Saturday, June 30, 2018

On Writing Fast by Maddie Day (Edith Maxwell)

My name is Maddie (and Edith), and I write fast. There, I’ve said it! But it’s true. Why do I write fast, and how can I?

Long ago I read Anne Lamott’s well-known and oft-quoted book, Bird by Bird. I became a firm believer in the sh***y first draft. I am under contract to write three-plus books a year. 200,000 to  225,000 words is a heck of a lot of words, and when I hit Submit they have to be as beautifully written as I can make them, but only in the service of a well-plotted and compellingly told mystery.

I also write the occasional novella and two or three short stories in that same year. So I have to crank out that first draft straight through and get the bones of the story in place. That way I have time to polish, revise, get the manuscript independently edited, and revise some more before I have to send it to my editor.

Death Over Easy, out July 31, is my fifth Country Store Mystery, and I wrote the first draft in seven weeks flat. I started writing it at an away-from-home writing retreat at author Tiger Wiseman’s Vermont getaway and got a great head start. I treat my writing as my day job – because it is – and after I returned home I just kept cranking on the book every day but Sunday.

I get asked many of the same questions over and over: how do I keep three series straight, what do I do for writer’s block, and how can I be so prolific?

For the first, my characters and settings are so real to me I simply don’t confuse them. Add to the mix that one series is set in the late 1880s, and another in southern Indiana, and that further distinguishes them.

Writer’s block? I have deadlines. I can’t get blocked. I might be temporarily out of ideas, but when that happens changing venues really helps. I go for one of my plotting walks and talk out loud to myself about my story. Or sit in the rocking chair behind my desk chair and brainstorm with pen and notebook. Either of those never fails to dislodge the next scene I need to write. Exercising the mantra of “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” also works every time. The simple act of typing “I don’t know what comes next” brings – you got it – what comes next.

And finally, keeping a disciplined schedule is key. I check in with Ramona DeFelice Long’s sprint thread on Facebook every day by seven AM, then I turn off distractions and write all morning. 1500 words/day (or more) produces a slim first draft in forty days. That’s all I need, because I know my revision phase will plump it up to my contracted 65,000-75,000 words.

I know I’m blessed with a vivid imagination as well as the willingness and ability to live on a budget for now, and not everyone can ditch the daytime situation, as Dru Ann Love calls it. But frankly, I’m living my dream and would never go back.

Readers: What are you disciplined about? What do you find it hard to stick to?

Agatha- and Macavity-nominated author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries, the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries, and award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she writes the popular Country Store Mysteries and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. She is president of Sisters in Crime New England and lives north of Boston with her beau and two elderly cats. She blogs at,, and at Under Cover of Darkness. Read about all her personalities and her work at, and please find her on social media – she loves to talk to readers.

Death Over Easy--Restaurateur Robbie Jordan is ready for the boost in business a local bluegrass festival brings to South Lick, Indiana, but the beloved event strikes a sour note. The celebration is cut short when a performer is found choked to death by a banjo string. Now all the banjo players are featured in a different kind of lineup. To clear their names, Robbie must pair up with an unexpected partner to pick at the clues and find the plucky killer before he – or she – can conduct an encore performance.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov: A Review by Warren Bull

Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov: A Review by Warren Bull

Image from Wikipedia
Isaac Asimov is most famous for his science fiction. He was  an amazingly prolific author. In his career Asimov also wrote about the Bible, Shakespeare, history and just about everything else imaginable. One of his many genres was mystery short stories.  This anthology is a collection of stories individually published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. It is the first of six anthologies containing sixty-six stories. Did I mention Asimov was a prolific writer? He was also a terrific writer. The set up is always the same. A group of middle-aged men calling themselves the Black Widowers meet for dinner once a month. The man who is host for a particular dinner invites a guest who invariably has a problem, which takes the form of a mystery.
The men’s attitude toward woman ranges from chauvinistic to misogynistic. Their banter gets old, but, to be fair each story was intended to be read individually.  The repetitiveness would be less apparent if they were read one at a time. There is a certain charm to the tales and Asimov’s inventiveness is apparent. After the intellectual and overblown speculations of the attendees, the mystery is always solved by their intrepid and completely honest waiter, Henry. He cuts through the clutter and gets to the heart of the matter every time.
I also enjoyed the author’s notes about each story, which include suggestions and comments from readers.  There are clever and memorable touches in the writing.
I recommend the book and suggest it may be best enjoyed by reading a story or two at a time. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018


This past week summer finally arrived although I’ve always considered the first day of June summer. I have to admit that although I’ve always enjoyed gardening, this year I’ve totally neglected my gardens largely because March and April were either cold or rainy much of the time, and in May my sister, Catherine, who lives in Washington State, and her husband came to town for two weeks. My sister Elaine had planned activities for all of her siblings to do on the days they were here in Ohio like visiting Zoar Village, hiking in Cuyahoga National Park not far from my home, and Moraine State Park in PA., the Akron Zoo and other places so there was no time for weeding or planting the plants I had bought at the beginning of May.

Part of my back yard.

After being hospitalized with pneumonia in June last year, I didn’t get much gardening done, either, and I decided then not to worry about it. Instead I decided to let nature take over in the several acres of the twelve acres my small farm has with half of it in woods and a nice sized pond out near the woods. My son mows the large open area behind my barn, but I do mow my lawn around the house and on the other side of my driveway where I have gardens, too. And I don’t have a riding mower so I consider that my exercise.

The gate leading into my sad Veggie Garden
Last year I hadn’t planted very many vegetables in the large vegetable garden my son had fenced in for me at least eight years ago. The little I did plant, the rabbits had managed to get under the fence and eat what came up. So this year the vegetable garden has no vegetables planted and the whole area including the raised beds with brick walkways around them is one huge mess of tall weeds. On my list of things to do sometime this summer is to pull up all those horrible weeds, and then put something down like layers of newspapers and cardboard or the black material I bought before to hold down with rocks to cover where I pulled them so next year I can again put in a garden of vegetables and flowers.

The hanger for pots my daughter gave me in front of the barn door.

My little farm has a large red barn and tall beautiful spruce trees in the area behind the house and a few in the front yard, too, with old maple trees, a few oak trees and a large weeping willow beside the house that when it died had to come down. It also has some apple trees, too. In the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve planted several Japanese maples, a dogwood tree, a redbud tree, a few crabapple trees, three magnolia trees, two pear trees, a sweet gum tree, a sycamore, a linden tree, another weeping willow, a blueberry patch and at least a dozen rhododendrons plus azaleas. I have many, many hostas of all kinds and hundreds of daylilies, too.

This is only part of my little goldfish pond.

Years ago I had my grandsons dig out a place to put in a small goldfish pond, and two parents of one of my students (the father was a supervisor of Ohio’s Sea World) who learned that I was going to put one in, came over with their kids, rocks (which I already had a lot of) and put in a lining and brought some water lilies as well as goldfish to finish the little pond close to my house and the patio with a gazebo over it.

My Saint Fiacre bed before I mowed the grass around it.

I had some retired teachers to lunch two weeks ago, and they looked at my backyard and side yard and thought it was so beautiful. You see many people don’t know the difference between weeds and perennials.

Just a few of the many, hostas I have in front of the old orchard.

Since I bought my small farm in 1989 after my divorce, and two years after the elderly man who lived in it since 1938 had died. I finally moved into it in the fall of 1990 after my son had gutted it, replaced the wiring and put up new walls and made the house a nice place to live. He put in a new kitchen. He and one of my cousins and her husband came over and sanded and varnished the hardwood floors throughout my downstairs and upstairs. I hired someone to turn one of the front rooms into a library with built in bookcases on two walls. 

Over the years my son added two rooms and a bathroom upstairs, and turned a sad back porch into a sun room. with
Hydrangeas against the north side of my house.with a hen

love my small farm with two ponies, four hens, two barn cats, and of course, my beautiful collie, Maggie, my house cat Brat Cat, or Pixie, as my daughter wants to call her, my two old African Ring Neck Doves and Pavarotti, my canary who loves broccoli.  I love it even more since I’ve decided to let nature pretty much take over. Yes, I’m still doing some weeding around the edges of my gardens and pulling out weeds that are taking over here and there and mowing my yards although sometimes my son comes down the road on his riding mower to mow my front yard and the old orchard beside my house. Most of the time I mow the front yard before he comes.

Roses and Clematis on an arbor leading to the side yard.

Do you have gardens that you keep weeded?

Have you ever thought of letting nature have its way?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

An Interview with Author Abby L. Vandiver by E. B. Davis

Now I was starting to feel bad. Giving my auntie such a hard time. I probably
could have been more supportive of her breaking the law and snooping around.
Wait…that didn’t sound right.
Abby L. Vandiver, Secrets, Lies & Crawfish Pies, Kindle Loc. 1830

Romaine Wilder, big-city medical examiner with a small-town past, has been downsized and evicted. With few other options, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Roble in East Texas, leaving behind the man she’s dating and the life she’s worked hard to build.

Suzanne Babet Derbinay, Romaine’s Auntie Zanne and proprietor of the Ball Funeral Home, has long since traded her French Creole upbringing for Big Texas attitude. She’s a member in a number of ladies’ auxiliaries and clubs, including being in charge of the Tri-County Annual Crawfish Boil and Music Festival.

Hanging on to the magic of her Louisiana roots, she’s cooked up a love potion or two—if she could only get Romaine to drink it. But her plans are derailed when the Ball Funeral Home, bursting at the seams with dead bodies, has a squatter stiff.

Dead Guy is a problem.

Auntie Zanne can’t abide by a murderer using her funeral home as the dumping grounds for their crimes, and Romaine doesn’t want her newly elected cousin, Sheriff Pogue Folsom, to fail on his first murder case. Together, Romaine and Auntie Zanne set off to solve it.

With a dash of humor, a dollop of Southern charm, and a peek at current social issues in the mix, it’s a fun romp around East Texas to solve a murder mystery of the cozy kind.

Henery Press released Abby L. Vandiver’s first book in the Romaine Wilder Mystery series, Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies on June 12. But this release isn’t Abby’s debut. She has self-published three other series, one of which is written with a friend and is paranormal. (It’s on Kindle Unlimited—I just downloaded it!)

The characters are what make Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies special. Raised by her powerhouse of an aunt, Romaine Wilder is caught in her small hometown until she can find another Medical Examiner job in Chicago, where she’d rather be. Aunt Zanne keeps Romaine busy delegating tasks that entail everything from making Crawfish pie to solving the murder. She gets things done all the while denying reality or adding one plus one and getting five, driving Romaine crazy.

Please welcome Abby L. Vandiver to WWK.                                                                      E. B. Davis

Roble, Texas is a real town, but you’ve changed it some, haven’t you? My little town in Secrets, Lies & Crawfish Pies is called “Roble.” It is made up and means “oak” in Spanish.

Auntie Zanne’s real name is Suzanne Arelia Sophie Babet St. Romain. Does everyone in that region have long names? lol. I don’t know. I did that because my characters were christened in the Holy Roman Church. I hope that won’t get me in trouble, but I thought it would be apropos.

Although your story is light-hearted, part of the family’s story is based on racism. Due to the horrible story of Naomi Drake, the New Orleans City Registrar for the Bureau of Vital Statistics, who wasn’t alone in her race categorization as the State of Virginia had its own eugenics-based racists, was there a mass exodus from Louisiana to Texas in the late 40s? Yes, there was. Mixed-race French Creoles, as I explain in my book, didn’t like being categorized according to other people’s mandates. Many moved to the Golden Triangle – Orange, Port Arthur, and Beaumont Texas, and some even as far as Houston. They were able to resume their community and way of life there.

Auntie Zanne runs a funeral home, serves as president of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), is a member of the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce, heading up the 25th Annual Sabine County Crawfish Boil and Music Festival, and a Red Hat Society lady, among her other activities. How does an eighty-year-old have the energy? I think it’s because of her brews! She’s a Voodoo herbalist, don’t forget. I was inspired to write about it when I read about a 95-year-old park ranger and discovered many of our older citizens are still vibrant and active members of our society. I did, however, make the character of Aunt Julep, who is close to Auntie Zanne’s age, a little slower.

Rhett Remmiere seems a bit mysterious. Auntie Zanne says she grooming him to take over the funeral home along with her friend, Josephine Gail Cox. Doesn’t he have to be licensed? Who is he really, an FBI agent? Rhett Remmiere really is an FBI agent. We’ll learn his story in Book III, Potions, Tells and Deadly Spells. Right now, however, Rhett isn’t taking on any actual mortician duties, he’s just an employee. But that is a good idea. She does need another mortician in training!

Did Romaine become a Medical Examiner due to her family’s owning a funeral home? Was she used to dead bodies already? Romaine admits that her legacy is death. She’d been around the funeral home most of her life. So, yes, I think that her upbringing, once she decided to be a doctor, was very instrumental in choosing her specialty.

What’s the difference between a coroner and a ME? Many people use the terms interchangeably. However, by definition, a medical examiner is a licensed medical doctor who is trained as a forensic pathologist. A coroner does not have to be a doctor.

Romaine’s cousin Sheriff Pogue Folsom is inexperienced. Why does he give up the investigation to Romaine when she doesn’t have any experience either? He didn’t give up the investigation.  While he did ask Romaine for any help she could offer due to her experience working as a medical examiner, he specifically tells her not to interfere in the investigation, and she promises she won’t. But like any other amateur sleuth, she can’t help but ask questions.

With all the potions Auntie Zanne makes, her being a voodoo herbalist, can’t she concoct something to help her friend Josephine Gail Cox’s depression? There are many medical and holistic means of treating depression; however, there is no cure. Auntie Zanne does give Josephine Gail some of her brew. But in the end, being accused of murder, as Josephine Gail had been, can make anyone get into a rut.

Do they still administer electro shock therapy? Yes, they do. My mother had it in the sixties. I wasn’t sure because it seems so barbaric, but I spoke to a psychologist and she assured me that it is still a mode of therapy used for certain mental illnesses.

Auntie Zanne forms a negative opinion of Pogue based on his awkward adolescent years. Is her opinion based on her rivalry with Romaine’s other aunt, Aunt Julep? No, Auntie Zanne loves Romaine’s Aunt Julep. They’ve been friends for decades. Auntie Zanne’s impression stems from her desire to protect Josephine Gail.

What do they now use to embalm bodies? Not formaldehyde? They use embalming fluid, as they always have. Now however, there is a formaldehyde free option. It is safer for the environment.

Why does Romaine feel that in Roble she loses her identity? Does she associate it with being young or is Auntie Zanne too overpowering? Romaine doesn’t want to be a small town girl. She likes things that small, rural towns, such as Roble, can’t offer. Because of that, she forged out a life that included culture and a life conducive to a place like Chicago.

Catfish, who is sweet on Romaine, brings her three tubs of crawfish (filled ¾ with water) because, much to Romaine’s surprise, Auntie Zanne has promised that Romaine will make Crawfish Pies for the festival. Does that mean Romaine will have to cook and shell all those crawfish? How long will the crawfish stay fresh?  Romaine will use mostly the tail meat for her dishes, so she will have to shell them all. In the book, however, Rhett and Auntie Zanne give her a hand. Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans and can live in a tub filed with water for about five days. Romaine didn’t wait more than two days to use them.

What is the Code of Ethical Conduct for the Care of the Decedent? It is the code of ethics (standards) for funeral home owners. It sets out the standard for the care of the decedent as well as for grieving families.

Why is Death Romaine’s legacy? She was raised in a funeral home. And as she states in the book, her name, Romaine Gabriela Sadie Heloise Wilder, were the names of her dead relatives. She quips that translated her name is: “Dead Family Name – Dead Aunt – Dead Grandma – Dead Grandma – Wilder.”

When Romaine fixes her childhood room to suit her adult tastes—does that mean she’s staying in Roble? No! Far from it. She only updates her room so she can stay there until she can find a job back in Chicago. She definitely has no plans to stay. Her Auntie Zanne on the other hand . . .

What’s next for Romaine and Auntie Zanne? A wedding and the 100th Boule of the Distinguished Ladies’ Society of Voodoo Herbalist. And, of course, murder!                                                     

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Where We Begin

“All writers are local somewhere.” – Flannery O’Connor

I have always been fascinated with writerly spaces. Mine is my office, which is filled with things that inspire me to be creative: a comfy loveseat with a view of dogwoods and azaleas, shelves lined with my most cherished books, bowls of crystals and stones to run my fingers through. When I enter this room and sit down, my brain recognizes the cue and shifts into appropriate gear.

I have toured Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home, where I laid eyes upon his desk and petted his six-toed cats. I have knelt in wet grass and smelled the daffodils that inspired William Wordsworth. And last month, I stood by the window where the young Flannery O’Connor first gazed at Savannah and began to write about the South that she saw through that wavy glass.

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home sits on Lafayette Square, one of Savannah’s twenty-four downtown mini-parks arranged in a neat grid pattern. It is grassy and shaded with live oaks, the murmur of traffic mingling with the burble of a fountain. Much about it has changed since Flannery lived there in the early decades of the twentieth century, but one thing has remained the same: it provides a stunning view of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Flannery attended mass at that cathedral every single morning, along with her mother. It was one of the first things she ever saw as a baby, its spires dominating the landscape just outside the window next to her bassinet. In a similar fashion, her Catholicism would loom large in her writings, though not always as obviously or picturesquely. As Flannery herself explained, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

The rest of the home was equally revealing, richly restored with help from the Savannah College of Art and Design, whose students researched and replicated the d├ęcor as closely as possible, from the colors of the paint to the gilded gold trim that runs along the top of the walls, an opulent touch in an otherwise modest dwelling.

We saw the bathroom where young Flannery would hold “reading salons” with her friends, arranging pillows in the bathtub and decorating the toilet with fresh flowers (she would get in trouble many times for flushing those flowers, and also for featuring Grimm’s Fairy Tales in her readings—the violence and bloodshed in those stories delighted the precocious Flannery but terrified her more sheltered playmates). We saw the yard where she taught her chicken to walk backwards, which so startled her aunt that she called in a film crew (you can watch that video of Flannery and her amazing chickens, for even though the fowl refused to perform its trick for the camera, the director managed to fix the problem just fine, as you can see for yourself here).

We also saw her library, which is filled with Flannery’s books. Some of them contain what amounts to one-star reviews written in her elementary school handwriting. She was a harsh critic—“I didn’t like this book very much,” reads one summation—but she obviously loved the concept of books as much as she loved language and words and stories. Her devotion shows everywhere you look.

I look now at my own writing space with fresh eyes. Though I do not think my childhood home will be immortalized, I do think I can learn a great deal about my writerly self by pondering the view from my bedroom window. Scuppernong vines planted by my father stretch along the edge of dense woods, a liminal zone where wildness meets civilization. It looks safe out there, but the lush grass grows tall in the spring and hides rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. The train no longer runs behind those trees, so I no longer hear that lonesome call in the night.

Except that I do, no matter where I live and write. Just like I imagine Flannery always saw those elegant French Gothic spires, even on her farm, even on her sick bed, even with her eyes shut. 
*     *     * 

Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: