The Poisoned Pen. Too often the authors he wants to see appear on weekends, and Denis works every weekend.
When he saw my notation in Google calendar for an event being held Sunday, November 19, that had seven authors listed-- half of whom he likes and has already met-- he could've out-pouted any two-year-old alive. My response? "Request the day off." He did, but as the weekend was marked "Not Available," we thought he had a snowball's chance of getting the day off. We were wrong. Evidently, the powers-that-be for his company realized that this man of mine works every weekend and the only time he's off on Saturday or Sunday, it's during a week's vacation. So... a very happy Denis drove us to Scottsdale on a bright, sunny Sunday. We got our favorite parking spot and the seats we wanted, and as familiar faces began to filter in (including three women all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas), there was plenty of catching up and book chat being done.
Isn't this a gorgeous lineup of book covers? Take a good look....
The folks at The Poisoned Pen know how to throw a party. Plenty of books and delectable drinks and nibbles, and a marvelous group of authors: Daryl Wood Gerber, Kate Carlisle, Carolyn Hart, Rhys Bowen, Timothy Hallinan, Donis Casey, and Jenn McKinlay. Wow!
|L to R: Bowen, Peters, Hallinan|
Host and bookstore owner, Barbara Peters, began by talking about Soho Press's Christmas short story collection, The Usual Santas, in which Tim has a story about two homeless kids on the sidewalks of Bangkok, Thailand, on Christmas Eve. It's a very moving story about being surrounded by Christmas when you have nothing at all. Any royalties Tim receives will be donated to Father Joe, a man who has housed, clothed and fed at least 20,000 homeless children in Bangkok.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is the third Christmas book from Rhys Bowen, and it meant writing three books in one year for her. "Only a crazy person-- is Jenn [McKinlay] here?-- would write three books a year, but my editor wanted another Christmas book," Bowen told us.
While Bowen's difficulty in writing a seasonal-themed book was due to a lack of time, Hallinan's reason was much more personal. Barbara Peters asked him, "What's difficult about writing a Christmas book?" to which he responded, "I don't like Christmas. Growing up in my house, Christmas Day meant that the drinking began at 9:30 AM." (When Tim said that, the disparaging looks he'd been getting changed to ones of understanding.)
"Something happened while I was writing Fields Where They Lay," Hallinan said. [This is a Christmas-themed mystery featuring Junior Bender.] "It turned out to be a truly Christmas-y book... and it's sincere. There has been interest in filming Fields Where They Lay as a movie. The entire thing could be shot in one of Los Angeles' empty shopping malls."
When Barbara told us that she loved Tim's books, Tim said, "My brother remarked one day 'Weren't we smart to do something we get better at as we get older?'"
|Barbara, Tim & The Usual Santas|
Barbara compared Bowen's The Ghost of Christmas Past to an Agatha Christie country house party...
"...where someone dies every day. What's Christmas without a body or two?" Bowen quipped. "Molly is in a very dark place in this book, and she's looking forward to spending Christmas with her beloved family and friends, only to find that they're all being invited to a country house holiday party."
"This is a different country house party since it's set in a house on the banks of the Hudson River," Peters remarked. This reminded Bowen of a reader who once disputed the setting of one of her books. Bowen replied with one specific fact after another of where the book was set. "Don't mess with me!" she laughed.
The talk of the book's setting reminded Hallinan of something. "There's going to be an exhibition of Hudson River artists at the Metropolitan Museum in about five months," he said. (Wish I could go!)
Hallinan's excellent Poke Rafferty series all began in 1986 when he was sitting in a restaurant in Bangkok writing. A little homeless girl with a very carefully arranged box of chewing gum was completely mesmerized by his laptop. By the ninth time she showed up to watch, Tim had set up a pinball game on the machine, showed Miaow how to play it, and then left for forty-five minutes after giving the waitress instructions to give the little girl anything she wanted to eat or drink. When he came back, there was an astronomical score on the laptop-- and three neatly stacked packages of chewing gum on the table.
Thereafter, Tim saw Miaow on his trips to Bangkok until the day that there was no sign of her. Tim knows that her disappearance was not a good sign. "Miaow is the character I love the most," he said. "These books may be known as the Poke Rafferty series, but this is her story, and I've always said that when Miaow turns nineteen and leaves home that that will be the end of the series."
He went on to tell us a bit about his latest Poke Rafferty book, Fools' River, and then it was Bowen's turn to talk about her standalone, In Farleigh Field. "I wanted to write about World War II because I think it was the last time England had a clear idea of where it was going, and that people knew that if they didn't do their bit something evil could happen. The book sold over 100,000 copies in less than a month."
Barbara smiled and said, "Yes, Rhys's regular publisher took a pass on it, so Rhys published with a branch of Amazon. Now her regular publisher is all over anything else Rhys wants to write because of the phenomenal sales of In Farleigh Field!" Bowen's next book which will be released in February 2018 is The Tuscan Child, another standalone set during World War II. "I've always wanted to write a book with two different time periods!" (And if you're wondering, The Tuscan Child is being published by Amazon.)
Tim Hallinan just finished a Junior Bender mystery called Night Town which takes place almost entirely in the dark. The story moves between two different time periods, and in London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a character.
The first segment of The Poisoned Pen's author party ended when Rhys told us how her first books were uniformly described as "delightful" and "charming." She told her editor, "I'm sick of being delightful and charming! My next book is going to be filled with Satanism, cannibalism, and strewn body parts!" Her editor replied, "And I'm sure it will be delightful!"
|Denis charming an author or two. Or four!|
It was time for a short break, and Denis did what he does best: charm people. You can barely see his glasses, nose, and right hand on the extreme left in the photo above, but I can testify that his stories had Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay (standing behind Rhys Bowen in stripes), and Carolyn Hart laughing while I was chatting with Tim Hallinan.
|L to R: Donis Casey and Carolyn G. Hart|
The second segment showcased two Oklahomans, Donis Casey and Carolyn Hart. As Donis said, "We're not from Bangkok, and we don't have a British accent like Rhys. We're both from Oklahoma, so you'll just have to sit and listen to our twang!" That was certainly fine with us!
Carolyn surprised many of us when she admitted that she just can't write a book until she has the title. "The original title I had for my latest mystery was rejected by my publisher because they thought it would be mistaken for a sports book, so my eighth Bailey Ruth novel is now Ghost on the Case." She went on to say, "Bailey Ruth is a fun ghost. Topper and Blithe Spirit were inspirations for her."
Donis asked Hart about her Death on Demand series, and Carolyn said that she was fairly certain that that series had come to an end. "When you come up on twenty-six books in a series, you start having trouble finding a plot you haven't used. You know...Sue Grafton has said that if she knew what she was getting herself into, she never would've started out with A Is for Alibi."
"I'm particularly fond of the blunt instrument," Hart replied with a completely straight face.
"I use guns a lot, primarily because of my rural setting in Oklahoma during the 1910s," Donis said.
"The trouble with guns is that someone will always write to you and tell you all the mistakes you made with the firearms you chose," Hart said. "That's why I like the blunt instrument!"
Barbara told us during her introduction of these two writers that Publishers Weekly had recently given Donis Casey's upcoming mystery Forty Dead Men a coveted starred review. When asked about her Alafair Tucker series, Casey said, "My original plan was to write ten books in this series. My February book [Forty Dead Men] is book number ten. I'd originally thought to end the series with a Christmas book."
This segment had all the appearance of being two friends chatting with each other, and by this point they'd moved on to future plans. "I have been thinking of the silent movie industry for one of Alafair's girls," Donis said. Carolyn replied, "If I write another book, I think it will be another Bailey Ruth because I've really been enjoying writing this series. Bailey Ruth is in Oklahoma; I'm from Oklahoma. The Death on Demand series is set on an island off the coast of South Carolina. It's been a while since I've been there, so the setting doesn't seem quite real to me anymore."
Donis has had a different reaction to the setting of her books. "I've lived in Phoenix for thirty years now, and I find it easier to write about Oklahoma. I don't know if distance brings me clarity or what."
After a few questions from fans, this short and sweet second segment was finished. After another short break, it would be time for the Wild Ones.
|L to R: Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle|
When Daryl Wood Gerber, Jenn McKinlay, and Kate Carlisle took the stage at The Poisoned Pen's holiday party, Jenn immediately noticed that Kate was holding a copy of her latest Fixer-Upper mystery, Eaves of Destruction. "I see you're all prepared!" Jenn said. Kate, looking slightly abashed, said, "It's because I can't remember the plot...." which made everyone in the bookstore laugh. (And it's probably the most common curse among writers. By the time they go on tour for the recently published book, they're already working two books ahead.) When asked about their newest books, Kate was first. "I've always wanted to write a story about twins separated at birth-- which got the expected laugh-- but instead this is about a woman who's looking for a certain house. She's finally found it, and murder and mayhem ensue."
Jenn's latest is a Library Lovers mystery, Death in the Stacks. "Many of you know that I was a librarian for the Phoenix Public Library for a long time, and one of the library events I enjoyed the most was the annual Dinner in the Stacks fundraiser. Well... I felt compelled to kill someone during the Dinner in the Stacks, and the dead person may or may not be a certain administrator I worked for. (I've been getting emails saying, 'That's so-and-so, isn't it?') When I was notified that there would be no more Hat Shop mysteries, I wrote those characters into this book, and since I didn't want to ignore the other series, I wrote the Cupcake Bakers into the story, too."
|Kate Carlisle's delicious Fixer-Upper cookies.|
Daryl's A Deadly Éclair starts off her new French Bistro series. She also wrote the Cheese Shop mysteries under the name Avery Aames and has a third series, the Cookbook Nook cozies, as well. "I didn't know I'd have to know how to cook in order to write books!" she joked. Her French Bistro series is set in a village in Napa Valley, California. "Poor Napa Valley and all it's going through!" Daryl exclaimed. "But this is fiction. I like to write about fictional towns because then no one can point any fingers. I have a lot of my heart and soul in this new series, and it's really upped my game as a cook."
Carlisle mentioned the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel which has been filming several cozy mystery series-- one of which is her Fixer-Upper series starring Jewel. "I've had complaints from fans about Hallmark changing Shannon's father's name and that they changed her last name. I don't really understand why they did." For those of you not familiar with the books, Shannon's last name is Hammer and her father's name is Jack.
"This reminds me of the time I saw Charlaine Harris," Jenn McKinlay said. "I didn't even think. I was a huge Sookie Stackhouse fan and went all Fan Girl, asking her 'What do you think of True Blood?' She was nice about it. She thought for a second and then said, 'I think it's making me a lot of money.'"
When asked what was next, Kate Carlisle said, "The twelfth Bibliophile mystery will be out in June. It's called Buried in Books, and Brooklyn gets married." This news was greeted with applause.
|Did Jenn know what was coming?|
"Every Dog Has Its Day will be out January 18," Jenn told us. "It's a romantic comedy. I took the dead bodies out and added a bit of sex. Wedding Cake Crumble will be the next Cupcake Bakery book."
Barbara interjected, "Since we're talking about upcoming events, our next Cozy Con will be held on the Saturday before Mother's Day." More applause greeted this news.
The three authors were then asked a bit about their writing processes.
"I work on one book at a time, preferably," said Daryl.
"I'm pretty much the same way," said Kate. "I try to read the last book in the series before starting to write a new book so I can get back into the character's voice."
"I never re-read any of my books!" Jenn said. "I try to use the Stephen King Method: one season per book. I write from page one to the end [so do Carlisle and Gerber], and if I get stuck, I add a note saying FIX THIS and move on."
"I do like the climax," Daryl said-- which brought down the house and made her qualify her statement-- "I like writing the climactic scene! When I start a book, I know what's going on. I know the victim. I know the suspects. I know how it ends. I don't find this boring. It's my road map, and I flesh it out along the way. I see my books in my mind as a film."
A fan asked them if they listened to music as they wrote, and if they would think about sharing their playlists online. The suggestion didn't fit in with the authors' writing styles. Jenn McKinlay doesn't listen to music while she writes. Kate Carlisle wants complete silence. Daryl Wood Gerber loves listening to music as long as there are no words.
I've never seen two hours move so quickly, and I think all the other fans felt the same way. The Poisoned Pen's event was the perfect kick-off to Thanksgiving Week and the busy holiday season. Did I get out of my favorite bookstore without buying anything? What do you think?
|My Poisoned Pen book haul.|