Monday, November 16, 2015

A Stellar Lineup at The Poisoned Pen!

A trip to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, is always a formula for a good day, but I'd been looking forward to Saturday, November 14 with an extra dollop of anticipation. Not only was there a stellar lineup of authors-- Kate Carlisle, Donis Casey, Jenn McKinlay, and Betty Webb-- I was also looking forward to seeing three special people in the audience: one of my blog readers, Kathleen, who was visiting from New York state, author Paige Shelton, and Jenn, who always drives in from Tucson to see Jenn McKinlay. With all that anticipation thrumming in my veins, I hopped in the Jeep and headed east extra early. The bookstore was going to be packed, and I wanted to make sure to save the best seats.

Books purchased? Check. Catching up on the news with staff? Check. Seats saved? Check. I headed to the back to sit at the signing table and read a few pages of my latest book. Should've known better. I hadn't read but a page and a half when Jenn from Tucson came in, and we spent time catching up on what had happened in our lives since the last time we met. 

In no time at all, the place was buzzing with people. Jenn and I took our seats, and Kathleen arrived just in time to grab the books she wanted to buy and come sit down with us. Paige seemed to be running late, but I saw Charles Finch come in and take a seat. He was going to make his own appearance with Anne Perry the very next day. (Sometimes it seems as though The Poisoned Pen is the hub of the crime fiction universe.)

So Much Awesomeness 
They Had to Appear in Shifts!

L to R: Donis Casey, Barbara Peters, Betty Webb
Fortunately they'd decided that one hour for four authors just wouldn't do any of them justice, so the authors appeared in shifts. First shift? Donis Casey, author of the superb Alafair Tucker historical mystery series set in 1917 rural Oklahoma, and Betty Webb, author of the excellent Lena Jones private investigator series set in Scottsdale and the light-hearted Gunn Zoo series set on the central California coast. 

Host Barbara Peters told us that Casey's series, which is now dealing with America's involvement in World War I in her latest book All Men Fear Me, is much more prescient than most people might think. "We've forgotten so much of even fairly recent history," Peters said. "I'm a Vietnam War widow, and I hardly remember that time."

Betty Webb

"And of course, we also have Betty here, who was forced to go to Iceland in order to research her latest Gunn Zoo mystery, The Puffin of Death!" 

Betty Webb
"Oh, yes," Betty exclaimed. "It was a horrible job, but I managed to do it!" She showed us a little stuffed puffin toy that she'd purchased in Iceland, and caused sounds of disgust from many in the audience when she said that she'd been in more than one restaurant where puffin was on the menu. "They treat it like chicken. When's the last time you felt guilty for stopping at KFC?"

Webb had found Icelandic to be a rather difficult language but assured us that there's a short pronunciation lesson at the beginning of the book. "Icelandic has 34 or 36 letters in the alphabet instead of 24 like ours," she said. "The country also has the highest literacy rate in the world: 99.99%."

It was easy to see that she'd fallen in love with the country-- and not just its scenery. She extolled Iceland's ancient tradition of democracy, its long-standing belief in equality for women. "When I was there, the President of Iceland was a woman. Her house had no fence and no guards. I could've walked right up to her door and knocked!

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"My main character Teddy is there to become acquainted with an orphaned polar bear cub that she will be taking back to the Gunn Zoo. Polar bear cubs stay with their mothers for two and a half years. If they're orphaned before then, you have to rescue them and care for them, or they will die.

"But the title The Polar Bear Cub of Death just didn't have a ring to it. The only native Icelandic mammal is the arctic fox, but The Arctic Fox of Death didn't have a ring to it either. Then I had a stroke of brilliance when looking at a puffin beak.

"Iceland has the largest puffin rookery in the world, so I decided to have the dead body collapse facedown into a puffin burrow and have the resident take its displeasure out on the corpse's nose. And the puffin does make another appearance at the end of the book!

"I then had to figure out who to kill," Betty continued. "Icelanders are so nice that I decided to kill a Phoenician who's a member of a birding group on holiday in Iceland instead

"Who can I kill? Who can I kill? Those of you who know me know that I've 'killed' a former boss twice. This one is a former boyfriend!"

What's Betty's next Gunn Zoo book? The Otter of Death! Betty can't take the Gunn Zoo series to a different country for each book, but she is taking suggestions for the next country Teddy should visit on her Facebook page or you can contact her on her website.

Donis Casey

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"After listening to Betty, I want to set a book somewhere outside Oklahoma!" quipped Donis Casey. When everyone stopped laughing, Barbara Peters mentioned two of the many things that I love about Donis's books: the period correct recipes and the book titles. (The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, Wrong Hill to Die On, Hell With the Lid Blown Off to name a few.)
"I very quickly discovered that if this series was set on a horse farm in 1912 and involved a family with ten children, I was going to be dealing with a lot of food," Donis said. Several of the recipes she's included in her books remind me of the recipes handed down by generations of women in my family.
It's 1917 in All Men Fear Me, and America has just gotten involved in World War I. Always before, Alafair Tucker has been able to shut the rest of the world out, but not now. Her oldest son is within a month or two of being eligible for the draft. She's got a German-born son-in-law... and her sixteen-year-old son is so full of energy and zeal that he's just about foolish enough to run off and enlist. Instead Alafair's youngest boy gets a part-time job in a nearby brick factory (and gets to solve a large part of the mystery).

L to R: Donis Casey, Barbara Peters
Donis learned quite a bit in doing research for this book. "In 1916 and 1917, there were more registered Socialists in Oklahoma than in any other state, and they were very concerned about working conditions and very much against the draft.

"In fact many of the Socialists banded together in opposition to World War I and the draft and formed the Green Corn Rebellion. They planned to march to Washington, DC, gathering others along the way, to protest

"I grew up in Oklahoma, and I'd never heard of the Green Corn Rebellion," Donis said. "It's not taught in schools-- as if it's something to be ashamed of. Another thing that I learned was that there was such a backlash against the rebellion that the Ku Klux Klan became big in the state."

In All Men Fear Me, we get to meet Alafair's brother, Rob Gunn, who's an advance organizer for the International Workers of the World ("Wobblies"). Rob is very concerned with the living and working conditions of the poor-- one of the areas that Casey learned so much about in her research. Like the Everett Massacre in 1916 in which loggers in Washington state tried to strike for better conditions. A large police force opened fire on them from the Seattle dockside.

Rob has just been released from a camp in New Mexico where miners striking for better conditions in Bisbee, Arizona were being detained. Mine owners and businessmen would do anything to prevent the formation of unions, and many used World War I as an excuse for not improving conditions for their employees.

"The extremism seen in All Men Fear Me has many parallels to today," Barbara said. 

The Second Shift of Stellar Authors

L to R: Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, Barbara Peters
Then there was a short intermission. This allowed Kathleen to run to the cash register to pay for her books. There was plenty of time for having Donis and Betty sign books, eating delicious cupcakes, and chatting. Kathleen, Paige and I certainly enjoyed ourselves. Once the break was over, the second shift of stellar authors took their seats in front of us.

The comedy team of (L to R) Jenn McKinlay and Kate Carlisle

Jenn McKinlay and Kate Carlisle make a good comedy team. They certainly know how to inform people while making them laugh. I particularly enjoy their running "feud" about which one of them stole a perfect book title from the other.

Jenn McKinlay

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Jenn got the idea for her newest Library Lover's mystery, A Likely Story, from a routine domestic chore: decluttering. 

"After living in our 'starter' house for seventeen years, I think we should admit that it's going to be our forever home," Jenn laughed. "I started decluttering two years ago, and I soon realized that one of us has a Book Issue, and it isn't me!" (Smiling at her husband who was standing at the back of the crowd.) "Starting this whole decluttering process made me think of hoarding. No, I can't watch that series, Hoarders. It makes my throat close up, and I feel really strange. But in A Likely Story, Lindsey takes some library books out to two brothers who live on an island-- because librarians are awesome like that. Both brothers are hoarders, and she finds one brother dead and the other brother is missing."  

Jenn McKinlay
Mentioning librarians caused a small segue in the conversation. First, Barbara Peters told all of us who had purchased A Likely Story that we would get our special library card insert when Jenn signed our books. (I'll have a photo showing it at the end of this recap.) Then we talked about other libraries. At one time, Barbara was a librarian at the Library of Congress, and she was deeply miffed because in her day, females were not allowed to be Rhodes Scholars. But she still managed to find herself in one of the most famous libraries in the world: the Bodleian at Oxford.

Peters told us that instead of using cataloging systems like the Dewey Decimal or something similar, the Bodleian-- for centuries-- has used the date of acquisition for their catalog. "It's easier to drive to Cambridge to get a book than it is to deal with the Bodleian!" Peters exclaimed, and she then had Charles Finch (who studied at Oxford) tell us about the oath the librarians at the Bodleian have each student swear before they are allowed to check out any of the books. (I didn't write it down, but it's in Latin and, roughly translated, means that each student swears not to bring any sort of fire into the library.) 

We might've gotten a bit off topic, but I always enjoy the scenic route!

Kate Carlisle

Kate Carlisle
Kate's newest book is Crowned and Moldering, the third in her Fixer Upper series. Shannon Hammer finally gets to begin work on bringing the old lighthouse mansion back to its former glory, but there's a hitch: she finds a skeleton in the dumb waiter.

Her next Bibliophile mystery featuring Brooklyn Wainwright will be Books of a Feather, which involves John James Audubon's Birds of America-- and a lot of bird references. 

She recently turned in a manuscript to her editor, whose reaction after reading it was, "Really? Three murders in a cozy?"

Jenn was then asked about her next Library Lover's mystery. "It's Better Late Than Never, which concerns he library extending a grace period for patrons to turn in long overdue books," she told us. "One of the books was more than twenty years overdue, and in searching records for it, it turns out that the book was last checked out by a teacher who was murdered on the very same day.

"I really liked dealing with a cold case in this book. It's much better than bringing in a new character and then on page three-- Dead!" The look on Kate's face teasingly implied, "Big deal!" so Jenn laughed and said, "I'm not as bloodthirsty as she is!" 

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Barbara reminded Jenn of something special in A Likely Story: a short story at the end of the book.

"Yes! I wanted to give readers something extra because this is my first book in hardcover. [Lots of applause] I sweated that short story a lot more than I do writing a book!" Jenn said. "I wrote it in three days while highly caffeinated. I can't really talk about it without giving something away. It's a short story, and it's about a dog. Oops! Spoiler!"    

Once again Barbara steered the conversation to food. One of the Bibliophile mysteries involves Brooklyn working on a rare book of recipes, and Kate told us of one she'd run across while doing research for her book. "I can't remember what the recipe was for," Kate said, "but it involved nine powdered moles." She then began to tell us some of the highlights in the process of making powdered moles, the end result of which was to be put in hot water to drink. Fortunately enough time had elapsed since we'd indulged in those cupcakes....

"I never wanted to have anything to do with recipes in my books," Jenn said. "What if someone decided to follow one of my recipes, not knowing that she was allergic to one of the ingredients? What if my recipe did her in? Oh-- PLOT!"

Barbara said, "Even if you know what you're doing, you can screw up! My husband Rob is a fantastic cook and takes care of most of that in our household, but I do have cranberry and pumpkin breads that I like to make. Well, one time I made pumpkin bread with extra baking soda and no baking powder. And evidently one year the grapefruit were really orange in color because I made my cranberry bread with grated grapefruit peel!"

I think that had almost all of us remembering our own recipes-gone-wrong. Barbara then looked at Kate and said, "A lot of those recipes were cleansers of some sort because one of the most common maladies in previous centuries was constipation. I tell you, nine powdered moles would do it for me! [Yes, we were all laughing!] So many of those old cleaning methods used all sorts of poisons. You could have your fourth body in your next cozy!"

Heavens, these events are so much fun!

Kate has written a novella called Pages of Sin. Someone's reaction to reading it was "Can't she be a clean hoarder?"

A fan wanted to know what Jenn's next Hat Shop mystery will be. "Copy Cap Murder, which will be out in January and involves goings-on around Guy Fawkes' Night," she told us. "Right now I'm writing Assault and Beret which is set in Paris. I've had to stop writing because of what's happened there. It's awful."

Evidently there's been talk of Jenn writing noir, and another fan wanted to know the latest scoop on that. "Nope. No noir," Jenn said. "I've been told that noir isn't for me because I can't write without cracking jokes. It looks as though I may be moving into romantic comedy though!"    

Shortly thereafter, the event was over. Paige, Kathleen, and I looked at our numbered slips to get in our proper places in the signing line. Paige and I talked about meeting up at the Water Ranch one day soon, and by the big smile on Kathleen's face, I think she understood my passion for The Poisoned Pen. "Did it meet your expectations?" I asked her. "Oh, it far exceeded them! You are so lucky!" she said.   

Yes, I most certainly am. I've met some wonderful people at my favorite bookstore.

My latest Poisoned Pen book haul

Freebies: Denis-Proof tape measure & library card insert. Sweet!


  1. Well, it certainly sounds like a wonderful time, Cathy. And I see you got a nice haul of books, too! :-) - Always nice when it's both the speakers and the other members of the audience that draw you in. And the books.

    1. I simply cannot lose whenever I go to The Poisoned Pen!

  2. Denis-proof tape measure?

    Some day we're coming back to Arizona, if we can swing it. Hopefully it will be while they're having an event at the Poisoned Pen.

    1. Yes-- definitely a trip to The Poisoned Pen!!

      In Carlisle's Fixer Upper series, Shannon Hammer has a complete set of pink tools because she's found that pink tools don't disappear around men. Long before this series, I wound up with a set of pink tools, and Denis will not use them. However, my tape measures have a habit of getting up and walking off. Now that I've got a pink one there may be hope. ;-)

  3. Oh, this is just wonderful. How fun! Those authors all sound like smart, witty women.
    I am interested in Donis Casey's new book. I have heard of the Green Corn Rebellion and also know about socialist Eugene Debs, who ran for president five times, and was sent to jail in 1918 for opposing WWI and the draft.

    The whole event sounds great and thanks for summarizing the high points.

    And Barbara has on orange shoes! Can't keep a good woman down!

    1. I think you'd enjoy Donis's latest book, Kathy.

  4. And I'm pleased to know that there is another blogger from NYS named Kathleen. Don't run into too many these days, but I think this blog holds the prize for the most Kathy/Cathy/Kathleen names in cyberspace.

    1. I think you're right. It's something that's haunted me since childhood when seven of the thirty-five children in my seventh-grade classroom were named K/Cathy!


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