Wednesday, August 17, 2022

What We're Writing: Rhys Down the Rabbit Hole

RHYS BOWEN: It’s interesting that Hallie has just written on research and how you discover weird and amazing things. When I wrote Murphy’s Law, (the first of the Molly Murphy books, over twenty years ago now!!! ) Molly is accused of a murder on Ellis Island and at the end of the book steps ashore in Manhattan a free woman. And I realized this was to be a series and that I knew nothing about Manhattan in 1901. I realized I was doomed to research on every single page. 

 This has turned out to be true, but you know what? The research has turned out to be the fun and surprising part of my writing. In the early days I went to New York and walked every street that Molly had walked. Browsed photographs at the New York historical society and amassed a collection of books, menus, timetables etc etc. The one trouble with research is knowing when to stop. I find a fascinating fact that leads to another fascinating fact and before I know it I’m off somewhere quite different and a whole morning gone. 

 When I write the Molly Murphy books (and now Clare writes with me) I always check the NY Times to see what really happened on those dates. If there was an event, a catastrophe, an election at that time, Molly would know about it, react to it. Sometimes what I find becomes an important part of the story: when I was writing THE EDGE OF DREAMS I discovered that there had been a horrific crash of the elevated railroad. A train had been routed onto the wrong track, come around a bend too quickly and plunged into the street below, killing 42 people. So I thought that Molly should mention this. Then I thought…. What if Molly was on that train? And it became an important development in the story. In my book it wasn’t an accident. 

 These days it’s Clare who does all the early research reading and comes across wonderful things. For our upcoming ALL THAT IS HIDDEN she got all the facts on William Randolph Hearst and his run for mayor of New York. Also on the corruption at the docks at that time. Our current book is set in the Catskills, at a fledgling bungalow community. Thanks to Clare I can tell you the railroad and steamship timetables, all the most popular Yiddish songs of the time, The history of the Jews in Poland. So the story is a murder at a small resort in the Catskills. Thus the suspects are all staying in the resort. However… Clare discovered that there was a bluestone mine right there–open pit mining with loud blasts disturbing the tranquility of the mountains. Not good if you want to build a hotel nearby. Also there was a brand new state park next to the mine and a clash between environmentalists and miners when they wanted to transport stone from the quarry to the boats down the Hudson through state park land. So we now have outsiders and more complex motives for murder. 

Here is part of a scene of the protest against the mine, using our serendipitous research:

Almost an hour had passed when we heard two horses cantering back along the road. They rode past the mine carts and drew themselves up in front of our protest. Two men swung down from the saddle. One was dressed in denim pants and a blue denim shirt. The other wore a brown suit and a derby hat. He spoke first.
                “Hello little ladies,” he took off his hat and gave a little bow. He sounded like a Scottsman. “I hear we have a bit of a misunderstanding, so I have come to clear it up. “I’m Ronnie Fitch and this is my foreman, Mitch Doherty.”
                “ And I’m Alice Haskin,” Miss Haskin said stepping forward. “You have illegally felled trees to create this road on state land. We are here to protest your actions.”
                “Now Mrs.,” he said with what he thought was a charming smile. “These matters are best decided by the business men. I suggest you let your husbands handle the political matters. You are all far too lovely to trouble yourselves.”
                “Do you see these chestnut trees that your men felled to make this road?” Miss Haskin continued. “You have cut right through a grove, destroying the infrastructure and spreading the blight. You must know that chestnut trees up and down the east coast are being destroyed by this blight. Do you wish a world with no more chestnut trees? Everywhere your men’s axes cut you will spread it more.”
                Doherty stepped forward. “I think we know a bit more about trees than you, little lady. Who do you think you are anyway, come out of the city with your do-gooding?”
                “I’m a researcher at Department of Agriculture studying plant pathogens,” Miss Haskins said coldly. “And I’m including your illegal behavior in our report to Congress.”
Whodunit? You’ll have to wait until March to find out. So who has a serendipitous research story? 

 And sharing a tidbit of good news. My new stand alone WHERE THE SKY BEGINS was #7 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list of ebooks last week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What We're Writing: Hank Takes A Risk

So. I took a risk on THE HOUSE GUEST. Yes, a risk.

I decided, drumroll, that I would try something I have not ever done.

I would try, I challenged myself, to write this story from one point of view, in past tense, in chronological order, with no flashbacks or befores or fancy structure.

Just: tell Alyssa’s story the way Alyssa is living it. We know what she knows and we know it when she knows it. We know what she sees, and hears, exactly when she does. We know what she decides, for better or for worse.

Easy peasy, huh?

No way, Reds and readers! It was the most difficult book I have ever written.

No “earlier” or “before” to create a history. No other points of view to offer information or brand new settings or insight or dramatic irony.

We go where she goes, see what she sees.


So difficult.

Here’s a bit of it. There are no spoilers, and nothing that will alter your reading of the whole book. And by February, you'll have forgotten this, anyway.

In this chapter, Alyssa is coming home from having a solitary drink in a hotel bar. And She’s met a woman called Bree. A woman who is running from something. Here's just a part of it.

Chapter 3

Alyssa fished her house keys out of her jacket pocket as she climbed the three brick steps to her red-lacquered front door. The forsythia flanking Alyssa’s flagstone front walk had gone from bare branches to flowering yellow almost overnight, and blooming crocuses made a ribbon of white along each edge, some blossoming brighter in the sudden glow of the motion-activated security lighting. The front steps, cleanly swept caramel-colored brick, were as pristine as when she had left them. 

One forsythia flower, the one she had carefully positioned on the center of the second step, was still there, as perfectly formed as when she had placed it. No one had stepped on it.

Sometimes, when the lights came on, she imagined that Bill had actually flipped the switch, welcoming her home. She imagined his eyes lighting up, too, when he saw her. Sometimes the loving memories of Bill emerged unbidden, the good Bill, and they threatened to engulf her. She would tamp them down, stomp them, destroy them. She could not allow that.

Those days were gone.

She thought about the woman in the bar. Bree. Whatever else Alyssa had to complain about, it was nothing compared to what Bree Lorrance had described. Hounding bill collectors, a harassing boss, and an abusive boyfriend who used the phone as a weapon.

Her key turned in the front door, and she clicked it open, the lights now on and the alarm clamoring. She tapped in the code. She’d changed it, in case Bill tried to sneak in. It had been his idea, the separation, so now he had to live with it.

He'd signed a legal agreement promising he’d only come to the house if he called in advance. Promises. As if Bill knew the meaning of that word. As if he cared about a piece of paper. As if he cared about an alarm. It was still, technically, his house.

She felt the silence. There were some times of day ––and night, especially night––when the house seemed to have a life of its own. Sixty-five hundred square feet, Bill had proudly told her. And anyone else who would listen. Which was everyone of course, he was Bill Macallen. They even laughed when he said size matters, as if that stupid joke was funny to anyone but a 14-year-old.

Those little things, things she had forgiven him when they were happy, seemed teeth-grittingly annoying now, pompous and even embarrassing. She’d never corrected him, though. She’d seen what happened when someone crossed her husband, a thing that once impressed her and now repulsed her. That was power. Only impressive when it was on your side.

Sixty-five hundred square feet. The living room, the movie room, the extra party room, and what Bill called the reception room, where long tables covered in white damask often served as bars or dinner buffets or arrays of fountains gushing dark chocolate with chefs creating dessert crepes to order, stuffed with fresh raspberry or lemon curd or brandied peaches.

Bill’s office-study, all dark rainbows of immaculately shelved books, with mahogany paneled walls and elaborate furniture. Bill thought it showed strength. Alyssa thought it showed arrogance.

Her glorious kitchen, restaurant-worthy and shiny with stainless steel, then the screened-in porch and redwood deck and, upstairs, an array of bedrooms and bathrooms. The pool in the back, randomly shaped like a shimmering turquoise island. Gardens, a changing cabana, and the guest house in the back. All that, and now it was just her, alone, in this expanse of terrifying excess.

She set her bag on the slim hall table, an act of defiance. Bill never liked her to put it there. Said it ruined the ambience of the entryway.

It was always Bill’s house, though he told her he’d bought it for her. For them. But, she thought now, more accurately, it was for Bill and his possessions. As it had turned out, she was one of them.

The ambience of the entryway. Bill words. So many things in the house were described by Bill words, Including herself.

She’d been Alice until the night they’d met—but he’d whispered she was “more like an Alyssa,” and persisted, even teasingly, intimately, introducing her as Alyssa, and soon she’d felt like Alyssa, too; glamorous, beloved, to the manner born Alyssa. And eventually she’d embraced her Bill words: her names, first and last. No longer Alice Westland. But Bill’s possession, Alyssa Macallen.

She’d loved it, once, as she’d loved him. Until the division. Or again more accurately, the subtraction. Her mother had warned her, in the days before she died. “Be careful,” Mama said as she’d clutched her daughter’s arm. Alyssa could hear it now, an evil queen’s menacing admonition. “If he leaves you, you’ll have nothing again.”

HANK: The House Guest comes out February 7, 2023. With blurbs from Lisa Scottoline and Tamron Hall and Lisa Unger and Wanda Morris–and more!--on the cover.

I am dying of nervousness.

Reds and readers, what do you think about this just-plow-ahead structure?

Monday, August 15, 2022

Accessing the astral plain in What Hallie's Writing


I’m still getting started on a novel with three generations of woman, the eldest of them a psychic. She’s into auras--seeing them and taking pictures of them. Interpreting dreams. She holds meetings in her apartment and channels spirits from the astral plain.

I’ve been trying to make her meetings less cliched (hold the seance-y Bell, Book, and Candle), thinking about original ways that she might channel spirits and access their memories… Which got me thinking about Dumbledore’s pensive (in the last year I’ve read and reread the Harry Potter books, the ultimate comfort reads) and the strands of memory he could pluck from its waters with his wand.

And in my imagination, that wand turned into a long metal tuning fork. Strike the fork and apply its vibrating tines to the side of your head and conjure the consciousness of a dearly departed soul.

Sounded reasonable. Original, even.

But before I started writing I thought I’d better check on just how original this is. Lo and behold, I immediately came across an ad on Amazon for a set of Psychic Tuning Forks, five for $120. (Buy one and get a 20% off coupon for a “Tibetan Singing Bowl” (offered by the OHM store…) you can’t make this stuff up.)

Not only that, turns out when I Google TUNING FORKS CHAKRA, I get more than a million hits. Tuning forks are apparently a big deal in the self-help world. They’re peddled for “balancing body’s energy,” “reducing tension,” and “promoting emotional harmony.”

My idea is not in the least bit original: it turns out people do use tuning forks to communicate with the dead. According to an AMAZON ad, tuning forks can be “set to the brain waves of someone proficient in psychic abilities.” To do this, the ad contains this useful advice: “Always balance the Chakras and the Organs before tuning the Psychic centers, and always close the session with the Kundalini Tuning fork (included) to seal in the frequencies.”

I have no idea what a Chakra or an Organ is, how many Psychic centers there are, or what frequencies they’re talking about. Nor am I interested in finding out. But on I read to the how-to.

Apparently you bong the tuning fork, and while it’s vibrating place it where the base of your skull meets your spine. Then wait as the vibration carries the frequency to the brain. There’s more about how to manipulate the ends to activate the brain waves in the frontal lobes.

How do you know when you’ve done it? The ad provides this sage advice: “You will know when you get there."

The forks in the set each have their own names:
- Third Eye Tuning Fork
- Total Knowing Tuning Fork
- P.S.I. Tuning Fork
- Change Matter Tuning Fork
- Kundalini Tuning Fork

By now I’ve realize I’m realize I’m way out of my depth and I have wasted far too much time researching psychic tuning forks. No matter how good they are for “awakening” one's “third eye,” they are far too complicated and easy to get wrong. I’d hoped I could just make stuff up.

Did you ever think you were making something up, only to discover the thing exists?

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Bolos Levedos - A recipe from Summer Reading

 JENN McKINLAY: My next women's fiction romcom SUMMER READING will be out next June but in preparation for it, I needed to do some cooking because my protagonist is a chef whose specialties are the family dishes she learned from her Azorean Vovo (grandmother).

Because I'm a baker, I went right for the bread--because of course I did--so I'm sharing a recipe for Bolos Levedos (Portuguese sweet muffins - like an English muffin but better). Before we get into that, here are a few things I learned about Portuguese food along the way.

1. The Portuguese are actually credited with inventing tempura. Yes, Portuguese explorers brought batter dipping and frying to Asia. The Portuguese specialty? Peixinhos de Horta - batter fried green beans! Yes, they're mentioned in the book.

2. The Azorean secret ingredient for their savory meat and fish dishes, as well as potatoes is pimenta moida. Also known as pepper sauce, which is ground red peppers (fresno chili peppers), seasoned to taste. Yes, there is a recipe for this in the book, too. 

3. Codfish -- bacalhau -- is a national obsession dating back to the days when Portuguese fisherman would catch cod in the cold water off New Foundland and salt it for the journey home. They have 365 ways to prepare codfish. Yes, also mentioned in the book!

There are many other facts to share but much of it is -- you guessed it -- in the book. In the meantime, here is one of my favorite new things to bake!

(This recipe makes 32)

Bolos Levedos (sweet muffin cakes)


1 package dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

pinch of sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups warm milk

7 1/2 cups flour

1/4 butter, melted


Using a small bowl, add the yeast to the warm water with a pinch of sugar. Set aside. In a standing mixer, blend eggs, sugar, salt, and warm milk. 

Add in flour, rehydrated yeast, and butter until fully incorporated. It is a wet dough and will be sticky. 

Knead the dough for five minutes. Let it proof (rise) until it has doubled in size. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Dust the countertop with flour and knead the dough for another three minutes. After kneading, shape the dough into discs about three inches in diameter. 

Place them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Cover them with a cloth and let them rise for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a large frying pan, brown the bolos over medium-low heat for a few minutes on both sides. 

Transfer back to the baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes.


Do tell, Reds and Readers, what have you ever cooked because you read it in a novel (not a cookbook)?

Saturday, August 13, 2022

What I Learned About Creating a Cookbook by Jenn McKinlay


If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself this over the past few months, I'd be able to solve the national coin shortage.

Check it out! The print ARC just arrived!!! 

No doubt you've seen me post about this endeavor somewhere (probably here) and heard the high pitched freak out in my voice at least a little. 

Now, I'm not new to self-publishing. I got the rights back to some books and actually put one up a million years ago. I also decided to try self-publishing some romcom novellas this year (which has been easy peasy lemon squeezy) but I had never published a non-fiction work in my life, traditionally or otherwise. Despite the title, putting this book together was no fairy tale...except for the people who worked with me to make it one. 

So, here's what I learned, specific to this cookbook.

1. Hire a professional baker/food photographer. I was fortunate that the assistant Christie Conlee who I hired long before the cookbook was okayed by the powers that be (meaning I was allowed to do this on my own) is actually a home baker and has mad photography skills. Thus, she is also the co-author of the book as she baked, tweaked, and then photographed every recipe in the books. Seriously, I call her my magical unicorn and I'm not even kidding. (BTW, this was her response when I asked her to get on Tik Tok - LOL!).

2. Hire a cover artist who "gets" you. I was fortunate enough to have a cover artist for the romcom novellas, Lyndsey, from Llewellen Designs who is a dream to work with and whose cover (as you can see above) matches the vibe of the cupcake bakery mysteries to perfection. She also nailed my brand on the novellas. She's currently working on It Happened One Christmas Eve and I can't wait to see it!

3. Expect it to take a million times longer than you think it will. To get this sucker loaded on IngramSpark (the publisher I chose) I had to learn how to craft a word document that included pictures - LOTS of pictures - and then convert it to a pdf, embed the font (what?), make the trim sizes work for a 6 X 9 pbk book with all of those pictures, do some rewriting, tweaking, cutting, inserting, yada yada yada. Expect delays and rough language, I'm just sayin'!

4. Know when to walk away. Ebook platforms are not friendly for cookbooks (pesky photos) and every one of them is different. I really hope readers choose to go hardcover on this because after almost throwing my computer into our swimming pool over formatting issues, let's just say the hardcover is better :) Doubling back, let me repeat, know when to walk away. LOL.

5. Let go of perfectionism. IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT. Much like those delightful readers let you know when there's a single typo in a 75,000 word book that has been through seven edits by five pairs of eyes, anticipate that there will always be an error in your manuscript somewhere. Accept it. Embrace it. Consider it the WTF wrinkle on the face of your work.

So, how about you, Reds and Readers? What task did you take on that was more daunting than you anticipated? How did it turn out? (Looking for some positivity here - LOL)!

Friday, August 12, 2022

Time of Death by Jenn McKinlay

 Recently, I went through a breakup. It was a standard "it's not you, it's me" situation where I felt that I was becoming someone I didn't want to be and so it was time for me to end it. Before you panic, it's not me and the Hub. He's awesome, we're awesome, we're absolutely enjoying the empty nest chapter of our lives together. 

No the breakup was between me and Twitter. I'd originally joined in 2009 and just had my FB posts repost over there and I literally never ever went on the platform, much like 80% of the population. But then I demolished my FB to make a professional page, and I started to use Twitter and Instagram more regularly. Little did I know how cranky it would make me. Don't get me wrong, there are some spectacularly funny posts on Twitter, which was mostly why I stayed but it's also a real platform of divisiveness and yelling into the void. 

So, I woke up one Saturday, opened up the little bird app, saw all the ranting and raving and performative outrage, and thought Nah.  Then I declared the time of death on my relationship with Twitter and deactivated my account. I didn't plan it. I didn't overthink it. I just tapped out. 

I'd like to say it was like a miracle and I was suddenly more productive and everything was sunshine and buttercups. It wasn't because you can't escape the news. BUT I found my anxiety dropped significantly and the time I normally would have spent doom scrolling, I used to do the projects I'd been putting off like replanting the small forest of draceana I've been growing in front of the arcadia doors (three plants have morphed into eight) and painting the spare bedroom. Yes, technically, I'm still choosing the color but I'm getting there!

Of course, now we have the rise of Snapchat and Tik Tok to contend with and I'm just going to lead, just no! I love my family, friends, and readers, I do, but honestly, I do not want to be connected to everyone 24/7. It's exhausting!

I genuinely believe that there are two commodities that the world will suck right out of you if you let it--your privacy and your time--and I am determined to "reclaim my time" and maintain my privacy because, really, why would I just give it away in a toxic space that does nothing for me except give me the occasional laugh? 

How about you, Reds and Readers, what social media platforms have you had to break up with? How do you manage your time on social media? What do you think the future of all this connectivity is?

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Lessons from My Dog by Liz Milliron

JENN: Thrilled to celebrate one of our own in the Jungle Red Community! Congratulations, Liz, on the release of your latest mystery Lie Down with Dogs!

LIZAs always thanks to all the Reds for hosting me. I hope I don’t wear out my welcome. With two book releases a year, I feel like no sooner have I done a guest post, I’m beginning for another spot.


By now, you’ve seen Koda, my retired-racer greyhound. We adopted him in March of 2019 (trivia: Koda was the little bear in the “Brother Bear” movie and I think means “friend” in some Native American dialects). I think I’ve mentioned before, but this was the dog of my heart as I’d been wanting one for years. And make no mistake, Koda is my dog. He loves everyone in the house, but I am the alpha of the pack in his eyes.


Koda was three when we adopted him. We had to teach him a few lessons, of course. Like how to go up and down stairs. And that a house is just a bigger version of a crate, not somewhere to potty. And not to chew the furniture (or the power cord to your Roku).


But along the way, I’ve learned more than a few lessons from him, as well. (And if you think this post is just a shameless reason to share pictures of my pooch, well, I plead the fifth.)


Lesson 1: Get outside


Writing is a terribly sedentary pursuit. We sit at desks, on couches, in offices, at car dealerships, at coffee houses. Koda reminds me that you have to get up and move. Get out and catch some rays. Set a timer, use a FitBit, whatever works.


Lesson 2: Keep your friends close


Friends are essential. They celebrate with you, commiserate, provide advice, and sometimes are just there. Make sure you have a few in your life.



Lesson 3: But don’t be afraid to meet new people


Friends are great, but you need to expand your social circle, too. Networking is, well, maybe not everything in this business, but it’s a lot. I’ve met a lot of people at conferences by simply saying, “Hi! How’s it going?”. Now that we are emerging from our pandemic shells, it’s time to brush off those people-meeting skills (yes, I know most of us writers are introverts, but we manage). You’ll need friends in your corner when you start querying/submitting/publishing/promoting/etc.


Lesson 4: Eat well


You’d think this would be an easy one to remember, but I’ve been so deep in the zone that lunch completely passes me by. Not until I have an upset stomach and a pounding headache do I remember, “Oh yeah, food.” Koda never misses a meal.



Lesson 5: Get plenty of rest


It’s tempting to power through until the wee hours, especially at a conference when all the action is happening that night, after the sessions, in the bar. But whether you need rest to be your most sparkling self at a conference, or you just need to refresh yourself after a long day of writing, don’t skimp on the z’s.



Lesson 6: Don’t forget to have fun!


Writing is work. Sometimes it’s hard work. All that plotting and coming up with names and marketing and promotion and editing and submitting and deadlines. Whew! But it should also be fun. So never lose sight of that and make sure your hard work doesn’t eclipse your sense of fun!



Dog owners, any lessons I missed?




Trooper Jim Duncan’s first day with the Criminal Investigation Division starts off with a bang when he is called to a murder scene with a badly decomposed body. After he finds an abused greyhound in the victim’s garage, the simple homicide becomes more complicated. Why would anyone want an unreliable racetrack employee dead, especially when greyhound racing is illegal in Pennsylvania?


Assistant public defender Sally Castle is facing her own career change. When she accepts a position with an old law school friend, her first case seems to be one that is exactly what she wants to do. Then she learns the greyhound adoption group her client may have embezzled from has ties to the shooting victim. What else is her client hiding?


Jim and Sally work their respective investigations, which may or may not be related. Along the way, they learn important lessons about themselves, those they work with, and the people they protect. But can they complete their tasks without falling prey to a killer?


Author Bio:


Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo, NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and The Historical Novel Society and is the current vice-President of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Liz splits her time between homes in Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, were she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

No Dogs Were Harmed in Midnight on the Marne by Sarah Adlahka

 JENN McKINLAY: Today I am delighted to host Sarah Adlahka, who shares with us the challenges of writing about a gruesome time in history (WWI) without being too horrific. Quite the impossibility, right? Well, Sarah has some thoughts...welcome, Sarah! 

And, Readers, just look at the cover of this novel -- gorgeous!

SARAH: I believe it was during round 2 of revisions for my historical fiction novel Midnight on the Marne that my editor gave me this advice:


“Think about your audience as women browsing the shelves at Target in search of their next book club pick.”


She had already convinced me to cut the detailed interrogation scenes where the protagonist Marcelle is being questioned (tortured) by a German general about her espionage, and she was trying to get me to see that, while the mystery-meat a starving French family would have been eating for Christmas in 1918 might very well have been dog, readers in 2022 – dog lovers in particular – would not be so keen to pick up a book where Fido was the main course. Now to be fair, they weren’t eating their own dog. I do have my limitations.


But how do you write a book about WWI without highlighting the horrors of war? And how do you highlight the horrors of war without getting into the gritty and gruesome details?


Write the story you want to write.

Stay true to yourself.

Paint an authentic picture.


As authors, we hear advice like this all the time. Whether from well-meaning friends who are just trying to encourage us or from critique partners who know how difficult it is to be in the writing trenches. And it makes sense, right? If we’re going to invest years of our lives into a book, shouldn’t it be authentic? Shouldn’t an historical fiction novel reflect the truest details of history, the bygone eras we spend months, maybe even years, researching?


I want to say yes.


I want to be among the die-hards who believe that you really must stay true to your subject matter – down to the grittiest details – to make your words sing. And maybe you do. But making your words sing is not necessarily the same thing as making your words sell. And since we’re in the business of selling words – or books – it just might be a good idea to listen to your editor. They are, after all, just trying to sell your book, and selling books is a tricky business.


Like most things in life, success as an author is linked to the shifting tides of public opinion. It’s linked to trends. And trends change. Opinions change. What’s popular, or even acceptable, in print and television changes from one decade to the next, maybe even from one year to the next, and this was a difficult lesson for me to learn.


I wanted my scenes to be authentic. I wanted my readers to feel the sharp edges of a broken chair, to hear the cries of men over a battlefield, to see the color of war as the sun came up over the horizon. And while it felt like my artistic freedom was being taken away, like I was being asked to paint a rosy sheen over the gruesome reality of war, what I eventually learned was that I was being given a gift. I was not being asked to eliminate those realities; I was being tasked with conveying those horrors through the repercussions they would have on my characters.


The effects of an interrogation – the restless sleep, the hypervigilance around men, the inability to trust – are more significant to the development of a character than the actual event itself. So, while the German general’s interrogation of Marcelle might have been what changed her, it was the consequences of that interrogation that really brought life to her character, that guided her to react the way she did throughout the rest of the story. I didn’t need to show the interrogation for it to have an impact.


And that was the challenge.


As authors we’re constantly being told show don’t tell. Show me that war is dreadful. Show me that battles are brutal. Show me that starvation is ugly. But perhaps we take it too far sometimes. Perhaps we don’t need to see a woman being beaten to understand the repercussions of trauma; perhaps we don’t need to see the carnage of a battlefield to understand the foundation of PTSD; and perhaps we don’t need to see a family eating a dog to understand the desperation of starvation.


It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but a valuable one no doubt, and you can be sure that if you’re browsing through the Target bookshelves and happen upon Midnight on the Marne, you won’t find any dogs being harmed on its pages.

JENN: What do you think, Reds and Readers? How much grisly fact is too much? 

Book Summary:

Set during the heroism and heartbreak of World War I, and in an occupied France in an alternative timeline, Sarah Adlakha’s Midnight on the Marne explores the responsibilities love lays on us and the rippling impact of our choices.

France, 1918. Nurse Marcelle Marchand has important secrets to keep. Her role as a spy has made her both feared and revered, but it has also put her in extreme danger from the approaching German army.

American soldier George Mountcastle feels an instant connection to the young nurse. But in times of war, love must wait. Soon, George and his best friend Philip are fighting for their lives during the Second Battle of the Marne, where George prevents Philip from a daring act that might have won the battle at the cost of his own life.

On the run from a victorious Germany, George and Marcelle begin a new life with Philip and Marcelle’s twin sister, Rosalie, in a brutally occupied France. Together, this self-made family navigates oppression, near starvation, and unfathomable loss, finding love and joy in unexpected moments.

Years pass, and tragedy strikes, sending George on a course that could change the past and rewrite history. Playing with time is a tricky thing. If he chooses to alter history, he will surely change his own future―and perhaps not for the better.

Sarah Adlakha is a native of Chicago who now lives along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with her husband, three daughters, two horses, and one dog. She started writing fiction shortly after retiring from her psychiatry practice. Her debut novel, She Wouldn’t Change a Thing, was a CNN most anticipated book of 2021. Midnight on the Marne is her second novel.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Launch Day: Lucy Burdette's A Dish to Die For!!!

JENN McKINLAY: Waiting for the latest release in a series you love is both grueling (WHEN WILL IT COME OUT?) and thrilling (IT'S HERE! IT'S FINALLY HERE!). Being a long time fan of our Lucy's Key West Food Critic Mystery series is one such rollercoaster ride for me and guess what? IT'S HERE!!! TODAY IS THE DAY!!!


Now I have the dreaded decision to make. Do I devour the book the day it comes out or read it in small bites? Or should I wait, saving it for a day where I need a pick me up? Maybe I need to read the entire series again before I start the latest book so that it's all fresh in my mind? What to do...decisions...decisions.

Graphic by Christie Conlee

But back to the book! Here's a description to tantalize you:

National bestselling author Lucy Burdette returns to Key West for another delectable dish of secrets, intrigue, and murder.

Peace and quiet are hard to find in bustling Key West, so Hayley Snow, food critic for 
Key Zest magazine, is taking the afternoon off for a tranquil lunch with a friend outside of town. As they are enjoying the wild beach and the lunch, she realizes that her husband Nathan’s dog, Ziggy, has disappeared. She follows his barking, to find him furiously digging at a shallow grave with a man’s body in it. Davis Jager, a local birdwatcher, identifies him as GG Garcia, a rabble-rousing Key West local and developer. Garcia was famous for over-development on the fragile Keys, womanizing, and refusing to follow city rules—so it’s no wonder he had a few enemies.
When Davis is attacked in the parking lot of a local restaurant after talking to Hayley and her dear friend, the octogenarian Miss Gloria, Hayley is slowly but surely drawn into the case. Hayley’s mother, Janet, has been hired to cater GG’s memorial service reception at the local Woman’s Club, using recipes from their vintage Key West cookbook—and Hayley and Miss Gloria sign on to work with her, hoping to cook up some clues by observing the mourners.
But the real clues appear when Hayley begins to study the old cookbook, as whispers of old secrets come to life, dragging the past into the present—with murderous results.

Doesn't this mystery sound delicious? This is the 12th book in a series that just keeps getting better and better. 

What's being said: “Key West food critic Hayley Snow proves once again that she understands crime as well as cuisine . . . A complex tale of murder and deceit.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Culinary cozy fans are in for a treat.”
Publishers Weekly

Now tell us, Readers, what do you do when the latest in a favorite series is released? Read it that day? Wait and save it? Read it in small bites to make it last? Or devour it?

Monday, August 8, 2022

International Cat Day by Jenn McKinlay

JENN McKINLAY: Apparently, August 8th is the International Day of the Cat. This seems only fitting then that this is my week to host the blog since this has truly been the summer of the cat. 

It started so innocently...

This guy who we call Shackleton because much like the polar explorer, he is brave but dumb (I don't really know if Ernest Shackleton was dumb so much as he was overly optimistic about his outcomes) and the name certainly fits this little fellow who is afraid of nothing...nothing! This video is our first meeting when he was three weeks old and just trotted right up to me and demanded my attention.

Shack Attack!!!

He got it! Once I saw his fam - a very young Mama and FOUR kittens - I felt like I needed to help her out - it takes a village, after all - and so I began feeding them twice per day in our side yard where she'd decided to hunker down, bringing toys, etc. You know, typical Auntie stuff.

Then it became apparent that we were going to need to step up and find them homes because street cat life is hard and we wanted more for them than that. I started feeding them in a cat carrier and one day (when they were about 10 weeks old) they all piled in to eat and I just shut the door. Mama watched me and (I swear) she gave me the slowest blink ever. I like to think it was her way of saying, "I trust you." I told her she was a great mom and promised that her kittens would have happy loving homes.

Since Hooligan 2 had moved out to go to college, we had his vacant bedroom and it became the kitten room. One of the kittens, who resembles a beige tiger, did not come out from under the bed for two weeks. I was certain we'd have to neuter him and release him back into the wild. Yeah, no...

Shh, don't wake the baby!

Named El Tigre because he was all teeth and claws, he has become the biggest Mama's boy in the house. Seriously, I am shocked.

One of the four rescues was adopted. See? I'm not totally hopeless! We called him Danny (short for Danger! because every time he saw me when he was tiny, he'd puff up and scamper away as if shouting "Danger!") His new mom dotes on him and sends us pictures and videos. His new name is Max :)

And then there is Wynona. Small but mighty. She keeps up with her bigger brothers and is the fiercest hunter of the three - look out crickets! She was almost adopted but the cat in the house she was to go to was not having it. I was secretly relieved. I mean just look at that face!

She's modeling a post surgery sock-onesie,
which I learned from mystery writer Tammy Kaehler,
who also rescues and fosters kittens if you need a cute FB follow.

Sometimes the universe just knows what you need. It's been tough around here entering empty nest land. While I did push the Hooligans out of the nest, I've missed the yelling, wrestling, farting (okay, not that one so much) that was daily life with young men. Now I have these three scamps, who make us laugh every day. The Trips (short for triplets) have blended into our home seamlessly - all of our other pets are equally amused by them - so obviously we're a monster foster fail and the remaining three are staying.

Hub is a spectacular cat daddy!

Presently, we have two dogs, one fish, and six cats in the house. How many felines makes you an official cat lady? Does it have to be in the double digits? Or do I just need to always be covered in cat hair and constantly showing everyone I meet pictures of my cats? 

All right, Reds, who else is a cat lover in the group? How many do you have (or have had)? If you’re not a cat lover, what is your pet of choice and no pets is a perfectly acceptable answer, in fact, I envy your sanity. Also, if anyone wants a cat, I can help you out! Just sayin’.

LUCY BURDETTE: Raising hand here, I am a cat lady. I don’t think you have to go higher than six, Jenn, lol. The highest number I had was nine and it was too many! They began to turn on each other. But one at a time, I love cats! You’ve already met my T-bone, most handsome cat ever!

HALLIE EPHRON: Raising both hands here. I don’t have any but I adore cats. Jerry and I had a pair of stinkers when we lived in NY. Black and white cats that we got when they were tiny abandoned kittens and then had to give away when my cat allergy put me in the hospital. 

Three Little Kittens Lost Their Mittens - Jerry Touger

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Oh, yes, love them. SO much. They are endlessly hilarious, and so smart, such good role models for self-care. :-) When I was a kid, and living essentially in the most rural of places, we had…the gorgeous all-white Rosemary, and Rosemary's babies, named F. Scott and Zelda. At the same time, a feral cat called Picnic,and my darling Mrs. Purdy, who had kittens in my closet on the first day of school. But as a family of maybe 5 people at the time, that’s kinda only one each. So I figure  you can do cat math and allocation. And as an adult, I’ve only had two at once, and I hesitated at that for the very reason you mention. But then, stray Leon, (who I found when I was out jogging and was about to go to the shelter to prevent me from being a cat lady), was so ridiculously adorable that I could not resist. Even though my Lola did not acknowledge his existence for the 14 years they shared an apartment.

Jonathan and Lola, clearly a creature from another planet. Lola I mean. Circa 1995.

(Oh and I just saw this on Twitter:  “Here's a common scam that is going around that you should know about: Sometimes cats will meow at you like they haven't been fed, but in fact someone DID feed them and they're just trying to get fed again.”)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jenn, I've been following your kittens with absolute delight. And, yes, I am a cat lover. Dogs, too, but I can't imagine life without cats. They are endlessly amusing, and anyone who thinks cats aren't affectionate must never have owned (or been owned BY) one. We are now a two-tabby household, as we lost our little tuxedo guy to kidney disease just recently. Yasu is the Tail-less One–she was found badly injured as a kitten and her tail had to be amputated, after which she came to live with us. Lucy was a neighborhood cat who adopted us, and we are the most doting cat humans ever. I think we have an invisible sign on our door that says "Suckers here!" 



RHYS BOWEN:  We only had one cat. He was a big orange male who adopted us when we had to live in a rented house after moving back to CA from Texas. Absolutely adorable. He walked the kids to school in the mornings, would come running beside my car when I turned into our street and wanted to be in on all our activities including sitting on the board or in the box when we played board games. He was the most lovable and loving animal ever and I still miss him.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, yeah. We never had cats when I was growing up, and the few dogs wound up going to other good homes because when you suddenly get posted to another country, what else do you do? (Dogs and military life can be hard to mix.) But when I got married, it was to Ross and his cat, Big Mac, who was at our wedding! Since then, we've had a one or two cat household. Mac was followed by Georgie, who bit everyone and then ran away within a few months, followed by Anastasia, then Juno (who we thought had scabs and missing hair from a hard life on the street, but who turned out instead to have allergies requiring expensive shots and pricey allergen-free food.)


Our senior-most pet is Neko, Anastasia's sister, who is a sleek and healthy twelve. Her special role in the house is to lay next to me on my desk while I'm writing, interrupt me for skritches, and shed enough hair so I have to get my laptop professionally cleaned periodically. 


How about you, Readers? Cat lover or no? Tell us about your felines!