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Monday, December 31, 2012

Welcoming a New Year

Well 2012 was a busy year, and often sad or frustrating.  But let's think on a few good things for this new year. 

First I would like to share Operation Write Home (click here.)  There mission is: "supporting our nation's armed forces by sending blank homemade greeting cards to write home on, as well as 'Any Hero' cards of gratitude to encourage them."  Boxes of blank homemade cards are sent every week, so even though the holiday season is winding down, you can take part in this any time.  With Valentine's Day just around the corner, this would be a nice theme for some cards for a soldier to use to send home.  Here is a nice little video done by Sandy Allnock, President and Founder.

I also wanted to share this story about one person who made a difference, just like Sandy who began Operations Write Home.  Ken Culp, 10 years old, collected and donated 2,778 books to the Early Connections Learning Center as part of a book drive for "Success by 6".  Read the full story here.  Success By 6® (SB6) is United Way's school readiness initiative, which addresses the importance of a child's first six years of life. Success By 6 is preparing children to succeed in school and in life.

Success by 6 Goal:  All children in our community are ready for school as they begin kindergarten.

The prosperity of a community depends on the success of its children. By supporting and coordinating existing resources, identifying needs and catalyzing new approaches to improve school readiness, Success By 6® can improve the chances of success for our children's future.

Success by 6 Focus:

    Education - Promoting early learning and literacy
    Family Stability - Encouraging parent education and home visitation

Success By 6 is the largest nationally recognized early childhood movement in the country, with over 360 local SB6 initiatives reaching an estimated 67% of the total US population.

Here is a video that explains Success by 6 and its importance and amazing impact.  This is a United Way charity, so if you would like more information about "Success by 6" in your area, then contact your United Way and see how you can help out.


As for this blog and the new year, I have been doing this for just over 3 years now and I would really like to hear from you.

What would YOU, the followers of this blog, like to see?  Do you like reading challenges?  Another bookmark swap?  Any ideas at all are welcome.  Please share in the comments what you have liked on other blogs and would like to see done here.  

Let me take this opportunity to thank you for reading this blog, and for being part of the mystery/suspense family here.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review - Fatal Winter

The debut novel in this new series by G. M. Malliet was reviewed (click here), and now it is time for the second book.  The first book was received well so let's see how well this one does in meeting reader's expectations.   This book was chosen by Library Journal as a Best Mystery of 2012.  Find out what I thought of it below.  I must apologize for getting behind in my reading.  I am trying to catch up and get back on track.

Author: G. M. Malliet

Copyright: October 2012 (Minotaur Books) 384 pgs

Series: 2nd in Max Tudor Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Traditional Mystery

Main Characters: Max Tudor, Anglican priest and former MI5 agent

Setting: Modern day, Nether Monkslip England and Chedrow Castle

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Seventy-five-year-old Oscar, Lord Footrustle, has invited all of his dysfunctional family to spend the holiday season at Chedrow Castle with him, his twin sister Lady Baynard, and her adopted grand-daughter Lamorna.  Greed and entitlement abound as the relatives are each trying to get into Lord Footrustle's good graces, and thus his will.  But when both Lord Footrustle is found stabbed to death and his sister dead in the flower hot-house, the local law enforcement heading up the investigation asks for Father Max to assist.  Father Max, in an improbable move, becomes a guest staying at the castle, chatting up the suspects, and sitting in during official questioning sessions.  All the family members are forced to stay at the castle while the investigation proceeds, creating tensions and tempers.

This is the classic English country house mystery in the Miss Marple tradition.  There are no car chases or explosives, no nail biting suspense, just a puzzle to be worked among a specific number of people - who committed the murder and how did they pull it off.  A large part of the book is the piecing together who was where, and the timing of the deaths.  Most everybody has a motive, so the focus is on opportunity and means. 

Father Max Tudor has a lot of potential and only some of it was displayed in this second book.  His MI-5 background that drove him to a "paying-it-back" life as an Anglican (non-celibate) priest allows for a more enlightened and progressive view of the pagan love interest Awena.  Unfortunately, his background did not seem to provide much insight into murder until the very end.  His only benefit is that people will talk more openly to a priest, theoretically.  I expected a modern version of Brother Cadfael, but I was wrong.  I would like to see his MI-5 training to be more instrumental, like Cotton Malone or Oliver Stone of the Camel Club, even if more along a cozy plot-line rather than suspense.  I am looking for Max Tudor to reach his potential as a character, then he will be compelling, but currently he is an okay character.  I felt the character Awena was displayed to better advantage than Father Max.  The unlikely and improbable relationship between them is a nice side story that adds to the storyline.

The setting of Chedrow Castle and the small country town of Nether Monkslip are well done backdrops.  The traditional English country house style provided a good puzzle, but lacked a sense of immediacy to engage the reader through the slightly slow middle.  That somewhat dragging middle is a common trap in traditional mystery plots.  Typically the characters will keep the reader's interest and pick-up the pace through these investigative slow parts.  The suspects are all too dysfunctional and unlikable, and the regular cast of townspeople are removed from the castle, so the characters did not carry the slower investigation parts.

The killer confrontation was done during a gathering of all the suspects where Father Max presents his theory of events and who the killer is.  This is how the first book revealed the killer, so this seems to be the signature confrontation method, a la "Ellery Queen."  This falls within the traditional mystery concept easily, but I still prefer a blood pumping confrontation.  The wrap-up is tender and heartwarming, while giving some complications for future books.

This is a traditional British country house mystery with a few twists in the plot.  The main focus being the investigation among a dysfunctional family all cloistered in a castle.  Some humor and romance are sprinkled throughout and the main character has yet to reach his full potential, so readers can watch him come into his own as the series develops.

Rating: Good - A fun read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying - particularly if you aren't a fan of traditional British country house mysteries.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Author Interview - Beth Groundwater

The Mid-Winter Blog Hop is the post prior to this, just scroll down.  This week we have a fantastic interview with Beth Groundwater.  I recently reviewed her adventure mystery, To Hell in a Handbasket (click here.)   The following information I obtained from her website.  Beth obtained a college degree in Psychology (useful in character development) and Computer Science from the College of William and Mary, was a software engineer and software project manager.  She also married, obtained a Masters Degree, and reared two children - until Beth and her husband met their retirement savings goals and she retirement in 1999 and began writing. 

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?

I’ve loved reading and writing ever since I learned how to do both as a child. Stories, especially about people overcoming adversity or solving problems or puzzles, have always fascinated me. As for the writing process itself, I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love the process when I’m “in the zone” and the characters are talking and interacting in my head while I try to keep up with them, typing as fast as I can. And I hate the process when I stare at a blank computer screen and nothing happens. Instead of giving up when that happens, though, I stick with it and keep staring at that screen and making false starts at typing something, anything, until the words begin to flow. What motivated me at first was the goal of publishing my first book. What motivates me now are those firm contract deadlines!

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel? Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

For both my RM Outdoor Adventures series and my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, the sleuth character is already well-defined, as are some supporting characters. So for each new book, I usually start with the (first) victim and an interesting way in which s/he died. Then I branch out from there to who might have wanted to kill that person, trying to come up with 5-7 possible suspects, and identifying 5-7 clues and 5-7 red herrings related to those suspects. After that, I focus on the process of how my sleuth finds clues, interviews suspects, and figures out whodunnit and what sort of dangerous and sticky predicaments I can put her in.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?

I’m a retired software engineer and have a very organized personality, so I am an outliner. Each of my books has at least forty scenes in about 75,000 total words. Before I start writing the rough draft, I need to construct a scene-by-scene outline that contains at least thirty-two or -three scenes, so I know that I have a book’s worth of action. I describe each scene with 1-3 sentences. The rest of the scenes come to me during the writing process. Also before I start writing, I develop character profiles for the new characters introduced in that book and I do research in whatever new topics, locations, outdoor activities, etc. are introduced in that book.

Claire Hanover is in a select club of only a few middle-age women adventure-mystery main characters. What do you and Claire have in common? How are you different?

Like Claire, I used to live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I now live in Breckenridge, Colorado, the setting for the second book in her series. I was about Claire’s age when I started writing the series, though I’m much older than her now. Also, I have two grown children like her, though mine are older and the sexes are reversed. I am a skier like her, but I’m better at it. Also unlike her, my marriage is very happy, as evidenced by all the hard work my hubby has put into implementing my website and email newsletter. And Claire is a lot braver than I am, but I’m smarter than her. I have to construct ridiculous situations to put her in, after all, then gently steer her toward finding a way out. Also, contrary to what many people think, I don’t have a gift basket business. My business is writing mystery novels like Claire’s A Real Basket Case, To Hell in a Handbasket, and next year’s Basketful of Trouble. I do create gift baskets for friends, relatives and charity events, and fellow authors and mystery readers expect me to bring gift baskets to silent auctions at mystery conferences. I’m not as good at it as Claire is, though.

Claire is a tenacious character. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write? How do you handle minor characters like Leon and Detective Owen Silverstone?

Yes, persistence and determination, especially when a family member is threatened, is Claire’s defining characteristic. I have a character profile worksheet that I fill out for each character before I begin writing about them, and I conduct first-person interviews with some characters. Those are usually the male characters, which are harder for me to visualize than the female characters. Also, during the writing of a book, the characters will often let me know new things about them and their past. I profile even minor characters, though the profile may not be as fully fleshed out as Claire’s three-page profile.

This is a bit more Thriller or Adventure territory than the typical cozy. What attracted you to the higher octane for a mystery series?

I write what I like to read. I enjoy mysteries set in the West or in the outdoors, like those written by William Kent Krueger, Margaret Coel, Craig Johnson, Dana Stabenow, CJ Box, Kathy Brandt and Christine Goff. I enjoy outdoor activities myself, such as whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, so I like to feature those activities in my books. And, I have a thirst for adventure that I fulfill with travel, often overseas travel, as well as with outdoor activities. So, the tone of my two mystery series reflects my own personality and interests.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I can’t listen to music while I write, because then I have trouble hearing my characters’ voices in my head. My preparation for a writing session comes at the end of a previous session. I read the scene description for the next scene I need to write at the end of a session and let my unconscious mind work on that scene while I sleep, eat, or exercise in between sessions. Then when I start a new writing session, I read over what I wrote during the last session to get back into the story, then begin writing again from there. Each session lasts about 2-3 hours. I always write in my basement writing office, away from outside distractions.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book, especially juggling two series?

I used to take about a year to write a book. But with two series going now, I’m on a contract schedule where I have to finish a book every eight months. I spend about two to three months in preparation, three to four months cranking out the rough draft and two to three months editing. When I’m writing the rough draft, I put myself on a strict schedule of at least twenty pages a week.

What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?

First of all, I read a lot of mysteries, so I could understand the structure of the genre and what the reading audience for that genre expects.  Also, I took fiction writing workshops and read writing how-to books like James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I went through the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy to learn about police work and read books about police work. I interview experts in areas of knowledge that I use in my books, and I visit locations and try activities that I write about myself. Also, my undergraduate degree was a double major in computer science and psychology, so I’m now getting a chance to use the psychology part of that education.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?

I would have to pick William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor sleuth.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

In classic literature, I would pick Jane Austen, who was an astute observer of human nature and had a biting wit. I wish I could write as funny as she did! I was also influenced a lot by Agatha Christie and for the dark side, Edgar Allan Poe.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

Through networking with other writers! I think that networking with other writers is one of the most important things a writer can do for his or her writing career. I present workshops at writing conferences and write articles on how to network and why a writer must do it. In fact, I wrote an article in the September, 2008 issue of The Writer magazine on just that. I met my first editor and both my first and second literary agents through networking with other writers.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?

A question that I’ve gotten more than once at signings and that always tickles me is, “Have I heard of you?” I’ve learned to answer with a straight face, “Probably,” then launch into talking about my Amazon bestseller status, my Best First Novel Agatha Award nomination, the good reviews I’ve received in Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and more. ;-)

If your Claire Hanover mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?

I love Meryl Streep, but she’s a little too old for the role, so I think I’d pick Elisabeth Shue or Helen Hunt, who are both good at playing vulnerable yet determined characters.

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project? What is your biggest challenge with it?

The third book in the series, Basketful of Trouble, comes out in November, 2013. I just turned in the edited manuscript. In the book, Claire gets involved in solving a murder that occurred at her younger brother Charley’s trail-riding stable that is impacting his business and self-confidence. Along with featuring horseback riding in the book, Claire volunteers for Charley’s wife’s hippotherapy nonprofit that uses horses for physical and occupational therapy.

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?

I have both, and a website, Facebook page, Amazon author page, and Goodreads page. Here are the links:

Beth’s website: (click on “Newsletter” to subscribe to my email newsletter)

Beth’s blog:

Beth’s Facebook page:

Beth’s Amazon author page:

Beth’s Goodreads page:

THANK YOU Beth for that great interview!  Your active lifestyle shows in your characters and the overall subject matter of your books.  I am looking forward to the mystery featuring the hippotherapy. 

Here is a video of Winter Wonderland sung by Johnny Mathis.  Enjoy your holiday! 

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop 2012

If you are looking for the Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop, you are in the correct place and thank you for stopping by.  We celebrate everything mystery and suspense here - no doubt you can find something of interest!  

We have 4 packs of 2 books each available to win.

1) To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater
Mrs. Jeffries Speaks Her Mind by Emily Brightwell

2)  To Hell in a Handbasket by Beth Groundwater
Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly
3)  A Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer
Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy

4)  The Clue is in the Pudding by Kate Kingsbury
When the Cookie Crumbles by Virginia Lowell

Entry for giveaway lasts until December 27 6:00 p.m. (MST).

I will be shipping the books to the winners. U.S. and Canadian residents only please.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  Please supply your email address and consider yourself entered.  If you want to spread the word about this blog that is appreciated, but not a requirement of this giveaway.

I will accept entries for this giveaway Friday December 21 beginning at midnight (MST) through to 6:00 p.m (MST) on Thursday December 27.    

I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

At the end of this post you will find the blog hop listing to go to the next blog on the list.

Here is a music video for the holiday season - enjoy!

The list of blogs in the Blog Hop:

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Author Interview - Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell is one of my favorite cozy mystery authors, and she was one of the first to give me an interview when I first started my blog (click here)!  She is the NYT bestselling author of the Haunted Home Renovation mystery series (If Walls Could Talk (click here), Dead Bolt (click here), Murder on the House (I will be reviewing soon)) and the Witchcraft mystery series (Secondhand Spirits (click here), A Cast-off Coven (click here), Hexes and Hemlines (click here), In a Witch’s Wardrobe (click here)).  As Hailey Lind, Juliet penned the Art Lover’s Mystery series (click here), including Agatha-nominated Feint of Art. 

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked and studied in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She now lives in a happily haunted house in Oakland, California, where she is a muralist and portrait painter. She was a two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime.

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?

Well, I certainly love “having done it”!  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding one’s own published book in one’s hand…it’s an amazing sense of accomplishment.  As an avid reader myself, it’s such a thrill to see my book on the shelf, next to my favorite authors!

But I also love the process of writing.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t continue with this job– it’s not the easiest way to make a living.  Most of writing is hard work. It can be difficult – nearly impossible—to be creative-on-demand, but deadlines must be met.  The pay is low, the hours long, and we develop carpal-tunnel syndrome and neck-aches and backaches…and YET it’s the best job in the world! I adore spending so much time in my own head, with my characters, spinning tales, setting different scenes, and fashioning distinct scenarios. For months at a time, it’s just me and the world I’ve built…it’s addicting! 

And the absolute BEST part is when the story seems to take off without me.  It can feel as though I’m channeling my characters; in fact, the whole invented world.  Hours can fly by without my realizing it, because I’m so caught up in the story.  I am also a painter, so I recognize the feeling as that of tapping into my creativity without constraint…and boy, is that addictive!  It’s like a writer’s high

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I don’t actually have a routine; it’s different for each book. I get a lot of ideas when I read the news, or while I’m researching ghost stories and the like.  For instance, recently I was noticing how often bodies are found, naturally mummified, in buildings that have been foreclosed upon.  Disturbing…and yet strangely fascinating for someone who writes about haunted homes! 

But one of the great things about writing series fiction is that the characters are set up in the first novel of the series, and then develop from there.  They often inform the plot, since they react in specific manners to the challenges they’ll be facing.  And every once in a while I’ll run into someone who makes me think: “He would make a great victim” or “She would make a great villain”.  I love incorporating bits and pieces of daily life into my stories.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?

I’m more a “seat of my pants” author, because I love to let the story flow and develop organically.  That said, I usually have a good synopsis of the book ahead of time, including the main crime, the victim, and the killer.  This doesn’t mean that all of that –especially the killer!—might not change as I write, but I like to start with some set ideas. 

My newest writing technique is that after the first rough draft I write a sort of backwards outline, working from the finished story.  As I look at that skeleton I can more clearly see where the story might need more action, or where to insert clues, that sort of thing.  It has been working well for me!

Mel Turner (Haunted Home Renovation Mysteries) and Lily Ivory (Witchcraft Mysteries)  are each unique and interesting characters, and the rest of the crew is great as well.  What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?

I’m all about developing characters – they are, by far, my most favorite part of any story. My main characters almost always just come to me as I write, and yes, they do “tell me about themselves” as I am progressing in the story!  In writing workshops I tell students that if they’ve reached a point in their novel where action just stops, it’s often because they are trying to force a character to do something s/he wouldn’t do.  It’s amazing how characters can come alive, and put on the brakes when they’re not comfortable! 

It’s crucial to have a developed backstory for one’s characters.  They need to be rounded and three-dimensional, and real humans base much of their perspective on the world and their actions on their past experiences.  So whether or not that backstory comes out in the novel, it makes a difference in how they react to the situations at hand.  I think about own life, and people I’ve known, good friends and family…and I extract my characters from all of those real-life personages.

For the minor and secondary characters I often cut pictures from magazines and make a collage to refer to as I write.  That way I can remember each one of them visually, as one might see minor characters walking on and off the screen in a movie.  I think that makes the descriptions richer, even when they’re concise.

What do you and Mel Turner (Haunted Home Renovation Mysteries) and Lily Ivory (Witchcraft Mysteries) have in common? How are you different?

Mel and I have a good deal in common-- I have to remind my friends and family often that “she’s not ME!”  But it’s true that Mel’s dad is based on mine, her stepson is inspired by my son, and the dog is basically my dog.  Also, I worked on construction sites for many years as a decorative painter, so the situations Mel finds herself in are usually based on houses I worked on, and the clients are often taken from true experiences.

Lily (from the Witchcraft series) and I have less in common, yet ultimately I have no doubt that ALL characters share something with their authors.  Obviously, I am reaching into part of me to develop Lily, even though she is a natural-born witch, whereas I am not.  But she is from West Texas, from a town inspired by my grandfather’s home town (my mother’s huge family is Texan to the core!)  And I’ve given her many attributes of powerful, magical women I met over the years when I was working as an anthropologist.  I was able to meet healers of all types when I studied and taught medical anthropology, and Lily has a bit of many of them folded in to her.  Finally, my favorite aunt used to read cards and tea leaves, and my mother-in-law is from a small village in Mexico and is a font of great knowledge regarding botanicals, and has a magical view of the world.  So they’re all part of Lily!

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I used to be much pickier about my writing surroundings, and my favorite place to write is still an alcove off my bedroom, which is on the second story and overlooks a huge oak tree. I feel far from the world there, safe to go on my creative journeys!  But I travel so much these days that I’ve gotten better at writing no matter where I am: on airplanes, at conferences, when I’m visiting my dad, while on book tours…it really is my job, so I sit down and write every day, pretty much no matter what.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?  How has writing two mystery series simultaneously impacted your schedule?

My books come out once a year, each series every six months.  So I write Lily for six months, and Mel for the next six.  As I mentioned above, I write pretty much every day, a minimum of two thousand words when I’m writing the rough draft.  And then there’s editing, of course, and re-writing, and research, and thinking through plot, and finessing the language and style… Writing two books a year -- along with conferences and teaching and appearances and social media and other promotions-- means that I have to be sure not to fall behind, because I’d never catch up!  I think some people are surprised to see how businesslike I am about getting my words done, but my fellow authors know the feeling, I’m sure. 

How did you pick your setting and how do you like to interject a sense of place? 

I stick to San Francisco because I know it well – and also because it is such a quirky, interesting, diverse city!  It really does become like a character in its own right.  I like to introduce people to the parts of the city tourists don’t often see:  the rundown areas, the ethnic enclaves and distinct neighborhoods that make San Francisco so interesting.  In the case of the Haunted Home Renovation books, the architecture of the city is front and center, which I thoroughly enjoy.

What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?

I read!  Like a fiend. As a girl I read all the time, favoring Trixie Beldon and the Three Investigators– both are mystery series written for young people.  As I grew, I kept reading, and no matter what I was doing through the years –anthropology or social work or painting –I always had a book in my bag.  Finally, I thought I’d try my hand at it – and I didn’t give up until I had a full manuscript, which became my first book, FEINT OF ART under the name Hailey Lind.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?

Vicky Bliss, of the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters.  Right after I graduated from Young Adult fiction to grown-up mysteries, I stumbled up on Elizabeth Peters, who also writes paranormal mysteries under the name Barbara Michaels.  Vicky Bliss is educated, sassy, smart, strong, and funny.  She was a wonderful role model.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

Ha!  Given what I just wrote above, I guess I have to say Elizabeth Peters!  Seriously, since I read (and loved) her so early in life, she was a huge influence on me.  She has a wonderful way of telling a story, and her plots are smart and adventurous, and usually center around items of historical value.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?

Several readers have told me my books are their “sick” read –they read them while in bed with a cold, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery.  I’m not absolutely sure what that says about my writing, but I’ve decided to take it as a compliment!

Tell us your thoughts on the growing genre of paranormal mysteries and its popularity (i.e. is it here to stay or a fad, is it pushing the mystery genre envelope etc?)

I mentioned Barbara Michaels earlier, and I’d like to bring her up again, because she was writing paranormal mysteries in the 1970s and 80s.  Though there weren’t a lot of other authors writing in the genre at the time, I’m sure she’s not the only example from the era.  The fascination with paranormal themes is not new – in fact, we could look back at the tales of Dracula and Frankenstein to show that interest has run deep for a long time.  In the mystery genre, I think it’s only natural authors would start incorporating paranormal themes since they are, almost by definition, cloaked in mystery!  Whether or not you really believe in ghosts or the supernatural, they lend themselves to murder mysteries because they bring in that extra element of surprise and the unknown.

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project?  What is your biggest challenge with it? 

At the moment I’m writing the fourth in the Haunted Home series, called Home for the Haunting (to be released December, 2013).  I’m enjoying the story because it is based on a volunteer renovation project for the elderly and disabled I participated in for many years – I often base my novels in stories from my past, and it’s fun to visit those memories and incorporate some of the funny experiences into Mel’s world. My biggest challenge at the moment is finishing it during the holidays! 

The next book to be released after Murder on the House will be Tarnished and Torn, the fifth in the Witchcraft Mystery series, which comes out July 3, 2013. In it, Lily is on the trail of a magical fire opal talisman…the story was great fun to write because I got to learn all about opals!

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news? 

I do!  Visit me at;; and Twitter @JulietBlackwell.  Also, if readers put their name on my mailing list (on the contact page of my website), I send out  

newsletters from time to time.


Thank you Ms. Blackwell for that great interview.  I think the people turning to your book when they are sick is definitely a compliment.  It is comfort reading that gets their mind off being sick - like comfort food.  I have not read any Barbara Michaels, so I have a new author to check out.  They do sound great.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Recipes for your enjoyment

I am behind in my reading so I don't have a review at the moment, but I have been saving up recipes for the blog readers.  This gives me an opportunity to share some recipes.  Yeah!

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Squash on Toast

This is amazing, even if you may not think so from the name.  Give this a try for a unique twist that is just delicious.


  • 1 2 1/2- to 3-pound kabocha or other yellow-fleshed squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick.  I loved the Butternut squash for this.
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more to taste
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup ricotta, goat cheese, feta or mascarpone
  • Coarse salt
  • 4 tablespoons chopped mint


Heat the oven to 450. Combine the squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, chile flakes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook, stirring every few minutes, until tender and slightly colored, about 15 minutes or a little longer. Remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, heat another 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and remaining teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, at least 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir and reduce until syrupy and broken down, again at least 15 minutes or so; the mixture should be jammy.
Combine squash and onions in a bowl and smash with a fork until combined. Taste for seasoning.
Add the remaining oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add bread and cook until just golden on both sides, less than 10 minutes total; drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.
4 to 8 servings

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies

 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 rounded teaspoons ground ginger (3 if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup boiling water
Bake at 350ºF or about 12 minutes
For the filling (makes extra!):
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 tsp cream or milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
*you can adjust texture by adding more powdered sugar or milk

Flour portioning note: It is critical to weigh the flour for this recipe to work as seen in the video. 10 ounces by weight is about 2 cups by volume, but because flour can become quite compressed in the bag or canister, portioning by cup is not very accurate. If you are not going to weigh, only add about a cup and a half of flour, proceed as shown, and if the batter seems too thin after mixing, add more flour, little by little, until you have the thick batter seen in the video.

Peppermint Dream Cake


    3 eggs
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4   teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    3/4   cup milk
    3     tablespoons butter
    1/2   teaspoon peppermint extract
    1     tablespoon liquid red food coloring
    1     recipe Fluffy White Chocolate Frosting
    White chocolate curls
    Chopped peppermint candy canes


1. Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease bottoms of two 8-inch round baking pans. Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper; grease and lightly flour pans. Set pans aside. In a small bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl beat eggs with an electric mixer on high speed about 4 minutes or until thick and lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture; beat on low to medium speed just until combined.

3. In a small saucepan heat and stir milk and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Add milk mixture and peppermint extract to batter, beating until combined. Divide batter in half. Pour half of the batter into one of the prepared baking pans. Stir red food coloring into the remaining batter. Pour red batter into the other baking pan.

4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans. Peel off waxed paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Cut each cake layer in half horizontally.

5. To assemble, place a white cake layer on a serving plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting evenly over the cake. Top with a red cake layer; spread evenly with 3/4 cup of the frosting. Top with the remaining white cake layer; spread evenly with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with the red cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle white chocolate curls and coarsely chopped candy canes over top of cake. Cover and chill for up to 4 hours. Cover and store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.

Fluffy White Chocolate Frosting
Start to Finish 5 mins

    cup whipping cream
    tablespoons butter
    ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped
    teaspoon peppermint extract
    cups whipping cream


1. In a medium saucepan heat and stir whipping cream and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat. Add white chocolate (do not stir). Let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture until smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. In a large chilled mixing bowl beat whipping cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Fold in half of the white chocolate mixture at a time.

Homemade Twinkies

How to make homemade Twinkies. I have not tried this, but wanted to share.
(makes 25 - 2x3 inch cakes)

Cake Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 cup water
1 (5.1 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix

Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
5 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 10x15 inch jelly roll pans.
2. Beat the eggs until combined; stir in the melted butter. Add the water, pudding mix, and yellow cake mix, stirring well to combine. The batter will be very thick. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it evenly.
3. Bake until the cakes spring back when pressed lightly with a finger or a tester comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.
4. To make the filling, combine the room-temperature butter, cream cheese, and confectioners sugar. Beat until smooth. Stir in the whipped topping and vanilla extract.
5. When the cakes are cool, spread the filling mixture on top of one cake layer. Place the second cake layer on top of the first, and cut into bars. Wrap each bar in plastic wrap and store in the freezer.


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Monday, December 10, 2012

Author Interview - Anna Lee Huber

I reviewed the debut novel in the new historical Lady Darby mystery series (click here).  I was highly impressed by the writing and immediately sought out the author for an interview.  I am honored that Ms. Anna Lee Huber has given us this interview.   Wahoo.  As always, comments encouraged.

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you? 

I write because I love it, and because I can’t stop making up stories in my head. J I often have trouble falling asleep at night because I begin daydreaming about a story idea, and then I can’t stop.

I can’t imagine not writing. Even without being published or being paid for it, I would still be writing simply for my own enjoyment. I love seeing where my imagination takes me next, and surprising even myself.

My biggest motivation is the desire to do something with my life, to make a difference, to leave something of myself behind when I pass on. I’ve always felt the urgent need to do so, and writing fulfills that need.

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel? Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

In regards to the Lady Darby series, I start with where the last story left off, and where my existing story arcs need to go. Then I move on from there to whatever has inspired me. It could be a particular setting I really want to use, or a historical fact I want to explore, or a scene I’ve imagined that I want to fit into it somehow. It varies from story to story. I try to weave the existing story arcs in with my inspirations to form the premise. Sometimes everything fits, sometimes it doesn’t. I shuffle until I feel I’ve got a good idea.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing? 

Before I start writing, I usually have the premise worked out, as well as a pretty good idea where the character and relationship story arcs need to go, and a very basic plot sketch. However, I prefer to mostly free write the first fifty pages or so before I sit down to do any serious plotting. I need the freedom to go wherever my imagination takes me, which is sometimes in a completely different direction than I expected. Until I’m fifty to one hundred pages in, I don’t really know if I have a story to work with, and I don’t want to waste my time plotting something that won’t work, or that I find bores me. But at a certain point, I do have to sit down and plot where I’m going—when the clues will appear, who the red herrings are, etc. Sometimes these plans change, and I adapt, but I need that structure to complete the story.

Kiera Darby is a memorable, damaged character. What do you and the troubled Kiera have in common? How are you different? 

When I first started writing Kiera, I didn’t think we had much in common at all. I could honestly relate more to her older sister, Alana. But as I’ve gotten to know her better, I realized we do have some traits in common, though she is in no way me. We’re both introverts, gaining energy from our solitary pursuits. We both feel uncomfortable in social situations, though I’m fairly adept at hiding this fact and Kiera is not. I also make an effort to be outgoing and social, while Kiera doesn’t see the point. We both have artistic pursuits – mine being music and writing, while Kiera’s is art. We also both have a strong desire for acceptance, for ourselves and others. We wish everyone could just be accepted for who they are, instead of being criticized or forced into a mold if they are different. Our most important difference is that I have been extremely fortunate in my family and my choice of spouse, as well as the time period I was born in, all factors Kiera has suffered because of in one way or another.

Kiera, Sebastion Gage, Alana, Philip, and the rest of the crew are all great. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write? How do you handle minor characters? 

It honestly depends on the character. Some of them seem to come to me fully fleshed, like Kiera, while others I have to work harder to unravel. I started The Anatomist’s Wife, by crafting some Kiera’s back story—why she had skills to be an investigator—and the location and murder mystery grew from that. But from the moment I began writing in her narrative voice I could tell my subconscious already knew her. It was like she was sitting behind me, telling me the story. I didn’t have to struggle to find her. Other characters remained a little more elusive for me, like Philip. I had to do some thinking to better understand what made him tick, and he still has a bit of mystery to him, which I like. I love to discover things about my characters that I hadn’t planned.

I do a fairly extensive character work up on my main characters each book, just to be sure I’m on top of their development, their psychology, and any important elements we’ve recently learned of their past. I rarely use pictures, unless there is a particular clothing ensemble I want one of them to wear. I like to know their features, their quirks, but I don’t want to be able to picture exactly what they look like.

Most of my minor characters seem to spring from my imagination. Sometimes they tamely do what they’re told, while others try to hijack the story. Lord Marsdale was one of the latter. I hadn’t expected to enjoy writing him so much, but the man is incorrigible. He also has some secrets that need explored. We may see him in a future book.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

Not really. I like to take a few minutes to center myself, to breathe deeply and block everything else out so that I can focus on the story, but I don’t really have a ritual. I usually write in my home office, but I can and do write elsewhere. Sometimes if I’m struggling, I’ll switch up locations, just because it makes it seem fresh. I prefer quiet or instrumental music—soundtracks, symphonies, etc. Music with words distracts me. Sometimes a particular piece of music will attach itself to a story. For example, I listened to the Inception movie soundtrack a lot while I was writing Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2, so when I need to return to that story for edits, etc, if I listen to that soundtrack it instantly puts me back into it.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I should be better about having a set schedule, but I don’t. I usually set a certain word count I’m supposed to meet every day or week, but I allow myself to be flexible about how I meet that. When I’m getting close to a deadline I’m stricter with myself than other times, but I’m still very flexible. I’m more of a night owl, so most of my writing gets done in the afternoon and evening. Or if inspiration strikes, I may be up until 3am writing. I don’t have children yet, so it’s much easier to do that. I’m in for a rude awakening when the first baby comes along. It takes me about five to seven months to write a book, including research.

Being a historical mystery, how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

Now that I know the time period I’m writing in pretty well and feel comfortable with it, I do mostly focused research, on the specific topics I’ll be covering in that book, and the setting and particular month I’ll be writing in. I do broad research on the subject before I start writing, and then as needed while I’m writing the first and second drafts. It depends on the story as to how much research I need to do. Some topics require more than others, but it usually takes a up at least a few weeks of my time.

Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, how did you pick your setting and how do you like to interject a sense of place? Do you use places that you know well, have visited personally, or are familiar with for your settings?

Setting is very important to me. I like to think of it as a character all its own. Initially I chose the area around Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland as the setting of THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE because I needed the location to be isolated, but not unreasonably so. I also have a deep love for the Highlands, and was fortunate enough to have visited there on a recent trip to the UK. It has a melancholy beauty that is absolutely perfect for a mystery. I like to focus on how a setting affects the characters, the mood it creates, and I try to highlight specific aspects of it rather than the entire surroundings. Most of the time I haven’t visited my exact location, but I have visited somewhere nearby. Or I borrow details from other castles or lochs or cities I’ve been to and transpose them into my setting.

What in your background prepared you to write not just mysteries, but historicals too?

I have always loved history. It was my favorite subject in school, and one at which I excelled. I just really enjoy learning things about the past, and how that affects the future, and I’ve always looked at it as a narrative rather than random, individual facts. So after college when I began writing stories again for myself, there was never any doubt that they would have a historical setting. It was what I was interested in. I think the operas I studied as a music major may have helped that along, but the love of history was already ingrained in me.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?

Ooo…this is tough. I have to pick just one? Okay, I’m going to state one of the obvious, but it’s true. Sherlock Holmes. Has any one single fictional character ever done so much for a genre of fiction? (However, if I were picking a character I would like to have on my side as a friend to hang out with, it would be Clare Fergusson from Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series.)

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most? 

Perhaps Deanna Raybourn. She’s so amazingly talented, and incredibly gracious. But I would also say Mary Stewart has influenced me greatly.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

I landed my literary agent through a query letter. I’ve spoken to a lot of hopeful writers who find the idea of sending a query letter to be intimidating. However, there are only so many writers conferences you can attend, and so many agents you can meet there. If your writing is good, the agents will take notice, even through a

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?

I was extremely thrilled and flattered when a lovely seventy-seven year young woman wrote to tell me how much she had loved my book, and compared me to the masters in “the grand old tradition of period suspense, a la Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney,” and how happy that had made her. It was an amazing compliment. And one I cherish.

If your Lady Kiera Darby mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?

For Kiera I would go with Abbie Cornish, not based on looks really, but because I think she is an extremely talented actress who would display just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. As far as Gage, I like to think of him as a cross between Simon Baker and Rupert Penry-Jones. Either actor would be marvelous in the role, but I would lean toward Penry-Jones, simply because of the age factor. 


Tell us your thoughts on the importance of historical mysteries and their popularity.

I think cross-genre stories as a whole are seeing a surge in popularity. Readers like to explore the complexities combining different story elements affords them. History and mystery are particularly appealing because readers like to discover things they didn’t know before, and the journey to another time and place provides an escape from their crazy modern lives. Mysteries in the past also present their own unique set of problems. There was no modern technology to aid investigators—no fingerprinting, or DNA testing, or even organized police forces. Without much forensics to fall back on, this forces historical sleuths to be more clever. There are a dozen TV shows on each week where we can watch modern detectives solve crimes. But readers largely must turn to books if they want to know how it might have been done in the past.

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project? What is your biggest challenge with it?

Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2, will be released in September 2013. It takes place two months after the events of The Anatomist’s Wife. Kiera and her sister’s family are journeying to Edinburgh, in search of better medical care for Alana and the child she carries, when they receive an urgent letter summoning them to the home of the Dalmays just north of the city. The Dalmays are old family friends, and Michael is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother—and Kiera’s childhood art tutor—William, has thrown everything into chaos. Will has been missing for ten years, locked in a lunatic asylum by his own father. And now a local girl has gone missing. Sympathetic to Will’s plight, Kiera must join forces with Gage to find the girl, prove Will’s innocence, and save Michael’s marriage.

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?

I have a blog on my website (, as well as a latest news page, and readers can also sign up for my newsletter there. I also post info on my Facebook page (AuthorAnnaLeeHuber) and Twitter (AnnaLeeHuber).


THANK You Anna for that great interview.  Many fascinating tidbits.  I have to agree with the woman who wrote you comparing you to Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney!  I too am a fan of Mary Stewart.

Vote for your favorite cookies in the Ultimate Cookie Challenge.  Now for a cookie recipe perfect for all those holiday potlucks and parties.  You can vote for this recipe in the challenge.

Oatmeal Cream Pies


    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1/2 cup peanut butter
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    1   egg
    1   teaspoon vanilla
    1   cup quick-cooking oats
    2   teaspoons hot water
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1   7 ounce jar marshmallow creme
    1/2 cup shortening
    1/3 cup powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet; set aside. In a small bowl combine flour, baking soda, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl combine butter and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in granulated sugar and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla just until combined. Stir in flour mixture and oats just until combined.

2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown and centers are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the hot water and the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir until salt dissolves. Add marshmallow creme, shortening, and powdered sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.

4. Spread marshmallow mixture on the flat side of half of the cookies. Top each frosted cookie with another cookie, flat side down.

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