Oct. 30 Release Date: Relics & Requiem (Coventina Circle #3)

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Amanda Breck’s complicated life gets more convoluted when she finds the body of Lena Morgan in Central Park, identical to Amanda’s dream. Detective Phineas Regan is one case away from retirement; the last thing he needs is a murder case tinged by the occult. The seeds of their attraction were planted months ago, when Phineas investigated an attack on Amanda’s friend Morag. Now, fate is determined to draw them close. But can they work together to stop a wily, vicious killer, or will the murderer destroy them both?
$3.99 on Digital Channels here.

I’m very excited about the release of the third Coventina Circle novel, RELICS & REQUIEM, which focuses on Amanda and Phineas. I answered a few questions about it:
Question: Tell us how Relics & Requiem was inspired, and how it evolved.

Devon Ellington: When I wrote Assumption of Right, which became Playing the Angles, I planned it to be a one-off. Initially, Phineas was supposed to come into the scene where Simon shoots Morag’s attacker, and that was that. Minor supporting character with strength, intelligence, dignity, and humor. Good at his job and gives a damn, as are the bulk of NYPD detectives, at least the ones I’ve encountered over the years.

Only, he kept showing up. And he and Simon became friends. As Amanda became more important in the story, supporting Morag, I got the distinct impression that Phineas and Amanda were destined for each other. But it would have been a tangent in Angles, which focused on Morag and Simon. So that was that.

Then, it was clear that Bonnie’s story was next (The Spirit Repository), so, with the initial publisher, I figured I’d weave it into that book. But the publisher and I parted ways, Assumption went out of print, and the books were set aside.

A couple of years ago, when my team (doesn’t that sound pretentious? I don’t mean it to) and I sat around figuring out how we wanted to re-envision the next few years of my career, I started playing with the idea again of re-releasing Assumption of Right (or, as I used to describe it, Attack of the Bad Title) as Playing the Angles and make a series of the entire Coventina Circle.

The series is paranormal romantic suspense — it’s not a spoiler that the central couple gets their HEA, or at least HFN. But I wanted to feature each member of the Coventina Circle central to a book. Then, I felt that Hartley Crain, a good guy who gets a raw deal throughout the series, should get his own near the end, and, since Jake Renton has become so important to the series, he may get his own book, too. And then I’ll wrap it up with either another theatre book, where Morag is prominent, but not the protagonist, or do a paranormal Agatha Christie mash-up with all of the couples in some remote location. Not sure yet, and we have to see how the other books sell before we can go that far.

At the same time, I entered discussions with my current publisher and agreed to be part of their soft launch, as they put their long-term pieces into play. Because some of their major partners are based in Canada, with the current trade/political situation, that’s gotten more complicated than we imagined, but we’re dealing.

They wanted to commit to the series.

Which meant that Amanda and Phineas got to have their own book.

I wrote thumbnails of the books in the series, and as I write each book, I’m making notes in the outline documents of future books, so that each book can stand alone for its central couple, but the entire series shows character growth amongst all the members of the circle.

Q: That’s how you came to the characters and to write their book. But how did you come up with the plot?

DE: Cabinets of curiosities and Victorian-style museums have always fascinated me. They turn up in all kinds of books. So I wanted to have an artifact be the paranormal catalyst for the book. A relic. The idea of it being the museum founded by a Victorian-era, Gilded Age mogul made me think of Victorian mourning practices. When I worked for an art book publisher a Very Long Time Ago, one of the books we did was on mourning jewelry. And the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a stunning exhibit on Victorian mourning a few years ago. That made me think of “requiem” and it sounded good together. The Victorians traveled and brought back al kinds of oddities, so it fit.

But what kind of relic? Egyptian relics have been done so often. I felt I had nothing new to add to that canon.

I was doing some research for something else, and meant to research “bone-handled dagger” but, Auto-Incorrect being what it is, it cut out the handle and sent me to bone daggers, which is where the information on the Papuan New Guinea daggers made out of human femur bones and the bones of large birds came up.

That fit perfectly. And we were off.

Q: Then you have the drug-testing subplot. Talk about that.

DE: Phineas’s niece being at a party where an actor died of an overdose wasn’t part of the original outline, but it raised the stakes for him, and I decided to kept it in. As I worked that thread of the book, originally it was going to be much more of a date rape drug, based on the old “Spanish fly” which was just going out of fashion as I grew up.

However, the more I worked on that plotline, the more I realized that, in the time frame and this particular book, I could not portray it responsibly. I didn’t want it to be exploitative. I needed months more research, especially into the psychological after effects of someone being drugged without their permission, some becoming predators and some remaining prey. It needs months, perhaps years of research and discussion with specialists in the field to explore different case scenarios, the traumatic after-effects, and how truly wily predators could use it as an excuse for their own ends by playing the victim. With everything going on right now, the SCOTUS hearings, etc., not doing the research and not portraying the different layers authentically would be irresponsible and wrong. It wouldn’t serve the book (Amanda, Phineas, the circle), and it certainly wouldn’t serve the conversations that need to happen about non-consensual situations. It became clear that has to be a different book, a few years down the road, a stand-alone thriller that handles the material responsibly, not as a subplot.

So the drug became a stamina-enhancer gone wrong, originally targeted for the military and athletes. It still lowered inhibitions and gave a feeling of being unconquerable and euphoria, before the deadly side effects kicked in. But it is not designed to be a sexual enhancement drug. Although one of the characters makes it clear that some people may have that side effect, and there’s money to be made.

It also allowed me to keep the element that Amanda points out — the first thing women learn when they start going out — never leave your drink unattended in a public place. Women have to be vigilant all the time, on guard against predators, and it’s only gotten worse since 2016.

My research into patent medicines also allowed me to tie the two plot lines together.
I’ve got a list of interesting and often disturbing books to add to the Recommended Reading page on the Coventina Circle website.

Q: Once again, you have interesting historical stories behind the actual story of the book: Grover and Sterling’s voyage to the Pacific, Edgar and Cristina experimenting with patent medicines. I wanted more!

DE: I’m glad about that, but more would have been a tangent in this book. It’s already longer than I expected, even after I cut! 😉 As I mentioned in interviews about other Coventina Circle books, if there’s enough interest, once I finish this series, I may go back and write historicals based on some of the stories that set the foundation for the books in the series: the stories that ended up as the ghost stories in the Candesco Theatre, the revolutionary war prison ship, Edgar and Cristina, or the voyage. Any of those will need several months’ full time or years part-time of research to do properly.

Q: You’ve got your crossover again, with Harry Delacourte, and the esoteric library, that appeared in the previous Coventina Circle book, The Spirit Repository, and in the Gwen Finnegan novella, Myth & Interpretation. Harry is an important supporting character in this book.

DE: Yes, he is. The Delacourtes are getting pretty bossy, all the way around. Harry’s in the book, as are a trio of his cousins, and his great-grandmother, the family matriarch.

Q: Does that mean they’ll get their own book?

DE: Not as part of the Coventina Circle series, although now Harry’s pretty embedded with the series, and I have a feeling Tobias is going to show up a few more times, too. Tobias entered the outline of Diana’s story already, and I have to make sure he remains peripheral. There are two more Delacourte cousins we have yet to meet, Rafe and Zelda, who are important to Jake’s timeline. I may need to promise the Delacourtes some of their own books, so they stop invading this series!

Q: Jared’s pretty hot, too.

DE: Don’t worry, he’ll stick around. He has an important role to play in the next few books.

Q: We got to know Kayla and Lerrien better, too, and had a little (but not enough at The Dragon’s Lair).

DE: They’ll continue to be a part of the series, although not central to it.

Q: The structure of each book leading into the next book, while standing alone is interesting. Bonnie and Amanda were introduced in Morag’s book. We heard about Lesley, and briefly met Sylvie and Diana in Morag’s book. Amanda had a bigger role in Bonnie’s book, which then led into her book, with more of Lesley and Sylvie, but especially Lesley, leading into her book. When did you plan that?

DE: It happened organically in Morag’s book and Bonnie’s book. I was more aware of it in Amanda’s book, and then intentionally crafted the last section to be a lead-in to Lesley’s. It will be more of a plan in the remaining books.

Q: The affection and connection between the women is so lovely, the way they support each other, even while recognizing each others’ flaws, and are aware when they fall short of their own expectations.

DE: They’re all growing together. Each book focuses on a particular pair of protagonists, but all members of the circle grow in each book. It has to happen in a circle, or the circle can’t continue. But people grow at different rates, or grow away from each other. That happens, too. People say how hard it is to make friends in New York, and how isolating it is. My own experience is that connections forged in New York are much stronger and more resilient through growth and change than a lot of relationships made elsewhere.

Q: The age differences in the circle are interesting, too.

DE: Yes, there’s a range from Sylvie, the youngest at twenty-eight, and hitting her first Saturn return, to Diana, the high priestess and oldest, at fifty-six, in her second Saturn return. Her book, in particular, will deal with age issues and race issues. Coventina follows a Western European magical tradition, and its members are white. While their circle of friends is fairly diverse, and always growing more so, there are certain things they don’t have to deal with because they are white women, and that contrast will be explored more as the series continues, especially since there’s more diversity in Diana’s teaching circle, Myst. Their religion choices make them “other” in the eyes of many, but their skin color still offers them some protection that some of their friends and colleagues lack. It’s something they have to deal with, and become more aware of, and decide how to utilize in aid of those who face more danger, as the series progresses.

Q: The first three books came out quickly, each within six months of the one before. But now there’s a year before Lesley’s book, Grave Reach. I don’t want to wait that long!

DE: That’s always gratifying! But the schedule was killing me. Juggling Coventina and The Nautical Namaste Mysteries (as Ava Dunne) and The Gwen Finnegan Mysteries is difficult. Even with outlines. Add to that, the Jain Lazarus series just moved publishers. In addition to Hex Breaker and Old-Fashioned Detective Work re-releasing next spring, the third book in that series, Crave the Hunt is back on the schedule. Plus, the first six books of a contemporary, almost soap opera series on the conflicts between love and creativity are supposed to release next year, although we’re still working on solid dates. AND I’m writing a play about gun violence. AND trying to get a few other projects back on the schedule. I couldn’t properly do two Coventina Circle books a year right now. Not without my head exploding and my typing fingers falling off! 😉 It’s a good kind of busy, and I’m grateful, but I also have to be realistic. I’m getting older — Diana and I are contemporaries. I can’t pull a series of all nighters any more than Phineas can at this point! But I love doing the work. I’m a writer who loves writing, not just “having written.” So I keep at it.

Excerpt:

Susanna answered the door, smiling. Her black pencil skirt and plum cashmere sweater made Amanda feel awkward and underdressed in her black jeans and oversized black sweater. “Thanks so much for coming,” Susanna said.
“You’re welcome.” Amanda stepped into the hallway, papered with dark green flocking on a lighter green. A carved wooden staircase led to the next floor. “Wow.”
“This place is pretty cool,” said Susanna. “I’ll give you the tour after you see the artifact. It’s down here, in what used to be the parlor.”
She led the way to a graceful, high-ceilinged room that looked more like a set for a Masterpiece Theatre Mystery than a New York City apartment.
“The cabinet is here,” she said, pointing to a glass-fronted cabinet with a series of drawers underneath. “Oh, hello, Dean,” she added, as a young man wearing wire-rimmed glasses joined them. “This is my intern, Dean. Dean, this is Amanda Breck.”
“Hi,” he mumbled.
“Hey,” said Amanda. She looked at the cabinet, full of oddities including skills, strange carved knives, a handful of ishbatis, some scarabs, a metal bowl with Celtic symbols on it, a drinking vessel made out of horn with runes on it, and plenty of things she couldn’t identify. The whole cabinet felt exhausted and resentful.
I’d be pretty pissed too, if I was torn from home and put on display, she thought.
She felt a brush against her neck, like a cool touch. She didn’t need to turn; she knew, from the reflection in the glass, that no one corporeal was behind her.
“This is it.” Susanna opened the top drawer and pulled out a white cloth. She unwrapped an ecru-colored object that had been whittled down to a point on one end.
I hope I’m wrong. Amanda frowned. “What is it?”
“A dagger,” said Dean. “Made out of a human femur bone.”

RELICS AND REQUIEM, $3.99 on multiple digital channels here.
Visit the Coventina Circle website here.

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China Sings To Me – Andrew Singer

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I met Andrew at my very first Cape Cod Writers Center Conference I attended, when I moved here. We’ve been friends ever since. We’ve talked about his book, his process, and his readings during the process have been a delight. I’m thrilled the book is finally out.

On top of that, Andrew is one of the Authors Al Fresco at the Provincetown Books Festival, on Saturday, September 15 from 11:30 – 4:00 in Provincetown Mass. (Note: I’ll be in the Curated Reading between 10-11:30 AM at the Provincetown Library on that same day — come to the festival, see us both).

China Sings to Me: A Journey into the Middle Kingdom and Myself
Andrew Singer, Station Square Media, 2018

The Story Behind My Story
A friend recently commented that everyone on Cape Cod has a book in them. I am one of the fortunate few who have now seen that book reach the light of day. I am a published author.

My story has percolated inside me since 1987. That is the year I returned from a college year in China. I wanted to tell others what happened while I was there. What I saw. What I experienced. It was a time of great change, the possibility of new beginnings after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the early years of a re-established relationship with America. I had two overflowing journals, hundreds of photographs, and vivid memories.

Time, though, is a precious commodity, and one of which I did not have an abundance of excess as I operated a business and we raised a family for the next two decades. Finally, I had a draft. I know I can write, but could I tell the story? The two are not the same.

I sought help, comradery, a community, to help me answer this fundamental question. I joined the Cape Cod Writer’s Center. I participated in a writers group. I studied the craft of writing memoir. I explored the world of publishing. I made friends, writing colleagues. I kept seeking to learn more. I learned that I needed to do more, a lot more.

It took me many years and a lot of perspective before I realized something important. Part of the reason why crafting China Sings To Me took so long was not just due to a lack of time. It was also because I needed to grow personally–to reach a place inside myself where I became capable of telling the story as it needed to be shared.

My book slowly morphed over the years into a coming-of-age story. I most definitely followed the advice of writers group friends and beta readers who kept asking where the “me” was in my journey. The tale became personal–about me, my family, my life, and also that of China. I am a private person. Sharing as I have now shared did not come naturally, but I was driven to make the telling relatable and readable.

Initially, I had interesting travelogue vignettes, but there was no overarching plot, no defined arc, no web that captured the readers and brought them along on the journey. My dialogue was stilted. My emotions kept in check. This all had to change if I wanted to make my story come alive.

I spent years working on this, crafting and revising and further revising over and over again. My original passion for China and things Chinese that called me to travel abroad now also became a passion (or was it an obsession?) to share that journey with a wider audience. Yet after days, months, weeks, and years of reading and reading my own words, I lost perspective and objectivity. There were times when I would sit back after reading a passage or a chapter and say “this is something; I have a story to tell.” Then, there were other times when I would sit back, think of the entire book and say “no one will want to read this drivel.” I bounced between extremes.

When I reached a plateau, I made a game-changing decision. I hired an editor who believed in the story and eventually also became my publisher. She prodded me to emphasize arc, pinpoint characters and dialogue, drill down to those scenes that advanced the storyline and kept the reader’s interest. Learning that a first book should ideally be between 75,000-85,000 words was eye opening since my manuscript at that point was north of 112,000 words. People often talk about the need to “kill your darlings”. I was looking at a massacre. It was not easy, but I ultimately succeeded in reducing and tightening to just under the upper limit of the advisable size.

I made hard choices, never gave up, and discovered the emotional openness to make my book a true coming-of-age story, not only of me, but I hope of China too. It is an adventure story, a love story, a cross-cultural exploration, and an honest tale of growing up.

Book Excerpt
(From Chapter 14, Romance in Chengde) — The raison d’etre of Chengde is the lush mountain resort of the emperors north of the city. This walled compound encloses an expansive imperial palace and gardens that were designed by the same hands that created Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, in the Beijing suburbs near Beida. The imperial family came here when even Yuanmingyuan sweltered in the summer heat and humidity. To welcome their subjects, showcase their Buddhist bona fides, and make this far-off retreat a showcase of their rule, the Qing emperors recreated eight famous palaces and temples from around their empire spread among the surrounding hills beyond the mountain resort. Chengde is a veritable museum of ancient Chinese architecture, and I cannot get enough of it.

We rent bicycles for a palace hunt. The bikes are big and ungainly, but once we figure out their quirks and personalities, they take us where we want to go. We ride east-northeast out of downtown, cross the railroad tracks, and arrive first at Pulesi, Pule Temple. This temple resembles one of my favorites, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. The cobalt blues, reds, and golden flared roofs on large worship halls and smaller study chambers sparkle. Crenelated block walls open into inner and outer courtyards. The view out from the upper platform, the round main hall to our backs, spreads from the plains to the distant mountains, today shrouded in haze. More than two hundred years of history saturates the wispy blue sky and fresh air hovering over the temple.

Across the expanse looking north and northwest sit several of the remaining outer temples, including our destination in the far distance, rising layered up a mountain side: Putuo Zongsheng Temple, the Chengde model of Tibet’s Potala Palace.

We have a problem. The Chengde Potala is located on the other side of a river and the bridge is not close. Beth and I ask the man at the Temple of Heaven if there is another way across. He points us to a shortcut, and we soon find ourselves riding our bicycles on a dirt path following close behind a tractor pulling a trailer filled with huge, squealing pigs. I sense their anxiety. They know their destiny. The plaintive squeals are heart wrenching. I want to glance at Beth to see if she feels the same, but cannot because I need to concentrate on the rustic path in front of us.

We come upon the “bridge.” It is all of three feet wide, about twenty feet long, and constructed of mud, hay, a few large wood planks, and a whole lot of wishful thinking. The porcine tractor pull veers off and begins crawling down the riverbank and into the water. Holding our collective breathes, we timidly venture out onto the bridge. So far so good. It does not give way. Becoming braver, and without any alternative, we then quickly scoot across. We pass the tractor climbing up through the mud and are soon peddling across peasant farmland. Beth and I are by ourselves in a part of China that time has passed by. It is hard to imagine being farther from Cape Cod than I do at this moment.

Andrew Singer
Biography
Andrew Singer is a traveler, history lover, and collector of books and Chinese snuff bottles who supports his family and interests working as a land use and environmental permitting lawyer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. To learn more of Andrew’s travels and interests, please visit http://www.AndrewSingerAuthor.com. China Sings To Me is available online in paperback and ebook editions (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/099937270X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/china-sings-to-me-andrew-singer/1129205721?ean=9780999372708, and other sites) and in local bookstores.

Donna & Meg: The Joy of the Meg Langslow Series

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One of the joys of this past, very difficult summer was finally getting to read the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.

I’d picked up the first, third, and fifth book at a bookstore months ago, but between reading in three genres for a contest and reading for the review site I work for and reading for the research on my own books, they kept getting bumped to the bottom of the line.

But then, this summer, I needed something fun. And this series was recommended to me by several people whose reading tastes I trust as fun.

They were right.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I laughed a lot. When I first found out Michael was an actor, I was worried that it would be yet another of those clichés by someone who never bothered to research what real actors and real productions go through.

I needn’t have worried. Donna knows what she writes about. Except for the parrots and the monkeys, the convention in WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS is far too familiar to me, and I recommended it to several colleagues who felt the same way.

Meg is fun, funny, resourceful, and gives a damn. She’s both exasperated by and protective of her family. She steps up – but what makes the series work so well is that they do, too. They might dump a lot of chaos on her, but they don’t walk away. They roll up their sleeves and dig in. The family might be eccentric, but they function by always pitching in for each other, and always giving each other room.

Meg is sensible, even though she’s not perfect. The characters even joke about the “Too Stupid To Live” syndrome in many books, where the character takes stupid chances that anyone with a brain can see will put them in peril. Meg calculates her risks. She does what she needs to do, but she doesn’t do it out of stupidity. Which makes her a character you can trust, like, and want to take a journey that is now twenty-three books.

I regularly put down books where the character is annoying, doesn’t learn from mistakes, and is so dumb I want her to be the next victim. It’s often marketed as comic and the character as “wacky” or “eccentric” when, in reality, the character is stupid.

On the flip side, I’ve had editors tell me to dumb down a character because she’s “too smart and too independent. Readers don’t want a character smarter than they are. They want to feel superior to the protagonist.”

Not in my case. I want the protagonist to be smarter and more resourceful. Donna and Meg both deliver. Andrews respects her readers.

Yes, she gets into funny, outrageous situations and comes up with equally outrageous solutions. But everything is so well grounded, that when the books take off (to use the bird puns used in the titles), the reader is willing to make the leap.

Meg also is in actual peril in the climactic sequence of the books. SHE is the one who faces down the murderer and saves herself, even with the police and her family coming to the rescue. SHE saves herself. She doesn’t wait around for someone else (or she’d be dead, and fall into the Too Stupid to Live category). Even when she’s in dire straits and knows her best bet is to keep the murderer talking or otherwise distracted until help gets there, she’s never passive about it.

Which makes her even more endearing.

In the past few years, I’ve noted more and more, especially in cozies, that climactic action takes place off the page. The protagonist is never in any real danger. The stakes aren’t life-and-death. Or, if they are, the reader doesn’t get to experience it with the character. It’s tossed off in a narrative paragraph later on. I always feel cheated.

Having Meg central to every solution and giving the reader odd, over-the-top, funny, but STILL DANGEROUS climactic sequences means that the reader gets to take the entire ride with the character and is there for the payoff. It’s satisfying.

And then there’s the breath after it, the resolution, that ends on an upbeat note.

Which leads the reader into the next book, while each book stands solidly alone.

I worry that Meg too often pushes her own blacksmithing work to the side and doesn’t draw boundaries with her family and now her community. I jumped up and down cheering when she finally said, “No.” I don’t have my reading log with me as I write this, but I made a note of it in the writing log! (I think it’s SWAN FOR THE MONEY).

I didn’t get to read the books in order, so it was sometimes like putting together a fun puzzle. But it was a joy. It was such a pleasure to read book after book, to visit Meg’s world at the end of a tough day, and feel rewarded by spending time with people who were smart, funny, and gave a damn.  Now I’m going to buy the twenty-three books I don’t own in the series, and then sit down and read them all again – in order!

DEATH ON THE MENU by Lucy Burdette

Death on the Menu

Note: Portions of this piece are cross-posted as reviews for the book on other sites; there is additional material, not in the review, here.

Death on the Menu by Lucy Burdette. Key West Food Critic Mystery #8
NY: Crooked Lane Press. 2018

My first encounter with Lucy Burdette’s previous writing as Roberta Isleib was when I read Deadly Advice, the first Advice Column mystery. To this day, it remains one of my top ten favorite mysteries. I loved the intelligent, resourceful heroine, the clever writing, the solid plotting, and the way the story and the protagonist refused to be stereotypes in a genre whose formula was beginning to narrow. I enjoyed all the Advice Column mysteries, but Deadly Advice stands out on many levels (and I often recommend it when I teach).

I admit (with a bit of embarrassment) that I have not read her golfing mysteries, mostly because to say I “don’t like” golf is an understatement. But I’m sure they’re well-written!

When the Key West Food Critic Series came out, under the Lucy Burdette name, I read them with relish (okay, that pun was half-intended). I like food, I’m interested in Key West (a place on my Must Visit Someday List), and I knew it would be well-written.

Burdette has switched publishers and is now with Crooked Lane Books. As writers, so often we’re told that we “can’t” move to a new publisher mid-series. Death on the Menu proves that is not true, and that Crooked Lane is an excellent choice.

Hayley Snow is back, and better than ever, even though she’s juggling love, murder, helping her mother’s catering business, strained Cuban-American relations, and a missing Hemingway medal.

Her mother’s new catering business landed a big-deal contract for a summit held on Key West to help Cuban-American relations. If it goes well, the business takes off; if it fails, so does the business. There’s a lot at stake. Hayley pitches in, even as she wonders where her relationship with Nathan, a local detective, is headed.

Tensions are high among the factions, and it’s not helped when one of Hemingway’s medals, on loan for the summit, vanishes, and one of the Cuban-American catering staff is found dead.

Hayley is smart and stubborn. She is like a terrier with a bone, when she gets an idea, and determined to follow through. She also gets a lesson in the privileges that come with her skin color, and the challenges faced by the Cuban Americans on both sides of the issue of opening relations between countries again. Burdette doesn’t shy away from the issues; at the same time, it’s not heavy-handed or preachy. The information and conflicts are integrated into plot, story, and character. Key West is a vital character in this series; in this book it’s more vibrant, immediate, and interesting than ever (especially in the scenes where the Hemingway cats have cameos).

Hayley’s intelligence and resourcefulness come back to the forefront of this book (whereas the last couple, it was more about stubbornness). It’s a joy to see her shine again, and the series feels fresh and energetic. There are some clever twists, and the ending sets up a wonderful arc for the next books in the series, and it will be fun to watch them play out.

As always, there are recipes. The Mojito Cake is outstanding and about to go on my list of go-to recipes. The Cuban Roast Pork Mojo Style is also scrumptious. I look forward to trying the rest of the recipes, too!

Changing publishers infused the series with fresh energy.  The previous publisher had a strong “company voice” and in my opinion, it sometimes felt as though individual author voices were diluted in favor of the Company Voice.

Burdette’s voice is loud and clear again in this book, and it’s wonderful.

Death on the Menu will delight Burdette’s many fans, and, no doubt, enchant a host of new ones to the series.

Library A-Wandering

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image courtesy of ninocare via pixabay.com

Ever have one of those days when you want to read “something” but don’t know what to read?

You look at your TBR pile. You know everything looks great, but nothing appeals right now.

You wander the house, searching through shelves, for a favorite comfort book, but none of them hit the craving.

You waft through bookstore shelves, where everything and nothing looks good.

You post on social media, asking for recommendations; again, they sound good, but for a different day.

So what do you do?

Those are my favorite days to wander the library. I either go to my “home” library (the library that holds my card or the one that I use regularly), or I go to a different library in the same network, where I can still use the card.

And I wander.

Maybe I don’t really feel like fiction today. Maybe I want nonfiction, even though I’m tired of my research. Maybe I want local history or diaries by other writers or verbal portraits of the way I wish life was. Or maybe I want fiction — something light, brain candy, so I can refresh. Or maybe I want to revisit a classic or read a classic that I haven’t yet read.

Maybe I’ll find an interesting cookbook. I test drive cookbooks from the library, and if I keep taking it out, I’ll buy it. Maybe there will be a book on garden design, or one that gives me ideas for the herb garden.

You never know, and that’s what’s so wonderful.

Wandering the library shelves, you’ll find books you didn’t know you needed to read, but are irresistible when you pull them off the shelves and hold them.

It’s not the same when you do a computer search and come up with limited terms.

Wandering the library shelves is more like a treasure hunt.

And what grand treasure it is!

When I travel, I always visit the library (if it’s open while I’m there). Even if I can’t take out a book, I learn a lot about the place, and I discover hidden gems. It never gets old.

Next time you feel restless, and want to do “something” or read “something” but can’t settle –visit the library and go on a treasure hunt!

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image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay

The Idea Vat (A Post on Writing Process)

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One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is “Where do you get your ideas?”

As though there’s some central Idea Vat into which we writers dip in and pull out ideas.

I’m always puzzled when it comes from people who claim they want to write, but don’t know what to write about; most writers I know have far more ideas than they’ll ever be able to explore.

Non-writers are fascinated by the writing process (so are writers, but for different reasons). Writers tend to be fascinated by anyone’s process to do anything, because it’s all material.

There is no Magic Writing Bullet or Potion that will suddenly make one a creative genius churning out best-sellers and winning every award. Even the innately talented have to put in the work. I’ve had many talented writers in my workshops who were not willing to put in the necessary work. The ones who could outwork the more talented are the ones who usually end up sustaining a career.

I find the world an interesting place. Almost everything can be interesting, if approached from the right angle. Everyone has a unique story, which can be interesting, but too often is spewed out there for catharsis without being crafted. Catharsis is great, but sometimes it makes more sense to keep it in your private journal until you find the best way for that unique piece to be shared.

Where do I get my ideas?

From everywhere around me. A line in someone else’s story gets me thinking, “What if?” A fragment of an overheard conversation gets me thinking, “What if?” A news story or something heard on the radio or seen on social media gets the wheels turning. Visiting a new place inspires.

For me, setting is an additional character, and emotional geography is just as important as physical geography.

Paintings inspire me. If I’m stuck or feeling frustrated in my work, I go and look at paintings. A beautiful painting will inspire me to go back to the page — either because I’m no longer stuck or because the painting inspired a short story. Edward Hopper’s work, in particular, has inspired several short pieces.

Historical places and people inspire me. History is comprised of people and what they do. It’s not just events and dates — it’s the struggles, joys, and sorrows of those immersed in those events at those dates. Visiting an historical site often inspires me.

Soundtracks DO NOT inspire me. Soundtracks are created to support someone else’s creative vision. If I use a soundtrack when I’m writing fiction, unless that particular piece has relevance to the plot or character, it derails my work and bleeds into it.

I can always tell when my students have written something with a show or movie soundtrack on. I can usually tell what it is. Because it warps their writing.

If I have music on while I write, it’s instrumental, unless I’m listening to something specific to the plot or the character.

After the inspiration comes the work. Research, what I call “percolating.” I get an idea. I jot down notes.

I usually work from character first. Even if it’s inspired by a painting or an historical site or event, until I have my central character, I can’t do anything with it. Character, more characters, situation, then “what if?”

Then, I can work.

I usually write my way in to a new piece for about four chapters (if it’s a long work; if it’s short, I usually know within ten pages and can adjust). Four chapters (40-80 pages) gives me a good handle on whether or not this idea is viable.

Then I percolate for a bit, thinking about the idea while I’m doing other things. That negates the mindfulness in which we are supposed to do all things, but I often get my best ideas in the shower, or driving to the store, or cooking, or doing yard work.

Once I’ve percolated for a bit, I sit down and do my Writer’s Rough Outline.

For those blank-pagers (I loathe the term “pantser”) who are moaning — hey, do what works for you. This is my business, not my hobby. Writing is how I keep a roof over my head and food on the table. In order to do that, I have to juggle multiple projects. My time is as limited as anyone else’s. I don’t have the time to stare at a blank page or a blank computer screen. When I sit down in a work session, I need to be able to drop into whatever project I’m working on and produce my quota for that work session. Having a detailed Writer’s Rough allows me to do that.

It also allows me to move from project to project without losing the individual project rhythms, or having them bleed into each other.

Once I have my outline, I research what’s necessary and gather research materials to which I might need to refer as I write. I prefer to do that than put in a placeholder and look it up later for a different draft. Right now, I’m on too tight a deadline schedule for that to be viable.

I have X amount of time each day where I’m reading research for any number of projects, taking notes, making my bibliographical lists. This is separate from writing time.

Then I write. When a fiction or script project moves into “Primary” position, it means I do my first 1K/day of it first thing in the morning, at least six days a week. If I fall behind and have a deadline looming, I raise the quota to whatever it needs to be to get it done.

Once I have that first 1K done, I can move between whatever other projects are on contract and deadline and client work. If I can or need to have another fiction or script session later in the day (often on a different project), I add that in.

At the moment, I’m doing 2K/day on one novel, first thing in the morning, and then 1K/day later in the day on a different novel (with a slightly later deadline). And pulling together research for a play, while researching something that came up for one of the novels.

I prefer to edit in the afternoon. It needs a different approach. When editing/revising a novel, I do 3-5 chapters a day. And there is always more than one revision. before I turn it over to my editor. We usually have at least two rounds of revisions before it goes into production, and then as many rounds of galleys as needed or as can fit in to the schedule.

Because galleys are for copy edits and catching mistakes, NOT for major revisions. You have to train yourself to catch what needs to be caught in each phase of book production. Because it’s not just about YOU. It’s about the entire team working to make the book the best it can be.

Every book has its own rhythm and process, but the overall structure I talk about here is working for me right now. When it stops working, I’ll change it. Creativity is a process, and each piece you work on teaches something and makes it possible for the next to be better, artistically and in craft.

In a way, I suppose I do go to the Idea Vat, dip in a ladle, and pull out an idea. The Idea Vat is another name for the Creative Unconscious.

 

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Learn more about Devon’s books at www.devonellingtonwork.com