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?

Tuning In

Jessie: In book jail on the coast of Maine.

WHISPERSHIRESI have a confession. After having written five books I still don’t know where the stories come from. I don’t really mean the little snippets and nuggets of ideas that you tuck away and think “Oh, wouldn’t that be interesting to use in a book someday”. I mean the whole complex thing of starting with almost nothing and ending up with a whole world complete with complex people, vibrant settings and intriguing conflicts.

I wish I could say it had something to do with me but I am not really sure that it does. As I work I find myself wondering if my role is that of a conduit through which an existing story flows. I often have a sneaking suspicion that rather than making my books up I somehow happened to tune into a sort of radio frequency and I simply hear them and then write them down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I’ve been doing time in book jail, putting the finishing touches on my second Change of Fortune mystery. The main character, Ruby Proulx, is clairaudient. She has the benefit of a voice she hears from time to that gives her advice. Throughout the course of the first book in the series, Whispers Beyond the Veil, with effort, she manages to hear the voice more clearly and to tap into it at will rather than by chance.

I find myself hoping that life will imitate art and that my own ability to tune in will improve as much as Ruby’s. Is it possible to get a clearer signal? Is there some way to make the rest of life quieter so the story is more easily heard? Is that all wishful thinking?

In the end it probably doesn’t matter where the stories come from as long as they manage to get told. As long as the voices come out through the fingertips and onto the page, and readers enjoy the results, it really makes no difference if I thought of it all, or none of it at all. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for quieting the outside world? Writers, where do you think the stories come from?

 

Wicked Wednesday: Memories of the Wicked Retreat

Last weekend, the Wickeds held our 5th annual retreat.IMG_1143

Tell us, Wickeds, what is your best memory of the weekend?

Liz: Jeez, how can we pick just one? This retreat is the highlight of my year. The company,
the location, the friendship – it’s all amazing. This year, I had the luxury of taking two long walks on the beach, which is one of my favorite things to do EVER (next to sitting on the beach, of course). That was awesome. But sitting on Jessie’s porch with everyone, talking, laughing, eating – being together – was perfect.

KitchenWriting

Edith: Echoing what Liz said. The collected  inspiration and ideas of this group are pretty amazing. I also loved my three long beach walks, during which new plot ideas arose. And since I always rise early, even if I stay up until 1:30 AM talking (which happened both nights – and the rest of them kept going after I went to bed!), I had two quiet mornings writing new words at the kitchen table, so it was a personally productive weekend, too.

White rose with pink tipsJulie: Jessie’s garden is stunning, and has a wonderful table that is conducive to work, eating, and laughter. Sitting at that table, in that setting, with these people. A tonic. I also loved the two beach walks I did, and the brainstorming. The Wickeds are six very different women, with very different personalities. We don’t always sing from the same song book, but we always support each other in our music making.

Edith: I love that, Julie – our different song books AND our mutual support for music making.

Sherry: Being back in New England is always a treat and a reminder of why I set my books there. I love it so much — from theIMG_9409 lobster rolls to the accents to the quirky shops. I loved our meals out on Jessie’s lovely patio and our conversations until the wee hours of the morning. Talking about the plot for book five was so helpful. Jessie is such a gracious hostess and makes all her hard work to accommodate us look so effortless. (I took the photo below as I flew over Portland!)

IMG_9460Barb: You know how all TV shows are essentially about groups of friends (or families or colleagues) and you always think that’s what I want. I was sort of startled to realize during the retreat, I have that. We live in four different states, and as Julie says, we don’t always agree. We all practice the same art, but we have different strengths and weaknesses and we approach our work in differing ways. But my Wicked sisters are all generous and kind and smart and funny, so it just works. We “talk” all the time, but getting together physically, especially with great weather, great food, in a great location, is the icing on the cake.

Jessie: I look forward to the retreat all year. One of the things that always strikes me is how lucky a thing it is to make new friends when one is an adult. It is truly a blessing and one I am grateful for more with each passing year. Writing the blog together has made those friendships possible. Spending time together makes them strong. I hope all our readers are involved in groups and communities that provide the same sort of easy understanding and fun.

Readers: You can tell we’re still all aglow from our experiences last weekend. Do you have a group of friends who are creative and fun? Tell us about them.

A Walk Around the Frog Ledge Town Green

By Liz, desperate to escape from book jail and wind up on a beach somewhere….

That sounds like a movie we might all be familiar with, doesn’t it? Anyway, it’s true – I am still locked away in book jail, and the clock is ticking. So because I am chained to my desk, I thought I’d take you all on a virtual walk around the Frog Ledge Town Green with Stan.

House

 

Here we go – leaving Stan’s house and heading across the street to the green!

 

 

 

 

Heading down the path….

Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

ViewBeautiful view!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traditional New England church.Church

 

 

 

 

 

FlowersStopping to admire the flowers…..Dogsand visit with some pups resting during their walk!

 

 

 

 

 

War OfficeSome history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful tree behind the library.

Tree

 

 

 

 

SignSome typical fun things to do in Frog Ledge….

 

 

And finally, heading home. Thanks for walking with me!

Check out my Pinterest boards for more Frog Ledge fun. See you when I make bail! Hopefully I’ll be out in time for National Dance Like a Chicken Day….

Readers, what’s your favorite place to walk or jog?

Please Welcome Author Brenda Buchanan

by Barb. Still mostly at home with the whole knee thing. But then, being stuck at home is good for the writing.

Brenda Buchanan headshotI first met Maine author Brenda Buchanan at Crime Bake, though I’d known who she was for awhile before that because she was on the board of the fabulous Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. In April, Brenda’s first Joe Gale Mystery, Quick Pivot was released. And just two weeks ago, Cover Story, the second in the series debuted. So we thought it was time to have Brenda around for a visit here at Wicked Cozys World HQ.

Here’s the skinny on Cover Story:

Cover StoryMaine newspaper reporter Joe Gale is at his best when covering the crime beat for the Portland Daily Chronicle. In the dead of winter he heads Downeast to cover the murder trial of fisherman Danny Boothby, charged with burying a filleting knife in the chest of politically well-connected social worker Frank O’Rourke.

O’Rourke held a thankless job in a hard place. Many locals found him arrogant, but say he didn’t deserve to die. Others whisper that O’Rourke got himself killed through his own rogue behavior.

After Joe’s hard-nosed reporting provokes someone to run him off an isolated road, he realizes his life depends on figuring out not only who committed the murder, but who’s stalking him—O’Rourke’s prominent brother, friends or enemies of the dead social worker or members of Boothby’s family. As he digs deeper, Joe uncovers enough secrets and lies to fill a cemetery. He’ll have to solve this one fast, or his next headline may be his own obituary

Barb: All the Wickeds write at least one series set in New England. I’m very interested in the idea of a New England voice. How do you think being a New Englander and writing a series set in Maine where you now live influences your writing?

Brenda: Being a New Englander has enormous influence on my work. I grew up in the central Massachusetts mill town of Fitchburg. I studied journalism at Northeastern University, and was fortunate to be able to spend my co-op terms learning about journalism in the newsroom at the Boston Globe. I’ve lived and worked in Maine for the past 35 years, twelve of them year-round on an island in Casco Bay. So the New England cadence comes through in my writing. That’s true both with my narrative voice, and the voices of my characters.

For example, in Cover Story, my newspaper reporter protagonist Joe Gale is covering a trial in Machias, 40 miles from the Canadian border. He shares the courtroom’s front bench with a pair of elderly spectators, twin sisters Arlette and Truelette Peabody. After a few days, they’ve become friendly enough for the Peabody sisters to invite Joe for after-court refreshments at their home:

I headed back toward the courthouse with the intention of finding a sheriff’s department clerk to dig the police report about the May 22 bait truck accident out of the files, but was intercepted by the Peabody sisters, who had tea on their mind. Tea with me.

 

“We understand you need to meet a deadline, but our house is right around the corner, and the judge did adjourn early today,” Trulette said.

 

“It will be a little civilized break,” Arlette added. “And I make a potent cup of Darjeeling.”

 

I was caffed out, but court had adjourned at three twenty, leaving plenty of time before my deadline, so we proceeded to the Peabody ancestral home. From the outside it murmured old New England. Center chimney. White clapboards. Black shutters flanking six-over-six windows.

 

As was local custom, we entered through the side door. After shucking our shoes onto a plastic boot tray, we shuffled in stocking feet into a large square kitchen with an antique stove radiating steady heat in the corner. While Trulette put the kettle on to boil, Arlette shoveled two scoops of pea coal into the stove’s top hatch, then bent and shook the accumulated ash into the bottom pan, moving with the easy rhythm of someone who’d fed a coal stove her whole life.

If you’re a New Englander, you know these women. Perhaps they’re your aunt, or maybe your high school English teacher. They are as Maine as a Moxie ice cream float, and an important part of the emotional architecture of Cover Story.

quickpivotIn Quick Pivot, the first in the Joe Gale series, every third chapter takes the reader back to 1968. Those chapters are written in the third-person voice of Paulie Finnegan, Joe Gale’s now-deceased mentor, who was a young reporter in the sixties. I had a great time writing the dialogue in those chapters, because I worked with reporters like Paulie when I was a journalist in Boston and Maine. Smart and savvy, working class, a bit of a wiseass, but sentimental beneath the surface. In this scene Paulie’s on a jaunt with a source named Jay Preble to Old Orchard Beach (a place I understand is near and dear to the Wickeds):

They drove south as far as Old Orchard, a beachfront town that oozed fryolator grease from its pores. The main drag was lined with tourist emporiums—places that sold sweatshirts, cotton candy and inflatable balls—many of which were open but doing little business. Not so the bars.

 

Preble steered them to a waterfront joint where they ate fried clams and drank beer for a couple of hours before moving to a bar where a rougher crowd was pounding down booze as though it were Saturday instead of Sunday. They switched from beer to whisky while Paulie worked his way up the list of guys waiting to take on the resident darts champ, a scrawny man named Bo with hard eyes and a cigarette dangling from his lip.

 

Neither Preble nor Bo knew that Paulie held the all-time darts title at the South Portland Coast Guard base, capable of throwing with either hand, dead drunk or Sunday school sober. But they found out. By the time Preble dumped Paulie at his doorstep in Riverside, it was after eleven and he still had thirty fresh bucks in his wallet. Their bar bill had eaten the rest of what he’d won.

Barb: Your protagonist, Joe Gale, is a reporter and you were once a journalist as well. I’ve always wondered, how are the skills journalists develop applicable to writing a novel, and how are they a hindrance that must be unlearned or overcome? What was the best, most important thing you learned as a journalist?

Brenda: Most important? Not to fear the blank page. When I settle in to write I’m kind of like a musician sitting down at the piano. I tap out a few words, riff around a little, and pretty soon I’m pounding out a tune. It’s not always good music, mind you, but I’m not one suffer blank page paralysis. For better or worse, my experience as a reporter taught me to jump right in.

It was important to break myself of the notion that I was writing to deadline. A journalist must submit to her editor the best story she can write in the time allowed. A novelist needs to take however much time is necessary to write a story worthy of submission. Big difference there.

One habit I had to resurrect was the daily writing routine. When you’re a reporter, that’s a given. It took me a little while to realize that writing fiction was going to demand the same daily commitment to the keyboard. When I decided eight or nine years ago to take a crack at writing a novel, my routine varied with my energy level. If I’d had a hectic day at work, I’d give myself a slide on writing that night. That meant I never got in the groove, and found myself endlessly fussing around with the first chapter. It was only when I committed myself to write two pages a night minimum, no matter what, that my first book began to take shape. That book, by the way, was Cover Story, the second book in the Joe Gale series. Like many first efforts, it needed a lot of cooking time.

Barb: In April, you crossed the line from unpublished to published author when, Quick Pivot, the first book in the Joe Gale series, was released. What is the most surprising thing that’s happened since then?

Brenda: I have been delighted by how much I enjoy going to libraries and book groups to talk about my books and crime writing in general. I thought that would be a nerve-wracking experience, but it’s turned out to be the opposite. A colleague offered some wise advice before my first appearance—folks who go out of their way to meet authors make for a dream audience. They’re dedicated readers, she said. They want to like you and your work. Those words were like magic. They set my mind at ease.

Because my publisher is digital-first, the many wonderful bookstores in Maine are not available venues for me at this time. But libraries and book groups are a great fit. If any readers of this blog would like me to visit their local library or come (in person or by Skype) to hang out with their book group, they can contact me through my website, http://brendabuchananwrites.com

Barb: What are you working on now?

Brenda: I’m in the middle of copyedits for Truth Beat, the third book in the Joe Gale Series. It’s about the suspicious death of a Catholic priest who was well-known as a tireless advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Set in the imaginary town of Riverside with scenes in Portland, Bangor and Bethel, Truth Beat will be out in February, 2016.

Thanks for inviting me to chat with the Wickeds today, Barb. I hope we can keep the conversation going in the comments.

What do you think, readers? Is there a New England regional voice? Is there a particular voice in your corner of the country or the world?

From Somewhere Further Down The Road — Guest Art Taylor

First and foremost, I want to thank Sherry Harris for inviting me to blog here at Wicked Cozy Authors—and by “foremost,” I mean that the various elements of this sentence are ultimately the only things I’m going to write about here.

“Art Taylor”

Sherry and I now live in the same small Northern Virginia town. It’s a suburb of Washington, DC, so part of a larger cosmopolitan community, but it’s an area that also has a small town feel. Sherry and I have run into each other at the grocery store parking lot, for example (I think that’s where she first asked me about the guest post here), and we’ve talked about trying to gather friends together more often for coffee or for trips to the park to ride the miniature train that my son so dearly loves. It’s a nice place to live in so many ways, and much of it has a hominess about it, and yet… and yet I couldn’t help but notice that the bio on Sherry’s own website notes that she and her husband “are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next,” and I know how often my wife Tara and I have mused about where we might like to live someday as well, as if our real homes are ultimately one of two places:  where we once grew up or, specifically in our case, where we’d like our son to grow up. Maybe here, but (who knows?) maybe not.

I started thinking about these notions of where we’re from and where we are and where we’re going because of the subheading on the Wicked Cozy Authors page: “Mysteries with a New England Accent”—a tagline that has me doubly appreciating Sherry’s invitation for me to guest post here (and appreciating again Edith Maxwell and Barbara Ross hosting the Agatha finalists earlier this year) because, as anyone who’s ever heard me speak knows, I do not have a New England accent—and, important to my point here, neither does my fiction.

All of us who identify as mystery writers must surely find our works informed by the various traditions and rules of crime fiction; that term provides a large umbrella for  various styles and approaches, of course, but suffice it to say that a person writing a traditional mystery must surely remain aware of the rules of a fair play mystery, of the weight of all the works in our genre that have preceded us. In a similar vein, it’s likely true that we may be defined by place—not only in terms of the settings we’ve chosen for our stories and novels but also by the places we’re from, the places we’ve lived, and maybe even (more on this in a minute) by previous literary works about those places.

Sherry’s Garage Sale Mysteries, for example, expressly draw on her years in Massachusetts as much as on her love of garage sales, and reading her work,  I’m struck by how often place finds itself not just a character of sorts but also a guiding force in her writing. Early in Tagged for Death, at the first mention of the term “garage sale,” Sherry stops to add a parenthetical clarification: “tag sale, for those in the Northeast.” And it’s not long before we’ve also gotten a quick discussion of “Roast Beef and Pizza places… a New England thing,” and a short lesson clarifying that the Sleepy Hollow of Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane isn’t related to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery of Concord, Massachusetts, whose Authors Ridge has held the graves of Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau (a spot which also plays a role in the closing pages of the book).

ON THE ROAD front under 2mbMy own work is more likely to be grounded somehow in my native state of North Carolina. (My wife too is a writer, from Pennsylvania originally, and those PA roots often run deep in her own fiction.) The adventures in my recent book On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories take those title characters—a small-time crook and his lover—across the country: Del’s supposed “last” heist takes place in Taos, New Mexico, before he begins a legit job with his sister in Victorville, California, and from there this unpredictable pair travel to Napa Valley, to Las Vegas, and to Williston, North Dakota. But along the way, it’s Louise’s voice, grounded in her own North Carolina upbringing, that drives the story, and its those various memories of the past—of her mother, of North Carolina’s sweet muscadine wines, of sucking the nectar from honeysuckles, of small town Southern life—that punctuate the tales and that gradually draw them back to Louise’s home state for the final story.

These observations—how Sherry’s novels and my stories and my wife’s stories too are all informed by place—might simply prove how some details of a story are byproducts of the more central roles that character and setting play in any work of fiction. But I’m curious beyond that.

The Southern literary tradition is a real one—it’s been endlessly studied, even if there are disagreements still about exactly how narrowly to define it—and I’m certain that other regions of the country might be able to trace themes and elements that have dominated and defined the literature of their areas, the mappable landscapes of their literature. But when we writers put pen to paper, how conscious are we of those geographical literary traditions? To circle back to the subheading on the Wicked Cozy Authors page, what does it mean for a mystery to have a “New England Accent” or a Southern accent or whatever? (New York patter? Chicago twang? California surfer speak? …by which I’m not just talking about dialogue, of course.)

To answer that question, I’ve…

Whoops! Sherry just pointed out that I’ve hit my word count here! Oh, well.

Anyone else want to chime in with their own thoughts on this in the comments section? I’d love to chat more, clearly—whatever accent you’re bringing to the conversation.

A native of Richlands, NC, Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, recently published by Henery Press, and the editor of Murder Under the Oaks, the 2015 Bouchercon Anthology. His short fiction has won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His story “The Odds Are Against Us” is currently a finalist for this year’s Anthony and Macavity Awards. Art teaches at George Mason University and writes frequently on crime fiction for both the Washington Post and Mystery Scene. www.arttaylorwriter.com.

Readers: What is the answer to Art’s question — “When we writers put pen to paper, how conscious are we of those geographical literary traditions?” Writers, how much do you put into this? Readers, are you drawn to books set in a particular region? Which region?

Wicked New England – The Best Summer Events

IMG_1124Since we have to make the most of summer and extend it as long as we can, here in New England we tend to cram a lot of fun events into the summer months: seafood festivals, outdoor concerts, barbecues, sunflower mazes, lighthouse cruises. As we stare September in the face, let’s remember the very best of our summer days! So Wickeds, what’s your favorite New England-y thing to do in the summer?

Liz: I live in what’s referred to as Mystic Country, which has a whole host of things to do in the summer. One of the really cool offerings are the Sentinels on the Sound lighthouse boat tours. Guests jump on a boat and get a tour of area lighthouses. They have night tours, too, which are way cool – especially the full moon ones!

Jessie: In Ocean Park, ME they host something called Illumination Night. All over the tiny community they light up their houses and yards with fairy lights and candles. The effect is magical. People from all over wander down the narrow streets enjoying the way the shadows play and the lights twinkle.

Edith: In my town they have Amesbury Days at the end of June. There’s a big block party downtown, an annual farmers’ market where I typically sell lots of books at my table, an antique car show, and lots more. But the best part is the fireworks a couple of miles up the Fireworks2015road at the town-owned Woodsom Farm (this year held on July 3). Everybody brings blankets and chairs and spreads out on a huge hillside. The fireworks go off from a field across the way, so the viewing is perfect. They close the road to cars afterwards so what feels like the entire town walks back together. It’s such a cool event I decided to place a murder during the fireworks — in 1888!

IMG_3523_2Julie: Well, I’m a sucker for the many events that happen outside in the Summer. Commonwealth Shakespeare’s King Lear was terrific. Landmarks Orchestra does a bunch of wonderful free concerts, Outside the Box was terrific, and there are festivals all the time in and around Boston/Somerville/Cambridge. There are tons of fun things to do in the summer, but I’ve got to confess, some of the best “summer” events happen in September, just under the summer wire.  I’m talking about the Scallop Festival in Bourne, the Fluff Fest, and (I’ve been told, looking forward to finding out) the Big E.

 

IMG_4233Sherry: There’s a Fluff Fest?! Sign me up! Summer must do’s in New England include a Red Sox game, a drive up the Maine coast for a lobstah roll, and a trip (okay, trips) to Bedford Farms Ice Cream. The picture to the right shows the kiddie size cup of ice cream — you should see the large! Now that we live in Virginia we cram all of those things into every summer trip.

Readers: What’s your favorite summer event, in New England or elsewhere?