Friday, February 3, 2023

What We're Writing--Debs is Blogging

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's What We're Writing Week and I have been blogging, here, there, and everywhere, because it's almost time for the launch of A KILLING OF INNOCENTS next Tuesday, February 7th (Hank and I share a book birthday, yay!) 

I am so excited! This my first book launch in three years and four months (yes, I know you are all counting!) And today I'm on way to Phoenix for my first live book event, ditto. On Saturday at 2 p.m. MST I'll be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale chatting with our very own Rhys Bowen. (You can join us on the Pen's Facebook page or YouTube channel, and you can order signed books!)

Next week I'll be in Houston on February 9th at Murder by the Book, chatting with my pal Celeste Connolly (a.k.a. S.C. Perkins.) You can order signed copies from MBTB as well.

For Dallas/Fort Worth area readers, I'll be doing a panel at the Dallas Literary Festival March 4th and books will be available. More information soon here

February 27th I'll be in Key West for the Friends of the Key West Library Speaker Series, chatting with the lovely Barb Ross, and I'll get to see Roberta AND Hallie! You can bet much fun will be had. 

For a special Jungle Red preview today, I thought I'd share just a smidgen of illustrator Laura Maestro's wonderful map. I think every map Laura creates is more fun than the last and she's outdone herself with A Killing of Innocents. Just look at the Staffordshire dogs! And Toby, rehearsing in his mouse head for the Nutcracker, and the adorable border terrier, Wallace. And Sid, of course.

And one more treat--here's a link to an audio sample of Gerard Doyle narrating the book. I got goosebumps just hearing the first few seconds.

I hope to see some of you in person or online! Readers and reviewers and my dear Jungle Reds have been so supportive of this book and so patient with me. I appreciate it more than I can say, and I hope to see some of you in person or online. 

Dear readers, are you getting out for live events again, or taking advantage or the virtual ones? Or both?

P.S. The only bad thing about all of this is that I'm missing my darling granddaughter Wren's 7th birthday today! How did time go so fast??

On a rainy November evening, trainee doctor Sasha Johnson hurries through the evening crowd in London's historic Russell Square. Out of the darkness, someone jostles her as they brush past. A moment later, Sasha stumbles, then collapses. When Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Doug Cullen, are called to the scene, they discover that she's been stabbed.

Kincaid immediately calls in his detective wife, Gemma James, who has recently been assigned to a task force on knife crimes which are on the rise. Along with her partner, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma aids the investigation. But Sasha Johnson doesn’t fit the profile of the task force’s typical knife crime victim. Single, successful, career-driven, she has no history of abusive relationships or any connection to gangs. Sasha had her secrets, though, and some of them lead the detectives uncomfortably close to home.

As the team unravels the victim's tangled connections, another murder raises the stakes. Kincaid, Gemma, and their colleagues must put even friendships on the line to find the killer stalking the dark streets of Bloomsbury. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

What We're Writing @LucyBurdette

 LUCY BURDETTE: In spite of the fact that I’m way behind in my schedule for Key West mystery #14, I've spent much of this last month in New Haven rather than Key West--in my mind, that is! The editorial comments on THE INGREDIENTS OF HAPPINESS arrived in my inbox during Christmas week. This book falls into the category of contemporary or women's fiction, and it takes place in New Haven with a little side trip to Madison CT. I've been lucky in my writing life to land amazing editors who help make my books stronger, and this time was no exception. Lots of changes were made to strengthen the character and the story. Soon I'll be able to show you the cover, and provide a pre-order link… But meanwhile, here’s the opening introducing psychologist and so-called happiness expert, Dr. Cooper Hunziker:

Chapter One

Things my mother taught me, part one: chocolate cake makes everything better. 

This thought floated through my mind as I paused, willpower wobbling, preparing to run the gauntlet of glassed-in cakes that greeted each coffee shop visitor as soon as the door closed behind her. Carrot cake, sponge cake, coconut cake, poppyseed pound cake, peach shortcake, chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting: not a single one was on my no-white flour, low-carb, low-sugar, low-fat, I’m-in-control-of-my-life diet. 

Except I wasn’t in control, and every cell and synapse in my body recognized that. “Could I get a small-ish piece of the chocolate cake?” I asked the girl behind the counter.

She shrugged and grinned, the piercings around her lips and nose bristling. “Sorry. We’ve already cut it into slices. What if you bought a piece, ate half, and threw the rest out? Or wrapped it up for tomorrow?”

“As if that would ever happen,” I said with a chuckle. “Might as well give me the whole thing. I’ll do my best.”

I paid for the massive hunk of cake and a full-fat latte and carried the soul-soothing loot to a small wooden table near the far door. From here I could watch out the big window and try to picture whether New Haven would ever feel like home. Yale students and worker bees streamed along Chapel Street, headed toward their morning destinations—some chattering and laughing, some expressionless, absorbed in whatever played through their headphones. How many of them were happy? How much did that matter?

My attention caught on a couple sitting at the next table over. I had taken them for lovebirds, with their heads bent toward each other, whispering sweet nothings, sharing a slab of coconut cake. His voice rumbled and I made out the words: “try again, a different therapist, the puppy.” 

Then her hissed voice grew louder. “I don’t want the puppy. I never wanted the damn dog in the first place,” she said. 

She dabbed the tines of her fork over the crumbs on the plate, though most of their cake was intact. She brought the fork halfway to her mouth, but then let it drop to the table. (I would have licked that implement clean.) After wiping her hands on a napkin, she grabbed her purse strap and slung it over her shoulder as she stood. She lowered the volume of her voice a notch.

“You don’t seem to understand, I can’t do that. I need space, lots of it. Right now I feel like I can’t breathe.” She pressed her palm to her neck and then clacked out of the shop on tall heels, model-thin and businesslike, leaving her husband (I assumed) sitting alone.

Awkward as it felt, we were left facing each other and I couldn’t avoid meeting his gaze. His cheeks bloomed pink and he flashed an embarrassed smile. In spite of the sweater and the glasses and the tiny overlap of his front teeth, once he smiled, I could see he was cute. The kind of cute that could make your gut flip a little once you’d noticed.

“That went well,” he said, and crooked another little smile. “Sorry to subject you to my marital dirty laundry. She’ll come around, eventually. Don’t you think? From a cake-loving woman’s perspective, I mean.”

I glanced down at my plate, which was in fact empty. This was the problem with getting distracted and not eating each bite mindfully—I’d powered through the whole slice. As for his wife coming around, I didn’t think so. 

“I don’t know her, so it would be hard to say,” I offered, trying for something noncommittal and diplomatic.

“But supposing,” he said, his face so hopeful, “you were giving your very best advice to a lovesick friend.”

How could I flat-out lie? 

“Things my mother taught me, part two,” I said. “Don’t count on someone else to make you happy because chances are, you’ll end up alone anyway. Except for the dog. You’ve definitely got the dog and that counts for something, right?” 

Instantly I wished I’d gone with my first instinct and not said anything other than sorry. This was none of my business and now I’d made him feel worse. “I’m so sorry, that was a dumb thing to say. I blurt when I’m nervous.”

But he’d started to laugh. “Your mother sounds like a wise woman.” He stood up to leave. He was taller than I would have expected, solid and muscular like an athlete. “Now I’m curious about part one. Have a good day.” He smiled again, gathered their dishes for recycling, and disappeared out the side door. 

I drained the last bit of foam clinging to the bottom of the mug, placed it and my empty plate in the rubber bin marked for dirty dishes, feeling a little sad and definitely regretful. The poor man must have felt bad enough without me clanging him on the head with the bald truth as though I was wielding a cast-iron skillet. How humiliating to be dumped in public. 

So that's coming in July! 

In addition, A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS, #13 in the Key West food critic mystery series, has a gorgeous cover and is now available for preorder. 

If you are a Netgalley reviewer, A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS is available there

(I got a big kick out of this review: I have loved this series since it first came out. But this book is the best yet. It had me completely absorbed into the story and I read it in one setting. Then I got mad at myself because I finished it so quickly.)

Final news: The first seven Key West mysteries will be available as audiobooks soon, in case you or someone you know prefers listening over reading. AN APPETITE FOR MURDER will be out on February 7, and DEATH IN FOUR COURSES on February 21.

Phew! What I need right now is to jumpstart the real writing and skip over the distractions of all the above... Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

What We Are Writing by Rhys Bowen

 RHYS BOWEN: Writing is usually a solitary business. We sit at our computers and think and muse and eventually we write. When it's a linear story that normally goes well. Our sleuth finds a body, he or she does some detecting and at the end of the book he solves it. Simple, right?

However in recent years I have set myself rather more of a challenge. I have written several books in more than one time period. I have jumped back and forward between times, telling several characters' stories. The story in the past has to be just as real and compelling as the one in the present. And they have to mirror each other, if possible, and tie in neatly together.

So I've just started my next stand-alone novel. It's going to be set in WWII (are we surprised) and in 1968. The story is about a missing child, taken from a public garden in 1968 and perhaps linked to several small girls who vanished during the chaos of WWII. And my protagonist is somehow linked to both stories. I can't say more about that because I want the reading to be full of AHA moments.

But at the center of the story is one of the abandoned villages on the coast of England. When the D Day invasion was planned sites were needed for troops to practice invasion drills. And so people were turned out of their homes at short notice so that the army could practice landings and the shelling of targets. The village of Tyneham in Dorset was evacuated for that purpose. The inhabitants were promised they could return after the war but that never happened. 

So I have modeled my village on Tyneham. It can now be visited by the public on weekends. Here is how the book opens (at the moment. I may move chapters around)

There had been no advance warning, apart from an army vehicle that had appeared one blustery afternoon three weeks earlier. This in itself was strange as there was no proper road to the village, only a lane that got rather muddy after rain. And it didn’t go anywhere, apart from down to the tiny harbour where there were currently no fishing boats, the war having made fishing too dangerous in these waters. The jeep had driven down the one street, past the church, the schoolhouse, the pub and the row of cottages, to where the village ended in the overgrown track, steps down to the harbor and the English Channel beyond. An officer, wearing a smart peaked army cap, had got out, looked around, and was heard by Mary Dobson, getting in her washing before it rained , to say,” It will have to do. Luckily there’s nothing of historic value here.”

 She never bothered to pass along this statement or the inhabitants might have been better prepared when the post office van came sloshing through puddles to deposit the post at the village post office cum village shop..
     Mrs. Jenkins, the post mistress/shop owner had looked at the pile of letters bearing no stamp. “More rubbish from the government,” she had said to Fred Hammond, the driver. “I wonder what it will be this time?”
     “Probably cutting our sugar ration again,” he said. “Or the meat ration. But I bet that don’t affect you so much out here with your chickens and pigs.” 
     “We do all right, I suppose,” she said, “Although the rats keep getting at our eggs, bloody nuisances.”          “He don’t have to worry too much, do he?” The post office driver nodded up the street. “Him at the big house. Don’t he still have cows?”
     “No, they’re long gone,” she said. “Government took them. Now he don’t have that much more than we do. A couple of pigs and chickens. But a fine lot of fruit and veggies and I must say he’s good enough to share with us.”
     “Well, he should, seeing as you’re his tenants, right? You pay him every month to live here, don’t you?” 
     “We do, I suppose.” Mrs Jenkins smoothed down her apron. “Now I better get that lazy bones Ned to take these around.” 
 It turned out that the letters were not about the sugar ration. Instead they said: To the inhabitants of Tydeham. This is to inform you that His Majesty’s armed forces have need of your village to further the war effort. It has been requisitioned for invasion drills, starting October 8th, 1943. You have two weeks to remove your belongings and vacate the village.

So that's how the book starts. But there are several main characters whose lives intersect and several intervowen plots. I'm not sure why I always set myself this type of book but it's what I enjoy reading. But trying to come up with motive and back story for so many characters is challenging. This is a good reason to have daughters, folks. Yesterday Clare and I went to for a walk and talked through one important aspect of plot. And came up with the absolutely perfect, apt solution for one story line. Yeah. Although it won't come up for many pages it was blocking the flow of creativity, knowing I'd need to know something in the future. And now I do. Thank you, Clare. I'm so happy to have a brilliant fellow writer now.  Our next book together comes out on March 14.  ALL THAT IS HIDDEN. And we just got a fabulous Kirkus review that said "Bowen and Broyles never disappoint."  (We're thinking of having buttons made with that saying!)

So, dear readers, do you like books that feature multiple story lines and take you between time periods?

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What Hank's Writing? During Pre-Launch Jitters, an introduction

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: ​​I'm so excited, I just can’t hide it (yes, I am singing) because next week at this time,THE HOUSE GUEST will be in bookstores, and on shelves, and online, and, I deeply profoundly hope, in your hot little hands. So far, so good. It’s an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Mystery Thriller and Suspense, and was (so far) up to number 7 (yes, 7!) in new releases of psychological suspense. (It actually went to 6, but hey. This photo is handy.)

It got a starred review from Library Journal, which called it “binge-worthy!" And Publishers Weekly raved “Ryan is a master of suspense.” So that's very very very wonderful.

It does not, however, take away one bit of nerves. It really doesn't.

So in What We're Writing week, let me introduce you to the main character of THE HOUSE GUEST, Alyssa Macallen. Alyssa is reeling and baffled because her husband of eight years, to whom she thought she was happily married, has walked out. Without explanation, and without answering any questions about it. Just... gone. Why?

Even more, she's fearful that Bill, the powerful affluent and quite manipulative Bill, is scheming to ruin her. Why? She has no idea.

Though she is living alone in their gorgeous house right now, she knows Bill has been coming inside when she's not home. He has control of the alarm system, so she leaves her own special traps throughout. A flower on the front step. A vase in a certain place. And a few other things. (And you'll have to read more about that.)

One night, after a solitary miserable drink in a neighborhood hotel bar, Alyssa meets someone who seems even sadder than she does. And Alyssa decides that instead of wallowing in her own grief, she'll offer help to someone else. And here's a little bit of that.


She’d tried to help people too, starting in law school, but Bill had persuaded her to leave. Not really persuaded, she corrected herself, she’d swooned with wanting him. Being Bill’s wife, she’d soon learned, was a job in itself. No bar exam, but in this privileged world there were other tests, constant and sometimes intimidatingly puzzling tests. Tests of manners and money, of actions and clothing and hierarchy. Still, she hadn’t missed law school, or her friends from back then, not for a second. Not for eight years at least.

Then, a few months ago, Bill had grown—complicated. Moody. Seemed to become more high-strung, wielding his power. Criticizing her, snappish and belittling. Accusing her of being forgetful, pouncing on her mistakes. Closing his study door. She’d written it off as business, something in Bill-money-world.

She’d tried to be patient. But she couldn’t resist. She’d looked them up, the symptoms. How to know if your husband is cheating. Embarrassed but obsessed, she’d taken the quizzes in Marie Claire and Psychology Today. Moody, yes. Dismissive, yes. Changed, yes. Demeaning, vague, volatile. Yes yes yes.

On a scale of one to ten, does he seem to be trying to bait you? Does he go out of his way to taunt you? Scare you? Ten, she checked the box. Ten.

At least Bill never hit her. Never physically harmed her. Not like Bree.


She trudged upstairs, thinking of the woman in the bar. Alyssa knew unhappiness when she saw it. After tonight’s conversation, tentative steps on emotional thin ice, Bree let Alyssa pay for her wine, thanked her politely, then said goodbye. Alyssa had written her own phone number on a napkin, and slid it across the zinc bar to Bree. “Call me if you need anything. Really.” Alyssa had hesitated, fearing it might seem too forward. Too aggressive. Too intrusive.

But men did that without a second thought.

Bree had accepted the napkin, tucking it into a pocket, but had not offered her own number in return. And with a wave, she’d walked away, leaving Alyssa alone again.

Now Alyssa washed her face, drew on a big soft t-shirt. Sliding under the covers, she put her phone on the white bedside table, and plugged it in to charge.

She promised herself she’d stop being paranoid, stop wishing for secret messages, start facing reality. She closed her eyes, resolute. She thought of Bree, alone in that not-quite-seedy hotel, equally apprehensive and ambivalent. Why were women always the ones who were harmed?

The sounds of the night surrounded her, the sounds of her solitude, and her anxiety. Had someone moved the tulips? No one had stepped on the front-steps flower, so how could they– --Bill--have gotten in?

A million ways, her mind rebuked her. Instead of sheep, she counted fears, individual nameless fears. She was afraid to go to sleep—what if she’d missed something? What if someone was inside? What was Bill trying to do? But if she stayed awake, there was danger in every sound. Sixty-five hundred square feet, and a guest house. And every square foot was paved with uncertainty.


Talk about every step paved with uncertainty—welcome to pre-launch week! But this sets up a few things: not only Alyssa’s situation, but women helping women, female empowerment maybe in the works, a double standard for men and women. 

 THE HOUSE GUEST has been called Gaslight meets Thelma & Louise meets Strangers on a Train.

Reds and readers, what would you predict that means? (And cross your fingers for me! I cannot do it without you, wonderful ones!)

Monday, January 30, 2023

What we're writing: Hallie on characters and their back stories

The winner of the clear puzzle from yesterday's post is Riley!!! Email Jenn and jennmck at yahoo dot com and she'll mail your prize! Congrats!

HALLIE EPHRON: Something I learned early on (from feedback to a rejected manuscript) was the importance of the main character’s back story. I’m fond of quoting the editor who offered this sage advice:
“I need to care about what happened to the character before the book started and what’s going to happen after the book ends.”

Of course this comes on top of apparently conflicting advice from writing instructors: DO NOT load the front of the novel with back story. Or as I tell my students, "avoid the back story dump.”

To reconcile the two caveats, I’m constantly thinking about my character’s back story… even when I’m not revealing it to the reader. It's the key to understanding why a character reacts in surprising ways -- past experiences cast a potent shadow

In a novel it often works best to wait until the reader is invested enough in the characters to care about their past. Then to reveal that back story gradually and strategically.

I'm struggling with that now.

A character I’m writing is based on a real person. She was a writer (call her Suzanne) whose husband died of cancer shortly before she gave birth to their second child (a daughter, call her Thea).

Soon after Thea’s birth, Suzanne was at home and a friend dropped by. Suzanne invited her in and offered her some tea and cookies. Suzanne seemed fine until the friend asked if she could take a peek at the baby.

Suzanne gave her a blank look. What baby?

Fortunately, the friend heard baby Thea crying. It turned out she was one the floor in the attic, swaddled in a blanket. Who knew how long she’d been there.

Somehow, Suzanne’s friend got help for Suzaqnne and baby Thea. 

By the time I knew Thea, she was in high school. Living with her mother and older brother and her grandparents. I don’t know how she knew about that early abandonment, but she did. I can only imagine how it must have hovered over her relationship with her mother.

So the story I have in mind has a fictional Thea as the main character. 

Though I was never abandoned, her experience speaks to me because I had a complicated relationship with my mother. My mother never physically tucked me in the attic and tried to forget about me, but still I can relate to the scars that would leave. It's something I'm interested in exploring through my writing.

I think that as fiction writers, we often work our own past traumas and experiences into the back stories of our characters. Even my villains have parts of me, experiences that echo my own, that shape who they are. Experiences that (I hope) make them believable.

Isn’t that the essence of, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW?

Today’s question: When you read a novel, do you sometimes wonder what experiences the author may have had that fed the development of a character?

And in case anyone is looking for more (hopefully not contradictory) advice for their own writing… I’ll be teaching a week-long, 2-hour morning class in Key West: HOW TO CREATE A COMPELLING PROTAGONIST. REGISTER, class size is limited. C’mon down!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Happy National Puzzle Day!

Jenn McKinlay: Hello, Puzzlers! It's National Puzzle Day! 

No, I didn't know there was such a thing either but here we are. I love puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles. When my brother and I built them as kids, we both hide one piece so we could be the last one to put the final piece of the puzzle in. So, yes, days could pass before the last two pieces were finally put in place and it was usually on a count of one, two, three... 
And, yes, like any good mother, I taught the Hooligans to always hide a piece as well so the stand off continues. 

I haven't had much time to do jigsaw puzzles of late, but I did achieve a record over the summer when I put together a particularly difficult butterfly puzzle in two hours when it had taken everyone else days. I'm not positive but I think it came so easily because I was a bit tipsy on Nova Scotia wine. Drunken clarity and all that 😁

Did you know jigsaw puzzles were invented by a cartographer? The Los Angeles Public Library shares this: 
John Spilsbury, a London cartographer, and engraver is believed to have produced the first "jigsaw" puzzle around 1760. It was a map glued to a flat piece of wood and then cut into pieces following the lines of the countries. These early puzzles were known as "dissections," and they were beneficial for teaching geography. But they were not just for children; they were a trendy pastime among the (wealthy) adults as well. Made of wood and handcrafted, only the very wealthy could afford them.
For more on the history, click HERE.

And here's another fun fact, the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world is according to the Guinness Book of World Records is this enormous lotus flower with six petals symbolizing the six areas of knowledge envisaged by the Mindmap study method: human beings, geography, history, culture, education and economy.

The puzzle, which was put together at the Phu Tho Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on September 24, 2011 was made up of 551,232 pieces and was completed with an overall measurement of 14.85 x 23.20 m (48 ft 8.64 in x 76 ft 1.38 in). It took 1600 students 17 hours to complete the puzzle. 


So, how about you, Reds and Readers, are you a puzzler? Leave a comment and one lucky reader will win this nifty crystal clear puzzle courtesy of the Jungle Red Writers! (And, no, I did not hide a piece, I swear). Winner announced on tomorrow's blog post!!! Stay tuned!

Bwa ha ha ha!!! It's a stumper!

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Back to the Gym by Jenn McKinlay

First the winners of the giveaway from Barbara Ross and Edith Maxwell are Celia and Judi!!! Yay!!

Please send an email to to claim your prizes!!!

Jenn McKinlay: Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not like structured exercise. In fact, I hate it. Running on a treadmill, lifting weights, using the sweaty machines...bleck!  I'd rather stand in line at the DMV. In fact, I wrote about my first attempts at more traditional exercise five years ago on Jungle Reds: Fit Happens!

Not much has changed...or has it? I remember when my sister-in-law asked me many years ago if I wanted to go run on the beach during our family vacation in California. I said, "Only if a scary clown is chasing me with a very big knife." 

Now, if she'd asked if I wanted to go boogie boarding, I'd have knocked her down to get out the door to the beach. Same if someone suggested a bike ride or a pickup game of basketball. I love to PLAY. I do not love to workout. Notice "work" in that word. It's off putting, no?

In a karmic twist of you get what you deserve, I apparently birthed a health nut (Hooligan 2) who has been on my butt about working out in a more structured way (the gym) because of what he perceives as my health issues (also known as middle-age). My sciatica!

And so, we enter 2023, with me back at the gym. (H2 had me going fairly regularly before Covid shut it all down). And now here's the plot twist: I freaking love it! Crazy, right? There isn't even a demented clown chasing me! 

I'm not sure what changed but I think it had to do with having a trainer, Tina, who is a little older than me and who actually asked me, "Why are you here?" I had thought my answer would be "Because other than walking my dogs, I literally sit all day every day and need to move" but instead what came out of my mouth was "I'm angry all the time." This was, of course, after I'd been joking around with her so she looked confused. Yeah, you're not alone, Tina. 

We talked a little bit more and discovered we'd both suffered the loss of our brothers recently. It was an immediate bond. She took me over to a sand filled medicine ball and said, "Lift that over your head and throw it into the mat as hard as you can." M'kay, I thought, not really certain how this was going to be helpful. 

Well, let me just say the simmering fury that I'd been feeling for the past two plus years, which I hadn't been able to exorcise with work, denial, jokes, distractions, or any other slap on bandage I could think of, bubbled up out of my core, shot up my arms, poured from my hands into the eight pounds of rubber ball and then blasted down into the mat. It felt glorious. I did it twelve times and at the end of it I felt...lighter. 

Tina put me through my paces for another hour. I've been going to see her three times a week for a while and will continue to do so. When I called H2 and told him about it. He was quiet for a minute and then said, "I'm proud of you." And I have to say that felt really good - like icing on the cake good. 

Hey, did someone say cake...I'm working out now, does that mean I get extra slices? LOL.

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, how have the past few years impacted your exercise regimen? What are your favorite ways to get fit or at least get moving? 


Friday, January 27, 2023

I Have An Idea! by Vicki Delany

Jenn McKinlay: As a huge fan of the Sherlock Homes Bookshop mysteries, I am just thrilled to welcome Jungle Reds friend and fellow author Vicki Delany. And today, she is letting us glimpse behind the curtain. 

Vicki Delany: “Where do you get your ideas?”

As writers we’re often asked that.  I’d love to get my ideas from the Idea Factory, or maybe Ideas-R-Us. But so far I haven’t found such a convenient place.

What is an idea anyway when it comes to a novel? What does that even mean?

The idea is the spark from which all else flows. Coming up with an idea is pretty easy.  I can give you the ‘idea’ behind one of my books in one sentence. That’s idea is the spark, the germ of the story.

The task now is to turn that one sentence, even one word, into 80,000 words. And that is not so easy.

What has me pondering the origin of an idea at the moment, is my current work-in-progress. I’m writing the fifth in the Tea by the Sea cozy mystery series.  I was in Italy in October with my good friend, the Canadian writer Barbara Fradkin. We were, as one is in Italy, overwhelmed with great art. We’d been to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and were walking through the streets heading for either more art or more food when I told Barbara I was having some trouble coming up with an idea for the next Tea by the Sea book.  One of the paintings we’d most admired at the Uffizi was Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656).  

(Incidentally, the story behind the famous painting is a mystery writers’ idea in itself.) Barbara laughed and said, “How about a beheading? The main character finds a headless body in a bed at the B&B.”

As I write cozy novels, that wouldn’t quite suit.  Barbara thought some more and said, “a headless doll then. A gift, given anonymously at a bridal shower.”

Bingo! I had my idea. A headless doll is rather creepy, but not out and out gory or repulsive.

What the idea does, in this case the decapitated Raggedy Ann doll given as a shower gift, is provide the inciting incident. The point from which all else that happens in the novel flows.  It also sets the scene for character revelations: obviously not all is well between the bride and her friends and family.

How not well?  Someone is murdered later on. Is the shower gift pertinent to the murder? It might not be, but it sets the scene, starts the action, and gives our amateur sleuth character a reason to ask questions.

And, most importantly, it gives me, the author, a jumping off point.

In the Sherlock Holmes bookshop series, the idea is even less than a sentence. It’s a word. In the latest book, The Game is a Footnote, the word is “haunted house”. Okay two words. In next years book, as yet untiled, the word is “séance.” In last year’s novel, A Three Book Problem it’s “country house weekend.”

The idea is the germ from which all else flows.

Another thing most writers can relate to is the experience of someone offering to tell them their great idea, and then suggesting the writer use that idea and they can split the profits from the subsequent bestselling book. Uh, sorry.  If someone provides one word or one sentence, and I provide the other 79,999 words I’m not sharing anything.

Because it’s not the idea, it’s all that flows from the idea.  And that’s the hard part.  Lay down the clues, build the plot, create the characters, put them in an attractive (or otherwise) setting, have a believable sub-climax when the protagonist is threatened or all seems lost. Build it all to a climax and the grand reveal.  Then wrap it all up. 

I have over fifty published books now, and I’ll admit, an idea for something vaguely original is getting harder to come by.  One of the things I’m most struggling with is a way of having the protagonist catch or trick the killer.  You can only have your character eavesdrop on conversations so many times and leap out from behind the curtains to say, “J’Accuse” with pointed finger.  She can only wrestle so much with a deranged killer at the edge of a cliff in a storm at night.

But I’ll get it, eventually, because I started with ‘an idea’.

I’d love to know how the Reds (who have so many fabulous ideas!) generate their own ideas for such amazing and original plots. And readers, any ideas you’d like to share with us?

Gemma Doyle and Jayne Wilson are back on the case when a body is discovered in a haunted museum in bestselling author Vicki Delany's eighth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery.

Scarlet House, now a historical re-enactment museum, is the oldest building in West London, Massachusetts. When things start moving around on their own, board members suggest that Gemma Doyle, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, might be able to get to the bottom of it.  Gemma doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she agrees to ‘eliminate the impossible’. But when Gemma and Jayne stumble across a dead body on the property, they’re forced to consider an all too physical threat.  
Gemma and Jayne suspect foul play as they start to uncover more secrets about the museum. With the museum being a revolving door for potential killers, they have plenty of options for who might be the actual culprit.
Despite Gemma's determination not to get further involved, it would appear that once again, and much to the displeasure of Detective Ryan Ashburton, the game is afoot.
Will Gemma and Jayne be able to solve the mystery behind the haunted museum, or will they be the next to haunt it?


Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than fifty: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy.  She is currently writing the Tea by the Sea mysteries, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, the Year-Round Christmas mysteries, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates).


Vicki is a past chair of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival.  Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Vicki is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Sailing...Take Me Away...For, Like, A Year

JENN McKINLAY: Hi, Kids! Welcome to my latest rabbit hole. How did I end up searching apartment rentals on cruises? Well, I was listening to the audio book Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan (our Debs recommended it and she's right, it's fabulous) and there's a character in the book who lives in an apartment on a cruise ship. I had no idea this was a thing!

And so I began searching apartments on cruise ships because now I know what I want to do with that 401K! Just kidding, I don't have a 401K. But still, I found the entire idea of living aboard a ship - permanently - absolutely fascinating. Here's a ship that features 165 residences from studio to three bedroom: 

Please note in the picture above they list a garden and a library as part of the amenities. I wonder if the library is hiring?  Here's the YouTube trailer if you need to see more:

One of the ships I saw even had pet exercise areas, so you can bring the furry ones with you! 

I also stumbled upon this blog post: 
from the amazing Jude Deveraux where she talked about going on four-month-long world cruises every year from January-May for YEARS. And the most interesting part (to me) was that she said she got massive amounts of writing done. With no cooking or cleaning, or errands to run, well, of course she did! It's a brilliant plan, I tell ya!

Now I've only been on one cruise and since I was (surprise!) newly pregnant, I slept through most of it. I was three months along and the exhaustion was unreal. My memories are seriously of sleeping in a lounger poolside and then sleeping in my bed, snuggled up to my towel which had been magically folded into the shape of a frog (awwww) and that's about it. 

I imagine because you're traveling the world and surrounded by history, wildlife, geography, and because you wake up to a different incredible view every day, there's loads of inspiration everywhere you look (unless you're pregnant and sleep through it). Also, living on a floating village I'll bet your fellow passengers will give you plenty of writing material - good and bad. Bwa ha ha.

Now if only I could talk my publisher into letting me set a mystery series on board on of these ships...hmmm. 

How about you, Reds and Readers, any interest in living on a ship permanently? If you were to cruise, where would you go?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Two Irish-Themed Stories from Maddie Day and Barbara Ross

Jenn McKinlay: Having just returned from Ireland myself, I can not tell you how happy I am to welcome -- Fàilte -- two of the  Jungle Reds fave mystery writers with their Irish-centric mysteries! Yay!

Hello to all. Maddie Day (then known as Edith Maxwell) and Barb (aka Barbara Ross) have traveled a lot of the same roads on this publishing journey. Our first books were published by small presses. Our first series with Kensington debuted in the same year. We’ve been blogging together over at Wicked Authors for nine years. We already knew each other from Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Crime Bake. And both of us have been mentored and supported by several Reds. 


And this month we have books with the same theme coming out on the same day. We’re giving away two each!


In Four Leaf Cleaver, by Maddie Day, a cooking competition on Saint Patrick’s Day at Robbie Jordan’s Pans ‘n’ Pancakes goes seriously awry.



In Irish Coffee Murder, a collection of novellas by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross, the holiday is Saint Patrick’s and the signature drink of the day is murder.



To celebrate, Maddie (L) and Barb (R) sat down at the (virtual) kitchen table to talk writing, research, mysteries, and series.

Maddie: Barb, y
our novella solves a cold case, a crime from the past. Have you written other cold cases in your Maine Clambake series? Is it easier or harder than having your protagonist evade a criminal lurking in the present?


Barb: In mystery novels, it’s not unusual to have a crime in the distant past informing a crime in the present. What’s different about this novella is there is no crime in the present. (Is that a spoiler?) Therefore I had to really work at maintaining suspense and keeping the reader interested in a very cold case. The novella length is part of what made that feasible.


Barb: Maddie, why did you choose to write about St. Patrick's Day?


Maddie: I usually come up with my own book idea, unless I’m asked to write a Christmas novella, for example. For this book, my (and Barb’s editor) at Kensington suggested I could do a cooking competition. Or, he said, “What about a St. Patrick’s Day theme?” I found the combination irresistible, so I did both! Batter Off Dead, the previous book in the series, takes place in July, but after that was “Scarfed Down,” a Christmas novella. A mid-March story slotted into book time perfectly.


Maddie: This is your fifth novella, and you've said before you like writing that length. Would you consider writing only novellas in the future? Why, why not?


Barb: I do love writing these 25,000 to 30,000 word stories. I’m writing one now to be published in the spring of 2024. (Red Julia Spencer-Fleming was part of a brainstorming session for this one.) I’m very lucky my publisher, Kensington, has offered me the opportunity to be a part of these collections of stories. However, I wouldn’t write only novellas for two reasons. 1) I would miss the opportunity to tell longer stories, And 2) getting novellas published outside the confines of these anthologies is very difficult.


Barb: This is the 11th book in the Country Store Mysteries. What do you find more challenging and what is easier when writing this far into a series?


Maddie: I’m writing book 12 now and have a contract through  book 13, which is kind of astonishing. What’s easier is that I know the world. I’m pals with my chef’s staff, hugely fond of her Aunt Adele, and adore Robbie Jordan’s husband Abe almost as much as she does. I know how hilly Brown County is and what fictional South Lick looks like. I love when it comes time on my rotation to write a new Country Store book so I can plunge back into that world and hang out with my imaginary friends.


As with any long-running series (looking at more than half the Jungle Reds right now), the challenges come in keeping the stories fresh. Making sure protag Robbie Jordan keeps changing and growing in her personal life and in her sleuthing. Finding plausible new people to murder and that Very Good Reason for Robbie to have to investigate. 


Maddie: Do you have Irish heritage? Or doesn't it matter for writing about an American holiday with little resemblance to actual Ireland? 


Barb: “Perked Up” takes place entirely in Maine, though Julia and friends do go on a roadtrip to the middle of the state while investigating the mystery. I knew next to nothing about the Irish in Maine and found a marvelous book, They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine, a collection of scholarly  essays edited by Michael C. Connolly. When we think of Irish emigration to the United States we tend to think of famine-driven immigration to big cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. But that is only a part of the story. Did you know the oldest surviving Catholic church building in the US is in Newcastle, Maine? (Next town on the coast from where the Clambake mysteries take place.) Still in use, Saint Patrick’s was built  in 1807 by Irish immigrants who became wealthy shipbuilders.


As for me, last summer in Dublin, I had a really fun visit with a genealogist at EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. I have Irish ancestry, somewhat distantly, on both sides. My father’s great-grandmother, Eleanor Armstrong, was born in 1843 County, Armagh, now in Northern Ireland and my mother’s great-great-great grandfather was born in 1812 in Dublin.


Barb: How about your Irish heritage? What kind of research did you do to write this book?


Maddie: My maternal grandfather, Richard Flaherty, was a classic bullheaded Irish-American in San Francisco who didn’t speak to my mother from shortly before I was born until he died, as stubborn as ever and with a full head of dark hair, at ninety-four. He had twin brothers who didn’t speak to each other. On the other hand, one of those twin’s sons, my mom’s cousin Bill, is a sweet and devoted family man I’ve gotten to know a bit. I look forward to finally getting to Ireland sometime soon and digging more deeply into the Flahertys of my great-grandparents’ generation.


Unlike you, Barb, I didn’t dig too far into the Irish in Indiana, and my Maxwell family roots there are Scottish. For research, I adapted and tested lots of Irish-flavored recipes, and otherwise went full-on American interpretation of the holiday (except green beer). 


Maddie and Barb: Thank you to Jenn for hosting us! We hope you’ll all join us at the Wicked Authors blog every weekday, and find us at our web sites and on social media. We wish you happy Irish-styled reading.


Readers: What’s your favorite holiday to read about? Do you celebrate any obscure holidays nobody writes about? Do you have a St. Patrick’s Day tradition? We’ll each give away a copy of our new book to two commenters (that is two commenters, two books each).


In Four Leaf Cleaver, there’s no mistaking Saint Patrick’s Day at Pans ’N Pancakes, where  the shelves of vintage cookware in her southern Indiana store are draped with Kelly-green garlands and her restaurant is serving shepherd’s pie and Guinness Beer brownies. The big event, however, is a televised Irish cooking competition to be filmed on site. Unfortunately, someone’s luck has run out. Before the cameras start rolling, tough-as-nails producer Tara O’Hara Moore is found upstairs in her B&B room, a heavy cleaver left by her side. Now, not only does Robbie have a store full of festive decorations, she’s got a restaurant full of suspects . . .


In “Perked Up,” Barb’s novella in Irish Coffee Murder, It’s a snowy St. Patrick’s night in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. When the power goes out, what better way for Julia Snowden to spend the evening than sharing local ghost stories—and Irish coffees—with friends and family? By the time the lights come back, they might even have solved the coldest case in town . . .


Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, and the new Cece Barton Mysteries. As Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell, she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and award-nominated short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell lives with her beau and cat Martin north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. Find her at, Wicked Authors, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media: BookBub,Twitter, Facebook, Instagram


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