Thursday, April 30, 2020

CSI for Wildlife Animals

(This blog was posted by former WWK Blogger Kara Cerise in 2015. Hope you like it!)

Did you know there is a forensics laboratory devoted solely to crimes against wildlife?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory located in Ashland, Oregon is the only crime laboratory in the world of its kind.

Why is this lab so important? According to the television program TechKnow on Al Jazeera America and an article adapted from the interview, it’s on the front lines in a fight against the illegal trade in endangered species. Surprisingly, this 19 billion dollar industry is the fourth largest criminal industry in the world behind drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. Also, it's connected to organized crime, militant groups and even al-Qaeda.

I was shocked to learn that since the 1970s the number of animal species has declined on average by half!
For example, the rhinoceros is being killed for its horn because people believe that it can cure medical problems even though it’s made of essentially the same substance as your fingernail. A rhino’s horn is worth $200,000 to $400,000 on the black market. Sadly, the rhino population has been devastated with fewer than 30,000 remaining in the wild. The Western black rhinoceros has been declared extinct. Time will tell if all rhinos become extinct.
Director Ken Goddard, who was working as a human CSI agent, built and now runs the wildlife forensics laboratory. In an interview he said that the most difficult part of setting up the crime lab was convincing agents they needed one to help catch poachers and other criminals.

The lab employs about fifteen scientists in five different areas (chemistry, criminalistics, genetics, morphology, and pathology). This team works for approximately 150 other countries that signed the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Treaty.
The goal of the laboratory, similar to forensics labs that deal with human murder, is to link suspect, victim, and crime scene with physical evidence.

The science begins when a package arrives in evidence processing along with questions from field agents. Evidence items could be an entire animal or part of one depending on the size, or an object (a carving, leather from a purse, etc.) suspected of being from an animal. Often agents want to know what kind of animal it was and if it's on the endangered list. To make this determination, scientists might take DNA from the sample. For example, in the case of a rhino horn they may drill close to its core in order to obtain tissue. The tissue is crushed into fine powder and liquid is poured on it to break it down. Then it's compared with other samples in lab.

If the object is something like a carving, the procedure is more difficult. They need to look at chemical signatures to determine if it's rhinoceros keratin or another material like plastic.

Next, scientists determine if the animal was killed by an animal, an accidental death or killed by a human.

In the Al Jazeera news segment I watched, they showed an autopsy on a golden eagle that was found and sent in by a field agent. It was conducted similar to an autopsy on a human with the veterinary pathologist dictating into a headset microphone while working. During examination she determined that some of the eagle's feathers were singed which suggests it was probably electrocuted by a power line. In photos taken under special yellow light, the feathers glowed orange which was further proof of electrocution. 
Penalties for animal crimes are much less than other crimes like drug trafficking. Punishment for killing an endangered species may be three years in prison and a fine of a few thousand dollars. To deter these killings, many people believe that the penalties need to be greater.
Director Ken Goddard said that the scientists are pushing the envelope every day to solve wildlife crimes. But they need more labs in different areas of the world to handle the case load. Currently they process 2,000 to 4,000 cases annually.
Of course, building and staffing new labs would take money.
I’m tossing out an idea because you never know who is reading this...Wouldn't it be great if the CSI franchise created a new TV show called “CSI for Animals” based on cases processed by this animal forensics lab and donated part of the proceeds to fund more labs?
What is your favorite wild animal?
Have you read any mysteries that feature an animal investigator?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

An Interview with Grace Topping by E. B. Davis

The important thing isn’t whether a glass is half full or half
empty but that it can be refilled.
Grace Topping, Staging Wars, Kindle Loc. 2403

Laura Bishop’s new home staging business is growing in popularity, though not with her nemesis. Laura has long suspected established interior designer Monica Heller of sabotaging her fledgling company—and having an affair with her late husband.

When the ultra-chic Monica is caught at the scene of a murder, Laura is plenty happy to imagine her languishing in a prison cell with bedsheets far from her normal 600-thread Egyptian cotton. But her delight is short-lived.

When Laura’s friends land on the police’s radar, Laura must overcome her dislike of Monica to help solve the crime. Not an easy task since Laura and Monica have been at war since the second grade.

Staging Wars is the second book in Grace Topping’s Laura Bishop mystery series. It was released yesterday by Henery Press. Grace was nominated for an Agatha Award for her first book in this series, Staging is Murder. I’m unsure how this year’s Agatha Awards will be determined since the Malice Domestic conference won’t be held due to the public distancing required by the Coronavirus, but we still have high hopes that Grace (or Connie Berry, another WWK blogger, who is competing for the same award) will win.

Laura’s only relative, Aunt Kit, sister of Laura’s late mother, visits and stays with Laura. For someone on her own, Laura has little time to herself among her visiting aunt, Inky, her cat, Nita, her friend and business partner, business demands, both her own and Monica’s, and of course, solving two murders.

Ask Grace questions by leaving a comment below. Thanks for the interview, Grace!                                                                                                                                 E. B. Davis

You start each chapter with house staging advice. One piece of advice is to make sure the furniture in the room is in proportion to the room. I’ve been vexed for years because it seems as room sizes of homes have decreased, furniture sizes have increased. How can you find suitably proportioned furniture when manufacturers seem to think we all have spacious, Victorian homes?

Your question reminds me of an experience I had recently. I follow posts professional home stagers make on a Facebook group devoted to home staging. They raise issues like how to make furniture fit, how to bill for different situations, how to handle it when a homeowner is rigid about changing anything, etc. I found myself becoming stressed reading about those things and then relaxed when I reminded myself that I didn’t have to deal with them—I only had to write about them. It was almost like those commercials where well-known actors state that they only play a doctor on TV.

But as to your question about oversized furniture, Laura Bishop would tell you that one way of finding furniture to fit smaller rooms is to search antique and resell shops for older, smaller furniture and have it reupholstered to your taste.

In an effort not to swear, Nita blurts out mystery writers’ names, then romance writers’ names, then painters’ names. How can she be so creative when angry?

Nita is quite a character—someone I would love to have as a best friend. But having a friend like Nita can be dangerous because she has a tendency to lead her friends into sticky situations. With Nita’s success as a photographer, she is discovering she is more talented than she realized. Being artistic, she is inclined to be more imaginative when it comes to art, decorating, and language.

Did Laura jump to conclusions when she suspects that Monica cancelled a reserved truck and left a bad online review of her business or is she justified when no further attacks are made after Monica is jailed?

When the truck reservation is mysteriously cancelled, followed on the heels of receiving a poor anonymous online review, Laura pieces it together with some other things that had been happening, which she doesn’t name. Perhaps she was jumping to conclusions suspecting Monica, but given the history of their schooldays and Monica’s treatment of her, even in adulthood, it’s natural for her to suspect Monica first. Since the strange things that had been happening stopped once Monica was arrested, it was probably a correct assumption. Out of sympathy for Monica’s plight, Laura never asks her about it. So it’s still somewhat of a mystery.

Does anyone drink Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry anymore? Isn’t it sweet? When Laura uses it in Aunt Kit’s favorite chicken dish, I was taken aback because I thought cooking sherry was dry.

I enjoy an occasional sip of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. I first discovered Harvey’s when I lived in England years ago. It’s a sweet cordial with a nutty flavor. You can get dry sherry, but I don’t care for it. I particularly enjoy Harvey’s with smoked almonds and always have it on Christmas Eve and on cold winter nights. It warms you right up. And as Laura discovers, it helps calm frazzled nerves.

In addition to including Harvey’s in the chicken dish recipe that appears at the end of the book, it’s terrific in Sherry Trifle—an English dessert made of layers of cake (soaked in sherry), fruit, Jell-O, custard, and lots of whipped cream. You get a taste of the sherry with every bite. It’s a heavenly or devilish dessert, however you want to view it.

In the last few years, Harvey’s has been making a comeback. It is frequently listed as an ingredient in cocktails. Try it. But be careful. Given its sweet taste, it is more potent than you would imagine. 

Although Aunt Kit cautions Laura about leaving her lucrative job with benefits, I didn’t think she seemed as negative as Laura complains about to Nita. Is Laura predisposed to thinking that Aunt Kit has an identical outlook as her mother? She can’t be all bad since Inky loves her and she loves dessert.

One of the challenges of a second and subsequent books in a series is bringing readers up to date about the characters without doing an information dump. I created Aunt Kit so she could bring up things that occurred in the first book and have the retelling sound natural. I wanted her to sound critical of Laura’s decisions so Laura could explain what she did and why, thus setting the stage for the reader. But sometimes you create a character for a particular purpose and they take on a life of their own. It was like that with Mrs. Webster in Staging is Murder. I created her to beseech Laura to help her grandson, and she went on to steal the show and become a reader favorite.

Laura’s husband Derrick ran around on her. She didn’t marry someone like her father, did she? Why did Laura’s parents divorce?

Laura’s parents divorced, and Derrick was killed in an automobile accident with another woman before the series opens. Both contributed to Laura’s aversion to handsome men. Laura’s mother frequently told Laura that handsome men were trouble—that if her father hadn’t been so handsome, he wouldn’t have been unfaithful. But Laura questions what came first—her father’s supposed unfaithfulness (there was nothing to prove that) or her mother’s sour disposition. She didn’t heed her mother’s warning and married handsome Derrick, much to her regret. That and having handsome men take credit for her work and other things are enough for her to be wary of handsome men. It complicates her dealings with police detective Alex Spangler and businessman Doug Hamilton—both very attractive men. It’s a strange aversion, but I needed to give my character a flaw to overcome, so I came up with that. It seems to work.

I remember when gray was the new neutral back in the 1980s. It’s back! Do home fashions recur like clothing fashions? What’s so good about drab gray?

Trends in fashion and colors do come back. I hope we don’t see a resurgence of avocado appliances anytime soon. Gray makes for a good neutral, but it is important to select the right color of gray. Gray with a dark undertone can make a room look drab and gloomy. Gray with a bit more blue or lighter undertones can give a room more life. The base colors used to create a paint color determine the undertone. For example, bright fire engine red will have a lot of yellow in it, while darker red will have blue in it. Consulting a home stager about colors can save homeowners from making wrong color choices.

I don’t think Sister Madeleine was right to ask Laura to exonerate Monica. We’re required to forgive, but we are not required to get involved and help bullies who tormented us in our youth. Why would Laura succumb to the Sister’s wheedling?

Sister Madeleine played a pivotal role in Laura’s life. She was Laura’s teacher in the second grade, and when she became aware of Laura’s dismal home life, she nurtured her friendship with Nita Martino, hoping that Nita’s large and fun-loving Italian-American family would take her under their wing. Which is exactly what they did and accounted for Laura’s better outlook on life than she would have had without them. Monica had also been one of their classmates, and Sister Madeleine had a fondness for all three of them and watched them over the years. Laura and Sister Madeleine have been friends for years based on their shared interest in murder mysteries.

So when Monica gets into trouble big time, Sister Madeleine asks Laura to help save Monica’s business while she is in jail. She knows of the enmity between the two of them and hopes that by helping Monica, Laura can move on with her life and shed herself of resentment, which she feels Laura is dragging behind her. Sister Madeleine didn’t ask Laura to involve herself in the murder investigation, just Monica’s business, but Laura feels compelled to do so anyway when other friends come under police scrutiny. Besides, how can Laura tell a nun she is fond of no to something she asks of her, especially since she helped her so much in life?

When Sister Madeleine makes the claim that Laura’s resentment toward Monica is preventing her from moving forward, I begged to differ. Seems as if Laura has moved on with her life by divorcing Derrick, quitting her job, and creating a new business. Why would the Sister say such a thing?

Actually, Laura planned to leave Derrick, but he was killed before she could divorce him. She is making progress in her life with her business, but it’s the emotional side that Sister Madeleine is concerned about. Laura suspected that Derrick had been involved with Monica, which complicates their relationship even more than Monica’s bullying of her in school. Resentments run deep, and it takes a long time to get over them. By helping Monica, Laura learns the truth of what happened between Monica and Derrick.

“Sister Madeleine was a much better person than I was.” Kindle Loc. 1117
“But Tyrone was a much better person than I was.” Kindle Loc. 1630
Why does Laura think many people are better than her?

Laura recognizes her talents and shortcomings. She recognizes that she has a talent for interior decorating and that knowledge helps her leave a job she found boring and move to setting up her own business as a home stager. Equally, she recognizes the strength of her friends and acknowledges that sometimes they are stronger than she is in certain areas, especially when it comes to forgiveness. It’s more to do with recognizing their strengths and less about her lack of them.

What is it about an English tea that calms and delights?

Ah, for a good cup of tea when you need it. There is something about tea that helps soothe anxious spirits. It has a calming effect. For Nita’s family, food is love and seems to help in every situation. For Laura, everything seems better with a cup of tea. My husband, who is British, and I have a pot of tea available all day. In the morning, tea says, “Come on, it’s time to start your day.” Coffee hits you on the back of the head and says, “Get moving!”

What is the special epoxy covering you can use to paint tile?

Actually, you can use both latex paint and epoxy paint to cover tiles. If you use latex paint, you need to first apply a bonding primer that is made to adhere to tile. Using epoxy, you don’t need the primer. Two coats of epoxy meant for tile, such as Rust-Oleum Tub & Tile, is all you need. The disadvantage of epoxy paint is the selection of colors may be limited. It’s amazing the things I learned doing research for my series—and watching far too much HGTV.

And now the hardest question. Much like Shari Randall, who was nominated (and won) an Agatha award and whose series was cancelled, Henery has cancelled your series, even though you were nominated for an Agatha Award. Will you continue to publish the series independently or try a new series? There are so many unanswered questions!

This is a terrible time for writers and publishers, especially small publishers. Since Henery Press cancelled the contracts with most of their authors, I can only imagine that they faced some major challenges. It was disappointing, but if it was going to happen, this was probably the best time. With needing to promote Staging Wars and deal with lots of other matters, not having a deadline to deliver my third book at the end of the summer is a bit of a blessing. I have enjoyed creating the characters in my Laura Bishop series, so I’m not ready to abandon them yet to start another series. So Laura, Nita, Mrs. Webster, and Aunt Kit’s futures are still up in the air. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Writing in Captivity

Part of the job of being a writer is to get inside each character’s skin and show their desires, motivations and emotions and then flesh those out to make the character seem human and real.

If a writer does this right, a reader can connect with that character so strongly that the reader will ‘remember’ that character for the rest of their life. I certainly remember losing my heart to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and I read that novel when I was fourteen, which is more years ago than I care to remember.

It takes genuine talent to connect a reader to a villain, which is why I annually re-read The Silence of the Lambs. I’m still trying to puzzle out how Thom Harris did what he does when he makes me empathize with and root for the monster Hannibal Lecter.

What I’ve discovered during our enforced isolation is that I’m suddenly diving deeper into my character development, and I like what I see turning up.

It’s not that I’m spending more time writing. I’ve still got my daily word count and my routine, but I think that because I live alone and I’m now working from home that I’ve lost the day-to-day workplace coffee station distractions. I’m still doing my job, but I’m not hearing about the daily goings on of my fellow worker bees, and as such I don’t need to filter all of that out of my brain before I sit down to compose.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m a social animal and I like my fellow business associates, but in the past six weeks my characters have developed more depth. My good guys aren’t all brightness and light, and the bad ones are suddenly displaying redemptive qualities like taking care of their momma.

I’m not sure where this new depth and direction is going to take me, but it’s fun. What have you learned about yourself, your characters, and your writing during captivity?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Essential Services by Nancy Eady

          “Shelter-in-place”, “social distancing” and “essential business” have become everyday phrases in this Year of the Coronavirus. Everyone has their own list of “essential” businesses or services and every person’s list of what they consider essential will be different. One service/business which deserves to be included is trash removal.

          The humble work of garbage collection does not get attention until missing. We learned that the hard way one Christmas when our daughter was 6

          At the time, our neighborhood was new. Because of the holiday season, a replacement driver was running the route. He missed our neighborhood the week before Christmas.

          The week of Christmas, we not only had the trash from the week before, but the trash from Christmas week including all the extra empty boxes and wrapping paper that come when parents celebrate Christmas with young children. We figured the trash people would surely make it that week.

          Nope. It wasn’t until the third week that the garbage truck finally toodled its way back into our neighborhood. By this time, our garbage can (we only get one can, one pick-up, once a week) was not only overflowing, but we had collected eight additional bags to go with it. The “official” garbage policy—no more than two extra bags—required a plan.

          As soon as the trash truck made its way to our curb, we leapt into action. I engaged the driver in chit-chatty conversation (which I have never been good at), while my husband scurried to the back of the truck and started tossing in garbage bags as fast as he could. As soon as I saw him leave the truck and get back in our yard, I smiled, wished the truck driver a Happy New Year, and said good-bye.

          Ever since then, I have been keenly aware of the importance of garbage collectors and I appreciate them keeping at their task even in the midst of the pandemic.

          Besides first responders and health care professionals, what other essential workers would you like to thank for their work in this troublesome time?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Long or Short?

Kaye George

We all hope to fool our readers, don’t we? We want them to breeze through our deathless prose and think it was easy to write that. After all, we dash these things off all the time, right?

Upsplash green chameleon

Once you try it, you’re not fooled, though. The writing that looks simple, reads easy, is the hardest to do. Then there’s the type of writing. Journalists don’t find it easy to write fiction. Novelists don’t find it easy to write short stories. And short story writers don’t find novels very easy, either. Poets generally just write poetry. Then there’s non-fiction. Whole ‘nother animal.

Thick Books Upsplash morgan harris
It’s hard for me to write a novel, but, I admit, much easier to write a short story. Many writers are the exact opposite. Novels are fun and short stories are hard work. Well, it’s all hard work, sometimes. (Except for those rare instances when The Muse dictates a story to you, fully formed, and you need only copy down the dictation. I think I’ve had that happen twice.) I really do think that the best novels and stories make it look easy. That takes skill! 

Preferring to write novels or short stories may be due to the difference between our own basic tendencies. I tend to write “short,” which means that when I write a novel, it comes in way under the required word count and I must go through my edits, keeping in mind that I need a lot more words. I learned to write lean through doing flash fiction. A 1000-word story doesn’t leave space for extra words. A 100-word story, even worse. I consider flash fiction excellent training for short story writing.

Thin Book Upsplash kelley sikkema

I know many writers tend to write “long.” They end up way over their word count on the first draft and have to cut, cut, cut.

Sometimes I wish I could HAVE those cut words for MY novel. Yeah, they probably wouldn’t go with the rest of the story.

Word count is usually dictated by the publisher. My required word counts for my novels are in my contracts. I’ll admit, I’ve turned some in that are a bit shy of the requirement, but you’re allowed to round your word count. No one said I couldn’t round it up.

If you’re a writer, do you prefer writing long or short? If you’re a reader, does it look easy to write a novel or a short story?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Time to Write by Kait Carson

Confession time – I have not had a new book out since 2016 when Henery released Death by Sunken Treasure. I’ve written two books since then, almost three. Death Dive, the third of the Hayden Kent series, Sanctuary City, unfinished and intended to be the third of the Catherine Swope series, and Pirates on Parade, the first book in the Southernmost Secrets series. So, what’s the problem?

In a word, or two, performance anxiety! It’s been so long that I’m not sure how to do this anymore. And yes, I’m a bit scared. Pirates on Parade is in final edits. I’m hoping to send it to my beta readers by the end of this month, and then to a professional editor after I tend to beta edits. I plan to self-publish. Hubs, who does great graphic design, will have my cover ready to go after I give him sketches. The second in the series is outlined and ready for the writing process. Work in the time of COVID-19 has slowed to an eight-hour day and I have time to write. So…why the cold feet?

It’s been four years since I’ve done this. I know the road ahead is hard, but worse than that is the fear that my readers will have forgotten me. There’s a glut of books on the market, how do I stand out? Gulp. Excuse me while I pull the blanket over my head. In the midst of my fears, something happened to give me a glimmer of hope.

After a six-year hiatus, on April 7, 2020, Julia Spencer-Fleming brought out her latest Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne book, Hid From Our Eyes. It is wonderful, I loved it. If Amazon rankings are anything to go by, so does everyone else. Now, I’m not confusing myself with Julia Spencer-Fleming. She is a New York Times bestselling author, but she gave me hope that readers might still be interested. And from that hope, has come new energy.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Burning Bright by Nick Petrie: A Review by Warren Bull

Image by Matt Hearne on Upspalsh

As I said when I reviewed his first novel, it is always a pleasure to discover a new talented author and Nick Petrie is truly a find.

Nick Petrie follows The Drifter with his second novel Burning Bright, which he manages without the dreaded sophomore slump. Once again, the language is colorful, but not to the point of distracting from the plot.

 Peter Ash, a former Marine lieutenant, was sent on many combat missions. In this novel, he still has to deal with symptoms of PTSD. Uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, he has been on a long journey through the wild, avoiding people and civilization when a grizzly bear and a remarkable woman unexpectedly introduce him to a deadly game of hide and seek.

His decision to help the woman involves him with an elusive genius and a computer program that learns from experience. The program holds a skeleton key that can potentially unlock any security system in the world. Needless to say, many people and organizations of dubious origin would gladly kill for the program.

Petrie involves memorable characters from the first book and introduces new people I hope to learn more about as the series continues. I do not give spoilers in my book reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised when #### turned out to be #  #####. And the relationship between family members and lovers were believably described.

Like the first novel, I recommend this book highly. Apparently, a third book in the series is already out.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sometimes You Get What You Ask For by Connie Berry

Just before leaving for Left Coast Crime (yes, I flew all the way from Columbus, Ohio, to San Diego, California, only to fly home a day later), I said to my husband, "I love days when there's absolutely nothing on the calendar." 

I got what I asked for. 

Initially it was fun going through my Outlook calendar and deleting all my appointments—my scheduled colonoscopy in particular. All I had to do was write, write, write—perfect timing because I have a book due to my publisher on July 1. 

That's when the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in.

As far as I can tell, the Law of Unintended Consequences was best defined by sociologist Robert K. Merton in 1936. Merton's article, The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action, lists five ways that actions, particularly those taken on a large scale, can result in unexpected consequences, whether positive, negative, or neutral, that veer from the intent of the initial action.
I can't speak to large-scale social actions, but I can share five ways social distancing (aka "staying home") has created unintended consequences in my own life. They are, in no particular order:

1. I'm reverting to the person I used to be.

In fifth grade, I was voted "most forgetful." Why my teacher, Mrs. Prout, thought it would be a good idea to label children, I have no idea. I shouldn't complain—my friend Kathy was voted "most stuck-up." As an adult I learned my forgetfulness is due to a mild case of ADD. It's not that I actually forget stuff; I just don't remember at the appropriate time. Over the years, I've developed coping mechanisms that work for me (usually). Now, with virtually no commitments, my natural tendencies toward forgetfulness, procrastination, and unreliability are returning. Good grief.

2. I've developed a weird desire to bake.

I've never been one of those women who love to cook. Except now. All of a sudden—and without any logical explanation—I find myself longing to recreate Martha Stewart's famous five-layer ombre cake in shades of pink. So far I've resisted these urges, but if the lock-down goes on for much longer, who knows? It might make a great "cake fails" post on Facebook.

3. My husband and I are discovering some wonderful new TV shows.

Thank goodness we bought a ROKU stick before all this began. Now we have access to fabulous British shows like The Royal and The Royal Today (both set in a cottage hospital in Yorkshire), Death in Paradise, Britain's Secret Treasures, The Coroner, and Monty Don's Gardener's World. My husband is even enjoying the British version of Antiques Roadshow. This is a minor miracle. Our cultural horizons are expanding. I hope it lasts.

4. We are Zooming with people we haven't seen in years.

One irony of social distancing is a new interest in Zoom. Since this stay-home thing began, we've attended book clubs, church services, family get-togethers, a neighborhood meeting, and all manner of social events. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I enjoyed a Zoom post-dinner cocktail party with a couple who live in our city. We'd been meaning to get together with them for years. Now, when we can't, we did. Last week-end my husband and I Zoomed with his brother and sister and their significant others in, respectively, Indiana and Oregon. The three of them hadn't been together at the same time in over twenty years. I hope this lasts, too.

5. I find myself taking cat naps.

Why? I have no idea, but I've developed a habit of taking a nap in the afternoon, usually after lunch. It's not that I'm tired; I just get sleepy. I feel slightly guilty about it. And I'm wondering if, when all this is over, my naps will continue. That remains to be seen.

Unintended consequences. There are aspects of this forced retreat from life that I like, but I'm also itching to get back to normal—whatever normal is. We may never be the same.

What are the unintended consequences of social distancing in your life?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

An Interview with Maggie Toussaint by E. B. Davis

“One of these days I hope you’ll tell me what you’re running from.”
“That’s easy. The past. The present is all about escaping the past.”
Maggie Toussaint, Seas the Day, Kindle Loc. 530

Caterer River Holloway has talents beyond her to-die-for cooking. She is also known among friends and family on Shell Island as a “finder” of things. Which is why a desperate mother begs River to track down her grown son, Chili Bolz, who’s seemingly vanished.

Deputy Lance Hamlyn, a newcomer to Shell Island, has hit a dead-end in trying to locate the missing man. Familiar with River’s reputation, he attempts to team up with her, hoping that her inside track with the locals might aid his investigation. But the simple missing person case begins to boil over into something far more frightening when Chili’s mother falls victim to a brutal assault. Worse, her dying words to River seem to incriminate more than one of River’s friends in both kidnapping and, now, murder.

While Deputy Hamlyn conducts the formal criminal investigation, River uses her time between catering events to do some sleuthing of her own. Her efforts are hampered by the unexpected return of her absentee boyfriend, who has his own reasons for wanting her to stay safely in the kitchen. With the number of suspects growing longer than her food shopping list, River soon finds herself caught in an unsavory recipe for disaster. She must locate the missing Chili and discover who killed his mother before her own goose is quite literally cooked! 

Maggie Toussaint serves up a fun and captivating read in Seas the Day, the first in her Seafood Caper Mystery series! Complete with Southern recipes.

Maggie Toussaint has done it again—created a new series— Seafood Caper mysteries, which are guaranteed to immerse readers head-to-toe. The first book, Seas the Day, was released yesterday by Henery Press. This is Maggie’s sixth series. I very much like main character, River Holloway, and yet, I don’t understand her.
Set on a Georgia barrier island, seafood is only one specialty of caterer River Holloway. Finding things and solving mysteries is another. When she’s asked to find a missing person, she gets more help than she’d like from Deputy Hamlyn. She gets more worries than she’d like from her boyfriend—who escapes L.A. for bluer pastures to help River solve the case. I think she could have solved the case by herself without their “help.” But would she really give up her business to be with her boyfriend? We’ll have to read the next book to find out. Maggie’s given us homework again.

Please welcome Maggie Toussaint back to WWK!                    E. B. Davis

Is Shell Island real or based on another island off the coast of Georgia? It is patterned after the St Simons Island of my youth with some upgrades like traffic circles, which now exist on St Simons. For Seas the Day, I wanted a small-town setting with just enough newcomers to stir the pot.

Why does River like to find lost things? She likes finding things because she’s good at it. Her family and friends have asked her for years to help find things—and she does. I am envious of her skill and could have used her help many times.

What kind of mother, namely Estelle, names her child Chili when their last name is Bolz? Like many of my characters, Estelle has a few quirks. She named both her sons after food. Chili is her oldest son and Kale is her youngest, though Kale drowned last year.

Estelle was River’s mother’s friend and bridge partner. How long ago did River’s mom die? She passed in January and it’s now March when Seas the Day opens. Due to health issues, River’s mom was unable to live independently for years before she passed, though her mind stayed sharp, and she enjoyed bridge. In high school, River became her mother’s caretaker and co-parented her younger brother. As is the case with long infirmity/illnesses, you grieve all along. When a loved one finally dies, it’s a guilty relief.

What brought River’s boyfriend, Pete Merrick, to the island originally? Pete’s adoptive parents moved to Shell Island when his dad got a job at Island Bank when Pete was in elementary school. From his first days on the island, Pete knew two things. First, he wanted to be a millionaire, and second, he wanted River to be his girlfriend. By 8 years old, Pete had already changed schools three times due to his father’s jobs. Pete realized having money meant one could control one’s destiny, and that’s what he planned to do.

Although Pete proposed, River did not accept. Why? He’d left the island to seek his fortune, but last year he’d stopped calling or writing her. On Valentine’s Day (last month), he made a grand gesture to win her back, but, while she was still in love with him, that absence for nearly a year weighed heavy on her heart. She wants him in her life but he has some catch-up work to do on regaining her trust.

Why is River thinking of getting pregnant if she didn’t accept Pete’s proposal? Good genes? Does she have enough of a support system to raise a child by herself? She is an optimist and expects Pete will come around to her way of thinking. She’s 32,and as her biological clock reminds her, she’s not getting any younger. As a person who is centered by home and hearth, River longs for her own family. Pete is the man she wants as the father of her children, and she expects they will marry, eventually. She wants a child with him whether he stays or not. He wants a child because it will cement their relationship, and she can’t say no to marriage. As for support system, River knows people who can help her. She’s resourceful and energetic and a bit na├»ve about what’s involved with small children, but that’s a tale for another book in the series.

When Estelle asked River to find Chili she knew much more than she told River. Things that were dangerous. At a certain point, River knows this. Why does she still consider Estelle a friend? After helping parent her brother, River realizes that she loves her brother, but she doesn’t like some of his choices. The same holds true for Estelle. She’s known and loved Estelle all of her life. She understands that Estelle had difficult choices to make and wishes Estelle had reached out for help sooner.

Have you ever been claimed and owned by a cat, Maggie? Why does River name the stray, black cat, Major? Our two cats claimed my kids and I had a front row seat to witness their ownership behavior firsthand for years. I was never owned by a cat, but animals always come right up to me. I am an animal magnet. As for the name Major, River names him that for his vigilance, his patrolling behaviors, and his no-nonsense attitude. The cat is lucky he didn’t get called Marine.

Vivian Declan is an interesting character. She’s more than she appears to be. Tell our readers about Vivian, please. Viv is still living the singles lifestyle 14 years out of high school. By day she works at the mill, by night she cruises bars looking for Mr. Right. Viv tries to fill the emptiness inside her with temporary companionship. She’s the Lost Girl we all become at one time or another, for whatever indulgence we use to avoid looking closely at our lives.

Deputy Lance Hamlyn arrested River’s brother, Doug, on what charges? How much younger is Doug than River? Doug is four years younger than River, so he’s 28. When his mother passed two months ago, he got stinking drunk and got arrested for stealing the sheriff’s Jeep. River wiped out her savings to pay his lawyer and his fine. He got off with probation and community service. Like Viv, Doug would rather rather live the party life than be responsible. But without his mother to bail him out of jams, that arrest changes his thinking.

River seems embarrassed to be seen with Lance. Why? Because she has a boyfriend and she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s disloyal to Pete. She doesn’t like the deputy very much either. Lance is the deputy who arrested her brother.

Why does River say that Estelle “filters” information differently? Estelle isn’t all there, but she mostly passes for normal. She’s always been a little batty, something akin to the character of Rose on the 1980s sitcom, The Golden Girls. She’s fragile in some ways of the world but her old-fashioned values give framework and meaning to her life.

Estelle judges Viv harshly. Wow—does she not see herself at all? For all her quirks, Estelle firmly believes that a woman shouldn’t be so free with her affections. She thinks Viv’s loose lifestyle is asking for trouble on several fronts. As events unfold in Seas the Day, readers will learn more of Estelle’s backstory, which totally influenced present-day Estelle.

What s River’s antidote for shock? River treats shock with busy hands. She can’t let her guard down or fall apart immediately. She has to get through the day first. When she learns that a friend died, she fulfills her daily commitments first. It’s only later in the evening that she lets down her guard and feels the grief. Usually she unwinds alone in her room, but now that Pete is back in her life, albeit as a phone connection, he’s her confidante. After burying her grandmother and her mom, she’s well aware of the fragility of life. River is determined to make her own way with Holloway Catering, but she’s struggling with the how part of that. She also uses ice cream therapy when stressed!

River gets a business proposition that could be lucrative, but she turns it down. Does she have more discernment than Pete? As with most of us, our dream begins as a wish and is spoken as a whisper in the dark. Then, if we’re lucky, our dreams take flight. For River, she only worked on Holloway Catering part-time due to being her mother’s caretaker, so when the burden of caretaking was lifted, she’s reluctant to gear up in a new direction because it might be a wrong turn. She clings to what she knows because tradition and heritage are priceless to her. I wouldn’t say she has more discernment than Pete, whose last business choice was a disaster. Instead, she’s much more risk averse.

What’s next for River? I have two more books planned in the Seafood Capers Mystery Series, Spawning Suspicion, which is tentatively scheduled for late 2020, and Shrimply Dead, which will release in spring of 2021.

Thank you, Elaine, for hosting me here at Writers Who Kill. I always enjoy guesting here.