LUCY BURDETTE: First, just a reminder--our JRW Bel Canto book club day is January 18, so you still have time to read!
Now on to today's main event: You got a taste of our new Reds yesterday. But we are so lucky because both Jenn and Ingrid have new releases in January! ASSAULT AND BERET, the fifth installment in Jenn's totally charming London hat shop mystery series, is out TODAY.
And now I have a little confession: When I come back for my next life, I'd like to try being Jenn please. You'll see as you get to know her that not only is she a wonderful, funny writer, she is cool. And tall. (One example: She plays volleyball on a coed team with her hub. Me? I got a D in volleyball in high school, which had partly to do with a serve as weak as a kitten and partly to do with not even being able to reach the bottom of the net.) As I told the other Reds when we were waiting for her to say yes, she writes the best letters to readers of any authors I've seen. (So go sign up!) And I'm crazy about this hat shop series, so with no more ado--here's our Jenn...
JENN MCKINLAY: When I started writing, I was pretty sure getting published was the biggest challenge I would face, like climbing Mount Everest in a bikini and snowshoes challenging. I mean, seriously, that endeavor took years to accomplish and there were times that dying of hypothermia and exposure would have been preferable. So I figured nothing could be as soul crushing as trying to sell that first book, right? Yeah, no, the getting published part is just the first level in the quest. Who knew?
What else could possibly be that hard? I'm so glad you asked. For me, it was having a super terrific idea for a book, which just happened to be set in a place I'd never been. In this case -- Paris! After all, who doesn't love Paris? Apparently, terrorists. My research trip was set to happen just after the bombings. Because I was planning to bring my sons, my husband and I had to have a real sit down chat about the temperament of the world and whether it was worth the risk to travel to a place that was suffering repeated terrorist attacks. After some rough language directed at people who blow things up and destroy innocent lives, I agreed that the trip would have to wait. Still, I was on deadline.
Now the only reason I wasn't found curled up in a fetal position, sobbing into the raspberry beret I'd bought in anticipation of my trip was the fact that I had been in this spot before. When I sold CLOCHE AND DAGGER, the first book in the London Hat Shop series, I hadn't been to London and I couldn't wedge in a trip before the book was due. Copious amounts of research were required and when I tossed the manuscript at two writers I greatly admired, who knew London better than I ever would, I held my breath until they weighed in with a thumbs up. Thank you, Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie! Little did I know then that I would be blogging with them as a Red now. Crazy, huh?
So, how did I manage to write so concisely about a place I'd never been? Well, the long story is that I always knew I wanted to be a writer so it seemed to me that working with books was the proper way to earn a living while tapping away at stories in my off time. Thus, I studied library science and began a career working in a variety of libraries from private to public to academic. It honed my research skills and proved to be an excellent kick in the pants as every time the new fiction came in, I was duly motivated to become a member of the published author club. So much like the first London book, when I realized I was going to have to write about Paris without having the luxury of walking the Rue Montorgueil (or any rue for that matter), riding the Metro, or enjoying a charcuterie in an actual French bistro, well, I had to roll up my sleeves and figure out how to write about the very experiences I was being denied. In other words, I was going to have to fake it until I make it.
Here's the nitty gritty for any would be researchers: First, I jumped onto Google Earth. Hours were spent walking the streets of Paris, virtually, scanning back and forth to see where Metro stops were located and what platforms looked like, the style of buildings in the neighborhoods I was writing about and on and on and on. Then I went onto Youtube and rode the Metro via videos shot by others (manspreading is a thing even in Europe, FYI) and then it was off to the Louvre with Rick Steves for an informative tour, which included a bit about how to skip the lines. While reading travel blogs galore, I found an even better way which I included in the book. A visit to the library I used to work for - Phoenix Public - and I was loaded down with books about Paris and I took an afternoon to study several in house only French magazines like Paris Match so that I could accurately write about the current fashions. When I wanted to describe meals in Paris, I went onto Trip Advisor and looked up the reviews of various restaurants. People are amazingly detailed in their descriptions of food - thank goodness! With all of that framework, I was then able to unleash my imagination and write ASSAULT AND BERET, which comes out today!
Now when I do get to Paris, just as I visited London after the first book in the series was out, I will have an itinerary which includes all of the best restaurants and tourist shortcuts, without the added struggle of solving a murder case like my amateur sleuths. This book, the fifth title in the London Hat Shop mysteries, finds London milliner Vivian Tremont and her American cousin and partner, Scarlett Parker, tipping their caps to their beloved shop on Portobello Road in Notting Hill and setting off for Paris, where Viv can’t wait to teach a hat-making class. But she has another reason to travel to the City of Light: to find the man she impulsively eloped with years ago and have their marriage annulled.
William Graham is not only handsome and charming, but he also has a glamorous job as an insurance investigator who works with priceless pieces of art, most recently a small Renoir that has been discovered in a junk shop. But when both Will and the masterpiece suddenly disappear, it’s up to the ladies from London to follow the trail of clues. They’ll need to hold on to their chapeaux, however, because someone is a master in the art of deception...
So, how about you? What have you had to do in your to life to fake it until you make it?