Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What Would You Do with a Billion Dollars? by Kate Carlisle

JENN McKINLAY: I'm thrilled to have my bestie visiting today! And because she won't brag on herself, I will. Check this out: A trifecta of bestsellerness!!! Have you started the Fixer Upper mysteries yet? Don't miss out!

The latest Fixer-Upper Mystery, SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH, came out on October 29, in paperback and ebook. Coming soon in audiobook. Read chapter 1 for free at

And now here's Kate to tell us more about her latest bestseller!

KATE CARLISLE: What would you do if you had a billion dollars? A billion. A thousand millions. Would you quit your job? Would you start a business? Would you move to a different town, a different part of the country, a different country altogether? Would you have more than one home? What would you do for your family and friends?

A billion is such a big number, it’s hard to wrap one’s brain around. Let’s say you did everything I listed above. Even if you were wildly extravagant, you’d probably still have, oh, nine hundred million dollars.

I think that once you got past the irresistible self-indulgences, you would realize that you have more money than you could possibly need in a lifetime. Then you might start thinking on a grander scale. After you’ve taken care of yourself, your family, your friends, and your community, eventually you might start to think about how you could effect real change in the world.

What would you do with a billion dollars once the newness of wealth wore off?

This was the question that inspired my latest mystery novel, Shot Through the Hearth. In it, contractor Shannon Hammer has been hired to renovate the Victorian farmhouse of and build a barn for a young retired tech billionaire, Raphael Nash.

The size of Rafe’s wallet is matched only by the size of his heart. After moving to Lighthouse Cove and falling in love with Shannon’s friend Marigold, Rafe starts the Marigold Foundation, with the lofty goal of eradicating poverty and saving the environment.

Rafe had the vision, the intelligence and the energy to bootstrap himself from humble beginnings to being one of the wealthiest men in the world. Now he intends to put all of his talents toward saving the planet for future generations. As the book starts, he tells Shannon that he’ll be hosting Future Global Survival Con in their quaint seaside town. Here’s a taste from chapter one:

“I’ve already booked a few dozen speakers,” Rafe said. “We’ll have demonstrations and lectures and workshops on all sorts of future-forward ideas from every area of business, education, arts and sciences, space, communication, food and farming.”

“You’ve already lined up all these people?”

“Yeah. Well, most of them are friends, so it wasn’t too hard to twist their arms.” He sat forward in his chair, getting into the subject. “We’ve got an eco-fisheries expert whose passion is tide pools. And another, my friend Julian Reedy, is a world-renowned plant expert who is determined to prove that plants can communicate with humans.” He grinned. “Oh, and wait ’til you see the Stephanie vine. She’s this huge, fast-growing plant that moves and grows in reaction to human pheromones. She’s extraordinary.”

“Stephanie is . . . a plant?”

“Yeah. You’ll see. It’s very cool. And another buddy, Arnold Larsson, is a pioneer in the field of smart mice studies.”

Mice?I shivered. One of my deepest, darkest secrets was that I was deathly afraid of mice. But I wasn’t about to mention it here and now.

“Everyone who comes to the conference will be invited to submit a grant proposal and give a short presentation on how they would change the world. I’ll be awarding a number of grants to help them finance their projects and ideas, put their words into action.”

But while Rafe’s goals are noble, with that much money up for grabs, not everyone’s motives will be altruistic. In fact, someone will die. . . 

Contractor Shannon Hammer is measuring murder motives in the latest Fixer-Upper Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of A Wrench in the Works and Eaves of Destruction... 

Shannon's good friend and retired tech billionaire, Raphael Nash, is loving his new retired life but he can't stay unoccupied for too long. He's started the Marigold Foundation that helps fund small companies and individuals who do humanitarian work around the world. It's an exciting time in Lighthouse Cove as Raphael hosts the first ever global conference inviting big thinkers from every area of industry to give presentations on eco-living. 
Raphael's old business partner arrives in town with a grudge and a plan to steal him away from his important new passion project. Shannon knows her friend has no intention of giving up Marigold and is proud of Raphael for sticking to his guns. But when his former associate winds up dead, all signs point to Raphael. 
It's up to Shannon to hammer out the details of the murder before her friend gets pinned for the crime... 

Question of the Day: If you had a billion dollars, what would you do after you had taken care of yourself, your family and your friends?

Kate Carlisle is the New York Timesbestselling author of two ongoing series: the Bibliophile Mysteries featuring San Francisco bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright, whose rare book restoration skills uncover old secrets, treachery and murder; and the Fixer-Upper Mysteries (as seen on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries), featuring Shannon Hammer, a home contractor who discovers not only skeletons in her neighbors' closets, but murder victims, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Travel Misadventures by Gigi Pandian

JENN McKINLAY: One of my very favorite people to connect with at writing conferences is the super talented Gigi Pandian. She's smart, funny, adventurous, and a brilliant word smith, but also, she shares a deep and abiding love for Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, with me. Read yesterday's post for more on that. We are reader soul sisters, for sure! Now here's Gigi to tell you more about her (mis)adventures in research and writing.

GIGI PANDIAN: “Misadventures” is a much more appealing word than “nightmares” or even “hassles,” isn’t it? That’s my story and I’m sticking with—even though my latest misadventure involves breaking my ankle while exploring an off-the-beaten-path Cambodian temple.

Ugh, I know! Perhaps the most unexpected part of that experience was that it didn’t end up ruining the trip, but quite the opposite. Instead of cutting the trip short, we relied on more people to help us get around, and in the process met wonderful people who we otherwise never would have met.

And by forcing me to slow down, fracturing my ankle had an additional unexpected benefit. With my leg propped up with an ice pack in Phnom Penh at the Raffles Hotel Writers Bar, I wrote a draft of my locked-room mystery story “The Cambodian Curse,” about a seemingly impossible museum heist of a Cambodian statue, and I figured out the treasure in The Glass Thief—the new Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery that’s out today.

I don’t know about you, but I love traveling for the same reason I love reading—to take me to destinations more surprising and wondrous than I could have imagined. Travel is an adventure, and that’s why we embark on trips that take us out of our comfort zones. It shouldn’t surprise us that it involves unexpected snafus—or twists, as we’d call them if we were reading about them.

I admit it. I don’t always find life twists as fun as the ones I read about. (Roberta—I’m thinking of you when you lost your passport in India!) As my ankle swelled from apple-size to grapefruit-size on our 2-hour car ride back to Siem Reap from the temple of Banteay Chhmar, I was not a happy camper. We were only halfway through our trip. Should we stay?

By the time I pulled out my notebook that sweltering evening, we decided to treat it as an adventure. I’m a writer, after all. I better have a good enough imagination to turn an injury into an adventure. I’d sprained my ankle before, which is what I thought this was at the time, so I knew how to get around with an injured foot. I iced it, wrapped it, and put it in a brace. We were already halfway around the world in a country I’d never previously visited. We were staying. 

How could I not? None of my research compared to history and culture coming alive. Especially in a country like Cambodia that’s been through so much strife, from French colonialism to the bloodshed of the Khmer Rouge. Many of the historical Buddhist and Hindu temples from the thriving Angkorian Empire are only now being cleared and excavated. Banteay Chhmar, the Angkorian temple where I broke my ankle, is currently being excavated, so it doesn’t have wooden steps and walkways for tourists. Over the course of several hours, we only saw half a dozen other visitors, and only two of them fellow Westerners. We had a marvelous guide to show us around (thank you, Mr. Pel!), but still had to step carefully. By the end of our day there, I got sloppy. Which my husband still won’t let me forget—he’s the one with a bad foot, so he was far more careful than I was. I took my mobility for granted. Oh, the things we take for granted!

Of course I’d rather not have broken my ankle, but I’m still glad I went on the trip. Some of my travel misadventures have been more fun than others—being trapped in the Louvre during an art heist was definitely better than having to sleep on the cold floor of an Italian train station after missing a connection—but in spite of how much I adore being curled up on my couch with a good book, what I gain from understanding and experiencing more of the world will always pull me out my front door again.

What misadventures have you encountered on your travels? Did you still think it was worth it?

THE GLASS THIEF is out today! In the latest installment of the multi-award-winning and USA Today bestselling series Publishers Weekly calls “everything a mystery lover could ask for,” historian Jaya Jones travels from San Francisco to Paris and Cambodia to solve two impossible crimes before a killer strikes again and a priceless treasure vanishes forever.

The book just received a *starred review* from Library Journal! “Charming and eclectic characters populate this Indiana Jones-esque adventure, which comes highly recommended for
fans of locked-room mysteries in the manner of Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters.” 

p.s. Gigi is hosting two virtual book launch parties today to celebrate, one at 7am Pacific Time for early birds, and one at 7pm for night owls:

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

Sign up for Gigi’s email newsletter to receive a free Jaya Jones novella and Accidental Alchemist recipe card downloads:

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Brush with Greatness by Jenn McKinlay

Firstly, Happy Veterans Day! To all those who've served, we thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

JENN McKINLAY: The only Malice Domestic conference I've ever been to was in 2012. It's very difficult to get to Bethesda from Phoenix - two flights and a train - but on that particular year, Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, was going to be there and I knew if I was ever going to meet my childhood idol, this was it. 

Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz
There were several events, all of which were standing room only crowds. Ms. Mertz was everything I thought she'd be and more - smart, funny, kind, and with a wicked twinkle in her eye. I was thrilled just to be in the same room with her. When she left, being assisted by an escort, she walked right by my table. 
This was my moment! I sprang out of my seat and accosted her -- as one does -- and she didn't rear back in horror but instead smiled at me as I stood there incapable of saying a word. Me. Without speech. Inconceivable! 

Finally, I choked out a "thank you" and she looked at me, opened her arms for a hug and said, "No, thank you."
At which I cried all over her, like a big dope.
 So that was my moment with the author without whose work I likely  
never would have become a writer.

So, how about you, Reds? What was your brush with author greatness?

RHYS BOWENI’m always rather embarrassed when a fan comes up to me and does the whole fangirl thing. I’ve had one woman rush away and burst into tears (am I that scary?).  But then one day at a conference I found myself sitting at the signing table next to Tony Hillerman. And I’m screaming to myself “I’m sitting next to Tony Hillerman!” And I turn to him and gush “I love your books!”  I wish I could have told him that I only started writing mysteries because of him, but I could hardly get out those four words. So we all have our fangirl moments.

HALLIE EPHRON: The most ‘in awe’ I’ve ever been was when I ended up seated beside Jane Smiley at an event in Steinbeck country in California. I’d just read MOO and A THOUSAND ACRES and been blown away. All I remember is she was very nice and SERIOUSLY tall. Also at the table was Karen Joy Fowler, assuming I'm not mixing up my events. I’d read her amazing mystery novel, Wit’s End. I wanted to slow down time.
Jane Smiley

JENN: Tall girls rule, just sayin'

Lucy with Ann Cleeves 
LUCY BURDETTEI have fawned over too many people to mention, I am definitely fan girl material. Maybe the first time was Diane Mott Davidson and was she at Malice? I remember that she signed the book I bought to both my sister and to me. The first Bouchercon I ever attended, where I knew absolutely no one and was totally petrified and deeply unpublished, I had a lovely chat with Stephen White. Do you remember his series about a psychologist detective in Boulder Colorado? Love that character! And Michael Connelly more than once... You know what also was very cool was having Margaret Maron moderate the best first novel panel at malice domestic. Remember that Julia?? She was wonderful.  

JENN: I just got this pic of Lucy with Ann Cleeves from the new England Crime Bake this weekend. She really is a fangirl!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, meeting Margaret Maron at the Malice Domestic where you and I were Best First nominees was my fangirl moment. She was one of my writing idols, and one of two authors whose work seriously influenced my own when I was starting out (the other being Archer Mayor.) It was SUCH a thrill having her moderate the panel we were on, but I'm not sure I even spoke to her privately, then. I didn't want to pester the great woman.

Then, that evening, I was sitting in the bar (as one does) and she came by, squeezed my shoulder, and said, "I really loved your book." I can't recall what I said - probably something like "A buh bub a bubba uh." When we went up to our hotel room that evening, I told Ross, "Don't touch that shoulder. That's Margaret Maron's shoulder." 

Photo from
I got a chance to make it up in a more eloquent way, however, in 2012, when I was invited to contribute to Books To Die For – The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels. I wrote an appreciation of Bootlegger's Daughter. I still haven't nerved myself to ask her to sign it, though.

Hank with Sue Grafton
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yikes, I just got back from Bouchercon, when I interviewed James Patterson. And I have to say, he was adorable. Charming, funny, brash, and generous--and a real troublemaker---in a good way. Everyone adored him. I've interviewed Dan Brown, also terrific, engaging and quite brilliant. But in my writer/reader heart? Once I was signing next to Jane Langton. I almost could not breathe, she made such a difference in my life with her A Diamond in the Window. But the best of the best may have been at Crimebake in..2009? When I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned around, and there was SUE GRAFTON holding Prime Time--and asking for MY autograph! Can you even imagine? I was so lucky that someone got a photo of that moment--and here it is. It still makes me smile.  

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  At what I think must have been my very first Malice, my then-editor introduced me to Reginald Hill (She edited the US versions of his books.) All I could manage to squeak out was, "I love your books, Mr. Hill," and I'm sure I must have sounded like a complete dope. But he is still one of the writers I most admire, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet him.

And then there was P.D. James, who I had the honor to share a program with at St. Hilda's mystery conference in Oxford. I acquitted myself a bit better, but she was so sharp and witty and I was undoubtedly the gauche American.  She was also, however, unfailingly gracious and didn't make me feel too big an idiot. What an icon she was.

(Jenn, I was also a huge fan of Barbara Mertz in all her guises, and I LOVE that photo of her.)

JENN: Hank I was a huge fan of Jane Langton as a kid and A Diamond in the Window was FANTASTIC!

So, what about you, Readers, what are your crazy fan moments?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Dinner: Gluten Free Black Bean Chicken with Garlic

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You're in luck, food fans, because Sunday dinner today is another recipe from the fabulously talented Celia Wakefield. If we ever put together a RedCon, we're going to hire Celia to cater it, and you'll all get to experience the joy I do whenever I'm lucky enough to receive a dinner invite from her. This recipe is gluten free*!

Chinese Black Bean Chicken with Garlic

4-6 people, unless you are feeding teenage boys!
The quantities for the sauce for this recipe is based on 6 chicken thighs or 1.5# boneless chicken.

Back Story: I got my first Cuisinart in 1979. Oh what joy was mine. Along with the FP came a magazine published by Cuisinart, The Pleasures of Cooking. I had a subscription and still have my copies but this is my most successful share. I made black bean chicken and left it for the family a couple of weeks ago. The younger teen terror (almost 15), FaceTimed me after he and almost college terror had eaten the lot, to tell me that they had made dinner with some rice and it was good. My poor daughter arriving home later must have felt like Goldilocks as the bears had polished off almost two pounds of boneless chicken leaving her without dinner.

2+# Chicken, either skin on / bone in thighs, or boneless breast
(2# = 6 chicken thighs but with boneless chicken you will not need so much)
6-8 peeled cloves of garlic
3/4 Cup black beans*
1tsp each Chili paste with garlic and black bean paste with chili*
1 tsp Sugar (optional)
3-4 Tbsp. Soy sauce*
1 Cup hot water
2-4 Tblsps. Vegetable Oil

Put the garlic cloves and black beans in a Mini Food Processor and whirl to mix well
Add Chili paste with garlic & black bean paste with chili and sugar if desired
 Add the Soy Sauce plus 1/4 cup hot water. Whirl well, scrapping down if necessary.

Trim or cut up chicken as needed
Heat the veggie oil in a heavy frying pan
Add the chicken skin down
When golden flip and cook another 5 minutes 
Spread the sauce from the mini prep on the chicken and add the rest of the water to the pan
Bring to a boil, cover the pan 
Turn the heat down, and cook for 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes.
Test for doneness, then turn off and cool. 

Serve with rice and steamed broccoli 

This is an easy dish to make. The magazine photo shows it made with spareribs which I love, but it's hard to get then cut to cocktail size, so I usually leave them whole.
Black bean chicken is much better served the following day so that the fat can be removed.
Reheat with broccoli sprigs tucked into the sauce and steamed.

* Gluten Free.
I make this recipe GF. The black beans in the yellow cylinder are available from Amazon.
The jars of paste are also GF and I buy them in Whole Foods. However if you are not a GF person you will find black beans in Chinese groceries, but check because wheat will be an ingredient. Most soy sauce is made from wheat so if going GF, check the band.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Fast Five for Friday... on Saturday

Kathy Reel is the winner of a copy of BOXING THE OCTOPUS by Tim Maleeny! Kathy, please give Tim your mailing address; you can reach him at Tim at Tim Maleeny dot com.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's another crazy weekend for the Reds, dear readers. Half of us are at Crime Bake, New England's premiere mystery writing conference, where Hallie is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award! Rhys is on deadline and Jenn is promoting both her holiday rom-com A CHRISTMAS KEEPER and her upcoming stand-alone, PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. (Did you catch the cover reveal? You can see it and find out more on Jenn's Facebook!) In short, things are a bit frantic around here. Which means it's time for a Fast Five.

Today's FF theme is  WINTER IS COMING because holy forking shirtballs, we're supposed to get the first real snow of the season this Monday and Tuesday. I may pack myself in Lucy's suitcase before she leaves Crime Bake and smuggle myself to Key West.

1. What's something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season? (Warm weather friends, you can substitute getting ready for the holidays instead, but do be aware we hate you.)

2. What's your favorite thing to wear this time of year?

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

4. One consolation for colder weather? The food! What's a dish you make when it's frosty outside? (Warm weather folks, you can substitute 62F for "frosty." Please see note, v.s., re: we hate you.)

5. It's important to get outside and appreciate nature in the 9 hours, 55 minutes 9 hours, 52 minutes 9 hours and 50 minutes of daylight we still have. What do you do to be outdoor and active this time of year?


1. Something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season: Must finish revising one book and writing another! Cue maniacal laughter. Also, I need to replace the security door on the front of our house because now that it isn't 1,000 degrees outside, it's nice to have the door open (sorry, not sorry).

2. Your favorite thing to wear this time of year: JEANS! Finally, I can' put the shorts away and wear pants!!! Oh, joy.

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Cocoa, always cocoa, by the fire pit while we make s'mores cause it's in the fifties at night (shiver).

4. A seasonal dish you like to make: A butt ton of Xmas cookies, but also Posole because...Yuuuum.

5.  Your late fall outdoor activity: Swimming in the pool. (Again, sorry, not sorry).


Something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season: 
Sorry, Julia  I hate even to mention this but I'm in Arizona where it’s still mid eighties. But when I return to California I will need to get the house ready for the family invasion this Christmas. All coming for once

2. Your favorite thing to wear this time of year:  my bathing suit  the pool is heavenly ( again sorry)

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Rhys: I’m really affected by the seasonal thing I’d which is why we went to Arizona in the first place  I can’t write if there is darkness and gloom

4. A seasonal dish you like to make:
 A big chicken stew  and any veggie soups  I had pre- made a freezer full of them until we lost power and my son had to throw them all away

5.  Your late fall outdoor activity: driving out into the desert. Taking photos

DEBORAH CROMBIE: 1. Something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season: I left for London with half of my winter clothes still in plastic tubs in the bedroom and summer clothes still in the closet. That will be waiting for me to sort when I get home.

2. Your favorite thing to wear this time of year: Sweaters and boots!   So glad to get out of shorts!

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder? Tea and the occasional hot cocoa. I don't think I've ever had a toddy. What am I missing?

JULIA: Rum. Hot, sweet rum.

4. A seasonal dish you like to make: Any kind of soup. It was too hot all summer to enjoy soups.

5.  Your late fall outdoor activity:  Walking. And especially now in London. Even though it is cold and rainy, it's still wonderful to walk.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: 1. Something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season: Well, I'm twenty pages from the end of the new book, and it has be completely finished, pencils down, by Thanksgiving. I'm just back from being Guest of Honor at Bouchercon, and shockingly, no one wrote those pages while I was gone. Can you believe it? So, gang, I am writing. Monday.

2. Your favorite thing to wear this time of year: Fleece. Big fleece tops with hoods. I love hoods. And warm boots. Sweaters. With hoods. And big shawls. Hoods and shawls. And a blanket. 

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder? Huh. Not big on any of those. Red wine?

4. A seasonal dish you like to make: Stuffing for turkey! Turkey. Chili.

5.  Your late fall outdoor activity: Going inside for a nap.  Under a blanket. 

JULIA: Those people in Arizona, we hates them, my precious. Yes, we hates them. Except for poor Rhys losing all those  stews and soups. That's the worst.

Okay, dear readers, you know the drill. It's your turn for Fast Five - copy and paste the questions into your comments and let 'er rip!

1. Something you need to do to finish getting ready for the change of season:

2. Your favorite thing to wear this time of year:

3. Hot cocoa, hot tea, rum toddies or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

4. A seasonal dish you like to make:

5.  Your late fall outdoor activity:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Always Good When Things Go Wrong; a guest blog by Tim Maleeny

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: All authors, if they're not lying, will confess they can be afflicted with cover envy, that grasping sense of covetousness when you see a book with a cover that will lure browsers from all the way across the bookstore. Friends, I felt cover envy when I saw Tim Maleeny's BOXING THE OCTOPUS. Then I read Kirkus's review: “Maleeny moves his colorful cast around with giddy panache." Now I have quote envy. Then I read the cover copy: "Boxing The Octopus is a runaway tour of San Francisco’s underworld which reminds us that when things get out of hand, having eight arms is always better than two." How can you not want something like that?

All I'm saying is, it's a good thing we mystery writers are as nice and friendly as Tim says we are.

Julia, a big thanks to you and all the Jungle Red Writers for inviting me to stop by. It was great seeing you all at Bouchercon—what a weekend! I’m always amazed at how friendly, generous and supportive the mystery community is, and you definitely feel that at Bouchercon, maybe because we were all readers and fans long before we were writers.

I admit to being a bit nervous the first time I attended a big mystery conference, marveling at my proximity to so many writers whose books I’d devoured over the years. After a while, a far more experienced writer wandered over to where I was standing and asked if this was my first conference. (Yes, it was that obvious.) She then put it all in perspective by saying: “Look, mystery writers spend all day getting their aggressions out on the page—killing people, torturing them, getting their revenge—so in real life they are the nicest, kindest people you’ll ever meet.” After a pause she added, “There are only two or three jackasses, and we all know who they are.”

I instantly relaxed and realized I was now part of a community, and as we walked over to the group she said, “But you’d better watch your back with those romance writers!”

I’ve been having a ball writing mysteries ever since, not only because I love to tell stories, but because every new story makes fresh connections across this incredible community of mystery lovers.

Speaking of having fun, I was originally asked to write about the use of humor in mystery novels, but since I was feeling nostalgic at the start of this post, I’ll keep this part brief, even though it’s one of my favorite subjects. The great thing about the mystery genre is the myriad of sub-genres, from psychological suspense to domestic thrillers to spy novels or even supernatural sleuths. There are characters and stories for every kind of escape.

My own novels have been called comic noir, comedic thrillers, capers, and even “zany” by reviewers, and my latest was recently described as a “Hiaasen-esque delight,” which I took as high praise. No doubt that’s because my plots go sideways at every turn, largely because of missteps by characters more than capable of getting in their own way. Some mysteries are driven by a master criminal with a master plan, but I’ve always believed plots should be propelled by things going horribly wrong.

Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Carl Hiaasen, John D. MacDonald and Ross Thomas are some of the authors that led to my addiction to crime fiction, as I found myself rooting for a morally ambiguous cast of characters with a common goal but competing agendas. Those collisions can lead the reader on a breakneck chase with surprising turns and, sometimes, hilarious detours. We can see ourselves in the human failings of a bank robber who forgets to fill his getaway car with gas, and we almost feel sorry for the thief who leaves the loot on the train. How many of us have lost phones, umbrellas or briefcases behind, and what would you do if the stakes were much, much higher? Or simply the lifelong dilemma of not knowing whom you can trust when things go against you.

Seeing how ordinary people react in extraordinary circumstances is the heart of character development. And if you can do that with a smile, the opportunities for empathy, social commentary and reader involvement are endless.

Watch I Love Lucy, Seinfeld or Friends through the lens of a mystery reader and you’ll find countless plots driven by misunderstandings, puzzles or outright mysteries. And the characters aren’t laughing, because for them the social awkwardness or potential consequences are deadly serious. But at home, we’re laughing out loud because we’ve been in that kind of pickle, and we’re relieved that we’re not the only ones who screw up every once in a while.

The mystery community is fun group of wonderful people, and every time I get together with other writers, we make each other laugh. Maybe that’s where my writing voice comes from, an unconscious desire to channel all that positive energy onto the page.

See you at the next conference!

JULIA: Okay, dear readers, it's your turn. Do you like funny mysteries? What are some of your favorites? And are we really all as nice as Tim says? One lucky commentor will win a copy of BOXING THE OCTOPUS!

TIM MALEENY is the award-winning author of the Cape Weathers mysteries and the bestselling comedic thriller JUMP, which Publishers Weekly called “a perfectly blended cocktail of escapism.” His latest caper is BOXING THE OCTOPUS, which Kirkus called “a Hiaasen-esque delight” and Bookreporter described as “a great mystery novel, but it is also terrific literature.” A past winner of the Macavity Award, Tim has also won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery. He lives and writes at an undisclosed location in New York City. You can read more about Tim and his books at his website, friend him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter as @TimMaleeny.