Monday, February 29, 2016

Libby Fischer Hellmann, Guest Author

It's been more than a few years, ten to be exact, since Libby Fischer Hellmann gave us an Ellie Foreman mystery. She's finally bringing her back in JumpvCut. But, Libby chose not to talk about her new book today. Instead, she's talking about one of my favorite subjects, libraries. Thank you, Libby.

An Ode to Libraries and Librarians


My new thriller JUMP CUT, the 5th Ellie Foreman novel (and the 1st time I’ve gone back to her in 10 years), includes two scenes set at Ellie’s library. The scenes also include Melissa, one of the librarians. That’s because librarians have made a HUGE difference in my life, and I wanted to give them a shout-out. Indeed, if I could write a song and sing I would. But I can’t. So words are going to have to do.

But let’s start at the beginning.
A magical place right from the start

When I was a little girl — no more than three or four — my mother used to take me to the library, where I’d pick out lots of picture books. Of course I usually picked out the same books every week. As I recall, it was Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel or something like that, as well as Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Even now, some 60 years later, I still remember those two magical books. (Plink, plink, plink). But more importantly the library became a place that I associated with fun, pretty images, and safety.

Five books and I was in heaven…

When I first learned to ride a two wheeler, the first place I biked to was the library. I had baskets on the back of my bike, and I was able to check out as many as five books at a time. That was heaven. I’d come home, park my bike, and tear into them. In a way the library became a grocery store of ideas, where I could find anything I wanted— a treasure trove of discovery, delight, or escape.

Discovering adult books early

I quickly outgrew children’s books and the children’s librarian, being a very intelligent woman, handed me over to the adult librarians. They allowed me to check out books like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was about 10 years old. Of course, at that age, I didn’t ‘get’ the subtleties and deeper meaning of the books, and I’ve gone back to reread them since. But it was an indication of the librarians’ trust in me that they allowed me to read adult books at such an early age.

Serious teen research

I used the library as a teenager, mostly for research on the papers I needed to write. The highlight came when, after my senior year in high school, I did research at the Library of Congress for my history teacher, who was writing a thesis on Harold Ickes. That was an experience: she had her own desk or “carrel” deep in the stacks of the library, and it was a real treat to go up there every once in a while, sit, and pretend I was writing my own thesis.

The writer’s best friend

I continued my love affair with libraries when I began to write in earnest. I still use the libraries as my go-to place whenever I need to do research. I’ll check out the book from the library, read it from cover to cover, take notes and return it with a thank you.

New technologies

The most exciting research came when I was writing Havana Lost, and, once again, my library was in the middle of it. I was researching Cuban intervention in Angola, and discovered (through Twitter, actually) a UK fellow who’d written his PhD on the subject. His thesis had been turned into a book, but—alas, it was over $300 on Amazon—and I couldn’t afford to buy it. Instead, I called my local library. Three days later, I held the book in my hands and read it from cover to cover.

A big ‘thank you’ to all librarians

I’ve saved the best for last. I haven’t told you about all the wonderful librarians I’ve met over the years. And I want to because they are some of my favorite people. They’re intelligent, articulate, and they understand what I want, sometimes before I know it myself.

But, most of all, they are really fun. Have you ever been out drinking with a bunch of librarians? If not, you’re in for a treat! They’re some of the most entertaining people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

Librarians have been a part of my life— at every stage of my life. I couldn’t do what I do without them, and I am grateful that they exist. So I hope, if you’re a librarian, you’ll realize how much you’re appreciated.

And if you’re not a librarian, go to your library and make friends with one.  You won’t be sorry.

And, you won't be sorry if you order Libby Fischer Hellmann's Jump Cut, Poisoned Pen Press. 978-1464205194.

Libby's website is

Sunday, February 28, 2016

No Post Today

Good morning! I'm flying back from Phoenix today after a late night at the Left Coast Crime banquet. So no post today. I have a terrific guest blogger tomorrow. And I'll have more LCC pictures this week.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Arizona & Left Coast Crime 2016

Well, the first three days here were wonderful, and then on Friday, something I ate attacked me. So, I only left the hotel room when I went to CVS. That's OK. I wouldn't trade the first days.

I had dinner with my friend, Anna, on Tuesday night. Anna worked with me at Velma Teague, and she and I went to New York City together. After dinner, I stopped back in the library so I could say hi to the people working.

Wednesday was so much fun. I stopped in at San Lagos, where I used to live to see Karen, the manager. San Lagos is still as gorgeous as ever.

From there, I went to the Foothills Branch Library to take a few pictures, including a picture of the Chihuly. I don't know how many other public libraries have a Chihuly hanging in the entranceway.

After leaving Foothills, it was time to go to Nosh for lunch. I met eleven present and former staff members from the Glendale Library System, and we had the nicest visit. Then, I went to Velma Teague, talked with the staff and took pictures. Those pictures are on Facebook, but I'm not putting their pictures up on my blog.

I first ran into Margie & Mike Bunting in the registration area, but then we met up in the lobby. We went to Grimaldi's in Scottsdale for pizza, and then headed to the Poisoned Pen. It was so good to see Barbara Peters, Rob Rosenwald, and the staff. And,  we were there for International Authors' Night, so there were a number of authors in attendance.

Barbara started the evening by introducing Kenneth Wishnia, the editor of Jewish Noir, and two of the authors who have stories in the book, Melissa Yi and Michael Cooper.
Peters, Wishnia, Yi and Coooper

Then she asked Barry Lancet to talk a little about his books, set in San Francisco and Tokyo.
Peters, Lancet and Wishnia

The two authors from Denmark probably came the farthest. Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Frils write the Nina Borg books.

Vicki Delany writes one of my favorite series, the Constable Molly Smith mysteries. She writes the Lighthouse mysteries as Eva Gates, and the Year Round Christmas mysteries under her own name.
Peters and Delany

Jeffrey Siger and Peters said his next Andreas Kaldis mystery set in Greece will be out in September in time for Bouchercon.
Peters and Siger

Francine Matthews writes under her married name, and her maiden name. As Francine Matthews, she writes about the CIA and spies. Too Bad to Die has Ian Fleming as a protagonist. As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen books.
Francine Matthews
And, Priscilla Royal talked about her historical mysteries.
Peters and Royal

I did have the chance to see other friends such as Donis Casey and R.J. Harlick. Wednesday made for a wonderful welcome back to Arizona.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Michael Sears, Guest Author

Today, Michael Sears is going to talk about getting published, a subject that may interest a number of readers. And, at the end of the post, I have information about a giveaway of Michael's latest novel, Saving Jason.

Michael Sears' first novel, the best-seller BLACK FRIDAYS, a thriller with a financial twist, took the Shamus award and was short-listed for the Edgar and three other major awards. MORTAL BONDS, the critically-acclaimed second novel in the Jason Stafford series, won the Silver Falchion at Killer Nashville. Continuing the series, LONG WAY DOWN, was described as "one of the best thrillers of 2015." SAVING JASON is the fourth in the series (Putnam, February 2, 2016).

Until 2005, Mr. Sears was a Managing Director for two different Wall Street firms, where he worked in the bond market for twenty years and, earlier, in foreign exchange and derivatives. Prior to returning to Columbia University for his MBA, he was, for eight years, a professional actor appearing at the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington (Folger Theatre), Playwright's Theater of Washington, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, The Comedy Stage Co., and, in the course of a single year, every soap opera shot in New York City. 

He is married to the artist, Barbara Segal and is the father of two handsome sons. Born in New York City, he lived for more than twenty years on Manhattan's Upper West Side and still misses it every day.



If you saw that teaser of a title and came looking for magical short-cuts, I am sorry but I will disappoint you.  Are you already famous? If not famous, are you at least infamous?   Are you a decent writer who just happens to be the heir to the estate of a recently deceased best-selling author?  If you answered “YES” to any of those questions, then you have already discovered all the short-cuts that I know about.  The only other method is a combination of perseverance, a thick skin, and a strong belief in your own ability.  All that, and luck.
            How did I get published?  Well it seems like magic to me, but, of course, it wasn’t and I am too much a hardened skeptic to believe in it anyway.  After ten years as a professional actor and twenty years on Wall Street, I had the requisite thick skin and had absorbed the lessons of perseverance.  And I believed that I could write.
            After leaving Wall Street – for reasons financial, medical, and because I just needed a change – I gave myself the gift of a creative writing course.  I did well enough that I took another.  And another.  I considered continuing and getting an MFA – I am a believer in higher education, though I acknowledge that it is far from necessary for success.  
            Then I was invited to join a workshop.  Workshops have a bad reputation in some literary circles, the product of both prejudice and experience.  There are many bad workshops out there and there are writers who are not suited to the format, no matter how good the group.  The process worked for me, and it was a very good workshop.  The year BLACK FRIDAYS came out, there were two other debuts from Jennifer Belle’s workshop (ACCELERATED by Bronwen Hruska and TOO BRIGHT TO HEAR TOO LOUD TO SEE by Juliann Garey).  Not bad.
            The trials of finding an agent are well-known and I won’t recount the horrors here.  But I did find an agent – the right agent.  That’s key.  There are a lot of agents out there and the ones who don’t want to handle you and your work are not evil or misguided. (They may be, but that’s not the point.)  They’re just not the right fit.  Keep looking.  I did a ton of research.  I used my contacts.  What worked?  I targeted Nat Sobel, based on reading interviews with him in which he talked about what he looked for in an author.  I thought that I fit the profile.  Nat and his wife Judith Weber read unsolicited manuscripts and are always actively seeking new talent.  And their current pool is awesome.  Check out their website and see (
            I sent off fifty pages and an email.  The next day, Nat wrote back.  “Send the rest.” It was a magical moment for me, but it wasn’t the result of magic.  Perseverance, research, and good writing had much more to do with it.
            Over a first lunch, Nat and Judith recommended some changes to the book.  I liked their ideas and over the next month I added some bits, swapped the order of some scenes, and took out a scene that I loved.  (I have since tried to fit it into two other books and I have come to realize – it just doesn’t work.  It’s still a great scene, but it is not an absolutely necessary scene.)  Finally, it was ready to go out to publishers in an auction for a two-book deal.  (This was to encourage bidders who might have feared that this untried – and older – new author only had one book in him.)  A deadline was set, the manuscripts went out, and I tried to think about something else – anything else.
            A week or so before the deadline, Judith called.  An editor was interested but wanted to talk with me before committing.  Was I willing?  Certainly.  Fine, she said.  I’ll set it up.  Then she told me who was going to interview me.
            The list of Neil Nyren’s mega-selling crime fiction writers reads like a Who’s Who in Thrillers (think Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, John Sandford, and so on).  And now I am one of Neil’s authors.  And all it took as perseverance, diligence, and some talent.  Oh, yes, and quite a bit of luck.  Maybe I do believe in magic.
Michael Sears' website is
Saving Jason by Michael Sears. Penguin. 2016. ISBN 9780399166723 (hardcover). 368p.
This week, the publicist is giving away two copies of Sears' new novel, Saving Jason. Disgraced Wall Street trader Jason Stafford is forced to go into the witness protection program with his young autistic son. But, when his son disappears, Stafford has to risk everything to save him. If you would like to try to win a copy, email me at Your subject line should read "Win Saving Jason." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, March 3 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Ninth Life by Clea Simon

What different voices in books this week. First, a young girl who doesn't speak is the narrator. Now, Clea Simon introduces us to Blackie in The Ninth Life. Blackie is another narrator who doesn't speak, and, at times is frustrated when he can't communicate as he would like. Blackie is a cat who doesn't remember anything until he's drowning and a teenage girl rescues him.

Care rescues Blackie, who only knows he's a streetwise older cat. And, to accompany Care, he needs to be streetwise. The old man who was teaching her to be a detective is dead, murdered, and now she's heading out out her own to find answers. But, Care lives in a dangerous world in the streets, and even some of the members of her old gang don't want her to search for the truth. She's bullied and threatened while she hunts. The only person who seems to care for Care is a young boy, Tick, but Tick has problems. His mother was an addict, and Tick himself is addicted to a street drug called scat. While Care is desperate to help Tick, Blackie doesn't trust him. He doesn't know if Tick is a scapegoat or if he's betraying Care. Blackie and Tick share a mutual distrust.

As Care and Blackie question criminals, and search the streets, docks, and deserted shops, they stumble towards a surprising answer. Blackie sees only the danger in the investigation, but he's determined to protect and assist Care. He knows why she's so desperate. "She seeks redress for her mentor. To avenge him and solve the mystery of his death, and that is the most dangerous motivation of all."

Clea Simon leads her characters to a surprising conclusion, and leads Blackie to an amazing realization. Simon, a writer who loves cats, creates an appealing, unusual narrator in Blackie. He relates the story with the vision and skills of a cat, and we see it unfold through his eyes. And, although the book is entitled The Ninth Life, Simon leaves an opening for the return of this remarkable duo, a cat and the girl he has claimed.

Clea Simon's website is

The Ninth Life by Clea Simon. Severn House. 2016. ISBN 9780727885715 (hardcover), 229p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Clea Simon, Guest Author

Some of you may have seen reviews of Clea Simon's books here. Sandie Herron and I have both reviewed her books over the years. Her mysteries always feature cats, and Sandie and I are both cat lovers. But, Clea's going in a different direction now with her books, although there's still a cat in her new book, The Ninth Life.

If you're a reader or an author, you might be interested in Clea's guest post about changing her writing. Thank you, Clea, for taking time to write this.

Going Dark

Aspiring writers are often told, “write what you know,” and for a first step, that’s good advice, akin to “use the tools at hand.” Speaking at last November’s Crimebake, the New England crime fiction conference, the great Elizabeth George offered her own take. “Write what you want to know,” she said, addressing a crowd that already understood the basics of research and credibility. Again, solid advice, and George utilized it as starting point to discuss her search for inspiration in various locales. As I ready to launch the first book in a new series – a book that is significantly darker than my previous cozy series – I would take that one step further, and advise: write what you want to understand.

That’s what I did last year, as I began what became my new mystery, “The Ninth Life.” I couldn’t figure out at first why I was so captivated by the story that had come into my mind – a tale of two loners, Blackie and Care, trying to survive in an anonymous, dystopian city. The book is told from the point of view of Blackie, a feral cat, but his story and that of Care, a young orphan, become entwined in a narrative involving drugs, abuse, and a very dysfunctional idea of family.

I don’t mean to be disingenuous: when I started writing “The Ninth Life,” I had the core mystery in my mind. I knew what I wanted the key to the story to be, even if I didn’t know how to get there. But what I didn’t understand was why this story compelled me, or how to make the characters likable enough to evoke reader empathy (rather than simply sympathy or horror).

I should explain here, in case readers of this blog are unfamiliar with my work, that I usually write cozies. Not the kind with recipes or crafts, but amateur sleuth whodunits on the softer side – without much blood, sex, or violence, and, always, always with cats. I love these books and their protagonists: the overly bookish Dulcie Schwartz, the curious rock crit Theda Krakow, and animal psychic Pru Marlowe with her bravado and her muscle car. But this wasn’t one of them.

Some of it is that I’ve been reading darker than I write for a while now. In fact, Pru – who has a bit of an attitude, if not true noir edge – came about after I’d indulged in a bunch of Megan Abbott’s femme fatale crime fiction. I wanted to write that hard, I thought. Only when I tried, it came out funny – Pru only thinks she’s tough. Her tabby Wallis is much tougher.

Some of it is that I’d been thinking of writing a non-mystery for a while. Before I entered the world of crime fiction, I’d been a journalist and had written three nonfiction books.  And when speaking to groups of aspiring writers, I’ve often tried to explain that progression: that writing nonfiction always feels inherently useful in that you are delivering information. Writing fiction feels more daring – all you are giving the reader is the product of your own imagination. Maybe, I’d thought, I was ready to take the next step. To leave the familiar (and wonderful) world of mysteries to step out yet again – try a form with less definition, with fewer constraints. To write something serious – something that might even be called literary.

With that in mind, I toyed with various narratives about relationships, specifically different ways of exploring how a marriage evolves over the years. I wanted to capture how people change – maybe by writing out one life as if it were several. I thought “Orlando,” only, probably, with cats.

At any rate, I knew I wanted to create a work that felt real to who I am now – a survivor. An adult. A book that didn’t shy away from vulnerability or despair, from compassion and love. Only, I wasn’t writing it. A few paragraphs, some notes, and that was it. And so when I came up with the idea of this stray girl and her cat, I thought, well, I guess I’m putting the “serious” work aside for a while. Let me strike while the iron is hot. Because, as every writer knows, good ideas are never to be dismissed out of hand.

But something else was going on even as I began to think in terms of plot and motive, of red herrings and clues. Emotions were churning beneath the logical book-making plans, and I found myself thinking back to a principle I learned while writing my first nonfiction book, a memoir – that when an idea feels uncomfortably hot, feels dangerous, that means it’s important. That means it should be pursued. And so even as I began to craft what could have been a familiar whodunit, my characters started to make unexpected moves. To veer into some troubling situations and deal with some complex emotions. Somewhere between what I was reading and what I had been thinking about, I began to write a different – for me – kind of mystery.

Only a few chapters in, I hit a wall. I won’t say “blocked” – to a working writer, journalist or novelist, writer’s block is an indulgence, an excuse. But I lost my way. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Or, really, why. The problem was, I think, that I was seeing the story through my narrator’s eyes – the POV of a rational creature. In this case, a cat, but still a character who had a certain distance, an approach based on logic. It wasn’t until I discussed the story with several people that I learned that the meat of the story lay elsewhere, not with Blackie, the cat, but with Care, the lost and lonely girl whom he observes, whom he tries to help. If he’s the head, she’s the heart. Hurt and bumbling, she’s trying to make sense of the scraps of her life. Trying to build a new one, find a place for herself in a large and dark world, as ... well, as do we all.

Does she? I’ll leave it to readers to find out, and for that larger world to decide. Me? I’m moving on, using Blackie’s keen-eyed gaze as my new POV, but Care’s heat-seeking heart as a touchstone, leading me toward what I want to write going forward.

Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe pet noir mysteries. (The latter two are ongoing and most recently feature Code Grey and When Bunnies Go Bad.) On March 1, her fourth series will launch with The Ninth Life (Severn House). She can be found at

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine

I don't know that I completely agree with the jacket copy that says Tamara Valentine's debut novel is "In the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd and Beth Hoffman." However, Valentine has given us a teen character with her own unique voice in What the Waves Know. In fact, Izabella Rae Haywood is unique because she is a narrator without a voice.

Izabella had a voice until her sixth birthday. That was the day her beloved father disappeared from her life, and she hasn't spoken a word since. Until that time, she was enchanted by her magical father, a man who would pack her up and take her to Alaska, or take her on a three hundred mile drive. But, even at a young age, she worried her father would someday go off with the fairies he could see, and leave her behind with her practical mother. The arguments between her parents escalated until Izabella's birthday when, in a fit of rage, she yelled at her father that she hated him. And, when her father left, the little girl blamed herself, and shut down.

For the next eight years, Izabella's mother sent her to therapists until one of them suggested that they should return to Tillings Island, Rhode Island. Maybe, at the scene of Izabella's father's disappearance, she would finally remember what actually happened that day, and would regain her voice. Would the truth bring back Izabella's memory, or would she shut down completely?

Yes, like Kidd and Hoffman, Valentine introduces a story involving a group of women surrounding a young girl. But, Izabella's struggles to find answers are her own. And, she latches on to the legends of Tillings Island, the stories of the goddess Yemaya, because they remind her of her lost father. Throughout her young life, Izabella has struggled with the two sides of her nature, the part that wants to see the magic her father saw, and the part that fears his choices. And, she fears her own anger, the rage that may have driven her father away.

What the Waves Know marks the debut of a powerful new voice. Tamara Valentine's first novel is an unusual coming-of-age story of a girl searching for the answers to her own story, a story that is much larger than she ever imagined.

Tamara Valentine's website is

What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062423857 (paperback), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to participate in the book tour.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Domestic Secrets by Rosalind Noonan

Rosalind Noonan's novel of dysfunctional families and relationships, Domestic Secrets, is a troubling story. Readers of Jodi Picoult's books may want to give this one a try.

Rachel Whalen and Ariel Alexander had been friends for years. Their children had grown up together. The women saw each other through widowhood and single motherhood. Despite their differences, they were united against the wealthier soccer moms of Timbergrove, Oregon. Rachel owned a hair salon, and Ariel taught voice lessons to all the high school students who wanted to sing. While Rachel obsessed over her two sons, one in college and one a high school senior, Ariel only obsessed over herself. Rachel's college-aged daughter, Cassie, was more of a mother to her siblings than her own mother. Ariel obsessed about her sex life and her faded career as a television star. But, it was the secrets shared by these families that destroyed them.

Noonan skillfully keeps her story's secrets, allowing them to develop at a gradual pace. Although most of the story unravels within just five months, the reader gets to know Rachel, Ariel, and Cassie.  It's a tragedy of terrible proportions that destroys relationships, and reveals scandalous secrets that are straight from today's headlines.

Readers who appreciate character development may find this a fascinating novel. All three women are complex characters, coping with life, death, and scandal. And, although he has a small role in Domestic Secrets, the local sheriff is an interesting character.

Those of us who read mysteries and expect justice to be served may be a little disturbed by the development of this book. But readers of contemporary issue-orientated novels know that life isn't always fair, and stories don't always turn out as expected.

Domestic Secrets by Rosalind Noonan. Kensington Books. 2016. ISBN 9781617733277 (paperback),  342p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book for review for a journal.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Author Interview - Maia Chance

I had hoped to have one of my interviews with Maia Chance, but I think she's a little busy with the recent release of Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna. Instead, I have an inteview sent by her publicist, an excerpt from the book, and a giveaway. The giveaway details follow the excerpt. I hope you learn a little about the author.

  1. Describe Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna in 140 characters or less.

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna is a fun, adventurous, and romantic historical mystery set in a secret-riddled French chateau in 1867.

2.)  What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness for me is spending time outside somewhere beautiful, with my husband, kids, and dog.

  1. What’s your favorite part of Ophelia’s quirky personality?

I like the way Ophelia compensates in creative and gutsy ways for her lack of a good formal education.  She’s smart and resourceful and she uses her unusual skill set—farm girl, circus performer, actress—to help solve the mystery.

  1. Which living person do you most admire?

My husband, actually.  He is an unusually gifted person who overcame significant disadvantages and obstacles to get where he is today.  And he gives the best pep-talks!

  1. What inspired you to marry fairytales and mystery?

I was searching for something that hadn’t been done yet, and I was reading a lot of fairy tale criticism for school at the time.  It sounded like a deliciously fun project, so I plunged in.

  1. Is there a type of scene that's harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?  

Dialogue definitely comes more easily for me.  I find action scenes more challenging—I’m paranoid that they’ll get bogged down.  (So if I can, I add dialogue to my action scenes!)

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Sticking to strict schedules.  I don’t like to keep people waiting, but there is something to be said for giving yourself creative or restful wiggle-room during the day.

  1. Which of the characters in this novel do you feel the most drawn to?

I became more attached to Professor Penrose in this book.  He’s more vulnerable and at a loss than in the previous two books—and more deeply in love.

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?  

Oh, my.  Probably dozens.  I seem to like “buzz” a lot for some reason.  I’m deleting it all the time.

  1. Can you describe for us your process for naming characters?

For historical American characters I use census records.  I collect names from cemeteries whenever I visit one, and I often borrow names from literature.  Since my books have lots of characters, I try to give them all distinctive names that hint at their personalities, to help the reader keep everyone sorted in their mind.

  1. Who are your favorite writers?

Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Theodor Adorno.

  1. Who is your most loved hero of fiction?

Indiana Jones.

  1. Which talent would you most like to have?

It would be ecstasy to be a really, really great opera singer.

  1. You're hosting a dinner party, which five authors (dead or alive) would you invite?

P. G. Wodehouse would probably be the life of any party.  Also, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  There would be lots of drinking at this party.  Maybe some arguments.  No strip poker though.

  1. Do you have a favorite time period in literature?

Not really.  Because of my English degrees I have read very widely, and I have favorites from every era.  And every era has its stultifying boring authors, too.

  1. What is your motto?
Keep trying.

  1. What is the best reaction over a book that you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

Fans who say my book gave them pure pleasure—that’s happened a few times—make me so happy.  It’s my aim to give people something to read that’s a pleasurable and absorbing diversion from Real Life.  Real Life is hard.

  1. Where would you most like to live?

A place with lots of trees where I could do all my daily activities and errands on foot.  I’m working on it.

  1. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

No one specific, but I often think of the female writers over the centuries who kept at their stories even when they had screaming kids and the dinner to cook and a really messy house piling up around them.  They did it, and so can I.

  1. What are you working on next?

I just completed a humorous contemporary mystery that does not yet have a publisher, and I’m working on a historical fantasy adventure with a co-author.  After that, the next thing will be book #3 of the Discreet Retrieval Agency series.

Excerpt from Beauty, Beast and Belladonna

“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.
Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it.  “Good God,” he muttered.  “Is it . . . a shrine?”
Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls.  A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.
Churches in New England didn’t have shrines.  They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.
“Pearls,” Ophelia said.  “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.”  But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring.  Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring.  There was hope yet.
“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.
“Those are belladonna berries, professor.”  The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth.  Someone could be back there.  Watching.
“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly.  “Look at this.”  He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.
Heavens to Betsy.  A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.
The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves.  But the head!  It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.
A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze.  Their eyes met.
Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.
Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure.  The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy.  He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.
Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist.  “Slowly.”
She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.
They emerged into the cold, damp night.  The moon glowed whitely above.  The air tasted of soil and rot.
“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope.  “So they can’t see us?”  She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.
“Wild animals are afraid of light.”  Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe.  If something were to befall her—
“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said.  “It was a human being.  I could feel it.  Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”
“Not any animals?”
“No.  Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”


Beware of allowing yourself to be prejudiced by appearances.  –Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)


The day had arrived.  Miss Ophelia Flax’s last day in Paris, her last day in Artemis Stunt’s gilt-edged apartment choked with woody perfumes and cigarette haze.  Ophelia had chosen December 12th, 1867, at eleven o’clock in the morning as the precise time she would make a clean breast of it.  And now it was half past ten.
Ophelia swept aside brocade curtains and shoved a window open.  Rain spattered her face.  She leaned out and squinted up the street.  Boulevard Saint-Michel was a valley of stone buildings with iron balconies and steep slate roofs.  Beyond carriages and bobbling umbrellas, a horse-drawn omnibus splashed closer.
“Time to go,” she said, and latched the window shut.  She turned.  “Good-bye, Henrietta.  You will write to me—telegraph me, even—if Prue changes her mind about the convent?”
“Of course, darling.”  Henrietta Bright sat at the vanity table, still in her frothy dressing gown.  “But where shall I send a letter?”  She shrugged a half-bare shoulder in the looking glass.  Reassuring herself, no doubt, that at forty-odd years of age she was still just as dazzling as the New York theater critics used to say.
“I’ll let the clerk at Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties know my forwarding address,” Ophelia said.  “Once I have one.”  She pulled on cheap gloves with twice-darned fingertips.
“What will you do in New England?” Henrietta asked.  “Besides getting buried under snowdrifts and puritans?  I’ve been to Boston.  The entire city is like a mortuary.  No drinking on Sundays, either.”  She sipped her glass of poison-green cordial.  “Although, all that knuckle-rapping does make the gentlemen more generous with actresses like us when they get the chance.”
“Actresses like us?”  Ophelia went to her carpetbag, packed and ready on the opulent bed that might’ve suited the Princess on the Pea.  Ladies born and raised on New Hampshire farmsteads did not sleep in such beds.  Not without prickles of guilt, at least.  “I’m no longer an actress, Henrietta.  Neither are you.”  And they were never the same kind of actress.  Or so Ophelia fervently wished to believe.
“No?  Then what precisely do you call tricking the Count Griffe into believing you are a wealthy soap heiress from Cleveland, Ohio?  Sunday school lessons?”
“I had to do it.”  Ophelia dug in her carpetbag and pulled out a bonnet with crusty patches of glue where ribbon flowers once had been.  She clamped it on her head.  “I’m calling upon the Count Griffe at eleven o’clock, on my way to the steamship ticket office.  I told you.  He scarpered to England so soon after his proposal, I never had a chance to confess.  He’s in Paris only today before he goes to his country château, so today is my last chance to tell him everything.”
“It’s horribly selfish of you not to wait two more weeks, Ophelia—two measly weeks.”
Not this old song and dance again.  “Wait two more weeks so that you might accompany me to the hunting party at Griffe’s château?  Stand around and twiddle my thumbs for two whole weeks while you hornswoggle some poor old gent into marrying you?  Money and love don’t mix, you know.”
“What?  They mix beautifully.  And not hornswoggle, darling.  Seduce.  And Mr. Larsen isn’t a poor gentleman.  He’s as rich as Midas.  Artemis confirmed as much.”
“You know what I meant.  Helpless.”
“Mr. Larsen is a widower, yes.”  Henrietta smiled.  “Deliciously helpless.”
“I must go now, Henrietta.  Best of luck to you.”
“I’m certain Artemis would loan you her carriage—oh, wait.  Principled Miss Ophelia Flax must forge her own path.  Miss Ophelia Flax never accepts hand-outs or—”
“Artemis has been ever so kind, allowing me to stay here the last three weeks, and I couldn’t impose any more.”  Artemis Stunt was Henrietta’s friend, a wealthy lady authoress.  “I’ll miss my omnibus.”  Ophelia pawed through the carpetbag, past her battered theatrical case and a patched petticoat, and drew out a small box.  The box, shiny black with painted roses, had been a twenty-sixth birthday gift from Henrietta last week.  It was richer than the rest of Ophelia’s possessions by miles, but it served a purpose: a place to hide her little nest egg.
The omnibus fare, she well knew from her month in Paris, was thirty centimes.  She opened the box.  Her lungs emptied like a bellows.  A slip of paper curled around the ruby ring Griffe had given her.  But her money—all of her hard-won money she’d scraped together working as a lady’s maid in Germany a few months back—was gone.  Gone.
She swung toward Henrietta.  “Where did you hide it?”
“Hide what?”
“My money!”
“Scowling like that will only give you wrinkles.”
“I don’t even have enough for the omnibus fare now.”  Ophelia’s plans suddenly seemed vaporously fragile.  “Now isn’t the time for jests, Henrietta.  I must get to Griffe’s house so I might go to the steamship ticket office before it closes, and then on to the train station.  The Cherbourg-New York ship leaves only once a fortnight.”
“Why don’t you simply keep that ring?  You’ll be in the middle of the Atlantic before he even knows you’ve gone.  If it’s a farm you desire, why, that ring will pay for five farms and two hundred cows.”
Ophelia wasn’t the smelling salts kind of lady, but her fingers shook as she replaced the box’s lid.  “Never.  I would never steal this ring—”
“He gave it to you.  It wouldn’t be stealing.”
“—and I will never, ever become. . . .”  Ophelia pressed her lips together.
“Become like me, darling?”
If Ophelia fleeced rich fellows to pay her way instead of working like honest folks, then she couldn’t live with herself.  What would become of her?  Would she find herself at forty in dressing gowns at midday and absinthe on her breath?
“You must realize I didn’t take your money, Ophelia.  I’ve got my sights set rather higher than your pitiful little field mouse hoard.  But I see how unhappy you are, so I’ll make you an offer.”
Ophelia knew the animal glint in Henrietta’s whiskey-colored eyes.  “You wish to pay to accompany me to Griffe’s hunting party so that you might pursue Mr. Larsen.  Is that it?
“Clever girl.  You ought to set yourself up in a tent with a crystal ball.  Yes.  I’ll pay you whatever it was the servants stole—and I’ve no doubt it was one of those horrid Spanish maids that Artemis hired who pinched your money.  Only keep up the Cleveland soap heiress ruse for two weeks longer, Ophelia, until I hook that Norwegian fish.”
Ophelia pictured the green fields and white-painted buildings of rural New England, and her throat ached with frustration.  The trouble was, it was awfully difficult to forge your own path when you were always flat broke.  “Pay me double or nothing,” she said.
“Deal.  Forthwith will be so pleased.”
Forthwith?”  Ophelia frowned.  “Forthwith Golden, conjurer of the stage?  Do you mean to say he’ll be tagging along with us?”
“Mm.”  Henrietta leaned close to the mirror and picked something from her teeth with her little fingernail.  “He’s ever so keen for a jaunt in the country, and he adores blasting at beasts with guns.”
Saints preserve us.

*     *     *

Ophelia meant to cling to her purpose like a barnacle to a rock.  It wasn’t easy.  Simply gritting her teeth and enduring the next two weeks was not really her way.  But Henrietta had her up a stump.
First, there had been the two-day flurry of activity in Artemis Stunt’s apartment, getting a wardrobe ready for Ophelia to play the part of a fashionable heiress at a hunting party.  Artemis was over fifty years of age but, luckily, a bohemian and so with youthful tastes in clothing.  She was also tall, beanstalkish and large-footed, just like Ophelia, and very enthusiastic about the entire deception.  “It would make a marvelous novelette, I think,” she said to Ophelia.  But this was exactly what Ophelia wished to avoid: behaving like a ninny in a novelette.
And now, this interminable journey.
“Where are we now?”  Henrietta, bundled in furs, stared dully out the coach window.  “The sixth tier of hell?”
Ophelia consulted the Baedeker on her knees, opened to a map of the Périgord region.  “Almost there.”
There being the French version of the Middle of Nowhere,” Forthwith Golden said, propping his boots on the seat next to Henrietta.  “Why do these Europeans insist upon living in these Godforsaken pockets?  What’s wrong with Paris, anyway?”
“You said you missed the country air.”  Henrietta shoved his boots off the seat.
“Did I?”  Forthwith had now and then performed conjuring tricks in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties back in New York, so Ophelia knew more of him than she cared to.  He was dark-haired, too handsome, and skilled at making things disappear.  Especially money.
“You insisted upon coming along,” Henrietta said to Forthwith, “and don’t try to deny it.”
“Ah, yes, but Henny, you neglected to tell me that your purpose for this hunting excursion was to ensnare some doddering old corpse into matrimony.  I’ve seen that performance of yours a dozen times, precious, and it’s gotten a bit boring.”
“Oh, do shut up.  You’re only envious because you spent your last penny on hair pomade.”
“I hoped you’d notice.  Does Mr. Larsen have any hair at all?  Or does he attempt to fool the world by combing two long hairs over a liver-spotted dome?”
“He’s an avid sportsman, Artemis says, and a crack shot.  So I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”
“Oh dear God.  A codger with a shotgun.”
“He wishes to go hunting in the American West.  Shoot buffalos from the train and all that.”
“One of those Continentals who have glamorized the whole Westward Ho business, not realizing that it’s all freezing to death and eating Aunt Emily’s thighbone in the mountains?”
Ophelia sighed.  Oh, for a couple wads of cotton wool to stop up her ears.  Henrietta and Forthwith had been bickering for the entire journey, first in the train compartment between Paris and Limoges and then, since there wasn’t a train station within 50 miles of Château Vézère, in this bone-rattling coach.  Outside, hills, hills, and more hills.  Bare, scrubby trees and meandering vineyards.  Farmhouses of sulpherous yellow stone.
A tiny orange sun sank over a murky river.  Each time a draft swept through the coach, Ophelia tasted the minerals that foretold snow.
“Ophelia,” Forthwith said, nudging her.
“What is it?”
Forthwith made series of fluid motions with his hands, and a green and yellow parakeet fluttered out of his cuff and landed on his finger.
“That’s horrible.  How long has that critter been stuffed up your sleeve?”  Ophelia poked out a finger and the parakeet hopped on.  Feathers tufted on the side of its head and its eyes were possibly glazed.  It was hard to say with a parakeet.  “Poor thing.”
“It hasn’t got feelings, silly.”  Forthwith yawned.
Finally,” Henrietta said, sitting up straighter.  “We’ve arrived.”
The coach passed through ornate gates.  Naked trees cast shadows across a long avenue.  They clattered to a stop before the huge front door.  Château Vézère was three stories, rectangular, and built of yellow stone, with six chimneys, white-painted shutters, and dozens of tall, glimmering windows.  Bare black vegetation encroached on either side, and Ophelia saw some smaller stone buildings to the side.
“Looks like a costly doll’s house,” Henrietta said.
“I rather thought it looked like a mental asylum,” Forthwith said.
Ophelia slid Griffe’s ruby ring on her hand, the hand that wasn’t holding a parakeet.  Someone swung the coach door open.
“Let the show begin, darlings,” Henrietta murmured.

A footman in green livery helped Ophelia down first.  Garon Gavage, the Count Griffe, bounded forward to greet her.  “Mademoiselle Stonewall, I have been restless, sleepless, in anticipation of your arrival—ah, how belle you look.”  His dark gold mane of hair wafted in the breeze.  “How I have longed for your presence—what is this?  A petit bird?”
“What?  Oh.  Yes.”  Ophelia couldn’t even begin to explain the parakeet.  “It’s very nice to see you, Count.  How long has it been?  Three weeks?”
Griffe’s burly chest rose and fell.  “Nineteen days, twenty hours, and thirty-two minutes.”
Forthwith was out of the coach and pumping Griffe’s hand.  “Count Griffe,” he said with a toothy white smile, “pleased to meet you.  My sister has told me all about you.”
Ophelia’s belly lurched.
“Sister?”  Griffe knit his brow.
“I beg your pardon,” Forthwith said.  “I’m Forthwith Stonewall, Ophelia’s brother.  Didn’t my sister tell you I was coming along?”
The rat.
“Ah!”  Griffe clapped Forthwith on the shoulder.  “Monsieur Stonewall.  Perhaps your sister did mention it—I have been most distracted by business matters in England, très forgetful . . .  And who is this?”  Griffe nodded to Henrietta as she stepped down from the coach.  “Another delightful American relation, eh?”
It had better not be.  Ophelia said, “This is—”
“Mrs. Henrietta Brighton,” Henrietta said quickly, and then gave a sad smile.
Precisely when had Miss Henrietta Bright become Mrs. Henrietta Brighton?  And . . . oh, merciful heavens.  How could Ophelia have been so blind?  Henrietta was in black.  All in black.
“Did Miss Stonewall neglect to mention that I would chaperone her on this visit?” Henrietta asked Griffe.  “I am a dear friend of the Stonewall family, and I have been on a Grand Tour in order to take my mind away from my poor darling—darling . . . oh.”  She dabbed her eyes with a hankie.
Griffe took Henrietta’s arm and patted it as he led her through the front door.  “A widow, oui?  My most profound condolences, Madame Brighton.  You are very welcome here.”
Ophelia and Forthwith followed.  The parakeet’s feet clung to Ophelia’s finger, and tiny snowflakes fell from the darkening sky.
“You’re shameless,” Ophelia said to Forthwith in a hot whisper.
Forthwith grinned.  “Aren’t I, though?”

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