251 posts categorized "Guest Blog"

October 15, 2011

It’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down

HANK: So I'm in the big striped armchair, reading.

My husband says: "What?"

I say:  "What, what?"

And he says--"You're laughing."

I say, "Oh, yeah, this book is wonderful." I go back to reading. 

A few minutes later:

"What?" Jonathan says.

I put my finger on the page, impatient,  marking the place. "What what?"

"You laughed again."

Well, yeah. I had to leave the room, and go read elsewhere, else Jonathan would never have allowed me to finish.

I know it's not hip anymore  to describe a book by saying:  "It's X meets Y."  But if I said: It's Upstairs, Downstairs meets. ..Nora Charles?   Catriona McPherson's  new  Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains  is a little bit Agatha, a little bit--well, maybe a little bit Catriona herself, as I learned when I (as a complete fan girl)  met her at Bouchercon.

SO happy to introduce her to you! I either had to make her photo HUGE or small like this. Catriona (which is pronounced like the hurricane of New Orleans notoriety) is so very demure and to the manner born, I'm sure she'd prefer small.)



by Catriona McPherson

I have a new but dear friend, Eileen Rendahl,  (see below) who introduced herself to me just over a year ago as a writer of romantic suspense, currently moving into urban fantasy.  Boy, was I impressed.  (This is prosaic licence; actually she introduced herself by saying “Hi, I’m Eileen. I’m going to get some kettle corn”).  But the fact remains that this is a woman who knows her genres, sub-genres and the niches therein.  Looks it too, eh?  Quietly assured.


Me?  I know nothing.  A year ago I didn’t even know what steam-punk was.   (To anyone else as ignorant as I was: steam-punk is the other category of popular culture that’s not zombies) 

Okay, maybe it’s not true to say I know nothing.  I know my books were crime novels in UK and are mysteries here, but after that it gets shaky.

 I thought I knew a bit more.  Much as I don’t exactly love the label “cozy” I reckoned, when I moved to California a year ago, that it was the best way to describe my series to my hoped-for new audience. 

A reader at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco put me straight.  Apparently . . . it’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down.   Not even if you just let your heroine detective discover a nailed down kitten, prise it free with a hat-pin and take it home  where they all live happ- 

Oh wait, no they don’t.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this fictional calamity.  Not a one.  In fact, some fiction was probably harmed in honour of animals, when I couldn’t move to check an etymology in the Shorter Oxford or boot up Google-earth to see exactly what some street in Dunkeld looks like, because I didn’t want to disturb the real cat who was sleeping on my knee.

Now, I could say I write traditional mysteries.  In fact, I do say it.  Traditional mysteries are described on the Malice Domestic website as novels containing no explicit sex or excessive gore and violence.  Kind of negative, but hey.

My series doesn’t have either explicit sex or graphic violence, as it happens, but here’s why.  I set out ten years ago to write stories in homage to the British golden age, following humbly in the footsteps of: Dorothy L Sayers, without the casual anti-Semitism; Margery Allingham, with less oblique dialogue, because I couldn’t be sure that my books would be read and re-read until they made sense (or is it just me that needs a few goes at some Allinghams before I get them?); and Agatha Christie, without the eighty published works and the West-end play (being realistic).   It’s because the crime novels published in London in the 1920s and 30s have no sex and little violence that mine don’t.  And no effing and jeffing either.

So when a fan of my 1920s series read a stand-alone set in modern times, she was disgusted.  Hurt and offended and moved to write and tell me.  The language was unbearable.  And not just the profanity, but also the sloppy syntax.  My classically educated 1920s narrator writes beautiful English: properly formed sentences with subordinate clauses and subjunctive mood and scads of whoms and whences.  She’d no more split an infinitive than she’d eat a pie in the street.  My dear!  My 1980s heroine . . . less so.

 And as to what genre my modern novels fall under?  I thought they were stories, maybe yarns, possibly capers.  Told you I know nothing: those aren’t genres.  But because I was a woman, they were packaged and marketed as women’s fiction.  Ironically, the first one was about time-travel and I felt as if I’d time-travelled my way back to the 1950s, clever lady-doctors, male nurses, and fiction that was women’s fiction because a woman wrote it.  Below, Exhibit A.

  GrowingUpAgainI rest my case.  (This isn’t self promotion: it’s out of print.)

 Flash forward five years and see me bellowing at my car radio during NPR’s All Things Considered last week when Jeffrey Eugenides (love ‘im) was interviewed by Neal Conan (love ‘im too but keep reading) about his new book The Marriage Plot.   Conan quoted someone as having said that gender equality had been bad for literature because marriage could no longer be at the centre of a novel in the same way it was for Jane Austen and George Eliot.    But fear not, Conan went on, because Eugenides had managed to pull off the amazing feat of writing a novel about love in which we don’t know, for all of its length, who the heroine will marry.


Screen shotSeriously.  A man has written a romance and thus proved that it’s possible to do so.  It reminds me of that old office-meeting joke: “Good idea,  Miss Jones.  Now, would one of you men like to have it, so we can minute it and move on?”

I’m pretty sure you’re not a cozy writer if you scream obscenities at NPR and blow a stop sign and then scream obscenities at the CHP because he calls you ma’am and makes you feel old and so he arrests you and you spend the night banged up in the tank and so you get your residency revoked by Homeland Security and you have to go back to Scotland and so you don’t need to wonder whether they’re cozies anyway.

I saw the stop sign just in time.  The rest was fiction.  Just don’t ask me what genre, okay?

HANK: I adore Margery Allingham..and confess to a huge crush on Albert Campion. (Leslie Howard, right?) Did you read golden age mysteries? What do you remember--crushes, anyone? (Roderick Alleyn? Peter Wimsey?)


Dandy_Gilver_and_the_ProperCatriona McPherson is a recovering academic and the author of six novels set in Scotland in the 1920s, featuring the gently-born but nevertheless pretty kick-ass private detective, Dandy Gilver.  St Martin's Press have just launched the series in the US with The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains.  A year ago, Catriona left a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in southern Scotland, and now lives on a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in northern California.  Cantaloupe instead of rutabaga - otherwise business as usual.




October 02, 2011

Tinkering with meals, music and murder, guest blog by Joelle Charbonneau

HANK:  So you know book conventions, right. Panels of authors talking about new ideas and new books and writing and reading and..stuff like: voice. But at Bouchercon in St. Louis a week or so ago, something very strange happened on one of the panels. "Voice" took on a whole new context.

The panelists...wait for it...SANG. SANG!  Would you have the moxie to sing your answers?  Joelle Charbonneau was a star performer..and singing isn't her only talent. She's hilarious, and  multi-talented--and a wonderful new voice in mystery world. Her books are original and wonderful--even reading her unusual and wide-raining bio
 is a treat. (Check it out.)

And we're so happy she's here today...


Author photo I have a major personality flaw.  (Okay, technically I have dozens of astonishingly large personality flaws.  However, for the purpose of this blog post and to keep my therapy and chocolate bill down to a minimum, I’m going to just pretend I have just the one.)  I like to tinker.  Okay – now you’re probably rolling your eyes at me.  Lots of people like to tinker, right?  But, for me, tinkering is a major problem.  I feel the need to tinker with everything.


If I’m making Cambell’s soup out of a can, I add garlic, pepper or sometimes even cream to it.  And if I make dinner from scratch (which more often is the case) I never make a recipe the same way twice.  I have to add a bit of this and a bit of that to see how it tastes. (This drives everyone who knows me nuts because I never have a recipe to hand them if they like what I make.  I can make a good guess, but I’m never totally sure I remember exactly what tinkering I did.)


I’m also a tinkerer around the house.  If my husband cleans the house (kind of a big “if” but it does happen), I always have to go around and fix what didn’t get cleaned exactly right.  Books in bookshelves get rearranged frequently.  Knickknacks and picture frames are moved from place to place.  I’m no the best housekeeper in the world, but when I get into the spirit, I find myself fiddling with just about everything.


And don’t get my students talking about the tinkering I do in voice lessons.  I’m a huge perfectionist with their tone and their dynamics.  During a lesson, I might stop them a dozen times during the course of just one musical phrase adjusting this and that until it sounds just the way I think it should.  And then I do the same thing with the next phrase.  And once the music sounds great I start to fiddle with their acting choices.  There are days I think my students are ready to deck me.  Thankfully, they haven’t succumbed to the temptation – yet.


Yes.  When it comes to tinkering I am an “A” type personality.  Which is probably why it comes as no surprise that I tinker A LOT when I write.  There is always a word (or hundreds) that I can change and adjust and make better no matter what stage of the process I’m in.  This means I tend to fret and worry when a new book comes out that I didn’t do enough tinkering.  Yes, I need professional help.


And I guess it is even less surprising that my characters can’t help but tinker when murder and crime come to their towns.  I mean, who does that?  What person looks at a dead body and says, “I should find the guy who did this?”  Well, Rebecca Robbins did in SKATING AROUND THE LAW.  And now she’s fiddling again in SKATING OVER THE LINE.  This time there are cars exploding around town and a band of scary dudes appearing on darkened street corners.  No matter how hard she tries to stay out of the mix, Rebecca gets sucked into the mystery.  She just can’t help it.  I guess she comes by it honest because neither can I. 


Joelle Charbonneau has performed in a variety of operas and musical theatre productions across the Chicagoland area.  She now teaches private voice lessons and uses her stage experience to create compelling characters in her books.  The first of the Rebecca Robbins mysteries, SKATING AROUND THE LAW (Minotaur Books) was called “Sexy and funny” by Kirkus Reviews.  The second book in the series, SKATING OVER THE LINE, will hit shelves on Sept. 27th, 2011.  The first of her newest series, MURDER FOR CHOIR, will be published by Berkley in July, 2012.


September 24, 2011

The Idea Completion Consultant

Judith Greber (aka Gillian Roberts)

Judy Portrait 024

[From Margaret:   Please welcome my good friend Judith. Under her real name she's written four well-received mainstream novels. Using her Gillian Roberts' name, she's the author of the Anthony Award-winning Amanda Pepper series, two mysteries about Marin County detectives, a short-story collection and the how-to: You Can Write a Mystery. Either Judy or Gillian is currently finishing a novel set against the Inquisition in 17th century Mexico.]



This past year, I had the pleasure of spending a month in the sort of sleepy Mexican town we call “unspoiled” as we flock down there to spoil it.  So far, this fishing village is fairly intact with just enough appreciation for tourism to provide non-sleepy-Mexican-town comforts. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of place that makes people ask: “But what do you do there?”

            Well…nothing. I’ve discovered a great talent for doing nothing.  It’s quite enough to begin the day with an hour or two walk in the surf, observing what the tide brought in, talking with the fishermen getting ready to go out, talking with other beach-walkers, talking with each other.

            And of course we brought all the electronic vestiges of the ‘spoiled’ world: music, DVD’s, computers, p-books and e-books, watercolors and cameras. There were friends and family to visit us, the leisurely old-world food shopping: first, to the vegetable and fruit man, then the chicken or fish market. Dining out was either the incredible taco stand set up on the sidewalk on a folding table each night or more traditional restaurants. And always sun, sand and sea.  Also margaritas, of course.

            And, yes, an unfinished manuscript to which the only word added was, ‘manaña.’

            As I said, nothing.

            One thing that had not (yet) reached town was shopping as entertainment.  One overpriced artsy-crafty shop and one lovely clothing store for 20 year olds who wore size 2, and that was that.  Which is why, en route to the butcher, baker and such, I consistently ignored a storefront I passed on my way. One glance at the fading sign sufficed.  Surfing lessons. Souvenirs. Gifts. The town didn’t have interesting shops but it had lots like this, so I walked on by.


            Besides, even if I had been ready to leap on a boogie board, or buy a t-shirt, the store was always closed.

For some reason (perhaps I really did need another cheesy souvenir key-ring?) right before we were leaving, I finally read the sign carefully, and would have given anything for the door to be unlocked and the store opened. It wasn’t the ‘coffee and snacks’ or second-hand clothing exchange that got me. It was the final entry.


            An idea finishing consultant! Who would not be enchanted by the idea? I could think of a million times I would love to dial: 1-800-finish-the-damn-idea.

            “I have this idea,” I’d say. "Actually, half an idea--a premise, and I have no idea where it’s going.  Say…what if when a plane lands, there are three less people on it than boarded?"

"I have this novel I’m writing and I’m not at all sure how it should end."

"I have this great start to a short story but…"

“Finish it for me. Please.” .

I’ve been told that everybody has a 60-page start of a novel moldering in a desk drawer.  An idea finishing consultant (I.F.C. hereafter) could inspire and dictate the remaining 300 pages. Desk drawers across America would be clean again.

This is the new industry—the job that needs creation to end unemployment.  Building a better mousetrap is nothing compared to knowing how to finish our ideas.

You don’t have to be a struggling writer to need an I.F.C.  Too often, I find myself a stranger in a strange room. I know I bustled into the place but… why?  I had an idea, obviously, but now I have no idea. I.F.C. to the rescue again!

The whole world could use a qualified I.F.C. How many ideas are stillborn? Paintings and symphonies unfinished? Crafts, sweaters, home improvements begun enthusiastically and then…can’t remember why we thought that was a good thing to do.  A top I.F.C. could even unstall Congress.

However, the consultant was never in. I assume she had a ginormous list of clients, and she was always out of her office, finishing up ideas.

She might have finished mine. I’ll never know. I had to complete my manuscript the old-fashioned way, myself.

When we return this year, I’ll have an answer to questions about what there is to do there: visit the Idea Finishing Consultant. That alone would be worth the trip.

Am I alone in being in love with the idea of such a service?

September 18, 2011

Guest Blogger, Tammy Kaehler -- Mantras

Take Good Advice Wherever You Find It


I’ve had mantras on my mind lately. Not the dreamy, inspirational sayings that make me think of beaches and yoga and striving for greater things (I’m a fan of those too, and I have them littered around my desk on paperweights or torn pieces of notebook pages). I’m talking about the words I sometimes have to chant to myself through clenched teeth to keep my competitive instincts—or maybe my murderous ones? sometimes they feel like the same thing—from kicking in.

You see, I’m an overachiever. I rise to meet challenges. But part of realizing I’m now a mature adult (since I’m the “old lady” at my day job, where the average age skews very young), is realizing I can't do everything. More importantly, I’ve learned to save my skills and energy for what’s most important to me. This isn’t always easy, when I’m aware that those young kids I work with are wallowing in their inefficiencies without my sage advice. Wallowing!


Or something like that.

Here’s the audience participation part of this blog. You can all say my favorite mantra with me … first, pretend to be Chris Rock, assume an attitude (maybe with an incredulous look and some finger shaking), and repeat, “Just because you CAN do something, don’t make it a good idea.”


Well done.


For a couple years now, I’ve been attributing this quote to Chris Rock—which is part of the fun because I’m about as far from Chris Rock as you could get. I’m short, female, and very, very (very) white. I like to think of myself as kind of a badass sometimes, but I, yes, pale in comparison to him. And I’ve been carefully quoting those words verbatim.

But I should have known better, because I don’t remember quotes correctly. Like, ever. (This is part of the reason why I can’t tell jokes.)

Sure enough, I recently looked up the exact wording of my beloved mantra, only to discover it’s not what Chris Rock said at all. Turns out what he said (more colorfully, of course) was this: “Yeah, you could do it … but that don't mean it's to be done! Shit, you can drive a car with your feet if you want to, that don't make it a good f&*%ing idea!” Moreover, he was talking about bad parenting, which has nothing to do with me trying to establish priorities in my life. 

Close enough. Take the good advice, Tammy. Don’t worry about where it comes from.

What this mantra helps me remember is that what’s important is not that I. Can. Win! It’s that I choose to win what I want to win, and I let some battles pass me by. My day job? I really appreciate that it’s there, I’m committed to doing good work, but I don’t need to lose sleep over the problems. My novels? That’s where I want to spend my emotional energy creating good plots, interesting characters, and a realistic picture of the racing world. Anything else that pulls my physical and emotional energy away from writing is just a distraction. 

My husband prefers Stephen Covey’s version of the same message: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” There’s also the pithy “Pick your battles.” But I find the insouciance—and the simmering potential for profanity, I’ll be honest—of my version of Chris Rock does a better job of stopping my blind rush to Achieve. At. All. Costs!

Dr. Tammy’s prescription? Repeat “Just because you CAN do something, don’t make it a good (f&*%ing) idea.” as many times as it takes to remain sane and correctly focused.

It’s all about figuring out what keeps you on track, isn’t it? So tell me, what’s your mantra?


Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.

  TKheadshotAug2011-2 Dead Man's Switch final front (426x640)

September 04, 2011

Denise Hamilton Guest Blogs

Do you think you could turn your passion into a career?  Friend of the Tarts Denise Hamilton has done just that--twice!  And she smells sooooooooo good while doing both.



By Denise Hamilton  


Last year, I went back to journalism.

I became the perfume columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

It’s a once-a-month gig, which I figured was do-able for a dame who writes crime novels full-time.

Besides, I needed some justification for the bottles colonizing my bureau, bedroom closet and bathroom shelves.

How many bottles?   

*Cough* I plead the 5th Amendment.

The idea for a column came last year while chatting with the L.A. Times Magazine editor, a savvy lady who shares my obsession.

“You know,”  I told her between sips of cappuccino, “ the NY Times has a perfume columnist. They do reviews and profile the ‘noses’ who create perfumes and they write about it seriously as an art form. Which I love! The classic French perfumes, and many of the artisanal ones made by niche firms these days are fantastic. Here, smell this.”

With that, I reached into a tote bag and brought out a half-dozen bottles from vintage Shalimar extrait to Donna Karan’s spicy oud scent Chaos to Andy Tauer’s “L’Air du Desert Marocain,” which smells like all the good spicy things about the North African desert, without the camel dung and camel driver BO.

Editor, taking bite of croissant and spritzing carefully: “Hmmm. Would you consider writing this column for us?”

After settling on a monthly fee, we discussed the format. It would be for the general reader, not the perfume insider.

The first column would introduce me and describe how I fell down the rabbit hole into perfume obsession, starting with a French/Russian mom who had plenty of Chanel, Yves St. Laurence, Rochas and Dior that I plundered as a child.

Subsequent columns have featured Q&As with acclaimed noses like Olivia Giacobetti (she created L’Artisan’s Premier Figuer, the first true fig scent); the versatile orange note in perfumerie (neroli, orange blossom, candied orange, petitgrain, etc) and  why perfumers use civet, musks and cumin notes that hint at sweat, sex and unwashed skin.

The answer: Despite our myriad disinfectants, deodorizers and soaps, humans are attracted – if only subliminally - to musky animal odors. So in the same way that bakers add a pinch of salt to sweets, perfumers add a little soiled sheets darkness.

Consider Jacques Guerlain, who dreamed up such classics as Apres L’Ondee Mitsuko, L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar and so many others. Guerlain once said that he included the smell of his mistress’s backside in each perfume he created. And as Chandler Burr so helpfully elaborates in his wonderful book “The Perfect Scent,” Guerlain “was referring to all three holes.”

You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself, my friends.

So now, when I need a break from stabbing, strangling, bludgeoning and shooting people, I put on some perfume and get cracking with the next column.

I get a lot of complimentary samples from perfume firms, but I also buy a lot of bottles myself, especially rare, vintage and discontinued ones, as I’m always trying to expand my historical knowledge about the art form.

I’m also planning a column about perfumers who use all natural ingredients, eschewing the aromachemicals that make up the majority of ingredients in many department store perfumes today. For those with perfume allergies, the naturals, made in small batches, with organic natural ingredients, might provide a viable option.

And in my September column, I’ve found a way to combine my love of crime fiction and perfume by writing about how mystery authors from the 1920s to the present have used perfume and smell as a clue to whodunit. These include Dame Agatha Christie, SS. Van Dine, Ruth Rendell and…moi.

The protagonist of  my new book Damage Control is a budding perfumista, a skill that will come in handy by the book’s end as she seeks a clue to  identify the killer. 

I hope you enjoy it!    Product Details

Meanwhile . . . What's your favorite perfume?

Denise Hamilton’s crime novels have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Willa Cather awards. She also edited Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, which spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the Southern California Independent Booksellers’ award for “Best Mystery of the Year.”

Denise’s new novel, Damage Control, will be published by Scribner on September 6, 2011 and has already received a starred review in Publishers Weekly (excellent), a rave advance from Kirkus (In a novel that marries celebrity culture, surf noir and the bonds of friendship, Hamilton is at the top of her game) and kudos from James Ellroy (A superb psychological thriller).

September 01, 2011

Guest blog by Randy Susan Meyers

Holly: Randy Susan Meyers has been THE most gracious guest blogger as I have jerked her date for blogging around all over the place. Please welcome her -- I certainly can relate to her subject today.


First, there was Vaseline on the camera lens.

Next up was rose-colored lighting, shooting through pantyhose, and soft focus.

And then came Photoshop.

No one tells the truth of course, so for the “me-too-ism” of writers everywhere, I will set aside my vanity and offer the unadulterated, unvarnished, unphotoshopped truth. These are the things I did to prepare for my author photo:

1) Googled ‘how to look good in photos’ and found advice. Very helpful advice.

2) Went for a professional make-up ‘consult’ (would that be tax deductible?)

3) Visited the ‘hair whisperer’ and told him, “Do what you will. Just don’t cut it short.” Which he did. But I loved it. Price: Very high. Satisfaction: Priceless. Cost if husband finds out cost: there will be lawyers.

And don’t even ask about clothes. I bought and returned several boutique’s worth. I tried on every combination of outfit and accessory.

My sister Jill Meyers, a person for whom I never have to pretend, is a talented photographer and a super-talented sister.  To make the best author photo, she studied portrait-shooting technique, bought the talented Marion Ettinger’sbook Author Photo for inspirationand invested in equipment to make me glow (and look, ahem, less mature.)

Jill did a wonderful job. She shot literally hundreds of photos, and we reviewed and eliminated, consulted and polled until we found ‘the one.’ Then she really went to work. With a stroke of her magic computer pen, lines disappear. Adjust the lighting: I warm up, I cool down. I flushed, I blushed, I smoldered.

How far could we go? I’d already applied make-up with the skill of Bobbi Brown herself.  Worn the pearl earrings that cast the most glow on my face. Chosen the green shirt that matched my eyes (that is was, in reality, a slightly raggy Gap tee shirt wouldn’t show in the shoulder-up picture.

Now I had to answer the question: is it Kosher to erase my lines? Would it be like using Botox? (Is it ok to use Botox? Is it less bad to use only Photoshop Botox?) After a second of agonized deliberation, I decided. Just a few minor, um . . . .adjustments. The furrows between my brows came from worrying over my children, for goodness sake. Would softening those badges of motherhood make me a bad person? And what about those pesky forehead lines? The puppet lines by my mouth?

Jill went to work. And I loved the final product. Perhaps too much.

What if my sister had made me look so good that no one would recognize me in real life?

A friend of mine, a lovely-looking woman whose book was about to be sold, vowed to have her picture taken sans artifice. So that no one would be surprised when they met her.

Since my book came out, people have recognized me when I came to do a reading. No one asked me what century the picture was taken.

Okay. There was one. (I did promise the truth, right?) The woman who gave me a facial, the one who stared at me under those glaring lights of truth – she asked when the picture was taken.

Maybe my friend had the right idea. Jill did such a good job with that photo. I worry:

Was it cheating to use Photoshop? (But everybody's doing it!)

You be the judge.

Here I am, trying on glasses in a store (awful glasses!) circa this year as compared to my author photo: 

RSM Meyers author photo

Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Murderer’s Daughters, released by St. Martin’s Press in January 2010. Her family drama is informed by her work with batterers and victims of domestic violence, as well her experience with youth impacted by street violence. The Los Angeles Times deemed the books, “A knock-out debut.” The Murderer’s Daughters was recently chosen the Target “Club Pick” for February/March and chosen as a Massachusetts Council for the Book as a “Must Read.” The Murderer’s Daughters was just named a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award.


August 31, 2011

Guest Blogger, Cherry Adair

Heather Graham: I'd like to introduce Ms. Cherry Adair as our guest at TLC today. Wait? You say she needs no introduction? That's quite possible. Cherry has received all kinds of awards and hit almost every list created for writers. And she does much, much more! Cherry isn't just friendly and kind (with a wickedly warm sense of humor, quick wit, and the ability to have you laughing in a flash) but she gives away "scholarships" and has "Pips" out there who win not just books in her giveaways, but wonderful opportunities. She has the same life were all living one--hectic, confusing, and torn constantly between or home situation and work--but she manages not only to produce, but encourage others to keep the upper lip, get out there and go forth, and be her "Pips!" And now, beware! The one thing Cherry isn't is shy! If you know Cherry, you'll already enjoy. If you don't know Cherry, you're in a for a treat. Come on now "Pips," pay attention!

Dawn  Living in Seattle, I’m used to rain, drizzle, downpours, showers, cats-and-dogs, sprinkles, and everything in between. Normally we have the hot, glorious sunny days of Summer to off-set 8 months of gray. This year, one newscaster pithily claimed we’d had 87 minutes of Summer all year. Not true - we’ve had 3 days of summer. Three. Freaking. Days!

Most of the time I don’t really notice the weather. Despite living on a lake with a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, I write facing a wall. As it is, I’m easily distracted. (Especially when I’m writing the dreaded first draft.) To be clear, I’m sidetracked by a worm crawling on a leaf in my garden. Imagine how diverted I’d be by a snow capped mountain reflected in the sparkling lake right outside my door.


I know I’d be much more aware, and annoyed, by this incessant rain if I had to drive to work every day. The closest I get to a commute is to put on make-up, dress and do my hair before making the journey downstairs to my office, which is just at the foot of the stairs. and a convenient ten feet from the kitchen. (A perfect location J) Instead of a lake/mountain view, I look out over my front garden.

Like writing (that #@%^* first draft), I love to have gardened (and hate to weed). And like writing, once the first draft, and clearing of the bed is done, you can’t pull me away. The fact that there have barely been any notable sunny days has no impact on my flowers. Rain or the invariable lack of shine, my lavish and glorious garden flourishes.

Bulbs come up where I don’t remember planting them, flowers bloom where I was sure I hadn’t planted anything, weeds thrive everywhere, and every year shrubs and trees grow bigger.


Glorious! I have to admit, I’m not terribly well rounded. I write 23/7, which means everything revolves around the book I’m currently writing, the book that’s coming out in five minutes, or planning activities around a book in the near future. It’s all about The Book. And having it be all about The Book means I have tunnel vision.

A garden is a metaphor for life. Rain or shine, good or bad, life goes on. My garden reminds me that to have a more balanced life, I need to tend to my family and friends. My garden reminds me that friendships will continue, even in rocky dry soil. But also that friendships wither if I forget or get too busy to tend them. My garden reminds me that with hard work (even digging in rock-hard, dry stony ground) something beautiful will grow. It reminds me that anything worth having is worth putting in a little elbow grease. It reminds me to be patient, and that while I look impatiently for that glorious orange dahlia in this bed, it might come up over there instead.


Gardening reminds me to be patient, to expect and welcome the unexpected. It reminds me that there are worms and gophers, slugs and bugs, but there are also colorful butterflies and shimmery hummingbirds.

So I go out into my garden every day, rain or shine. Summer or pretend-Summer. I pull a few weeds, I joyfully jettison a few slugs, and amid all the dirt and mud, slug guts and occasional buried dog bones, I am surrounded by colors plucked from the sunset, painted by nature. Cultivated by me. It’s satisfying, even on gray days, knowing that I worked my ass off to get it this pretty.


Like all things in life, we reap what we sow.




August 15, 2011

Pirates and Other Strong Women

Laurie R. King is a longtime Friend of the Chronicles, and an Edgar-winning, NYT-bestselling author of the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes stories. And, lucky me, she is my personal friend. Last year's GOD OF THE HIVE was one of my absolute favorite books--suspenseful, witty and utterly poignant. Is there anything better than loving your friends and loving your friends' writing? I can't wait to be pulled back in time with PIRATE KING. ~Harley


by Laurie R. King

Laurie_parrot I like strong women.  I write mostly about women, and not just because it’s hard to think myself into a character who has to run a razor over his face every day, who considers football cool and heavily sauced chicken wings food.  No, the women I write about often do things most women, or even men, don’t (although Buffalo wings don’t enter into it, much) because after all, fiction should take us a step beyond ourselves.  I write about women who live real hard-core guy lives.  Strong women.

I’ve written about a cop, and a woman who builds an island house, and another woman who goes into dangerous cults for the FBI.  The series I’m writing at the moment has a young woman who meets, befriends, and kicks the stuffing out of the ultimate detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Deeply satisfying, as a writer and as a reader, for a young woman to face down and outsmart the smartest man out there. 

But invariably, when fiction comes up against reality, it loses.

Take pirates, for example—which I did for my upcoming novel.  A simple glance at the Wiki article on women pirates is deliciously tantalizing: the Moroccan sayyida al Hurra.  Jacquotte “Back from the Dead Red” Dalayahe.  And the Killigrew family, whose husbands (noblemen privateers) went to sea while their wives, clearly bored to tears by needlework, took to capturing ships that ventured near their castles, selling the goods for a little pin money—although the article scrupulously notes that since Lady Elizabeth may not actually have boarded the ship she took, perhaps she does not qualify for the title “pirate.”

However, stay-at-homes are not the only lady pirates out there.  From China to the Caribbean, women proved that they were men’s equal when it came to brutality and bloodshed on the bounding main.  Daniel Defoe, in addition to writing Robinson Crusoe (a novel that begins with Crusoe taken by pirates and sold into captivity—in the same Moroccan town to which the characters in Pirate King are taken, 273 years later) compiled a History of the Pyrates from testimony and trial records.  Defoe writes of:

Mary Read and Anne Bonny, alias Bonn, which were the true Names of these two Pyrates; the odd Incidents of their rambling Lives are such that some may be tempted to think the whole Story no better than a Novel or Romance.

Howard-pyle-pirate-captain-poster-15-2-web-200x300 Tempting indeed. Mary Read and Anne Bonny make me want to change historical periods, trading the 1920s for the 18th century, and put on some swashbuckling.  (In fact, nothing would make me happier than learning to swashbuckle at the Sussex Sword Academy, formerly the Sussex Rapier School, who no doubt teach “swashing and making noise on the buckler” better than any school in the world.)

And then I stop to think.  A typical ship of the time was maybe 80 feet long and 20 feet at its widest, and could have as many as two hundred men on board.  Ignore for the moment the stench—even residents of manor houses with plentiful water supplies tended not to bathe much—but just consider the mechanics of acting as a man.  Granted, shipboard life didn’t require much locker-room display of flesh, since once you donned clothing, you tended to stay in it until it fell apart.  And many sailors couldn’t swim, figuring that to learn would only delay the inevitable if they went overboard.  But surely in such close proximity, someone would have noticed that there was one young man who never grew a beard, never went shirtless, and never, ever peed over the side?

But of Mary Read, Defoe says, “Her Sex was not so much as suspected by any Person on board till Anne Bonny, who was not altogether so reserved in Point of Chastity, took a particular Liking to her…”

I’d guess the other 198 sailors on board were too busy talking about football and thinking about their next plate of Buffalo wings.

The eleventh volume of Mary Russell memoirs, out September 6, is Pirate King.  It is best described as: A Swashbuckling tale of Love, Murder, Detection, Poetry, Musical Interludes, & Thirteen Blonde Actresses.  Read an excerpt from Pirate King here, and pre-order a signed copy of Pirate King from the Poisoned Pen, here



July 23, 2011

Guest blogger, Sarah Bird

 Holly here. In the late 1980's I was working in a lovely independent bookstore on Whidbey Island (Moonraker Books -- go visit, it's great)(Oops, hijacked blog in the first sentence!). I also was on the search for a fun, kinda sexy novel. Chic Lit hadn't been invented yet, I hadn't discovered Jennifer Crusie yet, but I came across a column in a women's magazine that was just as funny and irreverent as I was looking for. At the bottom of the article, a brief bio and the title of the author's novel, Alamo House. I ordered it and inhaled it and have been a fan of Sarah Bird's ever since.


“Your editor asked you to reconnect with an old flame? Does she know that reconnecting with a lost love can be like taking crack cocaine?"

Okay, crack cocaine. That got my attention. Not exactly what I’d expected when I called Nancy Kalish, a developmental psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento. Kalish is the leading expert on rekindled romance and I had an assignment from Good Housekeeping to write about reconnecting on the Internet.

I repeated my mission. This time with a lot less of the professional confidence I’d been able to fake the first time, “My editor wants me to get in touch with two friends and an old flame?”

“The old flame part,” Kalish said. “That’s the part I can’t believe.” Kalish had the stats to back up her incredulity. She’d researched more than 2,000 of these reunions and discovered that Facebook, classmates.com, and our old friend, Google, have wrecked more homes than a tornado in a trailer park.

"Fifty percent of the rekindlers I surveyed report that they'd had wonderful marriages — before they reconnected. They didn't expect meeting again to pack such a wallop. Now that looking for old flames is so easy and trendy, happy marriages are crumbling.” Crumbling at such a rate that her entire private practice is now devoted to attempts to save once-happy marriages devastated by Internet reconnects.

For about a second, she had me worried. I mean, I am most definitively in the happy marriage category. Then the whole thing seemed ridiculous. It’s been decades and a couple of dress sizes since the old flame and I torched through our torrid romance. I knew for a fact that age had cooled those embers.

"Doesn't matter," Kalish warned. "Wrinkles, weight, none of that matters. Some neuroscience research suggests that early loves are encoded in the brain, the same way cocaine addiction is. Seeing that person again, talking on the phone, even an e-mail triggers all those visceral memories of being young and in love. Do not get in touch with this man."

I loved all these alarmist quotes, they would be great for the article. The article which required that I “get in touch with this man.”

I kept telling myself how absurd Kalish’s warnings were. I mean, I wasn’t some sad specimen whose glory days had ended when they stuck a mortar board on my head and a high school diploma in my hand. I had a husband, son, career, two dogs, and a chubby gerbil that I loved. How could one Google search threaten that?

So I cried havoc, and let the Googling begin. Besides, it was easy to be dispassionate. I’d never searched him before since I knew the obscure object of my long ago passion to be such a diehard technophobe that there was no way that there would be a single pixel of him anywhere.

Which is why I was unprepared when, a couple of clicks later, his face filled, filled! my screen. For a split second, I recognized that he was no longer the handsome young man I had loved insanely. There were a pair of bifocals and a deeply eroded hairline. But then, like looking at a piece of fabric that magically turns iridescent when it’s tilted ever so slightly, the decades fell away and he was again, exactly, the handsome young man I had loved insanely. And, just like that the years fell away and I was once again the besotted young woman, throttled by desire, whom he’d driven from exhilaration to despair. The intensity of my reaction unnerved me. But what truly gave me pause was my impulse to delete my search history so that my husband would never stumble across it.

Not that I have intimate knowledge of crack cocaine, but it appeared that Kalish was right.


In the end, me and my old beau exchanged a few innocuous catch-up e-mails that, yes, I did find I way more exciting than the ones I traded with the long lost girlfriends I found. I wrote the article and forgot about rekindled love until it came blazing back in the form of an ex-husband. Not mine. I have only ever had the one. But in the fictional form of my protagonist’s lost love who re-enters her life after her daughter and her daughter’s college fund disappear.

It was exhilarating to know for a fact about the strange power of a lost love. It allowed me to understand how fully just the sound of his voice would derail her and upend her world. It allowed me to write the reunion that I never had and to experience the dangerous iridescence of a rekindled romance.




Sarah Bird is an American novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. Her father was an officer in the US Air Force, and her Catholic family of eight traveled with him around the US and the world during her childhood.

Bird’s first published novel was Do Evil Cheerfully, a mystery. In 1986, her comic novel The Alamo House was published based on her experience as a graduate student at the University of Texas.

In addition to novels, Bird has written screenplays for television and film and magazine articles for national magazines. She also writes a column for Texas Monthly.




Holly again. I have the pleasure of offering two copies of Sarah's The Gap Year (these are ARC's). Please email me at [email protected] and I will let the random number generator choose two lucky readers to recieve these ARC's. [Note: one of these books has been read. By me. You won't be able to tell, honest. (It's really good).]

July 17, 2011

Guest blogger, Ann Napolitano: Helpful Bumps In The Road

Ftk ANN 3

Joshilyn here---and above. I am the google-eyed loon glowing with fan girrrrl "radiance" (that's southern lady talk for sweat, ya'll)  as I meet Ann Napolitano. Ann is holding her book, A GOOD HARD LOOK, which I read in ARC form, and it blew me out of the water. Picked me up and set me down different. I have become a crazed evangelist for it. Some books, you simply have to make everyone you ever loved read them; this is one of those. And Ann-the-person is LOVELY, and she is HERE today, talking about how she came to write so finely, with such understated wit and grace, about our desperate, human mandate to live our finite, God's-blink lives deeply and well. 

I had just finished my junior year of college, and started a summer internship at a New York City literary magazine. I was being paid to read story submissions and was hopeful that they would offer me a full-time position after college. Reading stories for a living—what could be better than that? I remember feeling really pleased while riding the bus to work that first day. I could feel myself standing on the cusp of my future—one that I had chosen and earned—and it felt good.

   When I arrived at the magazine office, however, the good feeling disappeared. There was a strange echo in my head, and I felt hot. I ended up having to force myself through the day that I had been so excited about. I went to bed early that night in an effort to regroup. Tomorrow, I told myself, I will feel normal. But I woke up the following morning with a fever of one hundred and four, barely able to stand. That fever persisted for two weeks, while doctors ran tests and tried to figure out what was wrong. I was eventually diagnosed with the Epstein Barr Virus, an autoimmune disease that wipes out your immune system, (so you catch every cold, virus or infection that walks past you on the street). It is a lengthy illness with no known cure.

   I had to quit my summer internship, obviously. I returned to college in the fall against the doctor’s recommendations—dormitories are not known to be sterile environments—simply because my parents and I agreed that lying on their couch, depressed with no friends and no activity, was not an attractive prospect. I signed up for a half-load of classes, with the understanding that it would take an extra year for me to graduate. My main recollection from that fall is sitting in a chair feeling wan while watching my twenty-year-old friends dance and laugh and basically bounce off the dormitory walls. I felt like a rickety octogenarian; they felt immortal, untouchable. I wanted to scream at them: You’re not! Life can change in an instant! Look what happened to me!

   Screaming would have taken too much energy, though, so I kept quiet. Instead, I focused on a huge tome that my creative writing professor had assigned me, The Habit of Being. The book was a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, and her voice pulled me in right away. In her letters, the writer was irreverent, hilarious, and insightful. I read about her diagnosis with lupus, and how she gave up a full, happy life in Connecticut to return home to the family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I followed her as she set up a new life—an apparently diminished one—in the company of her fiery, headstrong mother. I read as Flannery came to terms with her changed situation, and decided to focus her limited energy where it would matter most—in her writing. She put aside three hours each morning, and while her beloved peacocks squawked outside her window—she wrote.

   Those letters shifted something inside me, and I found myself sizing up my own situation in a similar manner. I had always loved writing, but I lacked the requisite confidence to declare myself a writer. (Hence the idea of working at a literary magazine—I would surround myself with other people’s words, not my own.) But my illness, and Flannery’s example, offered up a new clarity. I was able to appreciate, in a way my obnoxiously healthy twenty-year-old peers could not, the sheer brevity of life. I felt, with every quivering, exhausted muscle in my body, that everything I’d taken for granted could disappear in an instant. And this gave me a new drive to make each moment meaningful, and to make my life matter.

   My illness disassembled, and then reshaped, my life. From within its foggy walls, I chose my path. I would be a writer. I realized that this was no dress rehearsal; this was my life and I should—at the very least—take a swing at it.

   I was sick for three long years with EBV. If someone had tapped my ill, younger self on the shoulder and told her that this miserable time would have any positive outcome at all, she would have shaken her head with disdain. The truth is that this difficult period essentially made me who I am, and I am now deeply grateful for that particular bump in my road. And to top it all off, Flannery O’Connor showed up over a decade later as the central character in my new novel, A Good Hard Look.

   Of course, I’m not the first person to benefit from some kind of adversity. Tell me, what moment or event changed your life forever?




Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach.  She received an MFA from New York University; she teaches fiction writing for New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.  She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.