1 October 2023

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Guesting with Alexia Gordon

I’ve been wanting to guest on Alexia Gordon’s Cozy Corner podcast for awhile now, and I was lucky enough to have the chance at Bouchercon.

Cozy Corner Podcast

She’s such a good interviewer, and it was so much fun talking with her. Take a listen at Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mystery Movies

While I find Kenneth Branagh’s new Agatha Christie adaptations artistic and contemporary, I admit that I prefer the older versions. So in this newsletter I feature Death on the Nile (1978).

The cast is exquisite. Mia Farrow is the mentally unstable woman who loses her fiancé Simon to her friend, played by the stunning Lois Chiles.  Angela Lansbury as the colorful novelist I’ve always wanted to be, George Kennedy and Sam Wanamaker (benefactor of the new Old Globe in London) play the American uncle and financier, Bette Davis is the wealthy Mrs. Van Schuyler – what more could you want? How about Jack Warden, Maggie Smith, Olivia Hussey, Jane Birkin, Jon Finch, and David Niven? They just don’t make casts like this anymore.

Copyright Parade

Oh, did I forget someone? Hercules Poirot himself, played by Peter Ustinov. No, he doesn’t look like the diminutive Belgian detective described in the books. Rather, he makes the role his own with his comedic skills, and played Poirot multiple times in other films. 

Anthony Shaffer wrote the script, and at the time he’d already written Murder on the Orient Express, Sleuth, and Frenzy. The director was John Guillermin, whose reputation for his on-set temper is offset by his getting the best from his actors on action-adventure films. Worth a view? You bet.

Warning: viewers sensitive to caricatures/objectionable portrayals of French, Belgian, Indian, elderly, or sexually intemperate characters might not enjoy the film as much.

Trying for a hardback

Creating a hardcover version for Murder at Old St. Thomas’s was more fraught then I expected. At first I went with a 6 x 9 inch size. I wanted a cloth book with a dust cover, because to me that says “book”.

Well, cloth covers aren’t affordable, and aren’t available to the independently published. Instead, you may have a book with a laminate cover (plain or printed with the cover, which reminds me of textbooks) or a book with a laminate cover that is printed with a cloth pattern.

I like real things, not ruses and substitutes. It’s like using veneer when you want solid wood, or pasting thin brick singles over cement block. But there’s no accounting for the costs, so I went with the faux “cloth” and cover, as I had for Before the Time Machine. The proof arrived with the dust cover folded wrong.

This made the cover misaligned. I was able to refold it, but if it were sent to a bookshop, oh dear!

I’m afraid 6 x 9 just felt like the wrong size, too. It’s just got to feel right, I think. So I’m going with 5.5 x 8.5, which doesn’t seem like a big difference but looks and feels so much better. Should be available in plenty of time for holiday gifting. 🙂

Featured blog posts

There are two this time!

First, are the half-dozen or so things I learned about writing mysteries at Bouchercon.

My non-fiction work centers around H. G. Wells, whom I have been studying for several years. My particular interest is in education, both his own and the type he hoped would be provided for humanity. In his autobiography, he claimed to have been afraid of a gorilla drawn in a particular book, so of course I had to find it

October giveaway and links

If you didn’t get a chance to download a free e-copy of my short story “The Dancing Colonel”, there’s another opportunity through the Historical Crime and Mystery Giveaway.

Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time, keep grousing!


Grousable Books Newsletter: September 15

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Named after mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher, Bouchercon is the a huge convention of mystery writers and readers. This was my first time, and it was fantastic. Mystery folks are the friendliest and nicest people. Why? I think it’s because all our bad attitudes end up in our books (don’t like someone? kill ’em in print). Could also be a deep sense of justice that doesn’t want other people treated unjustly. 

I had the honor of presenting on a panel about historical mysteries, but although I saw someone taking photos I have no idea where they ended up. So instead here’s a pic of what I got for free or bought in the book room:

stack of books

Everyone (approximately 1500 in attendance) was welcoming to newbies like myself. Famous authors mingled easily with the lesser-knowns, and there was a genuine feeling of support. I got so many ideas!

But just in case you think it was all roses, know also that I:

  • missed all my meals the first day and ate pretzels for dinner, 
  • locked both my keys in my hotel room on the second day,
  • dealt with an uncooperative hotel toilet, 
  • had my blouse slip down and partly expose me at a cocktail party, and
  • left five copies of Murder at an Exhibition at the consignment counter and when I returned they had been stolen.

Then I came home and washed my brand new cloth sunhat and shrunk it to doll size. 

About historical fiction

Inspired by the historical writing methods authors discussed at Bouchercon, I jumped back into journalism this fortnight with an article on Medium. Authors write historical fiction using various processes and sporting various ambitions. Most are somehow aligned with the past, but this isn’t true of everyone. In fact, it was reading so much bad historical fiction that led me to write my own.

To my mind, there are two approaches to historical fiction. One is to focus on a story first, a story that could take place at any time, and just use the past as a colorful setting. I feel this does human history a disservice. Yes, there are stories with universal themes that could take place whenever. But the past is much more than a setting.

In 1953 L. P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I much prefer Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Bouchercon panel

“Where Do You Start: How Writers Get Their Ideas and Do Their Research” panel: Marcia Talley, Ann Parker, Claire Boyles, Anne Louise Bannon, Gary Bush

Mining the past, using it to discover people, themes, and quotidian concerns gives a historical novel a purpose. The setting, the time and place, becomes a character. Its personality is driven by the story the author chooses to tell. To the people living at that time, they didn’t think they were historical — they are in the present. They would be concerned with the politics, fashions, and ideas of the day the same as we are in the now. They may “do things differently”, but their loves, ambitions, and hatreds are the same motivations. There is no need to hammer away at a “connection” between past and present; it is always there.

Possum report

All the other possums seem to have moved on except Cassie and little Petunia. But there may be more. One eats exactly half of a tomato, as if leaving the other half for me. It’s done so neatly that I’m tempted to leave out a slice of mozzarella cheese and bit of basil to balance their meal.

tomato neatly eaten in half

We have a couple of raccoons who come through the backyard like hoodlums, strutting like in Saturday Night Fever and looking at me through the glass door as if to say, “yeah? wanna make something of it?” I don’t, and they move on. Little flocks of birds come through and stop at the feeder, the Thai basil fights to stay upright after the recent storm, the delphiniums struggle to bloom again, and the zinnias make small segments of the garden look like Disneyland’s It’s a Small World landscaping.

garden flowers

I stuck a grape vine trimming into water and it took, and it’s time to plant sweet peas.

A marvelous bookstore

Verbatim Books in North Park San Diego has been great to work with. They are one of the few bookstores in the area that takes consignment from local authors. They shelve my books, and are happy to have me replace them when they sell. 

Verbatim Books

Of course, since they have so many used books, including some delicious old cloth-bound goodies, I spend money every time I go in. Oh look — the Diana Gabaldon novel about the bees! that Julian Barnes I always wanted to read! a book on Civil War captains published in 1913! My royalties are spent before I get out the door. The folks who run this consignment thing are smart

Rest of September special: 20% off e-books at my shop

What’s up for deals in September? Bouchercon kept me busy, and the free short stories are no longer available, but I’m still on for Authors Selling Direct, where you can buy A Heart Purloined from my Grousable Bookshop.

And just to sweeten the deal, here’s a coupon code for all my books only for my newsletter readers.

For 20% off, use coupon code “september” through the end of the month at my store. It even applies to the Tommy Jones Mystery trilogy!


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!


Grousable Books Newletter: 15 August

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Welcome to BookFunnel readers 

First, a special welcome to those who downloaded a copy of “The Dancing Colonel” through Find Your Next Favorite Author on BookFunnel. The short story features the characters from my Tommy Jones Mystery books, and ties in to some themes of the British empire. I hope all newsletter readers enjoy it!

A freebie cuz Bouchercon

Just in honor of Bouchercon, the big mystery writing convention, I have a free copy of a contemporary short story available to newsletter subscribers. It’s called “Murder Steampunk Style”, and takes place at a San Diego steampunk convention. And there’s a little Victorian twist in it too, of course!

You can download the story free from BookFunnel until the end of the convention (September 4) at BookFunnel. I’ll be posting it everywhere for purchase soon, if you’d rather have hard copy.

Now, to prepare for going to Bouchercon, I really should start thinking about what I might say on the panel (Historicals: Navigating the Past from the Present, Thursday at 9am). Instead I keep thinking: what am I going to wear? should I get my hair cut? how early should I get there? how will they display my books in the shop? will it be fun and exciting? will I shrink into introspective silence in response to being with so many people? 

I shall report out later!

Dover books

At book fairs and events, I don’t just sell my own books. I also have quite a few actual Victorian and Edwardian works of the literature, the sort of thing that informs my own work. Dover has wonderful examples, including books by Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells. 

Most certainly I recommend these. Dover editions are low-cost because many of the works are out of copyright.

Life in San Benno

This feels a little Garrison Keillor-ish, but the fictional seaside So Cal town of San Benno is taking on a life of its own as I continue writing the tentatively titled Death at Luna Beach. I’m even thinking of making a map of the place.

The City Council of San Benno is very pro-business, and the town has become increasingly gentrified. A lot of the funky beach town vibe has been lost, and a number of citizens aren’t happy about that. Rosie McMahon, a bright woman in her 70s, will help solve the murder of a man from Bakersfield whose body was found buried in sand from a bluff collapse. By her side is Lou, the grumpy newspaperman, and Tiffany, a high school student earning her civics credit by serving on the Beach Estates Homeowners Association. Plans are afoot for a new development, and then this body turns up. 

What about the police? Well, the town has only recently become a city with its own tiny police force. Rory Gallardo, who used to patrol for mountain lions above L.A., is the official in charge.

Nearby San Drogo, named after the patron saint of coffee, even hosts a state university and their resources help solve the case. 

Featured blog post

There is only one blog post this fortnight, but it’s a fun one! I conversed with Hephaestus, the big orange tabby cat from Death at Luna Beach. Always pleased to talk with one of my characters.

In the garden

If you’re following the tale of the possums in our back garden, here’s the news. 

The two children of big mama Nobby (she has a nob on her tail) return every night. Apparently, I should call them Jack and Jill, the formal names for adult male and female possums. But I’ve been saying Little Brother and Little Sister and that works just as well. She is bigger than he is. He tends to turn away from my camera.

Panda2 (very white with very black ears), who is now the size of a pot-belly pig (and resembles one!) still comes around. He could be their dad. When he and Nobby encounter each other their dislike is palpable. Might be a short story in that one . . .

We’re on the third or fourth generation of these families living in the garden, which pleases me enormously. I like my guests to be comfortable. 


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!


Grousable Newsletter 15 July

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Traveling books

I’ve always wanted my books to travel. When I was writing Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, I imagined leaving copies on trains and in bus stations, particularly in England. When I got there with books in hand, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was quite positive that a nearby helpful British person would say, “Miss? You forgot your book”. 

So instead I gave them to individuals I met. At my hotel in London, I saw that the day person at the front desk was often reading a book. After talking about what she liked to read, I gave her a copy. 

My book Murder at Old St. Thomas's travels to Austria

This is a photo she sent of my book, which she’s reading on her holiday to Austria. I like this a lot more than leaving it on a train!

The Garden

Finally the sun has come out, so although the tomatoes are still suffering I’ve got boysenberries, cucumbers, and butterflies (I didn’t grow those, but there’s a chrysalis hanging from one of my flower pots so I’m taking credit). 

Butterflies are symbolic, and the complete transformation from the caterpillar, stem-bound and sluggish, is nothing short of magical.

The garden is a place of magic and the other stuff of fantasy, including epic battles. I’m currently having one with a bunny I’ve named Señor Conejo, so called because I used spicy pepper spray to keep him off the beans and he found the flavor quite tasty. I have built several structures to keep him away from the beans (he likes the leaves) and he has defeated each one, either by tearing it down or standing on top of it to reach higher leaves. Bunny 16, Beans 1. 

In cases like this, one can get upset or give up gracefully. Choosing the latter, I now consider the beans a “trap crop” for the bunny, so that he eats that instead of my tomatoes and squash. The lobelia, which he denudes of its blue blossoms, must be a trap crop too, I suppose. 

Lisa in London

While traveling in May, I visited many locations from the Tommy Jones Mysteries. I’ve posted them all on the video page. Here’s one of my favorites (I have not tried embedding a video in a newsletter before, so let’s see if it works!).

The pandemic meant that while I was writing Murder at an Exhibition and Murder on the Pneumatic Railway, I had to rely on my notes from previous visits, research, memory, and Google Street View. So it was quite exciting for me to visit the locations. I didn’t get to them all, but was happy to do videos near the ones I visited. On some, however, the sound isn’t so great. Next time I’ll have a lavalier microphone and do better!

A Draft is (Almost) Done

I’ve been working on my assigned chapter for an upcoming book on H. G. Wells. I’ve had almost a year to complete the research, which was significant since my expertise is only his early life and I’m supposed to cover his entire life (he lived to be 79). Now I’ve written the chapter and had it edited by three readers and two editors, so I’m doing my final (?) pass through. 

Section of the chapter I'm writing for a book on H.G. Wells

What’s interesting about editing your own work is how it changes in your mind. My first draft felt awkward, and I keep working on it until it wasn’t horrible. Then I put it aside before working on it some more, moving things around, and figuring out what was wrong with it (in this case, that I was repeating myself in several places). Knowing this, my wonderful helpers could look for those things, and they found them and more. With each edit, the work tightened up and became better. I’m pretty proud of it now.

Soon it will go to the book’s editors, who undoubtedly will find more things I need to change. That should make it better still. To say it’s an iterative process would be an understatement. 

Books are like this too, of course. That’s why they say you should write the book you want to read. Because you will be reading it many, many times!


Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is on Amazon promotion for the July Perfect Book Nook Cozies through BookFunnel.

Cozy book sale at Book Funnel this month

And all of my e-books are still at 50% off at Smashwords through the end of the month. Take advantage, e-book readers!

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