Thursday, May 7, 2015

Katherine Hall Page on being crazy busy & "The Body in the Birches"

HALLIE EPHRON: Katherine Hall Page was one of the first bestselling mystery authors to welcome me into the fold as a newbie. She is just as nice and gracious in person as Faith Fairchild, her caterer/sleuth. Her new book, The Body in the
Photo by Jean Fogelberg
Birches, is a reason to celebrate!

So today I am thrilled, tickled, and delighted to welcome Katherine Hall Page to Jungle Red.

KATHERINE HALL PAGE: Before I talk about my new book, The Body in the Birches, which is the 22nd in the series and goes on sale May 12th, I’d like to muse about how this whole writing thing has changed.

Back in the day, you wrote the book, there was a bit of back and forth with the editor, copy editor, then voila you had the tome in hand. A small window followed the pub date in which you went on tour to brick and mortar stores, libraries, a convention or two. Following this whirlwind, you had a break to think about the next one, eventually chaining yourself to the desk to write the damn thing. There was a certain leisure to the whole process now long gone.

Just as the holiday season starts roughly on Labor Day and keeps going in various forms, it is always book-selling time. I am happy to blog (thank you Jungle Red!), post on my site and Facebook. Yet I miss the face-to-face contact with fans and booksellers. Even more I miss the down time.

At the moment—as has been true for some years—I am publicizing a book while writing the next one. Possibly a sign of age, but I find this bifurcation increasingly difficult. Wait! Is Faith Fairchild in Maine? Aleford? Savannah (next book)?

Pause now for general harangue about the crazy busy way we live.
When I talk to students at my undergraduate alma mater Wellesley about what it was like when I was there, their mouths drop open in disbelief at many of my foggy reminiscences: “You couldn’t have a car! You had to wear a skirt for dinner! You had to sign out and had curfews!", but there’s always one part of the past for which they express envy. More free time. I saw a bumper sticker on campus that said, “Wellesley We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead” and thought how sad. Since we had sit down dinners every night, (if you didn’t go you didn’t eat), we were given time to be part of a community and break bread with our friends.

Doesn’t happen now.
And it’s the
same in the book world. At conventions and other events, there’s little time to gather and chat. Have to sell those books! Network!

Okay. The Body in the Birches. I start this book with one of Oscar Wilde’s gems: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations” as an epigraph and families are what this book is all about, aside from murder and food, of course. So many possible configurations. So many complications. A dance that can be a waltz, a tango—or the Twist.

I find families endlessly fascinating, in fact and in fiction. Especially fact, as what goes on in a family is almost always harder to believe than any fiction. You cannot make this stuff up. Particularly when it comes to inheritance.

In this case the object is a “cottage” on the Maine coast. We’re back on Sanpere Island. The Birches has been in the Proctor family for generations and is beloved by the current one.

They arrive just before the 4th of July for a sort of audition. The childless late Priscilla Proctor has stipulated that only one of her nieces and nephews can inherit and assume responsibility for the ark of a place.  Her husband, unrelated to them and unbiased will choose. Faith is conveniently next door at a similar pile while her own cottage that really is a small cottage is being renovated.

I’ve given her husband Tom’s poor mother in Massachusetts a heart attack to get him out of the way, leaving Faith unencumbered by spousal qualms, free to find not one but two corpses. I’ve also
added a new main character, who will be appearing in my next number, as a kind of sidekick for Faith. Sophie Maxwell, the Fairchild’s former babysitter, is all grown up and in her twenties now. She’s a Proctor niece and arrives with a broken heart. She’s not thinking about real estate—at first.

There’s some nice summer food and as usual the recipes are at the end so the narrative isn’t interrupted —Faith stumbling over the body in the birch grove followed by a brownie recipe.

In many ways, this was an easy book to write (well, not actually write—always hard—but plan) as I simply would mention that the plot revolved around inheritance and people poured their horror stories out me—“Grandma promised that cameo brooch to me!” Whether we’re talking Brooke Astor’s estate or literally a teapot that divided a family I know, the emotions are the same. Suffice it to say where there’s a will, there’s a way—to murder.  

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two adult mysteries in the Faith Fairchild series and five for younger readers. Small Plates, a collection of short stories was published in 2014 and her series cookbook Have Faith in Your Kitchen in 2010. She received the Agatha for Best First (The Body in the Belfry), Best Novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and Best Short Story (The Would-Be Widower). She has been nominated for other Agathas, the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Her books are available as E- Books, large print, audio and other forms. A native of New Jersey, she lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband. 

HALLIE: Ooooh, do I get family inheritance issues. It's enough to make you want to murder...

But to get to Katherine's earlier point. Has time to loll about and smell the roses, as it were, evaporated from your life?


  1. The world does seem to be moving in fast-forward, with little time to simply sit and admire the sunrise/sunset and chat with friends. I'm not at all certain how this has come to be, but it's well worth making the effort to put some time to "loll around" into the day.

    Katherine, I'm looking forward to reading Faith's newest adventure . . . inheritances do seem to be the stuff from which family feuds are often born and bred.

  2. I try to work lolling around into the late afternoon, and we always sit down to dinner together, but that kind of time is definitely at a premium.

    Can't wait to read the new book! I was glad to catch a glimpse of you at Malice - but never found time to chat, alas.

  3. looking forward to a new book about Sanpere.

    My hobby is taking arty flower photos, time away from my laptop when I'm still "doing something." I'll be out stalking iris blooms this week.

  4. Congrats Katherine--this sounds like a wonderful book! You are so right about lolling around time--I'm afraid we spend more and more of it online, which is not that relaxing:).

    See, just like Edith, I only caught a glimpse of you at Malice too! We need a big getaway weekend with no networking allowed:). Only friendly chatter...

  5. This post is running on a day when I feel particularly fraught - too much to do and too little time to do it. Which makes me happy because it's a lovely mix of stuff like writing, putting some annuals into the garden, walking to the bank, baking a cake, writing... as opposed to going to work at 7 and getting home at 6 as it was just a few years ago. I feel so lucky, if fraught.

  6. Faith sounds like a great character, with a nice chewy topic to deal with in this entry.

    Our next-door neighbor passed away while I was at Malice (we suspected this would happen, so I was able to say goodbye before I left, thank goodness). Now the family is dealing with a mess because there is no will, only an "understanding". For a smart guy, he underestimated the pettiness of his own children. Now I'm doubly mourning his passing.

  7. Count me as another who didn't manage to catch Katherine while at Malice last weekend. As lifetime achievement honoree next year, that will NOT happen.

    The Body in the Birches is on my schedule to read for the blog this weekend, so I am looking forward to the escape.

    So glad to hear a little of the background here at Jungle Red. Thanks for stopping by KHP.

  8. Hello my dear KAtherine--and, like Hallie, Katherine, you were one of the very first people to make me feel like a real author. I will never ever forget it.

    Inheritance issues? Whoo. Yup, got those. Pretty funny. One classic line: "Oh, I didn't realize you'd be interested in the silver."

    As for rose-smelling? I am increasingly conscious of this--more and more every day, happily. I always look at the sky. Funny, I know, but just for that instant, I can be quiet. And every day, I try to the a stroll though our garden. Again, brief. But it matters.

    Love you!

  9. Welcome, Katherine! I'm so looking forward to reading Faith's newest adventure — and I also empathize with trying to turn around books as quickly as our publishing houses would like them without losing our minds.... Hey, we're both Wellesley grads, too! I'm class of '91.

  10. Wait--we were supposed to network at Malice? I must have missed the memo. I spent most of my time catching up with old friends and making new ones.

    Kathy/Kaitlyn, once again the oddball

  11. Funny, I always complain that I'm too busy - running here and there, usually something involving kids. Yet I spent all of Saturday afternoon chatting with the neighbors, sitting on their patio doing jigsaw puzzles with them and my son - then went into the house to continue working on a puzzle with The Boy. I spent forty-five minutes last night after taekwondo shooting the breeze with the owner. Then I went home and crashed on the couch to watch this week's episode of Agents of SHIELD with my husband.

    And we almost always have dinner together.

    Maybe I'm not as busy as I thought. It only feels that way.

  12. Katherine Hall PageMay 7, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    Thank you for inviting me today and wow these are all such interesting comments! Maybe the answer is a Noncon Con that is essentially a party!

  13. Katherine, I love your books and am so glad to hear that there's another one I need to get my hands on!

    As for not having a lot of time for leisure: Whether one is childless or has a slew of children and grandchildren, there are always family responsibilities that can limit free time. I've found that I need to make an appointment with myself to do things for fun. Lately, I have not been good at making time to relax. Yesterday I was looking for a file on something and found, stuck between a couple of files (don't ask!), a flyer about the current season of plays at the local theater. I have season tickets and completely forgot that the next play is coming up! That's one evening of fun that's already planned out! But the "busyness" of my life made me totally forget about it.

  14. Ah, families and inheritance issues, such wonderfully fertile ground. The Body in the Birches sounds terrific, as has been every book in the Faith Fairchild series that I've read. I'm especially glad this one takes place in Maine, and look forward to reading it.

  15. I have been a happy fan since the first book in this series and am already waiting on my copy of the newest.

    Busy begets busy. There is always something else that needs to be done, no matter how many things I cross off my list. Then I have to remind myself that it is okay if everything doesn't get done this minute--that edit finished, those emails caught up, the laundry, the whatever. There's a minute to take out the binoculars and watch the bluebirds feeding their young, to see how the lilacs are coming along, to walk down to the bridge and listen to the creek, to listen to my youngest nephew's version of Stand by Me, recorded with his quartet, listen to his brother practicing his recital piece--stroke the cat. There is time to make a moment of peace and stillness.

  16. I'd leave a reply, but I don't have the time for it. :)

    Seriously, while I watch a lot of TV, I'm always doing something else while it is on. My life would slow down significantly if I were to stop reviewing. Then I wouldn't have to write reviews, promote my blog, etc. But I enjoy it too much, although there are days....

  17. So, funny. I'm over on Wicked Cozys today saying the opposite. Thank goodness we don't go out on book tours any more...but that may have something to do with my dicky knee.

    I do always feel busy, but I am also very lazy. I always describe myself as an overachiever trapped in a procrastinator's body.

    Anyway, this new book sound marvelous. No inheritance horror stories in my family that I know of, but then, I come from a long line of only children.

  18. Once again, an author that has been whirling around in my get-to authors vision has materialized here on Jungle Reds, giving me the wake-up call to pluck her from the swirl. Katherine, I'm so happy to see you here on Reds and to be introduced to Faith. And, oh, family issues over inheritance is a familiar topic that I'm always interested in.

    I want to take the chance to tell you, Katherine, what a genius title your short story collection is. Small Plates! And, the cover is perfect, too. Having just discovered the joys of tapas last year, I get excited about books that mirror my experiences.

    I have a lot of catching up to do in reading your Faith Fairchild series. Do you think it would be okay to read the short story collection first? Or would that ruin the series for me? I'm pretty much a stickler for reading a series in order, although I have made exceptions, and I might have to with The Body in the Birches anyway.

    I look forward to meeting you at Bouchercon in Raleigh, Katherine, and by that time, I will have made a start (at least) on Faith. I keep wanting to go to Malice, and next year would be a great first one to see you honored.

    The world does indeed seem to spin faster, and I will use that excuse for being behind in my reading. The day too often seems over before it begins. However, I tend to cherish more the moments with family and friends, those sweet moments that are seemingly out of time for us to fill our memory bank with.

  19. Hi Katherine. I know all about being crazy busy!

  20. Hi Katherine! Congrats on the new book and I can't wait to read it. Love the series, always such a treat!

    Your topic today seems to be my all-consuming issue these days. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. And that's even though I have more time then usual in my book schedule (because I was so late with the last one, the next one got bumped...)But I was on tour promoting for two months last fall and it took me forever just to catch up to normal life. I tell myself that we are all lucky to be busy, right? And I am actually good at "smelling the roses," taking a few minutes here and there during the day just to sit quietly.

    I gave into temptation to buy one of the grown-up coloring books that Kaye Barley recommended last Sunday. Now I am wonder when I thought I would ever find time to color...

  21. Katherine Hall PageMay 7, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    So much fun to read these and yes, Kathy Reel, it works to read SMALL PLATES out of order. Many of the stories do not feature Faith Fairchild at all. The title was one of those things that strike and feel just right, so glad you liked it.

  22. My gkids seems to be aging way too fast. ;)
    Does that count?

  23. Katherine Hall PageMay 7, 2015 at 8:39 PM

    Oh yes, Ann! Plus Grandkids always count. My mother was sadly the only grandparent alive for my son, now very grown up, and it was a bond like no other from the time he was born! Looking forward to Faith Fairchild having some.