Saturday, August 31, 2019

Overcoming Fear by Karen McCarthy

LUCY BURDETTE: I met today's guest Karen McCarthy years ago at a writing weekend, and was delighted when she contacted me to say she'd finally finished her novel and decided to self-publish. She wondered if you all might be interested in hearing about the biggest obstacle she faced: fear. I said of course, as we all face this in some way, whether we're writers or not. Lead on, Karen!

KAREN MCCARTHY: Become someone no one thought you could be.  Even you.

I just did this.  I became a published author.  Even though people said I was too old, the writing had dragged on too long, and I knew nothing about the publishing business. The committee in my head chimed in to say you are a lawyer not a writer, you have no talent, you aren't good enough, you can't do it.

This may sound all too familiar to those who witness the writing success of others and, though they may have achieved in other fields, think publishing a book is an unreachable goal.  The thing standing in the way of me doing it was fear. The thing that beat the fear was tenacity and never giving up.

The hard part was already over.  Since my murder revolved around Elvis Week in Memphis, I had already visited all the Elvis sites, attended the candlelight vigil at Graceland where the murder occurs and written elaborate backgrounds for all the characters who come together for their own reunion at this event.  I had put all this together in a first draft and that's where the fear began.

Sending this fledgling attempt for anyone to actually see, I imagined a terse reply to throw it all in the trash.  Yet the editor I hired found much to like, while making copious use of the red pencil. Numerous rewrites, revision, tweaks and edits ensued.  This took a number of years, not months.  Life kept getting in the way. My friends quit asking when the novel would be finished.

Yet I persevered, through death of a spouse, divorce from a second, a year long illness and just big, messy life in general.  And when it was done and I began the long and sometimes bewildering process of self publishing (without which this book would never have seen the light of day) the fear returned.

Putting it out there, saying this is what I've got.  Here it is.  The sense of vulnerability, of people thinking surely she could do better than this, this is mediocre, fear of not measuring up.

But I was not getting any younger. I had passed the social security and Medicare age. I didn't want to lie on my deathbed and regret I never did this.  So I pushed the Publish button on Amazon and pushed the exit button on fear.  And my book is doing well.  I have received praise from many quarters. This is lovely of course, but it is really the coming to grips with my own fear that has given me the most satisfaction of all.

Is fear standing in your way?

About the book:  It's August in Memphis, and August means Elvis.  For decades the fans have come from all over the world to pay tribute to the life of the King of Rock and Roll. Elvis Week will be capped by the famous candlelight vigil at Graceland, his mansion south of the city.  Among those attending are “The Magnificent Seven,” baby boomers who were Elvis fans and classmates in college thirty-five years ago.  

One of these women will not leave Memphis alive.  One of them is her murderer.

Mac McCalla, the Memphis lawyer who finds them all on her doorstep,is uneasy with the murky undercurrents between her old classmates as they tour the Elvis sites. Her fears are borne out when a clash of past and present leaves one of them dead. Which of these seemingly ordinary women has crossed the line and become a killer?  

As the zany, carnival atmosphere of Elvismania unfolds around her, Mac discovers that the answer lies in who these women were so long ago. The secrets that have followed them through the years are revealed one by one until finally Mac finds herself in a near-fatal confrontation with a friend is unmasked as a murderer.

About Karen: 

Cross an attorney who practiced law in Memphis, TN for twenty-five years with a lifelong Elvis fan and you find Karen McCarthy, an author who knew it would be fun to set a mystery novel with a legal twist amid the bizarre and captivating atmosphere that pervades Memphis every year during Elvis Week. Her pro bono work with the Abused Women's Shelter and Legal Services gave her the idea for the plot and helped create the courtroom scenes. Having visited all of the hallowed spots favored by the King, Karen piloted her characters through the swirling fans that mob the city every August. The ghost of Elvis provided the crucial clue. 

Karen divides her time between Memphis and her home in Key West, Florida where she can be found out on her boat, the Dragon Lady, or kayaking and scuba diving. She makes flying visits to Dallas to see her son and his family who live with a dog named Presley. Presley is featured in the book under an alias.

Friday, August 30, 2019

What We're Reading

LUCY BURDETTE:  I haven’t been reading quite as much as usual because I had some retina surgery last week that’s cramped my style. (It has not however cramped my appetite, as you can see in this photo, which was on the way home from the surgery center.) 

I have read and loved Hallie’s CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, and Jenn’s WORD TO THE WISE, and Rhys’s LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS, and I have Hank’s and Debs’s new books on my nightstand. Yay! But I wanted to recommend one more nonfiction, non-Red book called MOTHERLAND by Elissa Altman. Altman started out as a food writer and blogger, and has since written three memoirs.

In MOTHERLAND, her latest, Altman tells the astonishing and poignant story of her troubled relationship with a narcissistic mother. It's beautifully written--alternately funny and tragic. I loved it. And loved meeting her at RJ Julia Booksellers , too, to hear her talk about this intense and complex mother-daughter dance.

Assuming you all have the new Reds releases on your TBR pile, what else are you reading or looking forward to this fall?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Since my actual TBR pile is literally all Jungle Reds books right now, I'll share what I'm looking forward to. I'm going to use the  descriptions, because they're both tantalizing and compact: First, in mystery, Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart, who had appeared here on JRW. I've enjoyed her series on the amazing (but based on true life) Kopp Sisters, and this is the fifth. Publisher's Weekly says, "In the spring of 1917, the Kopp sisters sign up for one of the military-style training camps for women who want to serve in WWI. When an accident befalls the matron, one of the sisters reluctantly agrees to oversee the camp."

For science fiction/fantasy, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It's REALLY hard to describe this sword and sorcery debut set in an interstellar empire - PW calls it "madcap", but I read the first chapters at and immediately pre-ordered it from one of my local indy bookstores. Crazy good writing.

My final choice, a thriller, isn't coming out until December, but it sounds so much my cup of tea I'm including it here: Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison. says, "The Goode School is an Ivy League boarding school – with only the most elite students – until a stranger shows up and things go from Goode to bad (see what I did there?). In a school where people can’t be bothered to turn their heads or question anything about the evil of some of these students, everything comes to a head when a popular student is found dead…. possibly due to a dark secret." JT, if you read this, send me an ARC!!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am on book tour, so lots of flight time, but I need to use the to finish MY new book! Still, you cannot work all the time, right? So I am reading the crazy THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin, which is a locked room thriller that absolutely should not work but it absolutely does! I have to keep tearing myself away from it.  I know I should read THE WHISPER MAN, such a fabulous cover, but it sounds so scary. And eager to get started on TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware.  I powered through THIRTEEN (The serial killer is not on trial, he's on the jury, so says the cover). Another book that should not have worked, but did. And THE CHAIN! Shaking head. How do they do this? 

RHYS BOWEN: I have just concluded my book tour, while juggling page proofs of my next book and keeping up my writing requirement for the WIP. So... Not much time for reading. I have just read a stellar Book of WW2 Amsterdam called House on Endless Waters. I'm dying to find time to start Louise Penny's new book. Actually I'm dying to find time to sit and read!

JENN McKINLAY: I belong to a plot group with two insanely talented writers and very dear friends. Because we plot together -- shenanigans and mayhem, as you do -- I get to see the inner workings of their writing and marvel at how they take the random suggestions we throw at each other and then deliver them in twisty turny, compelling mysteries. Both of my partners have books coming out that I am just giddy about. Paige Shelton's THIN ICE, a suspenseful mystery set in Alaska, and the latest offering in Kate Carlisle's ever brilliant series Fixer Upper Seris, SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH. Trust me, these are two books you don't want to miss!

LUCY: Jenn, you’ve talked about your plot group before—I am lime green with envy!

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm just back from teaching at Book Passage's annual conference for mystery writers where I moderated a panel on creating a main character. There were four authors on the panel, each a fantastic mystery writer, and I went back and found the first time each had put their protagonist on the page. At the conference, they read it aloud and (tried to!) remember why they'd introduced their character in that particular way. One of the authors on the panel was Elizabeth George, and the book where she introduces Lynley and Havers is A Great Deliverance. Well, I could not stop reading. I read the entire book in two days. No wonder that series is such a success.

LUCY: That sounds like an amazing conference panel, Hallie. Such a smart way to run it!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am all caught up on my fellow Reds fabulous books--such a reading feast! Next up for me is the ARC of Charles Todd's new Bess Crawford, A CRUEL DECEPTION, and I can't wait to dive in. And here are the top four below it on my nightstand: THE HEART'S INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne (recommended by our JRW friend Ann Mason), THE SPIES OF SHILLING LANE by Jennifer Ryan, MEET ME IN MONACO by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, and THE PARIS ARCHITECT by Charles Belfoure. Of course, no telling what I'll come across between now and then, or pull off my to-read shelves, or my Kindle. I enjoyed Kate Atkinson's BIG SKY so much that I want to go back and catch up on the Jackson Brodie novels I haven't read.

Okay Reds, your turn! What are you reading?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Movies about Retirement @topretirements @LucyBurdette

Terrific blog in a second. but first:

BREAKING NEWS: TRUST ME  is $1.99! by Red Hank's psychological thriller was on all the best-of lists as one of the year's buzziest books--the starred review from Booklist said: "A knockout." Anyway! May we say: grab it now? Here's the link
And now back to our regular programming!

John and Lucy at Marigold Hotel
LUCY BURDETTE: I’m super-excited about today’s guest too—and not just because I’m married to him! When my husband John Brady retired from his regular job 13 years ago, he decided to try building an Internet-based website. He had the smart idea of helping Baby Boomers figure out their best place to retire. has grown to feature reviews of 4000 towns communities, and a weekly newsletter, free to subscribers. His articles are about all aspects of retirement from the serious - when to take Social Security and how to test your social security IQ or how to survive if you haven't saved enough money - to the whimsical - worst places to retire, bucket list items, and the seven deadly sins of retirement. (PS from Lucy, I won't ever forget the day I answered his phone and it was the office of the Governor of Illinois--unhappy that the state ended up on his "worst" list.) Today I invited him to share one of his favorite topics. Welcome John!

John Brady (aka Mr. TopRetirements): Coming of age movies like The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, and 2001: Space Odyssey became cultural icons for us baby boomers, back in the day. Producers of these blockbusters found huge audiences among our generation. Hollywood is still making movies for us today. Many aspects of the plots and characters are the same (love and loneliness, finding yourself), everybody is just a lot older! 

Here are my top 10 movies (including one TV series) for baby boomers that touch on the topic of retirement. I hope that you will add your favorites too. I started the list with more recent movies, then go on to some oldies but goodies. Most are classics, definitely worth watching again.

The Leisure Seeker. (2018) Academy Award winner Helen Mirren and two-time Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland star as a runaway couple going on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker. Their destination? Key West, and the Ernest Hemingway House. (Note from Lucy: We were so excited to see one of my writer pals featured as a guide in the Hemingway Home!)

The Quartet (2012) Once-popular opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) creates a stir with her arrival at Beecham House, a home for retired performers. No one feels the uproar more than Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Jean’s ex-husband, who still smarts from her long-ago infidelity.

Cocoon (1985). An all star cast includes top-drawer stars like Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn. Fabulous story of people in a retirement home who discover a fountain of youth – courtesy of aliens who have invaded a swimming pool. Directed by Ron Howard

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011). Great cast of retired Englishmen and women seeking a retirement haven at an Indian Hotel that is a little short of what it promised. Love and loss. Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith. The sequel is The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In Her Shoes (2005) Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine). Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner, a lost adult daughter comes to live with her mother in a Florida retirement community. She definitely livens things up for the old guys as she finds herself. Meanwhile her relationships with her mother, sister, and grandmother go in many different directions.

The Bucket List (2007) Old guys out for some last kicks before one of them, terminally ill, checks out. The Bucket List is a 2007 American comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner, produced by Reiner, Alan Greisman, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, written by Justin Zackham, and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Under the Tuscan Sun is a 2003 American romantic comedy drama film written, produced, and directed by Audrey Wells and starring Diane Lane. Based on Frances Mayes’ 1996 memoir of the same name, the film is about a recently divorced writer who buys a villa in Tuscany on a whim, hoping it will lead to a change in her life.

Grumpy Old Men (1993). Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau are a pair of widowers who live lonely lives but enjoy some activities together. The character played by a beautiful Ann-Margret revs up jealousy between them. Darryl Hannah and an IRS Agent enrich the plot.

Mr. Belevedere Rings the Bell (1951). An urbane, sharp-tongued expert (Clifton Web) on how to stay young interrupts a lecturing tour to prove his theory at a dilapidated old people’s home. We haven’t seen this one but our movie expert friend Deb said: “I highly recommend Mr Belvedere Rings the Bell. It is much of a mindset on retirement years. I saw it when I was 15 and it made a huge impression on me”.

Grace and Frankie (TV). Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are newly divorced, and their ex-husbands are a new couple. Funny and pithy in LA and Malibu. Netflix. There are at least 5 seasons.

What are your favorite movies that have some kind of retirement theme? (And another PS from Lucy, John is happy to answer any of your questions about retirement today, too.)

And you can sign up for TopRetirements free weekly newsletter here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

ANN CLEEVES Visits the Reds!

LUCY BURDETTE: Reds, I cannot tell you how excited I am to introduce today's guest. Ann Cleeves is the author of 8 Jimmy Perez Shetland books, plus eight Vera Stanhope novels, among others. She has a new series debuting next month with A LONG CALL. She won the CWA dagger award for Raven Black, and has had two series developed for television. Ann, we are rabid fans of your work and so very happy to have you here!

LUCY: I am a huge fan of the Shetland series and just finished Raven Black, which I read after all the others. Jimmy Perez’s life changed so much over the course of his series. How much of that arc had you imagined when you were writing Raven Black?

ANN: I didn’t have any of the story arc planned when I was writing Raven Black.  I thought it would be a single, stand-alone novel.  The theme of the book is about belonging and the outsider, kindness and inclusion.  That’s why Jimmy Perez is such a contradiction; he belongs, but not quite.  He’s a Shetlander, but he comes from Fair Isle, the most remote inhabited island in the group and a place most Shetlanders have never visited.  His family has lived in the islands for generations, but he has a Spanish name and a Mediterranean appearance.  When she first read the book, my editor was clear that it would be a stand-alone novel – it would stretch credibility to have more than one murder in a place with a population of just 23,000 – then it sold more copies than anything else I’d written and we agreed it would run to a short series.  Wild Fire, recently published in the US in paperback, is the eighth and last.

LUCY: I’m sad about the series ending with Wild Fire though I won’t argue with your decision! I would love to hear what went into the decision to let Jimmy and Willow go off without a bunch of readers watching their every move?

ANN: I knew that Wild Fire would be the last book, though I’m hoping that there might be more TV series.  I never plot in advance, so when I started writing, there was even a possibility that I would kill Jimmy Perez!  I understood a little about Willow’s situation, because that was fore-shadowed in the previous book, Cold Earth.  I wanted an ending that would be a little ambiguous, and would mark a new beginning in the lives of both central characters.

LUCY: Now Vera...she seems to experience less internal growth than Jimmy--maybe this is because she doesn't experience the dramatic life events that Jimmy Perez did. Was this an intentional choice? 

ANN: I think Vera’s character was formed early in the events of childhood, and though we learn more about that during the books, back story is harder to do in the TV drama.  I think the scriptwriter did a great job of explaining her past in the adaptation of The Seagull.  Vera grew up without a mother, raised by a father grieving for the woman he adored and resenting the burden of a child, especially a daughter.  By the time we meet her, you’re right, she knows who she is and what she needs: her work, her team and her house in the hills.  Definitely not a man!  When we meet Jimmy Perez, he’s on the brink of a new life back in Shetland, and we travel with him through the good times and the bad.

 LUCY: You use multiple points of view and seem to know many characters very well. How do you choose which character tells which part of the story?

ANN: I love writing from multiple view points.  The joy of writing is to see the world through another person’s eyes – and that’s the joy of reading too of course.  Again, the choice of POV is instinctive.  The returning characters always get a voice, and then I choose one or two others to help tell the story.  They grow in the writing and aren’t very much planned in advance.

LUCY: Some of the Reds have managed to snag an advance copy of the new book but I and many others are waiting until September. Can you give us a little preview of what’s coming?

ANN: In The Long Call, I return to my home county of North Devon.  I had a wonderfully happy childhood there and still have friends living in the largest town, Barnstaple. It’s an interesting region, beautiful, but quite isolated.  It pulls in holiday makers, but also transient seasonal workers, drifters, and there’s a lot of rural poverty.  My new series character Matthew Venn grew up in a fictional enclosed, rather blinkered religious community called the Barum Brethren.  When he lost his faith, his world crumbled and he found order again by becoming a police officer.  The book starts with him standing outside the chapel where his father’s funeral service is taking place, feeling unable to join in.  Then of course, he gets the call that a body has been found…

Photo: © Ph Matsas / Opale
LUCY: Who has inspired your work, and along that same line, what do you like to read?

ANN: My reading passion is crime fiction in translation.  I love the sense of vicarious travel.  I believe we have a sense of a culture’s preoccupations when we read its popular fiction and that at a time when we seem pulled to extremes, we need that insight and understanding.

Ann, thanks so very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Reds, Ann will be stopping by to answer questions and comments, if Blogger cooperates! And you can read more about Ann and her books on her website and twitter and facebook, and buy her books wherever books are sold.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Great food writing moments @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE:  I finished the draft of The Key Lime Crime two weeks ago and sent it in--always a wonderful moment! I know I will have revising to do and I knew ahead of time that there were a few things that needed to be tweaked or added, including a few of the quotes that I use at the beginning of each chapter. I’m not sure why or how I got launched this custom, but as I think about a story for food critic mystery number 11, there’s no turning back. 

In the first book, I used quotes that could be easily brought up by a Google search or a call for help on Facebook. I started with more standard citations that would be familiar to many people, for example Miss Piggy’s famous “don’t eat more than you can lift.” But then the more I read, the more possibilities I found. I tried to tailor each quote to fit the action and the characters in each chapter–foreshadow what’s to come in many cases. And I came across gems like this one from Dwight Garner: “It is possible to imagine him having a small meal of minor critics for breakfast, as if they were kippers…” 

Since then, I’ve been looking for foodie references in everything I read. Some of the novels and articles are about food, so it should be pretty easy to find meaningful quotes on their pages. But I’m noticing that not everybody either wants to or can write about food in more than a surface manner. And some folks who are not food writers at all, knock my socks off  with the way they use food/eating references to develop character and tension. Let’s face it, even if food references were strictly about food, I’d love them. But I love food references even more when they have a deeper meaning.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorites…

The stainless steel kettle reminds me of Claire: polished to a gleam on the outside, boiling within. Ann Mah, Kitchen Chinese

But up front, next to the desk where the hosts have mastered the art of checking reservations without making eye contact, is a café/wine bar. A glass case there serves as a temporary prison for aging pastries and tragic snacks. Pete Wells, What if Brexit were a restaurant? The New York Times, December 19, 2018

When I write about a line cook’s bad night, it’s not just about a bad night, it’s about not being good enough, period, about personal shame and failure. Michael Ruhlman

He was holding the cardboard cup in his vest and she thought the tension would make him squeeze it and spill the tea all over the table. Ann Cleeves, Wild Fire

Then she also read Sirine’s coffee grounds and said she could see the signs written in the black coffee traces along the milky porcelain: sharp knife, quick hands, white apron, and the sadness of a chef. “Chefs know—nothing lasts,” she told Sirine. “In the mouth, then gone.” Diana Abu-Jaber, Crescent

The soup course was a clear lemony broth dotted with parsley and scrolls of spring onion. It filled the air with a sunny fragrance, and I thought the cook was a genius to make such a dish on so dark a day. Barbara O’Neal, The Art of Inheriting Secrets

You think someone killed her to keep her quiet? Vera licked her fingers to pick up the crumbs from her plate and the surrounding table. Ann Cleeves, Silent Voices

His voice, as one fan wrote in a YouTube comment, sounds like what melted chocolate tastes like. Maureen Dowd, Tom Ford, Fragrant Vegan Vampire. The New York Times, April 20, 2019

But keeping people active at a wake was essential. Being busy, like working, allayed grief. By splitting cakes and heaping on berries and cream, the mourners could start to get their minds off death. Diane Mott Davidson, Catering to Nobody

I love you, Elizabeth said, and I started to cry. In the oven, the chocolate soufflé began to burn. Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Language of Flowers

Mr. Scott was a pale, thin man. A stick of forced rhubarb said Sally’s mother, who had seen him at a parents meeting. Ann Cleeves, Raven Black

Do you notice food references as you read? any that you remember especially enjoying?

And ps, there's a hint in the above list about tomorrow's guest...I bet you mystery and thriller aficionados can figure it out...

Monday, August 26, 2019

On Nitpicks

LUCY BURDETTE: There is no doubt that we have some major, major problems in our country and our world—toxic politics, global warming, human rights…it’s easy to get discouraged. Those big things we can only chip away at. I have a few small gripes to pick with the Universe--nothing major, just things that make me say really?? Can’t someone fix that?

First is tags on clothing. What does this mean, can anyone tell me? why can't they simply say, machine wash cold, low dryer?? (Not that this is what they are saying here--for one thing, the symbols are so small...who could possibly read this? And for another, it’s in Chinese, isn’t it?)

Second is my dictation program. We've known each other a long time and it still can't get my names right? Case in point, I ended a recent email with xo Roberta. It came out xo your burger. forget the Isleib part--I know the thing won't even try that. And Lucy Burdette often comes out Lucy forgets or Lucy Bernadette or most recently, “They’re super dad.” Say what?

RHYS BOWEN: Having just returned from a book tour with one flight per day I've several things that drive me bonkers including people who stroll through the terminal at a snail's pace, dragging their luggage, on their phone and not looking where they are going. Or bring smelly food on board. Or let their kids kick my seat, fight or yell. Also people who talk loudly on their phones in public places, like in the Safeway checkout line ahead of me.

And Lucy, I was once sending a message to a professor saying "see you tomorrow' and auto correct said "See you, you moron."

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I don't use dictation for writing YET - probably headed that way, though - but my voice-to-text does the same thing and it makes me crazy. I have friends whose last name is Shambaugh, and despite using that name at least 50 times in the last three years I've had this phone, it still transliterates them to Sham Wow. Is the cleaning goods company paying off AT&T for product placement? Inquiring minds want to know.

Okay, I've got a nitpick that may be specific to my area - the rest of you will have to tell me if you've seen it, too. Every summer Portland hosts a wonderful chamber music festival, with amazing musicians from all over the country. The performances take place at Hanneford Hall in the University of Maine, a lovely mid-sized hall with a soaring, light and art-filled lobby. It's a bargain for classical music, about half the price of a Portland Symphony concert, but not, you know, cheap. Or free. But every evening I attended, I saw men there dressed like they were making a run to the transfer station. Tees, shorts, grubby sneakers, untucked shirts. Musicians: Long dresses or black suits. Women in the audience: attractive summer evening wear. Men: Slobs.

And these weren't college-age guys who might not know better. These were mature, gray-haired men. Now, Maine is a very casual place, by and large, and I certainly wouldn't expect anyone to put on a suit on a pleasant August evening. But really, how hard is it to tuck a collared shirt into a pair of clean khakis? The musicians are giving the very best they have; don't sit there looking like you just came inside from mowing the yard.

HALLIE EPHRON: Picking up on clothing tags, my nit is clothing tags. The ones that are stitched into the inside back using what seems more like industrial strength plastic fishing line than thread. Wear it and the pointy plastic ends dig into your skin. You can cut off the tag but just try to remove that filament or whatever it is and you end up with holes in the fabric. Seems like more and more garments now have that label information simply stamped on the inside. So much more sensible.

I'd add purist corn-shuckers. My Stop 'n' Shop frequently sells corn ridiculously cheap, and they have ears of it piled in a big bin with an empty bin alongside so you can shuck your corn right there in the store. It's a lovely convenience. Except for the people who shuck an ear and turn their noses up at a tiny bit of flattened corn kernels and toss it back in the bin. Fussy entitlement, if you ask me.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I will tell you exactly! You know those things you get in the mail, envelopes, that you have to peel off the perforations on each side first, or something, and then bend the top, or something, and then you open it, somehow. I can never ever do those. Never!

Sometimes they have checks in them, so you can’t just toss them, but I don’t understand why they have to make them so hard. They are impossible. 
This morning, I tried to park parallel park in a curved space. Forget about it.
And last night at dinner, I honestly ripped the label out of my sweater. It was stabbing me, mercilessly, between the shoulder blades and I had just had it. YANK.

Plus, one ply toilet tissue. Should be banned. You have to use much much more.

shopping cart by bestaiassistant
Oh, and I am horrible about counting the number of items in the person's cart in the "eight items or less" express lane in front of me . (Whole Foods says "eight items or fewer, which I love." But listen, bub, eight means EIGHT. And eight cans of tuna counts as eight things.

DIctation? Its a landmine. I love it, and use it constantly, so muchI hardly type emails any more. but you have to proofread!  Two faves. Once I emailed my editor: I hope you are enthusiastic. And it typed: I hope you are a doozy Aztec.  
I also dictated: I will send you the acknowledgments later.  And it typed: I will send you the knowledge mints later. 

I am still hoping for those mints. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So I'm standing on my front porch, and this person drives down our street throwing junk advertising newspapers in our front yard. Not only do I have to walk out to the curb in 100 degree heat to pick it up, but I then have to recycle the paper AND the plastic bag. Separately. Does anyone ever look at those things? And I'm not even talking about the people who drive by on the main street and throw their litter in our front yard...

Another nitpick--being asked--no, nagged--to get an app for every single store where I shop!  I don't want a gazillion apps on my phone. And what if, for some unimaginable reason, I don't have my phone and need to buy something, or fill a prescription? And that leads me to--every single store asking for my email address. I don't want more emails, thank you very much. I'm usually nice enough to refuse politely, but sometimes I'm tempted to say, "Hell, no."

One more! I don't use dictation much, although I'm sure I should. But I usually use Gmail for my email, and the auto-type drives me nuts. I swear I've got carpal tunnel syndrome just from back-spacing. I don't need help to write a sentence!

JENN McKINLAY: Nitpicks. How much time do you have? My number one is turn signals. Why can't people use their blinkers? You're not giving information to the enemy, people! 

Also, the ticker tape that comes out of the receipt printer at the pharmacy. I bought three things - THREE - why is my receipt three and half yards long? What am I supposed to do with this? It's a waste of paper, ink, and my time. Grrr.

How about you Red readers? Any nitpicks you'd like us to address?

Lastly, here are our events, giveaways, etc., happening now:

JENN: We are in the final days of my publisher's Goodreads Giveaway - 15 copies of WORD TO THE WISE are up for grabs!

JULIA: You have six more days to get the first book in the Clare Fergusson/ Russ Van Alstyne series is on sale for only $2.99! Kindle: iBooks:  

Want a trade paper copy instead? Enter the Goodreads giveaway, also running until the end of August. 25 copies are up for grabs.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Rhys on slaving away

RHYS BOWEN: part of my traveling this summer was research for next year's book. It will be set in Venice so of course I had to go there. Research, you know. Making sure I get everything right. Suffering for my craft.

Actually I work quite hard when I am researching. I know in advance what I need to find out. In this case I was very familiar with Venice having spent time there as a teenager. My parents used to rent a little villa in Treviso, on the mainland, drive across the causeway, park and give my brother and me some money,  "See you at five o'clock," they say and we had the day to explore.

How perfect that Venice never really changes. Some of the old shops are still there...the marbled paper shop, the fountain pen shop, the old tea rooms. 
I needed to find out about Venice in the 1930s so I headed for the famous library, part of the museum in St Mark's Square. Saying you are an author opens magical doors. I found myself in a small room with 2 friendly librarians bringing me books... And books.  And more books. All in Italian , of course.
I Understand quite well but a few hours of concentration made me go goggle eyed. So I started taking pictures of all the relevant pages.

Next I needed to choose a building that would overlook the shipping channel and had a top floor terrace. Riding around on the #2 vaporetto route helped with that.
And as for an old palazzo interior: our hotel was just what I required.

Of course there was the necessary viewing of art, the Bienale art exhibit, gelato tasting, Frito Misto on a dockside cafe and just having a coffee where life ( non tourist life) is going on. And lots of pictures. There are some things you can only get from being there. Venice is a city of birds, swallow making tiny Maltese crosses in the sky, seagulls shriek and swoop, pigeons flap. And a city of bells, tolling at odd hours on odd days so the air is often ringing with sound. And so many fascinating buildings. Did you know that this stairway was built so that a man could ride his horse up to the top floor?

One of my favorite places on Earth. And now I get to write about it.  How lucky is that?

So how do you do your research, especially if the story is set in the past? Is it important that you visit in person before you write about a place?

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Rhys with Thoughts on Travel

RHYS BOWEN: I’ve just returned from a lot of traveling. I was six weeks in Europe, visiting England, Venice, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and France. And on returning home it was a ten city book tour, one city a day. Am I tired? Uh, yes.

And have I learned anything about how to make travel easier? The first thing for me is to upgrade to a better seat on an aircraft. I don’t need first class for short haul flights but I do need legroom and to be off that plane first. So when I get my itinerary I always rush to upgrade to the front rows. Worth every penny. (and on long hauls, yes, I splurge and get a bed I can sleep on).

But other things that make life a little easier: pack as light as possible. I went around Europe with one fairly small suitcase. And it is billed as the lightest suitcase in the world. Just 4 pounds.
Almost everything I took could be washed in a hotel sink and dried overnight. So my standard go-to wardrobe for travel is:
4 pairs of travel underwear, the kind that will dry perfectly overnight.
One silk shift to sleep in, long enough so I can face people and look decent without taking a robe.
One short sleeved white T shirt and one white tank top that can be washed in the hotel sink. Preferably Coolmax to wick away perspiration.
One long sleeved white ditto.
A long sleeved travel shirt from Travelsmith that can double as light jacket.
Long navy cardigan. Loose navy pants for sleeping in aircraft.
Light beige pants.
Navy and white long skirt. Navy and white short dress (both of T shirt material)
One light fancy jacket for evenings etc.
Scarf/pashmina for cold flights or evenings at a restaurant.
Super comfortable light sneakers. Ecco Walking sandals and Ecco fancy sandals for evenings etc.
And that’s it. Swimsuit in case the hotel has a pool. A stylish silk scarf or couple of pieces of jewelry and I have enough permutations to keep me going for ages.

Of course on a book tour it’s different. I have to look good every day. And I have to remember what I wore to certain stores the year before. There is nothing more embarrassing than someone handing me a photo she took of us last year or the year before and…. I’m wearing the same jacket.  I also know that I’ll have time to iron things in hotel room.

Other things I take when traveling abroad. A tiny/mini hair dryer because not all hotels have them. And a tiny pillow for aircraft and to put between my knees when I sleep.  It squishes to nothing in one of those packing cubes that are brilliant. All of my T shirts/skirt/dress and undies get rolled in one of those cubes. Shoes and tiny pillow in another. Good jacket and slacks on top.
I pack all my toiletries in ziplock bags rather than a big toilet bag because these are easy to stuff into shoes etc if I put them in the big suitcase and ready to remove for TSA if I don’t.

I have a super-light carry on bag with zillions of pockets for charger/ phone/earbuds/cosmetic bag etc.  Of course this could present a problem, as I confess with a red face. At Heathrow my bag was taken aside. “You have liquids in this,” said the man.
I replied hotly that I never had liquids in my carry on and that I had traveled through numerous airports with this bag.  He found a tiny bottle of foundation and made a fuss about that while I pointed out that if you turned it upside down it didn’t budge, thus not being a liquid.  He took it out and sent the bag back through the scanner. Still liquid. He went through every pocket until at last he fished into a pocket I hadn’t even noticed and in triumph brought out a bottle of orange soda. Imagine my embarrassment. It must have been there for weeks, since one of my train journeys and I had no idea!
So maybe you can have a bag with too many clever pockets!

And traveling domestically I always take a little bag of granola bar, nuts, Baby Bell cheese, just
One final thing I learned on this trip that is brilliant. Carry in purse a list of vital phone numbers. Make them say “Husband John. Daughter Jane etc. And a list of hotels where you will be staying.
Someone said to me “What if you collapsed on the street? They’d look in your phone and see “John. Jane etc” but they wouldn’t know who they were and who to call.

Also a tip I have learned for book tours when I’m in a different hotel every night. Take a picture of my hotel room door. Otherwise I get home, tired, and can’t remember the room number! If you’re a nervous traveler you can buy a tiny wedge to put under the door so no one can get in.

Lastly: there are stores everywhere. Buy a tiny toothpaste. When it’s done buy another one. Saving weight is the most important thing for me.
So what clever travel tips do you want to share?

Friday, August 23, 2019

Words We didn't know!

Writing about the past I have to continually remind myself that people had much bigger vocabularies. They spoke in long, full sentences. My great aunt would never have said “You know” or “like” or described something as “that thing”. They rarely used contractions. I will, not I’ll. I cannot, not I can’t. They read extensively and they used all those words when they spoke. I suppose they had more time. Their lives weren’t as rushed.
I have always considered that I am an educated person and I have a good vocabulary. However I’ve noticed it shrinking recently. Where did I put that thing? John asks. What thing? You know, that thing we brought back from thewhatsit store.  We’ll be down to caveman grunts soon!

So….I have recently subscribed to something called Word Genius. It gives me a new word of the day and I’m embarrassed to say that so far I have known none of them!
Here are some from the past few days:
Esurient.  Do you know what it means? Ten points if you do. It means hungry.
Lambent.   It means glowing softly.
Otiose.  It means useless, pointless.
Gibbous. It means convex, bulgy. A gibbous moon.
Sobriquet… this I was familiar with but don’t think I had ever used it in conversation. It means a familiar form of ones name or a nickname. Lady Georgiana’s sobriquet is Georgie and her brother’s is Binky.
(Actually after the first week I have known most of them so I'm not quite as hopeless as I thought)

I have been surprised throughout my life that I have come across new words to me and have had to add them to my vocabulary. I didn’t know what Nemesis was until I read Agatha Christie.
I knew about zenith but didn’t realize its opposite was a nadir.
Juggernaut was outside my vocabulary until large trucks in England were referred to by that name.
And an ombudsman? What the heck was that when I first read of it in the newspaper. But where on earth did it come from?
Then there are words that I’m always confused about because they sound like the opposite of what they really mean:
Bucolic.  Doesn’t that sound like something nasty? A disease? And yet it means an idyllic country setting, doesn’t it?
Sanguine: another word that sounds nasty. Something to do with a vampire!

So DEAR REDS  do you have large vocabularies? Are you often coming across words you don’t know? And did you know the meaning of those words I shared from Word Genius?

JENN McKINLAY: Well, I thought my vocabulary was pretty good. I knew lambent and sobriquet, but otiose? That's a new one and I love it. So thank you for sharing that, Rhys! I'll try not to wear it out. My mother was a librarian so we were a wordy house. You could never just get a definition out of the woman. It was always a big production to go to the dictionary and look stuff up. Small wonder I became a librarian, too. Back when the NYT Book Review was a weighty insert worth an entire Sunday afternoon, I used to write down any words used in the articles that I didn't know. By the end of the year, I had quite the vocab list. And now I must be off to go sign up for Word Genius!

LUCY BURDETTE: We have the same conversation over and over Rhys. Do you know where that thing is? one of us asks. Use your nouns, John will often say. (Can you see me sticking my tongue out?) My theory is that we have so much stuffed into our heads by now that it takes a while for the brain to grind through and find the right word. But even so I'm going to check out Word Genius too...

HALLIE EPHRON: I frequently trip over unknown words in The New Yorker and in The New York Times. The Times has printed lists of their most frequently looked-up words. One year, the #1 most looked up word: panegyric. #2: immiscible. I don't know what either one means. Most of the rest of the words on their list I know: churlish, risible, anathema...  The word I most often think means the opposite of what it does: nonplussed. Also ingenuous.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Agrarian sounds like it shouldn't mean that, right? I think it should mean angry all the time. Riparian, too. It should be someone in the Rotary Club. I knew most of those Rhys, but I don't use them. (Except for sanguine, which I use all the time, weirdly.) They're like, available words, but I hardly take them out of the cabinet. Knowing them and using them are so different! And when a word sticks out, is that ..a good thing?   Noisome is a frustrating one--and enervate. They should just change the meanings. I found an old notebook I had from collage and I had kept a vocabulary list for myself. One of the exotic words was "ecology." Ah, times do change.

And the noun-loss disease? Seriously, I am so worried about it that I actively try to avoid it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys! I am now hooked on Word Genius! I played Daily Word until I got to one that completely stumped me--Resfeber! I did guess the correct answer, but it was only through process of elimination. Resfeber is the feeling of excitement before a trip or journey. Who knew? It's a Swedish word, because there is no English word that quite encapsulates the feeling. (There, I used a big word without thinking!) Seriously, English is such a rich and complex language. But I fear our collective vocabulary is shrinking every day. But I don't want to lose mine, and am constantly looking up words when I'm reading books or the newspapers. Shamefully, however, I have to admit that I seldom use a paper dictionary these days--it's so much easier to just type a word into the online one.

HANK: Even easier..I just yelled: 'Hey Alexa, what does immiscible mean?" And she said: "immiscible means the incapability of two things being mixed together."  Whoa.

RHYS: Alexa knows everything! Scary.

So now it's your turn. Do you find your vocabulary is shrinking? Do you find some words that are confusingly different from their meanings?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Lost Occupations of the 18th Century: a gust blog by Eleanor Kuhns

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Eleanor Kuhns and I have several things in common, which is always nice when you meet a new person. We're both winners of the the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award. (That never gets any shorter when typing it out,) I've published eight books, and Eleanor has just released her seventh, SIMPLY DEAD. (Since her first book, A SIMPLE MURDER, only came out in 2011, we can see she's made of sterner stuff than I am.) I live in Maine and write about upstate New York, Eleanor lives in upstate New York and writes about Maine. And both our series frequently features weather that can kill you.

There, we part ways, because weather conditions - and illness, and accidents, and childbirth - are so much more dangerous in "the Maine" in the 1790's, where Eleanor's excellent series featuring Will Rees, an itinerant weaver, is set.  I adore historical mysteries, and remain in awe of writers who put in the research time such work requires. One such area of research, as Eleanor explains today, is occupation: what did people do in the late 18th century, and how can a skilled author use them when spinning her tale?

In the Will Rees mystery series, I regularly use several recurring elements. The Shakers, or The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, is one that I return to over and over. I also usually incorporate a disease; they were, of course, much more likely to be fatal in an era before antibiotics.

But the one feature I always include is an occupation from that time period, a different one for every book. People made things then; they had to. And while some of the professions are still around, (think bricklayer or blacksmith), many of the old trades have disappeared.

One of the trades I examine in Cradle to Grave, the third Will Rees mystery, is coopering. Coopering was truly a skilled craft and required a long apprenticeship. In the days before plastic or even metal bins, barrels carried everything. The staves were formed by hand tools and sweated together to make a water proof seal. Before iron bands were used, the hoops were made of wood. In Simply Dead I describe the tools and the process for hoop making.

In Death in Salem, where sailing (either on the merchant ships or on the whale ships) was the number one career, I devote a few paragraphs to rope making and sail making. To construct the thick ropes necessary for the sailing ships, for example, the strands of fiber – either cotton or hemp- were twisted together as the rope maker walked the length of the ropewalk. The building was at least 80 yards (240 feet) long but could be as long as 240 yards (720 feet). The rope maker or his apprentice walked this distance over and over, every day, to make the thick and heavy rope cables required by the ships. (They probably reached 10,000 steps in the first hour.) And the heavy canvas sails for these ships had to be hand sewn.

The kitchen crafts were no less complicated. Take butter. It seems simple enough. Most of us have an image in our minds of a butter churn. But this was not the end of the process. After the butter ‘came’, it was washed and a butter worker, a kind of wooden paddle, was rolled over and over the butter until all the buttermilk had been removed. If this step wasn’t done properly, the butter would quickly go rancid. The butter then had to be salted for storage and crammed into crocks. Besides the churn, at least five other pieces of equipment were required.

Cheese making was an even more demanding job. The milk is heated and when it has reached exactly the right temperature rennet is added. (Rennet is from a cow’s stomach.) Once the milk curdles, the curds are cut into cubes. When they reach the right level of acidity, the whey is poured off. Besides feeding the pigs, whey was used for paint and washing floors.

Every bowl, every strainer, every vat had to be scrupulously clean. To be considered an expert at butter or cheese making, as Rees’s wife is, would be high praise.

Rees himself has a career that was already disappearing. He is a traveling weaver. With the opening up of China and India, and the imported fabrics from the latter especially, women were abandoning spinning and weaving for purchased cloth. The opening of the textile factories in Lowell, Mass in 1816 sounded the death knell for weavers and spinners. Oh, in some parts of the country, particularly the south, hand weaving and spinning hung on. Although there are still weavers and spinners now, it is a hobby instead of a livelihood.

So far, all of the above professions are somewhat familiar to the modern person, even if individually we no longer practice them. But what about those occupations that are no longer practiced or even remembered? What is coppicing? (Answer: A method of woodland management that takes advantage of the tendency of a tree that, when cut, will send out new growth. Once allowed to grow to maturity, these new trunks are cut, and the process begins again.) Or a bodger? (Answer: A chair bodger would purchase a stand of trees, fell just the right ones, and use the wood for chair legs or braces.) Other recognized jobs involved making ladders, rakes, brooms. The Shakers are credited with inventing the modern flat broom, the sales of which became a major source of income because it was so much more effective than the round one.

The inclusion of these past occupations add color to the setting. But the most important reason I include them is to honor these craftspeople who built the world with their hands.

JULIA: Dear readers, what are the occupations long gone that fascinate you?  Would you be a carder, or a bookbinder, or a chandler? A coachman or a mantuamaker? And what do you think are the jobs of today that will disappear into the mists of time?

About SIMPLY DEAD: 1790s, Maine. In the depths of winter Hortense, a midwife, disappears after attending a birth in the woodlands. During the search Will Rees finds her struggling through the snow and woods without shoes or a coat. 

After two young men begin stalking the community in search of her – including targeting Rees’s own family – she is questioned further and claims she was kidnapped . . . but Rees and his wife Lydia are suspicious. It is agreed Hortense’s presence is endangering everyone’s safety and she needs to leave. As the arrangements are made she is hidden in Zion, the local Shaker community, only while there a Shaker Sister is murdered. Witnesses describe a man fitting Josiah Wooten’s description, a ferocious man living in the woods with two young sons.
What is the truth behind Hortense's disappearance, and who is responsible for the death of the Shaker Sister?

You can find out more about Eleanor Kuhns at her website, and read excerpts from the Will Rees series at Macmillan. You can friend Eleanor on Facebook and follow her on Twitter as @EleanorKuhns.