Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Boyfriend Sweater by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN MCKINLAY: It was 1989 in New Haven, CT. I was at university and doing the typical on again off again with the rugby playing college boyfriend. We both had apartments with friends, but my stuff mingled with his and vice versa. Neither of us minded as it was an unspoken way to leave the door open for the next session of "let's get back together" after we inevitably broke up again. This lasted until senior year when we went through our final unentanglement-disengagement-whatever-you-want-to-call-it in those glorious pre-Internet days when saying good-bye actually meant "I'm never speaking to this person again". 

Love in the 80's was complicated!

Several relationships, five moves, one marriage (still going strong) and two children later, and I decided this empty nest needed a powerful decluttering. So long beloved broken action figures, preschool artwork (I took pictures), and essays written on the SparkNotes versions of books the Hooligans should have read but likely didn't :) 

While doing this excavation, what should I find in an old box that had been carted through every move and never opened? You guessed it! The boyfriend sweater--which in my case was/is a rag wool sweater that I wore during every winter in my drafty dorm rooms and freezing first apartments where the steam radiator was situated directly under the shoddy single pane window, causing my windows to fog up every time the heat came on from the months of November through February. I loved that sweater, potentially a bit more than the on again off again boyfriend from whom I filched it during our freshman year. I hadn't seen the beloved cardigan in years, and it felt like meeting an old friend while on vacation in an exotic foreign land.

The Boyfriend Sweater!

Now I live in Arizona and have for thirty years. I don't have much use for an overly large rag wool sweater. And yet, I could not toss it into the trash or the Goodwill bag. This sweater had been worn to scores of keg parties, midnight diner runs, girl's nights out when I didn't want to be pestered (it was clearly a boyfriend sweater, acting as an off-the-market protective shield), and it had comforted me through our many breakups.

So, what did I do with it? I washed it and blocked it (a knitting thing), returning it to its former shape. Then I put it on and felt like I was nineteen again. I suppose I should mail it back to the ex-boyfriend. He lives in Colorado and could use it more than me. Yes, we are in touch (thanks, Facebook) and friends again. It's actually really nice to know that we've both found happiness. Maybe I will send it if he sees this post and asks for it back, but I'm rather attached to it as a reminder of the Jenn back then :) 

So, Reds and Readers, have you ever had a "boyfriend sweater"? What artifacts from former relationships have popped up in your life? Would you return them or keep them--asking for a friend? Okay, yes, it's me. It's always me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dashing Through the . . . Snowbirds? by Donna Andrews

Jenn McKinlay: One of my very favorite mystery writers, who also specializes in holiday shenanigans, is the ever hilarious and delightful Donna Andrews and here she is to tell us all about her latest escapade Dashing Through the Snowbirds!


Donna Andrews: It’s that time of year again. The holiday season! Stores are playing Christmas carols--actually, some of them have been doing that since before Halloween, but by now most of us are ready to unstop our ears and listen. People are decorating! Putting up trees! Buying presents!  Writing letters to Santa! Creating menus for holiday dinners!

I’m planning a murder.

A fictional murder, of course, and it can’t be a particularly violent or gory one. All of my books featuring ornamental blacksmith Meg Langslow fall toward the cozier end of the mystery spectrum. So the murders tend to happen off-stage, without too much bloodshed, and if the reader needs to know any details from the autopsy, Meg’s dad, the medical examiner, will blurt them out at the dinner table before being sternly repressed. It’s always a balancing act--and for a Christmas mystery, mixing murder and holiday mirth is a particularly challenging feat. 

But evidently readers love Christmas mysteries. So does my editor, partly because he knows they’re good for sales and partly because he just loves Christmas. I’ve told him that when I’m working on one of my Christmas books, I always imagine him standing over my shoulder, cheering me on. “More tinsel! More snow! More holly! More evergreens! More snow! More presents! And more snow. A lot more snow!”

About that snow.

Did you know that the National Weather Service has an official definition of a white Christmas? If you have an inch or more of snow on the ground at 7 a.m. on December 25, you have officially experienced a white Christmas. My editor lives somewhere within commuting distance of New York City, which means his odds of having a white Christmas are at least 50% and maybe as high as 75%. Down here in Virginia--where I live, and where I’ve set my fictional town of Caerphilly-- our odds are less than 10%. So if I were aiming for verisimilitude, I should only have snow in one, maybe two of the nine holiday mysteries I’ve written so far.

But it’s fiction, right? And I want to keep my editor--and my readers--happy. So if I’m writing a Christmas book, there will be snow. Sometimes my characters are already snowbound by the time the book starts, turning the book into something like a locked room mystery. Sometimes the snow is coming, and everyone is rushing around to do things--including solving the murder--before it arrives and brings everything to a halt. Sometimes my characters spend the whole book pining for a white Christmas . . . so I relent and start sifting down snowflakes on them sometime before I type “the end.” I have embraced the snow. I’ve hidden weapons in the snow. Baffled Meg with snowy footprints, and had them melt too soon.  Had at least one killer try to use the snow--and the cold that comes with it--as a weapon.

In Dashing Through the Snowbirds, my latest Christmas mystery, I also use ice. As a surprise for the family, Meg’s father installs a portable skating rink in the field behind their house. (In this case, portable means that when winter’s over, a large work crew can eventually disassemble it and turn the field back into a pasture.) Meg hopes skating will help ease the homesickness of her guests--a dozen Canadian software developers whose horrible boss has dragged them to Caerphilly for a work project when they’d rather be spending December with their friends and families. But when the horrible boss--

Wait! That would be telling! No spoilers. There’s ice and skating, and at least one murder. Let’s leave it there.

And snow. Whenever I feel guilty about inflicting a completely unrealistic amount of snow on my fictional Virginia town of Caerphilly, I remind myself that they also experience a completely unrealistic number of homicides. At least one per book, and I’m on book 32. So maybe I should stop worrying about the snow.

How about it Reds and Readers, how do you feel about snow--in real life or fictionally? 

Donna Andrews is an American mystery fiction writer of two award-winning amateur sleuth series. Her first book, Murder with Peacocks (1999), introduced Meg Langslow, a blacksmith from Yorktown, Virginia. It won the St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Mystery contest, the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice awards for best first novel, and the Lefty award for funniest mystery of 1999. The first novel in the Turing Hopper series (You've Got Murder, 2002) debuted a highly unusual sleuth—an Artificial Intelligence (AI) personality who becomes sentient—and won the Agatha Award for best mystery that year.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Back to Conferences: A Red Round Up!

JENN McKINLAY: It’s time for conference round up! Okay, yes, I just made that up. Still, I just registered for Left Coast Crime - it’s in Tucson, AZ next year - and Bouchercon, which is in San Diego! These will be my first conferences since I got sent home from Left Coast Crime in March of 2020 when the state of California was about to enter lockdown. That was one surreal couple of days, let me tell you. I am still on the fence about attending Malice Domestic as Bethesda is super tricky to get to from Phoenix, so we’ll see. So, chime in Reds, what conferences are you planning on attending next year if any? 

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh fingers crossed this all works as we hope it does! I too am registered for Bouchercon in San Diego–with any luck we’ll have a big Jungle Reds contingent and a game show! (I think my last ones were in Dallas, St Petersburg, and Toronto–all fantastic!) But I know I’ll also be headed to Crimebake, both because I miss my New England pals, and DEBORAH CROMBIE will be the guest of honor. Hooray! 

HALLIE EPHRON: I went to my first ‘live’ conference a few weeks ago in Vancouver - the fabulous Surrey International Writers Conference - and lived to tell about it! It was so lovely to give a talk and tell from the audience reaction whether I was connecting. And hang out in the bar. And catch up with so many old friends. Sigh. Heaven. Not to mention hear the writing of some superbly talented as-yet-unpublished writers. And a few weeks ago I was at The New England Crime Bake where I got to actually hug Hank. Of COURSE I *plan* to go to Boucheron in San Diego – fingers crossed that we’ll all be there and gaming it! – and cheer on our own Deborah Crombie. 

RHYS BOWEN: this year I attended Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic and the Edgars. No masks. Holding my breath all the time. But now, having had Covid, I’ll be more relaxed next year 
(unless the variant from hell emerges). I’ll be going to Left Coast in Tucson Malice and Bouchercon. Taking daughter Clare with me to introduce her further to the community I love my peeps! 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, of COURSE I’m going to Malice–I’m the Guest of Honor. Whoo hoo and I am already nervous. And Ann Cleeves is international GOH, and I am SUCH a fan! Jenn, fly to DC! I always do. And Rhys, we will all swoop Clare up and make her an auxiliary Red! Bouchercon, yes, how can I resist. Another Reds-o-rama. :-) ! 
And CrimeBake with queen Debs will be wonderful. (I was GOH for its first mid-post--Covid event. I was floating with the honor…who’d have EVER thought? It was so amazing to see everyone, and so fraught and fabulous at the same time.) In this crazy-wonderful year, I was GOH at Killer Nashville, too. It was incredible, I have to say. SO welcoming! And I’d adore to go back. I have never been to Left Coast Crime, hmmm. I HAVE to write!!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I haven't been to a conference since Bouchercon in Dallas in 2019, so 2023 is going to be very exciting. In March, I'm GOH for Murderous March, the virtual conference organized by the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Then in June, I'm GOH (along with the fabulous Rachel Howzell Hall) at the California Crime Writers conference in LA. I am registering for Bouchercon in San Diego as well (tackle that to-do list!) And then the icing on the cake, I'll be GOH at Crime Bake in November in Boston. It will be my first Crime Bake and I'm so excited! I hope we'll have a great REDs contingent there. I would dearly love to go to Malice (it's been much too long) but as Hank says, I have to write...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'll be tagging along and applauding my friends at Malice, Bouchercon and Crime Bake next year. It's always fun when B'con is in a city I like visiting, and I plan to take full advantage of being in San Diego! 
I'll also be at the Maine Crime Wave in Portland next June and the Novelists, Inc. conference in St. Petersburg in September. That last is entirely for published authors, and I found the first one I attended, this past fall, to be so full of useful information, I definitely want to go back. Thrillerfest 2023? Maybe? I love the excuse to go the New York City, and I'd really like to teach a masterclass there one year, so that's a strong impetus to go.

What about you, Readers? What conferences will you be attending next year? Or are you not ready yet?