Friday, April 16, 2021

Linda L. Richards ENDINGS is (fortunately) only the beginning

HALLIE EPHRON: A few months ago I had the great good luck to be asked to consider blurbing Linda L. Richards's thriller, ENDINGS. I said I would try to get to it. Which I did. And then something that rarely happened did--I couldn't put it down. Really. I could not.

The blurb practically wrote itself:
"Brilliant. Terrifying. Compulsively readable."

Linda is the author of 15 books and the founder and publisher of JANUARY MAGAZINE. I'm thrilled to have her as a guest today on Jungle Red, pondering her main character, a woman unlike any I've encountered previously in crime fiction.

Take it away, Linda...

LINDA L. RICHARDS: Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of good and evil.

That sounds so trite, so predictable. But hear me out. It’s worth considering.

The narrating character in my most recent book, ENDINGS, is a hit woman, a contract killer. She kills people for money. That isn’t the sum of who she is or even anywhere near the totality of the story she stars in, but it’s an easy way for us to begin to understand her.

She is not a bad person. I mean, she should be, right? She kills people; takes their lives. What kind of good person does stuff like that? But, like all of us, she has been forged by the situations that brought her to the point in her life when we meet her.

While writing Endings I researched these things: good and evil. Do they even exist as forces in the world? While I researched, a political vortex composed of both of these things seemed to shift around my feet, like so much sand. For a while over the last couple of years, it would seem as though evil was reflected every day on the evening news. I still emerged from the experience as I went into it: we are -- all of us -- the sum of our parts. We are created not only by DNA, but also by circumstance.

People have asked me how I managed to make the protagonist in Endings relatable. I think it’s because I didn’t try. She exists in the world on her own steam, as it were. Her world. Like all of us, she was forged by her circumstance.

So: relatable. The protagonist in Endings reacts to things in a human way. Early in Endings, she loses her child, and ultimately her husband, in a freak accident. And these things alter her.

In fact with the second book complete and while I’m heading into a third, I find she is still reeling from those events. Not in an obvious way. But they have changed her in ways she doesn’t understand. In ways, honestly, maybe even I don’t fully understand on a conscious level. But readers are getting it.

I was astonished when, on release day, the narrator of the audiobook version of Endings encapsulated perfectly what had been in my heart. But I would have been hard-pressed to find words for some of what I poured into the book. Human things. Things that had nothing to do with taking lives, but everything to do with living them.

So on release day, narrator Jennifer Wren Warren tweeted that, in addition to being a thriller, Endings was “a meditation on loss and redemption and the media, and it made me cry!” Her words made me cry, too, because certainly those things were on my mind as I wrote the book. They were never top of mind -- if they had been, it would not be enjoyable fiction. But criticism of the media’s handling of hard news was one of the things I was chewing on as I wrote. And the twinned themes of loss and redemption figure starkly in the whole work.

And, of course, Endings is a thriller. One is not to lose sight of that. It is intended to make you catch your breath, and there are certainly whole chunks of the book when the reader is meant to be perched on the edge of her seat. So it is meant to be all of that, and also more.

Many years ago I interviewed a very famous crime fictionist for January Magazine who told me about a super fancy German photographer who was taking her picture for a big deal magazine. He instructed her to stand erect and then pull her leg up behind her, by the heel. She told him it hurt. “Of course it hurts,” he said, or something very like that. “That’s the point. It must hurt. There is no art without pain.”

I’m not entirely certain I believe all of those words: that there is no art without pain, but I certainly believe in what they represent. To be satisfied with art -- a book, a movie, a painting, whatever -- there must be more than what can be seen on the surface. There must be layers. Depths. Did I reach those depths and layers with Endings? I hope so. If you read it, maybe you will let me know.

HALLIE: This got me thinking, is pain an essential ingredient for a really good crime novel? For the author? For the character? And what about for the reader?

And while you're thinking about that, make room on your TBR list for ENDINGS.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

5 Amazing things "Alicia Beckman" learned writing BITTERROOT LAKE #bookgiveaway

Today I'm so pleased to welcome back Leslie Budewitz, an old friend of the Jungle Red Writers, but you might not "recognize" her because she's sporting a new name (Alicia Beckman) and diving into a new genre (suspense). She's making her suspense debut with BITTERROOT LAKE.

Writing as Leslie Budewitz, she’s a three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story) and best-selling author of the Spice Shop mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries.

She's here today to talk about tackling a new genre, and the five amazing things she learned along the way.

1. Every writer needs a friend who is descended from packrats. As Bitterroot Lake begins, Sarah McCaskill Carter is a new widow who comes back to Montana from her home in Seattle to help her mother clean out the family’s historic lakefront lodge.

The main plot is contemporary, but when Sarah finds an old trunk filled with journals, albums, and letters from the 1920s, she’s confronted with the implications of a pair of tragedies she’d known little about. I’d seen enough old scrapbooks and albums to picture (sorry) the white ink on black pages, the black-and-white photos held with black paper corners. But I’m way down the line of descent in my extended family and half the continent away, so when I decided I had to get hands-on, I called my friend JD, keeper of a vast family collection.

Oh, my goodness. Her great-grandmother’s scrapbook, begun when she was first married and living in a logging camp. (Did I mention McCaskill Land and Lumber Company, started in the 19 teens?) Boxes and boxes of photographs and letters. And the baby books. The McCaskills lost a young daughter in 1926. When I found JD’s mother’s baby book and the baby book for the baby girl who died in 1924 at fourteen months, I felt slugged in the heart. I’d already turned in the manuscript—Covid kept us from getting together earlier—but in revisions, I was able to add the baby book, describe what the albums were made from, and sharpen the sense of discovery.

Those details helped me ground the story in reality and create a stronger emotional connection for the reader. That’s why we read fiction, right?

I’m grateful to have spent a few hours with JD’s collection, but I’ll confess, I’m equally grateful that I’m not the one who has to figure out what to do with it.

2. The freak-out in the middle is apparently part of my writing process. I’m writing away, sure I know what the story’s about—not just the plot, but what’s it’s really about, the emotional core—then at some point in the middle, it all becomes a hopeless squiggle.

I torture myself with too much thinking, make too many notes, take long walks, drink wine, talk to myself and poor, tolerant Mr. Right, and then, it hits me. I know what the story is really about. And the rest of the draft flows.

For The Solace of Bay Leaves, that meant tossing an entire plot line and acknowledging that Pepper’s friendship with Maddie wasn’t incidental but the heart of the story. For Bitterroot Lake, it meant recognizing the central role of Sarah’s family history.

It’s painful as heck, but apparently I have to write half the book before It All Becomes Clear.
I’m hoping that starting the WIP with a stronger sense of the emotional conflict for both sleuth and killer shortens the process. I’ll let you know in a week or two.

3. Toilet tissue was invented in 1857. In the trunk, Sarah finds a dried rose on top of a little girl’s dress, tucked away in 1926. Wrapped in what? I asked my friend Google when tissue paper was invented. This was right when the pandemic started and Google was fixated on toilet tissue, not what I had in mind.

When I changed my search to wrapping paper, I learned that the two are related. In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick began using tissue paper for his newly-invented graded sewing patterns, and its use for gift-wrapping began a few years later.

4. Phyllis Ramey loved baseball. As she’s unraveling the mysteries from a century earlier, Sarah visits a cemetery in the fictional town of Deer Park. I pictured a weeping willow and a stone lamb on the grave of a child, but before writing the scene, I wanted a deeper sense of the place. So, on a clear blue day last May, desperate to leave home for a few hours, Mr. Right and I made a field trip to two historic cemeteries not far away.

Old cemeteries
are fascinating, each grave a story. I will never know why long-ago descendants emblazoned MOTHER in gold on a massive boulder in the cemetery at the University of Notre Dame—or how she would have felt. And the story of the fourteen-foot high statue of a young girl standing beside a woman in a wheelchair at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle seems lost to the ages. But I know, from a flat stone in the cemetery in Creston, Montana, decorated with a photo and the image of a baseball, that Phyllis Ramey loved the game.

I never met her, but that stone made me love her so much.

5. The first thing everyone wants to know—and so, perversely, the last thing I’ll tell you—is who is Alicia Beckman? My publisher asked me to use a pen name to distinguish Bitterroot Lake from my cozy mysteries. It’s moodier, for sure—the cover and copy tell you that—but it’s not like I’ve gone from being Jessica Fletcher to Hannibal Lecter.

My books all stem from the events of women’s lives, with crime, and this book is no exception. My mother’s name was Alice and my father often called her Alicia. The Beckmans were my maternal great-grandparents and I kept a picture of them on my desk as I wrote; they are my visual image of Sarah’s great-grandparents, though their lives were nothing alike. Odd as it sounds, I like thinking of them watching me, wondering what on earth this crazy great-granddaughter is up to.

Hey, I wonder that myself sometimes, especially during that squiggle in the middle.

Readers, learned something fun or intriguing from a recent read? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books, one lucky reader will win a hardcover copy of Bitterroot Lake. And if you buy the book and would like a signed bookplate, drop me a line with your mailing address (

ABOUT BITTERROOT LAKE: When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman's suspense debut.

Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah's guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.

Now that she's a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she's greeted by an old friend--and by news of a murder that's clearly tied to that tragic day she'll never forget.

And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Echoes of the Past with Edith Maxwell's Quaker Midwife #7

HALLIE EPHRON: It’s always a pleasure to welcome Edith Maxwell to talk about her latest. And she has so much good news right now — with her 6th Quaker Midwife mystery starring Quaker midwife Roe Carroll (Taken Too Soon) nominated for an Agatha — and her 7th in that series, A Changing Light, published yesterday.

For the record, she also writes Country Store Mysteries featuring chef/carpenter Robbie Jordan (written as Maddie Day), Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries with bike shop owner Mac Almeida and the Cozy Capers Book Group on Cape Cod (written as Maddie Day), Local Foods Mysteries with farmer Cam Flaherty, and Lauren Rousseau Mysteries with Quaker linguistics prof Lauren Rousseau (written as Tace Baker).

She is... amazing. And her new book, A Changing Light, is not to be missed -- it's the final one in what she calls the “series of my heart.” 

I’ll let her tell you why...

EDITH MAXWELL: Thank you so much, Hallie, for welcoming me back to the Jungle Reds, one of my very favorite blog communities. I’m delighted to celebrate yesterday’s release of A Changing Light with everyone here.

Rhys knows that when a historical novelist noodles ideas for a new book, we dig around for what might have been happening in the world, in a region, in the culture at the time we want to set the book.

Taken Too Soon, my Agatha-nominated sixth Quaker Midwife Mystery, took place in early fall, 1889. Midwife Rose Carrol – now Dodge, as the book opens minutes after her marriage to her beloved David – solves a murder on Cape Cod during her curtailed honeymoon. (When I learned that West Falmouth, where I go on solo writing retreat twice a year, was a hotbed of Quakers at the time, I knew Rose had to visit.)

I wanted to end this series of my heart back in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where all the rest of the books take place. (Yes, A Changing Light is the last book. More on that later.) I’d read about the annual Spring Opening, when Amesbury’s world-famous carriage factories opened their doors to the public. Festivities went on for a week, including balls and parades.
[picture of Coaching Parade article, used with permission by Amesbury Carriage Museum]

But what more widespread historical or cultural thing was going on in March, 1890? Ah. That would be the infamous disease without a cure or a vaccine – tuberculosis. It was rampant and devastating. I dug around for information and happened across Robert Goetz’s The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.

The title, of course, dropped my jaw, literally. TB and the creator of Sherlock Holmes? After I read the book cover to cover (I highly recommend it), I started to write. A local woman, a former president of the Amesbury Carriage Museum, had been the high bidder at a museum fundraiser on naming rights to a character in the series. I was delighted to make Mary Chatigny into Dr. Chatigny, lady tuberculosis specialist.

I wrote scenes where people are concerned about public spitting, and I included mention of the New York City public health department’s ban on the practice. Rose is concerned when she meets a friend who looks ill and is coughing in public. We hear about the town’s police chief having to go off to the new sanitarium in Saranac Lake, New York, for the cure. Mind you, I wrote this book last summer. Yes, summer 2020, when another disease without a cure or a vaccine was devastating families and businesses, an illness also spread by exhaled particles. You all know.

We authors have heard readers say they don’t want to read novels set in COVID-19 days. We’re all scrambling to set our contemporary novels either before 2020 or vaguely after. With this book, I could write about a pandemic, just not the current one. I could bring in a hint of those feelings of fear and helplessness we’ve all had. An echo of the present in the past.

Other changes go on around Rose even as she works to solve the murder of a Canadian visitor to town. The horse-drawn trolley is being electrified. There are murmurs about motorcars. Rose has changes in her personal life, too, some painful, some filled with joy.

Because this is the last Quaker Midwife Mystery, I brought back most of the characters named after other naming rights winners in previous books: Frannie Eisenman, Jonathan Sherwood, Catherine Toomey, and Marie Deorocki. I also brought back Jeanette Papka, the blind woman modeled closely on my longtime friend (and Friend) Jeanne Papka Smith, who starred in Judge Thee Not (my guest post here was about Jeanne).

But wait, you say. Why end the series? Charity’s Burden, book four, won the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel only last year! Book six is also nominated, results to be announced at Virtual Malice in July.

Here’s why. I have loved writing these books. Channeling my Quaker faith into Rose has been a joy. Learning everything I can about my town and living in the late eighteen-hundreds never fails to satisfy. Making the elderly John Greenleaf Whittier a supporting character has been fun. And the readers who love this series adore it.

But there aren’t enough of those fans. I make very little money on these books. It comes down to a business decision. At this point in my authorial career, I’m not willing to spend a third of my year every year writing for love and not sales. And I’m pleased that I ended the series on my own terms, with Rose and David in a good place. All’s right in their world for the moment.

If you are one of my Rose Carrol uber-fans, I’m sorry. But you never know. She has starred in Agatha-nominated short stories before (scoot to minute 21 here and watch me read “The Mayor and the Midwife” from Blood on the Bayou). She might well again.

HALLIE: We’d love it if you join Edith and me in an online chat about A Changing Light next week on April 22 at 7 pm EDT. There will be door prizes! For information and to register: 

Readers: Did any of your forebearers contract TB? Have you mourned the end of a beloved series? I’ll gladly send one commenter an ebook version of A Changing Light. I’ll also send anyone a signed bookplate if you own an unsigned copy of any of my books. Write to me at with your snail mail address and let me know which book or books you’d like a signature for and if you’d like the bookplate endorsed..

About A Changing Light: Midwife Rose Carroll sees signs of progress and change everywhere. Her New England mill town presents its 1890 annual Spring Opening, when world-famous carriage manufacturers throw open their doors to visitors from all over the globe. This year’s festivities are tainted when a representative from a prominent Canadian carriage company is murdered and plans for a radical new horseless carriage go missing. Faced with the question of whether the two crimes are connected—and a list of suspects that includes some of Amesbury’s own residents and any number of foreign visitors—Rose delves into a case with implications for the future, even if the motive for murder is one of mankind’s oldest.

Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She lives with her beau and maniac cat north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. She hopes you’ll find her at Edith M. Maxwell and Maddie Day Author.