Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Travel Inspired Fiction by Krista Davis

Jenn McKinlay: It is with great delight that I welcome one of my very favorite cozy mystery authors, Krista Davis. Seriously, if you haven't read her series (plural) yet, you should! 

Krista DavisWhy it is that travel so often inspires books? This time, I wasn’t even the one traveling. Two of my friends went on a fabulous tour of Spain and Portugal. They had a wonderful trip. And one of them bought special Iberian ham to bring home as gifts. On arrival at customs in New York, she declared the ham and was promptly pulled aside for inspection. 

Her heart broke as she watched her prized ham being thrown into the trash bin. She had a plane to catch and kept checking the time. She was asked to hand over her shoes for examination and watched as they rummaged through her luggage, tossing all her carefully packed items into messy heaps. The clock in her head ticked louder and louder while she watched, wondering if she would make her connecting flight. 

The customs inspectors finally moved on to the next person, but all she could think was that her ham was in the garbage and she had to catch the flight home. She had no time to carefully fold and pack her clothes. She stuffed and zipped and repeated, jamming everything in willy-nilly. With an eye on the time, she grabbed her bags and ran through JFK to her connecting flight. She made it with only minutes to spare. That was when she realized that her shoes were still in customs. She no longer remembers whether she was barefooted or wearing socks. It presents an appalling situation either way. 

And that is how the story begins in The Diva Serves Forbidden Fruit. Sophie Winston picks up her best friend at the airport and the friend walks out of the terminal with bare feet. What if your best friend went on a tour and when she came back, someone who was also on the tour was murdered? And then another? Could she be next? 

My books usually release several months apart from one another, but this spring, it’s raining books for me. Big Little Spies comes out on April 6th, the trade paperback of The Diva Spices It Up releases April 27th, and The Diva Serves Forbidden Fruit will be here on May 25th. 


What oddball things have happened to you when you were traveling? Oh, by the way, you can try that exact same cherished Iberian ham in the US. They sell it at World Market.


New York Times Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Paws and Claws Mysteries set on fictional Wagtail Mountain, a resort where people vacation with their pets. Her 7th Paws and Claws Mystery is BIG LITTLE SPIES, which releases on April 6th. Krista also writes the Domestic Diva Mysteries and the Pen & Ink Mysteries. Look for THE DIVA SERVES FORBIDDEN FRUIT on May 25th. Like her characters, Krista has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and sweets. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with two dogs, two cats, and a stash of hidden chocolate.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Social Media Fatigue: Also WTH is Happening?

 JENN McKINLAY: That's it! If Chrissy Teigen can leave Twitter, so can I. So I did. Last week, I deactivated my Twitter account. When I go to log in, primarily out of habit, what greets me is this:

Reminding me that I no longer belong to Twitter like 80% of the population. Do I miss it? The place where I used to virtually shake my fist at my local politicians and get all in a tizzy? Surprisingly, no. I don't miss it at all. Huh. And here's the important point -- you don't sell books on Twitter. I don't think anyone on Twitter ever went and bought one of my books because I called my representative a moron, so really, what is the point? 

The toxicity is, I daresay, worse than the pandemic. Why would I want that in my life? The truth is, I don't. If I ever go back to Twitter, I will start from scratch and it will be a positive vibes only situation. I simply can't deal with all of this negativity (of which I am also culpable) all of the time. Truly, I think it's making my hair fall out!

But it's not just Twitter. Social media is changing, y'all. The kids who are now in their teens and twenties are all Snapchat and TikTok. Instagram seems to appeal to all ages but is owned by Facebook. Facebook is and has been, by and large, for middle-aged/old people, and Facebook's verified pages have just become a bloody mess. I'll explain.

In December of 2020, I had 14,000 people who liked and followed my professional page. Fast forward to March of 2021, and I have 14,500 people who like my page and 45,000 who follow the page -- where did those new 30,000 followers come from? Did I get elected to office? Win the lottery? Become a movie star? Nope, nope, nope.

Seriously. What the heck happened? I have no idea. My publisher has no idea. And Facebook has no idea. Here's what I do know. Those followers are predominately men from Russia and Africa and South America (assuming their profiles are legitimate) and they like to spend their time replying to the women who comment on the posts I put up on my page with little gems like this: 

Argh! Same dude hit at least four women who commented on a picture of cake (it's always cake) on my page. I thought it might just be me. Like maybe I clicked on some random ad, probably for cake, that opened the trolling male hellmouth and unleashed it on my page. Nope. I checked out other authors' verified pages and they're getting slammed, too. Our Rhys has also seen the weirdness. I then checked out some celebrity pages and the same nonsense is happening on their blue checked pages.

Frankly, social media is looking a lot like the mouse plague in Australia! 

Then my Facebook page got duplicated and the hacker was sending out friend requests using my pictures, bio, and name and offering free books of mine (insert your credit card number here -- but free books!!!! ACK!). Facebook insisted there was nothing wrong. Mother of pearl! You have got to be kidding me. 

My publisher reached out to Facebook and their response was essentially a shrug and a head scratch and a mumble as they exited the room. Really? You can write an algorithm to make sure an ad for dog booties pops up in my feed every three posts, but you can't write one to weed out the trolls? Huh.

All of this is to say, there is some weirdness afoot and I don't think it is going to end well. And because the momentum of social media is like that of a shark - it must stay in motion or it will die - there is now a thing called #BookTok (like #Bookstagram on Instagram) where authors and readers promote books on TikTok and I just have to say...I can't. I just can't. 

You know, I've heard for years that blogging is dead, but I have to say that compared to all of the insanity I am witnessing out there, I love this safe, positive, interesting, funny, charming blog of ours with all my heart. 

So, Reds and Readers, chime in! What weirdness have you seen out there? What sites do you trust? What do you think the future of social media is?

Lastly, please be careful out there! 

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Little Things: Do You Make Your Bed?

 JENN McKINLAY: A few years ago, Hooligan 1's band director tasked the entire marching band with a daily chore. Before arriving for zero hour, which was marching band practice, they were to make their bed. 

He got the idea from Navy Seal Admiral McRaven in a commencement address he gave at the University of Texas in Austin. Here's the clip:

Shockingly, the child who usually left half of his bedding on the floor was suddenly not leaving his room until the bed was tight enough to bounce a quarter on. Huh. The theory is that if you make your bed every morning, you will have managed to accomplish your first goal of the day which will carry forward through the rest of the day's tasks. 

 Of course, at our next band parent meeting, there was a mom who stood up and said that making the bed wasn't healthy and her child would not be doing it. She felt that the bedding needed to be aired out and therefore making the bed was a bad thing. Yes, this was the hill she was prepared to die on. (Picture me in the meeting eyerolling and sighing). Although, in all fairness, there is support for not making your bed because of dust mites and dead skin (ew, I know, sorry): Why You Shouldn't Make Your Bed Right Away but they to wait until after breakfast not as this mom insisted that you should never make your bed. I have to say, I never saw this bed making controversy coming!

Now confession time: I love a neatly made bed. There is nothing better than pulling back the sheets and sliding in, however, I am not a very good bed maker. In fact, I intentionally rise early so that Hub is the last one out of the bed and therefore responsible for setting it to rights. On the rare occassion that he's up first, I stall and ignore the jumbled mess, hoping he'll give in and make it when he wanders by. Sometimes he outlasts me and I give in and make the stupid bed, but then I am even more determined to get up first. He has no idea about any of this, so shhhh. 

 So, how about it, Reds? Are you a bed maker? Do you believe that it sets the tone for your day? Or are you more of a free range bedding sort of person and the floor is fine?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Ooh, I hate an unmade bed. But since I am almost always the first one up, Rick gets that job. He does it passably, although not as well as I would do it, so that I usually do some extra straightening before I get into it at night. On his plus side, he's much better at folding sheets than I am.

Don't you wonder how the kid whose mom said he didn't have to make the bed turned out? And did the bed making expertise stick with the Hooligans? 

JENN: It did with one, Debs, but not the other. I opt to not go into his room anymore -- I just close the door.

LUCY BURDETTE: I don’t like an unmade bed, but if I don’t do it, no one does. (John has many fine qualities but bed-making not one. I just asked him his theory--he said he enjoys getting into a crisply made bed, if someone else made it.) To be fair, I often spend several hours working in bed, so it’s my domain during the day.

The animals in our house do love “helping” make a bed though--especially T-bone, who burrows into the sheets and purrs and purrs.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When I was little, we had to make our beds or else. We were never sure what “or else”  meant, and no one wanted to find out.

Now, oh, I love getting into a nicely made bed--remember how lovely hotel beds can be?--and I am a happy bed-making helper, but whoa. When I do it on my own, it never looks right. It’s never puffy enough where it’s supposed to be puffy, or flat enough where it’s supposed to be flat.

Jonathan, now, is the KING of bed-making. I am truly not sure how he does it, but it is genius. ALL perfect corners and tight sheets, and it’s quite the talent. We do it together in the morning. I’m not sure we have ever not done it. I can’t imagine just leaving it. It would be too depressing.

(Jenn, tell the hooligans that future girlfriends will be very impressed.) 

RHYS BOWEN:  I say thank God for duvets!  Bed making these days is so easy. Those really deep fitted bottom sheets stay in place. I just shake out the duvet and voila. Bed is made. In Germany when I was a student women hung their bedding out of the window. I imagine it smelled fresh but I’ve never been tempted to do it. Besides I have screens on my windows. 

Like Hank I do love hotel bedding, so cool and smooth. And my own luxury is a silk pillow case, supposedly good for face and hair.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I always make my bed in the morning, with the rare exception that everyone with a cat will recognize - if she settles on the tossed-aside duvet while I'm in the bathroom and falls asleep, by law I'm required to wait to make the bed until after she's gotten up. As for the Karen who didn't want her precious making his or her bed, fuggedaboutit. Let's face it, as disgusting as it sounds, we've all been sleeping around dead skin for as long as there has been bedding, and dustmites (scary!) are doing us a favor by getting rid of it so we don't vanish in a pile of epidermal rejects.


The Boy was the absolute worst about making his bed (or keeping his room in any better style than the town dump) so Ross and I wondered what would happen when he joined the Navy. Lo and behold, he came back as The Sailor, and now on visits he helps me make my bed with nice square corners and a tight tuck! Thanks, Adm. McRaven! 

HALLIE EPHRON: Our beds are slept in, thrown together, repeat; and I envy anyone who can make well a bed. 

As for me, I blame it on my parents that I can’t and don’t. And my kids blame it on me that they can’t and don’t, either. I also cannot properly fold sheets to save my life. 

I can, however, make pie crust. And gravy. And write. I can do that, too.

JENN: Always play to your strengths, Hallie, which are many!

Okay, Readers, chime in! Are you a bedmaker or no?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Recipe: A Pavlova for Spring


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Welcome, everyone, to another eagerly-anticipated recipe and cooking lesson from our own Celia Wakefield. Today she's preparing a lovely spring dessert - Pavlova. I "helped" (stood around and shot video) and I can assure you of two things: 1) if you have the right equipment, this showy pastry really isn't hard, and 2) it's SO GOOD. Scroll down to the bottom for our how-to videos.


I am so happy to be back talking to you on JRW; whether author, blogger or fan I greet you all in the name of Spring. Julia has invited me back after what we could call, “Our winter of discontent”, our shared experience with COVID, which I will get out of the way so that we can focus on what Spring is offering us. Victor and I are fine, thank you all, we are vaccinated and like the mole will come out of our burrow cautiously to greet the world. But let us move to a time long ago when attending large, in fact huge gatherings, without looking like bank robbers, was the norm.

 One of these annual gatherings took place in Westchester, NY, on the Campus of SUNY, Purchase in the ’80's. A huge summer festival, “Summerfare”, completely funded by PepsiCo (can you believe that?) The festival ran over ten years with an international array of artists; the Tokyo String Quartet, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Martine van Hamel, Victor Borge, Colleen Dewhurst, Mozart Operas each year, and the Handspan Theatre from Australia, just to name a few luminaries. 

Each year the Festival opened with a grand outdoor production of Noyes Fludde, (Benjamin Britten), using local choruses, children, puppets, a cherry picker to place God high above the crowd and a huge, huge rainbow of balloons stretching over the field with the Performing Arts building as a backdrop. Children came to make animal costumes to parade into the ark. This was a splendid sight and a joy to be a part of. 

I was a volunteer with the Prompters, whose work and mission was to support the PA Center, in any way needed. Ferrying artists from train and plane, helping backstage, cooking, yes, lots of cooking for the after performance receptions. We were a group of about 90, both women and men. 

Someone had the bright idea that a cookbook capturing artists’ recipes who had appeared on the four stages would be a great fundraiser. Somehow I got involved with this project, and somehow I found I was the project manager. [Julia’s note: Knowing Celia, this is utterly unsurprising.

Well, we collected the recipes, tested them, got them onto a computer disk (remember this was 1985), found a student in the Graphic Arts Department who was willing to do the design and layout as her senior project, and a printer.  We were set. Being that you all live in the 20’s, can you spot what I have left out? Yes, marketing

None of the Prompters had any marketing experience, nor did I, nor did I want to take it on in addition to the rest of my tasks. So we got cobbling. Demos in Bloomingdales, talking to groups and then an offer from a very local cable station. Remember, it was the ’80’s and cable was new. I was volunteered to be the presenter. I was told I had a 5 minute spot to fill and that the host, we will call her Julia, wanted to help me with the demonstration.

After much searching through our recipes I chose the Handspan Theatre’s Pavlova recipe which I knew could be done in the allocated time. Anna Pavlova visited Australia in 1926 and was such a success they renamed a cake after her. (It does appear there is a rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis as to who actually made the cake and named it for Pavlova. You can find the story on Wiki.

We arrived at the studio in good time. My cooler was full of almost whipped cream, egg whites, fruit and sets of meringue shells made in advance. My host, Julia, was late. I was getting more and more concerned about the fast deflating whipped cream, and other items which needed a cold environment. Julia arrived. Julia had broken her arm, a minor point that they had not considered we needed to know, but that wasn’t going to stop her “helping”.

I was frantically reorganizing how we could demonstrate this recipe with one arm short! I remember saying at one point, “Look how well Julia is sifting sugar with one hand!” while I held the bowl, sieve and sugar container for her. I don’t know if this little piece of art was the inspiration for the Food Network, but nowadays we have so many places to check out our recipes and techniques. However today, my lovely sous chef, Julia, and I will demonstrate how to make a pavlova in five minutes, or possibly a little longer. 

Here is the Pavlova recipe from the Handspan Theatre, Australia



Have a very clean, grease free bowl and whisk to beat the eggs. An electric one is best.

If you have a copper bowl here’s the opportunity to use it. Egg whites love copper.

You can make this any size but be sure to trace your shape on parchment paper first.

I freeze egg whites, usually in small batches of 4 each, adding each white when it’s available. They have a long freezer life and  still beat up very well.






3 egg whites at room temperature

3/4 cup superfine sugar, if possible (Put a cup of regular sugar in a Food Processor and whirl, then measure)

1/2 tsp Cornstarch

1/2 tsp white vinegar

1/2 tsp vanilla essence



1 Cup + Heavy Cream, best quality you can find

Fresh Fruit for decoration, but avoid acid fruits. Strawberries, raspberries, mango slices, Kiwi slices, Passion fruit, blackberries, blueberries and peaches all work well. The decorations can include candies etc.








Oven temperature 250 - 300 degrees

Trace your shape onto parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with cornstarch. Place on a cookie sheet.

Whisk egg whites until stiff, they should stand up when the whisk is inverted.

Add sugar a spoon at a time, then beat at top speed to dissolve the sugar

Stop beating and gently fold in the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla.



Spread part of the mixture over the circle, then pipe or spoon the remaining egg whites to form an edging.

Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. When it is very crisp, turn the oven off, leave the door open a fraction and allow to cool down before removing the paper and filling the shell.


It is better to fill your Pavlova at close to serving time as possible.

Cut the fruit before adding cream to the shell.

Whip the cream till stiff and cover the meringue, then decorate away with fruits, tiny cookies, candies - I’m thinking mini Easter eggs.


A Pavlova is a fun, light-hearted dessert and it’s gluten free. What could be better to celebrate Spring and vaccinations?  Bon Appetit, or as the Aussies might say, “Eat up Mate!” 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Howdy, (Virtual) Neighbor!

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  I'm going to be honest with you. I've spent the past week trying to move ahead with spring cleaning. Monday was taking Youngest to and from Orono for her penultimate orthodontist visit, a two and a half hour trip each way. Tuesday, meeting with my accountant (and teaching my community college class.) Wednesday, I spent a most of the day driving around southern Maine, helping one of my "foster" daughters to buy a new-to-her car. She got an amazing one, a ten year old BMW coupe with 150000 miles for five grand! Yes, vetted by a mechanic.

 Then Thursday and Friday were spent catching up on grading (and teaching another class) because the midterm grades were due at ten pm and I'm STILL not done and now I'm writing this at 11:00 on Friday evening and, in the hip phrase of a few years ago, I Just Can't.

 I particularly can't think of anything interesting or witty. Hours of explaining comma splices and independent clauses will do that to you. So instead, let's all use today as an opportunity to catch up. I'll start:

Things are going well, although obviously busy. I'm working on the next book, and though I'm not as far as I (or my agent and editor) would like, it's moving along. I haven't gotten my vaccination yet, but Maine just opened up the list to 50 year olds, so after I get the grades in, I'm going to go online and sign up at as many places as possible. 


The Maine Millennial, having gotten her two shots, is back to dating again, and meeting some very nice young men via Tinder, which has become THE dating marketplace, thanks to Covid. You can find out all about it, and I do mean all, every Sunday in her column for the Portland Press Herald. 






The Sailor is still down in Norfolk - thankfully so, because during the last cruise his ship went through the Suez canal, and I hate to think of him bottled up on either end of the CS Ever Given. He's not only back with, but is living with his delightful girlfriend Veronique, who's about to enter an intensive two year program to become a respiratory therapist. She's had the jab, and he's about to get his, so we're hoping for a family reunion when he can get leave. Maybe this spring, maybe the summer - you're never sure with the navy. They're talking about getting a dog, which I believe in this day and age is the equivalent of a betrothal contract in the 19th century. We shall see.

Youngest got an apartment last September so she didn't have to worry about the vicissitudes of the University of Maine opening and closing and opening. She's hanging fire at the moment, applying to internships without knowing if they'll be in person or virtual and considering travel abroad programs that may or may not take place. The one thing she does know is that U Maine will be opening up in person next fall, for a (please God!) normal senior year. And finally, after three years in braces and major jaw surgery, she's due to have the metal off in April! I may be more excited than she is. (She's pretty excited.) Also, after *mumblemumble* attempts, she passed her drivers test, which means she's ready to take possession of my sister's old Honda CRV. We used to pass out kids clothes back and forth, now it's cars.


Life in Maine continues to be just about The Way It Should Be. How are things in your neck of the woods?