Friday, April 16, 2021

Linda L. Richards ENDINGS is (fortunately) only the beginning

HALLIE EPHRON: A few months ago I had the great good luck to be asked to consider blurbing Linda L. Richards's thriller, ENDINGS. I said I would try to get to it. Which I did. And then something that rarely happened did--I couldn't put it down. Really. I could not.

The blurb practically wrote itself:
"Brilliant. Terrifying. Compulsively readable."

Linda is the author of 15 books and the founder and publisher of JANUARY MAGAZINE. I'm thrilled to have her as a guest today on Jungle Red, pondering her main character, a woman unlike any I've encountered previously in crime fiction.

Take it away, Linda...

LINDA L. RICHARDS: Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of good and evil.

That sounds so trite, so predictable. But hear me out. It’s worth considering.

The narrating character in my most recent book, ENDINGS, is a hit woman, a contract killer. She kills people for money. That isn’t the sum of who she is or even anywhere near the totality of the story she stars in, but it’s an easy way for us to begin to understand her.

She is not a bad person. I mean, she should be, right? She kills people; takes their lives. What kind of good person does stuff like that? But, like all of us, she has been forged by the situations that brought her to the point in her life when we meet her.

While writing Endings I researched these things: good and evil. Do they even exist as forces in the world? While I researched, a political vortex composed of both of these things seemed to shift around my feet, like so much sand. For a while over the last couple of years, it would seem as though evil was reflected every day on the evening news. I still emerged from the experience as I went into it: we are -- all of us -- the sum of our parts. We are created not only by DNA, but also by circumstance.

People have asked me how I managed to make the protagonist in Endings relatable. I think it’s because I didn’t try. She exists in the world on her own steam, as it were. Her world. Like all of us, she was forged by her circumstance.

So: relatable. The protagonist in Endings reacts to things in a human way. Early in Endings, she loses her child, and ultimately her husband, in a freak accident. And these things alter her.

In fact with the second book complete and while I’m heading into a third, I find she is still reeling from those events. Not in an obvious way. But they have changed her in ways she doesn’t understand. In ways, honestly, maybe even I don’t fully understand on a conscious level. But readers are getting it.

I was astonished when, on release day, the narrator of the audiobook version of Endings encapsulated perfectly what had been in my heart. But I would have been hard-pressed to find words for some of what I poured into the book. Human things. Things that had nothing to do with taking lives, but everything to do with living them.

So on release day, narrator Jennifer Wren Warren tweeted that, in addition to being a thriller, Endings was “a meditation on loss and redemption and the media, and it made me cry!” Her words made me cry, too, because certainly those things were on my mind as I wrote the book. They were never top of mind -- if they had been, it would not be enjoyable fiction. But criticism of the media’s handling of hard news was one of the things I was chewing on as I wrote. And the twinned themes of loss and redemption figure starkly in the whole work.

And, of course, Endings is a thriller. One is not to lose sight of that. It is intended to make you catch your breath, and there are certainly whole chunks of the book when the reader is meant to be perched on the edge of her seat. So it is meant to be all of that, and also more.

Many years ago I interviewed a very famous crime fictionist for January Magazine who told me about a super fancy German photographer who was taking her picture for a big deal magazine. He instructed her to stand erect and then pull her leg up behind her, by the heel. She told him it hurt. “Of course it hurts,” he said, or something very like that. “That’s the point. It must hurt. There is no art without pain.”

I’m not entirely certain I believe all of those words: that there is no art without pain, but I certainly believe in what they represent. To be satisfied with art -- a book, a movie, a painting, whatever -- there must be more than what can be seen on the surface. There must be layers. Depths. Did I reach those depths and layers with Endings? I hope so. If you read it, maybe you will let me know.

HALLIE: This got me thinking, is pain an essential ingredient for a really good crime novel? For the author? For the character? And what about for the reader?

And while you're thinking about that, make room on your TBR list for ENDINGS.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

5 Amazing things "Alicia Beckman" learned writing BITTERROOT LAKE #bookgiveaway

Today I'm so pleased to welcome back Leslie Budewitz, an old friend of the Jungle Red Writers, but you might not "recognize" her because she's sporting a new name (Alicia Beckman) and diving into a new genre (suspense). She's making her suspense debut with BITTERROOT LAKE.

Writing as Leslie Budewitz, she’s a three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story) and best-selling author of the Spice Shop mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries.

She's here today to talk about tackling a new genre, and the five amazing things she learned along the way.

1. Every writer needs a friend who is descended from packrats. As Bitterroot Lake begins, Sarah McCaskill Carter is a new widow who comes back to Montana from her home in Seattle to help her mother clean out the family’s historic lakefront lodge.

The main plot is contemporary, but when Sarah finds an old trunk filled with journals, albums, and letters from the 1920s, she’s confronted with the implications of a pair of tragedies she’d known little about. I’d seen enough old scrapbooks and albums to picture (sorry) the white ink on black pages, the black-and-white photos held with black paper corners. But I’m way down the line of descent in my extended family and half the continent away, so when I decided I had to get hands-on, I called my friend JD, keeper of a vast family collection.

Oh, my goodness. Her great-grandmother’s scrapbook, begun when she was first married and living in a logging camp. (Did I mention McCaskill Land and Lumber Company, started in the 19 teens?) Boxes and boxes of photographs and letters. And the baby books. The McCaskills lost a young daughter in 1926. When I found JD’s mother’s baby book and the baby book for the baby girl who died in 1924 at fourteen months, I felt slugged in the heart. I’d already turned in the manuscript—Covid kept us from getting together earlier—but in revisions, I was able to add the baby book, describe what the albums were made from, and sharpen the sense of discovery.

Those details helped me ground the story in reality and create a stronger emotional connection for the reader. That’s why we read fiction, right?

I’m grateful to have spent a few hours with JD’s collection, but I’ll confess, I’m equally grateful that I’m not the one who has to figure out what to do with it.

2. The freak-out in the middle is apparently part of my writing process. I’m writing away, sure I know what the story’s about—not just the plot, but what’s it’s really about, the emotional core—then at some point in the middle, it all becomes a hopeless squiggle.

I torture myself with too much thinking, make too many notes, take long walks, drink wine, talk to myself and poor, tolerant Mr. Right, and then, it hits me. I know what the story is really about. And the rest of the draft flows.

For The Solace of Bay Leaves, that meant tossing an entire plot line and acknowledging that Pepper’s friendship with Maddie wasn’t incidental but the heart of the story. For Bitterroot Lake, it meant recognizing the central role of Sarah’s family history.

It’s painful as heck, but apparently I have to write half the book before It All Becomes Clear.
I’m hoping that starting the WIP with a stronger sense of the emotional conflict for both sleuth and killer shortens the process. I’ll let you know in a week or two.

3. Toilet tissue was invented in 1857. In the trunk, Sarah finds a dried rose on top of a little girl’s dress, tucked away in 1926. Wrapped in what? I asked my friend Google when tissue paper was invented. This was right when the pandemic started and Google was fixated on toilet tissue, not what I had in mind.

When I changed my search to wrapping paper, I learned that the two are related. In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick began using tissue paper for his newly-invented graded sewing patterns, and its use for gift-wrapping began a few years later.

4. Phyllis Ramey loved baseball. As she’s unraveling the mysteries from a century earlier, Sarah visits a cemetery in the fictional town of Deer Park. I pictured a weeping willow and a stone lamb on the grave of a child, but before writing the scene, I wanted a deeper sense of the place. So, on a clear blue day last May, desperate to leave home for a few hours, Mr. Right and I made a field trip to two historic cemeteries not far away.

Old cemeteries
are fascinating, each grave a story. I will never know why long-ago descendants emblazoned MOTHER in gold on a massive boulder in the cemetery at the University of Notre Dame—or how she would have felt. And the story of the fourteen-foot high statue of a young girl standing beside a woman in a wheelchair at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle seems lost to the ages. But I know, from a flat stone in the cemetery in Creston, Montana, decorated with a photo and the image of a baseball, that Phyllis Ramey loved the game.

I never met her, but that stone made me love her so much.

5. The first thing everyone wants to know—and so, perversely, the last thing I’ll tell you—is who is Alicia Beckman? My publisher asked me to use a pen name to distinguish Bitterroot Lake from my cozy mysteries. It’s moodier, for sure—the cover and copy tell you that—but it’s not like I’ve gone from being Jessica Fletcher to Hannibal Lecter.

My books all stem from the events of women’s lives, with crime, and this book is no exception. My mother’s name was Alice and my father often called her Alicia. The Beckmans were my maternal great-grandparents and I kept a picture of them on my desk as I wrote; they are my visual image of Sarah’s great-grandparents, though their lives were nothing alike. Odd as it sounds, I like thinking of them watching me, wondering what on earth this crazy great-granddaughter is up to.

Hey, I wonder that myself sometimes, especially during that squiggle in the middle.

Readers, learned something fun or intriguing from a recent read? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books, one lucky reader will win a hardcover copy of Bitterroot Lake. And if you buy the book and would like a signed bookplate, drop me a line with your mailing address (

ABOUT BITTERROOT LAKE: When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman's suspense debut.

Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah's guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.

Now that she's a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she's greeted by an old friend--and by news of a murder that's clearly tied to that tragic day she'll never forget.

And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Echoes of the Past with Edith Maxwell's Quaker Midwife #7

HALLIE EPHRON: It’s always a pleasure to welcome Edith Maxwell to talk about her latest. And she has so much good news right now — with her 6th Quaker Midwife mystery starring Quaker midwife Roe Carroll (Taken Too Soon) nominated for an Agatha — and her 7th in that series, A Changing Light, published yesterday.

For the record, she also writes Country Store Mysteries featuring chef/carpenter Robbie Jordan (written as Maddie Day), Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries with bike shop owner Mac Almeida and the Cozy Capers Book Group on Cape Cod (written as Maddie Day), Local Foods Mysteries with farmer Cam Flaherty, and Lauren Rousseau Mysteries with Quaker linguistics prof Lauren Rousseau (written as Tace Baker).

She is... amazing. And her new book, A Changing Light, is not to be missed -- it's the final one in what she calls the “series of my heart.” 

I’ll let her tell you why...

EDITH MAXWELL: Thank you so much, Hallie, for welcoming me back to the Jungle Reds, one of my very favorite blog communities. I’m delighted to celebrate yesterday’s release of A Changing Light with everyone here.

Rhys knows that when a historical novelist noodles ideas for a new book, we dig around for what might have been happening in the world, in a region, in the culture at the time we want to set the book.

Taken Too Soon, my Agatha-nominated sixth Quaker Midwife Mystery, took place in early fall, 1889. Midwife Rose Carrol – now Dodge, as the book opens minutes after her marriage to her beloved David – solves a murder on Cape Cod during her curtailed honeymoon. (When I learned that West Falmouth, where I go on solo writing retreat twice a year, was a hotbed of Quakers at the time, I knew Rose had to visit.)

I wanted to end this series of my heart back in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where all the rest of the books take place. (Yes, A Changing Light is the last book. More on that later.) I’d read about the annual Spring Opening, when Amesbury’s world-famous carriage factories opened their doors to the public. Festivities went on for a week, including balls and parades.
[picture of Coaching Parade article, used with permission by Amesbury Carriage Museum]

But what more widespread historical or cultural thing was going on in March, 1890? Ah. That would be the infamous disease without a cure or a vaccine – tuberculosis. It was rampant and devastating. I dug around for information and happened across Robert Goetz’s The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.

The title, of course, dropped my jaw, literally. TB and the creator of Sherlock Holmes? After I read the book cover to cover (I highly recommend it), I started to write. A local woman, a former president of the Amesbury Carriage Museum, had been the high bidder at a museum fundraiser on naming rights to a character in the series. I was delighted to make Mary Chatigny into Dr. Chatigny, lady tuberculosis specialist.

I wrote scenes where people are concerned about public spitting, and I included mention of the New York City public health department’s ban on the practice. Rose is concerned when she meets a friend who looks ill and is coughing in public. We hear about the town’s police chief having to go off to the new sanitarium in Saranac Lake, New York, for the cure. Mind you, I wrote this book last summer. Yes, summer 2020, when another disease without a cure or a vaccine was devastating families and businesses, an illness also spread by exhaled particles. You all know.

We authors have heard readers say they don’t want to read novels set in COVID-19 days. We’re all scrambling to set our contemporary novels either before 2020 or vaguely after. With this book, I could write about a pandemic, just not the current one. I could bring in a hint of those feelings of fear and helplessness we’ve all had. An echo of the present in the past.

Other changes go on around Rose even as she works to solve the murder of a Canadian visitor to town. The horse-drawn trolley is being electrified. There are murmurs about motorcars. Rose has changes in her personal life, too, some painful, some filled with joy.

Because this is the last Quaker Midwife Mystery, I brought back most of the characters named after other naming rights winners in previous books: Frannie Eisenman, Jonathan Sherwood, Catherine Toomey, and Marie Deorocki. I also brought back Jeanette Papka, the blind woman modeled closely on my longtime friend (and Friend) Jeanne Papka Smith, who starred in Judge Thee Not (my guest post here was about Jeanne).

But wait, you say. Why end the series? Charity’s Burden, book four, won the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel only last year! Book six is also nominated, results to be announced at Virtual Malice in July.

Here’s why. I have loved writing these books. Channeling my Quaker faith into Rose has been a joy. Learning everything I can about my town and living in the late eighteen-hundreds never fails to satisfy. Making the elderly John Greenleaf Whittier a supporting character has been fun. And the readers who love this series adore it.

But there aren’t enough of those fans. I make very little money on these books. It comes down to a business decision. At this point in my authorial career, I’m not willing to spend a third of my year every year writing for love and not sales. And I’m pleased that I ended the series on my own terms, with Rose and David in a good place. All’s right in their world for the moment.

If you are one of my Rose Carrol uber-fans, I’m sorry. But you never know. She has starred in Agatha-nominated short stories before (scoot to minute 21 here and watch me read “The Mayor and the Midwife” from Blood on the Bayou). She might well again.

HALLIE: We’d love it if you join Edith and me in an online chat about A Changing Light next week on April 22 at 7 pm EDT. There will be door prizes! For information and to register: 

Readers: Did any of your forebearers contract TB? Have you mourned the end of a beloved series? I’ll gladly send one commenter an ebook version of A Changing Light. I’ll also send anyone a signed bookplate if you own an unsigned copy of any of my books. Write to me at with your snail mail address and let me know which book or books you’d like a signature for and if you’d like the bookplate endorsed..

About A Changing Light: Midwife Rose Carroll sees signs of progress and change everywhere. Her New England mill town presents its 1890 annual Spring Opening, when world-famous carriage manufacturers throw open their doors to visitors from all over the globe. This year’s festivities are tainted when a representative from a prominent Canadian carriage company is murdered and plans for a radical new horseless carriage go missing. Faced with the question of whether the two crimes are connected—and a list of suspects that includes some of Amesbury’s own residents and any number of foreign visitors—Rose delves into a case with implications for the future, even if the motive for murder is one of mankind’s oldest.

Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She lives with her beau and maniac cat north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. She hopes you’ll find her at Edith M. Maxwell and Maddie Day Author.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Drum roll: Rhys Bowen's THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK, one for the ages...

HALLIE EPHRON: Mystery, romance, World War II, and humor… that alchemical mix makes a Rhys Bowen novel and she’s done it again with The Venice Sketchbook, hot off the presses today.
BREAKING NEWS! The Venice Sketchbook just got a STARRED review in Library Journal!
We’re all thrilled, and the description has me chomping at the bit to read it:
Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

Irresistible… All I need to see is Venice and I’m hooked. I can’t wait to hear all about the book and how it came about. Rhys, for your loyal readers, what will feel familiar and what will feel new?

RHYS BOWEN: What I hope readers will enjoy in this book is the sense of place, being in Venice, experiencing so many aspects of the city. What might be different? It’s not a classic mystery, a crime and whodunnit.It takes place in three time periods, which is always a challenge to write. The mystery is a dying woman entrusting her great niece with three keys and a sketchbook of Venice and the layers of a hidden past being peeled away one by one.

You’re an artist yourself. Do you take along a sketchbook with you when you travel? Did that factor into writing this book?

RHYS: I always take my sketch books when I travel and the publisher has actually used one of my sketches on the hardcover of the book. So I suppose I was drawn to a woman who was an artist and who captured her experiences in sketches. And when you are sketching you notice details. I take pictures of door knockers, for example, to paint later.

HALLIE: Venice! My favorite city in the world, by the way. Me and a gazillion other seasoned tourists. It’s a city that cherishes its history. You can research what it looked like in the 1940s by walking around there today… or can you? (We all know you’re a stickler for accuracy.)

My favorite city too. I have been there many times and every time it takes my breath away. I have a book of photographs comparing the same sites in 1900 and the present and really very little has changed, so I really could walk where my heroine walked and experience exactly what she saw.

Some businesses are still there—the bookshop in the street of the Assassins, Florian’s Tea Room, the Daniele of course, and the little shops that serves tramezzini—the small open sandwiches. I created a fictitious hotel for Juliet to stay in 1928 but it’s in a real place, and the hotel where Caroline stays in 2001 is where I love to stay—the Pensione Accademia with its lovely garden.But I actually did a lot of real research, including at the Correr Library, attached to the Correr museum in St. Mark’s Square.

Two librarians kept finding more and more books for me on Venice in the Thirties and Forties. They were all in Italian, of course, so my reading went rather slowly, but I got around this by finding the sections and pages I needed and having John photograph them for later study. The librarians were so enthusiastic that I had to say “Please, I think we have enough here!"

HALLIE: Still you had to go there for this book… didn’t you? How did that affect the story you had in mind to write?

Any excuse to go back to Venice! And I always have to revisit the place I’m writing about, just to notice what my heroine sees and smells and experiences. I was there for one of the big religious festivals and realized how important they still are to Venice so these festivals become important points in the story. Also I was over on the Lido (The island with lovely houses and hotels and the Venice beach and casino) and I spotted a villa I wanted to use. So then I decided it belonged to a Contessa, and she became an important character.

As far as plotting ahead was concerned, I knew my heroine had to survive but I had no idea what she would have to go through. It was really harrowing to write about!

HALLIE: I love the idea of a character unearthing secrets from the past. Did you know what Great-Aunt Lettie’s secrets were before you started writing, or did you unearth them as you went along?

RHYS: Not all. And I can’t tell you here or I’d spoil the story. I knew the main thrust but people along the way asked her to undertake certain dangerous things I hadn’t expected.

What is it about World War II that has proven such fertile ground for your fiction?

RHYS: To me it is the last time when we had a sense of good versus evil. We knew we had to stop the evil before it swallowed the world. Everyone was involved, most wanting to do their part, others trying to profit and so many people not entirely evil or good. It was a time of heightened emotions, of great and small dangers and there are still so many stories waiting to be told.

I suppose I am so fascinated because I was born in the middle of it and my life was affected by it for years to come. I didn’t meet my father until I was three. He was out in Egypt and the Palestine. After the war it was common to see bombed buildings everywhere. Rationing went on until 1953. Of course the dangers were even greater in occupied Europe, which is why I’ve set two books there now. Ordinary people had to take extraordinary risks, putting their lives on the line, and often nobody knew about their bravery… as is the case with Juliet.

HALLIE: I love the way you write characters who are just on the outside, looking in. Fish trying to swim in waters that are just out of their league. Does that description fit Caroline as well?

RHYS: You’re right. I think my characters succeed because they are to a certain extent outsiders. Sometimes they are outside their own environment, like Juliet and Molly Murphy. Other times they don’t entirely fit in, like Lady Georgie who has a royal father and a lower class mother and thus feels herself slightly an outsider in both.

But such characters make great observers because everything is new to them and they have to be alert to survive. And Caroline—at the beginning of the story we might think she is living a normal, typical life: husband, child, job. But then this security is taken from her and it is only in Venice that she finds what she really wants.

HALLIE: Were you still writing this book when Covid hit? Did it make lockdown any easier, having such a fabulous fictional place to go via your manuscript?

RHYS: I must admit I gazed at my photographs so many times, usually with a sigh. Especially the videos and live shots. There is one taken from a motor boat when the bells are ringing. That always brought tears to my eyes. Bells are so typical of Venice. It should have been a gift to be able to focus and write without interruptions but in fact I found it hard to be creative. Having this worry always lurking in the background was like carrying a load on my shoulders, and thinking through muslin. I expect you felt the same way.

Luckily I had written half the book before lock down so I knew where I was going. And of course having a deadline is a great motivator!

Where can your fans find you to hear firsthand about this fabulous new book?

RHYS: I have already done most of my Zooms and interviews by the time the book is published but fans can visit the Poisoned Pen archives to see my interview with Barbara from last Saturday. Hank and I are chatting tomorrow, April 14, at Authors on the Air. I don’t have the link yet but will put it on my Facebook page. And next Sunday, April 18, I am doing a Facebook Live Zoom chat with Cara Black at Book Passage ( at 4 p.m. I hope to see some of you there.

And thank you for hosting me, Hallie, and for all the wonderful support I feel from the Jungle Reds and our community.

I confess, if I I were traveling to Venice for "research" my sketchbook would be "scratch and sniff." Because the food! But also the light. The reflections. But capturing the excitement of meandering down a little side alley and emerging into one of Venice's gorgeous squares? For all that and more, read The Venice Sketchbook. 

Do you keep a travel journey or sketchbook?

Monday, April 12, 2021

On bunny patrol...

HALLIE EPHRON: Yesterday, my husband was sitting in his usual spot in the morning sun by our atrium door, narrating the peregrinations of a pair of bunnies who were zipping back and forth across the yard.

When I looked out, I caught a glimpse of one of them. It was carrying a baby bunny in its mouth across the patio… No baby on the return trip.

I went out to investigate. Freshly dug earth gave away the location of a new den alongside the house, into which momma and poppa bunny were moving their newly hatched brood. Shorn shoots all around testified to the fact that they’d been up to this for some time. My coreopsis and black-eyed susans that had been starting to re-emerge in that spot had… vanished.

Where’s a red-tailed hawk when you need him? Because seriously, after losing half of my perennials last year I am over thinking these guys are cute.

How are your relations with the critters in your environs? Snakes? Frogs? Squirrels? Flo and Eddy?? Is the entire peaceable kingdom welcome?

LUCY BURDETTE: We are in Key West for a few more weeks and John has a glorious garden growing on our little balcony. Tons of tomatoes, some nice peppers, and various herbs. Our perpetrators come in the form of mockingbirds. We love their spring songs, but it’s infuriating to both us and T-bone when they land on the rails and start pecking at the ripe tomatoes.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they ate a few, but to ruin a whole batch? Not cute! (Though I would have loved to have seen those baby bunnies…)

RHYS BOWEN: I feel your pain, Hallie. You have seen our garden--we are open to a hillside and every day we have at least five deer in the garden, sometimes as many as ten including a rather large stag. We also have several jackrabbits, gophers, and occasionally foxes. This means that the only plants I can grow, apart from our balcony, are highly poisonous or scented. We have oleander, lavender, rosemary and several citrus trees, although the deer now strip them of leaves as high as they can reach.

It’s quite disheartening. Guests think the spotted fawns are adorable. Me? Not so much. I keep mouthing the word ‘venison’ to them but they don’t go!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Flo and Eddy and duck pals--goes without saying. Jonathan keeps wanting to let them in. ALL the birds--we are enchanted. We have actual goldfinches!

Our squirrels are completely hilarious, truly, so entertaining, but trust me, the first time one of them nips off the bud of a new tulip, I go homicidal. (I use pepper stuff the tulips, because..those critters need to stay the heck away.)

The raccoons who moved lock, stock, and babies into our attic--not so welcome, and it was a MESS.
And oh, the bunnies. They are SO cute, and our hosta are the worse for it. I think the only reason they stay alive is that they are so ridiculously adorable. We love ours, gotta admit.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The squirrels are my garden nemesis! They dig up all the pots on the deck, patio, and even on the front porch. But, weirdly, they haven't been too bad so far this year. I hope I'm not jinxing myself by writing that… I have tried every kind of repellent over the years, garlic, hot pepper, you name it, and the little pests just seem to think it makes the plants tastier.

I had some little herbs and veggies out on the deck last week, still in their plastic pots, and SOMETHING ate the parsley, chives, dill, and bell pepper plants right down to the dirt. Not sure if I can blame that one on the squirrels!

JENN McKINLAY: The bane of my existence is snails. Yes, snails. Forever, I’ve wanted a strawberry patch but my yard is thick with gastropods. When I was taking the classes to become a certified Master Gardener, the instructor assured me that a shallow dish of beer would take care of the problem. I ended up with drunk snails and no strawberries.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We have remarkable few garden pests, because we have foxes in our neighborhood! Last spring we had an enormous ground hog waddling around. We got a have-a-heart trap, but it didn't work... then the next door neighbor announced he had shot a large groundhog that had been digging in his garden. A little more violent than I was going to go, but I can't complain.

This spring, we have a pair of turkey vultures hanging around for the very first time! They're even better than a hawk, because they DON'T kill other birds, but their low swooping definitely frightens off small critters (including the dog.) Anyway, the solution to small garden pests seems to be larger, more frightening animals, and I am all for this.

HALLIE: So are you living in the Peaceable Kingdom or are your hostas and tulips and tomatoes and strawberries fighting for their very lives?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

What We're Writing: A little bit of this and a little bit of that

 Jenn McKinlay:  It's a good thing that I live in a frat house rife with chaos and an ever changing schedule of gigs, appointments, events, and the occasional emergency room visit. It has taught me to be flexible. 

When I am cruising up on a deadline and then revisions and copy edits arrive in the inbox at the same time, all with due dates in a few short weeks, I dial my flexibility up to maximum and work on all three at the same time -- a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

Currently, mornings have been spent on the first draft of Strawberried Alive (Apr '22), afternoons on the revisions for Killer Research (Nov '21), and  copyedits for Wait For It (Aug '21) are done in the evening. After which, I pass out in a dreamless slumber because my brain is a gelatinous mass that needs to recharge. 

Thankfully, revisions and copyedits usually only take a couple of weeks and soon all of my attention will be back on the first draft. Thank goodness because presently the work in progress is a turned over garbage can of blackened banana peels, coffee grounds, and possibly a stinky diaper. Okay, I might be exaggerating or the book really is that bad right now.

This is why revisions and copy edits are so great. By the time they arrive I have forgotten the book entirely and get to read the manuscript with fresh eyes and discover that it is not quite as awful as I feared, usually. Phew!

Of the three projects in play, my favorite at the moment is the copyedited Wait For It. Rom-coms are always fun for me, especially the first meeting. In this case our heroine Annabelle Martin is under the impression that her landlord, Nick Daire, also our hero, is a curmudgeonly old man, whom she has only interacted with through terse notes that he leaves on her door when she inadvertently breaks one of his many rules...

“Hello, Tenant,” he said. 

Wait . . . what?

“Tenant?” I repeated like a halfwit.

One perfectly arched eyebrow rose while he waited for me to figure it out.

“Oh my god, you’re Mr. Daire?”

“You expected someone else?” he asked.

We were standing in Mr. Daire's home gym, and I watched as he wiped the sweat from his brow with a towel. I resisted the urge to fan myself as I processed the fact that the hot guy I had seen in the window of the main house was my landlord. My landlord!

“Uh . . . um . . . no,” I said. “I mean, sure, Miguel said you were retired, which using any sort of deductive reasoning would make a person assume that you were of a certain age . . .”

My voice trailed off. I was babbling. Mr. Daire was the hot guy! I had not seen this plot twist coming. And now I had to defend my egregious disregard of the rules to him instead of the old duff I had expected to charm silly. Why you gotta do me this way, universe? Why?

“You thought I was half-dead fossil,” he said.

He and Jackson exchanged a look and laughed. I was okay with the fact that they were laughing at me. I would, too, if there was anything about this that was even remotely funny. Jackson’s eyes were kind when they met mine, and it was obvious that he wasn’t the hard ass that Mr. Daire was.

“In my defense, you do have a lot of rules that resemble ‘get off my lawn’ for a guy your age,” I said.

“I like order.” He picked up a water bottle and took a long drink. I tried not to stare at his throat.

“I think you mean you like control,” I corrected him. Did I really just say that? Out loud?

Jackson looked at me with raised eyebrows as if he thought I had a death wish. For the record, I do not.

Mr. Daire rubbed his square jaw with the back of his very large hand. I swallowed, fully expecting him to have his minion cart me out and toss me to the curb.

“Can you give us a minute, Jackson?” he said.

Jackson glanced between us. He didn’t look comfortable with this request, and I wondered what made him pause. Surely Mr. Daire wasn’t a violent man. Nor did I think that I came across as the type of woman who would pull out a gun and shoot her landlord, even if he was a huge pain in the ass. A ridiculously good looking pain in the ass, but a pain in the ass all the same.

“I’m harmless, I promise,” I said with a show of teeth.

Jackson grunted. He stepped close to me and said, in a voice even lower than Mr. Daire’s, “I’m going to the kitchen, but I’ll be right back.”

When the door shut softly behind him, I turned to my landlord and said, “Bodyguard or trainer or both?”

“What makes you think I need a bodyguard?” he asked. He sounded offended. Interesting.

“Given the charm with which you infuse your writings—they’re positively swoonworthy, really—I’m shocked—shocked, I say—that women aren’t lining up outside the gate to be with you.”

To my delight, he barked out a surprised laugh that made me grin in return.

“You’re fearless, aren’t you, Annabelle Martin?”

I ignored the way my name sounded coming from his lips. It would only cloud my already hot guy–impaired thinking. I did note the goose bumps that rose up on my skin, in the most delicious way, however.

“Not fearless,” I said. “A tad impulsive and a smidgeon reckless, maybe.”


“Why am I impulsive and reckless?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Because life is short,” I said. 

“Doesn’t being reckless make it shorter?” he asked.

I shrugged, pleased to note I was getting my equilibrium back. “There’s a difference between calculated risks and stupidity.”

“All right, I’ll play,” he said. “Would you say hosting a party, jumping into my hot tub, and making noise well past nine o’clock was a calculated risk or stupidity?”

“Calculated risk,” I replied. “One hundred percent.”

“How do you figure?” he asked. He looked mystified.

“Because I wanted to meet you. And I knew you wouldn’t be able to let such a blatant disregard for the rules go unchallenged, and now here I am, talking to you.”

Rom-Com lovers, chime in, what's your favorite parts of the romantic comedy story line?

Everything was fine (not really) until she moved in.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Write. Copy. Copyright.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Today I'm going to talk not about what I'm writing, but about something that enables me to write: copyright. Many book lovers will go their whole lives without thinking much about copyright, other than flipping to the front matter and using it to make sure they're on the second, and not the third book of a series.

Then there are the folks out there who have Opinions on copyright. They never seem to spend much time thinking about copyright in the visual arts, for example, or architectural plans. No, they have Thoughts about books and creative works held by their arch-nemesis Disney (and Marvel and Star Wars.) The problem with these thoughts is threefold:




1) Most individual authors aren't in anywhere near the position of Disney. In fact, the biggest money-making writers you could think of - Nora Roberts, Steven King, Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, JK Rowling - are as but motes in the eye of the Mouse.


2) They treat the intellectual property known as "a book" as if it were some strange and exotic thing completely separate from types of property we call "a business" or "a house."

3) They don't make their living from writing books and they're about as familiar with the publishing business as I am with major league scouting.

About a month ago, blogger and journalist Matt Yglesias, posted the following on Twitter:

He didn't specify what form "copyright reform" might take, but cites a social entrepreneur and information economist that "a 15-38 year range would be optimal.

Now, we have to posit ALL this is totally theoretical. The USA, along with close to 180 other countries, is a signatory to the Berne Convention, a foundational treaty of the World Trade Organization. The Berne Convention sets a bottom limit - life of the author plus 50 years - below which the member countries can't go. They can chose to go up from there; the US is life + 75 years, and Mexico is life + 100. But unless you expect the WTO to fall apart, any discussion of "15-to-38 years after the creation of the work" is in the vein of "How do we terraform Mars" - interesting, but not really front-burner.

Which is not to say people don't get VERY interested in the concept. 

Tech policy reporter and computer science guy Timothy B. Lee (no relation to Tim Berners-Lee, although I bet he gets asked that a lot) decided to weigh in with a more direct approach:

I suspect it was calling royalties serving as an author's retirement plan "ridiculous" that did it, but Timothy B. Lee found himself getting dragged by every author on Twitter. And of course, loads of guys (they're almost always guys) had to weigh in with their opinions of why other people's creative work ought to be free right quick. Many mentioned the importance of using older books to create new work, although mostly they seemed concerned with being able to legally write Spiderman and Tolkien fanfic. Strangely, I never saw anyone mention A THOUSAND ACRES or WIDE SARGASSO SEA or MARCH. Others pointed out they didn't get to inherit their Dad's salary upon his death, so why should a novelist's kids inherit their royalties? Nobody read books more than 30 years old anyway, so why should we worry? Just invest in a 401(k) like the rest of the world does.

I encourage you to read the twitter thread, there were SO many bad takes - including the everpractical "information wants to be free" - it became a sort of art installation of dumbness.

Let me counter with a few facts of life from someone who buys groceries, maintains a car and keeps a roof over her head thanks to royalties:

1. Intellectual property is still property. I make stories, in the same way another person might make cosmetics and a third might make electric vehicles. It's a business, just as much as Glossier and Tesla. If Emily Weiss and Elon Musk can to pass the value of their businesses on to their kids, why can't I? I can assure you, mine will be satisfied with a lot less than little X AE A-XII.

2. I do invest toward my retirement. But it's 100% on me - I don't get a handy employer match. I'm counting on royalties from my back list to help support me in my old age, in part because I plan, like most authors I know, to still be writing into decreptitude. On paper, no one can hear you creak.

3. Oh, and that money I put into my SEP IRA? It goes AFTER I pay 12.5% toward Social Security and 7.9% to Medicare. That's more than twice what non-self-employed people contribute. I'll get it back (I hope, please God) but it's a chunk o' change that isn't available to put away for my rapidly approaching golden years.

4. Let's say we could wave the magic copyright reform wand and change copyright protection from its current term to 30 years after creation. I hate to disillusion anyone, but that won't lead to a Marxist utopia where The People get books for free. First off, The People almost always prefer well-typeset books bound in paper or available to download. Who's going to provide that? Publishing companies. Who will then make 100% of the profit. Yes, Project Guttenberg is out there, bless their hearts, but my kids still bought paperback copies of every classic novel they read in high school and college. 

4.a.) And I'll tell you how film rights would work under a 30 year copyright. No production company would even talk to an author. Why go through the expense and hassle of paying Deb Crombie and negotiating her terms when all ITV or Sky TV have to do is wait until 2023 - yep, that soon! - and they can start filming A SHARE IN DEATH for free! Once again, they make 100% of the profit while Debs, I don't know, has to be content with her contribution to human happiness, I guess.


I'll stop myself from going on and ON and on. The takeaway: copyright is there for a reason, and without a generous term, most of us couldn't afford to BE authors in the first place. Also: never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.