Sunday, April 22, 2018

Girls Just Gotta Have Fun--Marburger Farms

DEBORAH CROMBIE: In spite of the chaos of the last couple of months, I did get in a little road trip R&R, when I was still a little wobbly from the bang on the head. My daughter and my oldest (I mean as in since we were in third grade!) friend and I made our second annual pilgrimage to Round Top, Texas, home of two semi-annual antiques fairs that bring buyers and dealers from all over the country. Last year we went to the official Round Top fair. This year, we went for the Marburger Farms fair, a week earlier, and I think even bigger now than the Round Top fair. Check out the Marburger Instagram feed.

We stayed in Brenham, which is about halfway between Houston and Austin, at a lovely place just off the picturesque town square. The first afternoon we explored Brenham. It's the home of Bluebell Ice Cream

and a lot of cool murals.

The first thing we discovered was--you guessed it! The book shop!

An hour later, here I am with my friend Franny and my loot.

Then we discovered Brenham at night.

Seriously, it was very cool.

In a Larry McMurtry sort of way. And very, very quiet.

It was bluebonnet season, by the way, and the wildflowers were gorgeous. Here's Kayti among the bluebonnets planted beside our hotel.

The next morning, it was off to Marburger Farms! This is the first thing we saw, which doesn't look all that impressive until you realize that there are more than half a dozen of these tents, and that they are huge, and filled with stall after stall after stall of STUFF.

 Here's just one vendor.

 And a stall I discovered with English pub signs--and the vendors turned out to be fans! But I still couldn't afford a sign, even if I'd had a place to put it.

Here Kayti and I are getting photo bombed by some guy in a red shirt.

And, now, for my finds.

In the very first tent, I came across these Royal Doulton bird plates. They looked like they were hand-painted, and I adored them.

Here they are in my dining room so that you can see all four.

Here's the stamp on one plate.

And then look what I found on another!

Does that look like a signature and a date to you? 1755???? That would be amazing!! I definitely have to do some research.

And here's my other treasure

a gorgeous 1920 Arts and Crafts ceramic pot. I can't quite make out the artist's name on the tag, so am going to have to do some research on that, too.

There was lots more shopping, until we were very hot and very tired. We gave up about four, just as the thunderstorms rolled in. Back in Brenham, we had some great Mexican food, and maybe a margarita... or two. And the next morning we got up and drove back to Dallas.

Great memories, and I hope we can do it again next year! 

REDS and readers, do you have any special "getaways" in your life?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Calendar Anorexia

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The last six weeks or so my life have been overly full of STUFF. Mostly necessary, unavoidable stuff, starting with the fact that the first weekend in March, I had a really stupid, freak fall. Chasing a bolting dog (not one of ours!) in the middle of the night, I caught my foot on our flagstone walk and slammed headfirst into this:

our very pretty to look at but not exactly resilient antique wrought-iron gate, resulting in a very banged up knee and an even more banged up head.

And that resulted in lots of appointments, etc., etc., etc. Not to worry, I'm lots better now on all fronts, but that and other family things and household things have made it very hard to keep a regular schedule, and if I don't have a regular schedule, I don't cope, I don't WRITE, and I get very overwhelmed and frustrated.

Fast forward to the other night. At dinner we were watching a YouTube video by Casey Neistat, an incredibly popular film maker and vlogger we follow .

Casey is very quirky, very talented, very funny, and often he gets life-related things bang on. In this video, he describes himself as having a condition: CALENDAR ANOREXIA. He defines that as an inability to put anything on his calendar that takes away from his creative time or his family time.

Sometimes I need a big reminder to

and this was it. I visualized every day of my calendar filled with big red Xs. I cleared everything but a dentist appointment and a haircut for the next few weeks, and I thought about all the things I really want to be doing with every minute of my time. Because it's precious.

Writing in my journal
Enjoying my spring garden
and, um, maybe catching up on about six weeks worth of laundry, although that's more a must than a want. We'll see if I can stick to it.

What about you, REDS and readers? How do keep your days free of clutter so that you can concentrate on things that really matter?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Social Media Check In

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Dearest readers, we here at JUNGLE RED WRITERS do our very best to stay connected with you, and we would love to add new readers to our community. But that connectedness seems to get more and more complicated, so we thought we would ask YOU what sorts of social media you are using on a regular basis.

We all know there's been lots of hullaballoo about FACEBOOK lately (no need to rehash that!), but has it affected how much you're using FACEBOOK, if you do? Do you follow author pages, or blog pages?

What about INSTAGRAM? We're hearing that INSTAGRAM is the future, but it works in a very different way from FACEBOOK, so we are trying to figure that out. I know I started using INSTAGRAM just for fun--I mean, who doesn't like looking at, or posting, pretty pictures? But I had no idea what I was doing, and am now trying to take it a bit more seriously. Turns out it's a bit more complicated than it appears, especially in terms of reaching readers.

And then there's TWITTER. Who uses TWITTER? If you do, do you find new authors, or books, or blogs that way? I have to admit that my TWITTER account lies pretty much fallow. It is just not my cup of tea, and I find even looking at my Twitter feed gives me a headache.

PINTEREST, like INSTAGRAM, I started using just for fun, but I am surprised at how many people pin my pins. I have no idea, however, if any of them are readers or connect me with books.

And then there's SNAPCHAT. Does anyone use SNAPCHAT? Or do you have kids or know younger readers who do?

Have I left anything out? We would really love your feedback!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

What We're Reading

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've had a request from one of our regular commenters (that would be you, Gigi Norwood!) for a "What We're Reading" update, because she needs some good new book suggestions! And we are happy to oblige.

I'm two thirds of the way through Tina Whittle's Tai Randolf #1, THE DANGEROUS EDGE OF THINGS, and I keep wanting to sneak off and finish it when I should be working.  We had Tina as a guest last week talking about her latest in the Tai Randolf series, #5, and I was so intrigued that I started the series from the beginning and I am loving it. (JRW gets me in so much book-buying trouble...)

Next up, THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah, which just came out in paperback and looks fab.  And I've ordered THE ESSEX SERPENT, by Sarah Perry, which comes out in pb next week and is supposed to one of THE books of 2017.

On the non-fiction side, I'm reading BEATEN, SEARED, AND SAUCED by Jonathan Dixon on Kindle, a memoir of his training at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America.) (I plead research related.)

And in hardcover, Greg Easterbrook's IT'S BETTER THAN IT LOOKS, and A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED by Adam Rutherford. I heard Easterbrook on NPR and was so fascinated that I immediately bought the book, and the Rutherford was recommended by our own Ann Mason.

Oh, and I just finished Anthony Horowitz's HOUSE OF SILK. It's a Holmes pastiche, and very well done. I dare say Horowitz writes better than Doyle!

JENN McKINLAY: I just finished A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE by Malla Nunn. Set in 1950's apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper, it was a fantastic read. It fascinated me because I don't know much about that time and place but also the writing was crisp and clever, the characters sympathetic, and the relationships complex. In nonfiction, I am enjoying KNIT LOCAL: CELEBRATING AMERICA'S HOMEGROWN YARNS. I had no idea there were so many yarns handcrafted in the States. Now I want to visit them all. Next up is Anne Gracie's newly released MARRY IN SCANDAL because...Anne Gracie! No one writes regency romance as cleverly as she does. And then I will dive into WHY KILL THE INNOCENT by C. S. Harris because I am signing with Candi (C.S.) at the Poisoned Pen in May. I've told her before that  Sebastian St Cyr is my fictional boyfriend, but she insists he's actually hers. So rude. LOL.

INGRID THOFT: I’ve read a lot of intriguing things recently.  AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones is about a marriage that is put to the test when a black man is wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to prison in Louisiana.  He and his wife struggle to maintain their connection under the most difficult of circumstances.  THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Chris Bohjalian was a page-turner that I read in a matter of days.  An alcoholic flight attendant wakes up in a bed in Dubai next to a dead man.  What she did and who he was are just some of the questions that get answered in this suspenseful tale.  I’m currently reading MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz, which is a book within a book.  The story starts with a book editor reading her star author’s latest manuscript, a traditional mystery set in England in the 1950s.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the book toggles between that story and the present, and I’m equally engaged with both threads of the story.  On the non-fiction front, LOOK ALIVE OUT THERE, is a great collection of essays by the hilarious Sloane Crosley.  If you need an injection of humor into your life, look no further.

LUCY BURDETTE: Jenn, A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE was one of the top five Edgar nominees one of the years I served on that committee. I still remember it as an excellent book. I have recently finished DEATH AL FRESCO by Leslie Karst (she was a guest recently--love this series), HUMMUS AND HOMICIDE by Tina Kashian (ditto, guest, fun first in a new cozy series), and DEAD WATER by Ann Cleeves. Thanks to you all, I am now addicted to this series. Sadly, I'm getting toward the end of what's available, so I will have to beg her to hurry up and write! I may try a non-mystery next, maybe Elena Ferrante's MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, or Amy Bloom's WHITE HOUSES, or Joshilyn Jackson's GODS IN ALAMBAMA? I hate this in between feeling so suggestions warmly welcomed!

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm reading a wonderful book, THE WIDOWS by Jess Montgomery (a pseudonym for Sharon Short) and it will be published by Minotaur, but you'll have to wait for it to come out. It's a historical mystery set in Ohio coal country in the 1920s. Keep an eye on it. It's a winner. And a book that Lucy recommended by Karen Joy Fowler, WE ARE COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES, beckons. I've also added AXIOS to my daily mashup of newsfeeds that are keeping me from getting my novel finished.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I loved MAGPIE MURDERS, Ingrid, (can't wait to read his upcoming one) and THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, too. Because things are all coincidence, I was in an airport, and needed a book and the was absolutely nothing,..until I saw A TALENT FOR MURDER by Andrew Wilson. It's the mostly-fiction story of why Agatha Christie disappeared for those two weeks.  I completely adored it! And have scarfed up all of his books now.  Kate Moretti's THE VANISHING YEAR! Yay.  I love Wallace Stroby, and am reading his terrific upcoming SOME DIE NAMELESS,  and got to love Alafair Burke's THE WIFE.  I am judging for a contest, though, and cannot talk about most of the stuff I'm reading!  (And thank you Gigi, I love doing this and hearing about everyone's reading!)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In audiobooks, I'm still working my way through OREGON TRAIL: A NEW AMERICAN JOURNEY by Rinker Buck. Not that it's a slog, just that I'm (thankfully) not in my car as frequently as I used to be. In my hot little hands, but haven't started it yet: HEAD ON, John Scalzi's sequel to his near-future police procedural LOCK IN. Interestingly, as a SF reader, I'm seeing a lot more mash-ups of science fiction and mystery - mostly from writers known for the former. I'll be interested to see if some crime fiction authors get into the genre-splicing game.

I'm also reading my way through the Agatha Best First Mystery nominees. I'm on THE PLOT IS MURDER by V.M. Burns, which has a delightful mystery-within-a-mystery story; and Kellye Garrett's HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE - great characters and and a genuinely fun read. I can see why both of them nabbed the nomination.

RHYS BOWEN: I'm impressed with the amount of time the rest of the Reds seem to have to read. I find it impossible to read fiction when I'm writing as I tend to pick up another writer's style. I mailed off my latest book to the editor a couple of weeks ago and since then I have been reading nothing but books to blurb. I seem to have become the blurb queen of historical fiction these days. If there is any book about a British aristocrat in the first half of the 20th Century it is sent to me. I can't tell you about the books as they are not yet published but I enjoyed them.

 But what I am also doing is re-reading Louise Penny's series in order as I have to interview her at Malice next week. However, I'm going to Europe at the end of May and my Kindle is already loaded with things I want to read, have been dying to read.

DEBS: It's so interesting how different our reading choices are, but at the same time, books on my to-read or have-read list turn up on other people's lists. Now, if we follow even a few of these suggestions, I don't think any of us will run out of things to read anytime soon...

(And I haven't even mentioned my Bookbub addiction, which means that I buy mumble mumble $2 books a week for my Kindle--enough to keep me in reading matter for the next two-hundred or so years!)

READERS, tell us what you're reading that you love love love and that we should add to our lists!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marcia Talley--Mile High Murder

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the many perks of being part of Jungle Red Writers is having the opportunity to showcase your friends--especially when they have a new book! Marcia Talley and I met at Malice Domestic in...mumble mumble--a LONG time ago! Seriously, that would have been around 1994, right, Marcia? We were both newly minted authors then, and we have been friends and brainstorming buddies ever since. So I am more than thrilled to bring you Marcia and her newest Hannah Ives novel, MILE HIGH MURDER.

MARCIA TALLEY: I live in Maryland where marijuana has recently become available for medical purposes and where the legislature is actively considering legalizing the weed for recreational use. To date, nine U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of cannabis, but the plant is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug – along with heroin and cocaine – and as such, is against federal law. Banks that are part of the Federal Reserve System are prohibited from handling “drug money,” therefore in the states where it is legal, it is largely a multi-million dollar all cash business. Bags of marijuana lying around, I thought.  Sacks of money. What could go wrong?

During my research, I became fascinated by cannabis culture, that is to say the businesses that have sprung up, particularly in western states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington where they thrive, as a result of legalization. Canna-tourism is huge. Guests stay in “bud and breakfasts,” weederies sprawl over many acres and provide Disney-style tours, and (taking a page from the wine industry) restaurants offer food and cannabis parings.  At marijuana shops like Starbuds, Karmaceuticals, and Grateful Meds, budtenders are available to help you choose the perfect weed for what ails you.

The variety of products infused with cannabis is staggering.  Edibles like Berry Bomb Bites, Honey Pot, Mystical Blueberry Jam, Herba Buena Tea and Ganja Grindz Coffee should start your day off on a high note.  There are thousands of topical lotions and balms – Hannah can’t resist the Speakeasy Lip Balm.  Even your dog can mellow out on Bark Avenue Doggie Treats.

What could be more fun than sending Hannah and her friend, Maryland state Senator Claire Thompson, to a “bud and breakfast” in Denver, the Mile High City, to join a diverse group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees? Naturally, one of the group turns up dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals the victim had been traveling under a false identity …?

I already hear you asking about the research I did for this one!  Let’s just say, quoting former president Barack Obama, “I inhaled frequently; that was the point.”

Research can be hell, folks!

DEBS:  That quote cracks me up. I remember we talked about this book at Bouchercon a few years back.  It sounded like a winning plot then, and how great that Publishers Weekly agrees. Mile High Murder is "witty and well-constructed,” they say and, “Fair-play clues lead to a surprising motive behind the murder [in this] timely and illuminating trip into the often befuddling world of marijuana legislation.”  

Booklist likes it, too.  “As the … series approaches its twentieth anniversary, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Hannah [is] a woman who’s seen darkness in her own life but who hasn’t let it change who she is ... a sympathetic and likable protagonist, the kind of person we might like spending time with … [T]he mystery she solves here is a very entertaining one ... and its solution is both surprising and memorable.”

And, of course, one of the reasons I adore Hannah Ives is that reading Hannah is like sitting down across the table from Marcia with a cup of tea. (Or a glass of wine... Or...)

As you wait for your copy of MILE HIGH MURDER to arrive, please enjoy this excerpt:

We’d been waiting outside the terminal for no more than five minutes when a long, white limousine that had been idling a few hundred yards away swept into an opening created by the departure of a yellow Hertz van and eased soundlessly to a stop. The vehicle seemed to go on forever, so long that its hood would reach our B&B hours before its trunk. I counted five windows, back to front. A logo painted on the passenger-side door read Happy Daze Tours, its letters curved in a semicircle under a colorful graphic of a five-fingered marijuana leaf superimposed over a bell.

‘Let me guess,’ I said.

Claire laughed. ‘Our chariot awaits.’

'What’s with the bell?’ I asked, referring to the logo.‘

'That’s the name of the B and B we’re staying in. Bell House.’

In Colorado these days, B&B stood for ‘bud and breakfast’ more often than not. Serious cannatourists flocked to such private establishments, the only ones where smoking, weed or otherwise, was permitted on the premises.

We watched as the chauffeur climbed out carrying a whiteboard that read Thompson in black marker pen.

'That would be me,’ Claire yelled above the noise of the traffic, thumbing her chest.

The driver grinned, revealing a row of impossibly white teeth. ‘Welcome to Denver,’ he said.

‘You must be Austin Norton,’ she said.

‘It’s the shirt. It always gives me away.’

Under an embroidered leather vest that flapped loosely at his sides, Norton wore a black T-shirt that read: IT’S 4:20 SOMEWHERE. He’d belted the shirt neatly into a pair of blue jeans that had been pressed into a sharp crease. I guessed he was around fifty. An aging hippie, I thought. His hair, prematurely silver, was tied back in a low ponytail.

‘Are we waiting for anybody?’ I smiled into his eyes, but saw only my own reflection in his mirrored sunglasses.

‘Nope,’ he said. ‘You’re the last.’ He took our bags and somehow managed to fit them, like pieces to an intricate puzzle, into a trunk already crammed with luggage. Then he held open the door, stood aside and invited us in.

The last time I’d been in a stretch limo had been with a guy named Ron at my high-school prom. This limo, too, had a bar – stocked with designer water – and circular bench seating. But there the resemblance ended. In the Happy Daze limo, LED lights pulsed green, like Kryptonite, turning Claire’s red jacket a dirty shade of gray. A wide-mouthed glass jar containing frosty buds of marijuana took pride of place on a low, central table.

A young guy holding a glass pipe scooted over to make room for us. ‘Welcome to the Mile High City,’ he said as we cut our way through the smog. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a captain’s hat, soft and faded from repeated laundering, perched at a jaunty angle over his crewcut.

Claire eased into her seat, inhaled and sighed. ‘Ah, this is what I’m talking about!’

As for me, I tried not to breathe too deeply. All my fellow passengers seemed to be smoking something: the guy with the glass pipe; a young couple, their blond heads touching, sharing a hookah like a cream soda with two straws; two women sucking on vape pens. I understood about people going on wine tours of Napa or Sonoma, but they’re not opening bottles of merlot the minute they leave baggage claim. Still, it must be a relief to get high without being hassled by the cops.

‘You trip out early in Denver,’ the young guy said, as if reading my mind. He took a hit from his pipe, held his breath and closed his eyes.

Marcia Talley is the author of MILE HIGH MURDER and fifteen previous novels featuring Maryland sleuth, Hannah Ives. A winner of the Malice Domestic grant and an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel, Ms. Talley won an Agatha and an Anthony Award for her short story "Too Many Cooks" and an Agatha Award for her short story "Driven to Distraction." She is author/editor of two star-studded mystery collaborations, NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX and I’D KILL FOR THAT, and her short stories appear in more than a dozen magazines and anthologies. She divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland and a quaint Loyalist cottage in the Bahamas.

DEBS: Here's more about MILE HIGH MURDER:

It’s a fact that some of the cancer support group survivors Hannah Ives works with take marijuana. Recreational use of the drug may be illegal in Maryland, but a few patients, like Maryland State Senator Claire Thompson, are prescribed it on medical grounds. Claire has co-sponsored a Cannabis Legalization Bill and invites Hannah to be part of a fact-finding task force that testifies before the Maryland State Senate.

Before long, Hannah is in Denver, Colorado – the Mile High City – staying at a B&B with a group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees. But when one of the group is found dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals the victim had been traveling under a false identity, Hannah is plunged into a dangerous cocktail of deception, drugs and death.

Stop in and chat with Marcia, who will be joining us from her "Loyalist cottage in the Bahamas." Sigh... 

PS: And she will answer questions about her "research."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Scasscer Hill--The Dark Side of Town

DEBORAH CROMBIE:Anyone who knows me can tell you how much I love horse racing--and especially books about horse racing! I'm so tickled to have discovered Sasscer Hill. Her books take you straight to the track, with the sights, sounds, smells, and the visceral feel of racing. Add in a high-stakes mystery and you've got a sure bet. (Sorry, I couldn't resist...)

So, we all want to know where she got the ideas for her new Fia McKee series. Here's the latest, THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN, set in Saratoga during racing season.

SASSCER HILL: Has inspiration from an agent, friend, or editor ever helped you create a series or story? How about a spark of insight from a law enforcement contact or medical professional?

Back in my other life, when I raised and owned racehorses, I’d heard about the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). I even had a friend who worked undercover for this agency that protects the integrity of horse racing. But it wasn’t until my literary agent brainstormed with me, that I created TRPB agent, Fia McKee.

I loved writing this two-book series! Horses, scoundrels, danger, adrenaline, a dash of sex, and a child in jeopardy with a happy ending. What’s not to like? 

As mystery writers we often meet the most amazing people. Sometimes these folks provide a bolt of inspiration or sneak right into our novel as a great new character. Have you met someone who stirred your imagination or provided you with a gut punch that screams, “Yes! This is just what the novel needs!

While writing the first in the “Fia McKee”series, FLAMINGO ROAD, I researched the drug Demorphin. A painkiller up to 100 times stronger than morphine, it’s made from a peptide found on the skin of South American tree frogs. 

It was used on racehorses until (thank God) pharmacologists created an identifying blood test. But what if some evil person found a new, unknown drug that worked like Demorphin?

I brought this up during a phone conversation with Craig Stevens, Ph. D., professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. Stevens was involved in the race to test for this heinous drug when the Demorphin scandal first broke at Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma City. He was a delightful voice on the phone–eager to talk, great sense of humor, and smart as a whip. He was fascinated to hear I was using a Demorphin-like drug in a race track thriller. We ended up discussing Breaking Bad, a show we both adored, and how the character Jesse was forced to cook methamphetamine.

Stevens said, “You should have a chemist in our book!”
I almost yelled into the phone, “You’re right! I need a chemist!” And my favorite subplot was born, adding a nice layer to FLAMINGO ROAD.

Another “aha” occurred while interviewing TRPB president, Frank Fabian. He was concerned about young jockeys brought up from South America. These boys don’t speak English and are often kept isolated in rental homes with other Spanish speaking riders. They are brought to the US by South American jockey agents, who control them and may threaten to harm family members back home if these boys don’t do as they’re told. 

Fabian asked me, “If these agents tell a jockey to make sure the favorite horse loses, guess what happens?”

OMG, I thought, this is terrible! I must use it. Following the journalist rule, “if it bleeds, it leads, I worked this into the first chapter of THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN which debuts on April 17.

Have any of you had a lightning bolt experience like this? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Information and buy links for the award winning Fia McKee series and all of Hill’s multiple award nominated novels can be found here:

Visit Sasscer on Facebook:

THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN is out today, but I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek, and it's a terrific read. 

REDs, tell us about your "aha" moments, and readers, stop in to chat with Sasscer and find out more about Fia McKee.