Monday, November 19, 2012

Author Interview: Paul McNabb, The Jaguar Conspiracy

I have the pleasure of introducing my readers to a debut writer, Paul McNabb, whose The Jaguar Conspiracy, is a ride worth taking. Join me in getting to know Paul.

BA:    I was very excited when one of my friends introduced me to your book. Would you like to introduce yourself to the readers of this blog? Tell us where you live?


PMc: My wife, Cathy, and I originally planned on using a townhouse we purchased in Oxnard, California as a winter getaway from our home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada but when Cathy learned to surf we sold the place in Canada and decided to try California full time. I had visited the Ventura area quite a bit while I was still working as a sales rep for a data company so this area felt like home. We are 2 miles from the ocean and golf, kayak, hike, or bike almost every day. We are also only about a mile from the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the best in the world for driving. I am from Oklahoma but my wife is a dual citizen, US and Canada. She had never lived outside of Canada until two or three years ago.

BA:    Before we learn about your latest book, can you tell us the last two exciting places you visited? Why did you pick these destinations? 

PMc:  My father loved flying and owned a magnificent Cessna 195 when I was young so I had visited virtually every state in the continental US by high school. During my sales career I worked for an international data company based in Geneva, Switzerland so I did a lot of traveling for 25 years. I’ve made too many trips to Europe to count. I guess I like London the best. We are planning a trip to Italy next year. My wife is the traveler in our family, with trips to Ecuador, Peru & the Galapagos Islands two years ago and a photo safari for a month in Africa last year. It took me a long time to own a place in California and now everything I love is in my own back yard. My favorite trips are either 25 miles north to Cars & Coffee in Santa Barbara or 25 miles south for a hot chocolate and bagel in Malibu, both driving leisurely along the PCH in Lucille.

BA:     I know The Jaguar Conspiracy is your first published novel and the first of a series. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of using a classic car as a character? 

PMc:  I own and drive a classic Jag. I wanted to attempt to give readers the experience of riding in the car. The side kick part just kind of developed. I wanted to do something completely original. Lucille will actually help solve the crimes in books 2 & 3 in an innovative way.
 BA:     The end note says you own a classic Jag named Lucille? For those of us who are classic car buffs like me, what year is Lucille? And did you restore her yourself? 

PMc: Lucille is a 1961 Jaguar XK150 Drop Head Coupe. I found her in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada while I was still working in Calgary. The body had been repaired and painted about 1990. Every else needed attention and a local shop named Mulsanne Motorcars did most of the work. Now that I live in Oxnard, a friend, who also owns a Jaguar XK150, does most of the maintenance. Whenever he checks something on his car I pull up Lucille beside and he checks the same thing on my car. The old Jags are actually quite reliable if regular service is performed and they are driven regularly.
 BA:     What is the second book in the series? How long will we have to wait for it? How far along are you in writing it? 

PMc: The second book of the series is tentatively titled Hope Against Hope and takes up right at the end of book 1. I’m on my twelfth draft but need a couple more to get it ready for Mitchell Morris. I think the publisher will start on it early in 2013 but we haven’t pinned down a release date yet. My books take a little longer because I was not formally trained in writing, making the editing more difficult.
 BA:     Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? 

PMc: I worked for the same company for almost 25 years. The last 5 were difficult, hanging on until taking an early retirement. I had a lot of freedom in my job because I was in sales and the scorecard was simply meeting a quota. The west coast was an additional sales territory, even though I was based in Calgary, so I scheduled my business trips in conjunction with car and motorbike shows, etc. My pictures got emailed around and finally E-type Magazine asked to use a shot. I said yes and they asked for an explanation. The picture was of an elegant silver haired gentleman sitting beside his Jaguar XK140 calmly eating a sandwich. I asked him how long he’d owned the car and how he found it. He was driving his 1976 XJS Jaguar and stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch. When he came out an owner had parked his XK140 beside was having a close look at his XJ. He said he was looking for one. They ended up pulling out their pink slips, signing each car over and driving home in a new car. It’s actually exactly the same way the character in the book got into writing. 

I was working in Calgary and had gone to a client for the signing of a 6-year, multi-million dollar contract for our services with a nice commission check as a result. When I returned to the office Philip Porter had emailed and asked me to start writing a monthly column about cars, events and owners in North America. I was so much more excited about the writing than the sales, I knew then I really wanted to be a writer. I now write three monthly columns each month in classic Jaguar magazines. The writing keeps me very busy but the owners and locales are rich sources of characters and plots for new books.
 BA:     You can help your fellow writers by talking a little about how you are promoting this book? Do you have help from your publisher, or are you on your own for the most part? 

PMc: Again, I worked in front line sales for 25 years. I learned a lot along the way so I’m definitely taking the lead in promoting my book. The fact my book is woven around classic cars is a huge advantage in finding a market. 

Here is one example of what I’m doing. The Jaguar Clubs of North America have 66 chapters, each with its own web site. During one game of the World Series I visited each web site, copied 3-5 email addresses of officers such as membership chairman, president, or editor of the club gazette and then pasted them into a word document. The day my book was published, and I mean when I saw it was on Amazon and available from the publisher’s web site, I pasted the word document with all the email address into the BCC and sent an email message about my book. It took about one minute and had the potential to reach about 6,000 members who would be prime targets for my book. 

I stressed in my note that Christmas was coming and what a great gift idea this book would be. Almost every chapter put a note in their local newsletter this month. I do something like this EVERY DAY! Some writers write 8 hours a day. I write a couple at the most and market 2-4 hours a day. Thousands of car clubs exist so my targets are endless. Car guys may not be my end market, the book readers, but their wives are and it is an excellent head start. If my book doesn’t sell, there won’t be a book 2, book 3, etc. 

Finally a rule from a professional sales person: Many people confuse marketing and sales activity. Marketing might feel good but sales activity should result in someone buying a book. Don’t confuse the two. Impressing other writers might feel very good but writers make up a tiny, tiny percentage of the book buyers in the market. Think about people who might buy your book and target them.
 BA:      What are the last three books you read and why did you choose them? 

PMc:  I have little time to read these days. I feel it is more important to work on developing my own style. I do plan to pick up the new Michael Connelly book, the Harry Bosch book, when it comes out soon but that’s about it. I love murder mysteries. Reading the James Bond books when I was a teenager taught me to love reading. I loved the exotic locales and the recurring series theme of following a character through adventures. When I discovered Raymond Chandler I wanted to write. When I look for inspiration I tend to reread his books rather than read something new. The vocabulary he used in describing characters and locales is unparalleled. I love film noir and murder mysteries in LA noir.
 BA:     What haven’t I covered that you’d like to add? 

PMc: My dream was to create a detective who would travel from case to case, exactly the way Philip Marlowe did in the Raymond Chandler novels. Book 2 is in the final stages. I’ve roughed in much of book 3 and I have the most fantastic idea for book 4, something that could really knock it out of the park. If I can write and publish these four installments I think I will have really accomplished something.

Thank you, Paul, for sitting down for this interview. I know my readers will enjoy your candor and advice on selling your book. As you say, Christmas is coming. If I may, add this to your shopping list. Anyone loving old cars and fresh mysteries is in for a treat. I'm selfish. I want to read book two.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: The Jaguar Conspiracy by Paul McNabb

Several of my friends take delight in finding books by small presses that may fly under the radar. Paul McNabb's The Jaguar Conspiracy, is one such treasure. First of all, this jaguar is the car, not the cat. So, if you don't love classic cars, you'll miss part of the pleasure of this particular work.

Former police officer Michael McAllister receives an invitation to bring his classic Jag to California from Oklahoma to participate in a reunion of cars once owned by a celebrity race car driver. McAllister accepts the invitation and drives, rather than ships, his car across country. The story begins when he arrives at a mansion in the Marina District of San Francisco. McAllister is swept into a world of wealth and intrigue, attempted murder, drug running and car rustling.

When McAllister saves the life of Tanya, the wealthy woman whose uncle is the sponsor of the illustrious car show at Pebble Beach, his police officer instincts kick in. In short order, he agrees to assist the local police in an informal capacity, posing as a writer for a car magazine. He's able to interview a series of suspects, ruling out those who have alibis for the attack on Tanya.

The San Francisco Police Department welcome his assistance, because on top of Tanya's attempted murder, a slasher is murdering young women in particularly brutal ways. McNabb takes the twin story arcs and intertwines them to bring about an unexpected conclusion.

The first of a series, readers who enjoy little gems of mystery, intrigue and no small amount of gore will be waiting anxiously for the next in the series.

If you know the iconic drives in California, you'll want to motor down PCH, into Malibu, through Big Sur and into the Bay Area with McAllister. McNabb lives in California and captures its uniqueness in the pages of the book.

Oh, the "star" of the book, Lucille, is the best car character since Stephen King's Christine.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Stars

I know I'll be castigated for this post, but isn't anyone else worried about review-star escalation?

Years ago when I was teaching at the university level, grading was a mess. I had a joint appointment between a state and a private university. Both huge. Both elite schools. At the state we were encouraged to give honest grades. If a student earned a C grade, s/he got it. Ditto an A grade. But at the private university we were arm-twisted to give almost nothing below a B-. Why? Because a student might wash out and the elite university would lose money. I only gave grades that were earned. I didn't wash out, but the faculty was not amused by my stubborn stance.

Now, it seems as if the "give the student a very high grade" has transmogrified into review ratings for books. Since we writers are always following our reviews, it makes sense to be elated with five-star reviews (maybe even a four-star review if we are honest with ourselves). But to be told that we should never, ever give anything less than a five-star review undermines our credibility as writers.

We are not objective, we writers as a whole. And we are thin-skinned, too. Maybe we are afraid that a fellow author will extract revenge, but to ask or tell people to inflate their reviews does as much of a disservice to the writer as elevated grades did to a student who couldn't pass a course.

I hate gushing reviews. I know, I'll probably change my mind when my book comes out next year, but I can't imagine 100% of those I hope will read it will gush. I hope they'll be honest. I've given three- and four-star reviews for self-published books as well as those published by the Big Six. I've given very few five-star reviews. That's reserved for books that knock my socks off.

I have never given a one- or two-star review. Why? If I didn't like a book enough to give it a bad rating, I wouldn't post it. Someone else will do my dirty work for me. Call me a chicken, and you'd be right, but it's also about manners. Remember our grandmothers telling us, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything." Kinda like that. If I truly don't like a book, I'll never review it. Not here. Not on Amazon. Not on Goodreads. I don't hide behind Anonymous, so my name always appears on a review.

So, if you want a five-star review, write a five-star book. Simple as that. And if you don't agree with me, you'll have a chance at revenge come April 2013 when Mad Max: Unintended Consequences comes out from Koehler books.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Author Interview: Clifford Garstang, What the Zhang Boys Know

I am honored to have Cliff on my blog today talking about writing and his new novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know. Let me introduce Cliff.


       BA:   Readers of this blog may not know your works. Would you like to introduce yourself? Tell us where you live?

CG: When I got serious about fiction writing in 2001, I moved from Washington DC out to the Shenandoah Valley. I live near Staunton, Virginia. I began publishing short stories in literary magazines in 2003 shortly after I received my MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. My first book, In an Uncharted Country, a collection of linked short stories, was published by Press 53 in 2009. My new book, is What the Zhang Boys Know, published on October 1 this year by Press 53.
  
BA:  Before we learn about your latest book, can you tell us the last two exciting places you visited? Why did you pick these destinations?

CG:  I love travel, so there’s no shortage of answers to this question. Last year I made two exciting trips. The first was South Korea. I lived there as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1970s and have been back a number of times, but my 2011 trip was unique because it was something of a Peace Corps reunion at the invitation of the South Korean government. I visited Seoul and also my old duty station, the city of Jeonju. The second trip last year was to Toulouse, France and the nearby village of Auvillar. I was in Auvillar to work on a book and I included Toulouse on the trip because I had never visited that part of France and it’s such a historic city.

BA: I know What the Zhang Boys Know is your second published novel. You call it a novel in stories. Can you tell us what that means?

CG: Some collections of stories are just a bunch of disparate stories that have little to do with each other. Some collections, like my first book, are linked in some ways. Either the stories have overlapping and recurring characters, or they share a setting, or they have a unified theme, or some combination of the three. A novel in stories, though, carries that linkage further. In the case of What the Zhang Boys Know, all the stories are set in the same condominium building and serve in some way—to a greater or lesser extent—to move a single narrative forward. The stories are independent of one another, but they also contribute to the overall story of Zhang Feng-qi, a Chinese immigrant who is looking for a new wife for himself and mother for his sons.

BA:  Do you model any of your characters after real people or are they a composite of many different people?

CG: None of the above! For the most part, all of my characters are figments of my imagination. Having said that, I may endow a character with some aspects of real people if it helps to bring that character to life, but mostly I’m doing that subconsciously.

BA: Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?

CG: When I was a kid, especially in high school, I wanted to be a writer. Oddly enough, I didn’t do much writing then—I just imagined myself as having written. Who knew it was such hard work! I began to prepare myself—or at least that’s what I now tell myself I was doing. I studied philosophy in college and literature in graduate school than then . . . I got sidetracked. I somehow found myself in an international legal career that was completely absorbing and my writing ambition was all but forgotten. Until, that is, I began to be somewhat disillusioned with the practice of law. I started toying with an idea for a novel and that eventually grew into a complete draft. And while I now know that it was pretty terrible, the fact that I had completed a draft gave me the courage to take more concrete steps. I took some classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., just outside of DC. And that was sufficiently encouraging that I moved on to an MFA program and started taking the writing very seriously.

       BA: You can help your fellow writers with this question. What are you doing yourself to promote What the Zhang Boys Know?

CG: Because my book is published by a small press, which means that many traditional publicity channels are not available to me, I’m trying to be as creative in the area of book promotion as my natural reticence will allow. I have maintained a blog for many years and I recently merged that with my website (http://cliffordgarstang.com). The blog has a following, and I like to think that I offer some valuable material there in the way of posts. 

I also have an extensive social media presence—Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Goodreads, and so on—and I make myself available to readers through these outlets. Similarly, I’m reaching out to book bloggers as well as reviewers in commercial media, both print and online, to widen my reach. I’ve hooked up with a website that reaches out to bookclubs to appeal to their members. And finally I am putting together readings and book signings at some bookstores, but also at other venues, such as libraries and clubs, including the alumni clubs of my university.

BA:  Do you have another book in the works?

CG: Yes. I’ve completed a novel that is set partly in Virginia and partly in South Korea. I am currently in search of an agent and publisher for that book. In the meantime I’m at work on a novel set in Singapore (where I used to live).

BA:  What are the last three books you read and why did you choose them?

CG: I read Graham Greene’s The Comedians, which is set in Haiti, because I’ve always enjoyed his work but also because I was interested in a book that addresses with some subtlety the sensitive political issues in an underdeveloped country. I also read Susan Woodring’s Goliath, a novel book about a small town in North Carolina that is entirely dependent on a furniture factory on its last legs. I read that because Susan was an MFA program classmate of mine and I wanted to interview her on my blog. And in the area of non-fiction I read E.J. Dionne’s Our Divided Political Heart for a book club, but also because I’m struggling to understand the great political divide in our country.

BA:  What haven’t I covered that you’d like to add?

CG: I'd like to add how much fun this book was to write. Not only did the setting and theme allow me to explore several subjects that were important to me, but also the format—the novel in stories—allowed me to give voice to a wide variety of characters. There is the family at the heart of the book, but also their many neighbors: the painter, the sculptor, the teacher, the lawyer, the copywriter, the novelist, and so on. It's a bit like play-acting when we were kids. You sit down at the keyboard each day and you ask yourself, "Okay, self, who do you want to be today," and then you make it happen. It's magical.

Cliff, thank you for your candor and for your two great books. 



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang

If you are looking for a different experience in fiction, I invite you to read What the Zhang Boys Know, a novel in stories by Clifford Garstang. Twelve interlocking stories, each one capable of standing alone, weave a story about a disparate group of characters who inhabit Nanking Mansion, a semi-gentrified building in a marginal area of Washington, D.C.

We first meet Zhang Feng-qi, widowed father of two boys under six in "Nanking Mansion." Faced with losing his boys to his pushy mother-in-law who doesn't really want them, he brings his father from China to take care of them. The boys, Simon and Wesley, teach their grandfather about life in the United States, while he teaches them about their heritage. The boys are our conduit to everyone in their building, from the sculptor, to a minor poet, to a painter and an interior designer, thereby providing a link between the tales of each of the characters.

The setting is everything, just as it is in classic movies like Grand Hotel. People of different strata in society come together, interweave their stories, and move on. The gay couple lose one of their pugs when one is mugged. The dog's loss leads to a break up of the long-running couple, who eventually get back together by the end of the book.

The boys learn about "Hunger" after Claudia lives on dried noodles and sells off her few valuable belongings. They watch their grandfather deliver soup to help her stay healthy through her pregnancy.

The second to last story, "The Replacement Wife," illustrates cultural clashes and familial needs in a way that is almost painful. Feng-qi loves Jessica, a Chinese-American woman facing a hysterectomy. Her fears about the operation and its aftermath render her mute in front of Feng-qi. With no one to talk to, Jessica has an affair with a writer in the building. Feng-qi finds out about the affair and is willing to forgive her and marry her. Jessica has an epiphany about becoming Feng-qi's replacement wife. She believes Feng-qi is looking for a surrogate for his dead wife, someone to help him raise his boys. She's right. Jessica doesn't want to be a surrogate for anyone and leaves for Paris with the writer. You'll have to read the story to understand the irony of the situation.

Garstang's prose is poetic. His grasp on cultural norms and misunderstandings brings the reader to tears and chuckles, often in the same paragraph. Although there is no consistent plot, each story stands alone and also drives forward sketches of the characters who inhabit Nanking Mansion. A wonderful read. Well worth the time. You'll want to finish it in one sitting, but sip it. Read a story, think about it, then go on to the next. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Even Big Writers Need Editors

Terry and I took a road trip recently. We always pick audio books to make I-95 more palatable.  This time we selected a book co-written by a very big New York Times bestselling author and a scientist. I've read several books by the very big New York Times bestselling author. Before I go further, I will not name the book or the writers. As you read on, you'll understand why.

We thought the book would be exciting because thrillers about mad scientists and evil corporate exploiters are such fun to listen to. We got all that and more. The book was 12 CDs, a warning that it might be a tad too long. But, a well written thriller doesn't have to be short. It has to be intense. This was 4 CDs too long.

The plot included bad guys drawn so evilly it wasn't hard to see who was going to do in the plucky band of heroes. We were introduced to about ten characters in about ten minutes. Because I didn't have the written book in front of me, I had difficulty for a couple of CDs figuring out which member of the plucky band had which talent that would be needed when they went on the run from the evil corporate exploiter. We have long, tedious lectures about the science that must be the passion of the second writer. Pages of it.

The book is a mash up of too many plots. Where some writers would have made this a send up of great science fiction movies, these didn't. We have a quest to say alive. We have monsters, human and natural, who chase our plucky band. We have science gone mad, already done in several movies and more books. We have a leader of the plucky band who grows from lab rat to a real leader. Then, four, count them four, CDs before the end, he is killed, leaving us with no one in the plucky band to like.

I could go on about the plot (way too much of it) and growth of the characters (a couple grow, most are fixed in time from the first page). I won't.

I will say the book would have been better with the heavy hand of an editor who is not afraid of the very big New York Times bestselling author. Maybe said author should have read the book his name was on before it was released. I'll give you one example out of thousands in the book:  "He picked up the head lamp and put it on his head." Think about that. Where else would you put a head lamp? On your butt? And it goes on and on and on.

Leave it to say, I won't be buying or borrowing any more books by the very big New York Times bestselling author. Today, I'm going to put the hard copies of his works in my Goodwill box. This experience soured me on everything he's written.

So writer beware. Edit until you are blind. Then find someone to edit your book. Not your mother, unless she's an editor. If you can, hire a professional who will not only proofread your book and correct the grammar but who will also tell you where to cut, what to leave in, what plots are too many. It will pay off in the end.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tom Dooley and Me


Virginia's new poet laureate, Sofia Starnes, is compiling an anthology called The Nearest Poem Anthology, designed to be a collection of poems and short essays about how one poem you didn't write affected your life.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone influenced by poetry. Drama, yes. Fiction, no doubt. But a poem? I just never considered how one poem had become a refrain in my life.

From when I was three onward until about seven or eight, my grandmother read to me every night before bed. We didn’t have a television at first, and even when we did, she still read to me. First, little Golden Books, then more books for older children. By first grade, I was reading three grades ahead of my peers.

We read Black Beauty and Old Yeller, Sand Dune Pony and My Friend Flicka, all the Nancy Drew books. Hardy Boys, too. She believed a good story was written for children, not for boys or girls. Her personal favorite was a collection of American poems. I didn’t know a poem from Adam at that time, but I liked the rhythm of the language, how it sounded when she read it. She read some poems to the point where some of the lines were permanently imprinted on gray cells deep in my brain.

By middle school I read about archaeologists and missionaries and doctors working in strange, exotic lands. I wanted to dig in the dirt and find dinosaur bones. Before long I knew the difference between an archaeologist and a paleontologist. Later, I found some books about a doctor who worked in Indochina building hospitals and treating the native people. I had to look for Laos and Indochina on my globe, because I had no idea where they were.

My mother brought home three books about Dr. Thomas Dooley, who helped found what we now call a non-governmental organization, an NGO. Called Medico, the charity sought to establish hospitals and treatment centers in Communist-controlled territory. He wrote with passion and humor, often passing off the dangers he faced with a flip of the pen.

I read and reread these books. Something pricked my brain. Cadences in the language were similar to poems my grandmother read aloud. I began searching for more memories. I opened the second book, The Edge of Tomorrow, and found a chapter title that was screamingly familiar: “But I Have Promises to Keep.” I knew that line. I’d heard my grandmother read it so many times.

I rooted in our bookshelves until I found her battered anthology of great American poems. I curled in a chair and thumbed the well-loved pages until I found Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening.” And there were the words from the chapter title, parts of the refrain that appeared without attribution in Dr. Dooley’s books, and distant memories of my beloved grandmother, reading to me with me lying in her lap.

I studied comparative literature for years. I read Shakespeare and the poetic language of Chaucer. I read the romantic poets, the American iambic pentameter poets that made me seasick. I read Tang poetry and Han Shan in Chinese. I read Basho in Japanese, but the only poem that continues to influence decisions is a humble poem by Robert Frost.

I can't write a decent poem to save my life, but I can appreciate the work of others. Starnes' new anthology will be a welcome addition to my bookshelves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: Miracle Boy and Other Stories by Pinckney Benedict

Pinckney Benedict's Miracle Boy and Other Stories is a collection of short stories that holds nothing sacred except the written word. With his roots in Appalachian culture, Benedict draws on an unusual cast of characters for his stories.

From the opening title story about a young boy whose feet are severed in a tractor accident, the reader knows he's under the control of a master short story writer. A simple tale of a boy with reattached feet who is bullied in school by three classmates, "Miracle Boy" is about one of the bullies rather than the boy with reattached feet. One of the bullies throws miracle boy's shoes over power lines, special shoes he needs to walk as nearly normally as possible. Over the weeks, the shoes hang on the power lines, thereby causing the bully pangs of conscience. The resolution is heart-warming without being sappy. Benedict wouldn't know how to write a sappy ending if his life depended on it.

Move from "Miracle Boy" to "Bridge of Sighs," and you move from one microcosm to another. In "Bridge," an epidemic swept through the rural highlands killing cattle, sheep and pigs. Poultry barns went up in flames with all the birds inside. A young boy watches his father and an extermination man discuss the number of cattle that should be in a barn. Four are missing. The boy sneaks away to where the missing cattle are hidden. After the cattle in the barn are shot, the extermination man follows the boy into the wilderness. In a show of kindness, the extermination man determines the hidden cattle are healthy. He does not shoot them.

And then there's "Zog-19: A Scientific Romance." Zog-19 is a metallic alien who has been sent to earth to learn our customs. He replaces a farmer, almost fools the farmer's wife into thinking nothing is wrong, and struggles with the customs. Zog-19's planet is failing. He is sent to see if Earth will be a good colony. While Zog-19 learns Earth's customs, a space ship lands on Zog. The astronauts discover a planet made of metal with a core of a sentient gas that makes their spaceship travel farther and faster. Mining the gas from the planet seems like the only logical thing to do. Unfortunately, all Zog residents have the same gas inside their metal bodies. Before long, there are few residents on Zog. The planet is dead. Zog-19 isn't.

Benedict's language is strong, almost muscular, yet it is strangely poetic. He takes out his magnifying glass and examines humanity and the hardscrabble lives his characters survive. His stories are best when Pinckney is being Pinckney, letting go of whatever conventions that might restrain him. Fourteen stories, each a gem, combine to present a necklace of images both unexpected and exciting.

Friday, September 14, 2012

My Transformation to Writer Continues

As I've said in several recent posts, I decided to change what I was doing in my life over a dozen years ago. I started learning about my craft. I made more mistakes than not. I read book after book on writing. I read tons of fiction, since I knew that's what I wanted to write. I read genres where I had no business trying to contribute. I mean, I'm not someone who wants to build worlds, populate them with non-humans, write about vampires and werewolves, although I love reading about them.

I read literary fiction. Some of it dry as stale toast; some of it exciting; all of it not what I felt qualified to try. I wanted to write about strong women in situations beyond their immediate control. I wanted to drop women into a maelstrom and see if they could swim. Some sank. Some stunk. A few rode the froth of the eddy to the top to grab my attention. Enough of these tired cliches.

I found I liked strong women. I liked reading about them. I liked writing about them. In fact, the main character in my Mad Max novel was not supposed to be the main character. She started life as a secondary character, rather like a Greek chorus, commenting on action but not being affected by it. And then one day, she grabbed me by the throat and shook me. "Listen to me," she shouted. "My story is the only important one."

I had started Mad Max: Unintended Consequences as a story about a divorcing couple. I wrote in first person from three points of view: the wife, the husband and Mad Max. The wife becomes strung out on drugs. I had a terrific time writing long, rambling, run-on sentences reflective of what goes on in an addled brain. The husband thought and spoke in clipped terms. Half sentences, partial thoughts, Clint Eastwood-type "go ahead, make my day" stuff. Great fun. Max was more measured in thought and speech, expressing herself in complete sentences, adding her observations as her daughter's marriage dissolved. The first working title was Death of a Marriage. Didn't work.

My writing group, the Lake Writers, suggested (no, twisted my arm) I write using a single point of view, a single voice. I didn't think the story would be interesting, but I tried. First I tried the daughter. Not good. I never thought about writing from the husband's voice. That's when Max stood on her hind legs and yelled at me. The more I let Max be Max, the better the narrative flowed.

So, I locked myself into first person singular. Max tells her story her way. Sassy at times. Snarky at others. She has to deal with the dissolution of a complete family. And in so doing, she is forced to choose between doing what the family needs and doing what she needs.

You'll have to wait for a later post to see how she balances the conflict.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

I confess. I'm absolutely batty over Malcolm Gladwell's writing. I don't always agree with him, but his essays in The New Yorker are a highlight. I read them hungrily, so when a friend of mine sent me What the Dog Saw and other adventures, I couldn't put it down. This is a collection of the best of the best from The New Yorker.

In the title essay, Gladwell wonders what went on in a dog's head when it encountered the original dog whisperer, Cesar Millan. Millan works with troubled dogs in troubled families. Some families don't know how to discipline their pets to achieve the desired results. Some dogs don't know what's expected of them, so they act out. Millan assesses situations and works with the family to reverse bad behavior by enforcing good. Much like children who respond to structure and consistency, dogs need the same thing.

We meet Ron Popeil, one of the first television pitchmen, who help revolutionize our kitchens with gadgets we couldn't afford not to have. His scream-and-buy delivery served as the model for later pitchmen, all of whom try to sell us items for under $19.95 (plus shipping and handling). "But wait, there's more." We can thank Popeil for these techniques and for Gladwell for introducing us to a most interesting character.

Several essays deal with the Enron debacle, including as profile of Jeffrey Skilling. He probes whether Enron had too much or too little information to make informed decisions. He writes about Enron's hiring practices where the best and the brightest were hired and set loose on the U.S., and indeed the global, economy.

In a wonderful essay about who's right for a job and, therefore, likely to succeed, Gladwell focuses on a football scout looking for the next great quarterback. In draft after draft, highly praised and highly picked quarterbacks, all stars in the college system, flame out in the NFL. He says in the 1999 draft, five quarterbacks were drafted with great hooplah. Of the five, only Donovan McNabb lived up to his promise. The others didn't. Why? Because the greatest college quarterbacks run the spread offense, something that doesn't exist in the NFL. A star in one league, an overpaid dud in another.

From a profile on the man who created the birth control pill and who never profited from it to FBI profilers who are wrong more often than they are right, Gladwell reveals his intensive curiosity for things out of the ordinary. Have you ever wondered why we can buy basically one kind of ketchup but a hundred different kinds of mustard. Gladwell did--and wrote about it.

Why do I like Malcolm Gladwell? Because his mind is even spookier than mine.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writing Contests

I used to be really high on writing contests. I entered them several times a year. That was five years ago. Since then, I've cut back on entering, even though I won or placed in several. I found I didn't have time to prepare fresh material for each one. I don't like to submit the same material over and over in hopes new judges will love my work.

I still get lots of requests to enter all the time. I dug deeply into several and was surprised at how much each one cost. With the cash prizes very low, I realized many small contests fund their prizes through entry fees. And others use the fees to build their coffers. But when commercial enterprises, read mainly publishing magazines, offer "great" contests and prizes if you pay dearly to get your material read by a judge, well, count me out.

I reduced my participation to three contests a year. I like the groups and think they do good work outside of the contests. Imagine my surprise when one contest chair called me over Labor Day to tell me she just found my 2012 entry.

Just found my entry? I'd all but forgotten I submitted anything, but a check of my records revealed I had indeed submitted three entries. She apologized profusely for losing my entry. Seems she put it aside, had several emergencies and forgot about it.

We ended our call with both of us laughing. Stuff happens. She had the decency to call to apologize. I promised to submit entries again next year. Maybe the same ones. Maybe not. We'll see.

Well, phooey! Those entries were all winners. Better luck next year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Review: A Dictionary of Maqiao

Several times a year, I seek out translated literary fiction. It's like taking a vacation from genre fiction. Other cultures have different rules about writing than we do. This time, my girlfriend shared a book I'd never heard of and would never have looked for. A Dictionary of Maqiao is an artifact novel. By that, I mean the author, Han Shaogong, pretends to write a linguistic dictionary of a small village in rural China and in so doing tells the history of the village and its people.

A Dictionary tells us a story of this village. It doesn't show us the story. Right there, it violates what we writers have pounded into our heads. The Western reader wants dialogue and action to forward the plot. Han Shaogong has little dialogue, perhaps as little plot, and very little action, yet the work is compelling.

There is no hook, no conflict. Nothing to compel the reader to continue, except what is told, how it is told. I was "hooked" because I didn't think anyone could pull of writing a novel and pretending it was a dictionary. Like, get totally real.

Each "chapter" sets up as a word in English, followed by the Chinese characters, and a passage that relates the word to the village or to its people. Along the way, the author muses on all sorts of philosophical subjects. On writing he says, "Anything left out of traditional fiction is normally something of 'no significance.' But when religious authority is all-important, science has no significance. When politics is all-important, love has no significance...I suspect the myriad things in this world are in fact all of equal importance; the only reason why sometimes one set of things seems to have 'no significance' is because they've been filtered out by the writer's view of what has significance."

Think about your own work. If you had a deeply philosophical character, could you get away with such a monologue? My guess is, an editor would want it removed. Maybe not, but more than likely.

Throughout the novel, Han Shaogong introduces to character after character, from the People's cadre leader to an Enlightened Youth to the peasant who has no dragon (you'll have to read the book to get the reference) to Three Ears to Yanzao's wife. Word play translates well into English, for one term in the Maqiao dialect can have multiple, contradictory meanings in English and in Chinese.

Winner of the China Times Prize for best novel, the Shanghai Literary Prize and one of the top 100 works of Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction from Asia Weekly, A Dictionary of Maqiao is a tour de force. If you want a different reading experience, check this out.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Interview with Michael Murphy, Author of Goodbye Emily

I had the pleasure recently of interviewing Michael Murphy, author of Scorpion Bay and the upcoming Goodbye Emily. If you don't know Michael's work, this should entice you to read him. If you already know his material, this lets you know about his next novel, which will be published in January.

Some of the readers of this blog may not know your works. Would you like to introduce yourself?
I’m a full time writer and part time urban chicken rancher in Arizona. I write mostly mystery/suspense novels and have had seven published to date. I’m really excited because Goodbye Emily, my return to Woodstock novel, will be released by Koehler Books January 20, 2012. I’d love for readers to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Goodreads.

Before we learn about your book, can you tell us the last exciting place you visited? Why did you pick these destination?
My wife and I spent several days in Puerto Vallarta after I won two free tickets. I’m sure we enjoyed the sun and the beach. I remember a short pleasure cruise to an island nearby for a sunset cookout and a trip into the mountains that took us back a century, but our main memories focus on there being a major airport mix-up regarding the free tickets, which almost kept us from returning to the US. 

Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, since elementary and high school when I wrote for the school newspapers and I majored in journalism at Arizona State University, but I didn’t get serious about writing until 1999 when I attended a seminar on establishing long term goals. At the end of the seminar each attendee was required to pick a goal that would take a year or more to complete. I picked writing a novel.

Goodbye Emily is your latest book. Why did you select the theme?
Goodbye Emily is more than a return to Woodstock novel. It’s about a man whose not only suffering through the loss of his wife, but he’s been laid off from the career he loves. Four days after my sixtieth birthday, I was laid off from a job I loved, so I took that experience and novelized it.  The novel is a lot more fun and upbeat than my personal recovery from losing my job.

Readers who might want a bit of Woodstock history and trivia can follow my Goodbye Emily blog.

I like the way you balance sorrow with humor. Do you find it difficult to write both?
Drama and comedy are based on conflict, so I find it easy to incorporate humor into my novels. I usually have at least one character who looks at life through a humorous lens, often complimenting the main character. Goodbye Emily includes some serious and tragic situations, but there’s also plenty of scenes that will make readers laugh. 

 I see the book is will be available through Amazon in print and paper. Can you tell us more about the publication schedule?
Goodbye Emily is now available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Books, Books A Million and through independent bookstores. The official release date is January 20, 2013.

You can help your fellow writers with this question. What are you doing yourself to promote Goodbye Emily?
I’ve been more aggressive promoting Emily than my other novels. It’s been my honor to have two Woodstock icons, Country Joe McDonald and Wavy Gravy provide back cover blurbs, but the novel is more than a return to Woodstock. The three main characters are baby boomers who, like those of us in this category, face the challenges of aging. They do so with optimism toward the future and humor, so my primary focus is to reach out to this age group and present a novel that will appeal to not just nostalgia, but to a sense that Goodbye Emily is about everyone who is about to or has reached the age of sixty.

You wrote Scorpion Bay a couple of years ago. Can you tell us about it?
Scorpion Bay is an action/suspense novel and a mystery with a twist at the end. It takes place in Arizona, where I live. Writing about real locations rather than a fictitious setting can create challenges, but it’s a fun read. There’s a series about these characters in me, but I haven’t started book two yet.

What do you have planned next? Any other books in the works?
I’m really excited about my first post Goodbye Emily novel.  It’s called The Yankee Club and I’m returning to my mystery/suspense roots. Inspired by The Thin Man film series, it takes place in 1933 New York City and follows a writer, Jake Donovan, and actress, Laura Wilson, who can’t seem to avoid getting involved in a mystery. There’s romance and humor and I get to use the word dame a lot. Famous people from that era drop by from time to time, Cole Porter, Babe Ruth and Dashiell Hammett are just a few.

Like The Thin Man movies, this will be a series. I’m busy writing the second in the series, All That Glitters, with Jake and Laura in Hollywood.

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your life and new novel with us. I was pleased to find we have several things in common. Both post-60. Both got laid off and used that event to begin the transformation into careers as writers. And we are both Pacific Athletic Conference grads. You from Arizona State, so you're a Pac-10er. Me from UCLA and USC, when it was PAC 8.

Friday, August 10, 2012

More on My Writing Life

On my last post, I left with a teaser. Why would a book inspire me to devote a dozen years to learning a new craft? Because Abigail Trafford told me that I could do anything I wanted in the decades after turning 50. (Actually this works for those who are under 50 but who want to change their lives and follow their dreams.)

 Trafford's thesis is that you can do whatever you want as long as you define that desire. And as long as you have the health and means to accomplish that goal. If you're 55 and want to be an astronaut, probably not going to happen. But if you're 55 and want to start a career, she encourages you to research what it would take to enter that career. She sites an example of an oil woman who went back to school after 55 and became a nurse. My cousin, who has been a psychotherapist for 20 years, decided to finish her doctorate. So, Dr. Vail is now practicing in Vermont. Her significant other went back to school at the same time, and he is now a nurse.

I believed Trafford's message. I knew I wanted to write. I ground out literally thousands of pages, most of them dreadful. Several friends offered books on the craft of writing. Imagine my surprise there was a craft of writing! I devoured the books and began putting much of the information in practice. I ground out more pages, many of them actually better, but not good enough.

I played around with a couple of writing groups in northern Virginia but didn't find one that fit. I tried a writing partner who didn't know much more than I did. That didn't work. Then, I moved to my permanent home at Smith Mountain Lake, found Lake Writers, found Valley Writers in Roanoke, and found writing partners who were not afraid to tell me what I had was all right but needed a lot of work. And so my transformation began.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Writing Life -- Mine

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Do you have a novel in you screaming to get out? I'd like to say I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't. Oh, I played with writing from grade school onward, but not seriously.

My first adventure into writing fiction was part of a third-grade assignment to write my autobiography. For crying out loud, I was eight. I hadn't had a life to write about, so I made one up. It was pretty good, as I remember. I also remember two other things about that assignment: my first and only F, and my mother saying that if I was going to lie, I should consider being a novelist.

In college, I wrote my first novel. On my trusty Underwood upright, no less. I wrote a science fantasy novel. Yes, on a manual typewriter. I couldn't afford the latest IBM Selectric, so it was manual or handwritten. I was enthralled by Ray Bradbury and a guy I was dating. It seemed so easy to write science fantasy. All you had to do was let your imagination go. I did. I spent a summer after sophomore year pounding away on the keyboard, piling up a huge stack of pages. I reached "The End" and pronounced I had written a novel.

My mother asked to read it. She actually finished it. She never said it was dreadful, but she suggested I continue with my education. Mind you, I wasn't in a creative writing program. I read the story. I cannot describe how dreadful it was. I mean, redefined dumb. Redefined purple prose. Redefined "don't quit your day job." I fed every page into the fireplace.

In grad school, I decided I had more to say so I started writing poetry. Pure, unadulterated doggerel. I really hated reading poetry. What made me think I could write something I didn't like reading? At least with the science fantasy, I read and loved Bradbury.

I piddled around with writing off and on for years. I wrote several novels, all of which are gathering cyber dust. I ground out pages, pages and more pages. I was hooked. I didn't know what I didn't know about writing. I knew I was possessed to write.

And then I bought a book called My Time: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life by Abigail Trafford. Her book changed my outlook on life. Seriously.

To know what she wrote that was so profound and why it hit me will have to wait until the next post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

From Voices in Our Heads to Voice on Paper

Writers joke about listening to the voices in our heads. When we don't hear anything, we have writer's block. Translating the voice in the head to the voice on a printed or "e" page can be difficult.

When I was at the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop this year, Dan Mueller gave me some great advice that added richness to what I was workshopping. I write almost exclusively in first person singular. I have a strong, mouthy main character, Mad Max, who takes us through her story. Dan suggested I combine Max's voice was a narrator's voice. Let me show you what he suggested.

I have a scene where Max knocks at a door, which is opened by a child. The child hesitates, then let's Max in. Here's what I wrote:

Marianna's frightened eyes flared as she peered at me.

"Don't worry. I came alone."

She started to close the door, then changed her mind. She opened it enough to let me slip in.

Dan made several suggestions. One was to show Marianna's fear better. Yup, old show versus tell. He also said I could describe the room once Max was inside, because the things in a place create a vivid fictional world. While I don't want to pad the narrative with extraneous words, this made sense. My next draft reads:

Marianna stood in the open doorway, her hands twisting the hem of her tee-shirt. She looked past me to see if Emilie was with me.

"Don't worry. I came alone."

She hesitated before stepping aside to let me enter. As soon as I was inside, she closed and locked the door.

Three days earlier, the room was clean and neat. Today, dust dimmed the polished table tops. Light came through a four-inch gap in the drapes and left cross-hatched shadows on the wrinkled rug. A book lay on the floor, its pages ripped out.

Marianna closed the drapes. Not before I saw the dark bruise on the side of her face, though.

Now, I could have said squishy things like, "Max looked around the room." But once Max is in the room, the  narrator's voice can fill in some "stuff" details.

Don't know if I'll use something like the second example, but it does open different ways of presenting scene and action. Gave me lots of room for creative thought.

Hey writers, ideas???

Friday, July 13, 2012

Interview with Kathleen Delaney, author of "And Murder for Dessert"

I love doing interviews with writers of books I liked. My last book review was of Kathleen Delaney's And Murder for Dessert. She recently sat down for an interview about her writing life. Please meet Kathleen.


Will you introduce yourself to my blog readers? Not all of them may know you.  
My name is Kathleen Delaney.  That is my original name. I use it to write under because my mother asked me to. She wasn’t too fond of my ex-husband. However, we had five children together, and I now have 8 grandchildren, one great grandson and another due any minute. I grew up in Glendale, Ca., and lived all over southern California for many years, finally moved to Paso Robles, on California’s central coast, where I worked as a real estate broker for over twenty years, and bred and showed Arabian horses. After I retired from real estate, my two dogs and I moved to South Carolina where I currently live in a one hundred year old house with a wonderful wrap around porch. I love to cook, write, and of course read.


You like to write about exciting places. Where have you traveled?I love to travel and do so as often as possible. Two of the most exciting places were Egypt and a barge trip down the canals in France, ending in Provence. I went to Egypt because my youngest daughter was at school at the American University of Cairo and because after reading all of the Amelia Peabody mysteries I was fascinated with the idea of visiting there. The trip was wonderful. I don’t like cruises as a rule but the idea of floating through France on a barge, sipping wine as we watched the landscape slip by, stopping in medieval towns along the way, appealed. Especially as I went with family and friends. We took up 2 barges. It was even more fun than I thought. So was Paris and the few days we spent on the Mediterranean.
How did you become a writer?  
I think anyone who reads a lot has a secret, or not so secret, desire to be a writer. I used to scribble stories and hide them in the cedar chest so no one could read them. I really didn’t think I had what it took to be a writer. One day one of my daughters found a bunch of them and pronounced them good. They weren’t, but a couple of other things happened and I decided to try. I wrote an article about my children’s adventures in 4H. I sent it to Family Fun. They bought it, for money, and published it. I was a writer.
Is And Murder for Dessert the 3rd book in the series? 
Yes


I know you lived in Paso Robles. Before you wrote, did you have any experience making wine? 
The setting is in the Paso Robles wine country, but I have no personal experience with making wine. However, one of my daughters does and I know several of the wine makers in the area. They were all most helpful.


Since this is the third book in your series, can you tell us a little about the others?
The first book is Dying for a Change. It introduces Ellen, a woman in her early forties, who has returned to her hometown after a nasty divorce. She has gotten a real estate license and is determined to have a new life as well. Unfortunately, she finds a dead body, a bashed and bloody body, in the first house she tries to show. She finds Dan Dunham, whom she hasn’t seen since she was in high school. He has returned to their small town, as Chief of Police. Romance looms.  Except Ellen isn’t one bit sure she wants romance. Her first try at it didn’t work out so well. 


Ellen and Dan’s relationship gets a little closer in Give First Place to Murder. The book centers around Arabian horses, horse shows and drug running. While trying to figure out who murdered the highly objectionable trainer, Bryce Ellis, Ellen and her daughter, Susannah, get locked in a horse van and almost end up dead. I threw in a pirate to keep the story interesting. 


And Murder for Dessert is all about temperamental chefs, beds and breakfasts, unwelcome suitors, and, of course, murder. 


The fourth book, Murder Half-Baked, centers on Grace House, a halfway house for women in transition and a bakery. Ellen and Dan are getting married, the wedding is to be on New Year's Eve but nothing is going right.  Ellen has been handed a new client, Grace House. Only it burns down and the residents move in with Dan and Ellen while Dan tries to figure out who set the fire and who killed Dr.Sadler by bashing him on the head with the arm of a cemetery angel. Unfortunately all clues point to someone from Grace House. Only, who? Ellen had better find out before her own house goes up in smoke 

Do you model characters after living people? 
No. Characters just come as the story unravels. In the book I am writing now, Dead in a Manger, two gay guys have appeared. I didn’t plan them. Only, I was writing this scene in a pet shop and they walked in. They’ve stayed in, too.
Your books are available in print and e-book formats. Are you satisfied with your print and e-book sales?
Not my print sales.  The e-books are selling unbelievably well and I’m thrilled, but the print books are moving at a much more leisurely pace.
What do you do to promote your books and yourself?  
Lots of different things. Since I am now “handicapped” I am doing lots more on line than I used to.  Besides, there is more you can do on line. Facebook, blogging, Goodreads, lots of things and while I don’t do them all all the time, I do use that avenue a lot. However, I go wherever anyone will listen to me. Libraries, book clubs, any other kind of club. The book I’m writing has a lot in it about dogs and dog breeding. When it comes out (here is where we cross our fingers that it does come out) I will add dog clubs to my list. 

I belong to the Carolina Conspiracy and we do a lot of different things as a group. Getting on a panel at writers conferences is always good, and just doing book signings at bookstores is great. I’ve done a Christmas bazaar, sharing a booth with 2 other writers, and done book fairs several times. The hardest one is the LA Book fair held every year at UCLA. There are thousands of books there and even more thousands of people wandering around. It’s hard to get noticed, but it can be done. Bookstores are important even if you just drop in and leave information. The booksellers tend to notice and if they like you and/or your book, will hand sell it. I keep lists of people, book stores where I have appeared, libraries, where I’ve made a speech, fans who have emailed me or signed the email list at events, and send them a notice when a new book comes out and follow through. Have a master list of all the libraries that carry the books and they get a notice of a new release as well. And on and on…

What are you writing now?
I am writing a new series, features a woman in her seventies who manages all of the volunteer activities in town. Amazing how bloody volunteer work can get.  I am hoping it will turn into a series as well. The 5th book in the Ellen McKenzie series needs a serious rewrite before it goes back to Camel Press, who has asked for it. If they like it, Ellen and her Aunt Mary are going to go to Williamsburg, VA. A few ghosts, a little history, and, of course, murder, one that Ellen and Aunt Mary had better solve if they want to get through alive.
Is this book under contract?
No. Camel wants to see it, but I’m not quite ready to send it.

Lastly, what are the last three books you read? 
Hmm. Some one gave me the Runaway Jury by John Grisham, and I read that one. Catherine Coulter's The Cove, that one was my mothers, it was on my shelf. I picked it up and didn’t put it back down until I was done. I am currently reading Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog. She has four different main characters, doing very different things, and they are about to collide. Great book.
Thank you, Kathleen. You've given my readers a very important insight into your writing life and the next books coming out. 

To my readers, if you didn't know Kathleen's books before, you do now. All of her books are available through Amazon.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: And Murder for Dessert by Kathleen Delaney

I've taken a vacation from reading cozy mysteries for quite a while. I met Kathleen Delaney earlier this month, picked up her And Murder for Dessert, and decided I needed a break from the serious non-fiction reading I've been doing for several weeks. And what a break it was.

Set in the wine country in California, we meet Ellen McKenzie working in real estate and engaged to the local chief of police. When Ellen's sister calls to inform her that her niece, Sabrina, and her husband Mark are coming to live with her, Ellen once again bridles at her sister's presumption, but since the young couple is on its way, she can do nothing but make them welcome. Soon, Sabrina ropes her into helping plan an upscale dinner at the winery where Mark is the wine master.

The guest chef is a nightmare right out of hell's kitchen. He's histrionic, unstable and downright mean. Many readers will cheer when he ends up dead in a vat of wine. The weaving of several secondary story arcs into a  whole keeps the reader wondering who killed the chef. More importantly, readers will want to solve the crime and unravel the secrets themselves.

Kathleen Delaney understands both the wine business and real estate, although real estate doesn't figure in as strongly as it did with her Dying for a Change, available in Kindle version only. Right now, that is. Dying for a Change is scheduled for a new release in print later this year.

I confess. I guessed who the killer was about half-way through. I enjoyed the way the author tied up all the arcs and brought to story to a successful conclusion. Even if you figure it out, too, this is a fun read.

Available in print and on Kindle, it's a read well worth it.