Sunday, October 21, 2018

On Your Own or In A Group? By Diane Vallere

JENN McKINLAY: One of my very favorite people to see at conferences, partly to see what she's wearing, but mostly because I adore this mid-century modern gal is Diane Vallere! She's here to chat with us about collaboration, and I'm sure by the end of the blog you will adore her as much as I do if you don't already! Take it, Diane!

DIANE VALLERE: Thank you so much for hosting me on Jungle Red! (and guess what? The phrase “Jungle Red” appears in LOVER COME HACK. #tribute!) 

There are two types of people in this world: those who work well with others and those who don’t. That’s not to say people don’t try to work together, or always choose to do everything themselves, but some people are just not cut out for collaboration. 

Diane repaints her kitchen!
Take me, for example. With an ever-growing to-do list, a mountain of projects in my head and on paper, and an awareness that I can only do so many things (well) at a time, I would love to have help. Yet when push comes to shove, my first thought is: I know what I want, and I can do it faster myself. 

This may not be the healthiest attitude. 

There was one time that I wanted to redo the kitchen. I waited until I had a weekend alone and took on the task by myself. Was it fun? Yep. Did I enjoy the alone time to work (and break) at my own pace? You betcha.

And then there are the times I do my own taxes. Are they fun? Heck to the no. Yet I’ve done them more than once. 

In defense of anyone who has ever thought it would be faster/easier/less hassle to take on one additional project themselves, I’ll point out that it isn’t that we think others are less qualified. In most cases, we know the opposite is likely true. And as I sit here thinking about the subject, and the countless times I’ve asked the universe for help while plowing through my list, I would go so far as to say it’s not a quality of work thing, or a saving-money-paying-people thing, but a trust thing. In that if I take a project on myself, I trust that it’ll get done. 

Oh, but there are so many flaws to this logic!

Diane's Kitchen Drawers! 
You fellow do-it-all-yourselfers out there: have you ever felt that twinge of jealousy when you saw what a professional could do versus your own efforts? Have you ever banged your head against the table trying to figure out something that wasn’t second nature? Have you ever needed—yes, I said needed—a glass of wine after finishing something simply to celebrate the fact that you never have to tackle that particular project again? 

The true test: have you ever turned down an offer of help because you were too scared of what it would mean to accept it? 

And you ask-for-help-all-the-time folks: does it stress you out to ask? Do you feel indebted to those who help you? Is there a bigger, grand karmic swap meet where you feel like it all evens out in the end? Inquiring minds want to know. 

I live in awe of the people who can ask and receive help. Not by manipulating with guilt or paying mass amounts of money, but simply by with, “hey, can you help me with this?” It seems like a nice way to live. Maybe one of these days I’ll try it. 

In LOVER COME HACK, Madison Night finds herself collaborating with a friend. And Madison, to date, has been a DIY kind of person. The collaboration brings up all sorts of issues in Madison’s personal fiber, ending in some not-particularly-desired outcome. 

So, how about you, Reds and Readers, can you ask for help or are you a do it aloner? 

After a falling out with a friend flips interior decorator Madison Night’s world inside out, she’s determined to revamp her life. Jane Strong, fellow mid-century modern enthusiast, encourages Madison’s entry in an upcoming design competition, but their rift makes collaboration no longer an option.  

When Jane is found dead, Madison tops the suspect list. And when anonymous computer hackings interfere with both the investigation and the competition, Jane’s murder no longer seems random. With a mess of a love life, an angry client, and a looming deadline on her contest entry, Madison turns to an unlikely ally to decode a motive before a crash becomes imminent.

Diane’s Bio:
After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. She is a three-time Lefty Award nominee for best humorous mystery and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.

Preorder Contest:
To celebrate the release of LOVER COME HACK, Diane is giving away a house! A reissue of a 1962 Barbie Dream House, to be specific. Get the scoop here (and get a peek at chapter one while you’re there!) Good luck!

Connect with Diane:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Things I Want To Learn by Jenn McKinlay

JENN McKINLAY: I am a restless soul. I'm not sure why, but I seem to always have something on my horizon that I become consumed with, something that I feel I must learn how to do, and it takes over my brain like any proper obsession does until I master it sufficiently enough to be satisfied. This doesn't mean I become the best at it or even very good, but I learn enough to quench the thirst.

Growing up, I was fascinated by chess but I never had the time to learn and was intimidated by what seemed very complicated rules. When the hooligans were in elementary school, there was a chess club. Naturally, I signed them up! Because then they could teach me! I'm not a fabulous chess player but I learned the rudiments and I've beaten them a time or two. 

This was not one of those times:

Hooligan wins the Wizard Chess!

Lately, I have circled back to wanting my pilot's license. I was eager to learn in my twenties. Side note: My dad got his glider pilot's license at the age of sixty and went on to fly for another ten plus years. While learning, he started me on lessons with a log book and everything. But then motherhood came along and it didn't seem prudent to be 10,000 ft in the air with no engine while the babies were below. But now the Hooligans are getting ready to launch and I am doubling back to the things I want to learn. I've conquered knitting, volleyball, pottery, yoga - again, not a master at anything but curiosity assuaged - and I have a friend trying to explain quantum physics to me (we're still working on it), but the pilot thing...yeah, it's becoming an obsession...again.

Jenn the pilot...maybe. 

What about you, Reds and Readers, what's on your horizon that you want to master? Or what did you set out to learn that you feel you've conquered or at least satisfied your curiosity? 

Friday, October 19, 2018


Gigi: When Jenn learned that my first short story collection was coming out this week, she said, “short stories terrify me!” That got me thinking, why do so many mystery writers fear short stories? They’re such fun! But it’s also true, for the longest time I had no idea how to write one. I had successfully finished writing a novel before I was able to write a good short story. 

JENN: It's true! They do terrify me. Break it down for me, Gigi!

As a reader, I love short stories—you do too, don’t you?—but writing them? I wasn’t sure how to pull it off—until I realized my short story superpower. What clicked for me was that I’ve always adored locked-room mystery stories, the classic puzzle plot stories where it looks like the crime itself is truly impossible. Those puzzles are perfectly suited to the short story form. By keeping a locked-room mystery short, the reader can read it all in one sitting and remember the string of complex clues pointing to the solution and have a satisfying “aha!” moment at the end. I knew if I was going to write a good short story, I should write what I loved: a locked-room mystery.

Locked-room mysteries—also known as impossible crime stories or miracle problems—center around a satisfying puzzle that’s hidden in plain sight, and often with the clues pointing like a supernatural solution is the only possible explanation—think of the TV show Jonathan Creek and Golden Age mystery novels and stories by writers like John Dickson Carr and Clayton Rawson. (Any other Jonathan Creek fans reading? I adored that show!)

Once I’d worked out a twist that would be the solution of the seemingly impossible crime, the rest of my first story flowed out of me. One afternoon at the San Francisco Public Library, I began writing the Jaya Jones story longhand in a paper notebook. I couldn’t stop writing, and I gave myself a hand cramp, but I finished a full draft of the story! While my agent was pitching my first novel to publishers, and I submitted my story to an anthology competition, and a locked-room mystery short story became my first publication. 

That method of writing a short story is what I still follow today—I find my twist that solves a seemingly impossible crime, then ask my characters what would be an interesting way to get there. It can take a long time to work out a clever twist to make such a story successful (I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve been trying to work out for longer than it takes to write a novel), but once the story solution clicks, the process gets easier. 

Because I love to be fooled by clever puzzles steeped in a mysterious atmosphere, I want to give readers the same experience. I’m having a ball writing stories in between novels, and I’ve been thrilled that readers are enjoying them—“The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” won an Agatha earlier this year (eep!), and I’m even more excited about my new novelette that leads this collection of stories: “The Cambodian Curse,” a Jaya Jones story with multiple locked-room mysteries. 

Readers: If you aren’t already a fan of this genre, you’re in for a treat if you pick up a locked-room mystery collection from the Golden Age of detective fiction or one of the many new ones! For a starter list, my Goodreads page has a locked-room mystery list with 100 novels and short story collections. 

And writers: If you want to try writing a short story but don’t know where to begin because it’s so different from a novel, my advice is look at what it is about your favorite short stories you love. Once your particular spin on stories clicks for you, I bet you’ll begin having as much fun as I am. 

Do you have a favorite short story? Or have you thought about writing one but haven’t tried yet? (And seriously, Jonathan Creek fans, I want to hear from you! I dearly miss that show and think it’s time to watch it again.) 

I’m giving away a copy not of the book itself, but something you can’t buy – a comic-style zine of illustrations inspired by the stories in the collection, drawn by my artist mom! I’ll draw a winner a week from today from one of the commenters. 

THE CAMBODIAN CURSE & OTHER STORIES includes nine locked-room mysteries, plus an introduction from Laurie R. King and a foreword from impossible crime mystery historian Douglas G. Greene. Appearing here for the first time is novelette The Cambodian Curse:  When an ancient and supposedly cursed Cambodian sculpture disappears from an impenetrable museum, and the carving’s owner is killed by an invisible assailant while a witness is a few feet away, historian Jaya Jones and her old nemesis Henry North team up to solve the baffling crime. 

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

Connect with Gigi on her website [] Facebook[]
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Knitting Up a Narrative by Nancy Warren

JENN McKINLAY: One of the best parts of being a writer is the writer friends you acquire along the way. Nancy Warren is one of my long time writer pals and such an inspiration to me in writing and in life. She had me when she crafted fabulous romantic comedies, and then she hiked the Grand Canyon all by her lonesome. Wow! But she finished me off when she went to Bath to get her MFA (diploma handed to her by Jeremy Irons - yes, THE Jeremy Irons - no less). 
Truly, she's a remarkable woman who I'm honored to call my friend. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the first book in her new series and the knitter, reader, and writer in me, LOVED it! But here is Nancy to tell us more about her latest project. 

Nancy, knitting in Oxford
Nancy Warren: I can’t knit, don’t live in Oxford, and I’m not undead (or not that I’m admitting, anyway) so why would I, a craft-impaired, red-blooded Canadian, undertake The Vampire Knitting Club, a series of paranormal cozy mysteries set in Oxford?

The answer, of course, is one of those What If? games writers love to play. I’m going back a few years, to when literary mash-ups were all the rage. I hate to even mention the abomination that was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that’s the kind of thing I mean. 

At the time, Kate Jacobs’ The Friday Night Knitting Club was a huge hit. I was also loving the wildly successful Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, which became the TV series True Blood. Wait a minute, said I. Vampires! Knitting! What a mash-up! Thus was born The Vampire Knitting Club. 

I loved that title and carried it around for years until I found myself living in Oxford. I was great friends with the mystery author Elizabeth Edmondson, now sadly deceased, and we spent an evening or two at the Eagle and Child Pub (where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to drinkcritique.) Lizzy and I drankbrainstormed my idea as it became a cozy mystery series. 

I think there’s a good reason that so many mystery books and TV series are set and filmed in Oxford. It’s not only historic, but the atmosphere is mysterious. You slip down Magpie Lane, and you’re transported back in time, you walk into a college quad and feel some of the greatest thinkers in history walking, ghost-like, at your side. Go to the Pitt Rivers Museum and you’ll find a bizarre collection of occult items, including my favorite, a witch trapped inside a bottle. At this very moment, the witch-in-a-bottle is on loan to the Ashmolean Museum’s wonderful exhibit called Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft, which traces supernatural beliefs in Oxfordshire. Where else would witches and vampires go to knit? 

There are also tunnels which run beneath the city. In Medieval times this underground network connected homes in the Jewish quarter. Some of these homes had massive vaulted cellars. Later, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) claimed he canoed the underground Trill Mill Stream beneath Oxford. What a perfect location for vampires to live and commute. In short, Oxford was the ideal setting for my cozy knitting series.

I still couldn’t knit and, even though my amateur sleuth, Lucy, can’t knit either, she does inherit Cardinal Woolsey’s knitting shop with its colorful undead knitting circle. I felt I should at least learn the basics. Fortunately, there’s an absolutely charming knitting shop, The Oxford Yarn Store in North Parade. Serendipity struck. The owner, Karen, had lived in Vancouver and we knew some of the same people. She invited me to a knitting circle in her shop, where the lovely, experienced knitters helped me in my frequent knitting emergencies. I even discovered a knitting circle set in pubs. The Oxford Drunken Knitwits are my kind of knitters.

Nancy and shop asst James (I love his sweater!)

Inspiration comes in surprising ways, even though the history of how this series came to be is as tangled as my fledgling knitting projects. 

What about you, Reds and Readers, are you a knitter? Have you been to Oxford? What writing mashups are your favorites?

At a crossroads between a cringe-worthy past (Todd the Toad) and an uncertain future (she's not exactly homeless, but it's close), Lucy Swift travels to Oxford to visit her grandmother. With Gran's undying love to count on and Cardinal Woolsey's, Gran's knitting shop, to keep her busy, Lucy can catch her breath and figure out what she's going to do. 

Except it turns out that Gran is the undying. Or at least, the undead. But there's a death certificate. And a will, leaving the knitting shop to Lucy. And a lot of people going in and out who never use the door—including Gran, who is just as loving as ever, and prone to knitting sweaters at warp speed, late at night. What exactly is going on? 

When Lucy discovers that Gran did not die peacefully in her sleep, but was murdered, she has to bring the killer to justice without tipping off the law that there's no body in the grave. Between a hot 600-year-old vampire and a dishy detective inspector, both of whom always seem to be there for her, Lucy finds her life getting more complicated than a triple cable cardigan. 
The only one who seems to know what's going on is her cat ... or is it ... her familiar? 

First in a new series of paranormal cozy mysteries with bite! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Let's Talk About TED: An Incredible Experience! Part 2

JENN McKINLAY:  Here's what I loved most about participating in the TEDx talks. The other speakers. They were simply incredible. Because they were all so inspirational to me, it was very difficult to pick just a few to share but we'd be here forever if I chose everyone. So, here's a sampling. 

Dr. Sian Proctor: She spoke about Imposter Syndrome and how she fought it to become a hockey player, a candidate for NASA, and an analog astronaut, who lives in simulated space environments for months and weeks at a time. She convinced me that if a person can dream it they can do it.

Misty Hyman: Olympic Gold Medalist in the 200-meter butterfly in the 2000 Sydney games. Misty had us on the edge of our seats talking about that perfect swim, but she also had us equally riveted as she talked about embracing the shifts in life, bringing the old you into the new as she moved on from competitive swimming to entrepreneurship and motherhood.

Queen and Hakeem: These two amazing individuals are visual anthropologists. Combining their activism with their art, they have a mission is to demystify preconceived notions about Indigenous and underserved communities around the globe. Using augmented reality, their interactive art displays give viewers a glimpse into the real lives of Indigenous people and they encourage the youth of today to get their passports and go see the world. 
On a personal note, these two were my support system during my rehearsal and final as they sat off to the side in the front row. I could see them smile at me in encouragement and laugh at my jokes, making my own TED talk so much easier. I adore them.

Catherine Lockmiller: What an incredible speaker. She posed the question, using her own personal journey, what if we weren't assigned a gender designation at birth? What if we were allowed to form our own personalities without the assignment of an M or F on our birth certificates, which with all their preconceptions determine so much more of our lives than we realize? It was one of the most thought provoking discussions of the day. 

Michelle Dumay: This mama broke my heart, put it back together, broke it again, and then glued it back together one more time. She is living a life of advocacy for her daughter, who was born with a rare brain abnormality, and in doing so she had to answer the call that challenged a lifetime of beliefs. Hers is a compelling story that left us all in tears but filled with hope.


Other speakers included:

Erin Maxson: The Dog in Me: How in rescuing a dog she saved herself -- and a lot more dogs.

Larry Sandigo: The Voice of Immigrant Children: An immigration lawyer, who has tried find the balance between being the voice of immigrant children and helping them find their own voices.

Beatriz Mendoza: Boys Club: A young Hispanic engineer, she talked about being the lone ethnic female in a world of guys and how it can change for girls in the future.

Cricket Aldridge: She Speaks for the Bees: A fear of Africanized honeybees led Cricket to becoming a beekeeper and now she's trying to save the world one hive at a time.

Sue Berliner: If Chocolate Could Talk: She explained to us why chocolate really is the food of the gods. Plus, she brought samples.

Danielle Delgado: Breaking the Glass Ceiling Despite Not Being Tall Enough to Reach It: She was a twelve year old entrepreneur and is now a seventeen year old college student. This young woman is unstoppable.

Russell Horning: Maximizing Your Healthcare Experience: We all agreed, we want Russell as our healthcare provider. He gave concise tips for getting the best care out of your healthcare practitioner.

Shawn Bradford: Thank You Divorce! She talked to us about her divorce leading her to a journey of self-discovery with a surprise twist at the end. 

As you can see, it was quite the amazing cast of speakers and an experience I won't forget anytime soon.

Special thanks to the TEDx South Mountain Community Library Committee for the hours and hours of work they put in to making this such a spectacular event.
The TED Committee

So, Reds and Readers, if you were tapped to give a TED (Technology - Entertainment - Design) talk and share an "idea worth spreading", what would you talk about?