Thursday, April 30, 2020

What We're Missing (sigh)

JENN McKINLAY: When I first started writing, I wrote in this Emily Dickensonesque solitude where not only did I not take any classes, go to any conferences, or find any other authors to commiserate with, I also didn't tell anyone I was trying to be a writer. This is one of my biggest regrets. Why?

Well, it turns out, writers are, by and large, very friendly, generous with their knowledge, and extremely supportive of their fellow pen monkeys. Conferences are where I've made some of the best friends of my life -- like this crew of divine women: 

Jungle Red Writers Bouchercon 2019

And I've been to places I'd likely never have gone to without a conference being held there, such as Toronto's CN Tower. Yes, I'm standing on the glass floor, looking down at the aquarium. (Bouchercon 2017).

The friendships that are forged while being on a panel with other authors, going to dinner with your editor and agent, or just hanging out for a coffee or a large breakfast (my favorite) with readers is the BEST.

My bestie and frequent conference roommate Kate Carlisle, whose book THE GRIM READER is coming in June! I can't imagine my life if I'd never met her. Yes, we're enjoying
pre-book signing "salads" here. 

At the recently aborted Left Coast Crime, I even got to see blogger and Reds regular, Mark Baker, moderate the panel What's Cooking? He did an amazing job!

Left Coast Crime 2020

For most of us in the crime fiction world, this is the week for the Edgars, where our Hank is up for a Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Murder List (Available RIGHT NOW in ebook form for $1.99). It will be announced on Twitter on April 30th at 11:00 EST. I love you, Twitter (okay, not really) but this is NOT the same.

Today, I should be on a plane headed to the second Malice Domestic I've ever attended. Kate Carlisle and I were going to check out the Library of Congress, but the big event was to celebrate our Julia, who was Guest of Honor! Obviously, it, too, was canceled. 

This is particularly sad for me, because one of the friendships I forged at Malice, way back in 2012, was with our dearly departed Sheila Connolly.  Sheila passed away last week. It was a crusher for the entire cozy mystery community, but her blog mates at Wicked Authors say it best with a lovely tribute written by our friend Edith Maxwell. It's cold comfort, I know, but I'm so glad we have Sheila's books to take us with her to Ireland or an apple orchard or wherever her talents lead. 

Sheila was a genuine character, wickedly smart and with a delightful sense of fun. Here we are posing as Charlie's Angels, with finger guns and everything, because we're both so tall. We laughed pretty hard at ourselves. I'm so sorry I won't get to laugh with you again, my friend. RIP. (photo by Dru Ann Love)

So, if there is one thing I've learned and learned and relearned in the spring of 2020, I won't take any of these conferences, the amazing people who put them together, or those who attend them for granted -- ever again! Here's hoping I get to see you all at a signing, a conference panel, or a breakfast again soon! 

So, tell me, Reds and Readers, what conferences, signings, or other book centric events are you planning to attend, if any, when the world starts up again?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

When Word Smithing Turns into Coppersmithing: A visit with Sara Dahmen

JENN McKINLAY: What do you do when your Today Show appearance is canceled because of a pandemic, well, you do the next best thing. You come and visit Jungle Red Writers and share your amazing, glorious, and beautiful book with us! 

Seriously, I was thrilled when Jungle Red friend and author Ellen Byron reached out to me to host Sara Dahmen. I absolutely fell in love with her story and her book -- Copper, Iron, and Clay: A Smith's Journey -- and I know you will, too!

Sara DahmenMy kids watch Mysteries of the Abandoned with abandon when I let them. One time they even highlighted a lighthouse near Wisconsin, in the middle of Lake Michigan, which brought the whole show closer to home. Mysteries are everywhere when we start to look, even in the mundane every day. Some of those mysteries get started only because we ask the question “why?” and there’s no real answer.

I asked “why?” one too many times five years ago, and it started me down a rabbit hole of metal which was full of mysterious chemistry, vocabulary words like “nanostructures” or “tool & die” (which is an actual aluminum plate, not a new murder term), and the desire to answer questions that didn’t seem to have answers anymore. It was like being a detective, looking at the past and realizing the past bled into the present, but in real life, not a book. What had started as passionate research on pioneer kitchens for my historical novels (TINSMITH 1865 and WIDOW 1881) became a new kind of passion about cookware.

Questions quickly developed, and they weren’t very grammatically correct. Questions such as: “What are you cooking on? What’s it made out of? Who made it? Where is it made? How exactly does it work and why was it used for hundreds of years and yet not anymore?

These mysteries weren’t easily answered in a Google search, or even looking to libraries. The last book on coppersmithing was published in 1894! Most of the information was locked in the mind of hobbyists, elderly gents who aren’t easy to find. 

Answering these questions meant going so deep into a subject that I turned into a coppersmith – as far as I can tell, the only woman coppersmith building copper cookware in America! Creating a cookware line based on early American cookware, finding an apprenticeship with a retired tinsmith, and taking over my garage with vintage and modern tools to restore and make cookware finally offered information. Turns out, half of the answers were in getting my hands (literally) dirty.

Did you know the term “breaking the mold” comes from blacksmithing? Or that we have changed our cookware and in turn our very stoves in the past 50-ish years based on what metal was left over from WW2? Did you know that until very recently, copper cookware was always lined with tin? How many people do you know who know how to season a cast iron skillet? All this lost information had left our kitchens for myriad reasons, and suddenly I was in possession of it all.

These discoveries to the lost trades and missing links in our kitchens developed into COPPER IRON AND CLAY: A SMITH’S JOURNEY – a full-color, hardcover published by William Morrow/Harper Collins and just hot off the press during the pandemic – that yes, outlines this crazy journey to answer the mysteries of our cookware but also talks about the history of our three basic cooking utinsels, why it works, how it’s built, and what the proper care is for each. Filled with interviews with the major cookware makers – Lodge, Mauviel, Ruffoni – and recipes from me and chefs of all walks, it’s a culmination of cooking, history, and all things copper, iron and clay. Who knew asking “why” about abandoned cookware would result in a book and a career as a coppersmith? Good thing mysteries are everywhere, eh? 

Jenn: Please note, Sara's book received a fabulous review from Publisher's Weekly!

So, Reds and Readers, what's your preferred cookware? And did you ever fall so deeply into research that it fundamentally changed your life?

To celebrate the release of her book, Sara is offering two giveaways! One commenter will win a signed copy of this fabulous book! And another will win copper straws! So cool!

Sara Dahmen is an award-winning writer and entrepreneur, as well as the only female coppersmith in America, manufacturing, restoring, and building copper cookware in her Wisconsin copper shop. 
Sara’s non-fiction book on the history, science, use, and care of cookware, Copper, Iron, and Clay: A Smith’s Journey, (William Morrow/Harper Collins) features her story, recipes, and interviews from the biggest cookware makers in the world, from Lodge to Ruffoni to Mauviel and more. She single-handedly runs her company, House Copper & Cookware, using tools from the 1800s as well as current power tools, and bases all her new designs on lost American cookware shapes, sourcing all materials from the USA. 
Sara has published over 100 articles as a contributing editor for various trade magazines, has written for Edible and Root + Bone, among others, and spoke at TEDx Rapid City on how women should enter the trades in order to save the trades themselves from disappearing. Her historical fiction Flats Junction series (Promontory Press, Inc.), including Tinsmith 1865and Widow 1881, has been critically recognized as well.

In her spare time, Sara sews her family authentic clothing for their 1830’s reenactment camping. Sara lives in the country outside Port Washington, Wisconsin with her three young children (ages 9, 7. And 5) and John, her husband of 14 years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Pumpkin Spice Peril is out TODAY!!!

 Available today at 25% OFF in all formats!!!
Available TODAY AT 25% OFF in pbk and ebook formats!

JENN McKINLAY: I remember when my publisher accepted the title of this book, my editor said, "Your release date is in April, prepare for some pushback about pumpkin spice being in a title being released before September." 

Okay, I knew there were pumpkin spice haters -- to which, I say, "whatever" -- and I was duly prepared to defend my title to any and all. I was like, "Come at me, bruhs, with your pumpkin spice hatred." 

Clearly, I had no idea I was going to be releasing Cupcake Bakery Mystery #12 (We're at a DOZEN!!!) in the middle of a global pandemic and needless to say the haters have bigger windmills to tilt at than my modest cupcake based cozy mystery. I think this is most likely because no one has any idea of what day it is anyway. At this point, if someone told me it was September, I'd believe it. So, there's that. 

For me, a Pumpkin Spice Latte is something I enjoy once or maybe twice in autumn, when it's finally below 90 degrees here in the desert. It's like my love of the Shamrock Shake every March. The Hooligans and I live for those but we only have one or maybe two -- okay, they probably have five of six. It's a happy spring ritual that I don't really think that much about. 

But here's what I learned about the PSL (pumpkin spice latte), arguably the start of all things pumpkin spice, and the controversy surrounding it. Pumpkin Spice Lattes were unleashed to the world by Stabucks in August of 2003. The flavor peaked in popularity in 2014 but has become controversial because, as something enjoyed predominantly by women, it must be derided and mocked or so the people watching the controversy say. 

Given that I write cozies, rom-coms, and now women's fiction (all genres considered less than by the mainstream, because they are predominantly women centric - we won't even get into the fact that their markets are huge and they earn WAY more money than most other genres...ahem) this is territory with which I am quite familiar. 

As my friends Leah and Bea, from The Ripped Bodice Bookstore, wrote:
Read More:  Here

There was also this terrific piece from Vox: Pumpkin spice lattes — and the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash — explained: They talk about the life cycle of pumpkin spice, which has come full circle with people (women) pushing back and defending their choice of pumpkin laced coffee by saying (I'm paraphrasing here), "The world is on fire, let me enjoy my pumpkiny goodness in peace." 
I don't know about you, but I can totally respect that.

So, Reds and Readers, do you enjoy Pumpkin Spice (you knew I had to ask) and if not, what is a food you enjoy that is only seasonal?

Now here's A DOZEN cupcakes for you: Crazy, am I right?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Close Quarters: What We've Learned About Our Loved Ones


The ebook of Lucy Burdette's DEATH ON THE MENU is on sale for $1.99! Don't miss out on this fabulous series! 


The ebook of Hank Phillippi Ryan's THE MURDER LIST is ON SALE!  $1.99! 
So, yay, Reds and Readers, could you snap one up for yourself or a gift? No pressure, of course. It’s just my career….  It’s on all e-platforms, but here’s one link Click HERE!

And, now, our Monday Convo:

JENN McKINLAY: Okay, so AZ has been on lock down since March 23rd. The first few weeks were a mad scramble for toilet paper and flour. Then we settled in, trying to adjust to the new normal (oh, the horror!), and press on as much as we could with everyday life. Hub got used to working at home, the hooligans switched over to online school, my birthday and Easter were celebrated, well, with cake (see flour recon mentioned above). But now, now we’ve all been up in each other’s business 24/7 and, quite frankly, it’s getting old.

Here’s what we’ve learned. I sing all the time. I did not really know this about myself. I knew I hummed occasionally, but, no, the fam assures me, I am humming or singing ALL the time, everything from George Jones (The Race is On is a fave) to Janice Joplin to Bruno Mars. Oops!

We’ve also learned that Hooligan 1 is like a bear coming out of hibernation every night at one o’clock in the morning and cooks himself a full steak and potatoes meal. Hub has an inability to listen to an anecdote without peppering the speaker with questions in his impatience to get the whole story (former reporter), and Hooligan 2 works out, jumping rope and boxing, in the middle of the night - every night. Nothing like waking up to the smell of cooking steak and the sound of punching while Hub grills me with questions about what is that smell or noise. 

Overall, we’re managing by self distancing into various rooms in the house, but I can honestly say, I could have lived, quite happily, without knowing about all of our various quirks and weirdnesses. 

So, how about you, Reds, what are you learning about yourself - if you live alone like my mom, who has started having full conversation with her dog - and the ones you’re holed up with? 

RHYS BOWEN:  Also in Arizona where we are trapped until we can drive back to CA safely. It’s been a lovely place to hibernate with perfect weather, flowers, daughter nearby who bakes us bread so no real complaints. I knew my husband was annoying before this so no real surprises, except two nights ago when he decided to unpack 5 pound bag of coffee that had arrived that day and put it into jars at midnight. So I awoke to rattle, rattle Clonk and the smell of coffee. Totally unable to grasp what this could be. Then I was awake for hours. 
Jenn , I also sing/hum all the time. My subconscious chooses a song based on what I’m thinking or worrying about. Does yours?  And I’d kill any kid who cooked or boxed at night!  Remind them you are a professional. You can kill with no trace!

Jenn: LOL, Rhys! Yes, I must remind them of my skills!

LUCY BURDETTE: Honestly, it would be a crime for me to complain about being quarantined in Key West with my adorable husband and cat. But a girl can nitpick, right? No frying of steaks and potatoes in the night, but most days John will ask: when were you planning on using this chicken? (or ground beef, or sweet potatoes, or etc?) And what’s this in the freezer? Here’s the thing, I am planning, I have planned, I will continue to plan! And by the way, the thing in the freezer is what we’ll eat when and if we get sick, or if the food supply is cut off completely. 

That’s a small matter. But the toilet paper issue is a killer. I mostly use one bathroom and he uses another. I stock both with toilet paper as needed, and like everyone else, I’m on the lookout for replacement. Yesterday he said: “I looked in your closet, you have eleven rolls of tp. I’d call that bordering on hoarding.”

Me: “Tell me you’re not counting my toilet paper!” (Next it will be monitoring how much I use. And that my friends is when I might need help with a body…)

HALLIE EPHRON: We’ve been having groceries delivered and I’ve yet to score a single roll of toilet paper. Or bag of potato chips. 

What I’ve learned is that I crave citrus. Anyone remember the beginning of Rapunzel, where the queen has a craving for rampion (whatever that is) and steals it from the neighbor’s yard and suffers the consequences? I get it! I nearly went crazy craving citrus but fortunately our Peapod order finally arrived with two bags of tangerines. I know, what a first-world problem.

I’ve also learned how lucky I am to live with the man I married. He’s so easygoing. Good company. Changes lightbulbs and unclogs downspouts. Enthusiastically consumes whatever I cook. And it turns out all those years when he was shopping for yard sales? He’s accumulated all kinds of stuff that we are now using. (We’re on our third jigsaw puzzle.) 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Since we are both  home all day normally, there haven't been any surprises or changes in schedule. But, Lucy, I had to laugh about John and the groceries. Since Rick and I now unpack and sanitize the groceries together, he questions every item. Did we really need this? Yes. Why is there so much fruit? Because I eat it! Etc., etc…

Although living with Mr. Preparedness has at times been very trying, since the coronavirus all his planning and organizing for every dire possibility has been very reassuring. And, yes, we even have respirators.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Lucy, I am already monitoring that. Four sheets at a time is plenty. I am SO SAD that I am doing that, and I didn’t mean to. Jonathan rolled his eyes when I mentioned it. But as I said--what can it hurt?

But we are kind of fine--seriously, I do a lot of pretending that everything will work out, because otherwise it’s too awful.  Jonathan works at the sunroom table, and I have my study, and he’s in charge of lunch and cleaning/vacuuming, and I’m in charge of shopping and  dinner, and cleaning the kitchen, and laundry. Breakfast is a duet.  He uses the treadmill in the exercise room, then I take a turn. It kinda works. 

The addition of doing the food planning, at such a tense level I mean, is surprisingly stressful. WE HAVE TO EAT THE LETTUCE! But let’s see if we can make it last three days. Okay, I’ll freeze the green beas, since they are perishable, but the cauliflower can stay in the fridge. Make beef stew, eat half and freeze half for the apocalypse.  I have never worked harder, somehow.

We already were very happy, I mean, before, but I can feel each of us being very conscious of staying calm and  considerate. For which I am grateful. 

Geez, I hope this is all worth it. It’s gotta be, right?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, since the latest news about this Pandora’s Box of a virus is that 1) recovering from it doesn’t seem to confer any immunity against getting it again and 2) it can cause blood clots leading to organ failure, amputation or stroke, I’m going to say this is all, most emphatically, worth it. 

I’m trying to think of it as the same sort of life change we’ve all already experienced. Like going from single to married or living with. Holy cow, that was a trip, remember? Or, for those of who had kids, going from being a couple to parenthood. I sure wasn’t going out for leisurely brunches back then. Several of us have made big life moves - midwest to east coast, east coast to west, the UK to the US. Big differences in culture, food, where we went and what we did. This is another in a line of events that changed how we live our lives, and at least this time, I’m not dealing with the horror that was discovering my brand new husband left his dirty socks next to the bed EVERY NIGHT because he said - and this is 100% true - he would wear them the next day. And friends, I lived with that until the day he went into the hospice.

So, what was the question? My fam already knew I sing and hum constantly, so no news there. The girls are pretty much the way they’ve always been at home, and Boy on Loan is new, so we’re all discovering what it’s like to live with him. Biggest change has been for the Maine Millennial, whose pup is no longer going to doggy day care 4-5 times a week. It turns out Janey has a lot more energy to burn than previously realized, so they’re going out for two mile walks three or four times a day. The MM may be one of the few people who emerge from quarantine weighing less than when she went in.

HANK again: And yeah, Julia. With you on patience and flexibility. And that “no immunity” thing is controversial, and apparently misreported, so I’m hoping that's not the final-final word.

JENN: I just read about the stroke thing and happen to be writing about a character who is young and had a stroke, so...curse you writer brain!...material!

So, how about you, Readers, what are you learning about yourself or your cohabitors?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Spaghetti Sunday - Dinner From Your Pantry

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Once more, we're lucky to have our friend Celia Wakefield to share a Sunday dinner recipe with us. Now, Celia is a former professional caterer, which means she does things right, but she's also in the same jam as the rest of us - avoiding the grocery and cooking out of her pantry. This is a particularly good one - since I've been quarantined for a month, I got to come over to the Wakefield's house for this dinner!

I love JRW authors, and particularly us, the readers. What a great group of folk, all with the goal of reading and supporting each other in literary pursuits. Or is that a little high flown, as my job today is the SUNDAY RECIPE. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Julia, for inviting me in again, and taking the photos too.

I don’t have a subscription to the NYT Cooking site. That may sound odd as I do love to cook, followed by I do love to eat. But I was rather annoyed when Cooking became a pay per view, and they took away my recipe box without even warning me properly. That hasn’t stopped me from reading the columns and getting plenty of hints. For me that’s what a recipe is; a hint of something that with just a tiny twist can be something else magical. With a good guide to technique and flavors, the world is our oyster.

Over the past few weeks NYT Cooking has focused on comfort food, innovative ideas for using pantry staples even though I know my pantry and Sam Shifton’s pantry, probably have very little in common; that is unless he has some monkfish liver in his freezer too. It’s OK, that will be a later recipe to make. But for now Sunday has been designated Spaghetti Sunday in our house. We may be eating this version for the next three months. I know Victor loves the sauce, so what if we have it weekly?

Have you ever made a spaghetti sauce with anchovies? Those funny little fishes that often come in cans from Italy looking all exotic. My ideas started with a NYTC article on pantry cooking. I was up for the challenge, and we love canned fishies, especially if they are salty. Why not pair them with olive oil, garlic, olives and capers? Yes, I think there may be some garlic nay-sayers in the group but I have a fix for that too. Let’s start with the recipe, then let’s look at substitutes and remaking up any recipe.


This serves 2+ people, it is easy to stretch with more pasta, oil and cheese.
I usually make this with roasted garlic*, but wanted to prep from scratch. Tasting the garlic while it was cooking gave me cause for concern that the dish would be unbalanced. But on mixing with the pasta, no one ingredient stood out. It was a harmony of flavors. It is also a very easy sauce to make with my only caveat being cook on low heat and stir!


A can of anchovies in oil
4-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or 8 cloves roasted garlic*
1/3 Cup Italian Virgin Olive Oil, the oil will help make the flavor so use your best one
1/4 Cup chopped, stoned Kalamata Olives, or whatever is left from your martini.
1/4 cup capers
Parmesan cheese
2-3oz spaghetti per person (I use 5 oz for Victor and me, if you are feeding teen or young man, skies the limit)


Or you can use kale pesto made with garlic & onion.
In NYT speak, these ingredients are all pantry staples! Don’t be fooled, instead of anchovies, use can of sardines or a small can of tuna. Both of which are better in oil, but water is fine too.
Use any oil you have that can be heated as long as you like the taste. To check the flavor of your oil and make sure it didn’t become rancid, dip a small crust of bread into the oil and eat a bite.

Use any olives you have in the pantry, but a substitute for olives could well be a half shallot and a half red pepper chopped finely and sautéed gently in the oil till very soft. These same shallots, red peppers and onion can be used as the garlic substitute. Just chop very finely and saute very gently. We want soft, not brown or don’t even think the next B after brown. 

Capers are capers; though I think sour pickles would be a good substitute, just chop ‘em fine.

in a small heavy pan or frying pan, heat the oil very gently and add the chopped garlic. Keep your heat low, stirring occasionally. Do NOT let the garlic brown, or whatever you choose to substitute.

-    Open the anchovies, tip into a sieve and rinse briefly. I prefer not to use the anchovy oil but you may.
-    Chop the anchovies and the olives
-    Measure the capers
-    Once the garlic is very light toast color add all other ingredients than the cheese which goes in at the finish.
-    The sauce can be made ahead of cooking the pasta, but do not refrigerate it unless you plan to use it the following day.
-    When you are ready to cook the pasta, follow the directors on the packet for the best results
-    Start cooking the sauce while waiting for the pasta water to come to the boil
-    Once the pasta is in the water start to reheat the sauce if made in advance
-    Drain your pasta, add a thin layer of olive oil to the pan over a very low heat, toss in the pasta, pour the sauce over and toss with forks, or tongs.
-    Once it’s mixed in add a handful of Parmesan and toss again.
Serve immediately with extra Parmesan for folk to add on top.

Buon appetito!

* If you are a garlic lover, have you ever made roasted garlic? I take 4-6 heads of garlic, a piece of foil large enough to encase them all, and a dribble of olive oil.
Lay the garlics, don’t break them up, on the foil and dribble with olive oil.
Wrap them tightly and roast in a 350F oven for approximately an hour for the regular sized ones, less if they are the small ones that come three to a box.
Let them cool and store in the refrigerator. They have at least a two week refrigerated shelf life.
First dinner al fresco of the season!

JULIA: Your turn, dear readers - what are you making from your pantry? And what substitutions are you slipping in?