Image from Wikimedia Commons
- Paula Gail Benson
- Connie Berry
- Sarah E. Burr
- Warren Bull
- Annette Dashofy
- E. B. Davis
- Mary Dutta
- Debra H. Goldstein
- Lori Roberts Herbst
- Jim Jackson
- Marilyn Levinson aka Allison Brook
- Molly MacRae
- Korina Moss
- Shari Randall/Meri Allen
- Martha Reed
- Linda Rodriguez
- Rosalie Spielman
- Grace Topping
- Susan Van Kirk
Friday, October 30, 2020
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
What a plot! Barbara Ross is on her game. This second book in the Jane Darrowfield series, Jane Darrowfield And The Madwoman Next Door, kicks the series into overdrive. It reminded me a bit of an Agatha Raisin novel, if only Agatha lived in the Boston suburbs and cut out excessive drinking, smoking, and getting a man. Jane isn’t as abrasive as Agatha, but she likes her independence, can get testy when her friends involve themselves too much in her business, and is an independent business woman who solves “lesser” crimes.
This series is an experiment for Barnes & Noble, where it is exclusively sold in paperback form only. It’s seems like they are targeting a specific audience, but they really need to think about also putting it out in electronic format because the book is such a page turner they are inhibiting their own sales. To pick up a copy, go to: Barnes & Noble The book was released yesterday.
Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK. E. B. Davis
When next-door neighbor Megan asks Jane to determine if she is crazy, why does Jane hesitate from taking the job?
Jane’s services as a professional busybody are sometimes difficult for prospective clients to understand. Jane has no training of any kind as a therapist and she doesn’t want Megan to believe she’s in a position to evaluate her mental health. Once Megan promises to seek professional help if Jane determines there are no external causes for her symptoms, Jane agrees to take the case.
Why are Jane’s neighbors disappointed in Megan as a neighbor?
Jane’s neighborhood has undergone numerous transitions since she and her bridge-playing friends moved in decades ago. As home prices have increased, the neighborhood has gone from single-earner families to high-earning power couples to foreign investors who are rarely in residence. Jane’s neighbors have nothing against Megan, who is single, but they are always hoping for families with kids.
Megan doesn’t own a car. How far is it from Cambridge to downtown Boston? Is the area mass transit really great? Jane sure seems to use her car a lot.
It’s not unusual for members of Megan’s generation in metro Boston not to have a car. Megan can walk about a mile to the Red Line subway stop in Harvard Square, or she can take a bus or trackless trolley if the weather is bad or she has a lot to carry. She uses her bike frequently but can also use a car service like Lyft or Uber or a short-term car rental like Zip Car if she needs to. Jane uses her car far more, but she also takes the subway when she goes to downtown Boston.
There is a theme of generational estrangement in this book. Have you experienced or have knowledge of this phenomenon?
Personally, fortunately no, though I have observed it from both the kids’ side and the parents’ side in friends and acquaintances. Estrangement from one’s parents is an unusual situation and very hard on everyone involved, no matter how much one party or the other might perceive it to be necessary.
Jane narrows down the reasons for Megan’s symptoms. One could be toxic black mold. Can black mold account for many of Megan’s symptoms?
Usually issues like sick building syndrome result in mild, allergy-like symptoms. However, in rare cases, toxic black mold can attack the central nervous system causing poor concentration, depression, irritability, confusion, sleep disorders, anxiety and hallucinations. Megan has reported some of these, especially sleep disorders and things that seem like they must be hallucinations, as reasons she is worried about her mental health
How is it that people can sense when they are being watched?
What an interesting question. All of us have experienced the phenomenon of feeling someone was watching us and have turned around to discover an old acquaintance, or someone who is sure we are someone else or, the worst, someone wanting to tell us we have toilet paper stuck to our shoe. I don’t know how it works. Do we catch something out of the corner of our eye that our brain needs time to process? And how many times is someone looking and we don’t turn around? We can never know.
Another possibility for Megan’s symptoms could be gaslighting. It isn’t a new term. What is it? Where did the term originate? Hitchcock and Betty Davis?
The term gaslighting comes from a Hitchcock-era play and two movies, one British and one American titled Gaslight. The US version of the movie (1944) was directed by George Cukor and stars Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton and an eighteen-year-old Angela Lansbury making her screen debut. The story is set in 1880s London, and one of the things the main character experiences is seeing the gaslights in her home surge and dim. Her husband assures her it isn’t happening and that it’s one of many symptoms of her failing mental health. Manipulating people to believe they’re not seeing, hearing, or experiencing things they actually are is now called gaslighting.
I was surprised that Megan seems so naïve and less than tech-savvy. Why? Is everyone to a certain extent naïve? Do we think of ourselves as less than worthy of someone’s deviousness?
I think Megan is probably very savvy about the tech she needs to do her job and about social media as well. But she’s a busy attorney on the partner track at her law firm and she hasn’t taken much of an interest in the security system in her home, which was installed by the developer. She’s in “set it and forget it” mode with it.
I do think a lot of us have trouble believing someone we know, and perhaps even trust, wishes us harm and is actively working against us. I have a tendency to take people at face value and they have to lose my trust rather than earn it.
Why are foreign nationals buying up homes in Jane’s neighborhood? Is this a common practice in suburbs of large cities in the US?
Yes, I think most big cities and close-in suburbs around the world have experienced this. Foreign nationals buy the properties as investments, but also to move money out of their own countries which may have totalitarian regimes whose future actions can’t be predicted. Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Jane lives has many boarding schools and universities in the area, and sometimes the kids of these investors stay in the properties during school breaks. However, mostly the houses are empty.
Is there danger in having the same company install and service security systems in the same neighborhood?
I think neighbors often recommend their favorite services to others, and contractors develop preferences for reliable, economical vendors they use over and over, so this happens often.
Why can’t we cross Andy off the suspects list? Is there such a thing as being too nice?
Jane’s friend Detective Alvarez of the Cambridge Police Department thinks that Andy is overly interested in Megan’s case. Andy insists Megan is missing when she’s only been out of touch for a couple of hours. He drives down Megan’s narrow, winding street way too often and always seems to turn up when something big happens in the case. Detective Alvarez finds this behavior very concerning.
What did Jane do that her son needed to take a ten-year break from her? He never gave her a reason? What does Jane’s intuition say?
I’ve gotten more specific about this with each book, but I am not ready to disclose yet.
Harry, Jane’s special someone (she can’t abide the term boyfriend), wants and hints at getting closer. Why does Jane hesitate?
Jane’s marriage ended very badly a quarter century earlier, but a bigger consideration is those twenty-five years she’s spent on her own. She’s used to running her own life and not used to the kind of compromises a long-term romantic relationship requires. Can she change? Does she want to?
Why after Jane sends Detective Alvarez on two false alarm clues does he still keep her in the loop?
Alvarez has learned to trust Jane on some previous cases, and in this situation, as time ticks on, he’s desperate for a solution. Leads that don’t pan out are better than no leads at all.
Do you have a security system? After writing this book were you paranoid? After Zoom meetings, I wonder if someone is looking at me through my own laptop camera. I’m hesitating to buy a smart TV because they’ll view us in the living room. Since I don’t watch much TV, this isn’t as much of a problem for me. Is big brother, or his notoriously delinquent son, now a part of our lives?
We do have a security system, and like Megan, we inherited it from a previous owner. It has a lot more functionality than I think we need. Like Megan, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the system. It’s become my husband’s domain, so I totally get how a malicious partner or ex-partner could use the system to torment an unsuspecting victim. Thank goodness my husband has no such motives.
I don’t think there’s anything about my life that’s interesting enough to attract the attention of Big Brother (except maybe some of the internet searches I do for my mysteries), but I know I’m interesting to A LOT of corporations that want to sell me stuff. It’s one of those trade-offs we make in modern life.
In the end, all of Jane’s theories weren’t totally on the mark even though she figures it out. She also blames herself for triggering the entire crime. Will Jane rise again to solve another problem?
Good question! I hope so. I’m sure she’ll continue her professional busybody business and we’ll see where that leads.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
“But you know N’awlins. We don’t hide crazy.
We set it on the front porch and give it a cocktail.”
Martha Reed, Love Power, Kindle Loc. 418
Love Power is Martha Reed’s fourth novel, and it is a change in genre. Her previous three books in the John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket mystery series are traditional. Love Power is an LGBTQ suspense novel. But main character, Jane Byrne is not of that community.
Jane is a former police detective who resigned her beloved job after a charge of excessive force. Suffering from PTSD, Jane finds a refuge within her landlords’ family—but after befriending their transgender daughter, Gigi, Jane also finds the seemingly normal landlords have their own issues.
Love Power is not cozy. It contains violence and speaks the political lingo of the LGBTQ community. It also is masterfully written, evoking and explaining New Orleans and the LGBTQ lifestyle in a way an outsider would never fathom. Please ask Martha questions in the comments section of the blog. E. B. Davis
Why the change in genre, Martha?
New Orleans offers an eye-popping lifestyle energy level. People are always on the go. There’s definitely an electricity in the air based on the local philosophy of laissez les bons temps rouler. I wanted to share that jazzy insane excitement with my readers. Using suspense helped me capture the buzz.
Four years after a traumatic event and four years of PTSD therapy, Jane still suffers. Does therapy work? Eventually? Jane actively engages the coping tools Dr. Wacky taught her and they do help, although she still has a long way to go overcoming the PTSD triggers that are continually cropping up in her life. Some of this is a long-term ongoing trust issue. Learning to rely more on Gigi Pascoe should help.
What’s special about Jane’s Ducati Monster motorcycle? Why did she choose it? Jane chose it because it looks so badass. I chose it (as the author) because the Ducati has a keyless ignition system and I needed that super easy access to further a plot point.
One of my favorite characters was Aunt Babette. Please describe her for our readers. Are she and Leslie of Creole descent? I’m so glad you liked Aunt Babette! She’s one of my new favorite characters. She was simply a joy to write about because she’s always ready to share her opinion and she has strong opinions on almost everything. You can feel it when Aunt Babette enters a room. Plus with her mediumistic ability, I can ask for advice and/or clues when I need to. Yes, she and Leslie are Creole. We’ll explore that amazing and historic background more in Street Angel, Book 2.
Do you reveal more about the characters through Aunt Babette’s masks she created for everyone at Leslie’s fiftieth birthday party? Or is this just Aunt Babette’s imagination?
That was an oddly strange thing that I only caught while editing. When I drafted the scene I casually riffed on the spirit animal suggestion, and I let Aunt Babette run with it because it seemed like a fun birthday party thing to do. Many chapters later it turned out that the masks held true meaning. Was my subconscious working overtime or was Aunt Babette really in charge of the idea from the get-go? Who knows? After all, she is a genuine NOLA voodoo queen. I’ll let her have this one.
Cheryl and Leslie seem almost like opposites. How are they best buddies? Their close sisterly friendship developed as neighbors raising children of the same age. Cheryl Embry was raising her son Ryan as a working single mom; Leslie would watch Ryan to give Cheryl a break to go shopping or to church events. Despite their differences, they do recognize the mother’s love value and devotion in each other.
Is a Vieux Carre a New Orleans specialty? It certainly is! As a cocktail, it represents the very essence of NOLA by combining French brandy, Italian vermouth, American rye whiskey and Caribbean bitters. What could be more emblematic than that? The name “Vieux Carre” came from the French translation of “Old Quarter.” It was first stirred at the legendary Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone in the 1930s. It’s been a crowd-pleasing hit ever since.
Voodoo is a religion equal to any other belief that people practice. Haitian voodoo came from Africa by enslaved people. NOLA voodoo is a blend of Haitian voodoo and French Catholicism. Hoodoo, which involves the use of dolls and pins, is considered a backwater superstition created mainly to support the tourist industry.
Is Club Femme du Monde real or based on a real LGBTQ club?
Club Femme du is loosely based on a fabulously decadent nightclub I once visited in Las Vegas, plus some other shady stories I heard about similar clubs in NYC. I’ve enjoyed imagining it, but those party folks stay up way too late for me these days.
Why does Leslie collect “lost” things? Leslie Pascoe was born with this aspect of her personality. She’s naturally very motherly although, as both Ken and Gigi notice, Leslie has been getting more secretive and extreme with age.
Gigi, Ken and Leslie’s transgender daughter drives what she calls “The Boat.” What is it? The Boat is a vintage 1976 V-8 fire thorn red Cadillac Eldorado convertible with a white leather interior. It gets horrible gas mileage, but Gigi bought it because it’s indestructible and it will carry the 6-8 people generally in her entourage wherever she goes.
Jane tries to hide her former profession, but when Gigi’s friends start to disappear she betrays herself. How? Jane dedicated her previous life working as a detective on a police force. It was her passion; all she wanted to do. After she experienced the rejection and dismissal, it hurt too much to even think about her former life or who she used to be. As her friends begin to disappear though, Jane works her way deeper into the investigation until she realizes that she needs to reactivate her skillset because it may help save lives.
After Katrina, did over half-million residents of New Orleans relocate to Houston? Really? When the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, approximately 80% of New Orleans was flooded, making Katrina the largest residential disaster in U.S. history. Post-Katrina, NOLA reflected a loss of over half of its population due to displacement. Houston received more Katrina evacuees than any other city. As many as 250,000 people arrived in Houston during the peak of the storm. NOLA’s current population has recovered, but it’s still less than 80% of what was recorded in the 2000 U.S. census.
What is Diaspora? It’s an involuntary mass dispersion of a population from its indigenous territory. There are many reasons for diaspora. NOLA’s was climate driven due to Hurricane Katrina.
Jane is both repelled and attracted to the police, the police station, and investigation. But investigating is what she does best. How does she reconcile the disparity? This is a very real struggle for Jane in the book. She loved her former CSI forensic work and her old “thin blue line” police crew as a family, but their rejection embittered her. As you note, investigation is what Jane does best, so when she’s presented with a fresh opportunity to return to that world and add value to an active investigation, she owns her past and steps up.
Piddles, Fancy’s pet standard poodle is an unlikely pet for Jane. But she volunteers to take the dog. Is the dog Jane’s own form of therapy? Gigi and Delilah see that Jane is depressed and withdrawn. They hatch a plan and encourage Jane to foster Piddles in the hope that caring for the dog will help Jane crack her shell and if nothing else it will at least make Jane get up out of her chair to take Piddles for a walk twice a day. They are right, and in the end Jane learns to love the “ridiculous dog.”
Who is Baron Samedi? In Haitian and Louisiana voodoo, he’s a loa (“spirit”) who serves as intermediary between Bondye (“Bon Dieu” or “Good God”) and humanity. He’s often shown with a top hat and a cigar. People near to death call on him for healing since only the Baron can accept individuals into the realm of the dead. He reportedly may be swayed one way or the other with generous gifts of good rum.
How is a professional death investigator (PDI) different than a coroner? A PDI investigates any death that falls under the jurisdiction of a medical examiner or coroner including all suspicious, violent, unexplained or unexpected deaths as well as sexual assault and mental health investigations. Coroners are elected to their office. They often do not have professional training or even a medical degree. Medical Examiners are appointed, and they are board-certified in a medical specialty. They all work out of a Medical Examiner’s or Coroner’s Office.
Who is Marie Laveau? Marie Catherine Laveau Paris Glapion was the most successful Creole voodoo priestess NOLA has ever seen. She worked as a skilled midwife, herbalist, and professional hairdresser. To this day people still leave bottles of hotel shampoo by her St. Louis Cemetery tomb hoping to curry favor. (Full disclosure: I’ve done this twice.) She is also Aunt Babette’s seven times great-grandmother on the Dulayne side of the family.
What is NIBRS? The FBI uses a National Incident-Based Reporting System to collate hate crime statistics. Data flags include the violent nature of offenses, close timing, known relationships between victims and any potential for bias motivation.
Will there be another book? What’s next for Jane and Gigi? Yes! I’m busily drafting Street Angel, book two in the Crescent City New Orleans Mystery series. It picks up immediately after Love Power and Gigi is standing in the wings right now, impatiently tapping her foot and raring to go.
Monday, October 26, 2020
As a card-carrying member of the Order of Procrastinators Extraordinaire, I can find more ways to delay doing anything than anyone I know. God created deadlines for people like me. I’m not sure I’d get anything done without them.
One reason I am a champion procrastinator is I am easily distracted. It’s only when you get serious about putting words on a screen that you realize how many possibilities are available to the perseverant procrastinator. To cut down on distractions, I made a list of what is, and is not, writing.
1) Sitting at the computer and typing words that flow from my head is, obviously, writing.
2) Turning on the computer intending to write but playing games instead is not writing even if I try to con myself by insisting I am considering important plot points while attempting to reach level 2,341 of Candy Crush. (If you know how to win level 2,340 with three stars, please e-mail the secret to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
3) Placing a pen or pencil on paper and pouring out words is writing, although hand muscles geared to typing cramp after too much of it. Writing by hand only occurs when:
a) I am bored in a crowded meeting but need to look like I’m paying attention and/or taking notes (I outlined a complete novel during one hellishly dull 8-hour legal seminar); or
b) I make the mistake of traveling somewhere without any of the electronic gizmos I normally use and I’m desperate.
4) Dictating my story into my digital voice recorder when I’m driving, while not winning me the "safe driver of the year", is writing.
5) Thinking about my story is, alas, not writing. If it were, I’d have a completed work rivaling the length of the 1989 Second Edition of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. (According to its website, the OED’s Second Edition was 20 volumes; between its publication in 1989 and the turn of the century, Oxford University Press published three volumes of additions. In keeping with the times, the OED now is exclusively online.)
6) Signing up for an online writing class is not writing.
7) Completing the first writing assignment in an online class and then ferrying the rest of the lessons and information into an e-mail folder for that future mythical era where I have time to catch up is not writing.
8) Completing an online course is writing and time well spent.
9) Buying books on writing is not writing. This includes books with topics such as how to complete a novel in 30 days, time management, steps to a writing life, writing exercises and creativity, especially when said books stay on the shelf unopened. (My husband says I have more time management books than anyone he knows. He just wishes I’d read one.)
10) Editing is writing, but I have to keep a close rein on my inner critic, who is a snarky, surly lass always popping up with the worst comments at the worst time.
11) Reading other mysteries is not writing, although essential to my development as a writer. I am mesmerized by a good book. Growing up, my sister would come home from school and start talking to me. It took at least 15 minutes before I realized anyone was in the room with me. My very patient family has learned to say my name three times progressively louder and pull on my arm at least once if they need my attention while I’m reading. In case of fire, I expect them to save themselves and leave me to my fate. At least I’d die happy.
12) Googling can be writing, but it is dangerous. Research is a slippery slope. I can flip over to Google in order to check the spelling of a word, then realize an hour later I progressed from spelling, to current events, to trips I’d like to take but can’t afford, to looking up the current hours at Disneyworld along with current ride wait times just to pretend I’m there.
What distractions do you face when you write? Are you a recovering procrastinator? If so, how did you kick the habit?
Sunday, October 25, 2020
When I look back to the time before I was published, I had a definite picture in my mind about what my days as a “professional author” would look like. I’d write in the morning and read in the afternoon—either research material or new mystery releases to keep up with current trends.
Nowhere in that mental image did I include hours of marketing (cue hysterical laughter).
In the years since my first book came out, my daily schedule has morphed and pivoted as I adapted to changes in my status and changes in the publishing world. I still write in the morning. That part has remained fairly consistent. But my afternoons are rarely spent reading, at least not new releases. More often than not, I’m working on marketing, accounting, and all sorts of business stuff after lunch.
Up until this spring, I’d become proficient at speaking in front of crowds…something my younger self was horrible at. But I truly enjoyed interacting with an audience.
That all changed in March. Since then I (and most of my fellow authors) have had to build a new skillset: Being “on camera.” Whether it’s Zoom, Crowdcast, Facebook Live, Google Groups, or any of the new (or new to me) meeting platforms, suddenly I had to figure out how to interact with an audience that I either couldn’t see at all or was visible in tiny squares on my laptop’s screen. If they’re muted, I can’t tell if they’re laughing at my humor or if my joke fell flat. Questions often are read in the chat feature rather than asked by members of the audience. It’s all unnerving. And where to look? If I look at an audience member’s face to read their expressions, to them I’m not making eye contact. If I look at the camera, making it appear I’m looking right at them, I can’t see their reaction.
I miss face-to-face events.
But this is our current reality, and I try to make the best of it. Early on, I bought a new laptop and boosted my internet speed. I’ve tried various microphone/audio combos. My good pal, Liz Milliron, observed during one virtual conference that audience members’ biggest complaints involved audio. Too soft, too garbled, too echoey. It didn’t matter how wonderful your presentation was. If your audio was poor, no one paid attention. After much experimentation, I keep coming back to my old headphones and mic. I occasionally get teased about them, but I’ve yet to receive a complaint about my sound quality.
Lighting is another matter. I bought one of those ring lights, only to discover that it glares on the eyeglasses I need for seeing my notes. My laptop location has been another source of experimentation. I’ve learned the camera should be at or slightly above your eye level to be most flattering. So my current set up involves having my laptop propped on a box. I have a lamp on my desk that I can dim or brighten. It provides fill light (did you know I used to be a photographer?) while my main lighting comes from a window for day events or from the ring light, which I now set 45 degrees to the side instead of right in front, for evening events.
The most recent addition to my video set up has been the background. This, like the audio lesson, comes from audience members’ comments. They love seeing our writing world, messy or not. They love seeing our bookshelves with our awards. Unfortunately, my bookshelves aren’t very grand, and I don’t have any awards to show off. Someone in my book marketing group suggested posters.
Brilliant! For $8 each, I had four of my book covers enlarged and tacked the posters on the closet doors I’d been using for a backdrop during my virtual events.
Here’s a laptop-camera “selfie” I took before a virtual book club meeting last week. It’s not the greatest quality (the laptop does better video than still photos), but you get the idea.
Fellow authors, have you been doing any virtual events these days? If so, have you made any equipment purchases for that purpose? Readers, do you enjoy taking part in them? Do you have any additional advice for us (besides good audio is a must)?