Friday, July 31, 2020

Star Trek Enterprise: A review by Warren Bull

Star Trek Enterprise: A review by Warren Bull

Image from wikimediacommons
When I reviewed Picard some time ago, I did not intend to write about other shows that sprang from the short-lived and underappreciated television series
Star Trek, which survived briefly in the late 1960s. However, one spark can start a conflagration and I found myself becoming interested in the outpouring of works that followed a humble, less than successful beginning.
Star Trek has to be the most successful failed television series in history. The ratings of the first season were low enough that the show was on the verge of cancellation.  After the second season only an extensive letter-writing campaign saved the show for its third and final year.   It was produced by Desilu Productions and Lucille Ball went against her Board of Directors to keep it going
Since then there have been eight more series, most lasting longer than the original. By now, 774 episodes have run over 35 seasons. Ten movies, hundreds of novels and hundreds more comics, short stories, and works of fan fiction exist.

         In the timeline of the Star Trek universe, Star Trek Enterprise recounts the adventures of the first foray into space by humanity. In this version, the sponsoring race/species, Vulcans, are not at all certain that humans are mature enough to face the dilemmas that accompany interactions with other species. Humans face what my singing teacher refers to as the FFT (Freaking First Time) experience.
         Humans are, of course, ignorant and naïve about other space travelers. Their craft is slower and less well-armed than many of the aggressive people already out there. Some groups have the viewpoint of warriors whose values include dying gloriously in battle. Other have a chameleon-like ability to take on the appearance of other races.  The races have complex histories with one another, shifting alliances and rivalries, with varying interests in what the newcomers can do for, with or against them.
         One difficult lesson comes when humans find themselves in the same role Vulcans played in human history. Vulcans supported at times and slowed at other times the development of space travel when human beings were on the verge of interstellar journeys. When encountering species with promise and problems, how much assistance, if any, should the crew supply? When there are conflicts among the peoples on isolated worlds, which groups, again if any, would it be proper to help at the expense of their rivals?
         Vulcans developed a strict rule of non-intervention, allowing civilization to flourish or flounder on their own without cultural “contamination” by extraterrestrials. It is hard to restrain from helping, but when the long-term consequences of action are unknown, who can separate what would be helpful from what would be harmful? Either alternative is emotionally painful. The captain makes different choices resulting in varying outcomes, which I appreciated. Sometimes there are no good choices,
         As with other series, I have questions about the amazing ability of the starship to withstand serious pounding and damage from attack, episode after episode. Is there an interstellar “dry dock” somewhere?  In this series I wonder how Captain Jonathon Archer, played by actor Scott Bakula, avoided getting killed by the unending beatings his character endured. He was like a space-going Reacher who didn’t kill. And why, oh why, with all the technology does no space engineer invent seatbelts?
         The writing and acting are uneven. Bakula is not a trained Shakespearian actor, but he is a solid performer. I admire his work in several television series. The scripts are generally less memorable than in other series, but I liked the unexpected bits of humor.  This is often the least popular of the subgenre, but I found plenty to like and enjoy.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Virtual Mystery in the Midlands

by Paula Gail Benson

For the past two years, the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA) have successfully partnered to present Mystery in the Midlands, a mid-summer conference for crime fiction readers and writers held in Columbia, South Carolina. We’ve been able to secure Elaine Viets and Nancy Pickard as previous guests of honor as well as master classes and panels featuring regional authors. In addition, we’ve had a silent auction to benefit the Palmetto Project’s My First Books, an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library that provides free books for children from birth to age five.

This year, we were really looking forward to our third program because Charlaine Harris had agreed to be our guest of honor. We’d scouted out a new, larger venue that had promised to advertise the event on its marquee and we’d planned to add a ghost tour to the schedule.
Then, in March, we were confronted with the Covid 19 shutdown. What were our options?
Preparing for Mystery in the Midlands
Photo by MA Monnin
After seeing the success of Murder and Mayhem being converted from an in person to an online event and with excellent counsel from Debra Goldstein, President of SEMWA, and agreement from our program committee, we began learning about how to go virtual. We contacted Charlaine Harris to ask if she would be willing to be our online guest of honor and she answered “yes” within minutes. We were on our way!

The key became how to structure the program. We decided to follow Charlaine’s own achievements in short stories, paranormal, and transferring story from page to screen. Following our tradition of naming the panels for Columbia’s reputation as “Famously Hot,” we called them: Slip into Some Shorts (short stories), Spectres Rather than Heat Mirages (paranormals), and Pages Burning Their Way to the Screen.

By going to a virtual conference on Saturday, July 25, 2020, we were fortunate to be able to ask authors to participate who might have found it difficult to attend in Columbia. They came to us from New England, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Oregon. 
Clockwise from upper right: Dana Kaye, John Floyd, Tara Laskowski, and Art Taylor
Photo by Kathryn Kathryn Prater Bomey, shared by Tara Laskowski
Our short story panel, all nominees and/or recipients of the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Macavity, and Thriller, were distinguished both as authors and editors and their advice was invaluable. John Floyd suggested that submitted stories might have an advantage for selection if they were shorter in length, contained humor, and had dialogue. Tara Laskowski said she began a story when she heard a character speaking because “if I hear the voice, I can get that person in trouble.” (John indicated that he always began with plot.) Art Taylor found short stories great vehicles for experimenting with different structures. All three authors gave a template (preferred terminology over “rules”) for approaching a short story: (1) start with a change in circumstances (John); (2) only hint at backstory (Art) or reveal it through dialogue (John); and (3) leave more open at the end (Tara).

Dana Kaye and Charlaine Harris
Photo by Tara Laskowski
Charlaine Harris gave the keynote, which she called Mystery Writers are Always Hot! “Because they are,” she told the listeners. Her most remembered line was “your responsibility is the written word.” She gave some really important advice: (1) dare yourself to do what you find uncomfortable; (2) the real detective work of writing is finding the kink in the hose and fixing it; (3) take the challenge of writing the book in your heart rather than the one you’ve read before; and (4) writers are peers so don’t get caught up in competition. She graciously took questions. By the end of the session, the comments in the chat line indicated that the audience wanted to package Charlaine’s infectious laughter and enthusiastic inspiration for future encouragement.

The talented paranormal panel featured Alexia Gordon (who writes about a musician confronting an Irish ghost), Toni L.P. Kelner (whose protagonist, Sid, is a skeleton), and Gigi Pandian (whose alchemist Zoe is aided by a living gargoyle). Toni pointed out both actual and paranormal writing centered on world-building. She found herself fascinated by motive and tried to use it in different ways with each work. Alexia advocated finding a writing method that worked and sticking with it. She created rules for how the paranormal elements operated and always made sure that the detective had to solve the crime instead of the ghost mysteriously providing the answer. Gigi spoke about how looking at story structure through the screenwriting or cinematic process had been helpful to her, but admitted despite planning before writing, she was wrong about the bad guy every time.

 In the third panel, Dana Cameron, Jeffrey Deaver, and Charlaine Harris discussed their experiences in seeing their novels converted to the screen. They each had interesting anecdotes about contractual situations and experiences on the set. They agreed that series or movies based on novels became great advertising for the authors’ writing. Jeffrey said he had been influenced as much by movies as books so his work was cinematic in structure. Charlaine found her life had been enriched by televised versions of her books, which placed her in unique situations she otherwise would not have known.
Dana described her first day on the set, being unsure if it might be an elaborate joke played by her friends Charlaine and Toni, until she saw the Maine flag had been raised over a Canadian police station where the filming took place. That change in flags convinced Dana it was real.

Dana Kaye expertly moderated the panels, dealing effortlessly with technical glitches. At one point when Charlaine could not hear her questions, Dana wrote them out on a large white board, which Charlaine could see, but not the audience. The only reason I know is that Dana showed the board to Debra Goldstein and me during a break.

BTW, if you ever need a partner in crime (or crime fiction programing) seek out Debra Goldstein. She is truly an asset and fount of wisdom.

We’re particularly delighted that, with support from our sponsoring organizations, our chapters could offer Mystery in the Midlands free of charge. We’re over the moon that we’ve had more than 900 register to view the program or see its replays.

Thank you so much to all our wonderful speakers and viewers!

If you would like to see the virtual Mystery in the Midlands, here’s a link to access the program:

Have you enjoyed a virtual writing conference this year?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

An Interview with Cynthia Kuhn by E. B. Davis

Once the coffee pot had run dry, Bibi sighed. “I can’t help but feel like
 we’re missing something that’s right in front of us.”

“That’s how I feel most of the time, actually.”
Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets, Kindle Loc. 1573

There could be nowhere more fitting for English professor Lila Maclean to spend her sabbatical than in a proper Victorian mansion. The whimsical Callahan House seems to have materialized from the pages of the mystery novels she is researching, with its enchanting towers, cozy nooks, and charming library. Unfortunately, it also features a body in the study.

Residents of Larkston have long believed that the Callahan family is cursed—the murder on the estate sets the town buzzing. Wild rumors are fueled by a gossipy blogger who delights in speculation, and further crimes only intensify the whispers and suspicions. A newly discovered manuscript, however, appears to expose startling facts beneath the fictions. When Lila steps in to sort the truth from the lies, it may cost her everything, as someone wants to make dead certain that their secrets stay hidden.

The Study of Secrets is the fifth book in the Lila Maclean Academic mystery series by Cynthia Kuhn. There are many themes in this book. Ugly ambition is one. Heroes who we learn are all too human is another. Then I thought about of all the learned academic characters in this story, even those in exalted positions with doctorates and other credentials, having to mature and go through all the stages from childhood, teen years, and onward—no wiser than anyone else—making mistakes like everyone else. Mistakes that are kept secret—especially when they are murderous.

This book fulfilled my desire for a good mystery, but it also provided a wonderful backstory that fans of this series craved. If you haven’t read the series, here’s a link to my interview with Cynthia Kuhn on her first book in this series, The Semester of Our Discontent.

Please welcome Cynthia Kuhn back to WWK.                                       E. B. Davis

Okay, Cynthia—we, the readers, want the recipe for the butterscotch hot toddy. Give it up here and now!

Here’s a very good recipe (and now I’m thirsty). Cheers!

Are there now a lot of dissertations written using contemporary/genre authors as subjects? Is this new? Is this more acceptable now than it was?

I have seen numerous dissertations with contemporary authors as subjects, so it’s happening, and I am FOR it. Full disclosure: I wrote my mine on Margaret Atwood’s fiction. ;)

Lila wrote her dissertation on three books published during the 1970s that are now out of print by little known author Isabella Dare. Soon up for tenure, Lila discovered that Isabella is really Bibi Callahan, a professor ready to retire from Callahan College, which is located nearby Lila’s own Stonedale University. She’s writing a book on Isadora/Bibi’s writing. How important is it for Lila to get the book published before the decision of her tenure is made?

It would definitely strengthen her tenure application, and Lila believes it is, in fact, necessary for a positive outcome.

Lila is also finishing her first mystery book, which she hopes to get published. Could the genre fiction go against her in a decision of tenure? Will she use her own name?

Since her position has publications requirements, I don’t think she would use a pseudonym. Depending on the perspective of the committee members, yes, it could go against her, and readers may remember that the first scene of the whole series involved a rather heated confrontation between Lila and her department chair on the topic of mysteries!

Bibi knits, but her knitting isn’t very good, or is it?

Ha! Bibi’s knitting won’t be winning any awards, but Lila thinks it’s absolutely charming.  

The book revolves around “The Larks,” Bibi and three of her life-long friends, who all married their high school sweethearts. One of Bibi’s friends is murdered in her study. I was surprised that they all stayed friends. Isn’t there usually infighting? Jealousy? Or growing apart?

That’s an interesting point. While the Larks have indeed weathered many things, they’ve managed to stay close despite any such conflicts.

Bibi’s only and younger sister, Ilse, disappeared during their teen years. Lila finds a fourth manuscript of Bibi’s, which was written prior to the published books in her mystery series. Except that the new manuscript was never published. At first Lila is excited, but not only does the manuscript disappear, Bibi says the manuscript was never meant for publication. It was her way of processing her sister’s disappearance. Will Lila still use the manuscript in her book about Isabella?

Lila will focus on Isabella’s published books—and the extent to which she does or does not discuss the unpublished manuscript will be determined by what Bibi is willing to grant in terms of formal permissions.

Why hasn’t Bibi ever told anyone about her fiction writing?

Initially, she thought it was important to separate her novels from her scholarly work as a professor and, as the years went by, it seemed more and more unnecessary to reveal their existence to anyone.

Why do the people in the area consider the Callahan family cursed?

Sadly, the Callahan family has experienced multiple tragedies. The gossip about their repeated misfortunes eventually transformed into speculation about a curse.

Is the Internet and Social Media a way to find truth or does it dish lies?

Both—there are trustworthy and untrustworthy sources of information out there!

Caretakers for Callahan House, The Flemms, are a husband and wife team. Why aren’t they friendly?

The Flemms are private people who have complex feelings about the Callahans and the estate. Bibi doesn’t believe that Alice has ever liked her, though. Then again, Alice is incredibly hard to read, which is one reason she was so fun to write.
Chancellor Wellington puts Lila in an awkward position when he makes a bid on Callahan House by wanting her to influence Bibi. He also makes it known her tenure might be jeopardized by her not doing as he asks. What is Lila’s reaction? What does she do?

After processing deep dismay about the potential consequences, Lila tries to find a way to do what she wants without getting fired. She’s determined like that.

How did Bibi know Lila’s mother?

Bibi met Violet at a conference years ago; they’ve kept in touch via social media.

How does Bibi know HVAC repair?

After retiring, she took courses in a wide variety of areas. She’s always learning something new: I see her as a sort of renaissance woman.

Why does Lila’s mother decide to relocate to Stonedale?

Violet misses Lila and Calista and wants to be close to them. I suspect she also has ideas about turning Stonedale into a robust haven for artists. Since the opera house (from The Spirit in Question) is already drawing in the theater crowd, she might be on to something.

Lila’s old detective boyfriend, Lex, contacts her wanting to get back together. How does Lila react?

Let’s just say that Lila has to sort through some conflicting feelings…

What is next for Lila?

I hope she’ll be drawn into another mystery!

It’s such an honor to visit Writers Who Kill—thank you for having me. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Crossing the Great Divide

Seventeen months ago I decided to change my lifestyle by relocating to Florida. I love being active and outdoors, and it was getting harder for me to physically bounce back each spring after the forced dormancy of the longer northern winters. I moved to St. Petersburg, and every day I’m more convinced that I made the right decision. I love St. Pete; the friendly people, the sunshine-y climate, the activity, the buzz.

Silly me. I thought I would settle in and that my decision-making was over.

In May 2020, I celebrated my birthday via Zoom since everyone was in COVID-19 lockdown. After blowing out the candles on my online virtual cake it suddenly occurred to me that maybe it was time to retire.

Retire? Me? What a mind-blowing concept! I remember talking about retiring with my sisters years ago, but that was all some faraway day. Well, someday is here. I stared sleeplessly at the ceiling for more than a few nights considering this life-changing next idea. Retire? Really? I’ve worked corporate for forty years. What else would I do?

Being an efficient project manager, I got out a legal pad and started a list. The first item in the plus column was an eye-opening winner: 1) more time to write.

Up until now, I’ve been fitting my creative writing between the cracks of my day job by sprinting first thing in the morning before I punch the clock or by tackling great blocks of it on weekends. When I consider reorganizing my daily life now to focus on my writing, it’s like seeing a splendid Technicolor dawn on the horizon. I’ve worked the numbers and I can make it work. There’s no reason not to do it. I’m in awe now over the unlimited possibility. I’m so excited about this retirement idea that I’m not even afraid of it, although it does represent another Big Change.

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So, buckle your seatbelts. Here I go! It feels surreal that I’ll wake up one day soon, sip my coffee, open my laptop and spend my day doing what I love the most: writing! I’ve come to another fork in my road - and I’m going to take it.

Wish me luck! What’s your retirement goal or story?

Monday, July 27, 2020

WORDS by Nancy L. Eady

            I love the fact that English is a changing language. Based on the times we live in, recent inventions, new slang expressions and circumstances, the English language is constantly evolving, adding new words while allowing other words to become obsolete. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary, which attempts to define every word and certain phrases in the English language, has made 21 changes to its massive dictionary solely based on Covid-19—new words, sub-entries or revisions and additions to existing definitions. They moved up their normal quarterly update to catalog those changes.
            Which leads me to one of my shameful secrets—I am a hopeless word nerd and subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the day” emails. The words they select to share range over a broad variety of subjects, and they don’t always mean what they sound like they should mean.  
            For example, one word was “bombogenesis.”  Looking at it, you might think the word refers to the initial stages used in manufacturing a bomb. But no, “bombogenesis” describes a sudden drop in barometric pressure in the center of an extratropical storm.
            Then there was the word “pacation.”  Since one of the earlier daily words had been “staycation,” I could be forgiven for thinking “pacation” referred to a vacation you pay for. Nope. “Pacation” is the act of calming, or pacifying someone down, or the state of being peaceful or appeasement. I’m not sure when “pacation’s” heyday was, but it is rare now.
            The word “ayuh” sounds like it was an Indian word that revolved into the English language during England’s occupation of India. Instead, it means “yes,” chiefly used in New England and especially Maine.
            Once the writers lure you into believing none of the daily words’ meanings can be deduced from the way they sound or look, they hit you with a word like “cox-combery,” which means conceitedness, vanity, pretentious affectation or [here’s another good word] foppery. That meaning is foreshadowed from the word’s spelling.
            Some words are just fun to say, like “simi-dimi,” an English word from the Caribbean, mostly Trinidad. It refers to mumbo jumbo or meaningless, elaborate rituals.
            As you will have already noticed from these words, a lot of nations contribute words to our language. For example, were you aware of “Nigerian English”?  The word “bukateria” is from Nigerian English. A bukateria is a roadside restaurant or stall with seating that sells cooked food at low prices.
            I saved the best word for last— “quank.”  A quank sounds like a confused or grumpy sub-atomic particle or a cranky duck. The cranky duck idea isn’t so far from the mark—to “quank” is to utter a harsh croaking or honking cry.
            So what are the interesting words you’ve found? 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Virtual Travel by Annette Dashofy

One of the hardest parts for me these last few months was watching my travel plans get canceled. Conferences and personal appearances tumbling one by one, like a line of dominoes. After the long winter of being holed up, writing frantically to finish my book, I was eager to get out and see the world.

Yeah. We all know how that worked out.

Even having reached the acceptance stage of grieving my lost spring and summer (and now autumn), I keep running into walls. My usual reaction to needing my creative well refilled is to take a day trip or a weekend jaunt somewhere. My husband did take me to a favorite park about an hour from home one Sunday. 
Deer spotted at Oglebay Park, Wheeling, WV

We packed a picnic lunch and a supply of hand sanitizer, and armed with our masks, headed out for a day of walking trails. Honestly, I was exhausted by the time we got home. Not from the exercise but from the mental stress of being hypervigilant about avoiding crowded areas of the park, veering off the narrow path when some bare-faced jogger was coming our way, and being aware of what I’d touched (more hand sanitizer!!!)

I’m turning into a hermit, content to write, read, practice yoga, and stroll on my treadmill.

And bake bread.

But my inner need to explore the world hasn’t gone dormant. Enter virtual travel. First, I played with Google Earth as a means of researching locations I can’t get to right now. It’s so much fun, especially in street view when you can “stand” in one spot and “pivot” to see different sides of a building or even what’s across the street. Google Earth is a rabbit hole, no doubt about it.

I tried the live webcam views available as virtual vacations. Big Brother truly is watching, folks. Those cameras are EVERYWHERE. But I found the live streams less than fulfilling. Watching beautiful beaches populated with people who were social distancing (or not) and were wearing masks (or not) failed to provide the escape for which I was searching.

There is one Earth Cam feed from Algonquin Park in Ontario that I find quite relaxing though.

I may have to go there someday.

The most effective method of visiting far-off locations though is the one I’ve used since I was a kid. Books, of course.

Since the lockdown began, I’ve visited Italy, England, and Africa courtesy of Rhys Bowen. (Have I mentioned the perk of being able to transport not just to other continents, but other times as well?) I’ve been to the beach during summer and winter, courtesy of Tara Laskowski.
I’ve been to upstate New York (Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Millers Kill is like a second home). Thanks to Edith Maxwell, I’ve been to Massachusetts circa 1889. I’m currently experiencing present-day Harvard through the lyrical writing of Francesca Serritella and 1920’s Louisiana through the rich, luscious prose of Ramona DeFelice Long.

Since my to-be-read shelves rival some small bookstores, I’m not likely to run out of places to go in my mind any time soon.

What about you? What fabulous literary journeys have you taken in the last few months?

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Dash to "The End" by Kait Carson


This blog initially appeared in Writers Who Kill on Sunday, October 12, 2014. As you read this, I’m on the road somewhere between Florida and Maine, or maybe in Maine. Hard to say what delays travel will bring in this age of COVID-19. Anxiety seems a fitting theme.


I’m on a deadline right now. I’ve said that phrase so often, it feels like a mantra. Sometimes the deadlines are self-imposed, other times, not so much. This time, it’s both. I have a new manuscript due at Henery Press by June, and I promised it for December – gulp. And I’ve taken on a lot of blogging obligations. Oh yes, there’s those pesky romance short stories that I write for the Trues. I consider the shorts to be my writer’s version of a vacation. Different genre, different style, different outcomes from my usual fare. Did I mention I have a day job too? Yep, I’m a full time paralegal who puts in eight to ten hours a day. Then there’s eight cats, three birds, and a husband. All rescues. Well, maybe not the husband, but some days it feels that way. So, you know where the time goes.


Let me say this loud and proud, “I am not a workaholic.” My writing life is fun time for me. I manage to fit it in a couple of hours before work, a couple of hours after and one day a weekend. It works for me. I don’t feel whole without a story perking along. Sounds like I have it all figured out. Not!


Whenever I get near the end of a project, I get the hebbie jebbies. My hands sweat, I fumble for words, I just know that whatever I’ve written is the worst thing known to man and no sane person will ever want to read it. It’s happening right now. I’m sure this is the worst blog post ever. Who cares what I feel? Deep Breath. Put one finger in front of the other, and soldier on with the post.


Over the years, I’ve learned writer’s anxiety is my best friend. Articles and stories I’ve written that flowed from start to finish are my albatrosses. I worry if I type ‘the end’ and feel like Stephen J. Cannell looks when he rips the page from his typewriter, My knee jerk reaction is to put those stories in a drawer and pull them out in a month. I nearly always find they need to be handled with tongs and only from a distance. The stuff I was sure was junk, well, that’s the stuff I put away for a week, then when I pull it out, I nearly always find it’s got great bones, good storyline, and well developed characters.


The heart pounding, OMG, this is awful anxiety I feel when writing tells me that I’m hitting my own nerves. I’m going deep into the story and the characters and I am putting something of myself on the line. That’s my goal as a writer, not to change the world, but to share the human experience and have my readers enjoy the experience. I always hope that some of that painful honesty bleeds through the story to the reader and he or she comes away with something new from each of my works.


Writer’s anxiety? Embrace it; it can be your best friend.


What about you? Do you feel the gut wrenching anxiety as you write? Readers, how does a well-crafted story make you feel?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Conjuring the Muse of Hogwarts by Connie Berry

If Harry Potter was born (as J. K. Rowling revealed recently on Twitter) in a tiny flat above a sporting goods store in south London, the bespectacled orphan-wizard gained his powers in the back room of The Elephant House, a charming red-painted tea and coffee house just off Cowgate in Edinburgh's Old Town. There, at a seat by the window, Ms. Rowling famously wrote much of her first two novels. With massive Edinburgh Castle looming above and historic Holyrood Palace a short stroll away, I can't imagine a more inspiring place to court the Muse.

In theory.

Fame, as Ms. Rowling has no doubt learned, comes with a price. The last time I was in Edinburgh, the queue at The Elephant snaked out the door and halfway down George IV Bridge Street. There wasn't a seat available, for setting up a laptop or sipping coffee or anything else. Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are said to frequent The Elephant. Maybe on a cold day in January.

So popular with Rowling's fans is The Elephant House that the proprietors have given up removing graffiti from the loos. The walls are now so plastered with messages that determined Potterheads have taken to writing on the windows, the ceiling, the door frames, the paper towel holder, and even the soap dispenser. The messages run the gamut from touching and profound to downright cheeky. One reads: "You taught me how to read, love and believe, thank you JK always." Another says: "I'd get sleazy for Ron Weasley." If customers complain about the mess, said House manager, Roxy Hessami, "We have to tell them we can't control it....It's not like we give them pens."

The owners used to repaint the toilets every year but have now given it up as a lost cause. "After it was painted once," Hessami said, "a note about who was in Dumbledore's Army had three tallies next to it. By the end of the day, it was at 83." One time someone wrote, "The service is so slow in here anyone could write a book." 

They did paint over that one.

I can't claim a writing space as quaint or historic as The Elephant House, but my favorite place to write is at my desk overlooking the lake and woods in northern Wisconsin. There's something about nature that fuels my imagination. Maybe it's the peace and quiet. I can't imagine battling Voldemort—or even Draco Malfoy—with noisy coffee-drinkers jostling at my elbow.

More power to J. K. Rowling. I wonder where she writes now?

Authors, do you have a favorite place to write?

Will you tell us about it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

An Interview with Agatha Winning Author Leslie Budewitz by E. B. Davis

…when I stumbled over my husband and a parking enforcement officer practically
plugging each other’s meters in a downtown restaurant, just before scandal
destroyed the law firm where I worked and took my HR job with it, all within months
of my fortieth birthday, I never expected to find solace in bay leaves.
Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves, Page 20

Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves.

But when her life fell apart at forty and she bought the venerable-but-rundown Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, her days took a tasty turn. Now she’s savoring the prospect of a flavorful fall and a busy holiday cooking season, until danger bubbles to the surface . . .

Between managing her shop, worrying about her staff, and navigating a delicious new relationship, Pepper’s firing on all burners. But when her childhood friend Maddie is shot and gravely wounded, the incident is quickly tied to an unsolved murder that left another close friend a widow.

Convinced that the secret to both crimes lies in the history of a once-beloved building, Pepper uses her local-girl contacts and her talent for asking questions to unearth startling links between the past and present—links that suggest her childhood friend may not have been the Golden Girl she appeared to be. Pepper is forced to face her own regrets and unsavory emotions, if she wants to save Maddie’s life—and her own.

The Solace of Bay Leaves is the fifth book in Leslie Budewitz’s Spice Shop Mystery series. Main character Pepper Reece and her Airedale, Arf, continue to solve mysteries involving those close to them, in this case, the attempted murder of a friend, Maddie. The weapon—a gun used previously in a three-year old unsolved murder of another friend’s husband, Pat, who was an Assistant US Attorney.

Yes, the two victims knew each other, but mainly due to their kids’ mutual interest in soccer. Not much motive for murder and attempted murder. Perhaps because Pepper enjoys the simple pleasures in life, making her living via her senses to sell spices, her intellect needs to solve more complex mysteries than spice blends. Keeping her fictional sleuths as role models, Pepper asks herself, “What would Brother Cadfael do?”

You can read my interview with Leslie about the first book in this series, Assault and Pepper, here. Please welcome award-winning Leslie Budewitz back to WWK.                                                                                                         E. B. Davis

The series is set in Seattle, which you describe as a city of water and hills. But you also start one chapter with an explanation of why the city is complex to navigate. What’s the story here? You can dead end in water and get lost in hills, the insane joke of dead men?

Back in the 1850s, the founders couldn’t agree on whether the fledgling city’s streets should be oriented to Elliott Bay, part of Puget Sound, or to the cardinal directions. So, each man oriented his own plat to his own pleasure, creating streets that angle and butt into each other. Later, several hills just above the bay were regraded, further skewing the streets. The construction of I-5 in the 1960s created dead-ends. In some neighborhoods, ravines, canals, and lakes add to the chaos. But I like your explanation, too!

Were you being facetious when you describe Kristen being Pepper’s best friend before they were born or is there a story there? Were their mothers’ friends?

Pepper and Kristen’s mothers met in college. Later, with their husbands, they founded a peace and justice community known as Grace House, headquartered in a large, late 19th century house built by Kristen’s great-grandparents. The two couples and their children lived together until Pepper’s family bought their own home the summer the girls, who were born two weeks apart, turned twelve. Sadly, Kristen’s mother died before the series started, but her father and Pepper’s parents remain close.

You describe Key Lime Pie as tasting like vacation. I agree, but why is that?

I suppose it’s because the taste is so distinctive – and because we don’t get to enjoy it often enough!

Does Detective Tracy eat a lot of Vitamin C, causing him to be resistant to Pepper’s questions?

Vitamin C for cookies? He does enjoy them!

The FBI is involved because the first victim, Pat, Laurel’s husband, was an Assistant US Attorney. But if they didn’t establish that his murder was the result of his job, why are they involved?

The FBI has jurisdiction over any attacks on federal law enforcement, including Assistant US Attorneys. In practice, they share the investigation with local law enforcement, because jurisdiction isn’t always clear, local cops know the territory so well, and both want the case solved. By law, the FBI takes the lead. (The conflicts we often see on TV are largely a myth.) In a case like the murder of Patrick Halloran, where the motive isn’t clear, the FBI will be the primary agency unless and until it’s clear that the killing was unrelated to the victim’s work. 

Is “interrupted burglary” police-speak for attempted murder?

I have heard it used that way, but how widespread the usage is, I couldn’t say.

Do you have an Airedale? Does Arf tolerate being put into a yellow raincoat? Does he ever get into any of the shop’s spices?

Arf is the perfect little gentleman who never causes any trouble. Well, unless there’s a cat involved or he really needs to pee. Although I’ve owned several dogs, I’ve never had an Airedale or its cousin, the smaller Welsh terrier. Honestly, I have no idea why an Airedale, but the moment he walked on the page at Sam’s side in Assault and Pepper, it was clear that’s what he was.

I was thrilled you explained why the FBI has “special” agents. Please explain this term to our readers as no one else has ever explained it!

Pepper’s former husband, Tag, a Seattle bike patrol officer, is a student of history, and here’s what he tells her: “The term ‘Special Agent’ dates to the early twentieth century, when the automobile changed the nature of crime. The FBI needed authority to make arrests across state lines, but Congress and the states were afraid of a power grab. So ‘special’ actually means ‘limited.’ The FBI’s jurisdiction is limited to federal crimes, even when they cross state lines.”

What are:

Chai  masala?

In India, “chai” means “tea” and a “masala” is a blend of spices. In contrast, in this country, we use “chai” to refer to the combination of tea and spices.

Baking Blends?

The Spice Shop sells a variety of spice blends, including two chai-related masalas---one consisting of whole spices, made for steeping in milk and tea for a drink, the other ground, without tea, and suitable for baking. In the previous book, Chai Another Day, Pepper attempts to recreate a chai masala her friend Seetha’s mother sends Seetha, with unexpected results. She also creates a baking blend to give cookies, cakes, and other desserts the spicy flavor we associate with the drink, but without the tea.


A piroshky or pieorgi is a handheld meat pie or turnover popular in Central Europe. Piroshky is the Russian spelling. Options for fillings abound, and there actually is a terrific piroshky stall in Pike Place Market.

Samovar? Fake Samovar?

A samovar is a Russian tea urn, used for brewing tea and keeping it hot. They are often elaborately decorated. The Spice Shop had an electric version Pepper called a fake samovar that met an unfortunate fate in Assault and Pepper, and it took her a while to find a replacement, but happily she did. It presides over the tea cart where samples of the shop’s spiced tea are served. It’s also my homage to The Russian Samovar, a tearoom once located on First Avenue in Seattle near the Market, a place my friends and I loved ages ago.
Pepper has issues with Maddie, the victim of attempted murder. She feels guilty about winning a position that she thinks Maddie probably should have been given over her. But she also feels like Maddie and her life have been perfect. Intellectually she knows this is nonsense, knows that it is immature thinking. Is jealousy, guilt, or something else the impetus of stereotyping people into the have and have nots, the spoiled or the hardworking, the successful or unsuccessful?

What a wonderfully probing question! I think it’s all of those, but in Pepper and Maddie’s case, it’s also based on misunderstanding. Sometimes, a failure to understand something that happened when we were children or teens, or when we didn’t know all the facts, colors our view of a relationship so much that only a major shock can reorient our thinking---and that’s what happens with these women.

Pepper describes her brother as smarter than she is. Combined with her issues with Maddie, does Pepper have an inferiority complex?

No. She just has a really smart brother. But Carl has followed a more conventional career path than Pepper, and she respects his success---which is funny considering that they were raised in a communal household founded by hippies and activists!

After three years, Pepper realizes that Tag, her ex, wasn’t the only one responsible for the end of their marriage, and she tells him so. Does hindsight change perspective? Or is it more the softening of emotional hurt?

Both, I think. With time, and a couple of other relationships behind her, Pepper is willing to acknowledge both her share of the responsibility, and that she was reluctant to give up blaming Tag for such a deep violation of her trust. She’s very much in love with Nate, and knows Tag’s part in giving that relationship a boost, and those things help to, as you say, soften her a bit.

What is Pepper’s real name?

You’re not going to have any better luck prying that out of me than Pepper’s staff has! But the name is revealed in Killing Thyme, where Lena, Pepper’s mother, makes her first appearance.

After Maddie recovers from a coma, her family provides prompts helping her memory. One is a photo album of Maddie’s family history, which helps Pepper piece together information. When did the genocide of the Armenian people occur? Was Seattle one of the areas where Armenians settled or did they spread out around the US?

The Armenian genocide occurred between 1915 and 1923, when the Ottoman government murdered, relocated, or deported roughly 1.5 million ethnic Armenians from Turkey. Many came to the US, primarily the Northeast and California, though there was an Armenian immigrant community in Seattle, and there is still an Armenian Orthodox church in the Greater Seattle area. I first heard stories from a friend whose Armenian grandparents fled Turkey and ultimately settled in Portland, Oregon. 

I was surprised that Pepper invited Special Agent Meg Greer up to her loft, but I was dumbfounded when Meg made a point of telling Pepper she was armed while drinking tea. Does the agent have some issues? Like she has to be macho or something?

Oh, gosh, yes, Meg Greer “has issues”---what a great way to describe her! She stunned me, too, not by saying she was armed---FBI agents are required to carry, even off duty, and it is only polite to let someone know you’re bringing a gun into their home---but by her abrupt departure. I hope we can learn more about her in the future.

Like her friend Glenn, Pepper has the chance to buy the condo below her and turn her loft into a two-story dwelling. Why did she decide not to do that? Was her beau, Nate, a consideration?

The loft is perfect for Pepper just as it is, and she realizes that expanding it to make more room for Nate is premature, not because she doesn’t want a life with him, but because she doesn’t want to pressure him to change his work life. If he does, then they can decide, together, where to live and whether the loft works for the two of them.

Pepper thinks there are signs of change in her relationship with Nate. She defines his use of the word “home.” Does she want to change Nate?

Pepper is keenly aware that you can’t change another person, and that being involved with Nate means accepting his schedule as a commercial fisherman---six months in Seattle, six months in Alaska. But as they grow closer, each is choosing to make changes, and it’s apparent that “home” will be part of that. I wouldn’t say she defines his use of the word “home;” she’s trying to understand it, and how his thinking is evolving.

“Besides, it’s part of growing up, to learn how to live with ambiguity and unsettled things.” (Loc. 3109) Are black and white thinkers immature?

Not sure I can be so black and white about it! My understanding is that psychologists and spiritual thinkers see acceptance of ambiguity as essential to a meaningful life.

How is it that if someone steals a blend of spices made for a chef and someone uses the blend, it’s theft. But if someone uses the same recipe of an entrée the spices are used in, it isn’t?

Ah, perhaps that part of a subplot wasn’t as clear as it should have been. The list of ingredients in a recipe can’t be copyrighted, whether it’s for a cake or a spice blend, although the description of how to make a dish can be. So I can use the same ingredients Ina Garten lists in a published recipe, but I have to tell you how to make the cake in my own words. If Ina keeps her recipe a secret but serves me a slice and I try to recreate it, good for me – and good luck! But if she keeps that recipe locked in a drawer and doesn’t publish it, and I break in and steal it, I’m a thief. One with good taste, but still a thief.

What’s next for Pepper, Arf, and maybe Nate?

That, I’m afraid, is a bit of a mystery. This is the last book under contract, so it’s wait and see.

When will man buns go out of style?

Any minute now, we can only hope.