Thursday, June 30, 2022

Barbara Ross's MUDDLED THROUGH: Miss Rumphius and Lupines


HALLIE EPHRON: It's a very happy day indeed when we get to welcome the lovely and talented (and funny an super-nice...) Barbara Ross to Jungle Red with a new book - the tenth in her delicious Maine Clambake Mystery Series, MUDDLED THROUGH. The series is great fun and you can't find a more authentic Maine experience, short of being there.

Welcome Barbara!

BARBARA ROSS: Hi Reds and Reds-readers! I am so happy to be here. Many of you will already know that several Reds have been friends and mentors to me over the years, especially the New England crew. Lucy and I share a birthday (same year, one week apart) so we celebrate together in Key West. This year we celebrated our January birthdays in March due to babies who arrived later than expected, covid, and the general messiness.

My latest book, released Tuesday, is Muddled Through, the tenth Maine Clambake Mystery series. One topic while researching for this book, I particularly enjoyed was discovering more about Barbara Cooney and her classic children’s story, Miss Rumphius. In the book, published in 1982, Alice Rumphius tells her grandfather that when she grows up, she will go to faraway places, and when she gets old, she will live in a house by the sea. Her grandfather tells her she must do one additional thing: She must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Alice does go to faraway places. An intrepid, self-directed single woman, she travels around the world. Then she goes back to Maine to live in a house by the sea. Once there, she makes the world more beautiful by dropping lupine seeds wherever she goes.

I based my contemporary character, Alice Rumsford, on Miss Rumphius. My character also travels the world, returns to her family’s cottage on the Maine coast, and endeavors to make her community more beautiful.

Barbara Cooney was born in 1917 in Brooklyn. She went to Smith College, married, had two children, discovered her husband was a “cad” and a “womanizer” and divorced. Her father and brother had disowned her when she married, so she supported her family as a children’s book illustrator. She later remarried, happily, had two more children, and traveled widely to gain inspiration for her art. She won two Caldecott Medals and a National Book Award (for Miss Rumphius). She eventually lived in Damariscotta, Maine, which is, happily, the next town north of my fictional town of Busman’s Harbor.

Cooney almost certainly based the character of Miss Rumphius on Hilda Edwards Hamlin, born in 1889. Hamlin arrived in Christmas Cove, Maine, very near Damariscotta, to visit an uncle in 1904. Like Barbara Cooney, she graduated from Smith College, thought a generation earlier, married, had children, and divorced.

(In perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps an illustration that the world of educated New England WASPs was very small, Barbara Cooney’s second husband was Charles Talbot Porter. Hilda’s ex-husband was Talbot Faulkner Hamlin. In another coincidence, in typing this, I just realized Hamlin must have been at Smith with my grandmother. I will look for her in the yearbook)

Like Miss Rumphius, Hamlin traveled widely and then settled in the little cottage in Christmas Cove. In Maine, she made the world more beautiful by scattering lupine seeds wherever she went. She didn’t drive and neighbors who gave her rides would discover her surreptitiously tossing seeds out their car windows. Yankee magazine ran an article on her in 1971 that included the quote, “If friends of Hilda Hamlin would tote a few sticks of wood to her cottage they would be doubly welcome.” In a later issue, they had to print a plea for people to stop visiting her.

The lupines that Hilda Hamlin seeded are not native to Maine. They come from the west coast. Even though their beauty on roadsides and meadows between Father’s Day and the Fourth of July has come to symbolize Maine, they didn’t start appearing until the 1950s, when Hilda Hamlin was in her sixties. These new lupines have crowded out the more modest local variety and in so doing extirpated the Kargan Blue Butterfly.

The lupines are an excellent metaphor for incomers to Maine. The investment, enterprinse and support for local businesses they bring is welcome, but the non-natives are difficult to cultivate and impossible to contain. The natives worry about being crowded out, swallowed up by the wolves for which the lupines are named.

Dear Reds and Readers: What do you think? Native plants only, or can you beautify the world with non-natives? Feel free to treat the question literally, as a metaphor, or both.

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries and the Jane Darrowfield Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara’s Maine Clambake novellas are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in holiday anthologies from Kensington Publishing. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is it something I clicked on?

 THE WINNER of Debra H. Goldstein's FIVE BELLES TOO MANY is Margie Bunting! Margie, email (hephron "at" gmail dot com) me so I can connect you with Debra.

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently my daughter was here helping me manage some laundry. She tut-tutted me as she carried a pile of my clothes down to the basement. “You know you’re in trouble, Mommo,” she said, “when you can’t tell your jammies from your clothes.”

True, virtually every item she had in her arms was grey or black and soft and comfy. Aka winter pajamas, or call it Covid-chic, or wardrobe for aging in place. At any rate my daughter shook me up and got me hunting online for more colorful (at the least) and chic-er (at best) items to add to my closet, and making piles of redundant gray comfy items to consider giving away.

That’s when my computer started serving up this ad.

Over and over.

It’s Halston. $695. (Marked down to $479 at Bloomies.) The model wearing it is 5’ 10” tall and wearing a Size 4. Helpful information for determining it's suitability.

It is not washable. And I’d have to silly putty it to my chest.

What did I do to merit lime green sequins? What does the Internet know about me that I don’t know about myself?

Because the truth is I LOVE this dress. That is definitely me… in my dreams. Sparkly and slinky me, definitely not “mother of the bride” me or Grandma Me. Perhaps me accepting my award for best suspense novel ever written. I can dream…

What’s your dream outfit, something you've always imagined yourself wearing and stopping traffic? Maybe you were lucky enough to actually have it and wear it?

And do you find the Internet has started serving up your dreams? "They" are watching, you know.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Celebrating a new book and more... with Debra H. Goldstein #bookgiveaway


HALLIE EPHRON: Today we are happily welcoming back that writer who's dangerous in the kitchen, Debra H. Goldstein, celebrating the launch of FIVE BELLES TOO MANY, her fifth Sarah Blair mystery. Today she's in a contemplative mood, looking at the milestones that life and a writing career can offer up to us.

DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN: I lurk, but I read the Jungle Red Writers blog religiously. Consequently, like most of you, I’ve come to know tidbits of the various authors lives – including their families. I’ve rejoiced with them when a grandchild has a Bar Mitzvah, a daughter becomes a co-writer, a child reaches a new milestone, and been saddened when there has been a loss of a loved one.

Two things I’ve come to look forward to are the announcements of new books and new grandchildren. The fun from both of these is the anticipation of how this new being will grow, be accepted, and mature in today’s world. From the tidbits from this blog, we know some will turn out successful, some duds (okay, none of the JRW’s family members but maybe a book here or there), some empathetic, some hilarious. During the past few years, I’ve found myself in the same duo state of anticipation.

As you read this, know that it is but one of several blogs that will appear this week announcing Kensington’s “birth” of my new Sarah Blair mystery, Five Belles Too Many. It is the fifth book, but one of my favorites in the series. I loved the idea of writing a behind the scenes account of a television show filming five finalists, including Sarah’s sixty-plus-year-old mother, trying to win the perfect Southern wedding.

The time researching and prepping the book was fun, as was putting Sarah in the middle of everything by making Sarah her mother’s chaperone. As you can imagine, Sarah, the woman who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, isn’t any better suited to being a chaperone.

My trepidation is whether the world of readers will see the humor in this situation the same way I do? Will they like the book? I can only hope (pray) the nuances of the different couples will engage readers and that they will feel I stuck the whodunit.

Similarly, I hope readers notice and are satisfied with the arc growths of characters with whom they already are familiar. Most importantly, will readers buy Five Belles Too Many? I don’t know. I can only contemplate how the book’s life will flow.

At the same time that I am agonizing over the birth and development of Five Belles Too Many, the stork delivered a baby to my daughter and son-in-law (because I write cozy mysteries, I can’t go into the details). From his fingers to his toes, this eight-pound thirteen-ounce, full head of dark-haired boy has won my heart.

Already, I’m anticipating how he will get along with his sister, whether he will tend to smile or frown, whether he will be geeky or an athlete, whether he will be tall or short, and what kind of man he will become. Each wish and dream I have for him is accompanied by a fear or question.

There isn’t much difference in how I feel about the birth of Baby Bear (his sister’s name for him) or Five Belles Too Many. Both share the miracle of coming to life, my anguish, anticipation, and the sense of joy they are giving me. OK, maybe I am a little prejudiced in Baby Bear’s favor for the long term, but in the short run, Five Belles Too Many is important, too.

For a chance to win a copy of Five Belles Too Many, tell me how you feel about new books in a series and your take on reality game shows.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Downsizing... giving it away

HALLIE EPHRON: My husband was a collector. He couldn't throw away a pencil that had a few inches of lead left in it, and teabags had to be used at least twice. Stamps... uncancelled? I found caches of them that he'd soaked off envelopes stashed in mugs throughout the house.

Of course there were thousands of books picked up cheaply at yard sales and library book sales and even off the street.

Since he died, I've been slowly and lovingly working through his collections. Exhaling as I downsize.

Books first: I found an antiquarian bookseller (Ken Gloss who's on Antique's Roadshow!) who was interested in taking the books. AND carting them away. WITHOUT ME paying HIM. Win, win!

Here's *ONE OF MY* before and after bookcases.


AFTER (saved photo albums and bird books... the below cabinets are empty, too!)
For the rest, in the time of Covid, yard sales have pretty much dried up. My neighbors have taken to posting photos in a local Facebook group of whatever they're getting rid of, piling it on their front steps, and labeling it: FREE.

Jerry would have loved it... not for giving his treasures away, of course, but stopping every few blocks to see what he NEEDED that was being tossed. He would not have been onboard with my giving away 6 bookcases but I was thrilled to see them depart the premises.

Now I’m an old hand at giving things away on Facebook. In my travels, this posting cracked me up.

So in these unusual times, are you acquiring or downsizing? I do hope you're not dumping your giveaways on your neighbor's steps...  And how's it working out for you?

RHYS BOWEN: I would love to downsize and get rid of clutter but John is like Jerry, he clings onto STUFF! in the belief that it might come in useful done day.

A few years ago daughter Anne came to help purge the garage. It looked wonderful but now is back to nightmare.

I’ve done my own purging and got rid of so many books and clothes but John has 5 pairs of white tennis shoes he doesn’t wear but won’t toss! Uggghhh

This is why I enjoy our house in Arizona. We started from scratch. All new furniture and no clutter. The garage is pristine. Two cars. That’s it. I sent a picture to my son in law who replied,”Who are you and what have you done with my in-laws?”

HALLIE: I'm tempted to send you a picture of my garage but it's too horrifying. It's on my to-do list.

JENN McKINLAY: Declutter is my middle name! Okay, technically it’s Dee but so much more accurate if you add “clutter”, as in Deeclutter. LOL.

My parents were keepers, which is why I think I’m a pitcher. I remember their mail taking up our whole counter and spending an afternoon sorting it for them because it drove me batty.

My home aesthetic is “let’s make it look as if no one lives here”. My favorite hobby is loading up my truck and dropping off gently used things to the local thrift shop.

The problem - Hub is a collector. His weakness – books and guitars. Hard to argue with either of those.

Save me!!!

LUCY BURDETTE: I would say I fall in the middle, a little closer to hoarding than decluttering perhaps. If I was being honest!

When we arrive in Connecticut, I’m often on a tear. And this year we did take several boxes of books to the Scranton library friends donation box. I also tore through my closet and loaded up a huge bag of clothes that I felt certain I wouldn’t wear again.

That encouraged John to rip through his belongings too. But we still have too much stuff.

Probably as it gets closer to time to head south, I will go through the same drill. The problem is, if you have one experience in which you threw something out and you needed it later, that discourages you from clearing things out. For example, if I had gotten rid of this heavy bright sequined top, what in the world would I wear to the Motown party we are going to in July??

JULIA: Lucy, if you can replace something for $25, out it goes. Pretty sure you can get something Motown from Goodwill for a fiver.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Let's put it this way. If you find something, and you didn't even know it was there, how are you going to miss it? Old games with missing pieces, instructions to appliances you don't have any more. Do I need a breadmaker? Gone gone gone. It is so much fun. And there are things we have that don't seem like things, but they take up space. For instance, we just recycled one million brown paper bags. I kept 20. How many can anyone possibly need?

I think it was Hallie's wonderful pal (and now, mine, too) organizer Kathy Vines who showed me the way. She held up a brown handbag, one of maybe five brown handbags.Would you ever use this, she asked? Maybe, I said. Sure.  She then asked: Would it be your first choice? Hmm, I thought. Nope, not my first choice. She held it up again, and said--if you donated it, it would be someone's first choice. It would be a gift to them. 

I stopped in my tracks.TAKE ALL OF THEM, I said. I'd love to make people happy.  

I just gave a box of costume jewelry to a shelter, and they were thrilled. And I donated a lot clothes. And listen to this. A shelter volunteer called me to say one of her clients had a job interview, wearing clothes I donated, and got the job, and now says she's sure it was the suit.

Talk about donation incentive!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I love that. "It would be someone's first choice." That helped me get rid of SO many of Ross's books - I'm never going to read the 600 page history of one ship of the line in the Napleonic wars - but somewhere out there is a man who will be THRILLED with this book. 

Right now, I'm - not downsizing, but repacking Youngest's stuff to make more space in "her" room - and I'm about to start the shoveling-out-the-remains part of the program for the Maine Millennial's room, now she's taken what she wants. Let's face it, when it's your stuff, it's potentially valuable treasure. When it's someone else's, it's junk.

Soon to be a guest/sewing room!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I did a huge clearing out of books in the spring. The shelves in my office are still full, but at least books aren't quadruple stacked now! I tackled clothes, too, but I still only wear a fraction of the stuff that's left. (Of course, barely leaving the house for two and a half years has something to do with that...)

I do like getting rid of stuff--a good thing, since Rick is a "saver." Most of his treasures are electronics and tools, and I have to admit that they do sometimes come in very handy. I needed an o-ring and some silicone grease yesterday for a fountain pen project. Did he have the exact thing? You bet. 

HANK: And lately I've also been thinking: if I die, someone is going to look at all this stuff and say--whoa. She was such a pack rat. That is so distressing, it makes me toss SO much stuff.  

Lucy, as for needing it later. Hmm. I wonder how much that REALLY happens? What do you all think?

HALLIE: An excellent question! And doesn't it seem that the minute you throw something away is just before you're going to need it?

How are things going in your household? Are you giving it away, selling it to the highest bidder, or hanging onto your lifetime's accumulation while someone else tries to loosen your grip?

Sunday, June 26, 2022

What We're Writing: Jenn is Cooking Up her Next Endeavor

 Jenn McKinlay: I'm working on a cookbook. Yes, me the one who doesn't cook (although I do bake). Crazy, I know!

My favorite bakery cookbook - inspired!

Now I know it sounds ambitious, but hear me out. The cupcake bakery mysteries have 3-5 recipes in each book and I'm writing the fifteenth book right now with a contract to go to sixteen. Yes, writing that mystery is my other project of the moment but it's in no shape to be shared as yet, so back to the cookbook.

After being asked for a cookbook - many many many times - by readers over the years, I decided okay fine. Because it is a rather big undertaking for a fiction writer, I divided the recipes from the (almost) sixteen books into two volumes so the first cookbook will have thirty-two recipes from the first eight books and the second volume coming out after the sixteenth book in 2024 will have the other thirty-two. This all came about rather organically when Christie Conlee, the personal assistant I hired to run the Facebook page, Tik Tok videos, host random giveaways, dream up promotions, and so on, turned out to be a home baker! How's that for kismet? 

We talked about it on and off for a year, and I had to clear the decks of my schedule so I could wrap my head around this endeavor, but it's finally happening!!!

Last fall, Christie went into a baking/photographing frenzy while I cleaned up the recipes. Now we have ISBNs, and we're on deck with Ingram Spark, while my cover artist, Lyndsey of Llewellen Designs, is working her magic on a cover for us. Yay!!! 

I'm pretty excited and we're hoping to launch the first volume on Sept 6th, 2022!!! 

To celebrate, here's one of the recipes from the cookbook. My very favorite cupcake - the Blonde Bombshell

Cupcake and photo by Christie

An almond-flavored cake topped with vanilla buttercream and sprinkled with toasted almonds. 

 3⁄4 cup unsalted butter, softened 
 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature 
 1 1⁄2 teaspoons almond extract 
 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
 2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder 
 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 1⁄2 cups flour
1 1⁄4 cups milk 

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar at medium speed, add eggs and milk, and beat until smooth. Beat in extracts. Add dry ingredients, beat until smooth. Fill cupcake liners 2⁄3 full. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Makes 24. 

 Frost with vanilla buttercream and sprinkle with toasted almond slivers. Toasted almonds: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts in one layer on an ungreased, shallow baking pan. Bake for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. 

 Buttercream Frosting 
 1⁄2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened 
 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk 

 In large bowl, cream shortening and butter. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides of bowl often. Add milk, and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. Makes 3 cups of icing.

So, Reds and Readers, have you ever considered publishing your own cookbook? 

**The winner of Lucy's A SCONE OF CONTENTION is Terrie Black! Please email Lucy raisleib @ gmail dot com to make mailing arrangements.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

What We're Writing Week : Julia is scheduling and sprinting

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Everyone this week has been talking about the many jobs that come along with the title "author;" researching, editing, promotion - even teaching others (which is always also about teaching ourselves as well.) Sometimes, one of the jobs that comes along with being an author is "relearning the habit of but in chair, hands on keyboard."

As some of you may remember, my Word for the Year is DEEP WORK, because I'm devoting myself to retraining my oh-so-distractable brain to do the sort of demanding creative work I used to do without really thinking about it. I've gotten a lot of help from our own Celia Wakefield, who has worked miracles with my ability to self-organize, and I've also greatly benefited from my friend Jessica Ellicott, who really, really needs to teach a course about her "so stress free even I can do it" outlining technique and who has encouraged me to try different mind hacks for keeping myself on track and writing.

The ability to be creative is not, perhaps, a muscle, but the ability to sit in the damn chair and not get up until you've written your words for the day most certainly is. Yes, I've had good reasons to let my writing muscles get flabby over the past four or five years, but you know, none of those hold true anymore. The Maine Millennial has moved out with her dog and cat, the Sailor is safe at home in Virginia with his sweetheart, and Youngest is a college grad who is 100% self-supporting. It is past time for me to get cracking.

Photo by Brooke Staton, @mainememoriesphoto

So recently, I've tried two things that has led to great results. The first it scheduling my writing time. I know, I know, can you believe I didn't before? Now I have it set up, complete with notifications and a program that puts my phone on Do Not Distract automatically. 

The second - and this surprised me - is sprinting. From my college days, I've always been the sort of person who writes fast and well when under a deadline. The problem for me is the end-of-the-book deadline is WAY too far away, and frankly, is more of a suggestion in my case. My poor beleaguered publisher gave up keeping me on deadline about a decade ago. Even scheduling a perfectly normal three hour writing session allows me to kind of.. drift. Maybe I have time for a load of laundry?

But if the timer's on for an hour and a half, I've discovered I write. Fast. No time to linger over every word as is my tendency. No time to think and rethink every choice. Get it down, because the clock is ticking. And really, I start each day's writing with a quick pass-through of yesterday's words, so I can fix the most egregious errors then.

Is it working? Reader, it is, as you can see from this excerpt from AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY.

Oh, my God.” Tiny raced to the window. “Oh.” She sounded as if she had just finished a five hundred meter sprint. “It's okay. It's a friend of Cal's.”

Clare joined her at the window. A fully tricked out pick up pulled sung against the downstairs. They watched as a beefy guy climbed out, ran his hand over his stubbled hair, and stared at Clare's car. He walked toward the downstairs, disappearing from view beneath the deck.

Is he coming in?”

Tiny shook her head. “You can't get from one floor to another inside. You have to go around and through the outside door. We use it like a garage – it's got Cal's workroom and the chest freezer down there. It's not even heated.”

The man reemerged carrying a couple of small duffle bags. He slung them into his truck cab and then headed for the railroad tie stairs.

Oh, crap.” Tiny set Rose back into her playpen.

Should I, um, leave?”

I don't know what he wants. Maybe he needs to use the bathroom.” Tiny opened the door and stepped onto the deck. Clare slung her diaper bag over her shoulder and followed, her hand tight on the baby carrier. “Hey, Dillon.” Tiny passed her hand through the air. “Cal's not here.”

I can see that.” Dillon had the look of a high school linebacker running to fat, his neck overflowing his chamois shirt collar, his gut straining against the buttons. He wore a pair of wraparound sun glasses that made him look like an out-of-shape version of Robocop. “Who's this?”

Clare and Tiny looked at each other. “It's, uh, Clare?”

Clare held up the carrier. “We're having a Mommy-baby date.” She used her brightest, most brainless voice. “Rose and Ethan are both eight months old. And they're both our firsts. It's really nice to compare notes with another mom, isn't it, Tiny?”

Tiny nodded emphatically. The big guy looked back toward where he'd parked his truck. “Does Cal know you invited somebody out here?”

As subdued by her husband as she was, even Tiny bristled at that. “No, but he will when he gets home, and I honestly don't see as it's any of your business, Dillon.”

Clare did her best giggle. “I can't imagine he pays that much attention to scheduling play dates.”

He held up his hands. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just, uh...” he focuses on Clare's parka. “You look like you're ready to leave.”

Clare glanced at Tiny. “I was about to, yes.”

Well, you should go out first.”



Clare wondered if she was the first person to ever question Dillon, or just the first woman. She glanced back to Tiny, and saw she was looking as stressed as she had been when Clare first arrived. “Never mind.” She hugged the other woman tight. “I hope we can do this again soon.”

Julia: Dear readers, what are your mind hacks for getting stuff done? And have you been successful in revamping old habits into new ones?

Friday, June 24, 2022

What We're Writing--Debs Confronts the Doorstop

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have news!! I finally got to type the two most satisfying words in the English language, at least for me: THE END

A KILLING OF INNOCENTS, Kincaid/James #19, is finally, finally finished!! Trumpets, please!

That's the good news. 

The bad news is that the finished manuscript is 550 pages long, about 126,00 words, so yes, I confess that I'm Red A from Hallie's Behind the Scenes at the Sausage Factory post on Monday. That is a doorstop of a book.

My wonderful and very patient editor was happy with the family thread and the crime (relief on both fronts!), but thinks the book needs to be 100 to 150 pages shorter. That's a lot of pages and a pretty daunting prospect, especially on a really tight production schedule. 

I confess that I am (obviously) an over-writer. I put in too much detail, and I am perpetually guilty of telling not showing, one of the cardinal writing sins. And I love putting in directions, which makes my editor want to tear her hair out. Readers don't really want to know where your character turned left or right and which street leads to into what street, or which bus they take. I realize this is my way of putting myself into a scene, but it should definitely be a case of less is more. 

So how do you go about cutting that many pages? You snip a sentence here, a paragraph there, an entire scene if it's not advancing the plot, and all those little tweaks add up. Or at least that's the idea! I'm down 70 pages now, at a bit more than halfway through the book, and I promise you won't miss them.

Readers, do you think about length when you choose a book? Do you have preferences, depending of the type of book? I might expect, for instance, a fantasy novel to be longer than a mystery, or a multiple viewpoint story to be longer than one told from first person. I want a book to be long enough to be satisfying, but not so long that I think I need a vacation to read it--unless I actually have a vacation to read it in!

A KILLING OF INNOCENTS is available for pre-order from all your favorite booksellers.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

When an Idea Appears #writing @Lucyburdette


LUCY BURDETTE: My brain is so full right now—Key West food critic mystery #13 is due 9/1 and I’m trying hard to get the draft finished early. Plus, we are just back from a whirlwind family visit—first to California to see kids and grandkids, and then to Michigan to visit with my 95 year old uncle.

 He is my father’s only brother and they loved each other dearly. My sister and brother and 3 cousins joined him for a yak-fest—lots of old stories were told, from funny to poignant to downright sad and back to funny again. It felt like a wonderful gift to be reminded of how powerful our history and connections are.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…A DISH TO DIE FOR  will be out in August and I’m thinking about promotion. In order to do this right, I feel like I need to remember the earliest days when the idea was germinating. First, a little background. Hayley and Nathan’s dog Ziggy find a body on the beach about ten miles north of Key West. It’s a shock of course, and she’s still reeling from this when she remembers she’s agreed to help sort out donated cookbooks for the Friends of the Key West Library. I’d been talking with my writing pal friends Ang and Chris about struggling with the plot. Soon after, Ang sent this email:

I don't know if this would be of any use to you, but I thought you'd find it interesting. I belong to the Historic Florida Page and this came up today. I wonder if they have a copy of the cookbook at your library. It was done by the Key West Woman's Club. What's cool is that the book was written out in longhand. 

And the next day, he sent this:

ANG: I notice the pie recipe is from Eloise Carey Felton. Here is a picture of her. Eloise and her husband owned a restaurant called the Green Turtle. They also had a construction company and there is a Felton Rd. on Dredgers Key. I know. I should be writing. LOL

LUCY: You're too funny! I've got to work this cookbook into my current story. Just have to figure out what this might have to do with the murdered man... put your thinking caps on...

In real life, I found a copy of the old cookbook on Ebay and ordered it instantly. In the story, I determined that Hayley would discover an old copy of the first Key West Woman’s Club cookbook at the library. She becomes intrigued with the possibility that this bit of history might help her unravel the reason that the victim died on the beach. In order to portray this accurately, I enlisted my pal Annette Holmstrom to teach me how she values old books. She does the same for Hayley. Here’s a snippet from A DISH TO DIE FOR:

    Annette crossed her hands in her lap. “Did I overwhelm you? Do you feel like you have enough information to get started? You can set any books aside that you’re not sure about, and I’ll check those over.”

“I think I’m good, though it feels like a lot of responsibility.”

She patted my shoulder and smiled. “I’ll check your work. By the way,” she added, “keep an eye out for loose papers in the books. I’ve found love letters—both received and unsent—receipts, and once an uncashed check for a thousand dollars. We were able to track the owner down and return it, to much gratitude. I’ll leave you to it—have fun and give a shout with questions, okay?”

I begin to sift through the pile of cookbooks. I put two aside that had been signed by a local celebrity chef who’d since moved off the island. Underneath those, I found many copies of the Sunset cooking series (probably worth something at the time but not these days), a stained and obviously well-loved copy of Jell-O recipes (really?), and at the bottom of the box, a cookbook from the Key West Woman’s Club published in 1949. The recipes had been written in longhand and then copied, printed, and spiral bound. Quite irresistible.

I glanced at the table of contents, then flipped to the section listing soups. One caught my eye: green turtle soup from the Garcia family. The green turtles, the introduction read, were named not after the color of their shells but the layer of fat underlying those shells. That color varied according to what they ate. The list of ingredients began with two pounds turtle flippers. I felt instantly queasy. I had recently been reading about the history of green turtles on our island, thinking of pitching an article with a historical angle. I would have to remind myself that an ingredient that struck me as horrifying today was perfectly normal back then.

Green turtle stock had been in huge demand in the late 1800s, not only in local restaurants but across the nation. Key West fishermen were major suppliers, as the turtles were plentiful and easy to catch. The State Department had declared the green turtle an endangered species in the 1970s, and people stopped using it. By then, it was almost too late.

It occurred to me that this cookbook could make a very good article for Key Zest, with a bit of history, a few photos of the pages originally written in longhand, plus my attempts to recreate a few of the recipes. I could probably get my mother to help with the cooking if I needed her. We would not make turtle soup, of course.

I stuck my head into Michael the librarian’s back office. He was sitting at his computer, in front of a wall of bookcases bursting with books and behind a big white sign that read America’s Most Beloved Librarian.

“Do you mind if I borrow this for a week or so?” As I asked the question, I realized how much I wanted to own this cookbook. “Or better yet, once we figure out what it’s worth, I’d love to buy it. It’s giving me an idea for an article, maybe more than one. I’ll treat it with kid gloves. Literally.”

Too late, I noticed Michael was on the phone. He waved and nodded, then covered the mouthpiece. “Sure, take it. Unless Annette determines it’s worth a small fortune, you’ve earned it. See you later this week.”

Question for you Reds, are you intrigued by old cookbooks? Do you have any that you actually use? What do you think about offering a copy of an old Key West cookbook as a giveaway during my book launch events? Any other brainstorms?

I'd love to give away a trade paperback copy of A SCONE OF CONTENTION, hot off the press, to one commenter!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

What We're Writing: Rhys Researches

RHYS BOWEN:  For once I am actually not writing. Earlier this month I sent off my latest stand-alone, ISLAND OF LOST BOYS, to my editor, did the copy edits on my next Georgie called PERIL IN PARIS, and the page proofs on ALL THAT IS HIDDEN, the next Molly book, written with daughter Clare.

Clare should have been here now, staying with me in California while we work on the next Molly book, but alas she is stuck at home with Covid. After being so careful all this time her husband had to take a group of students to El Salvador where they promptly all got Covid. He waited until he tested negative to fly home but then still gave it to Clare.

So we are both working remotely but we’re still in the hunter/gatherer stage: this is the part of the writing process that I love—searching the internet, finding out new and exciting things that can be part of our story and deciding how to weave them in. The new book is set in the Catskills—in the fledgling bungalow colonies. At that time the exodus of Jews from the city to escape the summer heat and disease was still new. There were as yet no resorts. Enterprising Jewish  farmers offered rooms or built primitive outbuildings at reasonable rents and quickly saw the possibilities.  Anyone who could escaped from the packed conditions of city life, where typhoid and other diseases ran rampant during the steamy summer.

And so we decided that Molly’s neighbors Sid and Gus would have to visit Sid’s grandparents who live in the Catskills. That was the starting point: and then we discovered the artist’s colony to which they would obviously be drawn. A theater director Clare knows is putting on summer stock in a theater in the Catskills, AND the theater was in existence in those days. Perhaps Sid wants to be in the show.

When I was in New York for the Edgars I met up with an old friend who is well-connected in the New York Jewish community. We’ve had fun adventures over the years, once being locked in Gramercy Park and having to be rescued. She’s offered to help with research and vet what we write. “Well of course I know Grossinger’s grandson if that helps,” she said. She will also be invaluable in getting the tone right—Sid’s family coming from Germany two generations ago , educated, worldly and well-established yet other characters new immigrants and much more conservative in their religion and habits.

Clare’s research has turned up other gems. A newly formed state park near where we want to set the story. Also near was a bluestone mine—an early form of cement vital for New York street building. An environmental theme, we ask ourselves?

And so the pieces of the story come together from the research. We already knew what the main thread of plot would be (not going to tell you). But this is how environment will enrich and twist the plot. Such fun.  I start out knowing where I want to set a book, who might be murdered and why. Then I do my detailed research. Usually it involves going to the place, walking the streets my heroine will walk and noticing what I see. Sometimes I spot something that will come into the story, maybe change it.  But just soaking in details makes it a richer story: for THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK the basket being lowered from an upstairs window into a boat below and being raised again with the morning newspaper. Little gems you can’t make up. 

For my upcoming WHERE THE SKY BEGINS I visited the old air bases in Lincolnshire, climbed inside a Lancaster Bomber, looked at flight suits, parachutes, read letters home from pilots.

I’m not going to be able to visit the Catskills before we write this which is annoying. I have driven through the area before so I know what it looks like and thank you to Google Earth—I shall be visiting in often, I suspect. Also I have Clare to do the lion’s share of research now. We know about the bungalows and the kochalayn (the bungalows that had their own kitchen!) But would they have played mahjong in those days? Would there have been entertainers? Maybe a family’s entertainment is so good that others come to watch and a tent is set up and…

A challenge will be how we bring Molly, good Irish girl, into this Jewish setting.

So we get ready to start writing. And dear Reds and readers—if any of you have bungalow memories or heard your grandparents talking about their time in the Borscht Belt, please do share.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

What We're Writing: Hank Solves the Case of the Missing Bug


The House Guest is arriving in February! And she’s almost ready to read. I’m calling it Gaslight meets Thelma and Louise. What do you think about that?   (I hope you are saying "oooh!")

But what I’m writing… is copy edits. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process, No, truly it is. Copy editing.
 I had not looked at my book for a month, while the copy editor had it, so looking at it again, after four whole weeks, made me see it in a different way. I love that. 
Of course, there are going to be the obligatory battles about hyphens. Is it face up or faceup or face-up? They insisted on faceup, which I say is NOT a word, so I just cut it altogether. How about pre-nup? They insisted it was prenup, which I say is NOT a word,  no matter what any style manual tries to force me to do, and I stetted.  Thirty-something or thirtysomething? They insisted no hyphen, and I reluctantly relented.
And of course, happily, copy editing brings some hilarious realizations of the words we use, lazily and without thinking. I had used the word “something” 37 times. And it was quite the exercise in specificity as I took them out. Wonderful and book-changing in every way. And I am writing a blog about that which you will see someday.
The other thing you catch, if you’re lucky, are the problems with continuity. Not just that someone has a maroon tie in paragraph one and a navy tie in paragraph 10. Those things are inevitable, and fun to find. Like a treasure hunt. Even that I had spelled my main character's last name two different ways. Fix fix fix.  
But sometimes I find jaw-dropping mistakes. Shocking mistakes.

Here is a cautionary tale.
In the first version of the book, the main character is driving home, and begins to suspect, (and it all makes sense), that someone has put a bug in her car. And that someone is following her, and that the bug is transmitting to that person’s car. So she does some things, which you will have to read about, to find out if that’s true. And it seems to be true. 
Then she goes home, and new "friends" come to dinner, and many things are discussed. But. Not the bug in the car! She never mentions the bug in the car. Not to her mysterious dinner guests, not to her lawyer, not to anyone. Not even to herself.  
The next day, she and the two friends get into the same car and drive to her summer house. She never thinks about the bug. She never does anything about the bug. The bug is never mentioned again. Until the very last chapter, when somebody admits something about it.
But she’s been driving around with the stupid maybe-bug! Talking! Saying things! I sat and stared at my screen, wondering if I had completely lost my mind. How could I have dropped that thread?
And more important, how do I fix it? There was no time for her to have her car checked for a bug, and she has no idea what a bug looks like, and there’s no one to ask, and there’s no time to do anything, and what would she do if she knew, anyway?  I thought and thought and thought. And then the solution appeared! She just…takes her other car! Which could not have a bug in it. Brilliant brilliant brilliant, Hank, I thought, patting myself on the back, you are so smart.  

(If that solution seems obvious to you, good for you. It took me a good fifteen frantic minutes.)
But then, the dominoes started to fall. Earlier in the book, she talks about how her garage is half empty, now that her husband’s car is gone. Oops. Now there has to be room in the garage for the “other” car! Okay, now her garage is "emptier," without her husband's car. 
But, yikes, this "other" car is an SUV. So it doesn’t have a trunk. Okay! I will fix that.
And the “other” car does not have the same stuff in the glove compartment that the first car did. Okay! I will fix that, too.  But here's the thing. This all made me so happy. 

Because as long as it all gets fixed before the book goes to print, that's all part of the process. And I love the process.

So Reds and readers, let's vote on hyphens, okay? Pre-nup or prenup? (Did she have a pre-nup?) Faceup or face up or face-up? (It was face up on the drainboard.)  Thirty-something or thirtysomething? (She was the only thirtysomething in the room.) 

I'm sure there's some sort of rule about this.

And Reds and writers, have you ever found a gasp-worthy continuity problem in a manuscript?