Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Power of Mad Men—and Plain Old Mad Men Too.

Kay Kendall’s Rainy Day Women is the second book in her Austin Starr Mystery series. In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, the intrepid amateur sleuth, infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver.  Kay fills us in on the lure of the 60s. 
The Power of Mad Men—and Plain Old Mad Men Too
The advent of Mad Men on television witnessed—or helped cause—the return of the 60s to the popular consciousness. For three decades before that, the tumultuous decade of the 1960s had a bad rep. After all, it was such a divisive time, and people grew tired of it. The vibrant economy of the 1980s turned the page decisively on “radical chic,” and even some 60s activists turned to making money, big time.

These days In fashion magazines and stores, the number of retro-hippie clothes and accessories astonishes me. I’ve purchased three items with long suede fringe—stockpiling against the day when fringe falls out of style again.

Yet it’s not just 60s fashion that lures me in. I confess I’m a fan of that benighted decade. Even before Mad Men hit TV in 2007, I had changed course, leaving my public relations career behind, and turned to writing mysteries set in the 60s. I decided to follow that old maxim, “Write what you know.” As a child of the 60s I had stories to tell.

And that’s not all. I firmly believe that an author should write what she loves—and my favorite books are historical mysteries. I chose my time period guided by the many authors who locate their sleuths and spymasters during the wars of the 20th century. The two world wars and the Cold War are overrun with novels, and the only large wars of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I thought needed filling with more mysteries. I show the life of a young woman—not the radical type who made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises—but a moderate swept along by history’s tides. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

Rainy Day Women is set in August 1969, in the days between the Charles Manson murders in Los Angeles and the big rock festival in Woodstock, one she had hoped to attend. Instead, Austin flies to the West Coast, where she discovers a knack for solving mysteries, built on her CIA training and inspired by the countless Nancy Drew books she read as a child. Of course, after placing herself in danger, Austin lives to fight another day—in her coming adventure. Called Tombstone Blues, the mystery I’m writing now is set in Vienna and features plenty of Cold War spies.

Second-wave feminism is a subject I wanted to explore for a long time, and I tried hard to balance the entertaining mystery aspects in Rainy Day Women with the historical details of the setting. Though that time may be long gone, I “bring it all back home” again—the endless searching for a much-needed payphone, the need to solve a crime without using CSI-style techniques, and the casual sexist attitude of way too many men. Yes, they were the wrong kind of mad.

NOTE: Bringing It All Back Home is the title of a Bob Dylan album released in 1965. Composed during his most astonishing period of white-hot creativity, the album contains such masterpieces as “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Some literary critics in the U.S. and the U.K. have compared Dylan to Shakespeare. While I don’t go quite that far, I’m a staunch fan. That’s why I name my mysteries after his song titles. Dylan’s work is vast in scope, and believe me, he wrote enough song titles to cover every eventuality in fiction that I could dream up.


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Austin Starr is at it again, tackling a mystery in the heady days of budding feminism. But this time around she has to juggle her investigation with a new baby. A totally absorbing book.  ~~Terry Shames, award-winning author of A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
 Austin Starr is back, great news for mystery fans. Suspenseful and entertaining, this is a worthy follow-up to Kendall’s excellent debut, Desolation Row. ~~Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks mysteries

Kendall's crackerjack amateur-sleuth novel, set in the days of Mad Men, reminds you how much has changed since then, but also that the rules for writing a knockout mystery remain the same: compelling characters, vivid setting, absorbing story. ~~Timothy Hallinan, award-winning author of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers and the Junior Bender mysteries

 Kendall paints a vivid portrait of the times – everything from macramé purses to bell bottoms and beads – but it’s her protagonist who wins our hearts in a mystery that explores issues as timely today as they were for the Woodstock generation.  Highly recommended. ~~Lynne Raimondo, author of the Mark Angelotti crime novels, Dante's Wood, Dante's Poison, and Dante's Dilemma
Vivid detail of the 1960s and a clever plot make Rainy Day Woman an outstanding follow-up to Kay Kendall’s strong debut, Desolation Row.  Austin Starr is a memorable protagonist, and Kendall’s skill at crafting a compelling mystery kept me turning the pages! ~~Robert Rotstein, author of The Bomb Maker’s Son and Corrupt Practices


Kay Kendall lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards. Now she writes historical mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) are in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Austin is a 22-year-old Texas bride who ends up on the frontlines of societal change, learns to cope, and turns amateur sleuth. Kay’s degrees in Russian history and language help ground her tales in the Cold War, and her titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too.

http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/ Kay blogs on 1st & 3rd Wednesdays


Sunday, November 29, 2015


 "How do you do it?  I could never write a mystery."  I'm sure most mystery writers hear this question often.  I teach a mystery writing course at a women writers' retreat in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York -- a perfect setting for a murder, with mountains, a lake and an island a short canoe-ride from the old Lodge.  In fact I've written a short story called "Murder in the Boathouse" to be published soon in the Retreat Anthology.  I teach my writing students that it's not so intimidating a task if you just break it up into its natural sections.  Any mystery must have five ingredients.

  (1.) a Detective, with or without a sidekick.  The detective may or may not be a human.  Dogs and cats make popular detective series and I've used a pig named Priscilla in some of my stories -- pigs are really smart animals, particularly the old heritage breed of pig I use.  (Yes, I did my research on a heritage pig farm - this breed likes to take off on "walkabout" but they always return; I witnessed such an episode.)  I use two nosy Puritans as detectives because Puritans were supposed to be nosy to keep their neighbors on the straight and narrow, and nosy makes a good detective.  A sidekick is handy because he or she can be in other places while the detective is busy at the crime scene.

(2.) the Setting.  I emphasize the setting because it should be chosen with serious consideration.  It's a clue to the mystery and may BE the mystery, aka: Salem in 1692, a foggy London street or a canyon in the Southwest.  My setting is Boston in the 1690's and I'm really lucky in that you can still find 1690's Boston walking from the Common down the dark little side-streets to the Union Oyster House shucking oysters at the bar since the early 1700's, to the North End past Paul Revere's house, up Copp's Hill to the burial place of the Mathers, father and son,Puritan ministers who are featured in my books, often using Cotton Mather's own words which are unintentionally funny.  From this spot you can overlook the harbor and easily imagine the forest of wooden masts and furled sails the Mathers saw in their day.  (I have to note here that it was father Increase Mather who, returning from England, stopped the Salem Witch Trials cold.)  Not every American city has such an ambiance ripe for mystery writing, although Jane Haddam's Armenian community of Philadelphia is certainly a major part of the story.

(3.) a Victim, either of murder or theft.  The victim may be a nice person or a nasty one; I often transfer persons I know and don't like to the grave via my writing.  Change details, of course.  I've been told that they never recognize themselves anyway, but why take a chance on getting sued?

(4.) a Villain.  You can't make the villain too obvious or you spoil the fun of solving the mystery for the reader.  I mean, just one look at Darth Vader and you know he's the Bad Guy.  You can even write the story from the villain's viewpoint, if you're Agatha Christie or Dostoyevsky.  And make sure the villain has an element of humanity in him. No one is totally evil -- think of Tony Soprano or the Godfather movies.  Even Darth Vader had his redeeming moment.

(5.) Clues and Red Herrings.  The Greeks had a Deus ex Machina, a God who could drop down from the skies and solve the problem for everyone.  That doesn't work nowadays, although some well known writers have used this tactic.  When the murderer comes out of left field and has never been introduced into the plot, that's cheating. You have to plant clues within the body of the story so the reader can figure out the answer, at least when he/she looks back at it.  Remember the man out walking his dog in chapter three? He used the dog to meet women....   (Did the dog do it?  Only Steven King can make that work.)  Red Herrings are clues that mislead the reader in the wrong direction.  Maybe a bystander saw a flash of red cloth and Madame Nicholai has a red cloak in her closet....  Perhaps there's a paw print on the floor -- but the victim feeds the neighbors' animals.  Sprinkle red herrings as well as clues throughout the story -- it's fun!

If you divide the mystery into five parts it becomes a much easier task to tackle, doesn't it?  Good luck and good writing.

Death of a Cape Cod Cavalier Blurb:

"Relaxing on Cape Cod isn't easy when there's a body floating in the Bay. Hetty Henry, on the Cape for a shipment of oysters and friend Creasy Cotton, there to preach to the Natives, find that murder, sex and business are a strange mix." 


Bio:  M.E.Kemp is the author of five historical mystery with a sixth in the works; she also writes short stories and essays.  Kemp  lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with hubby Jack and two kitties, Boris and Natasha, who are her most severe critics - they often shred her stories to bits.      

Friday, November 27, 2015

I'VE GOT MAIL by Camille Minichino

I've been a fan of the US Postal Service since I was a kid. It could have been the uniforms that got my attention. In my working class neighborhood, uniforms were a rarity. The men, most of them laborers like my father, wore nondescript "work clothes," usually in olive drab or khaki; the women wore housedresses and aprons.

The mailman, however, wore a snazzy blue-grey outfit with an Eisenhower-style jacket—banded waist, two pleated-patch breast pockets, and buttoned cuffs. The round patch on the sleeve, of a pony express delivery, couldn't have been cooler. A matching safari-style hat topped it off. What was not to like?

My sixth-grade teacher also contributed to my interest when he assigned a special project: We were to write a "business letter" and ask for information through the mail. The who and the what were wide open, leaving us to our own imaginations. (Thanks for that, Mr. D.)

I'd certainly never been on an airplane, but for some reason I chose to send a request to an airline for information about becoming a stewardess. Pre-Google, who knows where I got the address of an airline? The important thing is that it was my first foray into research and it worked! I still remember the package that arrived a couple of weeks later—the requisite application forms, with my name and address on the large envelope! Colorful pamphlets toppled out also, all showing the glamorous life of a waitress at thirty-thousand feet. I took the package to school and impressed all my friends.

After that, I couldn't be stopped. I sent away for all kinds of things, just to receive letters or packages with my name on them. "Send for more information" was an invitation I never refused. As a result, I acquired such items as brochures from the army, kits for home improvement, pamphlets on family health, and brochures for colleges and universities all over the world. When the pen pal craze hit, I was there.

 Since that time, I've had many jobs, from research physicist to novelist, but one of my proudest tenures was with the USPS as a temporary sorter during my holiday vacations from college. My only regret was that I didn't get to wear the uniform.

My latest tribute to the men and women in whom we put our trust to take care of our communications is my new series: the Postmistress Mysteries.

Meet Cassie Miller, Postmistress in a small town in western Massachusetts. She wears the now red-white-and-blue uniform proudly. She has mail to deliver and crimes to solve.

The first in the series, DEATH TAKES PRIORITY, was released this month. In it, Cassie takes on the mysterious disappearance of two hundred phone books and the murder of an old high school beaux. The book is topped off by fun facts and stories about the USPS. Haven't you always wanted to know, for example, that the ZIP in ZIP codes stands for Zoning Improvement Plan and that there are nearly forty-two thousand zip codes in the country?

I hope you enjoy Cassie as she hoists the flag every morning over her own small USPO.

Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, and Jean Flowers) has written more than 20 cozy mystery novels as well as short stories and nonfiction. A retired physicist, she teaches science at Golden Gate U. in San Francisco, and writing in the SF Bay Area. Visit Camille at www.minichino.com


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

This is a photo of my father getting ready to carve the turkey, many Thanksgivings ago. That is the kitchen of our home in Los Angeles. My father built all the cabinets. It wasn't a big kitchen, but it was an easy one to work in.

So, a list of my thanks:

I"m thankful:

--that I grew up with a wonderful family, a mother and dad that loved  my sister and me so much. We enjoyed every holiday surrounded by family members. They took us to Sunday School and church, nearly every Sunday, and through example, showed us how important loving and worshipping God is.

--that even though I grew up during WWII everyone was patriotic and did all the things we were were asked to do, from blackouts, to food and gas rationing, And despite what was going on in the world, it was as a simpler time.

--that they taught us the basics in school as well as having wonderful electives in the arts and music.

--that I survived early adulthood, married a good man who served our country for 20 years and who loves me, raised five of my own children and had a hand in raising many other kids including some of my grandkids.

--that I had several fulfilling jobs that I enjoyed: telephone operator, teaching pre-school for kids with developmental disabilities, teaching in day care with disadvantaged kids, teaching pre-school to non-English speaking kids (they all spoke English when they left my class), owning, operating and living in a licensed facility for women with developmental disabilities, organizing and teaching classes to other administrators and a lot more.

--that I wrote and published books for the majority of my life, something I've truly enjoyed.

--that I have wonderful children, grandchildren and great-grands.

--that I still have my health and can enjoy life.

Thank you, God!


Monday, November 23, 2015


Marilyn, Thank you for having me on your blog today!

Root Diggers

the very first Shandra Higheagle book I wrote I knew there would come a point when I would need to know more about reservation life and especially life on the Colville Indian Reservation. Shandra’s paternal side of her family are Nez Perce Indians who live on the Colville Reservation.
It was fortuitous for me that I’d have several book signings in Clarkston, Washington with a woman who was married to an Arrows Lake descendent and who lived on the Colville Reservation. She is a wonderful, open and giving woman who not only answers my questions and sends me photos, but she also took me on a tour of the reservation so I could see the different agency buildings, where people lived, and get a feel for the atmosphere.

While touring and seeing the reservation was great, the most valuable asset to having this woman who lives on the reservation give me a tour was learning the dynamics of the twelve tribes who live on the reservation. There was a time when many of them were enemies.  It is over a hundred years later and there are still rivalries and animosities that lie under the surface of the different tribal members.

This animosity will come out in a later book, though some of it did come out in Murderous Secrets, book four in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series.  I used the rivalry as a red herring when Shandra travels to the Reservation to discover if her father’s death thirty years was a rodeo accident or murder.

Murderous Secrets: A Shandra Higheagle Mystery Blurb

Book four in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series


The accident that took her father’s life has always haunted Shandra Higheagle. When her dreams become too real, she knows it’s time to discover the truth. It doesn’t take long to suspect her father had been murdered and that someone is unhappy with her probing.

Detective Ryan Greer knows Shandra well enough to insist he be kept informed of her investigation into the decades old death of her father. When signs implicate her mother, he can’t withhold the information, even though he realizes it could complicate their relationship.


Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.
All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. She recently returned to the genre of her heart- Mystery.

You can learn more about Paty at

her website; http://www.patyjager.net 
Newsletter: Paty’s Prattle: http://eepurl.com/1CFgX


Saturday, November 21, 2015

ON A DESERT SHORE, by S.K. Rizzolo

I never know where a novel will take me. My mystery series, set in Regency England, requires copious research that has a way of sending me off on byways and detours. One hard lesson learned has been that I have to trust the process. Sooner or later the logic and, more importantly, the heart of a story emerge. Often this happens later rather than sooner. Basically, there’s a lot of floundering involved. Sometimes I stumble on magical tidbits that seem to shout, “Pick me! I’ve been lying here in this dusty book for centuries” (or nowadays hiding in Google Books).  And that’s really fun.

Context is especially crucial in a historical mystery. Historical novelists ask readers to believe that our characters inhabit a world that is long gone yet still echoes down the years into the present. It’s tricky. If a writer tells everything she knows, the book sags under the weight of the research. I try to write from within that early 19th-century mindset without ever forgetting that the characters and the mystery are the main event.

My most recent book, On a Desert Shore, presented a special challenge in that it explores race and attitudes toward slavery—the great moral issue of the Georgian era. Many of the characters in this book are from Jamaica, an astoundingly savage society that was coming under increasing scrutiny in the “mother country” for its cruelty toward the slave population. Though England liked to think of itself as civilized and enlightened, my research revealed that many English men and women were well aware of the gap between national mythology and brutal reality in Britain’s far-flung empire.

On a Desert Shore is about what happens in England when rigid boundaries between different races and cultures dissolve. One of the suspects in Bow Street Runner John Chase’s murder investigation is a mixed-race teenager named Marina Garrod, born to a wealthy Jamaican plantation owner and his slave-housekeeper. This young woman becomes a pampered heiress in London society, discovering that she can’t leave her past behind. It took me a while to get to know Marina in order to pursue my goal of telling her story with empathy and respect, but once I finally figured out that she is the heart of the story, everything fell into place. There were a number of these mixed-race children whose fathers sent them “home” to England, where they might hope to encounter less open prejudice and live in a free society. On the whole these children were the lucky ones. While Britain had halted its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery itself endured for several decades more in the colonies. And, shockingly, the government provided thousands of ordinary English people with financial compensation when they were forced to free their slaves.

So I never know where a book will take me. But I can be sure that the journey will bring some wrong turns in my quest to get the history and the story right.

Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.
Blurb: John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.
Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.

To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.  

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

S.K. Rizzolo has a lifelong fascination with Regency England. In college she majored in English with no clue as to how she meant to support herself, eventually earning an M.A. and becoming an English teacher. The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not are the first three novels in her series about a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. The adventures will continue in March 2016 with the release of On a Desert Shore.



Thursday, November 19, 2015

LET'S EAT by David P. Wagner

Thanksgiving is next week, so why don't I write about food?  It will get us ready for the stuffing, and you can interpret that word any way you wish, since on Turkey Day we are first the stuffers and then the stuffees.  But my entry here will not be about the traditional dishes of that day, as much as we love them.  My culinary theme here will be more international, and specifically Italian. 

I write mysteries that take place in Italy, a country where I spent nine wonderful years.  And you can't set your characters down in Italy without writing about food.  It just can't be done.  In crime fiction both sleuths and suspects have to occasionally stop for a meal or a snack.  They're people, after all, and that's what people do.  (Have you noticed in British mysteries they're always stopping to drink tea, but nobody ever has to use the loo?  Do the Brits have large bladders?  But I digress.)  So there is always the occasional lunch or dinner in regular mysteries, with the protagonist usually agonizing over suspects and clues, not what to order.  Often the setting is a fast food joint and it's unnecessary for the author to go into great detail about a hamburger, burrito, or bangers and mash.  In the books I've read recently, everyone seems to be heating up stuff in the microwave.  The less written about that food, the better. 

Ah, but my characters are in Italy.  Italians can get into great arguments over food, and conflict is always good in a book.  (“You think your tortelli di zucca in Ferrara are good?  We in Mantova throw rocks at Ferraresi tortelli di zucca!”)  Food is culture everywhere, but in Italy it is also history, regionalism, and art.  Back when I was living in Italy I was forced by my job to lunch often with Italians, a major sacrifice, as you might imagine.  Before getting down to business there was an obligatory discussion of food, starting with the menu.  If I happened to be in the hinterlands, I was always told of regional specialties, how they were prepared, and how much better they were than that slop they cook in the next town over.  Civic pride manifests itself big time in local cooking.  So in order to be realistic, the descriptions of restaurant meals in my book include some talk about what's for lunch, just as I remember.

My protagonist Rick Montoya, who works as a translator when he's not sleuthing, is bilingual and dual-national, thanks to a New Mexican father and Roman mother.  So he observes what goes on in Italy with an American eye, and vice versa.  The cultural differences between regions, which Italians often take for granted, he finds interesting, and it includes those differences related to food.  Why does the bread in this town always taste the same?  Because its ingredients were set in the municipal statutes in the 18th century.  How come they don't put salt in their bread in this other town?  It goes back to a protest against the papal salt tax.  Why is the breakfast roll known in Rome as a cornetto (for it's shape) called a  brioche in Milan?  I'll have to look that one up.  All this stuff fascinates Rick.

But these books are not travelogues or cookbooks.  (But Donna Leon published a Commissario Brunetti cookbook with her protagonist's favorite Venetian dishes, so why not a Rick Montoya cookbook?)  The idea is to have a good story with interesting characters.  So your humble author is always trying to balance the cultural details, including the food, with plotting and character development.  Feedback (pun completely unintentional, I swear) from readers about descriptions of Rick's meals has been mostly positive.  They tell me they want to go to Italy after reading my books, and that's good. 

Alright, enough about Italian food, back to planning that Thanksgiving dinner.  But with the leftovers this year you may want to consider Turkey Tetrazzini, even though the dish was invented in the States, since it was named for an Italian opera singer.   

About Murder Most Unfortunate:

Winding up an interpreter job in Bassano del Grappa at a conference on artist Jacopo da Bassano, a famous native son, Rick Montoya looks forward to exploring the town.  And it would be fun to look into the history of two long-missing paintings by Jacopo, a topic that caused the only dust-up among the normally staid group of international scholars attending the seminar. 

Bassano has much to offer to Rick the tourist, starting with its famous covered bridge, an ancient castle, and several picturesque walled towns within striking distance.  He also plans to savor a local cuisine that combines the best of Venice with dishes from the Po Valley and the surrounding mountains. 

These plans come to a sudden halt when one of the seminar's professors turns up dead.  Rick is once again drawn into a murder investigation, this time with a pair of local cops who personify the best and the worst of the Italian police force. 

At the same time he's willingly pulled into a relationship with Betta Innocenti, the daughter of a local gallery owner, who is equally intrigued by the lost paintings.  They quickly realize that the very people who might know the story are also the main suspects in the murder – and that someone not above resorting to violence is watching their every move. 

David P. Wagner, a retired foreign service officer, is also the author of Cold Tuscan Stone and Death in the Dolomites, both Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries.  While in the diplomatic service he spent nine years in Italy where he learned to love all things Italian, many of which appear in his writing.  He and his wife live in Colorado.