Monday, June 30, 2014

The Ivory Tower

DEBORAH CROMBIE: There  has always been this public perception of the writer as an isolated, anti-social loner, scribbling (or typing) away in his or her ivory tower. J.D. Salinger, anyone? But are writers really introverts? From personal experience I do know that writers must have the ability to spend a good deal of time alone (except for the characters in their heads.) But maybe "internally focused" is a better description. Jane Austen wrote all her novels in her family's parlor, with domestic life going on around her. Many of us like writing in coffee shops, or airports, or libraries, places there is a buzz of activity that is not personally connected. When I'm home, although I have a very nice upstairs office, I tend to write downstairs, in the guest room (which looks out onto the street), in my sun porch, or on my deck in nice weather, all place where there are cats and dogs and all manner of things going on. When I was in London last month, I spent two weeks writing in a very quiet flat, completely alone. It was...weird.

So what about the writer as anti-social? My first personal experience with a writer was my uncle, A.C. Greene, who was a raconteur of the first order. Whenever he entered the room, he was the center of attention until he walked out. My second personal experience with a REAL writer was my writing teacher, Warren Norwood, a man cut from very much the same cloth as my uncle. While my story-telling skills may not live up to either of them, I'm definitely always up for a good conversation, or, um, hanging out in the bar at Bouchercon... I very seldom meet a stranger, and have been know to chat up people in elevators...

I'm now trying to think of any writers I know who are NOT social. Most of us seem to be able to talk

the hind legs off a donkey...

So, REDS, introvert of extrovert? Or a combination of the two?

HALLIE EPHRON: I am so not an introvert, so one of the things I find most difficult about being a writer is all that alone time. And no, I cannot write in airports or coffee shops or libraries, or with the TV or music going. Lunches and phone calls with writing buddies are my antidote to loneliness.

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm a mutt when it comes to introvert/extrovert. Walking into a bar or party by myself feels like torture--reminds me of my shyest days in junior high and high school. But if it's a group I know, or a group of friends, I'm fine. My hub John is shy that way too. On our honeymoon, the small hotel we were staying at hosted a cocktail party for the guests, many of them also newly married. The manager had to take us around and introduce us to people because we were so bad at mingling!

As for writing, I can do it on a plane. But not a coffee shop. Best of all, in my own room!

RHYS BOWEN: I am definitely not an introvert! I love being among people. I've always been a joiner and especially love being among a group of like-minded women (Jungle Reds, for example). Having said that, I need my alone time too. If I'm with a big group, a family gathering over a holiday or especially a mystery convention, I need to escape to my room every once in a while.

There is no way I could write in a coffee shop. I'm too aware (and too interested) in what is going on around me. But I do write on planes, or even at airports. At home it has to be in my office, or I'm too distracted. And no music, either.

HANK  PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I am the shyest person you will ever meet. I am so fine by myself, writing at home, it may be where I am the most comfortable. I can write anywhere really. It must be all those years of writing news stories in the midst of fires and in hurricanes and in moving cars and with people yelling. I can just put up a little bubble and become--essentially alone. Except if I'm home writing alone--there cannot be noise. Weird, huh? Music? Impossible. If there are lyrics, I end up focusing on those words instead of my own.

Parties? Yeesh, I am terrified. Conventions, yeesh, I am terrified.  So if you see me at one of those things, come talk to me, okay?

DEBS: Hank, that is so funny. I cannot imagine you as shy!  And while I don't think of myself as shy, I could never get up in front of the camera and do what you do...

So, out of our writer/readers, do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted? And READERS, what's been your personal experience with writers? Do you see writers as outgoing, or as ivory-tower recluses?

P. S. The cocktail parties I very occasionally attend are not nearly as glam as the one in this photo:-) Maybe I don't hang out with the right people?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Food Lovers’ Bookshelf by Leslie Budewitz

LUCY BURDETTE: I got so excited reading this post--Leslie and I have discovered the same thing. The more you write about the food world, the more you want to read about it. But I'll let her tell you what she's found and then pile on with your suggestions, please!

LESLIE BUDEWITZ: In Crime Rib, the second book in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Erin Murphy is rushing to give a new friend a book she borrowed but left behind on the Merc’s stainless steel counter. How can a dedicated foodie like Stacia Duval have never read My Life in France by Julia Child? Erin is delighted that Stacia and her crew are filming the 35th Annual Jewel Bay Summer Food and Art Festival this weekend, and that Stacia is seriously considering chucking TV and moving her family to Jewel Bay. Thrilled, until she finds the woman dead.

Though I’ve long enjoyed perusing cookbooks and sinking my teeth into cozy mysteries with a food theme, I’m a relative newcomer to the foodie bookshelf. But now that I’ve discovered the kitchen memoir and the literary love-letters to all things culinary, I’m hooked. A few recent favs:

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
, by Bob Spitz — I’d read My Life in France, cooked my way (with Mr. Right) through Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom—the simplified version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking,  seen “Julie & Julia” three times, and still relished this biography of the queen of classic French cuisine. Her childhood in a wealthy family in Pasadena didn’t prepare her for much of anything, and she struggled through college and into the work-world, until a job with the State Department during World War II led her to the OSS, postings abroad, and marriage. That led to France, and our tables and tummies are happier for it. Thanks be for good biography, and for the amazing Madame Child.

The food memoir is a travelogue of sorts, transporting us into other cultures and deep into history. In Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love & War, by Annia Ciezadlo, an American journalist marries a Lebanese journalist and travels with him to Beirut, Baghdad, and beyond during the bloody years from 2003 to 2008. While she does report on the war and its consequences, what really fires her up are the meals and rituals, still vibrant despite the traumas, stresses, and shortages. I chose Day of Honey for my book club, and cooked for days: fattoush, or Levantine Bread Salad; kafta, lamb meatballs; yakhnet sbanegh or spinach stew; and Lebanese mighli, a rice pudding flavored with cinnamon, caraway, and fennel, topped with toasted pistachios and coconut flakes. Mail-ordered sumac, a dark red spice with a pungent, lemony taste, and made my own pomegranate molasses by boiling down a bottle of juice. Still my favorite book club gathering—though one of the group members said “good story, but too much food!”

No such thing, in my book.
My mysteries are set in food-related retail shops, not restaurants. But it’s impossible to write about a Food Lovers’ Village or the Pike Place Market (my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in 2015) without including a chef or two. Some live, some die. So I’ve been reading about chefs. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton is gritty, moody, and mouth-watering. On a trip to Italy with her “Italian Italian” husband, she describes the Negroni so deliciously I had to have one—me, who rarely drinks hard liquor, prefers sweet or tangy to bitter,  and had no idea it’s trendy. I loved it.


For each drink:

1-1/2 ounces Campari
1-1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1-1/2 ounces gin
1 orange twist (a strip of peel, at least half an inch wide and 3-4 inches long, twisted to release the oils)

Pour the liquor into an ice-filled rocks glass and add the peel. Best drunk outdoors on a deck overlooking a freshly mowed meadow or water.

Two more to recommend: The Soul of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman. A journalist follows three very different chefs on their paths to the kitchen. And a book I first learned of when the author stopped by JRW: Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas. A food writer and clinical psychologist spends a year and a half writing and cooking in a high-end, high-test Boston restaurant. (PS from Lucy, we had Scott visit us last year to tell us about his book!)

I can’t close without mentioning Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan. Mr. Right and I are Pollan groupies. Cooked explores food through the four elements: earth (fermentation), air (baking), water (boiling), and fire (grilling & braising). (The Chinese add a fifth element, metal, but I digress.) If I weren’t writing mysteries, I’d write nonfiction the way Pollan does, diving into the history of a food, interviewing men and women obsessed with it, and recreating their methods at home. My bread-baking and braises have improved, and my husband is eager to barbecue a pork shoulder on the back deck. (I draw the line at whole hog. We live in grizzly country.) Pollan makes a tasty case for cooking—of course, I’m already hooked. 

Got a favorite kitchen memoir or food-ography?

About Crime Rib:
“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…

Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.

But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”

Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, was published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015.

Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). Read more at her website or like her on Facebook: LeslieBudewitzAuthor

Saturday, June 28, 2014

36 Hours in...Long Pond, Massachusetts

LUCY BURDETTE: I love reading the travel articles in the New York Times where they describe a 36 hour whirlwind visit, usually to a city. But on the other hand, those trips can sound exhausting-- museums, galleries, shopping, walking, fancy drinks at pubs, dinners out...

How about 36 hours of practically nothing?

We experienced something like that earlier this week and it was heaven. Our occasional guest blogger Pat Kennedy and her husband kindly invited us to join them at a cabin on Long Pond in Massachusetts, along with Hallie and her hub. We didn't do too much planning--except for meals, of course. Without further ado, here's 36 Hours in Long Pond, Massachusetts.

Monday, 5 pm: Arrive in time for a glass of rose on the porch, followed by a lobster dinner, courtesy of the Kennedys. (Claws were gone by the time I remembered to snap a picture.)

Can't fit too much more, but I'd brought almond cake with local strawberries and whipped cream. (Recipe here.) Joe shows us how to squeeze that in...

Tuesday, 8 am: So many choices for breakfast the next morning, it's hard to make a selection...

Banana bread, muffins, cherries, homemade granola. (Recipe here.) Have to sample a little of everything....

10 am: Then a walk through the woods to Halfway Pond...

After that, a canoe ride for Tonka, John and me, while the others read the papers.

12 noon: Mimosas before lunch...

12:30: For lunch, Hallie lays out a gorgeous antipasto with charcuterie and fabulous bread, and then we squeeze in more cake...

1:30 Nap time

3 pm: Time for a dip in Long Pond, with Tonka keeping close watch

7 pm: Dinner at Rye Tavern at the Pinehills. Our favorite things on the menu: brussel sprouts with rhubarb rouille and toasted pine nuts (so crispy and salty!)

And clam chowder with bacon mashed potatoes and whole belly fried clams (It didn't photograph perfectly, but the clams are nestled into the mashed potatoes that lapped into the decadent and delicious!)

9:30 pm: Fall in bed with something to read--BIRDS OF PARADISE by Diana Abu-Jaber for me, BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jesse Walter for Joe, the New Yorker for Jerry,  ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1929 for Pat, THE BULLY PULPIT for John, and THE ORPHAN TRAIN for Hallie.

8am: Quick breakfast then back to our breakneck lives

Do you have a great getaway planned this summer, big or small? And for an extra summer treat, I have a copy of Rhys's QUEEN OF HEARTS (due out in August) for one lucky commenter...something to contribute to your little patch of summer heaven...


Friday, June 27, 2014

Our Debut Concerts

LUCY BURDETTE: Loni Emmert asked this question on Facebook last week (thank you Loni!) and I knew we would have fun discussing it here: What was the first concert you ever attended?

And I am chagrined to have to say: The Monkees! (Couldn't it have been something uber-cool like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?) But I was a teenager, madly in love with Micky Dolenz. And tickets to the 1967 Monkees concert in Detroit were what I wanted for my birthday most of all.

Earlier that year, my best friend and I had slaved for hours to make Micky a "party kit" to celebrate his birthday. We'd made crepe paper party hats, and lord knows what other homemade gifts, and packed it off to his fan club address. I did get a signed photo back from the club. But I suspected he was waiting to give me a shout-out from the stage...

I don't remember much about the concert--except that we screamed and screamed. And even though it isn't listed on the set, I'm certain that Davy Jones dropped to one knee and crooned "The day we fall in love." The memory still sets my young-girl heart aquiver…

 HALLIE EPHRON: Mine was pretty amazing. It was at the Hollywood Bowl Sept. 3, 1965, Bob Dylan made his Bowl debut as the opening act for Joan Baez. I was singing folk songs and learning guitar, and I am chagrined to admit that I did not get Dylan, not one bit. (A few years later I saw Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin at the Filmore in SF and was similarly baffled.) 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I have to admit, my first concert was similarly dorky: at the age of fifteen, my best friend and I went to see Barry Manilow when he came to Syracuse. The tickets must have been a present from my parents, as I had spent all my allowance money on Barry Manilow records. Oh, my, how we screamed and sighed. He was so slim and cute and he had the fluffiest, most perfectly-blown-out seventies hair ever.

Most memorable concert? Going to see the Grateful Dead in college and discovering AFTER I had gotten through security that one of my friends had hidden his stash in my purse.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My very first? Well, my father was the music critic for the Chicago Daily news, and when I was pretty young, like, five, he would take me to the symphony. Was I well behaved? I guess so...since he kept taking me. But apparently there was one memorable (for Dad) occasion where I must have been fidgeting  and the man in front of us turned around and said: "Please keep that child quiet."   And it was Yul Brynner!

And I would have loved to see the Monkees! 

But my first real concert as a separate person was the Beatles at the Indianapolis Coliseum, a huge arena usually used for cows. I cried for DAYS. Before, during, and after.

One of the most memorable: some college pals and I sneaked off campus (in Ohio) and drove to Chicago to see Crosby, Still and Nash. They sang for a while, and it was great..and then they said: we'd like to introduce you to another guy who sings with us sometimes. And out came Neil Young!
And then they sang Suite Judy Blue Eyes...and out came Judy Collins!

And all the while, my parents thought I was in class.

RHYS BOWEN: My first concert on my own was when my friend and I went to see the Rolling Stones. It was in a not too impressive hall, so they can't have been that well established, and the group that opened for them--well, they were terrible. It was Tom Jones and I believe they were called The Squires. I was amazed when he became a star later, but I have to admit he did improve with time.

But other types of concerts--my aunt was a huge theater buff and took me to opera, musicals etc when I was quite young. I saw Rigoletto at twelve and cried my eyes out because it was so sad.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My first concert WAS the Beatles--on their first US tour in 1963, at the Dallas Convention Center, with my best friend, Franny, and a bunch of other girls from our 6th grade class. I have no idea now how we got tickets, or whose parents took us (certainly not mine...) We were on the 12th row, center. Could we see anything? NO. Everyone stood on their chairs, and I was short. Hear anything? NO. Non-stop screaming from the minute they took the stage until the end of the concert. Still, it was something never to be forgotten. Now I think, poor guys, having to play city after city to a bunch of hysterical screaming girls... No wonder they got tired of it.

Most memorable concerts from the last few years? The Police reunion tour. And Paul McCartney, a couple of years ago. Dallas was the last stop on his tour, and you could tell when he walked out on the stage that he was exhausted. But then the audience started cheering and clapping, and you could just see him taking in all that love and energy, absorbing it. He played his heart out for three hours--three hours!!-- and every second was fabulous. Still gives me chills just thinking about it.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: OMG, Debs, the Beatles? Wow. <fans self> OK, I think my first concert was Sonny and Cher.
(No, I'm not joking. I was fairly young.) The most memorable is a toss-up between two. First is opera singer Leontyne Price at Artpark (outside on a perfect summer night under the stars — she finished with Gershwin's "Summertime"). And also Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour. (Anyone remember that? It was the one made infamous by the Gaultier cone bra.) It was amazing and life-changing. (Seriously. I'm being serious here, folks. I think Madonna is a fabulous performance artist. Seriously.)

Reds, do you remember your first concert? Are you willing to tell us about it?? 

And just for fun, here's Kaye Barley's Memory Quilt, made from the concert t-shirts she scored over the years!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

You Know it When You Hear It

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  How often have you discussed it with your fellow writers--at dinner, or at a convention, or (maybe more likely) at the bar after a day of panels and interviews and classes? “Voice,” someone says. "What is that, exactly?" And everyone looks at each other and then someone says:
“Well you know it when you read it.”
“Voice” (just thinking out loud here) is not only the voice of the characters and the words in their dialogue. We can all demonstrate Eeyore, of course. And Holden Caulfield. Scarlett O’Hara. Kinsey Millhone. Amy in Gone Girl. Andy in Defending Jacob. But “voice” is in every cell of the writer’s words. You can tell a Julia book from a Hank book, Hallie’s from Roberta’s,  Rhys from Debs and Susan. It’s how the book IS, how the sentences come out, the vocabulary choice, and tone and the rhythm and the music.
And now I’m thinking, well, you know it when you read it.
Which brings up Rachel Howzell Hall.  See if you agree.

Mad Writing

It takes balls to write a crime novel – a different set, though, from the ones needed by real heroes, like cops and firemen, soldiers and teachers. Ninety-thousand words all dedicated to a make-believe world with characters who don’t exist saying things that come from nowhere and it’s all so clean and funny and la-la-la.

Except, for me, sometimes it’s not so clean and so funny. For me, it’s more, ‘What the hell?’ than la-la-la.

That’s because I write mad.

Sometimes, on days when I don’t feel like heavy lifting, I wish I could pick a topic, any topic, to write about. A story about X meets Y and then they Q. Fin.

But I want to persuade you. Convince you. Get you mad, too —at the characters, at the situation, at the similarities between real and imagined. And in order to convince you, I need to believe. I need to feel.

Ninety-thousand words. That’s a lot. And it takes nine months for me to finish a story. That’s a lot of time. And because of this ridiculous commitment, I need to push into the light those issues that tick me off so that Lou Norton, my LAPD homicide detective, can confront them. Right those wrongs. Point out the elephant in the room and hang curtains on its trunk.

So how do I find wrongs to right and elephants to decorate? Just by taking a look around. Unfortunately. Violence against women will, alas, propel me through at least 600 books because it never seems to abate. More women are murdered each year. More women are raped. More girls are snatched off the streets. Girls can’t walk on the sidewalk without cars slowly rolling past them. Girls don’t go off alone and must always travel in groups when vacationing in Aruba or Cancun or the cantina around the corner.

More. Don’t. Can’t. More. Don’t. Can’t.
It breaks me sometimes to see ‘more women…’ and ‘women can’t…’ especially as a mom to a ten-year old daughter. But I, too, indoctrinate her. Don’t talk to strangers. You can’t wear that skirt without shorts underneath. Don’t wander off on field trips.


Enter Lou Norton, my heroine in LAND OF SHADOWS. In this story, she’s confronted with the disappearance of her missing sister and dealing with the murder of a girl who mirrors that missing sister. Identity, sexuality, loss—a lot there that moves me to write. Who are girls and women supposed to be? What is expected of us? What happens when we ‘stray’ from the so-called virtuous path? Even as a law enforcement officer, Lou is Woman and therefore, subject to the “More. Don’t. Can’t.” rules in life. And she sees first-hand what happens to girls and young women when they don’t heed “More. Don’t. Can’t.” She tries to right wrongs but in a city of 9.9 million, there are so many wrongs.

What propels you to the end of a story? 

HANK:  See? Voice. So do you write mad? Or happy? Or suspicious? And what voice would you always recognize? LAND OF SHADOWS to one lucky commenter!   (And does she have a terrific website, or what?)

RACHEL HOWZELL HALL is a writer/assistant development director at City of Hope, a national leader in cancer research and treatment. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. 

Along the ever changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, seventeen year old Monique Darson is found dead at a condominium construction site, hanging in the closet of an unfinished unit. Homicide detective Elouise "Lou" Norton's new partner, Colin Taggert, fresh from the comparatively bucolic Colorado Springs police department, assumes it's a teenage suicide. Lou isn't buying the easy explanation.

For one thing, the condo site is owned by Napoleon Crase, a self made millionaire. . .and the man who may have murdered Lou's missing sister, Tori, thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. But her department is skeptical. Lou is convinced that when she solves Monique's case she will finally bring her lost sister home. But as she gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to a violent killer. After all this time, can he be brought to justice... before Lou becomes his next victim

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fictional Feasts

***Breaking news: Pat D is the winner of Edith Maxwell's book. Please contact her at Edithmax at gmail dot com to claim your prize!***

LUCY BURDETTE: I've got food on the brain lately, but what else is new? Especially after Rhys had us describing our favorite meals last week. Besides that, it's an occupational hazard of writing foodie mysteries, as you saw yesterday from Edith's post. And you'll see again on Sunday, when Leslie Budewitz visits to talk about her recent obsession with food-related memoirs.

But I realized as I cracked open Ruth Reichl's first novel, Delicious!, that I've always loved reading about food in fiction. Maybe it started consciously with Diane Mott Davidson's series about a Boulder caterer who can't help solving mysteries as she cooks. Davidson didn't just dump descriptions onto the pages, food works hard as part of her story. Here she is at the beginning of Catering to Nobody:

   "For the dessert shortcakes, I used an old trick: make giant scones. Another thing I'd learned in this business: involve the clients with the food. Make the spread good to look at, smell, touch, taste. Gauge action by needs. At a bridal shower, don't give the guests much to do with the food since they're already involved with the presents. But keeping people active at a wake was essential. Being busy, like working, allayed grief. By splitting cakes and heaping on berries and cream, the mourners could start to get their minds off death."

    Barbara O'Neal is another novelist who shows genius about writing food. Near the beginning of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, her chef character has just been fired by her lover/boss. She's been invited to breakfast by a handsome restaurant owner who's offered her a job. Where do you suppose this is heading:

"Elena speared a vivid red strawberry, a fruit at its prime, and fell into admiring it. The smooth red flesh, quilted with the tiniest seeds. It tasted slightly grainy, imbued with the sunlight of a summer morning. "Mmmm." She stabbed another and held it out to Julian. "Have a taste."

    Oh, there are so many other meals I've enjoyed on the page--have you read Jessica Sofer's Tomorrow There Will be Apricots? Or Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent? Or Jenny Shortridge's Eating Heaven? Or Erica Baumeister's The School of Essential Ingredients? Or Meredith Mileti's Aftertaste? Or Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of the Lemon Cake? I can't even begin to list all the fun culinary mysteries being written right now, but you'll find some wonderful choices at

    Reds, is there a special fictional meal that lingers on your palate? Or a foodie novel we must add to our pile? Or do all these calories on the page leave you cold?

(And by way, here's my favorite recipe for strawberry shortcake--obviously I've got that dish on the brain!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Unsettling of a Mystery Writer @EdithMaxwell

JRW: A big farmgirl welcome today to our good friend, Edith Maxwell! She's had such interesting past lives--you'll love reading about how she's woven these experiences into her mysteries...
 EDITH MAXWELL: I’m delighted to be back on my favorite blog as a guest. Since I left my day job as a technical writer a year ago, I’ve been spending much more time with my characters and my stories. This is a good thing! I’m writing constantly and living my dream. There is a down side, however. Life just isn’t the same anymore.  

When I was an organic farmer twenty years ago and turned the compost pile, it didn’t occur to me to worry about whether a body part might surface in it. But now, what if I uncovered a foot in there among the decomposing leaves, coffee grounds, and broccoli being broken down by soil micro organisms and worms? I wonder what I’d do. Run screaming, most likely. But maybe I’d snag a second careful look and take notes. Or throw up.

Back on the farm I spent long hours in every imaginable kind of weather. I knelt to press a thousand cloves of garlic into long beds of compost. I hoed out weed after weed and then hilled up the clear soil onto the potato stalks. I harvested quarts of blueberries into a bucket slung around my neck, snapped off pounds of asparagus, cut perfect heads of lettuce well into the fall. I never imagined a killer lurking in the woods just beyond my fields.

Now, though – without a moment’s hesitation I can conjure up all kinds of mayhem on the farm, even in my small home garden. And it’s quite unsettling. I met some pigs recently at the organic farm where my son works. They’re funny and make goofy noises, and made me laugh as they poked their snouts into the dirt to get grubs or dug into some kitchen scraps. I happen to know, however, that if they were hungry, from either temporary or long-term malnourishment, I would not want to be helpless in their pen with skin exposed. You wouldn’t either. 

And then you have your basic haystack. The old fashioned ones built on a platform in the salt marsh, like still exist in Newbury, Massachusetts. Or the new ones, with the hay rolled tight into a six-foot wide cylinder and then wrapped in white or pink plastic. They look like a good place to hide a body. And what about the classic New England barn, with all manner of old horse stalls and hay lofts? Just think what you could hide up there, or find, when you least expected it. 

Even local chickens, those sweet, tiny-brained, personality-laden birds that give us rich delicious breakfasts and tasty winter stews – that tiny brain can do some serious pecking. Chickens have been known to peck at their owner’s eyes. What if a victim was unconscious and trapped with an attack rooster? Or the hens had been fed a plant that made the eggs poisonous, or their meat? You get my drift.

I’ll keep writing about murder and mayhem down on the farm, but I’m a lot more wary when I’m strolling around one of the many local farms in my area.

And you, dear Reds and Reds-fans? Do you see murderous possibilities where others don’t? What kind of mayhem do you imagine lurks at your local farm, farm stand, or farmers’ market? Or have you heard of actual locally sourced murder on a farm? (Edith will be giving away a copy of 'Til Dirt Do Us Part to one commenter today...)

The produce is local--and so is the crime--when long-simmering tensions lead to murder following a festive dinner on Cam Flaherty's organic farm. It'll take a sleuth who knows the lay of the land to catch this killer. But no one ever said Cam wasn't willing to get her hands dirty...
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing), the Speaking of Mystery series under the pseudonym Tace Baker, featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau (Barking Rain Press), and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction.

A mother, world traveler, and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the Wicked Cozy Authors. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @edithmaxwell

Monday, June 23, 2014

On Being Sick

LUCY BURDETTE: Over the past few weeks, most of the Reds have been struck with some kind of summer plague. Vicious head colds, fierce flus, brutal bronchitis, stomach ailments, even pneumonia. 

As I was lying on the couch snuffling and sneezing and watching Orange is the New Black instead of working on my book, it occurred to me again how much I hate being sick. Think of it. Supposing you have one cold per year over 80 years. Supposing you feel lousy for five days running during each cold. 80×5 = 400 lost days! And that's just one stinking cold.

Which brings me to a related subject. How do you feel about people going out when they're sick? Or you going out for that matter. Are you the kind of person who searches your memory for the vector of the virus as soon as you come down with it? Who was coughing at the dinner party? Who was snuffling at the theater? Who was hacking on the airplane? On our vacation, a couple of our fellow tourists developed horrible flus--this being Japan, they were given masks to wear as a courtesy. As the trip progressed, I could hear the cough spreading through the other vacationers. Not much could be done about it in this case, as we were all on a boat. But I had my hand sanitizer working overtime...

Should you stay home when you're sick? What if it's a special occasion like a wedding or a vacation?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm always saying--I can't be sick, I cannot be sick! I duck and cover when someone coughs around me, or has runny poor Jonathan had an eye thing which I decided (after my many years of medical school) must be contagious, so I didn't even hug him, and made sure our pillows didn't touch. Poor man, Turned out it was not contagious.


When people come to work sick it drives me crazy. I understand the problems, I do, but it is so rude to subject everyone to those germs.  Last time I was on the train, there was a VERY sick person, and I'm not going to describe it, just imagine. And it was the quiet car. So anyway, moving along, the woman next to me in the train (a stranger!) and I spoke in hushed tones about our shared fear he had norovirus, and proceeded to essentially pour Purell on ourselves.
So I say--if you can--stay home! Nothing more frustrating and disturbing that sitting by a person who is snuffling.
(And whatever you do, do NOT check it out your symptoms on WebMD. It is always fatal.)

LUCY:  Ha, ha, Hank. John turned up with spots all over his body last winter. After looking online, we were CONVINCED it was deadly Dengue Fever. (Turned out to be reaction to sulfa drug.)
HALLIE EPHRON: I was down with a mean flu, REALLY down for 2 weeks. Every joint ached. Fever spiked. No choice -- I was not doing anything but lying in bed and moaning. Then 2 more weeks of feeling just so-so before finally feeling normal. (And YES, as everyone asks me, I DID get a flu shot last fall.)

I sympathize with anyone who ends up with getting sick when they have to fly somewhere. I mean, sometimes you've just got to mainline cough suppressant and go. But when it's optional then I say stay away, and ask to wear a mask

while you're in the doctor's waiting area. And heaven help you if you happen to get sick on book tour. I mean what DO you do then?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Hallie, I did get really sick! And not just on any book tour, but on book tour in Germany. I woke up in London on the morning I was due to fly to Munich to start the tour with a RAGING sore throat--the kind that will not let you tell yourself it's allergy, or post-nasal drip... By the time I got to Munich it was clear I had the flu. But I was booked in four cities, and it wasn't just me, but my publicist, a media personality, and a famous German actress who was doing readings from my book in German.  And all the events were ticket-only and sold out. So you just keep going. As soon as we checked into a hotel in a new city, my lovely publicist, Katrin, would take me to the nearest pharmacy for every cold and flu remedy we could buy. By the fourth city, I couldn't talk. And I did sign books for people, and felt terrible about spreading my germs, but had no choice. Washed hands until they almost fell off.

But under ordinary circumstances, I wish people would STAY HOME.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Ditto to the request that people stay home from work. I always point out to Ross that going in is counterproductive anyways - I'm convinced a good day's bedrest knocks a day or more off the cold's lifespan. If I have to go, say to a wedding or a book appearance, I try to medicate my more obnoxious symptoms and avoid touching anyone. I got a great idea from a very stylish mother-daughter pair who go to our church: when the dreadful swine flu was going around a few years back, they started showing up in adorable little gloves, the kind every woman wore in the fifties. They looked stylish (instead of paranoid) and they never got sick with anything that winter! Bring back indoor gloves!

What say you Red Readers? Douse yourself in Purell? Stay home all season? Take up Julia's new fashion statement?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Life's Little Mysteries

RHYS:  Hank reminded me the other day that Mercury is in Retrograde. One should expect little annoying things to go wrong.


Since we’ve just had a lovely period of smooth sailing on a cruise and then in France and now at my sister-in-law's wonderful manor house in Cornwall, I feel totally relaxed and at peace with the wrld. So it felt like the right sort of time to ponder on some of life’s baffling little mysterious annoyances.


For example:


1. When I try to diet, why does the weight disappear instantly from my boobs and not budge from my belly?


2.When I try to do a pedicure myself why does it look as if my foot has been run over by a large truck, rather than the delicate red painted nails of the professional pedi?



3. Why does toast always fall jelly side down?


4. Why does the line I choose at the bank always contain one person who wants to send money to Peru (in pesus) or who wants to find out whether he actually closed an account twenty years ago and whether there really are fifty dollars still in it.


5 Why does my computer work fine until I am told to install updates, then it starts giving me all kinds of problems?


6. And speaking of computers—why is it when you're in a hurry, that's when screen says instaling upgrade 1 of 18,698?


7. Why is it that the moment they hand me a coffee on an airplane we hit turbulence?


8: Why is it if I wear white I always spill something on it?


9: Why is it that I only go out once a month and if I schedule a theater I get two other invites for the same evening?


10 And lastly an author’s puzzlement… why is it, if I come up with a brilliant idea, several other writers come out with books on the same subject before I can write it?


So Reds and Readers: do share your personal annoyances, and in case you think I’m a whiner, I’m really not. I am quite aware of my blessings and good fortune. This whole list was sparked by dieting, then looking in the mirror!