Friday, May 14, 2021

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know I have a real soft spot for American authors who write about Britain and do it well, and I count my friend Will North as one of the best of the bunch. Will has the same deep attachment for Cornwall that I have for London, and he's set some wonderful novels there, including a wonderful series featuring the irascible Cornish detective inspector Morgan Davies, and her Scene of Crimes manager Callum West.

MURDER ON THE COMMONS is the fourth Davies and West book, and it was certainly well worth the wait. I'm sure Will has struggled as I have during the pandemic with being unable to visit the much-loved setting of his book. But Will has had other and greater obstacles, as he will explain.

 WILL NORTH: Morgan Davies and Calum West are back!

Murder on the Commons,” the fourth book in my British mystery series, releases May 17. There was a three-year delay between book three, "Trevega House", and this one. But it wasn’t writer's block. It was cancer. Two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of bone marrow cancer. I went through three unsuccessful cycles of chemotherapy. The last resort, stem cell replacement completed at the end of February, was successful at last!

I’ve always believed the central characters in a series should develop from edition to edition, gaining depth with each professional and personal challenge.  But don’t worry, Detective Inspector Morgan Davies is still her cantankerous self and Scene of Crimes Manager Calum West is still putting up with her. As I wrote and the story unfolded, I was delighted to discover how much more we learn about DCI Penwarren and the rest of Cornwall’s major crimes team. I hope you'll love this aspect of the book, as well.

Now for a teaser: A body is discovered neck deep in an inaccessible bog on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor. The corpse is faceless, thanks to carrion birds, but the body is tattooed. Without a crime scene or motive, the trail feels cold from the outset, but the victim's tattoos offer clues that lead the team on a chase to find a cunning killer.

 I hope you enjoy the twists and turns in “Murder on the Commons.” Write and let me know! 

Will North is the pen name of an international award-winning author and ghostwriter of more than a dozen nonfiction books as well as seven recent novels. He has ghosted books for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, several famous Everest mountaineers, a team of dinosaur hunters, a renowned physician, and others. Two of his books have been the subject of PBS and A&E documentaries. As a fiction author, Will has penned two romantic suspense novels, a family saga, and four books in his Davies & West British murder mystery series. Will lives on an island in Washington's Puget Sound. You can find him at, on Instagram @willnorthnovelist, and on Facebook at Will North, Author.

Murder on the Commons

When a hawk-ravaged head of a body is discovered neck-deep in a Cornwall bog, Detective Inspector Morgan Davies and her Scene of Crimes manager Calum West find themselves equally mired in questions and dead-ends. Who is this badly broken corpse on the grounds of Poldue Manor? How did the body appear there? And why does the Lord of the Manor’s daughter seem unfazed by her gruesome discovery?

Clues diverge and send the investigative team out of Cornwall and across borders as the team finds itself immersed in unfamiliar waters of both politics and romance.

But when shots are fired, there is suddenly more on the line than catching a killer. This time, it’s personal.

DEBS: That is such wonderful news about your cancer, and I am in awe of your fortitude in keeping on with your writing during your treatment. We all wish you the best of health in the future.

Now, the book! It is so atmospheric, the body in the bog!  Such a fabulous cover, and such great characters--I loved getting to know more about them in this book, too.

For all you current armchair travelers, Will be stopping in to chat and I'm sure he can tell you anything you'd like to know about Cornwall. Who has visited? Who would like to visit? Favorite locations?

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Wine for Writers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know how much writers like to get the inside scoop? And you know how much I love wine, right? So today's lovely guest, wine expert Becky Sue Epstein, is a double dip for me and a treat for you. (And I might just have to do a little more research...) But first, let's take Becky's quiz !


What do writers need to know about wine? No, that opening won’t work, too boring. They’ll just click onto something else online. Like cute pet pics.

What do writers want to know about wine? Not quite as bad. But these writers are too busy to spend time learning about wine, they just want to magically know.

OK, here’s the deal. Readers depend on writers who care: about their settings, their characters, their research. We readers figure it out pretty quickly. If you’re writing about Paris and you’ve never been there, it’s easy to tell.

If you’re putting wine in your books – and who doesn’t have a sip at the end of the day? – here are EIGHT TRUE THINGS to keep for reference, in order to preserve your readers’ trust that you are the authority in this book.

Depending on your characters, you can choose whether to have them behave according to (mainly incorrect) popular myths about wines, or according to the (perhaps counter-intuitive) reality.

Bonus: you can also use this list to enhance your own real life wine experiences.



NOT TRUE: Colorful glassware says you care about wine.

TRUE: Wine afficionados (collectors and experts) only serve wines in clear glasses.

Also, the glasses are tulip-shaped -- the tops of the bowls curve inward -- so the aromas are concentrated in the glass.

WHY: Clear glasses allow diners to evaluate the color of the wine, which is a factor in appreciating the wine.

Aroma is another subtle element that enhances every sip of wine.

TIP: Hold a wineglass by the stem to avoid warming the wine too much. Which means stemmed glasses are great for parties, but actually not necessary on the dinner table. Though they do look elegant.



NOT TRUE: White wines and sparkling wines must be served very cold. Red wines must be served at room temperature.

TRUE: Take bottles of white wine, champagne and other sparkling wine out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving, for full enjoyment of their flavors and aromas. Put the bottle back the refrigerator or into an ice bucket after 30 minutes.

RED WINES can benefit from a little chill. They are best served at around 60-65 degrees F (15-18 C). Modern kitchens and dining rooms are just too warm. Place a bottle of red wine on a cool window sill, or even in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before serving.

WHY:  Whether red, white or sparkling, all warm wine gets “flabby” – it loses its bright feeling and its all-important flavor balance. And no one wants a blah wine, with or without a meal.



NOT TRUE: Always store opened bottles of white wine (not red) in the refrigerator, where they will last for a long time.

TRUE: Red wines, once opened, should also be stored in the refrigerator. But just for a day or so. Red wine starts to degrade, and you’ll wonder why you liked this wine to begin with.

White wines, once opened, will do best in the refrigerator for a few days. Not longer, or the flavors and aromas will fade and deconstruct -- as will the joy of drinking the wine.

WHY: Wines are sealed without oxygen in the bottle. When the bottle is opened, oxygen gets in and it’s only a matter of hours before the wine starts to degrade due to this exposure.



NOT TRUE: Just serve a wine you like and it will be fine with dinner.

TRUE: When planning a meal, consider (or google) the region where your dish originated, and choose a wine style that also originated there.

WHY:  Originally, wine grapes and food ingredients were all grown near each other, by small farmers everywhere. People in each region have had centuries to perfect their natural wine and food pairings. Makes sense, when you think about it.

TIPS: Turkey and salmon are popular US foods, native to this land. The US was not a country known for its wines until relatively recently in world history; pair these foods with US pinot noir.

Many Asian foods pair well with off-dry Riesling, which is classically from Germany, sometimes from other Northern regions such as the Finger Lakes in New York state.

Also, refer to the winery website of any particular wine you like, because many wineries list food-pairing suggestions.



NOT TRUE: all wines should be aged; the older the wine, the better.

TRUE: Almost all the wine we see on store shelves is ready to drink when we buy it. This means it will not benefit from further ageing; in fact it will become less appealing over time.

WHY: over 95% of today’s wine is made to be consumed within 1-2 years after it is sold. Wineries know the optimum windows for consuming their wine, and they make sure to get it into stores at the right time.



NOT TRUE: all wine with bubbles is Champagne.

TRUE: Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France (northeast of Paris), and according to strict regulations. It has been produced there for 400 years.

All other bubbly wines are “sparkling wines.” Not nearly as romantic a name, but true nevertheless.

WHY: Reputable wine producers and regions across the globe have all signed treaties with the French Champagne producers. Some wine regions have their own proprietary names for sparkling wines, even in other parts of France.

TIP: if you see a US wine labeled “Champagne” run the other way – it’s not going to be good.



NOT TRUE: Prosecco is another kind of Champagne. 

TRUE: Prosecco is a sparkling wine made according to strict regulations, in an area centered in the Veneto region of northern Italy – yes, on the mainland near the romantic city of Venice.

WHY: Prosecco is made with different grapes and different processes from Champagne. It has been produced in its home region for about 100 years.



NOT TRUE: color is added to wines to make them red or rosé.

TRUE: The color in red and rosé wines comes from the red grapes’ skins.

WHY: The insides of grapes are white, so all wine would be white if the grapes were lightly pressed, and the skins immediately discarded. To make red rosé and red wines, before being pressed, the red grapes are left in large vats for various amounts of time, depending on the wine, to extract the color and other beneficial elements. 

Becky Sue Epstein is an award-winning wine writer, who has traveled to most of the wine regions of the world. Her expertise includes Champagne, Port, Vermouth and Cognac. She has written several wine and food books, including Champagne: A Global History; Brandy: A Global History; and Strong, Sweet & Dry: A Guide to Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala. Now, she just might be trying her hand at writing cozy mysteries -- with a wine component, of course. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. For more answers to wine questions, readers of this site can email her at

DEBS: How'd you do on the quiz, REDS  and readers? This was so much fun, and I did pretty well, although I don't always abide by things I know to be wrong, like how long you can keep white wine in the fridge...

And I get in big trouble in my books when my characters need to drink French wines--I can definitely use a boost to my education. Becky's books are now on my resource list, but she's going to be answering readers questions here on the blog today!

Welcome, Becky!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

More from Britbox--Line of Duty!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are having such fun on Jungle Red with sneak peeks at not one, but two, new British crime dramas on Britbox. As I write British mysteries, you can imagine how much I love British crime shows, and today I get to talk about LINE OF DUTY, which is maybe the best British cop series ever. 

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was a latecomer. I'd heard about it, of course, but a series run had never coincided with my trips to the UK. But thanks to Britbox my hubby and I started watching last year and we totally binged all five seasons. It was so compelling and we just couldn't wait to see what happened next. Then, lockdown happened. Filming on Season 6 was stopped, and we did lots of teeth-gnashing. Would we ever know the truth??

But now Season 6 is here, starting tonight, with episode 1!

So what's it all about? LINE OF DUTY follows the cases of AC 12, the anti-corruption unit of a fictional police force in Central England. (The show is actually mostly filmed in Belfast.) Martin Compston plays DS Steve Arnott, a firearms officer who is transferred to AC 12 after refusing to agree to the cover-up of an unlawful shooting by his own team. He's partnered with DC Kate Fleming, played by the wonderful Vicky McClure, and their team is supervised by Superintendent Ted Hastings, played by Adrian Dunbar. They investigate corruption within the force, and as the series progresses, the links of corrupt officers to organized crime, and the identity of the mysterious kingpin, H.

Talent abounds, and previous seasons' top-notch guest stars have included Lennie James, Thandie Newton, Keely Hawes, Daniel Mays, and Stephen Graham. In Season 6 Kelly MacDonald takes center stage as possibly corrupt DCI Jo Davidson.

Check out this trailer!

Just WOW! The tension! The twists and turns! I can't wait to dive in!

Everyone in the cast is terrific, but I have a wee bit of a fan girl thing going for the Scottish actor Martin Compston, who plays the English officer Steve Arnott. 

Here's a fun little snippet of Martin's recent segment on the Scottish talk show LORRAINE.

So Scottish, compared to his English character. It always amazes me that actors can change their accents so convincingly. Also, it's really nice to see Martin smile, as his character, Steve, doesn't get much opportunity!

REDS and readers, are you LINE OF DUTY fans? How do you feel about the one-episode-a-week format? It does give us lots of time to speculate on the latest developments!

And, lastly, is it YAY or NAY on THE BEARD?


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Annette Dashofy on Total Immersion Research

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's such a treat to have Annette Dashofy, one of our favorite Jungle Red guests (and commenter!) here today to talk about two of my very favorite things, research and horse racing. You know this book went on my must-get list as soon as I read about it!  Here's Annette to tell us more about DEATH BY EQUINE! (And so many fun photos, too!)

ANNETTE DASHOFY: Early in my writing career, research intimidated me. I would look up stuff online. Read books. Occasionally, I’d search out a phone number for a public relations connection and ask timid questions with a painfully anxious voice. I was really lousy at the phone call thing. To be honest, I still am.

 However, while writing Death by Equine over ten years ago (yes, it’s been a long time coming), I discovered a different kind of research. Full immersion. Not merely asking questions but jumping in and experiencing the world I was writing about.


A friend, who was a trainer at a racetrack about 45 minutes from my home, got me onto the backside with a visitor’s pass a few times. When I proved that I wasn’t going to do stupid stuff around the horses and get someone injured, she arranged for me to obtain a groom’s license. It was like an all-access pass to a different universe. 

I did have some “street cred.” I’d been a horse-crazy kid, who loved horseracing. I’d owned and ridden horses of my own (although no Thoroughbreds) for 25 years, so I knew enough to avoid getting kicked or bitten. I could wield a brush, curry comb, and hoof pick with the best of them. But hotwalking a high-strung Thoroughbred is totally different than leading a lazy Quarter Horse around the fairgrounds. (Walking a Thoroughbred is always a question of who’s walking whom, while walking a lazy Quarter Horse is like taking my cat for a “drag” on the end of her leash.)

 My time as a groom taught me that while I knew a lot, I had no idea how much I didn’t know.

 My main character in Death by Equine is a veterinarian. I may have assisted my own vet with procedures on my horses and cats, but once again, the track is something entirely different. I spent time hovering over the track vet’s shoulder as he treated the horses. I was able to be hands-on, feeling injured horses’ legs for heat and swelling. I learned various treatments for assorted lamenesses and injuries.

I asked questions and took pages and pages of notes.

Something else I learned: I’m horrible at picking winners at the races. Owners and trainers started begging me to not bet on their horses. In a business that is notorious for its superstitions, being dubbed a jinx is not a good thing.

Side note: I had three favorites for the Kentucky Derby this year. None of them finished in the money.

So while the story, the characters, and the setting (and the homicide!) in Death by Equine is all fiction, it is based very much in fact.

Reds, did any of you watch the Kentucky Derby? Or ever been to one? Readers, do you enjoy being totally immersed into a new and different world when you pick up a book? Or do you prefer something more familiar?

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the multi–Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. Her latest release, a standalone, is Death by Equine, about a veterinarian at a second-rate thoroughbred racetrack seeking the truth about her mentor’s mysterious death. She and her husband live on ten acres of what was her grandfather’s dairy farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with their very spoiled cat, Kensi.

 DEBS:Here's more about DEATH BY EQUINE, which you can order here.

Veterinarian Jessie Cameron agrees to fill in for her mentor, Doc Lewis, at Riverview Racetrack so he can take a long-overdue vacation. When he’s tragically killed by one of his equine patients the night before he’s supposed to leave, Jessie quickly suspects the death is anything but accidental. Her search for the truth is thwarted by everyone from well-meaning friends to the police, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Undaunted, she discovers layers of illegal activities and deceit being perpetrated by the man she thought of as a father figure, creating a growing list of suspects with reason to want Doc dead. Too late, she realizes that her dogged quest for the truth has put her in the crosshairs of a devious killer desperate to silence her. Permanently. 

DEBS: I've done some fun research but Annette's takes the cake. You can tell this book was a real labor of love. And I, for one, love being totally immersed in a new world when I'm reading. (I bombed out on the Derby, too, Annette!)

Readers, any winning Derby bets? 




Monday, May 10, 2021


DEBORAH CROMBIE: On a stroll around the town square with my daughter last week (oh, the liberation!) I discovered that a comic shop has sprouted up in the year-plus that I have missed doing such things. And a vinyl shop next door! (But vinyl is a whole other post.) 

I didn’t go in, but I will, because I can’t wait to see what’s new (or old) in the comic world. I was a moderate comic reader as a kid, and more Marvel than DC, which were always a little dark for me. My husband LOVED comics, and has never forgiven his mum for disposing of his huge collection during a move. (Maybe I shouldn’t forgive her either—those comics might be worth a fortune now…)  But I grew up and didn’t think much about comics except on the release of the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster.

But I have recently discovered the joys of the graphic novel. I’m a huge fan of the English urban fantasy writer Ben Aaronovitch, who has published a series of graphic novels that are interwoven with his RIVERS OF LONDON novels, short stories, and novellas. I had tried a couple of the graphic novels in paperback and found them a little unwieldy. Then one day, ZOWIE! it occurred to me that I could read them on my tablet! Duh. Welcome to the digital world. 

The color art is fabulous! You can make the panels bigger! They are so much fun! Before you could say BOOM I’d bought all eight of them! Now I have favorites among the illustrators, and I’m wondering what other treasures I’ve been missing.

Reds, did you read comics as a kid? What were your faves? What about current graphic novels—any recommendations there? And are there comic shops in your neighborhood? 

And wouldn't you love to read this story with the girl space radio operator?

LUCY BURDETTE: Archie, Betty and Veronica, those comics were my favorites--maybe a little Wonder Woman on the side. I would like to go back now and read them to see what I loved about them and how they’ve aged. 

The only graphic novel I believe I’ve read is GOOD TALK by Mira Jacob. She writes about raising a mixed race son--it’s a stunning book (I have the hardcover) and I highly recommend it to everyone.

HALLIE EPHRON: I reviewed a British graphic mystery novel when I was reviewing for the Boston Globe - “Britten and Brülightly” by Hannah Berry. I really liked it. And my grandkids are deep into the BONE series of graphic novels for kids. 

In my house growing up, we could pretty much read anything we wanted EXCEPT my parents refused to spring for comic books. I lusted after Archie and Little Lulu and those romance comic books. Superhero comics, not so much.

JENN McKINLAY: HUGE comic book fan as a kid and an adult. The Hub and the Hooligans, are, too. Mostly, I was a Spider-Man/X-Men girl but I really loved all the comics, which my brother and I devoured all summer long on our family vacations, which always seemed to include a lot of driving. 

Red reader Jay and I have discussed our favorite day, which is FCBD (Free Comic Book Day), which is usually the first weekend in May but has been bumped to August 14th this year because of pandemic concerns. More info:  

RHYS BOWEN:  Oh dear--not a fan of comics. It seems like too much effort to read and follow along, plus it takes away what I love most about reading--the rich turn of phrase and description that lets me savor the use of language. I do occasionally enjoy the Sunday funnies--I always loved Peanuts.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, maybe it was more of an American thing? Comics of one sort or another seem like a childhood staple of every American generation before the Millennials. They were easy to pick up because they were everywhere - same distribution as those spinning racks of paperbacks, I bet - and the cost was around a buck, buck-twenty-five in inflation-adjusted terms. 

Then in the 90s prices shot up to four dollars (again, adjusted) and have stayed there (or gone higher!) since. So Ross and I read them frequently (I was a big Spiderman fan, while he was into the Fantastic Four and the X-Men) but our kids know the characters strictly from movies.  

One of the great joys of going to my grandmother's? She picked up comics whenever she spotted them at estate or tag sales. (Collectable? We would have goggled at the thought.) She had a HUGE pile in a box, enough to keep a kid happily quiet for an entire afternoon while the grownups visited. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I devoured comics. Devoured. They were ten cents, and I used all my allowance. Justice League of America, Legion of Superheroes, Jonn Jonzz Manhunter from Mars. All the Supers: Man, Boy, Girl. Thinking about it now, they were mysteries. A bad guy, a bad thing, someone trying to stop them and get justice.

Archie, yes, but I was a Veronica girl, and was embarrassed by that because you weren't supposed to like her. And I never understood the allure of Archie himself.

Superheroes were more interesting--the characters and the stories.

I never read the war comics, or the romance comics. Which again, is revealing.

But MAD Magazine? I was totally addicted, especially to the musical parodies, and that's a whole nother blog.

Graphic novels don't appeal to me, but ...maybe it's a time thing.

DEBS: So interesting. I never "got" the Archie comics--much preferred superheroes. Readers, any comic fans out there? And who's discovered the joys of graphic novels?


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Celebrating Other Mothers

Lucy with mom and grandmother

 LUCY BURDETTE: John and I went to a tennis event over Mother’s Day weekend with a handful of other couples in the Poconos some years back. I have lovely memories about the weekend, but one thing stuck out--they gave flowers to every woman there. No inquiry as to whether we were biological mothers, as it was assumed (I imagined anyway) that every woman does her share of mothering. In my own life I had a funny, warm mother, but she died when I was in my early twenties. So I had other mothering figures who mattered too. There was a therapist who made a huge difference in helping me understand my history and how it impacted my life. There were teachers who were kind and encouraging. My stepmother treated each kid in my family as if we belonged to her, too. And my dad did his share of mothering after my mother was gone. So that’s the topic for today Reds, a salute to all kinds of mothers. Do tell us about yours!

JENN McKINLAY: I’ve been fortunate to have many motherly figures in my life in addition to my own mom, who is amazing, and my mother-in-law, also amazing. But the one who sticks out is Cay Culberston. She was a transplanted Iowan that I met in Phoenix in 1993 when I began to work for the library system. She had three kids my age (mid-20’s at the time), and she took in my lost expression and folded me and my friend Carole, whose mother had recently passed, right into her family. No hesitation.

We played cards, went to movies, watched the Phoenix Suns, and threw ridiculous parties. She knew every single person who worked for the library as she flitted from department to department, making everyone smile or laugh. When something particularly amused her, she’d pat you on the back so hard the force would knock you forward a few feet. I used to call her butternut, because she had a favorite comfy outfit in the color of a butternut squash. That nickname made her laugh, and she always sent me forward with a hearty thump. It’s been almost nineteen years since she passed, but her words of wisdom are some of my greatest treasures and I’ve passed them on to the Hooligans as needed. And with that legacy, she lives on and is always there just when I need her most.

HALLIE EPHRON: I give my mother complete credit for encouraging me and my three sisters to write. To ignore barriers and barge ahead with supreme confidence. To crack wise and often. As a career woman she was way ahead of her time. But for actual mothering, aka nurturing, I’d never have survived if it hadn’t been for Evelyn Hall and Amelia James Evans, Black women who kept our household stable when it was really anything but. I adored them in what then seemed like an uncomplicated way, not so uncomplicated now, looking back. I’m so grateful.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, well? I don’t really have any nurturing experiences like that.  My mom was smart and beautiful and always wanted me to have and be the best. Which meant--what she thought was best, which she often told me. And nothing, no matter how good, was ever good enough. She was right about a lot of things, sure, and I often wish I could tell her so. But cozy nurturing enthusiastic approval? Ah, no. 

My mothers-in-law?  The first one was not happy with me because I was not the sort of person she’d imagined her son marrying.  She didn’t really discuss that--or anything--with me.

The second one was not happy with me because I was not the sort of person she’d imagined her son marrying. And she told me about that quite a bit. 

My third mother in law--who was hilarious and brilliant and unpredictable--was not happy with me because she was not happy about anything. Her first words on meeting me: “My, you’re a big one, aren’t you?” 

RHYS BOWEN: my mom was not cozy either although we became close when I grew up. I was raised by my grandmother and great aunt as my mother always worked. Nanny was the one who sat me on her knee and read to me. Blind aunt Sarah ( known as Min to the family) told me stories and played games of pretend with me. I adored them both, also my godmother, Aunt Gwladys who would whisk me off to heady things like restaurants where you sat on cushions or plays or a trip around Italy. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My mom always worked, too, and it was my grandmother, "Nanny," who was the "other mother" in my life. She lived with us from the time I was born and I adored her. We read together, planned globe-trotting adventures together. She was always the one who comforted and encouraged me. I'm sure I didn't tell her often enough how special she was!

Reds, please share with us your stories about other mothers in your lives!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Pat Kennedy on Pigs in a Blanket and Our Other Mothers

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm so happy to welcome another friend back to Jungle Red Writers. This time it's Pat Kennedy with a lovely essay about extra mothers and how they might show love. You will thank her forever for the recipe she's agreed to share!

PAT KENNEDY: I am a mother and grandmother many times over so have done plenty of mothering in my time. I was also fortunate to have an ample-bosomed mother whose soft hugs were so awesome. And an inspiring mother-in-law who encouraged me to read Dostoevsky and true crime books. As Mother’s Day approaches, however, I have been thinking about another woman who showed me “how” when I was a newbie through her simple but profound generosity.

Pat with 11 of 16 granchildren

 She taught me how to make wonderful pigs-in-a-blanket – among other things. This is a recipe (and lesson) that stuck.

Very young and pregnant when I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, I knew no one and felt so adrift with a baby arriving in eight weeks. My Iowa mother-in-law suggest that I call Lucy Phipps, her high school friend. Lou was married to an old-fashioned newspaperman who wrote for the Omaha World Herald back when a newspaper was a newspaper. I wanted so to be just like him – a big city journalist. (I was a very young and naïve thinking Omaha as the big leagues.) But it was Lou who had the lasting impact on me.  She was a very Midwestern homey cook and taught me the sweet art of caring for others through shared cooking. I realize now that she understood that I was lonely and scared, so she invited me into her kitchen. 

“Let’s make something really tasty.”  

We made pigs-in-a-blanket, of course. They were so delicious and so was our conversation about “new babies are hard, but you’ll learn quickly,” “Would it be OK if I come visit after the baby comes home?” “You can call me anytime.” I still get choked up remembering my relief that I now had a friend.

I have Lou’s handwritten recipe for The Pigs which she copied from HER grandmother’s handwritten page.  I often cook with one or several of my grandchildren now and remember her advice. “It’s best,” Lou counseled, “to make something tasty and homey and not too complicated. Something that allows a conversation while you mix things up. Folks and children find it easier to ease their hearts when their hands are covered with flour.”  

You’ll have to try this recipe and her advice the next time you have a child or friend who needs comfort or support.  It’s a very tasty way to do it.  


Ingredients for the dough

3/4 cup butter 

3/4 cup sugar 

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup boiling water

2 packages dry yeast

2 eggs

1 cup lukewarm water

6 cups all-purpose flour

The Pigs

1 package of Hillshire Farms Lit’l Smokies (you can use other small sausages but they aren’t nearly as tasty)

Small chunks of cheddar cheese (optional)


In large bowl blend softened butter, sugar and salt; then add boiling water; cool.

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water; add to above and mix in.

Mix eggs with a fork or spoon; add to above mixture.

Blend flour in gradually --½ cup flour at a time beating well. (A large standing mixer makes this easier) Cover dough bowl with plastic wrap; place in refrigerator for 4 hours at least before using. You can leave it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Punch the dough down and then take portions out to use as desired.

When the dough is ready, flour your hands then take a small pinch of dough and roll it out into a worm like shape and then roll it around one Lit’l Smokie with or without a chunk of cheese inserted into a split on the sausage. Place shaped rolls on a lightly greased (Pam sprayed) baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel. Let rise 4 hours (on counter). 

Bake 10-12 minutes in 375-degree oven. Check to see if the bottoms are browned too.

Serve when just slightly cooled. They go fast!

 Reds, can you think of an old recipe from a friend or relative that brings back sweet memories?

Friday, May 7, 2021

Sarah Stewart Taylor: A Long Island Girl on the Farm


LUCY BURDETTE: Recently a friend from early writer days, Sarah Stewart Taylor, has been posting amazing photos of lambing on her Vermont farm. But she's also writing wonderful books--a fascinating combination. I asked her to share that story here, along with news of her forthcoming book! Welcome Sarah, so glad to have you back...

SARAH STEWART TAYLOR: Recently, someone who’s known me since I was a child remarked that she found it amazing that I’d gone from a fairly typical suburban childhood on Long Island to being a sheep farmer in Vermont. I’d been telling her about lambing season at our place, the two or three weeks during which all of our pregnant ewes give birth. It’s a busy, sleepless time as I wake up every few hours during the night to check the barn and help deliver lambs if I need to. Our whole family has to pitch in and at the end of it, we are tired, the house is a mess (well, let’s be honest, the house is always a mess) . . . and there are lots of cute lambs running around. “It’s amazing,” the friend said. “It just seems so far from where you grew up.”

The truth is that my journey from suburban mall rat to rural dwelling sheep farmer was not as long or strange as it might seem. My father grew up in rural New Hampshire, on a sheep and dairy farm, and I have many relatives who make or who have made their lives farming. My mother grew up in Los Angeles but her father grew up on a small farm in rural Iowa. My parents were both teachers and we would rent out our house on Long Island and spend the whole summer vacation in my father’s New Hampshire hometown. I grew up visiting relatives’ farms and hearing lots of stories about farming and animals. As a child and adolescent, some of my favorite books were James Herriot’s tales about his life as a Yorkshire vet in the first half of the twentieth century. (If you haven’t watched the new BBC series based on the books, I highly recommend it!) 

When I met my husband, he was living on his family’s Vermont hobby farm. When he was younger they had overwintered and bred sheep and cows, but by the time I met him they were in the practice of buying a few lambs each spring to pasture over the summer. They had humanely-raised, locally-produced meat for the winter and didn’t have to go out to the barn on frigid winter mornings to break the ice or throw bales of hay to a shivering flock. After we married and moved to the farm and started having babies, we kept up this routine, raising a few lambs for meat each year and adding a flock of chickens to the mix. 

It was a good system. 

Then I decided to mess with it. 

I’d long been interested in breeding sheep, building up our flock for fiber as well as meat, and having new lambs born on the farm. But doing this would mean that we would keep sheep over the winter. As our three children got a little older, I finally felt like I had the bandwidth to learn about shepherding. My husband, who traveled frequently for work, reminded me that it would likely be me who would need to go out to the barn at 2 a.m. to intervene in a troubled birth or to brave below zero temperatures in January to care for the sheep. He had grown up doing that work. He knew what it was like. 

I was undeterred. 

That first year, we borrowed a ram from a neighbor and put him in with our two ewes, Caitlin and Mary. We had him for three weeks, to cover a full sheep reproductive cycle, but I think he earned his keep within the first two minutes. I waited anxiously for the lambs to come, watching Caitlin and Mary’s growing middles and trying to guess how many lambs were in there. They each had a set of twins and I quickly learned that if the births are uncomplicated, sheep can still throw you a curveball by rejecting one or both of their lambs. If the lamb doesn’t nurse from its mother within the first twenty four hours of life, the mother won’t recognize it as her own (through smell, a fascinating process to watch) and won’t feed it. Without human help, the lamb will die. That first year, perhaps because of my anxious helicopter shepherding, we ended up with two rejected lambs that had to be bottle fed. 

It was hard work, but I loved every second of my first lambing season: watching and being involved in the miracle of birth, seeing how the genetics played out, marveling at the exuberance of three-day-old lambs leaping and hopping in the spring sunshine. The next year, we had more lambs, including a hypothermic one who moved into the house with us and wore a diaper and a sweater. (Her name, chosen by a friend, is Ruth Baaahder Ginsburg and she’s now had two sets of twins of her own!) 

I’ve since become much better at knowing when to step in to put the lambs on their mother’s udders to establish that bond immediately; this year, we had seventeen lambs born and not a single one was rejected. 

Shepherds will tell you that sheep are really good at finding ways to die. We’ve been lucky for the most part, though we’ve had a few tragedies, mostly around lambing. This year I had to help deliver a gigantic single lamb stuck in the birth canal of one of our smaller ewes and also deliver a twin lamb that had one front leg back behind its shoulders. Mothers and babies are all doing well. 

I find farming both intensely physical and intensely intellectual. It’s also a great match with novel writing. When I need a break from the computer screen and the convoluted worlds of my characters, going outside to feed the sheep or to shovel actual manure (as opposed to the figurative stuff I shovel on the page!) helps my brain work in a different way and often gives me just the perspective I needed. It also keeps me from spending the day in my desk chair and makes me exercise my creativity in new ways. I don’t have a sheepdog, so how am I going to move these sheep, but not these ones, over to a new field? Or how am I going to set up the temporary fencing in the most efficient way? 

I’ve also loved becoming part of a community of shepherds here in New England and around the world. Shepherds are so generous with their time and knowledge and I’ve learned so much from the sheep people I know, many of them women. I’ve also loved connecting with sheep farmers in Ireland, where my series is set. I’ve made my main character Maggie’s love interest the son of Irish sheep farmers and I even snuck a lambing scene into my new novel, out in June. 

We have been steadily growing the size of our flock over the past five or six years and I think we’re now at a good size. We shear our sheep every spring before lambing and I’m learning about all the different ways to use the fiber. (Here’s a picture of a felted teddy bear my daughter made.) We also sell lambs to other farms and we reserve a few each year for meat. This is the hardest part of farming. Ironically, my family eats far less meat than we did before we raised our own and we now only buy from other small, local farms that meet our very high standards for both treatment of animals and farming practices that take care of the earth. 

We raise chickens for meat and eggs as well and I have come to appreciate my laying hens and even my extremely annoying but magnificent rooster. Fresh eggs are a beautiful thing and I love when our customers remark on the bright orange color of the yolks and how they never knew eggs were supposed to look and taste like that. 

I’m not sure where our farm is going. Pigs might be next. My kids are in their prime years of being both big and strong enough to be helpful and not yet out of the house. Once they’ve all flown the nest my husband and I will have to figure out how much we can – and want to – handle on our own. But this Long Island girl is hooked on farming and I hope that we’ll always have lambs in the spring. 

LUCY: See, what did I tell you? I knew her story would be amazing! Comments and questions anyone?

SARAH STEWART TAYLOR is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. The Mountains Wild was one of Library Journal, Aunt Agatha’s and the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s best of 2020 mystery picks and has been nominated for the Dashiell Hammett Prize. A Distant Grave, the second Maggie D’arcy mystery, will be published in June, 2021. Taylor grew up on Long Island in New York and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College in Dublin. She lived in Dublin, Ireland in the mid-90s and she now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries. You can find her online at

In the follow up to the critically acclaimed The Mountains Wild, Detective Maggie D'arcy tackles another intricate case that bridges Long Island and Ireland in A Distant Grave.

Long Island homicide detective Maggie D'arcy and her teenage daughter, Lilly, are still recovering from the events of last fall when a strange new case demands Maggie's attention. The body of an unidentified Irish national turns up in a wealthy Long Island beach community and with little to go on but the scars on his back, Maggie once again teams up with Garda detectives in Ireland to find out who the man was and what he was doing on Long Island. The strands of the mystery take Maggie to a quiet village in rural County Clare that's full of secrets and introduce her to the world of humanitarian aid workers half a world away. And as she gets closer to the truth about the murder, what she learns leads her back to her home turf and into range of a dangerous and determined killer who will do anything to keep the victim's story hidden forever.

With the lyrical prose, deeply drawn characters, and atmospheric setting that put The Mountains Wild on multiple best of the year lists, Sarah Stewart Taylor delivers another gripping mystery novel about family, survival, and the meaning of home.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Why I Love Readers @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: I always hold my breath a bit when correspondence from a fan hits my inbox. Will they want the world (including me) to know they hated the book from start to finish, the set-up was preposterous and the character plain stupid, or that an author should never insert her own opinions about ____, just write the damn book? Really, this kind of thing does happen, but luckily not too often. It certainly prevents a writer from suffering of too much head-swelling.

Note from Aunt Flo

When I had my first books published in the early 2000’s, email was only just taking hold. So if someone wanted to write an author, it was longhand, sent through the post office. I still have a few of those I treasure, including this one from an older woman who worried about how much my first character Cassie drank, and how this might affect her golf career aspirations. 

Last summer, one of my readers pointed out how distressing it was to read this sentence in The Key Lime Crime: “But on the other hand, I felt a heavy weight lifting, as though someone had been holding a boot to my neck and I could breathe again.” 

She’d been so upset that she’d had to put the book aside for a while. Of course I’d written that well before George Floyd died and I was as horrified as she to see those words on paper. It was too late to change for the hardcover—already printed. But I was able to remove it for the paperback edition that will be out in July, and I’m grateful to her for pointing it out.

On an entirely different topic, Sue P sent me a note a few years back that absolutely changed the direction I thought I was going with Hayley Snow’s love life:

I recently found this series and love it. I do have a complaint though. I was just getting interested to see how the romance would work out between Hayley and her detective. And you bring back his ex and she gets dumped! I was not a happy camper at this development. I still would like to see where this would go, more so than with her boss, which is where you seem to be leading. I think she needs a challenge and this is not her boss. Bring him back!! Just my opinion. Thanks.

Oh, and sometimes a note is pure joy.  I can’t resist posting this old favorite that had me smiling for weeks:

We are a class of 12 girls in our freshman year at Gymnasium Sylt, a high school which is located in the far north of Germany on the island of Sylt which is surrounded by the North Sea.

We read your book "An Appetite for Murder" in our English lessons (cf. the photo attached) with our English teacher, Mrs Detlefsen. To us it was a really enjoyable book because it is full of romance, action and crime. We particularly liked the Scene with Meredith pushing Hayley off the road and threatening her with a gun. Moreover, we love the different quotations you use, some are so true and fit perfectly.

Though we talked a lot about the characters, the setting and the plot, there are still some questions left we would be grateful for if you could answer them for us. For example, we would really like to know why Hayley just spills the beans about everything (e.g. with the Police) and why she fell in love with that arrogant Person of Chad.

Don't you love that, "arrogant Person of Chad?" 

Writers, what’s the best letter you ever received from a reader? Readers, do you ever send fan or other kind of mail to authors?