Saturday, February 4, 2023

What We're Writing Week: Oh, the Weather Outside...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As I write this on Friday evening (yes, I procrastinated until the last minute, did you expect otherwise?) this is my local forecast:

 I've been working at my kitchen table, next to the roaring wood stove, with water trickling in every sink in This Old House. I wrapped the exterior pantry door in plastic, hung two quilts over the drafty front entrance, and rolled throw blankets against every door and window jamb where I could feel the wind blowing in. It's deep, once-in-a generation cold here, cold enough for your skin to develop frostbite within ten minutes of exposure. The wind whistles and shrieks constantly, rattling the windows.

Now imagine there's a knock on the door.

Or that I'm trapped inside with someone who might be as dangerous as the windstorm outside.


Don't worry, I'm actually safe and sound with a grumpy cat and two Shih Tzus who haven't left their fireside bed all day.

But you can see why I love to use bad weather in my books. Now, you'll hear a lot of writing advice about weather. "Never open with the weather." "No one want's to read about a forecast" "Nature makes a weak antagonist." To which I say, "Come experience our balmy -43° windchill today and tell me that."

I love sending my heroes driving down roads during ice storms, searching for someone during blizzards, trying to escape through deep drifts of snow. I admit, my imagination tends toward the chillier side of the year, but I've read terrific books set against dangerously hot weather - like Paolo Bacigaloupi's THE WATER KNIFE, set in an arid near-future southwest, and Michael Koryta's THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, where I could absolutely feel the stifling heat leading to a massive Montana wildfire.

My most recent read, the chillingly terrific YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS by Kay Rosenfield, has two opposing weather events as crucial plot points: the devastating wildfire that consumed over 17,000 acres in Maine in 1947, and the almost annual deep freeze of this state's many reaches - bodies of water stretching between the fjord-like points that make up the Down East coastline. Don't worry - I'm not giving anything away, other than a strong recommendation to get the book ASAP.

AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY, my (never ending) work in progress, has Russ and Clare and their friends dealing with typical Christmas time conditions in the Adirondacks: unexpectedly heavy snow, bitter wind chill, and impossible-to-navigate roads. It's not the worst they've faced, but I like to keep them on their toes. Fortunately, over six (I think?) years in the area, Clare's gotten much better about wearing appropriate clothing. 

All this is to say, as much as I joke about starting a series set in Hawai'i, say, or in the Virgin Islands, I'm going to stick to writing about the bone-chilling conditions I know and suffer through love. Why not, when I can simply open my door to challenges, struggles and danger?

Dear readers, what are some of the weather-dependent stories you love?

Friday, February 3, 2023

What We're Writing--Debs is Blogging

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's What We're Writing Week and I have been blogging, here, there, and everywhere, because it's almost time for the launch of A KILLING OF INNOCENTS next Tuesday, February 7th (Hank and I share a book birthday, yay!) 

I am so excited! This my first book launch in three years and four months (yes, I know you are all counting!) And today I'm on way to Phoenix for my first live book event, ditto. On Saturday at 2 p.m. MST I'll be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale chatting with our very own Rhys Bowen. (You can join us on the Pen's Facebook page or YouTube channel, and you can order signed books!)

Next week I'll be in Houston on February 9th at Murder by the Book, chatting with my pal Celeste Connolly (a.k.a. S.C. Perkins.) You can order signed copies from MBTB as well.

For Dallas/Fort Worth area readers, I'll be doing a panel at the Dallas Literary Festival March 4th and books will be available. More information soon here

February 27th I'll be in Key West for the Friends of the Key West Library Speaker Series, chatting with the lovely Barb Ross, and I'll get to see Roberta AND Hallie! You can bet much fun will be had. 

For a special Jungle Red preview today, I thought I'd share just a smidgen of illustrator Laura Maestro's wonderful map. I think every map Laura creates is more fun than the last and she's outdone herself with A Killing of Innocents. Just look at the Staffordshire dogs! And Toby, rehearsing in his mouse head for the Nutcracker, and the adorable border terrier, Wallace. And Sid, of course.

And one more treat--here's a link to an audio sample of Gerard Doyle narrating the book. I got goosebumps just hearing the first few seconds.

I hope to see some of you in person or online! Readers and reviewers and my dear Jungle Reds have been so supportive of this book and so patient with me. I appreciate it more than I can say, and I hope to see some of you in person or online. 

Dear readers, are you getting out for live events again, or taking advantage or the virtual ones? Or both?

P.S. The only bad thing about all of this is that I'm missing my darling granddaughter Wren's 7th birthday today! How did time go so fast??

On a rainy November evening, trainee doctor Sasha Johnson hurries through the evening crowd in London's historic Russell Square. Out of the darkness, someone jostles her as they brush past. A moment later, Sasha stumbles, then collapses. When Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Doug Cullen, are called to the scene, they discover that she's been stabbed.

Kincaid immediately calls in his detective wife, Gemma James, who has recently been assigned to a task force on knife crimes which are on the rise. Along with her partner, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma aids the investigation. But Sasha Johnson doesn’t fit the profile of the task force’s typical knife crime victim. Single, successful, career-driven, she has no history of abusive relationships or any connection to gangs. Sasha had her secrets, though, and some of them lead the detectives uncomfortably close to home.

As the team unravels the victim's tangled connections, another murder raises the stakes. Kincaid, Gemma, and their colleagues must put even friendships on the line to find the killer stalking the dark streets of Bloomsbury. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

What We're Writing @LucyBurdette

 LUCY BURDETTE: In spite of the fact that I’m way behind in my schedule for Key West mystery #14, I've spent much of this last month in New Haven rather than Key West--in my mind, that is! The editorial comments on THE INGREDIENTS OF HAPPINESS arrived in my inbox during Christmas week. This book falls into the category of contemporary or women's fiction, and it takes place in New Haven with a little side trip to Madison CT. I've been lucky in my writing life to land amazing editors who help make my books stronger, and this time was no exception. Lots of changes were made to strengthen the character and the story. Soon I'll be able to show you the cover, and provide a pre-order link… But meanwhile, here’s the opening introducing psychologist and so-called happiness expert, Dr. Cooper Hunziker:

Chapter One

Things my mother taught me, part one: chocolate cake makes everything better. 

This thought floated through my mind as I paused, willpower wobbling, preparing to run the gauntlet of glassed-in cakes that greeted each coffee shop visitor as soon as the door closed behind her. Carrot cake, sponge cake, coconut cake, poppyseed pound cake, peach shortcake, chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting: not a single one was on my no-white flour, low-carb, low-sugar, low-fat, I’m-in-control-of-my-life diet. 

Except I wasn’t in control, and every cell and synapse in my body recognized that. “Could I get a small-ish piece of the chocolate cake?” I asked the girl behind the counter.

She shrugged and grinned, the piercings around her lips and nose bristling. “Sorry. We’ve already cut it into slices. What if you bought a piece, ate half, and threw the rest out? Or wrapped it up for tomorrow?”

“As if that would ever happen,” I said with a chuckle. “Might as well give me the whole thing. I’ll do my best.”

I paid for the massive hunk of cake and a full-fat latte and carried the soul-soothing loot to a small wooden table near the far door. From here I could watch out the big window and try to picture whether New Haven would ever feel like home. Yale students and worker bees streamed along Chapel Street, headed toward their morning destinations—some chattering and laughing, some expressionless, absorbed in whatever played through their headphones. How many of them were happy? How much did that matter?

My attention caught on a couple sitting at the next table over. I had taken them for lovebirds, with their heads bent toward each other, whispering sweet nothings, sharing a slab of coconut cake. His voice rumbled and I made out the words: “try again, a different therapist, the puppy.” 

Then her hissed voice grew louder. “I don’t want the puppy. I never wanted the damn dog in the first place,” she said. 

She dabbed the tines of her fork over the crumbs on the plate, though most of their cake was intact. She brought the fork halfway to her mouth, but then let it drop to the table. (I would have licked that implement clean.) After wiping her hands on a napkin, she grabbed her purse strap and slung it over her shoulder as she stood. She lowered the volume of her voice a notch.

“You don’t seem to understand, I can’t do that. I need space, lots of it. Right now I feel like I can’t breathe.” She pressed her palm to her neck and then clacked out of the shop on tall heels, model-thin and businesslike, leaving her husband (I assumed) sitting alone.

Awkward as it felt, we were left facing each other and I couldn’t avoid meeting his gaze. His cheeks bloomed pink and he flashed an embarrassed smile. In spite of the sweater and the glasses and the tiny overlap of his front teeth, once he smiled, I could see he was cute. The kind of cute that could make your gut flip a little once you’d noticed.

“That went well,” he said, and crooked another little smile. “Sorry to subject you to my marital dirty laundry. She’ll come around, eventually. Don’t you think? From a cake-loving woman’s perspective, I mean.”

I glanced down at my plate, which was in fact empty. This was the problem with getting distracted and not eating each bite mindfully—I’d powered through the whole slice. As for his wife coming around, I didn’t think so. 

“I don’t know her, so it would be hard to say,” I offered, trying for something noncommittal and diplomatic.

“But supposing,” he said, his face so hopeful, “you were giving your very best advice to a lovesick friend.”

How could I flat-out lie? 

“Things my mother taught me, part two,” I said. “Don’t count on someone else to make you happy because chances are, you’ll end up alone anyway. Except for the dog. You’ve definitely got the dog and that counts for something, right?” 

Instantly I wished I’d gone with my first instinct and not said anything other than sorry. This was none of my business and now I’d made him feel worse. “I’m so sorry, that was a dumb thing to say. I blurt when I’m nervous.”

But he’d started to laugh. “Your mother sounds like a wise woman.” He stood up to leave. He was taller than I would have expected, solid and muscular like an athlete. “Now I’m curious about part one. Have a good day.” He smiled again, gathered their dishes for recycling, and disappeared out the side door. 

I drained the last bit of foam clinging to the bottom of the mug, placed it and my empty plate in the rubber bin marked for dirty dishes, feeling a little sad and definitely regretful. The poor man must have felt bad enough without me clanging him on the head with the bald truth as though I was wielding a cast-iron skillet. How humiliating to be dumped in public. 

So that's coming in July! 

In addition, A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS, #13 in the Key West food critic mystery series, has a gorgeous cover and is now available for preorder. 

If you are a Netgalley reviewer, A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS is available there

(I got a big kick out of this review: I have loved this series since it first came out. But this book is the best yet. It had me completely absorbed into the story and I read it in one setting. Then I got mad at myself because I finished it so quickly.)

Final news: The first seven Key West mysteries will be available as audiobooks soon, in case you or someone you know prefers listening over reading. AN APPETITE FOR MURDER will be out on February 7, and DEATH IN FOUR COURSES on February 21.

Phew! What I need right now is to jumpstart the real writing and skip over the distractions of all the above... Suggestions welcome!