featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--MYSTERY AUTHOR MADDIE DAY SHARES AN EMPANADAS RECIPE AND A NEW RELEASE

Award-winning mystery author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and multi-published short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Learn more about Edith/Maddie and her books at her combined website. 

Creating a Series
Thanks so much for having me over to celebrate my book release, Lois!

When I designed my Country Store Mysteries, I knew I wanted to feature a breakfast and lunch restaurant in southern Indiana. As I am originally a Californian, I made protagonist Robbie Jordan a transplant from the Golden State, too. She grew up in Santa Barbara, but loves living and cooking in Brown County, Indiana. 

I spent five happy years earning a doctorate in the next county some decades ago and visited Brown County often. The southern part of Indiana is hilly and pretty, and the pace of life is slower and more relaxed that I’ve found on the coasts. It was fun to create an iconic fictional Midwestern village and people it with locals. A couple of them are fond of using quirky southern phrases like, “Welp, that went faster than green grass through a goose,” or, “The fella’s a regular cobweb rig,” for a particularly tall man.

After Robbie’s mother dies suddenly of a ruptured brain aneurysm in her fifties, Robbie is heartbroken but inherits some money. She’s already living in Brown County, working as a chef. She and her Aunt Adele, her mother’s sister, find a run-down country store for sale. Robbie’s mom was a cabinetmaker, so Robbie learned carpentry skills from her. She goes to work renovating the store.

Flipped for Murder, the first book in the series, begins at the store’s grand opening. It’s been fun developing Pans ‘N Pancakes into the village watering hole over the course of six books and a novella. It’s where everybody comes for breakfast or lunch, and where they gossip and talk about the latest murder.

I’ve also enjoyed developing the recipes for the restaurant, some of which I include in the books. I love cooking, and I live with a tall skinny man who loves recipe testing! 

For book seven, Nacho Average Murder, which releases tomorrow, Robbie goes back to California to her tenth high school reunion. I created a number of yummy recipes with a Cali-Mex flavor, using avocados and spices like cumin and chili powder. It’s food I love to eat and I’m happy to present one of the dishes here for you.

Flaky Chicken Empanadas
These yummy bits are served at the Chumash High School reunion.

Ingredients:
1 large boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces grated pepper jack cheese (or regular Monterey Jack)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
2 puff pastry sheets, thawed
1egg + 1 tablespoon water whisked together in a small bowl

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. 

Slice the chicken lengthwise into inch-wide strips. Rub all surfaces with the spice mix.
Heat oil in a skillet at medium high. Lay in chicken strips not touching each other. Sauté for two to three minutes until brown on bottom, then flip them over. Sauté for one more minute. Lower heat to medium low and cook until chicken is done, about ten minutes in all. Remove from heat and cool for an hour. Dice the chicken, ending up with about two cups.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, cream cheese, grated cheese, and peppers. Use your hand to mix well.

Lay out one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out to an approximate dimension of 11 x 15 inches. Cut 3 1/2” circles in the dough with a biscuit cutter, a glass, or a bowl. Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gather dough scraps and roll out to dimensions to fit additional circles.

Place 1 tablespoon chicken mixture in the center of each circle. Lightly brush the edge of half of a circle with egg wash and fold over, pinch edges tightly to seal. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining circles but DO NOT dip your brush in the egg wash again until your brush becomes dry because too much egg wash will prevent the edges from sticking.

Check each empanada to make sure there is about a finger's width of dough sealed together before the filling starts. Crimp the edges together with a fork. Pierce each empanada two times with a fork so steam can escape while baking.
Spread empanadas apart so they are not touching each other on the baking sheets. Brush the tops/sides evenly with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Serve hot.

To freeze:
While empanadas are lined on the baking sheets before baking, transfer entire baking tray to the freezer. Once frozen, add individual empanadas to a freezer bag or glass container with lid.

When ready to bake, array desired amount of empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Nacho Average Murder
A Country Store Mystery, Book 7

While looking forward to her high school reunion back in California, Robbie Jordan’s anticipation is complicated by memories of her mother’s untimely death. At first, she has fun hanging out with her old classmates and reuniting with the local flavors—avocados, citrus, fish, and spicy Cali-Mex dishes. When she gets wind of rumors that her mother, an environmental activist, may not have died of natural causes, Robbie enlists old friends to clear the smoke surrounding the mystery. But what she finds could make it hard to get back to Indiana alive . . .

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Friday, June 26, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH COZY, MYSTERY & PARANORMAL AUTHOR RENEE GEORGE

Today we sit down for a chat with cozy, mystery, and paranormal author Renee George. Renee writes the Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mysteries. Learn more about Renee and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I think I always knew that I wanted to write books, especially books that provide an escape from everyday life and leave people with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. I was in my thirties, working as a nurse, before I published my first book (2005) and realized it was possible to write professionally. Now I'm fifty-one and living my best life as a full-time author. 

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Hah! I answered this in the last question. However, it was only after I went indie in 2014 that I started publishing the books I really wanted to write. 

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? 
I am hybrid, though I've been predominantly Indie since 2014.

Where do you write? 
I am not someone who needs to be in a certain space to write. Actually, I'm the complete opposite. I will move from my office, to the dining room, to the deck, to the living room, and my bedroom (at home) when I'm on deadline because the space I'm in at any given time will start feeling like it is closing in on me. I can also write in the car, when I go on vacation (some of my most productive writing!), and really just anywhere. 

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?  
I listen to classical music, white noise, or I need the space completely quiet when I'm writing. Anything with audible words will distract me (songs, tv, or people). My husband bought me noise cancelling headphones for Mother's Day last year, and now any space can be a writing space.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? 
My latest character, Nora Black, is a lot of me, in that she is fifty-one (and has all the aches and nearsightedness that come with aging along with the feeling that she still feels vital and has a lot of life to live), recently had a hysterectomy, and has a couple of best friends she considers her tribe, but her life and the plots of the mysteries are all fiction. 

Describe your process for naming your character? 
Sometimes I just look at baby name websites and scour the names until one of them pops out and says, hey! choose me. My side and sub-characters tend to get names from my family and friends and acquaintances (though the characters themselves have nothing in common with anyone I know). 

Real settings or fictional towns? 
Fictional towns, for sure. Even if the name comes from an actual town, it's usually set somewhere else and the real town has no connection.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? 
My heroine Nora Black has developed a psychic gift after dying on the operating table (less than 30 seconds). Now she can see memories that are related to scents. Only, it's other people's memories she's seeing, not her own. 

What’s your quirkiest quirk? 
I actually say stuff in real life like criminently, criminy, jiminy crickets, fudgy knuckles, cripes, jeez louise, crap on toast, along with more choice words that are less than cozy. 

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 
Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark. It was the first paranormal mystery book that I'd ever read, and I thought the story was brilliant, and Charlaine Harris is a genius writer. After that I read all her books and series. Fun fact: I got to take Charlaine Harris to dinner before a book signing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fangirled so hard. After I dropped her off at the Barnes & Noble, I parked my vehicle and cried for a moment before I went inside the bookstore.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 
I don't have any do-overs, but there are a few books that I wish I would have taken a little more time with the ending. I won't be naming titles, though, since the readers haven't seemed to mind. 

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Chain letters (email, Messenger, or Facebook). I find "forwards" incredibly annoying.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 
A book, a piece of flint, and a machete.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 
Laundry and housekeeping in a nursing home (1987). I lasted one full week. 

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? 
I'm not sure I've ever read a "best" book. I've had best books of the moment.

Ocean or mountains? 
Ocean

City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 
Country. When I was younger, I would have said city, but the older I get, the quieter I like my life.

What’s on the horizon for you?
In August, I will be releasing War of the Noses (A Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mystery Book 3). 

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 
Reading has always been an escape for me, and I love books that have engaging characters I can identify with and satisfying endings that make me feel good when I've finished. That's what I try to accomplish with every book I write. I want readers to see the best of themselves in the characters, and to just feel really good when they get to the end.

Sense and Scent Ability
Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mystery, Book 1

My name is Nora Black, and I'm fifty-one-years young. At least that's what I tell myself, when I'm not having hot flashes, my knees don't hurt, and I can find my reading glasses.

I’m also the proud owner of a salon called Scents & Scentsability in the small resort town of Garden Cove, where I make a cozy living selling handmade bath and beauty products. All in all, my life's is pretty good.

Except for one little glitch...

Since my recent hysterectomy, where I died on the operating table, I’ve been experiencing what some might call paranormal activity. No, I don’t see dead people, but quite suddenly I’m triggered by scents that, in their wake, leave behind these vividly intense memories. Sometimes they’re unfocused and hazy, but there’s no doubt, they are very, very real.

Know what else? They’re not my memories. It seems I've lost a uterus and gained a psychic gift.

When my best friend Gilly’s abusive boyfriend ends up dead after a fire, and she becomes the prime suspect, I end up a babysitter to her two teenagers while she's locked up in the clink. Add to that my super sniffer’s newly acquired abilities and a rash of memories connected to the real criminal, and I find myself in a race to catch a killer before my best friend is tried for murder. 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

MYSTERY AUTHOR MARILYN MEREDITH ON TWEAKING REAL SETTINGS FOR FICTION

Tule River
Mystery author Marilyn Meredith has written more than forty books under her own name and as F.M. Meredith. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.

How Much of The Setting of the Tempe Crabtree Mysteries is Like Where I Live?
It’s no secret that the area where Tempe Crabtree is resident deputy has a close resemblance to the town of Springville. Both are in the Southern Sierra*, however, Bear Creek is 1000 feet higher in elevation. My main reason for that was I wanted better trees and the chance for more changes in the weather. Weather often plays an important part in series.

When I moved Bear Creek higher into the mountains, I changed the main highway a bit to fit the stories I wrote. 

The Tule River runs through the place I live, but I call it Bear Creek, and the town is named after the river.

Both places are near an Indian reservation, and the real one is much like the one in my series.

In my town there is an inn like the one in Bear Creek, however the fictional one is a bit different than the real one, though the history of it is the same. Right now, it’s closed.  In fact, the main reason I didn’t use all the same businesses in my series is because they tend to come and go. Summer brings the tourists, but it’s hard for many places to remain open during the winter. And the virus isn’t helping.

In the latest book, a campground is featured. We have many campground and hiking trails, but the ones in End of the Trail are fictional. The surroundings are real. We have giant Sequoia groves in several places. 

As far as I know, no one living off the road to the reservation has a compound like the one I describe in this latest mystery. However, there is plenty of land where someone could build exactly what my fictional characters did. 

The town of Dennison is somewhat like the nearby town of Porterville. Any of my neighbors will recognize Main Street, the mortuary, and the library. (As a sad aside, the library burned down earlier this year.)

When Tempe visits another real place and I’ve used the name, I try to keep as true to what it is like as possible. However, when I write Bear Creek, I am happy that I can fictionalize what I’m writing about. It gives me many more opportunities for plot ideas.

*Sierra means mountains.

End of the Trail 
A Tempe Crabtree Mystery, Book 18

Deputy Tempe Crabtree joins the search for a missing hiker which results in a murder investigation, a near death experience, an unexpected rescuer, and an unhappy ghost. 

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Monday, June 22, 2020

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GOTTA LAUGH! GOTTA CRAFT!

Gotta Laugh! Gotta Craft!

Is there anyone out there who isn’t stressed to the max right now? Probably not. We’re living in extremely stressful times. Just about everyone I know wants to crawl into bed, pull a quilt over their heads, and not get up until the world is a safer and saner place for everyone.

Personally, I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, ever since author Lois Winston started messing with my life. Sometimes my head spins when I think about the way she’s turned my life upside down and sideways. A year ago, I was living the American Dream with my husband, two great kids, a home in the suburbs, and a job I loved. The one fly in the ointment was my cantankerous communist mother-in-law who was living with us while she recuperated from a hit-and-run, but Karl, my husband, had assured me her stay was temporary. He didn’t want her in our home any more than I did.

Then Karl dropped dead in Las Vegas, and life has never been the same. I felt like such a cliché—the clueless wife who knew nothing of her husband’s affair. Only Karl’s affair had been with Lady Luck, and his luck had run out. He left me, not only permanently stuck with his mother but also his loan shark, having gambled away everything—including money we didn’t have. The loan shark didn’t care, which I’ve since learned is SOP—standard operating procedure—for loan sharks. Being a Jersey girl, you’d think I would have known that.

You might also think all of the above would be enough of a triple whammy for any clueless wife, right? Far from it. Ever since Karl’s death, thanks to Lois, the dead bodies keep piling up around me, and I’ve found myself with a second career as a reluctant amateur sleuth. It was either that or wind up railroaded for a murder I didn’t commit.

I don’t think even Sherlock Holmes stumbles across dead bodies at the rate I have this past year. Nor did Sherlock have as many people trying to kill him. You’d think I work in law enforcement, given all those dead bodies, but I’m the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, for heaven’s sake! Hardly your typical life-threatening occupation. And yet, my life keeps getting threatened, thanks to Lois.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. Of course, laughter isn’t going to cure everything that ails us right now, but it will release endorphins, which make us feel better. And at least Lois has decided to give me a sense of humor that helps me get through all the murder and mayhem she throws my way.

She’s also decided that you, too, could probably use a good laugh right about now. So for the next few days Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is on sale for only .99 cents. Treat yourself to a good laugh at my expense. I won’t mind.

And before I go, I’m going to put my craft editor hat on and remind all of you that there’s something else that can make you feel better right now—crafting. Working on crafts projects can be a huge stress reliever. If you’ve got some unfinished craft projects lying around the house (and what crafter doesn’t?), pick one up and finish it. I promise, it will put a smile on your face. And who doesn’t need an excuse to smile right now?

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 1

When Anastasia Pollack’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her hateful, cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband’s secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who’s demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Anastasia’s job as crafts editor at American Woman magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her desk chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos on her ruthless climb to editor-in-chief. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia’s husband, Anastasia becomes the prime suspect. Can she find the killer and clear her name before he strikes again?

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Kobo 
Nook 

Friday, June 19, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR NANCY NAU SULLIVAN ON WHAT MYSTERY READERS LIKE (AND DISLIKE)

Nancy Nau Sullivan’s first mystery in the Blanche Murninghan series, Saving Tuna Street, launches June 23. It's a series with a suitcase--next installment, Mexico, then Vietnam, Ireland, Argentina, and Spain. A former journalist, Nancy taught English in Argentina, Mexico, and at a boys’ prison in Florida. Learn more about Nancy and her books at her website.

It’s a Mystery to Me
I asked some critique groups I belong to for comments about likes and dislikes of the mystery genre: 

First off, one reader jumped right in to put mysteries into two camps: A mystery is suspense (the reader knows who did the deed but is held in abeyance with the author’s sleight of hand) and the mystery is thriller (the reader doesn’t know the perpetrator and there’s a thrill around every corner until the end). One reader mentioned that many writers combine both—He offered Lisa Unger and Greg Iles as examples. 

Agatha Christie is right up there on the lists of most popular mystery writers. In her books, the reader doesn’t know whodunit until the puzzle pieces are put together at the end. Agatha has four on the list of the top 100 mystery stories, according to Mystery Writers of America. (Strangely enough, To Kill a Mockingbird is number 60--for its suspense? Rosemary’s Baby comes in at 100. Isn’t that horror?)

The lines are blurred, and waver all over the genre. Carolyn Keane, the pseudonym for Nancy Drew, is probably single-handedly responsible for inspiring a generation of mystery writers, even though Nancy did not deal in dead bodies. She was busy finding out who stole the heirlooms and driving around in that fabulous little roadster. I got hooked early.

Other notes in my unscientific survey:

·   Clues. “They shouldn’t look like clues until the end,” said Dawn. Lisa likes “delicious, well-place clues.” Rachael likes “a mix of subtle and obvious clues.”

·   Murder. “Most people don’t understand it, and they want to know why someone would do such a thing,” according to Yvonne. It’s “intriguing and, usually, the stakes are high.”

·   Design. A good mystery should be like “a puzzle, like a locked room, and it’s fun to finally get in,” says Jacquelyn. 

Some readers object to the lack of diversity in mysteries and a tendency toward misogyny and sexism. As regards the latter, Melissa was turned off by the writer who was obsessed with breasts. He had breasts “winking” and “smiling” in nearly every scene with a female.  

A couple of readers said they don’t like the killer to come out of left field, or the evil twin to show up with little explanation, or the cop to always be a bumbling idiot. 

Julienne does not like “shock at the expense of logic.” I recall my addiction to Perry Mason, and wonder why out of the half a dozen suspects the least likely was the one to usually jump up in the back of the courtroom at the last minute. I cry, foul.

Some readers don’t want a lot of clues and say they are smart enough to figure it out. They are unhappy with books that hand over the outcome too soon. Nonetheless, the story does need to wrap up nicely. Melissa put the capper on it: “I love the moment it all comes together, when the disparate threads make sense.” For each reader, that moment may be different, but most agree it does need to happen. Mystery writers should not leave their thread hanging…

What is it for you? Why do you like mysteries?

Saving Tuna Street
A Blanche Murninghan Mystery, Book 1

Blanche “Bang” Murninghan is a part-time journalist with a penchant for walking the beach on her beloved Santa Maria Island. Gran left her a cabin on Tuna Street, and she’s got her friends and family. All is well. Until the land-grabbing goons arrive. Blanche finds herself in a tailspin. Her friend, Bob Blankenship is found murdered, and she suspects the slick, handsome land developer Sergi Langstrom and his company of chaos are behind it all. Blanche keeps digging. All the way to hell. The goons, it seems, are a front for a drug cartel.

The harder Blanche pushes against the source of trouble, the more she is sucked into the vortex of greed, murder, drug runners, and kidnapping (hers). Who can look away? It’s like watching a hurricane, which, literally, comes straight for Tuna Street.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

AUTHOR JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR ON OUR FASCINATION WITH MURDER AND LOVE OF MURDER MYSTERIES

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Jeannette de Beauvoir didn’t set out to murder anyone—some things are just meant to be! She wrote historical and literary fiction and poetry for years before someone asked her what she read—and she realized mystery was where her heart was. Now working on the Sydney Riley Provincetown mystery series, she bumps off a resident or visitor to her hometown on a regular basis. Learn more about Jeannette and her books at her website.

Murder Most Ladylike
Why is it that women become so engaged with murder mysteries? 

Here’s the thing: while only about a third of published authors in almost all genres are women, women have long made up the majority of adult readers. We read. A lot. And, more and more, both as readers and as writers, we’re turning to crime… the crime of choice being, of course, murder. 

And I’m not just talking about a gentle PBS-Geraldine-McEwan-as-Miss-Marple kind of murder, either: we’re going for violent death as wholeheartedly as have our male counterparts. Think about it: the mysteries that involve a clever theft, or blackmail, or deceit of some sort usually seem, to a seasoned mystery reader, all a little… flat. But put a little murder into the mix, and we perk right up.

Why?

The most obvious answer is that death ups the ante, makes it’s something worth thinking about, worth puzzling over. Reading about death (and especially, perhaps, violent death) allows us to vicariously experience something that we’re afraid of and—most of the time—don’t talk about. It’s a truism that death has replaced sex as the taboo topic of social intercourse; but our psyches still need to deal with it, and preferably in some way far removed from our eventual personal demise. It’s the only explanation I can find for the morbid curiosity that keeps people hanging around the scene of an accident or behind police tape after any tragedy, a sort of fascinated schadenfreude; and it’s a good explanation for why we read murder mysteries.

But it’s not the only one. We also like to see justice done, especially when we perceive that the real world isn’t playing fair with us. If the guilty party is caught and punished in the fiction we read, then perhaps we regain the sense of order that’s lost whenever we hear the news. Every day, we see situations that have us baffled, and our minds seek to cope with them: it often feels that everything is getting way too far out of control. Reading about Inspector Whatever arresting the culprit restores a little harmony, a little control, a little of a feeling of safety.

Ah, safety. To my mind, that’s the real pointer toward why women love murder mysteries. Safety is, for us, an all-important consideration. As women, we understand what it feels like to live with fear humming constantly in the background of our lives. Most of us grew up being consistently told—by the media, by our protective parents, by horror tales at summer camp, by the experiences of our older sisters—just how vulnerable we are. We’re not to wear short skirts. We’re not to walk alone at night. We’re not to smile at men in bars. We’ve been told effectively that just by virtue of being female, we’re wearing a big sign proclaiming, “Victim here! Victim here!”

That low hum is always there in the background; but when we read or write crime fiction, we can explore our fear safely—and we can see it resolved. 

Many of our crime novels feature a woman protagonist, the solver of crimes, the avenger of the innocent. She’s usually more harried than her male counterparts: they tend to be divorced loners, while she’s still trying to hold it all together. Yet she’s the one who takes that body emotionally home with her, she’s the one who always remembers that it’s the victim, and not the killer, who is central to her case. 

As women readers, we identify with this female protagonist. As much as the victim in the autopsy suite, she is us, too: she is working hard to make the world a better place while remembering to pick her twelve-year-old up after hockey practice and getting the mammogram scheduled and buying the broccoli and trying to figure out whether her fifteen-year-old is smoking pot. And yet with all her imperfections, she’s the one who’s going to solve the crime. She’s the one who will restore our faith in balance in the world. She’s the one who will speak for the victim. 

And that’s a very good reason to read mystery fiction.

The Matinée Murders: A Provincetown Mystery
Sydney Riley Series, Book 6

It’s time for the Provincetown International Film Festival, and wedding planner Sydney Riley has scored a coup: her inn is hosting the wedding of the year. Movie star Brett Falcone is to marry screenwriter Justin Braden, and even Sydney’s eternally critical mother is excited. The town is overflowing with filmmakers, film reviewers, film buffs, and it’s all the inn can do to keep up with the influx of glamorous celebrities and host their star-studded events.

But when Sydney opens a forbidden door in the mysterious Whaler’s Wharf, she discovers the body of a producer—and a legion of unanswered questions. Who strangled the innocuous Caroline Cooper? What dark force followed Brett and Justin from LA? Why is her boss Mike tense and double-checking every room at the inn? And is Mirela really leaving P’town forever? Sydney and her boyfriend Ali need to find the answers fast before another victim takes a final bow.

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Monday, June 15, 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH OPERA SINGER AND AMATEUR SLEUTH ELLA SHANE FROM DEBUT AUTHOR KATHLEEN MARPLE KALB'S HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES

Today we sit down for a chat with Ella Shane (born Ellen O’Shaugnessy, Hebrew name Meira bat Malka). Ella is the amateur sleuth of author Kathleen Marple Kalb’s debut historical mystery series, The Ella Shane Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? 
My life was quite satisfying and happy until my last Juliet died onstage and her cousin the Duke appeared in my Washington Square townhouse looking to find out what happened to her. While I began my life as the poor, and later orphan, child of an Irish father and Jewish mother on the Lower East Side, thanks to the gift of a voice, and good luck in finding a teacher, I’ve become a very successful opera singer, known for my “trouser roles,” heroic male parts now sung by women. 

My beloved cousin Tommy Hurley and I run the Ella Shane Opera Company, with productions in New York and on the circuit. We were finishing a stand of I Capuleti e I Montecchi in New Haven when our Juliet drank real poison. Even though she’d been quite a difficult person, I felt terribly bad about it, but it seemed like a straightforward tragedy until her cousin appeared. He started out rather judgmental, but once I set him straight that I’m a respectable lady and an artist (at the point of my sword, as it happens), he asked my help in finding answers. Since he’s clearly grieving, and I really do feel responsible for the girl, I’ve decided to assist him. This would all be much less unsettling if he were like every other Duke I’ve met: old, cranky and smelling of camphor. Not this tall, dark and actually rather charming – if sometimes awkward – fellow.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? 
My kindness and concern for others. My mother raised me with good Jewish ethics: it’s not enough to try to please God and work for Heaven, you have to treat people well here on earth. I try to give back some of my good fortune by helping the needy or suffering any way I can. 

What do you like least about yourself? 
My Irish temper. I do wish I didn’t occasionally find myself in a shouting match with Tommy and ending up in tears.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? 
I’m a rather intrepid person, but I never expected to end up dueling the person who killed poor Juliet on a catwalk twenty feet above the stage. I suppose it was rather thrilling for her, but I was the one who had to find a way out of it!

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? 
Sometimes she thinks I should be nicer to the Duke, but I’m in no hurry to pursue our involvement. He’s definitely an appealing and interesting man, and I’m glad to know his intentions are honorable…but I have no intention of becoming a man’s property.

What is your greatest fear? 
Losing people I love, especially Tommy. When I was eight years old, I woke up one winter morning in our tenement room and discovered that my mother had died in the night. My aunt, Tommy’s mother, took me in before I was sent to the orphanage, and Tommy watched over me. Danger doesn’t scare me…but the idea of a life without the people I love does.

What makes you happy? 
Singing, whether with a large audience in a prestigious theatre, my friends and musicians, or just my parrot Montezuma. Music is my gift, my blessing, and my greatest joy.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? 
I would be very tempted to explain to readers that they might want to really keep their eyes open when my author is talking about social issues or women’s place in the world. She’s usually using it as a way to slip in important clues that you’ll want to remember later. For example, my reporter friend Hetty’s struggle to write about something other than hats actually leads to an important revelation as well as her own advancement.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?  
Aline Corbyn, the society matron. Not because she’s mean and insulting to me, although she is, but because women should be better than that. My stage door Lotharios are pigs, which I expect. I’d like to think that as women we would try to help each other…but…

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why? 
I’d love to be Dr. Silver for an afternoon or two. She’s so smart and she does such good, important work. But I wouldn’t really want to be her forever – I’m sure she sees terrible things in her practice and can’t always save people. 

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
I do hope that “blog” comment wasn’t a reference to my author being an Irish bog-dweller. She actually is Scots-Irish, though she’s from Western Pennsylvania where they call it Scotch-Irish for reasons unknown. She does write a weekly “Throwback Thursday” column at a newspaper with the peculiar name of Goodreads.

At any rate, like me, she started her career early, and cared only for her work for a couple of decades. But then she had the good fortune to marry a longtime friend and have a child at a rather impressively late age, which – just between you, me and the lamp post – I find an encouraging example. She says this bit of garble (her website) will tell you more. 

She also says, by the way, that she was in fact born Miss Marple, and chose to add Professor Kalb’s name to her own to honor their son, the Imp.

What's next for you? 
The Ella Shane Opera Company is presenting The Princes in the Tower this fall in the City, and there may well be a few misadventures over the course of the run – which will be chronicled in my next outing: A Fatal First Night, due out next spring. 

A Fatal Finale
The debut of Ella Shane, an opera singer who’s part Beverly Sills, part Anne of Green Gables, part Errol Flynn – and entirely herself. 

New York City, 1899
Ella, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan made good, is singing Romeo when her Juliet dies onstage after drinking real poison. She thinks it’s a tragic mistake until the girl’s cousin, a genuine British Duke, comes to New York to find out what really happened. Right away, the Duke insults Ella -- so she makes him fence with her. Despite the rocky beginning, Ella, her cousin Tommy, a former boxing champ and “confirmed bachelor,” and the colorful cast of characters get drawn into the case. Soon, Ella and the Duke find they have an undeniable and quite possibly unresolvable attraction. No spoiler (just tease!) it all culminates in a catwalk duel with the killer – with Ella handling swordplay while the Duke waits in the wings.

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