Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Month of March

A March Walk in the Woods

Maggie and not my earlier collie in the poem.
                        The aging lion opens its mouth to roar,
                        and pauses to watch a dog with golden fur
                        coming through a silent woods of leafless trees,
                        except for young beeches clinging to old leaves
                        afraid that’s all they’ll ever have.
                        The collie’s nose searches for smells of spring.
                        Under dead leaves she finds a small green shoot,
                        a spring beauty, and gives a joyful bark.
                        The lion cocks its head, listens,
                        opens mouth to roar, but yawns instead,
                        closes his eyes and settles down to sleep.

Narcissus in my front yard.
Today is the last day of March, a month with a mixture of cold days, a few warm sunny days, a little snow and lots of rain, and some of the highest winds we’ve had in some time.  

Spring officially started on March 20th, but I’ve always considered March the first month of spring.March, April and May are springs months followed by June, July and August as the summer months, etc. After all, some years March comes in like a lamb so that is sort of like spring, isn’t it? This year it didn’t, at least not here in N.E. Ohio, although by the 2nd week it was warming up, only to have a week of bitter cold later in the month, but it did end more lamb like. What can be said about March is that it’s capricious. One never knows from week to week what kind of weather we’ll be having. For instance, last Thursday there was a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain. That rain didn’t come until I was in bed.
Maggie is looking for squirrels. 

Still, I can’t complain about the weather because this was the warmest winter on record with average temperatures 4.6 degrees F above the 20th century average according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since I consider March the first month of spring, I start looking for early signs of it, especially on my walks in the woods, but until this past week, I didn’t see any there, except one tiny cut-leaf toothwort just barely visible it was so tiny and holding it’s teeny tiny buds tightly against any possible freezing, maybe. I also saw a few tiny spotted green leaves of trout lilies, and there were a few buds on narcissus I planted five or six years ago near my path, as well as buds on the daffodils I planted over a year ago on the spot the stranger committed suicide by hanging. It’s the spot where I stop and say a little prayer for him – that is if I’m not busy working on a poem, or  the next chapter of whatever I’m working on like a murder in a short story.

Leaves of trout lilies in the woods.

The leaves of the trees have yet to appear. The only leaves visible are the shriveled pale leaves of the young beech trees. The older ones lost their leaves along with the other trees, but these younger ones cling to these faded leaves as if afraid they will get no more. At least the pines at the beginning of my woods I planted twenty-five years ago add green to the woods as well as the moss throughout the woods greener than ever with the rain, and I did notice yesterday that the leaves on my lilacs have appeared still smaller than a mouse's ear.

Pulmanaria and a few daffodils in my woodland garden.

In my gardens, the daffodils and other narcissus are blooming as well as the pulmonaria with clusters of pink and blue flowers and spotted leaves. They have spread throughout my gardens, especially the shady gardens. They are one of the earliest blooming flowers.  A few primroses are blooming, too. 

The Star Magnolia Tree by me veggie garden.

Behind my back fence, my star magnolia is covered with buds that are starting to open into beautiful flowers. The other magnolias will follow later. The pussy willow tree is full of little catkins, but most are higher up because I kept hitting my head on the lower branches when I was mowing so I trimmed those branches.

One of a dozen or more gardens I have to clean up.

And now the negative aspects of spring, like cleaning up all the fallen branches and twigs from the many trees around my place after the high winds we’ve had this March. And taking care of the dead stalks of last year’s plants, and the leaves and pine needles I never finished raking last fall. Each flower bed that’s showing the green leaves of daylilies, tulips, daffodils, etc. also have dead plants that need to be removed. The high winds also turned over large pots spilling out dirt. The winds even turned over an old wheelbarrow I plant annuals in each spring.

I couldn't resist including one more picture of Maggie.

Perhaps one of the grossest aspects of spring is the road kill with all the animals coming out of hibernation; raccoons, skunks, and possums. Unfortunately, Maggie has been finding the remains of dead creatures in the woods, too. I don’t appreciate these gifts she brings me.

Still, in spite of the work, I still welcome spring with its flowers, trees greening up, and the song birds that migrated south returning. I like going out without a coat and hat. I like working in the gardens. I like just about everything about spring except for what I mentioned above.

What do you like about spring?
What do you not like about it?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Interview with Joyce Tremel by E. B. Davis

The Allegheny Brew House is a dream come true for Maxine "Max" O'Hara,
who went all the way to Germany for her brewmaster certification and is
now preparing to open her own craft brew pub in a newly revitalized section
of Pittsburgh. But before she can start pouring stouts and lagers to thirsty throngs,
there's trouble on tap. Suspicious acts of sabotage culminate in Max finding
her assistant brewmaster and chef Kurt Schmidt strangled in one of the vats.

Between rescuing a stray gray tabby she names Hops and considering a handsome
ex-hockey player as her new chef, Max doesn't have a lot of time to solve a murder.
But with a homicide detective for a dad, she comes to criminal investigation naturally.
And if someone is desperate enough to kill to stop her from opening, Max needs to
act fast—before her brand new brew biz totally tanks...

I can’t remember when I first became acquainted with Joyce Tremel. It’s been years though, so when I discovered Berkley Prime Crime had released her first novel To Brew or Not To Brew (A Brewing Trouble Mystery Series) in December, I wanted to interview her. Since I knew a bit about Joyce’s background, her book surprised me. Read further—you’ll find out why.

Please welcome Joyce Tremel to WWK.       E. B. Davis

Joyce, you were a police secretary for years. I expected a more hardboiled subgenre—at least a police procedural—why a cozy?

The first books I wrote years ago, while not exactly procedurals, were procedural-like. They featured an ex-cop who was a martial arts instructor. I’m pretty sure they’ll never leave my hard drive. After I left the police department, I wrote a book with a police secretary protagonist called In Spite of Murder. That book landed me an agent who left the business, then it landed another agent who left the business, then landed my current agent who has been warned she’d better never leave agenting. Ever. Anyway, ISoM isn’t a procedural even though Irma Jean works at a police department. My first agent called it a cozy with an edge.

How did your series with Berkley occur?

My agent sent In Spite of Murder to several publishers, one of which was Berkley. The editor liked it and liked my writing, but it wasn’t cozy enough for their line. If you read Berkley’s books, you probably know what I mean. The books in their cozy line all have some kind of hook like a craft, food, etc. The editor told my agent that if I was interested in writing a cozy, that she’d love to take a look at it. Of course I said I’d love to give it a shot. I tried to figure out what kind of hook hadn’t been done yet and I came up with the brewpub idea. I wrote a proposal with a synopsis, ideas for subsequent books in the series, and three chapters, and sent it to my agent. A few months later I got the call that Berkley was offering me a three-book contract.

I know you’re from Pittsburgh. How much of the story comes from real life—Do you live in Lawrenceville, the section of Pittsburgh that serves as the setting?  Do you brew like your main character, Max O’Hara? Do you come from a large Irish-Catholic family, like Max?

I live in a suburb north of Pittsburgh, but it’s not far from Lawrenceville. My younger son lives in Bloomfield, which is right next to Lawrenceville. Whenever I’d drive through Lawrenceville to get to his place, I’d notice that just about every week there was a new store, restaurant, or brewpub opening up. I thought this would be a perfect spot for Max to open hers.

I don’t brew, but I do love beer. Real beer, that is—not the swill made by the corporate giants. Oops. I probably ticked off a few people by that comment. I had to learn about brewing by doing research online and visiting local craft breweries and talking to brewers. And trying their beer, of course.

I am a Catholic, but I’m not 100% Irish. I’m kind of a mutt—Irish and German on my mother’s side and Scottish and French on my dad’s side. I have three sisters—two older and one younger.

After Max finished her Masters in Chemistry, she went to Ireland to study whiskey distilling. How did she end up in Germany studying brewing?

Max had never been to Europe before, so she figured she’d visit a few countries before settling in Ireland. When she got to Germany, tasted the beer, and saw the brewing operations, she decided that was what she wanted to learn.

Your book reminded me of school field trips since I grew up in Pennsylvania. We visited a chocolate factory, a cheese-making shop, a bakery, a candy plant, etc. I loved the infusion of brewing terms—I could almost smell the yeasty mead. Explain the terms hefeweizen, stout, lager, dunkel, sparging, wort, and growlers (which I thought was another name for a hoagie).

Ha! We just call them hoagies here. Although I try to at least give a hint at what the brewing terms mean, I’m actually thinking of adding a page to my website with definitions. I just have to find the time to do it. Here you go:

Hefeweizen is a wheat beer. It has a nice, pale yellow color. It has a slight banana and clove taste to it even though there are no bananas or cloves in it. All the flavor comes from the varieties of grain, hops, and yeast that are used. Like Max, this is my favorite beer.
Stout is a dark beer (think Guinness). It’s usually very smooth with little or no bitterness from hops. It has a chocolatey, sometimes coffee-like character, that comes from the roasted barley. There’s nothing better than a piece of chocolate cake with a stout.
Lager is the typical “plain old” beer. Very drinkable, but ordinary.
Dunkel is a dark lager.
Sparging/lautering is the part of the process where hot water is poured on the mashed grains to extract the flavor. This flavorful liquid is the “wort” which is boiled and fermented to become beer.
Growler is a half-gallon glass jug that you get filled with your favorite beer. When it’s empty, you rinse it out and take it to your favorite brewer and get it refilled. Although they’ve been around for over a hundred years, they seem to be making a great comeback because they’re so environmentally friendly.

Max bought the old, out of commission Steel City Brewery and renovated the building to create her new Allegheny Brew House. But the old brewery had history for the city and the neighborhood. What was its history and how does that cause Max problems?

My fictional Steel City Brewery is loosely based on Iron City Brewing, which began in Pittsburgh in the 1800s. Like the fictional Steel City, Iron City moved operations out of Pittsburgh several years ago. There’s been talk lately of developing that property. It will be interesting to see what comes of it. Also like my fictional Steel City, Iron City made ice cream during prohibition.

When Max’s assistant Kurt is found dead in the brewery, she knows it was murder. Why doesn’t her police-detective father believe her?

I think he does deep down, but he’s a cop and has to go by the evidence and not by how he feels.

My favorite secondary character, Candy Sczypinski, is a baker in the neighborhood. She’s always knows things a baker shouldn’t know, and comes up with investigative ideas. She’s bound to have an interesting background. Will we get to know Candy better in other books? Did you find her last name in a Pittsburgh phone book?

In book 3, which I’m writing now (and I need a title—help!) we learn all about Candy’s background. It is really fun to write about what she did back in the late ‘60s. It’s quite shocking!

I wanted a Polish name for Candy, so I Googled “Pittsburgh Polish names” and that’s one that came up. I’ve finally learned how to spell it without checking my notes. It’s pronounced “Shipinski” by the way. You didn’t ask, but my favorite character is Elmer, my World War II vet.

Like most amateur sleuths, Max gets an idea of who the murderer is and who is vandalizing her brewery, but she gets it wrong when she finds her primary suspect dead in the brewery. Why doesn’t she throw in the suds and quit?

Good question. My husband says it’s a good thing he’s not a writer because he would have had Max chuck it all when Kurt was killed, lol. Max is just stubborn, I guess. She’s not about to give up her dream, although she did consider it a couple of times.

Is Hops, the stray cat she adopts, anything like your pet cat?

I borrowed the description of Hops from my cat, Layla. The cat on the cover doesn’t look quite like how I described her, but it’s close enough. Hops is way more adventurous than Layla, though. Layla’s a true scaredy cat. She hides from everything.

Kurt’s replacement chef is Jake Lambert. Why is Max shaken up by Jake?

Max has had a crush on Jake all her life. He’s her brother Mike’s best friend. When Jake comes back to town all those feelings surface again.

I know Pittsburgh is rabid for football and hockey. Is the issue of sports’ concussions a particularly sensitive subject in your town as it is growing into nationally?

I hate to say it, but I really don’t follow sports! I haven’t paid any attention to the subject of concussions. I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m probably the only Pittsburgher who dislikes the Steelers. Although I do like when they play—that’s when I do my grocery shopping because the store is empty!

Fran Donovan is a little-old-lady radical. She wants to close Max’s new pub down and make a museum of the old Steel City Brewery. But then, she helps Max. How does Max get her to change her perspective?

Fran finally saw that Max was trying to preserve the brewing heritage of the city and not tear it apart.

Among the growing restaurant menu featuring pierogies and kirschtorte, and the neighborhood bakery cupcakes and deli sandwiches, you presented a caloric array. Did your research include perusing the local restaurants, bars, and bakeries?

Although I visited a few places, I did a lot of the foodie research online. And I do try out different recipes to see what would fit in the book. Wait till you see the recipes in Tangled Up in Brew!

What’s next for Max and Jake?


Brew pub owner Maxine “Max” O’Hara and her chef/boyfriend Jake Lambert are excited to be participating in the Three Rivers Brews and Burgers Festival. Max hopes to win the coveted Golden Stein for best craft beer—but even if she doesn’t, the festival will be great publicity for her Allegheny Brew House.

Or will it? When notoriously nasty food and beverage critic Reginald Mobley is drafted as a last-minute replacement judge, Max dreads a punishing review. Her fears are confirmed when Mobley literally spits out her beer, but things get even worse when the cranky critic drops dead right after trying one of Jake’s burgers.

Now an ambitious new police detective is determined to pin Mobley’s murder on Max and Jake, who must pore over the clues to protect their freedom and reputations—and to find the self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner.

What’s your dream destination vacation, Joyce?

My favorite place is Gettysburg. We started going there when our boys were 10 and 6 (the older one is now a historian, so the trip made an impact on him). We try to get back there once a year. For the last couple of years we’ve gone for World War II weekend, which has been a lot of fun. I’m a 40s buff and would love to someday write a book set in that era.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Coming Upon--Situations by E. B. Davis

(Republished from original posted 3/5/11)

Happy hour had arrived. Friends and I decided to walk to our neighborhood sound beach, a place where we enjoy the close of the day while pondering current events, family matters, and other topics of interest. We are accustomed to taking drinks and our chairs with us. However, that day, because the wind was strong, we decided to postpone happy hour until after our walk, leaving our libations and comforts at home. I make note of this so that you know strong drink, critical speculation, malicious gossip nor soft seating influenced us.

The winter storms had driven pillows of now drying sea grass on the beach, in some places several feet high. Its spongy thickness softened our footfalls as we walked slowly to the shoreline. At our backs, the wind gusted from due east. We pondered if the wind’s direction had driven the seagulls to find shelter on the sound rather than their usual ocean beach habitat. Their presence would have interfered in our enjoyment of happy hour had we not decided to postpone. Sea birds have a nasty habit of opening their canned food by grasping tasty bivalve scallops in their beaks, flying to great heights, and then dropping them like bombs on the beach. Gravity makes can opening efficient, but also creates hazards for unsuspecting humans.

I stepped judiciously through the broken scallop shells enjoying the sound view, but glanced inland to the marsh and was startled to see a flat-bottomed boat buried under the sea grass mounds on the beach. As we had walked down the declining beach, its presence had been completely obscured. From the shoreline, we could see that the boat, a type normally used in the sound’s shallow waters, was approximately eighteen feet long and its Japanese outboard motor was still attached. A small boat, its total depth was around four feet. Startled by its presence and our curiosity whetted, we all approached. Inside, the bench seats were still intact. Although sea grass filled the interior, we saw the steering wheel sticking up and a flotation devise’s blue color visible in the sea grass layers.

We stared at the boat pondering its presence. I tried to imagine, as I’m sure my friends did as well, the circumstances of how it had beached, filled with sea grass and had become buried on the beach. Who would leave a boat, motor attached, to the elements when even a small boat such as this cost about ten thousand dollars? And then, a metal object lying on the port railing glimmered in the last rays of the day’s sun. In mass, we moved closer and saw—handcuffs, only one half remaining with two links of chain intact.

Adjourning to the house for libations, we speculated on the half pair of handcuffs, what their presence might mean, and if the boat and the handcuffs were connected in story. We did not go back with shovels to find a body on the floor of the boat covered with sea grass. Our fiction will suffice and if there is a body, someone else will find it. We will scan the headlines to see if reality matches our imaginations, knowing that even if our reticence left a mystery, we left the scene untouched.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Get Ready for National Poetry Month

by Shari Randall
Occasionally I miss my old library job, especially now as we move toward April because April is National Poetry Month.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, my library branch always put together displays of poetry books, decorated the building with posters of poems and poets, and reveled in poetry. One year we even provided “pocket poems,” copies of poems on little slips of paper that patrons could carry with them, ready for reading at a moment’s notice.

During the other eleven months of the year, books of poetry languished on our shelves, the exception being children’s poetry. You just can’t keep poetry by Shel Silverstein on the shelf. But in April readers who never thought of themselves as poetry lovers would stand at the book display, dip into an anthology for a moment, and find themselves standing in the same spot for ten minutes, captivated by a poem. The book displays that we feared wouldn’t move had to be restocked over and over.

What does National Poetry Month have to offer Writers Who Kill? Poets and writers both work with words, obviously. Both move “in the world by means of words” as poet June Jordan said. Novelists can learn so much from poets, who distill emotions and events into just the right words, economy and power being their stock in trade. Of all the things I do in order to become a better writer – taking classes, reading expert advice, studying classic novels – reading poetry teaches me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

So celebrate poetry. Check out what our fellow wordsmiths are doing at And keep a poem in your pocket.

Two links to explore:

What is a Poem? By Dan Rifenburgh

Do you have a favorite poem or poet?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring! A Pictorial Celebration

by Julie Tollefson

Some people, I understand, love winter. I personally don’t get that. I spend the winter bundled in layers of unattractive clothing or huddled next to the fire. It’s depressing.

So the warmer temperatures of spring make me downright gleeful. And here in Kansas, spring has arrived. Yay! It’s a perfect time for a stroll through the woods.

In the big picture, tender green shoots poke up through last year’s leaf fall, yet the woods don’t look particularly spring-like yet.

But look more closely, and signs of new growth, new beginnings are everywhere.

In redbud tree buds wrapped in water droplets on a rainy morning.

And bursting open a few days later.

In new leaves and flower bud clusters.

In the first dandelion of the season.

And bejeweled spider webs as fog lifts.

I’m still waiting for my favorite sign of spring (shown here in a photo from a few years ago):

These miniature irises—I’ve always called them “baby irises”—came from my Great-Grandma Ida’s yard. For three decades, every time I’ve moved, some of them moved with me. They’re always the first flowers to bloom in my yard, eagerly awaited. The leaves made their appearance last week, and the flowers shouldn’t be far behind.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Nice Girls Do by Kait Carson

I’ve been on a high-speed merry-go-round lately. Those of you who know me, or follow me, are probably aware that my newest book, Death by Sunken Treasure, released on Tuesday. For most of this month, I’ve been everywhere. Seriously, I had to take vacation from the day job to deal with the demands. Twenty-four blogs, interviews, personal appearances, radio shows, and stpodcasts since March 1, nearly one a day. (Isn’t that a vitamin? I need one.) Yes, I have been busy. And it’s fun. And it’s exhausting. And it’s wonderful to get comments from readers and answer their questions. Do you sense a but coming here? You should.

My parents were older when I came along. (Surprise! It’s a girl!). Their beliefs and mores came from an entirely different time and place. Women didn’t work. If a woman did work, she needed to be a teacher or a nurse. Have a profession that she could fall back on after she had her children. (That one used to give me the creeps. I had an image of shelf after shelf filled with infants each with a nametag just waiting for the perfect moment.) And she had her name in the paper three times in her life. When she was presented to society, when she married, when she died. Nice girls did not promote themselves.

Oh yes they do! Marketing is a part of writing. For me, and most of us from what I’ve been told, it’s the hardest part. When I published my first book, I thought that if I wrote it, they would come. Don’t ask how I thought “they” would know, or even who “they” were. No matter, “they” would show up and love my book, and I would be able to live a quiet life in my office churning out book after book to my adoring fans. What was I thinking?

Death by Blue Water came out in November of 2014. It was gangbusters release, I had a great company do a wonderful, fun, Facebook opening, and I probably did five blogs and maybe two interviews. Then, my work done, I dug into writing Death by Sunken Treasure, the second book of the series. Death by Blue Water, the first of the series, quietly faded below the surface leaving hardly a ripple. (The Death by Blue Water e-book is available right now for Kindle, Nook , etc. for a limited time for $0.99. It could use a little love if anyone is interested.)

The release procedure for Death by Sunken Treasure is an entirely different animal. I have a wonderful company, Escape with Dollycas, who has arranged a fabulous blog tour for me. I hired a publicist, PJ Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions, a public relations company, to keep my name out there and to arrange bookings for me. She’s doing a great job.

It’s taken some getting used to this constant barrage of posts and tweets from me about what I’m doing next. I’m comfortable talking about me on Writers Who Kill. We’re family here. The topics that populate these multiple blogs range from my books, critters, writing style, and writing protocols to the history of cozy mysteries and other topics. The blogs are about everything except me. And I’m comfortable writing about all of that. Hopefully people are interested in reading about it. It took a while, but I realized that I wanted to know my favorite authors better. It’s not an imposition; it’s a reaching out of friendship, welcoming readers into the writer’s life. It’s okay to promote yourself and your books. Nice girls do.

Writers, how do you deal with the marketing aspect of this profession? Do you enjoy it? Readers, what do you find interesting about blog posts and author appearances? Or do you wish we would all just be quiet and write the next book?

Friday, March 25, 2016

I, Witness: A Review by Warren Bull

 I, Witness: Personal Encounters with Crime by Members of the Mystery Writers of America edited by Brian Garfield:   A Review by Warren Bull

Published in 1978 to celebrate the opening of the Second International Congress of Crime Writers, I, Witness is a collection of anecdotes, personal experiences writers had with crime and how that event effected them. The original idea by Dorothy Salisbury Davis was for crime fiction writers to compose articles about real criminal cases such as Jack The Ripper and Lizzie Borden. However, each writer reported a vivid experience with some aspect of the criminal justice system that was much more influential in their lives and careers than any already-well-documented historical case. The result is more revealing about the authors and wonderfully diverse in subject matter. For me, it also elicited an incredible range of emotions.

Donald E. Westlake begins the book with a tale of how he became a receiver of stolen goods. He begins by telling about an actual crime that a group of French criminals successfully pulled off using a crime novel as a guide. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view the novel did not cover what to do after the crime is completed. By throwing money around and boasting, they quickly revealed themselves to the police. The idea of crime by the book led to a producer to request a story treatment from Westlake for a comic film. Note that the producer stole the idea. The author just received the stolen idea. Since Westlake is telling the story, as you might expect the combinations and permutations after that request are enough to make your head spin. I’ll leave further description to the venerable Westlake. Suffice it to say I’ll bet you enjoy the wild ride.

The permeable boundary between fact and fiction is illustrated by Peter Godfrey who tells of his experience as a magazine writer when he and Ben Bennett wrote a crime feature together. Bennett wrote a column titled, “Fact Crime.” Next to it Bennett wrote a column titled, ”Fiction Solution” about the facts as described in the other column. In one case Bennett was able to channel the perpetrator to such an extent that he predicted the perpetrator’s response to the column. He was correct How did he know he was right? The man wrote him and commented on his work. My description is a bare bones outline. The actual anecdote is much more detailed and interesting.
Hillary Waugh wrote a “just the facts” account of what happens when a mystery writer gets a solid dose of reality from working police detectives. After reading his piece, I now understand why real detectives rarely read crime fiction. 

Madelaine Duke told about efforts to retrieve art stolen by Nazis and retained by the government of Austria. In her heartbreaking account even winning a court case did not mean the art would be returned.

Some offerings were gruesome. Others were tragic. Sometimes the police detectives were relentless and brilliant. On other cases, police authorities abused their privileges or settled for shoddy investigations.

I could go on but I will limit myself to the recommendation that you take the time to search out the book and read it. It will be a rewarding experience.