Monday, March 16, 2015

Cara Black and Rhys Bowen at The Poisoned Pen!

Quite a crowd showed up to see authors Cara Black and Rhys Bowen, so I'm glad Denis and I got to The Poisoned Pen early. Denis immediately went to the back to listen to his audiobook (Robert Crais' Suspect) while I wandered around seeing what was new-- and here's where I relate a woo-woo moment. I spied a book about the inspiration behind the Beatles' songs. On the cover-- in John Lennon's handwriting-- were the words "I heard the news today oh boy." Just as I picked the book off the shelf, I heard those very same words being sung by (you guessed it) John Lennon on the satellite radio station that often plays in the bookstore. After showing my Beatles fanatic of a husband the book, is it any wonder that it came home with us? I mean... the radio told us to, right?

Denis and I sat reading at the table in the back of the store, and I heard the furious clicking of keys in Ariel's little office cubbyhole. Minutes later she came out, looking a bit cross-eyed-- a sure sign that she'd been hard at work for quite some time. After taking care of several things, she stopped by to tell me that she'd just updated the event calendar because she knows I check it often. (No, it wasn't quite the first thing I did when we got home!)

A Weekend in Phoenix?

Barbara's Irish bracelet
People were still arriving when host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters came to the front to talk with us a bit. She'd dressed in honor of Rhys Bowen's Irish private eye, Molly Murphy, and she showed us the lovely bracelet she was wearing that had been made in Ireland (and repaired by author Dana Stabenow).

More chairs were brought in to accommodate all the late arrivals, and the popping of a champagne cork was heard. Rhys Bowen was making sure that we all celebrated the launch of her latest Molly Murphy book, The Edge of Dreams, in style.

Once both authors were accounted for and we all had champagne in hand, we were ready to toast to a successful launch.

L to R: Barbara Peters, Rhys Bowen, Cara Black

After both authors took photos of the crowd for their Facebook pages, the first thing Barbara Peters brought up was the fact that all our copies of Cara's newest Aimée Leduc mystery, Murder on the Champ de Mars, should include a ticket for us to fill out in order to win a trip to Paris with the author. Cara's publisher had done the same thing last year, and it was very successful. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a week in Paris with Cara Black as guide?

Barbara looked at Rhys Bowen and said, "What sort of trip can you offer for Molly or Georgie?" Lacking any publisher support at that precise moment, Bowen was momentarily in a quandary. Then she smiled and said, "I can offer a weekend in Phoenix!" which made all of us laugh.

"I think you should do tea at the Ritz for your next Lady Georgie book," Cara said, and many heads nodded enthusiastically. 

"Rob and I took a tour of London on a double-decker bus," Barbara said, "and we had a lovely Cockney guide on board. When we passed the Ritz, he pointed it out and told us, 'That place isn't  for the likes of us.' I couldn't help but think that we were seeing the British class system in action."

"You were," Rhys replied. "It's still very much in evidence today."

When talk turned to the upper class, old school ties and the like, Rhys's husband John piped up from the back of the room, "And you should know by the tie where the wearer went to school!" Rhys nodded and told us, "John is my expert on all such matters."

That seemed to lead naturally to a brief mention of "Downton Abbey," with Barbara telling us that she'd recently seen Downton Abbey blends of tea (and I found a website for them). 

"What was I thinking?!?"

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"I've always been fascinated by dreams," Rhys Bowen told us. "I always try to tie the books in with real history, so The Edge of Dreams takes place when Freud's Interpretation of Dreams had just been published.

"Molly is being sidetracked by her friends' latest hobby: dream interpretation. A family has recently been burned to death in a house fire, leaving a daughter who's unable to speak. She does, however, have horrendous nightmares, and Sid and Gus are convinced that the girl's dreams are the key to helping her recover.

"At the same time, Molly's husband is chasing a murderer whose victims have nothing in common. After each murder, the killer sends a note to Daniel. Daniel is stumped-- until Molly tells him that the murders do have something in common: all the notes are sent to him."

Barbara pointed out the fact that Molly is now solving crimes having to care for her husband and infant son.

"Yes, she is," Rhys said. "What on earth was I thinking? I knew to avoid having a dog or cat in your books because readers will tell you 'It's been 25 pages since you walked the dog,' or 'Your character left the house on page 112 without feeding the cat.' What on earth was I thinking to have Molly get pregnant?!? Babies are even worse than dogs or cats!"  [Insert slight pause for the laughter in the room to subside.]

Aimée's in the same boat...

Cara Black speaking at The Poisoned Pen.
"Aimée is dealing with this, too," Cara Black said. "She has planned a very special christening for her little bébé, Chloë, and she's rushed off her feet to get to the church on time. When she gets there, she discovers that her child's biological father-- from whom she's heard nothing for months-- is there. With his new wife. And they want custody of Chloë! 

"It's a rather explosive christening to say the least, and when Aimée is leaving the church, there's a young gypsy boy waiting for her outside the door. His mother knew Aimée's father. She is dying and has something important to tell Aimée, but when the young French woman gets to the hospital, she finds that the gypsy woman has been abducted."

Barbara commented that main characters having children really ups the stakes in the books. "Yes," Rhys said. "When you're responsible for another life, the stakes are raised. You don't just risk your life for nothing."

One of the highlights of researching Murder on the Champ de Mars for Cara was learning about the manouches-- the French-born gypsies-- and she just had to include Django Reinhardt, master of the gypsy jazz guitar, as a character. This led to a question from the audience about having real people as characters in books.

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"When I have real people in my books, they must fit into the story, and they must also remain true to themselves," Bowen said, and Black agreed.

Talk touched on the book tour the two authors were doing together. "We have a bookstore, a library, and another bookstore all on the same day," Rhys laughed.

"And I have to keep her out of trouble!" Cara quickly added, smiling at Bowen.

"Whenever you have a new Molly book, you seem to go on tour with Cara," Barbara said.

"That's because our books come out on the same day," Rhys said.

Malice at the Palace!

Barbara's next comment made excited whispering break out in the audience. "You'll have to make a point to be here on August 4 when Rhys's newest Lady Georgie book is released-- Malice at the Palace."

Rhys quickly gave us some of the background of the book, which involves a royal wedding in which Georgie is expected to escort the bride around town and show her the ropes... but there are some naughty goings on that Georgie must deal with.

"The racy royals-- how fun!" Barbara exclaimed. "And what a great title!

Rhys Bowen
"I'm always getting asked when Darcy and Georgie are going to get married," Bowen said, "and I always say 'I don't know; they haven't told me yet! I'm one step behind!'" 

We all laughed, but it's difficult for readers to understand how characters can take over a story from their creator.

When asked about keeping a series fresh, Cara Black told us that Deborah Crombie is a writer who does a remarkable job of doing that: "I've lived with Gemma James!"

Cara then went on to tell us of a time "I shot myself in the foot. It was in Murder in the Bastille when Aimée is blinded. All of a sudden it occurred to me-- how is Aimée going to describe Paris if she's blind? That's when her business partner René jumped in."


Another fan asked Cara about the relationship between René and Aimée. René is a dwarf. He's also brilliant and very much in love with his business partner, while Aimée only sees him as a friend.

Cara Black
"I have to admit that I'm rooting for René," Cara said, "but I don't know what's going to happen." She then told us of an incident when she was involved with the hiring of a new pre-school teacher. One of the applicants was a dwarf, and Cara just couldn't see how the woman would be able to do the lifting and reaching that a teacher is required to do. 

"A few months later, I was visiting another school. I went into a classroom where all the children were sitting around a large table. They were happy and totally engaged in what they were doing. It was marvelous. I looked around for the teacher and couldn't see her at first. Then I realized that she was at the table with the children. She was the woman I hadn't hired. I had been seeing her disability, not her ability. I think the character of René is one way for me to try to assuage my guilt." 

"The other characters engage the readers' interest and help keep the series fresh," Barbara observed.

Time for This 'n' That

Someone always wants to know how writers write, and these two were more than happy to share.

"I tend to have a first draft done in three months, which means I write five pages a day," Rhys told us. "Naturally research comes first, and I did read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams as part of my research for The Edge of Dreams."

"I have to do my research in Paris. It's so tough!" Cara said with a huge smile on her face. "I have to find an area that will be interesting to readers, and then I have to find what sort of crime is organic to that area. I write three pages a day and submit 30 pages at a time to my critique group. Sometimes they'll complain about a certain section, and I'll have to tell them 'You have to wait for the next 30 pages!'

"I have a sign above my desk that's a quote from Voltaire: Writing is rewriting," she concluded.

"The sign above my computer says 'No pressure, no diamonds,'" Rhys said.

L to R: Host Barbara Peters with Rhys Bowen
There followed a bit of fashion chat, since Cara's main character Aimée Leduc is a Parisian woman who knows how to dress with flair on a limited budget. It's all about buying a few really good pieces and then doing a lot of mixing and matching. Or something like that. I have to admit that the fashion train passed this tomboy by a few decades ago.

Then it was back to books when a fan asked Rhys about writing historical mysteries: "How much is real and how much do you wing it?"

Rhys said, "It's very important for me to get everything right. When someone tells me 'I loved your book because it took me back to my childhood in ___________,' I know I got it right."

Cara told us, "It's getting harder and harder for me to find a place in Paris where I can murder someone!" After we stopped laughing, she started talking about Paris being a collection of villages, and her face glowed when she talked about her favorite city.  

Barbara was nodding in agreement, especially when Cara mentioned how much the areas she's already written about have changed. "All big cities are organic; they are always changing," she said. She then recommended Martin Walker's superb series set in southwestern France for those of us who wanted to read about life in a French village. The next thing she said made me (as a huge fan of the series) smile. Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police is The Poisoned Pen's all-time bestselling paperback. Ever. Wow! (And may I just say that The Poisoned Pen's clientele has excellent taste in books.)

"I don't know how many of you pay attention to Fox News," Cara said, "but they talk about the No Go Zones in Paris. All of my books are set in the No Go Zones. I don't know what that says about me!" (Probably says more about Fox News.) 

Rhys Bowen
Rhys laughed and said, "I was with Cara the day when someone told her that she wrote historicals."

"Yes, I'm stuck in the 90s," Cara admitted. "No smartphones. No Facebook. No Twitter." Don't tell anyone, but she didn't look very repentant to me!

The evening ended with Rhys telling us about the children's fantasy series she writes with her daughter. Dreamwalker is the first book in the Red Dragon Academy series, and they are currently working on the second. And be on the lookout November 15 when Away in a Manger-- a Molly Murphy Christmas book-- will be released.

There were only two things left for all of us to do: get our books signed by these two talented writers... and polish off the champagne and chocolate!


  1. Ah, more PP adventures!! I've always liked Rhys Bowen's work (I know Cara Black's less well). I like their comments about accuracy (I try to do that too!) and about life before today's social media. That's enough to make one nostalgic at times...

  2. How lovely! And Barbara's bracelet was beautiful. OK, may I confess that I've not read Cara's series (yet) and I've only read 1 book in the Molly series and none in the Georgie series. Sigh. They are all on my list. I'll never come to the end of it will I? LOL

    1. No, you won't. Do you really want to? :-)

  3. Another great evening with two fascinating authors. I would have loved to have heard this discussion. I have read one book by each author. I think the title of Rhys Bowen's book was In Dublin's Fair City. I liked it, and some of the characters were based on real people, which sent me scurrying to google them and learn a bit more about Irish history.

    But, gee, Barbara has perfect jewelry, too! On top of everything else?
    That Irish bracelet is beautiful. I've never seen anything like it. I had a pair
    of earrings years ago with lavendar flowers and green leaves, which looked
    like this bracelet. But I lost one, a sad day.

    Well, I guess we'll be seeing more reviews of these authors.

    And I agree with Denis on the Beatles. I was crazy about them as
    a teenager and heard their albums. I know a lot of their songs from
    having heard them so often. I'm not a fanatic, as I like a lot of
    oldies, but I have been meaning to listen to my Beatles 1 cd.

    1. Yes, Barbara has perfect jewelry, too. That bracelet was made in a convent in Kildare, Ireland. She gave it to Jacqueline Winspear to wear last night since it was St. Patrick's Day and Winspear didn't have anything green.

      I grew up in an Elvis household, and I never bought any Beatles albums, BUT... I remember almost every single word to Beatles' songs much better than I do to Elvis's songs.

  4. I grew up in a classical and folk music home. A classical radio station was on all the time. My mother was a pianist and loved it.

    We had Pete Seeger and Weavers albums, a Paul Robeson album, and then my sister and I started accumulating some more folk music. Somehow a few musicals. But I started listening to rock and roll radio stations when I was 11 and given my own radio. I'd read and stay up late with my radio on, listening to the top hits.
    And I loved the old r&b in addition to the Beatles.

    Then I liked jazz in addition to r&b and my sister stayed with classical music, which she sings, but she also has eclectic taste, so she likes a lot of oldies, too.

    1. I love all sorts of music, too. While I was in college, I listened to nothing but classical music and movie soundtracks. As a result I pretty much missed out on disco, Elton John, and a few others.


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