Thursday, July 2, 2020

What We're Writing--Hank in the Middle

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I’ve been here before, Reds and readers, I have been here 12 times. The first time I had no idea what I was getting in for, and simply powered ahead, blithely a newbie, having no idea how difficult it was to write a book.

By book two, I realized the middle of the manuscript was a morass of hideous quicksand, an impossible journey, a slog, a step-by-step, inch by inch, crawl through the unknown.

You know by now that I do not outline, as much as, every single time, I wish I was adult enough to do so. But I do not know what happens next to my books, not until the next sentence and the next chapter in the next paragraph.

USA Today Bestseller--now in MASS MARKET PB!
When I am finished, somehow my brain has Rubik's cubed all the puzzle pieces and put them into a coherent and even, sometimes, entertaining order, and it’s all fine. But sisters, along the way, it is very difficult.

I try to look at it  as 1000 words at a time. I say the mantra: just keep going just keep going just keep going.

And I heard a wonderful author last night say that the key was to write without fear. I was so touched by that! It’s very easy, during a first draft, to criticize yourself at every decision. Every word. Thinking – – as I do so often – – this is absolutely terrible! I don’t even know what a sentence is, I don’t even know what a word is! How did I even ever do this before? And then I try to laugh, because I know this is what happens every time.

You know my upcoming book, THE FIRST TO LIE, just got a star from Publishers Weekly. (Whoo hoo!)  Well, I will confess, only to you, that there were many days, and I mean many, where I thought this book just isn’t going to work. It doesn’t make any sense, I don’t have it, it’s bad bad bad, maybe I should just give up. But of course, I couldn’t, because everyone at the publisher was waiting for it.

I also keep a writing journal, just a couple of lines every day.  I  am gratified and embarrassed to say that every journal, 13 in a row, start the same way:  "Day one. I have no idea."

And somehow, something happens and then something else happens and then something else happens. And then I got the PW star. 

(So I was wrong. But! Now I fear that’s the last time that’s going to happen.)

The other things that seem to recur at the stage is that I write a lot of things that I know will be cut. And that is kind of powerful. Even reassuring. Sometimes it is just me looking for the story, and I know it will get deleted. It will have been instructive to me, but not necessary to the book.

I have a problematic character in the book that's coming next. She is a 1999 college girl, smitten with her professor. Yes, I know this is inappropriate, but in 1999, a certain kind of  18-year-old might’ve felt that way, mightn't she? The same way she’d have had a crush on a rock star, or a movie star, or some other fantasy. She’s not exactly self-actualized, let me say that off the bat.

So, her personality evolves. Here’s a little bit of what she's like right now. Don’t hold me to this! It will be fascinating, I hope, to see how this changes in a month or two, to see how Cassie behaves and what she decides. 

At the beginning of the book, which takes place 20 years after this scene, Cassie is gone. Vanished. Missing. Where did she go? (And of course I have no idea.)

But here’s a tiny bit of the Cassie that exists in the first draft of the first draft of the first draft.  

HANK'S WIP Chapter 10

Cassie couldn’t wait. She would see him in fifteen minutes. She felt the warm mid-morning sun wrap her in its October glow as she hurried up the cobblestone walk to Wharton Hall, a classically imposing gray stone behemoth at the edge of Berwick Green. Okay, so like, she was wrong, she’d been wrong that college was going to suck. Her mom had insisted it’d be wonderful, that night before leaving for school. But Cassie—and she had to admit she carried a dark lump of embarrassment inside her about it about it now--had thrown a huge fit in her bedroom, and refused to leave home. She’d even picked up two corners of her new black suitcase, tipped everything out onto her pink and white bedspread, and slammed the empty thing closed.
         Pooch had yelped, barking, thinking he needed to protect her. When Cassie was angry, Pooch got scared. Smart dog.
“Come ‘ere, Pooch,” Mom patted her knee, quieting him, but stayed, posture ballerina-elegant as always, in the hunter green chair in the corner, her gray-edged hair twisted into a messy bun. Pooch whuffled into mom’s knee, traitor that he was. Stupid dog.
“Cass, honey, is there something you’re trying to tell me?” Mom’s voice had that quiet edge she used when she was trying to stay calm.
But she didn’t have to be so sarcastic about it. Yeah, there was something she was more than trying to say. She was saying it.
“I can get a job,” Cassie had insisted. She’d also seen Lily trying to hide outside her bedroom door, as if Cassie didn’t know she was eavesdropping like crazy, like she always did, on everything Cassie did and said and planned, and that made her even angrier. Lily, what a complete dork, and totally got all the attention because she was younger and needier and missed her father so deeply much. As if Cassie didn’t miss him, too. In a way.
“I don’t need stupid college. I can be a model, everyone says so, and that’ll be easy and awesome.  I’ll be like the new face of Y2K. Or—something.” So maybe that was overreaching. But she’d plowed ahead, concocting her plans as she said the words out loud. “I’ll, like, take the bus to New York and find an apartment, and—send you all the money.”  She’d paused, watching her mom’s face. Gauging to see whether she was buying into this scenario.
“Whenever you’re finished,” her mom had a fake little smile pasted on her face, a smile that meant whatever, “you can pack these things back up and we’ll finish loading the car.”
They’d glared at each other,  a standoff, Cassie in cut offs and a plaid flannel, her mom in jeans and one of Dad’s old shirts, which always made Cassie sad. She didn’t understand why mom would insist on wearing dad’s clothes.  It was hard enough that he was gone without having to see his stuff all the time. Mom should have gotten rid of it, long ago. Started totally over.
Memories were toxic, Cassie knew. You could learn lessons from the past, and she did, but then hoarding all those bygones would only make your brain more crowded.  Memories were sadness, and regret, and replaying bad things. She’d become a trained  surgeon with her own memories, removing everything she didn’t need. Tossing it.
“Can I have her room?” Lily had edged into the doorway, wearing dumb sneakers about fifty times bigger than her feet.
“Shut up,” Cassie said. As if everything wasn’t upended enough. Ended enough. Her dad would never have let this happen. But how did it happen? When did she change? Like, overnight? All though senior year she’d craved going to college. On her own, meeting real people, smarter people, no curfews, no rules, no “take your sister with you.”  She’d have her own place. Sort of, with a roommate, but still.  But now, all that new seemed—too much. Too much new at once. “Mom? Tell her to get out of here.”
“Cassandra.  Blair. Atwood.”  Her mom stood, planted her hands of her hips. Pooch’s tail whap-whap-whapped against the blue chair. “You apologize to your sister. Now. And then pack.”
“Screw you,” Cassie said.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” her mom had said, her voice super-quiet.
Cassie flinched as her name startled her back to the real world. Or present time, at least. October. Berwick University. The Green. Ten in the morning. Two girls, one in a BU t-shirt, the other wearing a flannel shirt just like Cassie’s. She wasn’t sure of their names, but they were probably in her dorm.
“Hey,” she said, pretending. She’d figure their names out soon enough. If it mattered. Now she needed to get to class. She'd see him in ten minutes.

HANK: If you're still with me, thank you! And you should know the main character of this book is Lily, the little sister.
Do you dislike Cassie too much?
Let me know! And now, back to writing.  Only fifty thousand words to go.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Rhys on writing as therapy

RHYS BOWEN: Like many of you I'm finding it hard to concentrate at this time. There always seems to be that element of worry lurking at the back of my mind. I know I shouldn't check recent covid spikes etc but I do. Then I worry more. And I have to turn on the news, just for a few minutes, and there are protest marches and white nationalists and then I'm even more anxious.

And, like you, I'm stuck at home. Nowhere to go except a daring dash to the grocery store at seven in the morning. No, I'm not risking restaurants yet, or anything else except for our daily walks out into the marshes or around the lagoon. Every other year I'm in Europe at this time, sitting in a piazza in Italy enjoying a plate of bruschetta and an Aperol spritz, or in France, having my morning coffee and a pain au chocolat. Or in England with a full English breakfast in front of me. And this year--nowhere.

So writing for me has been a great escape. I have just finished my book set in Venice, that now has a title: THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK.  I'm really sorry I'm done with it because being able to escape to Venice every day has been therapeutic for me. Every time i pour over the map or my photos I'm back there, having my breath taken away by the beauty every single time.  So I thought I'd take you there too, for a few minutes of escape:  Here is some of the opening sequence:  We are in Venice, 1928

We are here. We came out of the Santa Lucia train station and stood at the top of a flight of steps.
“Ecco Il Canale Grande!” Aunt Hortensia said in dramatic fashion, spreading out her arms as if she was on stage and had created the scene for my benefit. My Italian was limited to please, thank you and good day but I understood that this was the Grand Canal. Only it didn’t look very grand. It was wide, to be sure, but the buildings on the other side were rather ordinary. And it looked dirty too. The smell that greeted my nostrils was not particularly appetizing. It was a watery sort of smell with a hint of fish and decay.  I didn’t have much chance to study my surroundings, however, as we were immediately besieged by porters. It was a little alarming to have men fighting over us in a strange language, snatching our bags and bundling us into a gondola, whether we wanted one or not. But as Aunt Hortensia confessed, we had no alternative. We could not have managed all that luggage on one of their water buses they call vaporetti.  Of course I was thrilled to be in a gondola, even though the gondolier was not a handsome young Italian who sang love songs, but rather a grim faced man with a paunch.

As we came around a bend the Grand Canal became incredibly grand. On either side of us were amazing palaces, marble coated, or in shades of rich pink with arched Moorish windows. They appeared to float on the water in a way that was quite surreal—I wanted to get out my sketch book right away. It was lucky that I didn’t as the amount of traffic on the canal made the boat rock alarmingly.  The gondolier muttered what must have been Venetian swear words.
We were moving along quite nicely for a boat rowed with one oar but the canal seemed awfully long.
“Ecco Il Ponte Rialto,” Aunt Hortensia exclaimed, pointing at a bridge that crossed the canal ahead of us, rising up in a great arch, as if suspended by magic. It appeared to have some sort of building on it because a row of windows winked in the afternoon sunshine as we approached.  I wondered if Aunt H. intended to speak in only that language from now on. If so conversation was liable to be rather one sided.
However this fear was dispelled as she now produced her Baedecker and began to inform me about each building that we passed: “On your left the Palazzo Barzizza. Note the thirteenth century facades, and that large building is the Palazzo Mocenigo where Lord Byron once stayed.…..  This continued until an overcrowded vaporetto pulled out from its jetty, our boat rocked again and she almost lost the book into the murky depths.
At the moment I began feeling a bit queasy, another bridge came into sight, this one a more flimsy wooden footbridge,  spanning the canal at a greater height. I expected Aunt H. to say “Ecco Ponte something or other,” but instead she said, “Ah, the Academia Bridge. Now we are almost at our destination. That’s good. I was beginning to feel rather sea-sick.”
“You mean canal sick, don’t you?” I asked and she actually smiled.

And one more picture, because we all need cheering up at the moment, don't we? 

Stay safe! Chins up! This too shall pass. xxxxx Rhys

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Lucy on Writing Police

LUCY BURDETTE: It’s a strange time to be writing murder mysteries involving police officer characters. Before I post a snippet of what I’m working on (Key West food critic #11, as yet unnamed) I wanted to say a few words about that. 

Steve Torrence on left, Chief Sean Brandenburg on right

I feel very lucky and grateful that my police model for the Key West mysteries is based on information from my friend, former police officer Steve Torrence—who happens to be one of the most ethical, thoughtful people I know. Several years ago, I attended both the Citizens' Police Academy and the Key West ambassadors’ program and learned a lot about traffic stops, the county jail, issues with homelessness, SWAT team maneuvers, police dogs, and many other topics important to policing. I came away from those experiences admiring how the Key West police department handles a very tricky town (many visitors, not all well behaved.)

As a small, older, white woman I have never had reason to fear the police. In Key West, I was only afraid one time, when I was pulled over by a police car for running a stop sign on my bicycle. I was scared because I'd been caught breaking a law, not scared for my life. (You will see that incident used in the next Key West mystery, THE KEY LIME CRIME, coming August 11.) 

My experience is a different universe than that of George Floyd and many others, particularly people of color. Should this change the way I write mysteries? I don’t know the answer. But I intend to listen as hard as I can to figure out how to be a part of the positive change that needs to happen in our country. And maybe that includes taking a hard look at how I write my police characters…

Now on with the book in progress…Right before this scene, Hayley Snow is doing some foodie research on Duval Street, when the sound of gunshots rings out.

Chapter Two 

My face ended up smooshed near the white-stenciled words on the curb above the drain that warned potential litterers “anything discarded here will wash into the ocean.” 

The gutter smelled of stale beer, and cigarette butts, and pizza, but strongest of all, the stink of my own fear. I curled into the smallest human ball possible, knowing that I could still be an open target for a crazed shooter. Should I get up and run to help Miss Gloria? Nathan had drilled the same safety information into her head as he had mine, with great patience. I had to think she’d be hunkered down behind the art gallery furniture. Or maybe she’d been smart and quick enough to run inside. 

Hearing more muffled shouts but no gunshots, I crab-walked toward the better cover of a nearby trash can. I peered around the edge to see what was going on. I heard the sound of footsteps pounding and two different voices yelling, “Drop the gun! Hands above your head! Police!”  

Then I heard the clatter of gun on pavement and saw two hands stretched high above the heads of the crowd. Tourists and bystanders had begun to push toward the scene while two fierce police yelled at them to move back. More officers came running down the street, some with guns drawn and some with police dogs loping beside them. 

“Stand back,” a tall officer shouted to the crowd. “You need to clear the area.” 

Miss Gloria came up behind me and tapped my shoulder. “I think you’re okay to come out from behind the trashcan now. The only bad guy they seem to have trapped is Ray.”  

“Ray?” I stood up and brushed the grit off my knees, realizing I had scraped them raw in the flurry of activity. Ray was my dear friend Connie’s husband, father of the adorable baby Claire, and a very talented and peace-loving artist. I could not imagine him getting into an altercation with the cops, especially over a gun. 

She took my elbow and we moved to the sidewalk, close enough that we could hear the men talking. Shouting was more like it. 

“I panicked,” Ray was explaining. “I heard gunshots and got spooked. I would never shoot anyone, I swear. My gallery manager was there--she saw everything—" 

“You’ll need to come to the station,” said the biggest cop, the same man who had pulled me over for running through a stop sign on my scooter after Christmas. He was intimidating because of his size and his bald head, but he seemed like a nice enough man. If you liked tough police personas. Which being married to one, I supposed I did. Before migrating to Key West, I didn’t know one single policeman. I’d never imagined I’d end up with so many police officers in my life. 

What do you think Reds? Should recent current events change the way we write mysteries?

And please don't forget--DEATH ON THE MENU will be out in mass market paperback on July 28, and THE KEY LIME CRIME will be published in hardcover, ebook, and audio book on August 11!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Editing... my garden

HALLIE EPHRON: As a writer, I'm very much a magpie. I jot down bits and pieces of overheard dialogue, clip articles that intrigue me, weed through the essays and stories I wrote when I was learning to write and even from before I knew I wanted to... all with the hopes of putting together something original and fresh. I wasn’t as good at writing back then, but details that make a scene come alive were much fresher in my mind.

In CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR I re-used most of an essay I wrote ages ago about my husband’s yard sale-ing. NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT has chunks of one of my earliest attempts to write about growing up in Beverly Hills. Bits of writing about my parents’ dysfunctional relationship with alcohol and one another stud my manuscripts.

So my "writing" is as much a process of borrowing and editing rather starting with a blank slate. My friends know that, when they tell me about something that happened to them, they have to say so if they don’t want me to put it into a book.

These days I feel as if my approach to writing has taken root in my garden.

My garden has never had a plan.
It’s a quiet green oasis, a hodgepodge that has evolved over decades.

Sheltering us from our neighbors and muffling nearby sounds of traffic are mature bushes and beds stuffed with ground cover and perennials, survivors of my haphazard watering and never fertilizing. A gigantic maple tree shades the lot. Every day I go out, even for just a short time, and weed the unwanteds and rescue ‘volunteers’ seedlings that have taken root where they don’t belong.

Some of my plants were here when we moved in 40 years ago. Though I've lost all the old-fashioned chrysanthemums and lily-leaf beatles did in all the lovely Asiatic lilies, day lilies and hot pink phlox and leggy white rose campion thrive.

Hostas were here, too, a few growing on the side of the house. I’ve moved, separated, and moved and separated them, over and over so that now there are hosta borders all through the garden. They’re about to bloom.

Then there’s the special hosta, a blue-green variety with magnificent leaves that look like quilted satin. It started as a small plant, given to us by our friend Marjorie Hovorka who died not too long ago. Whenever I water those hostas I think of her.

Our yellow loosestrife and patch of Siberian irises came from other friends. Coneflowers came from Jane next door.

On the back steps is a pot of chives – thanks to Edith Maxwell.
The creeping Jenny growing at the base of the  steps leaped the pot it came in and seeded itself among my patio stones. The plant was
given to me by a friend who, soon after, committed suicide. It's flowering now.
As you might guess, our garden, with its dense ground cover and shoulder-to-shoulder bushes, is home to wildlife. We have at least 3 families of birds nesting right now… robins (here’s a scruffy young one), song sparrows, and cardinals.

And squirrels. At least four of them. They're like a circus act.

A month ago, I witnessed a pair of  squirrels barreling toward one other along the top of a wood fence. Never slowing, one of them leaped up and the other flew past beneath him. I wanted to stand up and applaud. I keep wondering, how did they know which one would jump and which would just keep going?

And a very cute tiny rabbit I’d like to murder has decimated my coneflowers. If only he’s stick to eating lily of the valley and clover in my weedy lawn.

Where's a hawk when you need it? 

So how do you grow your garden? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you edit and weed or start from scratch?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Last Legwoman

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Did you ever read movie magazines where you were a teenager? (Are there still such things?)   I remember Photoplay, certainly. What were the others? I would read them when my mom went to the “beauty shop,” and always wondered about the movie stars’ glamorous lives. Back when the gloss and glitter made everything seem wonderful, and back when Hedda Hopper and her ilk ruled the world. Or thought they did.
So when author and journalist Penny Pence Smith told me about one of her first jobs—as a “legwoman,” I was enchanted. And, I fear, I began deluging her with questions.  What was that job, and why was I so fascinated? Read on. And I bet you’ll have questions, too.

  by Penny Pence Smith
The postponement of Broadway’s 2020 Tony Awards is sad, suggesting cloudy forecasts for the Oscars and Emmys in September and early 2021. I feel a lot of nostalgia for those glittering events, having covered them for nearly a decade, first as a “legwoman” or reporter/assistant for Marilyn Beck, the most widely syndicated Hollywood columnist (several hundred worldwide outlets) for nearly three decades. With her, I was a movie magazine editor, then a by-lined feature writer for two major media syndicates, including the New York Times Special Features Syndicate.  They were heady years and in spite of other subsequent career paths, still account for some of my professional “peak” moments.
Thinking about the Oscars reminds me of myself as a 24-year-old journalist ingenue, “covering” those awards in 1968  for my boss, unable to attend that year. I drove up to the bustling entrance (then the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium) in my VW Bug and was rudely directed to a self-parking spot. My participation was limited to the press briefing room along with hundreds of other reporters. Awards to In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner were nevertheless an exciting launch to many years of glittering adventures. Subsequently, I would enjoy audience seats and after-parties.
It was joyful to reminisce about those days, using them as inspiration for the stories in my recently released The Last Legwoman: A novel of Hollywood, Murder…and Gossip! Among many memories, the first is always spending time with John Wayne, on horseback, on the set(s) of movie(s) filming in Mexico, talking about his critics and his love of movie making. He was intensely loyal to his crew and cadre of costars, nearly always surrounded by them.
I was one of only two women allowed on the set of The Longest Yard, relaxing on the prison sports bleachers with Burt Reynolds, laughing about the script, while my own personal guard, “Jelly”, flicked his baton, assuring our safety. He was beside me when I interviewed the prison's warden, and two convicted murders.
Nothing really said “Hollywood” in my recollection more than arriving for a lunch visit with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner at the height of their own vitality and popularity. She, pregnant and glowing, he suntanned and handsome. Together they were a vision of glamor that took my breath away.
With Jack Lord for Hawaii Five 0
There were continual “quick” trips—to Las Vegas to meet Elvis Presley after his show, to London, changing into formal wear in the airport restrooms and cabbing to a Disney movie premiere, to Mexico City to lunch with Rosalind Russell on the set of her last film, to Hawaii to interview the cast of the original Hawaii Five 0 series. In those times, I rarely bought a movie ticket or visited an exotic location without story assignments. London, Paris, Spain, Monaco — a publicist was always waiting.
But entertainment journalism was not without its share of minefields, as well.  George Peppard threatened to sue and “ruin” my career because I had described him as an “aging actor” after he arrived two hours late for a breakfast interview grumpy, weary and disheveled. Two studio publicists had been present and calmed the star storm. Hollywood nostalgia is always stained by the memory of the Charles Manson cult murder of Sharon Tate and friends. The early morning phone call from a writer colleague who lived across the street and described the scene as police were arriving was chilling. The public lives of many celebrities went quietly underground for a while, fear and distrust tinging the atmosphere. Over the years, there were other lawsuits threatened, deaths and misfortunes of people I liked and had covered.
Ultimately, I evolved into another career path and seldom spoke about the Hollywood time because many outside the entertainment bubble were incredulous or considered such discussions arrogant. But many of my life’s “peak events” occurred during those times and it was great fun plumbing them as I developed my book and its forthcoming sequel.
What are your peak events and are you writing them down for the future?
HANK: See? Told you. Okay, Penny, dish.  Come sit by me! And we all  want more of all of this. What say you, Reds and readers? What do we want to hear more about first? And which of these encounters do you wish you’d shared?  


Meredith Ogden is at the top of her game in Hollywood as Legwoman (assistant in modern terms) to Bettina Grant, the country’s most widely read celebrity gossip columnist. But life changes for the 36-year-old journalist when she arrives for work at Grant’s Bel Air home-office on a December morning in 1983 to find her famous boss dead, murdered. A book manuscript lies on the floor next to the death bed. Partnering with High-Profile crimes detective T.K. Raymond to find out who killed Grant and why, Meredith faces more than questions or answers.  A volatile TV night-show host lobs threats because of a damaging news investigation about his background, Grant’s children have demands on the office and valuable celebrity files. Meredith’s home is broken into and searched, and she is assaulted.
With “High Profile” detective T.K. Raymond’s help, and that of an unlikely team of colleagues, Meredith deals with the threats to herself, her future and even ghosts from her own past brought up by the emotional chaos.

Penny Pence Smith began writing professionally during high school for the Indio Daily News, in Southern California. She went on to receive a Communication and journalism B.A. at the University of Washington, an MA from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. From the beginning, she was engaged in the entertainment industry:  Warner Communication movie magazine editor, correspondent/LA Bureau Manager for New York Times Special Features Syndicate covering entertainment, Hawaii Correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter, and later, author of best-selling tourism books, Under a Maui Sun and Reflections of Kauai (Island Heritage).  Along the way, she managed advertising, public relations agencies and marketing consulting firms then became a professor at UNC Chapel Hill and Hawaii Pacific University. Her current work appears in Sun City News & Views in Palm Desert, CA, and in Hopper (former Mokulele Airlines magazine), and in-room books for SPG Hotels (Hoku) and Alohilani Resort. Penny lives in Hawaii with her husband and two cats (depending on who’s counting!)

BREAKING NEWS: From Friday's 3-book contest, Barbara Waloven is the winner of Liz/Cate's book and Gloria Browning wins the book from Maddie/Edith. Barb will be back July 2 and will pick hers after that. Please email edithmax @ gmail dot com to claim your books...

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Day on a Lake in Maine

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If you were at the blog this past Sunday, you got to see the delicious dinner my family had at Celia and Victor Wakefield's. Today, I thought I'd show you some of the rest of the day. Maine's lakes are truly magical, and if you can't get to one this year, as so many can't, you can at least experience one vicariously. (The fact this give me a chance to show off my beautiful daughters is just incidental.

Here are Youngest and the Maine Millennial taking a very small amount of sun at the end of the dock. We all slather on 50 SPF, and I hope you do the same when you're outdoors!

After I took the picture above, they began singing, "Sisters, Sisters" from White Christmas. You may know the lyrics: "Never were there such devoted sisters; When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome, she wore the dress, and I stayed home!"

Youngest and Guest Son, her friend from university who's living with us (and being the most amazing help around my ridiculously large and overgrown property.) This picture of them on the paddleboard is deceiving - there was a lot of shrieking, splashing, and falling off happening between photo shoots.

Here's a 12-second film clip I took to send to the Sailor, stuck in Norfolk, VA for the foreseeable future. The Department of Defense is being very restrictive for active duty military - no traveling further than 150 miles from base, no crowds of more than 10 people, no going into bars, restaurants, etc. It makes for a rather straitened life, but I'm glad for it. He just found out his command is allowing family to visit without quarantining, so we're hoping to go down and see him near the end of July. I wonder how few rest stops we can manage?

Guest Son on the paddleboard. I honestly think Youngest might have snapped and done away with the Maine Millennial and me à la Lizzie Borden if not for having a friend and co-conspirator here.

It's a good thing to grow up in Maine.

 After five o'clock there are adult beverages for the adults, and ginger ale and seltzer for the non-drinkers. I had a Pimm's in a sturdy mason jar. It felt extremely Instagrammable, and since I now actually have an Insta account, I slapped it up there!

Photo by Celia Wakefield
The best way to end a long, active day - visiting with friends as the sun slips behind the trees. Knowing we had those sesame noodles waiting for us made it a lot easier to climb up the hill to the house.

How about you, dear readers? Are you finding some special spots to escape to during this long, strange summer?  

Friday, June 26, 2020

Wicked Inspiration

LUCY BURDETTE: Three of our pals from the Wicked Authors blog are celebrating book releases on June 30--and that means we should celebrate too!

Cate Conte (my Connecticut neighbor Liz Mugavero) is releasing Witch Hunt, the first in her new Full Moon Mystery series about a young shop-owner in a Connecticut harbor town (hmm…) who’s about to discover a mysterious power that runs in her family.

Maddie Day (frequent Reds commenter Edith Maxwell) brings us Nacho Average Murder, the seventh book in her Country Store Mystery series. In this book Maddie takes the girl out of South Lick, Indiana bound for the west coast. I wonder if murder will follow?

Barbara Ross (my Key West neighbor) contributes Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody. Released as a Barnes & Noble exclusive last year, this first in series is now available from all retailers in mass market paperback, ebook and audiobook, worldwide.

Take it away, Wickeds

Lately we’ve been talking about inspiration. Not the giant concepts we choose to explore in story, but the little flashes, the anecdotes that stay with us and provide ideas, sometimes foundational ideas, for our books.

Barb: I wish I could remember which friend told me the story about her parents, the bottomline of which was, “Retirement communities are exactly like high school. You have all the cliques-- the popular kids, the jocks, the artists and the troublemakers. You have the established couples, the flirters and the singles, the secret sex. And the poor little people eating all alone.” This story stuck with me for a long time and forms the basis for Walden Spring, the lifecare community for people 55 and over that is the main setting for my mystery, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody. 

Edith/Maddie: That’s such a great description, Barb. My Country Store Mysteries protagonist, Robbie Jordan, is from Santa Barbara, and she’s in her late twenties. For book seven, I wanted to get her out of South Lick, Indiana. My own fiftieth high school reunion was on the near horizon (scheduled for this September but they’re postponing it until next spring). I’d been thinking about the one girl who was mean to me for no reason and wondering if she’d be there. Then I thought about high school rivalries that might still be active only ten years later. I packed Robbie off for her tenth reunion in Santa Barbara, and included a mean girl, of course. The research trip was pretty nice, too.

Liz/Cate: I love that, Barb - and it’s so true! I remember the one high school reunion I went to and it was exactly the same as being in the cafeteria all those years prior. I developed my new series, The Full Moon Mysteries, out of my desire to be able to literally flick my wrist and change things I didn’t like in my life. (And some of those high school girls would’ve totally become toads.) My protag, Violet Mooney, is a witch who doesn’t know she’s a witch until her world falls apart and she gets an unexpected visit from her long-lost mother, who is one of the most powerful witches in her sphere. I’ve always loved witches and magic and the paranormal, and the inspiration for this series has always been about finding magic every day and using it to make the world better. 

Barb: That’s so funny how you two have completely different takes on reunions. I’ve never made it to any of mine. They’re always the same weekend as Malice, so I probably won’t for the foreseeable. I would so love to be able to flick my wrist and change things I don’t like in my life.

Edith: And I was really looking forward to going! We can certainly all use some magic everyday.

You know what we’re talking about right? Those little anecdotes or visuals that stick in your mind forever? Readers, tell us one of yours. Writers, have you ever used an anecdote or visual that stuck with you as an important element in a book?

All three of today's authors are giving away a copy of their new release--leave a comment to enter! (US only this time)