Creative Minds Profile #21: J.J. Hensley

One of the fabulous things about being a member of writing organizations like International Thriller Writers is that you get to meet some of the most fascinating people. When I met author J.J. Hensley this past summer at ThrillerFest, I knew that I wanted to interview him here on Not Even Joking! I am delighted to have him join us here this month. His path to becoming a writer is truly inspirational.

jjhensely 

J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  He is the author of the novels Resolve, Measure Twice, and Chalk’s Outline.  J.J. graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University.  He lives near Pittsburgh, PA.

Mr. Hensley’s first novel RESOLVE was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.

He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

hensleypicThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! You have had a fascinating career in law enforcement. And now, you write crime novels. Was there a particular moment during your prior career that you realized you would become a writer?

Absolutely not.  In fact, I can still be standing in a crowded room and overhear someone say, “He’s a writer” and I scan the room to see who the person is talking about.  I can’t say I became a writer by accident as much as by experiment.  I was working as a Secret Service agent in Washington, D.C. and thanks to our ridiculous commutes, my wife and I were going through audiobooks like crazy.  We had always been readers of crime fiction, but we got into the habit of listening to the same books at the same time and then discussing them in the evening.  One day, my wife said, “You should try to write a book.”  Now, since I’m a male, I didn’t take her advice for several years, but when I did decide to give it a try, I cranked out a first draft of RESOLVE in about three months.  I hoped it might be good enough to self-publish, but the next thing I knew I had an agent, a publisher, and then some awards recognition.  Things kind of took off from there.

henselyresolve I recently read a review of your novel CHALK’S OUTLINE, which stated, “the story will make you question the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘justice.’” I love novels that make me consider such questions. Will your newest novel BOLT ACTION REMEDY (due out in 2017) also plunge the reader into the fascinating waters of moral ambiguity?

jjhensleychalkAll of my books deal with some level of moral ambiguity.  One of the reasons I decided to take on the challenge of writing was that I was sick of characters being so black and white, good and evil, or right and wrong.  Real people are gray and that’s what I wanted to reflect.  None of my books are particularly morbid, but they aren’t modern day fairy tales either.  BOLT ACTION REMEDY involves a protagonist who is a recovering heroin addict who was forced out of a police department, although there are mitigating circumstances.  Like most of my “good guys”, he’s a knight in rusty armor.  The main character, Trevor Galloway, probably should be seeking to lead a simple existence, but when he agrees to look into a cold case involving a murder in which the victim was killed by someone skilled in shooting and skiing, life gets complicated when he discovers the crime scene is near a biathlon training camp.  The result is an internal struggle that has some external consequences.

BOLT ACTION REMEDY features Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway. Have we seen the last of Homicide Detective Jackson Channing?

To quote Bon Jovi, Never Say Goodbye.  I’ve written one book featuring a character named Cyprus Keller, one with Jackson Channing, and one with both of those characters.  Now I’ve created Trevor Galloway and he’ll be visiting us in Bolt Action Remedy during 2017 and I just signed on for another Galloway book in 2018.  However, none of my publishers own the rights to the characters I create and therefore they will be popping up from time to time in short stories or possibly make other appearances in novels.  I’ve been given a lot of latitude and I plan on taking advantage of that fact.

henselymeasuretwice

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

I have a five-year-old daughter and I’m in my early forties.  Not to be dark and depressing, but the reality is that it’s possible I won’t be around when my daughter is in her thirties.  Writing, even writing crime fiction, is my way to make sure she can still hear my voice after I’m gone.  Not that I’m planning to kick the bucket anytime soon, but wanting to leave an echo for my daughter to hear is what drives me to crank out the words.

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

This is tough question for me, especially since I didn’t start writing until my late thirties.  If a young aspiring writer were to ask me for advice, I’d have to say:  Read a lot, live a lot, and integrate those experiences into your writing.  We all accumulate a few scars in life—some of us more than a few—so leave some of those on the page.  Also:  Writing and exercise are great outlets for emotion, so use them.  For instance, I’m a runner and lift weights.  I exercise angry, I write angry, and doing those things leaves me happy.

 Thank you so much for joining me here! What wonderful advice.

 You can connect with J.J. Hensley on his Website, Facebook, Twitter and on his blog Steel City Intrigue. Also, he has two books coming out (in 2017 and 2018) and you can find out more about those here: https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/record-scratch-coming-in-2018/

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Creative Minds Profile #20: R.G. Belsky

I first met R.G. Belsky when we were reading from our mystery novels at KGB Bar in New York as part of a Mystery Writers of American New York Chapter event. At the time, he was reading from what was then his latest novel, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, a mystery about a “closed-case murder of a Hollywood actress.” Did someone say Hollywood? I was definitely intrigued! Since then, I have had the good fortune of getting to know Dick Belsky; we always seem to run into each other at  writing events like Brooklyn Bookfest, Thrillerfest, and various other mystery writer gatherings. His latest novel, BLONDE ICE was released last month, and it features a female serial killer!

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in New York, NY (John Makely / NBC News) NBC News Dick Belsky.

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in New York, NY (John Makely / NBC News)
NBC News
Dick Belsky.

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller, BLONDE ICE, was published by Atria on October 18. It is the latest in a series of books from Atria featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION – was published in 2014 and SHOOTING FOR THE STARS came out in 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at NBCNews.com. His previous suspense novels include PLAYING DEAD and LOVERBOY.  He was the Claymore Award winner at Killer Nashville 2016 and also a Silver Falchion Finalist.

blondeicefinalcover

Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking and congratulations on the release of BLONDE ICE! The novel is set during a New York City mayoral election…and its release during a major election season seems quite timely! Was your writing inspired by the current political climate?

Not really the current political climate, I based it more on the politics I’ve seen and covered in New York City for many years. And one of the biggest political issues here – thru mayors Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg and now Bill DeBlasio – has always been crime. The mayor takes the credit or the blame for high profile crime cases/statistics. So I thought setting the hunt for a deadly female Son-of-Sam type serial killer during a mayoral election added extra drama to the story. And the fact that the killer is a sexy woman who’s picking up and then murdering men for thrills raises the stakes even more when it comes to the potential political consequences in the ongoing mayoral race

I am a huge fan of serial killer novels…and particularly intrigued that BLONDE ICE features a female serial killer!  Were there certain real life serial killers that inspired this novel?

Well, that would have to be Son of Sam – which is the most famous serial killer story of my lifetime.  I covered the Son of Sam case as a young journalist at the Post in the 70s. So I lived through all of that terror and fear that gripped New York City, as David Berkowitz – who called himself Son of Sam – gunned down women and couples on the streets. It began slowly until people realized the murders were connected, then paralyzed the city through the so-called Summer of Sam in ’77 and finally ended with relief when he was captured.

I try to recreate some of that in BLONDE ICE. Only this time the serial killer is a woman killing men, instead of women being the victims.  All the infamous real life serial killers – Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer, the Boston Strangler and Son of Sam – were men. There have been some women serial killers who murdered for profit or in a hospital out of some sort of “angel” motive. But I wanted to create a female Son of Sam or Ted Bundy type character. A woman (and, in my book, a beautiful and brilliant woman) who murders men simply for the thrill of it.

And Gil Malloy being a man means that, in addition to covering the story as a journalist, he will eventually become a target of her deadly game too.

Like Gil Malloy, you are a journalist. Does the similarity end there, or are you like Gil Malloy in other ways as well?

Well, he’s certainly not me. Although sometimes I wish he was, because he seems to have a lot more fun than me. And he’s not really based on any specific reporter. Let’s just say that I ran across a lot of very colorful characters in the newsrooms I worked in over the years. People who were consumed with being first with the big story on the front page and were tremendous journalists. But their personal lives were often a mess because of their passion for the job. That’s kind of like Gil’s life. One of my favorite descriptions of him was from a reviewer who said: “Gil Malloy is not much of a friend, and he’s a lousy husband – but he’s one helluva great reporter.” I’ve known a lot of people like that. And Gil is truly a sort of combination of a lot of these real-life journalists.

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

Well, the two things I’ve enjoyed doing most in my life are working in newsrooms and writing mystery novels. I’ve published 10 novels in my lifetime so far, most of them written while I was working full time as a journalist. Clearly it had to be a labor of love for me to get up early every morning before going to a real newspaper to spend a few hours working on a novel about a fictional one. But actually both have always been great fun – and yet vastly different experiences. As I often say to people who wonder how I could do both things at the same time: “Working at in a newsroom means you spend most of your time making sure the facts are right – as a crime novelist I get to make the facts up!” Now that’s fun.

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

My advice is very simple, and I’ve given it to many people (with varying degrees of success) over the years. If you want to write a mystery novel, just sit down and write the damn thing. A lot of people talk about doing it, but you won’t know if you have the ability and dedication until you actually try it. It can be a daunting task looking at that blank computer screen when you start – but there’s no other way to be a writer than to write. It’s the crucial first step before a writer can even think about anything else.

Two other things I’d like to mention:

I love the fact that one of the author cover blurbs for BLONDE ICE comes from Joe Eszterhas, the legendary Hollywood screenwriter who created movie femme fatale Catherine Tramel in “Basic Instinct.” Joe and I went to college together at Ohio University and remained friends after that. His quote after reading BLONDE ICE was: “Blonde Ice is white-hot.  Even better than its title is Dick Belsky’s thriller itself.  Read it and . . . burn, baby, burn!”

In addition to the serial killer plot and the political backdrop, BLONDE ICE also deals with all the changes in newspapers today. It’s impossible to write a novel newspaper now without acknowledging the way more and more people get their news from online sources than print. So Gil is no longer the traditional reporter who runs to a pay phone to call his story into rewrite. Instead, he files immediately from a scene via Twitter, texting, livestreaming etc. and all the other modern social media tools. Web traffic has replaced number of papers sold as the No. 1 circulation goal he has to strive for with the sensational BLONDE ICE story.

Thank you so much for joining me here this month! Congratulations again on the release of BLONDE ICE!

Readers, you can connect with R.G. Belsky on his Website and on Facebook. and Twitter. You can find BLONDE ICE on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Simon & Schuster, and wherever books are sold.

 

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Creative Minds Profile #19: Daniella Bernett

I first met Daniella Bernett at a Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter event last year. At the time, she was about to release her first novel, LEAD ME INTO DANGER, an Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery. She joined me on this blog a year ago to share a “bite” of that novel. Today, I am thrilled to welcome Daniella back for a Creative Minds Interview! The second mystery in her series, DEADLY LEGACY, was released last month!

daniella-bernett-new-author-photoDaniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger is the first novel in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at  or on Goodreads.

deadly-legacy-front-coverThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking and congratulations on the release of your second novel, DEADLY LEGACY! How was the experience of writing this novel different from writing your first novel LEAD ME INTO DANGER?

I would have to say that I was more confident in myself and my characters when writing DEADLY LEGACY. However, I actually had the idea for the first few books in my head before I even started writing LEAD ME INTO DANGER. Since it is a series, I had to know how Emmeline and Gregory would evolve and what clues and plot twists to drop here and develop further in the next book. In terms of the writing itself, I found that scenes between Emmeline and Gregory or the cat-and-mouse exchanges between Gregory and Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell seemed to become more fluid as DEADLY LEGACY was unfolding.

lead-me-into-danger-front-coverYour books contain so many interesting elements: murder, jewel thieves, spies and international settings! Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is derived from all sorts of places. It could be a newspaper article; a snippet of overheard conversation; a real-life crime; or a dream. Of course, location plays an important role in my books. I’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little kid, so naturally my characters had to be British and London had to figure prominently in my books. I also adore Venice. That enchanted city’s history of intrigues was simply begging to be featured in LEAD ME INTO DANGER.

I get a lot of ideas from the sights and sounds of a city or an area that has made a strong impression on me. You’re either going to laugh or you’re going to run very quickly in the opposite direction, but oftentimes I come across a place and think, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to find a dead body?”

Are you working on another Emmeline Kirby & Gregory Longdon Mystery? And if so, could you give us a little hint about what we might expect from it?

Yes, I am working on Emmeline and Gregory’s latest adventure. I’m actually in the middle of Book 5. However, I would be happy to give you a tiny hint about what awaits them in FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, Book 3, which will be released in 2017. The story is set in Torquay, Devon, on England’s rugged west coast. It’s supposed to be a restful holiday for Emmeline far from her recent harrowing escapes from spies and others with nefarious objectives back in London. She also needs distance to sort out her conflicted feelings for Gregory. But who should turn up out of the blue? You guessed it. The ever-charming, devastatingly handsome Gregory.  That’s when secrets from his past—and murder—shatter the serenity of picturesque idyll.

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

Reading. I’m a voracious reader. I think that as a writer one has to be a reader first and foremost. At heart, a writer is a reader who has given full vent to the story swirling around in his or her head. In my case, I’ve had a love affair with language and the written word since I was very young. As you might have surmised, I have a particular affinity for mysteries and spy thrillers. However, I also enjoy reading the classics, history, biographies, anything except science fiction and horror. (I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I read those types of books.)

Another thing I’m passionate about is traveling. It’s delightful to discover new places and meet people from different backgrounds. It broadens the mind and also serves as spark for my imagination.

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

Again, I would tell an aspiring writer to READ. Read everything you can get your hands on. There are myriad subgenres under the “mystery” umbrella. Read books from each of these categories to get a feel for the pacing, moods evoked, subjects written about and the language. Read different authors to see how each handles the narrative and plot twists. In the end though, let these other books merely be your guides.  The most important thing is to write the story that you want to write and not what others tell you or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

That is wonderful advice! Than you so much for joining me here today!

You can connect with Daniella on her website, Facebook and Goodreads. Her books are available on Amazon, B&N, from Black Opal Books, or where ever books are sold.

Daniella will be doing a reading and signing at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan (58 Warren Street) on Friday, October 7 at 6:30 pm. You can pre-order a SIGNED copy here: http://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/daniella-bernett-deadly-legacy

 

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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!

afairtodiefor-cc1

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.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]

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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