The Tao of Doo

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it Read more


Another October, another release date. Since BAD MOON is my second book, you would think I'd be used to it. But nope, I'm not. BAD MOON's publication date feels as surreal as DEATH NOTICE's did last year. For readers, the Read more

Writing With ... Louise Penny

I am thrilled beyond words to welcome one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny, whose Armand Gamache mysteries have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.  Her last book, BURY YOUR DEAD, won the Ellis for best mystery in Canada, and Read more

Is Browsing Dead?

I'll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy teenager. Not pocket protector nerdy, but no sports star, either. I was bookish, I guess you could say. I read A LOT back then, and nothing pleased me Read more

Why We Left Earth

Outer space has always been a mystery. Even before mankind fully grasped its vastness, they wanted to go there. Early astronomers, fascinated by the stars, invented ways to get a closer view. Think Copernicus, Galileo, Cassini. Writers not content Read more

Writing With

Writing With … Catriona McPherson

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Today, I present Catriona McPherson, one very funny woman and a great writer to boot. Catriona is a recovering academic, now a full-time writer, recently transplanted from southern Scotland to northern California.  Her Dandy Gilver novels (six and counting) are set in a slightly imaginary time and place, made up of 1920s Scotland and the golden age of detective fiction. Her latest book is DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS. Visit her online at

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS  is the story I’ve been looking forward to as it came down the pipe towards me.  I started writing about Dandy Gilver when she was in 1922 and I was in 2001.  We were the same age then.  Now, ten years later, she’s six years younger than me.

Anyway.  The thing about 1926 was the general strike.  Reparations to Germany/cheap coal/denationalisation — the trick is to do all the research but put as little as possible of the boring stuff in the book — all led to a walk-out by the coalminers and a huge supporting shutdown.  For nine days, in May 1926, it looked possible, even likely, that Britain was going to see a workers’ revolt the like of which kicked off the Russian revolution.  We know that didn’t happen , but I was excited at the thought of writing about characters who didn’t.  Talk about tension.

Also, for once it wasn’t too bonkers to have a private detective solve a murder.  During that nine days, anyone who stood still long enough got drafted in as a special constable to help the police.  Dandy was one of them.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

Okay, so the other half of this story is that during the nine days of the strike, Dandy is undercover as a servant in an Edinburgh mansion house, trying (and failing) to prevent a murder.  And it wasn’t so much that I had to do research as that I had to write the book to release all the research that I had done already.  I do a lot of traipsing around stately homes, castles and palaces (and I have the cheek to call it a day’s work) but impressive as the state rooms are, it’s the domestic offices that fascinate me.  Finally, in this book, I got to use all the treasure trove.

For example, did you know: That the staircase leading to the bedrooms of the male servants was wooden so the family wasn’t disturbed by their boots clonking on the steps, but the female staircase had a layer of slate on top so that the family would hear the boots of any men who tried to sneak up there?

Also, I discovered that although jam and honey were kept in the larder (U.S. pantry?) with the rest of the food, marmalade was kept in the cupboard which housed the boot polish and laundry soap.  I’ve no idea why.  I put this snippet in the book hoping someone would email me and tell me.  Nothing so far, but I’ll put it in my FAQs if I ever find out.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

So many different ways to answer this question . . . I’ll choose the one that makes me sound like an idiot, I think.  Right.  I revered writers, envied them, imagined being one ‒ all that.  I just had no idea how they did it.  I also spent a lot of my life in the midst of day-dreams of unbelievable length and complexity, with settings, characters, scenes and dramatic twists.  It took until I was 35 for me to realise that writing these down was how it was done.  See?  Moron.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Prepare to be amazed: I read a lot.  I also garden.  I used to garden pretty well in Galloway; now I garden very badly in California.  I’m slowly turning my gardening vigilance from frost-protection to drought-proofing.  But it’s a humbling experience to know nothing again.  I love cooking (and the resultant eating) and so, because I’m vain, I run and cycle and swim.  If I could grow a tapeworm, I’d happily never run again.  It’s not about health: it’s all vanity.

Q. What are you reading right now?

Bugger.  It’s never something obscure and impressive when you’re asked that question, is it?  Makes me think of when I went for a sign-up visit to my new doctor in Galloway and he asked, “What did you eat yesterday?”  I said, “Ahhhh, yesterday’s not a good example, as it happens.”  He said  “Exactly”.  Clever man.

I’m reading Abraham Verghese’s CUTTING FOR STONE, which is perfect reading matter while I’m pounding out a first draft because I could no more write an epic about an Ethiopian/Indian surgeon than I could grow a watermelon (it turns out).  So it doesn’t interfere.

There are some writers I daren’t look at while I’m writing a first drat — chipping it out of the ground without breaking bits off, as Stephen King puts it.  PG Wodehouse is horribly infectious.  So is Raymond Chandler.  And it’s depressing to write a crime novel while reading one written by a genius, so Ruth Rendell is out.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

Right, well, BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs spots you Shakespeare and the Bible.  I always thought I’d take another copy of one — Shakespeare, it’s longer — in an exotic, unstudied language.  Then, falling back on my training as a linguist, I’d use the two texts to decode the new language and write a monograph.  When the shipload of burly rescuers hove into view around the headland, I’d have a completed work to wow the world with.  Well, to wow a few dozen grammarians with.  This plan might need some work.




SUNSET’S WESTERN GARDENS (and I’d be up to speed for my return)


Are we allowed collected works? Dickens. For the length. I panic if I’m in a waiting room with nothing to read.  I’d go nuts on an island.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

What’s that you say?  My favourite five movies?  Okay 1) North by Northwest (except for the cheesy last shot) 2) Moonstruck  (worst plot-envy of my life; it’s perfect) 3) Calamity Jane (I don’t care; I love her) 4) Mildred Pierce (the Joan one) 5) The Station Agent — this is a recent addition to my list of favourites, but I adore it.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

Leftovers.  Especially leftover Christmas dinner.  Specifically, very clear cold turkey gravy, set to a stiff  jelly, chopped onto hot buttered toast made with home-made bread, for breakfast, on Boxing Day.  Quite a lot of salt and insane amounts of black pepper.  With a strong cup of Yorkshire tea with whole fat milk in a white cup.  (Fussy, moi?)

Q. Cats or dogs?

Cats, cats, a thousand times cats.  I’m always surprised that people happily admit to preferring dogs — “Yes, I like an animal who looks up to me with slavish devotion.” Although, now I think of it, American dogs don’t understand my accent so when I say their names they treat me as a cat would.  I like it.

 Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I dye my hair?  Kidding.  Ummmmm — there’s been a lot of accidental nudity.  I met the art director of an important UK publishing house when I had no knickers on.  And I once went to work without my skirt.  On a third occasion, I wore this weird-shaped dress to a party that was easiest dealt with in the bathroom by taking it off and hanging it up on the door hook then putting it back on again afterwards.  I forgot the last bit.

Writing With … Chris Ewan

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Last month while at Bouchercon in St. Louis, I attended a cocktail party hosted by my publisher. I was at a table chatting with several authors I know, but there was one somewhat quiet guy there that I wasn’t familiar with. Not knowing what else to say, I asked, quite stupidly, “So, you’re a writer?”

That somewhat quiet guy was Chris Ewan. And yes, he is a writer. A talented, award-winning one, in fact. Chris is the author of THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO… series of mystery novels about hack crime writer and globetrotting thief-for-hire Charlie Howard. His debut novel, THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM, won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award, and AMSTERDAM, PARIS and VEGAS have all been shortlisted for CrimeFest’s Last Laugh Award. His most recent novel is THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE, and next year will see the publication of his first standalone thriller, SAFE HOUSE. He lives with his wife, Jo, on the Isle of Man. Visit his website at

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE is all about reversals. First up, my burglar gets burgled — the novel opens with Charlie Howard being disturbed in the middle of the night by the theft of his most prized possession, a signed first-edition copy of Dashiell Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON. The thief in question is a glamorous femme fatale cat burglar, who lures Charlie into following a series of clues across Venice until she issues him with an ultimatum — she’ll return his precious book, if he’ll agree to break into a crumbling palazzo on the Grand Canal. The hitch? She doesn’t want him to steal anything — she wants him to return a locked briefcase to a strong room. Oh, and he’s not allowed to peek inside the case. Which for a naturally inquisitive burglar, is kind of a problem…

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the
most interesting facts you discovered?

One of the best parts of writing the GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE novels is the research. Sure, I spend a lot of time finding out how to pick locks and crack safes (and I even have my own lock-picks which I practice with), but I also visit each city I’m writing about at least three times (yeah, I know, it’s a regular chore…). Venice was somewhere I’d previously visited on a couple of occasions, but going back to really get to know the city made me fall in love with it on a much deeper level. On a cold and misty night in late November, there’s really nowhere I’d rather be.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

I always dreamed of being a writer, but never knew where to begin. Then I read Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD and decided to try my hand at writing something without second-guessing myself the whole time. Of course, what I wrote sucked, but it was a start…

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love reading all kinds of books and watching all kinds of movies. Every day I walk my dog, Maisie, in the woods and along the beaches near to our home. On the rare occasions when it isn’t raining, windy or foggy on the Isle of Man, I drive out in my 1967 split-screen VW camper with my wife, and we pretend we live somewhere where we could drive for more than thirty-odd miles without plunging into the sea…

Q. What are you reading right now?

A whole bunch of things. I’ve just finished Theresa Schwegel’s brilliant OFFICER DOWN, which blew me away with its energy and its compelling first-person narration. Meantime, I’m switching between John le Carré’s TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, Steve Hamilton’s THE LOCK ARTIST, Lee Child’s THE ENEMY and Peter Millar’s 1989 THE BERLIN WALL – MY PART IN ITS DOWNFALL.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

The five I’ve just mentioned would be great right now, since I’ve been enjoying every one of them. But five alternative favourites would include:

Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE;

Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD;

Paul Auster’s ORACLE NIGHT;

Margaret Atwood’s SURFACING

Susan Hill’s THE SMALL HAND.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

It changes daily. For now, I’d say Stand By Me. Or maybe Gattaca.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

At the moment, I’m really hankering after those big American breakfasts. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, coffee…

Q. Cats or dogs?

Dogs, no question. And our loyal hound, Maisie, in particular.

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I had a wisdom tooth removed under general anaesthetic just the other day, and I’m on pain meds at the moment, so I apologise if my responses could make more sense!

Writing With … Joelle Charbonneau

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Today, I’m pleased to welcome Joelle Charbonneau whose second Rebecca Robbins mystery, SKATING OVER THE LINE, was released yesterday. An accomplished singer, Joelle has performed in a variety of operas and musical theatre productions across the Chicagoland area. She now teaches private voice lessons and uses her stage experience to create compelling characters in her books. The first Rebecca Robbins mystery, SKATING AROUND THE LAW, came out last year, and the first in her new Paige series Marshall will be released in July. Visit her online at

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

SKATING OVER THE LINE is the second in the Rebecca Robbins mystery series. Most mysteries tend to revolve around a dead body. SKATING AROUND THE LAW had a dead body head first in a rink toilet. Fun for me to write. A little icky for the dead guy. But when writing book two, I starting thinking. I mean, how many small towns have residents turning up dead every other month or two? After a couple of murders, I would expect to see a lot of FOR SALE signs on front lawns and a mass exodus to the next county. With SKATING OVER THE LINE, I wanted to try my hand
at creating a compelling mystery that doesn’t start with death or dismemberment. Here’s hoping it worked.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

Ha! If the government is monitoring my internet search history and a car in my neighborhood gets hotwired or blown up, I am in big trouble. I had a lot of fun researching how to torch a car. Perhaps the most interesting fact I discovered is that there are ways to engulf something in flames while leaving everything around it untouched. I’d tell you how, but then I’d totally be giving something away and that would probably be bad, right?

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

Funny, but I always feel guilty when I answer questions like this one because unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t always dream of seeing my name on a book jacket. I’m a stage performer. While growing up and through my twenties, I was happy to speak the lines someone else wrote. Strangely, it was my performing career that eventually made me dabble with stories of my own. Stage performers have odd schedules — eight shows a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Since my husband worked Mondays and Tuesdays (like any sane individual) I had those days free. One day, I had an idea for an opening line of a book in my head and I sat down at the computer and began to type. Now, I am partially convinced that my initial impulse to type that line into the computer had something to do with my lack of desire to clean house or do the laundry, but once my fingers started banging on the keys, I was hooked. I wanted to know if I could reach THE END. When I did, my husband (who read every word of that story — poor man!) encouraged me to submit it and write another book. That first book never got published — thank God! It took me a couple of whacks at writing novels before Rebecca, Pop and the Indian Falls gang helped me get a ticket on to the publishing merry-go-round. And, thus far, it has been a fascinating ride.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sing, cook, read, watch baseball (although the Cubs were a very sad team to root for this year), cheer for the Bears and scream myself hoarse when the Bulls play.

Q. What are you reading right now?

I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

Only five??? Okay — I guess I better make good choices.

TROPIC COOKING: THE NEW CUISINE FROM FLORIDA AND THE ISLANDS OF THE CARIBBEAN by Joyce LaFray (because my stomach gets pissy if I don’t eat)

ABSOLUTE POWER by David Baldacci (This will help me be grateful that I’m far away from organized government.)

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens (It always takes me a long time to get through this book and I’m going to have nothing but time.)

ONE FOR THE MONEY by Janet Evanovich (When the sunburn sets in I’m going to need a good laugh.)

HEALING THREADS: TRADITIONAL MEDICINES OF THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS (Because I’m accident prone and I am adverse to death.)

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

I’ll have to flip a coin. Heads — The Fugitive. Tails — Die Hard.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

Hmmm…depends on the season. Since it is rainy and cool in Chicago I’m going to go with Chipotle Chicken Pot Pie.

Q. Cats or dogs?

Cats. (Love dogs. Don’t love picking up the poop.)

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

Wesley Snipes is my uncle. (Hey — you were the one that said to surprise them. You never said it had to be true!)