Tuesday, December 30, 2008


This was a month of family birthdays, and today is mine. I'm taking suggestions for fun birthday activities. So far I'm planning to get myself a flower at the florist and buy a new pair of jeans. :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Retrospect

"Christmas is not what it was! Such is the perennial cry at Twelfth Night. The turkey, it is said, was tougher than usual; the New Year balls were less exciting, the singing of the choir feeble by previous comparisons. And thus it shall probably ever be. For to capture the excitement of our youth we must wait for our second childhood."

--James P. Kenion

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post Holiday Relief

Christmas is a wonderful and a beautiful time, but the day after Christmas is a restful escape. No packages to wrap, no items to remember to pack into the car, no stressing over the present that didn't arrive in time.

Today is a matter of quiet sorting through the rubble, permeated by gratitude for the gifts found within it. It's a day of remembering all of the funny things people said yesterday at the big family gathering, but also a day of facing the scale and promising to be good from here on in.

It's a day for reading the books you received as gifts, or watching those DVDs that someone thoughtfully selected.

Here the roads are treacherous and slicked with ice, but we have enough within our house--gifts and food and good feelings--to last for quite a while.

Happy Boxing Day to all!

(PS This little gnome lives in my parents' back yard. Their house is like a winter wonderland, and he presides over their frozen pond.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Merry Christmas to you, blog readers! May you be blessed with a peaceful and happy holiday and a New Year filled with pleasant surprises.

Here's to all the GOOD news that 2009 will bring!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fear Not The Cold

"Heap on more wood!--the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will;

We'll keep our Christmas merry still."

--Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Midwestern Snow Storm

Bing Crosby would be thrilled; there's no WAY we're not going to have a White Christmas this year--and by "we" I basically mean the Midwest.

This was a picture of my drive home yesterday; it was as hazardous as it looks. A new storm is coming tonight.

Here's a photo of my street:

It's absolutely beautiful, if you're inside looking out. If you're driving in it, it's a white nightmare.

I already got the call that school is cancelled tomorrow, so I guess just this once I can sit and drink tea and watch the maelstrom from a safe, skidless environment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tim Maleeny On Bribing the Mob, Living Vicariously, and Dining With Twain

Tim, thanks for agreeing to chat again on the blog.

You have a new book out this month called Greasing the Piñata. Why would one grease a piñata? Isn’t it dangerous enough when blindfolded children are armed with baseball bats?

Greasing is an old mob term for trying to bribe a public official, and one of the characters in this novel is a U.S. Senator. As for the piñata, much of the story takes place in Mexico, and the term ends up being used as a metaphor for politicians in general. At one point in the book a police inspector from Mexico City says, “Politicians are like piñatas. If you want something good to come out of them, you have to beat them up sometimes.”

Ah--that makes sense. Your book, like all of your Cape Weathers mysteries, starts off with action and suspense. What were your favorite action flicks when you were a kid? I’m guessing you were a Mannix guy.

Mannix not so much, not sure why. I might have been watching cartoons instead. But I grew up surrounded by the pulp adventures from the thirties and forties, thanks to my parents. Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow. And we used to go the public library on Saturdays and watch the old adventure serial films, the episodes that would always end with a train collision, or someone falling off a cliff, that sort of thing. Great fun.

How cool. Will you be taking a promotion break to have some quiet Christmas time? Is it tough to begin promoting in December?

You have to split the tour, so I did as many bookstore appearances as I could in December, mostly closer to home, and then I’ll start traveling again in mid-January. Dates are still being added, so I’ll be updating my site about once a week through February.

You are now with Poisoned Pen Press. Has the transition (from Midnight Ink) been an easy one?

Poisoned Pen is remarkable, really a delight to work with, and they’ve also been very successful as a publisher despite all the horror stories you hear about the state of publishing today. They publish more mysteries annually than any other publisher with the exception of St. Martin’s. They keep their standards really high but they have an incredibly eclectic stable of authors, which I think makes things a lot more interesting, both for readers and the writers. Everyone has made me feel very welcome.

Your creation Cape Weathers is the kind of guy who follows his gut, even if that pisses people off. Part of this is a hard-boiled mystery convention; however, if you suddenly became a P.I., would you be like Cape Weathers?

I’d love to be a cross between Cape and my other protagonist, Sally, who tends to be a bit more sure of herself than Cape — he’s probably more stubborn than wise. But Cape often says and does things that I wish I could in real life — some of them outrageous — so there’s definitely some aspect of living vicariously through your characters going on when I write.

Library Journal praises your “labyrinth of plot twists.” How do you come up with your plots? Do they just pop into your head? Do you use endless post-it notes like Elmore Leonard? Or perhaps a giant blackboard?

I’d love to have a giant blackboard, but first I’d need a giant wall. Post-its and scraps of paper with illegible notes are a common site in my office. The basic premise usually pops into my head, but then I try to think of the most elaborate scheme imaginable based on that simple beginning. Then I twist and twist again — kind of like Chubby Checker — and then I try to write myself out of the maze I’ve built. Most of the time it works.

Do you have time to read these days? If so, what’s your latest book?

I still read voraciously but less than I used to, sadly, because writing takes so much time. (Especially if you misplace a post-it note.) I recently read The Big O by Declan Burke, and it’s genius from page one. Victor Gischler’s Go-Go Girls Of The Apocalypse is a wildly entertaining vision of the near future that might change how you look at the present. And my latest read is Shanghai Moon by S.J. Rozan, and it’s mesmerizing, like being transported in time. Really great.

Will you continue the Cape Weathers series, or are you venturing into new fiction territory?

Yes to both questions. The next book after Piñata is a standalone novel called JUMP, which will be released in June 2009. Imagine Elmore Leonard writing an Agatha Christie novel, a dead body and ten suspects all in a tight location, but with personalities that might be a bit more quirky and twisted than you’ll find in a traditional mystery. It’s part crime novel and part romance, sort of a guide to finding true love in the midst of a multiple homicide.

After that I return to Cape and Sally, another book in the series that I’m working on now. (Provocative title to be determined.)

That's some excellent salesmanship; I will be looking for Jump.

If you and Cape Weathers went out on the town (hypothetically you’d still be single) and approached a beautiful woman, who would win her heart—you or Cape? Why?

Definitely Cape, though he’d choose the one woman in the joint guaranteed to break his heart. If only he could learn from his mistakes — or from mine, and vice versa — then maybe we’d both score.

Yeah, and "if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas." I don't even know who I'm quoting (or misquoting) there, but it seemed appropriate.

Would Greasing the Piñata make a good Christmas present? (That question will be my Christmas present to you. :))

John Lescroart, a truly great writer, called Greasing The Piñata a “tequila-soaked adventure”, and what could be better than tequila on a cold winter’s day? But unlike tequila, my book can provide hours of memorable mayhem without the hangover the next day. It’s also more desirable than a lump of coal, according to a recent survey my publisher conducted among both naughty and nice kids.

Think of it as a chance to travel to Mexico this holiday season without dealing with those long lines at the airport.

Sounds good. What are your big plans for 2009?

Play with my kids every chance I get. Write another book, and maybe get on fewer airplanes. I’m really hoping scientists figure out teleportation soon.

If you were to write in any genre outside of mystery, what would it be?

If I can find the time, I’m hoping to write a young adult novel next year, something with a mystery angle but more in the fantasy genre.

Well, Harry Potter and Twilight have shown us that young people like their fantasy.

I’m feeling hypothetical today: if you could get a writing lesson from any writer, living or dead, whose words of wisdom would you want?

Elmore Leonard’s book on writing is great, I’d love to be able to sit down with him and talk at length. Ray Bradbury and Lawrence Block are also favorites, each for a different reason, and their books on writing have been great sources of confidence and inspiration.

For the dead guys I’d love to chat with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Twain, and Teddy Roosevelt, maybe all at the same time.

Imagine what a spirited conversation that would be! No pun intended.

Good luck with the book, Tim, and thanks for creating such a fun duo in Cape and Sally.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What We Take for Granted

Ironically I was discussing Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART on Friday with my high school students; we came to the conclusion that there's nothing on earth that doesn't eventually fall apart, and one of our examples was the human body itself.

It seems the older I get the more parts of me I have to acknowledge I have taken for granted: the knees, the fingers, and now--the back. I lifted a very, very heavy bag on Friday with the rather stupid assumption that if I could lift it, it was safe to lift. I held the thing (which housed 42 10-page research papers and their accompanying index cards) in my left hand.

The next day the right side of me--mostly my right lower back--was giving me great pain. Today, wearing a support bandage left over from my husband's back injury, I feel chastened and foolish and . . . old.

Yes, things do fall apart, and I am a living example of what the flesh is heir to. Meanwhile, hot water bottles and Tiger Balm are my good friends. :)

(This picture of my cat really has nothing to do with the post except that carefully wrapped Christmas packages also fall apart--in fact they are torn apart with savage glee).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Great Reads and Tough Women

I'm still reeling from hearing that I live in "the most corrupt state in the union." But the solution to all bad things is to read a good book, and I've been enjoying two good ones.

I just finished Thomas Perry's Runner. What an interesting and extremely suspenseful book! I realize that Perry's character, Jane Whitefield, has quite a fan following, but this was my first Jane Whitefield book. I'll certainly be reading the others. Jane, a Native American, has either learned or inherited a feeling of responsibility for those who need help. She is a self-appointed guide for those who are runners, and she is utterly dedicated to keeping them safe.

This is a most interesting premise: Jane is not a police officer, nor is she an FBI agent, but this is her calling. In Runner, she is called out of a five year retirement (she had promised to stay safe for her husband) because a young pregnant woman is in danger. The book focuses on Jane as guide, and all that being a guide entails. She is almost always in danger, but the danger is reciprocal. Those who cross Jane end up being sorry. She is not a vigilante, but she will do anything it takes to protect the innocent.

The reason that Jane is one of my new heroes is that she is tough. She is fair, but she metes out justice, often in a violent form. Those who prey on the innocent, to Jane, are like any animal predators.

If I were in danger, I would want Jane Whitefield on my side.

This book did the unexpected: it kept me awake while I was reading in bed. :)

While I'm on the subject of cool tough women, I have to give a nod to Tim Maleeny's latest Cape Weathers mystery, Greasing the Pinata. Cape's "deadly companion Sally," as the website calls her, is one tough woman, and an important reminder that toughness in a protagonist is just as believable in a woman as it is in a man.

I'll be interviewing Tim in the near future about his series, and you can read a former interview here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Some Beautiful Winter Writing

"It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. . . ."

From "A Child's Christmas in Wales"
by Dylan Thomas

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Snow Thoughts

The snow came on December 1st, as though the weather follows the calendar. It came again today, and my little son gamely shoveled the yard while my elder son and I slogged through the storm to get him to his high school entrance exam. Yes, my son has reached that milestone that is almost more moving to me than his first day of kindergarten.

So now his moody mother sits and looks at the snow and contemplates the lyrics of "Sunrise, Sunset." :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Last of the Congenial Shopkeeps

There's no doubt that I can buy office supplies more cheaply at one of those big-box office warehouse supply stores where everyone wears a matching polo shirt and displays, at best, an anemic interest in me, my questions, and my purchases.

Sometimes, though, I put out the extra money that it takes to go to a little local shop. It's one of the last stores of its kind--small, personal, convivial. There isn't much stock, but what's there is interesting and unique. Usually a cat dozes among the Underwood typewriters that make up the window display. Today when I wandered in a woman looked up from her label sorting and gave a friendly smile. A man in shirt and suspenders, whose neck was warmed by a multicolor scarf that may once have belonged to Dr. Who, knew me when I came in because I was clutching my empty cartridge box and had called to reserve one of his.

"Buckley?" he said.

"That's me," I agreed. I saw a little dog in the corner; he seemed impatient to go for a walk and gave a growling sigh.

"Just a minute," said the woman to the doggie. She told me, when I asked, that the dog was a long-haired Schnauzer. He was very cute. Everything about this place was quaint, and the service from the man who immediately placed the requested cartridge in my hand was almost unsettling. It was personal. So few stores provide that anymore.

I hung around after I paid, smiling at the dog and soaking up the ambience of the little stationer's shop. "These cartridges are so expensive these days," I said. "I print out one copy of one manuscript, and the ink is gone."

Dr. Who grinned at me. "Write short stories," he suggested.

"Or haiku," added the woman.

I laughed. "I guess that's the style that fits the new economy."

They agreed, and I took my leave of them. I realized that I missed many stores like this that had once existed near me: the little hardware store which had been owned by the same man for sixty years until he had to close it down, where the merchandise was piled precariously to the ceiling; the woolen shop with exotic yarns and unusual patterns and women who offered knitting lessons; the second-hand bookstores--tons of them--that my husband and I used to stroll to on a Sunday, where cats would lie on the windowsills and mystery paperbacks cost ten cents each.

We may be saving money at the ultra warehouse stores, but we're losing out every time one of these tiny stores closes. These stores are peopled by the real thing--those who care about their products and their customers, and who serve with congeniality.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thoughts on The Hat

"A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat."

--P.J. O'Rourke

(my apologies to Bob Hope, whose unassuming likeness I borrowed to accompany this quote).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hopping Aboard the Holiday Train

It's happening again--I've been tossed onto the holiday train--the one I didn't think was coming for another hour. I was just hanging at the station, thinking I had all the time in the world. :)

We celebrated two lovely Thanksgivings with two different families, and in between I graded papers with ferocity. The pile was daunting. I am finally reaching the bottom . . .

Meanwhile, when we drove home from my brother's house this evening, I noticed that everyone else in the world had already decorated their homes for Christmas. I realize why people do it this early; it's because this is the weekend when they have a little spare time. So what if it smooshes Christmas right on top of Thanksgiving? We are a multi-tasking people, and now we multi-holiday.

So, I must admit, I feel that I'm behind again. I have another task list, which involves getting Christmas decorations and taking a holiday picture and making cards and buying stamps and blah-be-holiday-blu.

I didn't really get to finish with the whole thankful theme, but that's okay--I can just be thankful into the New Year. Maybe I'll get into the permanent habit. And the paper grading is an endless river, so I may as well make room for other things in my life.

Once, though, just once, I'd like to see these big events coming before they smack me right in the face with their energetic realities. And I'll be the one whose house is glowing with lights and clean enough for visitors and full of the smell of something wonderful baking.

For now, though, I'll just try to get one of those right, and everything else will be frosting on the fruitcake.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When My Life Fades . . . A Thanksgiving Reflection

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Oh Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me!
I am small and weak; I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes
Ever behold the purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made
And my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
But to fight my greatest enemy: Myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with
Clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
My spirit may come to you without shame.

(picture: Denver Sunset by Jim Kritzberg)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nietzsche and Menuhin Find Common Ground

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Here is a beautiful defense of that contention: Yehudi Menuhin playing a Hungarian Dance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mystery News

Tim Maleeny has moved his Cape Weathers series from Midnight Ink to Poisoned Pen Press; this is MI's loss, I must say. Maleeny's new, much-anticipated title, Greasing the Pinata, comes out next month, and I've begged for an ARC so that I can get a sneak peek. :)

Maleeny's first mystery, Stealing the Dragon, was nominated for a Macavity Award and an IPPY Award, and his short story, "Till Death Do Us Part," won a Macavity in 2007.

Bob Morris has a new title called A Deadly Silver Sea. I hope to interview him soon and ask if the title (or the book) was influenced by John D. MacDonald.

I'm a fan of the Jess Lourey mysteries, and I know that she is working on a fifth in her Murder By Month series called September Mourn; August Moon is available now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Thought, More Profound Than the Last

"There is no cure for birth or death except to try to enjoy the interval."

--George Santayana

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fool Me Once, Shame on You . . .

You know all the old Charlie Brown cartoons where Lucy tries to get C.B. to kick the football? He goes through agony trying to decide if Lucy is sincere this time--if he can trust her to leave the ball there so that he can experience one glorious kick.

Lucy always wants Charlie Brown to try, but she never allows him satisfaction. She pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown falls flat on his back--time after time.

I always found this scene odd for several reasons. For one, Lucy is never malicious. Her face is blank when she pulls away the football. The suggestion seems to be that Lucy, like the snake or the scorpion, is merely doing what is in her nature. She has to pull the ball away, because she needs to see people like Charlie Brown try and fail. She doesn't even take smug satisfaction in Charlie Brown's fall; she speaks to him calmly and walks away. For Lucy, the meaning of the universe is verified every time Charlie Brown makes his sad attempt.

For another, Charlie Brown knows what Lucy is. It isn't a matter of wondering whether or not he can trust her--he knows he cannot. Therefore, there must be something else compelling Charlie Brown to agonize over the "to kick or not to kick" decision. He is Hamlet on the ball field, and Lucy is his existential agony. For Charlie Brown, it probably doesn't matter either way. If he kicks it, he could fail. Since he is Charlie Brown, and has very little self-confidence, he most likely will fail. If she pulls it away, there is an excuse for his failure. Lucy is responsible.

Does this mean, then, that Charlie Brown NEEDS Lucy to pull the ball away, because it justifies his lack of prowess? And does Lucy, who dispenses "Psychiatric Help" for five cents a session, somehow understand this?

I often think that Lucy is too easily dismissed as a horrible person. Sure, she is a cartoon, but I find a great deal of existential truth in Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Mystery of Intention

One of my favorite author quotes is Samuel Beckett's response to people who asked if the mysterious character of Godot (in his play Waiting for Godot) was meant to be God. Beckett said, "If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot."

Thus he clarified--or did he?--a mysterious character in perhaps the most enigmatic play of the 20th Century.

An author's intention is often the greatest mystery. Some theorists would have us believe that what the author meant is ultimately not important. This works for me, to a point, but I find that I always long for a date with the author, during which I am allowed to ask unlimited questions about their work. I'd like to start with Shakespeare. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thought for the Day

"There are two kinds of people; those who finish what they start and so on."

--Robert Byrne

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Attending a Dog Wedding

Here's something I never thought would happen: my beagle received a marriage proposal a couple of weeks ago because a nearby town was holding a mass "dog wedding" in order to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. They hoped for the most participants, and there were many people with costumed dogs at the event yesterday. This delicate mini Doberman is Bina, my beagle's intended. She didn't care much for him--and in her defense, he was atrocious for the entire ceremony.

Some beagly instinct told him that this ceremony would, apparently, result in his death, and he bucked and strained on his leash the entire time, often emitting horrible belching sounds. Little Bina sat quietly in her veil and tried not to make eye contact. This is the danger of an arranged marriage.

Bina's owner, a filmmaker, was there to record the event and possibly turn it into a "mockumentary." There was certainly much fodder for humor. I'll write more tomorrow on Poe's Deadly Daughters, but just now I have to go grade papers!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mystery and Mustaches

I'm posting on Inkspot today about the ever-mysterious mustache.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

"Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be."

~Sydney J. Harris

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Visit the Swamp

Pat Balester's new mystery is set in The Great Dismal Swamp. I chatted with him at Poe's Deadly Daughters today.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Legend Lives On

This is still the best Halloween tale ever . . .

" . . .From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols. . . "

(From the Project Gutenberg THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW,by Washington Irving)

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Biological Mystery

I once heard in a science class that no one has ever been able to explain why we itch, nor can they explain why scratching makes itches go away.

This phenomenon has plagued my dog recently. He writhes around on his back until he cries, trying to scratch some mysterious ailment. Today the vet told us there was no sign of fleas or anything amiss. She suggested his skin might be reacting to an allergy. As a result, my beagle is now on steroids. :) The vet said the itching should disappear almost instantly. I can't begin to imagine how one thing resolves the other, but I trust her medical advice.

The great thing about dogs, though (unlike cats), is that they take their medicine so willingly. You simply hide the pill in a piece of cheese and then say, "Would you like this cheese?" And the dog, through eager body language, says "Yes." Then he eats it and the pill is gone.

Cats taking pills? Well, that's a post for another day.

Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the mysterious itching problem has been resolved.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

All Things Halloweeny

The weather is gorgeous, the house is warm, and I've been reading mysteries. While cleaning my attic last week I found a dusty Ruth Rendell paperback called NO MORE DYING THEN which is quite compelling. No spoilers here, but the story involves a missing child.

This weekend I must grade essays and make handouts for a new class, but tucked in between will be autumnal and Halloweeny events and excursions. We haven't yet carved any pumpkins (the guts above are from last year's sacrifice), but we've been painting and hanging leaf garlands and generally preparing for the autumnal celebrations.

Enjoy your weekends, too!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mystery Writer Ann Littlewood on Wild Animals, Redheaded Boys, and Magical Moments

Hi, Ann—thanks for chatting with me.

You refer to your first mystery, Night Kill, as a zoo-dunnit, and you suggest that very few mysteries are set in zoos. With so many animal lovers in the world, why do you think this is not a more common setting?

I have a couple of theories. One is the association of zoos with children and possibly an assumption that only books for children would use this setting.

Another is that there just aren’t all that many zookeepers, period, and therefore not many who write fiction. Every zookeeper has a trove of fascinating stories, so let’s hope more of them decide to write! Another reason may be that people outside the profession think of zookeeping as rather sweet and undramatic, more appropriate for heartwarming anecdotes than for murder.

Trust me, it’s a dangerous profession, the relationships between keepers and animals are complex, and keepers share the same emotions and conflicts as the rest of humanity. And it's got all those great animals, so it’s a rich milieu for crime fiction. Night Kill is driven by grief and anger—I don’t think you’ll find it sentimental. In fact, I felt I had to go back and lighten it up a bit and add some humor.

You have a great deal of experience working with zoo animals, but your love of animals can be traced all the way back to childhood. Was there any one incident or encounter that turned you into such a naturalist, or do you think it was simply in your DNA?

One vivid memory is a car trip with another family, a Sunday drive in the countryside around Sacramento. We stopped on a little road surrounded by pastures and got out. The father of the other family, noted California conservationist Elmer Aldrich, pointed out an excited pair of killdeers calling and flapping around as though they each had a broken wing. He scooped up something from the gravel roadside. In his cupped hands was a downy killdeer chick, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. He put it down as soon as we’d all seen it, and we moved away so the parents could relax. I’ve never forgotten that magical moment, that scrap of vivid life.

I think most of us are drawn to the natural world, if we get the chance to experience it as children. Children who are never taken hiking, never hear the names of birds or plants, never get their hands on sticks and worms lose this urge and are easily frightened by the wild. I was lucky in having those opportunities when I was young. I also read for hours every day (I was very introverted) and I loved animal stories—Walter Farley, Jim Kjelgaard, Margaret Henry. In college, I ended up a psychology major because the psych department had pigeons and white rats and even squirrel monkeys. A fluke encounter with The Management of Wild Mammals in Captivity by Lee S. Crandall, a used book I bought while in college, started my fascination with zoos.

This quote is on your website:
“Force-feeding smelt down baby harbor seals, injecting antibiotics into tiny tree shrews, stuffing calcium pills into dead mice, making fake caddis fly larva—we did whatever it took. I once waded into a stock tank with a baby hippo and gave it an enema. Sad to say, it worked.”

First of all, how does one know when a baby hippo needs an enema?

Easy. Food goes in one end and nothing comes out the other!

Second, where does one get the experience to do these kinds of tasks—or do the jobs themselves earn you the experience?

When I was hired, zoos were transitioning from keepers with farm or maintenance backgrounds toward keepers with an education in biology and previous experience with exotic animals. I was lucky to get the job and learn as I worked. Nowadays keepers have more options for professional training. That said, no way can you be trained for all the odd situations that come up. For example, I crated up a young lioness once by tossing an old tennis shoe into the crate. She adored chewing them up and dove in after it. A keeper has to be inventive. Good keepers watch their animals and read about the natural history of each species, and they communicate and learn from each other’s experience.

What’s the premise of Night Kill?

Night Kill is set in fictional Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington. A young zookeeper has a troubled marriage and a passion for big cats. When her lions kill her husband, she is derailed by grief and anger until she realizes that her husband’s death does not make sense. Determined to figure out who fed Rick to the lions and why, she finds that staying alive is also a challenge.

With your busy life as a zoo keeper, a technical writer, and a business analyst, how and when did you determine that you wanted to write a mystery?

I’ve wanted to write a zoo mystery for the longest time! I carried the basic plot around in my head for years after I left the zoo world. But I knew I had to clear space in my life and take writing seriously. That didn’t happen until my kids were grown and I moved to half time work.

Did you read other mysteries for inspiration?

Oh, yes. I’ve recently been reading authors new to me and re-discovered what a marvelous variety the label “mystery” encompasses.

Do you have a favorite animal?

Great kudus. And servals. African crowned cranes. Saw-whet owls. Box tortoises. Green jays. Dholes. Yellow-faced bumblebees. Wombats. Um, I could go on…

Are there common misconceptions that people hold about zoos or zoo work?
Some people still think that zoos get their animals from the wild. That’s rare—almost all zoo animals were born in zoos (and the breeding is very scientifically planned). People also underestimate the complexity, expense, and hard work required not only to keep the animals alive and healthy, but also to keep them psychologically sound.

Zookeepers spend an amazing amount of effort and creativity in keeping the animals entertained in ways that encourage their natural behaviors. This was just starting when I was a zookeeper and it’s been wonderfully developed. Zookeeping still includes, however, a great deal of hard physical labor keeping things clean.

Is there a sequel to Night Kill in the works?
Night Kill features big cats and penguins. The next in the series focuses on orangutans. I hope to see it published next fall.

You say that you had to stop your zookeeping job to help pay for college tuition and violin lessons. How many children do you have?

In zoo code, 2/0 red phase. Translation: two redheaded boys. They have fledged and flown far. One now lives in New York and one in Boston. Since my husband and I are in Portland, Oregon, the family invests a fair amount in plane tickets. The good news is that I can combine visits with book promotion.

Why do you think it is it that some of the most noble jobs pay the least?
Many people would like to be zookeepers—a job opening is likely to have dozens if not hundreds of applicants. In addition, the profession has moved from exclusively male to more than half female. I think both factors tend to keep wages down.

What are you reading right now?

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs, The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz, Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (a great read and we were on a Bouchercon panel together), Down River by John Hart.

If you could have any job, other than the writing of mysteries, which I assume you will continue to do, what would it be?

Savior of the natural world. If I could figure out how to do it, I’d help humanity reduce its numbers and stop converting natural habitat to the stripped-down landscape that our activities create. Today’s children will inherit a weed patch instead of Eden, and it’s heartbreaking for those of us who care about other species. And of course a weed patch is not a healthy place for Homo sapiens either.

When can readers buy Night Kill, and how can they find out more about it?
Night Kill is available from independent bookstores, Amazon.com, and the chain bookstores. See http://www.annlittlewood.com for more information. The first chapter is posted for readers to sample.

Thanks for chatting with me, Ann! Good luck with your book.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Wisdom and Truth


"Though leaves are many, the root is one.
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth."

--William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Defending the Poetic

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there."

--William Carlos Williams
from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tim Cockey Chats About Unlikely Undertakers, Lazy Catholics and True Heroes

Tim, thanks for chatting with me.

I read The Hearse You Came In On this summer and enjoyed it very much. Not too many books make me laugh out loud, but yours did.

Your sleuth, Hitchcock Sewell, is a very handsome man, and tall. This is a trend not only in mysteries, but in classic literature. Do you think that an audience is more sympathetic to a good-looking protagonist?

In a word: yes. In a lot of words: When it came to me that the character I was creating was going to be an undertaker, I cringed. The last thing I wanted to do was to read a book about such a seemingly dreary profession, let alone write one. And so, my antidote to this problem was to determine that the guy would be as humorous and charming as I could possibly make him. Otherwise, how could I expect people to want to spend time with him? So . . . the good looks thing made perfect sense for me. I did a little Cary Grant George Clooney melding in my mind . . . and Hitch is what I came up with.

Hitch is an orphan; as a child he lost not only his parents, but the baby sister who was about to be born when his family was killed in an auto accident. Why did you want your hero to have such a tragic past? Does it help that he is well versed in death, since he runs a funeral home and investigates murders?

A similar answer to the first question. The instant I saw that I was undertaker-bound, I not only when through all that make-him-appealing stuff, but I also wanted to let the reader know right away that undertaking was not a profession he chose out of any particular interest. He chose it because fate landed him in his aunt and uncle’s place, this was their “shop”, and when the uncle passed away Hitch was doing the right thing by helping out with the family business.

And yes, the nice by-product for me was that I now had a protagonist whose profession allowed him sufficient access to the ‘wrongly un-lived’ that I could justify his sticking his nose into murder investigations on a somewhat regular basis. I always marvel at those writers who manage to get a jazz musician or a history professor (or a cat!!!) poking into a murder year after year.

I realize that I have some catching up to do—if I count correctly there are five books in the Hearse series. Will they continue beyond that?

You count correctly. The fifth book doesn’t have one of those world-famous hearse titles (it’s titled BACKSTABBER) so sometimes people are thrown off. But yes . . . five it currently is . . . and five it shall remain for the time being. I am currently writing other books under a different name, as I see your next question is going to prod me about.

That's right. You also write as Richard Hawke. What made you decide to use a pseudonym?

Ah well . . . so many different reasons. For one thing, just like the name. I think it looks great on the front of a book. Hell, I’d buy a book by a guy named Richard Hawke. In part, since the ‘Hawke’ books are a departure from the humorous Baltimore-based books, I thought that making the distinction might be a polite thing to do for readers. I want people to look to Richard Hawke for both series-writing as well as stand-alones, hopefully delving into various of the sub-genres of crime fiction.

On your website you mentioned that you went to a Catholic grade school in Baltimore. As a fellow Catholic grade-schooler, I am guessing that this was both a positive and an excruciating experience?

Did I say ‘Catholic?” I meant to say “Episcopalean” (which I might have described as ‘lazy Catholic’) So no, in my case things weren’t so excruciating as kneeling on peas or having to drum up horrible sins to tell to an overly-curious man in a bathrobe. I got off with simply going to chapel once a week…and that became an opportunity for me and my chums to try to out-sing each other. You know . . . take your lungs for a walk.

This is my most dreadful error. I was making that ever-so-Catholic assumption that Papists have a monopoly on saints, and when I saw St. Paul, I leaped into a denominational abyss. :) And I never had to kneel on peas, but when my dad was little, his mother made him kneel on corn when he done wrong. So you were close.

I read that you are a fan of Batman comics. Did you ever read the one that compared Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, to Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov and his alter ego, Raskolnikov? As a Batman officianado, do you think it’s a workable comparison?

Wow. No, I certainly never did read that one. And if your question is diabolically intended to reveal that I’ve never read C & P…well, you’ve succeeded. Having said that . . . I’ll go on record as saying that if I ever do reads C & P, I’ll bet I’ll agree with this comparison. I also happen to think that the Batman comparisons work for many crime fiction protagonists. Well-intentioned oddballs, is the short way of putting it. Oh yes . . . with a dead parent or two in the background.

I'm mostly revealing my obsession with that book.

Do you write full time, or must you, like many of the mystery writers interviewed here, wear many hats?

Well . . . I enjoy wearing hats, but I’ve never found that simply wearing one brings in the bacon. I work hard at my writing . . . and then I don’t work hard at all after that. I’m halfway joking here. All to say that I’m currently able to keep crumbs on my table and my lips lightly moistened through my writing efforts. Tomorrow, so I hear, is another day.

You grew up in Baltimore, but now live in New York. You also once lived in California. What’s your favorite place?

I’m going to go with New York. Just yesterday I was walking down the street and was hearing so many foreign accents and foreign tongues I felt as if I was in the Star Wars bar scene. This alone makes New York such a phenomenal place to live. It’s a Star Wars bar scene. I’m afraid I’d get jittery and bored if I were to spend too much time away from here. You know what they say, New York is an island off the coast of America. For me, that’s perfect.

What do you like to read?

Largely non-fiction. I’m currently reading a memoir of Arthur Gelb, who came up through the ranks of the New York Times, from the 40s to …well, I haven’t finished the book yet. My fiction choices are eclectic, and include as many non crime books as crime books. Since I’m in the mood today to give a plug, I’ll tell you that my fairly recent discovery of John Lescroat has made me very happy. This guy writes a really good book. and thankfully, a whole lot of them.

What are you writing right now?

I’m finishing up rewrites on a real departure for me . . . or for Richard Hawke. It’s a book with a large political component, though I’m loath to term it a ‘political thriller’. Let’s say, its overt plot is driven by some classic political shenanigans while equal focus goes to the real lives of the people involved . . . and a look into how the pressures of the plot are playing in their private lives. I’m having a blast with it . . . though at the same time, at this late point in the rewrite, I’m getting worn out. Just the other day I had to go ahead and ‘expire’ a character who had survived the entire first draft. It was a sad moment . . . a poignant end for this particular character. That was bit of a bummer. Being God has its downside. (I’d always heard that was the case anyway)

I believe it.

Your characters are very amusing. Are you considered amusing in person? Do you tend to be the life of the party?

People like me may consider ourselves amusing and the life of the party . . . but we’d be the wrong people to ask. In part, it depends upon the party. Some parties I’ve been to resist life of any kind. But yes…overall, I find the world vastly amusing (and distressing) and for the most part I simply recall for people the things I see and hear, and this seems to be amusing more often than not. (My original typo just now said: ‘ . . . more amusing than hot.’) My general rule of thumb is that if I can make people happy for a second or two, that’s a good thing.

Have you ever written books for children or young adults?

I once wrote Book 3 in a 6-part series about 3 high school buddies who were into baseball . . .and the series took them from Little League into the minors and all the way to the World Series. My contribution was the Spring Training book. I once went back over the ms. to see how many times I had written “He couldn’t believe it!” Many many times. So, as to whether I’ve written a YA or kids book that I would proudly hang my name on (or one of my names) . . . no. I have an idea for a YA or kids book that sits in my head and refuses to budge. It concerns a boy who runs away from the circus to join family. Now that I’ve said it out loud . . . it sounds like the backstory for another damn crime fiction book.

Based on that answer, I think you could write a most amusing young adult book.

You have written that you enjoy tales of “audacious outsiders taking whatever drastic or heroic efforts are necessary in order to put wrong back into right.” Do you see any examples of this in the real world today? Or do we find these people only in fiction?

Oh, there are plenty of people in the so-called real world who do this. Maybe not always on the grand and famous scale . . . but on the micro level. Good people who lead with their hearts. Perhaps they’re not audacious . . . except insofar as anyone who bucks the existing tendencies can be considered audacious. Likewise ‘drastic;’ and ‘heroic’. These words can apply to quiet and subtle actions. Anyone who cares for others more than they care for themselves? That’s my hero.

That's lovely. And it might be your inner Episcopalean talking. :)

What are your plans for 2009?

To get more sleep. To get out more. I suppose I’m going to have to buy myself a hammock if I expect to achieve those two goals.

How can readers find out about both Tim Cockey and Richard Hawke, and the fun books that they write?


Or of course, go Google crazy.

Thanks for chatting with me, Tim.

The pleasure was all ours.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sisyphus and Saturdays

Saturdays used to be days for lying around; listening to music, taking walks, reading, watching tv--you know: leisure activities. Leisure is the illusion of youth, though. It's one of those gifts our parents give us while they shoulder all of the responsibility.

Now that I'm a mom and a professional and a full-time worrier, Saturdays don't bring leisure, but I still love them. It's not that I can just sit around when I have chore lists every week, but the difference between weekdays and Saturdays is that I am in charge. There is a certain relief in being able to direct my own actions, to choose to put my nose to the grindstone, rather than be told to do so.

In "The Myth of Sisyphus," Albert Camus argues that even Sisyphus can be happy, despite what seems like a horrifying punishment: to push a giant boulder up a mountain only to have it fall down the other side, where he must muscle it back up again, again, again, ad infinitum. This is his fate in the Underworld.

But Camus, an existentialist, believed that happiness could be found in the notion of personal responsibility. He wrote, "The struggle itself...is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

I am not an existentialist, but I see the merit in Camus' argument that one can find happiness in one's tasks by merely embracing them--by claiming them. So I shall claim all of my tasks today, from the lawn mowing to the grocery shopping to the reading and writing. And one can imagine me happy, too. :)

art link here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Why I Love Chuck

Have you seen the hip new spy comedy on NBC? It's called CHUCK, and it stars the multi-talented Zachary Levi as a young man--Chuck Bartowski--whose visually absorbent mind accidentally photographs an entire "intersect" of CIA/NSA secrets. The original intersect is destroyed, and Chuck becomes the most valuable commodity in U.S. national security.

Therefore, Chuck must be guarded at all times by the lovely CIA agent Sarah Walker. Walker is played by Yvonne Strahovski, whose retro look helps to make this show feel like something both modern and nostalgic.

It's not just the look of CHUCK that I like, though--it's the snappy dialogue, the unlikely but suspenseful situations, the terrific ensemble cast. And its theme song is the coolest thing since SECRET AGENT MAN. Don't believe me?

Here it is:

Mystery lovers will enjoy this show, as will fans of good acting. Levi is truly a delight, and I predict a bright future for this young man.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fun with Janet Evanovich

Seasons change, and the Cubs' season is over. I shall spend no more words on their ignominious fall.

To cheer me up, though, Jess Lourey is interviewing Janet Evanovich on Inkspot today. Both Jess and Janet have the power to lift my spirits with their humor, and I know this will be a fun one to read.

Until then, speaking of seasons, this is a particularly busy one at work, so heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's back to work I go. :)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chore Day

It's a gorgeous fall day in Chicagoland. The Cubs have done nothing so far to earn the faith I spoke of in the previous post, but they have another chance and I'll allow them that. My husband, on the other hand, is finished, or so he says. He claims he won't even watch the game tonight--he's that angry with his baseball team. I'm guessing he'll be sneaking looks at the scores on the internet. I feel bad for him, because his team always loses right around his birthday--which is also playoff time. So either they're out of contention by now or they're losing a playoff game. That's been the pattern for the last 47 years of his life.

In any case, before we can take him out for birthday food and fun, we have to address Saturday chores. That's how it's been for the last 40 some years of MY life. My Saturday chores have only increased with time, but I still love Saturday, especially Saturdays in October. So out in the cold air I go!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Cubs, the Sox, and the Apocalypse

Things are pretty exciting in Chicago right now. The air has turned cold and people seem to have a new energy. Perhaps some of that is attributable to the sense that history is being made in the world of Chicago baseball. Not since 1902 have the Cubs AND the Sox both made it to the play-offs, and the fact that it has happened now brings a sense of unreality. Should we be looking for a solar eclipse? Flying saucers? The four horsemen? Because this is something that Chicagoans figured would never happen.

In addition to the two-teams phenomenon is the fact that the Cubs, who finally seem like World Series contenders, last won the World Series EXACTLY one hundred years ago. This could be their sports Brigadoon. They win, and then disappear into the mist until 2108. :)

I grew up a Cubs fan--that is, I became one by osmosis. My father and my two brothers always had the games on, and I grew up to the summer sounds of 1970s baseball at Wrigley Field, Jack Brickhouse waxing poetic about the strengths of the team. I remember names like Rick Monday, Jose Cardinal, Billy Williams, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Dernier, Fergie Jenkins, Bill Hands. I can hear, in my mind's ear, the moaning of my male relatives when a ball was dropped; the yelling at the umpire who said "out" when someone was OBVIOUSLY safe; the laughter when Brickhouse said something funny.

I ended up marrying a Cubs fan, although that wasn't one of my criteria for a mate. My husband is far more devoted than I am. He watches the games, then the highlights, then the highlights on other channels. He scours the news for different coverage of the games. All summer he knew the schedule, the stats, the magic number.
In the past he always ended up swearing at the television for most of June and July, then went through a period of depression in August as he watched the Cubs remove themselves from contention. He often said, "That's it. I'm done."

As though a Cubs fan could ever stop being a Cubs fan. And now, now, the light is shining at the end of that tunnel, and the trophy waits there. Never mind all this nonsense about billy goats and curses and gypsies. The Cubs have waited a hundred years, and their fans feel that they've been holding their breath for that same century.

The elements have come together; fall is here, and there is a special feeling in the air. The Cubs are going to win the World Series. Sorry, Sox fans. But at least you'll make the play-offs. :)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Farewell, September Old Friend

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze."

--John Updike, September

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Praise from Dorothy Sayers

In case any mystery writers were ever to question their calling, the queen of the genre has words of inspiration:

"Detective authors, by the way, are nearly all as good as gold, because it is part of their job to believe and to maintain that your sins will find you out."

--Introduction, The Third Omnibus of Crime, 1935

"In detective stories, virtue is always triumphant. They're the purest literature we have."

--Lord Peter Wimsey, Strong Poison, 1930

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Fast Food Mystery

I know all of the problems with fast food. I've watched Super Size Me, and I've heard the criticisms of parents who let their children eat McNuggets. Sometimes, though, I still purchase fast food. It's not because I think it is delicious, and I am not swayed by annoying commercials. When I buy fast food it's because it is a convenient way of providing a meal in a day that has no breaks scheduled. If I am driving from work to night school and my children still need dinner (and I don't have a personal private chef), I will, yes, go to a burger joint drive-through window. It's not that I think it's great mothering--it's just mothering. They need food, I don't have time to make it, McDonalds here I come.

Today was one of those busy days. Despite the fact that it's a Saturday, I had to work this morning. I taught two sessions of grammar and writing for students preparing for the PSAT; after four hours it was lunchtime and my children were waiting ravenously at home. Grocery shopping was also on my list, so fast food seemed a reliable option.

Here's the mystery of fast food, though: they never, ever get the order right. Sometimes I'll be smart and sit there, risking the beeps of the cars behind me, making sure that everything in the bag looks correct (which takes a while when you've ordered for a whole family). Other times, though, I take things for granted that I should not, and later I have an unpleasant surprise.

Often the mistake will result in a strained relationship between me and my children. "I TOLD you nothing but ketchup," my son will wail. Then he will refuse to eat his burger, which is contaminated by vegetables. Today, though, it was I who had the unpleasant surprise. I unwrapped my straw, inserted it into my drink, and found that it was not the diet soda I requested, but regular. Since I hate the extra-sugary taste of regular pop, I didn't drink it. I was thirsty, too.

With a sigh I opened the little box that said "Chicken sandwich." Foolishly, I had assumed that a chicken sandwich would be inside. One bite, however, told me that it was fish. Thanks to either poor listening skills or poor preparation, my lunch was not at all what I ordered. I didn't eat it. I'm still hungry.

If I compiled a chart of all the times that what I order at the window is not what I actually receive, I think 50% would be a low and generous estimate. It is almost a constant. As pervasive as fast food is the reality of poor customer service and almost constant disappointment.

I understand this about fast food culture, and I know I am taking myriad risks, health-related and otherwise, just by driving into the line.

But just once, just once, I'd like to get food which looks the way it does on tv commercials, which is hot and fragrant and correct to the last detail. I've accepted the fact that it will never happen, but I still dream of that alternate world.

And now I still have to figure out what to have for lunch when the larder is bare.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mysterious Encounter

Let's say you could have one of the following experiences of jumping into a fictional world. Which one would you choose?

Tea with Miss Marple

A game of chess with Philip Marlowe

A long drive with Lou Archer

A hike in the woods with Adam Dalgliesh

Dinner made for you by Spenser

A romantic weekend with Richard Jury

A day at the beach with Kinsey Millhone

A pajama party with Stephanie Plum

Insert your fictional fantasy here

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mystery Writer Deborah Sharp Chats About Journalism, Zombies, and A Florida That's Gone

Hi, Deborah! Thanks for chatting with me.

You were a reporter for USA Today, but you “quit the news biz to write mysteries.” Were you thinking that would be a step up in salary? :)

Ha! I never was very good at math.

Seriously, though, what made you want to write a mystery?

I think after 20 years in journalism, I just got tired of all the sad stories and tragedies affecting real people. I wanted to write fiction, and I wanted it to be light.

Your book, Mama Does Time, will soon be on store shelves. You’ve described the series as “Agatha Christie meets My Name is Earl.” That means funny mysteries! Did you laugh while you were writing them?

That really is one of the best things about writing the series, getting a giggle every now and then. Not that writing still isn’t hard work, but I do chuckle when I type a line like, “Mama’s head swiveled like a one-eyed dog in a butcher shop.’’

That's a good one. You live in Florida, and you say that you are writing about a Florida that has all but disappeared. Where did it go?

It’s buried under concrete and asphalt, unfortunately. I grew up riding horses in orange groves on land that’s now all strip malls and housing developments. Natural Florida is still out there, but it’s harder and harder to find.

The “Mama” in question has three daughters: Mace, Maddie, and Marty. How did you arrive on the M motif for your character names?

I only found out after I wrote the book I’d violated a cardinal sin: giving my characters similar names. Oops! Two reasons I did it: Using family surnames as first names is a “Southern thang,’’ and the sisters’ names are shortened versions of Mason, Madison and Martin. (That their names show up nowhere in their own family history is a whole ‘nother story). Secondly, Mama wanted to save money on monogramming.

Mama is thrifty! It seems that while the daughters are bailing Mama out of trouble, they might have some romantic adventures of their own. Do you have romantic plans for all of the girls?

Well, Mace is the only single daughter, so she’s most likely to have romantic adventures (or, in her case, misadventures, since she commonly watches “Cops’’ on TV to check for exes.) But I do have some entanglements up my sleeve for at least one of the other sisters. .

Is each one of the daughters a sleuth, or will one of them take the reins in helping to save Mama from her predicaments?

Mace is pretty much the family sleuth, but her two sisters take more active roles as the series progresses.

How did you come up with this amusing premise? Did it occur to you on a train, the way Harry Potter occurred to JK Rowling?

I was looking through the newspaper one day for short-story ideas (a great writing exercise: use the most basic facts in the paper and expand into fiction by asking yourself the question: What if?) Anyway, I came across this great half-page color ad of an older woman driving a turquoise convertible, eyes filled with mischief, mouth open in a joyous laugh. That woman became Mama, and the roomy trunk of her convertible became the final resting place for the series’ first murder victim.

Hilarious! Mystery writers are always looking for a place to stow the body, aren't they?

You had a Master’s in psychology and were on your way to a Ph.D when you switched to journalism. Why the change?

That’s a long story. Short version: I got bored.

Your husband is also a journalist. How did you meet? Do two journalists always have fascinating dinner conversation?

Hmmm, fascinating conversation … you mean beyond “It’s your turn to clean up. Why do I always have to do EVERYTHING around here?’’

Just kidding. We’ve been married for 20 happy years. We met on a story in Immokalee, Fla., where we shivered at dawn, waiting to see if a rare freeze in southern Florida would kill the winter vegetable crop.

That's actually kind of romantic.

On a different Florida note, you describe your area of Florida as “swimming with mosquitoes.” Are you trying to prevent me from ever visiting there?

I did take a bit of literary license when I wrote that the mosquitoes would carry away a VW bug to get at the people inside. Just bring an industrial-sized container of Cutter (and a Hazmat suit) and you should be fine.

Ick. It looks beautiful in the pictures, but the mosquitoes don't show up on those, do they?

You must have done hundreds of interviews as a journalist. Do you have a favorite, or a most memorable one?

I’ve interviewed politicians, including former presidents (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush I), and celebrities (Madonna once gave me her tummy-trimming tips). But the interviews that affected me most were always ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, like families struggling after natural disasters or with the devastating death or injury of a loved one.

On a lighter note, my favorite assignment ever was interviewing film director George Romero, because he cast me as a zombie in Day of the Dead as part of my story. I lurched beautifully.

Wow! My husband would be SO jealous! That's one of his all-time favorite movies.

Your Mama series continues next year with Mama Rides Shotgun. Will you ever pursue a different series, or are you focused on the Mama books for the time being?

I’m still loving my Mace Bauer Mystery series. (Even though Mama thinks she’s the main character, her daughter Mace is the actual protagonist.)

I’m working now on Book 3, Mama Gets Hitched, in which she’s fixin’ to marry Husband No. 5. The wedding has a Gone With the Wind theme, complete with ruffled parasols for her bridesmaid-daughters and a doggy top hat for her pet Pomeranian, Teensy, in his role as ring-bearer. Mace—-tomboyish, no frills—-is horrified, of course.

Oh yeah, there’ll be a murder, too. I did mention my books are not dark, right?

Sounds perfect. :) What are you reading right now?

I just finished a terrific book by fellow Florida author, Prudy Taylor Board. A Grave Injustice. It’s a paranormal mystery, which is kind of a departure for me, but I liked it.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Promoting Mama Does Time, laying some groundwork for the Summer 2009 release of Mama Rides Shotgun, and trying to finish Mama Gets Hitched. Somewhere in there, I’ll try to remember the little things, like eating and sleeping.

Thanks so much for the interview, Deborah!

Readers can visit Deborah at her website or they can read Mama's advice column to get a sense of her character's voice.