Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Fictional Key West Thanksgiving and Cover Reveal: A DEADLY FEAST

LUCY BURDETTE: Today, the day before Thanksgiving, when many of us are up to our ears in menu planning or pie crust rolling or sitting in traffic on the way to grandma's house or (lord help us) the grocery store, I wondered what I could post that might be entertaining without being demanding. And it occurred to me that you might enjoy a few snippets from A DEADLY FEAST, the 9th Key West mystery, coming next May--because it's set at Thanksgiving. On Monday we chatted about our menus and guest lists, today you'll hear about Hayley's!



Here's the final artwork--isn't it pretty? And I love that Jenn's quote is on the cover...In this story, Hayley is helping to investigate the death of one of the customers from a food tour. Chef Martha Hubbard worries that someone sabotaged her key lime pie. 

Here's a little snippet describing the meal she's making to teach a class on Thanksgiving sides:

Bill opened the door to the cooler and gestured at the shelves, overflowing with turkeys, sacks of Brussels sprouts, slabs of bacon, onions in net bags, and more.
“She’s teaching a class on Thanksgiving side dishes,” he said. “My favorite is the brown-butter rosemary yeast rolls.”
My stomach let out a loud rumble and they both laughed.
“You’re welcome to join this class, on the house. She’s including a tutorial on gravy from scratch,” said Eden. “And her side dishes are like nothing you’ve ever seen on dinner tables. She likes to put a Thai spin on old classics, like sweet potatoes with charred poblanos or Brussels sprouts with Thai chilies and caramelized shallots. I can’t wait for the habanero candy!”
I’d begun to salivate at the sound of those recipes, almost drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs. 

Hayley visits Martha's kitchen again the next day (or is it two days later?) to follow up on some new information:

She dumped a blue ceramic bowl of dough onto her floured counter. Then she began to knead it, stopping at every turn to sprinkle fresh rosemary leaves on top and knead those into the mixture.
“What are you making?” I asked.
“Rosemary garlic brown-butter rolls,” she said. “I let them take the second rise in the fridge. Then I bake them before dinner and slather them with more garlic butter right before bringing them to the table. Guests go mad for them.”
“Sounds fabulous,” I said. “What else is on your menu?”
“Smoked turkey with a honey vinegar glaze and red-eye gravy, confetti succotash, mashed potatoes with cream cheese, sour cream, and scallions, the usual,” she said, finally cracking a smile.
“I’m practically drooling,” I said. “You take Thanksgiving to a new level.”

And this is what Hayley's family is serving, after grace is said by Miss Gloria, with an emphasis on her gratitude for friends and family:

I helped them ferry all the dishes out to the sideboard in the dining room—the turkey, gravy, Sam’s cornbread stuffing, pumpkin biscuits, pasta with sage and roasted squash, green beans almandine, and an enormous salad topped with walnuts, dried cherries, mango, and goat cheese. Then my mother invited everyone to grab a plate and fill it.

A DEADLY FEAST blurb: Before Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow's family descends on the island for Thanksgiving, she has one last assignment--a review of a seafood tasting tour conducted by her friend Analise Smith. But when one of the tourists collapses on the last stop, Analise begs her to investigate before the police destroy her business and shut down the local Key West eateries on her tour. Pressure mounts when Analise calls a second time to request that Hayley meet with Chef Martha Hubbard, who prepared key lime pies for the tasting tour and is terrified that someone poisoned her pies to ruin her reputation. Chefs all around town are preparing their versions of a Thanksgiving feast, but with a murderer on the loose, will Hayley and her friends have anything left to be thankful for?

Available for pre-order from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever you buy your books.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How I made my life nice and easier by SW Hubbard

LUCY BURDETTE: I don't have a thing to add to today's blog from Susan Hubbard--I just know you're going to love it!

SW HUBBARD: I feel the woman’s gaze boring into me as I browse the housewares aisle at Target. I glance her way. She quickly averts her eyes. 

A moment later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I know what comes next.

“I love your hair,” the staring woman says. “I just had to tell you.”

I’ve been getting that a lot lately. Ever since I made the radical decision to stop dyeing my hair.

I started going gray at the age of twenty-five, while I was still a single girl in Manhattan.

Horrified, I used henna to make the gray strands look like tiny red highlights. 

By the time I was thirty, the henna wasn’t doing the trick anymore. I turned to permanent dye: Nice and Easy 118A, Natural Medium Brown, which matched the color I’d been born with. By then I was married, and my husband, complaining that I smelled like a toxic waste dump after the application, begged me not to color my hair.

“Your mother dyes her hair,” I answered. “I’m damned if I’m going to have more gray than she does.”

The next twenty years found me periodically locked in the bathroom, shivering for half an hour in a ratty old bathrobe with a pile of brown 118A glop on my head. To pass the time, I’d read although it was hard to turn pages wearing plastic gloves. Sometimes I’d get absorbed in a novel, and my hair would come out Ronald Reagan black. Sometimes I’d cut the time short to referee squabbling kids, and patches of gray would show through. Inevitably, I’d splash dye on the tile grout, the paint, or my library book.

Despite his reputation for thrift, my husband implored me to go to a salon. Thus began ten years of spending two hours every six weeks at Trendz in the capable hands of my colorist and my stylist. I’d leave evenly colored but $140 + tips poorer. Within two weeks, a white skunk stripe would appear along my part-line. Covering that up before the next dye job required two more products: brown spray-in color and root touch-up solution.

One day I floated an idea to my stylist. “I’m thinking of letting my hair go natural.”

He was horrified. Said I’d look old. Assured me I’d hate it. (Of course, my decision would halve his income.) But over the next weeks I kept studying my silver roots. They were kind of pretty.
 And I was tired, so tired, of the struggle to stay brown. 

More than the money, I really resented the time I had to sacrifice to this Sisyphean battle. So I returned to the salon with my mind made up. “How long do you think it will take? My hair grows so fast.” (I wasn’t willing to cut my hair short.)

“A year.”

“No way! Well, let’s strip the brown dye out of my hair.” 

“That takes six hours and costs $800.”

Stunned, I went home and bought two hats to cover the increasingly visible skunk stripe. And, positive my stylist didn’t know what he was talking about, I applied my mystery author research skills to find a product to rush the process along. Google had plenty of advice about fading the brown dye: a paste of citric acid and Head and Shoulders shampoo was the least toxic; a product called Color Oops, which produced a chemical mushroom cloud that brought me to my knees, was the most. 

The brown never disappeared, but gradually the hard lines of the skunk stripe softened, and I achieved an ombre look: silver on top tipped with brown ends. A young man at REI told me my hair was foxy. I know what I wanted to believe, but I’m pretty sure he meant I resembled a small forest animal.

Finally, after a full year, my stylist snipped away the last of the brown. I was totally silver. We both stared at me in the mirror.

“I gotta say, I like it,” he admitted. 

So did I.

Yesterday I was in CVS when I felt “the look.” This admirer strode right up to me. “I love your hair. What do you use to get it like that?”

I pivot from the hair products aisle empty-handed.

“Absolutely nothing.”

***

Do you color your hair? Would you ever stop? If you’ve stopped, do you toy with going back?


S.W. Hubbard writes the kinds of mysteries she loves to read: twisty, believable, full of complex characters, and highlighted with sly humor. She is the author of the 5-book Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery Series and the 5-book Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series. Tailspinner, the latest Frank Bennett Adirondack mystery, is available for preorder now.  With all the time she’s saving by not coloring her hair, she hopes to release a new estate sale mystery, Treasure Built of Sand, in early 2019. She lives in Morristown, NJ, where she teaches creative writing to enthusiastic teens and adults, and expository writing to reluctant college freshmen. She LOVES book groups and would be happy to visit yours in person (in NJ) or via Skype. 

Read the first chapters of her novels

Learn about sales and new releases by joining her mailing list or following her on BookBub or Facebook.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Traditions We Can't Do Without? #Thanksgiving

Lucy's mom, Janet, ready for the party
LUCY BURDETTE: When I was growing up, we used to have Thanksgiving with my mother’s sisters and their families. The menus were pretty standard, delicious homemade fare—turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, green been casserole, cranberry sauce from a can and so on. Over the years, I’ve had lots of different kinds of Thanksgivings, sometimes I’ve cooked, sometimes I’ve eaten at other people’s houses, sometimes I’ve even gone out to dinner. I’m less attached to a specific menu these days. The only time I was really disappointed was the year my sister and I had dinner with old friends before either of us were married. These people were very Southern and warm and lovely. We felt very welcome and glad to be sharing their table. Except…rice was served with the turkey and gravy rather than mashed potatoes!  Oh, and speaking of gravy, please don’t add giblets to mine…

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING; Despite being centered around eating, I maintain Thanksgiving isn't really about food. Or rather, about cooking. I've learned over the years that guests and family members will accept one (1) novel recipe per holiday, and after that, you better stick to the pearl onions in cream sauce and whatever dressing is standard for your part of the country (cornbread, sausage, bread, oyster, walnut) I've always actually stuffed the bird with the stuffing (because then you can serve it 'wet' and 'dry', as my family called it) but I'm going to change it up this year because my turkeys have come out on the dry side the past few years. If someone can tell me the definitive way to get a juicy bird - basting? Brining? Rubbing stuff under the skin? - I would be grateful.

RHYS BOWEN: Having not grown up with Thanksgiving I find the holiday doesn't mean as much to me as Christmas does. I enjoy the turkey and stuffing and potatoes. Not a big fan of any of the casseroles that go with it. I find myself making the green bean casserole as my son in law likes it. This year my daughter has ordered a completely organic, free range turkey from Whole Foods. I hope we'll find it tastes better. In the past we have injected the bird with John's secret mixture to make it moist. The secret is not to overcook. it's a fine line between giving your guests salmonella and drying out the breast too much. We don't put stuffing inside the bird but cook it separately. I love all stuffings but John likes sausage meat and I like lots of herbs, mushrooms, veggies in mind. I love chestnut stuffing but chestnuts are hard to find and horribly expensive. Actually it's not the food that matters. It's family sitting around the table and laughing!

HALLIE EPHRON: What I can't do without is my family and pie. Fortunately we all agree on the menu - turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, turnips. For starters, butternut squash soup. AND PIE! Homemade of course. Pumpkin. Custard. Apple. This year my daughter is hosting in Brooklyn and I am doing whatever she needs me to do. She's in charge. (She'd laugh to hear me say that.... ) I agree with Rhys, it's all about the family and friends.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  SO--this makes me laugh and laugh. I loved the turkey my mother made. Loved. Looked forward to it every year.  And the bed moment of all was when Mom would say--how's the turkey? Nice and dry? And we'd say, yes! delicious!  nice and dry! Seriously, we were taught that dry turkey was a good thing..thereby absolving (we learned later) my mom of the fear of overcooking it. As I grew up, and had other Thanksgiving experiences, I learned dry turkey was not the goal. I still like it better.   So Julia, you are perfection! And can cook a turkey at our house any time. Nice and dry. 
Plus, hot gravy. If I can remember how to make it, a yearly terror, hides any mistakes.

JENN McKINLAY: Dessert, natch. I am the chief baker for the holidays. This year I'm making a raspberry/white chocolate bundt cake (a copy cat of Nothing Bundt Cake's delicious version for Thanksgiving). I'm not a huge turkey fan, but I do enjoy a good stuffing and I adore cranberry sauce. I don't have a lot of holiday traditions for any of the holidays. We're seat of the pants types and will frequently just up and go to the beach or the mountains and get away for a holiday. I find the expectations of the holidays exhausting. It seems, everyone expects a Norman Rockwellesque holiday, where turkeys are perfect, everyone gets along, and people break out into song for no apparent reason, as if we haven't been members of our own families all our lives and should know better. LOL.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are always torn about Thanksgiving. It's so much fun to gather round our own table, and to make all the things we really love (my daughter's fabulous sauteed Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon, cauliflower and cheddar gratin, my yummy sage-y cornbread dressing, and of course my famous cranberry relish) BUT... I have one aunt left on my mom's side of the family, my mother's youngest brother's widow, and my two cousins and their kids, and the kids' kids now. For years we did Thanksgiving and Christmas with them, but because these days we really want to have Christmas at home, and to host Christmas dinner, we just spend Thanksgiving with the auntie. And then usually a second visit to Rick's mom and siblings, etc., etc.,  This year I am just happy to spend time with family and to eat whatever anyone else makes!!!

How about you Reds and red readers, what can’t you do without on Thanksgiving? What do you look forward to most?

And ps, if you developed a hankering for those pimento cheese scones while you were reading, Lucy's recipe is here...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thanksgiving: It's all about the food!

RHYS BOWEN: When I first came to America people loved to criticize and joke about British food. I agree that during the post-war period when there were still shortages that food in England was pretty grim: overcooked cabbage, gray meat, sausages that were more filler than pork. But recently, (if you exclude the numerous Pizza Huts and KFCs) the food around Britain can be wonderful.  Lots of fresh local ingredients: fish, lamb, veggies and innovative ways of preparing it to bring out the natural flavor.

So if anybody suggests these days that British food is dire, I suggest that perhaps they have not ventured outside their friendly neighborhood Hilton.

And speaking of terrible food: when I first arrived here I found that housewives, one generation older than I, cooked with three basic ingredients:  Campbell's cream soups, Cool Whip and Jello.  Every recipe I was given included at least one of these! IN England we kept our food simple. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts. We did not disguise it under cream of something soup. And we did not, on the whole, mix sweet and savory. Imagine the horror on my first Thanksgiving to be presented with green bean casserole, sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows AND a jello salad. Bright green with bits of fruit floating in it. Jello did exist in England, but as a dessert, with custard. (My least favorite dessert, I have to confess)

One of these traditions won't go away as my son-in-law always requests the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. I understand that it reminds him of his childhood and I confess it is actually the most tasty of those recipes. So being a kind person I will make it. But sorry, no sweet potatoes with marshmallows!

 But my family has now introduced our own sliver of British cooking to all celebrations. My mother's apple crumble! An interesting variation on pies as it includes oats and coconut.

I'm sharing the recipe here:

About 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into chunks.
one and half cup flour
three quarters cup oats
one cup brown sugar
half cup shredded coconut
stick and half of melted butter.

sprinkle apple with lemon juice, a small amount of water and a sprinkling of brown sugar and cook gently for a few minutes.
Put into bottom of casserole dish
mix dry ingredients then stir in melted butter.
spread on top of apples
bake at 375 twenty five or thirty minutes, until topping is nicely tan.

Other ingredients I add sometimes are cloves to the apple mixture, or some powdered ginger to the dry mix.

Delish!

AND wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving in advance!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

All I Want for Christmas....

RHYS BOWEN: It's that time of year again when I want to start shopping for Christmas presents. I have time right now and it would be nice not to feeling any pressure. But trying to pin my dear ones down to what they want is impossible. Or else it's so specific that they have to choose it themselves... "I need a pair of waterproof boots, but not too clunky etc etc."

The grandkids are so easy. All they want is a gift card to their favorite store: Urban Outfitters, Sephora, Nordstroms (for my grandson who is obsessed with nice shoes). And these are easy to wrap too.  My husband John is the worst. He always says he wants and needs nothing. But obviously he can't sit there and watch everyone else unwrap gifts, can he? So we all try to find something that might excite him.  Every year he says "Don't buy me clothes." One daughter ignores this, buys him shirts and sweaters, and he always wears them!

I have reached the point in my life when I don't need anything, but I do like small surprises. One year I told John to surprise me AND he bought me Winston Churchill's autobiography. Useful and informative, yes, but not the same thrill as a diamond bracelet. I.'ve found if I want something I have to be quite direct with him. "Go into Macy's second floor, turn left, third rack, blue dress, size 10."
But that sort of takes away the thrill, doesn't it?
I think we've moved on to giving experiences. For our anniversary I bought us tickets to an evening of Malaysian cuisine with TV chef Martin Yan. That was fun. And we have Hamilton tix for next year.

Are your menfolk good at selecting gifts?.

I've just seen this year's Neiman Marcus catalog. The most expensive item is a solar powered 70 foot yacht, complete with helicopter pad, naturally. Yes, I wouldn't mind one of those but they are so darned awkward to gift wrap. And if you can afford that many millions for the yacht, would you worry about affording the fuel for it?

Or for $315,000 there is a secret agent experience including learning to jump out of a helicopter. Since I've been known to twist my ankle when walking down the sidewalk I think perhaps not.

The gift that did sound fun was a tennis experience, all four majors as a guest of Sloane Stevens , staying at player only hotels, lots of chance to interact with players... for a mere $550,000.

At least these selections seem better than the dreadful sofa in the shape of a hippopotamus last year!

I think we'll be settling for slippers and hand cream, unless you have good suggestions for an old cranky husband?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Totally, dude! The Reds on slang.

RHYS BOWEN: One of the challenges of writing historical novels is making sure I get things right. This includes manner of speech and address. Nothing takes a reader out of a period more easily than a character using language that is not right for the period. A Victorian miss saying, "Hey, you guys," for example.  I am just about to start a book set in Victorian England--a challenge for me as until now my books have been set in the Twentieth Century. For each period I write about I have to study the vocabulary of everyday speech, what slang words were used and by which segment of society.

I am quite at home with Lady Georgie in the 1930s, because people actually spoke like that still when I was a child. When I was at school other girls still called one "Old bean". They still said, 'I say, you are a brick."  I've had letters telling me that real people never spoke that way, but the real people I knew actually did. Of course working class people had an entirely different vocabulary. Cockney would say "Whatcher" instead of "hello" for example.

So I've been thinking how certain words are so specific to certain periods. Words to express appreciation, for example. In my early youth everything was "smashing and wizard"... expressions started by the RAF pilots during WWII. I think people still said "spiffing" too.


In the early Sixties a famous comedian coined the words SWINGING and DODGY.  They both really caught on. And admiration for all things American meant that everything as SUPER, or even SUPER DUPER.

Then came the Hippie period and things were GROOVY, COOL, RAD and FAR OUT.  (Point of interest: the expression Far Out was used in the early 1900s. I've never been able to use it in my Molly Murphy books because it would wrench the reader out of the period!)
AWESOME came into use around this time too. And TOTALLY.
Later everything in England was BRILLIANT!
Back in London this summer the catchword was CRACKING.   People had a cracking good time. Sportscasters described it as a "cracking goal."  I'm not sure where that came from.

I won't even attempt to keep up with the expressions my grandkids use. at one moment it was BAD meaning good.  Have you ever said BOO-YAH? What is a BAE?

Some of us cling onto words from our past. I still have been heard to say "brilliant" or even "super".  One friend who was a movie producer still called everything "cool" long after the Sixties were over. It sounded strange coming from a middle-aged mouth.
So what expressions do you cling onto, dear Reds? Do you have any regional ones that define you? Do you move with the times and use your kids' expressions?

JENN MCKINLAY: Dude, I totally hear what you're saying. Slang can really harsh a writer's mellow. You know? LOL. I write all contemporary and mostly 20-30 something characters so I need to know what's what, what's in, and what's out. I don't always get it right. I used "lit" the other day and was told by a hooligan that it's out. Then I said that's "hella bad" and was informed I was using hella wrong, too. *sigh* Perhaps a light touch is best when using slang so that you land somewhere between basic and extra without losing your mind.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh.  See, rats, already wrong. My favorite story about this:   a million years ago I worked at a record store. (okay? And there was a record by some group which was the preamble to the constitution set to music--like a Motown record. I didn't;t like it at all--I don't remember why. So this other high school kid comes in and asks for it--and I found it, and as I handed it to him, he said, "this record is really bad." and I said, "yeah, can you believe it? SO bad." And he smiled happily," yeah, really bad." Of course he didn't mean what I meant.

My latest slang bafflement is when people say "I'll do the latte" or I'll take the kale salad" --what? DO? TAKE?  Isn't it--Have? I'll have a latte. Or--imagine-- I'd like a latte, please? 

RHYS: Oh, Hank... please and thank you seem to have disappeared. And another thing that bugs me. "No Problem' when you ask the waiter for some water. Of course it's no problem, I want to yell. It's your job!

HALLIE EPHRON: Jenn, do you loan out the hooligans? My 2 1/2 year old grandson is smitten with the word buttcheeks. Does that count? Southern California in the 60s: bitchin. (Gidget used it.) It meant wicked awesome.

Rhys it's not an easy thing to get right because so much of slang is regional and class-driven. So one person's experience isn't another's. I'd love to hear what references people use to get it right.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hallie, I've already borrowed Jenn's hooligans! In DEATH ON THE MENU, I needed a bunch of young twenty-somethings to visit the houseboat next to Miss Gloria's place and declare that they loved it. "It's lit!" is one of the comments they made. And we learn that's already passe! I think the light touch idea is the best policy...but also, I've learned over and over that Facebook friends love to give advice. So I use them!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Jenn, I'm lucky to have the Smithie, the Sailor and Youngest to keep me au courant. So, Rhys, I can tell you BAE is Before Anyone Else, which you would think would be top spot in anyone's list of friends or romantic partners, but no! There are further divisions: Number 1 BAE, Number 2 BAE, etc. I asked Youngest how number 2 could be BAE when there was, demonstrably, someone else B, only to be told I didn't understand.
Honestly, in my writing, I try to avoid most current slang, because it seems to change much faster than it used to, probably due to the internet repeating everything 1000 times until a phrase is passe after six months. This has been a source of amusement to me as the Smithie, now 26, listens to her eight-years-younger sister and realizes she doesn't understand the majority of the latter's slang terms. Being cool and with it has an EXTREMELY short shelf-life, kid.
And Hallie, you didn't have boys. As I'm sure Jenn can attest, boys find all things associated with the rear end and what happens back there to be the ultimate in wit between the ages of 2 and 12. Maybe longer, but they tend to learn to hide it by then. I once drove a minivan full of 7 year old boys who spent the entire ride cracking themselves up by repeating "Butt", "poop", "Poopbutt," etc., etc. Having experienced them in their larval form, it continues to amaze me men rule the world.



RHYS: So let's hear from you now. Do you have favorite expressions that somehow date you? And those of you who write, how do you research speech and idioms?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

RHYS AND HER TOYS


RHYS BOWEN:  The other day I talked about ways to handle stress. I think another of my ways is having toys around me. Okay, I admit, I've never really grown up. I still like to play. I remember once being on a beach in India. I caught a lot of tiny hermit crabs and lined them up to race back into the ocean. I looked up and was surrounded by solemn local inhabitants, women in saris, all staring and wondering if this was some kind of religious ceremony!

 It was great when my grandkids were small. I loved playing with them. My twins in Arizona had big cardboard building blocks. I would build a wall with them and the twins would hide behind it. They were the pigs and I was the big bad wolf. When I blew their house down they rushed around squealing in terror and delight. Or I put those blocks across the floor as stepping stones and I was an alligator waiting for them to fall into the water. Of course they always did!

With my granddaughters in California we went into the woods and built fairy houses in hollow trees. We lined them with moss, made furniture, decorated them with flowers and wove curtains to hide the entrance. I was as thrilled as they were when we rediscovered one, years later and still in tact.

Now they are all teenagers and sophisticated and I have to resort to my toys. I have toys sitting at my desk: an Edgar Allen Poe bobblehead, a Poe action figure with raven on shoulder, an Eleanor Roosevelt doll (perhaps the ugliest doll I've ever seen but I love her). And in Arizona, where I am currently, I have Eliot. He was a gift from my daughter and is wonderfully wise and inspirational. When I'm stuck with my writing he comes up with suggestions: perhaps you could hide the body in the trunk, he says.


 I've always taken toys with me when I travel. Hybird has been with me all over the world. Local people have stared when I perched him on Queen Victoria's head in Malta.

When I go on book events I usually take my bears, Sophie and Alexander. You can tell which is which, can't you? Alexander has a naughty grin on his face and Sophie is always telling him to behave himself. I want to find the time to make them outfits and a house, but time seems to be the one thing I lack!





My other traveling couple are Stanley and Livingstone. They are tiny rubber animals so easy to slip into a pocket in my carry-on, and have such cheerful faces. They always make me smile when I return exhausted after an evening at a bookstore. Stanley is the bear, of course. You can see he's a goofball, and Livingstone takes himself very seriously.

So am I seriously deranged or does anyone else have toys around?  I realize that what I lack is pets to play with, but we live in two places and travel so much that it wouldn't be fair to have a pet right now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HARVEST OF SECRETS: A VISIT FROM ELLEN CROSBY


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RHYS BOWEN:  Ellen Crosby and I have been friends for quite a while and I was delighted to catch a short visit with her when she came to the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale on Saturday. Here we are with store owner Barbara Peters.

Of course she was there to talk about her new book, HARVEST OF SECRETS, the latest in her Virginia Wine Country mysteries. And now she'll share some secrets with us. Welcome, Ellen:

ELLEN CROSBY:  A wise person once told me that we are all entitled to a private life, but living a secret life will get you in trouble. When I heard that it was like an earworm without the music: every now and then something would happen that made it pop back into my head and refuse to go away. So I knew sooner or later that bit of wisdom would find its way into one of my books. Harvest of Secrets is a story of family secrets, the heartache and trouble they cause, and the consequences of revealing a secret that will destroy someone’s private life.


A couple of winters ago a friend and I spent the morning at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a field trip to view an exhibition we both wanted to see. As we were standing in front of one of the paintings, she casually mentioned that she had subscribed to one of the find-your-ancestors services without telling anyone and got more than she bargained for when she received her results: an older half-brother she never knew existed. Not only that, he had been looking for her for years. When the two of them finally connected, her “new” brother told her that although he had been given up for adoption at birth, he had been raised by loving parents who had given him a wonderful, happy life. But after his adoptive parents passed away he knew he needed to find out who his biological parents were and what their story was. Because it was his story, too. Through the same DNA testing service my friend used, he found his mother—my friend’s mother—but couldn’t learn anything about his father, nor the circumstances surrounding his biological parents’ relationship and his birth. And only one person in the world could answer those questions.


Their mother.


To this day my friend’s mother still does not know that her son and daughter have met and become close. “What do I do?” my friend asked me that day at the National Gallery. “When my mother gave up my brother for adoption sixty years ago she had every expectation that her secret would remain a secret for life. She signed papers she believed guaranteed her privacy when she gave him up forever. Do you think she would want to meet him now? Did she ever tell my father about him? Was she raped or was it a consensual relationship? Should my brother and I tell her about our relationship? And what about my sister?”


There are no easy answers to those questions; I’m not even sure there are right or wrong answers. But it was enough to start me thinking about what happens when we find out things we didn’t know about our parents or grandparents or long ago ancestors, and how we deal with that new knowledge. How it changes us and what we do going forward if we discover, say, we’re related to a serial killer or we’re not actually Jewish or Native American. Unlike medical DNA testing, I’ve heard these advertised-on-television services referred to as “recreational genetics” because for $99 anyone can find out who else is hanging on their family tree. Even in their family forest. And you might not always like the people you find on those branches. (And, yes, I spit in a vial and sent it off to some lab because it was book research. And no, no surprises).


In Harvest of Secrets, Lucie Montgomery discovers the skull of a young woman buried just outside the family cemetery where all of her ancestors have been laid to rest since the late 1700s. The skull dates from the Civil War and Lucie is certain the woman is related to her. When she learns the woman had been bludgeoned to death, Lucie figures there are two possibilities: either the woman was a relative . . . or the killer was.


Like my friend, Lucie had been curious to learn more about her family’s heritage and secretly sent off a DNA sample to be tested. Also like my friend, Lucie’s results revealed something shocking, a secret she never expected to uncover. And now she has to deal with knowledge no one expected her to have.


Just as the long-ago past comes back to haunt Lucie, so does the recent past when a neighboring vineyard hires Jean-Claude de Merignac, a winemaker from a wealthy aristocratic French family who happened to be Lucie’s first big crush when she was a teenager. Like everyone else, Jean-Claude has secrets that he believed were safely buried in France. But before long his past catches up with him and he’s found stabbed to death with a pair of pruning shears. Suspicion falls on an immigrant worker—an easy target—but Lucie’s Hispanic farm manager tells he’s innocent, warning that if she will not help prove that someone else is the killer, none of her field hands will show up in the next few days to pick grapes during harvest.


It’s now imperative for Lucie to find out who murdered Jean-Claude, and she also wants to know what happened to the woman buried outside her cemetery. Finally, she needs to come to terms with what she learned about her own family.


What she finds in each instance is messy, complicated, and nothing she was expecting. But as she says in Harvest of Secrets, “When I opened Pandora’s Box and explored my DNA and my family’s history, I couldn’t stuff what spilled out back inside.” What Lucie finally realizes—as I have while writing this book—is that even though we each might be entitled to our privacy, in this day and age of the Internet, cameras that watch us everywhere, smart home devices, recreational genetics, and social networking, privacy is something that is becoming ever more elusive.


And like losing your virginity, once it’s gone, you can’t have it back.

ELLEN CROSBY is the author of the Virginia wine country mysteries, including HARVEST OF SECRETS, featuring vineyard owner Lucie Montgomery, which will be released by Minotaur Books on November 6, 2018. Her books have been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award; THE RIESLING RETRIBUTION won the 2009 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best US Wine Literature Book. Crosby has also written two mysteries featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina and MOSCOW NIGHTS, a standalone mystery. Previously she worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News, and as an economist at the U.S. Senate. She is currently writing the 10th wine country mystery; learn more at http://www.ellencrosby.com.