Saturday, February 23, 2019

Cathy Ace: Steps away from the light and comes up aces...

HALLIE EPHRON: I recently had the great pleasure of reading an advance copy of Cathy Ace's THE WRONG BOY. I was bowled over. Engrossing characters, perfectly rendered Welsh setting, a stunning ending, and as with the best books, the title takes on a new meaning when you're done reading.

Today we welcome Cathy today to talk about her amazing new book.

CATHY ACE: A recent review of my latest book The Wrong Boy (by the well-respected Kristopher Zgorski at BOLO Books) began thus:

“With two successful series and a few collections of novellas, some may view Cathy Ace’s decision to release a stand-alone psychological suspense novel as a strange – and potentially risky – move…”

Kristopher was right – I was leaping into the unknown, stepping into the dark…
My Cait Morgan Mysteries have their place firmly in the “traditional” camp; they are contemporary, closed-circle whodunits, with a not-so-amateur professor of criminal psychology as a sleuth.
I have never viewed them as “cozy” though they were marketed as such by the publisher, there being “no distinctive way to market them as traditional”; each is set in a different country, with an ever-changing cast of characters save the two main protagonists. My other series, the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, is truly “cozy”, featuring a recurring cast, a Welsh village and stately home, and several quirky, and quintessentially British, cases for my four female professional PIs to investigate in each book.

Then along came 2017, when I was faced with two publishers who no longer wanted to do business with me the way they had (a new direction for one, a new owner for the other) so it was clear I had a Big Decision to make – what to write next. Oh, and I should probably mention I also fired my agent. So, I completed my contractual obligations, then plotted my next move…

As a psychology graduate I have always been drawn to the “why” more than merely the “who” or the “how”; Cait Morgan is a professor of criminal psychology who applies her significant understanding of the human condition to the cases she encounters on her travels, and while the four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency aren’t psychologists, they always use their breadth of life-experience and insights to interpret the information they gather through their professional investigating.

So why not run with that? The “why” as the driver for an entire book. But how, exactly?

I began where I always tell those wanting to write to begin – by reading. I read dozens of psychological suspense novels, from the bestsellers to those by authors I’d never heard of before. I met flocks of unreliable narrators (often “girls”!), and became wary of anyone who’d ever sipped so much as a small glass of sherry or sustained even the slightest bump on the head at any point in their life because – you know…blackouts and amnesia, right? I suspect I over-read, because I ended up convinced the “shape” of these books wasn’t right for me as an author.

You see, I had a plot, with the key twists all lined up, but it didn’t feel right; the three main female characters in my head lived their worrying lives in a Welsh location I knew well, but still I couldn’t orchestrate the right rhythm for the tale.

Then I got it!

I’d written a collection of short, and long, stories, as well as a collection of novellas; three of those novellas featured characters from the original collection of short stories, and two of those sets of characters had grown to live their lives in their own series of books. Yes, Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson as well as the four women of the Wise Enquiries Agency were all “born” in the same collection

The real location of THE WRONG BOY: Rhossili, South Wales

of short stories. The only character who’d recurred in my novellas who hadn’t been featured in a novel was a lovely chap by the name of Detective Inspector Evan Glover of the West Glamorgan Police Service in South Wales, who lived an unremarkable, but hard-working and happily-settled life with his psychotherapist wife Betty.

I decided to introduce a police detective element into the shape of the new book to be able to change the rhythm – without allowing it to become a police procedural, which I knew I didn’t want to write. I’d left DI Glover pondering his future as a policeman at the end of the novella I’d written about him in Murder Knows No Season – so decided to give his wife a significant financial windfall, which would allow him to take early retirement.

That meant was I was then able to tell my dark, twisting tale not through the eyes of one unreliable narrator, but through several – each of whom knew a part of what was going on, but none of whom could see the whole picture.
I gave each their own point of
view, each their own voice – and allowed the reader to see the world in which they lived through their individual lenses, never certain about what was true, or what was assumed or imagined.

Now that the book is written, the characters’ voices aren’t talking in my head anymore – which I’m sure is a good thing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of revealing more and more layers of the psyches of the characters – from Evan and Betty Glover struggling

Village of Rhossili, South Wales
as a couple to come to terms with his retirement, to the many ways in which secrets kept within and between families can be psychologically destructive, and even deadly.

It’s been a journey down a darker, twisting path for me. A risk? Certainly, but the review I mentioned earlier concluded with “The Wrong Boy is a first-class narrative journey and readers should seek it out immediately” which is uplifting, and the book recently hit #1 on the amazon psychological suspense best seller list, which tells me readers like the sound of it enough to take that journey with me. And – especially when we leave our usual paths and take a chance – I believe that’s the best an author can hope for.

Do you choose to follow authors whose work you enjoy when they take a different path?
Does it always work for you? Or them?

Find Cathy at:
Twitter: @AceCathy

Friday, February 22, 2019

Smitten by Bud Stamper

HALLE EPHRON: I was a child of the movies. I wanted to BE Velvet Brown. I wanted Holly Golightly to be my best friend. And I lusted after Bud Stamper

We're talking the early nineteen sixties when I was fourteen years old and obsessed with my shortcomings—too tall, too skinny, pimply, smelly, hairy. It was then, in the throes of self-conscious adolescent angst, that I first clapped eyes on Bud. 

My best friend and I took the bus to the Picwood movie theatre in Westwood to see Splendor in the Grass. I left besotted with Warren Beatty’s character, Bud, a sweet, sensitive, sex-starved high-school quarterback who’s madly in love with the virginal, beautiful, popular, passionate, repressed Deanie (Natalie Wood)

He (Bud? Warren?) nailed me with those crinkly eyes, that goofy smile, and an endearing boyish awkwardness. He had the perfect inarticulate stammer and aw-shucks manner about him, a sweetened amalgam of Marlon Brando and James Dean. 

If you’re in my generation, I know you saw the movie. If not, here’s what you missed. It’s set in small-town Kansas in 1928 inthe midst of Prohibition and in the run-up to the stock market crash. Bud’s wealthy father, an oil man who’s all bluster and narcissism, wants Bud to go to Yale and join the family business. Bud wants to go to ag school, become a farmer, and marry Deanie. 

Deanie’s not-so-wealthy parents have aspirations for Deanie, too. Her mother is desperate for her to marry Bud. But her mother’s nightmare is that that her daughter will “go too far” and have to have “one of those operations” and end up shamed for life. 

The screen nearly explodes with unfulfilled lust that drives Bud into the arms of Juanita, the girl boys say “knows what it’s all about.” Desperate Deanie tells Bud she’ll do “whatever you want,” but he can’t bring himself to soil her innocence. Which in turn drives Deanie literally around the bend. She tries to kill herself and ends up in a psychiatric hospital.

Bud soldiers on. Following Daddy’s orders, he goes to Yale but flunks out. He marries a waitress and settles down to be rancher on his father’s land, the only bit of his father’s estate that remains intact after the stock market crash. When Deanie, about to be married, comes looking for him, she meet Angelina, a former waitress who’s his sweet pregnant wife, played by the wonderfully slatternly Zohra Lampert. Deanie asks Bud if he’s happy. He answers, “I don’t ask myself that question very often.”

And they go their separate ways.

It’s all very tragic, a morality tale about the power of sex that left me with a great deal to think about. Would I be Deanie or Juanita or Angelina? There are so many tired sexual stereotypes in this movie, but back then I was seriously unwoke. Almost everything I knew about sex was based on Selena in Peyton Place. And now Deanie in Splendor in the Grass.

I followed Warren Beatty’s career, but by the time Bonnie And Clyde
 came out six years later the bloom was off that rose. According to my movie magazines, my sweet Bud Stamper had been sleeping around. And around. 

It would take a while for me to realize that my ideal partner was not a hunk whom other women lusted after. He was slow but steady, the tortoise not the hare, not clever but smart, loyal…and devoted.

Once upon a time (before you knew better), were you smitten by a rock star? A movie idol? Was it the smile, the eyes, or the abs?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

To Thesaurus or not to Thesaurus

HALLIE EPHRON:  Writers are split on the value of a thesaurus.
Margaret Atwood: You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality.
Roddy Doyle: Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g. 'horse,' 'ran,' 'said.
J. M. Barrie had a soft spot for it. Here's how he describes the villainous Captain Hook in Peter Pan:

The man is not wholly evil - he has a Thesaurus in his cabin
The first draft of the first Thesaurus was completed in 1805. But Dr. Peter Mark Roget, the philologist, scientist, physician who put it together, kept it for decades as a secret project. He didn't publish it until 1852. I imagine him like Gollum, murmuring My Preciouss and stroking the pages all those years when he kept it to himself. Since 1852 it's never been out of print.

Here's a page from the original manuscript which is among the holidngs of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums.

Recently, I was at a writing conference this year, listening to a writer who advised us not to go looking for words in the thesaurus. The best words, he said, were right there at our fingertips. I appreciated the caution, and I eschew words like utilize when instead of use, and lie sounds a lot more natural than prevaricate. I never want to put a word on the page that jumps up and down shouting "AUTHOR AUTHOR!"

However, as I tried to explain to him, I don't go to the thesaurus for fancy words. I go there to find the words I’ve misplaced... and these days there are more and more of them. I did not expect him, a 40-something, to understand how that goes.

What's your feeling about the Thesaurus?

JENN McKINLAY: I love the thesaurus! It could be the librarian in me who values ALL the reference books but I actually use the thesaurus quite a bit. Not to sound more literary in my writing - because, hello, this is me, the person who makes up words like "shrinkle" and had a knock down drag out fight with a copyeditor to let me keep it - but rather to get my brain stretching and reaching in new and different ways when I feel as if I can't quite describe something the way I want.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I love the Thesaurus, too! I use it to...hone the word. Peter Abrahams talks about how a writer can know a word is "agonizingly close" to the correct word, but not exactly the right word...and doesn't that happen? So when that happens to me (every day!)  I use the thesaurus to pick the word that's most like the one I really mean. Then I click on that selection, and see what the sort-of-synonyms for that words are,  and see if I can get closer.  And do that until I find it. Although. I have to say that often I just stick with the one I thought of first.  But I do sometimes find words I've totally forgotten, and for that, I am grateful.

(Sidebar: So often when I find the better word, turns out it's an alliteration of the word it modifies. Is it only me? Why is this, if it happens to you?) (If not, never mind.)

LUCY BURDETTE: I went to the thesaurus this morning because I found I'd used the word "crowded" twice in one paragraph. Here's what came up: congested, crushed, cramped, overcrowded, full, filled to capacity, full to bursting, overfull, overflowing, teeming, swarming, thronged, populous, overpopulated, overpeopled, busy. I chose "cramped" because it sounded like a word Hayley Snow would be using to describe the houseboat.

But this makes me wonder, do you use a hard-copy thesaurus or simply Google the word in question?

HALLIE: I go to a web site. There are a bunch that will give you synonyms. My favorite is
RHYS BOWEN: I have a great book at home in California. It's called Word--something. And I can't remember what. But it's a great thesaurus-like book with cross referencing that makes it extra useful. I went on Amazon to see if I could find it but instead I found something called Naughty Words for Nice Writers. I think I have to have that!

I don't often resort to a Thesaurus. If I can't come up with a word I wander around muttering to myself, trying out alternatives, or, finally resorting to yelling to John, "What's another word for xxx?"

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love the thesaurus, too, but I don't use it to find fancier words--it's for dealing with those infernal repetitions. Or sometimes if I just can't quite get the right word. Or the missing words, as Hallie said, which happen more often than I'd like these days.

I usually use the one in, but I miss the days when I kept a paperback thesaurus right by my keyboard.

HALLIE: So, where do you go when you need to find a word?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sherry Knowlton's passes the "Alexa test" with spirit bears & rogue hippos

HALLIE EPHRON: Sherry Knowlton writes a classic thriller heroine, Alexa Williams, who pushes boundaries and thrives on danger, all the while remaining utterly human. The Midwest Book Review praised her newest book, DEAD OF WINTER, for its "beautiful prose" and "intriguing, suspenseful story which grabs the attention of the reader from the very first page."

For Sherry, that old saw, "write what you know," clearly doesn't apply. And yet...

SHERRY KNOWLTON: The heroine in my Alexa Williams suspense series is a young attorney who keeps finding dead bodies and dangerous situations. In the newest book, Dead of Winter, Alexa becomes the target of an angry mob, has to fight for her life using hand-to-hand combat, and confronts terrorists.

She’s certainly not an invincible superhero type. Quite the opposite; Alexa often second-guesses her own capabilities. She’s a bit of a crusader who has a dogged determination to do what’s right.  The downside is that sometimes she gets carried away and that gets her into trouble. At her core, Alexa is a very brave woman.

As I was editing Dead of Winter, I thought about the challenges I have this fictional heroine face in book after book and wondered: how would I react if I encountered one of the hurdles I throw at Alexa? The closest I’ve come to a test of courage in real life is in encounters with wild animals.

This past autumn, my husband and I took a small boat adventure to see Spirit Bears. These beautiful white bears are found on three islands off the coast of British Columbia.  We spent a day on one of
the islands, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Spirit Bear. I assumed we’d observe the bears from a viewing platform.  Not quite.

I was perched on a fallen tree in a creek bed when the Spirit Bear came meandering down the stream.  Our guides had told us to sit still and not panic if a bear approached.  Easier said than done when a several hundred-pound bear stops twenty feet away and looks you in the eye. 

So, I sat there in a mixture of awe and terror, snapping photos and hoping she didn’t decide to investigate this woman with the camera.  But, she seemed more interested in fishing for salmon than me. Soon, the bear ambled away, and my heart rate returned to normal.

Did I meet Alexa’s standard of remaining cool in the face of danger?  Maybe. I followed instructions to remain still (meaning I didn’t jump up and run away screaming). And, being that close to a wild bear, one I traveled hundreds of miles to see, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The magic of seeing a Spirit Bear in the wild outweighed the fear.  When she left, I had tears in my eyes – not from fright but from wonder.

I was less sanguine in an earlier animal encounter.  My husband, our guide, Josef, and I were cruising by motorboat down a narrow channel in Botswana’s Okavango Delta when a rogue hippo rushed our boat. He swam straight at us, stopping just a few feet away to open his mouth in huge roar.

A note: Rogue hippos are solitary males cast out of the herd.  Living alone makes them ill-tempered and very dangerous.  Hippos kill more people in Africa each year than any other animal. 

When the animal continued to rush us, Josef raced the boat to the shallows, trying to make it harder for the hippo to flip the boat and attack us in the water.  He told my husband and me to get ready to dash to a nearby palm tree and climb it.  The gravity of our situation sank in when I weighed the odds of reaching that tree, chased by an enraged animal with the size and speed of a small car.

Just as we prepared to run, the hippo backed off.  The guide jammed the boat into gear and fled. As we rounded a bend in the channel, the hippo fell back and abandoned the chase.

Did I pass the Alexa test in the hippo encounter? Sort of. I was very scared and aware of my own physical limitations. If we’d been forced to leave the boat and run for that scrawny palm tree, good chance that the hippo would have flattened me. But, I didn’t scream, faint, cry or blubber. Instead, I channeled much of my fear into worry for my husband, who was taking photos each time the hippo leapt at us.

What did I learn from these experiences? Danger can appear in an instant.  There’s nothing to be gained by falling apart. The time to give into the shakes is after the situation has ended. Despite these lessons, I suspect I can still learn a lot more from Alexa.

Readers: Have you ever used information that you’ve read in a book to deal with an unexpected or dangerous situation?  Do you prefer kick-ass heroines?  Or would you rather read about women who show vulnerability?

ABOUT Dead of Winter
A lighthearted trip to test a new drone turns deadly for attorney Alexa Williams
and two close friends when they find a stranger’s bullet-riddled body in a remote field in
rural Pennsylvania. Next to the dead man is a note that declares: Allahu Akbar.

When a second man is executed near Harpers Ferry, Alexa’s old flame, Reese, becomes a suspect, leading her to question just how much he changed while working in Africa. Fear of Islamic terrorism spreads like wildfire through Alexa’s small town after a third murder. When police arrest the oldest son of her Syrian refugee clients, the family becomes the focus of mounting anti-Muslim rage, and a dangerous militia group turns its sights on Alexa.

One dark night in the dead of winter, Alexa discovers who is behind the murders and must race to stop an attack that could kill hundreds. If she fails, she could lose everyone she loves.

ABOUT Sherry KnowltonSherry Knowlton is the author of the Alexa Williams series of suspense novels: Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer, Dead of Spring and the most recent release, Dead of Winter.  Passionate about books at an early age, she was that kid who would sneak a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers. All the local librarians knew her by name. When not writing the next Alexa Williams thriller, Knowlton works on her health care consulting business or travels around the world. She and her husband live in the mountains of South Central Pennsylvania.
@sherry.knowltonbooks (Facebook)
@KnowltonSBooks (Twitter)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Austin Starr mysteries author Kay Kendall on inspiration

HALLIE EPHRON: Today we're thrilled to host the author of the Austin Starr mysteries, Kay Kendall. Kay writes historical mysteries, and her newest is a series prequel, AFTER YOU'VE GONE is set in the 1920's. The series has won won two Silver Falchion awards (Best Mystery AND Best Book!) at Killer Nashville.

Kay is here to talk about the question authors dread. And she's giving away a copy of AFTER YOU’VE GONE to one lucky commenter!

KAY KENDALL: “Where do you get your ideas?”

If you hang around with authors long enough, you’ll invariably hear one say, “Someone asked me a silly question at my book event yesterday.” Then the second will chime in. “Right, I bet it was the old stand-by, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’” The third replies, “Hate answering that, and it comes up often.”

The first time I heard a conversation like that, I mentally patted myself on the back, thinking “Whew, at least I never asked that silly question.” Sure I asked plenty of others as I prepared to become a published author, but not that one.

By then I knew that ideas can float up from anywhere, often from the unlikeliest places. I was reminded of this when I read Deborah Crombie’s post here on Jungle Red last week about including maps in her mysteries. She shared examples and extolled the delights of working with her illustrator Laura to prepare maps to show the terrain of her plots.

Now, I happen to be a keen aficionado of maps. A good in-depth map thrills me. In my travels, the best I’ve seen are put out by German publishers—I swear some show every tree. Also, in the UK the Ordinance Survey maps are splendid, offered with astonishing levels of detail. While I was admiring Deborah’s maps online, I recalled other mysteries that contained maps (for example, Donna Leon’s mysteries always include maps of Venice). I was blissed out just thinking about them.

And then it hit me. I could include a map in my next mystery!
What an idea. And why had it never occurred to me before? See. Ideas can bubble up anywhere, anytime. So, thank you Deborah Crombie. 

I realize that when I write, I’m working from a mental map of the places my characters inhabit. For my first two mysteries, I used places that already existed in the cities of Toronto, Vancouver, and Seattle in the late 1960s. I consulted maps that showed streets and landmark buildings, making sure that my people were situated properly. I made nothing up.

In my new book, AFTER YOU’VE GONE—AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY PREQUEL, I made up a fictitious small town in Texas. I called it Gunmetal. (I checked. There isn’t one, but there is a Gun Barrel in Texas.  Of course.) I situated my town near the real ones of Cuero and Yoakum. The first time I ever saw Spanish moss on trees was when I visited cousins in Cuero, and my father was born nearby in Yoakum. While I know lots about those towns, I wanted to be free to imagine my own places and not feel bad if I were to hurt any current residents’ feelings by what I wrote. Large cities I’d written about before were different. Small towns didn’t seem like fair game.

I would’ve liked to show readers of AFTER YOU’VE GONE where Gunmetal was located on a map. Although I say in the book that Gunmetal is near Cuero, many readers will never have heard of Cuero (pop. 8,200). Likewise, when I note that Gunmetal is in-between Houston to the east and San Antonio to the southwest, this may not leap to their minds either. My mystery is set in 1923, and my amateur sleuth Wallie MacGregor and her Aunt Ida take a road trip in a brand new Buick motorcar to visit a relative in Houston, 150 miles away. In those days the trip took eight hours or more. Today it takes less than three.

I wish I’d included a map that shows the house twenty-three-year-old Wallie lives in with her father, the judge. Her real name is Walter, after her father, and her male name seems to have made her extra spunky. They live in a large Queen Ann Victorian, with an empty lot to the right and standoffish neighbors to the left—so
mean that they hate Wallie’s beagle puppy Holler on sight. Wallie takes a walk with her dad’s hunting dog across town, across the tracks to the colored part of town, where their housekeeper Athalia lives—she doesn’t have a phone. Now I long to show my readers those things on a map. And then of course there’s the location of the so-called accident that induces Wallie to prove it was murder. And I think …

Well, next time I will include a map.

Luckily for me, Vienna, Austria, is the location of my next book. Austin Starr’s grandmother Wallie flies over there in 1970 to help her granddaughter when she becomes a suspect in a grisly murder. There will be lots of beautiful historic places to situate the explosions and gun battles I have planned. And this time you will see those locations on a map—or perhaps even on two.

What are examples of books you’ve read that included maps—besides those wonderful ones by Deborah Crombie? And are any of you location challenged? My super smart gal pal is and could get lost in a ladies room in a hotel. She can’t even read a map, although she got all A’s in college. Is anyone else like that? 

And a copy of AFTER YOU’VE GONE to one lucky commenter!

Kay Kendall writes the Austin Starr mystery series ( ). After You've Gone (February 2019) is a prequel featuring Austin Starr’s grandmother who comes of age during the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition. This amateur sleuth searches for the killer of her uncle—who just happens to be a famous rumrunner in Texas. The first two Austin Starr books capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. Desolation Row (2013) and Rainy Day Women (2015) show Austin as a young Texas bride, forced to the frontlines of societal change by her draft-resisting husband. Austin copes by turning amateur sleuth. The latter mystery won two Silver Falchion Awards in 2016 at Killer Nashville. In all her fiction, Kay shows how patterns of human nature repeat down the decades, no matter what historical age one reads about.

Before Kay began to write fiction, she was an award-winning international public relations executive, working in the US, Canada, the Soviet Union, and Europe. Ask her about working in Moscow during the Cold War. She and her Canadian husband live in Texas with three rescue rabbits and one bemused spaniel. She is president of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. /  
Kay blogs monthly on 3rd Wednesday of each month at ##

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hungry? Where do you go for inspiraton?

HALLIE EPHRON: As you all know, I love to cook. I'm writing this on last week's Valentine's Day and as soon as I'm done typing, I'm heading into the kitchen to make a corn and crab bisque.

Like every good bisque it starts with bacon--cook it crisp, crumble it, and use the fat to sautee the vegetables. You
cut corn off the cob and then simmer the cobs in heavy cream and chicken stock to create a base. There's a bunch more steps involving the bacon fat and onions and leeks and chanterelles and sherry, and at some point you add potatoes and then the corn. At the END you sauté crab meat in butter and add it. Serve with fresh herbs on top. I'd never made it but it seems like the perfect luxurious dish for my valentine.

I still use cookbooks, and I have file folders bulging with recipes. But these days my go-to site for recipes is Epicurious. It's loaded with wonderful ideas, and often I'll print off 2 or 3 same-but-different and merge them to my taste. Frankenfood.

The comments are helpful and sometimes crack me up. Like this, for one of their recipes for soft shell crab with wilted spinach:

"I substituted red snapper for the soft shell crabs and kale for the spinach, and cut down on the amount of vinegar. It turned out very well."

When you want to cook up something sensational and special, where do you go for inspiration?

RHYS BOWEN:  Valentine's dinner was garlic jumbo prawns in a balsamic glaze, with crispy garlic potatoes and asparagus. Yummy.

When I was young I used to try out new and complicated recipes on guests, much to my husband's dismay. You've never tried this before? He'd wail. Usually they turned out okay, except for the turban of sole that collapsed in a big  mess all over the plate when I turned it out. 

These days I stick to tried and true recipes, ones we know we love. We often serve guests a curry, which John does awfully well, or a leg of lamb with roast potatoes. Sometimes I browse my many cookbooks, especially for appetizers and desserts, or look online but I have to confess we often wind up taking guests to a nice restaurant!

LUCY BURDETTE: Mmmm, That crab and corn bisque sounds
divine! I save recipes all the time, from the New York Times, the Washington Post, a variety of email lists I belong to... and if I want to make something I haven’t tried before, I usually start by googling. Then I skim over the recipes that show up and pick and choose my ingredients and methods.

I also get obsessed with ingredients from time to time – this year it’s Rancho Gordo. I can’t wait to make the shrimp and hominy stew that came in their latest email. I had to order a bunch of stuff just to be sure the hominy and the smoked pimento were on board in my kitchen!

JENN McKINLAY: That bisque sounds delicious. What a lucky Valentine, you have. I actually loathe cooking. I find the day to day
meal planning to be utter drudgery. Thankfully, I married wisely and Hub and I split the cooking, which makes it tolerable.

I should say that while I find daily cooking tedious, I love to bake. I am a cookie, pie, and cake machine and bake every week, usually a couple of times so there is always a dessert around here or two. I love cookbooks and have a solid collection. For fresh inspiration, I hit Pinterest and I have a subscription to All Recipes (a website inspired the print version) both of which I enjoy.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Jenn, the planning! Is the worst. I say: just TELL me what to make, and I make it, but don't make me think of it.

That said, when I get inspired with an idea, I go to various cookbooks and online to see the different ways people
make it--say, beef bourgignon or lemon chicken, and take the parts from each that I like.

For Valentines day, ooh, I forgot it was valentines day, But my cooking fun is to see what's in the fridge, and then see what I can make from it. So we had sirloin tips on fresh spinach with yellow tomatoes and black olives and bleu cheese.  it was SO pretty--and delicious!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I actually don't mind the meal planning. Usually I do it on Saturday or Sunday, and then do the shopping for the week.

My downfall is not managing to cook everything I plan
and so I end up wasting stuff at the end of the week. My other downfall is cookbooks, which I am just swoony crazy about. I made a resolution that this year that I would try to actually cook one thing from every cookbook I keep on my shelves! But, alas, aside from the standards that pull up again and again, I am much more likely to try something new that I find on the Internet when I'm looking for ways to use that food in the fridge! (What can I do with fresh English peas and butternut squash, for instance, when the hubby likes neither...)

I like Epicurious, too, Hallie, and love the NYT recipes. Oh, and I follow cooking blogs (big trouble) my most favorite being Deb Perlman's Smitten Kitchen. She's such a good writer than it's even  fun to read about things I'd never make.

Rhys, I want your balsamic shrimp recipe! And, Jenn, I wish I had the metabolism to eat all those goodies you make. I'd probably be a better baker...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Jenn, I, to, suffered the "I hate to cook" period, and why not - when you're cooking for hungry teens, it's all about shoveling the greatest amount of calories and nutrition for the most reasonable price, in a form they won't turn up their noses at. It has a lot more in common with being a coal stoker on a steam engine than anything else. 

That being said, I'm starting to enjoy cooking much more these days, mainly because the only person I have to please is me. Vegetarian? Fine. Ancient grains? Bring it on. "Weird" soups? Okay.

When I'm cooking to impress, my inspiration comes from magazines. (I feel very old-fashioned.) I love the recipes in Southern Living, for instance, and Better Homes and Gardens has some great stuff as well. I'm not a cookbook reader - to me, they're user manuals, not literature. I have enjoyed some that combine history with recipes, but otherwise... lets just say I'm not leafing through them at bookstores. So general-interest magazine recipes are just right for me - pretty pictures to spark my interest, but usually NOT instructions that go on for two pages. For instance, any recipe that begins, "cut the corn off the cob" is too much work for me. Gimme a can opener, let's get on with it.

HALLIE: PS on the crab bisque. It was a near disaster. I'd bought dried chanterelles which turned out not to be 'dried' so much as petrified. The plastic package was broken, and they must have gone bad because no matter how much hot water I used to reconstitute them they remained woody. I had to remove them from the soup, tiny piece by tiny piece. 

After that, it was delicious.

What are your go-to places for meal-planning inspiration? And it's ok if it's your takeout menu drawer.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Buried to the Brim has gone to the dogs!

JENN McKINLAY: My contribution to this week's topic of what we're writing is all about the corgi. In short, my London hat shop amateur sleuths take a job designing hats for a corgi in a dog show, because of course they do, and it's all going great until the dead body of the sponsor of the dog show is found by their client, a corgi named Freddy. 

The London Hat Shop Series

This series is one of my favorites because it's written in first person (allowing for a whole new level of sarcasm) from the perspective of the American character Scarlett Parker, who recently came to London to take up her half of the hat shop which she inherited with her British milliner cousin, Vivian Tremont.

The series went unrenewed by the publisher for a year and a half  until I got bored last summer and asked I could write another one. They said I could write two, but I looked at my schedule and decided one would do for now. You see, the last book ended in Paris, and I just felt like I needed one more book at home in Notting Hill. We'll see if there's another in me. That's the beauty of writing a series. Sometimes you think you're done but after a little time passes, a new idea bubbles up. 

The following excerpt finds Scarlett, on her way to compete in the dog show with her fiancĂ©'s Aunt Betty's dog, Freddy, when a call comes in for a corgi rescue and Aunt Betty insists they answer the call. This required me to research corgi puppies for which I only have two words: Stooopid Cute! 

(Pictures courtesy of


     “Hello?” a woman's voice spoke through the intercom.
      “Hi, this is Betty Wentworth, I’m with corgi rescue and am here about Bella,” she said.
      I could hear barking in the background and the woman said, “Bella from hella? Come and get her, she’s all yours.”
      “Oh, dear,” Aunt Betty said. The interior door’s lock clicked and she pulled it open, holding it for me.
     We trudged up the stairs to the second floor where the apartment was situated. The barking got louder as we got closer. 
     Aunt Betty raised her fist to knock but the person on the other side must have been waiting because the door was pulled open before her knuckles could connect with the wood.
     “Take her,” a middle-aged woman with brown hair that was highlighted with streaks of silver said. She was broadly shaped and wore a thick turtleneck under a shapeless cardigan over sweatpants. She had no makeup on, reading glasses perched on her head, her phone in her hand and an air about her that said she’d given up on life and had no intention of re-engaging any time soon. 
     I wanted to hug her and tell her everything would be okay but since I had no idea what she was dealing with, it seemed inappropriate at best and extremely insensitive at worst. Instead, I followed Aunt Betty into the apartment. It was barren except for a few boxes. The windows were large, without curtains, making the room airy and bright. 
     Aunt Betty glanced around. “Where is she?”
     The woman ran a hand over her face. “Destroying something no doubt.”
     Aunt Betty flashed her an annoyed look and set off into the apartment.
     “I’m just trying to get my parents moved into an elderly care facility,” the woman said. “They’re both in failing health and my dad has dementia.”
      Her voice broke and she looked like she just needed a good cry. This time I went with my impulse and gave her a half hug. 
     “There, there—” I paused. “I’m sorry what’s your name?”
     “Lynn,” she said. “Lynn Biscoff.”
     “Like the cookie?” 
     She gave me a look. “Yeah, like the biscuit.”
     “I’m Scarlett, like the color,” I said. She gave me a watery smile. “We’re here now. We’ll take the puppy off your hands.”
     “I can’t thank you enough.” Lynn sighed and wiped the tears from her face with the sleeve of her sweater. She picked up a leash from the kitchen counter and handed it to me. “I don’t know what my mother was thinking, bringing home a puppy last month. She knew they were moving and she knew the place didn’t take pets.”
     I nodded. It sounded to me like her mother had gotten the dog to avoid the move. I didn’t say it because I was pretty sure she’d figure it out on her own when she had a minute to think. Besides we had enough to deal with at the moment.
     I heard the scrabble of dog paws on wood and glanced across the empty room to see a puff ball of white and honey, a miniature Freddy in fact, coming at me. Aunt Betty was hot on her heels.
     “Grab her, Scarlett!” Aunt Betty cried.
     For the record, I tried. Really, I did. But the dog was half projectile and before I even had my hands out, she rocketed right past me, making me totter on my heels. Aunt Betty blew by me, giving me a none too gentle push as she went. 
     “Cut her off!” she cried.
     Aunt Betty went one way around the pile of boxes, and I went the other. Lynn watched looking too exhausted to move her feet. But to her credit, she crouched down as if Bella might leap into her arms and she’d catch her. 
     I dropped low and as the puppy came at me, I was certain I’d be able to grab her and said, “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!" My arms hugged air. "I don’t have her!”
     How Bella managed to dash through my feet and race back down the hall, I don’t know, but she did. I straightened up, getting a mild head rush and hurried after her.
     “Bella! Come here, Bella!” I cried. “We do not have time for this!”
     Aunt Betty was fumbling in her purse where she found some dog treats. Not the hard biscuit kind but the sort that were soft and looked like mini sausages.
     “Good thinking,” I said. 
     She winked at me. “She ran into the back bedroom. Let’s slip in and close the door. We’ll probably have to corner her as she’s either scared out of her mind or thinks this is a game.”
     “Given her nickname, Bella from hella, I’m betting on game,” I said.
     We slipped into the bedroom. It, too, was bare except for a pile of bedding in the middle of the floor. The closet doors were open and a quick glance showed that it was empty except for a few sad wire hangers. I scanned the room. There was no sign of the willful puppy.
      Then I saw a wriggle out of the corner of my eye. The large fluffy blue blanket moved. I waved at Aunt Betty and pointed at the pile on the floor. She nodded. Silently we crept forward. There was another wriggle and a baby growl. As if the fierce Bella was trying very hard to sound ferocious. It was so stinking cute, I felt my heart go smoosh. 
     Aunt Betty held the treat out and we closed in on the puppy coming at her from opposites of the blanket. There was a wriggle and a pounce and then a little head popped out from beneath the fluffy comforter. Two big ears, a black nose, and a pair of sparkling eyes regarded us. Her tongue slipped out of her mouth as she panted and I got the feeling Bella was delighted with us. Before she could dash away, Aunt Betty held out the treat, which caused Bella to wiggle with excitement. While Bella gingerly took the treat from Aunt Betty’s hand, I clipped the leash to her collar. 
     Aunt Betty and I exhaled simultaneously as if we’d just run a marathon. Aunt Betty glanced at her phone to check the time. “We have to go!”
     Not wanting to give Bella the chance to slip out of her collar, I picked her up in a football hold, she was as solid as a ten-pound turkey, and carried her back into the main room.
     “You got her!” Lynn clapped her hands in front of her. She smiled at us but then her smile slid away and she asked, “What will happen to her?”
     “We’ll find her a really good home,” Aunt Betty said. “And in the meantime, she’ll receive the very best of care as a foster puppy.”
     Lynn looked relieved. She reached out and rubbed Bella’s head. “I’m sorry, little love. You’re just too much for my old folks and taking care of them means I can’t take care of you.”
     Bella licked her wrist and Lynn smiled. “She really is a good girl if you can overlook her barking, chewing the furniture, and relentless herding tendencies.”
     “We’ll train that out of her,” Aunt Betty said. “Don’t you worry.”
     I looked down at the bundle of fur in my arms. She didn’t 
resemble a problem puppy but I knew I was likely getting 
snookered by her big brown eyes and her wagging butt. Heaven help me.


Now, if I ever actually finish this puppy (intended) it will be coming out in January 2020!

So, Reds and Readers, are you a fan of dog shows? Did anyone else just watch Westminster or was it just me?

**The winner of Lucy Burdette's giveaway of A DEADLY FEAST is CUDDLE UP WITH A COZY MYSTERY AND A DACHSHUND. Please email LucyBurdette at gmail dot com with your snail mail address.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

What We Have Written Week: HID FROM OUR EYES

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My last novel, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS, was published in November, 2013. In the five years since then, I've dealt with illness (mine,) boomerang children, college drop-outs, college searches, serious depression and what feels like a statistically unlikely number of loved ones dying on me. I struggled mightily with writing, and it often felt like I was never going to get back up on the horse I so loved to ride.

Which makes it all the sweeter to tell you today that the ninth Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, HID FROM OUR EYES, is done, turned in, and in the editing process right now. The projected publication date is "Winter '20," most likely January or February.

Here is a short video of me bringing the ms to St. Martin's Press.

And here's an excerpt, picking up shortly where I left off the last time we had WWW week - Russ and Clare, his mother and former chief Jack Liddle are on their way to a fundraiser to benefit the save-the-police-department campaign.

   Russ refrained from asking again about staying behind. It might not be so bad, with Jack Liddle to talk to. He was actually going to have the men up front and the ladies in the back on the way over, but somehow his mom and Liddle wound up sitting in the back with Clare riding shotgun as usual. Mom spent most of the ride catching Liddle up on the Save Our Police campaign – what there was of it to this point. What a name. “Too bad we're not a sheriff's department,” he said quietly to Clare. “Then it could have been SOS.”

      “How about Save Our Badges?” she suggested. He laughed.

        The road to the Langevoorts was typical of summer homes in the mountains. First a winding paved road, then a gravel-covered turnoff leading to several private drives, then another long stretch of rutted, beaten dirt. Most people who came to the Adirondacks liked to keep things rustic and traditional.

         They parked, and Liddle got out of the vehicle, crossed behind the rear and held the door open for Russ's mother. Clare, who had exited under her own power, gave Russ a pointed look. “I'll do it for you, darlin', but you have to have the patience to stay put until I collect you.” He tucked her hand in the crook of his arm.

       “Yeah, that's not really my style,” she said. “What a lovely camp.” It was a picture-perfect example of High Adirondack architecture, all creamy varnished logs and deep eaves. There was a broad slate walk to the doorway, with an overhang to keep off the rain. “That's odd. Don't these sort of places usually have a porch?”
       “It's on the other side of the house,” Liddle said. “Wraps around on two sides.” Russ looked at him. “I've been here before. A long time ago, but it hasn't changed much. It belonged to Mr. Candice, then.”

       “He was the last president of the company,” Clare said. “Kent Langevoort took over from him. And now, of course, he's handing the reins over to someone else.”

       “And so the wheel of time turns,” Liddle said. “MakeS me miss the old days, once in a while.”

       “Trust me,” Margy said. “If you were a woman, you wouldn't be nostalgic at all.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Making the Maps

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's been so much fun this week to see where everyone is in their book process! Like Hallie, I'm working through my editor's comments on my upcoming book. But I've also been doing something else the last few weeks, since typing THE END.

A BITTER FEAST will be my 12th book to have an accompanying map illustrated by the wonderful Laura Hartman Maestro. The very first was for the 6th Duncan and Gemma novel, KISSED A SAD GOODBYE, which was set in east London's docklands and the Isle of Dogs.

Map by Laura Hartman Maestro

How gorgeous is that? Just looking makes me want to dive right in and reread the book (which I probably should do...) Look at that clipper ship!

Since then, working with Laura is one of my biggest treats in the publication process. When she's finished reading the manuscript (which she was getting chapter by chapter the last couple of months, like a Dickens serial) we have a long chat about what we might want to include on the map.

Then I send her a real map, with important places in the story (both fictional and actual) marked on it. Like so:

In A BITTER FEAST, it's the Cotswold villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter, in Gloucestershire. 

Then, if it's an actual place, like The Mill in Lower Slaughter, I send her a photo.

Or if it's a totally made up place, like my character Nell's cottage, I send her a photo of what I imagine Nell's cottage might look like. (I want to live in this one.)

In this case we decided it would be fun to have a thatched cottage, so I'll have to go back and tweak the text a little bit so that the description in the book fits the illustration.
When Laura has finished a first draft of the map, she sends it to me to proof. I can't wait to see what she comes up with for A BITTER FEAST. I'm guessing there will be at least one dog, a lovely black and white border collie named Bella--and maybe MacTavish, the Scottish deerhound, and Polly, the long-coated Jack Russell terrier. In any case, I'm sure it will be wonderful!

Readers have loved following the stories on the maps--and even using the maps as their own personal tour guides in the UK. 

But for those of you who've missed the maps in the e-books, they are all on my website 
They can be downloaded and/or printed.  

And if you've missed KISSED A SAD GOODBYE and its map, let me know below. I'll send a signed hardcover copy of the book to a lucky commenter!  

Tell us if you enjoy maps in books, and if you have any favorites. I fell in love with the end paper maps in Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy when I was fourteen, and have been hooked ever since!

A BITTER FEAST, Kincaid/James #18, will be published in October 2019 and is available for pre-order now!