Monday, December 26, 2011

Life as a Farmer

Did you know I was a farmer in a past life? My ex-husband and I owned the Five Star Organic Farm in West Newbury, Massachusetts. I was the farmer, and he supplied occasional muscle work like turning the compost or shoveling manure.

I'd been a gardener since college days in the early 70s, and when the chance came to not only buy a property north of Boston that had been an engineer's hobby garden but also leave my day job while our sons were young, we snapped it up. Our one-acre farm was already planted with blueberries, apple and pear trees, and grapes. The previous owner signed an affadavit stating that he had not used chemicals on the sizable vegetable plot, so I was able to get a head start on gaining organic certification from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).

I sold vegetables and fruits at the nascent Newburyport Farmers' Market. I started a Community Supported Agriculture program when most people hadn't even heard of the concept. I sold from an honors-system table in front of our house o
n busy Main Street. Here I am on the right with a small portion of one year's garlic crops.

So when it came t
ime to list my credentials in my proposal for the Local Foods Mystery series, it was no stretch to write, "The language and tensions of a farmer like Cam are rooted in my own life." It was a great life for a while. I was home with my children most of the time. I grew healthy organic food for my family and for others, and I was good at it. I communed in old clothes with the birds and the weather, and my commute was a two-minute walk. I even won an award for my Gold Cherry tomatoes at the county fair one year (photo from Verrill Farm in Concord, MA).

So why didn't I stay a farmer? Lots of reasons. Farming is hard work and it's drudge work. You walk around bending over and hauling heavy loads; you never get your heart rate up. It's financially non-lucrative work on the level our farm was. To really make some money, I would have needed to immerse myself more heavily in marketing, when all I really wanted to do was grow vegetables. And I looked ahead in my life and realized I needed to get back into the paid work force before I lost some of my skills and the recency of my experience in the hi-tech world.

During the last winter between farming seasons, I wrote more than half a murder mystery set on - guess where? - a small organic farm. I'm using some of the fictional world I set up then, and several of the main characters, including farmer Cam Flaherty, in this new book. I'm so happy I can now reimmerse myself in that world without having to do all that heavy physical work, which, frankly, my body isn't quite up to any more.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Working Hard

Quick update, no pix:

Working hard on A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. Extremely pleased with the professionality of my agent, John Talbot, and with editor John Scognamiglio of Kensington Publishing. Also SO excited about a dear friend fellow writer landing a similar contract with the same parties.

Wondering about wisdom of publishing Speaking of Murder with a very small, very new press, that has already missed one commitment to me. Fellow author appears to have similar feelings. That wondering, plus a second missed deadline today and other instances of unreliability from the press, led me to cancel the contract prepublication. Onward.

Delighting in friend John Urban's excellent success in self-publishing. A Single Deadly Truth has popped up to #1 on Amazon in 3 different categories, including Best Kindle Sellers in Hard-Boiled Mystery. John told Margaret Press, “It's been quite a run. I thought the last month or two were remarkable, but sales keep going up. I've sold over 6K books in the first twelve days of December. I'm convinced there's a stuck key on a computer somewhere at Amazon central, but I'm willing to go along with this.” You go, John! See my presaging review of the book here.

And wishing all my faithful readers peace and good health during the holidays and the year to come. May we each be creative, communicative, and competent, with joy and clearness in our lives.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Local Foods Mysteries Series Sold

This seems to be my fall for good news. With the help of fab literary agent John Talbot, I have just secured a three-book deal to publish the Local Foods Mystery cozy series with Kensington Publishing Company. I am thrilled almost beyond words.

The first book is titled A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. Novice farmer Cameron Flaherty just wants to grow and sell organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs on her great-uncle’s Massachusetts farm (photo of a farm share courtesy Arrowhead Farm in Newburyport, MA). Cam doesn’t count on finding dead bodies on the property.

Cam, a software developer in the Boston area, has lost her job to outsourcing. Her crusty great-uncle Albert invites her to take over his farm when his foot amputation forces him to move to assisted living. She takes a leap of faith and her severance pay and moves to the farm in the small town of Millsbury north of Boston. Her customers are eager to buy locally grown produce. Cam, by nature an introvert, struggles to balance satisfying a colorful group of locavores who subscribe to her Community Supported Agriculture farm-share program with trying to clear her farm, Produce Plus Plus, and her own name of the taint of murder. Some of her fellow farmers at the weekly farmers’ market support Cam. Others just might be killers.

One character I'm already having fun with is 14 year-old Ellie Kryzanski, who is working on her Girl Scout Locavore badge. She comes to the farm to work with Cam after school one day, and sees a clue all the adults have missed. Another is a bigger-than-life chef at The Market restaurant who gets his produce from Cam and might be looking for a little romance, too. Cam is also going to develop partnerships with local wine and beer makers, and sponsor a pickup site for a CSF, Community Supported Fishery.

A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die will be released just in time for the Northeast's growing season in 2013. I am having so much fun creating this world. I'll be giving updates here along the way.

What about you? Do you belong to a CSA or a CSF? Shop at your local farmers' market? Grow your own veggies?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Publication Date!

Trestle Press says Speaking of Murder will release for Kindle, Nook, and other ebook formats on December 21 of this year. I'm excited about this, and am scrambling to think of marketing opportunities.

Bookmarks. Business cards. Guest posts on other people's blogs. Scheduling readings at bookstores and libr
aries. Contacting linguists and video editors who might be interested in how I used those fields to help Lauren Rousseau solve the crime. Of course, keeping up with tweeting and facebooking news of the release. And all that while trying to keep writing, holding down the day job, and, oh yes, celebrating Christmas.

Some of it I can postpone. For example, I'm not going to order bookmarks until I have an ISBN number and a web address where people can order the ebook version. I'm not going to do in-person readings until the book is out in p
rint (the publisher says 60 days after it is out digitally).

I was interviewed by Trestle Press on blog talk radio last week, and the interview is available anytime on this
archived show, which is cool.

I did sign up for Malice Domestic, the largest reader-oriented conference for the traditional and cozy mystery genre held in the Washington DC area at the end of April. With luck they'll include me as a panelist and my books will be for sale there. At the Saturday breakfast all the authors travel (in a highly orchestrated way) around the dozens of tables, pitching their books in under five minutes, handing out bookmarks or postcards, hoping to interest readers.
Can you think of other promotional activities I should be focusing on? What works for you as a writer or a reader? How do you find out about books you want to read, and what kind of marketing annoys you most?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Four Great Books

I read four great books on vacation this week.

I started with Paige Shelton's Farm Fresh Murder, the first in her Farmer's Market Mystery series. Because I've been thinking about writing a series involving a farmer, I wanted to see what this series was about. I was pleased to find a well-written cozy without much overlap with my prospective murder mysteries. The characters are alive and fun, and the story was compelling. I look forward to reading more by Shelton. She's got some great titles, too: her next two books are named Fruit of All Evil, and Crops and Robbers.

Next I
lost myself in Judy Alter's debut mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space. She captures a real estate agent's life in Texas really nicely, along with the complications of finding a surprise during a renovation while single-mothering her two daughters and helping a teenager get back on the right track.

Then I plunged into Barry Eisler's latest thriller, The Detachment. This isn't a genre I usually read, but I met him at Crime Bake, heard him talk about the new world of publishing, and thought I'd give his writing a try (plus it starts in Tokyo, a city I lived and worked in for two years). Eisler is a big name for a reason. The book is truly a thriller and hard to put down despite the number of people who get killed. The psychological storytelling is superb. I was glad to get to know Rain, the protagonist, at long last.

My flight home
passed quickly because of Julie Hyzy's first in her Manor House cozy series, Grace Under Pressure. I've read all of her White House Chef mystery series and loved them (I'm happy to report it's an ongoing series, with Affairs of Steak due out in January, 2012), so I looked forward to starting the Grace series and was not disappointed. Grace, the new curator of the Marshfield Manor museum, meets challenges right and left with strength and aplomb. I loved Grace's two housemates, Bruce and Scott, and how Hyzy paints the culture of the South Atlantic area.

Vacation's over, so the number of books I read goes way down, but the stack remains high. What was your last favorite vacation read?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Writing from Puerto Rico

I'm spending Thanksgiving vacation with my son at a mountain inn in Puerto Rico. It is beautiful, lush, fecund, mysterious. I've been able to write a scene from Bluffing is Murder amidst hikes and contemplations. I sit on the patio of our cabin and type away.

The road up to this inn is narrow, winding, and half washed out in spots. So I also drafted a short story. What if the road washed out, and the electricity went off, too. Suppose someone went mad from the dark, the ceaseless calls of the tree frogs, the too-close personal interactions? What if murder happened?

See how the writer's mind works? Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!

Monday, November 14, 2011


I am very pleased to announce that Trestle Press has accepted Speaking of Murder for publication.

After three years of writing the story of Linguistics Professor Lauren Rousseau, I've succeeded in getting my book into the eager hands of the reading public.
Who said persistence doesn't pay off?

The book will be out in a couple of weeks as an e-book in several formats, then will be released in print about two months later. I'm thrilled! This gorgeous cover is thanks to Elizabeth Thomsen for the photograph of Ipswich's Choate Bridge and fellow writer Polly Iyer for the design. Thank you, talented professionals.

Stay tuned for details. And many thanks, Trestle Press. Readers, stop by and see what else they have to offer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


No, not throwing a ball. A pitch in the publishing world means delivering a pithy witty one-minute spiel on your book to the agent or publisher of your dreams, in person, without stuttering or referring to notes. It has to capture the essence of the story, the main character, the setting, without being boring or including way too much detail.

A snap, right? Not! The fabulous and award-winning
Avery Aames, who writes the cozy Cheese Shop Mysteries (and who has just had her series extended), produced a video on how to pitch and how not to pitch. It entertains as it educates. Thanks, Avery.

Why am I concerned with pitching? It so happens that this weekend is the New England Crime Bake. More than a half-dozen
agents and several publishers will be in attendance. One might encounter them in the hall, at lunch, in the proverbial elevator. Plus there is a pitch session, where each attendee who signed up (including yours truly) gets five whole minutes with an agent. Gulp.

I have drafted a pitch for my second Speaking of Mystery series book, Bluffing is Murder. I'm not happy with it, despite getting some excellent feedback from the Guppies AgentQuest group. I have 62 hours left to revise the heck out of it. Gulp.

When Lauren Rousseau finds one of the secretive Trustees of the Bluffs murdered on the coastal Holt estate north of Boston, police at first suspect her of the murder because she had been seen arguing with the victim earlier in the day. After Lauren goes on a date with her flirtatious karate instructor, she digs up not only local clams but also the truth about the actual killer. A Linguistics professor, Lauren
s abilities to analyze text on a social-networking site lead her to the murderer. She solves the Holt killing and uses her Quaker contacts to unveil the mystery of her own father's death by the same killer nineteen years earlier.

Whaddya think?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Year's Celebration and Accomplishments

It's my birthday. Nothing wrong with that. I love hearing from old friends and new. I scoop up news and best wishes from my sons and my siblings. I luxuriate in being treated to special meals and special treatment from my beau.

I fully admit to being a full-blown Scorpio. A double Scorpio, if you want to get particular, since I was born at sunrise, so my rising sign is also Scorpio. I am an extremist. In appetite, in love, in going after what I want, even sometimes in temper.

I am amazed by how many other Scorpios I have in my life. My closest friend. Other dear friends. A clutch of linguist friends (in grad school we used to hold the annual Scorpio Linguist Birthday Bash). A bunch (a murder?) of mystery-writer friends. Several relatives. A couple of influential (former) lovers. My first best friend from childhood. I guess we find connection, although it can involve fireworks, too.

One of the online writer groups I follow was started a year ago by
Diane Vallere. She wanted to start a conversation and resource for fellow mystery writers who were seeking publication with a small press. It's been a great group. While I personally haven't yet succeeded in placing Speaking of Murder with a publisher, I get a lot of support and a lot of information from this group of Sisters (and Brothers) in Crime.

On this anniversary of the group, Diane suggested we all list our writing accomplishments for the year. Since for me this coincides with my birthday, I jumped right in. I was kind of surprised at the list, so I thought I'd share it here.
  • I finished finishing SPEAKING OF MURDER, and worked hard to find an agent or a small press. Still working on that.
  • My story "Reduction in Force" was published in THIN ICE by Level Best Books.
  • I attended the Crime Bake and Malice Domestic conferences, the latter for the first time.
  • My story "Stonecutter" was accepted for the FISH NETS anthology.
  • I wrote 45,000 words on BLUFFING IS MURDER.
  • I blogged weekly here. Posts possibly disappeared unread into the ether, but still it was good practice.
  • I did some tweeting as @edithmaxwell.
  • I participated in an in-person writers' group on Monday nights, meeting every other week or so, with excellent critique partners.
  • Last month I wrote a proposal for a new cozy series involving a farm and locavores. Excited about that.
I guess that's not a bad year, considering that I have a nearly full-time job with a long commute, and am also on the board of SINC-New England, my local Democratic Town Committee, and my Friends Meeting. And I try to exercise daily, cook fresh foods, socialize, garden in season, and read. Okay, this is all making me tired!

Still, I look forward to another full year. Writing makes me happy, and that's always good. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by here and commented. Bloggers crave feedback, it turns out!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts Turn to Farming

Late-breaking news: The remarkable Aine Greaney graciously invited me to guest post on her blog about writing with a day job. Thanks, Aine. Anybody out there who hasn't read Dance Lessons and her other work, you should. And we'd love you to stop by and leave a comment. How do you integrate your day job with your creative work?

Now, about farms. Farms, you say? Sure. Think organic. Think local foods. Think Commun
ity Supported Agriculture. Think the Five Star Organic Farm in the early nineties in my former town of West Newbury. It was the smallest organic farm in Essex County, Massachusetts. It was certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and I was the farmer.

Nestled up against the Merrimac River, our small piece of land enabled me to grow a
nd sell vegetables and fruits. My (now-ex) husband hauled manure and turned compost, and we were co-owners, but I was the full-time farmer. I was home with our little children after leaving a job in hi-tech when they wouldn't offer part-time work or flexible hours. I'd always wanted to grow more food on a larger plot than a small kitchen garden. The chance arose and we seized it.

Farming is really hard work, and it's drudge work. Aerobic exercise, it's not. But you get to be outdoors with the seasons and the birds and the earth. As a day job you can do a lot worse.
I sold at the Newburyport Farmer's Market. I put up an honor-system farmstand out on the road. And I started a Community Supported Agriculture program in 1993, an early bud in a now-blossoming trend.

When I started writing mystery fiction during the last year of my farming life, my first book featured a female organic farmer and the intrigues of her life. I didn't finish that book. Looking back I realize how much of a novice writer I was then.

I'm now d
usting off and updating that character for a possible new series, and I'm having a blast. Cam Flaherty has a CSA that includes a Locavore Club, the leader of which has read Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal Vegetable Miracle. The farm has a Facebook page. The potential for mayhem on an organic farm seems without limit.

Stay tuned!
Let me know your ideas for locavore lunacy, your experience with CSAs, what organic means or doesn't mean to you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I won a book on the Jungle Red Writers blog recently that I want everybody to read. It's Aftertaste, by Meredith Mileti.

The story is not technically a mystery, but mysteries do arise as we follow chef Mira Rinaldi through her anger-management classes, cooking at her acclaimed New York restaurant Grappa, and returning with her baby daughter to her family and roots in Pittsburgh.
Will her husband acknowledge his daughter? Will Mira be able to hang onto her temper? Will Pittsburgh keep her from returning to New York? Will she follow her passion in work and love?

This is a wonderful book. Great characters, intriguing plot, beautiful writing. I par
ticularly liked experiencing the inside scoop on what the life of a chef is like. Mileti's writing about food - its preparation and enjoyment - made me hungry page after page, although I don't think I have it in me to work the long hard hours of a professional chef. I asked Meredith how she learned so much about the restaurant business. This is what she was gracious enough to share with me:

"I actually did a fair amount of research for the novel. Oh, it was a tough job! I love to travel and eat out--food stands, greasy spoons, as well as more "serious" restaurants, and everything in between. So, for the years I spent writing the book we certainly did quite a bit of that. Many chefs were kind enough to answer my questions and some were kinder still in allowing me to peek into their kitchens. And, I cooked lots of Italian food, which I love. I learned to roll out homemade pasta with a rolling pin, an accomplishment I'm really proud of. (My husband jokes he gained twenty pounds during the writing of this novel!) I also read a lot. In particular, I found Michael Rhulman's series of books (The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, The Reach of a Chef) very enlightening. Bill Buford's Heat was helpful as well, not to mention tremendous fun."

Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Islieb) at Jungle Red interviewed Meredith here, which is where I learned about her. It was fitting for Lucy to interview Meredith, since Lucy's first book about a restaurant reviewer will be out shortly.

I hope you'll find time to pick up Aftertaste and let me know what you think. And what's your favorite chef story? Best restaurant meal?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

25-Word Fiction

The Guppies (the Great Unpublished) online subgroup of Sisters in Crime, of which I am an active member, has been soliciting 25-word flash crime stories to celebrate Sisters in Crime's 25th anniversary.

Sisters in Crime (SinC) is an international organization founded in 1986 to promote the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction. The early founders, notably Sara Paretsky, saw that female crime and mystery authors weren't being published or reviewed in any of the same numbers as male authors, despite the past influence of blockbusters like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (and many others).

SinC is now 25 years old and has made a huge difference in the professional - and personal, most likely - lives of countless women who write crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Here's what I submitted to the Guppies solicitation for 25-word stories:

"Just like prison, Doc," George quavered.

Dorothy administered her husband's final dose, winked at Brigitte.

"Death is like prison, too."

The plane to Rio awaited.

Fun, right? Some of the other entries have been very intriguing, to say the least. And I thought 150-word and 600-word flash fiction ( the last entry on my Publications tab) were a challenge!

Our New England chapter of Sisters in Crime threw a gala luncheon In Concord, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary. We were honored by several New England chapter founders and early active chapter members - Kate Flora, Linda Barnes, and Margaret Press, as well as past presidents Ruth McCarty and Pat Remick. Current president, Sheila Connolly presided. Our intrepid photographer Mo Walsh's photographs are here (she's here on the right!).

All our Goddess-Luminaries shared their memories of the early days of Sisters in Crime and what being part of a local chapter meant to them as budding writers. (Mo's photo of the Goddesses at left in thumbnail.)

Multiple dozens of writers consumed a tasty lunch, schmoozed, and networked all afternoon. Nobody offered up 25-word flash fiction on the spot, (but then, that was a different contest). Some then adjourned to visit the local bookstore or Louisa May Alcott's birthplace.

SinC New England is a large and active chapter. For the non-writer readers out there, we have a vibrant Speakers Bureau that provides libraries, book clubs, and bookstores with writer panels for all occasions. For writers, we hold workshops and subsidize courses by big-name teachers.

Who would you like to hear talk about writing? Who would you like to learn about writing from? If you're a writer, have you joined Sisters in Crime and the New England chapter? Most important, what's YOUR 25-word crime fiction? Share it here!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Retreating to Write

When life gets busy, a writer's thoughts can turn to getting away from it all. Finding a quiet room somewhere with a desk, a chair, a light, and a bed. One that won't break the bank. Maybe even one where simple meals are delivered a couple of times a day. No phone, no laundry, no Internet.

In such a setting, I dream of being super productive. Writing furiously for days on end, broken only by a daily long walk and a nap. Completing the last 100 pages of the work in progress. Doing an entire edit. Starting a new idea. Crafting a short story start to finish.

In reality, as Aine Greaney points out in
Writer with a Day Job, there's often a few hours or a day at the beginning of adjusting, of settling in. Still, I think I'm gearing up for carving out some time. Aine recommends the Wellspring House in Western Massachusetts (whose room is pictured here), a retreat house for writers and artists. Or perhaps my friend Deb's beach house is empty for a weekend. Anywhere away from home where I can have more than 5 hours of uninterrupted time would be superb.

There are established artist retreats where scholarship winners can stay for weeks, even months. MacDowell in NewHampshire. The Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Oregon Writers Colony. Dorland Mountain in California. They are competitive to get into with a long application lead time, though, plus then you need to be able to take the time off work to actually work there.

Possibilities for the future, sure.
For now? Which weekend in the fall can I just claim?

And how about you? What kind of writing retreat works the best? Have you found a good one?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Mother's Birthday

I can't be with my mother, Marilyn Ruth Flaherty Maxwell Muller on her 86th birthday tomorrow, so I thought I'd write a brief biography of her, instead, so you all can know what an awesome woman she is.

Marilyn Flaherty
was a shy girl who grew up in Piedmont, California, a hilly small town across the bay from San Francisco. Already a third-generation Californian, she went sailing in the bay and in the Pacific with her father, roller-skated down steep hills, and put on gloves and a hat to go shopping in the city with her mother and younger sister.

As an undergraduate in history at the University of California, Berkeley, she met my father at a sorority dance. He was a shy Army recruit
enrolled in Italian classes. They dated, fell in love, and wrote letters several times a week during the years he was stationed elsewhere in the States and then in the far reaches of India during the war. When he returned, they were married (see her guest post about her first car).

According t
o both of them, they talked ahead of time through all their plans for being a couple and being parents. They gave birth to four children, all less than two years apart (I'm #3). Mommy participated in a playgroup cooperative associated with a local college. She was home with us until we were in high school, and was a devoted Girl Scout leader (Leader of the Year in 1963) and Cub Scout den mother for my younger brother.

Our home was filled with books of all kinds. Mommy loved to read mysteries and my first Agatha Christie reads were her books. As a child when I couldn't sleep, I would sometimes make my way back into the living room where she sat reading, and if I was lucky (or if she chose to let me, more likely) I'd get some cherished time reading my own book next to her.

My mother
was always creative. She made a puppet theater for us by painting a refrigerator box, sewing and mounting a curtain, and fabricating puppets out of old socks, buttons, paint, and fabric. She sewed intricate ballet costumes for my two older sisters and me every spring, four per girl, and taught the other mothers the patterns. She took a cake-decorating class and made roses (roses!) out of frosting. She sewed most of our clothes and knit us sweaters.

She also paid attention to our nutrition. Although she never really enjoyed cooking apart from baking, we always had balanced meals. She read Adele Davis and tossed things like dried milk into the Bisquik to give it more protein.

On our annual two-week camping vacations in the Sierras, she taught us about birds and plants. We'd lie on our backs at night in an open area with her and learn about the stars (yes, using the Rey book). She let us run loose within certain boundaries on vacation, making sure we checked in (with a code word - "I'm going to visit Mrs. McGillicuddy") when we headed off to the bathrooms. At home I could go off anywhere on my bike as long as I stayed within a certain square of blocks. We were self-sufficient at home, too. We kids made our own breakfasts and lunches as soon as we went to school. She wasn't into short-order prep for four picky eaters.

In their fifties my parents divorced. Both of them remarried happily. My stepfather Fred Muller and my mother moved north out of the LA smog to Ventura, California, where they spent many sweet years together. They'd drive the few hours to Las Vegas and take advantage of the many senior discounts on food and lodging. They'd gamble a little for a few days and then drive home. Mommy took up quilting, making numerous beautiful quilts for her children and grandchildren. She won awards at the County Fair and made some good friends in her quilt group, Stitch and Bitch. She and Fred played games every afternoon: Scrabble, cribbage, cards. (I didn't beat her at Scrabble until I was 50...)

My father had passed away by then, and Fred was a perfect step-grandfather to my sons.
Mommy was and still is a devoted grandmother, suitably admiring and indulgent. She now has many great-grandchildren. All of her grandchildren and great-grands (as of 2007) and all but my brother are pictured at left.

Fred passed away from Alzheimers several years ago, and my mother no longer quilts. She's still a superstar with words, though, and loves to read her beloved Dick Francis.

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Murder in the Mansion

Last year I toured the historic Crane Estate mansion and grounds as I was beginning to write Murder on the Bluffs. I wanted the murder to take place somewhere on the vast grounds of the estate. I took pictures and lots of notes.

Mr. Crane was a plumbing magnate who spared no costs to build this summer retreat from the oppressive midwestern heat of Chicago. Parts of it remin
d me of the opulence of Hearst Castle on the opposite coast.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to score a slot in the "Hot and Cold" tour, which takes place in the back halls and stairways of the mansion, the realm of the maids and butlers. It was fascinating. We explored the pantries, the trunk room, the furnace area (hot), the rooftop, the ventilation system (cold), and much more. We traversed a hidden spiral staircase. We peeked into the old lift used to bring wood upstairs for fireplaces and checked out the dumbwaiter in a pantry the size of a small apartment.

Boy, did I come away with ideas. What if a body was stuffed in a trunk in the cellar? How about if Lauren was lured into the safe, a green-felt lined room used to store the considerable silver collection? Once the heavy door swung shut and the combination twirled, she'd have no way to call for help.

The antique elevator looked intriguing and dangerous with its door that resembled a jail cell door. That wood lift, with its pulleys, ropes, and rotting infrastructure. And the slanted concrete slab that coal used to slide down. Oooh.

I have changed the name of the estate in my book. Public places don't usually appreciate having fictional murders or assaults taking place on their properties, even if only in a book. Still, I think I might have material in surfeit for the climax scene I'll be working on tomorrow.

What's your favorite real or imagined site for murder and mayhem?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How I Write

One gentle reader of this blog asked to hear about my writing process, so here goes.

As much as I wish I were disciplined enough to write every day, I am not and so I don't. But on Fridays, my non-work day, I write. I don't schedule doctor or massage appointments, I don't clean or shop, I don't leave the house. I just write. I can also write on cross-continental flights, occasionally in the passenger seat of a long car trip, and sometimes on weekends.

When I'm at home, I sit in my lovely upstairs office and write at a desktop computer (sometimes with my helper, Birdie). When I'm traveling, I usually write on my trusty lightweight netbook, the one with the 9-hour battery life. I have, though, been able to write quite well in other locations with a good pen and a nice white pad of lined paper.

On Fridays I try to write steadily from early morning until I run out of steam, which is usually early afternoon, taking breaks only to stretch, grab a snack, or throw a load of laundry on the line. When I'm writing a first draft, I read over the last scene I wrote and then I try to write at least 1000 new words. Some days I get even more on the page.

What about when I don't know what's happening in the story? I'm not one for plotting or outlining, particularly. At times I sit down and have NO IDEA what's next in the book. But the old adage about "butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard" is completely true. So I start typing. Sometimes I type "I don't know what to write today. I don't know what's next. I want to bring Irene's son Joey into the action..." and then I have an idea about what happened to a character and off I go. It works every time. Really? Really.

But what about distractions? The Internet is a biggie. It's too tempting to just check that email, or do a little research about this or that. So I simply don't open a browser on the desktop system. Instead I leave the netbook downstairs and use that for email. If I need to check a fact in the book, I type [CHECK THIS] so I can find it later, after the creative surge is over, and follow up then. It seems very important not to let myself interrupt the muse when she's flowing.

Other distractions include a nice sunny day and the view from my office windows. Or bringing pen and paper to the beach and finding myself listening to the waves and fellow beachgoers' conversations instead.

What about you? Where do you write, and how do you keep at it?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Groundnut Stew and Other Delicacies

I'm pleased to welcome fellow author Patricia Deuson as guest blogger today. We discovered we have a common past: living all over West Africa. As has, too, my amateur sleuth, Lauren Rousseau. Pat's first mystery, SUPERIOR LONGING, the first Neva Moore mystery, will be out September 15 on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and other e-book venues.

Food creates memories. Time spent with family and friends. Those special dinners in or out. Picnics. Holiday feasts. For those who lived for a time in a country not their own, vivid memories can be evoked by a dish once shared with friends abroad. Groundnut stew* is this kind of dish for those who spent time in West Africa .

What are groundnuts? Thought to have originated in Western Africa, the most common groundnut is the peanut, but while all peanuts are ground nuts, not all groundnuts are peanuts.** When I lived in West Africa peanuts were the groundnut of choice. Sold in bags and bottles, sweet or very spicy, in sauces of amazing heat, as groundnut butter, boiled groundnuts, fried groundnuts, green groundnuts, groundnut oil, they were found in soups, stews, salads, snacks, and sandwiches.

So what is Groundnut stew? It’s a spicy, hearty dish of whatever vegetable is on hand, chopped or diced and ready for the pot: carrots, onion, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, winter or summer squash, chickpeas, okra, garlic, eggplant, hot peppers, sweet peppers, or cabbage, and spices. Spices! Ginger, cayenne, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric all of which came from the marché, sold in twists of paper. And of course peanuts, pounded to a paste with a large wooden mortar and pestle.

Ground nut stew, like traditional dishes everywhere, has as many recipes as cooks and they add what vegetables they have on hand. If there is chicken or goat handy it is cut into small pieces and added or it canbe strictly vegetarian if meat is not available.

Groundnut stew can readily be turned into a soup with the addition of broth or juice. In West Africa either chicken or vegetarian bouillon cubes are used. Whether eaten as soup or stew, it might well be served with Fufu.***

What is Fufu? It's a dumpling made by boiling cassava, yam, plantain, millet, or rice, then pounding it into a glutinous mass in a mortar and pestle. The same mortar and pestle used to pound the peanuts one day and the millet the next. It is a ubiquitous, essential cooking tool.

[Edith's note: you can also use corn flour, and a Togolese friend of mine used to approximate fufu by combining Cream of Wheat with masa farina. It's really just polenta by any other name. And a perfect vehicle for a sauce.]

So here are some recipes for Groundnut Stew, one for FuFu, and a music video that will bring back the sound of West Africa to anyone who was lucky enough to live there.

* Groundnut stew recipes

** Groundnuts

*** Fufu recipe


This post was brought to you by the folks at Cooks Inn Cooking School, whose further adventures (some of which lead to murder) can be found in SUPERIOR LONGING, the first Neva Moore mystery, written by Patricia Deuson, published by Echelon Press and available from 9/15/11 until the end of time in most fine ebook formats such as Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and Omnilit and maybe others no one told me about. SUPERIOR LONGING has its own blog and Facebook page as well: and Go visit them!