Friday, February 17, 2017

Author! Editor! Author! Nicole Kimberling

This week I'm interviewing the madly multitalented Nicole Kimberling who happens to be the Editor in Chief of Blind Eye Books in addition to being one of my favorite writers. That's not a combination you stumble across every day. (Or at least I don't.)

In addition to being an excellent writer, Nicole has the gift of talking both knowledgably and accessibly about writing. She's witty, wise and can cook. Which is pretty much all one can ask for in both an editor and a friend.

So without further adieu, Nicole Kimberling.

JL - Tell us--at the risk of getting slammed with submissions--about Blind Eye Book's mysterious new imprint One Block Empire.

NK - So our original line, Blind Eye Books is all about science-fiction and fantasy.

One Block Empire is devoted to mystery and other kinds of contemporary stories. Basically, I decided it would be neat to expand our brand into stories set in the real world.

The first book in the line is Dal Maclean’s Bitter Legacy, a police procedural set in London’s Metropolitan Police Service (which the author assures me is a real place.)


JL - As you know, I'm a big, big fan of your Bellingham Mystery series. What attracts you to the mystery genre -- this is not the rhetorical question some might imagine because you started out in spec fiction. In fact, didn't Turnskin win a Lambda? So what drew you to these mean streets?

NK - Aw… how sweet you are.
What I love about mystery—especially the classic cozy mystery—is that it is an absolutely perfect vehicle for observational humor. You have the sleuth, who is basically a nosy outsider, going into these different subcultures as a newcomer and reporting on what he or she sees.
So you can write a mystery set at, oh, let’s say Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. And you’ve got this incredibly serious thing—decapitation—happening in a place where the witnessess are showgirls dressed in bikinis that look like they’re made of 3 slices of pizza. And you can make the murder weapon a huge scimitar-shaped mezza luna knife that looks like its from the middle ages.
And the juxtaposition of these images—between the horrifying and the absurd—creates this awesome cognitive dissonance that drives the sleuth (and by extension the reader) to keep trying to solve the mystery. I feel like the best mysteries take the sleuth to a place of true discomfort. Then when the sleuth restores order to the chaos there is this sense of massive relief.
JL - Pentimento Blues is the sixth and final novella in the Bellingham Mysteries series. What did it feel like writing that final chapter? Was it a relief? Bittersweet? Where are Peter and Nick twenty years from now?

NK - Yeah, I did feel a little melancholy. Peter was such fun to write and the city of Bellingham still has so many quirky people and places… But I felt like I’d covered most of the big areas of conflict between Peter and Nick and didn’t want to be that writer who starts inserting the “crisis of the week” just to keep the series going.
I did actually think about where Peter and Nick would be a couple of decades down the road. I feel like they probably acquire some children somehow. Like Peter would agree to watch his itinerant crack-head cousin’s kids for the weekend and then she might never come back. Something like that. Nothing planned or premeditated. Just Peter’s impulsiveness combined with Nick’s deep-down kindness leading to accidental parenthood.
Or instead of children they could accidentally acquire a bunch of alpacas. That’s also possible.

JL - You're Blind Eye Books' Editor in Chef. (HA! Little cooking joke there -- bet you never heard that one before) How do you balance your own creative needs -- heck, how do you even find time to write? -- with the needs of your authors and your publishing house? Do you find it difficult to switch back and forth?

NK - Yes, the transition can be rocky. For me writing fiction requires entering a relaxed, associative, expansive state. And that’s exactly the opposite of the critical, winnowing attitude required of an editor. And both of those are different from the strategic “We’re gonna take that hill, then go to sleep get up and take the next one,” mind-frame necessary to performing the duties of a publisher.
So I try to pick one job every week and just do that, reserving longer blocks of 2-3 weeks to make progress on a piece of my own fiction or to do my final edit another author’s novel.
JL  - What do you like best about editing?
NK I truly love helping authors develop their style and work their manuscripts up to their full capacity. Because one person writing alone can do a good book, but probably not an excellent one. Novel-length prose just has too many moving parts for one person to keep track of them all.

JL - If you had to pick, perhaps for the purposes of a blog interview, what would you say was the one thing lacking in the majority of manuscripts you end up rejecting?
NK - Originality. Do you remember that famous meme from The Player? “It’s like Goodnight, Moon meets Lord of the Flies!” Most of the manuscripts I get are more like, “It’s like X only gay!”
Except “X” is usually just some TV show like Charmed,*  or whatever movie was popular that summer. Even if the writing and voice are both good, a derivative story is always boring to me.

JL -  What do you like best about writing?

NK - I really enjoy immortalizing the unique people and quirky situations that pop up in everyday life—or at least in my everyday life. For the sake of fiction—and certain friendships—I disguise them. But most of the characters in my books, and even some conversations, were inspired by real people.
JL - What do you have planned for us in the way of more mystery or suspense? I know you're partial to decapitations--and they're admittedly infrequent in the cozy subgenre--but I think you're a natural for a cozy series with edgy, even black humor. Plus you like cats. So.
NK - Actually I tried to get a decapitation into Pentimento Blues but my writer’s group told me it was unnecessary, cartoonish and detracted from the story’s main crisis. So I took it out.
But in terms of a new mystery: I’m very slowly slogging away at a new book featuring a chef solving a murder that occurs in the cellar of the restaurant where he works. I have no idea when I will finish it but I figure as long as I keep going I will probably manage to get to the last page before I drop dead.
But I’m nearing the end of writing the third Special Agent Keith Curry novella, which is a crossover fantasy/mystery.

 JL - Name three favorite mystery tropes that may or may not be found in your stories past, present or future.

NK - The Intrepid Reporter
The Red Herring
The Evidence Dungeon
JL  - I know you don't have the time, but do you think you would make a good sleuth?

NK - Well, I am exceptionally nosy but I don’t exactly have the attention span for surveillance. I feel like I’d have all the good intentions of solving the murder but get distracted by some other, lesser curiosity (“What ARE the neighbors remodeling anyway?”) and miss some major clues allowing the murderer to slip past me. But I’d absolutely know what color of bathroom tile just went into the house next door.
Plus it’s hard for me to pay attention to anyone telling a boring story, which I think must be pretty common in RL detecting. So, on the whole it’s probably best if I leave actual sleuthing to others. J


*Full disclosure: Charmed is my least-favorite TV show, by far.

You can learn more about Nicole and her work on her website. Or follow her on Facebook and/or Twitter.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Cover Reveal" Blind Side (Dangerous Ground 6)

Or, in other words, I totally forgot it was Friday and I needed a blog post.

But that's okay. Stuff is happening and lots is going on and we both know you'd rather I was making books anyway. ;-)  So here is the official cover reveal for Blind Side, which is currently -- though tentatively -- scheduled for April of this year.

Blind Side was originally going to happen toward the end of the year, but the DG fans have been progressively hostile vocal in their requests for the next book. Frankly, that means zero to me. In fact, pushiness typically has the reverse effect (I'm not a good candidate for blackmail). What resonated was the reminder that I had promised--as in you promised!!!!--this book before, really, any of my other promised sequels. Ouch. It turns out I am a good candidate for guiltifying.

So okay. To the head of the queue it goes -- right after The Monet Murders, which is already in progress.

What is the book about?

Thank you for asking. ;-D

With resources already overstretched, the last thing Will and Taylor need is another client.  

And the last thing Will needs is for that client to turn out to be an old boyfriend of Taylor’s. 

But Ashe Dekker believes someone is trying to kill him, and Taylor is determined to help--whatever the cost.

That's right, Will. Let's see how YOU like it for a change.

I've been looking forward to writing this one for a good, long while. Part of the delay was that I wasn't sure--couldn't decide--if it would be the final book or not, so one of the subplots has been a question mark in my mind. And I honestly don't have the answer yet. I probably won't know until I'm writing this installment.

We shall see what we shall see.

Friday, February 3, 2017

SNEAK PEEK - The Monet Murders

I should be on Catalina Island right about now, kicking back with the sibs and enjoying our annual beach get-away. So I thought today's blog might as well be a snippet from the current work in progress THE MONET MURDERS.

I'm hoping to have the book out at the end of February, but that's a bit tricky for a number of reasons. On the other hand, postponing until March is a bit tricky too because that's when FAIR CHANCE comes out.

So we'll work out the details later. Here's the very (very) unedited rough draft of the first chapter. It may or may not already be listed for preorders on Amazon. It's certainly listed everywhere else.

And yes, it's a full-length novel. 68Kish.

Chapter One



“Emerson Harley understood that the threat was not simply to the greatest cultural and artistic achievements of all time, the fascist forces of World War Two threatened civilization itself.”

The speeches had started when his cell phone began to vibrate.

Jason had arrived late and was standing near the back of the sizeable audience crowding into the wide entrance hall of the California History Museum of Beverly Hills, but even so he felt the disapproval radiating from that chunk of prime real estate at the front of the room, the holdings currently occupied by the West family--his family. How the hell they could possibly know he was even present, let alone failing to live up to famille expectation was a mystery, but after thirty-three years he was used to it.

Surreptitiously, he pulled his cell out for a quick look at the caller, and felt a leap of pleasure. Sam.

Even so, he nearly shelved the call. Not that he didn’t look forward to talking to Sam--God knows, it was a rare enough occurrence these days--but the dedication of a museum wing to your grandfather did kind of take precedence. Should, anyway.

Some instinct made him click accept. He smiled in apology, edging his way through the crowd of black ties and evening dresses, stepping into the Ancient Americas room with its collection of pre-Columbian art and ceramics.

“Hey.” Jason kept his voice down. Even so that “hey” seemed to whisper up and down the row of stony Olmec faces. It would be hard, maybe impossible, to put a collection together like this now days. Not only were artifacts of enormous cultural significance disappearing into private collections at a breathtaking rate, Native American activists often--and maybe rightly--blocked the excavation and analysis of human remains and artifacts as desecration of sacred space.

“Hey,” Sam said crisply. “You’re about to get called out to a crime scene. Homicide.”

“Okay.” This was a little weird. How would Sam Kennedy, chief of one of the Behavioral Analysis Units at Quantico, know that? And why would he bother to inform Jason?

 “I can’t talk.” Sam was still brusque, still speaking quietly, as though afraid of being overheard. That in itself was interesting. Not like Sam had ever given a damn about what anyone thought about anything. “I just wanted you to have a head’s up. I’m on scene as well.”

Jason’s heart gave another of those disconcerting jumps. Finally. Same corner of the crime fighting universe at the same time. It had been…what? Massachusetts had been June and it was now February. Eight months. Almost a year. It felt like a year.

“Got it.” Jason was equally curt. Because he did get it. Sam was in a different league now. When they’d met, Sam had been under a cloud, his career on the line. Now his reputation was restored and his standing was pretty much unassailable. Jason, by contrast, was a lowly field agent with the Art Crimes Team. And though the Bureau did not have an official non-frat policy, discretion was part of the job description. Right there with Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.

His phone alerted him to another incoming call, but Sam spoke before he could.

“See you here.” Sam disconnected.

Jason automatically clicked the incoming call. “West.”

A cool, cultured voice said, “Agent West, this is ADC Ritchie.”

After an astonished beat, he said politely, “Ma’am?” Like a phone call from the Assistant Director in Charge was a usual thing.

“I’m sorry to call you out on this very special evening, but we have a situation that could benefit from your particular expertise. ”

Jason said blankly, “Of course.”

This kind of call--not that he had so many of this kind of call--typically came from Special Agent in Charge George Potts, his immediate boss at the very large and very powerful Los Angeles field office.

“We have a dead foreign national on--or, more exactly, under--Santa Monica pier. It turns out he’s a buyer for the Nacht Galerie in Berlin. Gil Hickok at LAPD is requesting our support. Also…” ADC Ritchie’s tone changed indefinably. “BAU Chief Sam Kennedy seems to feel your participation in this investigation would be particularly helpful.”

Translation: the ADC was as bewildered as Jason. Why the hell would the BAU be involved in the investigation into the homicide of a German national--let alone requisition manpower from the local field office’s Art Crimes Team?

Except…Detective Gil Hickok didn’t just head LAPD’s Art Theft Detail. He was basically the art cop for most of Southern California and had been for the last twenty years. Smaller forces like Santa Monica PD didn’t keep their own art experts on the payroll, they relied on LAPD’s resources. LAPD’s two man Art Theft Detail was the only such full-time municipal law enforcement unit in the United States. If Gil was requesting Jason’s assistance there was a good reason--beyond the fact that a murdered buyer from one of Germany’s leading art galleries would naturally be of interest to Jason.

Jason’s interest was now fully engaged and he was eager to get on site--and that had zero to do with the fact that Sam would be there.

He impatiently heard out Ritchie, who really had little to add beyond the initial information, and said, “I’m on my way.”

Clicking off, he stepped into the arched doorway, scanning the crowd. All eyes were fastened on the short, stout man behind the lectern positioned at the front of the new hall, trying to cope with the piercing bursts of mic feedback punctuating his speech.

“In March 1945 Harley was named Deputy Chief of the MFAA Section under British Monuments Man Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb. Stationed at SHAEF headquarters at Versailles and later in Frankfurt, Harley and Webb coordinated the operations of Monuments Men in the field as well as managing submitted field reports and planning future MFAA operations. Harley traveled extensively and at great personal peril across the American Zone of Occupation in pursuit of looted works of art and cultural objects.”

Correction. Not all eyes were fastened on museum curator Edward Howie. Jason’s sister Sophie was watching for him.

Sophie, tall, dark and elegant in a dark green Vera Wang halter gown, was married to Republican Congressman Clark Vincent, also in attendance. Clark tried to be in attendance anywhere the press might be. Sophie was the middle kid, but if she suffered from middle child syndrome it had manifested itself in rigorous overachievement and a general bossiness of anyone in her realm. She had seven years on Jason and considered him her pet project.  

Jason held his phone up and shook his head, his expression that blend of apology and resolve all LEO perfected for such occasions. There were always a lot of such occasions. That was another part of the job description.

Sophie, who moonlighted as the family enforcer, expressed her displeasure through her eyebrows. She paid a lot of money for those brows and they served her well. Right now they were looking Joan Crawfordish.

Jason tried to work a little more abject into his silent apology--he was, in fact, sincerely sorry to miss the dedication, but if anyone would have understood it was Grandpa Harley--and Sophie shook her head in disapproval and disappointment. But there was also resignation, and Jason took that as permission for take off.

He jetted.  

* * * * *

It took a fucking forever to find a place to park.

That was something they didn’t ever show on TV or the movies: the detective having to park a mile away and hike to his crime scene. But that happened.

Especially when you were last man on the scene.

Santa Monica on a Saturday night--even in February--was a busy place. The 100 year old landmark pier was bustling with fun seekers, street vendors and performance artists--even a few fishermen. As Jason reached the bottom of Colorado Avenue he could see the glittering multi-colored Ferris wheel churning leisurely through the heavy purple and pewter clouds. Little cars whizzed up and down the twinkling yellow loops of the rollercoaster.

The Pier deck was filled and the lower lots barricaded by black and whites, their blue and red LED lights flashing in the night like sinister amusement park rides. Jason had to park south of the pier and hike back along the mostly empty beach. Up ahead he could see uniformed officers and crime scene technicians moving around beneath the crooked black silhouette of the pier. Small clutches of people stood short distances from each other, watching.

He reached the crime scene tape fluttering in the breeze, flashed his tin and got a few surprised looks from the unis, but that probably had more to do with his formal dress--he hadn’t had a chance to do more than grab his backup piece and replace his tux with his vest--than the Bureau being on the scene.

“The party’s over there,” an officer informed him, holding up the yellow and black ribbon.

“Can’t wait for the buffet,” Jason muttered, ducking under the tape. His shoes sunk into the soft, pale sand.

The neon lights of the pier and the glittering solar panels of the Ferris wheel lit the way across the beach. From the arcade overhead drifted the sound of shouts--happy shouts--music and games. He could hear the jaunty tunes of the carousel and the screams of people riding the rollercoaster. And beneath the pier he could see the flicker of flashlight beams and the flash of cameras.

This time of year the tide would be surging back in around eleven thirty, so the forensics team would have to move fast.

As he drew nearer he became self-consciously aware of a tall blond figure in a blue windbreak with gold FBI letters across his wide back.

And he somehow knew--though Sam was not looking his way, had his back to Jason--that Sam was aware he was on approach.

How did that work? Extrasexually perception?

Anyway, it made a nice distraction from what was coming. Not that Jason was squeamish, but no one liked homicide scenes. It was the part that came after--the puzzle, the challenge, the race to stop the unsub from striking again--that he liked. Even welcomed.

He reached the small circle silently observing the forensic specialists at work. Gil Hickok acknowledged him first.

He said, “Here’s West,” and Sam turned.

Even in the dark where he was more shadow than flesh and bone, Sam Kennedy made an imposing figure. It was something that went beyond his height or the width of his shoulders or that imperious, not-quite-handsome profile. Sheer force of personality. That was probably a lot of it.

“Agent West.” It was strange to hear Sam in person again after all those months of phone calls. His voice was deep and held a suggestion of his Wyoming boyhood. His expression was unreadable in the flickering light, but then Sam’s expression was usually unreadable, day or night.

Jason nodded hello. They might have been meeting for the first time. Well, no, because the first time they’d met, they’d disliked each other at first sight. So compared to that, this was downright cozy.

Hickok took in his black tie and patent leather kicks, drawling, “You didn’t have to dress up. It’s a casual wear homicide.”

He was in his late fifties. Portly, genial, and perpetually grizzled. He wore a rumpled raincoat, rain or shine, smelled like pipe tobacco, and collected corny jokes, which he delighted in sharing with bewildered suspects during interrogations. They’d worked together several times over the past year. Jason liked him.

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” he quoted.

“Says the overdressed, overeducated guy.” Hickok chuckled and shook hands with him.

Sam did not shake hands. Jason met his eyes, but again it was too dark to interpret that gleam. Hopefully there was nothing in his own expression either. He prided himself on his professionalism, and there was no greater test of professionalism than being able to keep your love life out of your work life.

Not that he and Sam were in love. It was hard to define what they were--and getting harder by the minute.

Hickok pointed out the homicide detectives who had caught the case. Diaz and Norquiss were already busy interviewing the clusters of potential witnesses, so Jason really was last to arrive.

“What have we got?” he asked. The real question was what am I doing here? But presumably that would be explained. His gaze went automatically to the victim. The combination of harsh lamp light and deep shade created a chiaroscuro effect around the sprawled figure.

He was about forty. Caucasian. A large man. Not fat, but soft. Doughy. His hair was blond and chin length, his eyes blue and protuberant. His mouth was slack with surprise. The combination of dramatic lighting and that particular expression were reminiscent of some of Goya’s works. People in Goya’s paintings so often wore that same look of shock as horrific events overtook them.

He wore jeans, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt that read I Heart Santa Monica.

There was a darker shadow beneath the victim’s head, but it wasn’t a lot of blood. He bore no obvious signs of having been shot or stabbed or strangled or bludgeoned.

But then if it was a simple case of homicide, Sam wouldn’t be here. Even though he traveled more than typical BAU chiefs--or agents--even he didn’t turn up at common crime scenes.

“Do you know him?” Sam asked.

“Me?” Jason glanced at him. “No.”

“You’ve never dealt with him in a professional context?”

“I’ve never dealt with him in any context. Who is he?”

Hickok said, “Donald Kerk. According to his passport he has dual American-German citizenship. He was the art buyer for Nacht Galerie in Berlin.”

The Nacht Galerie was known for its collection of street culture: paintings by hip young artists on the cusp of real fame, and avant garde photography. They specialized in light installation and graphic design. Not Jason’s area of expertise. Or interest.

“He still has his passport?”

“And his wallet, containing his hotel room key, so robbery doesn’t appear to have been a motive. Mr. Kerk wound up his visit to our fair city with what looks like an ice pick to the base of his skull.”


“That’s not going to do much for tourism.” Jason was looking at Sam. Waiting for Sam to explain what made this a matter for FBI involvement, let alone for the ACT.

Sam started to speak, but paused as they were joined by Detectives Diaz and Norquiss.

Norquiss was a statuesque redhead. Her partner was big and burly with an impressive scar down the left side of his face.

“Oh goody. More feebs.” Norquiss looked Jason up and down. “To what do we owe this honor?”

Diaz said, “You could have waited till the wedding was over, Agent.”

Jason sighed. Hickok chuckled. “Now, now, kiddies. I invited the Bureau in.”

Why?” Norquiss demanded. “This is nothing that we’re not fully equipped to handle.”

Sam said, “There are indications Kerk’s homicide is connected to a case already under BAU investigation.”

“Oh for--!” Diaz cut the rest of it short. He exchanged looks with Norquiss who folded her arms in a not-too-subtle display of resistance. In most cases local law enforcement had to invite the Bureau into an investigation, but there were exceptions to the rule. This appeared to be one of them.

“Connected how?” Jason asked.

 It was Hickok who answered. “I want to get your opinion of something.”

The something turned out to be a 6x8 inch oil painting on canvas board.

“It was propped against the right side of the body,” Hickok informed him.

“Like a museum exhibit label?” Jason reached for his gloves. Of course, he wasn’t wearing gloves. Hadn’t expected to be called out to a crime scene that night.

“Use mine.” Sam peeled off his own latex gloves and handed them to Jason.

Jason pulled on the still warm plastic--an act which felt strangely intimate--and took the canvas board from Hickok, who flicked on his flashlight to better illume the painted surface.

He recognized the creative intent at once. How could he miss it? Those distinct brushstrokes and careful and strongly horizontal representation of the sky and sea so typical of the artist’s early efforts? The ocean and a shoreline that was probably supposed to be Sainte-Adresse, although it might as easily have been Catalina. Wherever it was supposed to be--and despite the distinctive signature in the lower right hand corner--it was a lousy effort and a lousy forgery.

Not even taking into account the macabre and incongruous central figure of the corpse floating in the surf. He felt a prickling at the nape of his neck at the image of that small, bloody form.

“It’s sure as hell not Monet,” Jason said.

“It’s his style,” Norquiss said.

“I think Monet would beg to differ.”

“Maybe it’s an early work,” Diaz suggested.

“No. It’s not even a good imitation,” Jason said. “This is not genius in the making. It’s fully formed ineptitude.”

Hickok laughed. “What did I tell you?” he asked Sam.

“You can’t know for sure without running tests. I don’t think it’s so terrible,” Norquiss said. She sounded defensive. Maybe she was a regular at garage sales. Had she really thought they’d discovered a genuine Monet at the crime scene?

Jason said, “For the sake of argument, why would Kerk be wandering around the beach carrying a priceless painting? And if this was a robbery gone bad, why would the unsub have then left a priceless painting at the scene?”

“Maybe robbery wasn’t the motive. Maybe the perp had no idea this was a priceless painting.”

 “That still doesn’t explain why Kerk would be casually carrying around a valuable piece of art.”

Norquiss retorted, “What makes no sense is that the perp would bother to stage the scene when this whole area is going to be underwater in about an hour.”

She had a point. The tide was already starting to swirl around the pilings.

“Maybe your perp isn’t familiar with the tides--”

“All right, never mind all that,” Sam cut in impatiently. “You don’t believe that Kerk purchased this work?” The question for Jason was clearly rhetorical. Sam already knew the answer.

“No way.” Jason glanced at Hickok.

“Hell no,” Hickok said. “That’s not a mistake even a rookie buyer would make. Sorry, guys,” he added to Norquiss and Diaz. “However this piece figures in, there’s no way an experienced art dealer purchased a forgery of this quality. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Kerk did not introduce the painting to the crime scene.”

It wasn’t really much of a limb if the painting had been propped next to the body, but having been shut up once, Jason kept the thought to himself.

Norquiss and Diaz exchanged frustrated looks. “Then what do we have here?” Norquiss asked. “What are we looking at?”

Sam said, “Best guess? The calling card of a serial killer.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Pinch of This, A Dash of That

Jason's sister turns out to be a shabby chic decorator

This has been a very busy week. Not as much writing as I would have liked, but productive nonetheless as I deal with translations and promo and print and audio. Some good stuff is coming in the months ahead. Something for everyone, I hope!

I did make some progress on The Monet Murders though. Oh, by the way, it's now listed for preorder on Amazon. (It's been listed everywhere else for months, but Amazon doesn't let you list preorders for more than 3 months in advance.)

This is the really time-consuming part of any book. It's figuring out things like...wait, did I ever say where Jason lives? Did I mention his partner? The names of his sisters? Did I figure out where Sam lives? Is his mother still alive? How many agents are under him at the BAU... and on and on we go.

As I'm packing for a long-awaited and much needed vacation, I thought today I'd share with you some random snippets of my research on this book, and you can start guessing as to what you think this book is going to be about. ;-)

So from my research...

1 - The Monuments Men

2 -  Knoedler

3 - Venice, California

4 - Grant Lee Phillip's Mona Lisa

4 - Monet

5 - Creepy Upstate New York Mansion

Oh, and here's another shot of Jason's new house.

I knew he lived by the water. I just didn't realize where!

Friday, January 13, 2017


Back in the heyday of romance blogs, I stumbled across this very smart, witty, civilized pundit (which sounds better than yon sonsie lass) by the name of Tumperkin. Er...even then I knew that probably was not her real name, but then--well, anyway. Tumperkin not only shared my love for Georgette Heyer and crazy-ass Charlotte Lamb novels both, she had mastered the rare ability of being passionate and polite at the same time. I liked what she had to say.

And when she turned to writing fiction as Joanna Chambers, I liked what she had to say then as well. A lot.

As I was considering my first interviewee of the New Year, naturally my thoughts turned to Joanna. Who better to provide the first footing of 2017?

Share your favorite recipe for porridge. COME ON! You're Scottish. You must have a favorite recipe for porridge. What about mince and tatties? DON'T BE SO SECRETIVE.

JC - I am indeed Scottish! And my Scottish working class credentials are so spotless, it hurts. My dad, who is Keeper of the Family Tales, used to tell me that his grandmother (who had thirteen children) used to fill a drawer in the kitchen sideboard with porridge every morning and when it hardened, she would cut it into squares and the sons would take a square each down the pit. True! My recipe, however, creates a porridge so silky and creamy and soft it would have dribbled out of Marann’s drawer and landed in a puddle on the floor. It is this: put some rolled porridge oats in a pan with a splash of milk and loads of COLD water. Like, 4 times as much water as oats. Plus a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Then you put it on the very lowest possible heat for 30 mins and completely leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Don’t even look at it. After 30 mins it will be perfect. THEN sprinkle over a teaspoon of demerara sugar and, dribble some cream over - I swear it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. The key thing is getting a good balance between sweet and salt.

 Do you believe the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons? What about the sins of the mother?

JC - Let’s look at this from a writerly angle. 

This calls for an example. Let’s call the son in the following example, Adrien. Adrien’s mother—let’s call her Lisa—murders Adrien’s grandmother, resulting in Adrien unexpectedly inheriting his grandmother’s valuable ranch. Let’s say that Lisa is motivated by a hatred of people with golden-brown eyes - which Granny has. Adrien has nothing to do with plotting or carrying out the murder.


Question: Do we think the sins of Lisa should be visited on Adrien in the following scenarios? 

  1. Adrien shares Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes, was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her
    Answer: In this case, surely the sins of Lisa should be visited upon Adrien to some extent? Adrien is not innocent here, even if his sin is on only one of omission, namely not acting to save Granny? (Although it may be that Adrien didn’t act because he was unable to do so, e.g by reason of grave illness, such as rheumatic fever). In a satisfying story, how would Adrien end up? Would him losing the ranch be enough to restore ‘order’ at the end of the story? If I was writing this, I’d burn the ranch to the ground and have Adrien make a moral choice to redeem himself.
  2. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes but again, he was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her – this time because he wants the ranch
    Answer: In some ways, this feels worse than (a) from a moral perspective – but why should that be? Is there a moral distinction between someone who does (or fails to do) something out of a vile but genuinely held belief and someone who does (or fails to do) it for purely monetary gain? Hmmm. If I was writing this story, Adrien would probably be hounded by his grandmother’s ghost till he throws himself from the battlements—or whatever it is ranches have instead of battlements.

       c. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes—indeed he has argued with her about the subject vociferously—and was also entirely unaware of her intention to murder his grandmother . 

Answer: In this case, Adrien is innocent - surely Lisa’s sins should not be visited upon him? Nevertheless, he is benefitting from the ranch as a direct result of murder. So, should Adrien pay? If I was writing this, I think Adrien would go to the ranch and meet a man with golden-brown eyes—let’s call him Jake—and together they would unravel of the mystery of how his grandmother died and then live in the house together happily ever after. (And it may even turn out that the murderer wasn’t Lisa anyway, but some… I don’t know… English dude called Guy or something).
Does that answer your question? I think, long story short, I got to Yes.

I-I'm still reeling after the revelation that Lisa English is a cold-blooded murderess. WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW?
Okay. Um, leaving the unexpectedly dark and twisted murderous inclinations of the English family for a moment...standalone versus series? What do you prefer as a writer? How about as a reader?

JC - As a writer? Well, there are pros and cons of both, I’m not sure I have a strong preference, though I do look back on the trilogy I wrote fondly—having said that, I tend to forget how difficult each book was to write, after some time has passed.

 As a reader, I don’t really have a preference, but I do think that series can bring additional satisfaction. I remember the first series books I ever loved were Enid Blyton’s all-girls boarding school books about Malory Towers. Every book featured friendship conflicts, a major sporting victory for Darrell (the MC), pranks on teachers, a midnight feast and a final crisis. And each book ended with a sense of resolution about that school year, with Darrell having generally become better at life/ a better person. At the end of the last book (sixth form) she leaves school and goes to university. I cannot express how much I loved these books. I loved them the way I love romance books. I loved the shape of them, and the elements. It didn’t matter that the shape and elements were predictable. In fact, that was a major part of why I loved them. It was very much about the execution and the anticipation of the inevitable pay-offs.

 I think for a series to be ‘more’ than a standalone for me, I want something bigger than the individual books. Something that builds through all the books—that might be a single relationship or it might be a story that unfolds and reaches its denouement in the final book.

Is it true that your day job is bounty hunter? Why not? That's a very cool job. You would be good at it.

JC - No, that is not true. Unless you’re talking about moist, tender coconut drenched in dark, silky chocolate? In that case, yes and I am, thank you.

Bonbons and bounty hunters. It sounds like a cozy mystery. What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

JC - This is the hardest thing about writing, for me, anyway. I think it’s actually really difficult to avoid just writing yourself into characters, especially when you’re writing a scene, and you’ve got some kind of flow going. It can be hard not to just reflect what your own reactions to events would be. It seems kind of obvious to say this but I think the most important thing to remember is that the character isn’t you. Judging by how often I read characters in novels who seem to act/ speak more like someone of the age/gender/demographic of the author rather than of the supposed character, I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences this.
Fashion magazines always ask this question: What is the one cosmetic or grooming tool you cannot live without? And do you have any idea why all these fashion models are always pretending the one tool they can't live without is their EYEBROW GROOMER? 

JC - The one cosmetic I would take to my desert island would be a very red lipstick– that is the best face decoration there is, an excellent enhancement to an expression of curled-lip disgust.

Oh! Excellent choice! Well played, madam! And speaking of hauteur, how do you deal with the criticism that is part and parcel of any job in the arts?

JC - I’m okay with it actually. My RL job is all about winners and losers and there’s a lot of post-morteming/  post-facto rationalisation/ arse-covering. So, with writing, it’s kind of weirdly restful to me that there’s just a range of opinions and some people will hate your book and some will love it and some will just be *meh* about it but no one gets ultimately proved *right*. I’d probably feel very differently if my writing was my sole or main source of income, but since it’s not, I get the luxury of not minding so much.

I'm not sure why this seemed to be a natural segue, but here we go. Have you ever broken a bone? Have you ever broken anyone else's bones? You must have because your day job is bounty hunter. Have any of your victims sued you?

JC - No, no and no! I have never broken a bone, either my own or someone else’s, although I am clumsy and suspect I may have chipped my coccyx more than once. 

Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?

JC - Hmmmm. Well, for the last year or two, my major reading preference has been contemporary US set books—I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of learning about another country purely through reading a single genre of fiction—or that’s my excuse anyway. Would I want to tackle one myself though? Nah. I’m most comfortable with UK early 19th century and UK Contemporary at this point, but I have written one paranormal-fantasy story and am planning a pair of paranormals set in the 18th century so that’ll shove me out of my comfort zone on two fronts.

Oh, you have to come and visit us! And by us, I mean everyone in the U.S. We'll show you how the other half lives. Enywho. What are the elements that make a Joanna Chambers book unique? What do you consider your strengths as a writer?

JC - Um… well, credibility is important to me. When I wrote my first novel (a het romance in which the heroine masqueraded as a man – as the hero’s valet) it was because I’d decided I really wanted to write a credible chick-in-pants romance. I’d read a rash of reader blogs talking about how they couldn’t suspend disbelief with chicks-in-pants stories but I’d also read real-life stories about women who did successfully masquerade as men at the time, so I had this whole thing in my head about meeting that challenge and how satisfying that would be.  At this point, I’m mostly known as an

author of historical MM and my ambition with these stories is to have a credible HEA for my characters. When I say a “credible HEA”, I mean two things: credible for the period but also credible as a romance HEA i.e. a proper soaring HEA rather than a limited one. Since I’m a long-term romance reader, I’ve got a lot views on what makes a good HEA and what the end of a romance book should *feel* like and I really didn’t want a limited, lesser version of that for my characters, but it does take a bit of doing.
Where did you and the Mister meet?

In a student union, on the dancefloor. We were shoe-gazing to some Indie song. We shuffled up to each other and the rest is history.

 What are you working on right now? What's coming out next?

JC - My next release, in April-ish 2017, will be a Victorian historical MM set in Cornwall called A Gathering Storm. It’s part of Riptide’s new Porthkennack line featuring a number of other authors (Alex Beecroft, Garrett Leigh, JL Merrow and Charlie Cochrane). My book is set in Victorian times and features an eccentric scientist who is trying to contact his dead brother with the help of a sceptical half-Romany land steward (!) Basically it’s about the twin Victorian obsessions of science and spiritualism.

Oh! I love it already!

 As for what I’m working on now. I’m writing a contemporary spy MM story with Carolyn Crane which I’m sort of super-excited about (hopefully out first half 2017) and a second Porthkennack book for Riptide – a contemporary this time which should be out in August 2017.

 Do you believe in extra-terrestrial life? What about angels?

JC - I’m a no, on angels. I think extra-terrestrials are possible, and probably statistically likely, but I can’t say I get terribly excited about the possibility.  I’m just not fundamentally that interested in the idea of aliens, maybe because I feel like I’ve got my hands full with humans. Humans are terrifying and glorious and I still haven’t got my head round them.

Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

JC - When I was in Brownies (you would call them girl scouts? I was 7 or 8) I was unsuccessful in my bid to win my writer’s badge. 

 Still mortified about that.

LOL. And so you should be. ;-)

You can learn more about the Joanna at her website. AND you can find her on Facebook.