Decatur Book Festival – Fun and Dogs

When thousands of people stream by a tent on a breezy, sun-kissed day – and when every single one of those people is a book-lover, what’s not to enjoy?

Yesterday at the Decatur Book Festival, I worked at the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of America tent, handing out information about these two fine organizations, talking about my books, patting dogs, and laughing a lot. Most everybody I spoke with was in a good mood. Surrounded by books!

The Decatur (Georgia) Book Festival is always held on Labor Day weekend, and it’s grown into one of the largest book festivals in the nation. I had a few breaks throughout the day, of course. I ate my lunch sitting on a park bench near the historic courthouse, along with a woman who is thinking of getting a service dog as her eyesight gradually fails. Naturally, every dog that walked by came over to sniff our hands and say hello. And several of the dogs were therapy dogs who visit hospitals and libraries on a regular basis.

When I lived in Vermont a lifetime or two ago, I edited a monthly newsletter for Therapy Dogs of Vermont, an incredible organization that has grown exponentially over the years, so I always have a soft spot in my heart for service dogs of any sort.

In A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, Drew (the twin brother of Peggy Winn, my main character) has a service dog named Tessa, who has figured prominently in each of my ScotShop Mysteries. Tessa learns early on not to try to lick Dirk (the 14th century Scottish ghost), but she is always aware of him.

There are Scottie dogs — of course — in each of my ScotShop books. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single Scottie at the Book Festival (other than the ones of the covers of my books).

Holly Sullivan McClure, Fran Stewart, and Maggie Toussaint at DBF 2017. Photo Credit: Mikki Root Dillon

Holly Sullivan McClure, Maggie Toussaint, and I spoke on a panel called “Spirited Sleuthing: Paranormal Mysteries.” Not a dog in sight at that moment – but we had a great time anyway.

Technology – Works or Doesn’t Work?

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology recently as I prepare for the launch next February of A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, my third and final ScotShop mystery.  Why technology? I’m glad you asked.

When you’re talking about mysteries, there are so many different types. For instance, police and private eyes often depend heavily on technology, although logic is (or should be) a part of the solution as well.

But when you’re thinking about traditional mysteries or cozies, technology often takes a back seat to the amateur sleuth’s thought processes (or bumbling around). Poor Dirk, the 14th-century ghost in the ScotShop mysteries can’t use technology at all — he can’t even turn the pages of a book, but he sure can think. In WHITE AS ICE, which will be the 8th Biscuit McKee Mystery, the power goes out during the biggest ice storm of the century, and technology is at a standstill. A wood stove, a campfire percolator, cast iron skillets, and good old common sense save the day as twenty people gather in Biscuit and Bob’s old house. While the men play card games in the kitchen, the women explore the old treasures (and junk) in the attic. WHITE should be available in the summer of 2017. I have to finish writing it first!

I had a good lesson yesterday in the limits of technology, although it wasn’t a situation I can ever imagine using in one of my mysteries,

I’m a member of the Atlanta Branch of the National League of American Pen Women. The speaker for our December meeting cancelled rather unexpectedly, and one of our music members was asked to “put something together.” She called four other members, myself included, to see if we’d like to sing a bunch of holiday songs. Naturally, we had to rehearse ahead of time, so everyone gathered at my house. One member brought her keyboard, another her guitar, and all of us had warmed up our voices so we were ready.

When we got around to working on “Little Drummer Boy,” I pulled out my djembe so I could drum along.

Now I have to back up a bit.

Back in September, I spent a scary evening in the ER and the next day in the hospital, related to another scary situation that I wrote about on my Facebook author page. When my daughter called my son in California to let him know what had happened, he and his fiancee grabbed a plane and came for a visit. They stayed with me, cooked delicious vegan meals, dug a ditch in my front yard to divert the water spout to my new rain garden, and just generally brightened my week. As soon as they returned to California, they mailed me a FitBit so I could keep track of my heart rate and the number of steps I took each day (not very many yet, as the beta blocker I’m taking makes it hard for me to exert myself very much).

Each week, though, I’ve increased my daily steps goal, and most days I’ve managed to achieve it. When I reach the right number of steps, the FitBit vibrates on my wrist and flashes exclamation points at me.

Now, back to the djembe. (You can probably see where this is heading.) Halfway through Little Drummer Boy, my FitBit did its silent technological butt-wag. Hooray! You’ve reached your step goal for the day! You guessed it. Each time I struck the drum with my left hand, it had registered as a step.

The end result of this is that I have no idea whether or not I really met my goal for that day, since I hadn’t bothered to check how many steps I’d already taken before I began drumming.

I probably should have borrowed from Thoreau and called this post “Marching to a Different Drummer.”

What does this have to do with writing mysteries? Well, nothing much I suppose. Except to remind me that if Peggy Winn or Biscuit McKee decides to use technology to help solve a murder, she may have to be VERY careful with it. Come to think of it, I need to be careful myself.

Finally, if you’d like to attend the book launch for WEE HOMICIDE, plan on being at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur GA next February 7th at 6:30 pm. Bring friends, too! Eagle Eye always provides yummy snacks, and all my books will be available. I’d love to autograph one for you. If you can’t make it that evening, Eagle Eye will be happy to pre-order a copy.

Finally #2: Sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll let you know as soon as WHITE AS ICE is available.

Readers Respond

I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in which a writer gets to meet a number of her fans (as well as a few folks who are not enamored or her writing). If you haven’t read it, may I encourage you to do so? And I have to ask — do you re-read favorite books the way I do?

The book club I belong to keeps an ongoing list of all the books we’ve read (Guernsey was on it), as well as all the books we’ve thought about reading but, for one reason or another, have decided not to. We all vote each month on which book to read for the following month. I’ve been working my way through both long lists  — the club’s been around a long time, and I joined it only a year ago after they’d invited me to a meeting for which they’d all read A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, so I have a lot of books to catch up on.

The difference between the fictional Guernsey book club and ours is that the Guernsey group encouraged people to read a book and then tell the rest of the members about it, while we all read the same book and discuss it in depth. Sometimes the books are duds, but more often they turn out to be delightful. This month we’re reading Lizette’s List by Susan Vreeland, the first time we’ve ever read a book by the same author two months in a row (last month was Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue).

At any rate, I love to keep in touch with people who love to read. Over the years, I’ve received several hand-written letters from fans (GASP! a real letter with a stamp on it !!! – I used to put my PO Box address on my business cards), but most of my communication nowadays is via comments left on my Facebook author page and conversations with fans I’ve met at book signings.

Yesterday it occurred to me that I was missing a chance for some good interaction with a wider range of readers, so I finally sent out a newsletter, something I’ve done only about once a year in the past, and I’ve begun to get responses. Now I’ve vowed to shift to at least a quarterly schedule. I called yesterday’s newsletter TREES AND BOOKS AND COOKIES: WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON? I love taking disparate, seemingly unconnected ideas and stringing them together into a logical pairing. If you’re not on the newsletter list but would like to read about the trees and the books and the cookies, just sign up (look at the top right-hand corner of this site) and I’ll be sure you get a copy of it.

As we get closer to the publication date for A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, the third ScotShop mystery, I plan to send out some sneak peeks, but there will be other tree/book/cookie sorts of newsletters that will encourage you to let me know what you think. And then I’ll be able to answer you!