a new sunrise for the children of Haiti.

HALLIE: Kudoes to Michele. So often we feel powerless to help when we see disasters strike, and Michele has found a way. And a potent reminder that there are ways to make a difference with our storytelling.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Absurd Aspirations

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So I've bought this new super lightweight luggage for my month-long trip to England (departing Wednesday, 6 PM, and I am writing this as of 10 PM on Tuesday night and have not even STARTED packing--so much for my organizational goals...) and how do I want to take up those pounds I've saved??? 

Well, as I have finished the last little bits and pieces of Kincaid/James #17, GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS and it is out of my hands, I am, of course, planning to begin a new book. I've kept odds and ends of book journals the last few years, some more successful than others, but with #18, I want to do better. It deserves its own journal, and I want to make a good start on it in England. 

I've got the journal, custom made for me by the fabulous Mychal Mitchell at Iona Handcrafted Books. (We've had Mychal as a guest on the blog. She does AMAZING work.) 

Isn't it gorgeous????

The paper is bamboo, which is not quite as good for watercolors as proper watercolor paper, but better for fountain pen ink, so it's a compromise. And as you can see from the fountain pen, this journal is about the size of a hardcover book. And probably heavier.

You may be wondering if I can actually paint with watercolors... The answer is "no," although I've done little dabs here and there. (Check out the travel palette, and the portable watercolor brushes!! Aren't they fab?) But I can sketch a little bit, and I thought, why not start now?

I've wanted to make an illustrated journal at least since I was in college and read THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE. If you want to see the sort of thing I would really like to do, check out these photos from Benno's Iona journal.

And I'd like to include photos, too, so here's the other thing I want to stick in the suitcase--my little Canon Selphy printer.

It weighs 1.9 pounds (I looked it up.) Hmm. But it is so cool, and prints gorgeous photos from your computer or phone. 

Well, we'll see, when all the necessities are in the suitcase. I'll update you. All in all, this is probably a crazy project, but the journal is going in my carry-on, regardless.

I spent the last stretch of GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS, when I couldn't read fiction, reading and re-reading a book called THE COMPLETE DECORATED JOURNAL, by Gwen Diehn. I adore this book!! But it is NOT going in my suitcase.

REDS and readers, is there something you've always wanted to do that is impractical and for which you have no skill or experience? Tell us your secret project!!

And wish me luck. 

PS: My fountain pens don't use cartridges. If I wrap my bottle of Heart of Darkness black ink in layers of bubble wrap, then put it in a couple of ziplock freezer bags, will it survive in my carry-on? It would not be pretty if it broke...

 And it's waterproof...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Marcia Talley--Footprints to Murder

DEBORAH CROMBIE: While I'm complaining about my packing challenges, there are some people who know how to get the job done and move on to great adventures. My friend Marcia Talley is one of them. She's been an intrepid traveler as long as I've know her, but now that she divides the year between Maryland and the Bahamas, she's a real expert. Let her tell you how it's done:


Good morning, Jungle Reds! Right now I’m sitting on the deck of the sailing vessel Iolanthe, bobbing peacefully at the end of a T-dock at Zahnizers Marina in Solomon’s, Maryland and sipping coffee.  Iolanthe is a 42 foot Wauquiez Pilot Saloon, a sailboat so French that she came with a set of Limoges demitasse cups. 

Every year about this time we load as many of our worldly possessions as will fit into a couple of duffle bags and head south down the Intracoastal Waterway from Annapolis to Florida, a trip that takes about six weeks.  Once in Florida, usually around Fort Worth, we hang out with other sailors who, like us, are Abaco-bound, and wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. We could speed things up by going offshore, of course, and many sailors do, but then you miss the leisurely pace of the liveaboard sailing life.  Norfolk, Elizabeth City, Beaufort (both NC and SC), Hilton Head, Charleston, Savannah, Saint Augustine … take on a whole new perspective when viewed from the water. 

Fans of “Tiny House Hunters” on HGTV can imagine what it’s like to live for extended periods of time in a space no bigger than your average master bathroom suite.  And yet, we have all the Mod Cons – fully-equipped kitchen, a queen-sized bed for us and a double for our guests, hot water, microwave, a spot for the Keurig, plug-ins for my computer, iPad and iPhone, and plenty of storage cleverly installed in every nook and cranny. 

Norfolk, VA is our next destination; we hope to be tied up at Top Rack Marina in Chesapeake in time for the 3d Presidential “Debate.”  We are worried (in advance) about whether we will be able to scream at the screen.  (Sound carries so well over the water.)  So, we’ll take note of the campaign signs littering lawns along the way and plan accordingly.

Unlike earlier trips where I’d sometimes have my husband sail in circles whenever a wifi hotspot came up, I have internet access most of the time.  A good thing, as my fifteenth Hannah Ives novel, Footprints to Murder, is about to come out in the States (it debuted in the UK August 31) and reviews (all positive, I’m happy to say!) are starting to come in.

Folks who’ve read advance copies (Debs!) have asked where on earth I got the idea to set a mystery at a Sasquatch Sesquicentennial in the Pacific northwest.  It’s a long story going all the way back to 2001 when my first publisher, Bantam Dell, decided to drop its mass market mystery line, thereby orphaning me and more than twenty other authors.

I was devastated. 

I’d written three mysteries for Dell.  My agent at the time told me it would be impossible to move a mystery series because the new publisher wouldn’t have rights to the back list.  He encouraged me to come up with a new, fresh idea, a new series, perhaps one that I would write under a pseudonym.  So, for a time in the early 2000s, I was the Proposal Queen of the Western World.  Standalone, new series, you name it, I’ve proposed it.  In the meantime, I kept my “brand” alive by working with a group of fabulous female crime writers to produce two collaborative serial novels — Naked Came the Phoenix and I’d Kill for That, set in a luxury health spa and an exclusive gated community respectively.  One author wrote the first chapter, then passed it to the second who continued the story and handed it off to the third, and so on, leaving it to the thirteenth and final author to tie up all the loose ends.  My job, other than contributing a chapter of my own, was to keep everyone on schedule and provide continuity.  It was tremendous fun.  And it kept my name out there while I looked for another publishing home.

Footprints to Murder was originally conceived as a third serial novel, until 1) sanity prevailed and 2) I signed with Morrow Avon for three more Hannahs and simply didn’t have the time to author-wrangle.  The working title was Naked Came the Sasquatch (which still makes me laugh) and the proposal languished in a drawer until last year when I thought it might make a quirky, comic mystery in the Dave Barry/Carl Hiassen vein, and rather than collaborating, I should simply write it myself.

Once I had the setting and the main idea — Hey!, Let’s set it at a Bigfoot convention in the Pacific northwest! — I started my research.  I did a lot of reading and I prowled around on the internet.  Did you know that there were six, count ‘em, six Bigfoot conventions in the U.S. last year alone?  And there’s cross pollination at these whacky gatherings between the Bigfoot enthusiasts, those who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, conspiracy theorists (Area 51?  the JFK assassination? Bermuda Triangle?), Star Trek fans and psychics, so it’s a hoot to throw them all together at a remote mountain lodge.  Murder, of course, ensues.  And the perpetrator appears (or was meant to appear) obvious – Bigfoot.

I’ve just signed a contract with Severn House for the sixteenth Hannah.  It’s called Mile High Murder and is set in Denver, at a “Bud and Breakfast.”  I’m looking forward to first-hand research into the fascinating world of recreational marijuana.

Research can be hell, you know!

DEBS: Marcia, I'll volunteer to help with your research for Mile High Murder:-) If it's half as much fun as Footprints, we won't need a boost...

Hannah is delighted to reconnect with her former roommate, Susan Lockley, owner of Scarborough Fairs, at a college reunion, and agrees to step in when Susan’s assistant drops out of managing the Sasquatch Sesquicentennial conference in Granite Falls, Oregon. But when one of the conference guests is found murdered, and gigantic footprints are discovered close to the body, the culprit appears, or was meant to appear, obvious: Bigfoot.
Fantasy or fact? As the conference disintegrates into chaos, it falls to Hannah to restore order. Working closely with Jake, a retired policeman and his K-9, Harley, Hannah soon realizes that, Bigfoot or no Bigfoot, there are a surprising number of conference attendees with motives to kill…

Now I wonder what I've been missing.  REDS and readers, how about you? Have you been to any themed conferences? Bigfoot, Star Trek, X-Files? (I was a huge X-Files fan. I'm still sure the truth is out there, somewhere...
Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of FOOTPRINTS TO MURDER and fourteen previous novels featuring survivor and sleuth, Hannah Ives.  She is author/editor of two star-studded collaborative serial novels, NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX and I’D KILL FOR THAT, set in a fashionable health spa and an exclusive gated community, respectively. Her prize-winning short stories appear in more than a dozen collections.
Marcia is a past national President of Sisters in Crime, Inc.  She is on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and a member of the Authors Guild.  She divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland and a cottage on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Confessons of an Over-packer

DEBORAH CROMBIE: On Wednesday afternoon, I leave for a month in England, so I am in the usual packing frenzy. Unlike many of our friends here on the blog, who can pack for six weeks in Europe in a roll-aboard suitcase or a small backpack, I am a chronic over-packer. By the time I've filled a big suitcase to the brim, it usually hovers right under the 50 pound mark, and, then, not only do I have to lug the thing around and get it on trains and up and down stairs, I have the stuff in my carry-on, too.

I put over-packing down to some inner lack of confidence. People who are super-packers, (like our own Hank!!!) probably never worry about having the right thing. 

There's also an emotional comfort element in this over-packing thing--how can you be homesick if you've taken most of what you own??

But this trip my suitcase will at least be a little lighter. When I was in California week before last (and I was very proud of myself for packing for five days in a roll-aboard) I had a day out with Rhys and friends Terry Shames and Diana Chambers. We saw this fab luggage in a little shop in Sonoma County. It's called Lipault (French for feather), it comes in really pretty colors, and it's amazingly light. The 28 inch rolling suitcase weighs just under 7 pounds. I checked the specs on the suitcase I've been using for the last few years, which is supposed to be ultra-light, and it weighs 18 pounds. And that's EMPTY. 

Decision made.

I found Lipault here in Dallas (Container Store carries it), picked a color (purple), and I also bought this adorable little rolling tote made by Baggallini. It fits on the handle of the big suitcase, but when it's on its own, its handle pulls up and it rolls. It also fits under your airline seat. Hopefully this will solve one of my most hated things about traveling to the UK, which is standing in the Customs and Immigration queue for an hour or two while trying to keep a heavy tote on my shoulder.


AND I got one of these cool packing cube things. You are supposed to be able to fold up to eleven pieces of clothing in one of these. Hmm. Has anyone tried them? Should I have bought two? Or three?

Now, I just have to decide what I'm going to wear for four weeks, and what I can live without.

What about you, REDS? Give me tips, please!!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aw, Debs, so lovely of you! Yes, one suitcase, carry on. No matter how long a trip. A big nylon tote bag, Longchamps, (red!) which allows me to put my purse inside so it looks like it's one item, under the seat. I have to admit I am so in love with my suitcase, I cannot tell you--it's TUMI. It is amazing, and as magical as Mary Poppins' satchel. EVERYTHING fits.  Can't wait to hear about the packing things, Debs!  I am a devoted tissue paper girl. Tissue paper is amazing--it takes up no room, and keeps everything unwrinkled. Somehow. Magic. Anyway:  Two black dresses, stretchy. Sweater, pashmina, two jackets/blazers. Leggings, big top. Scarf or two. No shirts. 

Put something flat and unwrinkleable on the bottom, then an article of clothing, flat, top with tissue, then fold the rest of the article over. The tissue paper prevents the fold lines! Add another thing, then tissue, then fold over.  Everything flat, nightgown on the top, tighten the strap over it all. Unpack the moment you arrive. But hey. You are going to LONDON! Buy something if you need it.

BIGGEST HINT: No one remembers what you wear.

Bon voyage, dear Debs! We want to hear about every minute.

LUCY BURDETTE: We are in a packing frenzy too, only for Key West rather than Europe! And we are driving, because how else to drag the senior citizen animals along? And that means special digestive problem dog food, kidney problem cat food, dog bed, cat pan with bags of kitty litter because we never can find Cedarific below the Mason-Dixon line. And special low sodium snacks for me, etc etc. John spends weeks rolling his eyes. Oh and don't let me forget, I want to bring the remaining beets from our garden and as many Macoun apples as we can pack...

But if it's just me, on an airplane, a carry-on only. And I have to be able to lift it! And yet somehow I never manage to look like Hank. Maybe it's the tissue paper thing LOL.

RHYS BOWEN: Debs, I'm so glad you bought the suitcase we saw. Amazing. I want one now, although I did buy a super-light carry on in England this summer. Also after dragging large cases on and off trains all over Europe this year I made a vow. From now on everything has to be washable in my hotel sink, neutral colors, mix and match so that I can take the minimum to survive and dress up outfits with a scarf, pashmina or jewelry. Of course this won't work if we take a cruise that requires formal evenings, or if I'm in Europe to give speeches/meet editors and have to wear suit or blazer. Then perhaps the answer is to find a toy-boy who can carry my bags for me!

HALLIE EPHRON: I pack super light, but I'm usually not going to spend a month in the UK in the fall. My trips are usually a few days. If it's a few months I'm usually headed somewhere warm and therefore not as much needed.

I never check luggage except when they make me. One small rolling bag and I'm good to go. Most hotels have irons in the room so I don't worry too much about wrinkles. The right clothes are the thing -- black. Of course. And I swear by Eileen Fisher - a dress, a long skirt that I can wear under the dress or alone, a few tops, and black pants all in more or less the same fabric with a scarf and a pashmina. Wash out in the sink in a pinch. For all the parsimony in clothing I never go without at last 2 pairs of shoes. Comfort first.

DEBS: Hallie, I'm too short to wear Eileen Fisher! 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My packing trick, such as it is, is to pick three colors and stick with them. (If I could pare it down to black, black and black it would save me even more space!) I recently went on a ten-day trip: one week in Colorado Springs followed by four days driving back to Maine. My entire wardrobe for that trip was navy, khaki and coral. I've collected clothing that does double duty over the years - I have several light cotton cardigans that can be worn as shirts or as sweaters, for instance.

My favorite bag is the Vera Bradley large duffel. Minuses: no wheels! So I do have to schlep it by shoulder. Pluses: It's squishy, so I can fit almost anything into it, it will shove into improbably small spaces, it's VERY lightweight (mine came in at about three pounds) and it's impossible to miss on an airport carousel or a train station because of the very distinctive prints. 

I've also been wanting to try out Hank's tissue paper technique!

DEBS: Hank, I think the packing cube thingy probably is the high-tech answer to your tissue paper:-) But they say you have to watch the video, and when am I going to find time to do that??? I think Hank should make us a tissue paper video instead!

Lucy, I can't imagine your packing task, and I think anyone who travels with cats gets extra points. (Do Yoda and Tonka know the routine by now?)

Rhys, that day was the most fun. And I'm with you on the toy-boy idea...

READERS, all hints appreciated, and I'll let you know how the new stuff works.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The County Fair and a Pumpkin Crumb Cake #recipe

Jeannie Daniel

LUCY BURDETTE: Earlier this summer, I noticed a post on Facebook about a friend entering her cake in her local county fair—and winning. Doesn’t the sound of that bring back simpler, cozier days? I thought you would enjoy hearing about her experience. Welcome Jeannie!

JEANNIE DANIEL: The excitement starts building around July for farming communities in the south as they eagerly await the Fall fair season. It all begins with the arrival of the Exhibitors Catalog, containing all of the categories that you can enter. Each fair is a little different—they all have the usual categories such as canning, cakes, pies, candies, crafts, poultry, pigs, cattle, vegetables, flowers. But some have odd categories like Pinterest Interest and Lego building contests.

I enter two different fairs, one is a county fair and the other is a regional fair. The county fair is smaller than a regional or state fair, and the money that you receive  is normally a little smaller too. I always enter the crafts categories and the baking. 

Meghan Atchley, Jeannie's daughter
My daughter enters her jams and chickens and her sons also enter the poultry categories. The fun starts when you go through the catalog carefully and decide which categories you are going to enter and then you start perusing all of your time worn recipes in hopes of winning the blue ribbon.

Each category has different drop off dates, so you have to map out your dates and times. You have tags that have a bar code and your name, but your name is hidden so that the judges do not know who made what until after the item is judged. The day of delivery (and usually judging too) is always interesting because everyone is checking out what every one else has brought in. If you win, your stuff and animals stay there and if you don't it goes back home with you.

There is nothing quite like the satisfaction that you have received a blue ribbon for something you have worked hard on. I was lucky enough this year to win 2 blue ribbons, a best of show, and a second. I won a blue ribbon for my pumpkin crumb cake, blue ribbon for a snowman painted mason jar in Pinterest Interest class and best of show with my decorated fair themed cookies. I received a second place for my chess pie. 

Roberta/Lucy asked if I would share my recipe. I am sharing a quick version of my winning Pumpkin Crumb Cake recipe. All baked goods have to be homemade from scratch, no box mixes, no boxed kits or frozen doughs; so when I made this for the fair the yellow cake recipe was my grandmother's.

Jeannie Daniel’s Pumpkin Crumb Cake

1 yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1- 15 ounce can pumpkin (you can use fresh pumpkin you have prepared for pies)
evaporated milk
brown sugar
butter 1/2 cup melted

Set aside one cup of the dry cake mix. Mix together remaining yellow cake mix, 1/2 cup melted butter, 1 egg. Pat into the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan.

Mix together 1 can pumpkin (about 2 cups), 2/3 cups evaporated milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3 eggs. Mix well, pour over crust.

For the Topping: Mix the 1 cup of reserved cake mix, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup unsalted butter until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. When slightly cool, drizzle caramel icing or caramel ice cream sauce over the cake. Can be served warm or cold. Really good warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

LUCY: I told you this would be fun! Reds, what would you enter in the county fair?