Summer Pages

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, wishing she was on vacation . . . 

Greetings, Wicked People. I hope everyone is enjoying this first full week of summer. There were so many snow days in Connecticut this past winter that the kids in my town don’t get out until today. And that brings me back to memories of my own childhood. It probably won’t be a surprise to any of you that one of my favorite summer vacation activities was–wait for it–reading.

Recently I’ve been reading (usually via audiobooks) a number of popular books that are often called domestic thrillers. You know the ones, that are selling a squillion copies, like Gone Girl. Unreliable narrator (generally a woman, often with a prescription medication and/or alcohol problem) who may or may not have actually seen or done what she thinks she did. Lots of surprises, twists and turns–but not small ones. Big ones. In general I’m enjoying these books, but I have to say that my professional goggles frequently make the secrets that get revealed fairly obvious.

Sometimes I long for the days when I read just for the joy of reading, without feeling the compulsion to guess or analyze or predict what’s coming next. And that makes me think of the books I loved when I was in elementary school, the books I read over and over. Here’s a sample:

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. So, whether from nostalgia, or because I haven’t seen the movie yet but intend to, I recently reread this book. Despite having read it at least 5 times as a kid, I have to say I didn’t remember a word of it! So it turned out to be a brand-new experience for me. Verdict: This is a highly spiritual, allegorical work, with some rather stilted language, and now, viewed through those professional goggles I mentioned above, I didn’t quite connect with it the way I did all those years ago. There are several more related books (I’m not sure they’re exactly sequels), and I don’t recall if I read those. I think not, and I probably won’t now. I’ll just try to remember my former love for the book and leave it at that. I still may see the movie, because, ya know, Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Pine.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I adored it then, and adore it now. I remember being fascinated by those round hobbit doors, second breakfasts (a brilliant concept that really ought to catch on), and hairy-footed short people going on a quest with some dwarves. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of times, and I’ve seen the movies, which were unnecessarily extended, but The Hobbit is still the book that does it for me. Time for a reread on this one.

Strange But True, by David Duncan. I must have checked this one out of the library 800 times. In fact, a group of my friends and I just pretty much took turns checking it out in perpetuity, so no one else got to read it. I recall serious discussions about the stories in this book. Credible sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Feral children raised by wolves. And one that still sticks with me today: the farmer who walked across his field one morning and simply vanished, while his wife was watching. Hey, it could happen. I think I need to find this book (and I seem to recall there was a second volume with another set of terrifying tales).

Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken. . What can I say? I believed in aliens.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond,by Elizabeth George Speare. I saved my all-time favorite for last. To say I adored this book is not doing my feelings justice. Set in colonial Connecticut against the backdrop of the Connecticut witch trials, this is the story of Kit Tyler, born and raised in Barbados, who comes to live with her horrible Puritan relatives in Wethersfield. She befriends a Quaker woman who is accused of witchcraft–then Kit gets accused of it herself! In the end, she sails off for the tropics with the very dreamy Nat Eaton. I still get all swoony when I think about him. Seriously, if you guys haven’t read this one, do. It’ll only take a few hours. And as a side note, I never thought while I was reading this book back then that I would end up living only twenty miles from the actual Wethersfield. And now, since I did a little research for this blog post, I have just discovered that a house from the story is now a museum! I’ll be visiting that soon.

What were your favorites? Have you reread them lately? Has your opinion about them changed? I’d love to know.

Those Crazy National Days

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, looking forward to two fun weekends in a row–Memorial Day with family, and a writing retreat next weekend with seven friends, where at least eight new books will be plotted…

These National (fill in the blank) Days are fun, aren’t they? I’m not sure who comes up with these things, but I am proposing National Cozy Mystery Day! Until that’s a thing, here’s what’s what for today, May 24, according to National Day Calendar:

National Brother’s Day: Okay, I’ve got one brother, and today’s as good a day as any to tell him he’s still a pain in the butt. Rob, Happy Brother’s Day!

National Wyoming Day: I’ve never been, but I’d like to go someday. It looks like a beautiful, wide-open place. Have you been?

National Scavenger Hunt Day: Well, what’s more fun than that? OK, everyone, staying within the confines of your house, find the following: a book by one of the Wickeds; a coin that is somewhere it shouldn’t be; and something in your fridge that you forgot you had. Post your results in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

National Escargot Day: I LOVE escargot, properly prepared (which is to say, “prepared by someone else”) with lots of garlic and wine. Do you love it, hate it, or would never try it in a squillion years? Super bonus points if you have some in your fridge you forgot about (see National Scavenger Hunt Day, above).

And finally, Red Nose Day. I am NOT buying one of those silly clown noses, but I do appreciate the cause of reducing child poverty. So I’ll send a few bucks here. You know that spare coin you found on the scavenger hunt? Why not send it and a couple of its brothers to the cause of your choice today?

So, Wicked People, I’m kind of serious about proposing National Cozy Mystery Day. What day do you think it should be? Agatha Christie’s birthday (September 15)? The day the first episode of Murder, She Wrote aired (September 30)? Any other ideas?

Have a wonderful long weekend, everyone!




Three Truths and a Lie

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, wishing she was with all the cool kids at Malice…

First off, let me wish everyone who is at Malice a lovely time! And fingers crossed for our own Wicked Agatha nominees, Jessie and Edith.

So, I admit I’m bumming that I’m not at Malice this year. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a new day job (which I love!), and I don’t have much vacation time, which limits the amount of conferencing I can do.

But when I do get to go, one of my favorite things to do at conferences is … to hang out at the bar! Not because I am much of a drinker–although I do like a glass of wine now and then–but because that’s where people tend to congregate and either catch up with old friends, or make new ones. And I DO love to chat! So for those of us who are left at home, I thought it would be fun today to play a get-to-know-us game.

Three of the statements below are true. One is a lie. Can you guess the fib?

  1. My favorite book boyfriend is Rhett Butler.
  2. I once physically experienced a ghostly presence . . . in a churchI
  3. I have a phobia about mice and rats.
  4. I have spent time in the former country of Yugoslavia, when it was under communist rule.

So take your best guess which is the lie, and I’ll reveal the truth sometime this afternoon. After you guess, tell us an interesting fact about yourself. Only you need to know if it’s true or not!

Spring Cleaning

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, waiting on that first crocus…

(Reason being, in our family, whoever sees the first crocus gets to choose which ice cream place to go to–and if I win this year, I’m picking the local farm where the cream comes from their own cows and they make the ice cream on site)

Confession time: When it gets close to crocus time, I always start to feel a little guilty. You see, I don’t spring clean, but I feel like I should. I have a high tolerance for clutter and cleaning is not a big priority for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be featured on and episode of Hoarders–at least I hope not–but I’ve got a lot going on, ya know? In my defense, I keep the dishes done six days out of seven, I usually keep up on the laundry, the trash and recycling get taken out weekly, and I wipe up the bathroom once a week too. Other things, like picking up, dusting, mopping, and vacuuming, get done when I have time. Or when I can’t stand it anymore. Or when I’m procrastinating doing something else I really don’t want to be doing.

Some people have the clean gene. I don’t.

But the thing is, I do feel physically and mentally better when I have order around me–not to mention I am more creative and I just generally get more done when I don’t have dust and out-of-place objects sucking up my energy. So, not because it’s spring, mind you, but because I have a new writing project I want to make progress on I’ve committed to start spiffing up my environment, one area at a time, starting with my desk. My hope is that this process will get the words flowing. It’s worked before. It’ll work again–it must!

Are you a Messie or a Neatnik? Any tips for staying on top of household chores? 



Once Upon A Time

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, making a last-minute switch on the post she was planning to write…

I had something else in mind to write about for today’s post, but having just come back from an event, I changed my mind. These days it takes a lot to really impress my jaded heart, but I’m happy to report I’ve found something!

You’ve all heard us show and tell how writers support one another (and truly, there is no other business I know of where competitors regularly assist each other to make their products better–and have loads of fun doing it). One of the ways we do this is by attending each other’s events if we are able. Because it can be a bit of a crapshoot whether readers will show up or not–I’ve had events where 60 people attended, and an event where a single, solitary soul came to see me–if I can go and make sure a friend will have at least one familiar face, I will do it.

So last night I went to an author reading at a place I have been hearing and seeing so much about: The Storyteller’s Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut. Just the Victorian exterior was enough to make me long to see the inside.

And when I did? The place FAR exceeded my expectations. The interior is stunning, with gorgeous period décor and glorious original woodwork. But it’s the activities available that really got that aforementioned heart of mine racing. In addition to a number of writing classes and children’s programming, writers can rent out rooms, or even a whole floor, by the hour. I was practically salivating, thinking about grabbing a few writer friends and writing in the Jane Austen or Jules Verne Steampunk room for a few hours some Sunday afternoon. But wait, there’s more!

There are also two mystery escape rooms, with a third one being fitted out–and one of them is based on Agatha Christie. Honestly, it was all I could do not to ditch the readings downstairs and insist that the owner lock me in immediately. But delayed satisfaction is good for the character, right? So yet another reason to return.

The owner has thought of everything, including book groups like The Great British Baking Club, where participants read culinary mysteries and then bake in the gorgeous kitchen–um, where do I sign up?

So, in case you weren’t sure, I am highly recommending a trip to the Storyteller’s Cottage. Let me know if you go!

Do you know of any businesses that think outside the box in such an impressive way? Have you ever done a mystery escape room–and lived to tell about it?

G is for . . . Goodbye

From Jane/Sadie/Susannah, who is heading off on retreat in Vermont tomorrow and can’t wait …

Hey, Wicked People. Don’t let the title of this post surprise (or, dare I say, concern) you. I’m not going anywhere, except on the aforementioned retreat. But the mystery world got some sad news last month: the death of beloved mystery author Sue Grafton. That’s the goodbye I’m talking about.

While I never met her in person (I was not at the Crime Bake she attended, and it’s probably just as well because I would have fangirled all over her and embarrassed everyone), I have been deeply influenced by her work. Yes, I have read every single one of her novels, in order. She, along with Diane Mott Davidson, Janet Evanovich, and Rett MacPherson, are the modern authors who inspired me to write a mystery. Not only did these writers get me started toward living my own dream of authorship, they’ve given me countless hours of reading pleasure. How many people you’ve never met can you truthfully say changed your life? And when my first Sadie novel came out (Yarned and Dangerous), it was shelved right next to Sue Grafton’s book X at my Barnes and Noble. I actually cried. I sometimes still tear up when I think about it.

When I heard about her death, my first, very selfish thought, was But What About Z???? Which was followed almost immediately by guilt at my self-centeredness and then empathy for her family. I too have lost more family members than I care to count to lingering illnesses, so believe me, I understand something of what they went through. It didn’t take me long to realize that the family is absolutely right to carry out Sue’s wishes that the alphabet –and the series–now ends at Y. (Although, again, selfishly, I really hoped that she had finished that last manuscript and that it would be released).

Before I got there, though, I did the But Surely exercise. But surely she left notes! But surely she told someone what was going to happen to Kinsey! But surely somebody could finish that novel…

And then, I thought back to another author who left an unfinished manuscript: Elizabeth Peters (a/k/a Barbara Michaels/Barbara Mertz) . She died while The Painted Queen was in process and it was finished by her friend Joan Hess (who also recently passed). And while Joan, who is a legend in her own right, did a really good job, it just wasn’t the same. And it couldn’t be the same, not ever, because there was only one Elizabeth Peters. Just like there was only one Joan Hess. And one Sue Grafton. And one you, dear reader. So I’m just going to be grateful for what these authors gave me, and stop gluttonously wishing for more.

And now I get the joy of imagining my own ending to the series. I’m certain I know which guy she ended up with (it’s been fairly obvious to me for quite  few books where that was going). I’m less certain, but suspicious, about the fate of Henry, Kinsey’s nonagenarian landlord, and her cousin Anna’s onboard passenger, and whether Kinsey will break down and get some 1990-vintage electronics.

If you haven’t read the series, who are the authors whose work you miss dreadfully? If you have, any predictions about what happened to Kinsey after the events of Y is for Yesterday?



Holiday Movies–A Love-Hate Relationship

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, wishing you all a very happy, healthy, joyous, and prosperous New Year…

Hello, Wicked People! Has a whole month gone by since we’ve chatted? Well, I’m glad to be back.

Are you a holiday movie junkie? I admit it, I am. Although I have to tell you that there are some classics that I don’t exactly love, even though I know I’m “supposed to.” Nobody throw rocks, but I’m not crazy about White Christmas. Other than the title song, none of the music is particularly good (although the singing is). And some of the songs are downright weird (that scene where Danny Kaye is wearing the French Artiste clothes and doing that very odd dance). The fact that Bing Crosby was over 50 when he did the movie with the 26-year-old Rosemary Clooney always gives me pause. However, I do love Danny Kaye in anything he ever did, and he and Vera-Ellen didn’t have such a big age gap, so I consider this movie sort of a wash.

Another one I’m supposed to love but am kind of iffy on is It’s a Wonderful Life. I know, I know. Jimmy Stewart is adorkable, if a bit overly dramatic in spots, and Donna Reed is beautiful and faithful and loving, and the story makes you understand the Butterfly Effect–I’m not sure what came first, The Butterfly Effect or the movie. Yet there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on about It’s a Wonderful Life, something that makes me (usually) watch it when it’s on, but doesn’t give me the slightest pang of disappointment if I don’t see it, as I didn’t this year. Anybody have any thoughts?

And you may really want to throw rocks at me for this one, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is another one I can take or leave. I watch it for nostalgic reasons, as I have fond memories of hot cocoa and real oil-popped, buttered popcorn and watching it every year with my sisters and my parents and later with my own son. But seeing it the last few years I’ve found some aspects of it a little bothersome–and I know it’s because I’m seeing it through a 2017 lens, not the 1964 lens in which it was born. There is bullying and there is nose-shaming–by both adult and child reindeer and even Santa! Only the young bucks can try out for the sleigh team, not the does. Also, there’s an unexplained problem inherent in those Reindeer Games. Santa already has a sleigh team full of magic reindeer. So how are those poor little bucks who are being coached ever going to have any hope of making the team? The futility of it all.

Lest this post be deemed too negative, here are some classic Christmas movies I do love, and I do mind if I miss them: A Christmas Story (and yet, again, this one has some aspects that are not exactly cool when viewed with a 2017 lens). How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 animated version). A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version–this adaptation has the most wonderfully pathetic Tiny Tim). Christmas Vacation because it makes me laugh every time. And here’s one that I consider a Christmas movie, even though only part of it is set at Christmas–You’ve Got Mail. Honestly, I cry every time Tom Hanks brings Meg Ryan those daisies when she’s sick and you just know that’s when she knows she loves him and he loves her, even though they aren’t ready to admit it yet. Happy Sigh.

What about you? Which Christmas movies do you love? Which ones don’t jingle your sleighbells?