Friday, March 31, 2017

Weddings To Die For with Maggie McConnon and Marla Cooper

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In much of the country, it's still cold, wet and wintry, but if you're one of the the 2.5 million couples tying the knot this year, you know it's practically June already - how's your to-do list? Weddings are such a near-universal experience - if you don't get hitched yourself, you've almost certainly been a guest or a member of the bridal party. It's no wonder wedding cozies have proven so popular. Readers are able to enjoy the drama, pageantry, romance and food without having to get dressed up or drop $$$ on an Omega 8006 juicer. 

Maggie McConnon (you may have enjoyed her writing as Maggie Barbieri) and Marla Cooper join us today as art of their 'Weddings to Die For' tour. So pour yourself a glass of champagne, pick the fish or the beef, and settle down to find out how they make the magic happen.

Lovable gourmet-chef-turned-wedding-caterer Belfast McGrath is back to solve another murder in the second book in McConnon’s cozy mystery series, BEL OF THE BRAWL (on sale: March 7, 2017).

Wedding planner turned sleuth, Kelsey McKenna is back this time in beautiful California wine country, a perfect dream wedding spot, in Marla Cooper’s hilarious follow-up DYING ON THE VINE (on sale: April 4, 2017).

JULIA: I have to ask...why weddings?

Maggie: Weddings combine all of the things I love as a writer: drama, food, and family. When you can put all three of those things together in a story, the book practically writes itself. I have never heard about or attended a wedding where there wasn't at least a little bit of drama; even on my own relatively drama-free wedding day, a hurricane swept through an hour before the ceremony, soaking the bottom of my dress and trapping some of my family in their station wagon on the East Side Drive in New York City until the water subsided.

Marla: The simple explanation (that doesn’t make me sound like a terrible person) is that I ghostwrote a nonfiction book with a destination wedding planner and got a crash course in a career that also happened to be perfect for an amateur sleuth. Now, just between you and me — and let’s just keep this between us, okay? — I’m also fascinated by the sheer potential for drama that only a wedding can provide. Heightened emotions, petty (or not so petty) jealousy, long-simmering resentments, all being fueled by champagne toasts and an open bar… everyone’s supposed to be on their best behavior, but they seldom are.

JULIA: Just yesterday, we were talking with Edith Maxwell about the importance of locale in a cozy mystery. How and why did you choose your settings?
Maggie: I'm a native New Yorker so I write what I know. From the Hudson Valley to the Staten Island Ferry, I feel at home. Plus, there's no better place to experiment with new types of food than New York which help me visualize new recipes for Belfast McGrath and new menus for Shamrock Manor.

Marla: [California Wine Country is] such a beautiful area — and it happens to be just over an hour’s drive from my house. I actually attended a wedding up in Sonoma County, and while I was staying up there I took a tour of a winery that included their wine cave. Talk about inspiration! I think I freaked out the tour guide a little while I was asking him how long it would be plausible for someone to be locked in a wine cave and not be discovered. (Oh, and also? Wine.)

JULIA: There's a lot of humor in both of your books. Do you have to work to bring the funny? Or does it come naturally?

Maggie: It is harder for me not to add humor to my work than it is to try to incorporate it into the story. Coming from a big Irish family, humor and storytelling is in my blood. The Irish can take the darkest of situations and find something to laugh about. I'm not sure where that comes from, if it's a byproduct of years of national struggle or something else, but there is nothing funnier than an Irish sense of humor, in my opinion, and I try to bring a bit of humor to even the saddest or darkest parts of any story that I'm working on.

Marla: For me, writing is a form of play, an escape from the everyday world. The best days as a writer are when I’m just having fun with it and make myself laugh without even trying. In fact, trying to be funny rarely works for me. When I read back over it, the humor always falls flat and I end up cutting it. You know what is hard, though? Trying to balance humor in a murder mystery. I should have probably thought of that before I settled on a genre!

JULIA: What are your best wedding stories, dear readers? Ever been part of a celebration you thought might drive you to murder? Two lucky commenters will win either DYING ON THE VINE or BEL OF THE BRAWL!

You can find out more about Maggie McConnon/Maggie Barbieri at her web site. Read an excerpt of BEL OF THE BRAWL, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter as @MaggieBarbieri.

You can talk about books with Marla Cooper on Goodreads. Read an excerpt of DYING ON THE VINE, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter as @kindacozy

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Edith Maxwell and Maddie Day talk Research, Regions, and Writing Cozies

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank and I are co-hosting today's guest(s), the amiable and energetic Edith Maxwell and her friend Maddie Day. If you've spent any time on JRW, you know Edith, and if you like Edith, I can guarantee you'll like Maddie. Both these ladies are the type of author to make me want to retire to my fainting couch - between them, they write FOUR wonderful cozy series, as well as Agatha-nominated short stories. How does the magic (and mystery) happen? Well, it helps if you have broad, well-traveled background full of all sorts of jobs and experiences. You definitely need to be well-organized and disciplined. And I'm quite certain a good sense of humor is a must. Please welcome Edith Maxwell and Maddie Day!

Hank and Julia, thanks so much for inviting me and my best bud Maddie Day for a chat on the front part of the blog today! I thought we could interview each other for a bit, since our books are coming out within ten days of each other (from two publishers).
E: Maddie, why did you pick southern Indiana as a setting for your Country Store Mysteries?
M: It's such a gosh darn sweet part of the country. I lived in Bloomington for about five years a couple (okay, four) decades ago, and I loved the slow pace of life and the friendly folks. The next county over, Brown County, is real hilly, full of artists and quirky folks, and it just seemed like a place readers might like to hang out in for a while. Also, some parts seem more Kentucky than Indiana, so I have a whole slew of colorful southern phrases my police lieutenant Buck Bird can say. How about you? Why do you set your books in New England?
E: I moved to the Boston area in the early eighties, and then headed up to the North Shore at the end of the decade. There are still lots of small farms in the area – in fact, I owned and ran one of them for a while – so I thought it would be a great setting for a cozy series like the Local Foods Mysteries. Then when I got intererested in history and discovered Amesbury, with its rich past of thriving carriage and textile mill industries, I wanted to place a series in that era. I was already a Quaker, and learning that John Greenleaf Whittier served on the building committee for the historic meetinghouse where I sit in silent worship every Sunday just clinched the deal. Have you ever thought of writing a historical mystery?
M: Not yet, although I have included a bit of the history of my protagonist's building in When the Grits Hit the Fan. It was built in the second half of the nineteenth century, and since Robbie Jordan is a carpenter and is renovating the second floor of the restaurant to create bed-and-breakfast rooms, she makes some, shall we say, intriguing discoveries in the walls. What's the most fun thing you've done in your historical research?
E: I have to say riding in a historic carriage from the late 1800s. We have a Carriage Museum here in Amesbury, and one of the board members knows just about everything there is to know about the carriage industries. She owns antique vehicles and a horse, and she took me out one morning last summer along trails in a local park and fields that didn't look much different than they would have in 1888. I wore a long homespun linen skirt to get the feel of what it would be like. Uh, hard to climb into, a bumpy ride, and hardly anything to hang onto! But I picked Susan Koso's brain for over two hours. It was fabulous. So tell me how you got to Indiana in the first place? Are you from there, like Hank is?
M: No, I'm a fourth-generation Californian on my mother's side (San Francisco firefighter Flahertys), but my great-great-great grandfather founded what became Indiana University. Maxwell Hall is one of the original buildings and I discovered both a Maxwell Street and a Maxwell Lane in Bloomington, so my roots go way back. Even my dad was an undergrad there, so it was a treat to continue the legacy... Oh, wait. I think I just let the cat out of the bag.
E: LOL, you mean the one-author-two-names cat? I guess you did! Okay, readers, Maddie and I are exactly the same person. But you probably already guessed that, right? We get asked a lot, “Why the pen name?” Tell 'em, girlfriend.
M: When our Kensington editor, who was already publishing Edith's Local Foods Mysteries, offered a contract for the Country Store series, he stipulated a pseudonym. “Why?” we asked our agent, who said Kensington wanted the series to look like it was by a debut author in the bookstores. Okay, we said, not wanting to turn down a contract for a minor name issue. Turns out the series has done pretty darn well, so I guess the strategy worked. Edith, what's next for you on the writing front?
E: First I have to get Called to Justice launched, and attend a flurry of events in April celebrating Sisters in Crime's 30th anniversary (I'm President of the New England chapter, after all). Then there's Malice Domestic, where I am nominated for not one but two Agatha Awards (for Best Historical Mystery and Best Short Story). At the end of May Mulch Ado About Murder, the fifth in the Local Foods series, comes out, so I'll have more launch activities. It probably won't be until June until I start writing Quaker Midwife #4 (possibly titled Seeking Unity), because Midnight Ink has renewed my contract for two more books. Yay! How about you?
M: Right now I'm almost done with the first draft of Murder on Cape Cod in my new series, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. I'm having a lot of fun setting up a crew of new characters in a new fictional Cape village, and I recently returned from a super productive solo retreat week in West Falmouth, where I did lots of both writing and research. After that I need to get started on Country Store #5, tentatively named Death, Over Easy. Never a dull moment!
E: I know the feeling. But we're living our dream, right?
M: You bet. And to celebrate we're giving away a copy of our new books to two commenters today (one book each)!
E: This has been fun. And please find us on Facebook and twitter (@edithmaxwell, @MaddieDayAuthor). We love being in touch.
Readers: Do you find author pen names confusing? Do you like your mysteries set in the here and now, or do you enjoy immersing yourself in an older era? (Both, we hope.)

National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery DeliveringtheTruth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. A former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her at , on Twitter as @edithmaxwell, and on Goodreads.
In Called to Justice, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is enjoying the 1888 Independence Day evening fireworks with her beau when a teenaged Quaker mill girl is found shot dead. After a former slave and fellow Quaker is accused of the murder, Rose delves into the crime, convinced of the man's innocence. An ill-mannered mill manager, an Irish immigrant, and the victim's young boyfriend come under suspicion even as Rose's future with her handsome doctor suitor becomes unsure. Rose continues to deliver babies and listen to secrets, finally figuring out one criminal―only to be threatened by the murderer, with three lives at stake. Can she rescue herself, a baby, and her elderly midwifery teacher in time?

Despite the bitter winter in South Lick, Indiana, business is still hot at Robbie Jordan’s Country Store restaurant in When the Grits Hit the Fan. But when another murder rattles the small town, can Robbie defrost the motives of a cold-blooded killer? Robbie and her friend Lou go snowshoeing and find a contentious academic frozen under the ice. Police suspect Lou might have killed him after their public tiff in Pans ‘N Pancakes the night before. To prove her friend’s innocence, Robbie absorbs local gossip about the professor’s past and develops her own thesis on the homicide—even if that means stirring up terrible danger for herself along the way.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I Think That I Shall Never See, A School Project on the Life Cycle of A Tree...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Last night, I stayed up very late (or early) because Youngest was doing A Project. Those of you who aren't parents may not recognize the unholy terror that rises in the breast when you hear those words. Those who are may be having PTSD-like flashbacks to pouring baking soda into a funnel.

We all remember doing A Project as a kid. The sugar-cube igloo, the papier-mâché volcano, the poster illustrating the life cycle of a butterfly, complete with a real cocoon found on a bush. First off, let's posit this: no Project ever taught you anything you couldn't learn from reading a paragraph in an encyclopedia (1). I learned more about volcanoes from watching Tommy Lee Jones tracking lava flow down La Cienega Boulevard than I ever did from making a clay model of Mount Vesuvius (2). I know about Iroquois family structure because I read a book about it, not because I made a model of a long house.(3) 

Reminiscing about the Projects of your youth, you will see a shadowy figure in the background. Look closer. Is it coming into focus? Yes, it's your mother or father (4). It was, in fact, your mother who tore 500 strips of newspaper and dunked them in runny wheat paste until her fingers turned gray that enabled you to get an A on that dinosaur model. It was your father who found that moth cocoon in the back yard and told you it belonged to a butterfly. It was MY mother who sat up until 2am cutting out pictures of flowers from magazines (5) for a poster whose content and purpose I can't recall. Pistils and stamen, maybe? The parts of which, by the way, I still can't identify. One of my kids asked me one time in the garden and I said, "All that with the pollen is the flower's naughty bits."

Yes, much of the real work of The Project is done by good old Mom or Dad. I'm not talking about helicopter parents who design posters that look as if they should be hanging in the MOMA. Even those of us who believe our kids ought to be the moving force behind The Project still wind up as unheralded laborers. It's like admiring, say, Vita Sackville-West's garden. The creative design is hers, sure, but there still wouldn't be anything to look at without some poor old sod digging in 500 pounds of manure by hand. You, the parent, are the poor old sod in this case (6).

Why is this? Mostly, its due to the Universal Law of School Projects, which states a child will tell its parents about a project no more than 24 hours before it is due (7). The Universal Law also states there will be at least one ingredient to the project that will require a trip to Michael's or Jo-Ann's (8), or, if your child is older, a dash to Staples to replace your color ink cartridges (9). Because your kid will have to do five hours of work between the time he told you about The Project and bedtime - not to mention his other homework for the next day - you inevitably wind up doing the scut work while he does his math sheets.

How has this worked out in my own life as a parent? Well, there was the time Youngest came up with a magnificently creative Project on Oskar Schindler, featuring a life-sized cut out of Schindler with the name of every person he saved from the Holocaust written inside the outline of his body. Schindler was truly worthy of being recognized as Righteous Among Nations, because he saved hundreds and hundreds of people, and The Smithie (bless her heart) and I wrote down every one of their names. By hand. 

Or there was the time The Sailor had to collect ten different leaves for a leaf and seed board (10). Unfortunately, it was autumn, and Ross and I still worked in our office jobs, meaning we and the children got home well after the sun had already set. Guess who spent an hour casing the yard with a flashlight to find suitable specimens? (11) Or, for each of my three kids, the traditional State O' Maine trifold board presentation, featuring lobsters, blueberries, fish, pine trees and chickadees. (12) Or the Smithie's dioramas - I had a entire room in my barn dedicated to saving cardboard boxes for dioramas. They always required small plastic figurines (13), paint (14) and some three-dimensional sky element like cotton ball clouds or glow in the dark stars (15). Then I had to save them as precious mementos for about a decade until the Smithie forgot about them and I could throw them out.

I admit, I was surprised when Youngest told me she had a Project (16). My exact words were, "For God's sake, you're a junior in high school taking AP classes! Why are you wasting your time making a poster?" It's a very nice one, however, with thirty French sentences about Rwanda neatly written in the colors of the national flag along an outline of the country (17). It was good to know I could step up my Project game when necessary - and all I had to do was help with a couple verbs and give my opinion on the graphic design. This had better be the last one, however (18).

How about you, dear readers? Tell us about the posters, papier-mâché and potting clay of your Projects past and present!

(1) For younger readers, an encyclopedia was like Wikipedia, but set down on paper. It also served as a decorative accent on your parents' teak Danish modern bookcase.

(2) Also awesome? The 1959 Last Days of Pompeii. History AND vulcanology in one! You really can't beat Steve Reeves in a skimpy toga.

(3) It was a bitchin' model, though. I used real bark and moss and had a little plastic deer standing right outside. Which, when I think about it, was not a safe place for the deer. Oh, well.

(4) If the Shadowy Figure is not your mother or father, you may be a character in a dark psychological thriller.

(5) In the olden days, children, we had no printers at home, and our parents had to stockpile magazines as a sort of graphic image library. You were allowed to cut up any magazine except National Geographic, which was a Serious Reference that you kept on the bookcase, cf. note (1) 

(6) And in so many others.

(7) In many cases, the notification of The Project happens at 8pm, right after you ask your child if his homework is all done. "Oh," he will say. "I forgot. I have to make a poster labeling all the parts of a starfish. Can you get me some colored pencils and a poster board?"

(8) It doesn't matter how much craft material you have stored in a closet. If you have crepe paper, your child will need ribbons. If you have buttons, she will need tiny mirrors. If you have little plastic animals, she will need little felt animals.

(9) Because he needs 20 color pictures representing the cultural life of Senegal. Which you will wind up finding, downloading, cropping, printing and trimming. I think the magazine thing was easier.

(10) Trip to Michael's for rigid foam board.

(11) Me.

(12) I wanted to include double-wides and meth teeth, but Ross wouldn't let me.

(13) Michael's

(14) Michael's

(15) CVS or Michael's depending on if it was a daytime or nighttime scene.

(16) When I dropped her off at the high school yesterday, The Project was due today.

(17) Poster board and markers from Wal-Mart. I was in the area.

(18) Because at the start of the school year I threw out all the other materials I had been saving. She's a junior! Taking AP classes!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Self-blanking Blanks, or, Th'automatons of tomorrow

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The news recently has been full of the story of the self-driving Uber from Arizona that got into an accident, causing the company to suspend its self-driving tests in that state. (I'm using the term 'self-driving' a lot because apparently these vehicles do have drivers inside that can engage when necessary.) I have to note the responding cops seem to agree it wasn't the wonder car of the future that was at fault: it was another old-fashioned human driver who screwed up, crashing into the Uber vehicle.

I for one welcome our new robotic overlords. I would have given anything for a self-driving car back in the days when I was attempting to navigate a station wagon around town while settling backseat arguments, rescuing sippy cups that had rolled beneath the passenger seat, and operating the CD player controls so we could hear "The Wheels on the Bus" for the 1,000,000,000th time. Nowadays, driving isn't that stressful, but it is, unless I'm doing something cool and fun like whipping up and down and around the roads in the Berkshires, boring. Really boring. I'd be more than happy to turn over the controls to HAL9000 if it meant I could lounge back reading a book and nibbling on Girl Scout cookies on my way to the credit union.

I can also envision self-driving cars being super useful in the future - and by 'future' I mean 'when I'm in my eighties.' In a rural state like Maine, elderly residents have major problems if they have to give up driving. Rather than worrying about imposing on my daughter to fetch and carry for me, I like the idea of having my own robotic chauffeur driving me around after my vision and short-range memory goes. I'll call it Tom Branson and pretend I'm the Dowager Countess of Grantham (to be strictly honest, I'm planning on spending my old age pretending to be Granny Crawley anyway.)

In the vein of helpful automatons, I got to thinking what else would improve my life.

1. Nuclear-powered mangle. Sure, the washing machine and dryer have liberated us (and by us I mean women, because let's face it, how many men do you know who do laundry when there's a woman around to do it for them? Not that I'm bitter) and wash-and-wear means the iron is usually gathering dust, but where is the mechanical marvel that can fold clothes? Do you keep the clean clothing in a laundry basket and just pick stuff out of it? You do, don't you. Wouldn't it be great if you could toss it all into a hopper and it came out looking like it does from the dry cleaner's? It would. It really would.

2. Mecha-facial. Perhaps life's cruelest trick is this: as you reach the age when you absolutely need to spend at least fifteen minutes every night cleaning, moisturizing, sanding and spackling your face if you don't want to look like a desert wadi in the dry season, you begin to find yourself with Sudden Onset Bedtime Syndrome. SOBS is the sensation you get just after you've streamed last night's episode of Legion and are getting ready for RuPaul's Drag Race. In an instant, every source of energy in your body has been quenched. As your teenagers stare at you with ill-disguised scorn, you drag your body upstairs, barely manage to drag a toothbrush around your gums, and then fall into bed. The only moisturizer you're going to get when SOBS strikes is whatever you drool onto your cheek.

Wouldn't it be lovely if, as you lay sprawled on your back, a useful machine hovered over your visage, pummeling, kneading and exfoliating while you drifted away into dreamland? (Warning: you will dream that the alien from Alien is sucking your face. But is that too much to pay for glowing, youthful skin?)

3. Self-walking dogs. Don't get me wrong, I love being outside with my Shih Tzu on a beautiful October day. Or in the spring, with the clouds all puffy over head, or on a warm summer morning. When it's seven degrees out? Blizzarding? Pouring rain? Not so much. I dunno, maybe the Japanese have the right idea with their robot pets. Enjoy the wiggling behind without every having to worry about what's going to come out of it. Speaking of which...

4. Self-cleaning bathrooms. I believe this one is within modern architecture's grasp. All it would take is a bathroom where everything is tile, glass and non-porous stone, doors and windows that shut watertight like those in bulkhead, and a giant drain in the middle. You go out, lock the door, turn on the combination steam/boiling water/bleach and before you say Bob's your uncle, the place is spotless. Admittedly, the TP and shampoo bottles in the shower are going to be worse for the wear. On the other hand, you'd never have to wash towels or facecloths again.

5. Self-shoveling driveways. If we can have self-driving cars, why not snowblowers? How pleasant it would be to stand inside and guide the machine with one hand on the controls, the other holding your hot cocoa. Or for rough or uneven terrain, paired flying drones supporting a snow-melting laser cannon. Yes, I am sick of winter! Thanks for asking!

How about you, dear readers? What do you think ought to be automated to make our lives easier?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Won't You Let Me Take You On A Sea Cruise?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yesterday was more snow, followed by sleet and freezing rain here in glorious southern Maine. It's been two months of - as it says in the lyrics from a song I used as a book title - snow on snow, snow on snow. Followed by melting, mud, refreezing, etc. I am SO tired of cold and miserable weather, I'm about to sell my left kidney for a trip to the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the market for kidneys is down right now, so I have to take my trip  in my imagination.

So Reds, lets plan a fabulous cruise.,,What do we want? A writing trip, where everyone works on their books while watching blue waters pass by during the day, and eating fabulous meals at night? A workshop cruise, where we all teach and learn and go snorkeling and eat fabulous meals at night? An historic river cruise (during the height of summer so it's nice and warm) where we tour and shop and eat fabulous...oh, you know.,,

Me, I'd book us on a Windstar cruise - small (250 passenger) ships that sail to places like Egypt, India, Southeast Asia. I'd like to go to Tahiti to experience the amazing waters and soak up the sun (while wearing spf 50, of course.) I picture us all sitting at tables on the poop deck or whatever it's called, under awnings, working away ceaselessly except for the occasional dip into the netted pool hanging off the stern of the ship. We could get a massage at the end of the day, followed by waiters named Raul and Jean-Paul bringing us fruity cocktails before dinner. The person who produces the most words gets to be the first to snorkel when we reach the next atoll. After eleven days, we all return relaxed, rested and with fifty pages of new material.,,

How about you, Reds? What cruise would you design for us to escape to? Or if water isn't your thing, what resort? And should it be work, play, or a little of both?

HALLIE EPHRON: I hate confined spaces and I get seasick. So hold the cruises for me, though the one you describe, Julia, sounds pretty great.

Having said that, we ARE booked on a cruise! A small ship (20 staterooms) in August, the Inside Passage from Sitka to Ketchikan. There’s no other way to see it except from a boat. For me priorities will be birds/wildlife and food, not necessarily in that order and certainly not at the same time. I plan to bring my binoculars and my Kindle, warm socks, and leave my computer at home. I will, however, take notes.

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: I'll go anywhere with the Reds! But preferably someplace on land. Could I maybe drive or fly to wherever it is? I think of cruise, I think of norovirus.  AND of my dear pals who just got back from a cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia, which they said was gorgeous, (eventually) but on their first day on the river cruise, on a glam 6-stateroom yacht, they were all out searching for caves in a kayak, and realized they were being stalled about going back to the ship. When they finally said--you know, we'd like to go back to the ship, the fowling conversation ensued:

Ship guy: Well, there's a little problem with the ship.

Friends: Like what?

Ship guy: Like, well, there was an engine fire and it sank.


They got almost everyone's stuff off before the final sinking, except for the clothing of the people who had unpacked. So--let that be a lesson.

But if we're doing imaginary, I'm thinking ...Amalfi Coast. And work and wine and relaxing, and food and Reds?  I'm totally in.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Julia,  we've been on a Windstar cruise and it's heaven. The food is terrific, and you don't have to dress up (I hate the idea of lugging formal wear on a trip!), and the ports are pleasant and small. And Tahiti sounds excellent. About the working all the time though, hmmm, not sure that's realistic. I get seasick too, but I popped Dramamine every day and I was fine.

Hallie, can't wait to hear about your Alaskan adventure. And love the idea of traveling somewhere to work with Reds...

RHYS BOWEN: Gee, thanks a lot for sharing that, Hank. John and I are booked on a cruise in June--around the Mediterranean. Now I won't want to unpack my bags!

 We've done quite a few cruises, two Med cruises with Holland America before, several Princess, the classic transatlantic crossing on the QE2 and a Danube cruise. I think I liked the latter the best. The ship is small and low enough to go under bridges and the windows are just above the water so life on the banks is right there. And they anchor in the middle of town so you can step ashore when you feel like it.

We chose a cruise again this year so there is not a lot of packing and unpacking and dragging bags onto trains for John, who still isn't that mobile or strong. But I enjoy the relaxed feeling of no decisions more than do I want the filet mignon or the lobster?

But for an escape with the Reds? I'd choose a beach-front cabin in the Caribbean. So much more relaxed and quiet. Cruises are noisy and it's hard to find space. Our cabin would naturally have a chef and maid and food would miraculously appear at meal times. And a shady beach with good snorkeling and a big deck over blue water.... sigh.

JENN McKINLAY: I've only been on one cruise. Hub and I celebrated our first anniversary on the Love Boat. You know, the ship that leaves Los Angeles and stops in Ensenada, Mazatlan, etc., and -- SURPRISE! -- we discovered I was pregnant with Hooligan 1, so I slept and slept and went to the buffet and slept and slept some more. I remember naps, ornate fruit sculptures, and towels folded into manta rays and penguins. So, I figure I am overdue for a cruise where I am upright and conscious. Reds, you can take me anywhere!

How about you, dear readers? What sort of getaway would you plan? And would you relax and read, or refresh and write?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Girls Go Antiquing

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What could be better than a road trip on a gorgeous spring day? How about a GIRLS road trip! 

And, even better, how about a girls' antiquing road trip?

That's what I'm doing tomorrow, with my daughter and my BFF, who has driven down yesterday from Kansas City for the adventure. (And when I say BFF, I really mean BFF. We have been best friends since we were in THIRD GRADE!)

So, the three of us are setting out at 5AM tomorrow morning for Round Top, Texas, for the huge twice yearly antiques fair that turns a spot in the road (population 90) into a destination. Round Top is iconic, and I can't believe I've never done this before.

Here's one of the big tents:

 And some of the stuff in the Americana tent:

I am little more inclined towards the Continental Tent--except for the quilts in the Americana tent.

And anyone who knows me will testify that I have weakness for quilts. Do I need more quilts? No, but that's not really the point, is it? It's the outing, and the adventure of it.

It will take us (fingers crossed) about four hours for the drive. (Round Top is about halfway in between Austin and Houston.) It's going to be a gorgeous day, and--fingers crossed again--the Texas bluebonnets will be blooming.

Once we have spent the day walking and shopping, we have dinner tickets at this really cool venue called Rancho Pillow,

where dinner is being catered by our very own favorite place right here in McKinney, Patina Green and chef Robert Lyford.  After that, assuming we are still are our feet, we are going to enjoy staying at a fab self-catering cottage in the Texas Hill Country, with a hot tub (which I expect we will need) and an amazing breakfast.
On the way back to Dallas on Tuesday, we plan to stop at the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas (swoon... and that should be a whole other post) 

and then at the Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco. For anyone who has ever watched Fixer Upper, this needs no explanation. 

I have no doubt that guy road trips are just as special (I've heard enough camping stories from the hub.) So REDS and readers of either gender, what's your most fun road trip?

Or road trip fantasy?

And what would you look for if you were going to Round Top???

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Who Wants Wine? 50 Shades of Cabernet!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Wine? Well, sure. (Somehow I can only drink wine when it’s dark, weird, huh? But I can read about wine any time.)

In vino mysterium is the theme for a wonderful new anthology of short stories, each blending a baffling mystery and a glass (or more) of cabernet. 
When eighteen mystery writers combine their talents, the result is the perfect “flight” of stories that range from light-bodied puzzles to sparkling cozies to darker, heavier tales of deceit and murder. While cabernet is the featured wine, this anthology will appeal to connoisseurs of all varietals—in both wine preference and mystery style.

I mean, yeah. I can be a joy to sip a nice drink when reading about murder and other crimes? Last week Koehler Books published that book, 50 Shades of Cabernet. And today half of the 50 Shades authors are visiting the Reds—and we asked:
Tell us about your story. What makes it different?

“Who’s Wine Is It Anyway?” by Barb Goffman
There’s a funny T-shirt slogan that says, “Be careful or I’ll put you in my novel.” Well, I write short stories, but the same sentiment applies.
In the mid-2000s I was preparing to leave the large Washington, DC, law firm I’d worked at for five years. I often planned events for our department, such as our annual holiday party. Doing so was a nice break from due diligence and reading regulations and other fun stuff like that. Yet I was a bit surprised when the partner with whom I worked most mentioned that he was (and wasn’t) looking forward to my goodbye party that Friday. Had a planned something great?
Now I enjoyed organizing department events, but this still left my jaw hanging open.
“I have to plan my own goodbye party?” I asked wide-eyed.
An uh oh expression came over him as he realized that of course I shouldn’t have to do that. He said he’d make sure someone else took care of it. And he did.
That conversation has stuck in my brain, and in “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” I finally put it to good use, writing a story of Myra, a law firm secretary. In her final week at her firm, Myra learns that her boss, Douglas, expects her to plan her own retirement party. Myra is already upset with Douglas because he’s hired a bimbo to replace her, so Myra decides to use this party to teach some lessons.
It took me more than a decade, but I finally put my jaw-dropping moment to good use. So let this be a lesson to you: Don’t anger mystery writers or you too may end up in a story, and it may not work out well, either.
“Blown Away” by Nancy Naigle
“Blown Away” is set at Pirates Cove Marina in Manteo where I own a condo. My balcony overlooks the beautiful fishing boats. It’s an inspiring place to write, and imagined a hundred stories there. When I was asked to write a story for 50 Shades of Cabernet I couldn’t wait to use this wonderful setting. I hope you’ll enjoy this story about a heist gone wrong, and revenge taking place years later. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone that the bad guy is staying right in my condo , and the take-down in the parking garage below.
“Wine, Women, and Wrong” by Maggie King
Wine and sex. That’s how “Wine, Women, and Wrong,” my contribution to 50 Shades of Cabernet, a wine-themed mystery anthology, differs from the ones my talented fellow authors penned.
I emphasize the sensuous aspects of red wine—the taste, how it feels on the tongue. And I suggest a relationship between wine and sex. 
Consider my story opening:
“Ah! Sweet, bursting with berry flavor.” Lanie Jacobs mimicked the sales pitch of the wine merchant who’d poured the Ruby Port.
“Yet firm.” Rhonda Reay sipped and actually moaned in ecstasy. “Powerful.”
Lanie rolled her eyes. Was the woman having a sexual experience in the middle of a wine tasting party? Rhonda was her best friend but she could be embarrassing.
Is red wine an aphrodisiac? Studies suggest that it is. But I won’t get into the dull stuff, like brain activity and amines (organic compounds present in wine). And, when you pair the wine with a tasty appetizer, almost anything could happen! 
“These meatballs are amazing. They’re simply amazing.” Rhonda Reay popped one in her mouth. Tommy interpreted the coy look on her face as inviting. “What’s in this sauce?” she asked.
Tommy tried to remember what Camille had told him. “I believe it’s a pomegranate currant sauce.”
“It’s amazing,” she repeated. “And it pairs beautifully with this cab.” Rhonda drew her shoulders back and lifted her glass, as in a toast. “A graceful cabernet with generous flavors of cranberries, blackberries, and light baking spices. Full in body with a velvety smooth finish that coats the palate in soft tannins and lovely fruit.”
Is it the Cabernet, the gourmet meatballs, or the sexy Tommy that piques Rhonda Reay’s interest? Tommy is investigating the attempted murder of a local wine merchant and is trying to find out what Rhonda knows about it. Will he succumb to her charms and join her in a glass of Cabernet? Or two?
Read “Wine, Women, and Wrong” and find out.
“Friday’s Jewelry” by Ken Wingate
What makes “Friday's Jewelry” unique or different from all the rest of the stories in 50 Shades of Cabernet?
It could be that the Louis M. Martini LOT No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon featured in the story is the most expensive of all the rest of the wines in the other stories.  It is considered one of the finest Cabernets in the world.
It could be the beloved gift given by a grandmother to her granddaughter, holding a most powerful secret.
It could be the life-long friendship of the two primary characters.
It could be the surprising discovery in which the cork becomes the center of the investigation and the undoing of the thief.
I challenge you to read “Friday's Jewelry” and come to your own conclusion.
“Love the Wine You’re With” by Teresa Inge
“Love the Wine You’re With” takes place at a Virginia Beach wine tasting and includes a romance between Lewis McGehee, a real life, popular Virginia musician and my protagonist, Jules Riley. 
It was fun incorporating Lewis and his music into the story and transporting readers across Virginia’s unique but deadly landscape. 
“Par for the Course” by Heather Weidner
“Par for the Course” focuses on the dynamics among the different generations within a wealthy family, and wine plays a key role as one of the central businesses in their vast portfolio. I write what and where I know, and the Commonwealth of Virginia has over 230 wineries. So, the Blue Ridge Mountains became the perfect location for my fictional vineyard and winery.
In the story, Mona McKinley Scarborough, the family matriarch, doesn’t take no for an answer. When she’s not successful at convincing her granddaughter, Amanda, to make the right choice—to join the family’s winery—she plans a day of golf as a chance to draw them closer together. Their chat reveals some deadly secrets, and they learn that the grape may not fall far from the vine.
The Scarborough family, who can trace their roots back to Jamestown and the colonists, has been a fixture in Richmond’s capital society for more years than anyone can count. Their roots and dirty little secrets run deep. I like mysteries with lots of twists, and “Par for the Course” takes on several meanings throughout this tale, where we learn that some family secrets are as dark as the cabernet.
“And Wine to Make Glad the Heart” by James M. Jackson and Tina Whittle
“And Wine to Make Glad the Heart” is the only cowritten story in the anthology. It features Tina Whittle’s continuing characters Tai Randolph and Trey Seaver and James M. Jackson’s Seamus McCree and his darts-throwing mother. The four combine to solve a mystery involving Civil War antiquities using logic, guile, tarot cards, and the finest boxed cabernet (and other oxymorons).
“Name Your Poison” by Maria Hudgins
Recently an author friend of mine posted a dire notice on Facebook. She was expecting GUESTS. They were coming to stay at her house for several DAYS and she was expected to prepare FOOD. To many people this sounds like a good thing—unless these are guests you don’t like. But if you do like them, this is a good thing. Right?
Not if you’re a writer.
If you are the sort of writer I am, a perfect day is one in which the phone doesn’t ring, the doorbell doesn’t buzz, you have edible food in the fridge, and you have a comfy place to write.
I laughed to read the comments my friend got from other authors. “I feel your pain,” “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and “You can stay in my garage.”
It’s a writer thing.
Of course every writer is different and I do know some who are super-gregarious, but most of us are closet hermits. There’s something wrong with that phrase, closet hermits—a double negative? Anyway, here are the most common traits of dedicated writers:
1.             We observe life like a fly on the wall. It’s interesting but we avoid getting involved.
2.             Everything we say is reworded and reworded again in our heads. This limits how much we can say on any given occasion.
3.             We constantly write stories in our heads.
4.             We are obsessed with our current Work-in-Progress.
5.             We may be inherently messy or neat, but neither tendency concerns us much.
6.             We aren’t procrastinators. At least those who are published aren’t procrastinators.
7.             We are not perfectionists. As Bunter said to Lord Peter: “Perfect, my Lord. That is to say, slightly flawed.”
8.             Sometimes we worry that we aren’t quite normal.
9.             We are introverts. Our idea of hell is a cocktail party where we don’t know a soul.
In the new anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, my story, “Name Your Poison,” starts with a cocktail party at a mystery conference—the sort of event where I usually drink too much too fast in the hopes that it will loosen my tongue and make me sparkle. Those of you who have attended a mystery conference will recognize the scene, if not the hapless victim of the story.
By the way, every story in 50 Shades uses the word “cabernet” at least once. I challenge you to find them all. 
HANK: Do we get wine while we’re looking? That is a treasure hunt I can completely get behind. Reds, are you wine aficionados? What’s your favorite?

A toast to the authors of this wonderful new anthology!
And you can buy it here! Cheers!

For fun on Facebook and website:
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If you want to help out an indie bookstore, here are two possibles:

Mystery Loves Company in Oxford, MD, has the hardcover and trade paperback on their website: