Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Cakes and Ale. A Guest Post by Marty Wingate

RHYS BOWEN: MY guest today has set her latest book in Bath, which is the city of my birth. A city I adore and always make time to stop over there when we are in England. What I like about it most is that so little has changed: the Georgian crescents, my grandmother's Georgian house on Landsdowne, the Roman baths where I once swam as a child and of course the restaurants and pubs... both dear to Marty's heart. So please welcome her now:

MARTY WINGATE: Give me a mystery with great characters and a compelling story, but also give me an atmosphere to make a book come alive. But by “atmosphere,” I don’t mean just tone—a gothic suspense or dark and gritty noir—but also the practicalities of setting, weather, and the food and drink. For me, these elements combine to give the story life on and off the page. That is why I made Bath, the setting for The Bodies in the Library (book one in my new First Edition Library mysteries) as alive as the places in some of my favorite books.

A sense of place is vital. On a visit to Edinburgh, and deep into Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, I walked across the Meadows toward the city center and marveled that I was following John Rebus’s footsteps. I had half a mind to walk over to Marchmont and find the building and his flat, but brought myself up short. I might’ve been reading the book in which Rebus had let the flat to some students, and so he wouldn’t be there anyway. I kept walking, but, still with the character in mind, to the Oxford Bar to have a whisky.

The Norfolk Broads, in all their flat, bleak beauty, come alive in Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway series. Not just the scenery, but also the weather plays a serious role here—the rain, the icy roads in winter, the remnants of standing stones in the boggy ground, shreds of fog suspended in the air. But when she’s at home, even though surrounded by such a place, Ruth’s main concern is to cook up the quickest meal she can think of.

Certainly I want Andrea Camillieri’s Inspector Montalbano to catch whoever has carried out such a horrific murder, but also I want to know what his housekeeper has left him in the fridge for his dinner. And, I’m not sure I could make it through an entire Bruno Chief of Police book without Martin Walker’s protagonist harvesting from his garden and cooking what always sounds like a feast.

I do keep coming back to the food and drink, don’t I? In The Bodies in the Library, I wanted Bath to come alive in its Georgian splendor, Roman past, and love of all things Austen. Most importantly, I wanted it to exist as the home of the Golden Age of Mystery library, for which my main character, Hayley Burke, is curator. Of course, she is not only a curator of a collection of first editions by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the others, but also the practical 45-year-old single mother of a college student, daughter of an invalid mother, and ex of a man that tries her patience on a regular basis.

I enlisted the help of food and drink in this effort to create Hayley as a whole person, and I started with the Ready Meal aisle at Waitrose.

Can you love a grocery store? It’s certainly one of my favorite places to go when my husband and I spend time in Britain. We usually stay in a flat, and those fresh dinners—cottage pie, lasagne, macaroni cheese—are perfect. They’re perfect for Hayley, too, who has slacked off cooking since her daughter moved away.

But there is more to food and drink than dinner—there is tea (or coffee) and cake. These are not just something to keep the character busy; they are vital elements to the story. Without the satisfaction of nabbing the last fruit scone at the Waitrose café the day after the murder, would Hayley have had the clarity of mind to make a plan with Val?

My in-house copy editor (my husband) would not allow this post to go further without mention of pubs and ale.

I stay true to Bath as it is today—I’d like to think a reader could use The Bodies in the Library as a map to walk around the city—except on one tiny point, and that is the pub I call the Minerva. A tiny pub on Northumberland Place does exist, but its real name is the Coeur de Lion. I changed the name, you see, because I wanted that nod to the Roman history in Bath. But otherwise, it’s the same place—you could march right in there and ask for an orange squash with fizzy water and a packet of crisps as Hayley does. Although, her ulterior motive is to question a shady character.

I changed nothing about the Raven, a fabulous pub on the corner of Quiet and Queen streets and not far from the Jane Austen Centre. Eat and drink downstairs or up—Hayley prefers upstairs, where she might be able to grab the corner table by the window. Order one of their house ales (I am instructed here to tell you they are brewed by Blindmans Brewery in Frome, Somerset) and a pie, such as chicken-and-mushroom or beef-and-ale or vegetarian, sitting atop a pile of buttery mash.

Hungry? Thirsty? Join Hayley for cakes and ale as she solves a murder inspired by the Golden Age of Mystery.

Marty Wingate writes The First Edition Library mysteries, set in Bath and featuring Hayley Burke, a curator of rare and collectible books from the Golden Age of Mystery who has never read a detective story in her life. Book one – The Bodies in the Library (Berkley) – was released October 8. She leads garden tours to Britain, spending free moments deep in research. Or in pubs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Bah Humbug!

RHYS BOWEN: Tis the season of goodwill to all men. But am I allowed to have just a little gripe?

Like everyone else I am in the middle of buying presents, and like everyone else, I buy many of them online. Easy peasy right? Remember the little verse I wrote one year:

Dashing through the web, googling sites like mad
Cyber Monday's here again there's bargains to be had

Click click here, click click there, buy it all online
Amazon and Overstock, Christmas will be fine

Click click here, click click there, bought it all online
Christmas done and packed and shipped. Have a glass of wine!

Well, it's true it is easy buying things from websites, but then comes the kicker. Immediately after I have clicked PURCHASE I get an email thanking me for my purchase and then ASKING ME TO TAKE A BRIEF SURVEY!

From time to time I succumb to one of these that claim to be TWO QUESTION SURVEYS.
I answer the two questions. Yes, the website was easy to negotiate. Yes the item was just what I wanted. But before I can hit SEND I'm directed to another page with a gazillion questions on it.

Everyone sends me a survey. I book a hotel. Survey on how was my booking experience?
I stay at the hotel. How was my hotel experience?
I take my car in for service. Survey on how was my oil changing experience?

And if I don't answer they keep on sending the surveys.
What is next? I go into the baker's and after the assistant has handed me a loaf of freshly baked bread she says, "If I could just ask you a few questions about your experience here today."
Or I come out of church and the priest is waiting outside to ask whether he fulfilled all my expectations.
Will it come to spouse or partner handing one a survey after sex? And how was it for you on a scale of one to ten?  ( Just kidding!)
Or how about that I turn the tables and survey you? How was I at my book signing today? (on a scale of 1-10) Did I smile enough? Were my jokes funny? ..
So that's one gripe.

Another is the whole matter of giving at holiday time. I give very generously all year. But every time I'm at the grocer's or Target the assistant asks "Would you like to give a dollar to the save the whales/children/redwoods/etc etc.
And when I say No Thank You she looks at me as if I'm an evil person.
Today it was the food bank. I am a year round star donor to the food bank. I get invited to their fund raising parties. An extra dollar means nothing to me but it is the principle of the thing. I come to a grocery store to buy groceries. I do not want to be tricked into giving something.

And when I do give in to my better nature and send money for Christmas cards that come from some obscure convent in the back of beyond what happens? I am deluged with cards/calendars/stickers from every convent in the universe. These Christian ladies SELL MY ADDRESS without a qualm.
I get dream catchers from every Indian school in the country because I once gave to one of them. It never ends.

So have I struck a nerve here? Or am I the only one who wants to shout Bah Humbug?

Monday, December 9, 2019

What's in a name?

RHYS BOWEN: Tonight I was at my health club when a small boy ran into the locker room, pursued by his mother.

“Luca, come back here. Will you calm down,” she begged as he jumped on benches and generally ran amok.

“Luca, we need to get your swim trunks on. You’ll be late for your lesson, and you don’t want to upset your teacher, do you?” And so on.

I’m used to obnoxious children at my health club. Too many BMW driving helicopter parents live in Marin County. But this one hit home. I had planned to call an enigmatic and possibly romantic lead in my new book LUCA. Now this child has ruined it. Every time I see the name I’ll picture demon-Luca jumping off the benches as his mother tries to catch him.

I like the name. It’s just right for the man I want… but I’m not sure if I can use it now. So I’m curious, dear Reds and Readers: have your character names been colored by people you’ve known? Do names have negative or positive connotations based on your experiences? I know I’m really influenced that way. And I confess… I have named horrible evil characters after people I have disliked. I named a butler Huxtep, because my evil headmistress was called Miss Huxtep and I wanted to put her into the role of humble servant.

I have named mean girls in the Georgie books after mean girls of my childhood. I have also named good characters after people I have been fond of.

So what about you? Do you choose character names based on your life experience? Have you ever killed someone you detested in your books? Confession time!

HALLIE EPHRON: Yikes. This is reminding me, I named a villain in one of my novels after an old friend, and she was very put out about it. It never in a million years occurred to me that she’d be anything but flattered. Because I only name characters after people I like. And I didn’t know she’d turn out to be the villain when I started writing her.

So this has come up for me when naming my children. Names that I loved my husband had negative associations with so those names were out. Fortunately, he was very fond of his graduate school adviser whose name was Naomi, so we settled on that for one of my sweet baby girls.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That is EXACTLY the problem! I often do auction names for charity--and the people start out as good--but then what can I do, they turn into bad. But whenever that happens, I just change the names to something totally fictional, and use the auction name elsewhere as a good guy.

As for real people as bad guys or villains,uh, no, I have never done that. I have chosen some names as secret signals only understood by me or my husband, but no one in the public would ever know. And I will never tell.

LUCY BURDETTE: I got into trouble in an early book (not the Key West series) when someone bid on his name in the book and I made the mistake of having him turn into an unsavory character. “What, he paid good money and now he’s a pedophile?” John asked. Which was really an exaggeration, but point taken.

I’ve also had the problem of wanting to give a real person a cameo as a special nod. Unfortunately, the name was Eric. So now there are three Erics in THE KEY LIME CRIME.

None of that helps you Rhys! I say use Luca, it’s a good name. If you can block the annoying people out of your mind!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I just auctioned off a character name to benefit my church, so naming is very much on my mind. I did once give a villain a real person’s name because the real person was a real SOB. Never heard anything about it, which is not to say I’d do it again, especially nowadays, when it’s so easy to Google names in a book!

I often slip in the names of friends and family members for spear-carrier roles - people who need to have a name to keep track of or have one or two lines before they vanish off-stage. It gives me a warm feeling to see their names pop up as I’m working.

One of the things I have to check myself on when making up character names is not slapping the wrong-era name on someone. As I get older (groan) I find my conception of young people’s/ older people’s names is increasingly out of date. I started to name a young woman Heather, and then thought… wait a sec. I looked up the name’s popularity. Guess what? Most Heathers are in their early forties now. And grandmothers have names like Karen and Cathy and Joanne, not Doris and Phyllis.

JENN McKINLAY: Oh, yes, I have a very long list of people whose names are saved for my villains or victims or, in the case of my unrequited crushes, my heroes. I think naming characters can be very personal and I do use it to exorcise some demons. But I’ve noticed that my strongest stories arrive in my head with the names already locked in. My July book PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA, came with every single character already named - Chelsea, Colin, Jean Claude, Marcelino, Jason, Zoe, Glen, Sheri, and Annabelle. Honestly, that’s never happened before. I’m going to take it as a good sign.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, I think Luca is a wonderful name. Forget about that annoying little boy and use it anyway!

My problem is that I have a really hard time giving bad characters names that I like. Some names, however, are neutral, and can be either a good or a bad character. And sometimes characters arrive full-blown, like Jenn’s in her new book, and I CANNOT change their names!

Julia, I always look up age appropriate names, and UK appropriate, too. But you can sometimes squeeze in an older generation name as characters might be named after relatives. Also, names that seem really old-fashioned are suddenly becoming popular again. Our neighbors baby girl is named Clementine!

RHYS: Another complication now that my work is in so many languages is whether names have a good or bad feeling in that language. (Like the Chevvy NOVA in South America where no va means it won't go!) I've no way of knowing

So how about you? Are your perceptions of names colored by people you've met? Do character names present themselves, like Jenn's or do you sometimes find you've called someone by the wrong name?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Your Essential Companion

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I wonder how many of us will say yes: did you play with horses when you were a girl? You know we had real ponies and horses when I was growing up—we had to clean out stalls before we took our morning showers before school. (And I still have a scar on my leg from a rambunctious ride that did not end well. ) 

Not mine--but I definitely had these!
I also had about, well, fifty million plastic ones, of all sizes and types. Mostly hunters and jumpers and dressage, but also some with Western saddles and gear.   And I read every horse book, from the Connemara McGuire books (Golden Sovereign and Silver Birch? And more? Did you read those?) to the Black Stallion and Misty and Flicka and I know you will all remind me of more.

I can’t wait to hear what you all thought of horses when you were..11? Ish?  But some of us were lucky enough to maintain our equestrian life as adults.  How cool is that? And I am so delighted to introduce you all to the amazing Kari Bovee.  And her pals. And how horses changed her writing life!

 My Essential Companion
I’m so excited to be with you here on Jungle Red! Thank you so much, Hank, and the rest of you lovely Reds for inviting me spend some time with you and your readers.

I’ve just come inside in beautiful Corrales, New Mexico where I have been playing with one of my beloved horses. I honestly don’t know what I would do without these amazing creatures in my life. They have consoled me, inspired me, excited me, and at times took me wayyyyy out of my comfort zone, for which I am grateful.

My love affair started with horses when I was very young. My father traveled quite a lot for business, and he would always bring home a present for my brother and me. I don’t remember what my brother received, but for me, it was books. One time, he brought home Misty of the Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, and I was spellbound. Several more of her books later, I also became enchanted with Walter Farley’s Black Beauty series. These reading adventures set me on a course that would forever change and enhance my life in ways I never imagined.

Although I loved reading about these majestic creatures, I had no desire to ride them. They were other worldly to me, and quite scary. But, my mother, seeing how much I loved the books, decided I would benefit from riding lessons. So, she marched her terrified eleven-year-old daughter to the neighborhood stables. My instructor assured me I would come to no harm, and she set me upon her prized horse, an Arabian mare named Fahar. And then, the magic happened. I was in love!

From then on, I ate, drank, slept, and dreamed of horses. After a year of lessons, I got my first horse, and there have only been a few years in my life since that I did not have at least one equine companion. I’ve competed in almost every horse showing discipline, and have also spent the last decade studying natural horsemanship, horse behavior, and equine psychology. And, I still have so much to learn.

It was only fitting that I should feature horses in my novels. When I started researching the iconic Annie Oakley for my Annie Oakley Mystery Series, I found that she did oftentimes perform on horseback, but it was never clear if she had a special horse in her life. So, I decided to bestow one upon her with the creation of Buck – a buckskinned beauty who was fashioned after one of my horses, Hi Handsome CCR, an Arabian Quarter Horse Palomino. 

Handsome is what we in the horse biz refer to as “my heart horse.” I have had the pleasure of being his human for almost fifteen years, and he has taught me so much about love, compassion, patience, and most importantly, about myself. Horses are often a mirror—and in them we see the parts of ourselves that we can rejoice in, or in many cases, what we need to work on.

When I was writing Grace in the Wings, the first book in my Grace Michelle Mystery series which takes place in New York City, 1920’s on Broadway, I wanted to somehow incorporate a horse into the story. So I sent Grace on a transcontinental train trip out West, where she encounters a lovely Palomino named Golden Ray of Light. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say, the spritely mare makes an impact on the talented costume designer turned Ziegfeld star.

It’s hard to imagine what life, or my books, would be without horses in them. These spiritual, magical beings have infused themselves into my heart and into my soul. They are where I go when I am jubilant and inspired, or when I am disheartened and need to escape from some of the harsh realities of life. And, they have made me a more complete and fulfilled person, which is really what this journey of life is all about.

Is there someone, or something, that you cannot imagine having in your life? That very special person, animal, or thing that rounds you out as a person and is completely essential to your well-being? I’d love to hear about it!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh great question! Love this, Kari!  What say you, dear Reds and readers? Horses? Past of present?  Or who’s your essential companion?

Empowered women in history, horses, unconventional characters, and real-life historical events fill the pages of Kari Bovée’s articles and historical mystery musings and manuscripts.

An award-winning author,  Bovée was honored as a finalist in the Historical Fiction category of the 2019 Next Generation Indie Awards for her novel Girl with a Gun. The book also received First Place in the 2019 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards in the Mystery/Crime category, and received the 2019 Hillerman Award for Southwest Fiction. She was also a finalist in the 2019 Best Book Awards Historical Fiction category for her novel Peccadillo at the Palace. Her novel Grace in the Wings finaled in the unpublished Romantic Suspense category of the 2012 LERA Rebecca contest, the 2014 NTRWA Great Expectations contest, and the RWA 2016 Daphne du Maurier contest. The novel was released in September of 2019.

Bovée has worked as a technical writer for a Fortune 500 Company, has written non-fiction for magazines and newsletters, and has worked in the education field as a teacher and educational consultant. She is the author of the Annie Oakley Mystery Series and the Grace Michelle Mystery Series.

She and her husband, Kevin, spend their time between their horse property in the beautiful Land of Enchantment, New Mexico, and their condo on the sunny shores of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Mystery meets fantasy for the middle-grade reader in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL

HALLIE EPHRON: Up to now, my favorite children’s story set in a hotel has been ELOISE - all about a cheeky 7-year-old who lives in New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Now there’s another wonderful children’s book set in a hotel - the posh Sanborn House Hotel in London. In it there’s a mysterious fourteen-year old boy who lives on a floor that may or may not exist, and a sister and brother try to figure out what’s going on. 

Sounds intriguing, right? The book is called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL, and it’s my sister Amy Ephron’s middle-grade fantasy novel (with brilliant covers by Jennifer Bricking and magical interior maps and scary creatures bu Vartan Ter-Avanesyan). 
It's the third in a fabulous series, but the books can be read in any order. This time Amy’s poaching on my territory: it’s also a mystery.

Looking for a holiday present for a budding mystery reader, a middle-grade boy or girl in your family? This one's a winner. 

Welcome Amy! The hotel. The mysterious fourteen-year old boy. London. A curious glass marble. Shadows that pass outside windows and vectors of the marble that seem to pass through walls. Please, tell us about how you came up with some of the wonderfully original ideas that are in this book, and how it turned into a mystery.

AMY EPHRON:  This is the third in The Other Side series, where Tess, whom I think of as a remarkable heroine (although she does jump in sometimes without thinking about what might happen next) and her brother Max, who’s younger and much more methodical and logical (although even he admits it’s sometimes hard to be logical especially when they go to England...) go to visit their Aunt Evie at a posh hotel in London.  

It’s Christmas and after a freak snow storm in London (which global warming gave me after I wrote it) and a visit to watch the snow fall in Hyde Park, Tess is charmed by a 14-year old boy having tea in the dining...except that no one else can see him....

By itself, almost, the book turned into a puzzle, a mystery.  As Tess unlocks the secrets of The Sanborn House and the story of the mysterious boy named Colin, whose last name is also Sanborn (just like the hotel) and who also, if he exists at all, seems to live there all year round...

The hash tag is #unlockthesecrets and Tess has a funny history of getting herself and Max into situations that are almost impossible to get out of, but if and when they do, they heal the hearts of the people they’ve interacted with, as well as their own.

I call them a modern-day mash-up of an old-fashioned children’s book. They’ve been reviewed as standalones and kindly compared The Secret Garden or an Edgar Eager book.  

Tess is a modern (and old-fashioned) super-hero, from feats of aerial ballet to a real (or imagined) dance with the stars, or a crazy flight down an orange path of vectors on the other side of the wall, not to mention excellent horsemanship!  She comes to the fore to rescue them from seen and unseen dangers in all three of The Other Side novels...but they are mysteries because she has to in all cases figure out how and why!

The Other Side of the Wall is the one that really unfolded as a mystery -- as Tess has to figure out what happened in the Sanborn House so many years ago to understand what’s happening now and what she has to do to fix it or at least to try...  It was lovely to be able to also write in period as well as in contemporary times, in the same novel, as what appears at first to be a 20’s costume party on the 8th floor (the floor Max insists didn’t even exist the day before) may turn out be in fact a step back in time.....but time travel, it turns out, may be a precarious thing.  

These books also have an intentional subset of rules: no guns, no explosions.  The dangers are real but also existential and there will never be any version of a hand-to- hand battle or combat in that way.  Just a curious amount of magic, a back story that has to be revealed and changed, whether it’s in the past or in a different space of time, and a real danger if they don’t get back in time, or even get back at all.    

Real mysteries, which my sister Hallie taught me, are often best as an emotional roller coaster (read her the new book: Careful What You Wish For and you’ll see what 
I mean.)  And the emotional undercurrent in The Other Side of the Wall -- the perceived and unperceived loyalties and flat-out deceptions, were an amazingly rich field to write, imagine, and explore.  

Thanks to all of you at Jungle Reds for welcoming me into your extraordinary mystery corner. 

HALLIE: The book is flat-out terrific, and it's definitely an emotional roller coaster.
One thing I especially love about The Other Side Series is that they're adventures with siblings. I've always love books about siblings... Starting with Hansel and Gretel. Anyone remember the Twins books? Or Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace, or Lucy and Edmund Pevensie in the Narnia books. 

Why do siblings make especially good characters for fantasy/adventure books with a touch of mystery?

The Other Side of the Wall
It's Christmas break and Tess and Max are in London, staying at the posh Sanborn House with their Aunt Evie. As they wait for their parents to arrive, there is an unusual snowstorm that makes the city seem as if it's caught in a snow globe. Perfect weather for an adventure in Hyde Park. But when Max, Tess, and Aunt Evie leave to search for a cab, they find a horse and carriage and driver curiously waiting for them at the curb. And that's just the beginning...

Soon Tess is charmed by a mysterious boy named Colin who lives at the hotel all year round--on the 8th floor. But Max is sure the elevator only had 7 floors the day before. And how come everyone at the hotel seems to ignore Colin? Things seem to get stranger and stranger. There's a 1920s costume party in Colin's parents' apartment. A marble that seems to be more than it appears. And a shadow that passes mysteriously by Tess and Max's hotel window.

Tess wants to figure out what's going on, but finds only more questions: Is it just a coincidence that Colin's last name is Sanborn, the same as the hotel? Why does the cat's-eye marble look eerily similar to the crystal at the top of their hotel room key? And, most importantly, what happened in that hotel one Christmas long, long ago?

In this mysterious story sprinkled with holiday enchantment, Amy Ephron transports readers into the magic of London at wintertime, where it's just possible that what seems imaginary is real, and your wishes might come true.

Amy Ephron lives in Los Angeles. Her new book "Carnival Magic" the continued, startling, sometimes magical adventures of Tess and Max is a bestseller and was featured in "Teen Vogue," tagged as a standalone, "Parade," "Story Monsters, inc," "The Jewish Journal," etc. It has been nominated for an American Library Association award, The Grand Canyon Award to be announced in 2020. A companion to "The Castle in the Mist," (the intro to Tess & Max and their Aunt Evie,) was an Amazon Best pick, a B&N pick, and claimed a nom for a SCIBA award.