Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reading My Way Out of a Reality Funk

LUCY BURDETTE: The news has been so distressing and depressing lately that I’ve made a conscious effort to spend more time reading and less time obsessing about social media. Here’s what I’ve read recently—much of it colored by my trip to France and also the need to escape reality. I’d love to hear what you’re reading too!

THE ART OF INHERITING SECRETS by Barbara O’Neal: I am a huge fan of Barbara O'Neal and this book was no exception. She packed it with food, a fascinating English countryside setting, romance, family drama, and a female lead figuring out what her authentic life and self should be. (Yes, there were a few unrealistic plot threads, but who cares when the rest of the strengths kept me turning the pages deep into the night?)

THE LOST VINTAGE by Ann Mah: As a lover of France and food and family secrets, I very much enjoyed this novel from travel writer Ann Mah. Sommelier Kate travels from San Francisco to France to study Burgundy wines in advance of attempting to become a Master of Wine. In her extended family's vineyard and home, she finds terrible secrets buried in the past along with hope for happiness with the man and world she fled from years ago.

THE CROW TRAP by Ann Cleeves: You guys got me started on Ann Cleeves, and I am crazy for her Jimmy Perez Shetland series. Except I have only two left to read so I’m hoarding. On my trip I took along this first book in the Vera Stanhope series. It was the perfect book for a long journey (over 500 pages!), easy reading, complex characters, and a brooding landscape. So far I prefer JimmyJ, but I’ll definitely read more in this series.

COMING TO MY SENSES by Alice Waters: I read this memoir to get ready for Paris, as Alice Waters was a major Francophile and the founder of Chez Panisse. We grew up in a similar part of New Jersey, with similar non-gourmet food experiences. But that’s where the similarities end. She spent a year in Paris and had a food conversion experience that eventually led to her founding of the local food movement in California and the iconic restaurant she scratched out from nothing. She lived in Berkeley in the thick of the 1960’s—I found these descriptions fascinating.  

And currently reading THE LOST CAROUSEL OF PROVENCE by Juliet Blackwell. How about you?

Saturday, September 29, 2018


LUCY BURDETTE: We've welcomed Keziah Frost in the past year to hear about her first novel, THE RELUCTANT FORTUNE TELLER. Today she asked to talk about where writers get their ideas and whether our other lives inform our fiction. Of course we want to hear about that, so welcome, Keziah!

KEZIAH FROST: As I worked on the final draft of The Reluctant Fortune-Teller, I was struck by how therapeutic my card reading protagonist turned out to be. Norbert gives advice that is thoughtful and compassionate. He listens intently, like a therapist. He feels responsible to and for the people who seek his insights. He truly wants the best outcome for each of his customers—or “querents” as they are called in the cartomancy trade.
Yes, Norbert makes use of many therapeutic skills. He encourages people to connect to their own inner guidance system, and he avoids letting them become too reliant on him—just as a good therapist does.
Where would Norbert have gotten these skills? After all, he’s a retired accountant. The answer is, they seem to be natural to his temperament. He’s lived his life on the sidelines, observing people, and he reads them pretty well as a result. Fortunately, he wants to use his knowledge for good!
And where would I have gotten the idea to create a character who is sort of an amateur therapist--like Norbert?
Oh, did I mention…I am a psychotherapist?
It’s been said that writers reveal themselves in their work. I think it’s true. Norbert feels the same sense of surprise at the confidence people place in him just because of his “shingle,” and is troubled by the same concerns that I used to have, especially in my first years, that following a session, someone might take a catastrophic path. So I understood as Norbert worked through all of that, and that struggle became pivotal in the novel.
I’m currently composing the first in a series of mystery novels, and my amateur sleuth has a natural ability to attract confidences and confessions. She’s not so much about bringing evil-doers to justice as she is about helping each person understand themselves and grow into a more evolved version of themselves. Kind of like a…therapist?
So Reds: Have you ever found that your day job has influenced your characters and/or plots?
And readers: Have you ever sought the advice of a psychic or fortune-teller? And if so, would you share if the predictions came true? 
I am giving away three copies of The Reluctant Fortune-Teller. To enter to win, just email me your name and mailing address, and how you would like the book autographed. (U.S. addresses only, please, just because of the postage!) Find my email at 
BIO:  Keziah Frost is a psychotherapist and holds masters degrees in English and Counseling. She loves painting, Zumba, yoga, animals, and languages, but most of all, she loves to write books that give her readers suspense and laughter.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Back from France, and Yes, I Brought You Chocolates

LUCY BURDETTE: My first trip to Paris and Provence was during my junior year in college. I have always regretted that I felt too homesick and shy to really take advantage of the experience. So I embrace any chance for a do-over. 

And last week, I was very fortunate to travel to France for a trip focusing on food in Paris and Bordeaux. The week was curated and led by David Lebovitz, who writes a blog about food in Paris and also tries to translate the unusual customs of France for Americans. For many years David was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse, the restaurant founded by Alice Waters in Berkeley, CA. So he knows food.

My friend Carol and I decided we better get to Paris a couple days early so we’d be acclimated to the time change and not miss a trick. We spent those two days walking the city and also visited two museums that I had not been to before – the Picasso museum and the Musee d’Orsay. It was utterly astonishing to stand in front of works of art in person that I had only seen in books.

Picasso's goat

Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom

For the next five days, we made the rounds of chocolatiers, bakers, grocers, sommeliers, and cheese mongers in Paris and later in the week, Bordeaux. I won’t describe everything I saw and learned – you’d be here until next Friday with eyes glazed over. But I’ll show you some of the highlights, and yes I brought enough chocolate home for all of you!

This is one of the more famous bakeries in Paris, called Poilaine. We were invited downstairs to see the bread baking in a massive wood-fired oven that’s been in service since 1932.

Next, on to visit artisanal chocolatier, Jean Charles Rochoux, famous for his chocolate figurines.

Fabulous lunch at Cafe Nemrod, for me a croque madame complet...

That night, more food and wine: Here was the opening salvo of a six-course tasting dinner at Verjus. I could’ve made a meal out of the appetizers, including this exquisite chickpea pancake stuffed with fresh herbs.

You can see it was a good thing we walked a lot, because the next morning brought more chocolate demonstrations at Fouquet.

Lucy with David and chocolatier Frederic

Lunch involved a wine tasting and tapas at O Chateau. We learned that wine and food are deeply affected by terroir, meaning the exact climate and soil where the beans or wheat or grapes are grown.

I also made a lovely new friend who welcomed me to her houseboat on the Seine...maybe Hayley Snow will visit?

The next morning, we took the high-speed train to Bordeaux... where we joined Jean-Pierre Moulle, executive chef at Chez Panisse for thirty years. First we enjoyed the chocolates made at Saunion. This woman adored her job!

The chocolates were followed by a visit to the cheese cave of Jean d'Alos...

Then we were invited to dinner at a country farmhouse, hosted by Jean-Pierre and his lovely wife, Denise

I wondered what made the potatoes so exquisite. The answer, they are simmered in duck fat.

During our last day, we went to the farmer's market, where we watched Jean-Pierre choose ingredients for our lunch. The lunch took place at Chateau La Louviere, belonging to Denise's family, still actively producing wine.

Jean-Pierre working on a pear clafoutis with tips from David

an amazing salade Nicoise with fresh tuna and anchovies

France under any circumstance feels wondrous to me, but meeting these artisans, including David, and hearing about their love for food and their work was very, very special. 

I could wax on and on, but I'm off to ditch some chocolate calories with a high-speed walk. And maybe puzzle out how I might use some of this in another book...

I'll leave you with another famous chocolate shop scene...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

It's All About the Relationships by Allison Brook

LUCY BURDETTE: Allison Brook aka Marilyn Levinson visited the blog about a year ago to talk about her publishing journey.  Today she's back with a new book and a new subject, one dear to my heart--relationships! Welcome Allison...

ALLISON BROOK: A few years ago after my Significant Other finished reading some of my mysteries, he turned to me and said, "Sure, you write about murders and mystery, but it's really about the relationships." I was very happy that David, who rarely read fiction, "got" me.

People fascinate me. I often wonder what makes them tick. I'm curious about their habits, their secrets, their relationships, the way they lead their lives. It's one of the main reasons why I write fiction. My characters are the most important elements in my novels—be it a mystery, romantic suspense or book for kids.

My characters drive my story. They create and alter situations, conflict with one another, love, hate and murder. Carrie Singleton, my protagonist and sleuth in the Haunted Library mystery series, comes from a dysfunctional family. She grew up having a father who was a professional thief and away more often than he was home. Her mother was self-absorbed and not very maternal. Carrie adored her older brother, but Jordan died in his early twenties. It's no wonder that she feels disconnected and can't settle down in any one place after college.

When Carrie reaches her lowest point, she goes to stay with her great aunt and uncle in Clover Ridge, CT, the town where her father's family once owned a farm and where she and her brother spent happy summers. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Bosco give Carrie the love and sense of security that has been absent from her life. And when, in DEATH OVERDUE, the first book in the series, a good position in the library is offered to her, she has the good sense to heed the advice of her aunt and uncle and Evelyn the library ghost who urge her to take it instead of moving on.

Carrie has a good friend in outspoken Angela, who works at the circulation desk. But other relationships are more complicated. Sally, her boss, is unfriendly if not downright hostile, feeling that Carrie was foisted on her by Uncle Bosco, who's on the library board. Carrie proves her mettle and over time she and Sally become friends.

Evelyn, the library ghost who can be seen only by Carrie and her little cousin, is supportive  and a good friend to Carrie. However, Evelyn has her own concerns and isn't always helpful in Carrie's murder investigations. One reason is Dorothy, Evelyn's niece, the reference librarian. Dorothy is a most unpleasant person who likes to ferret out her fellow workers' secrets then threatens to expose them if they don't do as she "requests." All of Dorothy's spite is turned against Carrie because Carrie has been given the position she coveted. Carrie learns how to deal with Dorothy but remains wary of her.

In READ AND GONE, Carrie's father shows up unexpectedly after years of no contact and asks her to help him retrieve his share of a heist from his thieving partner. Carrie wants no part of this, of course, but when her father's partner in crime is murdered and her father's Suspect Number One, she feels obliged to prove he's no murderer. She also wants to find the gems before he does so she can return them to their rightful owner. The father-daughter relationship is fragile. Carrie has been hurt by her father's neglect and she rebuffs his overtures. He hasn't changed his secretive ways, she notices. Carry and her father spend more time together than they have in years and begin to affect one another. Carrie realizes how much Jim loves her and how much she loves him. By the end of the READ AND GONE, both have changed significantly.

Carrie is smitten by Dylan Avery, her handsome landlord who spends a good deal of time away investigating gem and fine art thefts. This is her first serious relationship, which she doesn't handle very well when she discovers that Dylan was investigating the heist her father pulled off and was searching for her father. She's hurt and insecure, imagining the worst: Did Dylan get close to her in order to find out where her father was? Carrie wonders if she's capable of having a loving relationship that leads to marriage.

The great thing about writing a series is writing about my characters and how they change and develop through their relationships with one another.

 Lucy: Your turn now Reds. Do you read series for the relationships? Or are you just as happy with stand-alones?

You can find Allison Brook, aka Marilyn Levinson, in these places:





Twitter: @MarilynLevinson


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Overcoming My Fears...Maybe? by Paula Matter

LUCY BURDETTE: Someone asked me recently whether we consider other writers to be competition. I answered, no! Why? Because readers don't read one book, they read lots of them. And besides that, friends in the mystery world are irreplaceable and precious to all of us. We love it so much when our friends write books and get published. And that brings me to Paula Matter, who is visiting today to tell us about her new book. Welcome Paula! And hurray!

PAULA MATTER: Can I just say how absolutely thrilled I am to be writing a post for Jungle Red? Me. Yeah. Thank you, Lucy, for inviting me. Thank you also, along with Hallie and Hank, for always being there with me on this crazy journey.

By the time you’re reading this, I may have survived my first panel and the New Authors Breakfast at Bouchercon. My first Bouchercon as a published author. I say “may have” because really, who knows at this point? I’m writing this in mid-August so I can get it to Lucy before I leave for Florida. I have to leave my house. My desk where I can sit in ratty clothes and be barefoot. Yikes! I have to buy a bra. And shoes.

My first Bouchercon was in 1998 in Philadelphia. Twenty. years. ago. Whoa. I had just signed with my first agent and my hopes were high. That book never sold and I’m friends with my former agent. I stuffed the manuscript in a drawer and decided to dabble in short stories, so truthfully, my first panel as a published writer was at the 2000 Denver conference. One of my short stories was in a Sisters in Crime anthology and the editors were coming all the way from Germany to be there. I figured the least I could do was overcome my fear of flying, get on a plane and go. I survived. And my panel? Yep, I survived that as well.

Fast forward to 2008. I pulled my manuscript out of the drawer and headed to Connecticut. Awesome authors Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy), Hallie Ephron, and S.W. Hubbard had organized Seascape, a writers retreat. What an opportunity! Not only did I get individual guidance from these ladies, I met some great people who I’m still friends with to this day. I snatched a photo from Lucy’s site and am including it here. I’m proud to have been a part of the very first Seascape. And I survived it.

Jump ahead to 2016. With a flash of bravery, I sent my manuscript to Midnight Ink. I’d met Acquisitions Editor Terri Bischoff a year earlier at a Crime Bake conference. (Fabulous conference by the way. I absolutely love those people.) Terri agreed to look at it and a year later I signed a three-book contract with them.

Now here we are in 2018. Quick twenty years wasn’t it? If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks. My debut novel, Last Call, came out in July. I’m leaving my safe, comfortable space and going to Bouchercon. I’m going to be on a panel. And the New Authors Breakfast. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I get to see people I usually only see once a year, or only on Facebook. I know for a fact they’ll be rooting for me. At the very least, they’ll probably all be wearing new shoes.

What fears have you conquered? How did you do it? Do you have one that still needs conquering? What’s your comfort zone like?

Paula Matter is the author of the Maggie Lewis mysteries which take place in a small town in North Florida. Paula’s short crime fiction stories have been published in USA and German anthologies. After losing her job as a catering server, Paula decided instead of getting yet another job as a waitress/bartender/activities director/etc., she’d tackle her mystery novel again. Last Call is her debut.

Originally from Miami, FL, Paula kept moving north until she settled in north central Pennsylvania. A proud mom of one son, she lives with her husband The Saint, and worthy-not-spoiled rescue dog in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.