Saturday, December 15, 2018

Guest Post - Jean Briggs

Aline here.  I'm delighted this week to introduce you to my friend Jean Briggs.  She is clever and witty and as an English teacher amused her pupils with spoof murder mystery plays with titles like A is for Arsenic, B is for Bludgeon.    But when she decided to write a crime novel it was her passion for Charles Dickens that came to the fore.  He was interested in crimes and police work, so it needed only a small leap of the imagination to cast him as the sleuth in her 'Dickens and Jones' mysteries. For the benefit of our transatlantic readers, Dickins and Jones was the name of a famous London department store, like Bergdorf Goodman, which gives the hint that her tongue-in-cheek style hasn't been totally abandoned!

What’s in a name? 

Graveyards; obituary notices, and births and marriages; the British Newspaper Archive; the Bible; The Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames – these are some of the places from where I steal the names of my characters. Graveyards, though somewhat melancholy, are a very useful resource for nineteenth century names – names you’ve often not heard before. I came across the Reverend Moister in a churchyard near me. The Resurrection Woman – he sprang to life as vividly as anything from Charles Dickens. He would be damp about the hands, naturally, moist about the brow, and oystery about the eyes – something of the hypocrite about him, I thought, stuffing the funeral baked meats into his crocodile mouth while wiping away the tears for the murdered man – or woman.
            Dickens made up some of his names. He clearly enjoyed the sounds as well as the moral connotations of the words. Who can forget Pumblechook, Wopsle, Sweedlepipes, Pecksniff , Squeers? And Scrooge, of course, with its connotations of screw and scrouge, the latter an archaic word for squeeze. Dickens borrowed names, too, from graveyards, streets, shop fronts and people he knew. He saw the name Pickwick on a coach. I borrowed Vholes from him, imagining a moment in one of my murder mysteries when Dickens, disguised as a lawyer, suddenly needs a name. Vholes is a lawyer from Bleak House – his name suits his creeping character. Dickens tells his policeman partner, Superintendent Jones, that he saw the name on a passing cart – thus fiction grows out of fact.
            So often, the names of Dickens’s characters fit their personalities. In naming my characters, there is some alchemy at work, especially for the good and the bad. Sometimes names just come – perhaps unknowingly known, but suddenly apposite.
            Brim is the surname of two innocent children, Tom and Eleanor. It seemed right: short and suggestive of delight. Tilly Moon is an albino child with strange, silvery hair – scorned by the neighbours, and not long for this world. Robin Hart, a missing boy, is ‘bonny sweet Robin’ of Ophelia’s song. His mother drowns. I found the name Drown in a newspaper and gave it to Edward Drown so that Dickens could call him ‘Drown-Ed.’ Dickens loved puns. Dickens befriends a street urchin in my first book, a ragged sort of lad, small for his age. He became Scrap.
            I like a bit of comedy, too – murder’s a grim business. Betty Chew is the toothless charwoman to Mrs Ginger, mistress of a very bad man. Maggie Brine keeps a pub and dilutes her gin with vitriol – it did happen. Georgie Taylor was an infamous dog thief in 1850s London. I gave him a wife – Charity – the meanest woman alive. I found the name Meteyard in one of Dickens’s letters. Then I found it again in F. Tennyson Jesse’s book Murder and Its Motives – Mrs Meatyard, baby murderer. I needed a butcher. I wanted a big one so Sampson Meteyard came along. His partner, Slaughter, breaks down, leaves the business, and becomes a vegetarian – not a murderer.
            The naming of murderers is a tricky business. Surely Drood with his stony name, Jasper, is the murderer of Edwin. Dickens liked stony names: Bradley Headstone has murder in his heart, and Mr Murdstone is as much a murderer as if he had killed David Copperfield’s mother with his bare hands. Cruelty can kill.
            But, the detective story writer does not want to give away too much too soon. Death – from Middle English ‘deeth’ - would be tempting were it not one of the aristocratic names of Lord Peter Wimsey, and too obvious, I think. This is why I choose the most glaringly criminal names for minor villains. Blackledge sets your teeth on edge; I’ve Blackborn and Blackbone in reserve – they sound like pirates. Jonas Finger is a bad lot, a thief and a pimp. Jonas, I stole from Dickens and I found Finger in the dictionary of surnames. It was recorded as early a
s 1219 in the York Assize Rolls. Fikey Chubb is a receiver of stolen goods – Fikey appears in one of Dickens’s detective anecdotes from his periodical Household Words. Chubb – I was thinking of locks and safes. The Chubb Company dates from the early nineteenth century. Betty Tode is a prison wardress. The name is probably linked to Todd which derives from the Middle English word ‘Tod’, meaning fox, but I was thinking of something more poisonous. And there’s Mrs Brimstone, baby farmer – I thought I’d made it up, influenced by Mrs Squeers, but it exits in Brimstone Hill in Essex. Her unprepossessing associate is Bertha Raspin, known as Mother Hubbard because of the instruments she keeps in her cupboard. A nurse, she is not. Saturnino Betti is an Italian criminal who is known as Satan.
            Satan as the murderer – oh, no, no, no! Too much of a giveaway. The murderers must  hide behind very ordinary names, but I won’t be telling you those, of course.
A last thought: Deadman for the victim? No, I haven’t made it up – seventeenth century tax records for Suffolk!


Friday, December 14, 2018

How My Characters Will Spend the Holidays

It's 11 days before Christmas,
And not a gift has been bought.
No decorations are hanging,
No tree has gone up,
But the writer is plotting,
Dastardly deeds concocting. . .

Forgive the really bad poem. It came to me as I was waking up this morning. I don't know why I always get my best ideas for the plot I'm working on when I'm in the midst of something else. I made a few notes. Then I went to my faculty meeting. Now, I'm about to start reading research papers. We're at end of semester.

Thinking about the holidays got me wondering how and with whom my characters would be spending the season. It's a no-brainer about Lizzie Stuart, my crime historian. In her world, the year is 2004. She has met her future in-laws at Thanksgiving (although I haven't gotten that book written yet), and she is getting married on New Year's Eve. So, she's spending the holidays with John Quinn, her former-homicide-detective fiance. What she doesn't know is that her mother, Becca, is about to put in another appearance.

Meanwhile, Hannah McCabe, my homicide detective, in my near-future (soon to be parallel universe) novels is spending Christmas in Albany at home with her father, Angus, the former newspaper journalist and editor. The year is 2020. Adam, her brother, will come to dinner and bring his girlfriend, Mai. Their Great Dane puppy, who finally has a name, will be there. He will need to be reminded of his training when he sees the ham on the dining room table. Hannah's best friend and her husband will arrive, bringing dessert from their restaurant, and a surprise visitor will drop by.

The character I'm not sure about is Jo Radcliffe, my World War II Army nurse. She is a new protagonist who I introduced in "The Singapore Sling Affair." This short story (in EQMM's Nov/Dec 2017 issue) is set in 1948. Jo has come back to the village in upstate New York, where she has inherited her aunt's house and her Maine Coon cat. The cat has not warmed up to her yet. But I'm sure several people will invite her to Christmas dinner. I don't know whose invitation she will accept. And then there's New Year's Eve. Will she stay at home with a good book? Or, maybe she'll be invited to go down to the City to celebrate there.  

Right now, I need to start reading papers. Then I'm going to try to get in a couple of hours of shopping. Tonight I'm making fudge. Tomorrow our Upper Hudson chapter of Sisters in Crime has our annual holiday party. And maybe tomorrow, I'll get some decorations up.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

It's All Gravy

Donis here, facing a conundrum...what to write today. My blogmates have introduced so many interesting topics over the past weeks. I'm really enjoying reading about who to cast in the movies made of our books, and I'd love to tackle that subject. In fact, I will do that when next I post on December 27. You wouldn't believe some of the suggestions I've heard over the years as to who should play Alafair Tucker in the movies.

Red Eye Gravy like Grandma used to make.

But today I must add one more entry about food in novels. Type M's own Charlotte Hinger mentioned on Facebook that I had included a recipe for red eye gravy in my latest novel, Forty Dead Men, and many FB denizens replied to her post with their fond memories that most Southern of dishes. So I thought that I'd relate that recipe here, just before Christmas, so you can try it with your leftover Christmas ham. I'm going to include another fabulous family gravy recipe that I grew up with–chocolate gravy! We used it on biscuits for breakfast, and I can't think of a better Christmas treat.

If you've never tried red eye gravy or chocolate gravy, you're in for an experience. Farm families used all kinds of interesting things for gravies and sauces, mostly because you used what you had on hand and never let anything go to waste, and in this case, necessity is the mother of some really delicious culinary inventions. Besides, they're easy! So give them a try. You won't be sorry.

Red Eye Gravy

After frying several slices of country ham in butter, deglaze the skillet (a cast iron skillet is best) with a cup of strong black coffee. Use a spatula to loosen the meat bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add a cup of water and simmer the gravy until it has reduced by half. After the gravy is poured into a dish or gravy boat, the coffee and meat bits will sink to the bottom and the drippings will rise to the top. Long ago, some clever wag decided that the dark coffee under the clear grease looks like a human eye looking up from the bowl. Yum! Give it a stir before spooning the gravy onto your rice or potatoes. Be sure to use quality pieces of ham to fry.

Now, I never ate red eye gravy made with anything but coffee, but there is an equally beloved recipe made just the same way but with Coca Cola instead of coffee. My books are set in the 1910s, so Coca Cola was available, but I can't imagine that Alafair would waste money by using a fancy bottle of soda to make gravy. You can add a tablespoon of flour to thicken the gravy, but that's not the old way. If you try it, Dear Reader, let me know what you think!

Chocolate Gravy

The recipe for chocolate gravy came into my mother's family through my Aunt Loreen. When I spent the night with my cousin, my aunt would make this with homemade buttermilk biscuits in the morning. I wonder sometimes if I was more interested in the chocolate gravy than I was in playing with my cousin. My family also uses variations of this recipe for pudding and pies. This gravy is quite simple to make, but potent. You must be an extreme chocolate lover to eat this. One of my brothers-in-law pronounced it too rich for normal human consumption, and this guy will eat boiled sheep's eyes. The rest of my family loves it.

Mix together thoroughly 1/4 cup of powdered cocoa (I use plain old Hersheys), 2 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of white flour, and 1/4 tsp. of salt. Add 2 cups of milk to the dry ingredients and mix well. Cook in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to desired consistency. I usually wait until it begins to boil with a dull plop. Remove from heat, mix in 1 tsp. of vanilla. Delicious on any kind of bread (think chocolate-filled croissants), or anything your heart desires.

Have a merry and delicious holiday season!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

From page to screen

What a fun topic Aline introduced in her post Monday! Most of the past week's Type M posts have touched on the business of writing in some way; polishing and submitting a manuscript, getting used to rejections, creating pitches for TV and film, and promoting the book after it's finally released into the world. And now Aline has touched on one of an author's favourite games; dreaming about who will play your character when your series is produced for TV. And Aline makes a good point. It's not all about making enough money to pay the mortgage for once and even possibly to take a trip (although that would be nice). It's about the interpretation of your work, which is as close to reflecting your soul as it is possible to get.

When we read a book, the character emerges out of our imagination. We conjure them up in our mind's eye, and we put as much into their identity as the author does. The character is not just his or her physical appearance but the sum total of how they react, the words and tone they use, the gestures they make, the clothes they choose, the meals they like... Maybe the reason some authors don't actually have a clear visual image of their main character is that details like the colour of their hair are possibly the least important aspect of their identity.

A character on screen, on the other hand, is not a product of our imagination but a real person we can see. In fact the reader's first impression of a character is not what they're thinking or saying, but what they look like. And from then on, all our impressions of that character are grounded in that concrete reality.

What the great actors like John Thaw and Brenda Blethyn succeed in doing is capturing the essence of the character as we the readers imagined them, not just in looks but in gesture, tone, and style. I would add to that list of successes Stephen Thompkinson as Peter Robinson's DCI Banks. I was ambivalent about Nathaniel Parker as Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley, mostly because he didn't seem Patrician enough, but I thought petite, pretty Sharon Small (a perfectly fine actor) was entirely wrong as lumpy, awkward Barbara Havers.

In my own, more modest imaginings, I have gone through a number of Inspector Greens, most of them relatively unknown Canadian actors. In the the twenty years since he came on the scene, a number of my favourites have grown too old for the part, like Michael Riley. So I am now casting about for a new possibility - mid-forties, unremarkable looks but a bit ADHD and obsessively driven. Do any of you have an ideas about who would make a perfect Michael Green? As for my new series,  Jennifer Lawrence would do an admirable job as Amanda Doucette. Hey, dream big or go home. In the end, however, I think my own daughter Dana would have the spirit, fierce drive, and vulnerability to play Amanda.

And thinking about Aline's conundrum with Marjory Fleming, what about Miranda Hart from Call the Midwife?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Holiday Movie Entertainment

by Rick Blechta

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this past week about favourite Christmas movies. Like many, my favourite for many, many years is the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim and whole cast of brilliant character actors. Interesting factoid: The movie was filmed in August!

His favourite Christmas movie really startled me: Die Hard. I had to think back, and yes, the action (of the first two movies in the series, actually) takes place at Christmas. We have a DVD copy so my wife and I pulled it out and watched it. It was as I remember: filled with lots of macho action from Bruce Willis and the crew of bad guys led by estimable Alan Rickman. There isn’t all that much Christmas in it, though. It could just as easily taken place “in the heat of an August bank holiday”.

I got back to my friend after viewing the movie again and asked him why this was the Christmas movie for him. Answer: “It’s all about a man trying to save his wife so that they can spend the holiday together.”

I don’t mean to be insulting to my friend, but come on! That seems pretty shallow to me. Yes, the holiday season is a time for family coming together, but I don’t think most people would imagine that within the movie’s framework. But my friend is not a particularly sentimental person. I guess I am.

His wife, interestingly had another surprising choice: Love Actually. This is a very entertaining film but a number of the multiple story threads are really quite sad, and there is an overall feeling of anger and hurt in many scenes. Again, a rather surprising choice for a favourite holiday film. And this woman is quite sentimental.

Am I out of step? Am I missing something?

What is your favourite holiday movie?

(And by the way, if you have Netflix, you might want to watch The Christmas Chronicles which is new this year. It has flaws but also snappy dialogue, great computer graphics, and Kurt Russell as Santa is very entertaining. I don’t know if it will become a classic must-watch holiday staple, but it is definitely worth a view.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Interpreters

A question I'm often asked is, if my books were to be filmed (I should be so lucky!) which actress would I want to play my detective?  I can never manage a very satisfactory answer:  I've never seen an actress who made me think of  my 'Big Marge' Marjory Fleming. She would have to be Scottish, of course, and very tall - though I suppose if Lee Child can accept Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, that may just be me being picky.

I don't actually describe her in the books except in a very general way and I'm not even sure that I know what her face looks like. When I'm reading, I don't often conjure up a picture of the characters.

Film is different, though. The actor has to be the interpreter of the character and when I'm watching a series I will be very clear in my mind whether the chosen actor is right for the part or not.    There have been several TV series of Agatha's Christie's Miss Marple but for me the only real Miss Marple was Joan Hickson (those shrewd, faded blue eyes!) just as Hercule Porot was undoubtedly David Suchet.  John Malkovitch, pooh!

Ian Rankin, I know, never described Rebus specifically, yet Ken Stott seemed perfectly tailored to the part - a hard man, but soft at the same time.  Colin Dexter was thrilled with John Thaw, and indeed it's hard to imagine Morse having been the success it was if he hadn't defined the character so brilliantly.

For me Roy Marsden absolutely was PD James's Adam Dalgleish in the TV dramas and I was horrified when Martin Shaw took over, but for Phyllis neither was her Adam.     Similarly Brenda Blethyn with her Northern accent seems to me perfect for Ann Cleeves' Vera, but according to Ann she has the wrong Northern accent - a distinction rather wasted on those of us who don't live in the Pennines.

On the other hand, when the first Inspector Wexford series was made Ruth Rendell was so thrilled with George Baker's interpretation of the character that she thought of him from then on as Wexford himself in the subsequent books.

So, do you have someone in mind to play your favourite sleuth?  And of course, that does lead on to the other question - when they make that film about your life, who would you want to play you?

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Coconut Cupcakes

by Vicki Delany

Late to the party as usual, but I loved Rick’s suggestion of us putting some recipes from our books up on this blog.

There is a lot of cooking and eating in my books. In the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room is located next to the shop; In the Year Round Christmas series, Merry’s best friend owns Victoria’s Bake Shoppe, and in the Lighthouse Library series (by me as Eva Gates) Lucy’s cousin owns Josie’s Cozy Café.

I sense a theme here.  To continue the theme, my just-announced series for Kensington is the Tea By The Sea Mysteries (Spring 2020).

I myself love to bake, but I don’t do much of it any more mainly because now that I don't have children at home, I don’t need an entire cake after dinner, thank you very much.  But when I have guests, I like to pull out all the stops. A lot of the baking mentioned in my books is things I make myself., although the books don’t have recipes.

So here, from Vicki’s kitchen as well as Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, are coconut cupcakes.  These aren’t traditional Christmas treats, but the white icing, I think, gives it a lovely wintery feel.

I won’t be back on this page until the New Year, so I wish you all very Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas.

What will I be doing this year for the holidays you ask? Here’s a hint:

Image result for mozambique


·               1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
·               2 teaspoons baking powder
·               1/2 teaspoon salt
·               1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
·               6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
·               1 1/3 cups sugar
·               2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites
·               3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
·               1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
·               1 1/3 cups large-flake unsweetened coconut

1.      Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

2.      Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse shredded coconut in a food processor until finely ground, and whisk into flour mixture.

3.      With and electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in whole eggs, whites and vanilla, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of coconut milk, and beating until combined after each.

4.      Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling eat three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; turn out cupcakes onto wire racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or freeze up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

5.      To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread a generous dome of icing onto each cupcake, and, if desired, garnish with flaked coconut. Store at room temperature until ready to serve.

Icing: Use your favorite buttercream vanilla icing. I like to use a splash of coconut milk rather than plain milk. If you don’t normally add milk to your icing, you can cut down slightly on the butter and replace with coconut milk.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Rise of the Foodies

The Type M'ers have gone temporarily nuts. Suddenly instead of discussing really cool ways to murder people some sort of fatal attraction to favorite recipes seem to have infected the faithful.

I've especially enjoyed Donis Casey's old recipes. In her latest book, Forty Dead Men, she includes a recipe for Red Eye Gravy. I've heard of it, but never tasted it.

In my own Lottie Albright series, Lottie as undersheriff doesn't spend much time in the kitchen so I really can't contribute recipes used by my characters. However, my family had a few that were really dillies when I was growing up. One of our favorites was Wacky cake. I've heard this cake called by a variety of names: Poor Man's cake, depression cake, hobo cake, war cake. The reason it was so popular was that it didn't depend on expensive ingredients. It's delicious. Here's the recipe:

1-1/2 cups flour (sifted)
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons Cocoa
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
Mix all together, then punch three holes in the mixture. Add the following ingredients (only one per hole)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup warm water

Mix by hand. Don't use an electric mixer. Bake in a 9 x 9 pan at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

And for Christmas I have the world's easier popcorn ball recipe. If you are ambitious, you can shape the popcorn into a miniature Christmas tree and add colored gum drops for ornaments.

I use one recipe per popper of corn:

1 cup light corn syrup and one 3-oz package of Jello. Bring to a boil over medium heat and pour over about 11 cups of popped corn. Mix very quickly and use butter on your hands (or gloves) to shape the mixture into balls. Be very careful. This concoction is really, really hot.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

And so the waiting begins.

The real Keeley in Copenhagen
The waiting. A holding pattern. I finished the first book in what I hope will be a new series, one set at a New England boarding school, and my agents Ginger Curwen and Julia Lord have sent the manuscript off to six editors, each of whom I’d be thrilled to work with.

And now I wait –– and try to stay busy: I’ve written a pitch for a TV show based on this novel, sought feedback on it, written a brief plot sketch of book No. 2 and will begin fleshing that out in earnest.

The TV pitch has been fun to work on. A friend who has successfully pitched TV shows gave me a sample pitch to read. I’m not even one hundred percent sure what I’ll do with it when I feel like it’s ready to show someone. I’m hoping my agents Ginger and Julia have ideas. But the process has been worth the time. Developing a character list and creating and rethinking the story’s long-term arc has made me consider subsequent novels and who will come, who will go, and where our family of characters might find itself in several books.

Audrey (left), Delaney, and Dad on boat tour in Copenhagen

I don’t like being between contracts. I’m a person who functions better when I’m busy. Writing on deadline forces me to focus and brings out my best. Give me too much time, and I over think things. I don’t procrastinate. That’s not me. But I will overwrite and over plot.

The book has been on editors’ desks for a couple weeks now. I’m hoping to hear something soon.


In my reading life, we spent Thanksgiving week in Copenhagen visiting our 20-year-old daughter Delaney, who’s there studying this semester. I loved the city and picked up Silent Woman, by Sara Blaedel. It’s a terrific procedural, featuring a female Dane as our homicide detective. I’m not yet finished and hoping the atmospheric qualities live up to the characterization. I’m also reading Walter Moseley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, featuring an ex-con as our antihero. It’s dark and thematic. A wonderful, short read, told in a series of stories.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Have Book, Will Travel

I recently went on a mini bookstore tour with Ellen Byron (author of the Cajun Country Mystery Series) and Nancy Cole Silverman (author of the Carol Childs Mystery Series). Or, as Nancy puts it, Have Book, Will Travel.

We did a weekend in Orange County, CA hitting Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach and Book Carnival in Orange. Had great fun chatting about our books, answering questions and meeting mystery lovers.

The final stop on our mini tour was the Holiday Party at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. I'd never been to the store before, though I was familiar with them. They specialize in mysteries as well as sci-fi and fantasy.

They had 12 authors stationed at tables throughout the store. Mystery authors, YA authors, fantasy authors, authors of non-fiction books... We got a chance to meet and greet readers and sign books. They also had a short program where we could describe the book we were promoting. For me that was the latest book in the Aurora Anderson Mystery series, Designed For Haunting.

Some pictures from the events:

Nancy, Ellen and I at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach

Here were are at Book Carnival in Orange

Our table at Mysterious Galaxy

Listening to Nancy talk about her book

Waiting to talk about our books

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Bouncing off Tom

By Rick Blechta

First, read Tom’s excellent post from yesterday. Even if you’re not a writer, you will find it interesting. His post lays out very clearly some of the things that writers go through before you get to see their (hopefully) deathless prose in print.

But especially read this if you are someone at the beginning of a writing career. Everything he says makes wonderful sense. Yes, there are tricks of the trade and Tom lays out the most important of them.

Back in the dim, dark past, I took a university-level creative writing course while at McGill. Basically, I needed one more general academic course for my Batchelor of Music degree and, well, this course fit into my schedule, plus the classroom wasn’t too far away from the Faculty of Music, so I signed up. The teacher was pretty good, but a lot of the heavy lifting was done during seminars by a teaching assistant who was pretty green, by my reckoning.

I learned a fair bit about the nuts and bolts of shaping acceptable prose, but when I finally decided to sit down and write some fiction, and actually turned out a novel, I found that I had zero information about what to do next. That I had to learn by myself — as so many of us have.

Same thing with my music studies. The performance students were taught everything they needed to know in order to perform. What they weren’t told was how to go about being a professional musician in a business sense. What are the protocols for auditioning, promoting yourself, preparing yourself for a performance past the technical aspects of your chosen instrument. (Fortunately, in recent years, my alma mater has instituted a course that all performance students must take that prepares them with all the “business tools” needed for a successful active career. Good for them!)

We writers are in the same boat. If a creative writing teacher is thorough, one hopefully gets some of this important information. There are some excellent self-help books (Read Judith Applebaum’s excellent How to Get Happily Published!) but I suspect most of us are left to our own devices when setting out down the book marketing trail. By the way, that’s one of the things Type M is designed to bring you: stories of our own author travails, which might actually help guide an aspiring author towards getting published. Tom’s post from yesterday is of that ilk.

I suppose the point of this post is that there’s so much more to being a successful writer/author than turning out a great novel. Don’t expect to write a terrific story and the (publishing) world will beat a path to your door. The days of throwing your manuscript “over the transom” are long gone — if they ever existed at all.

Remember, it’s very difficult to write a good novel, but it’s far more difficult to get it published. Prepare yourself for that, do your homework, be prepared for rejection, and get really good at waiting. With any amount of luck and perseverance you may be rewarded with seeing your name on the cover of a book!

Monday, December 03, 2018

Thoughts on Rejection, Editing, and Scotch

On October 8, I turned the manuscript for GRAVEYARD BAY in to my editor. After a set of edits with her and then a second set of edits with my publisher (and a few suggestions from my agent), Poisoned Pen Press signed off on the manuscript this past Friday and it will now go to the copy editor for yet one more round.

For me, submitting my work and waiting to see if the story makes sense, the dialogue sounds genuine, and the clues are in the right places can be absolutely nerve wracking. Although, Annette, my editor has repeatedly told me to relax.  There’s nothing we can’t fix…if we have to.

The fact that the book is finished is a relief. However, while I exude a tough guy exterior, on the inside I’m a lukewarm puddle of insecurity. In my head, I recall the countless rejection slips and worse—no response—from agents and publishers when I was trying to get my foot in the door.

Back in the day before I found an agent and a publisher, I sent out countless query letters, synopses, and sample chapters, then waited with fingers crossed, hoping to hear back that someone liked what I was writing. The waiting was always the hardest part.

Except for the rejections. That was pretty bad too.

Oh, and when you didn’t hear anything at all.  That’s the worst because there’s no closure.

By the way, I sent out queries for my first book in the Geneva Chase series, RANDOM ROAD, in 2015. The book was published in 2017. I actually got an emailed rejection from a literary agency after the book was on the streets, nearly a year and a half after I’d queried. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise though, my own agent gets a hundred queries a day!

So back then, as now, I tried to get my manuscript as close to perfect as I could before I let anyone see it.  I read some tips from Stephen King that were true when I first saw them and are just as valid now.

The best of those tips is to read your work aloud. You hear things one way when you read silently. When you read it out loud, you hear it the way a reader might hear it.  You can get a better feel for scene description (Too much? Too little?), for action (Too fast? Too slow?), and for dialogue (Too snappy? Too sappy?).

Get a hard copy printed out. Personally, I can’t edit from looking at a manuscript on the computer screen. Spell check makes it too easy to write your when you meant you’re. A hard copy makes it easier see that I’ve got way too many commas goin’ on in a sentence. Or when I’ve used the same word three times in the same paragraph. Plus, it’s a much better method to refer back to earlier chapters to see if I’ve inserted that clue where I thought I left it. In GRAVEYARD BAY, I discovered that I’d left out a major clue.  It was still in my head, but not in the story.

Set it aside—sleep on it. Because a mystery can be a bear to write, what with all the clues, plot twists, and ruthless characters, I like to keep moving on it. I hate to put it down because I’m afraid that I’ll lose the plot thread. But to get the best perspective and train a fresh eye on what you’ve written, put the manuscript in a drawer and walk away for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll see new ways to improve what you’ve written.

These are just a few editing suggestions that I use.  One other piece of advice—trust your editor and trust your publisher.  They’re very good at what they do and their instincts are invaluable. Take their advice and suggestions to heart.

Okay, book is essentially done. Time for a celebratory Dewars and ice.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Preserving a Taste of the Past - Grape Dumplings!

I'm sticking with our food-in-literature theme this week, Dear Reader, since food is such a big part of my Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Many years ago, as I began outlining ideas for my series, I heard that the wonderful old pear tree in my mother’s back yard had died. All during my childhood, my mother made the most delicious pear preserves from the sweet, hard pears from that tree. I have never before or since tasted anything like it. My first thought on the demise of that tree was that no one will ever taste those preserves again, because nobody cooks like that any more. Or eats this way, either. I'm thinking of my grandfather, who buttered his green onions before he ate them. I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity to try and evoke not just the events of the time, but the smells, the tastes, the sound, the hot and cold of it — the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life of a farm wife with ten children.

The 1910s American country cooking that I write about is heavy, rich, and fattening, and I tend to overindulge in my test products. I was raised on this kind of food, and this is the way that my mother taught me to cook, so it isn’t foreign to me. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dear Reader. This is not at all the way I cook at home. We are very health-foody. I’m all over the organic, local, meatless style of cooking. However, just because I don’t generally eat like that any more doesn’t mean that I don’t have a certain nostalgia for it. For my books, I concentrate on American Appalachian-style food, because just like my mother's pear preserves, the kind of cooking that my protagonist Alafair does is disappearing. That is one reason that I always put a special section of recipes and food lore in the back of each of the books.

When time comes to test and write about the recipes for the dishes that I mention in the books, I have to say that I really enjoy the heck out of myself. Here's one of my favorites, a true heritage recipe:

Cherokee Grape Dumplings

This is the recipe I used to make my dumplings. It is from a traditional Cherokee cookbook. Some recipes call for an egg, which makes the dumplings more noodle-like. I dropped my dough into the juice from a spoon rather than rolling and cutting. My dough was not as stiff as it should have been. Be sure to add a little more flour if your dough turns out too sticky. This is delicious with ice cream.

Grape Dumplings
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp shortening
1/2 cup grape juice (I use plain old Welches purple grape juice, but suit yourself)

Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and shortening. Add juice and mix into stiff dough. Roll dough very thin on floured board and cut into strips ½” wide (or roll dough in hands and break off pea-sized bits). Drop into 3 cups (or more if desired) boiling grape juice and cook for 10 – 12 minutes.

Some Cherokee cooks continue to make their grape dumplings by gathering and cooking wild grapes, or ‘possum grapes’ instead of using commercial grape juice. Here is the finished product, with juice:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Inspector Green's killer latkes

This month's theme on Type M is food recipes as they figure in our books. Thanks, Rick, for this idea! I actually like the idea of having themes which we can follow or not as we wish. If we have something compelling we want to blog about, we can ignore the theme, but if, as often happens after years of writing blogs, we are scratching our heads about what to write this time, a theme offers some readymade inspiration.

Reading through the earlier blogs, I'm intrigued to see how many of our protagonists don't cook much, mostly because they have no time and are focussed on solving the case. Often they are also incompetent, wishing they'd paid more attention to their mothers growing up. Sometimes there is even a mother or the ghost of one nagging in the background.

Recipes and food feature much more prominently in cosy mysteries, where the emphasis is more on community, friendship, and comfort than on nail-biting suspense. Even if the cosy mystery has a reluctant chef, as in Vicki Delany's Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries, there is a popular tea shop or restaurant where the protagonist and friends hang out.

Comfort and community have less place in grittier, darker mysteries and thrillers, for obvious reasons. We don't want the reader settling in for a comfortable cup of tea unless there's a stalker hiding in the next room; we want them holding their breath in excitement and apprehension. And yet, interludes of relaxation have an important place in any story, to vary the pace and give the reader and the characters a chance to reflect. Not to mention catch their breath. A family dinner promotes conversation or at least inner musings about the case and about the state of their lives, which adds depth and richness to the characters.

This is why I don't like the very lean, mean, edgy thrillers that race forward from cliffhanger to cliffhanger with no time to get to know the characters or learn about their complexities and other dimensions. These characters all seem interchangeable. In grittier stories, however, balance is key, and even the food scenes should add to the atmosphere and the momentum of the plot.

My current series character, Amanda Doucette, has little time for cooking, and besides it's no fun cooking for one, but having worked all over the world, she loves the spicy, imaginative food of Thailand, India, Cambodia, South America, and Africa. So far in the series, I have added food scenes related to the setting of the book. FIRE IN THE STARS is set in Newfoundland, for example, so she eats seafood chowder and shrimp. In THE ANCIENT DEAD, the book I am currently writing, set in the Alberta badlands, they are eating a lot of Angus beef steak.

But because of the festive season about to start, I am reaching all the way back to my Inspector Green series for my recipe of the month. Green comes from a rich Eastern European Jewish tradition, so I do mention Shabbat roast chicken dinner, honey cake, and other holiday fare in the books sparingly. This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, when foods fried in oil are served to commemorate the miracle of the lights. For my own contribution to Type M's recipe collection, here is my father-in-law's recipe for potato latkes:

Inspector Green's Killer Latkes

5-6 medium potatoes, grated (hand is best but food processor if you wish to preserve your knuckles)
1 medium onion, finely grated or minced
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
enough cooking oil to deep fry (not olive oil)

By hand, mix together the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper until they are light and frothy. Add the minced onion. Grate the potatoes, squeeze the excess moisture out with your hands, and add to the egg mixture.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large frying pan and test heat with a small amount of mixture. When it sizzles, add batter in spoonfuls (about 1/3 cup, but they can be bigger or smaller to taste) to fill the pan. Turn when golden and cook the other side. Remove to a platter lined with paper towel and repeat until finished, topping up the oil as needed. Serve piping hot with sour cream or applesauce.

Enjoy, and Happy Hanukah!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Recipes into the future

by Rick Blechta

Yesterday Aline wrote something in her post that really resonated with me. It was also the main topic of the comments to her excellent post. I’m speaking of sharing favourite family recipes with our children and hopefully their children — and so on.

It seems a shame that valued recipes can become lost to time, often by simple oversight. This happened in our family to several treasured dishes. Grandmother Blechta’s excellent rye bread, my mother’s pressure cooker brown chicken fricassée (she would have insisted on the accent) are two notable recipes that have gone the way of the dodo. What I wouldn’t give to have both of those!

This realization happened eight years ago, and being aware that time was not standing still, my wife and I hatched a great concept for our 2011 Christmas gift: a cookbook of family recipes.

Most of them were ours, especially ones we had enjoyed with our children which they would want for the future. But we also had a number of older family recipes garnered from our mothers and grandmothers as well as recipes we gathered from our wider family. In a fit of great intelligence, I spent a day with my aunt on my father’s side and got several Czech recipes that she and her mother had been making for years for all of us (sadly, no rye bread). Those, of course, were front and centre in our cookbook. To fill in empty spaces, I used family photos, usually humorous. It was tough finding space for everyone to have their photographic moment.

As many of you know, I worked as a graphic designer for a number of years, so the actual production wasn’t difficult, although it was time-consuming. I’d already done the design work for two cookbooks put out by Crime Writers of Canada, so what was one more, right? By the time we finished, though, the book was 138 pages long!

To say the least, it was a big hit with everyone who received a copy. It was so popular in fact that we put out a second edition four years later and the page count had ballooned to 180 pages.

Will we do it again? I think so, especially since a number of forgotten recipes have resurfaced and we’ve developed a number of new family favourites, now for our grandchildren.

Food is a great connector in life. It is a way to nourish ourselves, but also to share and socialize. It can reach across generations and connect us to where we came from. As an example, one of the highlight recipes (peach kuchen) can be traced back five generations to Germany where my mother’s family originated.

In today’s rapidly changing world, that’s something to be treasured.

Here’s the peach kuchen recipe page:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Cooking the Books

Following on from Rick's suggestion to share our characters' favourite foods, I've been really enjoying the recipes that the others have posted.  It's always seemed to me that food's too important a subject not to have its place in even imaginary lives so here's my contribution to Rick's Recipe Book.  

In my DI Marjory Fleming series, the Tin always features.  Marjory's mother Janet is mortified by her daughter's total lack of interest and indeed competence when it comes to cooking. She feels it reflects badly on her upbringing - and here I confess I feel the same about my own daughter who, like Marjory, feels there are better things to do with her time.  In sympathy for her deprived husband and children, Janet regularly brings them the Tin full of home-baked goodies and collects it again to refill once it is emptied.  She is also a notable baker for the Coffee Mornings, an important feature of Scottish small town life, often in aid of the Lifeboat.

This is one of  the traditional Scottish favourites that would find its place in the Tin.

Boil Bake Loaf.
Grease and base-line a 2 pt loaf tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups raisins
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Put into a pan and bring to the boil stirring.  Turn the heat down and simmer until the mixture has caramelised to a lovely deep brown.   Cool.
2 cups self-raising flour
2 eggs.
Stir in, then pour into loaf tin.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, then use a skewer to check that the centre is fully cooked - depending on your oven, it could well take longer.
Cool on a rack and served sliced and buttered. 


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Bookended by Fifty Years

Like most of you out there, I struggle to read what I should. The latest books I've managed to move off my TBR stack include one that I first read a half century ago, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and one newly published, The Golden Havana Night, which I finished this last weekend on a trip to New Mexico.

The Golden Havana Night is by Manuel Ramos, a fellow Denver mystery writer I've known for over two decades. This novel is his newest offering in Chicano Noir and the third to feature Gus Corral, an ex-con introduced as a minor character in a short story several years back. Since then Gus has morphed from a slacker sleeping in the backroom of his sister's secondhand store to a full-fledged, though crusty, PI. He's earned enough cred to warrant the services of Joaquin "Kino" Machado, a Cuban defector and now a champion ballplayer for the Colorado Rockies. Seems Kino's brother owes a sizable gambling debt to a gangster back in Cuba and Gus gets hired as a bagman to deliver the cash. No spoiler here but things are not going to proceed well for Gus or anyone else. Ramos' recent trip to Cuba gives authentic details that range from the exotic and enticing to the seedy and exhausting. The expected scenes of classic American cars kept running by island ingenuity are juxtaposed against queues of donkey carts. Marxist and revolutionist sloganeering are contrasted with physicians working as hotel porters. Ramos gives us beautiful Caribbean vistas, which you reach by bone-jarring drives over rutted dirt roads. Even an accomplished and connected Cuban police inspector lives in squalor.

Ramos' prose delivers the narrative in crisp detail:
"I was surrounded by decay and stagnation."
"The guy had disappeared into the gray world of the dispossessed, a world that none of us knew anything about, and that seemed as strange as if we'd crashed onto a lost and unforgiving alternate planet."

And when describing the office of Ben Sardo, the crooked sports agent:
"The place smelled like money and promises of even more money."

But what's keeps the pages turning is Gus sinking deeper into the treacherous murk and Ramos' expertise at wrenching the plot with one double-cross after another. The story has the delicious and satisfying bite of a good Cuban rum mixed with tequila.


I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, when I was in junior high school. The story was definitely outside my usual fare at the time: books by Frederick Forsyth, Leon Uris, George Orwell, and Upton Sinclair. Tree was the first book where I paid attention to its craft. What keeps the dense narrative moving is Smith's ability to mesmerize the reader with rich, captivating detail and by alternating poignant moments with suspense and humor. Now that I'm a professional writer, Smith's craft really jumped at me. The story is told in close Third-person POV and she doesn't hesitate to head-hop to draw us inside the characters. I've wondered about the current proscriptions about wandering POV, given that it's a powerful tool to immerse us in the scene. The argument is that head-hopping loses the reader but I can't recall once where I failed to follow the action. In this return to the book, what I most appreciated was its theme of perseverance and optimism. The story is anything but pollyanna as we're exposed to plenty of the gritty trials from early 20th century New York: poverty, alcoholism, the pettiness and meanness of people, plus hard crime in the form of robbery and sexual assault. The Brooklyn in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is long gone, but as rough and hard-scrabble times were then, you can't help but lament that something valuable and ennobling has been lost forever.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Gratitude Past and Present

Happy Thanksgiving all readers everywhere. What could be a bigger blessing than a free press and the right to read anything we want? My favorite activity is reading. I can even remember the first book I ever read on my own. Ironically, it had to do with Thanksgiving.

I had finished all my school work. Our class room had three grades together. The teacher was occupied with the older kids. We had just learned the alphabet and were beginning to read. She said I could choose something from the books on a special shelf. So I picked one.

The name of the book was Hoot Owl. There was a little pilgrim boy who wandered off from his friends and family who were preparing a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. The little boy got lost in the woods. But he was rescued by a kindly little Indian boy named Hoot Owl who was happy to help him find his way back home. Elated, the community joyfully urged Hoot Owl to invite his parents and their friends to join them for the abundant Thanksgiving feast. The Indians accepted and everyone became great friends.

The ending made me incredibly happy. I simply glowed with the realization that our Pilgrim fathers were magnanimous generous people and the native inhabitants really, really appreciated all of our friendly gestures.

Yeah. Well. You've got to remember, this was first grade--a long, long time ago. I wonder if the book would get published nowadays. Besides, the big underlying dazzling magic was that their were books right there in our humble class room that actually had stories. I didn't have to put up with Spot and Jane and that wretched ball any more.

Usually, in a Thanksgiving post, I express my heartfelt appreciation for my family. That's still my biggest blessing. But right up there in the gratitude category is my reverence for libraries and the access we have to books in this country.

Thank you, thank you librarians everywhere. God bless all the writers who keep books on the shelves and the readers who keep us going.

And God bless little Hoot Owl who warmed my heart and made my first book such a happy experience.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving from Copenhagen

We are in Copenhagen this week visiting my daughter, who is studying (or that's what she claims) abroad this semester. Copenhagen seems too fun to get much studying done. A highlight for me was a trip to the Kronborg Castle, home of the real-life murder that inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Legos and Storm Troopers?
I had to try the fish and chips
Turkey probably isn't on the menu this week, but excellent fish, good wine, lots of laughter, and memory-making is.

Here are some pictures from the week. I hope everyone in the Type M community has a great holiday!

Delaney, 20; Audrey, 17; Keeley, 10; and Lisa

Derek Jacobi, my favorite Hamlet actor

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Some Like It Raw

Ever since Rick challenged all of us Type Mers to come up with food that plays a part in our stories, I’ve been thinking about what kind of food I have in my Aurora Anderson Mystery Series. I didn’t come up with much.

My main character and her BFF are both in their late twenties, they both live alone and they’re busy with their careers and sleuthing so they really don’t cook very much. There’s a lot of take-out and eating at casual restaurants. I do vary what they eat from book to book. There’s Chinese, Italian and, since there are a lot of Hawaiian places around here, Spam fried rice made an appearance once.

That’s really not much difference from my own twenties. I lived by myself, worked full-time and got my masters in Computer Science so it didn’t leave much time to cook. Not that I didn’t do that on occasion.

Now that Rory has a steady boyfriend, though, the game has changed a bit. She’s starting to cook more often. In the Christmas book I’m currently working on, her mother is going to help her make a dessert to take with her when she meets the boyfriend’s family for the first time. I’m not sure what that’s going to be right now. Might be a pumpkin cheesecake or an apple pie. I'm still deciding.

Then my mind wandered to a short story I wrote several years ago featuring twin repo agents Maddison and Diamonds and their grandfather, Gus, who was a former bit player in movies. “Some Like It Raw” centered around a raw food restaurant. Yep, raw food. How L.A., you say. Well, that was the point. I’m sure this is not what Rick expected when he gave us this challenge, but I like to do the unexpected. Keeps everyone on their toes.

I did a fair amount of research into raw food for this one. Never made it to the raw food restaurant that’s not far from here, though. It closed down before I could do that. It may have reopened again. I’m not sure. The urge passed.

Raw foodists don’t use ovens, just dehydration, no flames. They don’t heat food above 110-115 degrees F. Above that range and it destroys enzymes in food and diminishes its nutritional value. That’s their claim, anyway. Such a diet is supposed to give you more energy and improve your immune system. To be considered raw, food can be chopped, blended, pureed, juiced or dehydrated.

 When I was writing this story, I wanted them to go to the restaurant and sample the food so I needed to come up with a dish. I settled on a lasagna made with thin strips of zucchini in place of the noodles and a cheese made from nuts in place of ricotta. Here’s a recipe for lasagna I found so you’ll have a feel for what one looks like. And, if you want to see how something like this is made, here’s a YoutTube video: 

If you want to read the story, it’s still up in the archives of Mysterical-E: "Some Like It Raw"

I’m by no means a raw foodist. In real life, I’m a mostly vegetarian cook, but my real love is baking. I particularly love playing around with cheesecake recipes. So my offering today is a pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I sometimes make this time of year. I put this one together based on numerous pumpkin cheesecake recipes I’ve found in all sorts of places. You’ll notice that I use light cream cheese and egg substitute. I find that a cheesecake made from these isn’t as heavy. To get the consistency to where I want it, I do have to add a little flour. If you want to use regular cream cheese, just omit the flour. I also find it helps to let the cream cheese and eggs come to room temperature before mixing together.

Pumpkin Cheesecake


1 1/4 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
3 1/2 T. melted butter
2 T. sugar

Mix the ingredients together and press into a spring form cake pan. I usually either butter the pan before putting in the crust or spray it with Pam. Put in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest.


3-8 oz. packages light cream cheese
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. egg substitute
1 c. pumpkin (the stuff from a can without the spices)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 T. flour

Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in pumpkin and spices. Pour into crust. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 to 60 min until the center is just set. Cool cake to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In praise of the writing retreat

by Rick Blechta

I woke up this morning to find a winter wonderland outside. This being Canada, it is no serious snowfall, just a light dusting really, but it stuck to the trees and everything looks really lovely. For some reason (early on in these cold months — definitely not so much in February!) this always puts me in a good mood, one could almost say romantic.

Today, however, my response is somewhat different. The white stuff makes me want to get away. If you know Canadians, you might think, “Blechta’s about to head for Florida.” Actually, no. The place to which I want to get away would be a cabin in the woods. What I want to do is write.

My life for the past five years has been, well, very busy and distracting. There’s no need to enumerate everything for you, but the overall result has had a chilling effect on the time I can spend on writing. I have a novel in desperate need of my attention. If I get close enough to the laptop on which I write, I can almost hear my characters crying about my abandoning them for days at a time.

There have been occasions where I’ve been able to get away for a week or two, break free from distractions and able to focus on crafting something readable.

And it has been heaven each time. Get up in the morning, make coffee, write until I’m hungry, make breakfast (thinking all the while), then back to writing. Good things happen when I’m able to work like that and there have been days when I’ve written upwards of 8000 words. By evening, I’m exhausted but satisfied that I’ve done a Good Day’s Work.

This morning, looking out at my backyard, cup of coffee in my hand, it dawned on me that I need to get away. The lure of that is very strong. Ideally I’d be away for a few weeks or even a month, but because of obligations I’ve taken on, but that length of time isn’t in the cards.

So I have to figure out how to handle my needs/desires balanced against my reality. Hmmm…

Monday, November 19, 2018

Food and Mood

Since Rick has us exploring recipes, I’m going to add one at the end of this blog.

First off, I do all the cooking around in our household. I enjoy cooking. I find it relaxing and I only prepare meals that I truly enjoy eating.

Cooking was one of those things Cindy, my wife, found attractive in me when we were dating. She doesn’t like cooking. Period.

I’m pretty sure it’s why she married me.

So, when I’m writing, food is an important ingredient (yes, pun intended) to particular scenes. The protagonist in my mystery series is Geneva Chase, a female reporter with a drinking problem who makes bad life decisions. In my first book, Random Road, the only time you caught Geneva in the kitchen was to get ice cubes and a glass and to pull a bottle of Absolute out of the freezer.

Thinking I’d tone that down a smidge, in the second book, Darkness Lane, I started the book with Geneva making a pot of chili. My editor (and rightly so) flatly told me, “What are you thinking? Geneva is boring. You’ve made her too suburban.”

So, no more cooking for Ms. Chase. Now the only food you see in her kitchen is take-out from a local restaurant.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t write some good meals into a storyline. For example, in Darkness Lane Geneva goes to the home of a well known actor and his writer wife where they’re having an emergency meeting with the key players of a Broadway play in development. A teenage actress is missing, feared kidnapped by her high school teacher.

The actor’s cook brings in a porcelain tureen of steaming coq au vin and warm bread fresh from the oven. I could have just given them BLTs on toasted whole wheat, but the day outside had a crisp October chill to it and Geneva savors the deliciously earthy scent.

Why coq au vin? It sounds snooty and how many of us actually have it for lunch…brought in by our live-in cook?

Oh, plus I had prepared it in my own kitchen for the first time just the weekend before. So true to the recipe challenge, here’s mine for coq au vin...oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 5 skin-on, bone-in chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch slices
  • 3 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 4 cups dry red wine, such as Burgundy, divided
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 sprigs thyme
  • 6 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, such as oyster and maitake, cleaned, cut into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in an ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in batches until browned, 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  • Add bacon to pot; cook until rendered. Add carrots, celery, and onion; cook until onion is translucent, 7-8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup wine and tomato paste; simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups wine. Boil until wine is reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Return chicken to pot.
  • Add broth. Tie thyme and rosemary sprigs together; add to pot. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Transfer pot to oven and braise until chicken is tender, about 1 1/4 hours.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer chicken from sauce to pot with mushrooms; keep warm. Simmer sauce over medium heat until reduced by 1/3, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add mushrooms and chicken to sauce. DO AHEAD Coq au vin can be made 3 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold. Cover; keep chilled. Re-warm before serving.