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)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The bok choy that devoured Cleveland

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who's, for the first time ever, been ordering groceries for delivery. I've discovered that certain things are reliable. Surprisingly fish is a good bet. Strawberries and Campari tomatoes? Slam dunk.

But don't bother ordering fruit like plums or peaches because that is a crap shoot in terms of ripeness and quality.
Consistently out of stock: flat noodles, ice cream (every variety conceivable), and fresh corn. Imagining a craze for noodles with ice cream topped with a sprinkling of corn.

And still, forget about
toilet paper unless you want the most expensive and most scented variety.

And then there's bok choy, available in abundance and reliably good. As I wrote awhile back, I ordered one and what came was the size of a tuba. Just cutting it up and washing it took fifteen minutes, and I needed my biggest bowl to hold the stuff.

The good news: it's delicious. First night I stir fried some with mushrooms, topped it with fried shrimp, and served it with rice. I stir fried the rest the next night and served it with broiled salmon teriyaki. 

Here's my recipe for the stir fry:


Vegetable oil (enough to coat the saucepan)
2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 large (or 2 small) fresh garlic cloves, chopped (you could use garlic scapes instead... they're in season now, but add them chopped up at the end)
1/2 of an oversized bok choy, chopped into bite-sized pieces. (Enough to fill a 2-quart container)
6 or so mushrooms, sliced (shiittake are the tastiest... and even better if you've reconstituted dried shiitakes)
   Soy sauce
   Sesame oil
   Fish sauce (or rice vinegar)
   Hot sauce

1. In a LARGE saucepan, saute the ginger and garlic in oil over medium heat about a minute
2. Add mushrooms and cook until wilted
3. Add bok choy and cook, tossing and stirring until wilted. Try not to overcook.
4. Sprinkle with the remaining ingredients... to taste. A little of these goes a long way and the right balance is delicious.

(Salmon teriyaki: Marinate a hunk of salmon in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar for about an hour. Broil or barbecue until just done. (I cook it skin side to the heat element or coals for most of the time, then turn it at the end to let the unskinned side brown. Take it off the heat when it reaches 135 degrees. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Peel the (charred)  skin off. Serve)

How are your adventures in on-line shopping? Are you developing new tastes? Doing without? Have you found fresh corn and tasty peaches?? Or have you thrown caution to the wind and ventured back into the farmers market and the supermarket?

And the question for today's online shopping: WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE DARNED PLASTIC BAGS?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Secret Life of Mrs. Hudson

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: True royalty on Jungle Red today!  I mean Laurie King, the queen of us all.  

Somehow in my conflated fiction/reality brain I can begin to believe that Laurie actually knows Sherlock Holmes. I mean, personally. And if there’s any group in which I can say that without hoots of laughter, this is the place. Right? 
She certainly knows Mrs. Hudson. Because listen to this:  she also knows Mrs. Hudson is not at all what we were led to believe by Dr. Watson.
Laurie’s most recent Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes novel, Riviera Gold, finds the former housekeeper living amidst the millionaires and retired party girls in 1920s Monte Carlo.
Mrs. Hudson! How can it be?
Here’s the fabulous Laurie to tell us all about it. And a—whoo hoo—giveaway below!

I once knew a pair of aged anthropologists, man and wife, known for their detailed and subtle reports on various African peoples. The papers, books, and academic degrees were all in his name—but no one seemed to remark on how unlikely it was that this eminent academic always managed to ingratiate himself into the women’s world with so little fuss.
Of course, he hadn’t. Instead, his diminutive English wife would leave him by the men’s fire to slip into the women’s quarters, admiring a baby here, stirring a pot there, soothing a fallen toddler, then settling down to needlework, conversation, and note-taking.
Invisible, subtle, all-seeing.
Similarly the grey-haired ladies of crime fiction, especially those Golden-Age women rendered “superfluous”—the actual term used in newspapers and government reports—by the deaths of the Great War. Miss Marple and Miss Climpson, like the widows Pargeter and Pollifax of the next generation*, pull out their knitting, fumble for their spectacles, don a look of wide-eyed innocence, and come out with questions that would make a man stammer and blush.  Even Lord Peter Whimsy recognized what a terrible waste of talent this was.
One might think that a century later, with average life expectancy hovering near eight decades, the grey-haired lady detective might be coming into her own…
Well, no.
The feisty old lady has yet to have a #MeToo movement of her own, and is as blithely overlooked by society as ever she was.
But that doesn’t make her any less of a blast to write.
To be fair, the old lady I’ve been writing about this last year is not a detective, being far too occupied with beating crime off with a stick. 
And though this femme d’un certain âge is more limited than the story’s 25-year-old protagonist when it comes to physical strength and quickness of step, she is compensated by the migration of strength upwards to her heart and her wits. A woman in her seventieth year has seen enough of life to know what matters and what—or who—does not.  She knows when to go around barriers and when to confront them face-on, forcing an opponent into retreat. She knows how to bully and to charm, when to call on friends and when to strike out alone, when to warn and when to step back and let people make their own mistakes.
Writing an older woman also lets me put together scenes where the younger folk are as shocked—shocked, I tell you—by her uncompromising attitudes and her hitherto unseen skills as they are by the unexpected contents of her lingerie drawer.
Subversive, entertaining, colorful, and just a little thought-provoking: what more could a writer ask for, as she delves like an anthropologist into characters who keep her occupied for a year of writing? Especially when the writer is in her sixties herself.  Role model, anyone?
But I’m curious: if you’re in the neighborhood of 70, is it what you imagined? And if you live far from that neighborhood, what do you think you’ll be like when you get there?
(*Miss Marple is a long-lived character by Agatha Christie; Miss Climpson is in two Dorothy Sayers novels; the Mrs. Pargeter series is by Simon Brett, and Mrs. Pollifax comes from Dorothy Gilman.)

HANK:  Oh, what a fabulous question!  Yes, I am in that precise “neighborhood” of seventy. Is it what I thought it would be? In absolutely no way. I always burst out laughing when anchorpeople talk about “senior citizens” or “elderly people” who then turn out to be younger than I am. And I realize, full well, that I have no idea what I look like to the rest of the world. I do have clothing that I have donated away because it’s “too young for me”—but that’s not a disappointing thing. And when we go to the movies—er, when we used to go to the movies—I would always remind the cashiers I was due for the senior discount.
How about you, Reds and readers? And a copy of RIVIERA GOLD to one super-lucky commenter!

 Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels, with 16 in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is "one of the 20th century’s best crime novels”—the IMBA.)  She has won an alphabet of prizes from Agatha to Wolfe and been guest of honor at several crime conventions. Laurie is active on Facebook & Instagram  and has a YouTube channel, a Virtual Book Club on Goodreads, & a Facebook Group called “The Beekeeper’s Apprentices.” Riviera Gold is her new one.


The Jazz Age has hit the Riviera when the world’s greatest detective—with her husband, Sherlock Holmes—arrive in Antibes during the summer of 1925. When Mary Russell steps ashore, she is astonished to find everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Pablo Picasso there, baking in the sun. And among them, their long-time housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Mrs Hudson's racy past has already started to come out, but that doesn’t begin to explain the body of a beautiful young man in her front room

Riviera Gold: June 2020. Excerpt, buy links, and book club extras are here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Sarah Stewart Taylor--Be Fearless

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the perks of being an author is getting to read advance copies of upcoming books. Another is following the careers of other authors who have become friends. Such is the case today, with the publication of Sarah Stewart Taylor's THE MOUNTAINS WILD. I loved Sarah's Sweeney St. George books, and missed her writing in the years she was doing other things. So I'm thrilled to bring you Sarah today, with a wonderful new novel, THE MOUNTAINS WILD.

Twenty-three years ago, Maggie D'arcy's family received a call from the Dublin police. Her cousin Erin has been missing for several days. Maggie herself spent weeks in Ireland, trying to track Erin's movements, working beside the police. But it was to no avail: no trace of her was ever found.

The experience inspired Maggie to become a cop. Now, back on Long Island, more than 20 years have passed. Maggie is a detective and a divorced mother of a teenager. When the Gardaí call to say that Erin's scarf has been found and another young woman has gone missing, Maggie returns to Ireland, awakening all the complicated feelings from the first trip. The despair and frustration of not knowing what happened to Erin. Her attraction to Erin's coworker, now a professor, who never fully explained their relationship. And her determination to solve the case, once and for all.
Here's what I said about it: 
"With its evocative Dublin setting, lyrical prose, tough but sympathetic heroine, and a killer twist in the plot, Sarah Stewart Taylor's The Mountains Wild should top everyone's must-read lists this year!" ― New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie

Julia liked it, too:

"Lyrical, moody, THE MOUNTAINS WILD unfolds like an Irish ballad, at turns stirring, tender and tragic. Sarah Stewart Taylor has written a book as much about the mysteries of the human heart as the questions surrounding the long-missing woman at the silent center of the tale. A triumphant return to the genre." ― New York Times bestselling author Julia Spencer Fleming

So this one comes highly recommended indeed! Here's Sarah to share her inspiration--


I am not a slogan-y sort of person. I have never made an inspirational collage. I don’t have any “Success” posters hanging in my writing room. I am generally of the mind that a single motivational sentence or word could never contain enough nuance to be actually useful.  

And yet, a few years ago, when I embarked on a writing project that would become my new mystery novel, THE MOUNTAINS WILD, I found myself turning over and over again to two short sentences: Do Your Work. Be Fearless. Finally, I typed them up and pinned them above my desk. 

I needed a bit of fearlessness. The heart of the novel -- about a Long island homicide detective named Maggie D’arcy who returns to Ireland twenty three years after she first went there looking for her beloved cousin Erin -- had been lodged in my head since the night in 1993 that I drove with a group of friends up into the mountains outside Dublin, Ireland, and someone said to me, “This is where the American woman disappeared. She was from Long Island, like you.” 

Over the next six years, a string of disappearances in and around those mountains would baffle Irish investigators. Most of the disappearances -- including that of the young American woman from Long Island who, like me, had recently moved to Ireland  -- were never solved. During the years I lived in Ireland, I traveled all over the country, visiting many of the places near Dublin and Wicklow where the women had lived or gone missing. It wasn’t until I returned home to the States though that, thanks to the advent of online news, I learned about all of the cases. I started writing crime novels set in New England, and then I had three babies in five years and for a while, I didn’t write much of anything. I could chase a toddler across a busy road while eight months pregnant and with another toddler strapped to my body and go three weeks in a row without sleeping more than two hours at a stretch, but could I still construct a mystery plot? I wasn’t sure. I was afraid I’d never be able to do it again. When I started finding the time to tell stories again, I wrote kids’ adventure novels and the Irish cases receded in my mind, but never went away.

And then a few years ago, a plot began to crystalize. I started to think about the families of crime victims, in particular the families of crime victims who have disappeared, of whom no trace is ever found. I wondered what choices those family members might make, how it might affect their choice of careers, their relationships, the rest of their lives. I thought about the ripple effects of disappearances, of how everyone in the victim’s orbit is changed. 

Glendalough Valley

I was afraid to write the book though. A story inspired by those disappearances in Ireland somehow felt like it wasn’t mine to tell. Ireland was my favorite place in the world. The years I spent there, working and going to graduate school, were among the happiest of my life. I became myself there. I felt funny writing about something terrible happening there. I didn’t feel confident even trying until I sat down with an Irish friend in a pub in Dublin and told her my idea. You have to write it!” she exclaimed. 

 I started to do my work. I started traveling back to Ireland as much as I could to research locations, reconnecting with old and new friends and revisiting places that had been important to me. I interviewed experts and read accounts of the cases written by former investigators. I tried to figure out how to write the book. Irish crime writers I admire had written some terrific novels inspired by the disappearances and I knew I didn’t want to attempt to write the novel from the point of view of the Irish investigators or families. I decided to write it from the point of view of an American in Ireland. I wanted to capture the feeling of being a foreigner in a country you may think you understand, but really don’t. I wanted to capture the excitement and intense focus of getting to know a new place, the sense of everything being just slightly different: the words for things, the electrical outlets, the understanding of historical events and social dynamics. And I settled on the first person, present tense, because I wanted to narrow my character’s viewpoint to her own limited knowledge, to show her experiencing Ireland moment by moment, rather than thinking she -- or I -- had anything like a bird’s eye view. 

Glendalough Valley Boardwalk

My main character, Maggie D’arcy, appeared in my head one day. She would have grown up in an Irish American enclave on Long Island, she would have a complicated relationship with her missing cousin. She would go to look for her and be surprised by what she learned of Erin’s life. She would fall in love with Dublin, and with one of the men in Erin’s life there. She would realize how little she actually understood about Irish history and politics. Despite some promising leads, she would fail to find any trace of Erin, but she would become a homicide detective and years later, when new evidence was found and a new woman had gone missing, she would have to return to Ireland to face the man she’d loved for all those years and to try and solve the case once and for all. 

I’d done my work, but I was still terrified. I’d been out of the mystery community and that part of the publishing world for so long. Could I even do this? Would anyone want to read what I had to write? Doubt swamped me. 

And that’s when that phrase came to me. Do Your Work. Be Fearless. There was something about those words that centered me, that showed me the way. Put your head down. Do the work. Then put it out there, knowing that a book is always a risk, that not everyone is going to like it. Staying in Maggie’s head helped me. What was she experiencing? What was she missing? Where had she misunderstood? Maggie, it turned out, needed a dose of bravery too. 

THE MOUNTAINS WILD comes out today. My husband and my kids, now 15, 11 and 10, are helping me celebrate. I have been welcomed back so warmly -- as you can see from the quotes from both Julia and Debs on the cover of my book -- and I am so excited for the day that I get to see everyone in person once again. 

When have you had to talk yourself into being fearless? What resulted? And what slogans or phrases have been meaningful to you at various points in your life? 

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

DEBS: I love Sarah's questions! Stop in to chat and chime in!