Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Nancy Herkness on Post-Pandemic Pastimes: Why Now?

LUCY BURDETTE: In the late spring, Nancy Herkness and I did a Zoom event for her college class's reunion. I had noticed her name fifteen years earlier in our alumni magazine, when she announced the publication of her first romance. We had such a good time talking about writing and publishing genre fiction, and the writing life, and so much more. I thought you all would enjoy meeting her as well! Welcome Nancy!

NANCY HERKNESS: This summer I’m growing tomatoes for the first time. I blithely ordered three little cocktail tomato plants from Burpee, thinking I would plunk them in the large pot I already owned, water them once a day, and harvest beautiful miniature fruits. Ha! The plants arrived with an instruction sheet as long as my arm. 

Here’s a photo of all the equipment required to cultivate those three tiny plants. 

The good news is that I’ve harvested about a dozen delicious little red Baby Boomers—yes, that’s what kind of tomato they are. Pretty funny name, isn’t it?

Last month, I downloaded the Duolingo app on my phone and started learning Spanish. I studied French in school but always thought Spanish would be more useful. Also, the book I’m writing is set in a country with a strong Spanish culture. 

I’m amused by the vocabulary Duolingo thinks I should learn first. Yes, I agree that “tired” is important but “milkshake”? With my sweet tooth, it’s better if I do not know how to order one in any language. And “basketball player”? Nope, don’t need that one. I have acquired words for every piece of clothing except “shoes”. If you could see my closet, you would know that shoes are very, very important to me, so I have learned that word on my own initiative.

In February I started writing the first book in a brand new series. I set it in a fictional island country (off the coast of Spain, hence my urge to learn the language). My previous stories have always been in locations that were either real or closely modeled on real places. However, I decided that I wanted to do some world-building because I’ve never done it before.

On top of that, I’m 60,000+ words into the manuscript and I just had an epiphany about how to take it up a level. Unfortunately, that means ripping the book apart and putting it back together in a different way. At the moment, I don’t have a deadline so I’m able to indulge in that luxury.

The strange thing is that these were the kinds of things we were supposed to be doing while in lockdown for the pandemic: learning a new language, cultivating our gardens, writing like crazy.

However, I didn’t do any of that. I huddled in my house—and considered myself lucky to have that option—binge-watching television shows, binge-reading science fiction (although I write romance), and not writing a single new word of my own once I handed in the final book in my contract in May 2020. 

The constant low hum of anxiety about the pandemic, the apprehension about going to the grocery store or post office, the decisions about who should be included in my personal “bubble,” and the jab of terror every time I coughed or sneezed, all sapped any creative energy I might have mustered. 

Yet now that I’m vaccinated, all of a sudden I’m hungry to learn new skills on every front of my life, but most especially I want to push my books to be a more compelling, more intense, more immersive experience for my readers. Even better, I think I’ve figured out what I need to do to make that happen. It’s both thrilling and terrifying.

So why this explosion of productivity and excitement about my work now?

Perhaps my brain needed a rest and the pandemic downtime somehow recharged my batteries. Perhaps after I got protected by the vaccine and that anxiety lifted, the energy I had focused on worrying was freed up for new ventures. 

However, I think it goes even deeper. I think the pandemic reminded me that life is both precious and fragile. It pushed me to consider what’s important and to reset my priorities accordingly. Seeing so many lives lost drove home the fact that my time here is a treasure to be used with care and thought. 

So I have decided to take on new challenges, to push myself out of my comfort zone…to truly live my life with as much verve and joy as I can. 

How about you? Have you come out of the pandemic with any new knowledge about yourself or your world? I’d love to hear it!

Giveaway! Every reader who comments on my blog will be entered for the chance to win an autographed copy of my latest release The Agent. (U.S. only due to shipping costs.)

Nancy Herkness is the award-winning author of the Consultants, Wager of Hearts, and Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance, as well as several other contemporary romance novels.  She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award. 

Nancy has received many honors for her work, including the Book Buyers Best Top Pick, the New England Readers’ Choice award, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award.  She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing.

A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives twelve miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel in suburban New Jersey with two tabby cats.  For more information about Nancy and her books, visit Sign up for her monthly newsletter at:

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Terrie Farley Moran on 'Murder, She Wrote'

LUCY BURDETTE: When I noticed that my Facebook friend Terrie Moran had been chosen to continue the long-running series MURDER SHE WROTE, I figured there was a story the Reds would love to hear. Terrie will be stopping by to answer comments and questions--I know I have some... So welcome Terrie, and take it away!

TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: Nearly twenty years ago, my BFF, who for many years lived less than two miles from my front door in New York City, moved to a tiny town in South Carolina. We visited back and forth and took family vacations together but I still miss walks in the park on weekend mornings filled with gossip and laughter, shopping together for clothes and eating in our favorite places: breakfast in Slims on the service road of the Long Island Expressway, not to mention lunches and dinners in Cara Mia on Hillside Avenue.

So in 2019 when I was asked to participate in a wonderful event called Mystery in the Midlands that was taking place in—wait for it—Columbia, South Carolina, I called my BFF and said, “Want to hang out in Columbia for a few days?”

She, of course, had been to Columbia dozens of times but I was a newby, so we arrived early and roamed. One of the first things that caught my eye was a marquee opposite our hotel. It was a long red banner with gold letters, S. H. KRESS, which immediate launched memories of the Kress five and ten on Fordham Road in The Bronx where I used to buy popcorn on the way to the movies. I was surprised to learn it was actually the Cowboy Brazilian Steak House located in a former Kress five and dime. The entrance to the steak house is on Main Street but they left the side entrance, on Hampton Street, just as it was, banner and all! 

Driving along the next day, we came upon Busted Plug Plaza which boasts the tallest fire hydrant in the world. It stands forty feet tall and weighs more than six hundred thousand pounds. See for yourself. Author Kaye George was kind enough to take a picture of BFF and me standing in front of the hydrant.

I had such a great time on that trip that when I was asked to become the next writer of the Murder She Wrote series, I knew instantly that the first place I wanted Jessica to visit was Columbia, South Carolina. And so she did in Murder, She Wrote Killing in a Koi Pond. 

To celebrate that Murder, She Wrote Killing in a Koi Pond is available for folks to read, I am offering a copy to one commenter. In addition, this year’s Mystery in the Midlands featuring Kathy Reichs of Bones fame along with other talented mystery writers, took place this past weekend. I have a ticket that will access the video of the entire event for a second commenter.

So, if you were writing a Murder, She Wrote novel what location would you chose? (Spoiler alert: the next book Murder, She Wrote Debonair in Death takes place in Cabot Cove.)

Book description: 

After traveling to Bethesda for a mystery writers’ conference, Jessica Fletcher decides she’s earned a vacation and takes a train to Columbia, South Carolina, to visit her old college friend Dolores, who has recently married her third husband, Willis Nickens, a wealthy and cutthroat businessman. They’ve moved into an opulent historic home with plenty of space for guests, and Jessica is ready for a week of shopping, gossiping, and relaxing at the grand estate.

But the morning after she arrives, Jessica discovers Willis facedown in the koi pond, and despite what the police think, she’s sure foul play is involved. She hadn’t known Willis long, but it’s clear to her that he didn’t concern himself with making friends. The question isn’t if her friend’s husband was murdered but by whom.

BIO: Terrie Farley Moran is co-author, along with Jessica Fletcher, of the Murder, She Wrote series. Murder, She Wrote Killing in a Koi Pond (June 2021) will be followed by Murder, She Wrote Debonair in Death (November 2021). She is the author of the beachside Read 'Em and Eat cozy novels, and is co-author of Laura Childs’ scrapbooking mysteries. Her short mystery fiction has been published in numerous venues. Terrie is a recipient of both the Agatha and the Derringer awards. Find her online at or on Facebook at 

Monday, June 28, 2021

The TBR Pile

 LUCY BURDETTE: this is a photo of my recent TBR pile. I know we’ve talked about this subject before, but the decision still flummoxes me every time. So here we are again: if you have a stack of books (oh surely you must), how do you decide what to read next?

In this case, all the books were bought by me so I do want to read each of them. And I like to alternate women’s fiction with mystery sometimes. Since taking the photo last week, an online friend told me she had loved Lost in Paris so that’s where I started. Lovely book, especially for Paris nuts like me. Last night I started Sarah Stewart Taylor‘s. It's excellent and I wonder why I waited so long??

So what’s in your pile and how do you choose?

JENN McKINLAY: I’m traveling right now, doing research on Martha’s Vineyard — a hardship, I know. So my TBR pile consists of two books — a women’s fiction novel, LIFE’S TOO SHORT by Abby Jimenez and a sneak peek at an upcoming new mystery PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND PERIL: A Jane Austen Tea Society Mystery by Katie Oliver — both of which are proving to be excellent! Sometimes packing light works out! 

RHYS BOWEN:  As usual my TBR pile is all books I have to blurb, that will be coming out later this year. The one I’m really looking forward to is called Once Upon a Wardrobe and is about a little boy who is dying and wants to know if Narnia is real. His sister seeks our C S Lewis to find the truth

But I’ve just finished an Indian mystery called a Will to Kill— strangely retro. The Golden Age transported to India.

I’m hoping for time to read my own choice of books on vacation in San Diego...


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I would hate for anyone to see my TBR piles(s), because, yes, there are multiples, all over the house. And that's not counting the blizzard of books on my Kindle!!! What I choose to read next is very capricious. Sometimes something new, sometimes it's books I've been meaning to read for ages. For instance, last week I read Ian Rankin's A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES, which had been in the pile for at least a year. Then I read all three of Connie Berry's excellent Kate Hamilton books, because she'd been on JRW and I thought they sounded just my cup of tea (and they were!) Now I'm reading the new Damien Boyd Nick Dixon novel, DYING INSIDE. This British series is very procedural, and very well done. And next up after that is Sarah Stewart Taylor's A DISTANT GRAVE, which I have been very much looking forward to! Oh, and I may have to order LOST IN PARIS, on Lucy's recommendation.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I love hearing about the piles! On my already read all-star list: the terrific debut ALL HER LITTLE SECRETS by Wanda Morris. Run run run to preorder. Seriously. Do not miss this! Also the debut HER NAME IS KNIGHT by Yasmin Angoe is completely riveting. Double wow. Here's my stack right now: The brilliant brilliant FIVE STRANGERS by E.V. Adamson. SURE to be a bestseller, a true pageturner. The wonderful Tracy Clark'S RUNNER, of course, and the NEW John Lescroart, THE MISSING PIECE! (He is such a genius.) And Sarah Strohmeyer has a new book--a thriller titled DO I KNOW YOU? I cannot wait to read. What a luscious reading future for me! 


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I was just rereading Sarah Strohmeyer's THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB - I'm delighted to know she has a new novel coming out. She's such an interesting example of writing across multiple genres: comedic cozy mystery, womens fiction, YA and now domestic thrillers.


As for me, my TBR contains the usual mix of science fiction/fantasy and crime fiction, leavened with various reads I arbitrarily deem "summertime." I got a copy of THE SWEETEST DAYS, our recent guest John Hough Jr's exploration of a long-time marriage. I bought Katherine Addison's THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, an "in the world of" sort-of sequel to her Hugo- and Nebula award nominated THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. But I've decided I want to re-read the first book, so I guess that's also on deck for my TBR? 


Finally, I picked up HOSTAGE by Clare Mackintosh, because who doesn't love claustrophobic thrillers set on a flight? The heroine is a flight attendant who discovers her husband and child are being held by bad guys in London, just as she takes off for a 20 hour flight to Sydney. Of course, the baddies want her to help them...  


Okay Red Readers, let's hear what's on your pile and how you choose!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

A Tribute to Beverly Cleary


This is my first time to host since the world was told of the death of Beverly Cleary, aged 104.

What a remarkable woman and a remarkable life she led. And yet, if you met her, she was quiet and unassuming, like anyone’s grandmother.

I was lucky enough to meet her back in the 1970s when I was living in Texas, writing children’s books, and helped to organize a literary festival. Beverly was the keynote speaker and I hosted her at our house. (In those days we had a Texas-style mansion with a Gone with the Wind staircase so a suitable place to house an icon.)

She was charming, undemanding, great sense of humor. She must have made a big impression on our children because after she had left the doorbell rang one afternoon. I opened it and there was my son, Dominic, aged three, standing outside with my purse over his arm and a serious look on his face.

“Good afternoon, I’m Beverly Cleary come to stay,” he said in a posh voice.

(He was born an actor!)

My daughter Jane went to school very excited and told her class that Beverly was staying at our house. Nobody believed her. They all laughed at her. So Beverly signed a copy of one of the Ramona books, “To Jane, at whose house I am staying.”

When I look back on her life it’s amazing the impact she made. She wrote a few small children’s books, about everyday subjects and ordinary people. No super-heroes, no Greek Gods, no explosions and car chases, and yet they have endured and will endure. Why? Because every child could identify with those characters. So could most adults. We think of the times we have done stupid or embarrassing things. I remember Ramona on her first day of school being told to ‘sit here for the present’. And she thinks it’s a test. If she sits there and doesn’t move she’ll get a present. So she won’t go out to recess. She won’t stand up.

That could easily have been me: hesitant, wanting to please and do the right thing but sometimes getting it so embarrassingly wrong.

Ramona’s family is everyman. The father loses his job. They have money troubles. Ramona’s relationship with her big sister is not always smooth.  And yet they are funny. We laugh at Ramona saying Jeesus Beezus and getting into trouble. Actually we laugh WITH Ramona, not at her.

Beverly’s magnum opus, of course, was Dear Mr. Henshaw that won the Newberry Award. If you read it as an adult you will see why—the subtle psychology behind a relationship between famous writer and unhappy boy, shown only through letters. The boys’ father has left them. He is unreliable, makes promises he never keeps. When the boy writes to Mr. Henshaw he asked what thinks he likes and doesn’t like. He says he doesn’t like little kids with runny noses.  Why is that we wonder until we realize that when he does see his father his father always ends by saying “Keep your nose clean, kid.” Brilliant.

Looking back over my own writing career I wish that I could say I had a body of work that would endure, that spoke of the human condition as palpably as Steinbeck or Dickens. But I don’t. Beverly Cleary does, I believe, because she retained the heart of a child and she

wrote from the heart.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

More Kitchen Musings by Rhys

 RHYS BOWEN:  Earlier in the week I blogged about my kitchen mincer. I blogged about which of us feature food in our books and whether we cook.

So naturally I should conclude the week with another post about kitchens and food.

I talked about the oldest kitchen appliance I have, but I am married to Mr. Gadget. This is strange as he is not good with his hands and doesn’t like to tinker. But he loves gadgets. He is drawn to gadgets. This is a picture of one of our kitchen counters. See what I mean? 

We now have an air fryer and a toaster oven. What you can’t see hidden in a closet are the bread maker, the bacon slicer, the vegetable juicer, the sausage maker, the hamburger press, the poached egg cooker, the onion cooker—and of course the Cuisinart, the blender, the mixer.

Each of these was bought by said spouse in a fit of enthusiasm. For a couple of months I woke to the smell of bread baking. It was heavenly. Then enthusiasm waned. He made healthy juices until he realized that cleaning the thing was a pain and I wasn’t going to do it. I think we sliced ham a few times but I don’t think we’ve ever actually made sausages. Most of them now reside in the graveyard of dead appliances in the corner cabinet.

Me? I’m all for simplicity. My favorite recipe says “throw everything into a pot and walk away until done.”  Which was why I decided to try one of the meal delivery services. Somehow I pictured a box arriving, tipping the contents into that pan and sauteing for a few minutes before serving.

My friend Charlaine Harris was trying Hello Fresh. She liked it and gifted me with a sample membership. The first box arrived. I read the first recipe:  first peel and chop the carrots, dice the potatoes. Drizzle with oil then bake on a tray in the oven. Pat dry, season, then saute the pork. While the port is sauteing mince the garlic and onion, finely chop the cilantro. Now start to make the sauce. In another pan melt two tablespoons of butter…

Wait. This is supposed to be easier? To save me time? To save me clean up? Actually I had all those ingredients in my refrigerator so I didn’t need to pay you $16 to deliver them.  And in the end I can’t say the dish tasted wonderful. And John objected strongly to being served couscous and faro. So I guess Hello Fresh is a no. And I’m back to square one with my husband asking me, “What had you planned for dinner tonight?”

There may be murder in my future.

So who has tried one of these delivery services? One where I don’t have to peel and chop the carrots and is ready miraculously in five minutes? One that tastes marvelous? Still hopeful.


Friday, June 25, 2021

Confessions of a Would-be Hermit

RHYS BOWEN:  Last week Hank posted about our reluctance to come back to normal life after the pandemic. Didn’t she compare us to groundhogs, peeking out of burrows?

Like all of you I have spent the last year and a half Zooming--wearing a nice top, make up AND sweat pants or shorts, plus bare feet.  I had thought that the pandemic was over I’d go on a shopping spree. But now I have the chance,  I have looked through my wardrobe and it seems I have plenty of everything. Most things practical and serviceable. So I find, to my surprise, that I have no interest in that shopping spree. Because I have no interest in returning to the symphony yet. Or going to conventions (who is going to Boucheron? Not me, I’m afraid. All those people at the hotel bar?) In fact I seem to be content to watch TV or read a book, chat with a few friends, occasionally, walk in nature. Have I become a hermit? Me? Total extrovert me?

I also noticed that it was about time I had a pedicure. Then I thought ‘nah! It can wait a while.’

So now I’m concerned. Have I lost my joie de vivre? Will I eventually be willing to hurl myself back into pre-pandemic life? I hope so…. But how about you?  Who has been on that shopping spree? Who has had a pedicure? Been to a show?


HALLIE EPHRON: Not me. None of the above. What’s the opposite of a prairie dog? An ostrich!

My biggest adventure has getting my hair cut. And last night I went INTO a restaurant to pick up takeout. It was very raucous in there and they were playing Trivial Pursuit. Maskless, of course. I did not want to linger.

And like you, Rhys, I find my closet has all I need for the moment. How did I accumulate so many shoes?? 

One thing I’ve been doing more of since the pandemic began is walking, and now I’m carrying rather than wearing my mask.

JENN McKINLAY: No pedicure here but then I’ve only ever had one in my life and both the manicurist (pedicurist?) and I discovered to our mutual dismay my inability to sit still for that long. Maybe if they’d let me write while getting one...hmm. 

I have been out to restaurants and to shows (Hub is a musician, so it’s my spousal obligation but also my joy). I have found that I am much more interested in visiting with people one on one. No big groups not because of COVID fear but because there is so much to catch up on individually that I want to give my people my undivided attention. So small coffee meet ups and luncheons are good enough for me for now.

LUCY BURDETTE: Yup, we’ve been out to dinner several times, though I much prefer eating outside. And I have an appointment for a pedicure, but she will come to the house. And hmmm, my haircuts have been one on one in someone’s house with both of us masked. I can’t quite yet picture going to the movies or the theatre, but I miss that and hope it happens fairly soon. And when I go into stores, I wear my mask. I guess I'm inching back into the world!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I agree with Jenn - I’ve been socializing in very small groups because it feels so important to have that one-on-one experience. No big trips planned; just (finally) getting to see and hug my Dad and later this summer, the Sailor. My watchword is “easing in,” so, for instance, I’ve been going to the 5:15pm service at my church, which usually has about six people attending. Lots of the concerts and theater in Maine is outdoors by design, so those will be an easy thing to say yes to. 

One thing I’m doing old school? F9 hits movie theaters the weekend of my birthday, and I’m strapping on a mask and heading to the movies. “Ride or die!”

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I think about this every day. And I am completely worried. I have, as I said the other day, NOTHING TO WEAR. Oh, well, does it really matter? I learned how to do my own manicures, and it looks great. (Great enough for the all-forgiving zoom.) Pedicure, truly, that is the Rubicon. I need one. Tomorrow, maybe.

I said to Jonathan--We HAVE to get over this. There is NO NEED for us to be hermits. 

And he said: But we like it!

I mean, not the fear and the terror and the sorrow. But wearing comfy shoes?  Staying in our cozy home, lucky lucky lucky people that we are? 

And there you have it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: No pedicure yet and I've discovered I really haven't missed it. Now if I was going someplace where I really wanted to look sharp--but I'm not, so I'm fine for the moment. A couple of haircuts, several lunches out, but I haven't wanted to go anywhere really busy and crowded. As I am partially deaf, I find I'm not looking forward to trying to hear other people in crowded places. Small group visits are so much better.

But my big recent excitement was FIRST MOVIE! Last Saturday my friend Gigi, my daughter, and I went to see IN THE HEIGHTS, and it was great! Both the film, which we loved, and the theater experience.  Now, like Julia, I'm all geared up to see F9!!

RHYS: So who is happy with the new normal and sees no need to burst forth and experience LIFE again? I have to confess that I am itching to travel. When I go through my photos of Europe I give a heavy sigh. But I have to confess I'm not ready to travel there in person yet--not until the countries report zero Covid deaths and zero restrictions.  I'm booked on a cruise next February and hoping that the world might be safe and sane by then, but who knows. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Introducing a New (And Very special) writer!

 RHYS BOWEN: Today is a special treat for me. I'm introducing you to a new and talented writer called CLARE BROYLES--who also happens to be my daughter!

Last year Clare came to me and suggested that we continue the Molly Murphy series together. I agreed but thought there might need to be a lot of hand holding to start with. On the contrary it was Clare who created the plot and ran with it. We worked together seamlessly until now, when I read the book, I can't tell who wrote which parts!  What a joy for a mother to share talents with her child!

Clare is currently staying with me and working on the next Molly book. So I thought I'd ask her to guest blog today so that you get to know her before the book comes out:


      I am writing this from my parent’s house in Northern California. It was a very lucky time to choose this visit. I escaped five days of temperatures above 115 in my city of Phoenix, Arizona. Every time I come home it is remarkable to me how little has changed. The house is as I remember it from high school with the addition of millions of Rhys Bowen books and a plethora of Agatha teapots!

      The books shelves in the family room still hold books that I read and reread before I left home, including every Agatha Christie ever written. These now battered books are the first stop every time I come home. I pick up one before I unpack my suitcase, always choosing one in which I can’t quite remember who did it. I’ll read several in every trip, happily munching toast and drinking tea in my parent’s kitchen. Are there still others like me who don’t believe a meal is complete without a good book to read?

      As a mystery reader (and now a mystery writer) I have to say that she cheats terribly! Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple can always tell you who did it and why down to the smallest detail.  Most mystery writers must agonize over how to let the readers know that the left handed red head was the murdered cook’s long lost son. And yet I come back to her again and again. I think because all of her detectives have a strong moral sense. They protect the innocent and expose the guilty. I think we want to feel at the end of a novel that the good people can go on with their lives and all is set to rights. 


     My mother (Rhys Bowen of course) is the collector of the shelf of Agatha Christie novels. She shared her love of mysteries with me. I was thrilled when she started writing them herself and amazed by her skill in keeping the mystery while bringing humor into her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy and Her Royal Spyness novels. Last year we wrote the eighteenth book in the Molly Murphy series together and we have begun Molly number 19 during this trip. I would not be surprised if we are arrested as we walk around Marin country discussing the best ways to kill someone without getting caught! Working together has been immensely fun. To get into Molly’s world I’ve been reading the New York times from October 1907 every morning to see what fun and exciting things might have been happening. I have found a lot that is useful for this novel but also this tidbit that I will leave you with. 


Grounds for murder? You’ll have to wait and see!

RHYS: SO OUR first book together will be out next March 2. It's called WILD IRISH ROSE:

I LOOK forward to introducing Clare in person next year at Left Coast and at Malice.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Tale of Two Women--guest post by Jeannette de Beauvoir.

RHYS: Frist let me say that if my name was Jeannette de Beauvoir I'd think I'd died and gone to heaven. Doesn't she sound like a heroine from a medieval chanson? Who could be rude to someone with such a glorious name? And if I looked like Jeannette I'd be quite happy too. And her writing isn't too shabby either, with New York Times bestsellers.... so Jeannette, I'm really glad to have you as our guest today with such a meaningful and poignant post.


I recently passed a storefront and caught sight of my unscripted reflection—I’m more prepared, somehow, when I look in the mirror—and was surprised and somewhat aghast to see my mother’s face there. It’s a truism that women come to resemble their mothers, but this, I thought, was taking that way too literally. 

I’ve actually and oh-so-unintentionally come to look a lot like her. 

I’m now two years older than my mother was when she died (far too young, thanks to Philip Morris International), and it feels in some ways like I’m living in unexplored territory. While she and I made radically different choices and pursued nearly opposite directions for our lives, as long as I was younger than her, I felt a certain measure of safety. She’d been forty-six before me. She’d been fifty-eight before me.

Now she’s dead before me.

So I’ve been thinking about her, and our relationship failures and successes. But not just about her; about the theme in general. Mothers and daughters have a strange connection that’s been explored—in politics, in fiction, in nonfiction, in research—nearly ad infinitum; yet as an author, the connection’s a deep well I’ve come back to again and again, and it’s never failed me. 

The mother-daughter bond is often problematic. Our first relationship is with our mother, and what we learn from her becomes fiercely entangled with our sense of self. Our childhoods have a strong hold on us, and so a lot of fiction explores the possibility of—or failure to—rise above dysfunctional families of origin. I think all women have some sort of mother/daughter issue: friction is, you might say, part of the job description for both parties. 

Readers enjoy subplots in their stories, and mystery readers in particular attach to recurring characters and are always curious about the lives and relationships of those characters—in addition, of course, to the solving of the central crime or crimes in the story. We all enjoyed the development of Lord Peter’s love affair with Harriet Vane; Alan and Marta’s easy friendship in The Daughter of Time; the intricacies of Jane and Madeleine and Celeste’s interactions in Big Little Lies.

Or sometimes it’s those connections that are central to the plot. Agatha Christie and G.K Chesterton pioneered looking at emotions and relationships as being intrinsic to crime-solving. 

And what more intense, more fraught, more complex relationship is there to explore than that of a mother and daughter? It’s complicated, it’s scratchy, it’s enduring, and it’s interesting. I don’t think anyone in mystery writing does it better than Phil Rickman, author of the Merrily Watkins series. As the years pass, Merrily’s relationship with her daughter Jane shifts, morphs, develops, backslides… it’s always interesting, it’s often entertaining, and it makes the books rich and layered and relatable. Sometimes Jane’s presence is intrinsic to the mystery; sometimes she drifts in and out of a given story; but she’s one of those characters you feel you’ve really gotten to know, even if half the time you want to tell her to just cut it out.

In my current series, my protagonist Sydney has a mother who calls at inconvenient times, chatters incessantly about her friends’ daughters’ weddings, and refuses to acknowledge Sydney’s Muslim boyfriend. Unlike other authors, though, I didn’t set out to explore the mother/daughter bond; this mother was, you might say, there out of convenience. 

The first book in the series situated Sydney in an idyllic setting with a near-perfect life (well, except for the body in the pool, but you can’t have everything, right?). I needed to inject some conflict into her world, but not so much that it carried the story; her mother was the perfect foil. As the series has developed, so has Sydney’s “Ma,” and in the most recent book, Dead in the Water, we not only learn some of the reasons for the conflict between the two women but also see them coming to a fragile understanding of each other.

Of course, that’s pretty tame. Compare it to Stephen King’s Carrie—now there’s a relationship that’s gone horribly wrong!—or V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, and Sydney’s mom is small potatoes. But whether they’re saints or monsters, whether we emulate them or rebel against them, our mothers are a defining influence in who we become. The weight of parental expectations, the need to separate and simultaneously get closer, the fierce love and fierce hatred, the rivalry, the missing mothers, the lost daughters… there is always such an entanglement of love and grief and joy and disappointment that we can’t look away. No matter who is writing, and no matter what the relationship, the interaction between mothers and daughters is evergreen. 

And I’m pretty sure novelists will still be exploring it a century from now.

RHYS: So Reds, who wants to chime in on mother/daughter relationships? Fraught? Wonderful?

My own was rather remote until I grew up. Then we became great friends.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

How I Miss the Good Old Days!


We had a leg of lamb the other day and I wanted to make Shepherd’s Pie with leftovers. I don’t like the way the Cuisinart grinds meat so I bring out my trusty Spode mincer. It’s probably 100 years old by now but it still works perfectly.  I’m not sure what it’s made of. Probably cast iron? Something that is now banned? I don’t care. It grinds.

This made me start feeling nostalgic for all the things that have vanished from our lives. Some have been replaced by technology: video games instead of board games, Roombas to clean our floors. And some are great: I love my latest version washing machine that uses little water and gets things spotless. I actually love my big screen TV.

But items that my grandkids look at with suspicion and astonishment? A fountain pen? A pen that has real ink inside it? Amazing.

I also have a whole box full of watches. You remember—those round faced wrist clocks that nobody wears any more, unless it’s an Apple Watch?

I have three Seikos, a gold Omega that belonged to my mother and a couple of Swatches. I wear one every day because they are water proof and I can bathe or go swimming with one on.  And I like to glance at my wrist to see the time.

However I lament those things that have vanished thanks to Health and Safety laws. Our kids grew up with a wonderful playground nearby. There was a fake cave system with a slide through it. A rocket you could climb on, a concrete sea dragon and concrete boat in a pretend ocean. They had a ball and used their imagination too. Now that has been replaced with the standard playground equipment plus the rubber mats beneath in case anybody should fall and sue the city.

When I was young my mother kept a bottle of Dr. Collis Browne’s mixture. It had been created to treat cholera in India in the 1800s and contained such items as morphine, codeine, as well as peppermint. You only put a few drops in a glass of water and it was perfect for upset stomachs. Actually you may still have had an upset stomach, but you no longer cared!  Of course this has now been transformed into a new mixture, minus the amount of morphine, that isn’t nearly as good. But apparently people used the last one for drug purposes.

I miss the freedom and carefree life that I grew up with. We had an acre of orchard in which I used to play all summer, often alone as we lived in a big house outside a village. I built a tree house and a trapeze. I I used to try all sorts of stunts on the trapeze, emulating my heroine, Patsy of the Circus from my favorite comic book. I never fell off because Patsy didn’t. And my parents never came out to see what I was doing and tell me it was dangerous. 

In the summer I used to go off on my bike all day, riding through the countryside, exploring river banks and villages. Nobody asked me where I was going. I was just told to be back before dark. Can you imagine letting kids do that today?

I’m sure I wouldn’t want to go back to those days really—hanging laundry on the line, shopping every day because we didn’t have a freezer, mending clothes because they had to last etc etc but I’m glad I experienced what I did and can look back with fondness.

So how about you—what do you miss? 

Do you still use household items from long ago?

Monday, June 21, 2021

How Much of Ourselves....

 RHYS BOWEN: one of the great thrills about writing the Venice Sketchbook (apart from going to Venice, strictly for research purposes of course), was that the publisher used one of my own sketches as part of the cover. There it is, inside the dust cover. I know I’ve had many books published and I still get a thrill from seeing them on a bookstore shelves, but this is a special excitement because it’s not my professional skill, but my amateur hobby.

I have always drawn and painted. In my teens I would paint dramatic landscapes with dying trees and red sunsets. As an adult I have taken life drawing and lots of watercolor classes. It’s still a medium I am trying to master.  But my greatest joy is taking my sketchbook when we travel and capturing the places we visit. When I look at those sketches I am taken back to the place where I painted them so much more vividly than a photograph would have done.

It struck me recently that my recent characters have been artists: Hugo in the Tuscan Child went to Florence to study art. Juliet and Caroline in The Venice Sketchbook are both artists. Is this me living vicariously? 

And it got me thinking about what other personal details I have given to my characters: Evan shared my Welsh heritage. I have never been an Irish immigrant or related to the royal family but my series heroines do have some things in common with me: Molly Murphy is feisty with a strong sense of justice--very much like me. Lady Georgie tends to be clumsy when stressed. Again like me. And they both wind up with a roguish Irishman with unruly dark hair. Interesting. My husband is quarter Irish, related to Irish nobility and with the striking features of the Black Irish and was very handsome with dark wavy hair when I first met him.

So how about you, Reds? Have you given your characters any of your skills, talents, hobbies? Have you given them professions you wish you had tried yourself? 

I know that food is important to Lucy and Hallie and that translates to your books. It’s funny but some of my books (The Venice Sketchbook, The Tuscan Child, Above the Bay of Angels) have a heavy focus on food and cooking and I’ve received letters asking for recipes and whether I am a cook. The honest truth is that I love to eat but I really don’t enjoy cooking much.

Julia, did you ever think of becoming an Episcopal priest?

And have you given them any of your own characteristics, strengths or weaknesses?

Confession time!

HALLIE EPHRON: In all of my books there are echoes of me-ness. Absolutely.

Professional organizer Emily in CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR is a former teacher who loved teaching but got burned out by all the testing. That’s completely me. She lives basically where I live, eats what I eat, wears what I wear, and drives what I drive. She’s married to a guy who can’t pass a yard sale without stopping. DING DING DING!

On the other hand, I can’t imagine helping other people get organized since I’ve got my hands full organizing myself.

JENN McKINLAY: What a great question, Rhys! I love that your sketch was included in your book. I do think I give my characters bits and pieces of me. A love of pastry leaps to mind in the cupcake series. Of course, a love of libraries is in the library series. And my love of travel comes out in my rom-coms and my mysteries - Ireland, France, and Italy, in Paris is Always a Good Idea, for example. That is probably the attribute that is found in most of my books that comes from my own wanderlust. Where does Jenn want to go? I wonder if I can sell a romcom set in Japan since that is my next big trip...I hope, I hope, I hope.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Never been called to the priesthood, Rhys, but I am a cradle Episcopalian, and my love for (and sometimes exasperation with) my church is definitely a strong thread in my writing. I feel I went the other way when creating Clare - I tried to make her more of my opposite. She loves coffee, while I drink only tea (but we both use too much sugar.) She’s very physically daring, and I’m not. She cooks as a hobby, while I, now that I no longer have to make meals for five every night, am scarcely touching the oven and rangetop.

When I started writing the series, I was just a few years older than Clare, and I did feel like her in many ways. At this point, I’ve shot well past Russ’s age, and so I’m starting to resemble him a lot more! Next step, I become a senior citizen activist, like his mother.

Oh, and for those who want to know about the sex-on-the-kitchen table scene… I’ll never tell. ;-)

RHYS: Julia, there have been some interesting experimental scenes conducted as research in this household over the years too. My lips are also sealed.

LUCY BURDETTE: You nailed it with the food question, Rhys. I love to eat and talk about food and write about it too. My husband will tell you that it’s Hayley Snow who’s pushed me to be a better cook, rather than the other way around. You may have noticed that there are a lot of pets on Houseboat Row--and that Hayley is devoted to her cat Evinrude. Absolutely true for me too, I have a powerful pet gene inherited from my mother. My two earlier series had a lot of me in them as well. I aspired desperately to be a great golfer, and gave that (and a lot more talent) to Cassie. And Rebecca was a clinical psychologist who attended the Congregational church. All me of course!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: When I started writing Duncan and Gemma, I had a lot of empathy with Gemma's situation. During those early writing years, I went through a divorce, as both Gemma and Duncan had, and was taking care of my daughter, as Gemma was Toby. But I very deliberately wanted Gemma to be more outspoken and confident. (Not to mention taller and thinner…) Since then I've put my characters in places I loved and have lived, like Cheshire and Scotland. I've given them dogs and cats (my animal loving gene) and an interest in food and drink. There is a lot of wish fulfilment--I've written characters who were artists and musicians and professional chefs, all things I would love to be able to do myself! Of course what I really wanted was to be English and live in London, so being able to do that vicariously has been a real gift.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ha. Ha. Nope, the reporters, who are in ALL of my books, are nothing like me. Interesting thing:  when I was writing Prime Time, early early on, main character Charlie had to drive somewhere. I thought, oh, no, she hates driving. ANd my brain said: Are you kidding me? YOU hate driving. Charlie is Charlie. She doesn't have to hate driving. Readers, it was a revelation.  So I allowed Charlie to be a really good driver, and she enjoys it, and that was truly fun. 

But I  also have to say, I consciously make my reporters NOT me.  They do what THEY would do. But being a real-life reporter, I know all the options!

In fact, a character in Her  Perfect Life is SO not me, AT ALL, but I am worried people will think she is. We shall see.

RHYS: So dear friends, who are also writers--do you put parts of yourself into your characters? And dear friends who are readers--do you like to learn from characters' hobbies? Baking recipes? 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

That Was My Father

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Happy Father’s Day,  dearest Reds and readers, and if you celebrate this, hurray and wonderful. If not, it’s the summer solstice, isn’t it? And that’s a celebration of its own.

Either one indicates time is going by, a marker of change and remembrance, of new days and days past. 

We’ve all talked about our fathers here, and that’s one thing that makes us such a community--you know about all of ours, right? And we have heard about yours, and that brings us even closer.  

I recently found a Father’s Day card that I hadn’t sent--one of those cards that you buy on a whim because it’s perfect, and then you think--I’ll save this for next year. And then at some point, there isn’t a next year. So--hugs and memories to all.

So let me tell you about another father. And how he came to be on these pages today.

Recently--whatever that means  these days---I shared a writing/reading event with an author I hadn’t met before, John Hough, Jr. He lives on Martha’s Vineyard, and was appearing for his book Little Big Horn, a story that's been compared to Lonesome Dove. We had a terrific time, and the crowd loved him, and when I took that book home, Jonathan grabbed it and devoured it.

Everyone promised to stay in touch. And you know how those things go. And then the pandemic.

And then I got a note from John, saying he had a new book coming out, a different book, and asking if he could send it to me. When it arrived, I saw that it wasn’t the same genre as the previous one.

THE SWEETEST DAYS, it was titled, and the cover had two wedding rings. Huh. And a blurb from Elin Hilderbrand. Huh. I stood at our kitchen counter, and thought, I have to work! But  I’ll just read the first page and see how this is.

Twenty minutes later, I was still standing at the counter turning the pages. Reds and readers, do NOT miss this. There’s a synopsis below. Whoa.

So of course I invited him to the blog, and what did he send? By chance and by serendipity,  the perfect story for Fathers Day. 


That Was My Father

         By John Hough, Jr.

He sits forever at his desk in the bright airy newsroom, arms folded, sleeves rolled, necktie loosened, staring at the blank sheet in his typewriter, thinking. A typewriter rattles nearby. A phone rings. He doesn’t hear them. He unfolds his strong arms, and now his hands go to the keyboard. They caress it a moment, and then he’s writing--rapidly, more rapidly still, words flying onto the page.

This was my father, Jack Hough, editor and publisher of the Falmouth Enterprise for 25 years, until his retirement in 1994. My memory of him at work goes back to the summers of my college years. Falmouth is a seaside resort, and Dad would hire an extra reporter for the summer, to help him keep up with the seasonal bustle. He hired me, at my urgent request, for three summers. My beat included ball games, fishing, musical theater, the island ferries, sailboat races—the blithe rituals and diversions of summer on Cape Cod. I also covered burglaries, house fires, bar room eruptions, a few shark scares.

     My father may have hoped I would succeed him at the Enterprise, as he had succeeded his own father not many years before. But I had other ideas, and he was generous enough to accept that. He may even have known I had dreams of becoming a novelist. Whatever I did, I was going to write, and Dad took it upon himself to teach me how.

        The tutorials often took place at his desk. There was a chair alongside, and he would call me over and discuss copy I’d written. We talked at home, at odd times, or driving home from the office at day’s end. English is the richest of languages, he said—he liked to point out that an English dictionary is twice as thick as a Larousse—and there is one right word for everything. Know the true meaning of every word you use, and where it came from. There was an enormous Webster’s Unabridged in the newsroom, and he sent me to it again and again.

To know a word is to know its connotation. There are no forests on sandy Cape Cod, there are woods. (Maine and Canada have forests.) After I wrote my first theater review I found a note under the bail of my typewriter: Crowd in Fenway Park, audience in a theater.

        Write strong declarative sentences. Favor active verbs over participles. Avoid the passive voice. He quoted Mark Twain, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it.” He wouldn’t allow “virtually,” as in “the building was virtually empty”—was it empty, or wasn’t it? He wouldn’t allow “inclement weather”—inclement how? Police reports cited “driving under the influence;” in the Enterprise it was “drunken driving.”

       Falmouth, the Enterprise, and different versions of my father turn up repeatedly in my fiction. In The Sweetest Days Falmouth is Dunstable, the Enterprise is the Inquirer, the editor is Ed Hatch, a gifted newspaperman of high intelligence, like my father.

The novel is about roads taken and not taken, life choices that make all the difference. My father, who could have gotten a job anywhere, chose Falmouth and the Enterprise, abandoning dreams of New York, Washington, a bureau overseas. The dreams pursued him down the years, those beckoning roads not taken, all but blinding him to his own excellence, his superb stewardship of the Enterprise.

My father, the best newspaperman I’ve ever known, was modest to a fault. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be the writer I am without him.


HANK: Told you.

(My Dad was a newspaperman, too. One of his classic lines: “There’s always another typo.” Truer words were never spoken.)

Reds and readers, what--or who--are you thinking about today? And a copy of  THE SWEETEST DAYS  to one lucky commenter! (Kleenex not included..)



Peter and Jacqueline Hatch have been married for decades, after a stumbling beginning together. They were high school sweethearts in 1964, when Pete left her without saying good-bye and disappeared from school, enveloped in scandal and tragedy. They reunited after a chance encounter 11 years later, and an impulsive marriage soon followed. Now in their sixties, with their only daughter grown, and facing ominous news about Jackie’s health, they travel to their Cape Cod hometown for Pete’s first book signing. An old schoolmate turns up at the signing, bringing the past with him, and raising questions that bring Pete’s and Jackie’s long marriage to the breaking point. “I never lied to you,” he tells her. “I’ll be the judge of that,” Jackie says.


John Hough Jr.
is the author of six novels, including The Last Summer and Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg, winner of the American Library Association’s W.Y. Boyd Award. He is a graduate of Haverford College, a former VISTA volunteer, speechwriter for Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland, and assistant to James Reston at the Washington Bureau of the New York Times. He lives on Martha’s Vineyard.