Yea or Nay-Pumpkin Spice

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Jessie: In New Hampshire, shivering under a wool blanket and hoping the furnace is fixed sooner rather than later!

Autumn is well and truly in the air and in the past few years that has come to mean Pumpkin Spice everything. From coffee to air freshners pumpkin spice is the belle of the season.

So, Wickeds, I wondered how each of you feel about it? Do you swoon to see the signs proclaiming it to be available at the local Dunkin Donuts or do you just find it all baffling?

Liz: Next to summer, fall is my absolute favorite season, and it’s mostly because of the pumpkin spice craze. Beginning October 1, I make it my mission to have as many pumpkin-flavored anythings as possible. Although I much prefer Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes over Dunkin Donuts any day….

Sherry: I’m not a fan and don’t rush out to buy everything from M&Ms to Oreos flavored with pumpkin spice. That said I do make an excellent pumpkin spice cake that I’ve been making for about ten years (that predates the craze, right?). It’s so easy — two ingredients a spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. You mix the two together and bake it at 350 for 25 minutes. It’s low calorie and full of fiber. It doesn’t need frosting because it is so moist.

Jessie: I really dislike tinkering when it comes to my coffee. I like it black and very strong, with no sugar so the idea of gussying it up with dessert flavors just leaves me cold. I guess I don’t really get the whole pumpkin thing unless we happen to be talking about pumpkin squares with cream cheese frosting. Or jack-o-lanterns. But I think I will try baking Sherry’s cake! That sounds intriguing.

Barb: When I rule the world, (not that anyone has asked me to), everything will have a season. In North America, that will mean cider in September and October, pumpkin spice in November, and peppermint hot chocolate in December. No overlapping or rushing the seasons! I do treat myself to a pumpkin spice coffee (or maybe two) and a peppermint hot chocolate, but only in the appropriate month (as decreed by me). (They’ll be a lot more changes when I rule the world, btw.)

Julie: One of my favorite parts of the pumpkin spice craze is how much Liz loves it. Because, seriously, she’s a wicked healthy eater. And yet, she stands in line for her pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, which have never seen a real pumpkin. But I digress. I love pumpkin pie, and was surprised that the craze doesn’t taste like that. I can take it or leave it. But eggnog latte season? THAT is my favorite.

Edith: Only in pies! Never in coffee! But I think I’ll try Sherry’s cake, too – except maybe I’ll make the spice cake from scratch and use canned pumpkin for the butter and eggs part.

How about you, dear readers? Fans of the pumpkin spice, or not?

Wicked Wednesday- Heros

Jessie-In NH awash in anticpation of Malice Domestic!

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

We continue to celebrate the release of Sherry’s latest book, A Good Day to Buy. 

As Sherry mentioned yesterday one of the themes of the book is heroes. In your opinion, what defines a hero and who are some of yours?

Edith: That’s a thought-provoking question. For me heroes are the quiet people working selflessly to help others. A woman in my town has been tireless in her efforts to run a food pantry and soup kitchen, which, sadly, more and more people need to use. Our local women’s crisis center has quietly helped many women extract themselves from abusive situations and find a better life for them and their children.  My late friend Richard was responsible for planting a thousand trees locally over a ten-year period, to both beautify and clean the air. Those are my heroes.

Barb: On the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, if you were a victim, and you survived the blast, you lived. This to me is the most extraordinary thing. I don’t mean to minimize in any way the challenges faced by the survivors, but the amazing work of the first responders on the the scene, the volunteers in the medical tents, the medical and non-medical personnel at the eight Boston hospitals where victims were taken, and the ordinary people on the street who ran toward the carnage instead of fleeing, still takes my breath away and makes me a weepy. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” The helpers are my heroes.

Sherry: Wow, Barb! That is so beautifully said I think it’s a drop the mic moment! In A Good Day To Buy Sarah is called a hero and she doesn’t like it because she doesn’t feel like she is one. And maybe that is the strongest indication that you are a hero. Many of the people Barb mentioned would say they were just doing their job or that they were just doing what anyone would have. I think all of us have a bit of hero in us. It might not be something huge like saving someone’s life. Sometimes small things like listening to a friend or helping a neighbor are heroic.

Jessie: One of the things I believe defines a hero is a willingness to take on risk. For that reason immigrants are amongst my heroes. I am in awe of those who leave familiar lives, languages, customs and families to start lives in far away lands. No matter what motivates them to strike out I admire their grit and determination and am so grateful for the richness they add to all our lives.

Julie: I am having such challenges with this question! To me, heroes are folks who do something brave, not because they aren’t afraid, but despite the fact that they are afraid. Heroes aren’t athletes, or titans of Wall Street. Heroes are the folks Barb mentioned. Heroes are the folks our society holds in disdain who still leave the house every day, and try to live with dignity. Heroes are the folks who do what they can do to create the change they want to see in the world.

Liz: Wow, you guys have all said this so well. For the past seven years I’ve worked with Safe Futures, an organization that is working to end domestic violence, and every single one of the people involved there is a hero. They work tirelessly, they work endlessly and they put the survivors and those in need of help first, no matter what it takes. Someone who is that committed to a cause for good is truly a hero.

Readers: Who are your heroes?

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Wicked Wednesday- Author Events

Jessie- In NH where the crocuses are blooming and the robins are frolicking with abandon!

In a rare turn of events all the Wickeds are together today for two author events. We will be in Nashua, NH for both, first at Rivier College for a R.I.S. E. presentation at midday and then at the Barnes and Noble in the evening. We are ridiculously excited about gathering together for these two occasions and would love to have you all join us. It promises to be memorable. Which got me to wondering about memorable events the other Wickeds have held. So, any favorite memories you’d love to share?

maxwellEdith: Other than my double launch party a couple of weeks ago, I’d have to say my first launch party was an unforgettable evening, for all the right reasons. Speaking of Murder had just released in September 2012 (written as Tace Baker), and I’d invited everyone I knew. The young man managing the Newburyport bookstore had set out ten chairs. I said, “Um, I think you’re going to need more chairs.” I was right. 55 people were there from all different areas of my life: church, work, town, family, and Sisters in Crime, including several Wickeds. The bookstore sold out but I had a box of books in the car to supplement their order. The whole night was touching, exhilarating, just perfect.

Liz: I have to say my first launch party, for Kneading to Die, was also my most memorable. Full of family, friends and dogs, it was held at The Big Biscuit in Franklin, Mass. Shaggy even got her own doggie cake for the occasion!

Sherry: I’ve had so much fun going to author events that it is so hard to pick one. The first time I was on a panel as an author was at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California in 2014. The women on the panel with me have become friends — Lori Rader-Day (doing a post here on Friday), Carlene O’Neil, Martha Cooley, and Holly West. I was so nervous I don’t think I said much. Afterwards we had a signing time and this was the order of the table Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Jan Burke, then me. I didn’t even have a book out yet, but a couple of people had me sign their programs. It’s an experience I’ll never forget and Jan Burke was very gracious the one second she didn’t have someone in front of her.

Barb: I enjoy author events, too. Most memorable was the launch of my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman. It seemed like everyone I’d ever mentioned I was writing a book to came. Porter Square ran out of books. I did a little talk and a reading and thanked my friends and family. My sister-in-law pointed at me and said to my daughter, “This is what it looks like when your dreams come true,” which is such a lovely, heartfelt sentiment.

CAKE KILLERJulie: My launch party for Just Killing Time was a blast. Friends and family packed the New England Mobile Book Fair. Three of my mentors–Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kate Flora, and Hallie Ephron–sat right up front, and cheered me on. My friend Courtney made me a cookie cake decorated to look like a clock. It was just lovely. This year Liz and I both have August and September books–2 women, 4 names, 4 books, 2 new series being launched. We are going to do something to celebrate, so stay tuned.

Readers: Do you like to attend author events? What’s your most memorable one?

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Forging My Own Culinary (Author) Path –Guest Shawn Reilly Simmons

Sherry: Welcome back, Shawn! You have been one busy woman with three books out! Shawn is giving away a book — details at the end of the post!

Shawn: The third book in the Red Carpet Catering series, Murder on a Designer Diet, has just been released. I’m new to being a published author, and I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am. Not only to have been published, writing books that I love to write, but also how different events in my life set me on this particular path.

Image one me and DDI’ve admired so many culinary mystery authors for years, and now I get to introduce myself as one to new readers. But I didn’t set out to write culinary mysteries, instead the sub-genre found me. I’ve worked as a cook and as a caterer over my career, but mostly I’ve had office jobs, mainly in sales and marketing. I knew my main character, Penelope Sutherland, would be a chef, but for some reason I still didn’t think of my books as culinary mysteries when I sat down to write them.

Of course, I didn’t think of myself as a culinary expert either, even though I’m a good cook and have a passion for food. I love trying new ingredients, and I rarely follow recipes, preferring to get the general idea of a dish and then putting my own spin on it. I enjoy making dinner for my family, working with simple, healthy, local ingredients. I grow a vegetable garden every year and look forward to all the tomatoes, peppers and herbs bursting into full bloom so I can incorporate them into our meals. So there’s no question I have a passion for all things culinary, but I still hadn’t made the connection to my writing.

Image 2 salsa and ritasMy first year of college, I convinced the manager of one of the nicer restaurants near campus to give me a job, even though I had no previous restaurant experience. I was just 18, too young to serve alcohol, so they gave me a spot in the kitchen. My first position was on the salad station, where all the new cooks started. It was pretty safe, you can’t mess up a salad unless you really work hard at it. Shortly afterwards I moved up to cooking on the line, and eventually I took my turn as kitchen lead, calling out orders to the rest of the cooks and running the service window, making entrees, working the grill and sending food out to the wait staff. I was the only girl in the back of the house the entire time I worked in that kitchen.

In the beginning, I was looked on doubtfully (or flat-out ignored) by the male cooks. They had doubts I would stay or if I did, be able to pull my weight. But eventually I won them over and we had a great time most nights, even when we were so in the weeds we couldn’t stop to talk for a minute. I loved that first culinary experience, even though the kitchen was hot and the hours were long and ran late into the night. The restaurant was also a popular bar, and we served a limited menu well past midnight. But the food was good and on the weekends there was live music, so it wasn’t the worst place to spend a Friday or Saturday night.

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Me having my shift drink after working in the kitchen during college.

When I sat down to write my first book, which would eventually become Murder on a Silver Platter, I thought I was writing a book about the movies, told from an insider’s view behind the scenes. It was my unique take on the film making business, and it was something I hadn’t read before. It (very) slowly dawned on me that while I was writing that kind of story, I also had a culinary mystery on my hands. When all of that was revealed to me, I was so happy I had found a way to merge two of my greatest passions: cooking and movies!

Just like I’d become an accidental, learn-on-the-job chef, I became an accidental culinary mystery writer. It wasn’t the plan when I first started out, but I couldn’t be happier it’s where I ended up.

Readers: How about you all? Can you remember a time when you came to a fork in the road that set you on a path you hadn’t anticipated?

Giveaway! One lucky responder will get a signed paperback copy of Murder on a Designer Diet!

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of the Red Carpet Catering mysteries published by Henery Press. Murder on a Designer Diet, the third in the series, released on June 7, 2016.

A Flash from the Past–Blessed

Hi everyone. We hope you had a great day yesterday. The Wickeds are in full recovery mode. Plus 2/3 of us are on the road at some point or other over this long holiday, visiting family up and down the entirety of the east coast.

So today, we’re rerunning a favorite post from the past. In this one, from just about a year ago, Jessie Crockett ruminates on why it is so meaningful to her that a special relation is contemplating murder.

Blessed

In this most magical of seasons, I feel truly blessed. I am warm and dry and over-fed. There are people who love me and people who need me. I have energy for my work and time for my play. All of these things are worth celebrating. But today I am feeling most grateful for understanding.

Last night one of my beloved sisters phoned. She called to let me know that a friend of hers had inter-library loaned my latest book, Drizzled with Death, and to tell me which city had it in their collection. I was grateful that she thought of me and is helping to spread the word about my work. But the appreciation went deeper.

We chatted about other things and then she told me a about a walk she had taken at a nearby land trust. She told me that while she was there she had noticed how easy it would be to hit someone over the head and to hide the body without a trace. And that, of course, she had thought of me.

A couple of weeks ago the same sister called me to say she had been driving behind a cement truck and had thought what an ideal place that would be to hide a body and that, of course, she had thought of me.

When money goes missing from a trust fund, when men leave their families for parts unknown, when buildings burn mysteriously to the ground, my sister, of course, thinks of me. And I feel grateful. And I feel loved.

My sister doesn’t even like mysteries. She doesn’t read any except mine. Even so, her perspective on life has been altered by her desire to help me to live my dream. My highly moral, optimistic, glass is three quarters full sister, now finds crimes lurking behind every tree on a pleasant walk through the woods. She no longer thinks of how beautiful an uninterrupted expanse of unbroken snow appears to be. She thinks about how hard it would be to commit a crime in winter and to not leave a trace. Truly, I am blessed.

What makes you feel grateful, understood and loved this holiday season?

Brrr!

Jessie: In the bitter cold of a New Hampshire valley.

I’m not sure about where you all are at but where I am, it has been cold. Maddeningly cold. The kind of cold that gleefully wiggles its way into even the tightest new houses with the best sorts of insulation and newfangled windows. My house was built in 1875. From the feel of things around here this week the insulation is original and whatever cold the newfangled windows are keeping out, the walls have been letting in. I hear myself grumbling and muttering about kids that can’t be bothered to close the doors. Then I realize the draft isn’t from any open door. It’s simply pulsing through the walls.

The wind races down the hills and into the valley village in which I live and throws its best efforts behind peeling off our roof. As hard as our new furnace is trying, it can’t get the house warmer than 61.5 degrees, even with a pellet stove going in the kitchen. I’ve taken to wearing my bathrobe all day, over long johns, a sweat suit, an Icelandic sweater and a mohair shawl. Lately, in our house, a nightcap is not a pleasant evening cocktail but an essential piece of survival gear knitted of bulky weight wool.

So why do we live here? Why stay in a place where you wonder about the logistics of showering with your clothes on because the idea of taking off even a single layer makes a slushy tear slide down your cheek?photo 3

Turkeys, that’s why.IMG_1664 When I look out my kitchen window, as I slowly rotate myself in front of the pellet stove, I get to see a flock of turkeys perched on the treehouse in the back yard. They arrived with the bitter cold and helped themselves to the crabapples I never got around to turning into jelly last fall.  I love to see them waddling around on large, careful feet, trudging the path my husband carved to access the compost bin.

It really is the little things that make life such a pleasure. Even in the depths of winter.

Which little things make your life a pleasure?

Muddling Through the Middle

By Sherry Harris

Recently my fellow Wicked Cozy Author Barbara Ross posted on Facebook that writing the middle of her book was like pushing a peanut uphill with her nose. At our recent writers retreat in Maine, Julie Hennrikus asked me how my book Tagged for Death was going. She looked startled (okay horrified) when I told her I was stuck in the middle so I was skipping ahead and writing the end. Julie said, “I could never do that.”

The first part of Tagged for Death came out of me in a mystical experience kind of way. But more on that another day. And the end also flowed out nicely. So now I’m back home and stuck once again in the middle. My first excuse for not writing the middle was attending my class reunion in Iowa. And really that is more of a reason than an excuse, isn’t it? It is almost impossible to write while catching up with former (I refuse to call us old) classmates and trying out exotic (and excellent) Midwestern beers like Spotted Cow. Thank you Lynn Avelchas Smith for bringing them!

At least I didn't have to write the middle of this book!

At least I didn’t have to write the middle of this book!

Back from the reunion I trot out the avoidance techniques. The load of laundry has to be done right now. Lily, our dog, needs a long walk.  I haven’t talked to (fill in the blank) for such a long time so I’d better call. It’s a beautiful day to meet friends for lunch. I have another author’s manuscript to edit. Playing a game of solitaire will help me think.

So what to do? In the end I always go back to advice from novelist and creative writing professor John Dufresne. I will paraphrase (my mom is going to read this) one of his rules of writing: Sit your butt in the chair. And another great bit of advice from John is if you get stuck have your character look around, write down everything she can see, hear, and smell. Most of it you will edit out later but it usually gets your character moving again.

What do you do when you get stuck when writing or doing some other kind of project?