Friday, July 31, 2015

Charles Todd--A Pattern of Lies

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The only thing in the year I like as much as a new Ian Rutledge novel by Charles Todd every January is a new Bess Crawford novel by Charles Todd in August. And guess
what? It's that time! I'm so pleased to have Charles Todd (mother and son writing team Charles and Caroline Todd) here today to talk about it to chat about the new Bess Crawford, A PATTERN OF LIES.

I'm going to start with a synopsis, so that you'll have a little context for my questions about the book:

When Bess goes to the Abbey Hall where the Ashtons live, she learns very quickly that the trials the Ashtons have endured are quite real.  Someone throws eggs at Mark’s car, and just after luncheon with the family, Philip Ashton is arrested for the multiple murders of the men killed in the explosion.  And that night, someone tries to set the house on fire.  What’s more the police are adamant that Philip is not allowed visitors, and it’s later established that the inspector in Canterbury had a relative killed in the fire.  As Bess tries to understand what’s happening, she realizes that most of the village and even farther afield, people had lost loved ones—and that trying to pin down where all this new hatred of the family is coming from.  It could be anyone.

The Army had established that the explosion and fire were not sabotage, and they accepted the fact that it was a terrible accident. But they weren’t interesting in rebuilding the mill on site because it would mean clearing all the rubble first, very labor intensive. So the mill contracts were moved to Scotland where a similar mill could be expanded.  So loss of income was added to the loss of loved ones.

There was one witness to the explosion—at least only one had come forward two years before—and he is now in France.  The Canterbury police don’t feel that it’s necessary to send for him, and the lawyers for Philip Ashton seem to agree that this witness had never been questioned about anything but sabotage—and therefore no one could be sure just what he would say.

 Back in France, correspondence with the Ashtons indicates that matters are not improving, and that general feeling was running high against Philip—now that there was a focus for their grief and uncertainty, people who were once employed by him or dependent on the mill turned against him.

Bess gets in touch with Sergeant Lassiter, the Australian who has appeared in several books, and asks him to find the witness, a man in the Tank Corps by the name of Rollins.  But before he can find the man, Bess encounters him quite by accident, and when she had an opportunity to speak to him, she’s surprised that he’s adamant about refusing to return to England. He doesn’t seem to care either way about what happens to Ashton, and since he’s the best Tank man Britain has, he’s not interested in leaving France at this juncture in the war just to testify.

Not long afterward, a fellow nurse is attacked and nearly killed.  It’s put down to a drunken soldier, although he’s never found.  But this nurse had been assigned the quarters meant for Bess, who got in much later and was given another room.  Was this attack really just an accidental case of a soldier fumbling around in the dark?  Or was she the intended victim?   Someone is also attempting to kill Rollins.

So who in France wants her to stop searching for Rollins—and is just as eager for Rollins to stay in France—dead, if necessary.

I won’t spoil the rest for you.  But at one point the Ashtons fire their lawyers and Mark finds a new barrister in London, an interesting man in a wheel chair with a mysteriously competent valet who does his leg work for him. 

DEBS: I don't know Kent well, but the beginning of this book is so lyrically beautiful in its description of Canterbury and the countryside that Kent is now on my must-do list. There is also this wonderful sense of taking a breath before the coming end of the war. Of course I had to pull up Google Maps and explore the area while I was reading. (What did we do before Google Maps!)

Are the village of Cranbourne and the abbey real places?

C & C:   Actually they are.  We've changed the name of the

town--it's based on Faversham, with some changes to suit the story--and a real explosion and fire that demolished a gunpowder mill.  Because it really happened, with great loss of life, we wanted to use the story without touching on the tragedy.  We felt that would be rather ghoulish.  But we believed it would be interesting to explore the question of what happens to anyone who had gone through such a devastating event.  How does a town that had not only lost so many dead as well as their main source of income, react when a whisper campaign suggests that it wasn't sabotage by the Germans and it wasn't an act of God, but a human agency--a single person who did this awful thing out of greed.   How do you make that person pay???

DEBS: I've loved the covers of all the Bess books, but this one is just stunning. Does it look just the way you imagined?

C & C:  Yes, this is really how we imagined one scene where Bess borrows a coat from Clara and walks out to the ruins, now overgrown, and stands there for a moment looking at the lie of the land.  She's well aware of the way geography influenced this area and she wants to see it for herself, to understand it better.  And because--in our version of the story--the bodies were never recovered--this is a tomb as well.  We've been so fortunate in our jackets.  Morrow works closely with us on finding just the right one, and we've just seen the jacket for the paperback edition of the Rutledge that came out in hardcover in January.  It's quite stunning. We're really delighted with the art department there.

DEBS: The description of the explosion at the gunpowder mill was horrifying. Did that really happen in Kent?

C & C:  It happened in many places where gunpowder was being made.  It happened here on the Brandywine River in Delaware, where the Du Pont Company began as a black powder mill.  And the loss of life there was pretty steep too.  The tragedy in Kent should have been far worse.  Women didn't work in
the mill on Sunday, so there were only the male staff on duty. 106 men is the usual number given for the death toll. If it had been any other day of the week, you could add 350 or so women to the toll.  In a small village that would have been unimaginable.  And what's particularly horrifying, from the point of view of the people at the Oare Works, just outside of Faversham, is that they still don't know to this day what sparked the explosion, and whether the fire was what ignited it--or if the fire came afterward, caused by the dust.  Which from the point of a mystery writer is intriguing. 

DEBS: You must have done lots of interesting research on the manufacturing of gunpowder and how its supply affected the war. Did you learn things you hadn't known?

C & C:   The chemistry for the "new" (at that time) cordite was much more complex than the old methods of making black powder.  And what use the cordite was put to was determined by how long the "cord" of material was. Whether bullets for revolvers and rifles, shells for the Artillery or the battleships, mortars, you name it.  And the new precision of recoilless guns made it possible to drop ten or a hundred or a thousand shells on precisely the same spot, three or four a minute!  With the high explosive powder being
used in the Great War and the constant pounding,  the term shell shock was used to explain what happened to the men exposed to it.  We also learned that water was necessary for gunpowder works, and so was a particular kind of tree for the charcoal.  Each stage of the process had its own building. And so on.  Putting it all together was very interesting, and we tried to keep it simple enough in the story that people could understand what was happening without getting into the complexities that would have taken up a large part of the first few chapters.  After all, it was the aftermath that made the story, rather than how the mill worked.

DEBS: You two never cease to amaze me. Two books a year, and not only two books a year but two GREAT books a year. And on top of finishing A PATTERN OF LIES and writing the new Rutledge book that will be out in January you have been traveling whirlwinds! Tell us about some of the things you've

C & C:  It's been slightly mad.  We traveled quite a bit in January and February for A FINE SUMMER'S DAY, the latest Rutledge--and all the while we were preparing this Bess for publication as well as working on the Rutledge for NEXT January, 2016. That's NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE.   That takes us once
more to 1920.  A FINE SUMMER'S DAY looked back to 1914, when the war began and Rutledge had to choose between duty and service to his country.  Then in April we were in France for two weeks researching the NEXT Rutledge, 2017.
After that came Edgar Week and Malice, where we were guests of honor, and then it was off to England to finish that research and start researching the next Bess, for 2016, already titled THE SHATTERED TREE.  Meanwhile we put together four of our previous Bess and Rutledge short stories for an e-anthology titled TALES, which has just come out in electronic format but
will be in print format as well in September for those who don't have ways to use the e-form.  We have a short story coming out in the Summer Issue of STRAND MAGAZINE--a non-series story, by the way--and we have just learned that another short story, a Rutledge, will be published in next year's Malice Anthology.  As soon as we finish writing Bess and promoting Bess, we're off to Scotland. And if you think you're confused, imagine how we
feel!  If we didn't have calendars, we wouldn't know where we were supposed to be!

DEBS: Was this Bess book special to you with this year being the Centennial? Did you do something special to honor the remembrance?

C & C : Actually, it was the Rutledge book this January, A FINE SUMMER'S DAY, that looked back to the start of the war, and was our way of commemorating it.  Bess will see the end of the war in another two books, and that will give us a chance to explore the Armistice.  Everywhere you go in England, you see the remembrance.  But here we've done very little because it wasn't until April of 1917 that the US entered the war.  The fact is, the more we've learned about the Great War and  its time, the more we
feel we did the right thing choosing it as a setting for our books.   

PS. Bess won't stop with the end of the war!  There's still a lot of her story to tell, and you'll be surprised at what lies ahead for her.

DEBS: What's in store for you, for Bess, and for Rutledge?

C & C: We never know what lies around the corner!  We've up for a Macavity at Bouchercon, and so we'll be in Raleigh for that. By that time we'll have started the next Rutledge.  It sounds as though we have no other life, but actually we do.  We manage to cram in a lot of fun here and there.  But you always work a year ahead, so by the time we put 1916 to bed, we will start on 1917. 

DEBS: Thank you, Caroline and Charles!!  Congrats on the Macavity! I see I have questions I forgot to ask, but will save them for our ongoing discussion in the comments. 

And I am so intrigued by the new lawyer with the handy valet... Can't wait to read more of this book!
The Todds are giving a copy of A PATTERN OF LIES to one of today's very lucky commenters, and they will be checking in to answer questions and comments, so get your name in the hat!
REDS ALERT! Kathy Reel is the winner of Mary Kennedy's Dream Club mystery. And Pat D gets a copy of James Hayman's THE GIRL IN THE GLASS! You know the drill--email me at with your addresses (Pat, I only need your email) and books will wing their way to you!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

James Hayman--Murder We Wrote

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Is there something in the water in Maine that breeds terrific mystery writers? Although today's guest James Hayman is a transplant (as is our JRW Julia Spencer-Fleming,) he now lives in Maine and sets his USA Today bestselling Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage books in Portland. And he has some very intriguing thoughts on murder...

JAMES HAYMAN:  Murder We Wrote

When asked what she did for a living, another crime writer, I believe Chelsea Cain, responded “I kill people for money.” Well, so do I.  And so does everyone else who writes mysteries and thrillers for a living.  The vast majority of our books almost by definition involve one or more villains offing one or more victims.

In real life murder tends to be a fairly prosaic if unpleasant affair.  Husbands killing wives. Gangbangers killing rivals. Or, saddest of all, gun nuts walking into movie theatres or elementary schools and blasting away at strangers. Most of it horrifying. None of it particularly entertaining.

It is our peculiar and often challenging task as writers to make murder interesting, involving, entertaining and yes, sometimes, horrifying, but in a way that involves the readers’ imaginations far more than the bloody chaos that goes on in the homes and streets of America.

 There are many ways we go about this.

The writer can go for the cringe-worthy approach.  Hannibal the Cannibal eating his victims’ faces being a prime example

But there are other ways of making murder engaging.  One is the use of strange weapons.  A fellow writer and friend of mine named Joe Brady once considered committing murder in one of his books by having the victim be bitten by the poisonous pufferfish. The pufferfish, one of the few fish that can be considered cute to look at, emits a poison for which there is no antidote that kills by paralyzing the diaphragm, causing nearly instant suffocation.

The pufferfish not withstanding, I think my all-time favorite in the weird weapon category can be found in Roald Dahl’s classic short story Lamb to the Slaughter.  The heroine (villain?) of the piece is dear, sweet Mary Maloney who, when told by her policeman husband that he is planning to divorce her, becomes so upset that she whacks him over the head with the frozen leg of lamb she was planning to cook for dinner. When she realizes that her husband is indeed dead Mary, in a moment of inspiration, puts the murder weapon in the oven and roasts it.  Since the dead husband was a veteran cop, Mary knows all the detectives who come to the house to investigate the killing.  After these worthy fellows spend a fair amount of time searching the house for the likely murder weapon (could it be a sledgehammer?  A spanner? A heavy vase?), Mary convinces them to stay for dinner. Naturally, the main course is roast leg of lamb.

An interesting variation on Dahl’s technique of having the cops eat the murder weapon is Fannie Flagg’s idea of having them eat the victim.  This seemingly ghoulish denouement occurs in Ms. Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café where the heroine (the owner of the café, which is well known for its delicious barbecue) offs a bad guy by hitting him over the head, not with a leg of lamb, but with a frying pan. She then tosses the body into the café’s barbecue oven.  When the bad guy is thoroughly smoked, sauced and cooked, she cuts him into little pieces and offers some to the local sheriff who eagerly gobbles the delicious goodies down. I’m told barbecued human tastes remarkably like barbecued pork but I have no intention of testing the proposition.

For someone like me, who suffers from claustrophobia, one of the scariest way of dying has to be being buried alive.  This frightening fate is beautifully presented in Michael Kimball’s novel Undone.  The story centers around an unscrupulous wife who somehow convinces her husband to agree to climb into a coffin and be buried as part of an insurance scam.  Of course, she promises to dig him up later and share the proceeds.  Of course, she doesn’t.  In the meantime, readers get to spend agonizing hours inside the coffin under six feet of soil suffering along with the poor schmuck of a husband. If you’re wondering why he ever agreed to such a thing, I won’t offer spoilers. You’ll just have to read the book.

The plot of my own first McCabe/Savage thriller, The Cutting, also centers around a particularly unpleasant way to die. The Cutting features a villain who runs a lucrative business selling illegal heart transplants to billionaire octogenarians suffering from advanced coronary disease. These are folks who can’t qualify for legitimate transplant programs because of their age but who do have the funds to seek alternate solutions.  Our bad guy charges each of the billionaires a flat fee of five million dollars for a healthy young heart. But where, you might ask, do the hearts come from?   In keeping with the spirit of the times, all are locally sourced, being cut from the bodies of attractive young women who are first kidnapped and then held captive until their hearts are needed.  When the time is right our villain wields his scalpel and…well you can imagine the rest.

What makes the murder compelling in my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, The Girl in the Glass, is neither the choice of weapon nor the brutality of the crime.  Rather it is the fact that the two young women who are killed are physically identical members of the same family who are murdered in precisely the same way one hundred and eight years apart.  The puzzle for my two detectives, Maggie Savage and Michael McCabe, is why the killer went to such lengths to carry out a near perfect imitation of a murder that happened more than a century earlier. And, of course, to figure out who the hell is he.

DEBS: Here's more about The Girl in the Glass (and isn't that a GREAT cover? So Maine...) which will be published by Harper Collins ebook first imprint Witness Impulse on August 25th but can be pre-ordered at Amazon, et al now.

In June, 1904 the beautiful Aimée Marie Garnier Whitby is violently slain with no witnesses to the crime and no leads. The case is left untouched for decades until June 2012, when Aimée's nearly identical granddaughter falls victim to a copycat murder. Now it's up to the dexterous investigative duo of Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage to bring the killer swiftly to justice - but the key to unearthing the truth about young Veronica Whitby's death may have been buried with her ancestor all those years ago. An atmospheric and spine-tingling thriller from one of today's most exciting voices in crime fiction, THE GIRL IN THE GLASS is a crackling, twisty novel of suspense perfect for any lover of thrills, chills, and tales that keep you up at night.
I am so intrigued by the premise of this novel. And James, I hadn't thought about the Roald Dahl story in years! I loved it, and my daughter loved it. (Are we slightly warped, I wonder? And is it any wonder she grew up to love mysteries?) 

REDS and readers, what's your favorite twisty and complicated method of murder? Tell us in the comments. This is a challenge worthy of our devoted mystery readers!

James will be giving away a e-copy of The Girl in the Glass to a lucky commenter, and he will be dropping in to answer questions and respond to comments during the day.

James Hayman, formerly a creative director at one of New York's largest advertising agencies, is the author of the acclaimed Mike McCabe series: The Cutting, The Chill of Night, and Darkness First.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Splash

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Can I just say that it's hot? I mean, really hot. Maybe not New Orleans hot, but sticky, icky, suffocatingly hot. Not that this should come as a surprise, because it is the end of July and it is Texas and it's not like this is something that hasn't happened before. (Like every summer.) But we had a cool, wet spring and early summer, and we got spoiled. Then suddenly we've hit 100
degrees, which feels like a 104 with the humidity, and people will kill for something cold to drink or a shady spot in a parking lot. 

So I started daydreaming about the green pool. Some of you may remember a couple of years ago I posted about my green inflatable swimming pool-The Notorious Green Pool! The Pool had lots of fans on Facebook and people would inquire about it regularly. Here is a photo taken when it was new and pristine. (Actually, there was more than one green pool over a couple of summers, because they tend to leak, but it wore its incarnations gracefully.) It stayed amazingly cold, and I would plop in its icy water at the very hottest part of the afternoon, or before bed, when I could float and look up at the stars through the leaves. It was gloriously refreshing and sometimes I'd even have to take a hot bath to warm up.

Alas, I had to give up on the green pool. Perhaps I should explain why we don't have a in-the-ground swimming pool. Our backyard is beneath an enormous canopy of elm and pecan trees that are probably a hundred years old. Heritage trees. And they shed. Constantly. Winter, spring, summer, and fall. The maintenance on a pool would be murder.

Unfortunately, the same turned out to be true of the green inflatable pool. There was no cover for it, and I spent half my day every day cleaning the thing with a pool skimmer. My back protested, and when the last incarnation got a slow leak, I gave up.

Fast forward to this summer. My back is again giving me fits, even without skimming the green pool. When I asked my doctor if he had any suggestions he said, "Get a hot tub. Seriously." But you don't just go out and buy an expensive hot tub--and pour a concrete pad for it--on the spur of the moment. So I said I would think about it. Later.

Then I came across this: the Bestway Laz-y-Spa Miami Inflatable Hot Tub. On Amazon. With Prime shipping. Supposedly, it holds four people. (Small, very cozy people, I suspect, but I don't care as long as it holds me.) It has a cover. It's got bunches of 4 and 5 star reviews, and lots of great review videos. And it's $257.00, including shipping. So we ordered it, and it arrives tomorrow. A few reviewers have complained that
it only heats up to 104 degrees, but right now I'm happy with the water temp straight out of the hose. I can get wet, and it bubbles.

When I told my doctor, he said, "Have a glass of wine in the spa every day. Seriously." I said I had actually thought of that. I even ordered a cup holder for it.

I will let you know if it's as terrific as everyone says, but it has to beat spraying myself down with a mister bottle to prevent heat exhaustion...

So, REDS, and readers, what are you doing to stay cool at the height of summer?

And cheers... 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mark Haskell Smith--Naked at Lunch

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I had the pleasure of meeting novelist and journalist Mark Haskell Smith when he signed his book, NAKED AT LUNCH, here in Dallas a few weeks ago. I know Mark's wife,  Diana, from visiting California, and when I heard they were both going to be here I jumped at the chance to see them--especially when I learned the subject of Mark's new non-fiction book. Who could resist the title alone, much less the subject matter! I should give you the whole thing--NAKED AT LUNCH: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in a Clothing Optional World. Isn't that fabulous? And Mark was funny and charming, and the book is, as Meghan Daum says on the cover, "...a total joy," and absolutely fascinating.

Here's Mark to give you the skinny (sorry, couldn't resist):

DEBS: What got you interested in writing about nudists in the first place?

MARK HASKELL SMITH:  I came to nonfiction by accident with Heart of Dankness (my book about the world’s best marijuana) and found that I really enjoyed getting out of the
house, traveling around and talking to interesting people.  I like the dive into another world where I have admittedly limited expertise.  I’m curious.  Can’t help it.  So I was bit by the nonfiction bug.

I wanted to follow up the cannabis book with a book about food that’s going extinct around the world.  Plants and cheese and meat and wine that will be gone forever in a few years, but I couldn’t get any publisher interested.  My novels are all published by Grove/Atlantic and so my editor called and asked, “any ideas that aren’t about food?”  I had a three hundred word sketch of an idea for the book about nudity.  I thought it might be interesting and nudists have similar legal dilemmas as cannabis growers so…  I sent it.  The next morning my agent calls and says, “I have an offer for something and I don’t know what it is. You’re going to what?!?”

Apparently at the editorial meeting people just laughed and laughed at the idea of sending me around the world to take off my clothes.  This is why I love Grove so much. They’re sadistic.
DEBS: Once you were committed to doing the research and writing the book, how hard was is for you to take the first plunge into the "sans textile" world? And where did you do it?

MARK:  The first place I went was the Desert Sun Resort in Palm Springs.  And, I’ve got to say, my initial reaction was ridiculous.  Excruciating.  All my worst anxieties and fears were coming out.  But eventually I walked out -- a book contract can give you courage -- and pretty quickly realized all my fears
were in my head.  The nudists didn’t blink.

DEBS: Are there certain social rules or conventions among nudists? (Like, NO STARING!)

MARK:  The etiquette is pretty straight forward.  Sit on a towel.  No staring or leering.  No sexual innuendo or any kind of behavior that could make someone feel uncomfortable.  No photography.  And, if you get an erection, cover it with a towel.  My favorite was a resort that had one rule:  Any behavior requiring an apology is not allowed.

DEBS: What starts most people down the nudist path?

MARK:  Skinnydipping.  Without a doubt swimming naked is the number one reason people get turned on to nudity.  And why wouldn’t they?  It feels great to swim nude. 

DEBS: If being naked is no longer considered sexy, what do nudists do to GET sexy?

MARK:  Open a bottle of wine, light a few candles, and put on some Barry White like everybody else.

DEBS: What did your lovely wife think about your undertaking?

MARK:  I like that the Los Angeles Times called my wife the “unsung hero” of the book. She was never opposed to my going off and doing the research, it just wasn’t her thing.  But when we finally went on the fancy cruise ship with 2000 nudists, she was curious (we’d never been on a cruise of any kind before), and, ultimately, when we were swimming in a pristine bay in the Bahamas, she finally understood some of the pleasures of nudism.  (it’s the skinnydipping!  Gets them every time.) 

I just did a signing at a big naturist gathering at a nude resort outside San Diego and she came along and didn’t bat an eye.  She just wrapped a sarong around her waist and took some photos like it was no big deal. (DEBS: Here's a great piece about Diana that Mark wrote for

DEBS: What was the most fun thing you did?

MARK:  The hiking in the Austrian Alps.  I was with some really nice people, people from all over Europe, and the scenery was unbelievable.  I kept expecting Julie Andrews to come skipping over a hill.  And, like swimming, walking through nature naked is surprisingly delightful. 

DEBS: Did your experience change you in a fundamental way? And would you do it again?

MARK:  It really opened my eyes to a lot of issues.  Our society’s fundamental immaturity when dealing with issues about sex and nakedness; our lack of tolerance for people who are engaged in activities that we don’t understand but don’t hurt anyone; and the kind of bizarre double-standard we have about seeing naked people. And by that I mean, so many times I heard “well, if they’re hot, I don’t have a problem with it.”   That kind of comment really underscores one of the main benefits of nudism.  Mostly when we see naked people they’re in a movie or an advertisement and so we get a very skewed perspective of what a normal person looks like when they’re naked.  I think for a lot of people, going to a nudist resort or a nude beach is an eye opener because they suddenly realize that humans come in all shapes and sizes and that while they may not look like Angelina Jolie, they don’t look imperfect or ugly or unattractive or any thing that the cosmetic/fashion/diet industrial complex might have told them they were.  The body acceptance that happens for a lot of people who try nudism is revolutionary and liberating.  People get their self-esteem and self confidence back.  They realize that they don’t need to look a certain way to feel happy.  It’s really profound for a lot of people.

Would I do it again?  I don’t think I’d go to any of the resorts again. I’m not really a hang out by the pool kind of guy. A week shopping for groceries in the nude was enough for me, even if it was in the South of France. But I would definitely skinny-dip with my wife again.  In fact I’m looking forward to that.

DEBS: REDS and readers, Mark will be dropping in to answer questions, so fire away. This is so interesting, and something I'd never really considered. It really got me thinking about body acceptance and how we (women especially) are such slaves to the unrealistic way we're portrayed in the media. What would it be like to just...leave all that behind? 

What about you?  Would you consider a "clothes optional" adventure?

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Many Zzzs are Enough?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Imagine my surprise when I opened up the Parade magazine in my Sunday paper a week ago and there on the cover was Ariana Huffington (founder of the enormously successful Huffington Post website) propped up in bed in mauve silk pajamas. And she is reading (or at least holding) a real book! So what's with that? I wondered.

She's touting SLEEP, that's what. And I am 100% in her camp. After a collapse from exhaustion in 2007, Huffington has become a sleep advocate. And, boy, do we need one. We Americans are a sleep-deprived nation. 35% of the respondents polled by Parade reported getting less than five hours of sleep! We pride ourselves on working long hours, on being able to function fueled by caffeine, and even when we do get to bed, we don't turn off. (How many of you sleep with your cell phones, with the computer on in the same room, or with the TV on? According to research, the electronic glow disrupts the body's production of melantonin, which promotes sleep.)

But the truth is that no one functions well when they are sleep deprived, and most of us need a
good bit more than we get. I know I can't write when I'm tired--my brain feels like glue. I've learned from experience that, like Ariana Huffington, I do best on a solid eight hours of sleep. I can manage on seven (hopefully with a nap,) but on six hours or less, I am useless.

What does Ariana recommend? Her routine sounds like my idea of heaven: she turns off all her devices, takes a hot, scented, candle-lit  bath, puts on her (lovely) silk pajamas, and reads from a real, non-digital book. Sigh. I sometimes do some of these things. (No silk p.j.s, alas.) But I do try to take baths, because a) it's nice, and b) I know I always sleep better when I do. (I even make my own bath salts.) I turn off my computer, and although I do sometimes read on
my tablet, I've installed a blue light filter to cut down the electronic glow.

So, fellow REDS, do you know your sleep I.Q.? And what are your tricks for getting enough shut-eye?

LUCY BURDETTE: I wish I could function on 5 hours, but it's so not true. Part of my problem comes from the fact my office nook is part of the bedroom. In fact, I've been known to spend the day writing in bed. Which is terrible sleep hygiene, not to mention murder on my tendinitis. Still searching for the magic sleep bullet...

I wondered what effect electronic reading would have on sleep. Have you noticed a difference with the blue light filter Debs?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: No problem getting to sleep--I am so lucky about it, I can sleep anywhere. Plane, chair, anywhere. Of course, that probably means I am tired all the time, but we'll just skip that. I stay up too late, go to sleep about midnight usually and get up at 7. I read a book-book in bed, usually manage about three pages.  I mean--that's fine, right?  But no computer in the room, not even my phone, no TV on.  I'd adore to be able to manage on five hours--think of all I could get done! (And that's why I love to fly west-I get three whole extra hours of time, which is so fabulous!)  But if I have fewer than 6 hours of sleep I can really feel it. And I can see it in my face, too, when I am too tired. Can't you tell the difference, just by looking at yourself?

DEBS: Lucy, I haven't read anything on my tablet with the blue light filter, so I will keep you posted on that. Rick swears by it. He has it on his iPad, his computer, and even  his phone. It's cool because you can see it change right at sunset.

Hank, I think that is one of the worst things about getting older--it shows (eee gad) when you're tired. I stayed up too late reading last night (the downfall of all good sleep intentions...) and I just looked at myself in the mirror a few minutes ago and thought, "Are those caves under my eyes? And why is my face sagging???)

RHYS BOWEN: I need my sleep and I often battle sleep problems when I'm writing. I can fall asleep easily enough but when I wake at two in the morning I cant stop thinking. Wait, she would never have said that when the police questioned her.... and then my brain is racing and I am doomed to stare at the ceiling for hours. I do sometimes read a real book, but if there is something I really want to see on TV, I stay up past my sleep window and then I can't sleep.  I bought a fitness tracker that monitors sleep and was interested to see that on good nights I sleep for four hours without stirring, wake then sleep four more. On bad nights doze wake doze wake.

I don't work in the bedroom. I keep my iPad beside the bed but I don't look at it before going to sleep. Any tips on what to do if you wake in the middle of the night?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, my doctor said if I couldn't get back to sleep within twenty to thirty minutes, to get out of bed, leave the room, and do some quiet, distracting work - read, work a jigsaw puzzle, knit. Something that absorbs your attention, but doesn't make you think too much.

When I hit menopause, I started to have a terrible time staying asleep. I improved my sleep hygine: no electronic devices in the my bedroom, no reading books in bed (that's a killer for me because I WILL NOT put a book down when I'm into it) same routine every night. I'm still bad about hitting a regular bedtime, which I really need to do, because, like Debs, I'm useless for writing without eight good hours of sleep.

I have to tell you, though the magic bullet for me was Trazadone. I wasn't big on the idea of taking a pill to sleep, but my MD asked me to try it and it changed my life. It doesn't knock you out, but it enables you to stay asleep throughout the night and slip back into sleep if you rouse because you're too hot or too cold or the G.D. cat takes a stroll over your chest. I swear by it. Oh, and my beloved black velvet sleep mask, of course!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I love sleep — and it's not illegal, immoral, or fattening! Naps — bliss! I think there's something about novel writing that really uses a ton of brain energy. I had dinner with Karin Slaughter this past May, and it turns out she's an unrepentant sleeper — ten full hours at night and a good two-hour nap in the afternoon. Hearing her say that made me feel so much better about needing so much sleep myself.

DEBS: Wow! Ten hours AND a two-hour nap in the afternoon? That's amazing, Susan. (But when does she read???) And Julia, I applaud your self discipline with the "no books in bed" rule. I've read last thing at night since I was a child, and it's the one thing I always do, even if it's only a few pages. It's my fixed point of comfort, and the anticipation of it has seen me through many less than
wonderful days.

(I just added the guy here because he was cute. My excuse is that Ariana recommends real alarm clocks...)

Readers, what about you? Do you know how much sleep you need? And what do you do to get it?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It's Only a Dream @MaryKennedybook #giveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm so pleased to introduce my friend Mary Kennedy, who's a practicing psychologist, a mystery writer, and a cat nut (8 cats in her home, count 'em, 8!) (HOW in the world does she manage all that?) I know you'll enjoy this essay about dreams, which gives some insight into her Dream Club mystery series too...


MARY KENNEDY: As a psychologist, I spend much of my time listening to my clients talk about their dreams. I always find this part of the session the most fascinating. Sometimes (well, many times!) my clients surprise me. 

A client who appeared shy and reticent confided that she was a Broadway star in her dreams. “Really?” I asked. “What was that like for you?”

Flushing with pleasure she admitted that she loved being in the spotlight, that her social anxiety had vanished and she was thrilled by the applause. We chuckled together at her playing a singer in Dream Girls and we theorized about why she had this particular dream at this time in her life. As it turned out, she was facing a stressful situation. As a newly engaged young lady, her fiancé planned to take her clear across the country to meet his large, extended family. There would be dozens of relatives—plus his parents, of course—to meet her for the very first time. She’d been dreading the big family celebration and felt (quite incorrectly) that she would be judged harshly.

So we explored the idea that this particular dream had given her the chance to “rehearse” being the center of attention. The situation her mind created—starring in a Broadway show—was much bigger than anything she would encounter in real life. But our minds do that when we sleep. They shift through all the story possibilities and come up with something that is often more “over the top” than the real life situation the dreamer is facing. 

She was so dazzled by her “Broadway show dream” that she wished she would have it again. I noticed she appeared more relaxed and outgoing than usual. When I asked her if she still felt the same trepidation about meeting her finance’s family, she smiled and said, “Well, I guess there’s  always the possibility they will like me.”  The story ended happily. Her visit went amazingly well, she had no anxiety and made a hit with her in-laws. 

In any case, it’s fun to explore our dreams and what they really mean, as the characters in the Dream Club do. The members like to think that they are uncovering clues to solving murders in Savannah and they seem to have had some success. They combine intuition with solid sleuthing skills and some dream work. But do clues from their dreams really solve crimes? Is it luck, or coincidence or a combination of the two?  I leave it to the reader to decide. 

Mary Kennedy is the author of over forty novels and has made the BookScan, Barnes and Noble and Publisher’s Weekly best-seller list. She is a psychologist in private practice on the East Coast and lives with her husband and eight neurotic cats. Both husband and cats have resisted all her attempts to psychoanalyze them, but she remains optimistic. You can visit her at www.marykennedynet or the Cozy Chicks where she blogs every Saturday. 

And leave a comment and your email to be entered in a drawing for either Nightmares Can Be Murder or a honeysuckle candle.

Dream a Little Scream will be out on August 4. Nightmares Can Be Murder, the first in The Dream Club Mysteries, can be found here.
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Key Lime Parfaits #recipe @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: People look at me with suspicion if I show up somewhere with a key lime dessert (and that's with some good reason--I did off someone with a key lime pie in AN APPETITE FOR MURDER). But there's no reason you shouldn't have this delicious recipe, perfect for a summer party. They will never suspect a thing...

Beep! Beep! Beep! There's a calorie alert associated with this recipe. You should not go in with the idea (as I did) that a Key Lime Parfait would be a light dessert because  of the citrus...

With that warning out of the way, here's the story behind the recipe. The fifth Key West mystery (DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS) features a New York chef who's just opened a restaurant in Key West. She wants her new menu to reflect some of the tastes and history of the island, and this key lime parfait is one of the desserts she offers. So of course I had to try making one, and this is the result.

Key limes are smaller than regular limes--and here I have to tell the truth--kind of a pain to juice. John helped me and it took all the limes in a pound bag to end up with 1/2 cup of juice. (Next time, I might try the recipe with regular limes.)


5 whole graham crackers, crushed, to make about one cup
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice

key lime zest
2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Preheat oven to 350. Crush the graham crackers. (Easy way--place the graham crackers in a ziplock bag, seal the bag, and roll them to crumbs with a rolling pin.) 

Mix the crumbs with the melted butter and brown sugar. Spread this on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake for ten minutes or until golden. Let this cool, then break into crumbs again.

Meanwhile, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla. (I used my food processor, which was a snap.) Set half of this aside for the topping.

Mix the condensed milk with the lime juice. The citrus will cause the milk to thicken. Gently stir in one cup of whipped cream. 

Now comes the fun part, in which you layer the parts you've prepared. I chose wine snifters--next time I would try something taller and thinner, as these servings were BIG.

Layer in some of the baked crumbs, then some of the key lime mixture, and repeat. When you have distributed all the ingredients, top with dollops of whipped cream and sprinkle with more crumbs and some zested lime if you want a stronger flavor.

And then lean back and enjoy the compliments! 

And the winner of Patricia Skalka's books DEATH AT GILLS ROCK and DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY is Margaret Turkevich. Please send your mailing address to hallie "at" hallieephron dot com. Congratulations! And come back tomorrow for another wonderful giveaway from Mary Kennedy!