Monday, March 31, 2014

A Roux of Revenge

Today we have an interview with Connie Archer, the author of the new book, A Roux of Revenge, A Soup Lovers Mystery. Don't forget to leave a comment below to win a copy of the book and a little something extra from Connie. 

Here's a description of the book:
It’s Halloween and Lucky Jamieson, the owner of the By the Spoonful Soup Shop, is looking forward to the holiday.  The Spoonful’s talented chef, Sage DuBois, has created delicious new recipes in line with the season and Lucky’s grandfather Jack is organizing a pumpkin carving contest. 

But an old crime is about to cast a long shadow over the village.  Nate Edgerton, Snowflake’s Chief of Police, is called to the scene of a wreck where he discovers a dead man.  His instincts tell him this was no accident – he has a murder on his hands.  A retired insurance investigator offers his services to Nate -- he’s convinced the dead man may be the criminal he’s been seeking for years. 

Before All Hallows’ Eve is over, long kept secrets will be revealed, lost loves will be found and the lives of many in the village will be irrevocably altered. 

Snowflake, VT

What was your favorite book growing up and why? 

I fell in love with The Borrowers series.  These were first published in the early 50’s in the U.K. and are still available today.  I loved the idea of the secret family of little people under the kitchen floorboards who furnished their living space with misplaced tiny articles like wooden thread spools and buttons.  

But I guess my most favorite were the Nancy Drew books.  A foreshadowing of what a mystery buff I’d turn out to be!  My mother had found a collection of the old hardbound books from the ‘30’s and I absolutely loved them.  Nancy had lots of adventures, she didn’t have to go to school, she never had homework, and she never appeared to work – at least at anything other than solving mysteries.  From those books, I went on to Trixie Belden, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie -- you name it – any mystery I could get my hands on.  

If you could meet any author alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Ah . . . let’s see.  I think it would be Nathaniel Hawthorne.  He is one of the very rare male writers who have managed to create an intriguing female character.  Hawthorne, in The Scarlet Letter, was writing in the 1800’s about the 1600’s.  The Scarlet Letter is an exploration of sin, guilt, repression and hypocrisy, but it is also an amazing work of feminist literature – a woman who refuses to be crushed by society’s judgment.  An interesting note about Hawthorne is that he was the great-grandson of John Hawthorne, an unrepentant judge of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693.  Nathaniel, shamed by the acts of his ancestor, added a ‘W’ and changed his name to Hawthorne.  

Do you ever have doubts when you are in the middle of the writing process? How do you get past them?

All the time!  There are some rare moments when a bit of a roll happens and I realize I’ve just written 1,000 words.  That’s a good feeling!  Even though I know I’ll probably end up deleting half of it.  Writing a book can feel like swimming across a river when you can’t see the other shore and the current is against you.  It’s very hard to trust that somehow it will all come together and make sense and turn into something that other people will actually enjoy!

I’m sure my experience is the same as other writers.  There’s no way to get rid of doubt.  You have to accept it and trust in the unknown.  And maybe being in a state of raging doubt and insecurity is a good place to be, because you won’t get lazy and start thinking that what you’ve written is brilliant.  It’s probably not!  

How long did it take you to get your first draft done of this book?

The publisher had asked for complete outlines of each book and allowed two months to submit the outline.  After that, I had only six months to submit the final manuscript.  The outline process was a great way to approach the work.  Even though no actual writing took place, the structure was in place and that made the writing so much easier.  I’ve found that having a clear, detailed outline really saves a lot of time in the long run.  

After the outline was completed, I think I had a first draft (needing tons more revisions) done in three months.  That left me one month to get the book in better shape, another month to send it to trusted readers for their comments, and a final month to go over everything again.  

What did you do to research the book?

In A Roux of Revenge, a group of Scottish Gaelic speaking travelers arrives in the village.  The main reason my group of travelers return there every few years is their belief that a megalithic structure outside of town called the “Stones” was built by their long distant ancestors.  The Stones play an important role in this book, but that’s all I can say for now because otherwise it would be a spoiler.  

The Stones

I did a certain amount of research on travelers or gypsies in North America which was quite interesting.  I also researched the New England megaliths and the various theories about them.  They are incredibly amazing.  There are approximately 800 such sites (structures and markings) in New England alone – the Mystery Hill complex in Salem, New Hampshire, the Gungywamp site in Groton, Connecticut and the Calendar I and II sites in Vermont – to name just a few.  

Mystery Hill

Historically, these sites have been completely ignored.  So-called experts have dismissed the idea that they are truly prehistoric sites, claiming they were constructed by Native Americans or were possibly colonial root cellars.  For one thing, Native American tribes did not construct dwellings of stone and early colonists to New England were baffled by the strange structures and markings.  Students of prehistory were sent to Europe to visit prehistoric sites, while the structures and markings we have here, all over the U.S., were completely ignored.  That is, until a Harvard professor, Dr. Barry Fell, published his book, America, B.C.  After that, the genie was out of the bottle.  Many of these sites have been discovered to perfectly align with solstices and equinoxes as they would have appeared thousands of years ago.  Academics can be very stuffy indeed and hate to be wrong, so I’m quite sure the subject is still hotly debated.  Unfortunately, a lot of these sites are on private property, making it difficult to visit them.  On the other hand, it may be a blessing, since their locations on private property have helped to preserve them.  

The Stones just outside of Snowflake are a figment of my imagination but I really enjoyed adding a bit of made-up history and creepy mystery elements to A Roux of Revenge.

Connie Archer was born and grew up in New England, ice skating on neighborhood ponds, clamming on the beach at Cape Cod and skiing in Vermont. As a schoolgirl, she spent several years wading through Caesar’s Gallic War journals and the twelve books of the Aeneid. During her summers she performed in a children’s theater troupe that traveled the suburbs of Boston, mounting productions in parks and children’s hospitals. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Happy Birthday John Astin

One of my favorite shows when I was a kid was re-runs of the Addams Family TV show in black and white. One of my favorite characters was of course the fabulous Gomez Addams, played by John Astin. I was lucky enough meet John Astin years ago and walked away with the autograph above. 

Here's a video of that fabulous theme song that's going to be in my head all day today...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Guide to Shakespearian Deaths

Love this comprehensive guide to Shakespearean deaths.  I could have used this in college. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Left Coast Crime Photo Gallery

Guest of Honor Sue Grafton
There are so many more photos (taken by Darrell Hoemann Photography) from the Left Coast Crime convention last weekend that I thought I'd just share them here. For those of you interested in attending next year's event to be held in Portland, Oregon you can find more details here

Toastmaster Brad Parks

Sue Grafton and Brad Parks
Louise  Penny, Catriona McPherson, Jeffery Siger 
Tammy Kaehler
Craig Johnson and Cara Black
Laurie R. King

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Crafty Thursdays: Book Page Bow

On the heels of making her fabulous book page wreaths, Kerry Hammond is back to help us make these fabulous book page bows and ribbons...

I’m sick of wrapping gifts in plain old store bought paper. Since I had leftover book pages from making my Book Wreaths, I decided to use them for another project.  These bows are not only easy to make, but they look great on gifts. You only need a few items to get started:

A couple of pages cut out of a book
Scissors or paper cutter
Glue gun

Step One: Cut Strips
I used strips about 1 inch wide.  For the bow I am making, I need:

Six strips that are 7 inches long
Four strips that are 6 inches long
Two strips that are 4 inches long
One strip that is 3 inches long

Step Two: Twist & Staple
Take two strips that are the same length and twist each so that the ends overlap. When you have one in each hand, join them in the middle and staple. You can overlap more or less to make the bow bigger or smaller. Twist each pair of strips this way and for the smallest strip, make a circle and glue.

Step Three: Glue Layers

Starting with the largest loop on the bottom, put a drop of glue in the middle and set the next loop on top, slightly turned so loop parts are next to each other rather than overlapping.

Step Four: Center Loop
When all of your loops are stacked and glued, glue the center loop right on top to finish the bow.

Step Five: Add to Gift
I like to use these bows on brown paper and I use page strips as ribbon. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles Vintage Posters

I do love vintage posters and book covers. Here is a collection of posters for different incarnations of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Discovering New Authors

One of the many reasons I attend mystery conventions is to discover new authors. At the recent Left Coast Crime Convention in Monterey, there was a new author breakfast where more than 40 first time authors were given one minute each to get up on stage an pitch their books. In sixty seconds each author had to summarize a book that probably took more than a year to write. It's a challenge to be sure.

Because I can't even begin to provide descriptions all of the books, I've chosen a very few here in the hopes that we can all find some new authors to read. So here they are:

Kilmoon by Lisa Alber:

The brutal game began among the ruins of Kilmoon Church … 

Desperate to mend her troubled past, Californian Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, Liam, a celebrated matchmaker. While tourists gather for the annual matchmaking festival, Merrit battles the anxiety and guilt that have plagued her since the death of her mother.

Like her mother before her, Merrit becomes ensnared in a web of betrayal and hatred that she must unravel if she’s ever going to find peace. Why has Merrit’s arrival triggered a rising tide of violence that includes murder? Most of all, what lurks beneath Liam’s charismatic smile?

As Merrit circles ever closer to the truth that emanates from Kilmoon’s grounds, she discovers just how far she and others will go to get what they want. The truth isn’t what it seems, and only her father understands how vengeance can strike from beyond the grave.

Absence of Mercy by John Burley:

Wintersville, Ohio is a small midwestern town much like any other—a place where neighbors feel more like family, where the chief of police knows the residents by first name, and where the sound of children’s laughter echoes along neighborhood streets as the evening sun settles upon the horizon.  But when a brutally murdered teenager is discovered in the suburban woods not far from his own home, pathologist Ben Stevenson becomes enmeshed in an investigation that forces him to weigh his professional obligations against the safety of his family, to explore the secrets of the quiet community in which he lives, and to ultimately confront a truth that will haunt him forever.

Fragmented by former FBI agent, George Fong:

FBI Special Agent Jack Paris didn’t know why Alvin Cooper killed his own family five years ago. He just knew he did it. After being convicted of the murders and serving five years in prison, Cooper escapes. A day after, a bank manager reports to the Chico Police Department his wife was killed and their 17 year old daughter is missing. Agent Paris is called to investigate, gathering evidence from the crime scene at the bank manager’s home. Suddenly, past memories of the Cooper investigation surfaces, making Paris realize the two events may be connected. He fears his escaped murderer is back to killing.

George Fong, author of Fragmented

Eternally 21 by Linda Hull (pictured at the top of the post):

When Maddie Michael’s husband, Mr. Frank Finance, loses all their money in a Ponzi scheme, Maddie must do her best to prevent Frank’s TV show from going belly up. To maintain the appearance that everything is financially fine, Maddie secretly sets up a bargain hunter’s website that goes viral — making Mrs. Frugalicious a huge hit and bringing in much needed cash.

While researching “frugasm”-worthy deals at the local mall, Maddie is mistakenly accused of shoplifting by Eternally 21 manager Laila DeSimone. Her bad day gets worse when Laila drops dead. Universally disliked Laila has a murder suspect list longer than Maddie’s bargain spreadsheets, but when evidence points to Maddie as the prime suspect, she must find the real killer before the police throw away her “get out of jail free” coupon.

Photos of Linda Hull and George Fong by Darrell Hoemann Photography

Monday, March 24, 2014

The CSI Experience - Las Vegas

Today Kim Hammond talks about her visit to the CSI Experience in Las Vegas. 
I like good forensics scenes in a book or on a television show. I even know someone who does it for a living and I’ve had the opportunity to dust for fingerprints and watch a super glue fuming demonstration.  So when I was planning a trip to Las Vegas and saw that there was a CSI exhibit at the MGM I knew I had to check it out. 

The exhibit is a hands-on experience that walks you through solving a crime.  You are a member of the CSI team and it is your job to observe, and gather evidence. The exhibit’s goal is to get you to identify, analyze, formulate, validate and communicate. 

As you move from room to room you deal with DNA evidence found at the crime scene, toxicology results, forensic anthropology, forensic entomology, firearms and tool mark identification, information technology, blood splatter and latent prints.

There are video monitors in the rooms and you are being encouraged and given tips by Gil Grissom from CSI, who was acting as narrator.  At the end you present your report to Supervisor Grissom.

There is more than one crime scene to view. My group was assigned crime scene #1, which was called A House Collided. Armed with a clip board and crime scene form you begin by observing a crime scene, taking notes as you go along.  The first room was the set of a living room, which looked normal except for a car that had plowed through the house’s wall and come to rest in front of the couch.  There was blood evidence everywhere, including bloody handprint on the car’s hood and bloody footprints on the floor. The car’s driver was dead and there was a bullet hole on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The scene presented many questions, besides what happened to the driver of the car. Who was the owner of the house and where did he or she go? Who made the bloody handprint and footprints? After sketching the scene on your form and making all of your notes, you moved on to the latent prints room to search for the answers you needed. Beer bottles were found at the scene and your job is to lift prints from them and run those prints through the database. 
After going through the different labs to analyze evidence you must then draw your conclusions. Unfortunately they did not allow picture taking. However, at the end you had the opportunity to dress up in CSI apparel for a photo op. Who could turn that down? Then there was the  gift shop, a forensic geek’s dream.

You can find out more about the CSI Experience here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Left Coast Crime Awards

Last night at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Monterey, these coveted awards were given out. A big congratulations to all the winners but especially my friend Catriona McPherson for winning The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award. Well done.

The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award: Best historical mystery novel covering events before 1960

The Squid: Best mystery set within the United States
William Kent Krueger, ORDINARY GRACE (Atria Books)

The Calamari: Best mystery set anywhere else in the world
Louise Penny, HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN (Minotaur Books)

The Lefty: Best humorous mystery novel
Brad Parks, THE GOOD COP (Minotaur Books)

Sue Trowbridge: Fan Guest of Honor

Mystery Playground also recapped Day One, Two and Three of Left Coast Crime. 

Photos by Darrell Hoemann Photography

Left Coast Crime: Day Three

Jane Lee and Sharon Hudson
Today was Day Three at Left Coast Crime, a mystery convention being held in Monterey, California. As we get farther and farther into the conference I get more material that I can ever write up while I'm here, so today we'll focus on some photos a a recap of the panel I was on this morning called Mystery Aficionados

My fellow panelists and me got to spend the hour making book recommendations, something that I love to do. My fellow panel members, Donus Roberts (owner of DDRBooks, writer at Deadly Pleasures) and Les Blatt (host of Classic Mysteries -the blog and the podcast), graciously let me share their book recommendations here. 

First we talked about our favorite books that we read in the past year and second was our favorite books of all time.

I've added my recommendations at the end. To be fair, all three of us admit picking favorites was very hard and on another day we might have picked different favorites. In any event the following books were excellent. There are recommendations for just about everyone here.

Name three favorite books you've read in the past year:

Donus Roberts:

ENIGMA OF CHINA by Qiu Xialong
THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes, 
THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lindsay Faye

Les Blatt:

HE WHO WHISPERS by John Dickson Carr
MURDER MUST WAIT by Arthur W. Upfield
HAMLET, REVENGE by Michael Innes


NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl
THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone
MORTAL BONDS by Michael Sears

List your Top-5 all-time favorite crime fiction books:

Donus Roberts:

THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly
TIME’S WITNESS by Michael Malone
GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy Sayers.

Les Blatt:

THE THREE COFFINS (UK title: "The Hollow Man") by John Dickson Carr
THE NINE TAILORS  by Dorothy L. Sayers
LAMENT FOR A MAKER by Michael Innes


THE EIGHT by Katherine Neville
NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl
THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde
A GREAT DELIVERANCE by Elizabeth George

Here are a couple of photos from the conference. Later this week I will work on more in-depth write ups of LCC sessions like the new authors breakfast, Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Jan Burkes history talk and Ann Cleeves preview of the Red Bones series.

Marcia Clark at the book signing tables

Photos of Brad Parks by Darrell Hoemann Photography. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Left Coast Crime: Day Two

I am at the Left Coast Crime Convention this weekend in Monterey, California for four days of crime fiction indulgence.

Last night, William Kent Krueger won the coveted Dilys Award from the Independent Book Sellers Association for his novel Ordinary Grace. Ordinary Grace just came out in paperback on March 4th. Here is Kent accepting his award...

This morning's events started out with the new authors breakfast with more than 40 first time authors talking about their books. Since there was so much to cover here, we'll be getting into to that more later this week featuring many of the authors who presented.

Harper Collins held book signings in the book room where they gave away author's books. Here you see authors Kenneth Wishnia, author of The Fifth Servant, Lou Berney author of Gunshot Straight, and John Burley, author of The Absence of Mercy.

Here's Deborah Crombie giving away and signing copies of Broken Glass.

Here's a photo from the forensics panel featuring Jan Burke, DP Lyle, George Fong, Aaron Elkins and Robin Burcell. Jan Burke moderated this panel made up of forensics and police experts. 

Ann Cleeves

Jacqueline Winspear

You can read yesterday's recap here. We'll have more tomorrow and Sunday...

Monterey is a beautiful place to have a conference.