Sunday, June 30, 2013

Welcome back Deadly Ink!

ROSEMARY HARRIS: This summer mystery lovers in the tri-state area welcome the return of the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. And the guest of honor is none other than our own Hank Phillippi Ryan!

For the three people on the planet who don't know Hank - and just to remind the rest of us of her rather amazing c.v., Hank is the author of the Charlotte McNally mystery series—Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time and Drive Time. She's been nominated for or won just about every major award in the mystery community -  Anthony, Macavity, Agatha, Mary Higgins Clark - and she's just been nominated for a Shamus Award for her most recent novel, The Other Woman (which a little bird tells me is coming out in paperback next week).  

And - oh yeah - she has a full-time job and a wall full of Emmys! With any luck, she'll tell us about her brand new book, The Wrong  Girl. Which - ahem - is available for pre-order on Amazon right now
The big fun for me is that I will be Toastmaster - so I'll get to make jokes and heckle while Hank does all the heavy lifting.

This year’s conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Friday, Aug. 2. Hank will present Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start. I will teach Characters and Setting, followed by Jane Cleland with Red Herrings. Classes wind up with The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel is Rejected, by author and agent Lois Winston. Official registration for the conference takes place  Friday night  6-7 p.m., followed by a welcoming program and a Deadly Dessert Party.

Both Saturday and Sunday feature and presentations by 30 authors and other mystery and crime experts including good pals Donald and Renee Bain, authors of - among many books - the Murder She Wrote series.

At lunch on Saturday,  I'll interview (heckle) Hank about her career and other notable authors on hand will briefly discuss their latest books. Saturday night features a Gala Awards Dinner with a keynote address by Hank.  Signings will be held throughout the weekend. Bob Daniher is the Offical Fan Guest of Honor.

When and where? -  August 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.  New Brunswick is just a short train ride from Manhattan - good news for those of us who might not want to drive.

More information and a registration form can be found at the web site,  Hope to see some of you there!



Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Heartbreak of TMS - Too Much Stuff

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Happily neither of these pictures depicts my home - a lot of people I occasionally wonder, why the heck do I have all this STUFF?

I know I have a lot less than my my friend's wife (the hoarder.)

Or my other friend's wife (the shopaholic.) 

But every closet, chest and trunk is filled to the max.

My house has no attic, no basement and very few closets (lots of glass...great for plants, not so great for stuff.)

So I'm requiresd to make periodic purges.

Right now I have a Bagster in my driveway. Have you seen them? They're very large, tarp-like bags which can hold a couple of tons of debris. 

They cost about 30 bucks and when they're filled you just call Waste Management and someone brings a truck and hauls it away. It's one of new favorite things. And for the past few weeks I've derived an enormous amount of pleasure filling it. Broken chairs that I've never gotten around to fixing. Falling apart willow fencing. The tag sale shutters I never used in the whimsical garden I never made. The broken window pane that I never got crafty with.

So explain to me how, with a clear conscience, I went to not one, but two estate sales yesterday. What if I really liked something? Where would it go??

The scary thing is that I own a bunch of stuff that looks very much like the items in the generic tag sale pic below. (I used to collect vintage radios.)

Mercifully I resisted the charms of the outdoor furniture sets, the stone planters, the vintage rattan sunroom furniture, and the ubiquitous floral prints which seem to be at every estate sale I've ever gone to.

That said, I came home with three very large resin planters, a black wrought iron coffee table, wicker footstool/table, two small ceramic planters and about 20 books - history, vintage Peter Rabbit and a copy of Anne of Green Gables, which I've never read and someone on JR rhapsodized about.

And a Stangl vase ($8) that gets my vote for deal of the day.

 Is this schizo behavior? Like ordering diet soda with an order of french fries?

(I'm counting on the JRs to say "no Ro! This is perfectly normal....")

Friday, June 28, 2013

Looking for the Real Eva Peron

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today's visiting author is my good friend, MWA-NY Chapter President, Annamaria Alfieri (aka Pat King.) After writing a series of business books so successful they were featured on Oprah... (yes, THAT Oprah..) Annamaria turned her considerable talents to historical fiction with a debut novel , City of Silver, which was named one of the best first novels of that year by Deadly Pleasures Magazine and about which the Washington Post (yes, THAT ...) wrote "as history and glitters!"

Annamaria is back with a new novel just out this week that features a woman many of us think we know...or do we?

ANNAMARIA ALFIERI: Blood Tango, my third South American historical mystery, launches this week, and Evita Perón is a character in the story.  Fictional versions of Evita have appeared in other works, most famously in the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that carries her name.  In researching the background events of my story, I quickly learned that the character played by Patti Lupone and Madonna is not the lady most biographers present.  In fact, even for historians steeped in the facts of her life, there is no clear picture of the tiny woman who became the most famous female figure of her time. 
There is no one answer to the question
Who was the real Evita?
Here is what we know for sure: The little girl, born a bastard child who grew up with her Mother's maiden name—Ibaguren, later took her father's name, Duarte. At the age of fifteen, she left the small, sad, remote town where she had grown up, and moved to Buenos Aires to pursue her dream, born of childhood trips to the movies and an addiction to movie magazines: to become an actress. After some minor roles in plays and movies that barely kept her alive, she finally achieved some success as an actress in radio soap operas. Then, she met Juan Perón, and eventually became the first lady of Argentina and the most famous woman in the world.

Depending on where one looks, one finds very different Evitas. I have found three.
Two are extreme:
Extreme Evita #1—the Whore: the young woman who slept her way into roles in the theater and movies. In this characterization, she is the embodiment of an ambitious bitch, without morals, who will do anything to get ahead and stay ahead. Her first real success was on the radio as a soap opera star, but her real climb to the pinnacle of Argentinean fame and fortune began when she became the mistress of Juan Perón, the most powerful man in the country. This is the Evita one finds in 1940’s and 50’s accounts in places like Time Magazine, in British anti-Peronist polemics, and this is the Evita that wound up in stage musical: Evita.

Extreme Evita #2—the Saint: This is the Eva, great benefactress of the poor, who worked tirelessly once she became First Lady. She kissed the sick, even lepers, who came to her for charity. This is the passionate supporter of Perón, the man she considered the only hope for the lowest level workers. Her sympathy for the poor was sincere—she had risen from abject poverty herself.  She was a she-wolf, a relentless enemy of the oppressive oligarchy and all members of the idle ruling class.

That she died a very painful death of cancer when she was only thirty-three made it easy for those who wanted to canonize her to make their case.
Which one of these two extremes was the real historical Evita? 

To me, both are real. There is no doubt that Eva Duarte lived with Juan Peron for almost two years without the benefit of marriage. It is also quite possible that she slept with directors or producers of plays and movies when she was a teenager desperate for a break. I imagine such a thing was often required of a starving girl with stars in her eyes.
Though cohabitation out of wedlock is hardly considered a reason to call a woman a whore these days, and few would call the casting couch a form of prostitution, in the 1940's, lots of people would have thought so. Her real behaviors would have been an excuse for anyone who hated her enough to discredit her.

Nor is there any doubt that Evita spent huge amounts of her time listening to and trying to ameliorate the problems of the poorest in Argentina. She did kiss them, even if they were sick. As first lady of a nation (a role she seems to have invented) she did see to it that record numbers of hospitals were built and nurses trained.  She founded schools and programs for poor children. She got women the vote (albeit because she knew most of them would vote for Perón.)

The character in Blood Tango emerged as an Evita who embodies both the good and the bad found in the facts of Eva’s life: An energetic, dynamic, ill-educated young woman with a chip on her shoulder about how the upper classes treated her and her family when she was a child. A dreamer without any reason to hope who, against all odds, wanted to be somebody. A girl whose powerful (from her poverty-stricken point of view) father had abandoned her family, who longed for a truly powerful man to take care of her (and the rest of the poor). A politically naïve, but charismatic young person with a talent for mass-communication who was easily manipulated by a cool, withdrawn, massively ambitious politician who, at the moment when he met her, sorely needed an attractive mouthpiece.

Evita’s tale is fascinating. And thereby hangs the story of Blood Tango.
ROSEMARY: Learn more about Annamaria and her historical mysteries at


Thursday, June 27, 2013

I laughed, I cried....

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Okay...last night I was performing some mindless task in my office and - as I often do - I popped a DVD into the player. Just to have some background noises.

All was going well until - Lady Sybil died. Now..this was not a surprise. I saw Lady Sybil die last January. And truth be told a few times since then.

How in the world can I still cry when I hear her husband wailing  "please don't leave me, luv"? Stopped me cold. Get the tissues.

I still cry at the end of West Side Story. ("How many bullets, Chino?") And the funeral scene in Out of Africa ("He was not mine...")


Bang The Drum Slowly?  Get the tissues.

It's not hormonal. Just to balance things out I should add that I laugh every time I watch Bang the Drum Slowly, too.

And Forget Paris.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles ("Polka, polka, polka!")
and Kingpin.
(Some of the best lines in that one require visuals, watch the film and listen for the line "you leave Rebecca out of this!")

So how did the writers - and actors - successfully elicit these responses. Even after many years and multiple viewings. I guess they made me care about the characters. And gave the characters memorable, believable dialogue.

I'm about to make my last pass on my soon-to-be self-published novel (at least I hope it's the last pass.Without an external deadline it's so easy to think "Oh, just one more look!)

This time I'll be reading with an even closer eye - not just to the language, plot, rhythm and all the other things I usually look at - but to the emotional pull of my words.

Hopefully they'll elicit more laughs than tears!

So...which movies still make you laugh and which still make you cry??


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Push yourself. That's something no one can do for you." - Anonymous

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today Vincent O'Neil is back to tell us how he came to write his latest novel, Interlands. He did it by stretching himself...
VINCENT O"NEIL:   A horror novel first inspired me to try my hand at writing. When I read Stephen King’s The Shining as a teenager, I was so impressed that I decided to see if I could pen something that other people might enjoy. My first book came from that inspiration, and yet decades later I had not yet written a horror novel.

I deeply enjoy scary stories, so I decided to give it a try. Having read Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Lovecraft, King, and many others, I already had a good base in the macabre. Raised in New England and living there now, I have personal knowledge of a region absolutely loaded with supernatural legendry. Researching the folklore of the northeast led me to another first, in that I decided to base the story in Providence, Rhode Island. This was a departure for me, because the towns in my previous works were all made up.

At that point I recognized how much the new novel was moving into areas I hadn’t explored before. After acknowledging that, I decided to do one more thing I’d been meaning to do, and make my main character a woman.

All of my books have had female characters in them, many of them playing key roles, but until now my protagonists have all been male. Having decided to stretch my writing in both genre and location, it seemed appropriate to add one more challenge and cast a different gender in the starring role. Oddly enough, the toughest part of doing that was the decision to go ahead and try.

I discovered something important while building the story of Angie Morse, a grad student combing the New England woods for a lost stone obelisk. When writing stories of supernatural horror and creating protagonists of a different gender, the same admonition applies: Don’t overdo it.

Here’s what I mean: Describing the scratching sounds in the wall of the silent library is far more frightening than simply having the Thing leap out and attack. And focusing on the presentation of a main character who is relatable and engaging is far more productive than layering the role with thoughts, discussions, and actions that allegedly represent the character’s gender.

Creating a protagonist who is complex and interesting makes it simple to then weave indications of gender into the story, and this in turn lets the character behave naturally.
Instead of leaning on stereotypes, this approach allowed me to turn Angie loose on her quest and let her demonstrate what she was all about. Mentally tough but abundantly human, highly driven (some would say obsessed) but shrewdly calculating, she’s willing to take some chances in order to accomplish something beyond the norm. 

Stretching herself in order to possibly achieve something both transcendent and valuable. Now why does that sound so familiar?

ROSEMARY: More good advice from good pal, Vincent O'Neil. If you're lucky enough to be going to the New England Crimebake this fall, check out his workshop on self-publishing and thank him in person. If you're not going, please visit his website at 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Few Tips for Formatting Books and E-Books

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I'm about to embark on my first self-published ebook adventure. So many people have done it  - why not me?
Weeeeeelllll - because I'm terrified? Because I'm afraid I'll mess up the formatting and earn a slew of one star reviews because the indentations are too big? Too small? Non-existent? Because I'll click Yes on something that somehow prevents me from doing something else - or worse - mangles the book?

So to give myself a little confidence, I asked one of my more experienced buddies to share his knowledge of self-publishing with me and the JR gang.

VINCENT H. O'NEIL: I’ve prepared numerous books for print-on-demand and e-book production, and there are many ways to go about this. There is also a wide range of publishing sites and services, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, but the most common questions I hear involve formatting. It’s not as challenging as it might sound, and so here is an approach I’ve found useful.

NOTE: Some of the detailed instructions here involve MS Word, but the concepts discussed should translate to other software. My experience with e-readers is largely confined to Kindle and Nook, but hopefully most of this guidance will apply to other versions. The conversion software is steadily improving, and so some of these considerations may soon become outdated.

The basic idea is to create a single book file which will be copied as two separate files that are then adjusted, one for print-on-demand and one for e-book. Here we go:

 Unless the book is going to be very long, use 12 pt font or higher.
  1. Single space the entire book.
  2. Make sure you include a copyright notice, an Author Biography, your website, and a list of all your other books in a “Books by this Author” segment.
  3. Avoid underlining (for example, “Chapter One”) because in an e-reader conversion the blank lines following that underlining sometimes appear with what looks like a dash because the underlining continued past the underlined words. Bold face seems to have no negative consequences.
  4. Consider putting a marking symbol (such as a black dot) in the center of the blank line between segments within a chapter; this helps people reading the book on an e-reader to know a segment has ended.
  5. In Page Setup / Margins / Pages, select “Mirror Margins”. This will let you see the pages as they will appear in the printed book, as well as create proper margins.
  6. In Page Setup / Margins, set the inside and outside margins according to the chart below (Leave the “Gutter” at zero).

Total Pages                                  Inside Margin                                    Outside Margin


24-150                                     at least .375”                                       at least .25”

151-400                                   at least .75”                                         at least .5”

400-600                                   at least .875”                                       at least .5”

>600                                        at least 1.0”                                         at least .5”

Don’t get overly concerned about this; the “Preview” function in most print-on-demand software is pretty good and you can adjust from there. For a standard-sized book (roughly 220 pages) I use .7” for top, bottom, and outside margins and .8” for inside.

  1. I recommend setting the tab / paragraph indents at .3 to save space. Also select “Justify” so that the words on each line stretch from margin to margin.
  2. Insert the page numbers, page breaks, and section breaks that you want for the printed book; many of these will be removed by the e-reader conversion, but there are fixes for the ones you want to keep.
  3. Once the file is complete, save it as a Print On Demand file and an e-book file because you will be doing different things to each.

For the Print On Demand File:

  1. Add a blank page in front so that the book opens on a blank page instead of the title page.
  2. Any time you want to leave the page numbers off (for example, the title page and the dedication) add a Page Break, a Section Break (continuous), and another Page Break on the last page before you want the page numbers. Then select “View Header / Footer” and open the footer for the first page that will have a page number. Click inside that footer and then unselect “Link to Previous”. Then move up to the footer above that one (it should show a different number, as in “Footer Section 1” versus “Footer Section 2”) and delete the page number manually. The page numbers should remain going forward.
  3. I generally start new chapters on a new page, roughly halfway down.
  4. Depending on the service you use, you will be able to preview the final document digitally after it is loaded. The digital review will reveal any glaring errors, but it is still important to get a proof copy and review it thoroughly before putting the finished product on sale.
For the E-Book File:

  1. When you load the file onto whatever site you’re using, the conversion software is likely to remove much of the Print On Demand-specific formatting.
  2. If you want to keep a page break, enter a Section Break (continuous) where the original Page Break was. I generally only do that at the beginning (title page, dedication, etc.) and let the completed chapter scroll right into the next one.
  3. The Page Numbers will be removed automatically; they’re not needed.
  4. Different e-reader platforms (Basic Kindle, Kindle Fire, Nook, etc.) emplace indents on their own or fail to recognize the indents in some files. Although it’s a bit of work, here is a fix that has worked for me: I recommend removing all indentation so that every line (including the indented first line of each paragraph) is left-justified. Then highlight each segment in turn, go to Format / Paragraph / Indentation and select Special / First line and set it to .3. All of your paragraphs will indent to .3, which should keep the indentation standard across platforms.
  5. The Preview function in most e-reader setup software is usually very good, so once the file is loaded go through the entire book and see if anything looks wrong. Most problems are fixable by adjusting the file, reloading it, and checking it again.

ROSEMARY: Vinny will be checking in today to say hello and answer questions. He'll be back tomorrow to tell us all about his latest novel, Interlands AND you can learn more about the writer Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times called "a polished writer with a breezy style." at his website 


Wow - high praise indeed. To me, he's just fun lovin' Vinny as you can see in one of my favorite pix. That's the two of us at Crimebake's Vampire Ball.


Monday, June 24, 2013

New Product Alert!!

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Roach motels, flash drives, those wine bottle openers with the two side thingys. Flat irons, Arm & Hammer Baking Soda toothpaste and Yves St Laurent's Touch Eclat. Suitcases with four wheels...
What do these things all have in common? In their own small ways they've changed my life for the better.

When I had my first apartment in Brooklyn you couldn't pay me to get up in the middle of the night and walk into my kitchen. Heaven knows what I would have found. Enter Roach motels. OMG you could kill them without ever seeing them!
The toothpaste - my mother always bought Colgate..hated the, this new stuff tastes pretty good!
Every once in a while something comes along that isn't just more of the same. We're not talking about the telephone or computers (or fire!) But sometimes a new product REALLY makes things easier, more fun, mo' better!
Sometimes the feeling wears off (as I'm afraid it will with the Green Goodness drink I've been sucking down for the past month.) But then again...some things are here to stay for BB cream and Dannon's Lit and Fit Greek Yogurt.
What new products changed your lives??

RHYS BOWEN: The one that comes immediately to mind is the portable hair dryer. When I was a child hair washing meant walking around with wet hair for hours, which wasn't fun in the cold house I grew up in, OR sitting under my mother's hair dryer, which was a giant hood thing and took hours too.
I remember getting my first transistor radio when I was a kid. Magic. Portable magic. (I realize as I write that I am dating myself horribly. Next I'll be saying I remember the day they discarded corsets. Actually my very proper aunt sent me money for my fortieth birthday telling me to get myself fitted for a good corselet as after forty the figure starts to sag).

ROSEMARY: Rhys, they're back! Only they may be called merry widows or bustiers...your aunt was ahead of her time.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: SPANX. Best shapeware ever. I think it's Rhys' corselet for the 21st century. Hold everything in place, and it's relatively comfortable to boot. And - this isn't terribly new, but it's become widespread in the last twenty years - remote keyless entry for cars. Remember what it used to be like juggling a bag of groceries on one arm and a squirming kid in the other while you hunted for the right key on your chain? Or trying to jam the key into an ice-encrusted, frozen-over lock? Searching up one row and down another in a dark parking lot? Thos automatic key fobs are a great boon to womankind. 

LUCY BURDETTE: This isn't very creative, but all I can think of is how much I love my iphone. I love being able to take pictures and send them on the spot. And look at maps to see where I went wrong (although my phone has been acting weirdly on that score lately, turning the map sidewise, which is very confusing.) Keeping up with email and Facebook and Twitter while on the road (a mixed blessing though.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN : With ya, Ro, on touche eclat.  Hmm. Paying bills by internet. How about ATM's? And cabs that take credit cards? All good.   TIVO! And any DVR--and On Demand--it lets you watch any show on TV whenever you want.  The advent of time shifting has changed the world. GPS has obsoleted maps, (is that a word?), sadly, but whoa. Saved many a marriage, I bet. And gee, of course, what would I DO without my iphone. I will confess to a queasy feeling when it takes me a minute to find it--I think--oh, NO what if I don't have my PHONE? That is scary.

ROSEMARY: I would be very happy without my iPhone - but the GPS?? Game changer!!
So what new products have changed your lives? One thing that's changed the lives of a lot of writers is the ability to self-publish. Check back tomorrow as self-publishing guru Vincent O'Neill visits and gives us the lowdown on formatting your book before you self-pub!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: All those things! (Although I have to disagree with Julia on the Spanx. I think they're torture. But then, I haven't worn a corset...) And I'm with Rhys on the blow dryer, but my two cents, and I'm totally with Ro, is the FLAT IRON. From someone with hair that is too wavy to be straight, and not wavy enough to be curly, the flat iron is a godsend. Be glad that I'm not posting a pic of me without the use of my Chi. 

HALLIE EPHRON: Magic Eraser! I'm so not a neatnik, but when houseguests are coming and all the scrapes and smudges on my walls and floors seem like beacons of doom, it very nearly is magic. My immersion blender! No more having to dump hot soup into a blender where it invariably explodes scalding hot soup all over the room in order to make a potage.  What's Touche Eclat?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lisa Alber on Turning Points and Pie

LUCY BURDETTE: We all loved Lori Roy's post earlier this week--so many good stories about keepsakes. When I read Lisa Alber's response about memorabilia from her father's restaurants, and about his coffee toffee pie, I asked if she would join us to talk more and share that fabulous-sounding recipe. And then I discovered her first book comes out next year! What fun! Welcome Lisa!

LISA ALBER: Thanks for inviting me here today, Lucy! Lori’s post struck a nostalgic cord with me, that’s for sure.

Sadly, a crucial turning point in my relationship with my dad occurred after his death. My sisters and I had discovered a stash of menus, articles, and fliers from Dad’s restaurateur days. He’d saved three copies of everything, one set for each daughter. Frankly, I was astonished. Dad saved this for us?

Dad was a distant man, and I barely saw him growing up. We weren’t close. Fingering a menu that listed Dad’s famous coffee toffee pie for 60¢, I realized that not only had Dad been sentimental, he’d been thinking about us all along. Talk about a revelation. I caught a glimmer of him, perhaps for the first time, and I was heartbroken. What do you do with a turning point when it’s too late to go back?

Eventually, I wrote my upcoming  novel, Kilmoon, which centers around a woman who doesn’t know her father. I also kept the one keepsake—excluding papers—that my dad had saved from the restaurants: a battered springform baking pan. My mom never understood why he’d kept it, but I’d experienced the glimmer. I understood. Menu items came and went, but Dad always served coffee toffee pie. That dented pan symbolized an era and also Dad’s love in the only way he could easily express it. I still miss coffee toffee pie.

Have you experienced an epiphany about someone when it was too late to go back?

And, for you, dear Jungle Reddians, a recipe. Yum!

Joe Alber’s Coffee Toffee Pie

Makes two pies


1 lb. box of pie crust mix
1/2 cup Ghiradelli powdered unsweetened chocolate (or cocoa)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups crushed walnuts (not graham crackers as I’d mentioned in Lori’s post)
4 Tbsp. crushed Heath toffee bar bits
1 Tbsp
. water as needed
Combine pie crust mix, powdered chocolate, brown sugar, walnuts, and toffee in a mixing bowl. Beat until crumbly, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Press dough firmly into two well-greased springform pans, keeping thickness of bottom to ¼ inch and heights of sides to about one inch. Add water to mixture and blend as needed if mixture is too crumbly. Also, moisten fingers with cold water as pressing dough into place to ease handling.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes, and then place in the freezer.


3/4 lb. butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. instant coffee
3 one-ounce squares of semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
6 eggs, room temperature

Cream butter. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in chocolate and instant coffee. Add eggs one at a time beating thoroughly after adding each egg. Pour into cooled shells.

Whipped cream topping:

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Whip cream with coffee and sugar. Spread over whole pie. Chill at least two hours before serving.

Lisa Alber’s debut novel, KILMOON, a mystery set in Ireland, arrives March 2014. Based on Kilmoon, Lisa received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant. You can find Lisa online at and

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ravishing Rhubarb-Strawberry Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping


On the way back from a wedding in Pennsylvania on Sunday, John and I stopped at the local farm store and happened upon local strawberries. They were so gorgeous that we bought more than was reasonable for two people. Of course, I posted about this dilemma on Facebook and got an onslaught of great sounding recipes. Doesn't a homemade strawberry milkshake sound good? How about strawberry bread? Jam? Pie? Or just plain pop them in the freezer for a treat on a winter day?

In the end, we ate most of them, except for the ones I made into my own recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb coffee cake. I'm happy to share it with you!

Rhubarb-Strawberry Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping 


1 1/4  cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup strawberries, chopped

For the topping:
1/4 C. butter, 1/3 C brown sugar, 3 TBSP flour, 4 TBSP rolled oats

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the egg. Sift together flour and baking soda and add to creamed mixture with the milk and vanilla. Fold in the rhubarb and strawberries. Pour into greased 9 x 11″ pan. Blend topping ingredients until pea-sized with a pastry blender and sprinkle on top of the cake. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

This is one of the recipes included in the back of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. Hayley's good friend Eric makes it when Hayley's mom is coming for a visit.  Because doesn't a homemade coffee cake cure just about all ills?

What would you make with those strawberries?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mike Cooper: Camping = Reading

Car Camping
Much like we were, only cleaner

MIKE COOPER: When I was a kid, in the 1970's, our family went camping in the summer. Nothing fancy: mostly state parks in the Ozarks, where we could drive the station wagon right up to the campsite and unload our canvas tent, Coleman stove, big cheap sleeping bags and all the rest. We weren't alone. Other sites had more families, older folks taking their summer vacation, college kids down from St Louis, the occasional long-distance traveler with a pop-up trailer. Not so many RVs back then. No one seemed to spend much money -- hot dogs was about as gourmet as the food got, and typical gear wasn't much more complicated than an air mattress. Island Campsite
Campsite with Boston on the horizon

Today it's a different story. We still go camping -- my favorite destination is our annual trip to one of Boston's harbor islands, where we can cook mussels at the water's edge while jets take off from Logan and party boats cruise noisily past. But almost no one else we know does. Instead, there's the Patagonia catalog, with its gorgeous photos of trekking in the world's most difficult and spectacular terrain. Somehow we've gotten to the point that "camping" means thousands of dollars of high-tech gear and a National Geographic destination. If you're not bivouacked halfway up a sheer wall in the Himalaya, or sea-kayaking to remote islands in the Andaman Sea ... well, you can always watch Travel Channel. Something similar may be happening to reading. Decades ago people commonly read books, and they did so casually, without much thought. Sit on the bus, pull out a paperback. Take your lunch in the park, bring along a library book. Wait an hour at the DMV, finish that novel your friend passed along last week. 

Hobo Camp
The book club meets

I recently read two memoirs of the 1930's, and both mention that old magazines and paperbacks were common in hobo jungles: men who had to beg food and sleep on the ground still had books around them, to read and share. Today, reading a book is moving from "now and then" right through "uncommon" and into "eccentric." I often carry a book to the playground while our children are there, and that draws comments. Our pediatrician was quite struck by our children having books with them, rather than smartphones. What was once utterly commonplace is now almost ... odd. Furthermore, the cost curve is accelerating. Just like "proper" backpacking now requires an Arcteryx pack and Marmot outerwear, reading increasingly requires an expensive electronic device. So is this the end of literacy? Perhaps not. Radio should have been killed off years ago, and yet thrives. Despite cars people still ride bicycles -- more and more of them all the time, in fact. Just because the book is no longer the default go-to for transient entertainment doesn't mean we've given up on it completely. And perhaps technology will be its savior, in the end. Once everyone is wearing whatever succeeds Google glasses, they could watch videos and take pictures of their annoyed friends. But maybe, maybe they'll find something to read while they walk instead. 

  Mike Cooper is the pen name of a former jack-of-all-trades. Viking will release his novel FULL RATCHET, sequel to CLAWBACK, on July 3rd. Mike lives outside Boston with his family.

Note from Lucy: I love talking to Mike when I'm stymied while writing--he either recommends shooting someone or a chase scene. The writing always goes better after that...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A View from a Different Room by Daryl Wood Gerber

 LUCY BURDETTE: Today I'm so happy to introduce/reintroduce our friend Daryl, whom you all probably know as Avery Aames of the famous cheese shop mysteries. She's been having a ball researching her new series--which you can tell if you follow her posts on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Welcome Daryl, congrats on the new book--and tell us more!

Thank you so much for having me on Jungle Red! I love it here. For those that might have noticed the title of this post, yes, you read it right...

I flipped around the more familiar title because sometimes that is what I need to do when I write. Look at something from a different angle. Step outside my comfort zone. See what is really there and not what I expect to be there.

This awareness came to me while I was driving north up the coast of California to do research for the first in what I hope to be a long and prosperous new series: A COOKBOOK NOOK MYSTERY. The series is set in the fictional coastal town of Crystal Cove and features Jenna Hart, a culinary bookshop owner who is an avid reader and admitted foodie. I had driven up Highway 101 and Route 1 many times. I live in Los Angeles, but many of my family live in northern California. These are familiar routes. There is beautiful countryside. However, this time as I was driving, I noticed more. Because I was doing research, I paid attention to every winery, store, and house. I noticed which barns were in good stead and which were neglected.  I noticed the terrain and its texture, which hills were gold, which trees were green, what needed water and what was thriving. I read signs. I now know where every fruit stand is along these roads. I also know that one farmer had a great sense of humor—he painted huge signs telling people what trees he had planted. 

You know what I mean…you drive along and say, what’s that, an almond tree? The trees were citrus and, according to the farmer, we do better if we eat more citrus. I saw a huge…HUGE… American flag hanging from a pole on private property. Wouldn’t you love to know why? It wasn’t like it was a former president’s abode. I counted all the hothouses that protected orchids. I noticed parks, racetracks, and golf courses. As I toured the area between Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz, which is where I’ve set my fictional town, I took note of the gentle valleys to the right and all the signs with images of hikers and bikers. California is super friendly to outdoorsy types, by the way.

What I particularly loved, as a result of this research, was that I became connected again with my state. I adore California, but I have taken it for granted. The majestic mountains, the rolling hills, the fabulous blue coastline. In addition, I realized I need to pay more attention to people. Lately, I have been doing my darnedest not to tune out everyone. I look at people. I make eye contact. I make mental notes of their style, their moods, and their quirks [great info for a writer]. And I smile just to see whether they will smile back…most will; many think I’m loco.

What have you noticed lately that surprised you? Was it always there? Are you aware when you zone out? 

DARYL WOOD GERBER aka AVERY AAMES writes the Agatha Award-winning, nationally bestselling Cheese Shop Mystery series. As Daryl, she writes A Cookbook Nook Mystery series, featuring a culinary bookshop and café owner. Daryl’s short stories have been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and other awards. As an actress, Daryl has appeared in “Murder, She Wrote” and more. Check out her recipes on her blog and friend her on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Favorite Keepsake by Lori Roy

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm a sucker for hearing about where writers get inspiration. I know lots of people hate the question: Where do you get your ideas? But I love it! And so I'm happy to introduce Edgar winner Lori Roy, to talk about her brand new book.

LORI ROY: One of my favorite keepsakes is a set of vintage white gloves. When I first began working on UNTIL SHE COMES HOME, I held these gloves and imagined a woman living in 1958 Detroit who had boarded a bus to do her daily shopping. Sitting among the other ladies, all bound for the shops on Willingham Avenue, she realized she had forgotten her white gloves. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hid her bare hands in her lap. Why was she so distracted, I wondered.  What had happened to make her forget her white gloves? 

Before I could answer these questions, I had to get to know this character and so I turned to one of my favorite research tools—a 1958 Sears catalog I bought from Ebay.  In the first few pages of the catalog, I came across the clothing for the young women, girls really, still in their teens. They wore skirts with wide sweeps and slender belts cinched around their slender waists. Their long smooth hair was pulled back and up into ponytails that sat high on their heads. These girls didn’t wear white gloves. Even when bundled up and cheering from the sidelines of a football game, they challenged convention and refused to wear gloves. Only one young girl in all these pages had dared to pull on a pair. She stood with three other teenage girls on a dance floor. Balloons were scattered at their feet, streamers hung overhead, and all the girls wore party dresses, but only one of them, the one who had clearly won the attention and affection of the one man in the photo, wore short white gloves with simulated pearls stitched at each cuff.

As I continued to turn the pages of my catalog, the girls grew to young women. While standing in line at a movie theater, several men hovering nearby, the young ladies wore belted jackets and cropped sweaters and all wore gloves.   Most had abandoned the high ponytails for thick bands that held their hair, still long and smooth, from their faces. In this section, I also found pictures of brides and bridesmaids. They, of course, all wore gloves.

More pages and the ladies continued to age. They must have all found husbands because there were few men in these photos. The ladies appeared settled in their lives. They had husbands at home, children to care for, lunches to prepare, bake sale committees on which to serve. The ladies of this certain age matched their gloves to their shoes and handbags, or for a more casual afternoon outing, they chose gloves that matched the color of their dresses.  But no matter the color, the fabric, the length or the style, if there was a hat on her head, or a jacket slung over her shoulders, or a handbag hanging from her forearm, a lady of this age wore gloves on her hands. 

This is how I came to know Grace and Julia and Malina—all important characters in UNTIL SHE COMES HOME. They are the women who give voice to my story. They are the women who always wear gloves and when Grace forgets her gloves that day on the bus, she can no longer ignore what has happened to her and her neighborhood or what may yet come.

For all the readers out there…I’m always looking for new inspiration.  Do you have a favorite keepsake and what is the history behind it?


Lori Roy’s debut novel, BENT ROAD, was awarded the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, named a 2011 New York Times Notable Crime Book, named a 2012 notable book by the state of Kansas, and was nominated for the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award. BENT ROAD has been optioned for film by Cross Creek, with Mark Mallouk to adapt and Benderspink to produce. Her second novel, UNTIL SHE COMES HOME, was published June 13, 2013. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In the Garden

 LUCY BURDETTE:  I don't know about the rest of you, but our garden seems to be off to a slooooowwww start this year. We haven't had a single radish, the asparagus were spotty, and we've harvested no lettuce. I'm blaming it on the cool spring (except for that one steamy weekend) and maybe even the aftereffects of Sandy.

We did have some beautiful iris and the roses are coming on strong.
But here's the most delightful surprise of the season--it hitchhiked into our yard in a Mother's Day pot a few years ago and now they've seeded themselves out the front door. Tonka checks every time he goes out to see if one might be ready for the right dog...

Any highlights in your spring yards and gardens?

HALLIE EPHRON: I feel as if my garden is about to devour my yard. The bushes (forsythia, Japanese quince, viburnum) are in desperate need to trimming -- nay hacking -- and all I'm doing is watching it rain.
Our excitement was a swarm of thousands of bees that came swooping into our yard, hovered like black blanket over the driveway, and then settled into the viburnum. A local beekeeper arrived a day later, sawed off the branch, scooped up the bees, and took them off to rejuvenate an ailing hive she had. At last report they were settling in well.

RHYS BOWEN: I returned home from a month away to find the gardener had turned off the sprinkler system on his last visit so everything looked very sad and dry. It's perking up again but we're already into the California summer when most plants are done flowering and slipping into survival mode. Roses would be flourishing if the deer hadn't knocked down the back fence and can now walk in unhindered from the open space around us. Lately I'm craving a house that is not on a hill and could have a real garden with soil and plants and veggies.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: My garden's been heavenly. I was afraid that I'd miss a lot when I was in Italy but that didn't happen. Of course the bamboo sot up and threatened to take over in my absence, so instead of just kicking over the shoots we had to saw some of them, but it wasn't nearly as bad as having a garden where you have to mow the lawn all the time. Like clockwork - forsythia, dogwoods, azaleas, pieris, spirea, peonies, viburnum, rhodys, weigela. Right now the mountain laurels are taking a hammering from the rain so they may be gone by tomorrow. This year's surprise - the doublefile viburnum kicked butt. So glorious I'm searching for a couple more.

One thing...for next year...someone stop me before I start seeds again. They never work out for me. Something always happens and they wind up in the compost.
HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Oh, because of the rain, ours is LUSH and gorgeous and green--so wonderful to see! I'm happy about it every day. Our tulips were fabulous--it's always such fun to pick them, and still have many outside.  (I always seem to be at Malice at the height of the tulips, so funny.)  The peonies went CRAZY..buds one day, then full bloom the next, sigh.
I love how they all go in sequence..the crocuses, then the tulips, and the milions of forget me nots and lilies of the valley. Big stands of those thin-thin-thin yellow iris. The roses are about to be a bonanza, cannot wait to see. RO, our viburnum has some hideous malady, I think...can you come over?

And avoiding impatiens this year because of the rampaging--what is it? Downy something disease. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's hovering near 100 in north Texas this last week, our big spring flush is long gone and now we are going into survival mode. June 1st we started once-a-week watering restrictions.  Most of our plants are native perennials so we'll have something blooming all summer, regardless. Our coneflowers are in full bloom now. The roses will repeat bloom all summer. Waiting for the black-eyed Susans to burst out any day, and one of the big glories of our summer, the bloom of the big crepe myrtle in front of our house. Many varieties start blooming as early as mid-May, but for some reason ours never flowers until the end of June. But from then it will be gorgeous until October.


Monday, June 17, 2013

On What We're Writing...

LUCY BURDETTE: Okay I'm writing madly, frantically down the home stretch to my June 30 deadline, trying not to fall into plot holes and character stereotypes. So the idea of coming up with a creative blog topic had me quivering. Until I had the idea--yes--let's tell the tiniest snatches of what we're writing. We promise you, these words are likely to change--for the better hopefully--but here's a sneak peek into what's whirling in our brains.

From MURDER WITH GANACHE, coming February 2014:

"This is the Key West police. Come out with your hands up," shouted a fierce voice, its volume magnified by a megaphone. "Trained police dog here. Put down your weapon and come out or we let him run."
    The man in the room with us fired his gun through the door and both Daisy and I screamed. I pressed her to the ground, my body shielding hers, my ears ringing painfully in the silence after the blast.
    "Back off or I kill them both," our man yelled.

(Me Lucy again--can you tell I'm using what I learned in my Citizens Police Academy?)

HALLIE EPHRON: Wow! Love it, Lucy. (But what are they having for dessert??)

So here's the opening of my novel, working title NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, coming out some time after I finish writing it...

Arthur Unger slides open the glass door and steps out onto his flagstone patio. He's had a few drinks but he doesn't feel them. It's late at night, and though the sky is clear and there's no moon, there are no stars, either. There never are. Between ambient light and air pollution, he'd have to drive to Mount Baldy to see Orion's Belt. The sky is . . . he gazes up at it. Opaque? Pitch black? Inky? He shrugs. His ex-wife wrote their scene descriptions. He was always the plotmeister, architect to her decorator, though at that moment he thinks it's obvious what's going to happen next.

RHYS BOWEN: I have just started a new Royal Spyness book (Queen of Hearts) this week so anything I share here is subject to being ripped apart and substituted but here is my current opening paragraph.

I was sitting in white wicker chair under a spreading chestnut tree on a manicured lawn. Behind me the stately battlements of Kingsdowne Place, seat of the Dukes of Eynsford were reflected in the perfect mirror of the lake, its surface ruffled only by a pair of gliding swans. Before me was a tea table, groaning under tiers of cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, strawberries and cream, eclairs, Victoria sponges, petit fours and scones with clotted cream. It was about the most perfect afternoon one could wish for, one of those rare English summer days when the only sounds are the buzzing of bees among the roses, the clickety clack of a distant lawnmower and the thwack of ball on bat at the cricket match down in the village.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh, I love these! Hallie, you don't usually write in first person, do you? And Rhys, can we all come for tea? I'm sure that beautiful scene is going to be blasted to smithereens soon though...(and PS Hallie, they are having chocolate ganache for dessert in my book, of course...)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, THE WRONG GIRL comes out in September, and I am so excited! But I am in the midst of what MIGHT be titled TRUTH BE TOLD. And this opening is EARLIER than a first draft. It's just--MAYBE what it might be.

(And it is incredibly fascinating to see how different we all are!)

“I know it’s legal. But it’s terrible.” Jane Ryland winced as the Sandoval’s pale wooden bedframe hit the tall grass in the overgrown front yard and shattered into three jagged pieces. “The cops throwing someone’s stuff out the window. I mean, please.  It’s right out of Dickens, you know? Eviction? There’s got to be a better way.”

Terrible facts and great pictures.  A perfect newspaper story.  She turned to Casey. “You got that on camera, right?”

Casey didn’t take his eye from the viewfinder. “Rolling and recording,” he said.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: You gals are much braver than I am. I would never dream of showing any early versions to anyone.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Here's part of a scene from To Dwell in Darkness, due out sometime in 2014. This is in my "Unplaced Scenes" in Scrivener, so not sure yet where it will go, or even if it will stay in the book, but I like it.

--Wren. The girl from nowhere. Too thin, although they didn’t suffer lack in the flat in the Caledonian Road. With her wispy brown hair that never stayed in place and eyes the color of dark honey, she did make him think of a small brown bird. Her movements were quick, too, and often eerily quiet. When he’d asked her, early on, if that was her real name, she’d just smiled and said, “I was given it,” leaving him to wonder what she meant.
She never talked about herself. Not that everyone in the Caledonian Road gave out a potted history—and even if they did it didn’t mean it was true—but Wren said less than anyone. But they shed clues just as they shed skin and hair, unconsciously. A word here, a word there, a reference to a mother or a father or a sister or something that had happened at school. But not Wren.
He started to watch her, first with a copper’s curiosity, because she was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved. She was a Londoner, he was sure of that from her accent. Middle-class. But then they were mostly a middle-class bunch, living in pseudo-squalor, and he thought that any of them could have gone home to beds more comfortable than sleeping bags on the flat’s old board floors. Except Wren.
And then he began to watch not just out of idle curiosity, but because he realized he liked her. They all had motives, this bunch, they always did. Rebellion, idealism, a need to be different, a need to be noticed. But Wren, Wren simply was, and he thought he’d never known anyone with such a talent for living in the moment.--

Rhys (Debs here again,) I want to live in the opening scene from your Georgie book:-)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Well, I have just barely begun working on the 9th Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne book. I've been spending lots of time researching popular culture and policing as they were in 1952 and 1970, and trying to figure out the crime - always the hardest part for me! I usually start with an image and work out from there. The picture in my head for this one (tentatively titled HID FROM OUR EYES) is the body of a young woman left naked in the middle of a country road in the small hours of the night. How she got there and why, I have no idea. Yet. The (also tentative) beginning:

It always starts with a birth. And a death. The old man held the paper in his hand and weighed the two ideas in his head. Birth. Death. He had known some hippy chick back in the day who’d been into Indian religions. She had told him the goddess Kali was the goddess of both birth and death, because every life brought into the world carried its own ending. What she didn’t say – and hell, maybe the Indians had already figured this out and she just didn’t know it – was that every death was also, potentially, a birth. A new life for somebody. Freedom, money, the end of guilt and shame – there was a lot of stuff came through the back door when the body was carried out the front.

He folded the paper and stood up slowly. He had arrangements to make. It was time to go home.