Hey y’all – a B’con 19 recap

At the end of October, I went to the big “D” – Dallas, Texas – for Bouchercon. I traveled with my good friend Annette Dashofy. Mostly I went because Hank Phillippi Ryan was Guest of Honor and Deb Crombie was Local Guest of Honor. That and I figured I’d never have another reason to visit Texas.

If you aren’t familiar with Bouchercon, well, it’s…a madhouse, really. Most mystery conferences are. It’s one of the few times a year when all we authors get together, talk books, catch up, and get to meet readers. There were over 1,700 attendees at this year’s con, the 50th anniversary. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun, wished I could spend more time with some people, and am looking forward to the next get-together (which for me will be Malice Domestic in the spring).

Annette and I have traveled together enough that we’ve got our routine down by now. The plan was I would go to her house, leave my car in her garage, and we’d go to the airport. We did not anticipate much of an issue, even though I was traveling through Pittsburgh at rush hour.

Man plans, God laughs.

What should have been a forty-minute trip took over two hours thanks to a disabled tractor-trailer. Thankfully, there is no traffic on Annette’s side of the city, and we’d left plenty of time to get to the airport. Off to Houston.

Except…Houston, we have a problem.

Upon landing, our 45 minute layover turned to a hour and forty-five minutes, turned into two hours, turned into three, turned into… You get the picture. The text tones went off so frequently our phones sounded like pinball machines. Fortunately, there were chocolate-covered potato chips.

When your flight delays just won’t stop…

Upon arriving in Dallas, our phones chimed with alerts about a freeze warning. Hello, didn’t we go to Dallas? Why yes, yes we did.

Hello Dallas, you’re looking…wet

By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were spent.

Current status…burnt

Nowhere to go but up, right? Wednesday, I hooked up with Dru Ann Love for a bus tour and yummy lunch.

Dru Ann and I, post lunch

From there, the whirlwind started. There was the always-entertaining Jungle Reds panel, this year a game show titled “Who Wants to be a Mystery-aire?” I answered questions I didn’t know I knew and flubbed ones that should have been easy. About par for the course.

All seven of the Reds made it to Dallas

I saw my favorite cowboy.

Reavis Wortham and I

And celebrated the end of the conference with some fabulous chocolate cake.

Decadent and yummy

I fully expected my panel on Sunday to be empty, but I was rather pleased at the crowd. We had a lot of laughs.

Half of the room

And from there it was off to the airport, another flight delay, and eventually home.

Next year, Bouchercon is in Sacramento. Maybe I’ll be recovered enough by then to think about going.

And So It Begins

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Let’s get right to it.

The holiday season can be stressful. Unless you completely Grinch-out for the next six weeks, there’s likely to be a day or two (or forty-something) that are challenging.

Here are some ideas to help maintain enough sanity so you’re less likely to require legal help (with nods to Keenan and Kait). I promise to avoid the obvious… exercising and saying no are givens, right?

  • Take a whiff of something citrusy. Studies show this can be a huge mood elevator. Dab a little lemon or orange essential oil on a handkerchief and keep it handy.

 

  • Work your hoku spot—that fleshy place between your index finger and thumb. If you apply firm pressure (I like to massage it) for 30 seconds, you can reduce stress and tension in your upper body.

 

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. —Sylvia Plath

 

  • Consider letting go of old customs and starting some new traditions. This can be especially important if your family has suffered loss through death or divorce or a relocation. Maybe you have friends in a similar situation and can begin something new together.

 

  • Honey is truly an elixer worth paying attention to. The darker the honey, the more positive impact it will have. I’m also told that if you can find local honey, it can help with any allergies you’re dealing with.

 

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. —Etty Hillesum

 

  • Unplug. Have you seen the commercial that’s curently running where the grandparents enforce a technology-free zone? Yeah, they use tech to get there, but it makes a point. I’m due for what I call a Pajama Day. Basically, I do as little as possible for the entire day and wrap myself up with a book. No makeup. Little cooking. No laundry. The only tech might be my Kindle.

 

  • Eat before you coffee. Studies have shown that caffeine on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar to spike which can lead to attention difficulties and irritability.

 

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. —A.A. Milne

 

  • Laugh like crazy. Your sanity might depend on it. Find a place that tickles your funny bone. (We have Becky, but she can’t be with us 24/7 and we should have backups.) Laughter centers us. It helps us let go of the strangling bits of stress that in the end really don’t matter.

 

  • For some reason, mango keeps showing up as a happy thing. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a fresh mango, jarred or canned, or a mango pie. I think at this point, we don’t look a gift mango pie in the mouth. We take it in our mouth.

 

Some of the secret joys of living are not found by rushing from point A to point B, but by inventing some imaginary letters along the way. —Douglas Pagels

 

  • Giving a massage can be more beneficial than receiving one. Hello? Got a partner? Indulge.

 

  • Make sure and get some sunlight. If you live in a place like Alaska (waving to Keenan) you might need one of those artifical sunlight machines. Otherwise, get outside or figure out a way to sit by a bright window.

 

For fast-acting relief try slowing down. —Lily Tomlin

 

And finally:

Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down. —Natalie Goldberg

 

 

What have you found that helps you move from stress to relaxation? Does it work during the holidays? Or do you just close your eyes and basically hold your breath for the next forty or so days?

 

It’s all better with friends.

Interview: Eugenia Lovett West

What made you interested in writing this particular story?         

My aim was to transport the reader into a different world. Over the years, I’ve come to love my gutsy, elegant Emma Streat. By now I know her better than I know my own daughters, and I wanted her to move on with her life, find the right man, and hone her talent for making unlikely connections. And—it was an excuse to send her to countries in Europe that I knew from business travels with my CEO husband.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

I seem to end up with women protagonists who are facing multiple problems. They have to grow stronger and learn to survive and work through dire challenges. A sub-plot of global threats is key. I by-pass domestic violence like a husband killing his wife in a bathtub. Emma has dealt with advanced weaponry and transportation of lethal viruses. In Firewall, the global threat is cybercrime, a threat that affects us all.

Tell us about your main character.

Emma is now 49, an ex-opera singer, widow, and mother of two boys in college. Trying to find out why her husband was murdered led her into the murky world of detecting, and she has become the go-to person for family and friends in trouble. In Firewall, a blackmail threat to her feisty, rich godmother leads to mounting dangers and her ability to survive catastrophic situations. She has worked with several intelligence agencies, both in England and the U.S. They value her skill in making unlikely links, but she would like to move from amateur to professional status. Losses have tested Emma. She’s more tolerant and has more compassion. She accepts the fact she is no longer a hands-on mother and must treat her boys as adults. A romantic affair with the dynamic Lord Andrew Rodale, a British peer who works undercover with intelligence agencies, has been like a roller coaster. Several other possibilities have ended badly. She wants a man in her life, but on a permanent basis.

What do you think makes a good story?

It is said that there are only two masterplots in existence: “A Stranger Comes to Town, and “The Hero Takes a Journey.” Readers and writers are setting out on a journey together, and the reader must start to care about the outcome. Like painting a picture, there are layers and layers of process: The bond with the main character. Details that illuminate the story and define good writing. Dialogue that covers ground and moves the plot without an excess of description. The setting should liven and reflect the story while secondary characters add color. A good slogan to put over one’s desk is Show Not Tell. I aim for drama and conflict in every chapter, but try to avoid stretching the reader’s credibility. For some reason, I’m obsessed by suspense, a compulsion to make the reader want to turn the page. To sum up, I believe that a writer should try to provide the reader with something of value—entertainment, information, or just the chance to escape to a different place.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I would include Dick Francis, Elizabeth George, J.D. Robb, and P.D. James.

*****

Eugenia Lovett West is the author of Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery. Eugenia was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was Reverend Sidney Lovett, the widely known and loved former chaplain at Yale. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and worked for Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross. Then came marriage, four children, volunteer work, and freelancing for local papers.

Her first novel, The Ancestors Cry Out, was published by Doubleday; it was followed by two mysteries, Without Warning and Overkill, published by St. Martin’s Press. West divides her time between Essex, Connecticut, and Holderness, New Hampshire, where she summers with her large extended family. For more information, please visit http://www.eugenialovettwest.com

Irish Barmbrack, Gluten-free

BarnbrackBarmbrack is a holiday cake in Ireland. According to Allrecipes.com, where I found the recipe I modified, once the mixture is poured into the plan, it is tradition to add objects which symbolize things for the lucky person who gets that slice. For instance, the site says, one would add “a coin for wealth, a ring for marrying within a year, a bean for poverty, a pea for not marrying within in a year, a matchstick for an unhappy marriage and a thimble for single for life.” Once again, I am grateful I don’t have to worry about whether my well-being is determined by marriage. Moving on…

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups chopped dried mixed fruit. I used cranberries and raisins in equal measure.

1 1/2 cups of hot brewed tea. I used “English” breakfast tea. I’m certain it was really Irish breakfast tea and had been mislabeled.

2 1/2 cups of gluten free flour*

1 teaspoon xanthum gum

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

1/4 cup marmalade. I used orange. (The recipe from Allrecipes uses lemon marmalade. Lots of luck finding that in an Alaskan grocery store. We have five varieties of Spam but only one marmalade.)

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Directions

  1.  Soak the dried fruit in the hot tea for 2 hours, then drain and gently squeeze out excess tea. Reserve the excess tea. I squeezed the moisture out of the fruit like my life depended on it because I didn’t want unaccounted-for moisture screwing up the bake. But I was ever so gentle.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch Bundt pan. (I use Earth Balance Buttery Spread made from canola oil.) Stir together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  3.  Beat the egg, sugar, marmalade, and orange zest. Add the tea-soaked fruit and combine well. Gently fold in the flour until just combined. At this point, my dough was crumbly but it turned out okay. If you’re worried, you could add just a touch of the reserved tea to make it more a cake-like dough. Press (or pour) into Bundt pan.
  4. Bake 1 hour or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool 2 hours before turning out. Continue to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. At this point, Allrecipes said you press the items into the bottom of the cake before serving but that’s not what they said in the beginning. I wasn’t playing around with the surprise items so I don’t know which would be better.

The cake had a tough crust which was unexpected. Yet, as you would imagine, I polished off the whole thing. It kept well in a deep Rubbermaid container – so as to thwart sneaky dog thievery attacks  – on the countertop covered with a loose lid for four days and then it was all gone. It was nice for breakfast and my afternoon snack.

* I use a recipe for flour mix from Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise G. Roberts: 2 parts brown rice, 2/3 part potato starch, and 1/3 part tapioca flour

To you, Mysteristas: What are you traditional or new-to-you holiday recipes? I’m always looking for something new and different since the extended family ends up having at least two Thanksgivings and two Christmas dinners. By the time they get to my house, they don’t want to see another pumpkin pie.

Last year for Christmas, I modified the Beca’s Gingerbread Latte Yule Log recipe from the Great British Baking Show. It was not horrible. I felt like Bridget Jones, having just discovered that I’m a genius in a kitchen. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Policeman

My mystery book club recently read The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters.  The first of a trilogy, it’s about a newly promoted detective who stays on the job, even though his colleagues are bailing because everyone is going to die in 6 months when an asteroid hits earth.  

Besides being a fabulous book, it raises some interesting questions.  Some of the members of book club asked why we had chosen a science fiction book.  But is it?  Its premise sounds science-fiction-y, given the looming apocalypse, and Locus, the trade magazine of the science fiction community, had featured several articles about the book.  I was intrigued, since I love science fiction and also write it under another name.  

But this book is more about the investigation into a suspicious death, with the added layers of characters responding to their difficult situation.  And the book won the Edgar Award in 2013 for best paperback original.  This prestigious award is presented by Mystery Writers of America.  So, if professional mystery writers say it’s a mystery, then it’s a mystery.  Case closed.  

But it’s also science fiction.  

I am reminded of another time when an author I know wrote a science fiction mystery and hoped to see it marketed as a mystery.  The book ended up being shelved with science fiction, probably because the author was already established as a science fiction writer.  Any genre can also contain a mystery (and imo, a mystery makes any book better!), but science fiction seems to trump mystery when it comes to cross-genre.   

So I couldn’t wait to find out what my book club of seasoned mystery readers would think of this book.  Several of them had been skeptical at first and wouldn’t have chosen to read it, if not for book club.  As it turned out, all but one loved it.  They focused on the investigation of the case, and the way it unfolded fit their expectations, leaving them satisfied.  Not bad at all, I’d say! 

What do you say?  Do you mind other genre elements in your mysteries?  

I’ll vote for that!

 

November is a traditional election month, and “politics as usual” even in an “off year” can be emotionally draining. Including politics in a fiction book can be like walking across a minefield: one wrong sentence and an author has alienated half the readers, and yet there is nothing like a good political scandal to drive book sales. National and local politics can be so outrageous that no would believe the events if they were in a fiction book, and yet there it all is, all over newspapers, network news, “tell all” books, and talk shows.

Politics can make compelling appearances in crime fiction. (Excluding the notion that politics by its very nature is crime fiction.) Sometimes authors writing mysteries set in an “historic” time use real politicians in  modified roles to build upon or to expand reality, for example “November Road” by Lou Berney.

Books set in a “contemporary” time frame need politicians and themes that are current and complicated and yet generic enough to not alienate readers or to make the book seem dated for future readers. The main character in “Black Swan Rising” by Lisa Brackmann is working for a current politician and hopes to join the ranks of the elected civil servants.(That’s a strange way to describe an occupation where people are not usually civil and seem to serve mainly themselves, but let’s move on.)

Now, for the discussion; do you, as a writer, include elected officials in your books? Local level? National level? How do you handle their elections? Do you ever mention current national politics in your books? If you write “historic” mysteries, do you include actual public officials as part of the narrative? Are we all just sick of this and it isn’t even a national election year!

Interview: Steve Goble

Let’s get to know Steve Goble, author of A Bottle of Rum!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I don’t really believe in perfection. Even the best possible day will involve warts of some kind. But the best possible day would feature alone time with my wife, and family time, and playing music with my friends while drinking some good beers somewhere out in the country amid water and trees, followed by quiet time with a good book and at least 1,000 new words in a novel of my own. Can someone dial me up a day like that, please?

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I am writing a series featuring a protagonist, Spider John, and some recurring characters, but I very strongly want to avoid writing the same story over and over. So this new book, A Bottle of Rum, is set on land, whereas the first two books took place almost entirely at sea. And I have really grown to like Spider’s friends, Odin and Hob, so I wanted a book that explored their relationships a bit more and showed the bonds between them. I want my characters to grow and change over time, and this book is a step in that direction.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing

There usually seems to be an undercurrent of religious musings in my books. Spider is a good man in a bad situation, trying to outrun his pirate past and get back to a woman he loves and a child he only saw as a baby. He tends to think a good deal about forgiveness, and whether he can ever be forgiven for the things he had to do to survive in the pirate life he found himself trapped in. And my minor characters usually include a preacher or a devout worshipper or, for contrast, an outright heathen or two. I find it very interesting that in real life, people latch on to all sorts of ideas about God and religion, and even demonstrably horrible people can still exhibit a streak of devotion. I just find theology endlessly fascinating, so I guess that’s why it pops up even among my thieves and pirates. And, of course, my stories will ALWAYS feature a murder or two, some other criminal activity, and a fair amount of swashbuckling action.

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Spider John can be described as Sherlock Holmes blended with Long John Silver and a touch of Indiana Jones. Holmes is far more intelligent and rational than illiterate Spider, but my pirate sleuth nonetheless is an observant fellow who puts together pieces of the puzzle. Long John Silver is more colorful than Spider, and less honest, but Spider came of age as a pirate and he is known to toss daggers, lead balls and curse words about as the situation demands. Like Indy, Spider often finds himself in tough scrapes and seldom comes away without some bad scrapes and bruises.

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I worked as a community journalist in Ohio for my entire professional life, eventually working in a position that involved coordinating the work of reporters, photographers and videographers for presentation online and on social media. It was fun, and demanding, and occasionally involved a lot of adrenaline. Eventually, though, my employers decided to consolidate that work in another city and I had to find a new job.

I now work for a company that focuses on cybersecurity and digital investigations, and writing my Spider John novels on the side. I am working on a series of modern-day detective stories as well, and I hope those will see publication.

I lucked into a marriage with the best wife ever, and that resulted in the best kid ever, and those two people are more important to me than anything else. They keep me going.

Fun time, for me, means reading or Godzilla movies or playing with my garage band (I play bass).

Five years from now? I hope to be writing full-time so I can be my own boss and spend more time with my wife, kid and friends. That’s not the way it works for most authors, but I can dream.

*****

Steve Goble writes historical mysteries. He is the author the Spider John Mysteries, which combines his love of swords, pirates and murder to follow a pirate detective on water and land. A Bottle of Rum (Nov. 12, 2019; Seventh Street Books) is the third installment in the series.

A former journalist, Goble now works in communications for a cybersecurity firm as a digital forensics analyst. Goble helps examiners analyze evidence from computers and smartphones to help resolve a variety of civil and criminal cases. Goble also writes fantasy, horror, science fiction and poetry. An avid craft beer lover, he previously authored a column called “Brewologist”, which appeared on USA Today Network-Ohio, where he resides.