Saturday, May 25, 2019

Fast Five for the Start of Summer

It's Memorial Day Weekend! We'll have some recipes that straddle the line between BBQ and a dinner party tomorrow, and on Monday, we'll reminisce about the Memorial Day parades we have known and loved. But we're all running around like mad today, so it's going to be a Fast Five Questions about the start of summer!

1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout?  My mom's potato salad recipe. Simple, cheap, and everybody loves it.

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season?  Heck, no. My feet look like they've just been released from a Siberian gulag. I desperately need a pedi.

3. What's your summer jam? Fishin' in the Dark by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

4. Are you going swimming, and where? I will, with God's help. (That's a joke for the Episcopalians out there.) If the temperatures manage to reach something resembling summer, I'll be dunking in Lake Arrowhead this weekend, otherwise, you can catch me swimming in the Saco River. In July, when it warms up.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer. A cardigan! Because you never know when it's going to get chilly here in Maine.


 1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout?   Chilled Prosecco. Fresh fruit--blueberries, raspberries, peaches.  Peach pie!

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season?   Yes! I just got turquoise. I feel so radical.

3. What's your summer jam?  Basia--there's a song called ..ah, I will look it up. Time and Tide, I think. Girl from Ipanema.  Beach Boys!

4. Are you going swimming, and where?  Truro. But do I have to go into the water? We love to float in our back yard pool!  We get big puffy pool floats and books, and lemonade, and float. looking up at the blue blue sky and up through the giant sugar maples. It is glorious and inspirational and very very Zen.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer.        Sunscreen. A hat.  Sunglasses. (And I swoon at the fragrance of Coppertone and Bain de Soleil!

1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout? Sesame noodles with mushrooms, and cucumbers. There's a Mark Bittman recipe for it that ran in the NY Times.

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season? I just bought myself sandals that cover my toes so I can put off addressing this very issue.

3. What's your summer jam? In the Summertime, when the weather is hot...

4. Are you going swimming, and where? I'll fully intend to and then usually never actually take the plunge. Peaks Island in Maine where the water is NOT hot.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer. Vodka and club soda and cranberry juice and lime. 


 1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout? Bottles of chilled rose and Sauvignon Blanc. Oooh, and my watermelon and feta salad.

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season? You betcha. This is Texas. I've been in sandals for two months. My toenails are a happy coral.

3. What's your summer jam? Roundabout, by Yes. Always makes me want to drive with the windows down and the sunroof open.

4. Are you going swimming, and where? Sure. If someone who has a pool invites me.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer. Mosquito repellent!


Jenn McKinlay:
 1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout? -- Deviled Eggs!!! Always.

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season? -- Yes, mostly because I just don't care (my, god, I love being over 50).

3. What's your summer jam? -- Lounging on the hammock on the porch of our summer house in Nova Scotia while reading and listening to the Grateful Dead. Bliss.

4. Are you going swimming, and where? -- Yes, in my pool in AZ when it's over 100 or in the Bay of Fundy, usually because I tipped my kayak over and have no choice.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer.  -- Sunscreen.

 1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout? Jenn got to the eggs before I did, but that's what I'm bringing too!

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season? Yes, pale pink toes:)

3. What's your summer jam? Under the Boardwalk (people walking above...)

4. Are you going swimming, and where? John's family reunion is in Cape Cod. Really hoping it's warm enough to swim in July--the kids will all be going in!

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer.

1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout? How come everybody has already brought the deviled eggs? That's what we bring. Okay, secret recipe baked beans.

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season? Not exactly. Pedicure needed before I take off for Europe

3. What's your summer jam?  Anything Beach Boys. Barbara Ann.

4. Are you going swimming, and where? I swim year round at my health club and in the pool in Arizona and I'm seriously miffed that I won't have much chance to swim as we criss-cross Europe. Maybe I'll brave the ocean in Cornwall. But I'm a wimp. Brrrr.

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer.: My bathing suit.

JULIA: What is Rhys's secret recipe for baked beans? Will anyone invite Debs to their pool? How many times will Jenn tip her kayak in the Bay of Fundy? Stay tuned for the answer to these and more questions as summer unfolds! Meanwhile, dear readers, you can copy and paste the questions, below, and add your Fast Five to the comments!

1. What's your fav dish to bring to a cookout?

2. Are your feet ready for sandal season?

3. What's your summer jam?

4. Are you going swimming, and where?

5. Name one thing you always have at the ready in summer.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Our Brag Book

BREAKING NEWS!  HAPPY SUMMER READING!   >TRUST ME by Red Hank Phillippi Ryan is now (briefly) $2.99! "A knockout" "Mesmerizing" "Riveting psychological suspense" "Dazzling" -and now: "on sale!"  Here's the link:


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We don't usually flog our own book info too hard here at JRW, but we we've been sharing exciting developments between ourselves, and Lucy said - quite insightfully! - that we should do a blog post where we share our good news and interesting tidbits with you.  

My first piece of news is that I'm the Guest of Honor at the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda next year! I'm very excited because A) my career literally began at Malice, when I won the St. Martin's Press/ Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in 2001 and B) the Toastmaster will be my dear friend Jeff Cohen (aka E.J. Copperman.) We're going to have a blast and I hope you'll come, too.

You'll have the chance to see me at several other venues from now through the fall, as I begin to pick up the pace of appearances again. I'm teaching and speaking at Maine Crime Wave in Portland at the end of this month, I'll be appearing at Crime Bake and Bouchercon (where two other Reds will be making special appearances, see below...), and I'm part of the fun and intimate Murder by the Book in Bar Harbor in mid-October.

But the best news of all? I have a publication date! HID FROM OUR EYES will be released April 7, 2020! I know it seems like a long time from now, but since I'm going to start writing Clare & Russ number 10 in June, I'm hoping it gives me a chance to finally finish one book before the release of another

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm finishing up the first push of spreading the word after publication of Key West food critic #9, A DEADLY FEAST! Madly, madly writing THE KEY LIME CRIME. Meanwhile, I got so tickled when I saw A DEADLY FEAST in Woman's World best books of the week, placed right next to Janet Evanovich:

"Filled with lighthearted humor and quirky characters, this fun whodunit begins when Key West food critic Hayley Snow gets a phone call from her friend Analise, who says a customer collapsed dead during one of their seafood tasting tours." Woman’s World Magazine

HALLIE EPHRON: Yay, Lucy! WOMAN'S WORLD! And featured alongside that nobody, Janet Evanovich!!
My good news is a starred review from Publisher's Weekly for my August book, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. I'm over the moon, and so is my publisher. 
“This outstanding standalone from bestseller Ephron (You’ll Never Know, Dear) may be the first domestic thriller to weave in Marie Kondo’s decluttering theory about discarding things that don’t spark joy. … Appealing characters and some suspenseful detective work help elevate this in-depth look at people’s emotional attachment to things. After being a finalist five times, Ephron may finally win the Mary Higgins Clark Award for this one.”

RHYS BOWEN: I've had several pieces of good news recently. My Lake Union books have sold over a million copies in the past two years. This means I get my portrait hung on the wall of Amazon
HQ. How cool is that? And the latest book, THE VICTORY GARDEN, has just passed 100,000 copies. Who'd have thought it when my first Constable Evans novel had a print run of 2500. Also my book, THE TUSCAN CHILD, has just been nominated for a Fresh Fiction award. I've no idea what that is, but it has to be good. And my next Royal Spyness book , LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS, comes out in August. Details of my crazy tour are on my website.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Whoa. all that great news! You have to admit, it's amazing. Congratulations, dear pals.
Let's see--I'm the American Guest of Honor at Bouchercon! And I am still floating over that incredible honor. I'm paired with Lifetime Achiever James Patterson, who I get to interview, how cool is that? (And I'll let Debs tell her own Bouchercon news.) . THE MURDER LIST  comes out August 20--and an early reader just tweeted: "All right! If John Grisham and LIsa Scottoline had a book baby, this is it! And I loved the ending!"  Yay. 

 THE MURDER LIST was also named a Most Anticipated Book of Summer 2019 by Crime Reads--so that's amazing, too. (My book tour will soon be on my website--whoa.) And the mass market paperback of TRUST ME is getting an astonishing print run. I cannot even believe it. So. Like I said. Yay.

Forge Books signed me to two more standalone books for 2020 and 2021--YAY! (And kind of hard to believe.)   I'm working on THE FIRST TO LIE right now. 

JENN McKINLAY: Our collective cup runneth over. Along with Rhys, but in a separate category, my latest library lover's mystery HITTING THE BOOKS has been nominated for best cozy by FRESH FICTION! If you want to vote for us, go here!   

Also, I recently sold THE GAP YEAR my very first women's fiction book to Penguin Random House in a six figure deal with the publication date slated for July 2020. I am crazy excited for this book to come out!


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm so excited that Kincaid/James #18, A BITTER FEAST,  will be out on October 8th, 2019! I'll be doing a national tour--although I have no idea where yet--and lots of other fun stuff. The ARCs have now gone out to reviewers, so the next couple of months will be nerve-wracking, as we can all attest.

Meanwhile, I'm beginning the next book, Duncan and Gemma #19. I even have a title! Hoping to write this one a little faster, folks!

Oh, and I'm also a guest of honor at Bouchercon, along with Hank! It's in Dallas, my home town, and I think it's going to be fabulous conference. I love my city and can't wait to see lots of you there!

JULIA: Joy and riches abound. A reminder to our dear readers - the best way you can support the authors you love is to ask your local library to stock their books or to pre-order the books for yourself! Our publishers love pre-orders. Love them.

Okay, dear readers, now it's your turn to brag. What amazing things are going on with you and yours?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Just Call Me "Talks With Strangers"

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: So I was listening to an NPR show about happiness. I should preface this by saying that at this point in my life, I get 90% of what I know of the outside world from NPR (the other 10% comes from Twitter.) I listen to everything: TED Radio Hour, This American Life, All Things Considered, The Commonwealth Club, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me - you get the idea.

At any rate, the host was interviewing one of these happiness researchers, who found, for the 100th time, that people in Scandinavian countries are the happiest in the world, despite the hellscape of socialism and the fact they are shrouded in eldritch darkness six months of the year. One of the important factors in happiness, the researcher said, was good social interactions. "People who live alone are more likely to suffer from depression," he said.

"Uh oh," I said to the cat. "I live alone." (Apparently cats don't count as "robust social support." Which I can see, because my cat is a more a combination panhandler/demanding massage client - the wholesome kind of massage, not the Robert Kraft sort - than a Friend In Need.) My kids have all expressed concerns about the quality of my life since they've moved out. Youngest keeps threatening assuring me she'll be back lots and lots of times during the school year.

The researcher then went on to say the research had changed some of his habits. "Now I chat with people on the elevator instead of staring at the fire escape instructions," he said. "It improves your mental health."

Okay, excellent. I'm good. Why? Because I talk in the elevator. I chat with the Uber driver. I ask questions of the cook making omelettes to order at the Hilton. I interact with little kids in the grocery store. 

I am that woman.

Being that woman is a combination of nature and nurture. As anyone who has ever met me has already figured out, I'm extroverted by nature. Not that socializing can't wear on me - like many of you, I limp back to my hotel room after a day at Bouchercon and require a full nine hours of sleep to function again the next day. But I like people. I enjoy talking and finding out what they have to say.

On top of that, I was raised by a woman who thought conversation was the highest art form. My mother's maxim was, "You have to sing for your supper," -  if you were at table, you had better contribute to the dialog. Youngest told me about a documentary she had seen about Consuelo Vanderbilt, who became the Duchess of Marlborough. Evidently, young Consuelo's nanny would stroll her around the garden, and at each bush, the girl was made to converse for a period of time. With the bush. And a different topic for every stop. My mother never marched me around to talk with shrubbery, but the end result was the same, I can - and will! - find something about which to converse with anyone, anywhere.

Over the years, my children have been alternately horrified, embarrassed, impatient and amused by my predilection for passing the time of day with store clerks, auto mechanics, and their friends. There were several years when I was entreated to never say anything to my kids' peers other than, "Hello," and "Would you like [name of food dish]?" Ironically, they now encourage their friends, especially those whose own mothers are far away, to talk with me. This is, I suspect, because a vital part of being a good conversationalist is being a good listener.

As I've gotten older, I talk more, rather than less, with strangers. When I was a younger woman, I had the usual concerns about safety, and more to the point, I didn't want anyone thinking me weird or pushy. Now I'm a silver-haired lady in her fifties, I don't give two snaps of my fingers if someone decides I'm odd or too outspoken. Resembling Everybody's Mother gives a woman a great deal of leeway in her actions.

I will continue, therefore, to happily interact with the people fate puts in my way while running errands or traveling (unless I'm in the Amtrak quiet car. No speaking on the train!) It's good for my mental health. And if you're ever trapped with me yammering away at you, please remember, it's nothing personal - it's you or inviting my children to come back and live with me again.

How about you, dear readers? Are you Chatty Cathy? Or Bashful Bill?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Heard Through Hotel Room Walls!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How fabulous is sleeping? That moment, you know, when you slide between the sheets, and the thread count is lovely, and the pillow are puffy, and you cuddle down and sink in and..then—ah. Oh. No.

Whatever. Interrupts you. Someone left the light on. A fly is buzzing. There’s a TV on someplace. Your phone is glowing blue, or pinging about something that you don’t know what is. Everything is magnified into infinity.

Our darling brilliant Agatha nominee (yay!) Annette Dashofy has had her coziness interrupted by—well, let her tell it. But, because she is brilliant and thoughtful and always thinking about her next book—she put the sleep invasion to good use.

Hotel Rooms And Overheard Plots

I travel enough that I can usually sleep well in hotel rooms, but not enough to have contingencies for when I can’t. There are times when I’d give my kingdom for some noise-cancelling headphones. On the other hand, if I owned a set of those, the opening chapter of Fair Game would be very different.

A couple of years ago, I was attending a mystery or writing convention (I can’t remember which one or where it was…or which hotel). As is always the case, I retreated to my room that night, exhausted beyond words. All I wanted was a solid eight hours to recharge.

Okay, who am I kidding. I’d be happy with six hours. Seven would be heaven.

I fell into my lush, comfortable bed, closed my eyes, began to drift into oblivion…

Which was when the party started next door.

Lots of shouting and laughter. A man. And it sounded like perhaps more than one woman. Hmm.

To be fair, even when they weren’t being loud, I could still hear them. I didn’t want to hear them. I wanted to sleep. But I’m a writer and consider overheard conversations a gift from the idea gods. I was wide awake and mining (eavesdropping) for tidbits. Alas, there were none.

At least nothing I could use in my genre.

I considered pounding on the wall and yelling, “I can hear every word you’re saying!” But then another thought struck me.

If I could hear everything they were saying, they could hear everything my fellow mystery author roommate and I had been saying.

Now, I really couldn’t sleep. As writers of crime fiction, we tend to have some…odd discussions. “Well, it might be better if we killed him off by (fill in the blank).” “Or I could dump the body (again, fill in the blank).”

Were those footsteps in the hall the police coming to arrest us?

Thankfully not. But I had more than a mere tidbit of conversation to use in a book. I had a premise for an entire story thread. What if a traveler stays in a motel with paper-thin walls and overhears his neighbor planning to commit murder? Does he report it? The homicidal neighbor might be drunk and blowing off steam. Or he might be a mystery writer discussing his next story.

Or he could be a killer, and reporting him might just save a life.

In the opening chapter of Fair Game, a conflicted traveler has this exact conundrum. The problem is when he got up in the morning, the guy in the room next door had already checked out. Our traveler debates whether to say anything or not…until he passes the Vance Township Police Station and takes it as a sign. He stops and tells Chief Pete Adams, who then must decide how much weight to give such a report. No murder has occurred. No one in his jurisdiction has gone missing. It’s probably nothing.

Until, on a whim, he stops at the motel to get the murderous guest’s name and license number. Both of which turn out to be fake…

So Reds and readers, have you ever overheard any “interesting” conversations through a hotel room wall? And what would you do if you overheard your neighbor say, “I’m going to kill him!”

HANK: That would be a very difficult decision! Whoa. And I’m not sure what I would do. Yeah, I might call. Certainly I would call if I heard “I’m going to kill you!” Definitely.

 The last hotel disaster I had was when every time I took a shower, it set off the smoke alarm.  Truly. It went through my mind, the first time—well, I’m in the shower, I’ll be wet and so, fine. Brilliant. 

I’ve heard loud partiers, that’s for sure. But nothing sinister. 
So how about you reads and readers? Any hotel “insights”? 


Paramedic Zoe Chambers hoped a week at the Monongahela County Fair, showing her horse and manning the ambulance, would provide a much-needed diversion from recent events that continue to haunt her. An old friend, a bossy nemesis, and a teenage crush from her 4-H days fail to offer the distraction she had in mind. But ever the caregiver, she soon bonds with a troubled teen and a grieving father.

Back in Vance Township, a missing woman turns up dead, leading Police Chief Pete Adams into a journey through her mysterious final hours. With each new clue, the tragic circumstances of her death grow increasingly muddied.

A cryptic phone call leads Pete to join Zoe for an evening at the fairgrounds where the annual school bus demolition derby concludes with a gruesome discovery and a new case that may or may not be connected to the first. Pete’s quest for the motive behind two homicides—and Zoe’s stubborn determination to reunite a family—thrust them both onto a collision course with a violent and desperate felon.

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. A lifelong resident of Washington County (PA), Annette has garnered four Agatha Award nominations including Best Contemporary Novel of 2018 for CRY WOLF. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers, the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and is on the board of directors of Pennwriters. FAIR GAME (May 2019) is the eighth in her series.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

And, For the Grand Finale...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Close to 20 million people watched the finale of Game of Thrones and at least that many more who followed along casually had heard every detail of the conclusion to the eight-year saga by breakfast on Monday. Indeed, it was hard to avoid as people rioted in the streets took to Twitter and Facebook to express their amazement, agreement dismay or disgust. I don't want to rehash the many arguments about whether the ending was fitting or not (it wasn't; Sansa + Tyrion should have jointly ruled the kingdoms, Jon Snow should have been King in the North and Brienne and Tormund should have ridden off to adventures together) but it did put me in mind of some of the memorable series conclusions I've seen over the years, and how satisfying - or jaw gaping - they were.

First off, I have to acknowledge there are many, many TV series that never got a finale on the small screen because they were prematurely, unjustly yanked. (The other two of you in the US who watched Flash Forward will know what I'm talking about. Back in the sixties and seventies, even shows that knew they were ending  rarely capped the series - production companies had their eyes on valuable syndication rights, and didn't want to lose future audiences who, it was thought, wouldn't tune in if they knew how everything ended. (A similar theory still circulates in the publishing world: editors will tell you not to kill the main series characters off at the end for fear later readers won't start reading the beginning.

But starting in the eighties and increasing exponentially in the nineties, companies began tying a bow on their popular TV shows. Part of it was economic, as always - even flagging shows could pull a startling number of eyeballs for a last hurrah. For some series, everything was pulled together in a bittersweet and satisfying way that left you with a glow of contentment. For others, viewers found themselves saying, "What the @#$%did I just see?" after the closing credits.  Let's look at a few I remember:

1. M*A*S*H: After a run three and a half times longer than the actual Korean War, the doctors and staff of the MASH unit were discharged. Everyone who had ever been on the show appeared (at least in a photograph) and I sobbed my way through the entire second hour, not so much because I was going to miss Alan Alda, but because I used to watch it with my Mom and Grandma at Grandma's house and I was seeing the finale in my slightly crummy student apartment and I was never going to be a little kid perched on Grandma's enormous divan again.

You may have experienced this finale differently.

2. Mad Men: This was definitely a "What the heck?" ending. Don discovers EST? Did Don write the famous Coke song? The acme of Sally Draper's character arc is that she's cooking and cleaning and taking care of her younger brothers? (that really cheesed me off.) On the other hand, I really love the Coke song because it reminds me of my tween years, so overall, I gave this a thumbs up.

I promise not every episode will be viewed through the lens of how it made me feel about my childhood.

3. Quantum Leap. I sobbed at this one, too. After all his humane, wise, helpful adventures, Sam doesn't get to go home? He never goes home?!? But Dean Stockwell is still alive, thank God, so there's still a chance of a follow-up movie. We should start a write-in campaign. I hear Netflix is looking for projects.

Fun fact: I'm pretty sure my son was conceived the night this episode aired. Seeking comfort in adversity and all that. 

4. Newhart: The best absurdist ending ever pulled off in theater, TV or the cinema. After eight years of wacky adventures in a Vermont Inn (oh, how I loved Larry, Daryl and Daryl!) in the show's finale, Bob wakes up... in his New York apartment, sleeping next to his wife, Suzanne Pleshette. Bob's deadpan confusion, Suzanne's tolerant "All right, Bob," and the audience's enormous affection for The Bob Newhart Show makes this a slam-dunk.

5. St. Elsewhere: It's not an easy trick to pull, however, as shown in the baffling discovery that six years of drama, black humor and angst at the run-down Boston hospital actually all took place in the mind of an autistic kid holding a snow globe. Author John Scalzi has an excellent observation that the failure mode of clever is "asshole": this finale is living proof. It's a good thing this happened before the age of the internet, or the writers would have been hounded off social media for life.

6. The Sopranos: Love it or hate it, the ending of this ground-breaking crime show/family drama was singular and memorable, not so much for the way it completed hanging plot lines - it sort of did and sort of didn't -but for the last four minutes. Three of the four members of the Soprano family are sitting in a diner booth. The camera widens so we see a man walk into the restrooms. Two big guys approach the jukebox. The dialog is banal and the music is anything except suspenseful, but the tension is almost unbearable. The daughter, running late, crosses the road. We hear a ting as the diner door opens and...slam to black. 

The way writer/director David Chase set the scene is purely cinematic, but the ambiguous ending is very novelistic to me. A tricky choice that had lots of fans yelling, but it worked as art.

All right, dear readers, it's your turn. What are your favorite or infamous series finales?