Book Bites: A FAIR TO DIE FOR

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to appear on Red River Radio with fellow mystery author and Sister in Crime, Radine Trees Nehring. After I heard about her mystery A FAIR TO DIE FOR (Oak Tree Press, 2012), the 7th Something to Die For Mystery, I knew I wanted to have her over here to share a “bite.” I am delighted to have her join me here today. She also shares a no-thaw meatloaf recipe, which sounds perfect for me these days!

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Who are your main character? What are they like?

A FAIR TO DIE FOR  features two main characters:  Carrie McCrite (a retired reference librarian) and Henry King, (divorced, and a retired Kansas City Police Major in the Homicide Division. Each of them moved to Arkansas on a quest, Carrie to forge an independent life after the death of her parents and first husband, and Henry to locate a daughter he has never seen. The two meet, and, in the third series novel, are married.

What would Carrie McCrite and Henry King choose for their last meals?

Carrie probably could not answer this question because she thinks very little about either cooking or eating. Her husband, Henry King, does enjoy his food, and his on-line friendship with chef John Bohnert is featured in this novel. Henry’s recipe for Sort-of Tomato Soup is one of the recipes appearing in the story along with a couple of Chef Bohnert’s special recipes.

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

 Today I would say a special treat meal would include medium prime rib and a fluffy baked potato.  I recently enjoyed those when my husband and I celebrated an anniversary.

Why should someone bite into A FAIR TO DIE FOR

It’s October—craft season in the Ozarks, and people from distant areas of the United States as well as locals are enjoying the many craft fairs in the area. One of the largest and longest-running, the War Eagle Fair, has judged Carrie’s best friend, Shirley Booth, as eligible to display and sell her baby quilts and cuddlies during the four days of the fair–when up to 200,000 visitors are expected.  Though the fair is closely regulated and guards are on hand, perhaps you can guess at crimes that fit easily into a craft fair setting. Shirley and Carrie are blissfully unaware of these until a maybe cousin of Carrie’s appears, and . . . . 

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

As I said, Carrie is no cook and has paid little attention to recipes at any time in her life, but when she needs a recipe for meat loaf, “No Thaw Meat Loaf” is what she comes up with.  The Nehrings enjoy this meal fairly frequently, and readers have named it their favorite of all the recipes included in my novels to date.

CARRIE McCRITE’S NO-THAW MEAT LOAF

nothawmeatloaf

 Preparation time: 15 minutes. Oven time at 350: 1:30

1 pound lean hamburger rmeat, frozen in its original package

1 large onion, sliced in length-wise strips

1 large bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, sliced into length-wise strips

1 can no-fat beef broth or similar beef juice product

1 individual-size can, tomato-juice. (Note: feel free to use your imagination here. Left-over picante sauce, salsa, or whatever tomato something-or-other the refrigerator holds will also do quite well. You may also add garlic, basil leaves, or other seasonings to the liquid.

Salt and pepper.

————————

How to:

Unwrap meat, (still frozen solid), and plunk it down in a large casserole dish or roaster with a lid.

Salt and pepper the meat lump.

Pile slices of onion and green pepper artfully over the top.

Pour beef broth and liquid tomato product around the sides of the meat. If the tomato product you chose is thick, add water so there is plenty of liquid around the meat, (but not over the top of it) at all times during baking.

Bake, covered, for an hour and a half. (The meat will have a pinkish tinge throughout when done because of the tomato juice.)

Want gravy? Thicken juice at the end by adding a tablespoon or two of cornstarch blended with a bit of water and stirred thoroughly into the liquid. Return pan to oven until gravy thickens. You can also pour the liquid into a pan and heat over a stove top burner until thickened.

Serve with boiled potatoes or rice, vegetable, and fruit.

I have to say, this sounds like the perfect meal for me these days, as I have just returned to teaching, and it is so hard to remember to thaw meat to cook for dinner! A FAIR TO DIE FOR sounds so intriguing! Thank you so much for joining me here today!

Readers, you can connect with Radine Trees Nehring on her Website, Blog, Facebook and Twitter.

A FAIR TO DIE FOR can be found on Amazon and B&N, in ebook and in print. You can also find it Indie Bookstores in the Arkansas Ozarks and at www.RadinesBooks.com.

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LOST IN LAGUNA: Guest Post by Nina Sadowsky

This year, I attended my very first ThrillerFest. One of the highlights was meeting the other debut novelists. Among them was Nina Sadowsky. It’s always fun to meet another Nina! I recently listened to her psychological thriller JUST FALL on Audible (yep, I am still listening to audio books, and loving them!) Wowzers! JUST FALL was sexy, frightening and totally thrilling! I found myself rooting for some characters at one moment, and then hating them in others! And the ending…well let’s say, there were so many twists and turns, I definitely didn’t see it coming! I am super excited to have Nina as a guest on NOT EVEN JOKING today. She discusses family, marriage and some of the inspiration behind JUST FALL.

LOST IN LAGUNA
by Nina Sadowsky

The weekend was supposed to be a fun, sexy, newlywed escape, a chance for my husband and I to sip cocktails on the beach, stroll through town hand in hand, luxuriate in hotel sex.  I prayed we would reconnect. We had been married just three months and I was afraid I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

My husband and I met online. Each of us had one failed marriage and two teenagers. We discovered that my two children and one of his were at the same small, progressive private school, our daughters, in fact, in the same grade.  We learned that we shared similar values about the importance of family. Our politics aligned. We both had a love of travel, fine food and wine, indie movies. We both possessed addictions to morning coffee and abandoned law degrees. I discovered that he, a native of Los Angeles, religiously read The New Yorker, a staple in this New York native’s home.

After a few dates, over sushi and sake, we declared our exclusivity. To celebrate we spontaneously checked into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, not even stopping for toothbrushes, emerging decadently rumpled the next morning.  He told me he loved me shortly thereafter.  I was more cautious and would only reward him with “I big like you.”

When we were together for three months, he became ill.  The doctors at first couldn’t diagnose him.  He was tested for infectious diseases and various viruses.  He got sicker and sicker.  Finally we learned that a routine teeth cleaning had caused a bacterial blood infection, compromising a heart valve. He needed open heart surgery. The surgery was scheduled.  I told him I loved him for the very first time.

He asked me if he could take me away for a few days before the operation and I agreed.  On that trip that he proposed, diamond ring at the ready.  We had been dating for four months.  I accepted, although I must confess a small part of me whispered, “I can’t say no now, not with him having open heart surgery next week. I’ll say yes and then see how it goes.”

That being said, the fear and anxiety I felt when he was wheeled into the operating theatre told me that my feelings were deeper than I had allowed myself to acknowledge.

The surgery went fine.  We set a wedding date over a year away, but when the house I had been renting went on the market, we decided we might as well move in together.

So there we were, the happy couple, realizing we actually barely knew one another, installed in a home with four teenagers possessed of decidedly mixed emotions. I felt for the kids, I really did. Divorce and remarriage are life events that affect children enormously, but over which they have no control.  I did my best to stay flexible during the inevitable awkward and uncomfortable eruptions over differing styles about everything from meal-time to TV-watching to homework to discipline.

But we were figuring it out. Or so I thought. Until our wedding.  Maybe it was the formality, the “real” of it, hitting him, I don’t know, but my stepson, a kid I had thought of as delightful, that I knew as a boy scout and a good student, turned into a monster.  He threw the nice clothes we bought him for the wedding into the garbage. He wouldn’t speak to my children or even be at our house when they were there. He refused to eat anything I cooked. He got into a fistfight at school.  He fought with his dad. He ignored me. He smashed down his bedroom door. He broke rules about parties, and it was me who had to call a boy’s mother when the kid puked his guts up at our house at 2 a.m.

Uncomfortable with anger in general, I was thoroughly flummoxed by this rage in my own household.  I understood my husband was in a terrible position: his child, someone he loved without reservation, was being hateful to his new wife and her children.  I was empathetic, but also furious. Protect me, protect my children, protect our marriage, these were the things I wanted to scream. But I stayed silent. We were new and fragile.

Our weekend in Laguna Beach was designed to allow us a brief respite from this dilemma.  And a neutral place to puzzle out our next steps. But Laguna did not cooperate. The weather was chilly and overcast. We shivered and contemplated the purchase of cheap sweatshirts, ducked into a movie just to stay warm.  We ate nice meals and strolled the tourist traps, but the weight of my stepson’s anger shrouded us as heavily as the fog. Both of us were reluctant to start the conversation that we were fearful could end it all.

Late Sunday afternoon, sun slanting in, I stood at the window of our beach side hotel room, staring out at the water below.  A cadre of toned young men tossed a football back and forth on the sand. I turned to look at my husband who was sprawled on the bed, eyes closed, one arm flung over his face.  All my fury and worry coalesced into an image of violence; I imagined the man on the bed to be quite dead.  I grabbed my notebook and scribbled down the scene as I envisioned it.  This became the opening scene in my first novel, JUST FALL.

Marriage is a courageous choice under any circumstances, particularly so when blending a family. Peeling back the layers of a person, exposing the whole of not just his individual psyche, but also those of the people that “come with,” is a brave and bold task.  Agendas and perspectives aren’t always aligned.  Interests and loyalties can compete. Laying yourself bare to need is terrifying.

My husband and I finally spoke, stalled in traffic, on the way home from Laguna.  We shared our fears and agreed we needed to be a united and loving front. We would insist on civility. Practice love even when we weren’t feeling it. Lead with compassion. Assure my stepson we would be there for him as well as for each other. We pulled into our driveway holding hands.

As we put compassion into action, I took the scene I had scribbled in Laguna and went to work on the novel that became JUST FALL. The book became a metaphor for the pleasure and perils of intimacy that marked our first year of marriage. As we figured out how to be a pair, we were frequently misaligned, our agendas at odds. Our deepest fears were laid bare; we were vulnerable and often alienated from one another. We saw each other’s ugly sides. We loved each other too. All of these emotions became translated into a world of killers and con men, desperadoes and detectives.

Gradually, my stepson came around.  He’s still a picky eater but loves most of what I cook. I helped him with his college essays and when he got his first acceptance, he made a pointing of telling both me and my husband that he couldn’t have done it without us. The day he left to start his freshman year, we told one another we loved each other for the very first time.  Reinventing my relationship with this young man is one of the things I am proudest of in my adult life.

As for my husband, he is grateful that there is peace in our home. And also that writing is the process by which I exorcise my demons, leaving him free to sleep without one eye open.

Sadowsky headshot 2015 high resNina R. Sadowsky is an entertainment lawyer (in recovery) who has worked as a film and television producer and writer for most of her career.  JUST FALL is her first novel.

She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations and done rewrites for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television. She served as President of Production for Signpost Films, a film financier and foreign distributor, where she worked on such projects as the Academy Award nominated “The House of Sand and Fog.” Sadowsky served as executive producer for the hit film “The Wedding Planner,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, produced “Desert Saints,” an independent film starring Kiefer Sutherland,  produced the supernatural thriller, “Lost Souls,” which marked the directorial debut of Academy Award winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky for New Line Cinema, produced the telefilm “Northern Lights,” starring Diane Keaton for The Disney Channel, and served as executive producer for the animated half hour comedy pilot, “Quints” for UPN.  She also produced “Jumpin’ at the Boneyard” starring Tim Roth, Jeffrey Wright and Samuel L. Jackson, which was featured in the Sundance, Montreal and Torino film festivals.

She serves as adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts program, teaching both writing and producing.

Just Fall final coverJUST FALL (Ballantine, March 2016)
By Nina Sadowsky

Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn, this sexy and seductive debut novel asks: How can you find out that the person you love is a killer . . . and continue to love him anyway?

THEN
Ellie Larrabee’s life is perfect. She’s thriving at work, living in a fabulous apartment, and engaged to the man of her dreams. To all appearances, Ellie and Rob Beauman are a golden couple—blessed with good looks, success, and romantic chemistry that’s off the charts. Surely their future together promises nothing but happiness.

But on what should be the most wonderful day of her life, moments after saying “I do,” a shocking secret threatens to shatter Ellie’s happily-ever-after. She learns that the man she just married and loves with all her heart hides a dark past beneath his charismatic exterior. And the more harrowing truth she uncovers, the deeper Ellie is swept into a vortex of betrayal and uncertainty from which she may never escape.

NOW
On the island paradise of St. Lucia, Ellie isn’t basking in honeymoon splendor—she’s grappling with the chilling realities of her violently derailed life: Rob has blood on his hands and some very dangerous people on his trail, and only Ellie stands between him and the lethal destiny he’s facing. Rob never dreamed that Ellie would be dragged into the deadly world he’s trapped in—or used as a pawn against him. And Ellie could never have imagined how far she’d be forced to go to save the man she loves.

 

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Creative Minds Profile #18: Sarah Darer Littman

I first met Sarah Darer Littman when I attended an event for young adult and middle grade writers at the Ferguson Branch of the Stamford Library in Stamford, CT many years ago.  I don’t remember the topic of the talk that day, but I do remember thinking Sarah Darer Littman was a very entertaining person and I wanted to read her books! I picked up a copy of her middle-grade novel CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC that day, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  When her young adult novel PURGE was released, I quickly bought it. It was very different from the middle grade novel- but an extremely powerful read that I could not put down.

These days, I am thrilled to be able to call Sarah a friend. She has two (yes 2) books coming out this fall: CHARMED I’M SURE and IN CASE YOU MISSED IT. I am looking forward to attending both of those book launches in the weeks to come (more on that below!) And I am delighted to welcome Sarah to Not Even Joking this month for a Creative Minds Interview!

LittmanSD

Sarah Darer Littman is the critically acclaimed author of BACKLASH; WANT TO GO PRIVATE?; LIFE, AFTER; PURGE; and CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC,  winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. When she’s not writing novels, Sarah is an award-winning columnist for the online news site CTNewsJunkie. She teaches creative writing as an adjunct professor in the MFA program at Western Connecticut State University, and with Writopia Lab. Sarah lives in Connecticut.

Charmed Final cover copyThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking. You have two books coming out this fall! Wow! CHARMED I’M SURE, a middle grade novel, will be out September 27th. You’ve called this your “if at first you don’t succeed”novel. I love the story of how this novel came into being. Could you share it with my readers?

CHARMED is my “If at first you don’t succeed try again…and again…and again…and again” novel. The original inspiration for the novel happened when I was watching the Disney Cinderella video with my then nursery-school age daughter (said daughter is now going into her junior year of college, so this gives you an idea of just how long this idea has taken to come to fruition!). Things weren’t going so well in my marriage, and as I watched the final image of Cinderella and Prince Charming going away in the rear window of the Pumpkin coach to live “Happily Ever After” I sat there with my daughter snuggled up next to me thinking “Why am I letting my daughter watch this garbage? What really happens is that Cinderella ends up doing all the work around the castle and Prince Charming takes her for granted!”

I’d only just recently given myself the permission to follow my high school dream of being a writer after spending my entire life doing what everyone else expected me to do, and I was writing a much too autobiographical adult novel about a woman who was unhappy in her marriage. In one scene, she drinks too much chardonnay one night and burns all of her young daughter’s Disney videos because she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up believing in all the Prince Charming as savior stuff. I would like to note for the record here that a) this did not actually happen, and b) I don’t even like chardonnay.

After my first novel, CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC came out I went through a dreadful second book blues period. One of the many, many, many books that I proposed and had rejected was a “real story of the Princesses” idea. The Princesses were mad about how their stories had been Disneyfied and became radicalized. I think the idea was little too radical.

I still wanted to write about this though. It never left my mind. About nine years later, I had the idea to write the story from the perspective of their daughters. I LOVED this idea. I loved it SO, SO much. I wrote 10,000 words in no time. But I thought it had to be Olde Worlde Fantasye. I sent my words of love off to my wonderful agent, Jennifer Laughran to get her thoughts, expecting her to call me back telling me that I was a genius and that she was going to sell it for a gazillion dollars with film rights. I was imagining myself actually taking, yanno, a vacation! I could practically taste the umbrella drinks!

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I love Jenn because she tells it to me like it is – and what she told me was: “Honey, if you want to write this book, you need to go to fantasy boot camp.”

At that point I did what I always do when I get bad book news. I allowed myself a time-limited pity party wrapped in my Snuggie eating chocolate on the sofa. Then I got on with writing the next book, the one that would sell and in fact has sold really well – BACKLASH.

But I still wasn’t ready to give up on the idea. One day, I was whining about it (what me whine?) to my friend Cindy Minnich, and like all brilliant teachers, she asked me just the right question: “Why does it have to be Olde Worlde Fantasye? Why can’t it be contemporary?” I told her she was a genius, offered her my first-born child, and set off to rewrite the idea to my strengths.

This time when I sent it to Jenn, she loved it. Not only that, she sold it to Simon & Schuster in a two-book deal. FAIREST OF THEM ALL, which tells the story of Sleeping Beauty’s daughter Aria, comes out in May 2017. As Winston Churchill (one of my oratory heroes, who shows up in my other book coming out this fall) said: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

ICYMI cover_12.17.15Your YA novels tackle some very serious topics: terrorism, cyber-bullying, eating disorders. Where do you find inspiration for these topics? What inspired your latest YA novel, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT?

I’m a political columnist as well as an author, so by necessity I’m very tuned into what’s going on in the world. My parents also brought me up to be that way. Inspiration is everywhere, but you have to be tuned in to the world to pick up on it. It’s also important to be able to see patterns and synthesize ideas from disparate fields and sources.

Literature is a wonderful way to create discussion about serious and difficult topics. That’s one of the reasons I get furious when parents try to ban books. It says much more about their own problems being having good, healthy, conversations with their children than it does about the books. As far as I’m concerned, if a parent is trying to ban a book from a library, it’s because they are trying to abdicate their own job as a parent.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT was inspired by some very high-profile hacking cases, where we saw how public personas didn’t always match private conversations. It made me think about things that I’ve texted to my significant other when venting in frustrating about a situation that could be totally misperceived. We communicate online under an illusion of privacy, but there is no privacy. What has always fascinated me the most, though, are the secrets we keep from the people living under our own roof.

What do you think the biggest difference is in writing middle grade vs. young adult literature? What are the similarities? How are you able to switch between the two?

The two biggest differences are language and situations. It was interesting because part of my second book blues was that both my then agent and editor were telling me I “didn’t have a YA voice” and I should write even younger than Jussy, the main character in CONFESSIONS. But two things came into play. Firstly, I knew that some of the stories I had inside of me (for example, PURGE), by their nature and subject matter had to be young adult. But here’s the true reason that I have a YA voice: the more they told me I couldn’t write YA, the more I was like, “Oh yeah?! I’ll show you!”  Five YA novels later, it’s apparent that my inner teen is alive and well!

It’s easy for me to switch between the two because I’m writing in such completely different styles – my middle grades allow me to reveal my more light-hearted, humorous side, and my YA’s are more serious and edgy, although still with a soupçon of humor. Humor is what helps me get through the dark times in my life, so I try to incorporate it into my novels.

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

After spending the first 38 years of my life doing what everyone else expected me to do, the fact that I’m now able to make a living from doing what I truly love never fails to get me out of bed in the morning. I don’t mind working my butt off – and trust me, I do – because I really, really love my work. If I do get discouraged, I’ll get an email from a young reader telling me how my book helped them and it gives me the strength to keep going. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thanked my young letter writers for helping ME!

I’m truly passionate about literacy and education. I was born on first base – or even second and third – because I was born to literate parents in a house filled with books. I’m also passionate about the need to have certified school librarians in our schools, because librarians didn’t just help to make me a reader, they helped to make me a thinker. The biggest mistake we’ve made in the Internet age is to think that we can dispense with librarians because kids can just Google things. The 2016 election is Example A of why we need librarians in schools teaching media literacy.

I view all of my jobs (author, political columnist, MFA adjunct, Writopia Lab instructor, and also member of Greenwich Representative Town Meeting) as being interrelated. Being an instructor at Writopia helps me keep in touch with the teen/tween voice now that my kids are older, and I love working with teens to help them discover their own voices. I just taught a workshop at the MFA residency for WestConn called WRITING FOR CITIZENSHIP, ADVOCACY, AND CAREERS – which discussed media literacy, persuasive writing, and how to file a FOIA request, amongst other things. I’ve used my platform as a political columnist to highlight education issues and also transparency and ethics, which are two issues I feel are very important in public life and in a democracy. My parents brought me up to believe in public service, so now I’m putting my money where my mouth is (or rather my time) and serving on the Greenwich RTM. There’s much to be discouraged about in politics and the world, but we can either sit around complaining about it online, or we can get off our butts and actually try to do something about it. I chose to try to do something about it, using the skills that I’ve been given.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write novels?

READ! Read widely across many genres. Read the news. And most of all, take an interest with the world around you. TALK TO PEOPLE. People, the way they relate to one another, and how they handle adversity can be an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration.

Then WRITE. Keep writing. At first you will write rubbish. Eventually, you will write better rubbish. Find people you trust who will tell it like it is. Cherish those people. Honest, constructive criticism is the best gift you can receive as a writer. Hone your craft, because writing is a craft. One day, the better rubbish will turn into something beautiful – and maybe that idea you had over ten years ago and tried writing several different ways will get you a two-book deal!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this incredible advice and for joining me here today. You are seriously an inspiration.

You can connect with Sarah Darer Littman on her Website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

If you are in the Connecticut area, there are two book launch events you can attend:

CHARMED, I’M SURE on Thursday, September 27th at the Cos Cob Library, Cos Cob, CT.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT on Sunday, October 23rd at the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT.

You can find all of her books wherever books are sold!

 

 

 

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BOOK BITES: Fighting Chance

Today I am delighted to welcome fellow mystery author B.K. Stevens to share a “bite” of  her YA mystery FIGHTING CHANCE (Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015). I recently read it, and absolutely loved it. It even got me interested in possibly taking a Krav Maga class one of these days! FIGHTING CHANCE has been nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony award. Oh…and there’s a yummy chocolate cake and fudge icing recipe below, too!

fighting chance

Who is your main character? What is he like?

Seventeen-year-old Matt Foley is a thoroughly nice guy with good instincts and a generous nature—for example, he won’t stand idly by when someone else is being bullied. But he sometimes gets taken in by a pretty face or a smooth talker, he’s too quick to believe gossip, and he tends to think the people in his own popular crowd at school are superior to the misfits. He’s also a star basketball player and a talented martial artist who sees himself as a jock who’s bored with school—but he’s smarter than he thinks he is, and reading and writing interest him more than he’ll admit. Although he loves his parents and knows they’re good people, he can’t help feeling distant from them. By the end of the novel, Matt’s taken some important steps toward growing up.

What would Matt choose for his last meal?

Matt loves simple, basic foods such as pizza and cheeseburgers—and that puts him at odds with his parents, who favor more healthful dishes such as tofu stir-fry, quinoa patties, and gluten-free trifle. For his last meal, Matt would choose fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. When he comes home one day and sees his mother preparing these favorites of his, he’s instantly suspicious: “Too much comfort food—something bad must be happening.” (He’s right.)

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

Like Matt, I’m no gourmet and have pretty basic tastes in food. For my last meal, I’d choose Caesar salad, steak, roasted potatoes, and a glass (or two) of Merlot, followed by a hot fudge sundae and an oatmeal-raisin cookie. (I had to cheat and squeeze in two desserts—I love hot fudge sundaes, but who’d want to leave this life without one last cookie?)

Why should someone bite into FIGHTING CHANCE?

I sometimes describe FIGHTING CHANCE as a cross between The Hardy Boys and The Karate Kid: It’s a fair-play whodunit laced with action and adventure, and it’s also a coming-of-age story about a teenager growing into adulthood while studying a martial art. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a smartly crafted mystery filled with suspense and intrigue”; Booklist says, “Stevens’ portrait of Matt, Graciana, and their town is a compelling one, full of convincingly real dangers.” All the martial arts scenes—classes, tournament, real-life clashes—are carefully choreographed with help from my husband, a fifth-degree black belt. I hope both teenagers and adults will enjoy the mystery, the humor, and the account of a young man coming to a better understanding of his friends, his family, and himself.

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

Matt loves chocolate cake, and so do I. And I love the recipe for Cockeyed Cake, from Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book. It’s incredibly simple (only nine ingredients, mixed and baked in the same pan), it uses no milk or eggs (perfect for vegans, and for people who run out of eggs), and it’s amazingly rich and moist. Here’s the link: http://www.ourtableforseven.com/2014/08/the-easiest-chocolate-cake-ever-aka.html

As a bonus, here’s my mother’s fudge icing recipe (also incredibly simple, but not perfect for vegans):

Fudge Icing

2 squares unsweetened baker’s chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
3-5 tablespoons milk
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Melt butter and chocolate in 3 tablespoons milk.
  • Blend in sugar and vanilla; add more milk if necessary.  Stir until thick enough to spread.

Thank you so much for sharing this “bite” of your book and the recipes!

You can connect with B.K. Stevens on her Website, Amazon and Facebook.

FIGHTING CHANCE, an Agatha and Anthony finalist, is available at Amazon Kobo Barnes & Noble.

You can read the first chapter of FIGHTING CHANCE at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/fighting-chance-a-martial-arts-mystery-for-young-adults/

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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!

2014_10_18_Hall-6469

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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