Travel Bug

Jessie: Basking like a lizard in the warmth that has finally arrived in New Hampshire! 

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Most people agree summer is a great time for travel. The recent spike in the temperature in my village has got me to thinking about books that have sparked my interest in a variety of travel destinations, both near and far.

You know those books that make you wonder what it would be like to vacation in a place you had never before considered visiting? Often times a novel will prompt me to go digging into non-fiction resources about the setting. I have a list of places I’d love to see because of books I’ve enjoyed.

M.C.Beaton‘s books have encouraged an interest in the Scottish Highlands and the Cotswolds.  Elly Griffiths inspires consideration of Norfolk, England. Elizabeth Kostova‘s The Historian makes me want to book a trip to Turkey and to Eastern Europe.

Henning Mankell‘s Dogs of Riga and Annie Proulx‘s The Shipping News make me long to see Latvia and Newfoundland.

Alexander McCall Smith makes Botswana sound like one of the lovelisest places on Earth. Kerry Greenwood has done the same for Australia. Leighton Gage shared a compeling view of Brazil in his Chief Inspector Mario Silva mysteries.

I love being an armchair traveller but what I love even more is following through with actual travel plans. Thanks to Arnaldur Indridason’s work, I’ve planned a trip to Iceland in the autumn. I hope my books set in New Hampshire and my upcoming mystery, Whispers Beyond the Veil, have caused some readers to want to visit New England someday too!

Readers, have you ever been inspired to visit a place based on the way it is portrayed in a novel? 

Some Book News

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, just back from a lovely weekend in Maine, where I taught a class and hung out with the Maine Romance Writers…

Yarned and Dangerous Cover(And no, I don’t feel like I got enough Maine, so I’ll have to schedule a trip back there soon. For sure I didn’t eat my quota of lobster, which warrants a return in itself!)

For the first time in my relatively short career as a published author (Feta Attraction came out in January, 2015, followed by Olive and Let Die and Yarned and Dangerous last fall), one of my books has been deeply discounted! I love a bargain as much as anyone (I don’t believe I’ve ever paid full sticker price for any pair of shoes or article of clothing in my entire shopping life), so I got all tingly when I found out the ebook of Yarned and Dangerous was going on sale. It’s now $2.99 (regular price $9.99), so that’s 70% off. But it’s only for another ten days, so if you’ve been wanting to try out this new series, or if you need an ebook to take with you when you sneak away for a tiny respite from the family picnic this Memorial Day weekend, now’s a great time to pick this one up.

A Killer Kebab CoverAnd while we’re talking about books, the third installment of my Greek to Me series, A Killer Kebab, is now available for preorder. Here’s the blurb:

The Bonaparte House is closed for the season, and Georgie Nikolopatos looks forward to fixing up the Greek restaurant and historic landmark—until her renovation plans hit a fatal snag.
 
With her divorce underway, her mother-in-law returning to Greece, and the tourists gone, Georgie finally has life under control—and the Bonaparte House to herself. She quickly hires a contractor for some much-needed renovations to reopen in time for a special Greek-style Thanksgiving meal. Georgie is suspicious though when former dishwasher Russ Riley arrives with the construction crew. He still has an ax to grind with the Nikolopatos family—but is it sharp enough to kill?
 
When Georgie finds the body of her divorce lawyer amid the construction debris and Russ is quickly arrested for murder, something about the case doesn’t add up. While Georgie is no fan of Russ, even a bad egg deserves a crack at justice.

I had such fun writing this book and introducing some new characters as well as bringing back some from the first two. Georgie’s divorce lawyer is found skewered by the restaurant’s gyro spit on the floor of the gutted (ew, sorry!) ladies’ room of the Bonaparte House restaurant. But lots of people had access to the spit and to the restaurant, and lots of people had reasons to want James MacNamara, Esq., dead. And, if you’ve ever wondered about the true origins of Thousand Island dressing–if you’re anything like me, this sort of thing keeps you up at night–look no further than A Killer Kebab, which contains what I believe to be the original recipe.

Now, I’m off to prepare for my family Memorial Day celebration–I have quite a bit of food prep to do, and no commercial kitchen to do it in, like my heroine Georgie does! Hope you all have a wonderful weekend filled with great weather, friends, family, barbeque, and just the right number of potato salads.

Wicked Wednesday: Vacation for Writers

Vacation (1)On Wednesdays the Wickeds weigh in on a specific topic. Wickeds, do your vacation plans differ now that you are a writer? Do secluded houses without internet hold more appeal? Does writing factor into your vacation plans? What is a writing vacation v. a vacation vacation? Is there such a thing as vacation when you are a writer?

Liz: I took my first actual vacation vacation in about five years this past February, thanks to Barb. When I visited Key West, I think the most writing I did was 100 words one morning before I decided it was much too nice a day for that. The time was much needed. That said, I don’t think we’re ever really, completely ON vacation. Even if we’re not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) the stories are still working away in our brains. I think a little recharging helps fresh ideas rise to the surface. Of course, I’m a huge fan of our annual Wicked writing retreats!

Barb: Someone once said that being a writer is like agreeing to have homework for the rest of your life. Now that we’re no longer tethered to child care or day jobs, my husband and I often go away and just move our entire operation to another location–i.e. we’re still working, but in a different locale. That is one of the most fantastic things about the writing life. However, every once in a while we go on a “vacation, vacation,” not bringing any work. And at least once a year, I try to unplug completely, to neither write nor do any of the “business of writing,” and only use the electronics for finding my way somewhere or making dinner reservations.

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Edith with beau and inlaws. Which of these is not like the other?

Edith: Of course I love quiet writing vacations, either solo or with like-minded authors. I hadn’t taken a real vacation in a few years, so this March Hugh and I did a southern-swing driving vacation. We visited my older son in the DC area on our way to Hugh’s sister and her husband in North Carolina, and on the way back, too. We had a great time and I barely worked, only putting up a couple of blog posts. But that one week turned out to be the week the Boston Globe wanted to photoshoot the Wickeds, and I missed it. That week! And the article didn’t come out for another five weeks. I’m not sure if I dare take another real vacation. Maybe next time Oprah will come calling…

IMG_2226_2Sherry: I think vacations are different when you are a writer. You may not write but you are always absorbing things that may be incorporated into a story — a bit of conversation, the way something smells, the perfect place to discover a body. My husband and I left our home early one morning for a trip. It was still dark out and about five miles from our house we passed a truck pulled over on the side of the road by some woods. A man was standing by the back reaching into the truck bed. And of course I thought he was up to something sinister.

Jessie: I find getting out of my normal routine makes the creative juices flow better than usual so vacations inevitably turn into working vacations. Even when I am not sitting at a desk with my laptop in front of me I find myself reaching for a notebook and recording things I find intriguing. I don’t think I’d want it any other way!

Julie: Last summer I took a real vacation, and took a river cruise down the Danube. Even then, I spent time researching clocks, going to museums to look at clocks, and waiting until the hour to see what the clock tower did. As my friend Pat said, it is all novel material. Since I also have a day job, vacations are usually spent writing, or editing. Or both. But writing is what I love, and it can be done anywhere, so I am good with those choices.

Dear readers who are writers, how about you? Has vacation changed since the muse moved in? And readers who aren’t writers – do you get away, really away on vacations?

The Blank Page

News Flash: Barbara Kay and Cynthia Balevre are the winners from yesterday’s post! Check your inboxes, ladies, and congratulations.

Liz Mugavero: Every time I finish a book, especially after a particularly harrowing deadline crunch, I feel like I want to crawl into a hole. A hole with no computer, more specifically. I feel like every piece of my creativity is completely wrung out, like I’ll never be able to turn out another word.

But I also have an immense sense of freedom, of being able to join the living again, to answer the 10,000 emails that have piled up, to actually leave the house.

The last thing I want to do is write. I say it will be at least two weeks, maybe a month, before I can even think about a new story or my Blankcharacters or a good opening scene. I happily push it all out of my mind and begin to go about my new, free life.

But during those relaxing walks around the town green, while Shaggy sniffs trees and we watch birds, I find myself typing notes into my phone—quick thoughts about something I saw that would fit into a story, or an overheard conversation that would make a great first line.

Or I’m in the car and suddenly an entire plot line jumps into my head and I have to tell Siri to take notes for me so I don’t lose it before I get home. Then I go home and start working on my synopsis for the next book. And guess what? It’s only been three days since I swore I wasn’t working on a book.

Am I crazy? Obsessed?

Nah, I’m just a writer. I can’t stop. I’ve never been able to. Telling stories is what I’m here to do, and it’s not something I can simply turn off. And in that free space that comes from finishing a project, new creativity has even more room to blossom. It doesn’t so much need time to return, but rather space to blossom.

Then I’m overcome with the possibilities of what’s going to happen to my characters this time. What dire problems I can bestow on them, and how they’ll figure a way out of it.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

It is. I do admit, I like a finished book that needs editing. It feels like I’ve climbed a mountain and can now linger on the way down the other side, taking my time and being all the things I didn’t see in that arduous climb.

But there’s something to be said for that blank page.

Making Food

Tuesday News Flash: Barbara Kay and Cynthia Balevre are the winners from yesterday’s post! Check your inboxes, ladies, and congratulations.

Edith here, north of Boston, where the flower garden is mulched and the vegetable
garden planted, at last. To celebrate, I’m giving away an ARC of Murder Most Fowl AND one of Grilled for Murder to two comm2011-05-02 18.50.31enters (one book each) today!

As you must know by now, I write two contemporary cozy series that involve a lot of food. Cam Flaherty grows it in the Local Foods Mysteries and Robbie Jordan cooks and serves it in the Country Story series. The books include recipes, of course (and the latest two books come out on the same day next week!).

Right now I’m tweaking the recipes for Mulch Ado About Murder, the fifth Local Foods book, and I thought I’d share how I come up with my recipes. I love cooking, and I’d like to say I come up with new dishes out of thin air – but I don’t, usually.

For example, in Mulch, which takes place at the end of May, Cam and her visiting parents eat dinner at the real Throwback Brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire,  not too far from where I live. We’ve eaten there a couple of times, and in the summer they have tables and chairs outside on the patio. Cam orders the kale and couscous salad I had there, so I thought I’d have to make up a recipe for it. Instead, I emailed one of the two women who own the IMG_3224place and asked Nicole Carrier if the cook would share the recipe for my book, assuring her that no one dies from eating it or gets murdered at the brewery. I could almost hear the laugh in Nicole’s reply. She was happy to share, but didn’t have an exact recipe. Instead she just listed the ingredients for me. I said I could work with that, and did!

Jake Ericsson, the volatile chef/boyfriend from the first couple of books, makes a reappearance in Mulch. Cam takes her parents to his restaurant, The Market, and Jake brings them desserts on the house, including his special Swedish cheesecake, Ostkaka. For that I went to Google, and then tweaked the recipe until I came up with a version I liked.

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Because locavores are such a big part of the Local Foods books, I try to have most of the recipes feature ingredients that are available locally. The latest book, Murder Most Fowl, takes place in March. Ugh – local produce in March in New England? But Cam and her friend Lucinda visit an Irish pub for Saint Patrick’s Day and have Irish Beef Stew with Stout. Half the ingredients – potatoes, carrots, onions – could have been stored from last fall’s crop, so that works, and the beef she could get from a local farm, too.

Irish Beef Stew with Stout

In the Country Store Mysteries, the recipes in the books are usually breakfast and lunch items, because that’s what Robbie serves. It’s been fun to come up with dishes like apple-spice muffins, a colorful cole slaw (recipe in Grilled for Murder), and turkey sliders on homemade buns with a special sauce.

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The cole slaw recipe I adapted from one my Quaker friend Bill Castle makes for the Salvation Army dinner we Friends put on every summer. I didn’t think cole slaw for a hundred would be that popular in a cozy mystery, so I cut it way, way down. Still yummy.

Coleslaw

When I learned that a friend from grad school (whom I haven’t seen in decades) is now the Original Grit Girl, who grinds corn every week into grits, polenta, and cornmeal, I had to order some. And when I made the Creamy Grits with Cheese on the grits bag, I knew I wanted Robbie to serve it. Luckily Georgeanne Ross gave me her permission to use the recipe in book three, When the Grits Hit the Fan. Mmmm.

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Biscuits and gravy are big in southern Indiana, but Robbie also offers a vegetarian gravy option. I tapped my sister Janet, a vegetarian since college long ago, for her thoughts on that. She worked for several years as a cook at a Vipassana retreat center, Insight Meditation Society, out in western Massachusetts. Their miso gravy is delicious!

And then there are the failures. My Quaker Midwife Mysteries don’t include recipes, but when Delivering the Truth came out, I appeared on a bunch of blogs and wanted to share a few 1888-era recipes. I found a reference to a recipe for small sweet buns called Sally Lunns in the Woman’s Exchange Cookbook from the late nineteenth century.

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It called for sourdough starter, which I have. A picture (above) from the King Arthur Flour site shows pretty puffy rolls. Mine? Flat and eggy and just awful. I did not use that recipe in a blog post (and I’m not showing you the picture, either…).Grilled for Murder

Murder Most FowlSo readers, where do you get your recipes? Do you adapt and tweak, or follow the instructions to the letter? What’s your favorite breakfast or lunch dish? Remember, I’m giving away an ARC of each of my two new books to commenters!

Buckle Your Seatbelt: It’s A New Semester by guest Cynthia Kuhn

Welcome to the Wickeds, Cynthia!
The Semester of our Discontent3x4

One of the things that most suits me about the teaching life is the constant change. I’m always excited about the beginning of the semester. Maybe it’s because when I was little, my mother always bought me a new pair of shoes before the school year started. (Thanks, Mom!) And yes, I recently carried on that tradition with a nice pair of clogs. But mainly, I think it’s the fresh start of a different journey. There is new material to be read, thoughtful discussions to be had; in short, there are possible learning adventures everywhere.

The flip side is that there is some settling into the groove required, which leads to a constant and necessary stream of over-checking. Where is that classroom again? Will it have the equipment I need? Do I have enough handouts? Did I pack the right book? Where is my roster? When are my office hours? Wait, am I supposed to be in a class right now? I’m on how many committees and the reports are due when?
Perhaps that’s why I always have strange anxiety dreams before a new semester…like I’m super-late for class but can only move in slow-motion for some reason, or I am trying to teach a huge group but all the chairs are facing away from me, or I realize that although I’m standing at a podium, I am actually a tiny grey mouse wearing flip flops, and no one can hear my panicked squeaking.

If you have a child, then you know That Haunting Feeling you had the first time you left him/her with a babysitter or at daycare. Like an essential element was missing…say, your arm. Like you’d forgotten an item absolutely crucial to the day’s activities. Like you should have been doing something other than what you were doing, every minute. That’s what new semesters feel like, in my humble opinion.

But while it might require some heroic action to stop obsessively triple-checking my book ck2x3bag before heading off to campus, I will try to take some deep breaths and remember that it’s only temporary. Eventually, I will know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and will spend my energy inventing ways to avoid doing them.
I guess the important thing is…I have new shoes! Bring on the next semester.

Readers: What fresh start do you look forward to? Do you have anxiety dreams?

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean mystery series. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD and other publications. Originally from upstate New York, she now teaches and writes in Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Crossing the Line

By Julie, hopeful that spring may be here to stay in Somerville

Fred & GingerA few weeks ago I got an email from a friend who is part of a cat rescue network. She was reaching out to folks about some cats who had been rescued from an abandoned house in Hartford. The cats were FIV positive, and they were having trouble finding them homes.

“Do you know anyone who is looking for a cat? Are you ready?”

I’ve had three cats in my adult life, loved them well, and mourned them when they’d gone to the Rainbow Bridge. It had a bit over a year since I’d  been a cat’s person when I got Kim’s email, and I wrote to another friend, asking about the FIV. She assured me that they would be fine for a long time, may have some issues when they were older. She also told me that placing FIV positive cats was almost impossible. I wrote Kim back and said yes, I’d take two of them. I connected with the rescue person who was boarding them, and on a rainy afternoon I picked them up.

I named them Fred and Ginger. They are two or three years old, tops. Fred, a handsome gray tuxedo cat, is a sweetheart. He was already fixed when he was rescued, so he must have been dumped. He loves to be petted, and uses his paw to draw my hand back when I stop. Just this week he started jumping up on my bed in the morning. I suspect that before the end of the summer he will be sleeping on beds and couches. Maybe even laps, which will make writing tough, but I’ll manage. He is giving me some moves for my series cat, Bezel.

Ginger is lovely, a gray longish hair cat. She is also  a hot mess.  I don’t think she’s ever had a home before, and she has some trust issues, mildly put. For the first two weeks I couldn’t touch her. Then she started to talk to me, and about two weeks ago she started winding herself around my legs when I am in the kitchen. Still, I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into with Ginger. Would we ever connect?

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Ginger the Destroyer

I got them each a cat bed, though Ginger still prefers a blanket on the floor. I bought two Feliway diffusers, hoping that cat pheromones would help relax them. (I have a three month supply.) I invested in cat toys and a nice cat litter box table thing that they like. I got them a cat scratcher that Ginger is especially fond of.  I have been using patience, my best cat voice, and lots of petting to make them feel at home.

But this weekend, Ginger pushed me over the line. I became a crazy cat lady.

Sundays are my writing/housekeeping/no makeup days. Book 3 is due in July, so writing was the main event on Sunday, with laundry, taking out the trash, litterbox cleaning, and sheet changing being done in between writing scenes. I live in a 4th floor walk-up, so taking the trash and recycling out is a balancing act of boxes and bags I only like to do once. Now, taking the trash downstairs was the only planned excursion out. My hair was piled on top of my head, Marge Simpson style. I had my PJ top on, with a sweatshirt cover-up. I had yoga pants on, no socks, clogs.

This past Sunday was wicked windy, and my door didn’t latch carefully. I came back upstairs to find my front door blown open. I walked in, and Fred gave me a “hey” meow. I asked him where Ginger was, and he didn’t respond. I looked around, but she wasn’t in the apartment. I went into full panic mode. I ran out of the apartment, down the stairs, calling her name. When I got to the second floor I saw one of my neighbors, and told her my plight. I heard Ginger’s meow from the floor below. I ran down the stairs. She saw me, did a fake run, and darted up the stairs behind me. I closed the fire door, and lumbered behind her. She ran up to the third floor, and ran down the hall. I closed that fire door, and followed her. She ran all the way to the end, and down the stairs back to the second floor. On and on it went until we were closed in on the second floor. She’d dart, I’d call her name, she’d stop, do a double fake, and run the other way.

atrestGinger barely let me pet her, never mind pick her up. Finally, after about twenty minutes of the chase, we were both panting, but she wasn’t giving up. So I took off my sweatshirt, and threw it on top of her. It took me two tries (running around in my PJ top mind you) but I was finally able to scoop her up. She fought me, but I got her by the scruff and got her back into the house.

I live a fairly controlled life, intentionally so. Fred and Ginger have disrupted that. They are different than the other cats I’ve adopted–they needed a good home, and don’t quite trust it yet. They  also don’t trust me yet, though I think Sunday proved something to Ginger. She’s on a kiss a day regimen now–I hold her for ten seconds, kiss her head, and then keep holding her until she’s done.

As a writer, I control my characters, and their lives. Fred and Ginger are teaching me to shake up expectations, and be comfortable with whatever happens. It will be interesting to see what their impact is on Book #3. If nothing else, the Bezel scenes will be a little more fleshed out.