Friday, July 13, 2018

Art Taylor: Drinks with Reads "English 398: Fiction Workshop" and The Brittany

Art Taylor joins us today for Drinks with Reads. Art has won several of the mystery world's top awards for fiction, including four Agathas, one Anthony, two Macavitys, and three Derringers. His story "A Necessary Ingredient," in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea, was a finalist for this year's Agatha Award and is now a finalist for both the Anthony and the Macavity Award for Best Short Story. You can read the full story free here and see the drink to match here

To celebrate the publication of his latest story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine: "English 398: Fiction Workshop," Art offers us another inspired cocktail. Welcome Art!

The full title of my new story for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is "English 398: Fiction Workshop - Notes from Class & A Partial Draft by Brittany Wallace, Plus Feedback, Conference & More" -- a mouthful, I know, but because of the story's fairly layered structure, I wanted to lay out from the start several of the elements that would be included in the tale. (You can read more about that structure in an essay for the First Two Pages blog series, and get an excerpt of the story.)

The story's main characters are a professor of creative writing and one of his students, Brittany Wallace of that subtitle, with whom he is having an affair. Brittany is a bright student, sharp, attentive, imaginative, hard-working -- in short, exactly what the professor has always asked for in a student, even without romantic entanglement. But that entanglement satisfies other of the professor's wants, of course, and also adds to the conflicts at the heart of the story -- exciting moments turned inciting moments, complicating plot points ahead.

I reached out to my friend Brandon Wicks, also a writer and fellow fan of cocktails, for some help concocting a drink to pair with this story. As I told, I wanted a drink that was brightly colored, vibrant, something that looked as sweet as could be - until you sipped it, when you tasted the bitterness at its core. Some variation of a Negroni jumped to mind for both of us, one of my own favorite drinks, and I suggested adding a bubbly component to the mix -- because isn't the young woman in the story bubbly in her own way? A Negroni Sbagliato is the name for a Negroni that substitutes prosecco for the gin but I suggested keeping the gin (some backbone to this drink, as with the character herself!) and adding prosecco on top. Given the extra sweetness, a bit of extra bitters was called for at that point -- and I like the name of some bitters we recently got from Crude Small-Batch Bitters in Raleigh, NC: "Bitterless Marriage," which also gave the briefest nod toward the professor's wife in the story. 

After trying out several possible cocktail titles (The Conniving Coed, anyone?), I settled simply on The Brittany -- and added a subtitle here too, echoing the story's own subtitle and satisfying my sudden thirst for alliteration. 

I hope you enjoy both the story and the cocktail. 

The Brittany
Bubbly, But Bitter
1 oz. gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters -- preferable "Bitterless Marriage" bitters from Crude Bitters

Stir first four ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Top with Prosecco. Orange twist garnish optional.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bloody Snowflake Ornament

It's Christmas in July here at Mystery Playground and we are working on our Miss Marple themed tree. This week's ornament is the bloody snowflake inspired by Agatha Christie's Sittaford Mystery

When a group holds a seance in a remote house in Dartmoor, the spirits spell out that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered, but the only way to find out if it's true or not is to cover the six snow-covered miles to his house. 

These Bloody Snowflakes and easy and inexpensive to make.

Set of Ceramic Snowflakes
Red Craft Paint
Latex Glove or Paint Brush

If using matte, unpainted snowflakes:
White Craft Paint
Clear Coat Gloss Spray

Step One: Paint Your Snowflakes
If you start with the snowflake ornaments that are already painted white and glossy, you can skip this step. If you start with the matte, unpainted version, paint your snowflakes with white craft paint. Paint both sides but allow to dry before turning. Then, spray each side with your glossy spray, again allowing to dry before turning.

Step 2: Apply Blood Spatter
You can use a brush to apply the red paint to the outside of the ornaments, but I put on a latex or rubber glove, set the ornaments on a piece of cardboard, poured paint over my gloved hand, and flicked the paint onto the ornaments to look like blood spatter. If you want to do both sides, allow the first side to dry completely before turning and repeating this step.

Step 3: Attach Ornament Hanger
You can use a decorative hook or red ribbon to hang the ornaments. I went with hooks.

Come back next week for more Christmas in July with Miss Marple. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Peter James and the Dead if You Don't Gin and Tonic

International bestselling thriller writer, Peter James, joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate the release of his latest Roy Grace novel, Dead If You Don't. James is a New York Times bestseller, has had twelve consecutive Sunday Times No 1s, and is published in 37 languages. Hi DS Roy Grace crime novels have sold 19 million copies worldwide. 

Prior to becoming a full-time author, he was responsible for 26 movies. In 1994 Penguin published his novel, 'Host,' on two floppy discs as the world's first electronic novel. He is Overseas Vice=President of International Thriller Writers in the US. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the coveted 2016 CWA Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence, and he was publicly voted by WH Smith - Britain's biggest bookselling chain - the Best Crime Author of All Time. 

Here's the synopsis for DEAD IF YOU DON'T...

A PARENT'S WORST NIGHTMARE IS GRACE'S DEADLIEST CASE . . .Roy Grace, creation of the CWA Diamond Dagger award winning author Peter James, faces his most complex case yet in Dead If You Don't. 
Kipp Brown, successful businessman and compulsive gambler, is having the worst run of luck of his life. He’s beginning to lose big style. However, taking his teenage son, Mungo, to their club’s big Saturday afternoon football match should have given him a welcome respite, if only for a few hours. But it’s at the stadium where his nightmare begins. 
Within minutes of arriving at the game, Kipp bumps into a client. He takes his eye off Mungo for a few moments, and in that time, the boy is gone. Then he gets the terrifying message that someone has his child, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay.Defying instruction not to contact the police, Kipp reluctantly does just that, and Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is brought into investigate. At first it seems a straightforward case of kidnap. But rapidly Grace finds himself entering a dark, criminal underbelly of the city, where the rules are different and nothing is what it seems . . . 

And now let's hear from Peter...

I have a writing ritual.  My best creative time is 6-9.30pm Monday-Saturday, that is when I write at my best, and in the mornings, I review what I’ve done.  It was Hemingway, one of my heroes, who famously said, Write drunk, edit sober.  So, OK, I don’t go as far as getting drunk, but I do like to kick my writing evening off with a stiff cocktail and music blasting – that really gets me into the zone!

In addition to this ritual, I have a second one, and that is, to change my drink with each new book I write!  Dead If You Don’t is about a kidnap that turns out not to be at all what it seems.  A father takes his 14-year-old son to a big football game.  The father bumps into a business client and they chat for a couple of minutes.  When he turns around, his son has vanished.  An hour later he gets texted a ransom demand for $2m in Bitcoins, if he and his wife ever want to see the boy again.

The criminal element in the story is very much set in the Albanian criminal fraternity of Sussex and back in Albania itself.  It is close to the heel of Italy, so a long way south and very warm.  So, what more appropriate than a cooling Gin and Tonic?

Here’s my recipe:

1. Use a large glass, like this wide-mouthed red wine glass.  All gins have a fragrance, and breathing that is part of the joy of this drink.

2. Choose your gin.  I am very partial to Tanqueray, which I think makes the most perfect Gin and Tonic of all.  Keep the gin in the fridge for 24 hours, at least.

3. The glass must be really cold.  Keep it in the fridge for a couple of hours before deploying!

4. Begin with pouring in the measure of gin you want, big or small.

5. Now shake in just a few drops of Angostura bitters.

6. Add ice cold tonic water.  My favourite is Fever Tree, but Schweppes is good, too.  The measure of Tonic water is critical – do not drown the gin or all you will taste is the tonic water.  I advise no more than six parts tonic to four parts gin.

7. Avoid adding ice as it dilutes the drink rapidly.

8. Add a small handful of blueberries.  They look pretty and they taste yummy infused with G&T.

9. Finish with a slice of lemon.

10. Enjoy!

Peter has a fun channel on YouTube where he interviews other writers in what he calls, the Author's Studio. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Modern Miss Marple Ornament

Every July, Mystery Playground works on themed Christmas ornaments so we are prepared with our mystery themed tree. So it's a bit of Christmas in July. Our theme this year is a tribute to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.

Today Lorraine Masonheimer brings us the Modern Miss Marple ornament. It is designed to represent the evolution of Miss Marple into a more modern and kinder character in Agatha Christie’s later books. She is conservatively dressed, with a sleeker silhouette and matching hat. She is hot on the trail of a murderer using her knowledge of poisons. The Extra Pharmacopeia Textbook is one of the textbooks Agatha Christie used to gain her knowledge of poisons featured so well in her mysteries. The cover of the book has a ghosted image of a chemistry diagram of arsenic.

Wooden craft “popsicle” sticks: Six ¾” x 6”, three ¼” x 2 ½”, two 3/16” x 5 ½”
One wood ball knob 1 ¼” x 1 3/16” with a 1/8” hole
One tie rack peg 3/8” x 2 3/8”
One each of color-coordinated plaid and dot cardstock
Leather or crocodile skin textured paper
Ribbon, bow and self-adhesive pearls
Acrylic paint (flesh)
White or gray doll hair
Black doll felt hat that fits the wood ball
Thin twine and pop-up squares
½” flower punch
Black ink pen, large black magic marker, glue dots, Gorilla glue, small paint brush
Scissors, x-acto razor saw and x-acto blade.

Step One: Paint
Place a pencil into a foam block and put the wood ball onto the top of the pencil. Paint the entire ball flesh tone. Paint two 3/16” x 5 ½” craft sticks (top & sides) and place over a plastic cup. Let dry.

Step Two: Cut & Glue
Take the ¾” x 6” craft sticks, trace, cut and glue six pieces from the plaid cardstock onto the sticks making her coat. Using a fine saw, cut two ½” x 2 ½” sticks to 2” long and one stick to 1 ½” long. Then cut the two painted 3/16” x 5 ½” sticks to 2 ½” long.

Glue the three ½” x 2” sticks together with the shorter stick in the center. Place the glue dots on the side of the sticks and press together to form one piece—her skirt. Using the same technique, glue the two 3/16”x 2 ½” painted sticks together—her legs. Slip the legs into the shorter center slot and glue. Cut a 3” x 2 ½” rectangle from the dot cardstock. Glue and wrap around the skirt with the seam to the back of the ornament.

Take a spare 3/16” x 5 ½” stick and trace, cut and glue her shoes (front and back) from the coordinating leather or crocodile textured paper. 

Step Three: Assemble the Coat
To create a space for the head, elevate the center stick by gluing the edges slightly on top of the left and right sticks creating her coat. Do the same with the back as shown in the photo above. After gluing, the coat will be about 1 ¾” wide.

Step Four: Brace & Edge
Cut four ¼” x 2 ½” sticks to 1 ¾” long. Glue together in twos to create two final pieces to brace the ornament. Using a large black magic marker, color all exposed sides to create a polished finished edge including the coat. Cut a hat band from paper scraps and glue to the hat. If desired, cut a flower from the same paper and glue to the back of the hat over the paper overlap. Place a pearl in the center.

Step Five: Draw the Face
Place the hat onto the painted knob to determine where to draw Miss Marple’s face. Draw dots for eyes and a triangle for her mouth using a black pen.

Step Six: Glue the Head
Stack two sets of seven spare craft sticks on a paper towel. Cut the ball end off of the tie rack peg and place a small amount of Gorilla glue onto the end. Insert into the hole of the ball. Place a small amount of Gorilla glue onto the peg and place the head onto the front of the coat with her face facing down onto the paper towel as shown. Place a weight over the peg and let dry overnight.

Step Seven: Assemble
Glue the two braces to the top and middle of the back of one side of the ornament. Glue the back of the coat to the ornament.

Step Eight: Embellish Coat
Glue a 7” long black ribbon and to the coat to create the collar and place a pearl in the center. Glue a small bow under her chin as shown in the finished ornament photo.

To create the loop to hang the ornament, cut a 10” piece of twine and loop it around the neck and tie it in the back. Glue the twine from the back of the head up to the top of the head. Cut and glue white or gray doll hair around the head. Using the x-acto blade, cut a small slit into the top of the hat and thread the twine through the hole. Tie the twine to 2” to hang the ornament and cut off the extra pieces. Glue the hat to the head and hair.

Step Nine: Create the Textbook
Using Microsoft Word, draw a 2 ¼” h x 1 ¾” w textbox. Type the words The Extra on one line, Pharmacopoeia on another line and Textbook on a third line. Type POISON on the fourth line. Print onto the leather or crocodile paper and cut to 1 ¾” h x 1 ½” w rectangle. If desired, add dimension by using a light gray pencil to draw the chemical symbol for arsenic onto the book cover.

Glue the textbook to her coat using small pop-ups to keep the book flat and secure against the front of her coat.

Come back next week for our next ornament.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal

Sheena Kamal’s second book in her Nora Watts series is out and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

Sheena Kamal has created one of the most interesting new characters I have come across in a very long time. Nora Watts first appeared in the The Lost Ones and is now back in her second installment; It All Falls Down released on July 3 in Hardcover by William Morrow. I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Ones and was eager to get my hands on the next book in the series in order to see where Kamal would take her character.

In The Lost Ones, Nora is faced with her past when she is contacted by the parents of a daughter she gave up for adoption. When she sets out to look for her daughter, she is faced with the ghosts of her past life and the choices she has made. In It All Falls Down, Nora is once again dealing with her past; this time it relates to her parents. She and her sister, Lorelei, lost both parents at a very young age. Their mother abandoned them shortly after they were born and their father committed suicide not long after she left. The girls were sent to live with an aunt and then ended up in foster care, an experience that shaped each of their lives in very different ways.

A mysterious stranger turns up and mentions her father’s time in the military and an incident in Lebanon. This encounter sends Nora on a quest that leads her to Detroit, Michigan and once again puts her life in danger. She finds out that there was more to her mother’s abandonment and her father’s death—much more. As she unravels the information, she is forced to look at her own life and perhaps change how she has always viewed her childhood and her parents.

Book two was just as enjoyable as book one. Kamal is an excellent storyteller and Nora is an exciting character. There are writers who tell you a story and then there are those that can transport you to the world they have created; telling a story so realistically that the reader feels like they’re there in the thick of it. Kamal is in the latter category and she manages to immerse her readers in the world she has created. In this book it’s the gritty streets of Detroit with a woman whose experiences have shaped her outlook and actions. This is a series that I will continue to read and will recommend to others who enjoy this genre.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed the third book in the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz and Kerry Hammond is here to give us the report.

Crime & Beyond met this month to discuss the third book in the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz. Hellbent features our favorite Nowhere Man, Evan Smoak. Our club has read each of the books in this series. The first was our favorite; not surprising, often the first in a new series is the most exciting. The second was good, but less exciting that we would have hoped. The third, Hellbent, received high scores and many club members thought it was a close second to Orphan X.

In this installment, Even Smoak, our hero and vigilante for justice, finds himself in the possession of a very important “package.” Its location was left to him by his mentor and father figure, Jack, as he was being hunted by the orphans who are trying to eliminate all of the loose ends relating to the program. The package isn’t so much a package as it is a 16 year-old girl who was in the orphan program before Jack hid her away to keep her safe. Evan’s nemesis, Van Sciver, is the lead villain in the story and he’s not only out to get Evan, but the girl he is trying to protect.

We had a great discussion and the book scored an average score of 8 out of 10. We loved the fact that Evan showed a bit more of his vulnerable side. The series is a great book club read because it has lots of action and plenty of discussion on good versus evil. There is a fourth book in the works and we look forward to seeing where Hurwitz will take us next.