Sunday, March 31, 2024

You've Got to Have Friends

LUCY BURDETTE: if I wasn’t at my desk writing this winter, or else walking the dog or going out to dinner or to play with friends, I was buried in the thick of the Friends of the Key West Library. This week, we’re patting ourselves on the back for a great season! We hosted 10 events in our beautiful palm garden attached to the library, including such luminaries as Judy Blume, Jonathan Escoffery, Jean Hanff Korelitz, Ann Beattie, and Lee White. 

Three years ago, we had the bright idea of hosting a special fundraising gala. Even though Covid was still lurking, we had Sam Sifton, former food critic of the New York Times as our guest. He was interviewed in our Palm Garden by Ellen T. White, a board member, followed by a cocktail party at Williams Hall. Last year, I had the honor of interviewing the one and only Carl Hiaasen, and this year we welcomed our local book heroine, Judy Blume, talking with her old friend and free speech advocate, Pat Scales, about the important issue of book banning. These fantastic events all sold out—our members got first dibs on the tickets.

The book sales committee also put on four wildly successful used book events. 

The Friends were very pleased and proud this year to present our biggest ever check to branch manager, Kim Rinaldi, for $70K. We were delighted to have a number of local sponsors underwrite the costs and provide extra support to the library. This team has worked together like a dream, and we love supporting our library staff so they can buy things that Monroe County wouldn’t be able to.

The librarian who worked with us most closely on our speakers series, Michael Nelson, has a wicked sense of humor. He put together this video that shows perfectly the quirkiness of our Key West setting:

 He only regretted that the video didn’t capture the guy who dragged his trash cans up the alley next to our garden during every speaker event.

Tell us about the volunteer organization that you are most devoted to? Or, tell us a story about your local library.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Does size matter? (In your characters!)

Breaking news! The winner of Leslie Karst's MOLTON DEATH is Joan Emerson. Joan please email Leslie, LJKarst at gmail dot com to claim your prize!

LUCY BURDETTE: as I mentioned Monday, Lottie and I go out for a coffee from the nearby Cuban coffee queen every morning. We walk in and get in line , and while we’re waiting, I am watching the other customers and the baristas. Lottie is watching the door to the back kitchen area in case someone should emerge with a paper plate full of turkey. (This happens sometimes so she is ever hopeful.) But on this particular day, I was in line behind a Key West police officer.

When there is a cruise ship at Mallory Square, they send a few officers to guard the entrance to the on-ramp. He was ordering breakfast sandwiches and coffee for several. All I could notice is how tall he was. I didn’t ask him, of course, but I’m sure he was over 6 feet, and that got me wondering about life as me, a short person, versus life as him, a very tall person. How differently would you see the world?

In my Monroe County Sheriffs Police Academy last year, one of the officers was about my height. I asked her, whether her size affected her job. She thought it helped because she was not instantly intimidating to citizens and could talk to them more easily. Interesting, right? I don’t think I’ve ever written a tall main character, and I’m not sure I’d have the perspective to do that. (Which is kind of silly because I write all kinds of characters with all kinds of backgrounds, so why would height make any difference?) But tell me it wouldn't make a difference if you were a SWAT team officer this size, versus me?

If you write, how tall are your characters? As a reader, do you notice these things?

Friday, March 29, 2024

What kind of visitor are you?

LUCY BURDETTE: This winter, we had quite a few guests/visitors in Key West. I cannot blame people for wanting to get away from winter, as that’s why we are here! But after we had three sets in a row, (not everyone staying in our two bedroom condo), I noticed the differences in types of visitors. Some of them have been to Key West a number of times, like our family, and they also have small children, so that makes their interests different to begin with. With that group, we spent lots of time at the waterpark, and on bicycles, and in the swimming pool, and making super early reservations that would allow for eating before the kids fell apart.

When John’s sisters came, two of the three had not visited the island before and they had a very distinct list of things they wanted to see. (Which we added to!) They were open to everything, pinging from pickleball in the morning to visiting the Hemingway house and the Little White House and shopping and eating out. They had lots of fun and so did we, though it was nice to be able to pick and choose among the items on their list. Let me not forget that John’s sister Lisa also was a good sport about a ukulele jam session and pseudo concert, and also wanted to meet Lorenzo aka Ron from the food critic mysteries.

Another pair of guests had never visited Key West, and in fact, we had not seen them in close to 20 years. They did not have a wish list and did not want to get caught up in FOMO, fear of missing out. We encouraged them to take the Conch tour train so they could get the overview of the island and visit our two favorite places, the Hemingway house, and the Truman Little White House. They might have been happy sitting for two days on the deck or by the pool, but we wanted them to see a little bit of our quirky island. There was also a ukulele and harmonica and singing fest involved--so much fun! I'll share the photo but save you from the video:)


So here’s my question of the day: when you are a visitor, do you come prepared with things you want to do and see? Or are you happier going with the flow? As a host, what is your preference for visitors?

Thursday, March 28, 2024

What’s to Love About Lava? By Leslie Karst

LUCY BURDETTE: I’ve loved all of Leslie Karst’s books, and today she’s here to celebrate the beginning of a new series, the Orchid Isle mysteries. Hurray Leslie, we’re dying to hear about your fascination with volcanoes!

LESLIE KARST: I’ve lived half-time on the Big Island of Hawai‘i for sixteen years and have been visiting the place since 1990, and one of the primary reasons I keep returning to the “Orchid Island” is the presence of two active volcanoes (three, if you count Hualālai, which looms over the tourist town of Kailua-Kona and last erupted in 1801—just yesterday, in geologic terms).

You see, I’m a bit of a volcano junkie. Which is the reason the plot of my new Orchid Isle mystery, Molten Death, revolves around hot lava.

Leslie at the 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa

So, why, you may ask, would anyone love volcanoes? Aren’t they destructive...and scary?

Yes and yes. But an active volcano is also one of the most awe-inspiring things one can ever see—and feel, hear, and smell, for that matter. Because it’s an experience that truly involves all of your senses:

The mind-boggling sight of the red-and-orange lava beast slithering down the slope towards the ocean.

The intense heat upon your skin, as if the door to a gigantic oven had been opened wide.

The sizzle of the rain on the hot lava, the crackling of the molten rock as it cools, and the explosion of methane gas when the flow overtakes and ignites a small tree.

And finally the acrid smell—and tang—of the sulfuric gas, causing your eyes to sting and your breath to catch.

One of the most memorable volcano experiences I ever had occurred during my first visit to the Big Island, when my volcano-junkie parents (yes, I come by it honestly)—who were spending several months on the island—took my partner (now wife) and me out for a pre-dawn hike to see the current lava flow. After walking for an hour or so over an arid, black landscape more reminiscent of the moon than of a tropical paradise, we spied a red glow and steam rising in the distance and cautiously approached. There at our feet was a gaping hole some ten feet wide that had opened up in the hardened rock.

It was a volcanic skylight: a view down into a lava tube in which a river of molten rock flowed immediately below us, its orange-white magma so bright that it was impossible to stare at for more than a moment. Frightened by the sight—and scalded by the searing-hot steam rising from the hole—we jumped back quickly. Would the rock we were standing upon crumble, too, and send us tumbling into the river of lava?

But the sight proved far too compelling, and as one, the four of us crept forward once again to gaze in awe down into the fiery depths, below.

Leslie and Robin at the lava tube

It was in that moment that I knew I needed to spend more time in this amazing—almost magical—place. A place where the earth is still in flux, growing and breathing before our very eyes, and where we humans bend to the will of the volcano, awed by its majesty and beauty.

Yes, the Big Island was calling out to me to make it my part-time home.

And, okay—I’ll admit it—the tropical flowers, warm, azure ocean, and balmy trade winds are pretty darn compelling, as well....

sexy pink heliconia

Readers: What’s the most awe-inspiring natural phenomenon you’ve ever witnessed? Comment below (with your email address) for a chance to win a copy of my new Orchid Isle mystery, Molten Death! (US residents only)

About MOLTEN DEATH: Retired caterer Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen have come to the Big Island of Hawai‘i to treat themselves to a well-earned tropical vacation. After the recent loss of her brother, Valerie is in sore need of a distraction from her troubles and is looking forward to enjoying the delicious food and vibrant culture the state has to offer. 

Early one morning, the couple and their friend—tattooed local boy, Isaac—set out to see an active lava flow, and Valerie is mesmerized by the shape-shifting mass of orange and red creeping over the field of black rock. Spying a boot in the distance, she strides off alone, pondering how it could have gotten there, only to realize to her horror that the boot is still attached to a leg—a leg which is slowly being engulfed by the hot lava.

Valerie’s convinced a murder has been committed—but as she's the only witness to the now-vanished corpse, who’s going to believe her? Determined to prove what she saw and get justice for the unknown victim, Valerie launches her own investigation. But, thrown into a Hawaiian culture far from the luaus and tiki bars of glossy tourist magazines, she soon begins to fear she may be the next one to end up entombed in shiny black rock . . . 

Buy the book!

Leslie Karst is the author of the Orchid Isle Mystery Molten Death, of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari series, and of Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, and Cooking for RBG. When not writing, you’ll find her cooking, cycling, gardening, and observing cocktail hour promptly at five o’clock. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Hilo, Hawai‘i and Santa Cruz, California. 

visit Leslie

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Dream a Little Dream

A dream, from Wikipedia

LUCY BURDETTE: The night following our last REDS AND READERS happy hour in which we discussed our early reading influences, including Nancy Drew, I had such a vivid dream in which I had written an updated Nancy Drew. I was at the book launch event, but I hadn’t prepared a thing and couldn’t remember much about the book. Reds, do you have dreams like this? What are they like?

HALLIE EPHRON: It’s an updated I-have-to-take-an-exam-but-I-haven’t-studied OR I-can’t-find-the-classroom OR… dream đŸ˜«

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Mine is turning up for a college or high school class and realizing I haven't written the paper/studied for the test. Go figure…

HANK: AND that I cannot find the room where the test is behind held, and WHY didn’t I study?

RHYS BOWEN: the dream I have is being in a play, waiting backstage and not remembering my lines ! I hunt frantically for the script but can’t find it. Sometimes I step out and deliver lines perfectly, other times I stumble through the scene not knowing what to say next.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: That's my anxiety dream as well, Rhys. My youngest, Ginger, sent me a text yesterday complaining she had had an anxiety dream about Christmas: it was the night before, and  no presents were wrapped, no stockings were hung, and no one had gotten anything for her new boyfriend.

She plaintively concluded, I thought only parents had dreams about messing up Christmas!

JENN MCKINLAY: Ha! My anxiety dream is that I’m ironing a white blouse when I realize I’m two hours late for my first day as a librarian. I’m then torn between finishing the ironing (the shirt is very wrinkled) or running out the door as is! 

JULIA: I'm laughing at Jenn's -  when was the last time any of us ironed a shirt?

JENN: Right? It's ridiculous!!!

RHYS: I also have the college class or exam dream and the Christmas one. I dream it’s Christmas Day, stores are closed and we have people coming for whom I don’t have a present Luckily I took dream psychology in college and these are all too many things on my plate dreams. We all need to slow down. 

And I have never, ever dreamed about ironing. My subconscious knows it wouldn’t happen!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Ironing, no. But for years, I did have dreams about  when the show is about to start and I don't know the lines or the steps or the words to the songs. But recently, I was in the midst of that very stressful dream, and I stopped mid-dream and said to myself, this is a dream, and of course you know the songs and the steps, and even if you don’t, you can manage just fine. And I’ve never had it again.

I am also always dreaming that I find new and gorgeous rooms in my house, filled with beautiful voluptuous things,  and I wonder—oh how did I forget about these? I love these rooms. 

JULIA: Hank, I have that same dream and I also love it. How exciting to find new rooms you didn’t know you had! What I wonder is: do people who haven't done theater have those “I’m going on and I don’t know my lines” dreams? And why, when I spent 21 years in formal education, have I never had a dream where I’m unprepared for class or know nothing about a test? 

Another one you hear of constantly in TV and movies is the alleged “appearing nude in public” dream, and not only have I never had one of these, I’ve asked friends and family, and no one I know has every had that dream. Is it just made up?

Reds, tell us about your dreams and nightmares!

And ps from Lucy, today is the official launch date for the paperback edition of THE INGREDIENTS OF HAPPINESS! Find it wherever books are sold...

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

PĂ„skekrim aka "Easter crime" by Sydney Leigh

LUCY BURDETTE: We love reading the first book in a new series, so I'm delighted to welcome Sydney Leigh to talk about hers, plus Easter Crime. What's that, you say? Read on to find out about both...

SYDNEY LEIGH: One of the most unusual and fabulous Easter traditions I’ve recently come across is called PĂ„skekrim, or “Easter crime”, the Norwegian custom of reading crime fiction during Easter. It’s widely adopted and celebrated throughout the country. Typically, over half the books sold the week before are in the crime genre—impressive stats. The custom is so widespread in Norway that even milk cartons have crime stories printed on them around that time. And with a cozy mystery coming out soon, I’m always happy to see enthusiastic crime fiction readers!

So where does the PĂ„skrkrim tradition come from? A marketing ploy! In 1923, a local newspaper ran a headline about a train robbery in Bergen. People mistakenly believed it was a real news story and the whole country was gripped. But there was no crime, it was the title of a fictional novel. It created so much attention that once the truth came out, everyone was still invested in the story. People rushed to their local bookstore and bought themselves a copy. And that was it, the tradition was born.

Norway has an extended Easter break, with many people heading to their cabin in the mountains where they enjoy the last days of winter and spend time with family. Cards, board games, and reading are popular pastimes, with folks looking to disconnect from the digital world.

I love to visit the Hudson Valley in New York any time of year. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days than on a road trip to one of the many vibrant towns. Peril in Pink is set at a modern Bed & Breakfast in a fictional town in the Hudson Valley. It’s such a treat to find a local bookstore with a large cappuccino in hand, or sip on rosĂ© from a local winery while taking in the beauty of the area.

What are some spring traditions that you enjoy? (Reds, Sydney is giving away an ARC of Peril in Pink over at the Reds and Readers Facebook group. Leave a comment in that group to be
 entered in the drawing.)

BIO: Sydney Leigh spent several years running a seasonal business, working in the summer so she could spend cold months in cool places. Now she writes mysteries and thinks about murder. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and served on the board of Crime Writers of Canada from 2018-2021. Peril in Pink, the first book in the Hudson Valley B&B Mystery Series comes out in March 2024 with Crooked Lane Books. You can find Sydney at

ABOUT PERIL IN PINK: It’s the grand opening of The Pearl B&B in Hudson Valley, and owner Jess Byrne has prepared the ultimate, Insta-worthy welcome, complete with her ex-boyfriend—reality singing sensation Lars Armstrong—performing live. As guests check in and mimosas are poured, Lars arrives with his stepdad-turned-manager Bob in tow. But things go south when Bob is found dead, and Lars is the prime suspect.

After a desperate plea from Lars, and knowing the reputation of her B&B is at stake, Jess agrees to help clear Lars’ name, but the more she digs, the less sure she is that he’s innocent. Especially when he’s found at the scene of another murder. With the guests under lockdown, the B&B in the press for all the wrong reasons, and a killer on the loose, Jess is in over her head. With the help of her best friend and business partner Kat, Jess is determined to uncover the truth before Lars is put behind bars and The Pearl is permanently cancelled.

Amazon: Amazon-PerilinPink

Barnes & Noble: B&N.PerilinPink

Monday, March 25, 2024

Done Without Fail

 LUCY BURDETTE: I was standing in our stairwell after Lottie’s and my morning walk, and I noticed that I always walk up four steps before dropping my heels to stretch my Achilles and calves. Every day. Not the third step not the fifth step. Such a creature of habit, almost to the point of superstitious.

Before we go out, I always feed T-bone as he’s the one who wakes us up. I always take my naturopathic potions because they must be taken on an empty stomach. I always reward myself for getting up and out, with a cafĂ© con leche from the Cuban Coffee Queen. (The only time I’ve missed a morning is when we were visiting our kids in California.) 

I asked my sister, nature writer Susan Cerulean, what she does without fail. Once her husband brings her tea, she stays in bed and writes in her journal.

Okay, you may notice something missing in my list: I don’t spring up and write a thousand words. Wouldn’t that be an amazing habit to do without fail?? What’s on your list every morning, silly or not?

RHYS BOWEN: I usually wake much earlier than John so I take the one medication that needs an empty stomach.  If it’s a reasonable hour ( after seven) I turn on the hot water and warm the tea pot. Then I sit up in bed and read emails, answering the important ones. Then I check Facebook, do Wordle and Letterboxed and if John still

Isn’t awake I make tea and start to write. If it’s nice out a brief walk and hope to come back to John making breakfast

Oh, and Lucy, Clare’s convinced me to try a hypnosis app. You could plant the intent to write if you wanted to!

HALLIE EPHRON: A hypnosis app? We need a blog about that, Rhys. I’m dying to hear more.

As for me, I wake up and usually fail to do #1 on my list, which is to turn the sound back on on my cell. I check for any texts or emails that need to be addressed or are from my kids. Then I settle back in bed and read the New York Times. Ending with all their wonderful puzzles. Spelling Bee (I rarely get to genius). The mini crossword (ace it daily). Connections (usually I abandon it one quarter done). The crossword (only Monday-Wednesday; after that it’s too hard). Then I get up and check to see if the Boston Globe got delivered. I do love the comics, the bridge column, and I can do every day’s crossword puzzle except Sunday’s.

After breakfast and chai tea with honey, I attack the to-do list I generated the day before. And look  at the morning’s Jungle Red Writers post and wallow in the comments. I LOVE THE COMMENTS!

Writing? Silence… I know I need to change up my priorities. 

JENN McKINLAY: I don’t have much of a routine or a “have to” in the morning. The only thing I do consistently is drink a 15 oz glass of water with lemon and sea salt (hydration!) and then I make the coffee. After that, my day is anyone’s guess. My to-do list is in a constant state of flux, which suits me.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: In non-book tour mode, I wake up first, and check my email, then check JRW just to make sure all is well. I wait for Jonathan to get up, so I scan the Times and the Post, and then  do Connections, which I adore. Then I see if I can sneak in an Insta and FB post. Then I scroll other social media, just to scout for news and info.   Jonathan makes better coffee than I do so he makes the coffee and I figure out breakfast, which is different depending on my current obsession. (Recently toasted pita with peanut butter.)

Then I think, okay, gotta write. 

(Wordle is a reward, and comes later in the day.)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I’m such a screen addict, I can’t look at my phone or open my laptop until after my morning routine. Let’s see… I also have an “only on empty stomach” prescription, so that happens first. Full glass of water, followed by a trip to the loo. Yes, I noticed the rest of you left that out! Then it’s LOVE TIME for the Shih Tzus. They roll around ecstatically on my bed while I give them butt skritchs and tummy rubs. I listen to the NPR news summary via my Alexa, which scratches my current events itch. 

Then I head downstairs for more hot animal action, specifically breakfast for the dogs and the cat, overseeing the boys as they sniff around the dooryard for the first piddle of the day, and scooping the litter pan.

I’m sorry, y’all, I just realized a huge amount of my “hour one” is devoted to excretion. I’m cry-laughing as I write this. So glamorous.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I wake up hours earlier than Rick, so no lights, or coffee/tea in bed for me. But I do like to lie there in the quiet, and most mornings I try to meditate for about twenty minutes before I check my phone. I skim email, the weather, the blog. Then up and dress and downstairs to get the paper, then take the dogs out. Treats for dogs (morning meds, really), empty dishwasher, make breakfast (my favorite meal of the day, I think, even if it's just toast and fruit.) Most days I barely skim the paper and will put it aside to look out the window and enjoy my tea. Then off to the computer. 

I love the "done without fail" ritual of the morning--it's such a comforting and solid way to begin the day.

Reds, tell us about the things you do first thing in the morning without fail!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

RHYS on Gnomes

 RHYS BOWEN: I've posted before about being a female Peter Pan and still liking to play. Well, I also confess that I have a soft spot for stuffed toys. I talk to them sometimes. When I was recovering from knee surgery last month I had companionship:

My office has to have a couple of friends to talk to.  Here in Arizona it's Eliot, my elephant. He is wise and understanding, listens to me when I'm stuck and gives good advice, although he does often suggest that I find the body in the trunk.

Knowing my strange habits my family tends to give me appropriate gifts and this year it was gnomes. I love them! I expect I'll get more next year. And if you look closely at the Christmas tree you'll see all the stuffed mice I made this year.

I don't know why gnomes have suddenly become so popular. They are originally Scandinavian in origin... little men who bring the Christmas presents thus giving Santa a day off there. But now they are taking over here. You wait, in a few years there will be Christmas movies about the gnomes coming down from Norway because it's too cold and taking over from Santa at Macy's department store.

But they are now so popular that I found this St Patrick's gnome:  

I used him for the launch of our new Molly Murphy mystery last week. I asked my Facebook followers to name him/her and our own Joan Greenwood suggested Paddy, which I thought was a good choice as it could be male or female. I had considered Phil-gnomina.

And today look what I found! Easter gnomes!! What's next? Fourth of July gnomes? Election gnomes in the shape of Trump and Biden? The world waits.

So who else has started a gnome collection?

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Rhys ponders on words that make no sense...

 RHYS BOWEN: I read an article the other day about how we all, unknowingly, use completely obsolete words. When we send an email and we CC we are adding a carbon copy—putting that sheet of carbon paper into the typewriter to make an extra copy. We say we are e-mailing somebody when in fact we are sending an electronic message, no mailman involved.

 We also say we are taping a program we are watching on TV, but nobody has video tape any longer.

 Announcers sometimes still say “don’t touch that dial!” as if we still have a dial on our TV. People still talk about dialing a phone when we haven’t had dials since my youth.

 Filmed before a live audience is not true. We don’t film any more. We don’t create albums on vinyl or call them records.

 The icon for the save button on our computer is still a floppy disc!

 I find that I email somebody saying, “It was great to hear from you again.”  No, I didn’t hear, I read a message from them.

 My husband John always calls his computer a machine. Not true as a computer has no moving parts, hence is not a machine.

 My granddaughters do not date any more, or even go steady. My granddaughter Liz says that she and Nick are “talking”.  That’s the stage before the going steady and who knows what that is called!

 I know I am horribly guilty of so many such words—are they anachronisms? First I am British so my vocabulary includes words like brilliant. I don’t say groovy, however. Or cool any longer. And second I write about the past so that vocabulary is constantly running through my head. My characters say “Heavens! And Golly! And Gosh. All of which I sometimes use.  I tell someone I’ll “ring them up”. Or “give them a ring” when I mean call them on my cell which is no longer a mobile phone. (although it is in England).

 I am aware enough not to call a flight attendant a stewardess, although I know people who do.  I am certainly aware enough not to use words like queer or gay although both of those had a perfectly good meaning when I was young.

 I do not actually write books, as in holding a pen in my hand over a piece of paper. I transmit my thoughts electronically. So the word writing means the act of creation not the way I do it. And I may announce that my books are “hot off the press” when they probably were never hot.

 I still hear “running out of steam”,  “blowing off steam” “on the flip side” “flash in the pan” And what about “nose to the grindstone”.  How many of us have actually used a grindstone, let alone put our noses anywhere near it?

 So I’d like to know what outdated words and phrases you still use, probably without thinking of their original meaning?

And having talked about writing, at a keyboard, I thought I'd end with some levity! Have a great weekend.

And Edith’s tote bag goes to Nora A. Email Edith at

And Susan’s winner is Flora. Please contact Susan at

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Reds Dish on Book Tours.

 RHYS BOWEN: We have all been following Hank’s progress on what seems like the longest book tour ever. Smiling faces in every city, lots of copies of the book held up with the bookface, and already into a second printing. All good. All lovely.

 Those of you who are aspiring or new authors long for the first real book tour. It seems so glamorous to fly to distant cities, to be met by a town car, driven to a very fancy hotel where you can order anything you like on room service, then to the event where adoring crowds are waiting for you then repeat the process the next day.

 In some ways it is glamorous and lovely. I’m always overwhelmed when fans tell me they’ve come long distances to see me. I had one fan fly to Houston from New Orleans. Last year I met two ladies from Portland OR when I was signing in Scottsdale. “Are you here for spring training?” I asked. “No, just to see you,” they replied. Gob smacking.

 But let me tell you that book tours quickly lose their glamor and appeal. For one thing the car comes around five am to make that flight to the next city. That lovely hotel room? You only see it after nine at night. And as for food… there is never a good time to eat. Five am too early for breakfast at the hotel. Five pm too early for dinner but after the event nine thirty is too late. So it’s a case of Starbucks at the airport then nuts and cheese in the carry on.

 And sometimes absolute horror stories, like the time I was driven out of Houston, in August, to a radio station somewhere in the piney woods. Car dropped me off and left. The door is locked. I phoned their number. Nobody answered. I’m melting in the middle of nowhere. Temperature 101 degrees. I bang on door, call number again. After about fifteen minutes they pick up and I am admitted. She was alone there and on air and didn't hear me. Scary.

 I’ve had plenty of others. Blizzard in Chicago. Room over event with band at hotel with music thumping until 2 am. Hair dryer doesn’t work and they haven’t sent up a replacement with ten minutes to go. Photo with store pig etc etc. I was trying to think of the worst and this one comes to mind. I fly into Denver after a snowstorm. Snow everywhere. Because I’m flying out really early next morning they have put me at a hotel near the airport. In the middle of snow covered fields. I was met by my escort who drives me to a zillion bookstores to sign then drops me off at hotel at 2:30 promising to pick me up again at 5;30.  I go to the front desk.

                      “Where’s the coffee shop?” I asked.

                      “They closed at 2.”

                      “So you do room service?”

                      “No ma’am.”

                      “And is there anywhere to eat around here?”  I look out onto snowy fields. Not a building in sight.

                      “Not really.”

                      “Then could you call me a cab, maybe?”

                      “Maybe..” she looks as if a cab isn’t likely to want to take one woman to a nearby food place. Then she adds, “We do have a hotel bus. I could drive you if you wait a minute.”

                      And so we set off in quite a large bus. At last I spot a miracle. The Golden Arches. We drive through the drive-through at McDonalds. I order a meal for myself and one for my driver. Saved.

So Reds, share your worst book tour experience!

HALLIE EPHRON: The true nightmare is arriving at a bookstore and finding they have none of your books. And … oops… they didn’t put you in their newsletter so it’s just you, the bookseller, a few empty chairs, and a pot-bellied pig the size of an overstuffed ottoman. THEN you go to your motel and the room smells funky. You walk across the street to a restaurant, sit at the bar, order a burger, and get to talking with a guy and his friend. When you’re walking home, the guy pulls up in front of you. He’s driving a Ford pickup and blocking you so you can’t cross the street. 

“Need a ride?,” he asks. 

Cue scary music.

RHYS: You've encountered the pig too, Hallie! I was with Lyn Hamilton and when we left she grabbed my arm and said, "We're going to get a large order of spare ribs!"

JENN McKINLAY: OMG, Hallie!!! I think you have a wonderful opener for a horror novel there. EEK! 

For me, book tours are only fun if I’m going with a group of fellow authors. I’ve been very lucky that my publisher has sent me on a few of these multi author excursions (ALA’s annual conference and surrounding area bookstores of wherever we are being my absolute favorites). It’s a blast because not only do you get to meet readers and librarians but you get to have a gal pal trip added to the mix. Shenanigans!

Some of my absolute best memories are of being in the middle of a Texas book tour and finding the best Czech pastries - kolaches!!! - or having a writer buddy drag me out of our hotel to hop in a cab and drive to a look off where I could see the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time IRL. Amazing!

RHYS: Jenn, I've had such fun touring with other authors. I really miss that.

LUCY BURDETTE: OMG Hallie, I’m never going on book tour again! Agree with Jenn, write this! I’ve never had a publisher setting up a book tour for me, so I’ve gotten very picky about what I put my energy in. Built-in crowds like my recent Friends of the Bonita Springs Library lunch are my very favorite. Although Jenn, I will go anywhere with you!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: On, my gosh. Where to start. A mixture of absolutely glorious joy and real glamor and truly grueling exhausting travel.  As Rhys says,I’ve just come back from essentially six weeks on the road, sometimes with four events a day. 

I learned to order one of those little bottles of wine on the plane, but NOT DRINK IT and stash it in my bag. Then buy a big sandwich as I leave each airport, have half the sandwich for lunch in my hotel (where the only option is  a fridge in the lobby of buyable frozen chicken potpies and bad tortillas,), and the other half for dinner along with the hoarded wine. SO glam!  Once I had to Uber to a Panera. Once I got dinner at Wegmans. 

One place I stayed was a B&B which was gorgeous but where the television changed channels without me touching the remote. They just—changed.

Or when I dragged myself back to the room, happy but exhausted after a wonderful event, looking forward to the leftover sandwich and hoarded wine. SO TIRED! But the key card would not work. 

I dragged myself back downstairs to the desk.

“Help,” I said, as I handed over the dead card.  “My key card is demagnetized, can you fix it?”

The desk clerk looked at it. Did not pick it up. “Ma’am,  this is a Hyatt key.”

Me, SO tired. “I KNOW, and it doesn't work in my door.”

Clerk: “Understandable. This hotel is a Hilton.”

And I am now losing my voice entirely. And I would not trace it for anything. I adored every minute, even the bleak and lonely ones. Because I am so lucky.

JULA SPENCER-FLEMING: Wait, wait - can we rewind? Rhys… a photo with the store PIG? I want to hear more about that! (RHYS: Hallie met it too. Giant hairy pig that drooled over my shoes).

I agree with Jenn - the most fun I’ve had on book tour has been with other authors, but my WORST experience was also a joint endeavor. Back in the early aughts, the amazing Denise Hamilton and I combined forces and budgets for our “Murdering Mommies” tour - which stretched a total of 9 weeks. 

We were in Portland, OR (or as I call it, the second Portland) and were super excited to have been booked into a Powell’s store - the second biggest one, in the Cedar Crossing mall. Huge, right? We picked up our rental car and hit the road; we had a mid-day talk and signing at a small store that went smashingly, then we drove around signing stock, and then time for our big event!

These were the days BEFORE smart phones, and Denise was navigating via the elaborate directions my publicist had printed out and mailed us. I’m following her instructions, but instead of leading out to suburbia, I’m weaving my way through densely populated area. At one point, the speed dropped to 25, and the road had tiny roundabouts to make sure we couldn’t accelerate to hit the children Big Wheeling in the street. 

We finally arrived at a tiny store. We are utterly confused. We go in to see a handful of early-twenties kids, all bent over books or laptops. The manager, who is also about 20, was happy to see us. “We’re the university store,” he says, “we just opened! I wondered why they wanted you to sign here.” 

There are three hardcover and five paperbacks for Denise. There are five hardcover and three paperbacks for me. The signing takes less that four minutes. None of the students even looks up at us. The manager offers us each a complimentary pumpkin muffin. 

As we walk to the rental, Denise veers off toward the trunk. “What are you doing?” I said.

"Seeing if someone left a weapon. I’m about to go on a rampage.”

RHYS: Julia, I think we've all had that store where nobody came. It's humiliating, humbling and probably good for us.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, wow, Hank, just gobsmacked!! So not funny at all! Other than that, I have to agree on the pal tours. Many of my favorite book tour memories are of tours and events with Charles and Caroline Todd. We were not only friends but big fans of the other's books and that made it really easy for the joint talks.

But the hotel rooms, early flights, no food–it all can be pretty grueling. I think Hank is Wonder Woman!

HANK: Oh, well, touring with a pal. Huh. Once I did that, she wasn't a pal, but assigned by a publicist. We had a fine time, all good, three days together on the road  with three events a day. So you can imagine how often we heard what the other would say. 

On the last event of the last day, she got up to give her stump biography–”where did you grow up and how did it inspire your writing”--and SHE GAVE MINE INSTEAD. Word for word, MINE.Later, I heard she thought it was a completely hilarious thing to do.

I did not agree.

RHYS: So now you know the secrets of our not-so-glamorous life. Just when we feel pretty good about ourselves we have one of these humbling experiences. Like when I was in a huge limo and the driver asked if I'd like to stop for a coffee. He went to get me one. So many people saw the limo. Came up to it. Who is it? Excited. Looked at me. Oh. 

Any more stories to share about book signings?

Thursday, March 21, 2024


 RHYS BOWEN:  I've just released book Twenty in my Molly Murphy series and I've found myself wondering when it might be time to walk away. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm still enjoying her, and Lady Georgie, but there must come a time when a series comes to a logical end, mustn't there?

Anyway, this is what my guest today is pondering at the moment. Susan Shea is a dear friend and neighbor, allowing me to share plenty of cups of coffee or fish and chips while we mull over books and the publishing world. So I'll let you tell her about it...

SUSAN SHEA: Hi Reds, It’s such a treat to be back visiting some of my absolute favorite authors! My newest book, MURDER AND THE MISSING DOG, has just launched. It’s the fourth one set in the rural towns of the Yonne region of Burgundy, largely off the tourist path, but brimming with small pleasures, great food – and mysteries, of course!


I’m right now deciding if I’ll continue to write about my cast of ex-pats and their neighbors or veer in a new direction. I already had to say goodbye to Dani O’Rourke, the smart professional woman at the heart of that three-book series, and it made me sad. Now, it could be au revoir to Ariel Shepard and her friends as well as their quirky French hosts. It’s a big decision.

 Some of the Reds write stand-alones. Others write series. Have you ever contemplated giving your series characters a grand send-off, or letting them drift into the fog? And if you’re a wizard with stand-alones, do you ever think that staying with your characters as they move past one crisis might be intriguing? What do readers want?

 Info about the book:

 MURDER AND THE MISSING DOG is the second book in a series set in and around a modest, dilapidated chĂąteau in Burgundy. American Ariel Shepard inherited it from her romantic husband, who secretly bought it after they visited the grounds on their honeymoon. He died suddenly before he could have it restored. She has moved to the rural town and taken on the challenge, making friends and finding a collection of off-beat local workers. She’s also found trouble, in this case the body of an eccentric old woman from the town crumpled on the doorstep of her friend Katherine’s little shop. The gendarmes are on the scene almost immediately and she and her two friends, who became entangled in a former homicide investigation, are warned not to get involved. But the police aren’t interested in the missing dog, which was Madame Toussaint’s constant companion. Ariel, Katherine, and their young English friend Pippa see no harm in looking for the dog, but of course that leads them right into the heart of the bigger mystery.


 Susan says she’s been writing since she was old enough to read. She left a career in non-profits to write crime fiction because it looked like more fun. She’s written three highly praised murder mystery series all of which are available in one or more formats: The Dani O’Rourke Mysteries; two Burgundy novels; and the French ChĂąteau series that takes place in the same neighborhood as the first Burgundy novels. The newest chĂąteau novel was published March 5. They’re all traditional-cozy style, laced with humor. Susan is past president of the Norcal Sisters in Crime chapter, and served five years on the SinC national board. She lives with two cats, blogs with some dynamite authors at 7CriminalMinds, and has an author page on Facebook. .

RHYS: Who could resist a book with a dog on the cover AND lovely French houses AND sunshine!

Susan will be giving away a signed copy to one of today's commenters!

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Research into a Hundred Years Ago with Edith Maxwell

RHYS BOWEN: Edith is one of our Reds regulars here so needs no introduction, except for me to say that I loved her Midwife mysteries and I'm so glad she delving into history again, this time with a fabulous real heroine.

EDITH MAXWELL:  Thanks so much to Rhys for inviting me back to the front part of Jungle Red Writers! I'm here to share my exciting venture into a historical era new to me with last week's release of A CASE FOR THE LADIES, the first Dot and Amelia Mystery.


Yes, that Amelia.


And for fans of Rhys’ books – and who isn’t? – I included an Easter egg, which might include mention of a New York PI named Molly. (A grinning winking emoji might be appropriate here, except it would be a historical anachronism.) Rhys and now Clare are masters of research into life of decades and even a century past, and I hope my own efforts meet with their approval.


Here’s how my writing A Case for the Ladies happened. About five years ago, I learned Amelia Earhart had taught English to immigrant factory workers in my town of Amesbury, Massachusetts, which is nestled into the top right corner of Massachusetts. This was before Amelia became famous, and that simple little fact was enough to inspire an entire mystery novel.

 After Amelia left Amesbury, she worked at the Denison House settlement house in Boston, teaching and counseling immigrant women during the week.


 She even coached the Chinese girls basketball team out of the settlement house, and you can bet that went straight into my novel. I also loved learning that Amelia kept a scrapbook of strong women she heard about, those with accomplishments in many fields, and she would talk to girls and young women about them as role models for what they could achieve.

 In the mid-1920s, Amelia lived with her mother and sister in the Boston-area suburb of Medford.


The nearby neighborhood of West Medford, a quiet area along the Mystic River, was originally settled by Pullman porters and still has a large number of Black residents. (It’s also where I formerly lived and where my best friend has lived for decades). West Medford a hundred years ago was called The Ville. An older Black porter and a young Black police officer play important roles in A Case for the Ladies.

 I walked with my friend Jennifer from her home in West Medford on a kind of pilgrimage to the home Amelia shared with her mother and sister


I also learned that Amelia drove a yellow Kissell speedster at the time, a gorgeous – and fast - vehicle, which she called Gold Bug. I found a car guy in the Midwest who kindly sent me photos of his restored Kissell along with a recording of the sound of the horn. Thanks, Ronald Hausmann!


During the time Amelia worked at Denison House, she flew a Kinner Airster on the weekends out of an airfield south of Boston.


Confusingly, it was the Dennison airfield in Quincy, named after the man who built it, but I found a way to address those two spellings in a conversation in the book.

 I didn't go up in a small plane like Amelia’s, but I consulted with a friend who holds a pilot's license. Janet Catherine Johnston commuted to work for a few years in her own small plane, and she helped me so much with details about the scene in the book where Dot swallows her nerves in the pursuit of justice and goes aloft with Amelia. (Janet also writes plays and speculative fiction – really sciencey science fiction – and is an astrophysicist, an officer at MIT, and oh, did I mention she teaches belly dancing?)

 All of this history took place before Amelia became a famous aviator. I recently had the change to share a piece of the stage at my local historical museum with actor Sheryl Faye, who embodies Earhart in her later days.



It was so fun to share notes with her about our favorite pilot.

 And then there was my research into 1926 culture. Historical mystery author Susanna Calkins saved my, uh, bacon by making sure I knew Amelia was a confirmed teetotaler. I pivoted and made that work, even though others had stockpiled alcohol just before the Volstead Amendment (aka, Prohibition) took effect.

 I always love researching language. “Gasper” and “ciggie” were slang for cigarettes. “Cheaters” referred to eyeglasses. “The bee’s knees” was high praise, as was “the cat’s pajamas.” “Flapping your gums” meant talking too much, and “ankling” meant walking. And so much more.

 At about the same time I learned about Amelia’s Boston-area presence, I had envisioned an alternate reality as a lady PI for my father’s mother, Dorothy Henderson Maxwell.

 An avid and adept automobile driver since she was a teenager, my Mama Dot was an elegant and capable wife, mother, and grandmother. Frankly, she could have been so much more, and I love imagining her life as a warrior working alongside Amelia for justice for abused and murdered women.

 The following photo shows Dot at thirty-two with my grandfather, Allan Sr, and their three children, Allan Jr (my beloved father), Ruthie (smiling), and Joan (scowling, despite being a perpetually smiling aunt to me).



Readers: What historical era do you like to read novels set in? I’d love to send one of you a special limited-edition A Case for the Ladies tote bag.

A Case for the Ladies:

Amid Prohibition, Irish gangs, the KKK, and rampant mistreatment of immigrant women, intrepid private investigator Dorothy Henderson and her pal Amelia Earhart seek justice for several murdered young women in 1926 Boston. As tensions mount, the sleuths, along with their reporter friend Jeanette Colby and Dot’s maiden Aunt Etta Rogers, a Wellesley College professor, experience their own mistreatment at the hand of society and wonder who they can really trust.

 "Maddie Day’s tale — in which she imagines an alternate and crime-solving reality for a pre-fame Amelia Earhart — is as much fun as a ride in one of Earhart's planes! Day's heroine Dot Henderson, visiting from California, detects around a well-drawn 1920s Boston with an appealing circle of friends, including the famous aviatrix. Fans of historical fiction will love this women-focused mystery." 

 —Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean, and the Maggie D'arcy series 

 "This book is a triumph on so many levels! From the excitement of our foremothers stepping out of their traditional roles, to the exhilaration of early plane flight, to tackling tough subjects such as immigration, bigotry, and crime gang rivalries in 1920s Boston, Maddie Day paints a stunning portrait of one of America's most dynamic periods."

—Alyssa Maxwell, author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries


 Maddie Day pens the Dot and Amelia Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, and the Cece Barton Mysteries. As author Edith Maxwell, she’s the author of the Agatha Award-winning historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries and 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,, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media:

And Edith is doing a giveaway of the new book! Add your comments.


Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A Bitter-Sweet Ending for Cara Black

RHYS BOWEN: This is a good week. I have dear friends with new books out, visiting us on Jungle Reds, and starting with one of my closest friends, Cara Black. Cara and I have had a book launch around the same time for many years and have previously toured together ( lots of fun, some strange adventures).
 Now I'm in Arizona and Cara is goodness knows where today, off on a book tour all over the country. But I was lucky enough to snag her before she set off and ask her to share details of the latest, and last in her beloved Parisian series.

CARA BLACK: Bonjour REDS! Rhys was recently over for lunch and reminded to get my post ready for you all. It’s a bit of a bittersweet one since it’s about my new AimĂ©e Leduc book, MURDER AT LA VILLETTE, which is just out. Bittersweet, I’ll explain but first it’s exciting, too. 

Thrilling to bring readers to the 19th arrondissement, the underbelly of Paris on the canal. While working undercover in a start-up funded by the local 19th arrondissement initiative, AimĂ©e Leduc, a computer security specialist PI, is unhappy at the toxic staff environment + treatment of local employees. Especially, Isabelle, a cleaner and former junkie, who’s gone clean in a program along with AimĂ©e’s cousin, SĂ©bastien, and who supports her brother disabled with muscular dystrophy. AimĂ©e’s ex, Melac, formerly in the anti-terrorist brigade, and bio father of her 3 year old daughter ChloĂ©, is insisting they move to Brittany and live on his farm. 

That train left a long time ago - Conflicted, she knows fresh farm life, sea air and nature would be wonderful for her child but stuck on a farm for how long? AimĂ©e, a Parisienne, needs a cafe at the corner and ChloĂ©’s in preschool, but is that being a good mom? As if this wasn’t tugging on her mind, AimĂ©e’s in a new relationship with Loic Bellan. Juggling her undercover job, her detective agency with her partner RenĂ©, being a mother, trying to maintain her relationship with Bellan is stressful enough without Melac hounding her to meet him and consider shared custody in Brittany. Melac, who's been stalking her, insists they meet after her work. When he leaves a cryptic message that ‘he’s just seen a ghost’ she knows that’s unlike him. Concerned, she looks for him by the canal where he usually waits/stalks her after work figuring to deal with this once and for all - she’s not sharing custody with Melac or moving to Brittany. 

What she discovers upends her life as events take a disastrous turn. AimĂ©e realizes she’s been set up as a suspect in murder. She goes on the run, in a cat and mouse chase, donning disguises in the 19th arrondissement of Paris Up to her neck, AimĂ©e realises she must take help where she can. If she doesn’t find the murderer she’ll face the consequences - lose her daughter, business, everything. Convinced she’s been set up she’s afraid to lose her daughter, never see her again. 

People often ask me why I write mysteries and thrillers, and I know the Reds and Readers will have their reasons, which I'd love to hear. I came up with three reasons: -
1st- There’s a real crime that intrigues me. Sometimes I read about this, a French flic tells me about one of her/his cases, or a miscarriage of justice happening to a friend. In M at LV - this was inspired by a serial killer who’d eluded the police for 30 yrs despite his composite sketch being on the Commissariat wall - his identity was in the papers the day I walked this street with my friend a policeman, where his first victim was discovered, a young girl. Echos of past in the community, weight of history, reverberations of crime thru generations. 
This idea leads me into ‘what would I do, if that were me?’ ‘would I be able to survive?’ and ‘what if…’ being curious + asking questions. I feel it’s important to show why historical crime fiction matters, and hopefully in 3 Hours, Night Flight I found ways how to breathe life into forgotten moments, lost voices, little told women’s stories and the timeless human experience and now, in small ways, in AimĂ©e’s investigation in the 19th. -

2nd-I like that there’s a fight for justice, a wrong to be righted, a form of justice triumphs in a mystery that doesn’t often happen in life, it’s a resolution - but not every bow gets tied. I like mysteries and thrillers with high stakes - if character doesn’t solve the crime someone could die, or in a thriller; can a character get loose, escape? Can they accomplish their mission? In AimĂ©e’s case she has no choice. If she doesn’t find the killer she faces prison + losing her child. Her life ruined. The killer gets away to strike again. -3rd-I like learning about forensics and police procedures in Paris, how the canal system works, going in the sewers to know how it feels, going on the rooftops, meeting detectives and seeing if female flics can run in heels. Finding the ambiance of this area. Research for this book took me to parts off the beaten track. Emigres have settled here over the centuries, it’s residential, formerly industrial because of it’s location on the canal. 

Working people can still afford to raise a family there. Ethnically and culturally it’s diverse, a large Orthodox Jewish population, those of North Africans and Arab descent, In the 1900’s Germans settled and established a church. There’s RĂ©sistance history - a female chemist who made bombs, the attack on the petit ceinture as Germans retreated, my friend’s father who was arrested outside the police station and sent to Struthof-Natzweiller camp. Charming pockets and feel of old Paris, how a cafe owner knew my friend and told stories, and so many memories held here. 

Right now, I know I’ve done more than what I dreamed possible in Paris and solving crime in all the arrondissements. Actually I goofed and set two books in one arrondissement, so there’s now 21. It’s defined my life for 25 years. Financed my Paris addiction. I’ve always gone to Paris feeling like a reporter hunting for AimĂ©e’s next story

The AimĂ©e Leduc mysteries have been the framework of my world and my family’s and now you might be wondering what might come next for me, but all I can say at this point is “Watch this space.” I don’t know if there will another story to tell or where it would happen. I don’t know if this is AimĂ©e’s last bow, the closing novel in the series. For now I’ve written another book which is at my editor’s - of course set in France. 

Where should I go next? Somewhere else in France? What time period? I'll be giving away a signed copy of Murder at La Villette to the suggestion I like the best! 
I'm on tour right now ,so maybe I'll come to your neck of the woods.

Merci for having me, Reds and love to hear your thoughts! Cara

RHYS: Where should Cara go next? She will be giving away a signed copy of the LAST Aimee LeDuc book! Add your comments to be included.