Monday, October 26, 2020

How's your acronym IQ?

HALLIE EPHRON: I recently posted on Facebook a snapshot of part of a Walgreens ad emblazoned with BOGO. It was only when I read the trailing words, “...50% off,” that I realized BOGO is an acronym.

I posted the snapshot and wrote, “Duh... and all this time I thought BOGO was a brand name.” 

Turns out I’m not alone. The post generated a ton of comments. 

From my friend Patty Jo: “Me, too! Double DUH!” From Edith Maxwell, “I still don’t know what it is!” From our own “Oh, Kaye” (Kaye Wilkinson Barley): “I can tell you guys were not raised by my momma!” 

 My favorite comment came from Margaret Park Bridges, a talented children’s and mystery author who used to be local and has sadly moved away and works for a high tech company (which shall not be named): “This discussion is so funny to me. Having a job for the past year working with almost exclusively Millennials, I have had to learn a million acronyms just to keep up. OG, YOLO, ICYMI, JK, FOMO, BAE, FWIW...!! I may be the hippest 60-something-year-old I know.” 

 I think I know OG and and FWIW. The others? No clue. 

 So how’s your acronym IQ? Been stumped by any lately? 

JENN McKINLAY: I did know BOGO but only because some helpful store put the definition below their ad a few years ago. The Hooligans are 18 and 19, consequently my vibe is so dope, I’m practically lit (at which point, there is an eye roll and a Hooligan says “Lit is so 2017, Mom.”) 

LOL - I know y’all know that one. 

I’m hip to yours, Hallie - You Only Live Once, Fear of Missing Out, etc. and here’s some new ones - T (gossip), TBH (to be honest) - although, nothing good ever follows that one. And then, of course, there’s GOAT (greatest of all time). 

You don’t want to know how confused I was when the dudes kept calling Tom Brady a goat. mean, I’m “dying”. I’m “dead” (the new slang for LOL). 

RHYS BOWEN: it took me two years to know what POTUS meant! And FLOTUS sounds like something disgusting going down a river. I’ve managed to master BFF, IMHO and even WTF. ( which will not be explained here). 

Are you really concerned that language is going backward to caveman grunts? Writing to hieroglyphics? 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I don’t think it’s that new, Rhys - the Romans invented SPQR, after all! 

I use a few acronyms in my conversation (“BTdubs” is a favorite) but I confess, despite having a just-turned 20 year old, I’m still stumped by some of the acronyms I see. I think Twitter has spread them even more than emails had previously, since YKINYK and IIRC take up a lot fewer letters than “Your Kink is not My Kink” (formerly known as chacun son goût) and If I Recall Correctly. 

Fortunately, for all of those well above the age of hipness, there’s the Urban Dictionary, which is a wonderful resource for all sorts of acronyms and expressions. Be forewarned - if you’re faint of heart, the Urban Dictionary is exceedingly blunt. 

 And my mother and Kaye’s must have been soul sisters, because my mom’s favorite phrase in the world, after “70% off clearance,” was BOGOF. 

HANK PHILLPPI RYAN: I love to guess them, KWIM? 

What’s fascinating is that IRL, they are all only used on social media. We never say them out loud, except for LOL. It’s only on line. Amirite? It’s kinda efficient. 

But it’s a new language, for certain places only. I just google them, and don’t worry about it. I know other stuff. (I did have to look up ICYMI.) 

LUCY BURDETTE: I agree so strongly on FLOTUS Rhys--it’s a disgusting nickname and probably why I discouraged John from running for prez LOL. 

If I need a word for a character I’m writing, I definitely turn to Jenn. I had some 20-somethings look at the boat next to Miss Gloria’s in DEATH ON THE MENU, and she advised me to have them saying the houseboat was “lit,” which was cutting edge at the time. 

Funny I thought your boys calling Tom Brady GOAT meant he was an old goat, which face it, he probably is:). 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Help! It's Urban Dictionary for me. Although I've had to explain BOGO to my hubby.. I spend all my time trying to be current on British slang. But as I have a teenager in my books, I'd better upgrade my acronyms! (And I agree, FLOTUS is disgusting. And POTUS is pretty bad, too.) 

HALLIE: Yes, I agree, anything ending in OTUS should be abandoned.

So what about the rest of you? Are you double-duhing along with Patty Jo or rolling your eyes at our collective cluelessness? I'll be a lot of those young farts don't know this one: TK. It's what writers put in our manuscripts when we haven't clue what to say.  

Sunday, October 25, 2020

What We're Writing...Jenn McKinlay

 Jenn McKinlay: First, let me tell you the winner of Leslie Budewitz's Solace - commenter Pat D! Congratulations, Pat! 

You can reach Leslie here: leslie at drbeans dot come to let her know if you'd like the book or audio version. 

Technically, at the moment, I'm writing a proposal for my next rom-com that is "off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush" (nod to James Ellroy) for now. There's nothing I can say about it other than it takes place on Martha's Vineyard in July and I am really looking forward to going to the Vineyard next summer (please let the world be normal again) for the research. A hardship, I know.

The next project in the queue is tackling the copyedited manuscript for For Batter or Worse. I have a few weeks to get them done so it's nice to be able to take my time as I go through the manuscript. I've been very fortunate with my copyeditors and I'm not the sort of author who can't have her genius questioned. If a copyeditor doesn't "get me", I try to see why and if there are tweaks necessary to make my words more accessible, I'm happy to make them.

After that, I should have the revisions for Wait For It, the women's fiction rom-com coming out next summer. It's set in Phoenix, my current hometown area, so that was fun to write. Revisions are actually my favorite part of the process as the hard work of getting the words on the page are done and the pruning and reshaping can happen with clearer eyes.

Here's a sneak peek at a section of the proposed cover (just for fun):

Then, it's "back to one" to write Killer Research, the next library lover's mystery set in the fictional town of Briar Creek, CT, due by the end of the year. Oh, wow, it's mid October! I think I just broke into a sweat. 

This is the convergence of projects moment where I tend to have repeated small panic attacks. I have something in every stage of production RIGHT NOW and if I think about it too much I get completely overwhelmed which causes me to become paralyzed and then I spend endless hours on Etsy, shopping for everything from corn scented ear of corn shaped soap to a Ouija board lunch box. I wish I was kidding but I really am a master level at procrastination.

Ear of corn soap!

Ouija Lunchbox!

When I peel myself off Etsy, I try to cut my work down to manageable bites and figure out just what has to be done that day. Some days are amazing and I get more done than I planned and other days are a complete bust, and I am sure I'm doomed. After ten years, I'm getting used to the pitch and roll of this writer's ocean but still.

I get a lot of questions about my time management since I do manage to get things done. I wish I had a simple answer but the truth is I just overcommit and then flail around at the keyboard in a complete flurry of angst until I get the words on the page, the copyedits read, the revisions shaped, and so forth. When my back is to the wall, I turn off the Internet and give the Hub my phone. That usually does the trick. Well, that and snacks.

So, Reds and Readers, do tell? What is your procrastination of choice? How do you kick start yourself when you are literally out of time?


Saturday, October 24, 2020

What We're Writing Week: Julia Adjusts to Advent

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Rhys, I'm also writing a book set in the Christmas season, or, to be more precise, during Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas. Advent is a rather solemn counterpoint to the orgy of food, lights and decoration that takes place between Thanksgiving and December 25. The nice thing is, if you observe Advent, Christmas lasts from that day until January 6th - and this year, most of us are likely to be home for the whole time to enjoy it.

AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY will not, sadly, have plum pudding, but I am enjoying weaving in the rituals of the season as practiced in a contemporary small American town and in a contemporary small Episcopal church. In today's scene, Russ Van Alstyne (in charge of baby Ethan) bumps into Officer Hadley Knox, whose two kids sing in the St. Alban's children's choir. They sit in a pew with a couple mugs of coffee to watch the rehearsal.

How was Thanksgiving?” 

Knox blew on her coffee. “Quiet. Grandad's sick. I'm hoping it's not the flu.” She looked toward the ceiling, as if asking for strength. “He refused to get his flu shot or the pneumonia shot this fall. Said it's all a con by the pharmaceutical companies.” She shook her head. “He doesn't even have to pay for them, for crying out loud.” 

Considering her grandfather was in his late seventies, diabetic, and had survived a massive heart attack a few years back, Russ could see why she was so frustrated. She took a sip. “How about you? How are you doing? With...” her vague sweeping gesture encompassed him, the baby, and the church. 

Not bad."

Are you,” she sounded hesitant, “job hunting yet?” 

Nope. Thought it would be good to cool off for a bit. Take my bearings and figure out what I really want to do between now and retirement. I started working as an MP when I was what, twenty? Twenty-one? I've been a cop ever since.” 

Do you miss it?” He smiled, showing his eyeteeth. “No more than I'd miss my foot if it were lopped off.” 


She took another drink of coffee. “Ah.” The children in the choir pews began singing. Ethan shifted forward, mouth open, and started crawling up the aisle. Russ figured he didn't need to grab him just yet – the first step up to the altar rail would stop him. “How about you? How are things at work?” What the hell, she brought it up first. 

She see-sawed her hand. “MacAuley's doing fine as interim chief. You know how he is – very organized and methodical. He was always good at scheduling and stuff like that.” That Russ's deputy chief had been less good at personnel and conflict resolution went unsaid. “Eric's back working full time, but we're still shorthanded, and the board of aldermen isn't showing any sign of opening up their pockets for another officer.” 


Russ hummed agreement. “We were understaffed even before Kevin left. I should have replaced him immediately, instead of letting the board get used to a skinnier budget for us. For the department.” Kevin Flynn, the youngest member of the MKPD, had taken a job at the Syracuse Police Department not quite a year ago. Russ could see now, as he hadn't then, that he'd been unconsciously hoping the kid would return to Millers Kill. “You heard anything from him?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I've left a couple messages on his cell and on Facebook, but...” 

Have you tried calling Syracuse again?” Three weeks ago, he had done just that, to be told Kevin had taken a leave of absence for family business. Except Knox had called the Flynns, and they had no idea where their son was. 

No, I don't want to be stalker-y.” She made a sound of frustration. 

Look, working undercover was hard on him. He's probably taking his bearings and figuring out what he wants to do next.” 

You think so?” Knox sounded dubious. 

Kevin was thrown into the deep end for several months and then got yanked from the investigation before anything was finished. So yeah, I think it's entirely likely he's trying to decide if he wants to continue being a cop, if he wants to go someplace else, if he just wants to stay at home and raise his kid.” Ethan had reached the first wide step up to the altar area and, as predicted, was stumped. 

Knox looked at him sideways. “I don't need to point out Flynn doesn't have any kids, right?” 

You know what I mean.” He took another drink of coffee to avoid sighing like a sad sack. “It's a tough field. People leave for something else all the time.”

Kevin once told me all he ever wanted to do was be a cop. He said he got hired as soon as he turned twenty-one.” 

Russ laughed. “Oh, God, yes. I remember that. He was all arms and legs and red hair, hadn't even finished growing into himself. It was like having an Irish setter puppy running around in the shop. The radar gun was exciting. Traffic duty was exciting. We had a homicide that year and he helped at the scene. I had to tell him to stop grinning and commenting how cool it all was.” 


The kids had paused the song, and Betsy Young was going over their two parts, soprano and treble. 

I can believe it. He'd calmed down a little by the time I came onto the force, but still. Do you see that guy wallowing in some sort of existential crisis about his future?” 

Russ breathed in. “No.” 


JULIA:  Poor Russ, he wants to be moving on, but he certainly seems to be stuck in the job he left (about a month ago in book-time.) Have any of you ever had a job that was hard to leave behind?


Friday, October 23, 2020

What We're Writing--Debs Tromping on Literary London

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been fascinated for years by the idea of literary Bloomsbury. This part of London near the British Museum is famous for its literary associations with the "Bloomsbury Set", a group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists, which included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, and John Maynard Keynes, among others. Many of the group lived near 51 Gordon Square. Charles Dickens lived for a time in Doughty Street, and Charles Darwin in Gower Street. This was all heady stuff for me and these associations influenced my decision to move Duncan Kincaid to the police station in Holborn, right in the heart of Bloombury. 

But Bloomsbury had surprises for me! In the book-in-progress, I put two of my characters in a flat in Guilford Street, the location chosen one night when I was walking in London in the rain. Imagine my delight when I discovered just recently that in the 1920s both Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Sayers had lived literally around the corner from my fictional characters in Mecklenburg Square (although not at the same time.) 

We usually see photos of both writers--especially Sayers--when they were older, but I like to think of them as they might have looked in the Mecklenburg Square period, when they were both establishing  independent and creative lives. Here's Sayers as a young woman.

The Mecklenburg Square connection drove me back to Sayers' biographies, which I hadn't read in decades, and I'd forgotten that she had a couple of passionate affairs and an illegitimate child. It was only when she found herself pregnant that she learned her lover was already married, and it was her lover's wife who arranged for her to bear her child in secret. Now that's the stuff of fiction! In Gaudy Night Sayers used her own first floor flat in Mecklenburg Square as Harriet Vane's home.

And then I discovered that Sayers later lived for many years at 24 Great James Street, which is right behind Holborn Police Station. How did I not know this before?

When I can go to London again, I'm going to be walking in Sayers' footsteps!

But in the meantime, here's a little snippet that introduces the flat in Guilford Street, which is not nearly as elegant as the one in the photo above.


Melody settled into the back of the panda car beside Kincaid. He was on his mobile again, now talking to someone that she assumed was his team’s case manager. “Who’s available as FLO?” he asked, then nodded as he listened. “McGillivray? Good. Tell her to stand by until we get an address for the family.”

Of course, they would need a family liaison officer to inform the next of kin, Melody thought, and she didn’t envy whoever had caught the rota on that job. Dealing with bereaved relatives had never been her strong suit, and she’d often envied the easy way Gemma seemed to connect with the families they interviewed.

As Kincaid continued organizing his team, Melody realized that her feet felt like blocks of ice. She hadn’t been prepared for standing in puddles in the park and her ankle boots were soaked. Beside her, Kincaid’s coat gave off the distinctive aroma of wet wool as it steamed in the blast from the car’s heater. She thought of Gemma, going home to a warm, dry house, and wondered if she’d been a bit hasty in asking to tag along on this interview when she could be home and dry as well. But the rain-blurred streets zipped by and in moments the car was pulling to a stop, just as Kincaid ended his call.

Glancing out, Melody saw the bulk of Great Ormond Street Hospital rising on the south side of the street. On the north side was a rather grim-looking building in dark brick, its color indistinguishable in the gloom. Kincaid scrolled through his mobile, apparently checking the address. Nodding as if satisfied, he said, “Let’s see if Doug is here yet,” and tapped out a text.

Melody realized this was the first time she’d been alone with Kincaid since the weekend in Gloucestershire when she’d made such a disastrous hash of her life, and felt herself coloring with sudden awkwardness. Kincaid, however, seemed oblivious, and when his mobile pinged with a reply, he put it away and leaned forward to speak to the driver. “If you could wait, I don’t think we’ll be long. And then we’ll need a run to the station.” To Melody, he added, “Doug says he’ll buzz us in.”

Melody followed him as he slid out of the car and crossed the street, picking her way around the rivulets running in the gutters.

The fanlight-topped black door buzzed open as they reached it, and they stepped into a dingy hallway with a scuffed linoleum floor. The door to the ground floor flat opened, framing Doug Cullen. His eyes widened as he took in Melody. “What are you—” He shook his head. “Never mind. You’d better come in.”

He stepped back to allow them into a sitting room. The place was furnished in student chic—including the rice-paper globe covering the hanging ceiling bulb—but looked clean and relatively tidy. A rolling rack filled with women’s clothing had been positioned in front of the window, providing a curtain of sorts. There were a couple of squashy armchairs and a futon covered with layers of Kantha throw blankets and some sequined pillows. The flat smelled faintly of curry.

A high, shallow shelf above the futon held a row of the oddest dolls Melody had ever seen. They had distinctly individual clay faces, some with hats, some with molded hair, and they were dressed in random scraps of colorful cloth. Melody had the uncomfortable feeling that they were watching her.

REDS and readers, do you enjoy walking in literary footsteps? What famous writers' homes have you visited?

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Lucy is Editing A SCONE OF CONTENTION #Writing

 LUCY BURDETTE: Not every stage of writing is as much fun as every other--not by a long shot. And the stages don't feel the same for every author. For me, the first draft is a monster. There's simply nothing to be done but slog forward with the word count, get feedback from trusted friends, and hope it all comes together in some magical way

And then comes the editorial letter and comments--that's where I am this week with A SCONE OF CONTENTION, the 11th Key West mystery, coming to a bookstore near you next summer. (This week, I learned that that the Crooked Lane team chose that for the new title--I love it! Another title had been selected first, but after mulling it over, I decided it was (a) too silly and (b) unrelated to the content of the book. So I begged for a change and my people agreed. Phew!) I will not bore you with the horrible details, but my computer failed last Thursday. I've only yesterday gotten it back so I can get to work. What did I do in the meanwhile? Bake cinnamon scones, which are featured in the book. (Recipe will come later...)

Anyway, back to edits. I feel very, very lucky to have scored Sandy Harding as my outside editor--she bought the series for NAL back in 2010. She understands the series, the characters, and the whole point of mysteries, cozier mysteries in particular. Here's a little example of a comment early in the manuscript next to the section where I described Hayley's new home--you'll see what I mean, she actually believes in the characters as I do. (If you can't read it, she said "This has been such a lovely description. I'm so glad she gets to live here!")

It's been such a horrible year between the pandemic and politics. So I adored writing this book, reliving some of my favorite places from our trip to Scotland last year and taking Hayley and her gang to visit. I have lots of work to do--mostly beefing up the murderer's motives so you believe that he or she is capable of the deadly deeds. But the comments all ring true so I know it will be stronger once I think and tweak. I will share the description that Sandy was referring to, so you can pretend you live on Hayley and Nathan's houseboat too...

I got up from my lounge chair on the teak deck and walked into our new houseboat, our home. Nathan and I had been living here two weeks and I still had to pinch myself to believe it was real. Though we’d spent months pouring over plans and many more months waiting for workers and materials to show up, the outcome was, in a word, stunning—without a whiff of flashy.

Our builder, Chris, had managed to secure Dade county pine lumber from a demolition project that now found a new life as my kitchen counters and drawers. He’d also managed to find Dave Combs, an amazing contractor and woodworker who helped to execute our dream to polished reality. At the deep end of the counter, he had built shelves where I lined up my pottery containers of baking supplies, and above that, vertical slats for my prettiest plates and, a little higher, a glass-fronted cabinet for the flowered blue china mugs and teapot that had been handed down from my grandmother’s kitchen. There was a separate shelf for my cookbooks and a gas stove on which every burner worked without coaxing or danger of explosion, and even a special cabinet that exactly fit the mammoth food processor that my mother-in-law had given us as a wedding present. From a wrought iron rack on the wall and ceiling over the stove hung an assortment of pots and pans, whisks, cheese grater boxes, and the other tools of my trade. 

Though I wrote food criticism for a living, I lived for feeding my family and friends. The new kitchen made that activity almost purely pleasurable. There were of course trade-offs that came automatically with living on a houseboat— neighbors were close by and the water all around us amplified every sound. That meant we shared our neighbors’ music, no matter the genre. And we heard every woof and meow from every furry resident. And space was at a premium. That meant that our bed, three steps up from the double oven at the end of the kitchen, was built into the wall of the bedroom with reasonable walk-in space only on his side and a smaller mattress than a well-muscled man might prefer. As newlyweds, we did not find this close proximity to be a drawback. And we loved waking up in the morning and looking out on our aqua blue watery world.

How about you Reds? Is there something you've read or written or worked on this year that has taken your mind off the horrors for a little bit of time?

And by the way, if you haven't yet read DEATH ON THE MENU (#8), or have a friend who might enjoy it--the ebook is on sale for $1.99

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


 RHYS BOWEN: I wonder if there is anybody in America who is not feeling tense and nervous right now. We have had our nerves frayed with the pandemic (not to mention murder hornets, deadly caterpillars, fires and hurricanes) and now with the election looming the tension has risen to unbearable levels.

So I'm grateful at the moment to be writing about Christmas. And not only that, Christmas suitably long ago and far away with Lady Georgie. After THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS did very well my publisher asked me to write another Christmas book. And I readily agreed. After all, who doesn't like to spend time vicariously in the holiday spirit?

Writing about Christmas allows me to relive my childhood memories: mince pies, carol singers, hot punch, holly and ivy, crackers (the type that explode, not dry biscuits) and silly party games. All part of the Christmases I remember from childhood and have tried to recreate with my family.

So writing about this at this moment is in many ways bitter-sweet. Because it's unlikely that we'll be able to have any kind of family Christmas this year. Or Thanksgiving. The oldest grandchildren will be coming home from college. The younger two are back in school full time. We have three teachers in the family and a son-in-law who works at the veteran's home. So the only contact we could have would be outside, at distance. And Christmas is likely to be cold and rainy in Northern California.

That's why I'm enjoying escaping to a country house in England every day and watching the cook bring in the flaming Christmas pudding!  Of course it's not all fun and games and happy days in my books. They are mysteries, after all. There is bound to be a body or two. Of the most tasteful sort, naturally!

But here is a snippet from the beginning of the book, and the first days of preparation for the big event.

And the title? GOD REST YE ROYAL GENTLEMEN. (Which might hint that a few famous characters are going to be part of this story)

I addressed the envelopes, put on stamps and had just deposited them on the tray in the front hall for the postman to collect when Mrs. Hollbrook appeared.
     “Oh, there you are, my lady,” she said. “I wonder if you’d come down to the kitchen for a moment.” Alarm bells sounded in my head.
     “Oh dear. Nothing’s wrong, is it?” 
     “Not at all, my lady. It’s just that it’s pudding day.” 
    “Pudding day?”     
    “Yes, November twenty-fifth. A month before Christmas. Always been pudding day in this house. The day the Christmas puddings are made. And it’s always traditional for the lord or lady of the house to come and give a stir for good luck.”
     “Oh, right. “ I gave a sigh of relief. Not a disaster at all. “I’ll get Mr. O’Mara. Perhaps he’d like to be part of this.” 
     I hurried back to the study. Darcy looked up, a trifle impatiently this time. “What is it, Georgie?” 
     “Mrs. Holbrook has invited us to come and stir the pudding.” “What?” 
     “It’s pudding day, apparently and the lord and lady of the house are supposed to give the puddings a stir for good luck.”
     “I really need to get this stuff off to the post,” he said. “Do I have to be present to ensure good luck?”     “I suppose not…” He saw my face and pushed back his chair. 
    “Of course I can spare a few minutes. We have to make sure we have good luck next year, don’t we?” And he put his arm around my shoulders, steering me out of the room. He really is a nice man, I thought with a little glow of happiness.

     Down the hallway we walked, past the dining room, through the baize door that led to the servant’s part of the house and down a flight of steps to the cavernous kitchen. On rainy days I expect it could be rather gloomy unless the electric lights were shining. Today the windows, high in the south wall, sent shafts of sunlight onto the scrubbed tables. Queenie was standing at one of them, her hands in a huge mixing bowl. She looked up, giving us a look of pure terror as we came in.
     “Hello Queenie, we’ve come to stir the pudding,” I said. 
     “Oh yeah. Bobs yer uncle, missus.” She sounded distracted. I noted she now called me ‘missus’ instead of ‘miss’. I suppose it was a small step forward. After several years she had never learned to call me ‘my lady’. Or perhaps she knew very well and was just being bolshie about it. I sometimes suspected Queenie wasn’t quite as clueless as we imagined. 
     “Is something wrong?” I asked.
     “Wrong?” Her voice sounded higher than usual. I walked toward the pudding bowl, with Darcy a step behind me. Inside was a big sticky mass of dough and fruit. It looked the way puddings were supposed to look, from my limited experience. 
     “It’s just that you had both hands in the bowl when we came in. Doesn’t one usually stir with a spoon?”     “What? Oh yes, right.” Her face had now gone red. “It’s just I was looking for something.” 
    “Looking for something?” Darcy sounded puzzled but then he hadn’t had close contact with Queenie for as long as I had.
     Her face was now beet-red. “It’s like this, you see. A button was loose on my uniform again. I meant to sew it on but I forgot and I I was giving the pudding a bloody great stir when all of a sudden—ping—it popped clean off and went flying into the pudding mixture and I can’t for the life of me find it again.”             “Queenie!” I exclaimed. I knew I should be firm with her and scold her for not keeping her uniform up to snuff, but it really was rather funny. 
    “What exactly is this button made of?” Darcy asked. “It’s not celluloid or something that might melt when it’s cooked, is it?”
     “Oh no, sir. It’s like these others.” She pointed at the front of her uniform dress, where there was now a gaping hole revealing a ratty red flannel vest. “I think it’s bone.” 
    “Well in that case nothing to worry about,” Darcy said breezily. “If someone finds it—well people are supposed to find charms in puddings, aren’t they?”
     “Silver charms,” I pointed out. 
     “We’ll tell them it’s a tradition of the house, going back to the middle ages,” Darcy said. “It’s a button made from the bone of a stag that was shot on Christmas Day.” 
    “Darcy, you’re brilliant.” I had to laugh. “Just as long as someone doesn’t swallow it or break a tooth. Please keep trying to find it, Queenie, only use a fork and not your fingers.” 
    “Would you ladyship like to stir now?” Mrs. Holbrook asked, handing me the big spoon. I took it and stirred.
     “You’re supposed to wish, my lady,” Mrs. Holbrook reminded. “Oh, of course.” I stirred and you can probably guess what I wished for.
     Then Darcy stirred and I wondered if he was wishing for the same thing. Mrs. Holbrook opened a little leather box and handed us the silver charms. “You’ll want to drop these into the pudding,” she said.
     “Oh yes. What fun.” We dropped them in, one by one: the boot, the pig, the ring and silver threepences.     
    “And the bachelor button,” Darcy said, dropping in a silver button and giving me a grin. 
    “Thank you, sir. Thank you, my lady,” Mrs. Holbrook said. “I’ll help Queenie look for the unfortunate button, don’t you worry. We’ll find it between us.” 
As we came up the stairs from the kitchen Darcy put a hand on my shoulder. “Now do you agree that we need to get a proper cook before Christmas?”  

And because we all need a good chuckle right now. This is the sort of family photos we sometimes take!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

WHAT WE'RE WRITING--and New Ways to Connect!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I should be on book tour. I should be getting boarding passes, and fuming at the guy who put his carry-on above MY seat, and getting to have room service. But most important, I should be meeting with real people! Readers and authors and booksellers and librarians and everyone. YOU for instance.  

But no. I'm here, in Boston, adjusting my Zoom lighting.

Still, thank goodness for Zoom, and all the other platforms like that. At least we can SEE people, even though it's more like watching TV.

So you know Karen Dionne? The internationally best-selling author ofTHE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER  and The WICKED SISTER? She and I were griping about how in some Zooms, we couldn't see the people who were participating, which is really frustrating when we're used to watching people's reactions.  And when we attended them, it was too difficult to ask the author a question, or even let them know we were there supporting them! So we cooked up a thing to help with that. 

We designed a new project that we called THE BACK ROOM, where you can chat with authors up close and personal--at least, as up close and personal as Zoom can be. And we are so enthusiastic. 

Here's how it works: Each online event starts with a short introduction to a panel of four authors. (Authors like Joe Finder, Heather Gudenkauf, Angie Kim, David Weiden, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Rachel Howzell Hall and many more are already scheduled.)  And then we play a quick game of almost-twenty questions.

Then it gets different.

 The audience is then divided into four breakout rooms where they remain for the rest of the program. Th the authors visit each room in turn, so everyone gets to connect with everyone. Everyone’s video is turned on (if you like!) and all mics are unmuted, allowing for informal, face-to-face discussion. What’s more, breakout sessions are never recorded. Because the authors will see you and your mics will be open, it's a great way to network!

Karen and I trade off hosting them. And it's free!

But space is limited, so everyone gets a chance to really connect. You can sign up HERE for as many events as you like. And just you Reds and Readers, put "VIP Pass-Jungle Reds" in the comments box to make sure you get a spot!

Check the schedule (it's amazing) then, as I said, sign up here:   (Julia and Lucy and Jenn are already scheduled, but you can be sure the other Reds will be there, too!)

So--will it work? So far, we've had three events, and they've all been GREAT. We hired a tech person to handle all the zoom magic, so that takes care of a lot of the pressure. On us, at least.

Meanwhile, yes, indeed. THE MURDER LIST won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the year! I am honestly still floating.

And, just so you know, I'm almost done with the first draft of my new book.

And tonight I am cooking dinner number 221.  

 (And Do you know about First Chapter Fun? If you don't--let me now! Today is EPISODE NUMBER 100!! And we are having a special celebration today at 12:30 PM EST! Take a lunch break, and go to @firstchapterfun on Insta, or FirstChapterFun in the groups on Facebook. My partner in fictional crime Hannah Mary McKinnon will be reading--out loud, and live!--the first chapter of Iona Whishaw's An Old Cold Grave.)

Have you been to The Back Room? To First Chapter Fun? Do you go to Zoom events? Or Facebook lives? Let me know, Reds and readers!

Monday, October 19, 2020

How's your aura? A window into Hallie's planning...

HALLIE EPHRON: It's What We're Writing week again and at last I have something to report. I'm planning to write... That counts, right? 

I’ve long wanted to write a character based on a family friend, a Hollywood screenwriter at a time when “woman screenwriter” was an oxymoron. A fascinating person, she wrote the 1954 movie ‘Father Brown – Detective” starring Alec Guinness. That same year her husband died of cancer just before she gave birth to their second child. She went into a deep depression. She was treated – saved she would say – by electric shock therapy and LSD.

She went on to get a doctorate, taught parapsychology at UCLA (yes there was a department in the 60s), and wrote extensively about electric force fields in the human body that could be detected through “Kirlian” photography.

I imagine my version of her(I call her Helen) quite elderly, reincarnated (I think she’d have liked that) in modern-day Brooklyn, living on the top floor a brownstone. In the apartment on the floor below lives her daughter, and her granddaughter lives on the parlor floor. Maybe there’s a communal kitchen and family room on the ground floor.

The walls of Helen's sunny apartment are hung with “Kirlian” photographs she’s taken of auras or unseen energy force fields. Shadowy hands with the fingertips and palms glowing with silver, cactus-like spines. A human head with a halo of glowing purple and gold tendrils. A maple leaf outlined in neon green. Some of the pictures she’s taken are so inexplicable that she’s convinced she’s captured energy force fields emanating from the astral plane – perhaps the dead sending messages to the living.

While Helen holds weekly séance-like gatherings in her apartment, her daughter is a scientist and a skeptic. Her granddaughter is a marketing executive for a company that manufactures and sells skin care products made of (ballparking here) natural quartz crystals.

Into their midst walks a woman who claims she’s been in communication with a beloved deceased relative who is desperate to share a secret.

As usual, I’ve got more house than story, but you can see how I’m trying to set up three characters like separate force fields in competition with one another.

So what’s going to happen? What's the secret? Whenever my mother didn't know the answer but wanted to pretend that she did, she’d say Nous verrons (we shall see). She liked to throw in the odd bit of French here and there. I think I’ll give Helen that same annoying habit.

So what do you think: electric force fields in the human body? Does it seem too farfetched, or might a smart but emotionally needy person believe in it?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bad Breakfast Choices by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: I remember the exact day it happened four years ago. It was early morning. I was running on no sleep and feeling rather sad as my father had just passed away. I couldn't manage to get it together to eat breakfast before I needed to go do the things I needed to do that day so I grabbed a fistful of red, white, and blue peanut M&Ms and decided that was breakfast. As a joke, I snapped a pic and posted it to my social media account with the hashtag #badbreakfastchoices.

Little did I know that the post would become so relatable! Turns out a lot of people make #badbreakfastchoices or IMHO very good breakfast choices and they love to share them in the comments, which cracks me up!

Naturally, #badbreakfastchoices became a thing. So much so that a few years ago a friend sent me this very apropos mug. Yes, it's my fave!

Being the author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries has certainly helped give me reasons to keep my passion for dessert for breakfast, including this lemon-lavender cupcake which was a bad breakfast choice from 2018 - soooo good!

I have also pulled my fam into my love of inappropriate dessert shenanigans. My nephew Austin scouted a place in Massachusetts with donuts as big as our heads. Amazing! Of course, donuts are perfectly acceptable for breakfast, but do you see the size of this thing? It is clearly meant to share. Spoiler: I did not share and ate the whole thing!

Yes, I'm quite sure literary historians in the future will clamor to discuss the meaning of my hardcore breakfast-dessert eating just as they opine about Sylvia Plath being a bee keeper, Emily Dickinson a baker, and Flannery O'Connor an aviculturist (she was partial to pea hens and peacocks). 

In looking up the hobbies of famous authors, I have to admit I was disappointed that we didn't have social media back in the day. I really wanted to see Sylvia Plath in beekeeper's garb and Emily Dickinson covered in flour. Ah, well...

So, what about you, Reds and Readers, what are your go to #badbreakfastchoices? 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

How Do You Say That? The Mysteries of Audiobooks by Leslie Budewitz

Jenn McKinlay: Do you hear what I hear? Yes, it's our very dear Jungle Red friend, Leslie Budewitz, talking about audiobooks! Take it away, Leslie! 

 Leslie Budewitz: I’m willing to bet every Jungle Red will agree with me: When an author gets her first audiobook contract, she breaks out in a grin. Why, exactly, I’m not sure, but it feels like a sign that you’ve arrived. 

 For me, it may be in part because books on tape—and they were on tape, back then—were such a big part of my reading life when I started writing. (We’ll just ignore the debate about whether listening is reading; it’s story, and that’s what matters.) I was living in a small town on an Indian reservation in western Montana and driving a lot—I worked for a small law firm 30 miles north, and helped teach a legal writing class at the University, 45 miles south in Missoula. My town didn’t have a public library, but the Missoula Public Library took the view that it served the region and gave anyone living in an adjacent county a card. As I drove, I listened to books by Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, and Tony Hillerman. It was Hillerman whose books showed me I could set a mystery in my own rural community and that readers, and listeners, would be interested. 

 And it was those narrators—Barbara Rosenblat, George Guidall, Stephen Thorne and Patrick Tull—who gave the stories another dimension. Through them, I could be in two places at once: Driving my narrow highways lined by foothills and mountains, winding above the river or through a lush farm valley. And at the same time, walking the streets of Chicago, cruising along the Pacific Ocean near Santa Teresa, harvesting herbs in the gardens of a 12th century Benedictine monastery, or roaming the vast Hopi and Navajo lands. It was the voices who took me there. 

 Although my Food Lovers’ Village series began before my Spice Shop series, it was the Spice Shop books, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, that came to audio first. When I heard the voice sample the publisher sent me after they chose the narrator, my eyes widened. I knew that voice! You know it, too—Dara Rosenberg who does voiceovers for TV and ads, as well as narrating books. She even narrates Barbara Ross’s Maine Clam Bake series, a favorite of mine and a regular Jungle Red visitor. 

 At some point, we connected by phone and talked about talking—that is, pronunciations. My main character, Pepper Reece, is a Seattle native, and Northwesterners have their own way of saying certain things. It’s toorist and toor, not the Northeasterner’s toreist and tore. The king of clam chowder is EYE-ver, even though it’s spelled Ivar. Some characters have an accent, or a personal manner of speech. 

 The books are loaded with regional names, many from Native languages. It’s SHIL-shole Bay, not Shils-hole. Klickitat, Duwamish, and Snoqualmie. (KLIK-uh-tat. Doo-WAHM-ish. Snow-KWAL-mee.) The t and l of Tlingit are said as one syllable, rather than inserting a vowel between them. And it’s Spo-KAN, not Spo-KANE. 

 For The Solace of Bay Leaves, Pepper’s fifth adventure, knowing there would be an audio book directly influenced the writing. There’s a character named Jake Byrd, and no spoilers, but at times, the spelling of his last name matters. How could I make that clear for the narrator and for listeners? That led to passages like this: 
     “I went to a couple of meetings,” the customer said. “I didn’t trust that Burns or Burke, whatever his name was.” ... 
    “His name was Byrd,” the stylist said. “With a Y. And he called the project Byrd’s Nest. With a Y.” 
    “That’s right. He had all these fancy drawings, but they were ugly as sin.” 
And this: 
     “You know, mostly you know the other people in the business, right? You’re looking at the same jobs, hiring the same subs. But this guy was new on the scene. His name was Jake Byrd, with a Y, doing business as Byrd’s Nest, LLC. With a Y.” 
     “Cute,” I said. Finally, a first name for the man. 
     “I thought it was dumb.” Jessica bit into a lemon coriander crescent. “Oh, wow.” 
     Wait until the baker started using my spices. 

 Each chapter opens with a short epigraph, usually a bit of spice lore or Seattle history. I wanted to use a snippet from a book of walking tours saying that Lake Union, in the heart of Seattle, was known as XáXu7cHoo, or “small lake,” in Whulshootseed, the language of the Puget Salish tribe. But I couldn’t use it if I couldn’t tell Dara how to pronounce it. I emailed the guidebook author; he had no idea. An old friend of my husband’s is a professor of linguistics at Western Washington University; I emailed her. She didn’t even recognize the phonetics, and was sure it wasn’t a widely used system. She reached out to colleagues among the Northwest tribes, but it was Christmas; my copyedits were due January 2. I chose a different epigraph. Trust me, that made recording an audio file for my darling narrator much easier. 

Readers, let’s talk talking books! Are you a fan? Do you have a favorite narrator? Do you listen in the car, like Leslie, or as you go about your day? One lucky winner will get their choice of a paperback or set of audio CDs of The Solace of Bay Leaves. 

 From the cover of The Solace of Bay Leaves, the 5th Spice Shop Mystery by Leslie Budewitz: Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves. But when her life fell apart at forty and she bought the venerable-but-rundown Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, her days took a tasty turn. Now she’s savoring the prospect of a flavorful fall and a busy holiday cooking season, until danger bubbles to the surface ... Between managing her shop, worrying about her staff, and navigating a delicious new relationship, Pepper’s firing on all burners. But when her childhood friend Maddie is shot and gravely wounded, the incident is quickly tied to an unsolved murder that left another close friend a widow. Convinced that the secret to both crimes lies in the history of a once-beloved building, Pepper uses her local-girl contacts and her talent for asking questions to unearth startling links between the past and present—links that suggest her childhood friend may not have been the Golden Girl she appeared to be. Pepper is forced to face her own regrets and unsavory emotions, if she wants to save Maddie’s life—and her own. 

 Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series, the Spice Shop Mysteries set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in NW Montana. Watch for her suspense debut, Bitterroot Lake (written as Alicia Beckman) in April 2021. A three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story), she is a past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America. She lives and cooks in NW Montana. Find her online at and on Facebook at More about the Solace of Bay Leaves, including an excerpt and buy links here:

Friday, October 16, 2020

Jonelle Patrick--Foreigners Aren't Fish

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I adore novels that weave in and out of history, that show me unfamiliar places and engaging characters. Add in a mystery and I am on it!!! Jonelle Patrick's novel THE LAST TEA BOWL THIEF has it all, plus the most gorgeous cover ever. Meet Jonelle!


 JONELLE PATRICK:  Is it possible for an outsider to write an authentic story set in a foreign culture?

As you can imagine, I get asked this question a lot. I mean—if you had to guess—what do you think someone who looks like Pandemic Barbie is most likely to know more about: the merits of saving all the marshmallows in a bowl of Lucky Charms until last, or Japanese tea bowls? And even if you knew that I came in the special edition Tokyo Pandemic Barbie set (complete with Japanese language school diploma, a set of swordsmith-crafted kitchen knives and a wardrobe of masks that all squish her beaky nose) you’d still be completely within your reader rights to wonder how a foreigner could have enough insight to write a book that’s not only set in Japan, it’s got some Japanese characters.

If you can suspend your skepticism for just a moment, let me suggest something kind of counterintuitive: that illuminating stories about what it’s like to be an insider are often written by those who will always be outsiders.

Reason #1:

Foreigners aren’t fish

If you ask a fish to write about life in the ocean, the fish will leave out a lot. The ocean is the only world the fish knows, and there are fairly essential things about living in the ocean that it doesn’t even notice. But if you’re not a fish, and you need all kinds of expensive and complicated equipment to survive in the ocean for even a short time, you pay attention to the details. Because it’s the details that can kill you.

I was once working with a Japanese actor to translate a traditional comic rakugo story into English. While demonstrating the acting that went with the part we were working on, he “arrived” at the house where a gathering was being held and said, “Ah, I see everyone is already here.” Then he opened the door to go inside.

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Didn’t you get that backwards? Shouldn’t you open the door before you mention that everyone is already there?”

He looked at me, puzzled. “No, didn’t you see how I looked down at all the pairs of shoes people left outside first?”

      That’s the kind of thing you forget to explain if you’ve never lived in a country where people don’t take off their shoes before going indoors. If you’ve ever wondered why there aren’t more mysteries by Japanese authors in translation, that’s why. It’s not because there aren’t a boatload of bestselling potboilers, it’s because you can’t translate many of them verbatim. You’d either have to add lots of heavy-handed cultural explanation to make the detective’s leaps of deduction make sense, or baffle foreign readers who have no idea how the sleuth guessed a crowd of people would be on the other side of that door.

 Reason #2:

Forbidden fruit is the best fruit

There’s one piece of advice I give friends who want someone to show them around Japan: never hire a Japanese guide. Japanese guides only want to show you what they’re proud of, not the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stuff that makes for amazing stories to tell back home.

When a Japanese guide shows you Tokyo, you’ll gaze across the moat at the impenetrable ranks of trees surrounding the Imperial Palace, view the imposing beaux-arts Diet Building, and visit the Japan Traditional Crafts Center to buy the finest products produced in every prefecture.

When I take friends around Tokyo, we tiptoe into a taiko-drumming fire ceremony, ogle the hundreds of prayer plaques painted by anime artists at the electronics district shrine, browse all the plastic food shops on Kappabashi Street, and walk through the red-light district at night to marvel at the outrageous designs of the love hotels and watch handsome bar hosts inviting customers into their swanky clubs.

 Which would you rather read about?

I’m lucky to have a lot of relatives who are insiders—my mother-in-law is from a large Tokyo family—and Japanese friends who I can wheedle into taking me to see the kind of stuff  Japanese authors hesitate to write about and Japanese tour guides like to steer foreigners away from.

 But it’s because I’m a foreigner that I know it’s worth seeing.

Reason #3

Those who are all too aware of the box are the best at thinking outside it

If you’re like me, you’re up early and waiting at the curb for the delivery van on the day a Jungle Reds book comes out. Maybe this time I’ll be whisked away to England to help Scotland Yard’s most intrepid husband and wife investigators solve their latest, while juggling the needs of their great kids. Or I might drop in on my favorite female Episcopal priest and see how she’s wrestling with whatever crime needs her attention today. Or maybe I’ll be spending the day with that duke’s daughter who is always flat broke.

One thing I know for sure is that my favorite reads are all about characters who are insiders in some ways, but outsiders in others. Characters who have to figure out how to work within a system where they don’t quite fit the mold. Characters who have to learn from their mistakes and keep on their toes to avoid disastrous missteps. Characters who sometimes have to fake it to make it.

Sort of like living in Japan. The American character in The Last Tea Bowl Thief has to cut back on her rice because no pair of pants in the whole country will fit her, she accidentally insults people when she thinks she’s using honorific Japanese, and is resigned to moving through every day feeling like a sixth grader in a chair made for first graders. But it’s because she doesn’t fit in that she can unlock the mysteries of the tea bowl that’s been changing the lives of everyone who possesses it for three hundred years, and help right a wrong that has stymied Japanese insiders for generations.


 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, altering the lives of all who possess it. 


In modern-day Tokyo, Robin Swann’s life has sputtered to a stop. She’s stuck in a dead-end job testing antiquities for an auction house, but her true love is poetry, not pottery. Her stalled dissertation sits on her laptop, unopened in months, and she has no one to confide in but her goldfish.


On the other side of town, Nori Okuda sells rice bowls and tea cups to Tokyo restaurants, as her family has done for generations. But with her grandmother in the hospital, the family business is foundering. Nori knows if her luck doesn’t change soon, she’ll lose what little she has left.


With nothing in common, Nori and Robin suddenly find their futures inextricably linked to an ancient, elusive tea bowl. Glimpses of the past set the stage as they hunt for the lost masterpiece, uncovering long-buried secrets in their wake. As they get closer to the truth—and the tea bowl—the women must choose between seizing their dreams or righting the terrible wrong that has poisoned its legacy for centuries.



Jonelle Patrick is the author of five novels set in Japan. She also writes the monthly newsletter Japanagram and blogs at Only In Japan  and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had. Her newest mystery, The Last Tea Bowl Thief, will be published on October 20, 2020 by Seventh Street Books.

Author website: 
Book website:
Only In Japan blog:
DEBS: I love Jonelle's take on the benefits of being an outsider as a writer (American dares write British mysteries...) REDS and readers, do you think that being an outsider sometimes give the writer and advantage?