Saturday, September 21, 2019

Word Nerd by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: Way back in the day when I was a librarian, I used to live for the New York Times Book Review. I'd spread it out on my desk with a good cup of coffee at my elbow and read it cover to cover, taking note of any words I didn't know. Later, I'd look up the definition and write it beside the word in a little notebook, hoping to add it to my personal lexicon. These are some of my favorite memories from my library days.

Sadly, the Book Review is not what it once was and I've stopped keeping a list, but I still enjoy stumbling upon a cool new word here and there and adding it to my collection. Lately, the unusual words I've stumbled across all have a love of books or writing in common, so I thought I'd share them with you and invite you to add any favorites of your own to the list.

Librocubicularist: A person who reads in bed! (Also known as my perfect day.)

Tsundoku(the Japanese characters for "pile" and "read" -- hey, there's a tattoo idea!) It means leaving a book unread after purchase, adding it to a collection of similarly unread books. (Basically, the act of building your TBR pile).

Bibliobibuli: A person who reads too much. ( such thing!)

Scriptorium: A sacred space for writing. As opposed to the backseat of my car, when hiding from the fam? (Yes, please! I need to get me one of these.)

Epeolatry: The worship of words. (Sounds like my kind of religion.)

Well, Reds and Readers, are any of these new to you? Do you have any favorite book words that I've missed?

Friday, September 20, 2019

What's in Your Rearview?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: A  somewhat thoughtful post today. We all remember Sue Grafton, who, incredibly, died almost two years ago now. We learned a lot from her, of course,  and one of the many things that stays with me is how careful she was about the victims in her stories. She made sure they were real people, that their lives mattered, that they weren’t simply pawns for crime fiction writers, objects for them to use to  get the action going.
 Steven Cooper feels just he same way.  As an investigative reporter, he’s seen those victims—what happened after they were killed—close up and raw, and personal.  And he says, they haunt his fiction,  including his brand new third novel,  VALLEY OF SHADOWS.
And what he says will haunt you, too.  You don’t get to choose what’s in your rearview mirror. 

The Shadows of Death
 There are murders I’ll never forget. Murders that stay with me, that echo through time, that intersect with the muse and find their way into the consciousness of my writing. There are murders that haunt me, that taunt me.
Did they really find the killer? Did the guilty really go to jail? How do the heartbroken heal?
I’ve long since left my life as a crime reporter, long since left my life as an investigative journalist, and long since left those days of clandestine meetings with sources who often shined a light but sometimes came in disguise to thwart my quest for the truth. When a significant part of your career is spent racing from one crime scene to the next, however, the horrors of humanity never fully secrete from your skin. They linger there at the outermost layer. You wonder why. You wonder how. Life never quite looks the same. You hope the ones who grieve get back up on their feet and learn to love again.
You don’t get to choose what’s in your rearview mirror. I’ll never forget Joan Andres. I never knew Joan Andres. I never knew any of the victims. I only heard their life stories in the past tense. Joan Andres was a 27-year-old bright, up-and-coming lawyer in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was shot dead and brutally stabbed one cold, winter night in her apartment in the Forest Park neighborhood of the city. She had been shot once and stabbed twice, I recall. To a reporter hell-bent on accuracy, the number of bullet holes and stab wounds mattered. But she mattered more. This happened more than twenty years ago. And she still matters to me. In part, her story inspired Deadline, a novel I wrote long ago. I thought it would end there on the page. I waited for catharsis. And it came, but only partly.
Murder is profound. It’s explosive, violent, incomprehensible, and so often random. It’s a punch to the gut. Even in the stillness of a crime scene, it rages. It rages through the darkness. It rages through the light. It rages through the minutia of trial. It rages through the verdict. 
I remember, gavel to gavel, the trial in the Joan Andres case. I remember the defense attorney whispering conspiracies in my ear, trying to deflect his client’s guilt. I’m still, all these year later, not convinced of his client’s guilt. A random guy broke into her apartment and shot her in the face? I don’t know. I wasn’t convinced by the evidence. 
The district attorney, nearly foaming at the mouth, all but threw me out of his office when, in a one-on-one interview, I questioned the evidence. Perhaps I had been too easily influenced by the colorful imagination of the defense attorney. I’ll concede to that. But the DA hammered me. Every ounce of vitriol he had ever suppressed about the media he unleashed on me. Lucky me. His anger made my skin crawl. But both sides felt dirty. I didn’t know whom to believe. But I believed Joan. I believed she was too young to die. I believed she was the only one who knew the truth. I believed her soul would never rest in peace.
Murder, quietly or violently, reminds us of the society we live in. We can shut our eyes but we can’t shut out the evil. Murder has a name. It has lots of names. We can’t forget the names. The names of real people make us seek justice, or light, or redemption. Probably all three.
 Joan Andres was a real person to me because Joan Andres was a real person. So was 13-year-old Danny Croteau. And 24-year-old Lisa Ziegert. And 5-year-old Eric Steven Dostie. And 16-year-old Arnaldo Esteras. The grief of Arnaldo’s mother was palpable as she clung to her son’s casket, her body shuddering, her agonizing cries the only sound in the cathedral. The intimacy of grief and despair I was allowed to witness in the Dostie home followed me to my own home, insidiously lurking in my psyche, and informed me, rather emphatically, that it would never fully leave me.
And it hasn’t. It has informed my writing, all of it. It reminds me to be truthful, even in fiction. It reminds me to be respectful of my characters, even the bad ones. It reminds me that making my characters real people requires treating them like real people.
 For all the shade I throw at TV news, and I throw plenty in my new book, Valley of Shadows, I’m grateful for what journalism taught me about accuracy and authenticity. I’m grateful that, while sometimes harrowing, I took that journey into the darker side of the human condition because often the journey taught me regrettable but unforgettable truths about life. The journey introduced me to real people, real lives, and real suffering and it, thus, made me obligated to those truths, obligated to never, ever fake it in my fiction.
I owe that much to the victims and their loved ones.

HANK: Steve is a dear pal, and a terrific writer, and  I’m interviewing him at New England Mobile Book Fair on September 28—y’all come!  He’s not always this outwardly philosophical—he’s generally hilarious. But I do agree with him-- the job of a news reporter, if you have any heart at all, will eventually break it.
Steve and I both work/worked for local news. And we’re interested—do you still watch it? And writers and readers, do you think about the victims  in the mysteries we all read?

A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel

A cop. A psychic. And a dead socialite. Who killed Viveca Canning and where is the Dali masterpiece that hung on the walls of her estate?

So many people had a motive. Phoenix Detective Alex Mills is on the case with the help of his sometimes-psychic buddy Gus Parker. You won’t find another duo like them. And once you hop on the wild ride, you won’t want to get off. 

Who will survive a doomed flight over the Pacific? Who tried to blow up an art gallery? Who saw Viveca Canning as a threat and shot her twice in the head? Those questions hound Gus and Alex as the case unravels. It’s an art caper wrapped in a murder mystery.

 The Valley of the Sun becomes a Valley of Shadows, where everyone has something to hide and the truth lies beneath Phoenix in a labyrinth of tunnels and dungeons. There’s a lot at stake for Gus and Alex. 

With the case swirling all around them, the future of Gus and his rock n’ roll girlfriend hangs in the balance. 

For Alex, it’s a test of family loyalties as a health scare for his wife brings him to the breaking point. 

Cooper’s style is, at once, scorching and wry. He deftly and seamlessly mixes thrills and chills with snark and wit. There’s good and evil, love and despair, compassion, deceit, and danger. The action swerves around twists and turns and collides with a cast of characters you will not soon forget.

 Steven Cooper is a former investigative reporter. His work has earned him multiple Emmy Awards and nominations, as well as a national Edward R. Murrow award, and numerous honors from the Associated Press. He taught for five years in the English department at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Steven has lived a bit like a nomad, working TV gigs in New England, Arizona and Florida, and following stories around the globe.
 He currently lives in Atlanta. Valley of Shadows is his latest Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


JENN McKINLAY: Ellen and I met at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix several years ago. Honestly, it was love at first snort. Ellen is fresh, funny, and feisty just like her books and I'm so pleased to call her my friend. Here she is to tell us about her latest!

ELLEN BYRONPeople often ask authors if they listen to music while they write. My answer? Music is what I dance to. Always has been. Always will be. I think KC and the Sunshine Band’s disco anthem, “Get Down Tonight,” is the best song ever written. Argue all you want but you will never change my mind.

When I was a kid, my mother enrolled me in ballet lessons. The teacher, a Ballet Russe vet, told her I had great potential to be a ballerina. Unfortunately, I also had an undiagnosed case of A.D.D., which limited my ability to focus with the concentration that a professional dancer must have. But I never lost my love of dancing. I studied jazz, tap, African dance, Afro-Caribbean. I even returned to ballet a few times. I never got to go en pointe, which is one of my biggest disappointments. But I kept shaking my groove thing. I’m not joking when I say that getting to dance in this Go-Go cage at a friend’s party umpteen years ago fulfilled one of the top items on my bucket list. 

(That’s actor Brad Sherwood of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” in the role of M.C.)

I know one reason I fell in love with Cajun Country, where my series is set, is that Louisianans are a music and dance-loving people. If an infectious tune comes on, no matter where you are, a stranger may pull you into a two-step. That’s why the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is such a dream come true for me. Stage after stage of toe-tapping, infectious music. I’m nuts about Cajun and Zydeco tunes but when I’m lucky enough to go to Jazz Fest, I dance everywhere. I even kick up my heels in the gospel tent. 

(Hey, who’s that in the background holding up a copy of Fatal Cajun Festival? Thanks, Photoshop!)

Much as I knew I’d center a Cajun Country Mystery around Mardi Gras, I knew that Jazz Fest would inspire a plot for the series. And it has. In Fatal Cajun Festival, Pelican, Louisiana, my series’ fictional town, sponsors its own festival to attract visitors on their way down river to NOLA’s. Good things happen — Music! Dancing! Pralines! But it’s a mystery, so of course bad things happen too.

I still bust a move five to seven times a week at the gym, either by doing Zumba or a format called Dance it Out that I love so much I wrote it into A Cajun Christmas Killing as “DanceBod.” 

Here's a before and after of me, recovering from a DIO class with master teacher Rae Toledo Latsch, who was in the national tour of “Miss Saigon”.  And yes, that’s my book cover on my workout shirt.

I’m hoping that someday my two great dance loves will come together, and I’ll be able to “get down tonight” with KC and the Sunshine Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Until then, I leave you with this video. And always remember… dance like nobody’s watching. 

Readers, what song makes you want to drop everything and dance? Comment to be entered in a giveaway for a copy of FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL!

Mardi Gras Murder, Ellen Byron’s fourth Cajun Country Mystery, won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. The series has also won multiple Best Humorous Mystery Lefty awards from Left Coast Crime. Writing as Maria DiRico, she’ll debut a second series, The Catering Hall Mysteries, in 2020. TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. Her award-winning plays, published by Dramatists Play Service, have been performed throughout the world. Fun fact: she worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.

To connect with Ellen:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Favorite Small Businesses by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: Now, I’m not here to bash Amazon…much. Truthfully, I love that I can order random stuff and have it at my house ON THE SAME DAY. It boggles, truly. Laser pointer for King George needed ASAP because I’m on deadline and he’s being a butt? Done. It came within hours. I didn’t even have to get in my car and drive anywhere. Mind blown! 

Obscurely shaped pots for my orchid, which suddenly decided to have babies? Actually, they’re called keikis, but whatever. The containers and fertilizer arrived in a week with a bonus five dollar reward because I didn’t make them deliver on the same day. Crazy, right? What madness is this? I remember when Amazon was mostly books and they were losing money like an oil leak out of a cracked engine. Look at them now! So, I don’t dislike Amazon, -- after all, they sell my books -- but as randomly fabulous as they can be, they simply can’t beat some of my favorite small businesses both here in Arizona and in the northeast. 

Why? Because knowing your customers and your product and, dare I say it, specializing in a thing matters. I like brick and mortar. I like talking to people who know their subject inside out ,upside down, and backwards. I like tips and tricks that can only come in person, face to face, instead of on YouTube, which admittedly, can also be cool, but still I crave the human interaction. So, in alphabetical order - because, librarian - here are some of my favorite small businesses:

Arcosanti is an experimental town, known for its molten bronze bell casting business. I have several of these bells hanging on my front porch. They are my early warning system when the monsoons roll in. The community built out in the desert is pretty cool to tour, very reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, but its architectural/ecology mashup concept is the brainchild of the Italian-American architect, Paolo Soleri.

The Bells!

Gaspereau Valley Fibres Yarn. I’m an addict and it’s a problem, but this place explodes with all the fiber loving eye candy a gal could want, plus they offer classes in everything from felting to weaving. Yes, please! And they carry local Nova Scotian yarn, which I love! I go every summer and stock up on projects for winter. Also, you can email them with orders, although I haven't tried this yet from the States.

Long Winter Farm is a Maine soap company, that I visit when I’m back east and making my annual trek to Canada. They rose to infamy when the owner humorously crafted a lip balm called Nasty Woman - I ordered three – but the hippie nerdy vibe of all of their products makes me happy and their product descriptions make me laugh. They sell a soap called Unicorn Farts, people. I personally wiped them out of Sea Sprite body cream – yes, it smells like the ocean!

Poisoned Pen What can I say? It’s my home away from home. I’ve been going to the Pen since I moved to the Valley in 1992, three years after Barbara Peters opened her iconic bookstore. From Paul the dog to the painted outlines of bodies on the floor and bloody handprints on the tables, I love every inch of it. Plus, they put author videos on Youtube. How can you beat that? Here are three Reds in action!

 Hank at the Pen!

Rhys at the Pen!

 Jenn at the Pen!

Queen Creek Olive Mill Let me start with bacon infused olive oil. After that, really, what more needs to be said? This is a working olive mill out in Queen Creek, Arizona, that also hosts a fabulous restaurant and catering. I took my mom for the tour on her birthday and we had a blast, noshing on an olive/cheese plate, buying exotic olive oils and the products made from them – they even had cupcakes! When I’m stumped for a gift, I go to the mill. Also, I always think this would be a great setting for a cozy mystery series...hmm.

Olive Harvest!

So, Reds and Readers, what are some of your favorite small businesses? Share your top picks with us! Oh, and if you need a special day to give a boost to your local businesses, Small Business Saturday is on November 30ththis year!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Let's Talk Book Covers by Laura Bradford

JENN McKINLAY: Yay!!! One of my very favorite author pals is popping in today, and I love her post so much. It's the twisty turny tale of cover art and what it does to authors. Except Laura's story is crazier than most! Here she is to tell it as only Laura can...

LAURA BRADFORD: I can’t speak for all of my fellow writers, but I suspect I speak for many when I describe that moment right before you see your latest cover for the first time as nerve-racking. Because, as we all know, people do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. Granted, different covers speak to different people for different reasons, but they do speak and they speak loudly. 

They can also incite nightmares and trauma, but we’ll get to that…

Next week, my 34thbook (A Killer Carol) will release, and I have to say that the artist assigned to this particular series hit it out of the ballpark (See: Exhibit A). In fact, when I saw just the black and white sketch at the beginning, my jaw literally went slack for the second time in my career. 

Yep, A Killer Carol’s cover is, in a word, stunning

Exhibit A


Now, before we move on, I need to say that I have been pretty fortunate in the cover department. The artist that designed A Killer Carol has worked on just about all of my mystery series with Berkley. She listens to my cover suggestions, actually reads the books from what I can tell, and delivers something I’m excited to see out in the wild. 

But that excited-to-see-out-in-the-wild part? That hasn’t always been the case…

Back in late 2004, I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see the cover for my very first book, Jury of One. The book had taken me close to five years to write on account of having two little ones at home. But it found a home with a small, (now defunct) independent publisher and was set to come out in spring 2005. Because I’d spent so much time with this book, I had a very specific idea for the cover.

In my mind, I saw a nighttime setting. In the foreground was a beach. On the beach, I envisioned a body—face down—with a shadow looming above. In the background, the lights of a boardwalk beach town (ferris wheel, etc.).

As I would soon learn, that’s not the cover I got. 

To make this more fun, let me set the stage for the day I saw this cover for the very first time. I’d been alerted by my editor that the cover was in the mail and so I was pretty much hanging out by the mailbox waiting. On the day it was supposed to arrive, there was no mail in the mailbox at all.

Zip. Nada.

The next day? Same thing. No mail. Nothing.

About an hour after the mail carrier usually came, we got a knock at the door.

It was the mail carrier.  His mail truck had caught fire the previous day (nope, not joking) and much of the mail was either burned or damaged by the water used to put the fire out. Anything that was salvageable would be delivered on Monday.

Monday came. So, too, did a pile of mail, rubberbanded together, with one of those notes that say something along the lines of due to circumstances beyond our control (yada, yada). But in that moment, all I cared about was the singed envelope, bearing my publisher’s name in the upper left hand corner.

I pulled it out of the pile, carried it into the kitchen, ripped that sucker open, and found this (see Exhibit B)…

Exhibit B 
Felt your jaw go slack, too, didn’t you?

No nighttime scene…

No lifeless body in the foreground…

No shadow…

No boardwalk lights…

I have to admit, that the sound that came out of my mouth at that first sighting was part sob/part laugh. I mean, after the whole fire-on-the-mail-truck thing, it was hard not to look around waiting for Peter Funt of Candid Camera to walk out of my pantry.

But, alas, there was no Peter Funt.

There was just me and my pink cover… A pink cover with a green sun…

 JENN: I have no words and, just so we're clear, that never happens! If "cover stroke" was a thing, I'd have had it.


A footnote, for those who are curious: 

1)   I still have the singed envelope.  
2)  Jury of One was picked up by Worldwide Mystery later that year. The new cover, while better, was still nothing I’d pictured.

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, what's your take on book covers? Any horror stories? Any covers that got you to buy a bad book? What do you like to see in a cover?

Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of An Amish Mystery series, as well as the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, and the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (the latter written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey). In addition to her work in mysteries, Laura also pens women’s fiction novels. Her latest, A Daughter’s Truth, released in May and is a Fall 2019 Book Club Pick for Mary Janes Farm Magazine
To learn more about Laura and her books, visit her website: