Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ann Mah's Jacqueline in Paris

LUCY BURDETTE: You may or may not remember that I'm a huge fan of Ann Mah's books. I've read them more than once--Mastering the Art of French Eating, Kitchen Chinese, and my favorite, The Lost Vintage. You can imagine how excited I am that her newest, Jacqueline in Paris, is out today! She could not be here to celebrate with us, but her friend Lisa Brackmann is visiting to introduce the new book. Welcome Lisa!

LISA BRACKMANN: Dear Reds and Readers, thank you so much for this opportunity to introduce you to my friend Ann Mah’s new novel, Jacqueline in Paris, the story of Jacqueline Bouvier’s junior year abroad, before the world knew her as Jackie Kennedy. 

Jacqueline Bouvier arrived in France in September 1949, to a country still recovered from the devastation of World War 2, a time of deprivation and ration tickets and coming to grips with dangerous post-war politics. The year that followed Jackie would later say she loved most of any year of her life—and Paris itself would become one of her greatest influences. What she learned about Parisian politics and her remarkable fluency in French language and culture would serve her well as First Lady, in more ways than one. 

The novel’s genesis was a 2019 travel piece that Ann wrote for the New York Times (that’s a gift link so you can read it), retracing the First Lady’s footsteps in the City of Light, of her time spent in places like the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse. After the piece was published, Ann’s agent asked her to write a pitch for a novel based on this premise. She did, and the book sold almost immediately. 

While selling on a pitch and selling that quickly is not an everyday occurrence for your average working author, it’s not surprising to me that a publisher would want this book from Ann Mah, because Jackie Kennedy in post-war Paris? Who doesn’t want to read that? And I can’t think of a better person to write it than Ann. If you are unfamiliar with Ann’s work—well, I’m here to rectify that, because you will want to get to know it. 

Ann Mah has published five books, both fiction and non-fiction. She’s a travel and food writer whose work has appeared in everything from the Washington Post to Bon Appétit. Several of her books deal specifically with France: her novel, The Lost Vintage (a historical with a mystery at its heart, highly recommended!) and not one but two works about French cuisine, Mastering the Art of French Eating (a memoir about food, life and love), and Instantly French! (how to make classic French cuisine in your Instant Pot). And she lives in Paris and knows the city intimately: the perfect guide to Jacqueline’s time in the City of Light. 

Jackie Kennedy’s life was one filled with superlatives: impossibly dramatic, glamorous, tragic, history-making. But the Jacqueline Bouvier in Ann’s novel is a young woman on a journey of discovery that I think many of us can relate to. She was raised to be demure, to please others, to hide her wit and intellect. Paris allowed her a way to be. Away from her problematic parents and in an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded by people who did not know who she was supposed to be, she could discover who she really was, who she wanted to become. She could explore love on her own terms and experience pleasure, intimacy and heartbreak. Jacqueline learned about the complexities of global politics, challenged herself intellectually and even edited a novel for the first time, and she made life-long friends. Ann Mah shows us how Bouvier’s year in Paris was foundational to the American icon that she would become—and best of all provides a believable and sympathetic portrait of the person behind that mask of celebrity. 

REDS AND READERS: Did you ever find yourself navigating an unfamiliar environment at a pivotal time in your life? How did it change you? How did it help you change? 

ANN MAH is an American food and travel writer and the bestselling author of the novels Jacqueline in Paris, The Lost Vintage and other books. A frequent contributor to the New York Times Travel section, she lives in Paris and Washington, DC.

Lisa Brackmann is the NYT best-selling author of the Ellie McEnroe trilogy (Rock Paper Tiger, Hour of the Rat, Dragon Day), and suspense novels Getaway, Go-Between and Black Swan Rising.

KIRKUS, starred review: "A delightful and surprisingly insightful novel follows the junior year abroad of Jacqueline Bouvier, a few years before she became Jackie Kennedy… Mah, who clearly loves Paris and all the details of French living, affectionately and precisely captures life in the post–World War II city, with many deprivations but a spirit of hope. Her Jacqueline—bright, observant, and a little naïve—is an engaging and believable character, and it's easy to imagine how her experiences during this year shaped her future life…Staying within the consciousness of Jacqueline as she is at this point, Mah smoothly walks the line between biography and fiction. Fans of the former first lady and Paris should be beguiled.”

BOOKLIST: “Mah’s exemplary mix of literary and journalistic skills pays off in this extensively researched novel about the woman who became America’s most iconic and enigmatic first lady."

“In Jacqueline in Paris, Ann Mah brilliantly imagines what life was like in 1949 for a college student named Jacqueline Bouvier as she embarked on her junior year abroad. The alluring descriptions of postwar Paris (the food, the scenery) will make you want to hop on a plane, and the compelling storyline, set amid the rise of the Communist movement in France, is made even more thrilling by the fact that we know where this particular woman is headed.” ~Real Simple 

Buy link for Jacqueline in Paris

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Trouble with Characters

Mykhailo Dorokhov

: In addition to crime fiction, I enjoy smart women’s fiction. I bought a book recently from an author I like and started it eagerly. A chapter or two in, I was not enjoying the protagonist. She seemed pathetic in her life, with a recently deceased estranged mother, a dreadful boyfriend who had dumped her long after she should have cut him loose, and a work addiction. I persevered and the book got better. I realized that the way the character started out was an important beginning and launched an arc that allowed her to grow progressively open to love, and understanding of herself and others. But there must be a balance, because if a character is too unlikeable, who wants to read more?

I also realized that my own character Hayley Snow started out on the pathetic side. I’ve heard from a few reviewers and readers that they did not particularly like her at first, because she seemed self-absorbed and uncaring about dear friends. Over the course of 13 books, she’s improved, as my mother-in-law used to say about difficult grandchildren! And like the women’s fiction heroine, I think she needed to start low in order to have a place to grow. So that’s my question for the day, have you run into this in the books you’re writing, and definitely the books you’re reading? Is it a necessary part of a character's growth to start low? Are there books you’ve set aside completely because of this?

HALLIE EPHRON: One of the things I learned early on was to give my character room to grow. Either for things to get worse or better. If you start in the depths of despair you cut off your options. Constant pain makes a reader numb. And yes, I’ve put aside a book because I didn’t like the main character or found them annoying (too many tics, too snarky, not even a teeny bit nice…) But I love a character who’s snarky in interesting, revealing ways. It’s tricky.

RHYS BOWEN:  I have to like the character from the beginning. He or she doesn’t have to be perfect but I need to be rooting for them. I can’t tolerate whiny, self-absorbed characters!  But I do appreciate growth throughout a series. I think Molly Murphy has learned to control impulse behavior a little and Lady Georgie has definitely grown up a lot as the series has progressed.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I have to be interested in the main character from the beginning. What are they wanting, what are they doing to get it, what are the stakes? And it’s a different juggle in a series versus a standalone, because in a series–well, maybe you have a little more time. But re-thinking, no.  No matter what, you have to grab the reader.

So– I don’t mind snarky, if they have a goal. (Whiny victims are not my favorite–unless they see their problem, and work to change it.). A person with a plan, that’s what I love. No matter what it is. I think there has to be hope. And determination. And maybe a realization of foibles. Or an intrigue with the plan. Gah. Yeah.  I just have to be interested in them. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I agree with Hank - I’ll keep reading with “interesting.” I remember diving into Laura Lippman’s AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD and being struck how her protagonist - a suburban madam with a LOT of sharp edges - became compelling through a combination of making it interesting (who doesn’t want to know how a high-end call girl operation works?) and by carefully revealing the character’s rough back story, which transformed her often unlikeable shell into armor against a world that had been cruel to her.

Another thing that will keep me reading when the character is a sad sack? Humor. The great example of this is Bridget Jones, who is completely down on herself and kind of hopeless - but who leaves you laughing on every page. I’ll stick around to see if you can do anything with your miserable life if you tickle my funny bone.

JENN McKINLAY: It’s all so subjective. I’ve had friends recommend books, assuring me that I would love the characters so much. I start to read and discover I loathe the characters and then I have to re-evaluate my friendship with that person. Like Julia, humor will win me over with a difficult character but it’s not necessary. I recently read Lessons in Chemistry (my fave book of 2022 thus far) and the main character was interesting and engaging but not particularly funny or charming. I have discovered that I am not a fan of the angry character. The jilted woman/man who spends the length of the story in a fury over how she/he was mistreated. Hard pass. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Characters don't necessarily have to be "nice." But I do have to like something about them, or to find their situation interesting enough that I want to like them. Humor will pull me in, and I do like to see an opportunity for growth. But not too whiny, or I won't have the patience to stick with them.  As Jenn says, it's all so subjective. I loved Eleanor Oliphant, for instance, who was certainly not likable, but there was something relatable that pulled me in.

How about you reading Reds, what's your take on lovable vs non-starter characters?

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Hats!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: On Friday night, I finally finished watching the Queen's funeral. It was a busy week, but I had recorded the entire ten hour program on PBS, so I sneaked in bits as I could. The final service in St. George's Chapel was very moving, but I have to admit I was distracted by the hats!

I am a hat girl! I adore hats, and it really irks me that Americans aren't into millinery. I love visiting hat shops when I'm in the UK, and would be seriously tempted to carry hats home on the plane if I had any occasion to wear them.

So it was that I noticed the many fabulous hats worn by the women both at Westminster Abbey and St. George's Chapel. (Here's a nice piece from the Guardian.) But I kept wondering if there had been a huge run on hat shops. Did everyone have a suitable black hat on standby? Did milliners and dress shops and department stores keep back an appropriate selection? Who got first dibs?

And it seems that this was indeed an issue, with even the Queen's granddaughter Princess Beatrice forced to leave shops empty-handed. Dignitaries flying in for the services and assuming they could pick up a hat last minute in London must have had a panic! 

There were the broad-brimmed, the pillboxes, the feathered, the be-ribboned, the fascinators, the rakish. And the veils! 

REDs and readers, did you have a favorite? And what style would you choose to wear if you had the occasion?

P.S. I haven't forgotten that our Jenn has a new Hat Shop Mystery coming in January! I'd love to know what Scarlett and Viv thought of the finery on display!

JENN: Well, since you asked. I expect Viv and Scarlett would no doubt be thrilled by the last minute crush in business, despite being distraught over the death of the queen (Viv is a monarchist, you know, and not just because it's good for business). And given that upscale milliners can get a 600 pounds for a hat - it's not a bad industry to be in, if you're British.

P.S.S. Karen in Ohio, you are the winner of Michael Stanley's A DEADLY COVENANT! Email me your address!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

It's Time For a What We're Reading Check-in!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's been awhile since we've checked in on our favorite things–books!--and I have a surfeit of riches to share! Here's just a glimpse.

I started the month with Robert Galbraith's (aka JK Rowling) massive (1000 pages!) new Cormoran Strike novel, THE INK BLACK HEART. I love this series, and have them all in hardcover, but because of the length I bought it on Kindle. This did not turn out to be the best idea–as you can see, I ended up buying the hardcover, too. Sections of the book consist of two or three simultaneous online chats, and it was hard to follow in the digital format. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the book and once I had the hardcover I went back and worked my way through parts of the plot again, just to make sure I'd followed it all.

Then I dived into the new Ann Cleeves Vera novel, THE RISING TIDE, which I'd ordered from the UK, and it was as good as you would expect. I won't say anymore because, spoilers. Now I've started the new Richard Osman, THE BULLET THAT MISSED, which I'd been looking forward to for ages.

Waiting for me I have Laurie King's BACK TO THE GARDEN, Blair Fell's THE SIGN FOR HOME, an ARC of Francine Mathew's new Merry Folger Nantucket mystery, DEATH ON A WINTER STROLL, Ruby Tandoh's essays, EAT UP (fans of The Great British Baker will remember her as a finalist a few years ago,) and an ARC of Margaret Mizushima's new Timber Creek mystery, STANDING DEAD.

And as soon as I get to London, I'm buying the new Elly Griffiths Harbinder Kaur novel, BLEEDING HEART YARD, and Alan Rickman's diaries, MADLY, DEEPLY. I adored Rickman so this read will be bittersweet.

Now all I need is more time to read! What's on your have read/coming up list, fellow REDs?

LUCY BURDETTE: I just finished THE LAST DRESS FROM PARIS by Jade Beer. If you love reading about high fashion and Paris and a thwarted love story, this is for you! I also loved the new Ann Cleeves. I was looking at it this morning and thinking how sad I was that I’d have to wait another year for the next one! Very much enjoyed Kent Krueger’s newest Cork O’Connor book. Ditto on having to wait! And I am super excited about Ann Mah’s new book coming out Tuesday, JACQUELINE IN PARIS. You’ll hear more about that one next week…

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I adored BACK TO THE GARDEN! Not to be missed! And STANDING DEAD  is on the way. But you all,  I have also been absolutely blown away by three other books, too,  books recently. I mean, they are intimidatingly good. One is  MORE THAN YOU’LL EVER N-KNOW  by Katie Gutierrez. And WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME by Gillian McAllister. And ALL THAT IS MINE I CARRY WITH ME by William Landay. Reds and readers, these are the books of the year.  Truly. Life-changing, writing-changing –and explosively, rule-breakingly great. 

HALLIE EPHRON: I’m in the middle of BONES UNDER THE ICE, a debut novel from Mary Ann Miller, with a rookie female sheriff in Indiana.

And slowly reading THE LAST CONFESSIONS OF SYLVIA P. by Lee Kravetz. I met Lee when I was at Book Passage’s mystery writing conference - he’s one of their local writers and the book is a knockout–a “literary mystery.” The eponymous “Sylvia P.” is of course poet Sylvia Plath. So far the story is set at the McLean psychiatric hospital where she spent a lot of time as a patient, and which was the setting for my “Dr. Peter Zak” series mystery novels.

JENN McKINLAY: LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus is my fave book of 2022…so far. I even mentioned this book in our upcoming convo about characters. I also recently read NOSY PARKER by Lesley Crew and adored it - a coming of age story set in the late sixties Montreal. Wickedly funny. And I am currently reading an ARC of  Annabel Monaghan’s SAME TIME NEXT SUMMER and absolutely loving it!


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I wish I could show you a stack of books, but I'm at a conference and everything I brought with me to read is virtual - and also not yet out! I'm loving SONS AND BROTHERS by Kim Hays, the next Linder and Donatelli mystery set in Bern, Switzerland. (Kim has been a guest here, so you may recognize her name.) Next up: UNDER A VEILED MOON, the second in Karen Odden's new Inspector Corravan series, set in 1870s London. It's not out until October, but you can read the first in the series, DOWN A DARK RIVER, right now. 


About to check out from the library: LUCY BY THE SEA, by Maine's own Elizabeth Strout. I'm not even sure what it's about; I read her based on her reputation alone. I've never been disappointed in one of her books.

DEBS: I've been really looking forward to the Ann Mah book, too, and I'm so intrigued by all the other suggestions. So interesting where we overlap and where we don't, and I love that these suggestions push me in new directions!

READERS, what's standing out for you at the moment? And what are you especially looking forward to?

Friday, September 23, 2022

Tips for the Travel Panicked

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  I think I am now the only one out of the Jungle Reds that has not traveled since the beginning of the pandemic. I did take a little two day jaunt to the antique show in Central Texas last March, but I'm talking about serious travel, on an AIRPLANE, and for more than a couple of days!

But in two and a half weeks I am flying off to London for a three week stay, and I am panicked! I thought I'd be prepared so far in advance, wardrobe organized, new shoes broken in, phone replaced, research planned, but–


Life and work intervened. I don't even remember what my luggage looks like, and those shoes I bought back in August are still in the box…

My daughter is coming with me for most of the first week, and she at least has made us some restaurant bookings. She is a super-organized person! And she bought me an absolutely gorgeous cashmere wrap to wear on the plane!!

But over what? I really don't think American will let me wear my pajamas...

I have bought this absolutely yummy coat and scarf (no one will be hitting me in the zebra crossing!)

And I picked up one little travel tip from David Lebovitz's newsletter: If you can't tolerate smelly laundry detergents (that's me) pack eco-friendly unscented laundry sheets. I don't know why I never thought of that, as I have a terrible time finding unscented detergent in London, and having to buy a big jug for a few loads of laundry is a pain, too.

Dear World Adventurer REDs, I need help. What are your tips for getting back in the travel game?

LUCY BURDETTE: L O L on the pajamas, Debs!! I don’t think the airlines care, it’s a matter of whether you do. I have a pair of habitat yoga/sweatpants that I always wear for overnight travel. 

The only other thing I can say is do wear your mask in the airport. I know 80% of the other travelers won’t have them on but it’s no fun to be sick out of town! I also kept mine on the plane except when eating or drinking. And my new theory is forget about the dinner, I’d rather get a little bit more sleep than some marginal airline food. It will be such fun to have your daughter with you for a week!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I just flew from Portland (ME) to Tampa via JFK on Wednesday, for the Novelist’s Inc. conference, and I’ll echo Lucy - I put my mask on before hitting the airport and didn’t take it off until I was out of the Uber in Florida. Travelers were dressed SO slovenly that the few who wore fitted stretchy pants and a top that wasn’t a T-shirt or hoodie (with locations and brand names on them, of course) looked like they should have been featured in Women’s Wear Daily. 

One thing I noticed from a lack of travel in the past 2 ½ years: my toiletries kit, which I always kept topped up and ready for me to simply grab and go, had been seriously depleted. Some items were well past the sell-by date (sorry, 3 oz sunscreen from 2019) and some I had raided when I didn’t have a chance to shop for replacements (Q-tips, floss, nail polish remover pads.) Check what you have and stock up on the travel sizes!

JENN McKINLAY: I have flown so much during the pandemic, truly, it’s been ridiculous (family in crisis, what can you do?). So, I don’t have much advice except… be advised that the airports are insanely crowded now (I actually liked flying during the pandemic more because the airports were ghost towns), the cost of everything seems to have quadrupled, and wear a mask, wear a mask, wear a mask. Everyone I know who hasn’t worn a mask while at the airport or flying has gotten Covid…just sayin’. 

HANK PHILLIPPPI RYAN:  Yup, mask mask mask. I went to Nashville, because when I agreed to be GOH at Killer Nashville two years ago, Covid was certainly going to be over, right? NO ONE in the airport  had on masks, or on  the plane, hardly, and I stolidly kept mine on, sneaking pretzels underneath. I felt like I was the crazy one, but I was NOT.

At the convention, again, I was one of the tiny few in masks. And one woman actually sneered at me about it!  I did not care, I kept it on except for speeches and very fast photo shoots. I did NOT get Covid on that trip.


And oh, yes, my pre-stocked travel kit, I realized, had items that were three years old, and my tube of toothpaste was rock hard. And my deodorant had turned from gel to gloppy water. 

A shawl/pashmina/wrap is essential. ESSENTIAL. 

I  praise the universe and am grateful, DAILY for Pre-Check and Global Entry and Mosaic.

And Debs, seriously, if you wore pajamas, you would be BETTER dressed than most. It was all I could do not to gawp and threaten to call their mothers.

RHYS BOWEN:  On the flight to London I did not mask for the first time since 2019. We were in Upper Class on Virgin , in my own little pod, and the only person anywhere near me was John. But I did wear my mask on the train and a bus. Nobody else did. London and Paris are clearly post pandemic but a man on my riverboat tested positive the first day!

As for travel kits: agree with the pashmina. Planes are always freezing. And I have to admit I had completely forgotten what items I usually travel with!  But it was fun buying new travel size toothpastes etc. One new thing for me: I’m trying a shampoo bar. Easier to carry. It seems really nice and lathers easily.

DEBS: Hank, I am laughing! I promise I will be presentable! My big question is what to do with the crazy wool coat, as I don't want to wear it on the plane and it will take up half my suitcase. And what am I thinking, taking a wool coat to London instead of my perfectly good Land's End all weather coat...

How about it, well-traveled readers? How did you get your groove back?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Terry Shames--Number 9 That Should Have Been Number 10

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am a huge fan of Terry Shames's books featuring Jarrett Creek Chief of Police Samuel Craddock. Jarrett Creek may be fictional, but I love Central Texas and I have my very firm idea of exactly what Jarrett Creek is like. And I have been missing it, so I was thrilled when I learned there was a new book on the way. 

Isn't the cover gorgeous? But I'd have been holding my breath if I'd known the journey this book had taken! Here's Terry to explain: 

Number 9 that should have been number 10

On October 4, the ninth book in my Samuel Craddock series, Murder at the Jubilee Rally, launches into the world. It was great fun to write and it’s getting terrific reviews. Set at the Jubilee Motorcycle Rally, held out at the lake at Jarrett Creek, the book is based on a real motorcycle rally that happens every other year in the town that Jarrett Creek is based on. Because of Covid they didn’t have the rally, so I had to rely on videos from past events, and some first-hand accounts from people who have attended them. The videos! Let me tell you, I’m no prude, but some of the videos of real-time attendees stunned me. When you read descriptions in Murder at the Jubilee Rally, understand that I toned down some of those scenes.

“Jubilee Rally” should have been book 10. What happened? Covid happened. Or at least that’s what I’m blaming. In 2020 I wrote a Samuel Craddock book that turned out to be horrible. I mean truly. It was not only dark, but sleazy and distasteful. But there was more. I had intended to make this a book about a motorcycle rally. At some point in writing it, the rally disappeared and nasty people took over.

When I finished it, I disliked it, but turned it over to my writer’s group just in case I was wrong. They also disliked it. Then I sent it to my agent and she said the equivalent of, “What the hell is this?”

Now this is not the first time I’ve written a bad novel. There are all those “practice” novels that never saw the light of day. But I really liked them and thought were publishing-worthy if I just did some good editing. BUT. Recently I went back to purge my files and read the old books. In almost every one, my response was, “What was I thinking?” But every, single one of them had more to recommend it than my car crash of a book. It was with the greatest pleasure that I dumped it and started over.

Thinking back, I wondered why Covid caused this? Like most people I was feeling dark and unsettled the entire year of 2020. I didn’t mind staying inside. I had a great house with lots of room to spread out. We had a student living with us who was ultra-careful not to bring Covid into the house and was fun to be around. We had our two spirited dogs. And I had friends who were also careful, so we formed a “pod” of people who could come into my backyard and have a meal—at a distance. I cooked wonderful things, I indulged myself with jigsaw puzzles, my husband and I laughed. I Zoomed and hopped around on social media. Not so bad really. It’s not as if I haven’t had other dark times in my life that I was able to write through.

But this was different. The idea of being forced to stay inside ate at me. No travel. No hugs. Worse, there was always that itchy feeling in the air that you didn’t know whether the virus was lurking outside to nail you. Pouring that angst into the book I was working on, the characters became bitter and angry and ugly.

How is this different from writing noir or violent thrillers? After all, these characters can be ugly and angry and bitter. But there’s always some kind of “romance” at the heart of these novels. Sometimes it’s love interests, but it can also be the romance of interesting settings, passionate characters, people on a mission. The characters in my bad book were just behaving badly. Period.

When I jettisoned the book, I felt nothing but relief. I started over and this time the book flowed. I don’t mind saying I was biting my nails, worried that I’d lost it for good. But I got back on the hawg and this time the ride was smooth.

One character climbed out of the original mess and sneaked into the new book. In fact, she charmed me. Her name is Hailey. She’s the daughter of Samuel’s nephew, Tom. At the age of sixteen, she is suddenly sure that she knows exactly what her life should be—and it includes a bad boyfriend, no college, and defying every adult in her life. Her parents send her off to Samuel to take a break from her, hoping that Samuel can manage her. He almost can’t!

I loved creating Hailey and I hope you enjoy reading her as much as I enjoyed writing her.

All of which makes me wonder. Was I the only writer who found herself producing awful work during Covid? Work that not only didn’t satisfy, but that made you feel like you’d dredged up some mean part of your subconscious you didn’t know existed? Did others find themselves lost in the weeds? I’d love to hear about it!

Not everyone is thrilled that the yearly Jubilee Motorcycle Rally is coming to Jarrett Creek, Texas. Some locals want to ban it. But the merchants who’ve parlayed a good deal of money from the event are happy to put up with a little aggravation. A nasty war of words breaks out between Lily Deverell, who's spearheading the campaign to shut down the rally, and Amber Johnson, a store owner whose husband was badly injured while riding with his motorcycle club, leaving her to support their family by herself. Chief of Police Samuel Craddock brokers a deal leaving no truly satisfied.

When one of the warring women is found dead on the rally grounds, Craddock and his deputy, Maria Trevino, investigate even though the case is theoretically the job of the overburdened Department of Public Safety.

Complicating matters, Craddock offers to have his nephew’s teenage daughter, Hailey, visit to see if he can straighten out her recent bad behavior. Sam has his hands full with Hailey, who alternates between acting like the sweet girl he remembers. Eventually, she takes an interest in the murder investigation and a keen observation she makes helps Craddock solve the crime.

"A neat character-intensive combo of clever police work and family angst." Kirkus

And Library Journal gave Jubilee Rally a starred review and made it one of their October picks of the month!

DEBS: Can I just say, YIKES. I know all the writers out there are cringing along with me. Throwing out a book!! Nightmare of nightmares! But obviously it was the right thing to do, and very brave, I think.

Who else has had to start a book--or a big project-- over from scratch?

Terry Shames writes the award-winning, critically acclaimed Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. The books have been finalists for numerous awards, including The Strand Critics Award, The Lefty Award, and the Macavity Award. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake won the RT Reviews Critics Award for Best Contemporary Mystery of 2016.

Regarding the latest in the series, MURDER AT THE JUBILEE RALLY, Publishers Weekly called it an entertaining read, with "vivid secondary characters and well drawn small-town setting."

Raised in Texas and a University of Texas alum, Terry has lived in California for many years, now in Los Angeles. She is a member of t Sisters in Crime, and on the board of Mystery Writers of America.

Visit her at www.terryshames.com to see photos and to find out about upcoming events.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Who Read to You?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Back in August, I happened across this piece in my local newspaper, the Dallas Morning News, by the author Christopher de Vinck. (Hopefully the DMS will allow one article behind the paywall!) It was a celebration of the life of New Jersey journalist, and later educator, Jim Trelease.

In 1982, a year before my daughter was born, Jim published a little book called THE READ ALOUD HANDBOOK. While working for the Springfield Daily News, Jim volunteered to visit local classrooms to talk to students about journalism and art. Jim noticed that the children who read for pleasure came from classrooms where teachers read aloud daily. When he began to research, he discovered that children who were read aloud to also had bigger vocabularies and did better academically. 

Sharing the benefits of reading aloud became Jim's life mission. THE READ ALOUD HANDBOOK spent 17 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. It is now in its 8th edition, with an updated treasury of book recommendations. (Ordering a copy for my daughter now!)

If I hadn't already been motivated to read to my daughter, this book would have convinced me! And of course children who are read to read to their own children, as my daughter has to my granddaughter.

It's odd but I don't remember either of my parents reading to me. But my grandmother, who lived with us and had been a teacher, did, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with my having been an early reader and developing a lifelong love of books. 

The defining memory of my grade school years was my sixth grade teacher reading A WRINKLE IN TIME aloud to us. I could not wait for the end of the day and that day's chapter!

Now, I put myself to sleep every night listening to audio books, and I'm not the only one!

Michael Buble falls asleep to Matthew McConaughey every night! There is something so enormously comforting about being read to, and I think we process stories and language in a different way. We shouldn't give up being read to just because we're grown up. (And, of course we have Hank and Hannah to read to us twice weekly with their fabulous First Chapter Fun!) 

My fictional characters carry on the tradition, as you can see in this little snippet from A KILLING OF INNOCENTS:

After supper, Kincaid had overseen baths while Gemma did the washing up. Then he’d read a chapter of The Wind in the Willows to Charlotte and Toby. His mother had recently sent him the copy he and Juliet had read as children, with its original Ernest Shepard illustrations.

Kit, who was supposed to be studying, had come in quietly, removing his earbuds as he folded himself into a seat on the floor just inside Charlotte’s doorway.

“Mum read it to me,” Kit said afterwards, when the younger children were tucked up in their beds and just he and Kincaid stood in the hallway between the bedrooms. “I remember thinking that it had been written just for me, that it was my river, and that if I just looked hard enough I’d see Rat or Mole or Toad.”

REDs and readers, who read to you? Did it spark your love of reading? Do you have memories of particular books? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Michael Stanley--We Love Our Research

DEBORAH CROMBIE: And now for something completely different! Where else can you go from stately pageantry in England to the African bush from one day to the next? And learn fascinating things you never dreamed you needed to know? 

Our guest today, Michael Stanley, reminds me what a wide window on the world books provide us. I may have been an Anglophile from an early age, but growing up I was also enthralled by Africa, and particularly by the Bushmen, because I'd had the good fortune to learn about both through books. I was thrilled to meet these fascinating people again in A DEADLY COVENANT!

We Love our Research

Michael Stanley

Most writers we know enjoy the research for their books nearly as much as they do the writing. That is certainly true for us – after all, we’re both retired academics. When we decided to set our Detective Kubu books in Botswana, we knew little about the details of the country, even though both of us had visited it. So we hit the books.

Of particular interest were the Bushman cultures. We both had a great admiration for the Bushmen and an extreme distaste for how they'd been treated. (For example, less than a hundred years ago, one could buy a license to hunt them.) Partly for that reason, partly because they are a significant group in Botswana, and partly because their culture is so different from almost anything in the West, we’ve given them a major role in a number of our books, including A Deadly Covenant, the mystery we’ve just released. In fact, the backstory of our third mystery, Death of the Mantis, is all about Bushman culture and an effort to ensure it doesn’t disappear. That book was short-listed for an Edgar.

Our research uncovered many intriguing aspects of Bushman life – far too many to include here. However, since the Jungle Red Writers are often pre-occupied with killing people, or at least thinking about killing people, we thought we’d discuss one poison that a number of Bushman groups have used in their hunting. It is so lethal that it is the Bushman equivalent of the nuclear deterrent policy. That idea is if the major powers all have arsenals of nuclear weapons, none will start a war because it would guarantee mutual destruction. Similarly, for the Bushmen, the fact that different groups had this poison prevented them from fighting each other. Since there is no known antidote, mutual destruction would be assured.

The poison is used for hunting, and the main reason for having such a powerful poison is that Bushman bows are quite rudimentary and do not have the power to kill a large animal outright. Instead, the Bushmen have discovered several remarkable poisons that they use on their arrows. The animal then runs off, and the hunter has to run after it until the poison has enough effect to drop it. This can be hours or even days in the case of an eland, for example, which is a huge antelope that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Even though the poison can bring down a large animal, the meat is safe to eat.

The most intriguing of the poisons is the one from Diamphidia nigroornata beetles, which lay their eggs on the branches of the Commiphora trees in the frankincense and myrrh family.

They then cover the eggs with their own faeces, creating a hard shell when dry. Eventually the larvae shed their protection and burrow up to a metre into the sand next to the tree, where they make a cocoon from sand. It may take several years before they molt into pupae.

The Bushmen dig up the larvae and pupae and gently squeeze and combine the liquids in a container. When they are ready to hunt, they apply the poison, not to the tip of the arrow in case they nick themselves, but rather to the base of the arrowhead.

Several things about this astonished us. First, how did the Bushmen eons ago discover the larvae buried so deep in the sand? Second, how did they figure out that the liquids inside the larvae were toxic if they got into the bloodstream, but safe if ingested? Finally, one can only wonder how many Bushmen died before they figured all this out.

The design of the arrows is also clever. Because the shot animal often runs through scrub and bush, and because resources in the Kalahari are few and far between, the arrows that Bushmen use have two parts: the head with the poison and the shaft. When an animal is hit and starts running, the main shaft falls off and is reusable. The part with the poison remains fixed in the animal and is retrieved when the animal collapses. Surprisingly, the arrows don't have flights, which means that the hunter has to get very close to his prey before shooting. One theory we read about is that the legendary clicks of the Bushman languages evolved as a form of communication that wouldn’t spook animals. .

Our new Detective Kubu mystery, A Deadly Covenant, is set near Tsodilo Hills, which the Bushmen regard as the birthplace of humankind. While digging a trench for a new water project, a backhoe operator unearths the skeleton of a long dead Bushman. Kubu and Scottish pathologist, Ian MacGregor, are sent to sort out the formalities, but the situation rapidly gets out of hand. MacGregor discovers eight more skeletons—a massacre of Bushmen including women and children. However, the locals deny any knowledge of the event.

When an elder of the village is murdered at his home, the local police believe it was the result of a robbery gone wrong. Kubu thinks otherwise. So does an elderly woman who believes it was the work of Mami Wata, a powerful river spirit. When she dies in an apparent crocodile attack, suspicions rise.

Things become still more complicated when a mysterious Bushman appears at the massacre site, collapses, then disappears again, but seems connected to the murders in some way.

Kubu’s boss, Assistant Superintendent Mabaku, joins them as accusations of corruption are levelled at the water project, and international anger builds over the massacre of the Bushman families. But they have no idea how the recent murders link to the dead Bushmen. As they investigate, they uncover a deadly covenant made many years before by an unknown group, and they begin to fear that their own lives may be in danger.

Once again, Bushmen play a key role in a Detective Kubu mystery!

DEBS: I want to know how the Bushmen discovered that you had to mix the two liquids together!

Michael Stanley is actually the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, and if you're curious about their academic pasts, and how they ended up writing about Botswana, here's more--

Both are retired professors who have worked in academia and business. Sears is a mathematician, specializing in geological remote sensing. Trollip is an educational psychologist, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a pilot. They were both born in South Africa.

They have been on a number of flying safaris to Botswana and Zimbabwe, where it was always exciting to buzz a dirt airstrip to shoo the elephants off. They have had many adventures on these trips including tracking lions at night, fighting bush fires on the Savuti plains in northern Botswana, being charged by an elephant, and having their plane’s door pop open over the Kalahari, scattering navigation maps over the desert. These trips have fed their love both for the bush, and for Botswana.

It was on one of these trips that the idea surfaced for a novel set in Botswana.

Here's Michael.

And Stan!

I was so sorry to have missed them at Bouchercon!

Stan and Michael will be dropping in to chat and answer your questions, and will give away a copy of A DEADLY COVENANT to one lucky commenter!