Friday, October 19, 2018

THE DEBATE: IS A SHORT STORY TRULY HARDER TO WRITE THAN A NOVEL? by Gigi Pandian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

Connect with Gigi on her website [http://gigipandian.com/] Facebook[https://www.facebook.com/GigiPandian/]
Instagram[https://www.instagram.com/gigipandian/]
And via her email newsletter[http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Knitting Up a Narrative by Nancy Warren

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

THE WHOLE CREW!

Other speakers included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Let's Talk About TED: An Incredible Experience! Part 1



JENN McKINLAY: Finding Your Authentic Author Voice


JENN: Sometimes life sends events or opportunities your way that are completely unexpected. This would be me and TED. My friend, Terry, contacted me a few days before the deadline for applications for the  Phoenix TEDx talks and said, "You're a good public speaker. You have to apply." 



The app was due in days. I had a lot on my plate, but I thought I might learn something from the TED people in the process that would be worth my time. I was certain there was no way I would be chosen as the theme was "Voices" and I didn't feel I had anything to say about that. Still I applied, was asked to audition, sweated out a short speech, and -- fast forward a couple of months -- I was stunned to be one of fifteen finalists out of the hundreds who'd applied. So, this TED thing was going to happen! 

Suddenly, something I had been rather half assed about was now a big freaking deal. I had seen TED talks - Ideas Worth Spreading! - and had been inspired and awed by many. Public speaking has never bothered me...until TED. My discomfort was great. My biggest concern was whether my content was worthy. Was my topic "Finding Your Authentic Author Voice" an idea worth spreading?

My first run at my TED talk came out very impersonal. It was more a short list of the things I'd learned (mostly by failure) while finding my authentic author voice. There wasn't much of me, of my personal story, in the talk. The TED committee wanted me to dig deeper. This is not easy for me as I'm a child of the eighties and being a latchkey kid raised on after school sitcoms, I can't have a problem that lasts more than twenty two and a half minutes because I run out of coping skills at the twenty three minute mark. Needless to say, introspection is not really my thing. But I tried. I dug deeper, opened doors in my life I generally prefer to leave closed, and "put myself out there". It was exhausting but I used my sense of humor to make it easier and I managed to craft a talk that was personal but also, dare I say, authentic.
The oh so intimidating TED circle.
We were each allotted a specific amount of time for our talk. My talk was to be twelve minutes. This was stressful because I am a talkoholic and could have prattled on for hours if left to my own devices. I started recording my talk, trying to memorize the important parts. I never managed that, and it came out different every single time. Sometimes it was fourteen minutes. Ack! And sometimes it was a pitiful ten. Oy! On my dress rehearsal, I came up short because I forgot big chunks. Gah! Also, I like to pace when I talk, but TED needs you to stay on or near the red circle. Practice, practice, practice. Argh!

While I don't suppose I'll know for sure how it turned out until TEDx posts the video (it'll be online at TEDx and on my webpage in a few weeks), the audience that day was very enthusiastic, and I appreciate their positive response more than I can say.

But the biggest bonus gift, aside from the personal growth and development, was my fellow speakers. We were an eclectic assortment of folks from all walks of life and, honestly, by the time we got through the TED workshops, practice sessions, rehearsals and final, I felt more bonded to these people, complete strangers, than I ever could have imagined. It was as if we'd all linked arms and walked through fire together. So, here is a nod to my fellow speakers and I hope you'll check them out, too, when #TEDxSouthMountainCommunityLibrary videos are posted to TEDx.

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing more about the speakers in part two of my Let's Talk About TED: An Incredible Experience! But for now, here are some pictures of these amazing people, who awed, inspired, and wowed me.





I adore these people and am so proud of all of us for the support and encouragement we found in each other in what was a singular experience of sharing our most vulnerable selves.

What about you, Reds and Readers? Do you enjoy public speaking or is it worse than flying or death for you?













Monday, October 15, 2018

'Til Death Us Do Part: The Reds and Houseplants

JENN McKINLAY: I’m a killer…of house plants or as I call them “soon to be deads”. For the past few years, I have tried to up my house plant game. It’s a traumatic experience, mostly for the plants, because I have a real hit or miss with growing things in pots. For some reason, if I stick a twig in the ground outside, it’ll grow like gangbusters. My peach tree is mental and annually produces hundreds of peaches, but if I put a plant in a pot inside, it's suddenly on borrowed time. 
I try everything, regular watering, decent light, spritzing with a fine mist, but some plants just shrivel up and die while others bust out of their pots and require a bigger home, like a hermit crab looking for a new shell. I have yet to figure out what I’m doing wrong or right, but I am determined to keep trying. My sister-in-law Natalie can grow anything in a pot or in the ground. She inspires me (with envy) every time I visit her magical gardens.


My sister-in-law Natalie's Christmas Cactus

My Christmas Cactus
How about you, Reds? What's your houseplant damage?

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm pretty good with houseplants, but my philosophy is, if they don't thrive, they're compost. Hey, it just wasn't meant to be. What I have to be careful about is overwatering. And at the first sign of scale, OUT. I'm hit and miss with orchids. 

My daughter will be moving soon into an apartment where she wants plants, so I've been propagating mine. Here's the two plants I started for her. A begonia Rex that I started from cutting from a plant that was started from a cutting of a friend's plant. And an African violet started similarly, from a cutting from a plant that started as a cutting. 


Propagating Hallie!

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm pretty good with houseplants too. And here's my tip--don't overdo anything, especially water. And don't be afraid to give them a haircut. I had a gorgeous rosemary plant that began to die off, leaving only one little stalk green. A friend advised me to cut everything else off and we did. Here's what it looks like now--happy as a clam in silt. Hallie, I want an African violet slip next spring, ok?


Lucy's Rosemary

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Dead dead dead. Dead. I should learn from the reality that the only ones that live are the ones I don't care about . so ignoring them seems to be the key. I had a truly ugly poinsettia that I got free from the grocery that lived for THREE YEARS.  But! I have one success, and that is this African Violet that Rosann Coleman (Reed Farrel Coleman's wife) gave me as a house gift. It has bloomed several times a year for four years, and it is so happy!  (For whatever mysterious reason.)My orchids live, because I give them four ice cubes a week, if I remember. But I am better with cut flowers. I really take care of them, and no pressure, because they will inevitably die no matter what I do. SO basically? Unless someone gives me a plant, forget about it.  


Hank's Violet

DEBORAH CROMBIE: This is something I don't have to worry about too much, because I have a plant-eating cat. The only things I can have are orchids, which seem to do pretty well and do not tempt the cat, and the Boston ferns I bring in from outside and hang in the sun porch for the winter. Usually when the ferns go back outside in the spring, I buy new ones for the sun porch so that the room doesn't seem so bare, but this year they were horrible and I gave up on them after a couple of months. And, yes, the cat eats any fallen fern leaves, too. And barfs.


Deb's Ferns!

INGRID THOFT: Hank, I think your African Violet is so happy because it’s from Rosanne!  Of course, it blooms!  I have a pretty good track record with indoor plants with the exception of one.  This plant (and truth be told, I don’t know what is is) has been battling an infestation of white, gunky stuff for some time.  I treat it with insecticidal soap, and it still isn’t happy.  Luckily, it has kept its condition to itself, but I fear it will jump to the healthy plants.  One of my favorite things about indoor plants?  Shopping for beautiful pots to put them in!

RHYS BOWEN: I think I'm okay with house plants or would be if I was home for a nice long stretch. But alas I move between California and Arizona and spend time in Europe in the summer, not to mention book events, conventions etc. I leave some house plants with my daughters, who kill them or like them and forget to return them. A few small favorites get transported with me between houses. If I'm gone more than three days forget it... that's what John does. Forget to water plants. I've never kept an orchid alive to bloom again, but I can just manage African violets.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's a funny thing. I never used to be able to keep house plants alive. The only living plants we had were a Christmas cactus that Ross took care of and a couple friendship plants that are pretty much impossible to kill.

Then Ross passed away, and suddenly I had a green thumb.

I have geraniums that have survived and flourished. Begonia and impatiens that were only supposed to be porch plants for the season. Succulents and philodendron that multiply. The Smithie has a theory: she thinks I have an absolute limit on nurturing, and husband, three kids, two dogs and two cats used it all up. Now I'm taking care of fewer of them, I have more mojo for the plants. I dunno, she may be on to something.

JENN: I was catching up to the rebooted Murphy Brown (I love that show then and now) and she was talking about taking up gardening in retirement but "It wouldn't be fair to the plants". I hear you, Murph. LOL!

Okay, Readers, tell us your secrets, successes and failures with houseplants? All tips, tricks, and advice welcome!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Reds Take the Stage

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The Jungle Reds matched their wits against Sherlock Holmes...and lost, since I don't think any of us anticipated the twists and turns of Sherlock's Last Case at Boston's Huntington Theatre.

Sherlock (Rufus Collins), Dr. Watson (Mark Zeisler) & Lestrade (Malcolm Ingram) 



 We were thrilled to take the stage. although we didn't get to sit in the gorgeous Victorian furniture.


Liza Moriarty (Antoinette Robinson), Sherlock (Rufus Collins) The costumes were so authentically late 19th century, they could have come out of a museum.



Our outfits were genuine 21st century Red. Note the pashminas!

The stage was amazingly detailed. The desk at center back stage was covered by actual, handwritten letters and postcards.
 
 It was very hard not to touch anything! But we were good.
 
 Mrs. Hudson (Jane Ridley) & Dr. Watson (Mark Zeisler)
 
 We talked about Golden Age detective stories versus modern crime fiction, characterization, exposition and reader expectations.
 The world's longest-running bromance, Holmes and Watson.


 We fielded loads of questions from the audience as we all tried to decide if we had seen a classic puzzle mystery, or a more modern psychological character study.

Meanwhile, in San Diego:
 Rhys & Charlaine Harris were cutting it up at Mysterious Galaxy!


 You have another chance to see Sherlock's Last Case and chat with mystery writers! On October 21, after the 2pm matinee, the Wicked Cozy Authors - Liz Mugavero, Jessie Crockett, Sherry Harris, Julie Henrikus, Edith Maxwell and Barb Ross - will be leading another discussion and will be available to sign books afterwards! I can't think of a better place to be on a chilly New England October day.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Night After-Theatre Supper

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Usually, we do recipes on Sundays here at JRW, since that's the day where most people a) have the time to dabble in something new or b) need a recipe to get dinner started right now because you have to watch Dr. Who/help the kids complete a project they've just sprung on you/jumpstart that plan for total domination of your office.
 

However, this Saturday, most of the Reds are offline and unavailable, so a recipe that doesn't require much conversation on the back blog is just the ticket. What's going on, you ask?


Well, on the east coast, Lucy, Hallie, Hank and I are attending the 2pm performance of SHERLOCK HOLMES' LAST CASE at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. Afterwards, we're doing a roundtable discussion on mystery writing of yesterday and today. Tickets are still available, and you get $10 off with code JRW, so if you're near Beantown, come by and join us!


On the west coast, Rhys Bowen and Charlaine Harris will be speaking at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego at 3pm, an event sponsored by the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime. The event is free and open to the public AND they're serving nibbles and sweet tea, which is pretty hard to say no to.


If you want to see Ingrid or Jenn, you'll need to travel to Seattle or Phoenix and stalk them. Sorry.


So what are we making today? This is a new dish for me, based on a couple recipes I found Googling chicken + delicata squash, which I had received in my CSA box and had no idea what to do with. I wound up making a delicious curry with one chicken breast, but you could substitute already-cooked meat from a roast bird and it would be just as good. I served it on pearl couscous, but it would work equally as well with rice or quinoa.



Chicken and delicata squash curry - serves 4 or 2 with leftovers

1 chicken breast (or 1 - 2 cups leftover chicken meat) diced
1/2 delicata squash, cut lengthwise and seeds scooped out, then cubed. Leave the skin on! (It freaked me out to do this, but it turns out fine.)
1 onion, diced (I had several stalks of green onion I wanted to use up and put that in, finely chopped, instead )
3 cloves minced garlic or 2 t pre-minced garlic
2 t ginger
2 t curry
1 t cumin
2 - 3 c leafy greens, torn or chopped. I used kale (ubiquitous) but you could add spinach, beet or turnip greens, etc.
1 c chicken broth, enough to cover squash and veggies 
1 can cream of - soup. I used cream of celery to mix it up, but mushroom or chicken would be great as well
oil for sauteeing 

Heat the oil in a skillet on high heat. Add the garlic and the diced chicken breast, stir quickly. Add 1 t ginger and 1 t curry, stirring on high heat until the meat is cooked through.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. Add more oil if needed, then put in diced onions, cubed squash, and the remaining spices. Stir fry until the onion is limp, then add greens and cook for another five minutes. 

Pour in enough chicken broth to just cover the veggies, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender. Return the chicken to the skillet and stir in one can cream of something soup. Taste and adjust seasonings - remember, I don't use salt when cooking, so you might miss that.

Serve over the aforementioned rice or couscous. You can fancy it up with pita bread and cucumber-yogurt salad, but it's a meal in and of itself. It holds well in the frig if you're headed out to the show, and it tastes even better the next day.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Think Good Thoughts

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm on a bit of a news fast again, as I found myself flipping past the New York Times and saying "Lalala I can't hear you!" when NPR came on. I've also decided to try to be more positive about the small things in my life, and to practice gratitude. Mindfully, since that's the word these days, although really, what's the alternative? Distractedly? Unconsciously? Any way, here's what I'm thankful for:

Taking my bra off in the evening. I don't care how generously endowed or not you are, this is the best part of every day. Ahhhh. If men had to hook themselves into contraptions of metal, elastic and lace, they'd be even grumpier than they are.

The onset of cold weather (after a weird 36-hour detour into summer up here in New England.) I love the cool weather of October - it's nippy enough to luxuriate in wool sweaters and savor mugs of hot cocoa, but not so hot that I need to lug wood upstairs every day to keep the wood stoves constantly stoked.  Related gratitude for: stews, squash soup and apple cider.

Speaking of food stuff, I'm grateful for my community support agriculture share. I love driving out to Bumbleroot Farm every Wednesday and returning with a sack full of interesting organic veggies and a gorgeous bouquet. I'm going to be sad when it ends right before Thanksgiving, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to revert to my standbys and eat nothing but butternut squash and frozen peas all winter long.

I'm so thankful for my local library for keeping me from spending my mortgage payment money on books. I've recently read Vox, by Christina Dalcher, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and Only Beloved by Mary Balogh. (That's dystopia, space opera and Regency romance, if you're keeping track. Yes, I'm avoiding mysteries. Why? Because I feel guilty about not finishing my own!)

Ugh, now I'm off track. What else am I grateful for? Ah.  I'm happy that now I'm post-menopausal, I'm not growing hair anyplace any more and can go for weeks between shaving my legs. Freedom! I'm even more grateful I'm not like a friend of mine who got more hirsute after the change and now has a standing appointment with an aesthetician to have hairs violently removed from her upper lip.

I'm grateful I found a forever home for Frank the Foster Dog. If you've been following me on Twitter or my Facebook, you will recall I wound up fostering a Wheaton Terrier despite my stated intention of adopting a dog-free lifestyle. After two months that involved a LOT of barking and several meet and greets that come to nothing, we found a wonderful young family with two little boys that love Frank and his little quirks (barking, trying to kill cats.) They get a well-trained, affectionate pet, and I get to skip walking a dog first thing in the morning. #Blessed

I'm not entirely without furry friends, however, and I'm grateful my young lodger Samantha's cat has been catching and killing mice. I'm hoping my older cat will get inspired. I'd much rather pick up a tiny corpse with paper towels than have to  - shudder - empty the mouse traps. 

I'm grateful everything is going well for all three of my children. Suspicious, but grateful. 

I'm grateful to my friends Victor and Celia (who comments here!) for inviting me to see the Metropolitan Opera simulcast at the local movie theater. It was one of those things I always vaguely meant to do but probably wouldn't without a push - or a pull, as it were. The production was spectacularmazing AND the seats were 800 times more comfortable than any theater seats I've ever parked my behind in for a live opera or symphony concert.

Finally, I'm grateful - so grateful - to be out of mourning, to be back in the world doing professional appearances and publicly socializing, to be looking up and feeling excited about the possibilities ahead. Possibilities that will not be limited by having to find a dog sitter! Yay!

How about you, dear readers? What are you feeling grateful for these days?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

GI Clare and Russ

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Writers used to have readers. I mean, we still have readers, of course, but the dramatic increase in social media (combined with an effort to get out there and meet folks at libraries, bookstores and conferences) has changed the game a bit. Now we have fans.

Fans are wonderful. They send you sweet emails and bring you cookies when you're on tour. They take pictures with you and tell their friends to read all your books. But I have a fan that went WAY above and beyond that.

Meet GI Russ and Clare.

They arrived, totally unheralded and unexpected, at the start of the past holiday weekend. I opened up the post office mailer to discover this box.

You can't see it - I missed it at first - but there's a sticker on top that says "Clare and Russ - MKPD" When I opened the bok, it was, as advertised, a GI Jane helicopter pilot. However, like my heroine Clare, this gal had a teeny tiny clerical dicky on.

And she wasn't alone! There was Russ, wearing the khaki-and-brown Millers Kill Police Department uniform.

You know it's MKPD because there's an actual teeny-tiny shoulder patch that reads "MKPD"

Russ is ready for action. In the sixth book in the series, I SHALL NOT WANT, Russ gets shot because, as his deputy chief says, he's not wearing his goddam vest. This Russ has learned his lesson, and has his tactical gear on. 

Clare is suited up for her job as a National Guard helicopter pilot, with her flight vest and helmet.

But of course, her heart is in her clerical service, and for that, she has a black cassock. She's all set to celebrate the Eucharist. 

Of course, if it were all gunshots and piloting, my books wouldn't be as popular as they are. There's also... forbidden love.

Forbidden Love.

FORBIDDEN LOVE.

Of course, it's not so forbidden since Russ and Clare tied the knot in ONE WAS A SOLDIER. Don't they make a lovely couple?

Okay, you two, chill out.

GET A ROOM.

I can't convey to you the delight with which I pulled each piece out of the box and how much fun I had dressing Russ and Clare up and playing with them. This really is the most extraordinary thing (my daughters would say "extra") any fan has ever done.

Reds and readers, is there anything that fans have done for you that made you marvel? Is there something you've done for someone whose work you love?