Friday, March 31, 2023

What We're Writing--Debs is Antiquing!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have been making progress on Kincaid/James #20, now that things have settled down a bit from all the book launch hoopla (which has all been great fun--and just in case you missed this tidbit, A KILLING OF INNOCENTS debuted at #8 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List!) For the new book, I have the bones of the plot, many character names and backstories, and maybe, just maybe, a title. But we will talk about all of that the next time, because this week I have been not writing but shopping--I mean researching--as it is once again time for the spring antiques market in Round Top, Texas!

My daughter and I were lucky enough to snag a room actually in Round Top, which was quite a feat. Situated about halfway between Houston and Austin in the rolling hills of central Texas, Round Top is a one-stoplight cluster of old buildings, many of them built by German immigrants in the late 1800s. Here's our little one-room cottage, dating from about 1890.

Most of the antiques markets are set up in big tents in the fields of surrounding ranches. This is Marburger Farm, the show we buy tickets for.

There are eight of these football field-sized, double-aisled tents at Marburger, along with some smaller tents and buildings.

This is one aisle of one tent, and the variety of STUFF for sale is just astounding. China, glassware, silver, jewelry, clothing, art of all sorts, furniture (lots of really hideous mid-century modern again this year!) Even vintage typewriters.

It was so windy our first day that Kayti and I nearly blew away. We had to literally hold on to our hats and more than once they got away from us.

Hats, by the way, are a must, and not just for sun protection. There is an unspoken fashion code at Round Top, which consists of denim, bandanas, hats, cowboy boots, and LOTS of jewelry, especially turquoise. You cannot over-accessorize in Round Top. Add a flowered dress or skirt to the above and you are rocking it!

I would go just for the people/fashion-watching, and to enjoy a few days of views like this.

And this.

It was wildflower season but, alas, we somehow didn't manage to get any photos of the bluebonnets.

I might, however, have figured out how to have shopper's luck. I said that I had no agenda this year other than to enjoy the trip with my daughter, and that I was definitely not in the market for a quilt.

So I brought home this. (Any quilt experts out there want to guess at dates for the fabrics? It came from a collection in Ohio, and is in mint condition.)

And then there was this little darling.

Last year I looked and looked for a Staffordshire dog to commemorate A KILLING OF INNOCENTS, but couldn't find one that I liked and/or could afford. This year, bingo! Now this guy is adorning my mantle!

I'm hoping this allows me to call the trip research...

REDs and readers, have you ever stopped looking for something, only to have it then fall into your lap? 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

What I’m Writing @LucyBurdette

**Quilting Lady is the winner of A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS. Thank you all so much for your interest and support!

LUCY BURDETTE: If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, or are signed up for my newsletter, or read the “Four things I’ve learned so far” blog right here, you’ll have heard that I enrolled in the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Police Academy this spring. Twelve of us citizens met for seven Thursday sessions of three hours each to learn about all the amazing things the sheriff’s deputies do. I was pleased to have this class come along at exactly the time I’m writing Key West food critic mystery #14, because much of the action in this book takes place north of Key West and wouldn’t be handled by Nathan Bransford and the rest of the KW police department. It’s definitely helping me avoid ugly mistakes! The temptation however is to cram in more of these wonderful details than the story needs or can support. For example, one week the crime scene investigator for the county showed us his lab and had us suit up in Tyvek to learn fingerprinting, foot printing, and identification of bodily fluids. (We weren’t sure if we looked like investigators or NASA pilots or something more nefarious…)

But would Hayley Snow have an opportunity to learn all of this? Probably not. She sure shouldn’t get involved in traffic stops after a felony crime has been committed…

And so far as I know, she doesn’t own a gun and wouldn’t have been trained in shoot-don’t shoot scenarios, the way we were. (What an adrenaline rush, by the way!)

Would she have the opportunity to clear a room the way the SWAT team taught us? Probably not that either…

An encounter with the bomb squad? Nope. Coral, the drug-sniffing golden retriever? Maybe...

My hope is to use what I learned in the class to inform my characters’ actions and to advance the story. Here’s a draft of the rewritten scene right after Hayley and another woman find a body in a motel office on Big Pine Key. 

Two more sheriff’s office vehicles pulled up behind Darcy Rogers, one of them a tall van with Crime Scene Investigations written across the side. Darcy trotted over to confer with the stocky man who climbed out.

When she returned, she told us the investigator would be taking our fingerprints and footprints in order to rule us out as suspects. “Any problem with that?”

“It’s routine,” I said to Catherine before she could argue. “If you don’t agree, we’ll have to sit here a while until they can get a search warrant. Could be quite a while, depending on the whims of the judge.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’d like to get this over with as soon as possible.”

The investigator returned wearing a white Tyvek suit, carrying a big black box. He quickly set up a station to take our fingerprints, followed by what looked like a small kitty litter box filled with sand to take the imprints of our shoes.

“That’s all for now,” Darcy Rogers said to us briskly once he was finished. “I’ll need your contact information and a list of people who might have information about this present death or details about your past connections in Big Pine. I’ll be in touch shortly.” She strode off before either of us could respond. We watched her go, then I rustled through my backpack to find the pack of wipes I kept there for cleaning emergencies. Once we’d brushed the black powder from our hands, I took Catherine’s elbow and steered her toward the car. As she slid into the passenger seat, Catherine noticed blood on the bottom of her right sandal, now crusted with crystals of sand. 

“I feel sick,” she said suddenly, clutching her hand to her stomach. “Excuse me a minute.” She bolted out of the car and rushed around the corner of the building into the brush. I could hear her retching. A few minutes later, she returned, her chin quivering, and the color leached from her face. I handed her the pack of wipes. 

“Let’s get out of here,” I muttered. “You can text the deputy later. She won’t expect you to sit here and write out a grocery list of suspects. Trust me, she’s dogged. She’ll follow up until every pebble is turned over.”

LUCY AGAIN: All in all, it’s been an amazing experience—all the deputies we’ve met have been truly excited to share the details of their work with us. Here are a couple of photos from the graduation night, where I had the honor of being the keynote speaker!

That's me of course, with Captain David Smith on the left and Sheriff Rick Ramsey on the right...

By the way, we did finally get the answer to the question of how to avoid a speeding ticket: Don’t speed!

On another topic, I was thrilled and honored to have A DISH TO DIE FOR awarded the bronze medal for popular fiction by the Florida Book Awards!

Finally, I’ve just received a box containing a few advanced reader copies of A CLUE IN THE CRUMBS, coming this August. I’d love to give one away here. To have a chance at receiving the book, leave a comment! I’ll let Lottie choose the winner—please check back on Saturday when it will be announced.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

What We're Writing: Rhys is Juggling!

 RHYS BOWEN: Why do I do this to myself? I could stick to writing fun and funny mysteries in which my sleuth solves a murder in under three hundred pages. A linear plot. A cast of characters that I know and love.

Instead I set myself a challenge every year of writing something long and complicated. 

Which is what I'm doing right now.  

I'm writing yet another book set in two time periods with actually three story lines intertwining. One story involves an abandoned village in World War Two (remember I posted photos of it). Another involves a missing child in 1968, yet a third involves three little girls who vanished while being evacuated during the war, and... oh no, there's a fourth story line... the heroine's own personal story and what happened to her during her own childhood. And there is a love story ( of course. Have I ever been known to write a book without a touch of romance).

Each of these has to have clues that help to solve the others. We have to find out the clues in the correct order so that every revelation makes the reader go "Oooh, now I know what happened to that other child"

So it feels as if I'm juggling, constantly keeping several balls in the air, while at the same time filling in pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. This causes me to wake in the middle of the night thinking, "Wait. No we need to go to Devon and find the shop before she visits the ex girlfriend."

In spite of all this it's coming along quite well. I'm at page 265 with probably a hundred or so to go and I do know where I'm heading now.  I'm currently calling it IN AN ABANDONED PLACE. But I'm also toying with THE LOST GIRLS, THE LAST LITTLE GIRL, MISSING, FLASHBACK etc etc. Suggestions welcome.

 So here is a snippet. I've tried to decide what I can share with you that won't give too much away.

They came out through the gate and now started along the village street. In what had been cottage gardens weeds now ran rampant, brambles tumbled over walls. There was no sign that people had once lived here, no washing on a clothes line, no toy dropped when a child was called in to a meal. Nothing.

                “This is all there was of it?” Marisa looked around. ‘Hardly much of a village.”

                “There was a big house too, off to one side up there,” Dave said. “I think the village was built for the bloke who owned it. So he had his workers living on the spot. Or perhaps some of them were fishermen. There was a harbor.”

                They continued forward, stepping over the great fissures and craters that had formed.

                “They certainly gave this place a beating,” Marisa said.  She looked back at Liz.

                Liz was standing, staring down the street, frowning.

                “What’s the matter, Liz?” Marisa asked. “Have you spotted something?”

                “I’ve been here before,” she said in a puzzled voice..

“You can’t have,” Dave said, chuckling. “It’s been off limits since the war. It was taken over by the army in 1943 to prepare for the invasion. You weren’t even born, were you?”

                “I was born in 1941,” Liz said.

                “So you’d only have been two when the people were turned out,” Dave said. “You don’t remember much from when you are two, do you? I know I don’t.”

                “They say some people remember their birth,” Marisa said. “That’s why they are claustrophobic, coming down that long dark tunnel.” And she laughed.

                Liz was still frowning, looking around her. “I’m sure I was here once.”

                “Maybe another village like it. There’s plenty of them on the coast here,” Dave said. “But probably not during the war. The coast was mostly off limits for civilians. They had mines and tank traps on the beaches.  And this wouldn’t have been the sort of place you’d come on holiday. No hotels or caravan parks nearby in those days.”

                Liz shook her head. “I can’t remember anything else. It just came to me that I’d been here. I’ve no idea when.”

                “Like I said, it would have to have been before 1943 and you’d only have been a toddler.”

                They continued walking. Liz stopped, looking up at the shell of what once had been the two story building. “There was a pub called The Big Boat,” she said.

                “The Big Boat?” Dave looked amused.  He examined the building. “I suppose that could have been the pub. It’s the only big building on the street.”  He trod gingerly over to where a door had once been and peered inside. “Can’t see much in here,” he said. “just rubble where the upstairs floor has caved in.”

                “But there is a metal hook on the side,” Marisa said. “Where a pub sign might have hung once.”

                She too tiptoed forward and peered into tall grass. Then she stopped, looked up, her mouth open.  “There’s a pub sign,” she said.

                Liz and Dave went to look. The painting on it was faded and discolored but they could just make out the shape of a ship in full sail and the words THE GOLDEN HINDE.

Just one of the puzzle pieces. Hopefully all will be clear by the end, and will make sense! AND the reader will be able to follow.

So do you like complicated books like this or do you prefer the straightforward whodunit?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What Hank's Writing: Deadlines and Book Tour

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I wish you could see me. Or maybe not. I’m kinda…frazzled.

No matter how organized I try to be, I know that how matter how much I plan, I will be typing typing typing right up till the final manuscript deadline.

Why is it that somehow my writer brains calculates the amount of time remaining to do a certain task, and makes the task last right up to that exact second?

What I am writing/editing is my 15th novel, and… Well, before we get to that:

I have just come back from three fantastic, hilarious, exhilarating, exhausting weeks on book tour, almost in a different city every day.

 When I left Boston in February, the world was slushy and snowy, and the skies were gray. As I arrived back home, weary, but thrilled, our crocuses had arrived, and the soft spring wind was making ripples in our backyard swimming pool. (No ducks yet, though.) And I saw this this squirrel on our back fence, brazenly eating a tulip bulb! 

I unpacked immediately, because that is civilized. And..laundry. You should know that book tour is not the same as a tourist tour. I saw the Liberty Bell through the window of an Uber. And the Washington DC monuments, well, I flew over them.

But so many people came to hear about THE HOUSE GUEST! Here are a few photos...
And there were snags, oh yes, indeed. Like when my books were shipped not to Alexandria, Virginia, where the big signing was, but to Arlington, Texas. It’s still a mystery! But it all worked out fine. Eventually.

And look look look, is this not the most hilarious thing you’ve ever seen?

Book clubs and readers are dressing up like the cover of THE HOUSE GUEST! I laugh and laugh when I see these, and some of these cover faces, you might even recognize. But I am endlessly delighted by them.

This entire book club, look! Dressed up like the cover. Got to adore that. SO many darling friends here!

You know THE HOUSE GUEST went into a second printing after six days, and that is absolutely thrilling. ( If you care about having a first edition, just saying, this might be the time to snag it. Oh, and also parenthetically, if you are Kindle Unlimited, HER PERFECT LIFE is now free! I’m not sure for how long, but if you have not read that, and you are KU, now is definitely the time. )

So onward, onward, and the reason I am frazzled is that the edits of the first draft of my new novel were due yesterday at… Well, yesterday.

I was tempted to pretend I am on California time, thereby giving me three more hours until close of business. (I mean, I might live in California, right?)

But no time zone finessing was necessary, and at 6:09 PM Monday, I hit “ send” on the new book. I cut– drum roll-- 8924 words.  And it was so much fun.

Part of the joy of writing  for me is after I get that first draft done, then being able to tweak and polish and edit and streamline and see the book I meant to write. And, crossing fingers, I think that has happened. Here is a sample page. You can kinda see how much was deleted.

Too hard to read? Rats. I am too tired to figure out how to make this work. Any ideas? 

But soon, if all goes as planned, there'll be the real thing. And now I sit at my desk, frazzled and frumpled with hair askew, proud of myself for making my deadline, hooray! But knowing, now, I need another idea. Oh dear. I need another idea.

Do you always work right up to your deadline, Reds and Readers? Or are you so organized that you send things in early?

Monday, March 27, 2023

What we're writing: Taking our own good time


HALLIE EPHRON: Last week I posted this picture on Facebook--two of my orchid plants in bloom.

So far I’ve gotten more than 700 tapbacks and nearly 100 comments, including one from my idol, Sara Paretsky, who’s an orchid fan, too.

Others commented, asking what’s the trick to getting an orchid plant to bloom. Because that’s the thing about orchids, you buy them in bloom, and if you’re lucky they keep right on blooming for a few months. Then the blossoms fall off, you cut the flower stems and, but for a few strappy leaves, the plant goes dormant.

For months and on into years sometimes, that’s the whole show.

I have no brilliant advice for getting an orchid to bloom, other than HAVE PATIENCE and DON’T OVERWATER and GIVE IT INDIRECT LIGHT. 

Watch for scale … and when you find one (or several) of those pesky creatures, swab them away with alcohol or pick them off with your fingernails. And I've read that one should occasionally (though I’m not sure how often) repot in fresh soil.

And still your orchid plant may reward you by lying there looking blah for months on end.

Which is what my pink one did. For four years.

Jerry bought it for $4 at a yard sale. At the time, it was spectacularly in bloom. Two flower shafts. Looked amazing for a couple of months. Then nothing. Year in, year out, nothing but an occasional leave.

Then SHAZAM: it’s blooming and it even has a a second flower stem.

I know, this is WHAT WE’RE WRITING WEEK again on Jungle Red, and I am actually talking about writing. Because my favorite comment from my Facebook orchid picture posting came from Louise Hillery (Thanks, Louise!). Responding to the fact that it took 4 years to produce anything, she wrote:
Just like a writer's Work-in-Progress!

So true. Because I am writing again. Little by little, characters are taking shape--four women. A townhouse for them to hang out in. A puzzling set of circumstances that are still knotted up in my head.

I considered putting orchids in the book, but Rex Stout set the bar too high with his orchid fancier, Nero Wolfe. (The fictional Wolfe started on orchids with a plant given to him by the wife of a man he had cleared on a murder rap. He and his gardener tend them on the roof of his brownstone.)

In Stout’s obituary in the NY Times, he’s quoted as saying: “The plots come when I’m shaving, watering the plants, puttering around.” It also says that for the most part, however, Stout's wife was in charge of watering his 300 houseplants. Gotta wonder how many of them were orchids.

I have fewer than twenty plants. Among them are three orchids. I take that deep pink orchid, spectacularly in bloom after a four-year wait, as a sign of encouragement. 

Like a manuscript, it’s taken its own good time. 

What about you? What are the things in your life that you've learned are worth the wait?

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Bedazzled Book Mascots by Ellen Byron

Jenn McKinlay: Today's guest is the indefatigable Ellen Byron. Seriously, I just saw her in her role as Toastmaster at Left Coast Crime and, truly, she was a in constant motion and hilariously funny as always! Lucky for us, Ellen has a book coming out on March 28th and she's here to tell us all about it. 

Ellen Byron: I was responding to an email of questions from an interviewer when one of them stopped me cold: “What is your series’ spirit animal?” 

I’d never thought about this before. I’m a dog lover, so I have dogs in all my series. I even have a cat and bird in my Catering Hall Mysteries, which I write under the pen name “Maria DiRico.” But an animal who represents my series thematically and even visually? That never occurred to me. And I began thinking about it. 

 First, I substituted the term “series mascot” for “spirit animal,” out of respect for cultures where the latter has great meaning. Then I thought about the role of a series mascot. 

Visually and emotionally, a mascot should evoke the flavor of your series. While our late basset hound Lucy graces all the covers of my Cajun Country Mysteries, the series mascot is an alligator, which Louisianians often joke is the true state “bird,” as opposed to the brown pelican (a runner-up for series mascot). There’s something about a gator’s sly, crafty ways and general resilience that just felt right for the series. 

A real-life incident inspired my choice of peacock as the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries mascot. While lodging in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans during a visit, I heard a strange shriek coming from outside. I went to check it out and saw a peacock strolling down the street. The series’ main setting is Bon Vee, a stunning19th century mansion in the city’s Garden District. Peacocks are famed for being the Mean Girls – and Guys – of the bird world. The notion of these magnificent birds with attitude parading around a Garden District mansion appealed to me and a series mascot was born. Two, actually: Gumbo and Jambalaya. See if you can spot where the artist behind my Vintage Cookbook Mysteries placed the peacock on the cover of Wined and Died in New Orleans. 

I’ve yet to come up with a mascot for my Catering Hall Mysteries. I jokingly toyed with making that iconic New Yorker, the Pizza Rat, but decided visuals of the poor guy – who never did get to eat that slice of pizza – might be a bit off-putting. But I’ve translated my other series’ mascots into jewelry I wear to signings and conferences, leading to a fun collection of alligator and peacock necklaces and brooches. 

My series’ mascots do more than provide fun branding opportunities. The innate intelligence and attitude of these representatives from the animal and aviary kingdom inspire me as a writer. 

And maybe I’m wrong about Pizza Rat. His infamous battle to claim a slice of pizza twice his size showed him to be as determined and strong-willed as series protagonist Mia Carina. Plus, I just found a really cute Pizza Rat enamel pin. 


Pizza Rat New York Brown Rat Two Inch Enamel Pin - Etsy 

Readers, do you agree these are good mascot choices for my series? What animal do you think would make a great mascot for a series you read? 

Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a signed
copy of HERE COMES THE BODY! The first in the Catering hall mysteries.

Agatha Award-winning author Maria DiRico returns with the fourth book in the Catering Hall Mystery Series, starring Mia Carina who is coming to grips with being back in Astoria, Queens, and running her Italian-American family’s catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor but a TV casting call is about to put murder in the spotlight . . .

The June events schedule at Belle View is busting out all over—proms, graduations, and of course, weddings. There are unexpected bookings too, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. But soon, Mia’s fears about the cheesy reality show are confirmed . . .

Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends, and some of Mia’s friends insist on getting in on the action. The production company owner and his executive producer ex-wife—who’s also very minor British royalty—have assembled a motley crew that does as much infighting and backstabbing as the on-screen “talent.” Even so, it’s a shock when a dead body is found in the pool house of a local mansion rented by the show . . .

Murder might boost the ratings. But Mia intends to make sure the killer gets jail time, not airtime. . .  

BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won two Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief is the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico. 

 Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. She serves on the national board for Mystery Writers of America, and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Visit her at Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sugar Baby by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I have a sugar problem. I'm a straight up candy freak and I always have been.

In fact there's a post from way back, when I was just visiting the Jungle Reds, where I confess that I would reward myself for every paragraph written with a coconut M&M. They haven't made those in years (darn it), but you can see that sugar has long been my reward to myself and it's quite the motivator. It does not help that I come from a very long line of sugar addicts and even my Irish cousins, Joan and Catherine, admit it's a family weakness and they're retired Sisters of the Holy Rosary in Dublin. 

But I'm now a woman of a certain age (double nickels) and I've noticed that my #badbreakfastchoices aren't as fun as they used to be. Sugar doesn't process as well in my system and I get jittery and then crash (i.e. get cranky) so I decided it was time for a reboot. Also, I learned from my trainer that too much sugar dependence can lead to depression (the reason I started going to a trainer to begin with) because it's addictive and when you ingest it, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine putting you on a cycle to consume more and more and more. A nasty cycle, indeed.

Needless to say I got straight A's :(

Thankfully, when I decided I would give up refined sugar and dessert (basically, anything sugary and carb loaded - candy, muffins, donuts, pastries, cake, pie, ice cream -- you know, all my reasons to live) for the month of March, the Hub went along with it. So far, we've had one cheat and that was the key lime tart at Left Coast Crime (delicious!) but otherwise we've stayed the course. 

When I get weak, I remind myself of a few pertinent facts that make me mad and tap into my stubborn side. Frankly, this story from NPR -- 400 Years of Sweetness -- planted the seed that germinated into me giving up sugar. For those who want to listen:

But I am not here to preach to you about about giving up anything - not when I'm only 25 days into it and there are moments where I'm certain I'd give away my car for a Cadbury creme egg. LOL. 

Since I got through the ugly I'm-going-to-stab-someone phase at day 14 and am now about to reach the finish line -- 6 more days! -- I don't think I will run out and devour an entire sheet cake like I thought I would (tempting as it is) and instead will see if I can find sugar alternatives. This recipe from Way To Health Kitchen on Instagram is one I'm hoping to try soon and if it works, it may be one of my new bad breakfast choices: Sweet potato, avocado, and cacao truffles 

The recipe:

So, how about it, Reds and Readers, what have you ever given up? How did it go? And do you have any sugarless dessert recipes you'd care to share? 

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Magic of Writing by Daryl Wood Gerber

Jenn McKinlay: I've known today's guest for years. We burst onto the traditional mystery scene at the same time (we were children) and it's been a blast meeting up with her over the years to talk shop and swap stories. Her latest creation is indeed magical and here she is to tell you all about it.

Daryl Wood Gerber: Writing is hard work. We authors sit down and craft a novel that could take days, weeks, months, or years. We slave over the words, plot, and characters. We attack the rewrite with gusto. Well, I know I do. My first draft is never perfect! 

 So when is it easy? When does writing feel magical and effortless? 

 If I’m honest, starting a paranormal cozy mystery is when writing became magical for me. I was absolutely delighted to sit down and commune with the fairies that populate my stories. Oh, sure, I liked the humans, too. I adored my protagonist, Courtney Kelly, the owner of Open Your Imagination, but the fairies drew me in. I wanted to live in their world. I wanted to flit and flutter as they do. Oh, how I wish I could do a loop the loop in the air. However, even if I can’t do what they can, I can dream about their exploits when I write. Crafting their thoughts and actions brings me joy. 

One of the other delights regarding writing about a fairy garden shop owner is I get to talk about how to make the gardens and how much creativity goes into the process. What is a fairy garden? It’s like doll-housing for your garden, consisting of whimsical stories made up of plants—living or faux—and decked out with fairy figurines and structures like fairy houses or castles or huts, as well as swings and slides and whatever suits your fancy. 

To make sure I had a firm grasp on the art, I decided I needed to make fairy gardens. I used to adore doing heavy-lifting gardening, but those days have passed. My shoulders and elbows and back just won’t cooperate. Before making my first fairy garden, I did a lot of research. And then I jumped in. 

Whenever I do, I find my mood lightening. 

 Another magical thing about writing this particular series is delving into the fairy mindset. I wanted to learn their language and discover what skills they might have. They’re very good at photosynthesis, by the way. They do have ESP, if utilized properly. They can learn spells, but they can’t do wicked spells. That’s a no-no. 

Wouldn’t it be fun to have those gifts? Lastly, I decided to add fairy poetry at the beginning of each chapter. I’ve had such fun finding poetry written through the ages by Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Fyleman, and Cecily Mary Barker. 

Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Life is the most wonderful fairytale.” That about sums it up for me. When writing this series, life is almost magical. 

What about you, Reds and Readers, what inspires magic in your life?

What’s it about? 


With a theater foundation tea and an art show planned at Violet Vickers’s estate, Courtney is hired to create charming fairy gardens for the event. It’s not so charming, however, when her best friend Meaghan’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be Violet’s latest artistic protégé. Even worse, not long after Meaghan locks horns with him, his body is found in her yard, bludgeoned with an objet d’murder.

There’s a gallery of suspects, from an unstable former flame to an arts and crafts teacher with a sketchy past. But when the cops focus on Meaghan’s business partner, who’s like a protective older brother to her, and discover he also has a secret financial motive, Courtney decides to draw her own conclusions. Fearing they’re missing the forest for the trees, and with some help from Fiona the sleuthing fairy, she hopes to make them see the light . . . 

“Plenty of suspects, gardening tips, and fairy lore combine for a sweet treat.” ~ Kirkus Reviews 


BIO: Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber is best known for her nationally bestselling mysteries, including the Fairy Garden Mysteries, Cookbook Nook Mysteries, and French Bistro Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she penned the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries. In addition, Daryl writes suspense novels and short stories. Fun Tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, fairy garden, and read. She has a frisky Goldendoodle who keeps her in line. And she has been known to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. 
You can learn more on her website: httsp:// 


Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Raven Thief by Gigi Pandian

 Jenn McKinlay: When I signed up for Left Coast Crime, I wasn't sure if I'd attend the banquet or not. I was bringing the Hub and thought it might be a nice date night since he plays a lot of gigs and nights out for just the two of us are a rarity. But then my friend Gigi Pandian reached out and asked me to host a table with her. Well, now I had a purpose so of course I said yes. 

Because I've been on deadline for what feels like forever, I didn't realize she had a book coming out the following Tuesday until we caught up to each other the day of the banquet. Naturally, I had to share my excitement!

THE RAVEN THIEF is the second in a new series, the Secret Staircase Mysteries, by Gigi and they are fabulous. In fact, if you saw my post on Tuesday you know the first in the series UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY was nominated for the Lefty in the Best Mystery category. Gigi visited us last year to tell us all about it, which you can read here: What's a Gothic Cozy Mystery.

What I love about this series so much is the locked room aspect of the mysteries. So many of my favorite mysteries like Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Lucy Foley's THE HUNTING PARTY, and Rachel Howzell Hall's THEY ALL FALL DOWN fall into the locked room mystery scenario which is different from the closed circle. A locked room mystery means that the murder has taken place in a locked room or an area sealed off from the rest of the world and the murder seems impossible. A closed circle mystery is a limited number of suspects in a fixed location and not so impossible.

How about you, Reds and Readers, are you a fan of locked room mysteries? What are some of your favorites?


One murder. Four impossibilities. A fake séance hides a very real crime.
Secret Staircase Construction just finished their first project with Tempest Raj officially a part of the team—a classic mystery novel-themed home interior. Their client is now ready to celebrate her new life without her cheating ex-husband, famous mystery author Corbin Colt. First up, a party, and Tempest and Grandpa Ash are invited to the exclusive mock séance to remove any trace of Corbin from the property—for good. It's all lighthearted fun until Corbin's dead body crashes the party.
The only possible suspects are the eight people around the séance table—a circle of clasped hands that wasn't broken. Suspicion quickly falls on Grandpa Ash, the only one with actual blood on him. To prove her beloved grandfather’s innocence, Tempest must figure out what really happened—and how—or Ash will be cooking his delectable Indian and Scottish creations nevermore.

Gigi has some upcoming events you don't want to miss:

VIRTUAL event for THE RAVEN THIEF at Poisoned Pen bookstore, Monday, March 27:

IN-PERSON book launch party for THE RAVEN THIEF in Oakland, California, Saturday, March 25:

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

She’s Gone to the Dogs - a guest blog by Margaret Mizushima

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You all know I love dogs. And I love mysteries. I also love small towns and danger in the wild outdoors. So I was astounded I'd never run across Margaret Mizushima's Timber Creek K-9 series until recently. It presses all of my buttons (plus, there's a simmering will-they-won't-they romance that develops in the background.) 

Those of you who were a little faster on the ball than I will be delighted to hear Margaret's latest, STANDING DEAD, is out now, and those of you who are saying, "Ooo, sounds good..." are in luck - STANDING DEAD is the eight book covering the adventures of Officer Maggie Cobb, handsome veterinarian  Cole Walker, and K-9 Robo, so there's a lot of great reading you can catch up on!

You might guess a writer who has been praised for her realistic, heart-felt portrayal of a working K-9 German Shepard and her relationship with her handler must have a lot of experience with canine friends. And you'd be right! Margaret is here to tell us about some of the memorable dogs in her life, and how those good boys and girls helped shape her award-winning fiction.



 When I married a veterinarian, I knew he loved animals, but I didn’t foresee that he would become a dog collector over the years. If I’d been paying attention, though, I would have read the signs. During vet school and before we married, Charlie adopted two unwanted dogs and then found them loving homes. After we married, he brought one black Labrador retriever into our home while I contributed two black half-Siamese cats. Black fur everywhere!



After forty-one years of marriage, we’ve lived with and loved countless pets, and we’ve also collected countless memories and stories. The first that comes to mind features a tri-colored Australian shepherd named Bear. Like so many of our dogs, Bear came to us through our vet clinic. Shy and sensitive, he preferred to lie at our feet or be petted rather than to work cattle or sheep like other herding dogs. When we realized how afraid he was of livestock, we gave up on training him and let him stay in the yard instead of going up to the barn. He soon became very attached to our five-year-old daughter.


One day, Charlie set up electric fencing in the open space next to our house so that we could graze sheep on the grass and weeds there. After releasing a ram and four ewes, he decided to leave the stock trailer in the middle of the enclosure to provide shade. As he worked to set up the trailer for shelter, he didn’t notice that our daughter had ducked under the fence and was running out to join him. But she caught the ram’s eye, and soon that big fellow squared off to charge.


Charlie lifted his gaze in time to see the ram charge, but he was too far away to intervene. As Charlie began to run and yell, Bear streaked under the fence and faced off that ram. Although frightened and trembling, that courageous dog saved his girl. You can bet he got extra treats that day.


Another story comes to mind about our Rottweiler named Ilsa. This dog came to us through our clinic at a time when our oldest was a latchkey, elementary-schooler and our youngest a toddler. Originally, we thought Ilsa would be a great dog for protection. But then a youngster in our community became lost during a family outing in the mountains and wasn’t found until much too late. So my husband and I decided to train Ilsa in Search and Rescue just in case one of our girls strayed from our campsite when we took a trip to the mountains.



Ilsa took to SAR training like she was born to it. Rottweilers are herding dogs by nature and when socialized and trained correctly, they want to assist their humans. Ilsa used a combination of air scenting and ground tracking as she became more and more skilled in finding people. Thank goodness we never had to ask Ilsa to search for a lost child. But during her training she was great at finding our kids in the yard when we asked them to hide before we shouted, “Ready or not, here she comes!”

 Little did I know that over twenty years later, I would turn to fiction writing and create a German shepherd character named Robo who was proficient in tracking, narcotics detection, and patrol. The Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries feature Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and a veterinarian named Cole Walker. Together they solve crimes that impact their fictional mountain community of Timber Creek, Colorado. There are eight books in the series, including this month’s new release, Standing Dead. I invite you to join Mattie, Robo, and Cole on their latest adventure.


Dogs can be our companions, our support animals, our helpers, and our protectors. And for this, all they want in return is love, food, and shelter. Roger Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” I think dog-lovers would agree with Caras. Do you have a story about a special dog or pet in your life?

Deputy Mattie Cobb and her sister, Julia, travel to Mexico to visit their mother, but when they arrive, they discover that she and her husband have vanished without a trace. Back in Timber Creek, Mattie finds a chilling note on her front door telling her to look for “him” among the standing dead up in the high country.      The sheriff’s department springs into action and sends a team to the mountains, where Mattie’s K-9 partner, Robo, makes a grisly discovery—a body tied to a dead pine tree. Mattie is shocked when she realizes she knows the dead man. And then another note arrives, warning that Mattie’s mother is in desperate straits. In a last-ditch gambit, Mattie must go deep undercover into a killer’s lair to save her mother—or die trying.




Margaret Mizushima writes the award winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She and her husband recently moved from Colorado, where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals, to a home in the Pacific Northwest. Find her on Facebook, on Twitter as @margmizu, on Instagram and on her website