Friday, November 26, 2021

Giving it up for offbeat narrators

HALLIE EPHRON: In another step back from the Pit of Despond, I’m Happy to Report: I AM reading. After three rounds through the Harry Potter books and after multiple false starts trying to read novels that made me too anxious to keep reading, finally I’m on a reading roll and reading books through to the end.

I broke free by following my daughters’ suggestions of what to read, with the caveat that she NOT recommend anything heartbreaking or violent. Running out of Kleenex here.

Molly recommended Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine… which I know we talked about on Jungle Red back in June/July but which blipped past me along with most of the rest of anything going on at that time beyond my doorstep.

Looking back, I see that it wasn’t everyone’s cuppa, but it sure is mine. I loved it so much. I came to love HER so much. I actually slowed down near the end so the pages would last longer. I needed an uplifting story about a clueless underdog and that’s exactly what it is.

I have a soft spot for intriguingly unreliable narrators who are oddballs, who see the world through their own distinct lens and march to their own drummer. One of my favorites is Anders, Tobias Wolff’s curmudgeonly book critic in his short story, “Bullet to the Brain.” Anders wait on line at the bank is interrupted by a robbery. And he can’t resist snarking about the robbers’ pedestrian dialogue:

Two men wearing black ski masks and blue business suits were standing to the side of the door. One of them had a pistol pressed against the guard’s neck. The guard’s eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. The other man had a sawed-off shotgun. “Keep your big mouth shut!” the man with the pistol said, though no one had spoken a word. “One of you tellers hits the alarm, you’re all dead meat. Got it?”

The tellers nodded.
“Oh, bravo,” Anders said. “Dead meat.” He turned to the woman in front of him. “Great script, eh? The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.”

Needless to say, things do not turn out well for Anders (see story title). And the narrative turns a corner midway through and we’re remembering all the things that Anders has chosen to forget. He is, after all, human.

I enjoy ultimately appealing characters who are out of the mainstream, now with Eleanor Oliphant topping a list that includes Olive Kitteridge, Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Lizbeth Salander, and and Beth Harmon (The Queen’s Gambit).

These characters are all memorable because they are SO skewed in the way they filter the world and ultimately so human, a product of what-came-before which we only discover by reading through their story.

Whose advice have you learned to trust in picking your next read, and what book (character!) made you slow down as you reached the end?

AND congratulations! to Judy Singer! You're the winner of a copy of BLOOD ROOT. Please email (hephron "at" gmail dot com) me your mailing address, Judy, and Leslie Wheeler will pack up a copy and send it your way.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving from the Reds!

HALLIE EPHRON: Wishing you all a wonderful, fabulous, delicious Thanksgiving from the Reds! Hoping you are all tucked in this year (in person maybe!) with your loved ones and friends, enjoying the comfort of companionship and delicious food. Hopefully an excess of both.

I’ll be spending the holiday with my two daughters, my son-in-law, and grandchildren. The adults are all vaxed and boosted, the kids finally vaxed and, as always, full of beans.

My grandchildren are growing up so fast it’s terrifying, and not having been able to see them for the better part of two years has made it even scarier. I’m looking forward to playing checkers with my grandson who has just learned how and is coming to terms with the concept of losing. I’m hoping my grandgirl will show me how she can turn cartwheels and front flips and read to ME and draw using actual perspective.

She's come a long way from this turkey she drew five years ago.
Speaking of which... my daughter Naomi will be in charge of the turkey. I’ll be riding shotgun the kitchen, gravy making. My daughter Molly on potato-mashing and wine-pouring duty.

We’ll start with butternut squash soup topped with sour cream and toasted slivered almonds and scallions. Hold the scallions for the kiddoes. There will be Pepperidge-farm stuffing in a roasted turkey. Mashed potatoes and green beans; carrots and parsnips for my son-in-law. Pies (custard and pumpkin). Champagne and sparkling cider to toast everyone's good health.

So who will you be with, and what’s on the menu?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That sounds lovely! Gravy. I FINALLY learned, and now I love to make it.

It’ll be just us, not how we planned it last July, but so it goes. And yes, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, with onions and celery. And maybe I’ll just make the turkey breast, since that’s all anyone around here actually wants.

Champagne is our ritual, and my fresh cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. With sour cream and butter. Pies, sure, Jonathan wants lemon meringue, so, sure. Maybe.

In the before-times, we had oysters Rockefeller for appetizers, but that seems so impossible now. (If I could just have stuffing and champagne, actually, I’d be happy. And maybe one bite of pumpkin pie And maybe have all of YOU come over!)

LUCY BURDETTE: We’re hosting a few vaccinated neighbors with fingers crossed. I’m in charge of the turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing, and something new I’m trying: pumpkin cheesecake on a gingersnap crust with caramel sauce. How could I not try it? I’ll keep you posted. (And I don’t even like cheesecake:).

I am so grateful for each one of our Red family members. You allow us to feel like we have a community even when times are impossible--especially then perhaps! Happy Thanksgiving.

Hallie, I hope you have a special Thanksgiving with your family. There will be 8 of us this time. The others opted out of flying for so few days with air fares so high, when all 15 will be together for Christmas.

The menu is turkey, three kinds of stuffing ( one sausage, one gluten free) mashed potatoes, green bean casserole ( yes, I know, but it’s always requested) cranberry sauce, gravy then apple crumble and homemade pumpkin pie.

Luckily I’m only in charge of small segments of this. I provide the wine and appetizers, and the dreaded green bean casserole

I hope all of our friends are enjoying a perfect day( or as perfect as possible without all the family)

JENN McKINLAY: It’ll be a quiet turkey day for us -- just Hub and me and the Hooligans and their Plus Ones. We’re hoping for a quick getaway to the beach in California at some point during the weekend, but we’ll see how that goes with everyone working new jobs and running in a million different directions.

It feels as if the world is back to normal but not really.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So looking forward to this Thanksgiving and getting to hang out with daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, and friend Gigi. We are foregoing the big traditional gathering at my aunt's, but I am thrilled at the prospect of this small get-together.

Our daughter has two ovens in her new house, so she is elected hostess! Son-in-law is organizing a deep-fried turkey.

We'll also have some ham from our local butcher shop-owning friends. I'm in charge of the cornbread dressing (not stuffing!), the cranberry/jalapeno relish, the gravy, and I'm not sure what else.

And I don't really care all that much about what we eat as long as we get to do it together.

I’m having the smallest Thanksgiving ever - just me, the Maine Millennial, and friend of Reds Celia Wakefield and her husband, Victor. The Sailor and his sweetheart have to stick close to home (he’s on duty part of the time) and Youngest is tackling her first Thanksgiving ever, as she and Guest Son host his dad at their apartment in Bangor.

I’m making up for the lack of a crowd by doing two more very small get-togethers over the holiday weekend. I can see that being an adaptation that sticks around post-pandemic: no one has to knock themselves out for one massive dinner on one afternoon, and can instead spread the love (and work) around to several households. What the heck, lots of people pivot to Christmas at 4am on Friday morning, let’s just rename the whole four days Thanksmas and party on.
My menu is going to be very simple and traditional. I mean, I’m hosting Celia - I know better than to try to dazzle a professional. I will put a LOT more effort into plating the food than usual, however!

HALLIE: Plating! Now there's a subject for another day...

At this halfway-back-to-normal Thanksgiving, we'd love to hear what you're up to and what's on the table.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Taking another plunge: Leslie Wheeler on BLOODROOT short story anthology

HALLIE EPHRON: It's a labor of love, and the final product is always astonishingly excellent. I'm talking about the short story anthology that is put together every year and makes its debut at the annual New England Crime Bake. This year's anthology, BLOODROOT: BEST NEW ENGLAND CRIME STORIES, is being published by Crime Spell Books.

Today we're thrilled to host Leslie Wheeler, one of the anthology editors, to talk about this terrific annual anthology in its new publishing home, and the power of the short story.
LESLIE WHEELER: “It’s Not Too Late to Back Out.” Those words and the smiley face below have graced my kitchen door for ten years now.

The message came with a hefty stack of mystery short story submissions, delivered to me by Mark Ammons, a member of my writers’ critique group, and a newly minted editor/publisher, along with Barbara Ross and Kat Fast, at Level Best Books, which had been handed off to them by the previous editors. They’d already signed on, but hesitated to ask me because as chair of the Crime Bake-sponsored Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction Contest, I was already awash in short stories.

Yet, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. My first published short story had appeared in a Level Best anthology, and during time I’d managed the Al Award, I’d grown to appreciate the power of short stories. My favorites were—and still are—the ones that either make me smile at their wickedly clever humor, or send chills down my spine. The contest also has a longstanding connection with Level Best, in that the award-winning story is published in the anthology for that year. I rejiggered the contest, and happily joined the Level Best team.

For the next six years we had a good run. It was hard work, but also a lot of fun. I enjoyed our often spirited in-person meetings to discuss, select, and edit the stories we’d publish, decide on the cover design, and arrange for publicity and sales at the Crime Bake, where the Best New England Crime Stories anthologies are always introduced. A few nights before Crime Bake, we’d have a book packing party at Mark’s. He’d serve his famous Cincinnati chili, and we’d devour it with side dishes and dessert, before getting down to work.

But most of all, I loved reading the stories and writing my own. For me, short stories offer an opportunity to approach perfection. Every word must matter for the story to become a little gem, in contrast to a novel, which resembles a necklace with strings of scenes, some stronger than others. I also like the way a writer can take something very small—an intriguing remark overheard in a crowd, or the sight of a woman in line who doesn’t look like she belongs there—and build a story around it.

Writing shorts gives me a holiday from the long haul of novel writing. Finally, as a reader of short stories, I’ve delighted in discovering new authors and watching their careers take off.

Still, despite all these positives, I hesitated to take the plunge a second time when the third team of Level Best editors decided to focus on publishing novels instead of anthologies. Was I too old to be doing this again? Could I work successfully with a new team, even though both Susan Oleksiw, a founder of Level Best, and Ang Pompano, an author whose stories we’d published, were well-known to me? And there was that sign on my door, tempting me with the possibility of withdrawal.

In the end, my determination to continue the Best New England Crime Stories tradition overcame my doubts. Things are different now. With the pandemic and the fact that the three of us don’t live nearby, our discussions have mostly taken place via Zoom or e-mail. Even so, the process has had its exciting moments, as when Susan gave us the name of Crime Spell Books for our new imprint. Ang created website before our eyes on Zoom. I came up with the title, Bloodroot, and an image of the plant with its delicate white flower and thick roots packed with orange poison flashed on the screen.

And the finished product is a joy to behold with its striking cover, and mix of stories from light to dark, written by both well-established authors and emerging writers. So, yes, I’m very glad I didn’t back out.

Readers: have you had times when you’ve been torn between moving forward with a project or abandoning it? If so, please share. One of the commenters will receive a paperback of BLOODROOT.

About Leslie Wheeler
Award-winning writer, Leslie Wheeler, is the author of two mystery series, the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, (Rattlesnake Hill and Shuntoll Road, with a third book, Wolf Bog, due out in July of 2022); and the Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries (Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point). Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including The Best New England Crime Stories anthologies, published by Level Best Books, where she was a co-editor for six years. She is delighted to return as a co-editor at Crime Spell Books, which now publishes these anthologies (


Whether it’s an elderly woman facing a scam, a shipwrecked researcher trying to survive, a retired robber invited to join in one last fling, a farmer facing an escaped convict, or a group of kids in over their heads, with Bloodroot, Crime Spell Books continues the tradition of the annual anthology of Best New England Crime Stories by New England Writers.
Buy Link

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Three things Sharon Ward learned from diving ... that aren't about diving

HALLIE EPHRON: I had the great good fortune to meet Sharon Ward when she was up and coming, working on a crime novel, transitioning as I once did from corporate life to writing. She's one of those writers who are such a pleasure to work with because she's never satisfied, always working and reaching for excellence... and boy, has she!

Her debut novel, IN DEEP, introducing scuba-diving underwater photographer
Fin Fleming (shades of Clive Cussler) is a page turner. She'll celebrate the New Year with the lauch of #2 in the series, SUNKEN DEATH.

So with great pleasure I invited her to join us today to celebrate her two Fin Fleming thrillers, and talk about the scuba diving that inspired them.

SHARON WARD: I learned to scuba dive more than thirty years ago, and I was about the unlikeliest student diver you could ever imagine. I could barely swim—nothing more than a dog paddle really. I always went into the water feet first, holding my nose to prevent the merest drop of water from entering my nasal cavities.

And I was terrified of sea life. Sharks. Octopus. The giant squid from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea I’d seen on TV.

But one day, I said to my husband, “Let’s learn to scuba dive and then go to Bonaire for our vacation.”

“Great idea,” he said.

I was stuck. We enrolled in a Basic Scuba Diving class. Yikes! But it turned to be a ton of fun and I learned so much from doing it.

Not everything I learned was about diving. A lot of it was about life in general.

Here are the three biggest things I learned from diving that aren’t about diving.

Face Your Fears. They’re Not That Scary.
I’ve already told you I was not a natural born water baby. In our first dive class, I hid behind the scoreboard at the pool so I wouldn’t have to swim laps. I was always the last one to finish the skills demonstrations, and everybody else would watch me, waiting impatiently.

I have performance anxiety. The more they watched, the slower I got. It was awful.

But my first day in the ocean was magic. I was weightless, floating and breathing with no effort. I could see all around me. No more wondering if the shark from Jaws was heading my way from beneath the waves.

No more water up my nose—well, actually, I got a lot of water up my nose, but I learned to live with it.

And I learned that the things that had terrified me into sitting on the sidelines instead of enjoying the water weren’t so scary after all.

2. Keep Trying. You’ll Get There Eventually.
More than once in that basic class, I had to be rescued—in the pool! But once I’d done a few ocean dives, I was hooked. I went on to earn every certification PADI offered.

Later that year, during the final test for the rescue diving certification, my task was to ‘rescue” a fellow student who would pretend to be a drowning victim. I had to get him from the middle of the pool to the ladder, then use a fireman’s carry to get him out of the pool and on to the pool deck.

My partner was heavily muscled, not an ounce of body fat on him. He didn’t float at all, but I managed to tow him to the edge of the pool without drowning him. I slung him across my shoulders and climbed the ladder, my legs shaking under our combined weight.

I stepped onto the pool deck, and fell straight backwards, like a cartoon character. I should have failed the test, but I begged the instructor to give me another chance. And another.

On the third try, I managed to get all the way out of the pool and lowered Brian gently to the floor.

“Thank God,” he said when I put him down.

3. The Universe is Very Large, and I am Very Small.
My first wreck dive was on a ship called the Chester A. Poling, which sits in 70 to more than 190 feet of water near Gloucester. In 1977, the ship sank during a fearsome storm. A huge wave battered the ship, breaking it in two.

The next year, during the Great Blizzard of 1978, one half of the ship was dragged underwater a great distance from its original resting place. At the time I first dove it, fifteen years later, you could still see the gouges in the sand where the wreck had been dragged by the ocean surge.

This half of the immense ship is sitting upright, so if you’re near the bottom, you can look up and barely see the highest point of the ship. You can’t see the water’s surface. You can look left and right, and not see the ends of the ship you’re looking at. It’s immense.

No matter where you look, your mind can barely process what you see. It’s vast. Unknowable.

And then you’re overcome with awe. The ocean did this to a giant man-made steel construction.

And here you are, in the middle of that ocean, a tiny meaningless speck. It’s an easy way to judge your own importance in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s a bonus lesson I learned: Always help your buddy. There’s no one I’ve ever met who personifies that lesson on land or sea better than Hallie Ephron.

Thanks for hosting me today, Hallie! And for everything else. You’re the best.

HALLIE: That means so much to me! Thank YOU, Sharon.

THIS is why I love teaching writing. You meet the best people and every once in a while you get to work with someone like Sharon Ward.

So today I'm wondering: Have you ever learned to do something that truly terrified you?

About In Deep
IN DEEP is a heroine’s journey adventure story set in an oceanographic institute on Grand Cayman. Protagonist Fin Fleming is supremely competent underwater. Nothing can phase her.

On land, not so much.

She has complications in every part of her life. Her stepfather has secrets. Her biological father re-enters her life after being missing for twenty years. She has hassles with her scheming ex-husband, and problems managing her career. She's got very few friends and no love life to speak of.

But her troubles really escalate the day of the first accident...

As chief underwater photographer for the institute, Fin is assigned to film freediving practice for the annual documentary. One diver doesn't come back to the surface. When Fin recovers him, she assumes it was diver error that caused the problem.

Until the next accident. And the next.

Someone is targeting the people around her. And Fin figures since she's the one taking the blame for murder, it's up to her to unravel the deadly deception before one more person she loves doesn't make it back.

How many of her friends and family will this ruthless killer attack before the end? Will Fin find the truth, or will she become the next victim?

Keep an eye out for Sunken Death, Book Two in the Fin Fleming Adventure Thriller series coming on December 31, 2021. Fin, her friends, and her family go looking for the fabled treasure known as the Queen’s Tiara.

Learn more about Sharon Ward and her books at

Monday, November 22, 2021

The books that made us fans and writers of crime fiction

 HALLIE EPHRON: Remembering when I first became aware of “mystery” as its own genre. My mother had an Agatha Christie on her bedside table and I stole it to read. I can’t say I loved it – in retrospect I think I would have found it too talkie. Characters back then were… glib. It’s just how they were written.

In October, the New York Times Book Review ran two pages of original reviews for what they called “Classic Golden Age Crime Stories.” I was fascinated to read the book review excerpts, all of them of early crime novels by authors whose names we still recognize today.

The list included the first Hercule Poirot, the first Lord Peter Wimsey, and the world’s introduction to detective Sam Spade.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920)
Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923)
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen (1931)
The Crossroads Murders by Georges Simenon (1933)
Hag’s Nook by John Dickson Carr (1933)
The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell (1933)
The Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham (1934)
The Kidnap Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1936)
They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer (1937)
The Secret Vanguard by Michael Innes (1941)
Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh (1941)

I’m embarrassed to say that there are only five authors on that list whose work I know. After reading the list and intrigued by the title, I borrowed the Ngaio Marsh (it’s one I hadn’t read) and found it… more death than dancing. Impenetrable, and too clever for its own good, though I remember loving so many of her other books. Go figure.

If I could fast forward a decade or more, my short list of crime novels that made a distinct impression on me would include:
Shroud for a Nightingale and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James
Bratt Farrar by Josephine Tey
La Brava by Elmore Leonard
Fer de Lance by Rex Stout
Bone Crack by Dick Francis
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers

What are, with benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the crime novels from decades ago that still set the standard for you?

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m really bad about classics and will not tell you how many of those I’ve read. But here are some that influenced my journey:

The Black Echo by Michael Connolly
Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson
Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane
Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert
The Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
The Firm by John Grisham
One for the Money Janet Evanovich
The Deep Blue Goodbye John D. MacDonald

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: OH, such a great question! I loved Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham. And Carr. I never “got” Simenon.

My influences? Ah….
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel
Blood and Money by Tommy Thompson
Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
On the Beach by Neville Shute
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon (THAT COUNTS!)

RHYS BOWEN: Hank, several of mine are on your list

Daughter of Time
Gaudy Night and my personal favorite
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Definitely an Agatha Christie, probably a Miss Marple Nemesis? No— Sleeping Murder!
Ellis Peters: one of the Brother Cadfaels
Tony Hillerman. The Blessing Way was
A big influence and inspiration to write mysteries
Mary Stewart: Wildfire at midnight
Reginald Hill: On Beulah Height

JENN McKINLAY: I was definitely a Goth girl -- before it was all black eyeliner, combat boots, and spiky black hair and was more woman in peril suspense novel type stuff. So I cut my teeth on the DuMaurier disciples (after reading Rebecca, of course):
Victoria Holt - Mistress of Mellyn
Elizabeth Peters - Crocodile on a Sandbank
Phyllis A Whitney - Woman Without a Past

And then rolled into more traditional mysteries
Agatha Christie - Death on the Nile
Dorothy L Sayers - Gaudy Night
Josephine Tey - Daughter of Time

Modern influences (now decades old);
Janet Evanovich - One for the Money
Robert Crais - Monkey’s Raincoat
Harlan Coben - Tell No One

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hmm, complicated question, Hallie. Of course I read Christie but I don't remember that I LOVED them.

It was Sayers that first made me fall in love with British mysteries, then PD James. But a couple of years ago I reread the first Dalgliesh novel, Cover Her Face, which I remembered as being so groundbreaking, and it wasn't! I also sat down fairly recently with Gaudy Night, and I just couldn't read it. Heresy, I know! Maybe I was just having a bad day.

Now I'm a little reluctant to dip into the books that were such strong influences, afraid I'll be disappointed. But there was also a very strong romantic suspense thread in my reading and when I recently reread Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael it was even better than I remembered. Whew.

Here are a few authors/books that were inspirational then:

All the Sayers
All the PD James, but especially An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Colin Dexter (especially The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn)
All the Dalgliesh and Pascoe novels by Reginald Hill
Early Martha Grimes
Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar
Anything by Dick Francis
Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael and This Rough Magic
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was not a mystery reader when I started to write! I backed into mysteries by writing half a science fiction novel that turned out to be a mystery on a space station. I thought, if the genre seems to be calling me (let’s not look too closely on why murder and mayhem are at the fore of my creativity) I had better read up on it. So I began my apprenticeship with books of the nineties.

Like several of you, I was influenced by Elizabeth Peter, both in her Amelia Peabody books and her Vicky Bliss series. (I like romance in my stories, as you can tell if you read me.)

I was deeply influenced by Margaret Maron’s BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER, as well as Tony Hillerman’s mysteries and Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther books. These were the works that opened my eyes to how location and setting could be another character in the story.

Then I backtracked, started reading Dame Agatha, and fell hard for closed circle mysteries, aka, Country house mysteries. MURDER ON THE NILE, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES.

And I just remembered, I did read a classic mystery, not knowing what it was, because I thought it was historical fiction: THE DAUGHTER OF TIME. I’m pretty sure Josephine Tey is responsible for the deep respect shown to Richard III’s body when it was miraculously recovered under a car park in 2012.

HALLIE: So what about you? What blasts from the past whet your appetite for mystery novels?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

What We're Writing: Spite by Jenn McKinlay

We have a winner!!! The winner of last week's Ellen Byron/Maria DiRico signed book is Kathyc23!!! Email Ellen at ellenbyronla at outlook dot com and she'll send your book!


Jenn McKinlay: Authors are frequently asked what motivates them. I always thought it was my desire to create, my love of words and stories, or more practically my need to eat. Come to find out, none of that is it. I'll explain.

A few months ago, my agent thought it would be a great idea if I submitted some original novella ideas to an audio book publisher. The money was great, the novellas were a third of the length of what I usually write, and I have come to LOVE audio books, so I was all in. 

I toiled to write what I thought were three super fun ideas for romcoms. Set in a fictional Museum of Literature on Museum Mile in Manhattan, the books are everything I love about the romantic comedy - snappy dialogue, fun settings, characters that a reader can relate to, and -- in this case -- plot lines centered around books.

My agent read them and agreed. Yay! We submitted and waited (this part of publishing never seems to change) and waited and waited. When the audio publisher did get back to us, it was a "These stories are fabulous, but..." There's always a but. The publisher didn't like my existing audio sales numbers so they passed.

Well, here's a little known fact about me. If you want me to do something, the best way to get me to do it is to tell me that I can't. I think this stems from being the youngest - always too little, always too young, always having to stay home with mom when everyone else went out and had fun, and so on. It makes you feisty!

Needless to say, I wrote the novellas, hired an editor and cover artist, and novella number one ROYAL VALENTINE drops on Jan 4th with the next two coming in June and December of 2022. The audio will follow eventually -- because the whole point of this was to publish audio -- but I ran out of time (deadlines!) so now my agent is shopping the audio rights because she's awesome like that. 

So, when I was finished writing the first novella, I realized it wasn't my need to create that drove me to finish the story as much as it was...spite. Yeah, I'm not sure this says anything good about me. I had a whole "I'll show you" thing going on while I wrote, for sure, but in my defense, I was also in love with the world I'd created in my head -- a museum of literature, people! -- and I had to see it through because I knew they could be so fun as audio books. Let's hope the audio versions, when they manifest, prove me right!

Here's a snippet of our museum registrar heroine meeting her love interest for the first time: 

There was a light shining from beneath my office door and I realized I must have left it on, knowing I was going to come back from the gala and change out of this Austen inspired nightmare. I yanked the ribbon beneath the old fashioned bodice loose and began to shrug out of the constricting gown. 

     I opened the door to my office and stepped inside, eager to peel off the dress and slip into my day clothes, when a movement behind my desk startled me. I jumped and let out a small high-pitched shriek. 

     There was a man—a stranger—behind my desk!

     We stared at each other for a beat and then his gaze drifted down and then shot right back up to study the ceiling.

     “You, eh, um, I’m not sure—” he stuttered

     Furious at the violation of my privacy, I planted my hands on my hips and glared. “Who are you and what are you doing in my office?”

     He was standing in a half crouch as if he’d been rising from the chair but was now stuck somewhere in between, not wanting to make a move that might scare or offend me. He glanced at me but didn’t meet my eyes. Instead, his gaze fastened somewhere over my head.

     “M. Graham, I presume?”  He waved his hand at the door where my nameplate was attached.

     “Molly, the M stands for Molly,” I said. “And, yes, that’s me. And you are?”

     He was wearing a tuxedo, which made it obvious that he’d been at the gala, but his bow tie was loose, the ends dangling on each side of his unbuttoned shirt collar. Had he sought refuge in here because he’d been feeling ill? Or was he a very well-dressed burglar? 

     It hit me then that I was all alone on the upper floor of the museum with an absolute stranger. This was what avid readers described as a protagonist’s TSTL (too stupid to live) moment, which was frequently found in modern fiction. I’d always been a critic myself, but I now had a new appreciation for those sticky situations that characters found themselves in.

     “I’m a guest,” he said. He still didn’t meet my gaze. “Would you believe me if I said I was hiding?” 

     He had a deep-toned British accent, which was annoyingly distracting. In the silence, his gaze met mine, drifted down, and then rocketed away. “You might want to um…” His voice trailed off, but he pointed to his chest and then mine, indicating there was a situation 

     Suddenly, I was aware of a cool breeze in a place I should not be feeling a breeze at all. I glanced down and then clapped my hands over my front. One of my girls had gone rogue and had popped out of my loosened gown, playing peekaboob. Ack!

     My face was instantly as hot as the fire from a thousand suns, and I wondered if this was where the tall tales of spontaneous human combustion came from because I was positive that I would go up like a human torch of humiliation in three, two, one…I did not. Pity 

     I yanked up my droopy bodice and quickly draped the fichu around my neck, trying to salvage what little dignity I could find. I’d have had better luck trying to hold water in my cupped hands. 

     Awkward silence filled every nook and cranny of the room as I had no idea what to say to this stranger who had seen my bare breast. Wait a minute. Yes, I did .

     “Who are you? And why are you hiding in here?” I cried. With my front now completely covered, I tossed my head, planted my hands on my hips, and assumed a rigid stance of furious indignation. I would have high-fived myself, but I didn’t want to risk another nip slip.

     “I’m…er…Albert George, you can call me Al,” he said. His Rs were as soft as butter and his smile revealed a slightly prominent canine tooth on the right side that gave his handsome face a roguish charm. Startlingly bright blue eyes met and held mine as he rose to his full height and a wave of thick dark hair flopped over his forehead in a disarmingly endearing way .

     I refused to be sidetracked by his attractiveness. The man was in my office, had seen my boob, and for all I knew was there to steal the rare books that were in my care. I glowered.

     “That tells me who you are, Al.” I over pronounced his name just to be annoying. “But why are you in my office?” I demanded.

How about you, Reds and Readers, what motivates you? And how do you handle it when you're told you "can't" do something?

Molly Graham doesn't believe in love at first sight or fairy tales. She's been burned too many times before. When her best friend, Brianna Cho, challenges her to aim high and go for men who are out of her league, Molly can't imagine a worse way to spend Valentine's Day. When she stumbles across a very handsome British professor, Albert George, seeking refuge in her office during the Museum of Literature's Valentine's Day gala for the opening of their Austen exhibit, Molly can't help but be drawn to the fellow introverted academic. Together they ghost out of the event and embark upon a month long love affair. Molly is rethinking her stance on happily ever afters and plans to tell Al how she feels, but he disappears. Afraid something bad has happened, Molly searches for him only to discover there is no Albert George affiliated with the university. She's been played for a fool!

Molly is devastated. As registrar for the Museum of Literature, she is tasked with a trip to England to return the Jane Austen exhibition materials on loan from the Whitmore Estate in Bath. It's the only thing she has to look forward to and even this dream trip is a struggle. When she and Brianna arrive at Whitmore Manor, they are introduced to Earl Whitmore and his grandson Lord Insley, or as Molly knows him Albert George. She is shocked and dismayed to discover she has fallen in love with a viscount in line to be an earl. James Albert George Insley Whitmore, called Jamie by his friends and family, arranged for Molly to bring the materials back. He had to leave her unexpectedly, but he hasn't been able to forget her and he wants to win her back. Molly isn't having it. She refuses to be taken in twice. Jamie will have to channel his inner Fitzwilliam Darcy to prove to her that love conquers all and win her heart for good. 


Saturday, November 20, 2021

What We're Writing: Julia Dances Architecture

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Debs in yesterday's blog, I'm on the search for something from AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY that I can share without giving away any plot points. And since there is a LOT of plot in this work-in-progress, it's a bit of a chore. 

One of the things I've been doing is going back to previously written sections and adding more holiday details, since the book takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometime, writing on a muggy day in July, it's hard to conjure up those small details, but now we're actually getting back into the season, I'm finding more and more little touches I want to add. I take pride in getting my settings right, and when I write winter scenes, I want Lucy's neighbors in Key West to shiver.

With that in mind, here's a scene of Russ and Hadley at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY. Those of you who went to Bouchercon there in 2013 will never forget it, although thank heavens we didn't have freezing weather to add to our woes.



The Office of the Attorney General was in Albany's Empire Plaza, a bleak concrete monstrosity Hadley had toured once as a parent volunteer for Hudson's fifth grade field trip. The guide had assured them the architecture was very distinguished, but to her, it looked like a series of Soviet-designed rectangular rockets had set down in the 1950s and were now waiting for a liftoff signal from the gigantic concrete Egg – which resembled a football or a birdbath more than an egg, but no one had asked Hadley for a name suggestion. Her negative impression was reinforced now by the scant handful of government flunkies crossing the plaza, heads down, coats clutched tight against the buffeting wind.

Inside, the reception area reminded her of a mid-range hotel lobby; overlarge, cold and decked with blandly inoffensive Winter Holiday d├ęcor whose primary virtue was the ability to maintain its plastic perfection year after tear after year. Wide rectangular mats, still pristine since Albany hadn't had a snowfall yet, swallowed her footsteps, making it more surprising when her boot heels suddenly clacked on the highly polished terrazzo flooring.

Holy crap. This must be like a skating rink when it's snowing or raining.”

Van Alstyne grunted. “That's modernist architecture for you. Never let actual human beings get in the way of a grand vision.”


What do you think, dear readers? And can anyone identify the quote I referenced in the title of this post?

Friday, November 19, 2021

What We're Writing--Debs Does the Little Details

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Yep, I am still plodding along on A KILLING OF INNOCENTS, Duncan and Gemma #19, but I am getting there! I have a cover, too, which is now approved by the sales and marketing crew (the really important people!) at my publisher's, but I can't share it quite yet. I'm so excited about it, however, that I have to give you a little teaser.

The background photo is a pub, so perfect for this book. And not just any pub, but this iconic pub!!

It's the Bloomsbury Tavern, one of London's most historic pubs, reputed to have been the last watering hole for the condemned en route to the hangman's noose a few miles to the west at Marble Arch. Tucked away where Shaftsbury Avenue meets Oxford Street, you could say it sits between Bloomsbury and Soho, the two London areas where most of this book is set. And look at those windows! Are they not gorgeous?

I think this cover is perfect!! Fingers crossed that by the next time WHAT WE'RE WRITING rolls around, I can show it to you. (And that I will have actually typed THE END.) 

In the meantime, as I get further into the book it becomes more and more challenging to find little excerpts that don't contain plot spoilers. But here's a snippet I especially like because it's such fun to write Duncan and Gemma "off camera", so to speak. And it's not that this happens to be a bedroom scene, but rather that one of the things I love most about reading and writing is seeing the little details of people's lives, whether it's how they dunk their teabags or what time their central heating comes on.

A faint rattling sound gradually penetrated Kincaid’s consciousness. Blearily, he forced open one eye. The room was dark except for the faint glow of the night light in the bathroom. Gemma lay with her bare back pressed against his side like a human furnace, her shoulder bare where the duvet had fallen away.

He lay, listening to her breathing, which was deep and regular but a bit more wheezy than usual. It came back to him then in little fragments, her outing with Sidana, and the aftermath. Gemma had been tipsy—well, maybe more than tipsy—and he hadn’t objected to her lowered inhibitions. At all.

Smiling at the memory, he rested one hand on the curve of her hip and with the other adjusted the duvet so that it covered her again. With a sigh, he sank back towards contented sleep.

Then the rattling began again. No, not rattling, buzzing, like an angry insect. This time he came fully awake, eyes wide. His mobile, left face down on the bedside table in his haste to get undressed, was vibrating against the hard surface.

Swearing under his breath, he grabbed the offending phone and eased out of the bed, trying not to wake Gemma. He swore again as the cold air in the bedroom hit his nakedness, puckering his skin in a wave of gooseflesh. Reaching the bathroom in two strides, he pulled the door closed and slipped, shivering, into his dressing gown.

Only then did Kincaid peer at the phone screen, checking the time and the missed call log. Half past six. And every call said Simon Gikas, Simon Gikas, Simon Gikas. His heart sank. An early morning call from his case manager was never a good thing.

The radiator clanked as the central heating switched on. Sitting on the edge of tub, he rang Simon back.

Simon picked up on the first ring. “Boss. Sorry to wake you at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning.”

“What’s happened?” Kincaid asked.

Well, dear readers, you will have to wait and see!