Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

An Interview with Author Jennifer J. Chow by E. B. Davis

 

Two cousins who start a food stall at their local night market get a serving of murder in this first novel of a delicious new cozy mystery series by Jennifer J. Chow, author of Mimi Lee Gets a Clue.

When Yale Yee discovers her cousin Celine is visiting from Hong Kong, she is obliged to play tour guide to a relative she hasn’t seen in twenty years. Not only that, but her father thinks it’s a wonderful idea for them to bond by running a food stall together at the Eastwood Village Night Market. Yale hasn’t cooked in years, and she hardly considers Celine’s career as a social media influencer as adequate experience, but because she’s just lost her job at her local bookstore, she feels she has no choice.
 
Yale and Celine serve small dishes and refreshing drinks, and while business is slow, it eventually picks up thanks to Celine’s surprisingly useful marketing ideas. They’re quite shocked that their bubble tea, in particular, is a hit—literally—when one of their customers turns up dead. Yale and Celine are prime suspects due to the gold flakes that Celine added to the sweet drink as a garnish. Though the two cousins are polar opposites in every way, they must work together to find out what really happened to the victim or the only thing they’ll be serving is time.

Amazon.com

 

Death by Bubble Tea, Jennifer J. Chow’s first book in the new L.A. Night Market mystery series, is a compelling contemporary amateur sleuth mystery with a slice of the Chinese culinary subgenre. It is set in Los Angles within the UCLA community. Because I have little knowledge or experience with Asian culture, my questions center on extending my knowledge of the many things I do not know. 

 

The story is shown through main character Yale Yee. But the character development and tensions are illustrated through the contrasting characters of Yale and her cousin, Celine, who are very different people. Yale was raised in L. A., Celine in Hong Kong. But it is their different temperaments and outlook on life that really divides them. It would be easy for Yale to dislike Celine, (and initially, she does) except that Celine proves her skills are useful, shows compassion that Yale finally recognizes, and owes up to her mistakes. They are different and yet two compelling characters who need each other to avoid murder charges.

 

Please welcome former WWK blogger Jennifer J. Chow back to WWK.   E. B. Davis


Why do neither Yale or Celine have Chinese names? Yale’s father is first generation American, and Celine’s parents still live in Hong Kong.
Great question! They both have English names for different reasons. For Yale, it’s because her dad had dreamed of going to school there. Celine has a Chinese name but goes by her English name since her parents love music and singing (e.g. her mom chooses to be called Cher in English).

 

Yale’s father’s restaurant specializes in dim sum. Why does Yale categorize people as particular dim sum dishes? Are/is dim sum (collective noun?) appetizers?
Since Yale grew up in her family’s restaurant, she has a food-focused perspective on things. She likes making comparisons to dim sum because it helps her understand people better.

Dim sum is a collective noun and encapsulates multiple small dishes (think: Asian tapas).  

 

What is the purpose of ripping off covers of unsold books prior to returning them to publishers? Seems wasteful.

My friend who worked in a bookstore told me about this. It has to do with pulping a book. Bookstore workers will rip off the covers of unsold books so that the pages can be pulped and recycled to (hopefully) create more books. The covers can be sent back to the publisher to let them that the stock has been discarded and to obtain a credit.

 

I’m not knowledgeable about Chinese food. This book made me aware that there are regional differences among Cantonese (Yale’s father’s restaurant), Taiwanese, Mandarin, and Sichuan. Are there others? What are the differences?

There are many regional differences if you want to narrow down to specific locations. It has to do with what can be grown in those areas (e.g. very hot peppers in Sichuan), geographic differences (places near the coast incorporate more seafood), and also what kind of global influences have affected the area (ports and heavily-traveled places have more international flavors). A huge generalization is that northern China offers more noodle dishes while southern China focuses on rice, and the reason is due to water availability and the ability to grow certain crops.
 

I was aware that Westwood was a UCLA community, but not of Eastwood. Is it newer? What’s the distinction aside from being in opposite directions?

Ha! Yes, Eastwood Village is quite new…because it exists only in my mind. While Westwood is more sprawled out, I like to think of Eastwood as a closed community. It’s a very planned space, with shops and centers within walking distance of many residents. It’s loosely based on the Playa Vista neighborhood.

Yale doesn’t like her modern apartment. She’s lined the granite countertops with crocheted doilies! She doesn’t possess modern technology even if she knows how to use it. Why is she so out of sync with today?

Yale loves her books and is a huge Austen fan. Sometimes she feels like she’s been born in the wrong period. She’d rather take comfort in the cozier aspects of yesteryears.

All of Yale’s clothing has many pockets because she doesn’t like carrying a purse. While keeping your hands free is convenient, doesn’t she have a lumpy appearance? Keys, makeup, credit cards, etc.

Convenience over fashion is Yale’s motto. She only really needs her keys and a slim wallet when necessary.

Why are older women called “aunties?”

It’s a general term of respect for older women. In the same way, older men are called “uncles.” (It is confusing, though, when you’re growing up and thinking you have a gigantic family and trying to figure out the “familial” connections!)

Why does the youngest person pour the tea?

This is also a sign of respect. The youngest at the table should be the one to pour the tea to everybody.

Passing tea to a person with both hands is a sign of respect. What does passing tea with only one hand indicate?

Passing tea with one hand makes it a more informal act. You would definitely serve elders with both hands but maybe not peers.

Is eating ducks’ feet like eating ribs?

Do you mean the chicken feet at dim sum places? The delicate way would be to nibble at it. But I’ve seen others pop the whole thing into their mouth, somehow take all the meat off, and then end up with the claw intact at the end.

 

Why did taking her mother’s place at the restaurant sicken Yale? Is it it the same reason she can no longer inhabit her childhood home?

Yes, Yale has such a hard time dealing with her mother’s death. She is saddled by guilt, and it physically sickened Yale to “take over” her mom’s role in the restaurant. And being in the childhood home evoked too many memories…

 

I can’t think of any drinks that are chewy. But that is the desired aspect of bubble or boba tea made with tapioca clusters in it. It seems like Eastern and Western tastes are very different, or am I mistaken?

I guess the only other chewy drink I can think of is maybe a chunky fruit smoothie. I’m not sure if it’s so much that Eastern and Western tastes are different; I know plenty of non-Asians who enjoy bubble tea, and some Asian folks who don’t drink boba. (I myself had a hard time figuring out when to chew and when to drink in the beginning!)

 

Yale equates having a degree with smartness. She’s embarrassed that she doesn’t have her degree. Why didn’t she ever go back and finish?

Life got in the way. She returned to the family restaurant to help, and with those long hours, she couldn’t study as well. Then, as time moved on, she was content in her bookstore world.  

 

Celine serves the drinks they offer at the Night Market in actual lightbulbs. Isn’t that dangerous? The glass is so thin it could break or cut someone drinking from one, especially drinking something chewy.

Interestingly, lightbulb glasses are real. I’ve drunk from one before. You can also order them online; some are plastic, I believe, but others are actually made from glass. They’re a lot bigger than household light bulbs (mug-size), and the manufacturers must reinforce the glass somehow.


Is there prejudice within the Asian community against some groups over others?

There can be. The example I’ve come across happens a lot when people talk about dating. There can be a sort of pecking order by ethnicity for who would make the most desirable mate.

 

Is Lake Shrine real? Gladstone’s?

These are both real places in the Los Angeles area! The fun part about writing the Night Market series is that I can explore some lesser-known offerings in the region.

 

Why is not finishing a meal a tradition?

It’s not quite a tradition. However, there is something about leaving a few bites on a communal platter out of politeness’ sake and to let other people have the chance to eat. Although sometimes not finishing an individual meal may be because a family member wants you to eat more and keeps piling things on your plate!

Both Yale and Celine are in their 30s, but they are both still subsidized by their families. Is this normal in the Asian culture?

It’s hard to define anything as “normal.” However, I do know parents who still financially help out their older adult children.

 

23K gold is edible?

I actually had to research this. Yes, 23K gold is edible. It doesn’t have any nutritional value, but it’s safe to consume.

What are deckle edges of a book?

Deckle edges are pages that have that a feathered feel to them. They’re not cut precisely straight and have more of a ragged look. Some people find the effect to be artistic and reminiscent of times when paper was made by hand.

How do Asian women eat so much but manage to stay tiny?

Hmm, I think Asian women have all sorts of body types. It really depends on metabolism, genetics, and activity.

 

What language is spoken in Hong Kong? For only visiting the family once, years ago, Celine’s English is excellent.

Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong. It’s a fascinating place since many people there are fluent in multiple languages, possibly because of Hong Kong’s historical and current status as a major port.

 

What is yeung energy?

Yeung in Cantonese is the same as yang in Mandarin (as in yin yang). As such, there’s the tied concept of opposite and yet complementary forces or energies.  

Who is Maria Kondo?

Marie Kondo is a Japanese woman who’s known for her expertise on organization. She wrote a popular book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and also appeared on a Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

 

Do Celine’s parents own Hong Kong casinos?

Nope. But they have friends who are highly involved with the renowned casinos in nearby Macao.

 

What’s next for Yale and Celine?

Yale and Celine are reappearing next spring in Hot Pot Murder. A group of Asian American restaurant owners are having a friendly hot pot dinner, but the heat really dials up when someone dies…


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Anchoring

By James M. Jackson

We call ourselves homo sapiens, meaning the wise or clever human. If ever there were a mislabeled product, we homo sapiens are it. Our big brains are easy to fool. Optical illusions use foreground or background to convince us to see something that isn’t there. This webpage has many terrific examples of optical illusions that “bend” straight lines (image on the right), make two lines of equal length appear to be longer and shorter, make the same color appear different to us, and more.

These optical illusions rely on our preconceived notions of the world to trick us. Anchoring is a related phenomenon that warps our perception. While academics do not agree on the causes of anchoring, they agree on the result, which is that prior information skews our perception of new information.

For example, in store one, you find a piece of attractive clothing in your size on the “remainder” rack. Its price tag shows mark-downs in stages from $149 to the current price of $39. What a bargain, almost 75% off. It’s not that you need it, but there’s only one left . . .and you buy it.

In a parallel universe, you find a piece of attractive clothing in your size on the “new arrivals” rack priced at $39. The surrounding racks have similar clothing priced at $29, $25, and $19.95. It would look nice on you, but you walk away without a whiff of regret.

Same clothing, same price, different result because surrounding clues affected your perception of the item. The first store presented you with a super-attractive “bargain.” The second presented you with the most expensive item of its kind.

Marketers know how to trick your mind. Restaurants will include an entrée priced well above anything else on the menu making the other entrées appear “reasonable.” Here’s an interesting article on other tricks restaurants use.

We often use anchoring when we make estimates. Quick: in five seconds give me your best guess of what the product of (1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8) is. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Your guess is _________? In an experiment, guesses averaged 512. The same experiment asked a different group the question with the numbers reversed (8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1). Those people’s guesses averaged 2,250, more than four times higher than the first group. The actual answer is 40,320, demonstrating we’re lousy at math, but also showing that by starting with small numbers, we guessed a smaller result when presented with larger numbers first.

We build our knowledge of the world bit by bit, comparing the most recent information to what we already “know.” The first article of clothing seemed such a good buy because we anchored around it sitting on a “remainder” rack with a high starting price. We have a false confidence in our “knowledge” and give it priority over new information, especially if that information contradicts what we “know.”

That is why first impressions are so important for people. They become our anchor. We evaluate future actions given the model of the person we have accepted. If the first time we see someone, they are helping a little old lady cross a busy intersection even though afterward they return across the street and head in a different direction, we think them a good person, going out of their way to help others. If the next time we see them, they are strong-arming a youngster into the back seat of a car, we sympathize because we’ve all had to deal with our kids when they had a hissy fit about doing what we wanted when we wanted.

But, if the first time we saw the same person, one police officer was handcuffing him while another comforted a crying youngster, we’d have a vastly different reaction when we saw the “bad” guy strong-arming the child into the back seat.


Readers, step close and let me tell you a secret: authors manipulate you the same way marketers do. Shocking, I know. We show a character performing a nice or heroic act early in the story to “make” you like the person, and that positive vibe carries through even if later they’re going to do some nasty things. This trope even has a name: “save the cat.”

We create red herrings or hide clues by giving you false anchors. In Granite Oath (Seamus McCree #7), releasing at the end of August, a trail camera photograph shows two male thieves, one tall and the other considerably shorter. I think of myself as tall (I’m a six-footer), and so I picture the tall guy is my height, maybe a few inches taller. The short guy must be around 5’4 – 5’6”. Turns out the tall guy is nearly seven feet, and the short guy is taller than me.

When an author pulls the wool over my eyes, I enjoy flipping pages back to discover how they tricked me. Anchoring is often involved.

I’d love to hear in the comments about your fictional reading or real-life anchoring stories.

* * * * *

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Fourth of July Blues

 by Linda Rodriguez 

In 1776 on the 4th of July, the founders of what would become known as the United States of America signed a document called the Declaration of Independence. It voiced some remarkable statements for its time about the equality of all men and freedom from tyranny and other virtues. However, this document, unusual as it was for its time, specified African-American enslaved people as being only 3/5 of a person, the Native Americans surrounding them as savages to be disposed of, and women, not even discussed or mentioned in this document, were not considered fully people, at all. It was a truly remarkable and terribly flawed document that founded this nation.

Throughout the centuries since that moment, the United States has struggled as a country to embody more fully the virtues and enlightened concepts of that document, while it has, as often, been thrown back onto the sharp prongs of the terrible flaws in the very same document. This battle, struggling and aiming for the very heights, only to be thrown down onto the sharp points in the depths, is the story of our country. Each pass toward the mountaintop manages to achieve a little more height, getting a little closer to the goal at the very top, but each plunge backward is steeper and more forceful, causing more tearing of our very substance and hemorrhaging of our blood.

We had recently reached the highest point of our efforts in all these centuries with grandiose hopes of making it to the mountaintop in our lifetime. Unfortunately, this fall that we are engaged in at the moment, rolling and tumbling down the rocky mountain slope, cutting and bruising and gaining momentum with every second, as we aim toward those sharp knives in the deep valley below that await us, may turn out to be our fatal last tumble.

There is no way to know the ultimate outcome as we bounce and roll down the steep slopes, grabbing at every flimsy bush and shrub along the way, trying to stop or at least slow down our precipitous fall. Will we survive as a country? Will we survive as the country that held before it the high, virtuous goals set forth on that 4th of July in 1776? Will we destroy ourselves completely? Or will we simply damage ourselves so deeply that we come to embody only the terrible flaws set forth on that same day in that same document? This is the question we are facing on this 4th of July. What will the answer be?

Sunday, July 3, 2022

A Tale of Redwall, the Power of Reading by Molly MacRae


I’m piggybacking off Sarah E. Burr’s celebration of bedtime reading in her June 19th Writers Who Kill post. Her essay, also written for Fathers’ Day, celebrated the dads—really all the grownups—who enrich a child’s life by reading aloud. In her piece, Sarah reminisced about her childhood love for the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. Do you know these swashbuckling adventures? Set in pseudo-Medieval times populated by moles, mice, squirrels, otters, cats, rats, and more, they’re epic tales of good creatures pitted against sneaking, ornery, wicked ones. They’re also tales of wonderful feasts. When asked about his descriptions of food, Jacques said they stemmed from his hungry childhood during the depression and rationing during WWII.

Oh, Redwall! My children loved these books and my husband and I loved reading them aloud—at bedtime, before walking to school in the morning—we couldn’t get enough of them. So when I got to the Redwall part of Sarah’s post, her memories immediately whisked me back to 1998.

In the 90s, I managed a small, independent bookstore located in an old grocery store building. And in the spring of 1998, Penguin Books announced a nation-wide Redwall window dressing contest for bookstores. It was a promotional gimmick, and we had no real hope of competing with chain stores or well-heeled stores in big cities. It was an opportunity to draw attention to a wonderful author and our store, though. We also didn’t have a budget for anything even halfway professional or fancy, so we decided to have fun instead.

I invited a group of neighborhood kids, some who’d read the books and some who became quick fans, to design and install the display. Those kids, including our youngest, worked straight through their spring vacation, coming to the shop every afternoon. They created a diorama with Redwall Abbey made from cardboard boxes and characters and food for a sumptuous Redwall feast modeled from clay. They brought in dollhouse and model train accessories to complete their tableau. They outdid themselves, even giving two of the shop windows faux illuminated frames. Then they made Redwall costumes for themselves and we held our own feast on the porch. I took pictures of them at work, of the finished windows, and the front porch feast and sent them to Penguin. All of it looked exactly like it was engineered by a bunch of school kids. Totally charming and so much fun.

We never heard a thing from Penguin.

Until September.

Long after the window display had been changed to something less exciting, a letter arrived that I had trouble believing. Somehow, miraculously, we’d won the contest. And what was the prize? Brian Jacques. Brian Jacques! He came to our little store, with his family, all the way from England, for a book signing. Well, he was probably in the states for a major book tour, anyway, but wow! Our little shop was wall to wall people during his visit. Literally. At one point I couldn’t push my way through them to get from the greeting card racks back to the service desk.

Even better, though, before the signing, Brian Jacques spent an hour alone with the kids who'd made the window. Amazing! The memory of all that still makes me cry.

Reading to children well past the age they can read to themselves is important for so many reasons. The reasons include exposing children to vocabulary they might not run across in their grade level books, giving them a sense of fluency and drama, and the creation of continued and lasting bonds between the reader and the child.

Brian Jacques died too soon, in 2011, and only 71. By then the Redwall series ran to twenty-one books and had sold more than twenty million copies worldwide. What Jacques and Redwall did to motivate kids to read—and what people who read to children do for the world—is immeasurable.

Below are too many pictures of our long ago Redwall triumph at The Book Place in Johnson City, Tennessee. They aren’t terribly good pictures, but the folks at Penguin liked them, and they capture the true spirit of our homemade tribute to a fantastic writer and wonderful person.








Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Development of Character by Kris Neri

The worst day of school for me when I was a kid? Had to be the first. Sure, it was fun to see friends again and wear a new outfit. But the first day of school was also when we were invariably assigned to write an essay on “My Summer Vacation.” My family never took vacations. Never. Now I see that to be a minor part of our dysfunction. But then? The embarrassment overwhelmed me. I desperately longed to be more like other people, whatever I thought that meant, but I considered myself hopelessly odd.

 

For a few years I faked my way through descriptions of fictitious trips, always hoping nobody spotted my lies. Then, one year, I decided if I was going to lie, I should lie big. That year I wrote about my family’s vacation trip to the rings of Saturn, fleshing it all out with pure imagination. Did my teacher appreciate my creativity? She did not. She put me outside in the hall to “think about what you did.”

 

What I did? Are you kidding? I wrote a sci fi story! That day in the hall I came to two realizations that continued to develop over many years: 1) I really did march to the beat of a pretty out-there drummer. But I wasn’t odd, as I’d always regarded myself. I was quirky. I was, creative. And, 2) I came to see eccentric people as the most interesting.

Since then I’ve made a career out of writing about one eccentric character after another. 

 

The absolute quirkiest character I’ve ever created has to be Plum Tardy, the protagonist of my latest crime-women’s fiction crossover, Hopscotch Life. In her own words: Plum sometimes wondered if everyone else had received a rulebook at birth, complete with guidelines for every eventuality, which guaranteed a successful life. She knew that she not only hadn’t gotten one, she couldn’t even imagine how it might read.

 

Poor Plum. Between being saddled with a goofy name, to the way she misquotes adages, to her off-beat style of dress, rather than move in lockstep toward successes like more conventional people, naturally, Plum erratically leaps through life as if it were some giant hopscotch court.

 

Still, that doesn’t explain the startling way her life unravels. Plum catches her fiancé Noah Rowle cheating with a coworker. Together Noah and the other woman are pursuing a real estate deal designed to allow the soul-sucking Budget-Mart chain to gobble up blocks of land across the country. Thinking her life couldn’t get any worse, Plum also learns Noah stole money from her. Desperate to flee, she stumbles onto a bag of cash. Assuming that to be the booty Noah took, and believing it to be rightfully her own, Plum runs off with it.

 

She heads toward a destination thats just a name on a map. There, she finds an unorthodox town that needs someone exactly like her. In one crazy leap, she not only makes that place her home, she thinks shes hit on a way to stop to Noahs land score.

 

Too bad what she took wasn’t actually her money. While Plum tries to help her new town halt the steamroller of progress, even with her unconventional perspective, she could not have predicted the way her past would collide with her present. Will her offbeat approach save her, or land her in behind bars in hopscotch hell?

 

Midwest Book Review has described Hopscotch Life as: “Showcasing a genuine flair for originality and the kind of deftly crafted narrative storytelling that keeps the fully engaged attention of the reader from first page to last…”

 

Personally, I still think quirky people rule. But then, you’d expect me say that.

 

Bio:

Kris Neri’s latest novel, Hopscotch Life, was a recent New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner. She also writes the Tracy Eaton mysteries, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical series, which feature a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern Celtic goddess-FBI agent.

Her novels have been honored by such prestigious awards as: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Lefty, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. She is a three-time Lefty nominee for her humor, and a four-time New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner for her own novels, as well as books to which she’s contributed. Kris also teaches writing for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter. She makes her home in the funky town of Silver City, NM, where she lives with her husband and two pushy terriers.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Misunderstandings 2



Misunderstandings 2

Image by Ben White on Unsplash



 In late 1989, Germany, which was then still split in two — the democratic West and communist East. The East Germany communist regime, had a very rough time. It was rocked by major protests and civil disobedience by the very unhappy population.

A constant fixture of the protesting east Germans was their desire for the freedom to travel to West Germany, without major restrictions.

Eventually, the Communist Party leadership, hoping to keep control of their increasingly rebellious citizens, decided to cave in to these demands. They wrote a set of rules and regulations designed to ease the process of travelling between the two Germanys.

The Communist Party reached an agreement on the form of the regulations early on the 9th of November. They planned for the rules to come into effect the following day, on the 10th to give the border guards enough time for an orderly application of the new requirements.


Later during the day of 9th of November, the Berlin Communist Party leader was due to hold a press conference to announce the change. Shortly before the news conference, he was given a note that detailed how the new regulations would work. However, what the note lacked was the precise date and time when the rules would come into effect.

After he explained the changes at the press conference, journalists asked when they would come into effect.

Caught unprepared, and with no obvious future date, he responded without thinking it through. He said, “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay.”

Immediately after that, throngs of people stormed the Berlin Wall border crossings, demanding to cross into West Berlin.

Vastly outnumbered, confused and with no clear orders, the East German border guards eventually gave in. In a short period of time, order broke down completely. Soon there was no way to restrict movement that could possibly be enforced. Within the next few hours and days, the process of destroying the Berlin Wall was in full swing.


Back in the 18th century, potatoes were banned for human consumption in France for a variety of reasons, such as the misguided belief that they caused leprosy. Their most common usage was for animal feed. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, decided to change that and purposely created a misunderstanding that was an outstanding success.


The French monarchy gave Parmentier a plot of land very close to Paris. Parmentier varied the Biblical concept of the “forbidden fruit” to create the forbidden vegetable. Parmentier kept the contents of his piece of land strictly secret and assigned guards to protect the crop — potatoes. Curious people bribed the guards and absconded with what they thought had to be valuable since it was both a secret and guarded.


Of course, Parmentier, had instructed the guards to take the bribes and turn a blind eye to the stealing that took place. 


Even great writers make mistakes and create misunderstandings. In The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler has the chauffeur murdered and found dead in a car. The murder is ignored for the rest of the book and never solved. In Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe tells us that the hero strips and swims out to his wrecked ship to rescue supplies which he brings back to shore by shoving them into his pockets. Bram Stoker’s Dracula breaks into a house several times where all his enemies are asleep to turn a woman there into an undead vampire. However, it never occurs to him to just kill his enemies so nobody will know what he is.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Those Voices in My Head

Those Voices in My Head by Lois Winston

There are two kinds of people who listen to the voices in their heads—schizophrenics and authors. Fortunately, I fall into the latter category, the group that doesn’t talk back. Or so we pretend. But the truth is, those voices in our heads belong to our characters, and whether we’re brave enough to admit it to the world beyond our writing caves, those conversations go both ways.

Our characters demand quite a lot from us, especially those of us who write mysteries. After all, we’re constantly putting them in situations filled with murder and mayhem. Is it any wonder they’re constantly interrupting our plotting to insinuate their own two cents?

My most demanding character is Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of the eponymous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. In every book, I get to a point in the story where Anastasia goes on strike. She absolutely refuses to continue on the path I’ve laid out for her. No matter how much I try to force her into the next chapter, she won’t budge.

Have I mentioned what a royal pain in my butt she is?

This standoff leaves me no choice but to cave to her demands, especially since she always gets the backing of the rest of my characters who line up in solidarity behind her. Then they pool their resources and send my muse off on holiday.

Have I mentioned my characters play dirty?

No author wants to sit in front of a computer screen staring at a blinking cursor for hours on end, especially when deadlines are looming. My characters know this, which means I have no choice but to capitulate to their demands. Otherwise, they won’t send my muse a return-trip ticket.

With every book, Anastasia tosses a monkey wrench into my plots. “You’re taking the easy way out,” she screams. “I demand more conflict! Another red herring! One more plot twist!”

“There’s no problem with the story the way it is,” I whine.

“Wanna bet?” she asks. “Send the chapter off to your critique partner. See what she has to say.”

“Have you been speaking to her behind my back?”

She grins. “I’ll never tell.”

I wonder what my critique partner would say if I asked if she’d heard from Anastasia. Would she think I’ve gone nuts? I’ve decided it isn’t worth the risk. Anastasia is a fictional character and only a fictional character as far as she knows. Best to keep it that way (and hope she isn’t reading this!) Instead, I send off the chapter for some feedback. A few hours later her notes arrive—stating exactly what Anastasia had said.

“Fine, you win,” I say, bowing to the inevitable. “I’ll write the story your way.”

“You’ll thank me in the end,” she says.

And you know what? Darned if she isn’t right. Every single time, including recently as I was in the middle of writing Guilty as Framed, the 11th Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, now available for preorder.

~*~

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Learn more about Lois and her books at her website, www.loiswinston.com, where you can also sign up for her newsletter and find links to her various social media sites.


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

An Interview with Author Barbara Ross by E. B. Davis


Mud season takes on a whole new meaning in the coastal town of Busman's Harbor, Maine, when local business owners sling dirt at one another in a heated feud over a proposed pedestrian mall. Vandalism is one thing, but murder means Julia Snowden of the Snowden Family Clambake steps in to clean up the case . . .
 
When Julia spots police cars in front of Lupine Design, she races over. Her sister Livvie works there as a potter. Livvie is unharmed but surrounded by smashed up pottery. The police find the owner Zoey Butterfield digging clay by a nearby bay, but she has no idea who would target her store. Zoey is a vocal advocate for turning four blocks of Main Street into a pedestrian mall on summer weekends. Other shop owners, including her next-door neighbor, are vehemently opposed. Could a small-town fight provoke such destruction? When a murder follows the break-in, it’s up to Julia to dig through the secrets and lies to uncover the truth . . .

Amazon.com

 

Yesterday, Kensington released the tenth book in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mystery series, Muddled Through.

Evidently a reader thought up this title, as Barbara explained in the postscript, and it is an apt title given the season and state of main character Julia Snowden’s life.

 

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to reading the books in this series. When I start a book, I try to become aware of when I slide into the reading and reality recedes. Total failure—I’m immersed before I know it.

 

Barbara puts the reader into intriguing action from the very start, and then she hooks you in with each chapter. But the other aspect that hooks me is the historic and other details that Barbara must research to write. Part of it is teaching. I had no idea lupine flowers (see the cover) was pronounced loopin, not loo-pine (long “i”), which begs the question—why isn’t the spelling lupin, solving the problem? English!

 

Please welcome Barbara Ross to WWK.                                                              E. B. Davis


Fifty years ago, many small-town folk were wary of strangers, or in as they say in Busman’s Harbor, the setting of this series, those “From Away.” But now? We’re such a transient society and Busman’s Harbor has lots of outsiders who own summer cottages there. Would that mentality still exist?

 

It would. I live part of the year in Key West, Florida. The people who have the good fortune to be born in the Keys are “Conchs.” People who’ve moved to the Keys from other places but have lived there full-time for at least seven years are called “Freshwater Conchs.” The rest of us are just passing through.

 

Maine doesn’t even have the “freshwater” gradation. I love this joke, which Katherine Hall Page tells in the thirteenth book in her series, The Body in the Lighthouse.

 

“A Down East man and his pregnant wife are visiting in New Hampshire when she goes into labor. He bundles her into the car, and they drive as fast as they can to the Maine border, but it’s no good. The baby is born before they can cross it. The same day another baby is born somewhere on the Maine coast. As soon as he can travel, his parents take him to Asia, where he lives for the rest of his life. The other baby lives a long life, too, but he never leaves the state again. They die at the same time. The Ellsworth American runs both obituaries. “Local Man Dies in Singapore” and “Man from New Hampshire Dead at Eighty-one.”

 

After spring mud comes black fly season. Remind me why people love Maine so much. Don’t the ocean breezes keep the bugs away?

 

It’s true. Black flies don’t bother us on the coast. But in the woods…

 

If in twelve thousand years, not enough topsoil has developed to absorb rain and snow melt in Maine (leaving clay exposed for potters), how many years does it take to develop topsoil?

 

Twelve thousand years is the blink of an eye in the history of the earth. The main point about the topsoil is there’s not enough of it to absorb and drain a combination of snow melt and spring rains, hence “mud season.”

 

Now that Julia is living with her mother again, broken her relationship with Chris, and unable to continue operating their winter restaurant, she has too much time to think. She’s retrospective, thinking about the last ten years of her life. She’s down. Is this natural or is she depressed?

 

I don’t think she’s clinically depressed (whatever that might mean), but she’s pensive, betwixt and between, trying to make sense of her life and figure out what’s next.

 

What does animatronic mean and how does it apply to Busman’s Harbor?

 

Animatronic comes up in a heated town hearing. A local complains about the “Disneyfication” of their resort town and says the developers won’t stop until the citizens are all animatronic—like the moving statues in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. It’s a fight about what to keep and what to let go of to accommodate the tourists on which the town depends.

 

Who were “rusticators?” What was the purpose?

 

Rusticators are the first wave of tourists who came to Maine in the late nineteenth century. They came specifically to get away from the growing cities and experience a simple life for a week or a summer. They came to Maine because it was rustic.

 

My husband might be a Mainer. What is that, and is it the same as being cheap or being a potential recycler?

 

Some people might say it has to do with being cheap, but it really has to do with keeping anything you might ever have a use for, no matter how unlikely. My husband may be one, too.

 

Are there a lot of New York City expats in Maine?

 

Oh, my goodness, yes. And since the pandemic, even more.

 

I would have thought the most popular vehicle in Maine to be four-wheel drive trucks, not Subarus. But are the Subarus four-wheel drive as well?

 

Subarus are all wheel drive and Maine is the second-best market for Subarus in the country. (Following only Vermont.) However, there are more Ford F150s here than Subarus. (I just had to look that up.) But Maine’s love affair with the Subaru is well-known and well documented.

 

What does the psychological term “well defended” mean?

 

The way it’s used in Muddled Through it means self-protective, not allowing oneself to be upset by events by pushing feelings away. It’s not a good thing in the long run because the person isn’t feeling their feelings, but it can be a crutch to get through a crisis in the short term.

 

Why does Busman’s Harbor have two main streets? Isn’t it confusing?

 

Busman’s Harbor only has one main street, called Main Street, but it curls around a hill and crosses itself, thereby creating the intersection of Main and Main. You can see a map of it here.

 

What is pine syrup/bitters? Does it taste like pine, just as yucky gin tastes like spruce trees?

 

It tastes like Christmas! Really, pine syrup and pine bitters are lovely.

 

The lobster stew sounds incredible. But even if you could grind up lobster shells so fine as to not cut up your stomach, are they even digestible? They were used to thicken the stew?

 

It’s lobster bisque that was traditionally thickened by ground up lobster shells—and I mean truly ground up to powder. Some chefs still make it that way.

 

What do Mainers call tonic (that stuff you add to yucky gin)?

 

I think you’re alluding to what other people call soda or pop. Old, true New Englanders (not just Mainers) call that tonic. It’s fading from the language rapidly. You hear soda much more often today. I guess they call tonic, tonic as well.

 

I thought pecan pie was a Southern thing. The recipe is titled Cardamom Pecan Pie, but with the substitution of maple syrup, maybe it should be called Maple Nut Pie. It really is a different pie, isn’t it?

 

Hmm. Substituting maple syrup for another sweetener is a common practice. I have a novella coming out next year where maple syrup gets substituted for brown sugar in Irish coffee. I don’t think that makes it a whole different thing, does it? I fully acknowledge that pecan pie is a southern thing.

 

National Geographic Magazine has only employed four female staff photographers in its history. True?

 

As of 2000, when the book Women Photographers at National Geographic was published it was true, and those four were widely spaced in time. Further it says, “Until the 1970s (and some might say beyond) the National Geographic Society was the publishing equivalent of a private men’s club. Women worked at the society, but nearly always as secretaries or clerks. Men and women ate in separate dining rooms.” Nonetheless from 1907 onward, a small number of intrepid women, almost always submitting over the transom in the early days, or later working as free-lancers, did get their photographs published in the magazine. Some of their achievements are extraordinary.

 

Is it terrible to want to preserve memories of someone by avoiding the present-day real person?

 

Such an interesting question. But yes, I think in particular with a romantic partner, when the relationship is firmly in the past, it can be better to remember than to deal with current reality. Sometimes with former friends as well. Like when you rediscover them through Facebook and they’ve turned into jerks.

 

Why would forensic psychologists think that having someone in your family murdered gives anyone in the family more propensity to kill?

 

Because violence begets violence and someone raised in violent circumstances is more likely to be violent. It doesn’t apply in the situation in Muddled Through, though. In this case the psychologist, who hasn’t met the person in question, is generalizing and is wrong.

 

Is it a journalist’s job to make the populace feel safe by portraying murder victims as living unwisely, making them responsible for their own murders? Sounds like blaming the victim and casting aspersions to me.

 

I don’t think it’s a journalism thing. I think it’s a human-being thing. We look at the victims of anything horrible, manmade or natural, and we think, “I’m a different person in different circumstances, so that won’t happen to me.” It’s a defense mechanism. If we thought about all the terrible things that can happen all the time we’d never make it through the day.

 

With that, with the murder cited in the newspaper articles in Muddled Through, there is a degree of victim-blaming, particularly when the stories instigated by “leaks” from the defense counsel.

 

Maine lupines are actually from the West Coast?

 

Yes. The lupines we love to see in meadows and by the side of the road in June are invasive. We do have one native type of lupine, but it’s been wiped out by the visitors and taken a particular type of butterfly with it. We do love the lupines, though. They are beautiful.

 

Pottery must be a lot like writing. It teaches you failure. Right?

 

After interviewing potters for this book, I came away feeling like there was a difference. Both activities are about creating art, but potters face uncontrollable failure all the time from the beginning of their practice to the end. With writing it’s about trying to get close to an ideal and failing. With potters it’s about things literally blowing up in the kiln.

 

A character in the book tells Julia she needs to learn to fail in regard to her relationship with Chris. I’m not so sure that’s correct. Perhaps in the short term. But is it more that Julia has learned where she needs to draw the line, and appreciate that lesson, for long-term success? She’s already done that in her working relationship with Sonny.

 

You’re right about Julia’s decision of course. But I think when a loving relationship founders, we’re all susceptible to feeling like we’ve failed. Julia’s inexperienced at love. Her relationship with Chris is the first romantic partnership in her life that’s lasted more than weeks. Their relationship went on for a long time and was intense. They lived together and worked together. Julia imagined a future together, and I think it’s that imaginary future that she’s actually mourning.

 

What’s next for Julia?

 

After Muddled Through, we pick Julia up in “Perked Up," a novella in Irish Coffee Murder which will be published on January 31, 2023. The eleventh Maine Clambake Mystery is due to my publisher three days from now. (Gulp.) That will be out summer of 2023.

 

Thanks so much for asking! Your questions always make me think.