Thursday, April 30, 2015

What We're Writing Week @LucyBurdette

John on duty during the parade
LUCY BURDETTE: You wouldn't believe the things I do in the name of research. Last fall, we arrived in Key West earlier than usual--October--so I could observe the wildest festival of the year--Fantasy Fest. Even after the week was over, I couldn't pretend to understand the grand appeal of walking up and down Duval Street basically naked except for creative body paint. But hey, it makes for a fabulous backdrop--though sorting through what can go into a cozy mystery from this week of events was a bit challenging. 

But John and I promptly signed up to train as Fantasy Fest parade ambassadors, and I ordered tutus in several colors (the men got camo tutus, including Tonka,) and made appointments for face-painting for the Zombie bike ride.

So that's the book I'm writing now! Without further ado, here's the opening for KILLER TAKEOUT, coming to bookshelves next April:



Resident islanders couldn’t remember a hotter Key West summer. Not only hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, they agreed, but hot enough to crisp bacon, too. So far, the advent of fall was bringing no relief. Today’s temperature registered 93° and climbing--fierce-hot for October, with the humidity dense like steam from my grandmother’s kettle. And the local news anchor promised it would get hotter as the week continued, along with the party on Duval Street.

Me? I'd rather eat canned sardines from China then march down Key West’s Duval Street wearing not much more than body paint. But 100,000 out-of-town revelers didn’t agree. They were arriving on the island this week to do just that—or watch it happen—during Fantasy Fest, the celebration taking place during the ten days leading up to Halloween, including a slew of adult-themed costume parties culminating in a massive and rowdy parade.

Worse of all, the Weather Channel was tracking the path of a tropical storm in the Eastern Caribbean. They had already begun to mutter semi-hysterical recommendations: Visitors should prepare to head up the Keys to the mainland and take refuge in a safer area. But based on the crowds I’d seen, no one was listening. These hordes weren’t leaving until the event was over. Besides, with a four-hour drive to Miami on a good traffic day, getting all those people out would be like trying to squeeze ketchup back into a bottle. Might as well party.

Since no right-minded local resident would attempt to get near a restaurant this week, I had fewer food critic duties at my workplace, the style magazine, Key Zest. I was looking forward to covering some of the tamer Fantasy Fest events for the magazine, including the Zombie bike ride, the locals’ parade, and a pet masquerade contest. And since restaurants are my beat, I’d promised my bosses an article on reliable takeout food too. If that didn’t keep me busy enough, my own mother, Janet Snow, and Sam, her fiance, were arriving for the week to visit with my dear friend Connie’s new baby, and then get themselves hitched on the beach.

In a weak moment, I’d allowed Miss Gloria, my geriatric houseboat-mate, to talk me into being trained as a Fantasy Fest parade ambassador. Our job would be to help patrol the sidewalks, which would be lined with costumed and tipsy revelers scrambling for the colored glass bead necklaces thrown off the floats.

“If we aren’t going to go to the foam party, or the Adam and Eve bash, or the Tighty Whitey party, we should at least attend the parade,” Miss Gloria said.

I closed my eyes to ward off the image of my elderly friend at any of those events.

“And if we’re working as ambassadors, we’ll be stationed inside the crowd control barricades. We’ll have the best seat in the house. Get it? Seat.” She broke into helpless giggles.

            At the time, the idea seemed palatable. Barely.

Meanwhile, FATAL RESERVATIONS will be here July 7, but I'd be so thrilled if you'd order it now!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rhys on Palaces and Ghosts.

RHYS BOWEN: What am I writing? Well, I've been juggling three books and am just beginning to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel. I wrote an extra Molly book earlier this year. It's going to be a Christmas book, due out in November and called AWAY IN A MANGER. But it doesn't seem right to share something Christmassy in April, especially when all my friends in the North East are heartily tired of snow!

And I'm just starting a new Molly book, due out next spring, but it's very much a work in progress and at this stage I'm not sure what parts of the story will stay and what will go. All I can share with you is that it takes Molly to San Francisco in April 1906. Nuff said.

So I'm going to share a snippet of the book on which I've just finished the final edits and is due out in August. It's the next Royal Spyness book and it's called MALICE AT THE PALACE. And it seemed appropriate because I leave for the Malice Domestic convention on Thursday.

I have fun researching all my books, but this was particularly enjoyable as much of the book takes place at Kensington Palace, so I spent a lot of time prowling around, looking for the famous ghosts. I asked one of the curators if he'd ever seen one. Not here, he said, but at a grace and favor cottage he'd once lived in. He turned around and a woman in black was standing behind him. She looked at him and said, "Once I was blind. Now I can see."  He told me he'd never run up the stairs so fast.  So ghosts are an accepted part of English life. My own home was definitely haunted. A procession of hooded figures used to come up the stairs.

But this excerpt is not going to be scary. It's rare that I share the first chapter of a book, but I think this one is fun:  Enjoy:

            Over the noise of the wind and rain I had heard the distinct metallic click of a latch, followed by the sound of a door being opened.  Somebody was coming into the house. I wondered if I had forgotten to lock the door before I went to bed, but I definitely remembered doing so.  I was out of bed in a flash.  Belinda’s cottage was really tiny with a flight of stairs leading up to the bedroom I was occupying, a bathroom and a box room.  I looked around desperately. There was nowhere to hide if burglars had broken in. I examined the bed, but Belinda had piled boxes and trunks under it. The wardrobe was still full of her clothes.  I wondered if perhaps I could tiptoe across the hall to the box room, or better yet the bathroom. Surely no burglar would think of looking in the bath?
    I opened the door cautiously and was about to peer around it when I heard the sound of low voices in the hallway down below. Golly. More than one of them. I glanced back into the room to see if there was anything I might use as a weapon—but I didn’t think the frail china table lamp would be much good, even if I could unplug it in time. Then I heard a laugh that I recognized.  Belinda’s laugh. She had come home unexpectedly and she was probably talking to the taxi driver who was carrying in her luggage. I was about to step out to greet her when I heard her say,
            “Toby, you are so naughty.  Now stop that, at least until I have my gloves off.”
            “Can’t wait, you delectable creature,” said a deep man’s voice.  “I’m going to rip off all your clothes, throw you down on that bed and give you one hell of a good ravishing.”
            “You are certainly not going to rip anything,” Belinda said, laughing again. “I happen to like my clothes. But you may undress me as quickly as you like.”
            “Good show,” he said.  “I’ve been dying to bed you since we first danced together on the ship.  But too many watchful eyes.   It was dashed clever of you to suggest coming back here, rather than a hotel.  A man in my position can’t be too careful, don’t you know.”
            Toby? I thought.  Not Sir Toby Blenchley, cabinet minister?  I had no time to consider this as they were now heading for the stairs. I stood behind that door in an agony of embarrassment and indecision.  Surely she couldn’t have forgotten that I was occupying her house, and thus her bedroom, could she? Did she really think it would be acceptable to roll in the hay with a cabinet minister while I was there?  Where did she expect me to go while they were thus engaged?  I sighed in exasperation. How typically Belinda.
            I heard her giggle and say, “My, but you are impatient, aren’t you?” as they came up the stairs. What on earth was I to do? Leap out on them and say “Welcome home, Belinda darling. Perhaps you had forgotten that you’d lent your house to your best friend ?” Sir Toby wasn’t in the first flush of youth. What if the surprise brought on a heart attack?  On the other hand there was now no way I could cross the upstairs landing to the box room, and I certainly didn’t want to be trapped in there listening to their hijinks.
            Then it was decided for me. Belinda ran up the rest of the stairs calling, “Come on then, last one into bed is a sissy!”  She pushed open the bedroom door with full force, trapping me behind it. She had several robes hanging from the back of that door and these were now in my face. I heard the sounds of two people undressing hurriedly. Maybe if I kept quiet and didn’t move he’d have his way with her and then go, I decided. Better still, maybe they’d both fall asleep and I could creep out and take refuge in the box room.
            “God, you really are delectable,” I heard him say. “Those neat little breasts. Enough to drive a man wild. Come here.”
            I heard bed springs creak, a grunt, a sigh.  Then something terrible happened. One of Belinda’s robes was trimmed with feathers. And one of these feathers was now tickling my nose. To my horror I realized I was going to sneeze. I was pinned so tightly behind the door that it was hard for me to get my hand up to my nose. I managed it just in time and clamped my fingers over my nose and mouth. The noises on the bed were getting more violent and urgent.  The sneeze was still lingering, waiting to come out the moment I let go.  I willed it to go away but I had to breathe.  And then, in spite of everything , it came out, a great big “A—choo,” just at the moment when Belinda was moaning  “Oh yes, oh yes.”
            It was amazing how quickly the room fell silent.
            “What the devil was that?” Sir Toby asked.
            “Someone’s in the house.” I heard the bed creak as Belinda got up.
            “I thought you said there’d be nobody here.”
            “It must be my maid, although I didn’t tell her I was coming home,” Belinda said. “How could she have known?  I’ll go and see if she’s sleeping in the box room.”  Then she lowered her voice. “Don’t go away, you big brute. I’ll be back and we can continue from where we left off.”
            “I don’t know about that,” he said. “Not if your maid’s in the house. Is she likely to gossip?”
            “My maid is paid very well to close her eyes to anything that goes on in my bedroom,” Belinda said. “You don’t have to worry, Toby, I promise you. I’ll just get my robe…”

            And she swung the door open……

If you want to know what happens next, you'll have to buy the book!/It involves a real royal scandal and a real royal wedding and of course lots of mayhem. I'm off to England on May 12 to do more snooping around for new stories. And I'll be attending Crimefest in Bristol. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WHAT WE'RE WRITING--Hank Phillippi Ryan and WHAT YOU SEE

HANK PHILLIPPI  RYAN:  It’s what we're writing week, and I am being grateful for deadlines, because otherwise how would we ever be finished? When I look back at my work (sometimes), or read it out loud at events (rarely!) there is always some little thing I would change. Sigh. I guess that’s good, always striving to be more evocative, more emotional, more exciting. Shorter.
          I’m five thousand words into a new book—more on that soon. And every word feels like a triumph. Not that the words are so great—simply that they exist, where there was once only a blank page! And I keep telling myself that if I keep going, inevitably and inexorably, the new story will emerge. So far, I’ve got a car accident, a murder victim, and a new job for Jane. And that’s only the first three chapters. I can make it better later.
          You know, every time I start a book, I have a moment of thinking: this cannot be done!  And then, months and months later, there it is. Now we are coming up to the pub date for  the fourth Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan thriller, WHAT YOU SEE. I am so excited to say it’s October 20, and why sure, you can pre-order.

WHAT YOU SEE begins with a murder in broad daylight, a stabbing at Curley Park just outside Boston City Hall.  (Inside info: This incident is very loosely based on a case my defense attorney husband had! He represented the accused killer. More on that another day…) Anyway, in the book at least: Soon after the crime, a newbie police cadet takes our hero, Detective Jake Brogan, aside, and tells him a bystander might have a lead on the bad guy.


  Chapter  3
     “Down that way—in the alley!” The cadet grabbed Jake’s arm, and Jake followed the kid’s pointing finger toward the narrow curved passage between the bank and the liquor store. “Some guy, hiding in a Dumpster. Down there. Or someone put something in the Dumpster. Something like that.” The cadet gulped for air, trying to get the words out. “A girl—I mean, a woman—told me. Anyway, what if it’s the—”

“Who told you? Where’d she come from?” Jake needed specifics. “Where is she now? This girl-woman? What’d she say?”

“Ah, I don’t know, she just said—what I said. The Dumpster. We were all taking names and addresses, see, they’re still doing that, like you wanted, and she came up to me and—” 

The cadet’s black plastic name tag said brad lonnergan. Lonnergan pointed again, jabbing the air. “Down there. What if it’s the guy who—”

“You kidding me? Do you see her? Find her.” This Lonnergan kid was not clear on the law enforcement concept. “Hold her. Do not let her leave. Understand? D!”

Jake signaled DeLuca with one finger. Me. You. That way. Let’s go.

They couldn’t afford to spook the crowd. All he needed, a mob following them into Franklin Alley, hooting like medieval peasants while they dragged some poor jerk from a Dumpster. Jake, checking to make sure D was behind him, snaked behind the spectators, dodging and weaving. Only one or two seemed to notice they were on the move. He and D didn’t look like cops, after all. Just two guys wearing jeans and leather jackets. Walking fast.

Jake glanced over his shoulder again. Most eyes focused on Kat McMahon, the ME now kneeling over the victim. For once, better to keep it that way. Cadets—the ones with brains—were taking names and addresses. Asking if anyone saw anything. Asking spectators with cameras and cell phones to stand by. The whole thing was already verging on out of control. And now this.

But maybe this would solve the whole damn case and they all could go home.

Ahead of them, the alley. Cracked pavement, cobblestones scattered with gravel. Framed on the right by the bank’s brand-new red brick, on the left by the pockmarked brownstone of Jodi’s Liquors and the University Inn. With its twists and turns, only the first ten feet or so of Franklin were visible from the street. Jake knew it was a dead end. If someone was in there, like Lonnergan’s “girl-woman” said, there’d be no way out except toward him and DeLuca. A bad guy who planned where he was going, or was at least familiar with this part of the city, would never have chosen this as an escape route. Unless he was panicking. Or hurt. Or trying to hide, waiting it out.

Or luring them in? Trapping them?

At the curb, Jake stopped, put up a hand, assessing. DeLuca skidded to a halt, almost slamming into Jake’s back. Broad daylight, not like anyone could surprise them. The quiet hubbub of Curley Park softened into background.

One second, two.

Jake felt for his Glock, drew it, felt the sun on his face. A seagull squawked, swooping, headed for the harbor. Lured into a dead-end alley? Windows above. Rooftops. Where was the woman who’d sent them down here? Who was she? Whose side was she on? What if—well, there were too many what-ifs to consider right now.

“You ready?” he said.

“Ready,” DeLuca said.

“On my three.” Jake began, “One.”

“Help!” A voice, from down the alley. “Help me!”

“Three,” Jake said.

HANK: Okay, I like it. It still makes me smile.  That‘s a good thing. 

 And let’s give away an advance reading copy, whaddaya say?  I need a name for a female drama teacher at a small college in Boston. I was thinking her first name is Sasha. What’s her last name? (No beginning with J, or M, or D, or R. In fact, can it begin with V? )

Is she a good guy or a bad guy? Too early to tell.  But I’ll choose an ARC winner at random for the suggestions…and I’m hoping I can also use a name!

(And who is going to Malice this weekend? Crossing fingers for my Agatha-nominated TRUTH BE TOLD  and WRITES OF PASSAGE!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hallie: Time traveling to the people if not the places...

HALLIE EPHRON: It's WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK, and I have not been writing. Instead I’ve been traveling and talking about about Night Night, Sleep Tight.

The book takes place in Beverly Hills, and I just got back from the nicest ever trip to Southern California. I almost wrote “trip back in time” but it really can’t be back in time, because while we New Englanders like to preserve our landmarks, those Southern Californians are all about making it bigger and better and adding parking garages.

When I grew up there (BEFORE there were zip codes), I never thought about whether the houses were big or not.  I loved the whitewashed stucco walls, the orange tile roofs, the enclosed courtyards with their lush tropical green, a showy orange and blue bird of paradise tucked in here and there.  Each house ended only a few feet of a wall or densely planted hedge that separated it from its neighbor.

In Beverly Hills, latitude equated to status.
There was really a right and wrong side of the railroad tracks that ran right through town. 

Above Sunset, way north in the canyons, houses were big sleekly modern in the gated estates.  That’s where big stars like Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra and Charleton Heston lived. Just above Sunset lived TV greats like Lucille Ball and Jack Benny. 

Our house in 1967
Below Sunset, in the “flats” where we lived, the houses were more modest. My parents were screenwriters and our neighbors were Carl Reiner (he was writing for Your Show of Shows) and David Janssen (TV actor: The Fugitive). 
Our house in 2013Add caption

South of Wilshire the houses grew smaller still until there were multi-family apartment complexes surrounding concrete courtyards.  It was almost like some force of nature was at work, siphoning away anything
organic and replacing it with dust and cement.  Looking at them now, those less wealthy neighborhoods look cozy and the houses and apartments go for millions.

The house my parents sold in 1967 for $100K and sold in 2014 for $7M. Yes, SEVEN MILLION, a number I can barely wrap my head around.  And the house isn't an inch bigger than when we moved out.

Almost nothing I remember from growing up in Beverly Hills remains. No Robinsons or Bullocks or Lanz where I spent hours trying on clothes I didn’t buy. Or Jax, the fancy women’s clothing boutique that I was too timid to walk into. The old Beverly Hills Library in the north wing of the city hall is gone; the new library where I spoke is gigantic, gorgeous, and new

No Hamburger Hamlet (for Those Potatoes or an Oak Plank) with its wonderfully hokie dioramas hanging over each booth with "scenes" from Hamlet, as in "Get thee to a bunnery!" No Bifs where I spun around on a stool at its one counter and sipped chocolate malteds.

No Wil Wrights ice cream on south Beverly Drive or C. C.
Brown’s hot fudge on Hollywood Boulevard. I wonder what happened to the cow mural on the wall of 31 Flavors.

I tried to pay a nighttime visit to the Electric Fountain which figures prominently in my book and is still there! But it was walled off and being renovated. And "the witch's
house" which was just down the block from us was still standing, though much more buffed and polished than I remember it.

Only DuPars at the Farmer's Market looked exactly like it once did, and though parking isn't the breeze it once was, their pancakes with real maple syrup are still delicious.

Still there, though, were some cherished friends.
Leonora who became a torch singer and then a Rolfer; or Christie who was the world’s best elementary school teacher and now volunteers at the school she retired from; or Jodyne, an attorney who manages the shopping centers her dad opened when we were kids; or Tony who wrote for the high school newspaper with me and is now a judge and a writer.

I was glad to get back to Boston where, like Beverly Hills, it’s the people not the places that make it feel like home.

Can you go back and visit the places from your childhood, or like me, do those exist only in photographs and memories?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

What We're Writing — Susan Elia MacNeal and MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hello Reds and lovely readers! I'm so delighted to show you the cover design for the next Maggie Hope novel, MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, which is coming out October 27, 2015 (so not too long to wait!):

I hope you love it as much as I do! I adore Fala, of course, as well as the ghostly figure in the window.... And, um, I'd really like Maggie's coat, please! (With a faux-fur collar, of course.)

And what's on the inside is progressing nicely as well. The manuscript is now typeset and in page proofs. So my job is to go over the book one last time.

Look! It's a book! (Amazing what typesetting will do.)

And I'm particularly proud of the dedication. I asked Miss Edna about the political and racial events of the 1940s often, and it led to great discussions. I treasure the memory of them.

As you may know, I'm also working on the next book in the Maggie Hope series, THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE, and just returned from a two-week research trip to London and Beaulieu, in Hampshire. (It's pronounced Bew-lee — go figure!) 

Fantastic trip and I have so much to share that it will take additional posts, but one of the most amazing thing was visiting the real-life SOE secret agent offices in London and "finishing school" in Beaulieu. I never forget for a moment that although I'm telling a story with a fictional protagonist, real women and men sacrificed everything to be dropped behind enemy lines and, as Winston Churchill instructed "set Europe ablaze!" 

Here are a few of the sites and plaques honoring the SOE in London:

On what used to be one of the main SOE offices on Baker Street.

Now it's a lighting store and anonymous office space.

This building was home of the SOE and Free French. It's now banking offices.

This is the plaque in memory of the Free French and SOE

And also in Beaulieu:

This is the SOE memorial on the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, originally built in 1204

A close-up of the inscription

The outside of what's left of Beaulieu Abbey

Inside the domus. It was originally a dormitory for monks. During World War II, dances were held there and it also served as sleeping quarters for soldiers heading to Normandy.

U.S. soldiers getting some rest before the invasion of Normandy.

I'm in awe of the agents' bravery and courage — and so many of them didn't return. But, thanks to their efforts, along with the Free French and La Résistance, so many telephone lines were cut, bridges blown up, and roads blocked before D-Day by the "underground army" that the Allied invasion of Normandy had just that more going for it.

Hats off.

Reds and lovely readers — are you familiar with the work of the SOE? And are there any war memorials that are particularly important to you? What's your personal connection? Please tell us in the comments.