Book Bites: SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC

I am delighted to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk to the blog today to share a “bite” of her upcoming mystery novel SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC, which will be out from Imajin Books on August 21, 2016.

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Who is your main character? Tell me about her. What is she like?

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is a thirty-six year old woman who works in the fraud unit of bank’s call center. She’s been unlucky in love, having inherited the “Barnstable loser radar” but now she’s inherited something from her late father that is even more challenging: a house in Marketville, a small commuter town about an hour north of Toronto, Canada. The catch: she has to move into the house and find out who murdered her mother thirty years before. A mother Callie has always believed left voluntarily for “the milkman or some other male equivalent.”

What would Callie Barnstable choose for her last meal?

Homemade macaroni and cheese: for Callie, this is comfort food at its finest, and it’s mentioned in Skeletons after she had a particularly stressful day. Add a tossed salad and a glass or two of Australian chardonnay and she’s golden.

How about you? What would you choose for your last meal?

Cheese pizza, no other toppings. Why? Because I could eat cheese pizza every day for breakfast (cold), lunch (hot) and dinner (with a salad).

Why should someone bite into SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC?

I’m so excited by the early reviews. Midwest Book Review describes SKELETONS as, “A vivid production that translates to thoroughly engrossing reading right up to a completely unexpected, thought-provoking surprise conclusion.”

Diane Vallere, bestselling author of the Costume Shop Mysteries, and the incoming president of Sisters in Crime International, called it, “A complex plot, an extremely likeable protagonist, and a bombshell ending you never saw coming. A delightful and heartwarming mystery!”

And Annette Dashovy, USA Today bestselling author says it’s, “A thought-provoking, haunting tale of decades-old deception.” Don’t you love that? Decades-old deception!

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?

Throughout the book, there is mention of Callie’s mother’s peanut butter cookies. My mother used to bake these cookies when I was a kid. The best peanut butter cookies ever.

Image courtesy of Mourgefile.com.

Image courtesy of Mourgefile.com.

BEST EVER PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Ingredients

2-1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy; I prefer smooth, but if you like bits of peanut in your cookies, the crunchy peanut butter works well)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla (real vanilla, not the imitation stuff)

Cooking spray

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Beat butter, peanut butter and white and brown sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well after each addition.

Drop a tablespoon of cookie dough 2 inches apart onto baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray. Flatten each cookie in a crisscross pattern with the tines of a fork.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Allow to cool completely.

Sounds delicious! And your book sounds incredible!

And check this out:

SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle for the special introductory rate of $0.99 (reg. $4.99). Find it here: http://getbook.at/SkeletonsintheAttic

You can connect with Judy on her WEBSITE, on FACEBOOK, TWITTER and GOODREADS, And you can learn more about SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC at Imajin Books.

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Book Bites: PLAID AND PLAGIARISM

Last November, Molly MacRae stopped by NOT EVEN JOKING to share a bite of KNOT THE USUAL SUSPECTS, the 5th book in her Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery Series. I am thrilled to have Molly back to share about a new book and a brand new mystery series! PLAID AND PLAGIARISM (Pegusus Crime, December 2016), book one in THE  HIGHLAND BOOKSHOP MYSTERY SERIES, is set in Scotland. Oh…I would so love to go to Scotland. I have been planning to visit for some time now. Alas, it wasn’t in the cards to travel there this year. So I’ll just have to read PLAID AND PLAGIARISM…because reading is travel!

Plaid and Plagiarism_REV

Who is the main character in PLAID AND PLAGIARISM? What is she like?

Janet Marsh is a retired librarian. Although she’s a planner who enjoys research and examining possibilities, she’s perfectly happy believing in pipedreams, too. Her favorite questions are “what if . . .?” and “why not?”

What would Janet Marsh choose for her last meal?

Janet grew up in central Illinois where the land is tabletop flat and the sweet corn grows as tall as mountains. For her last meal she would ask for freshly picked ears of corn – steamed or grilled – and so good it doesn’t need butter or anything else to taste heavenly.

Last time you joined me here, you said your last meal would be “fresh, absolutely ripe strawberries topped with thick, whipped cream studded with toasted almonds and crystallized ginger – the way they only make it at Henderson’s Salad Table Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland.”  Is this still the case, or have you changed your mind?

It is still the case. It’s a fantastic dessert and in order to have it, and not just some sad facsimile of it, I’d have to go back to Edinburgh. Win-win.

Why should someone bite into PLAID AND PLAGIARISM?

PLAID AND PLAGIARISM is the first book in the new Highland Bookshop Mysteries, about four women who decide it would be a great idea and the chance of a lifetime to pool their money and buy a bookshop, reinventing themselves in the process. The only catch is the location of the shop – it’s in a small coastal town in the western Scottish Highlands. But it’s an established bookstore with space for a tearoom, in a building that looks as though it sprang straight out of an illustrated classic, in a town that three of them know and love, in an area with a thriving tourist trade. So the catch is actually a plus – It’s Scotland! The Highlands! – and really, what could possibly go wrong with a plan like this?

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?

This is the shortbread Janet and her crew plan to bake and sell when they open the tearoom in the bookshop. The basic recipe is one a friend jotted down for me when I lived in Edinburgh in the mid-1970s. She got it from her mother who had gotten it from her mother. (I don’t know what they would have thought of all the variations I’ve tried over the years, but maybe they had variations of their own!)

 Shortbread

Shortbread                        

8 oz.  unbleached white flour

6 oz. butter at room temperature (if using unsalted butter, add a rounded ⅛ teaspoon of salt)

2 oz. sugar

(Sometime I mix chocolate chips into the dough. MMmmm. You might try adding orange or lemon zest.)

  1. Mix sugar and butter (and salt, if using unsalted butter). Stir in flour to form dough.
  2. Flatten dough evenly, about a ½-inch thick, on a baking sheet or into the bottom of a pie plate. The dough is versatile. You can shape it into a circle or a rectangle and press a design around the edge with the tines of a fork. Or you can divide it into several dozen small balls for individual shortbread “bites.”
  3. Bake for 30-45 mins at 300º. I’ve also baked it at 350º for a shorter time. The shortbread should just start to brown around the edge.
  4. Remove from oven. Cut into pieces while still warm. A round shortbread cut into wedges makes classic shortbread “petticoats.”

When the shortbread is cool, you can dip it in melted chocolate and sprinkle the chocolate with chopped nuts or crystalized ginger. Chopped dried cherries might be good, too!

Well, that sounds delicious. I am looking forward to the release of PLAID AND PLAGIARISM. And one of these days, I will get myself to Scotland. My short play Clown Therapy is actually running there this month as part of the Bite-Sized Breakfast Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Thank you so much for joining me here today!

You can connect with Molly MacRae and learn more about her books on her Website, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

PLAID AND PLAGIARISM will be available December 6, 2016. You can find it on Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or look for it at your local independent bookstore.

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Creative Minds Profile #17: HOPE CARTELLI and JEFF LEWONCZYK

This month’s Creative Minds Interview is a little different; today I am featuring a creative team. I first met Hope Cartelli and Jeff Lewonczyk when, back in my acting days, I was cast in a production of PIPER MCKENZIE PRESENTS THE TINKLEPACK PATROL IN THE CURSE OF COUNT MORPHEUS. I had a blast working with them in what I can only describe as a comic-book style adventure laced with interpretive dance, true crime and Abraham Lincoln. The team behind Piper McKenzie was Hope & Jeff. That was too many years ago to count. Since then, I have had the pleasure of attending many of their creative endeavors—many of them at The Brick in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they have worked as writers, producers, directors and actors. Today, they join me to discuss their latest project, THE PAPER HOUSE.

Hope and Jeff with their son Dash. A Brooklyn-based creative family.

Hope and Jeff with their son Dash. A Brooklyn-based creative family.

Hope and Jeff, along with their son Dash, are a Brooklyn based arts family. Their latest project, The Paper House, opened last year on Governors Island in NYC, and it is scheduled to open back up next weekend. Last year, I attended The Paper House, “an interactive installation for anyone who’s ever been a kid,”  last year with my family, and it was truly a magical experience. It is difficult for me to try to describe The Paper House,  so I am particularly pleased to have Hope and Jeff tell us about it here today!

Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking. I am so excited that THE PAPER HOUSE is returning to Governors Island this month. I loved visiting there last year with my daughter. I can’t wait to bring her back this year. How did THE PAPER HOUSE idea come about?

Hope: I was approached by our good buddies at Dysfunctional Theatre Company–after successfully programming a mini-season of performance and art for one of the houses out at Governors Island a couple of years ago, they gave themselves the challenge of doing it again, but for a much longer stint, increasing from a few weekends to a whole summer in one house. They asked me and a slew of other companies and artists if they wanted to put something up at the house and I basically replied in the affirmative in ALL CAPS before even knowing what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to incorporate the house, not just do a performance in one of its rooms. Then, in talking it over with Jeff, we realized how lovely it would be to have our son, who was 4 at the time, be part of it, be there with us–why would we take this awesome opportunity and then just keep him home with a sitter when he could participate in it as well? Then boom! It became clear all at once that it could be this immense arts and crafts opportunity/installation–a kids’  playhouse made by kids (and their attending adults) in real time during a whole month, using the existing house’s structure as a base. Jeff and I along with friend and fellow artist Iracel Rivero figured out the parameters, rules, and what excited us aesthetically, and then we started to approach other artists and the whole thing snowballed into one beautiful, ever-growing and changing thing.

Jeff: Yeah, Hope pretty much nailed it, but I’ll build on her point about “attending adults”: Instead of just creating something that was specifically kid-centric, the idea ended being to create something that could be enjoyed by EVERYONE. Kids and their families set the bar for that, certainly, but we wanted anyone who stumbled in on this place – a group of 20somethings, a middle-aged couple, an elderly solo visitor – to feel welcome and invited to contribute. And to do this, we used childhood as a lens – everyone was a child at some point in their lives, and the intention was to evoke that feeling again, through the anything-goes interactivity and simple creative materials and opportunities we provided, and through a setup that allowed everyone to see something grow and change over time, right before our eyes. Luckily, it worked!

PaperHouse1I imagine it was really awesome to watch THE PAPER HOUSE grow and change last year as people visited and contributed. What were some interesting surprises?

Here's the cat that my daughter Bailey fell in love with. (thepaperhousenyc.com)

Here’s the cat that my daughter Bailey fell in love with. (thepaperhousenyc.com)

Hope: A HUGE, beautiful Chinese dragon puppet showed up the second weekend (courtesy of Jeff’s awesome mama and aunt)–that was one amazing visual surprise! The kids who just came in and camped out for a solid amount of time–something I hoped for, but was so happy to see actually happen. It was great to see a group of little ones hunker down and get to work creating all sorts of things–a family constructed for us a whole birthday cake to “serve” in our party room, some kids drew characters to inhabit our little fairy houses and I remember your daughter Bailey adopting the House’s little cat puppet and touring the house with it! Also a big surprise to me was how many teenagers and young adults loved setting up scenes with all of the props and set pieces at hand and trying on our masks and costumes, and taking plenty of selfies and staged shots. And how much people interacted with all of the rooms and materials in general. The immediately warm reception to the whole endeavor from everyone who came through was just great.

PaperHouse3Jeff: Yeah – even though we were hoping for the Paper House to be appealing to all ages, it was always a delight when it actually worked out! My “home base” for the whole month was a library-themed room on the second floor, and that yielded some really fun stuff. I covered the walls with rectangles of construction paper to evoke book spines on shelves and invited anyone who came in to give them titles – kids and adults alike really got into that one. I would also spend time folding little eight-page books out of single sheets of paper, and showing anyone else who was interested how to do it. Between me and the visitors, we ended up amassing a nice little library of a few dozen books, some of which I’ve posted online. One group of four millennial women came in and took it very seriously – they sat down carefully writing and drawing their stories, and then passed them around in a circle so each of them would get a chance to read them all. They even included their Twitter handles on the backs in case anyone wanted to reach out to them! One final series of surprises came on the last day – we were always determined that, throughout the final weekend, anyone who visited would be invited to take some of the art home with them, so as to throw out as little as possible. There were many Orthodox Jewish families on the island that day, and it was a wonderful experience to see them gleefully taking home a lot of this weird but innocent work created by quasi-hipster artists. But my favorite was a family visiting from Austria, who took one of the gorgeous “fairy houses” created by our wonderful contributor Lauren Maul. When we described what it was, the parents told us in broken English that their 3-year-old daughter loves fairies, and the little girl couldn’t believe her luck at finding a fairy house in the wild, on the Island! She was just so delighted to bring it back home to Europe with her.

You both often seem to have some awesome creative project in the works. What else is going on artistically for you?

Hope: I’ve been flirting with finally taking an honest-to-god filmmaking course–I’ve had fun in the past few years with experimenting with shooting some stuff and have a few project ideas I want to work on, but I’d like to finally wrap my brain around some real tools and learning, especially editing. I also keep going back to this bizarro fake movie history project I concocted with Jeff and that includes many a friend of ours–it exists as a tumblr and we’re figuring out how to make it more of a book. You can see what I’m talking about here: www.missingcinema.com. I also keep a few toes in acting, most recently in a great homage to old soap operas, It’s Getting Tired, Mildred at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg. And, preparing for, hopefully, Paper House 2017–I needed a real break from theater producing, but producing this project, gathering all manner of artists to bring the House to life has given me nothing but pleasure!

Jeff: After stepping away from theater producing a few years back, I’ve dived back into one of my earliest passions – drawing. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my illustration and design skills, and the Paper House has been an amazing element of that journey. I’m doing a lot of design work for my friend Esther Crow’s rock band for kids, Thunder & Sunshine – who will be performing with us at the Paper House! I’m also doing a movie podcast called Unreel with a friend from my day job (which is also giving me an excuse to make some fun drawings), and I have a few more collaborations and other projects up my sleeve. And yeah, Hope and I are definitely continuing to work on Missing Cinema and exploring additional ways to return to some of the larger-scale storytelling we enjoyed as theater creators – so stay tuned!

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

Hope: Okay, this is idiotic perhaps, but someone’s going to empathize: my travel routine has changed and I am now able to read SO MUCH MORE on my daily commute and it is the best thing ever and I’ve blown through three huge novels in just about that many weeks and it’s life-changing and I am very passionate about it! Also, lately, whatever I can readily share with Dash, our son–it is so invigorating and inspiring to be able to work on a little art project, read a book, walk through a museum, watch a great old cartoon, or even just fall down a rabbit hole of cat videos with him. We all love music videos and comics art in our house–we’re particular in our tastes, but we take a lot of design and storytelling cues from them in developing our own works. And taking full advantage of living in NYC with a kid is something I’m always vocal about being the best thing ever.

Jeff: Yeah, I’m with Hope – raising our kid and reading books are my favorite things to do beyond making artwork. Well, and movies and TV too. And listening to music. And enjoying the city. Trying not to get too depressed about politics, which is a full-time job in itself. And working to be a decent human being through it all. So more than anything, I’d say what keeps me going is that elusive balance – the challenge and satisfaction of keeping as steady as I can through the constant push and pull of all that we love and fear. As the dinosaurs forced to work as living appliances in the Flintstones’ kitchen used to say, “Well, it’s a living!”

What advice would you give to a young person who would like to live a creative life?

Hope: Keep working at it, explore all the different ways of creating your art, and don’t beat yourself up. There are going to be so many opportunities to measure yourself against others and it’s never once worth it–make yourself happy, first and foremost.

Jeff: “Don’t beat yourself up” is HUGE – I spent YEARS doing that, to little avail. Hell, I still do it, though the older I get the less I give a crap. (In a good way!) And don’t be afraid to evolve – it can feel safe to stay in a niche and let that define you, but that’s not how you’re going to grow. The main thing is, don’t look at it as work – it’s just part of who you are. If you accept that, you can weather the periods when other concerns take over, because you know the impulse will always be with you.

Oh, what wonderful advice. I beat myself up WAY too much, and it just stinks. I have to stop doing that! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are both an inspiration. I am looking forward to seeing you at THE PAPER HOUSE soon!

The Paper House will be open on Governors Island from August 6 to 30. Learn more about it at www.thepaperhousenyc.com

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ThrillerFest XI… Awe, Admiration, Inspiration

It’s Tuesday morning, and I am still on my ThrillerFest XI high! I’M NOT EVEN JOKING!

Where do I even begin? There were so many great panels, inspiring moments, and amazing people. I ran into old friends, cyber-friends and made new friends. My “To Read” list has once again, grown exponentially.

Here’s a list of some (but not nearly all) of the highlights (in no particular order).

CHILLS, THRILLS OR TEEN HEROES? Pictured: Kelley Armstrong, Alan Gratz, Anne Redisch Stampler, Margaret Stohl and Kara Thomas. (L to R.)

CHILLS, THRILLS OR TEEN HEROES? Pictured: Kelley Armstrong, Alan Gratz, Anne Redisch Stampler, Margaret Stohl and Kara Thomas. (L to R.)

TWO FABULOUS PANELS ON WRITING YA THRILLERS

On Friday morning I attended a panel entitled CHARACTER, PLOT OR LANGUAGE? This panel featured Cara Brookins, Elle Cosimano, Janice Gable Bashman, Sharon Linnea and Megan Miranda and was moderated by James R. Hannibal. Saturday morning’s panel was called CHILLS, THRILLS OR TEEN HEROES? Moderated by Lissa Price, this panel featured Kelley Armstrong, Alan Gratz, Ann Redisch Stampler, Margaret Stohl, Kara Thomas and the incredible R.L. Stine! Since I write YA, it was awesome to hear how other authors approach the craft and discuss what they think are the most important elements of YA. They also talked about the arcs of their careers, which were all very different.

A DEBUT AUTHOR MEETING WITH STEVE BERRY

What a fabulous experience to be able to sit with a successful writer for two hours and soak in his wisdom! The main takeaway: WRITING IS A BUSINESS!!! And as Steve Berry said, and I might be paraphrasing here, “The goal of a writer is to keep writing.”

PIZZA DINNER WITH MY FELLOW DEBUT AUTHORS

What an interesting and amazing group of people. I can’t wait to read all of their books! Seriously. More on this later. (And I think you might see some of these debut authors appearing on this blog in the near future.) Learn more about the ITW Debut Class of 2015/2016 HERE.

Meredith Anthony, E.A. Aymar and Rhys Ford (L to R). Three of the panelists from the Noir Panel.

Meredith Anthony, E.A. Aymar and Rhys Ford (L to R). Three of the panelists from the Noir Panel.

ELLROY, HIGHSMITH OR HAMMETT? NOIR AT THE BAR

This intriguing and entertaining panel on Noir covered everything from antiheros, to sex, to violence. Moderator Gary Grossman kept the conversation lively with panelists Meredith Anthony, E.A. Aymar, Rhys Ford, Rick Ollerman, Kenneth Wishnia, and Rich Zahradnik.

 

 

Sandra Brannan, Carla Wendy Tyson, John Connell, Jenny Milchman, Carla Buckley, Glen Erik Hamilton and Bryan Robinson (L to R.)

Sandra Brannan, Carla Wendy Tyson, John Connell, Jenny Milchman, Carla Buckley, Glen Erik Hamilton and Bryan Robinson (L to R.)

PAIN, HEARTACHE OR ELATION: DON’T MURDER YOUR NOVEL BEFORE YOU FINISH IT

This was exactly the panel I needed to attend. Moderated by Bryan Robinson, and featuring Sandra Brannan, Carla Buckley, John Connell, Glen Erik Hamilton, Jenny Milchman and Wendy Tyson, this panel discussed all those ups and downs authors feel. And it gave some practical tips on how to stay inspired and keep writing.

 

Karin Slaughter and Gillian Flynn. (L to R.)

Karin Slaughter and Gillian Flynn. (L to R.)

TWO LADIES HAVING AN ADULT CONVERSATION: SPOTLIGHT GUEST GILLIAN FLYNN INTERVIEWED BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

This was so amazing. Karin Slaughter is sooooo funny! And Gillian Flynn was just so cool! She might be my favorite author ever, so needless to say, I was in awe. My biggest takeaway: Gillian Flynn didn’t know she was writing GONE GIRL while she was writing it. Think about that for a moment…

R.L. Stine and John Lescroart. (L to R.)

R.L. Stine and John Lescroart. (L to R.)

SILVER BULLET AWARD RECIPIENT JOHN LESCROART INTERVIEWED BY R.L. STINE

I was thoroughly entertained by this interview. They shared ups, downs…yes, even hugely successful authors sometimes have a book signing where no on shows up. And I was incredibly moved by hearing John Lescroart’s story of his near death experience that changed his life.

 

Heather Graham and Lee Child (L to R).

Heather Graham and Lee Child (L to R).

THRILLERMASTER HEATHER GRAHAM INTERVIEWED BY LEE CHILD

Wow, wow, wow! I especially loved hearing about Graham’s background in theater and learning more about how she generously gives back to other authors. And she confirmed with Lee Child the inspiration for Jack Reacher’s name. (Hint: It has to do with the fact that he is so tall.)

 

The Debut authors pose for a picture. Thank you to author Shelley Dickson Carr for this photo.

The Debut authors pose for a picture. Thank you to author Shelley Dickson Carr for this photo.

THE DEBUT AUTHOR BREAKFAST

I had tears in my eyes for much of this. What an honor to be introduced by Steve Berry! What an honor to be able to share a little bit of my book to a room full of amazing writers and reader. What an honor to sit beside my fellow debuts!

 

 

 

There was so much more that I just don’t have time to write about and/or couldn’t attend. (One of these years, I will make it to the banquet!)

But here are my biggest takeaways:

  • It’s really, really important to know the business of writing.
  • Everyone—even those famous authors you worship—have moments of doubt.
  • Successful authors all had to start somewhere.
  • Keep learning craft and keep writing.

A HUGE thank you to the International Thriller Writers and everyone involved in organizing ThrillerFest XI! And specifically, a big, big thank you to Glen Erik Hamilton for all his work with the debut authors!

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Creative Minds #16: TIM HALL

I first met Tim Hall at the 2015 Deadly Ink Conference in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where we ended up having a very interesting conversation about telephone psychics. I once interviewed for a position as a telephone psychic and Tim just happens to have one in his novel DEAD STOCK. I have had the pleasure of running into Tim at a variety of mystery related events over the past year, including Noir at the Bar NYC and Malice Domestic. I am thrilled to have him join me here for this month’s CREATIVE MINDS PROFILE!

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Tim Hall is the author of the Bert Shambles Mysteries, a New Adult mystery series published by Cozy Cat Press. His crime fiction has appeared in THUGLIT, BIGnews, and Chicago Reader, and a story with S.A. Solomon will be featured in the upcoming Cannibal Cookbook anthology. He appears at industry and fan events throughout the year, including Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink, Noir at the Bar, BEA, KGB reading series, the Brooklyn Book Festival and many others.

Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking. When I saw you at Malice Domestic, you read from CHASING THE CODEX, A Mystery by 24 Authors. What an incredible endeavor. What was it like working on that project?

My wonderful publisher, Patricia Rockwell at Cozy Cat Press, came up with the idea as a way to help promote a bunch of her authors, since she can’t afford to promote us individually. We went in alphabetical order, and the book grew exponentially more complicated as it went along, so the people in the early part of the alphabet definitely had it easier! I was on the earlier side and it was still a challenge to decide which of the threads to pick up. I had to look at the overall story arc, try to propel the narrative along, and still leave it off in a way that would give the next author something good to work with. I think I handled it pretty well—I even managed to get in a few funny shots at the pretentious literary pseudo-culture of MFAs. Overall it was a tough challenge, but totally worth it.

Dead_Stock,_digital,_FINAL,_6x9In your Bert Shambles mysteries, you combine humor with murder. It seems like humor comes naturally for you. Is this true? What do you think the challenges are in writing humorous murder mysteries?

If by natural you mean pulling my quickly-thinning hair out, day after day, while sobbing uncontrollably, and generally living in a quasi-fugue state of utter and complete existential despair, then yes! I guess I’m a natural. But really, humor is a coping mechanism, and I need it to get through the day.

The challenge of writing humor is that it has to be funny! Drama is much easier to write. It’s harder to see the humor in bad situations—try it if you don’t believe me.

Tie_DiedWhat’s next for you? What can you tell me about your upcoming projects(s)?

I’m currently editing a politically-themed cozy. I’m hoping to get that finished soon so I can get back to Bert Shambles #3, which is turning out to be my favorite. Bert gets himself saddled with a babysitting job, and finds himself having to solve a murder at a medieval festival.

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

My life is incredibly boring, it’s embarrassing. I like to cook and to listen to music, spend time with my wife and son, watch movies, get to the country or beach once in a while, and that’s about it. I work full-time in addition to writing, and that takes a lot out of me. My new hobby is surround sound, which seems an appropriately dorky interest for a paunchy middle-aged white guy to be into. So I collect music mixed for 5.1 surround systems and read about the pros and cons of different high-resolution music formats.

I think this influences my creative life in a similar way to a lot of comedians: at a certain point you either go funny or go crazy. If I were leading an exciting life I’d probably have nothing to write about.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author who thinks they’d like to write humorous mysteries?

Study timing. It’s all rhythm. Listen to drummers. Tighten your language and find the humor in the juxtapositions. Imbalances are your friend. White-hot passions and “sure things” are funny. Ideologies, dogmas, sacred cows are funny. Humor attempts to restore balance; laughter means you’ve succeeded. But remember that anybody and anything can be made to appear ridiculous, including (especially) you. Don’t be mean, and don’t preach—you can have mean characters or preachy characters, but turn it against them to humorous effect wherever possible.

Most importantly, remember that the true heart and soul of humor is compassion. If you equate compassion with weakness, or just want to score points, belittle or hurt others, you’ll never be funny.

That is really wonderful advice! Thank you so much for joining me here this month! I am definitely a Bert Shambles fan! He is such a delightful mess. I look forward to reading more in the series! And I can’t wait to dive into CHASING THE CODEX. My husband is reading (and enjoying) it right now.

You can connect with Tim Hall on his Website and Twitter, and you can find his books on Amazon.

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BOOK BITES: Oliver Twisted

In April, I had the opportunity to meet author Cindy Brown at Malice Domestic, and to pick up a signed copy of her Agatha Nominated MACDEATH! As a playwright, theater teacher, and mystery writer, her books are clearly right up my alley. Cindy Brown’s most recent humorous mystery novel OLIVER TWISTED (Henery Press, June 21, 2016) was released yesterday, and I am delighted to welcome her to my blog today!

OLIVER TWISTED cover FRONT final copy

Who is your main character? What is she like?

Actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows is a sort of Nancy Drew Barrymore. She’s sweet, smart, and a little screwball.

What would Ivy choose for her last meal?

As befits her budget, Ivy eats a lot of beans and pasta, so for her last meal she’d want some expensive food she’d never had a chance to try–but she‘d want the comfort of something familiar, too. I think her ultimate meal would be gourmet comfort food: a big plate of lobster mac and cheese, preceded by a salad with heirloom tomatoes and truffle oil dressing, and finished with a chocolate soufflé for dessert.

How about you? What would you choose for your last meal?

Because of a jaw issue, I’ve had to eat soft foods for the last seven years, so for my last meal, I’d love a rather odd combination of all the crunchy, chewy foods I miss. I’d begin with a big bowl of popcorn, with lots of real butter. A little dish of warm spiced nuts would come next, followed by a crisp salad with lots of cucumber. Dessert would be a fudge-covered apple (not caramel but fudge. Soooo good). I’d also have a cheese plate—not because I can’t eat cheese, but because it is the best food in the world.

Why should someone bite into OLIVER TWISTED?

Like all the Ivy Meadows books, OLIVER TWISTED is a mystery wrapped in silly theatrical fun. Sure, Ivy’s onboard the S.S. David Copperfield in order to catch a band of thieves, but she also has to act in the shipboard musical, Oliver! At Sea!, where she sings a rather ridiculous parody of  “Where is Love?” from Oliver!:

 “Whe- eh-eh-eh-ere…is food?” Not exactly the poignant song Oliver sang in the movie. “Are the pork chops any good?” I sang. “Should I drink my tea, or maybe see…if coffee’s freshly brewed?” I guess Oliver! At Sea!’s lyricists had decided that food was the one thing that the story and the ship had in common. “Whe-eh-eh-eh-ere…is pie? Should I order ham on rye? Or fish and chips, or Spotted Dick, or a pasty with fungi?”

“Really?” I stopped. I couldn’t stand it anymore. “I’m afraid the audience will throw things at me.”

“Don’t worry,” my director said. “They eat it up.”

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?

I decided to make a pasty with fungi (a mushroom hand pie) in honor of Ivy’s song. I made it from a 14th century recipe (cool, huh?), but used this pastry recipe. The filling was great. The pastry is supposed to be tougher than a typical piecrust so you can take the pasty to go, but was a little too tough for my liking. I’ll cheat and use frozen puff pastry the next time I make it.

CindyBrown(I took this pic of some of the ingredients because I wasn’t sure how the final product would look, and so you could see the cool book cutting board my dad made.)

This sounds yummy…and the book sounds hysterical! I can’t wait to read it! And that is an incredibly cool cutting board. Wow!

You can connect with Cindy Brown on her website, cindybrownwriter.com and on Facebook and Twitter. You can find OLIVER TWISTED on Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook), iTunes and Kobo.

 

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BOOK BITES: One Dead, Two to Go

Last month, Elena Hartwell joined me here to share a very helpful post about writing. Today, she shares a “bite” of her debut mystery novel ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO (Camel Press, April 15, 2016) along with a Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!

one_dead_300 cover-1 (2)

Who is your main character? What is she like?

Edwina “Eddie” Shoes, private investigator, is feisty and funny and just a little bit irreverent. She’s learning to accept that not only does she have people in her life who matter to her, but that she matters to them.

What would Eddie choose for her last meal?

Eddie Shoes would eat Ezell’s fried chicken, spicy, with potato salad and an extra dinner roll. Eddie lived in Seattle long enough to know this is the best fried chicken in Washington state. She’s a simple girl, with simple tastes, street smart and tough, with a soft spot for home cooking.

How about you? What would you choose for your last meal?

Marinated flank steak. This was my favorite meal as a kid – but only the way my mother makes it. This probably explains why my mystery series includes a mother/daughter duo and the mother, Chava, is learning how to cook!

Why should someone bite into ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO?

If Kinsey Millhone had a love child with James Rockford, the outcome would be Eddie Shoes, private eye. A combination of traditional gumshoe and contemporary themes all rolled into a female protagonist with her mother as her sidekick. This brand new series is also available as an audio book or ebook, so lots of ways to serve this one up.

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?

Eddie would definitely follow up her last meal with one of these chocolate chip cookies, baked for her by her mother Chava … http://joythebaker.com/2014/05/the-best-brown-butter-chocolate-chip-cookies/ I’ve discovered that browning the butter for your chocolate chip cookies is absolutely divine!

HartwellCookie

The rack was full, this is all that remains

Thank you so much for sharing this “bite” of your novel, and for the cookie recipe! Mysteries and cookies…definitely two of my favorite things!

You can learn more about Elena Hartwell on her Website. You can also connect on her blog Arc of a Writer, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And you can find ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO  on Amazon, B&N, Apple Books and Kobo.

 

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Creative Minds Profile #15: A.J. SIDRANSKY

I first met A.J. Sidransky when we were both reading from our mystery novels at a Mystery Writers of America, New York Chapter reading at KGB Bar, and I have had the pleasure of hanging out with him at a number of MWA events. The conversation is always lively—books, politics, parenthood. Last month, he joined me on this blog to discuss the inspiration for his latest novel. I am pleased to welcome him back for this month’s Creative Minds Interview.

AJSidransky (2)

A.J. Sidransky is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. He resides in Washington Heights with his wife. The National Jewish Book Awards selected his first novel FORGIVING MAXIMO ROTHMAN as a finalist in Outstanding Debut Fiction for 2013.  Next Generation Indie Book Awards selected his next book, STEALING A SUMMER’S AFTERNOON as a finalist for Best Second Novel for 2015. FORGIVING MARIELA COMACHO, was released in September 2015.

FMC front cover - Hi ResThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking. When you visited here last month, you wrote how your debut novel FORGIVING MAXIMO ROTHMAN, and FORVING MARIELA CAMACHO are both inspired by Washington Heights and your visits to the Dominican Republic. I love to live vicariously through novels—and through the experiences of my writer friends who travel. Could you share a memory of one of your trips to the D.R. that was particularly inspirational?

 

forgivingmaximorothman_cover_hi_resFirst I should say that every trip to the Dominican Republic is inspirational for me.  If I had to pick, the first trip I made with my best friend was the most life changing, which was actually my second trip to DR.  My first trip, which was eight years earlier, was to a resort with my family.  My first trip with Willy was to his home in the capital, SantoDomingo.  It was the occasion of his youngest child’s first birthday.  Traveling to Santo Domingo, or anyplace for that matter with a native is very different than traveling as a tourist.  I saw a side of the country that no tourist would ever encounter.  What I found was something very similar to the world of my childhood.

I am the grandchild of four immigrants.  We lived with my mother’s parents when I was a child.  My extended family lived within five blocks of our house.  As I wrote in one of my novels (the protagonist in that book is loosely based on me) “there was always someone to play with or fight with.”  I rediscovered this world in the ‘patio’* where Willy’s family lives in Santo Domingo.  Dominican people are very welcoming and open.  There is always a smile and an outstretched hand.  Perhaps most significantly, unlike Americans, Dominicans (like my Hungarian Jewish family) touch each other.  Their sense of personal space is more intimate.  I embraced this trait immediately.  It brought me back to my own roots.  I feel more at home there than anywhere in the entire world.  The people of the ‘patio’* and their honesty are what has inspired me to write about Santo Domingo.

*patio—a small neighborhood not accessible to cars containing from 10 to 50 households just off a main road usually populated by members of no more than a few extended families.  It’s like a village in a city.  A Barrio is a larger neighborhood.

Aside from travel, what kind of research (historical or otherwise) do you conduct? Have you ever discovered anything that was particularly surprising or inspirational?

Depending on the project, I do research both on-line and by reading books on whatever subject I am writing about.  I also seek out people who have personal experience or knowledge of the subject and interview them.  I have discovered things both surprising and inspirational through research.  That usually happens when I interview someone or read interviews on-line.  In particular with my new novel, which is set in Nazi Europe, I was particularly inspired by the recollections of people who had left Germany just prior to the war on what were known as Kindertransports.  In most instances these people were quite young, between the ages of 3 and 17 when they left, alone, without parents, sometimes with siblings, usually for England.  What seems to unify them is that despite what happened to them and in most cases they never saw their parents again as most were murdered by the Nazis, is a very positive, forward looking personality that enabled them to move on with their lives despite terrible psychological stress.  I consider myself lucky to have the privilege to know their stories.

Your current work in progress is a departure from the FORGIVING series. You’ve told me a little bit about it, and I have to say, it sounds intriguing. What made you go in a different direction for this novel?

There were a number of reasons I decided to tell this story.  Permit me to digress a bit.  When I wrote FORGIVING MAXIMO ROTHMAN, my debut novel, I set out to tell a very special story.  It was loosely based on the wartime experiences of my uncle, Max Grunfeld, my maternal grandfather’s brother.  My uncle, as recounted in the book, escaped with his wife from Nazi occupied Europe to a refugee settlement in the Dominican Republic called Sosua where 854 European Jews escaped the Nazis.  I am deeply connected to the experience of the Holocaust as over 120 members of my family on both sides were murdered in death camps.  I want to tell the stories of these people.

Much has been written and made into films about the Holocaust in the past 60 years.  While much of it has been very effective at teaching the world about what happened and spreading the message that this can never happen again, to anyone, there has been in my view a tendency to tell the story in a very specific, and to some extent myopic way.  What I mean by that is that in film, Holocaust stories are often told in such a way that the visual depiction of the victims purposefully seeks to depict the characters so that they are easily identifiable as Jews.  I call this the ‘Tevye Syndrome.’  Tevye, the main character in the play/film Fiddler on the Roof, is a Jewish peasant living in a small town in Russian Poland around the turn of the 20th century.  He looks the part.  Filmmakers have gone out of their way to write characters that like Tevye, are easily identifiable to non-Jews as Jewish by their outward appearance. 

In books we have a similar problem magnified by the tendency to tell stories that involve real historical persons.  A great example of this is Herman Wouk’s Winds of War (yes, I have the audacity to criticize Herman Wouk), where one American family encounters every major world leader during World War II.

I believe that the key to understanding the Holocaust experience, especially for those who have no personal connection to it, is to understand that the vast majority of victims (and that is not to minimize the destruction of the old ‘Yiddishland’ culture of rural Poland and Russia by the Nazis) were assimilated, secular, European Jews who spoke the language of their neighbors, dressed as their neighbors and were in fact educated professionals and business people just like the majority of Jews in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America and Israel today.  They were us, not some ‘other’ dressed in traditional garb and dancing the hora in the town square on Friday mornings.  I feel it’s my responsibility to get their stories out there.  My new book is based on the experiences of another of my relatives.

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

My other passion is exercise.  I work out every morning from 6 to 8 AM (with my best friend Willy).  I began lifting weights about ten years ago to control my diabetes and it has become the cornerstone of my life.  I want to live a long and happy and healthy life and keep telling stories.  Working out clears my mind and gets me ready to sit down at the computer and work.  To learn more about that part of my life check out my second novel STEALING A SUMMER’S AFTERNOON.  FORGIVING MARIELA CAMACHO was actually my third book.

I am also quite passionate about food.  I am a professionally trained chef, which is why my books always contain scenes of the characters having meals together and descriptions of what they are eating.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author who thinks they’d like to write historical mysteries?

I have three pieces of advice for an aspiring author of any genre.

The first is if you want to write sit down and do it.  Writers write.  Don’t think about writing, just write.  Don’t be afraid.  The keyboard is your friend.

The second is don’t get discouraged.  Learn to take criticism and rejection.  Not everyone will like your work.  You have to like it and eventually you will find someone else (hopefully a decent agent) who will like it too.

Lastly, never, ever, write for an ‘audience.’  Write for yourself and say what you need to say.  Don’t be a hack.  You have a message, get it out there.

Thank you so much for this advice, and for sharing the story of your novels.

You can learn more about A.J. Sidransky and his novels at the links below:

www.ajsidransky.com
www.facebook.com/ajsidransky
www.facebook.com/forgivingmaximorothman
www.facebook.com/forgivingmarielacamacho
www.facebook.com/stealingasummersafternoon
@AJSidransky on twitter

 

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Not My Usual Genre

Jumping-Genres-In-June-Giveaway-Hop

It should come as no surprise that I read mysteries. A LOT of mysteries. (In fact, I am giving away a mystery below…my debut YA novel, SWIMMING ALONE.)

But today, for this Blog Hop, I’d love to discuss a few books that aren’t mysteries.

Because I read EVERYTHING.

Well, almost everything.

I’m always surprised when I meet someone and they tell me they ONLY read YA or they ONLY read nonfiction.

I read to expand my mind, to travel to new places, to experience life from different perspectives. I never want to limit myself.

Here’s a list of books in genres OTHER than mystery that I might not have picked up if someone hadn’t recommended them to me, or if I hadn’t known the writer personally. Today, I am recommending them to you.

NONFICTION

SHADOW DIVERS: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII by Robert Kurson. When a friend recommended this book, I wasn’t reading a whole lot of nonfiction. I also wasn’t particularly interested in SCUBA divers, or in WWII. But I thought I would give it a try, and I am so glad I did. I was sucked into this gripping story immediately. And yes, you probably see that the word “Mysteries” appears in the title… true. But it’s not THAT kind of mystery!

POETRY

SMALL CONSOLATIONS by Gary Glauber. As much as I love poetry, rarely do I sit down ato read a complete collection of poetry. This collection, however, is simply beautiful. Gary is a friend, and I had read many of his poems over the years, and loved them. They speak of life, relationships and what it means to be a human being. You should check out his collection!

CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK

13 WORDS by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman. I would have never discovered this book if I did not have a small child. Of course, I knew of Lemony Snicket, which is why I borrowed this book from the library. And it was was so incredibly entertaining! It is funny, and twisted and not your everyday children’s book!

This list probably seems a little eclectic. But so are my reading habits!

My piece of advice is this: step outside your comfort zone. Do you read a lot of YA? Pick up a classic. Is Romance your go-to genre? Pick up a mystery. You never know…you might find a whole new genre that you love.

And now…whether you are a YA Mystery fan or not, I hope you’ll enter the giveaway…and then scroll down and visit the next blog on the hop!

Giveaway is open to U.S. Residents 13 and older. No purchase necessary.

SwimmingAlonefrnt (2)a Rafflecopter giveaway

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How Inspiration Found Me

I am delighted to welcome mystery writer Shawn Reilly Simmons back to the blog! Back in February she launched the first two novels in her Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series, and she stopped by to share a “bite” of them along with a really awesome salmon recipe. The third book in the series, MURDER ON A DESIGNER DIET is coming out next week, and today we learn what inspired the series!

How Inspiration Found Me

Shawn Reilly Simmons

Inspiration is the main ingredient for any artistic endeavor. Whether you’re painting, cooking, playing music or writing, you must have that spark of inspiration that brings your ideas to life in the art form you’ve chosen.

I’ve always loved mysteries, and was involved in the mystery writing world first as an editor for a small press, and then as a member of the Board of Malice Domestic. The idea of writing a mystery series always appealed to me, but I wasn’t sure what my setting would be or what my characters would be doing.

As luck would have it, while I was pondering the setting for my first book, I was offered a position on the catering crew for a movie filming in the Washington D.C. area. I happily accepted and for a few months lived in a hotel near Georgetown with close to three hundred cast and crew members who we were responsible for feeding at least twice a day. Our workdays typically started around four in the morning and would end after the sun went down. We worked a minimum of twelve hours in the kitchen tents and trucks, some days up to eighteen hours if filming ran behind schedule. It was winter and we were outside most of the time, following the production around to different locations in the city, serving up restaurant-quality food to cold and hungry cast and crew members.

I’ve had lots of experience working in restaurants and as a caterer, but working on a movie set is a very unique culinary experience. I gained a huge amount of skill and knowledge in those few months cooking alongside the other chefs, and we developed a special camaraderie. The work was hard and physically demanding, but I loved every minute of it. I watched the actors roll through scenes, got to chat with the director, writers and various crew members during meals, and most importantly, made people happy with my food. It was all very inspirational, and after filming wrapped and we all went our separate ways, I knew I had found the “home” for my series.

The Red Carpet Catering mysteries take place behind-the-scenes on movie sets, and are told from the point of view of Chef-Owner of Red Carpet Catering, Penelope Sutherland. Murder on a Silver Platter and Murder on the Half Shell are the first two, set in New Jersey and Florida respectively. The third, Murder on a Designer Diet, which takes place in New York City, releases on June 7th!

Lucky for me, my inspiration found me through my work. What inspires you and your writing?

author photoShawn Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries and of the short story “A Gathering of Great Detectives” appearing in the anthology Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional. Shawn has been on the Malice Board since 2003, and is an editor and co-publisher at Level Best Books, publishers of the Best New England Crime Stories.

 

 

MURDER DESIGNER DIET front smMURDER ON A DESIGNER DIET

by Shawn Reilly Simmons

“Movie lovers, this is your book! Engaging and high-spirited, Penelope Sutherland never expected that catering for the cast and crew of a top flight movie would lead to…murder. Great fun.” – Terrie Farley Moran, Agatha Award-Winning Author of Caught Read-Handed
You can visit Shawn Reilly Simmons on her website www.ShawnReillySimmons.com and all of her books are available on Amazon, or inquire at your local bookstore.

 

 

 

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