Thursday, August 13, 2020

New Uses for Old Clothes

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like a lot of you probably are, I've been using my stay at home time to Marie Kondo parts of my house. (I've also been using the time to obsessively play Ultimate Jewel and eat miniature Snickers bars, but we're not going to talk about that.) I had effectively empty nested for over a year when first the Maine Millennial came home with half an apartment's worth of stuff. Okay, I figured, we'll shove things any which way until after Christmas, and then we can work on finding more permanent storage.

In March, of course, Youngest came home from U Maine, bringing with her Guest Son. He traveled pretty light, but she somehow seemed to have MORE clothing, bedding and knick-knacks than she had at the beginning of the year. 

This old house began to feel claustrophobic. Any closets we have were added in sometime around WWII, and the combination of carving out space from preexisting rooms and the fact people simply didn't own as much clothing at that time means you could fit ALL six closets (yes, that's right, six closets for 3000 square feet) into the average modern-build walk-in master closet.

But! What we lack in closets, we make up for with an attic. It's a full, pull down the stairs and walk around over the entire second floor attic, complete with ominous single lightbulb, mice, and unfashionable (in 1820) floorboards that are, no lie, close to two feet wide in places.
So...many... clothes...

The problem is, after living here for twenty-six years, the attic is full to bursting. So in the domino logic of storage, getting stuff out of the living room and library and parlour meant heading up to the bedrooms, and making space in the bedrooms meant removing out-of-season and seldom-used items to the attic, and finding space for them meant getting rid of at least 30% of what had been stored over the years.

It's a work very much in progress, but we're getting there. We brought down and donated luggage we have no use for anymore, boxes of Ross's old papers (The Maine Millennial wrote about them) and my fave, the "boxes full of odds and ends we threw in during a pre-holiday cleaning frenzy," which of course were meant to have been retrieved and sorted right away, but instead languished for years unattended.

What is this? Why did we keep it in the first place?

Then of course, there were the boxes of clothing. Not the many, many tubs full of children's clothes we haven't gotten to yet. These are my clothes, neatly labeled in order of ascending size, dating back to the early 1980s. Many of you reading this are at or close to the same weight you were in 1985. I am not (cf, mini Snickers, above.) I tend to be pretty rigorous about tossing clothing that doesn't fit anymore, but there are always some pieces that are either too nice, or too sentimental to toss - and besides, I could always go back down to a size 12 again, right?

Wrong. The first thing I discovered going through my old clothes is dress size inflation - my size 12s are the same dimensions as today's size 10. I've always had an image of myself as being, well, on the plump side, so imagine my shock at seeing my willowy Youngest daughter fitting perfectly into outfits I remember wearing to work in DC. Readers, I was svelte and never even knew it.

The second thing I've discovered is that it pays to buy classics. Youngest snatched up multiple skirts, blouses and sweaters, which she proclaimed "back in style - as long as we get rid of the shoulder pads." A lot of snipping later, and she has a new wardrobe of silk, linen and 100% cotton.

The third thing I noticed, while laundering everything, was how many items of clothing I had that had been made in the USA. By members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union! Honestly, that made me kind of sad. We could use those kind of good union jobs again.

The fourth thing I realized was that even well-made clothing needs to be given away when your lifestyle has changed. Those small sizes that look so chic on Youngest will be perfect for her, a young woman heading for a career in international affairs or politics. Even if they fit me, I have no need for linen skirts, silk blouses or structured sweater jackets any more. Nor will I ever wear the clothes that are very close to my current size that I picked up during an inexplicable boho phase in my forties. What was I thinking of? Lacy knits and fringe are SO not me.

At the end, we have three boxes of clothing to donate, a bunch more in Youngest's room (still not enough closet space...) and a few sentimental pieces that are going back up in new, sturdier polyprophelene bins. Stay tuned for my next JRW week, dear readers, when I will have made it around to 26 years worth of Christmas decorations...

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Buy my book... just don't ask me to stand up

HALLIE EPHRON: This week the paperback edition of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR comes out, and all of my contact with readers will be via computer.

Yesterday, for example, I was interviewed on A Mighty Blaze by Sara DiVello (“Where in the OM Am I?”)

I have a guilty secret. There’s actually an upside to being grounded for a book launch. I’m not a huge fan of airports, TSA, or coach seating. I am such a compulsively on-time person that I end up getting to the airport ridiculously early.

Just when you think you're such a hotshot visiting author, you arrive at an alien airport and wander around in baggage claim looking for the person who's supposed to be there to claim you. It's happened. More than once.

I’m also not thrilled when the only place to get a bite near my hotel is a gas station’s convenience store across the highway, and I have to walk there and back in the dark. Not to cast aspersions on convenience stores—the best boudin sausage I ever had was from a gas station in suburban New Orleans. The microwave pizza somewhere in Florida, not so great.

And I’ve grown to love Zoom. Here’s me on Zoom. Wearing makeup (a rare sighting these days).

What you can’t see:

- My feet (they're bare)
- My bottom half. I'm wearing pajama bottoms
- The back of my head. I haven’t had a haircut since January and while I can manage to tame the wildness surrounding my face, I’ve given up on trying to manage the back 40. Fortunately viewers only see me coming.

Here's me on Zoom taping an interview with Scott Turow, Guest of Honor at Bouchercon 2020. (I asked him how he came up with the twist at the end of PRESUMED INNOCENT and you'll be amazed at his answer. Be sure to register! It's going to be great and a bargain at $55!!)

My fancy setup is to perch my laptop on a pair of cardboard boxes.
Light streams in from the window in front (not behind) me. I have notes printed out and hanging at eye level, as close as I can get it to my computer camera’s eye.

The poster for my book is strategically placed behind me along with a cascade of name tags from every conference I’ve spoken at (in person!) since my first book came out in 2000, fake pearls, and a tiara.

When it comes to putting my best face forward on Zoom, I ask myself: What would Hank do? Dark top. Signature necklace.

Camera shooting DOWN (never UP!) and from a distance.

Having had to go virtual, what do I miss? Selling books. Duh. Signing books. Of course.

But more than that, meeting readers. Meeting readers. Meeting readers.

Seriously: Meeting readers.

So here I am, not in person, but hoping that if you haven’t read it, you’ll Order CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR from the bookseller of your choice. If you have a copy and would like a signed bookplate, email me:

And asking: Have you gone to a Zoom event? Did you turn on your camera? Unmute your voice? Did you wear shoes? Pants? Did you stick around until the end?

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY: My wonderful publisher, HarperCollins/Wm Morrow, is giving away 50 copies of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR! Go to to GOODREADS to sign up for a chance to win a copy! Giveaway expires in 2 weeks.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (BUY IT from the bookseller of your choice.)

From the New York Times bestselling author of There Was an Old Woman comes a novel about a professional organizer with a deadly problem she may not be able to clean up.

Emily Harlow is a professional organizer who helps people declutter their lives; she’s married to man who can’t drive past a yard sale without stopping. He’s filled their basement, attic, and garage with his finds.

Like other professionals who make a living decluttering peoples’ lives, Emily has devised a set of ironclad rules. When working with couples, she makes clear that the client is only allowed to declutter his or her own stuff. That stipulation has kept Emily’s own marriage together these past few years. She’d love nothing better than to toss out all her husband’s crap. He says he’s a collector. Emily knows better—he’s a hoarder. The larger his “collection” becomes, the deeper the distance grows between Emily and the man she married.

Luckily, Emily’s got two new clients to distract herself: an elderly widow whose husband left behind a storage unit she didn’t know existed, and a young wife whose husband won’t allow her stuff into their house. Emily’s initial meeting with the young wife takes a detour when, after too much wine, the women end up fantasizing about how much more pleasant life would be without their collecting spouses.

But the next day Emily finds herself in a mess that might be too big for her to clean up. Careful what you wish for, the old adage says . . . now Emily might lose her freedom, her marriage . . . and possibly her life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Key Lime Crime is here! @LucyBurdette

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Today's the day! We know a lot of you have been watching, waiting, and dying to find out what's happening with Hayley Snow, her new husband, Nathan Bransford, their family, friends and always, shall we say, distinctive Key West neighbors. 

It's always a treat (in more ways than one) to dive into Lucy's world of tarot-card readers, gorgeous scenery, houseboats, romance and recipes. (OMG, the food. Do NOT read one of Lucy's books on an empty stomach, y'all.) But escaping to Key West seems even more important this year, when we're all, for the most part, staying close to home. 

Back in March, when the lock-down was new, I reread most of Lucy's backlist (previous books) because when I'm deep in her feels-so-real fictional world (more on that from her, later) it's almost like being in Key West with old friends. I can feel the warm breeze, listen to the crowds on Duval Street - everything except taste the Key Lime Pie. For that, I'm going to follow the recipe in her latest novel...

LUCY BURDETTE: With a longer than usual wait between books and a postponement due to the pandemic and this past week the interminable power outage from Isiais, I wondered if THE KEY LIME CRIME would ever arrive. But now it’s here and I’m thrilled about the reviews and excited to share the story with you! As I was writing this post, and thinking about telling you what kinds of real-life events triggered parts of the story, I was kind of shocked to realize how many of them there were.

I got a little giggle from an early reviewer who said she hadn't thought she could enjoy a book based on key lime pie. However, not only did she love the book, she was now craving pie…(in case this should happen to you after reading, I did post a recipe on Mystery Lovers Kitchen.) I had to wonder how she’d feel if she’d had to taste all those pies? John informed me after we’d eaten our way around town, that he doesn’t even really like key lime pie! He’s such a good sport.

KLP from Old Town Bakery

I didn’t only taste—I also took a key lime baking class with three super fans who happened to be in town that week. It couldn’t have been more fun and of course it went right into the new book as a scene.

At the Key Lime Pie Factory

I’ve added a couple of new characters this time out. Hayley’s mother-in-law has come to visit. Since this is the tenth in the Key West series, I’ve learned that the best way to start a new book is thinking about what’s happening in my characters' lives, and also which characters I will focus on. With this book, I went in realizing that some readers felt unsatisfied about Hayley's relationship with her new husband. I wanted to figure out how to show why he is the reserved man that he is, and why his family has been mysteriously missing from his life. Aha! Enter his mother, who has descended on the island with no advance notice and a definite axe to grind. Add the gruesome murder of a pastry chef dressed in a Santa costume and the new crime-solving team is off...

Speaking of that body in a Santa suit, this display triggered the plot this time. How could a mystery writer not imagine what might have happened if the stuffed Santa was actually a real person, a dead body?

Back to new characters, David Sloan, a real pie baker and key lime entrepreneur, is a big part of this book. He lives in Key West, writing books, running ghost tours, organizing events such as the Cow Key Bridge Zero K run. He graciously agreed to be part of THE KEY LIME CRIME, but perhaps I’d better not turn my back on him… 

Lucy and David at Key West Island Books

I'm so sad that I won't get to see any of you in person, but I have several wonderful online events set up--they are all free, but you'll need to register to attend. I hope you'll support these amazing independent booksellers:

August 9, 5 pm: At RJ Julia Booksellers with my sister, Susan Cerulean, moderated by Hallie Ephron!

August 11, 5 pm: At Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda FL!

August 18, 6 pm: Books and Books, Key West, interviewed by Deborah Crombie!

August 22, 5 pm EST: At Poisoned Pen Bookstore with all of the Jungle Red Writers!

And finally, Suzanne Orchard at Key West Island books will happily ship you a signed copy.

And should you want to know more about the book, writing, or me, this wonderful article by Pem McNerney tells all... 

And finally T-bone reminds you that he makes his debut in this book too, and he requests that each of you read about him...

Reds, how do you feel about real life mixed into your fiction?

JULIA: You know, one Jungle Red Writer is good, but two are better! In today's Red Hot News, you could win a copy of Hallie Ephron's CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR starting today! Use this link at Goodreads for a chance at one of 50 copies. Contest ends on August 25, so get your entry in soon.

Monday, August 10, 2020

To Laze, or Not To Laze, We Ask the Question

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In past years, JRW conversations in August have been about trips, summer camp, fairs and festivals, summer blockbusters and pedicures. Well, except for the (self-administered) pedicures, none of that is happening this August. So...what to write about? I checked “This Day In History” and discovered August 10 has been largely awful throughout recorded time (except for 1622, when Ferdinand Gorges and John Mason were granted the patent for the Province of Maine from the Plimouth Council for New England.) Then I decided to check holidays and I hit gold.

August 10 is National Lazy Day.

Yes! Official cover to live my best life. I confess it, I love laziness. I can spend a whole Saturday morning in bed, reading the New York Times, playing Ultimate Jewel on my phone,and otherwise being a total drain on society’s resources. BC (Before Children,) Ross and I would stop at Joe’s Smoke Shop after church, buy the actual physical Times and the Boston Globe, and proceed to spend three-plus hours at one of Portland’s brunch spots, dining, drinking, and swapping the sports section for the arts and culture pages. (Don’t worry, we tipped very well.)

“Before Children” is the operative phrase, because having a child of any age in the house is the ultimate enemy of repose. (A puppy, as Lucy and Ann are discovering, is the PENultimate.) First, you’re rising at dawn to feed and diaper them and keep them from electrocuting themselves. Then, you’re rising at dawn to get them off to school and to chauffeur them around to their events. Finally, they’re young adults and back living with you - because of course they are - and you’re rising at dawn in order to get work done before the rest of the household gets up at ten eleven noon.

This is tragic, because I am a person who does sloth very well. I loll, I flop, I veg, I nap. I can be lazy with a book, with the TV, or - one of the best sorts of lazy - just sitting in a pretty place with a drink and no time limit. This is in contrast with my sister, who is one of those people who can’t be idle. Downtime for her means only working on one task instead of three. Or my friend Roxanne, who began her long-delayed staycation from her high-pressure job by...painting her front porch. I tried to persuade her to let the porch peel while she sat in a rocking chair with a glass of lemonade and a novel, but some of us do not have the gift of indolence.

How about you, Reds? Are you someone who needs to be doing? Or can you lounge about unproductively? And if you can, what is your preferred mode of laziness?

RHYS BOWEN :  I’m a doer, Julia. I am not good at lolling, relaxing. If we go to a lovely beach in the sun I’m great for the first day, lying under an umbrella and reading a book. But then I’m telling John that we can rent kayaks, take Spanish lessons, visit historic sites. And I can’t go more than a couple of weeks without writing. This is why I’ll be up to Royal Spyness book 54 by the time I turn 90.

JENN McKINLAY: I’m the worst sort because I think I’m being idle but the fam will tell you that I’m a fraud. I schedule “people watching” in between “getting coffee” and “surf lessons” on the vacation itinerary and pretend I’m being all relaxed and chill when what I’m really doing is taking thirty minutes to study people because that’s what writers do -- so I’m actually working. I’m terrible at doing nothing, which is why the only time I read is during those precious hours before I fall asleep. My favorite part of the day.

HALLIE EPHRON: When it comes to lazing about, I’m improving my skills. I’m still not good at doing nothing, but these days I can stretch out “deciding what to make for dinner” into an hour-long project that involves excavating a packed freezer and vegetable drawer, followed by several visits to to check out what they suggest doing with the disparate ingredients I manage to corral. It can take me thirty minutes to rearrange my office and computer set up to eliminate my double chin and highlight my awards and book posters for a Zoom meeting. Another half hour to put on makeup and decide what to wear. And I manage to squeeze in the Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post daily. Also a terrific short free newsfeed that I highly recommend for news-consuming lazy people: 

LUCY BURDETTE: Not good at lazing, especially these days. How am I launching one book, finishing another, and managing a new puppy during a pandemic and a week-long blackout? Not well! You would think it would force relaxation but that hasn’t worked so far. I think I need lessons on this….

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Failure. Utter. Example: Recently, completely over-scheduled and totally nuts, I said to Jonathan, "I am going to just SIT HERE and watch TV for 30 whole minutes and not get up and not do anything else. No email-answering, no graphic design, no shipping, no laundry folding, no social media." And he looked at me like I was nuts. "That's what people do," he said.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I claim NATIONAL LAZY DAY as mine!! I am very good at sloth! I can spend a Saturday or Sunday morning reading three newspapers and reheating my coffee. My dream vacation is to lie in a hammock with a book, or to sit in a London or Paris sidewalk cafe and watch the world go by. I can sit and watch the koi swim in my pond--so relaxing. Unfortunately, I don't get to indulge my laziness all that often, as there are always THINGS TO DO. So annoying. I think Julia and I should take a sloth holiday together...

JULIA: The doers versus dreamers in our group broke out exactly as I suspected. We Reds have talked about doing a river cruise or some other sort of trip together - I can see now it will be me and Debs lounging on the deck while Rhys, Hank, Hallie, Jenn and Roberta take city tours, cooking classes and hiking excursions.

How about you, dear readers? Can you be a layabout? Or is your idea of relaxation doing just one more thing?

Red Hot News! Julia's 6th Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne mystery, I SHALL NOT WANT, is a Kindle Daily Deal and is available at all US and Canadian ebook retailers for only $2.99! But hurry - this deal is only good for August 10th! Click here for sales links.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

S.C. Perkins--Decoding My Fascination with World War II and Spy Craft

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What could be more fun than genealogy, Texas, and WWII spy craft, all in one book?? I loved S.C. Perkins' first Ancestry Detective Mystery with protagonist Lucy Lancaster, a Texas genealogist, but when I read the description of this second book, my finger hit the BUY button faster than you can say family tree!

What a perfect summer read! Here's Stephanie to tell us how all these elements came together.

S.C. PERKINS: I was five years old when World War II became something I recognized, courtesy of two of my father’s favorite television shows. One was Baa Baa Black Sheep, staring Robert Conrad and featuring the exploits of a misfit band of World War II fighter pilots in the South Pacific. The other was reruns of the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, about American POWs who became resistance fighters while in a German prison camp. 

Thanks to my movie-loving mother, more wartime-set classics came into my life, from musicals like South Pacific, comedies such as Operation Petticoat, and, when I was a bit older, excellent dramas that included The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape, From Here to Eternity, and The Longest Day.

My interest in espionage also came from when I was very young and from what I saw on television. However, there was one scene from an otherwise fuzzy memory of a black-and-white show—so fuzzy I can’t remember the name of it—that truly launched my fascination with spy craft. The scene was of a spy finding a microdot hidden in a book.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I was absolutely, completely stunned when I saw this. Was it really possible to reduce crucial information to the size of a printed period and hide it almost literally anywhere? Apparently it was, and since that moment, in my eyes, not even the coolest gadgets Q thought up in the James Bond films matched the power of the microdot.

What about codes and ciphers, you might ask? Oh, they’re on a level all their own! I’m enthralled by cryptography—though I confess I’m only interested in those types created and broken by humans as opposed to computers. (In fact, I would like to believe that, had I lived during World War II, I would have made an excellent codebreaker.)

So, since my main character, Lucy, is a genealogist, if you’re thinking I’m a certified history lover, you’d be right. Then add in my interest with World War II, spies, microdots, and cryptography? You’d better believe it I would be champing at the bit to put all of my loves into one book—and I decided I wanted to do so when I introduced Lucy’s beloved grandfather in Lineage Most Lethal. His name is George Lancaster, but Lucy calls him Grandpa.

To be honest, I thought about waiting a couple of books to introduce Grandpa, but I knew I couldn’t for a couple of reasons. One, because I was simply too excited. And the other? Well, sadly, it’s because members of the Greatest Generation are in their nineties now and passing away at an alarming rate. If Lucy were to conceivably have a World War II-era grandfather, I needed to introduce him now—and, boy, am I glad I did, because he was an absolute delight to write.

But there’s another reason I wanted Grandpa to be a World War II veteran, and that lies in the secret he’s kept from his family for over seventy-five years.

If you read my first book, Murder Once Removed, you might recall a small detail about the desk Lucy uses in her office located in downtown Austin, Texas. The desk belonged to Grandpa, a former reporter, and it has a large crosshatch carved into one corner.

I remember when I wrote that bit about the crosshatch, that it just sort of came out onto the page, unbidden. Lucy believes it was for Grandpa and his reporter buddies to play tic-tac-toe for beer money back in the day when things were slow. Yet, as soon as I wrote it, I knew it hadn’t been for tic-tac-toe—or, not usually. I now knew what secret Grandpa had been keeping:  he was an OSS spy, and that crosshatch was used to decipher a type of coded message called a Pigpen Cipher.

Also known as a Freemason’s Cipher, the Pigpen Cipher is a type of substitution cipher where symbols formed from the grid are used to represent letters in a secret message. This type of code goes back possibly to ancient times and has been used in one form or another by many groups, including the Knights Templar and Civil War soldiers.

 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I also had great fun using two other types of code in Lineage Most Lethal, including Morse Code and a book cipher—where a book is used as the key text to both create and decode a message. And the book I chose as the key text for my book cipher? Well, let’s just say I had a great time deciding on another piece of espionage history for that plot point.
When it came to the specifics of the microdot and how and where Lucy would discover it, I considered paying homage to my fuzzy memory of the spy finding the microdot in a book. That was, until I happened to be perusing the International Spy Museum website while researching microdots. There, I saw a little notation about fountain pens becoming a spy gadget. I won’t give my plot away by saying how, but as soon as I read this, I knew I had to use it (though I did have to fudge the timeline just a bit).

There’s one fact that doesn’t need decoding, though:  I had as much fun researching and writing all the World War II and spy-craft information in Lucy’s second adventure as I did the genealogy. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it just as much!

Fun fact:  I actually used the real key text to create the book ciphers you’ll see in Lineage Most Lethal. I figured, if I were going to put all my favorite spy stuff in one book, I was going to go whole hog!

S.C. Perkins is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up hearing fascinating stories of her ancestry and eating lots of great Tex-Mex. Her first book, Murder Once Removed, was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition, and an Agatha Award Nominee. She resides in Houston and, when she’s not writing, she’s likely outside in the sun or on the beach. You can find her at or on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Facebook at @SCPerkinsWriter.

DEBS: Oh, my, wasn't Robert Conrad dishy? And you know I absolutely could not resist a book that had a microdot hidden in a fountain pen! Tell us in the comments if you are fascinated by spy craft, and Stephanie will give a way a copy of Lineage Most Lethal to one lucky commenter!