Wednesday, August 31, 2022

How Can You Be Late for Your Own Funeral?

YAAYY!! Elaine Viets! What an icon, and what an inspiration, and what an incredibly ground-breaking author.

Plus, she's undeniably one the most hilarious, most droll, and most entertaining authors you could ever meet.

And whoa, talented, too! When you finish this essay--which as you will see could have been written by nobody but Elaine!--check out her bio, below. And stand in awe. 


Untimely Ripped: Ripped from the Headlines Stories

By Elaine Viets

Many writers use “ripped from the headlines” stories as inspiration for their mysteries. But which news stories should you use? How do you know there won’t be twenty novels the next year or two with similar plots?

In my case, I chose a news story based on its longevity. Not how long it stayed in the papers – how long it stayed in my mind.

This is the story behind the story for “Late for His Own Funeral,” my latest Angela Richman, Death Investigator, mystery.

The idea came from a Los Angeles Times story that stuck in my mind for almost twenty-five years. Back in 1998, an LA County coroner’s official told a woman that her husband was dead. I’ve changed the couple’s names to Betty and Richard Walton.

The news of her husband’s death dropped poor Betty into a nightmare. Richard was Princeton-educated and a high-ranking political advisor. Yet the coroner said Richard had died in police custody from an abscess caused by dirty needles. Betty demanded to see her husband’s body. The official said no – the body was being autopsied. The wife refused to believe that Richard was shooting heroin. The police confirmed the dead man’s fingerprints as her husband’s. The dead man was also carrying Richard’s driver’s license.

Betty said her husband’s license had been reported lost. The coroner’s investigator fed her a fat hunk of baloney. He “suggested that she was feeling anger and denial,” and that was normal.

Besides, the Waltons had been going through a tough time, and Betty knew her husband was depressed. Richard had moved out of the family home, and was staying with a relative. She also knew Richard had walked out of the relative’s home, crying, and the family hadn’t seen him for a few days. Betty caved and planned Richard’s funeral.

The morning of the funeral, the widow wanted “one last touch.” While the body was being prepared at the cemetery, she went to look at her husband. The dead man didn’t resemble her husband in any way: he was a large, hairy man. Richard was slender. The hair was wrong.

The funeral was canceled. Turns out the actual dead man was a transient drug addict who’d been carrying Richard’s missing driver’s license.

The police had used Richard’s missing driver’s license as a basis to identify the dead man. There were many other snafus, but the first rule of body identification is: never, ever identify a body by a driver’s license.

Why did that story appeal to me? I liked the macabre touches. Also, some years ago, I had a life-threatening illness, a series of strokes and brain surgery. When I recovered, I read my obituary. The idea of showing up for my own funeral intrigued me. Besides, when I was poky as a kid, my dad would say, “Hurry up, Sis. You’re going to be late for your own funeral.”

For whatever reason, I spun that story of the LA couple into my new death investigator mystery, “Late for His Own Funeral.”

In “Late,” Sterling Chaney is a rich and respected resident of Chouteau Forest, Missouri, home of the one percent. When his flashy sports car crashes at high speed, there isn’t enough of the driver left “to spread on a cracker,” in the inelegant words of the medical examiner.

Angela Richman is at the funeral with the new widow, Camilla. The casket Camilla’s late husband wanted causes quite a shock.

 Angela said:

Camilla, his widow, had given her husband what’s called the “Golden Send-Off” – she’d buried him like a rock star in a stunning Promethan casket.  The remains rested on plush velvet. The casket’s exterior was actually solid bronze, hand-polished to a mirror finish. It shone like gold.

Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin all went to their reward in a Promethan casket. And now, Sterling Chaney. His casket, covered in roses like a Derby winner, looked incredibly gaudy in the austere Episcopalian church in Chouteau Forest, the largest town in Chouteau County.

I could hear the shocked murmurs and appalled whispers as the funeral home attendants rolled the garish casket up the aisle. The churchgoers would be even more shocked if they knew it cost thirty thousand dollars. In the pew behind us, a sturdy black-clad matron gasped, “Good heavens!”

But the service would soon have a bigger shock.

The funeral was interrupted by an unexpected guest – Sterling Chaney. Yep, he’s back, alive and well and drunk as a skunk, trying to take selfies with his golden coffin in the church.

Death investigator Angela Richman works for the Chouteau County medical examiner’s office. She’s in charge of the body at the scene of murders, suicides, and unexplained deaths. Sloppy work by the medical examiner and the police created this mix-up with Sterling. Angela is relieved the mess wasn’t her case.

After his dramatic entrance, Sterling Chaney, the man who was late for his own funeral, is all over the news. Sterling loves the spotlight, until a smart reporter reveals he earned his fortune by exploiting women who worked for him in a shady business. Sterling is disgraced and shunned by Chouteau society.

Then there’s another fatal crash.

This time, death investigator Angela Richman has to confirm that Sterling is really dead, then find out who killed him and why. Did the man who was late for his own funeral die twice?

I hope this story sticks in your mind.

HANK: That is amazing! Amazing. And just head-shaking enough to be true.

We don't want to tell funeral stories, okay? 

So let's talk about ripped from the headlines. Let me ask you, Reds and readers:  DO you still read actual paper newspapers? Do you ever snip clippings from them?

(I do! I'm a three actual paper a day person...and I always rip out clippings.)

How about YOU?

Elaine Viets
has written 31 bestselling mysteries in four series: hard-boiled Francesca Vierling, traditional Dead-End Job, and the cozy Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novels. With her Angela Richman, Death Investigator forensic mysteries, Elaine returned to her hard-boiled roots. Late for His Own Funeral is her newest Angela Richman mystery. Kings River Life said Late for His own Funeral was “a fascinating exploration of sex workers, high society, and the ways in which they feed off of one another.”  

  Elaine’s Deal with the Devil and 13 Short Stories was published by Crippen & Landru. She's been toastmaster and guest of honor at the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference. Elaine’s won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards and was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers Award for best short story. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

A TV assignment, two books, a life-long love affair and five kids

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I absolutely cannot wait for you to read this post.

I mean, I could gush about Linda Hurtado Bond, and her skills, and her exploits, and her passion, and her humor, and her talent.  But you will get all of that from this post. And MORE!

And I'll be back at the end. To join in your applause.

I mean--aren't you hooked by the title alone?

How an assignment to Cuba as a TV Journalist, during the meeting of Pope John Paul II and Fidel Castro, inspired two books, a life-long love affair, five kids and a few of my favorite recipes 

By Linda Hurtado Bond 

My first assignment outside of the United States came decades ago, when Cuba’s Fidel Castro invited Pope John Paul the second to Cuba for a meeting. I worked for the ABC station in Tampa at the time. The Bay area is home to a large and politically active Cuban American Community. Many fled Castro’s revolution, settling in Tampa, and had not been back to their homeland in over 30 years. Not by choice. 

Assigned by my TV station to make the trip with a group affiliated with a local Catholic Church, I chose to do a story on a family with five sons. Only two of the five decided to make the trip to Cuba with their parents. Those two wanted to see the island through their parents eyes before their parents died and both feared – with restrictions on travel – this might be their only chance. The other three brothers refused to go to Cuba as long as Castro still ruled. They blamed Castro for forcing their parents to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They blamed Castro for their parent’s struggled to provide for five boys in a new world, not knowing the English language. 

While interviewing Juan and Josefina Figueredo about this historic trip back to Cuba and their past, both began to cry. Juan cried while recounting his decision to leave his home country, so his children had the freedom to practice the Catholic religion. Josefina cried while describing the moment she hugged her father for the last time, knowing she would never see him again.  

One of their sons, Jorge, stopped the interview and began to chastise me because I made his parents cry. I thought, “The nerve of him. This is my job,  and this story is heartfelt and compelling. It needs to be told.”  I ignored his resistance and finished my interview. He glared at me the whole time. 

Ours was a true enemies-to-lovers romance. 😊 

Traveling to Cuba on that assignment, our first stop was to the farm outside of Havana owned by a relative of Jorge’s. When we got there, and the matriarch realized Victor, Jorge’s older brother, was among the group, she broke down and sobbed. Then she went into her bedroom and pulled out a shirt from under her mattress. It was a little red shirt and it had been perfectly pressed and preserved. She took that little red shirt off of Victor on the last day he’d been at her house. She’d taken care of Victor for months while another one of Jorge’s brothers had been sick. The matriarch kept that shirt for 30 years, praying she’d see the baby, Victico, again before she died. 

That moment brought both me and Jorge to tears. And when I saw how moved Jorge was, and how deeply he loved his Cuban family, something inside me shifted. I began to see this adversary in a different way. If he could love these relatives, that he’d never met before, imagine how he would love his own family! 

After that trip to Cuba, Jorge’s mother would invite me over to dinner. She knew I’d lost my own mother to breast cancer.  I loved those dinners, especially when her handsome son, Jorge, would show up. He showed up a lot. 

Two and a half years later, we married. Jorge had two kids from a previous marriage. We had two of our own. And later, we adopted his cousin from Cuba who came to America in a boat, using America’s wet foot-dry foot policy to stay. Now we had a big, beautiful Cuban American family, bound by love, if not blood. 

Flash forward a decade, and I’m writing my second novel called Cuba Undercover. I needed to write a book about this beautiful country left in decay by political upheaval, and divided loyalties. I needed to write about the men and women who still shouldered a love for the country they were kicked out of or were forced to leave under duress. And I needed to include a love story because that’s where I found mine. 

For my fourth book, a serial killer thriller, I once again tapped into my love for the Cuban American culture, this time diving deeper into back closet traditions, formed on the island, but carried in secret suitcases to America. I wanted to introduce readers to Santeria and make that little know religion the tie that bound a Cuban American reporter to a vigilante serial killer. 

That one trip to Cuba changed my life in so many ways. 

In honor of my mother-in-law Josefina Figueredo and her amazing cooking skills I’m sharing a recipe for her rice pudding. 

And I hope you will check out All the Broken Girls, now available here.  

HANK: Okay, interrupting here to say--see? Told you. Isn't she amazing?

And I'll give a copy of ALL THE BROKEN GIRLS to one lucky commenter--just tell us ONE thing you love about this post!

But wait there's more: Linda is sharing a recipe! Then scroll down for her fabulous bio, and more about this gripping thriller.

Abuela Fina’s rice pudding recipe: 

½ cup white rice 

3 ½ cups water 

2-inch piece shaved lemon peel 

½ stick cinnamon 

4 cups milk

1 cup white sugar

¼ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

Ground cinnamon

Put lemon peel and cinnamon stick in water and bring to a boil. Add rice. Turn on medium heat. Cook rice on medium heat until tender. Add salt, sugar, milk and vanilla. Cook while stirring until creamy. When creamy, pour into small glass containers and let cool. Sprinkle cinnamon on top. Cover and cool in refrigerator.  Serves 8. 

By day, Linda Hurtado Bond is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. By night, she’s an author of James Bond like adventures and heart-stopping thrillers. Linda met her husband Jorge on assignment in Cuba, twenty-some years later they've raised a doctor, a nurse, a pilot, a paramedic firefighter, and an aspiring psychologist.  A breast cancer survivor, she’s active in the Tampa community raising money and awareness. When not working she finds time for her passions, her husband Jorge, world travel, classic movies, and solving a good mystery.  Visit Linda at


When one falls

Crime reporter Mari Alvarez was never able to solve her mother’s murder ten years ago. But when a woman is gunned down on the doorstep of her West Tampa neighborhood, Mari can’t shake the eerie sense of connection.

The others will break

Now there have been two murders in two days. Each crime scene awash with arcane clues—and without a trace of DNA from the killer. And for each victim, a doll. The first is missing an eye. The second is missing a heart. But are these clues leading to the killer…or messages for Mari?

Unless she plays the game...

Caught up in a maelstrom of Old-World superstition, secrets, and ties to her own past, Mari has only one option. Put the puzzle together before someone else dies—even if it destroys her career. But there’s no escaping the hungry spider’s web when it’s been made just for you…

Monday, August 29, 2022

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation: One Good Thing!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Every time I think oh, no, summer is over, I think of my wonderful next-door neighbor who we’ve known for so many years. Every time I say that, he says “No! September still counts." And I try to believe it.  (Do you?)

And our tomato plants are still burgeoning with tomatoes– we are eating them like crazy and we laugh every day.

The birds have descended on our backyard, red finches and cardinal families and duos of fluttering mourning doves. We strung fairy lights around our backyard and at night, we sit outside and just soak up the niceness.  Summer memories? I was guest of Honor at Killer Nashville, and they gave me and co-GOH Charlie Donlea–GUITARS! Honest to goodness guitars. Can you see how hilarious this was? (Do either of us play guitar? No!)  Oh yes, my summer was full of good memories, and I bet yours was, too! 

So today, Reds and readers–just tell us one wonderful thing that happened to you this summer!

JENN McKINLAY: Aside from it being the summer of the kittens - adopting The Trips consumed our days - Hub and I discovered the simple joy of floating in our pool, listening to music, drinking mocktails, and talking about whatever without a Hooligan or two canonballing us unexpectedly. LOL. It’s the little things. 

RHYS BOWEN: we have had several reasons to celebrate this summer: our daughter graduating from Pepperdine with her masters in psycho therapy, granddaughter Lizzie graduating from UC San Diegi with a degree in public health and on to dental school and the twins graduating from high school. We celebrated all these at a week together in a house on the beach in San Diego. Such fun 15 of us with paddle boards, kayaks and all kinds of games. Lots of laughter and good food. I’m still smiling as I think of it. One of those precious times before kids move away to adult lives.

HALLIE EPHRON:Top of the list for me would be going to Universal Studios/Harry Potter world in Orlando with my daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids. My granddaughter loves roller coasters as much as  do and she’s far more fearless. Never mind that (multi-vaxed and multi-boosted) I came down with covid the day after I got back. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Also going to a real live in-person writing conference. And a movie in an actual movie theatre. And though I’m so not a baker, I made a cake that’s first cousin to a black forest cake. It looked like Los Angeles after the big earthquake but tasted sensational.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My summer was all about staying cool and editing. In July I had a wonderful very belated double-birthday lunch with my daughter and granddaughter (my daughter and I are both June birthdays.) We went to our favorite French bistro in Dallas, drank wine, talked and talked, and ate everything on the menu. When we came out of the restaurant, it was 106! A couple of weeks later we went to the Cartier exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art, with a picnic lunch in the very hot park. It was a lovely outing, though, and the Cartier was definitely a highlight of the summer. (Look at the Duchess of Windsor's necklace!) I'm so looking forward to more fun things in the fall.

LUCY BURDETTE: It still feels like a weird summer, overshadowed by stupid Covid. We did get to do some fun things–saw the grandkids and kids in California in June, and had another quick visit in July. Also trying to stay in touch with my dear New England friends while we’re here–mostly eating outside. And the trip to northern Scotland was a dream–every bit as good or better as I’d hoped!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It felt like I spent the summer writing - which was a good thing, believe me! - but looking back among my photos and my calendar, I did a lot of wonderful stuff - trips to the beach, visits with family, and Maine Crime Wave in person. It still feels like a thrill to actually be in the same (open air, no-sides) room with other humans! I went to a wonderful party launching Paula Munier's fourth book and a delightful four-author weekend writing retreat on beautiful Lake Arrowhead. And of course, many delightful meals out on the deck of our own Celia Wakefield's lake house.
The pinnacle of summer happened this past Saturday, though, when Youngest and her bf and I went to see the Portland Sea Dog's play - the first ball game I've been to since 2019. It was a summer rite for our family, and it felt so good to get back to Hadlock Field.

HANK: How about you, Reds and readers? What ONE wonderful thing happened to you this summer? Did you see a new bird, make a new friend, learn a new recipe, have a brilliant insight? (We know all the writers are writing and readers are reading, so don't count that. We'll do that another day.)
Tell us something special!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Do you need a song to remember your social security number?


***LUCY SAYS: thank you for all the amazing comments about cookbooks and the Key West mysteries this week. I'm sorry I only have two to give away.

The Key West Woman's Club Cookbook 1949: Debra Ball

The Key West Woman's Club Cookbook 1988: Tina D.

Also Tbone suggested we give away runner-up prizes, your choice of any Key West mystery or UNSAFE HAVEN  to Patty Jean, Lynda, Shelia, and Debra T. Email me at raisleib at gmail dot com to claim your prize!

And now to our regularly scheduled program...

HALLIE EPHRON: I have a terrible memory for things that should be easy. I confess, I do not know birthdays other than my own. I get the last two digits of my social security number wrong unless I remember they rhyme with V8. The juice. Fortunately I'm a champ when it comes to coaxing out of Google whatever refuses to bubble up out of my brain.

But Google can't find everything.

Two years ago (could it have been that far back?) I remember waiting waiting for my number to come up on the Jumbotron outside Gillette Stadium, alerting me that it was my turn to come inside and get vaccinated. It was seniors-only time.

I'd been watching streams of shaggy (we hadn't been to the beauty salon in months) graying souls exited the stadium to return to their cars. As they arrived and searched for their cars, car horns went off all around me like poor lost souls bleating for their owners.

I remember thinking maliciously, Next time buy a yellow car.

My turn came up and, of course I forgot to write down the number of my parking row. I returned and wandered around hopelessly paging my car. My daughter who was waiting for me in the car got out, stood on tippy toe, and flagged me down. Good thing, too, since easily one out of every ten cars in the lot was a black SUV approximately like mine.

I remembered those poor wandering souls in the Gilette Stadium parking lot recently when I rented a black SUV. I knew I'd never find it if I couldn't remember the license plate, or at least part of it. And I knew that if I wrote it down, I'd probably forget where I put the paper I'd written it on.

The car's license plate was something like 8XDPMT02. Good luck remembering that! So I came up with a visual:

A row of dead deer lying on their backs withtheir crossed legs sticking up in the air.
Which made me think: EIGHT DEAD DEER.

Which got me to 8XD
Which was enough to find the license plate of my rented black SUV in a sea of them in a motel or mall parking lot.

Another trick I use when I wake up in the middle of the night and something pops into my head that I need to remember. I associate the thing I need to remember with an object, and then visualize that thing sitting on the bottom step of the staircase in my house.

Once it was a chicken.

Of course I can still picture the chicken (it's brown) but I have no idea what it was supposed to make me remember. But the next morning I did.

Anyone have any handy dandy tricks for remembering the name of someone you've been introduced to so you can recall it five minutes later? Or other ways that you make sure you can remember something when Google wouldn't have a clue?

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Why I'm not giving up my landline


HALLIE EPHRON: I used to tell myself that I needed a landline for emergencies. When the cell towers blow over in a hurricane. When we have a power outage for days and mine is the only phone on the block that's hard wired. When I wake up hearing an intruder in the house and I'd prefer to call 911 on a phone that doesn't light up?

That, or some other compelling reason to be paying about $700 a year for what's become largely a vestigial organ?

The only thing I use the landline for these days is to call my misplaced cell phone and hope I haven't left it wherever it is with the ringer turned off. (Now there's a setting my phone needs: One that will make my cell phone RING when I call it from my landline -- even when I've turned the ringer off.)

What's snuck up on me is how dependent I've become on my cell phone. And I used to make fun of all those subway riders glued to their little screens.

Just how bad it's gotten was driven home the other day when I headed out for an overnight and, when I was halfway there, realized I'd left my cell at home. No big deal, I told myself. I could manage 24 hours without a cell phone.


Within an hour of arriving at my friend's house, my anxiety level spiked. Who was trying to reach me? Who thought I'd wiped out on the road beause I always answer my cell?

Who could I call to let them know I didn't have my cell? NO ONE because the only place I keep phone numbers is on my cell!

And who knew there were so many moments in the day when I absentmindedly pick my cell and check the stock market. Or the weather. Or CNN or the NY Times or Washington Post because God forbid a single thing could happen and me not know about it.

I truly felt addicted... or at least the way I imagine an addict feels without a fix.

When I got home, the first thing I did was look all over for my cell. It was in none of the usual places.

So I ran over to my land line (conveniently and reliably plugged into the phone jack in the front hall), intending to call my cell. But before I could pick it up, the land line rang. I didn't even bother to see what number flashed on the readout because I knew it was not a real person.

Do you have a land line? Why do you tell yourself you're keeping it? Do you answer it when it rings?

And are you as glued to your cell phone as I am or still in denial, telling yourself you could leave it home for 24 hours and not go bananas?

Confession's good for the soul.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Firsts? Our checkered pasts...


HALLIE EPHRON: Agatha Christie was 30 when she published her first book. Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. Arthur Conan Doyle was 38 in 1887 when he published the first Sherlock Holmes novel-length story, A Study in Scarlet. P. D. James was 42 in 1962 when she published her first novel, Cover her Face.

I was 52 when I published my first book, a mystery I co-authored—Amnesia by G. H. Ephron. By then, I’d completed a masters, a PhD, taught elementary school for 6 years, taught at the college level for about 10, worked as a writer and training designer in high tech for 10, had a freelance writing business for 8. I had a few published essays under my belt and a dead book along with a pile of unpublished short stories in the drawer.

Oh yeah, I had two fantastic daughters and a swell husband with a steady job.

I didn’t get serious about writing fiction until my kids no longer needed their play room and it could be my office (yes, a woman needs a room to write.) And finally I felt I had something to say. Oh, and the savings we needed to take the risk.
I'm now working on my seventeenth book.

How old were you when you published your first book, and what prepared you to do it?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: NOTHING prepared me. And everything, too, after 30 years of being a television reporter and writing new stories every day.

But one day, when I was 55, I had a good idea. And I knew it, as much as we can be certain of anything, I knew it. That turned out to be Prime Time.
I’m now working on book 15.

JENN McKINLAY: I just knew that writing was what I was supposed to do. So, I got a degree in library science (to be surrounded by books!) and started writing at 25. Sold my first romcom at 31 and now at 55, I am penning my 55th book :)
When you know you know.

RHYS BOWEN: My mother told me I wrote my first story when I was four. I spent my childhood playing at being someone else.

I still haven’t gotten over that phase. But I sold my first piece of creative work when I was a studio manager in the BBC drama department, wrote my first play and put it on the desk of the head of drama. They liked it and produced it.

I’ve been pretty much a working author since then in various genres, and now coming up to my fiftieth mystery/historical novel.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was writing short stories and poetry from my early teens, but it never occurred to me that I could write books that would actually be published. In college I attempted a Regency romance with a friend but we never finished it. (I rewrote all her scenes…) Post graduation, I took a creative writing course, and was so discouraged by the instructor's mean critiques that I didn't attempt anything for another decade.

So it was not until my late thirties that I decided I was going to write a novel, criticism be damned! And I did, with much trial and error, and then I sold it.
A Share in Death was published when I was 41, and I'm now working on my 20th book.

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m a late bloomer too, only started writing fiction in my late 40’s and seeing Six Strokes Under published when I was 50. I was a clinical psychologist before that, so I’m certain that helped prepare me for understanding my characters. I wish I’d thought to start earlier, but I think I wasn’t ready. Instead, I hope to write into old lady-hood.
Meanwhile, boo hiss on writing teachers like Deb’s who discourage beginning writers. I learned when doing the Seascape writers workshop with Hallie that it’s very hard to tell who’s going to “get it” and who isn’t. Mean critiques only squash tender beginners. I had one of those too, and it definitely cost me a couple of years.

HALLIE: So did you find your calling BANG out of school, or did you take a circuitous route? Or maybe you're still on the path, as we all are to some extent.