Love is Murder in Chicago

My mystery convention year is off to a great start. The first weekend in February is Love is Murder time in Chicago. I know what you’re thinking — who would plan a conference in Chicago in February? Well, the good people who organize Love is Murder, apparently. Last year the conference began one day after a brutal snowstorm. This year, the weather was fine with no snow.

I fly Porter to Chicago. (Actually, I fly Porter whenever I can.) Porter flies into Midway but the conference is held at the Intercontinental Hotel near O’Hare, so I take the train into town with a stopover at my favourite American department store, Macy’s. Just in time for lunch with special cake for dessert followed by a little shopping. Ralph Lauren is on sale so I stock up on Christmas gifts for next year for some lucky friends.


The conference gets off to a good start on Friday with sessions with authors and experts. I get on the expert track and really enjoy learning about money laundering from former IRS agent Lee Williams, CSI techniques with Susan Vondrak and financial infidelity with Peggy Tracy.

There’s a lot of socializing in the evening and then we’re off again Saturday. I was on a panel to discuss the intricacies of designing a series with authors Donald Bain, Barbara D’Amato, Julie James and William Kent Krueger. Donald is the real author of Murder, She Wrote and it just a pleasure to meet him. The panel was chaired wonderfully by Luisa Buehler.

I rather liked this Beretta

Retired police officers gave a demonstration on guns.

Poor Milly had a rough day and some of us knew how she felt.

One reader asks authors to sign her Kindle.


With Donald Bain, author of Murder, She Wrote


Saturday night dinner ends on a cake note

And then Sunday morning it was back to Midway and home to Dolly.





What my characters are reading

What your characters read says a lot about them. In my Penny Brannigan mystery series, Mrs. Lloyd, the former postmistress in Llanelen, fancies herself a lady, so naturally, that’s her magazine of choice, although she does dip into Country Life every now and again. She takes her copy of The Lady with her to the hairdressers or to pass the time when she’s taking the bus into Llandudno. And on one memorable, snowy night, she sought comfort in its pages as she waited for a suitor who never arrived.


Her favourite articles are anything about royalty — she found a recent article on what’s in the Queen’s handbag especially interesting — and the advertisements for domestic help. She loves the idea that the owners of great houses still seek married couples to work as cook/chauffeur. And since Florence Semple came to live with her a cross between a cook/housekeeper and a companion, Mrs. Lloyd feels she’s earned her place in ladydom.

Over the years, she’s noticed that the magazine has had to change to be in tune with contemporary life and to appeal to younger readers. But at the same time, it has stayed true to its core group of established readers by including articles about the traditional things they value: the British way of life, the role of women in society, conservative fashion, time saving tips, television programs like Downton Abbey and so on.

And while she loves the magazine, and in fact subscribes to it so she won’t miss an issue, Mrs. Lloyd doesn’t read books. Her lodger, Florence, however does read books, but she can’t afford to buy them so she’s a great patron of the local library.

Another patron of the local library is the rector’s wife, Bronwyn. She likes Regency romances, and if the story includes an earl with a smart carriage, so much the better.

As for Penny Brannigan herself, she loves to curl up with a good mystery. Police procedures are good, but nothing too violent. At the other end of the spectrum, she’s not one for cozy quilting type books set in a Maine B&B, either.

But recently, when she couldn’t sleep, the librarian offered her a nice, boring history of farming practices in the former USSR.

Reading plays as much a role in my characters’ lives as it does in mine.

The quiet beauty of small joys: the handwritten letter

Over the next few weeks I’m going to blog an occasional series on the small, quiet joys that enrich our daily lives. Some of these might seem quaintly old-fashioned; they used to be everyday things but now, because of their rarity, have taken on new meaning. Or they might be unexpected delights that arrive out of nowhere to lift our spirits and brighten up an ordinary afternoon.


I begin with the handwritten letter. When was the last time you received one? Or sent one?

Before the days of email, there was just mail. If you wanted to communicate with friends or family, you took the time to compose a letter, find a stamp and post it. Mothers wrote long letters to children away at university or travelling abroad. Canadian high commissions and embassies around the world accepted and distributed letters from home to backpacking twenty-somethings who rejoiced at the arrival of a light blue airmail envelope covered in mum’s familiar handwriting and bearing a postage stamp with the word Canada on it.

Stationery reflected the letter writer’s status, intent and sophistication. It could be as simple as a lined pad from the drug store to specially embossed, personalized paper in pale cream with matching envelopes.

And then email changed all that. Sure, email is great for immediacy, but it’s not attractive and it doesn’t have much staying power.

A handwritten note card or letter carries emotional weight. It takes more effort to send, so it means more to the recipient. The sender has touched it with her own hands and the writing is original and unique.

My friend Eirlys and I exchange emails but more often, we send each other letters. Newsy little note cards about what we’ve been up to, a little planning for our next get together in North Wales, random thoughts on this and that.

The pleasure and joy her handwritten note cards bring far outweigh what I would have experienced reading the same information on an email. Seeing one of her cards in the mail when I pick up the post, tucked in with a bill or two, brings a small surge of joy. It’s great fun to reach for my letter opener (yes, I have one), slit open the envelope and pull out the card or letter. Of course, this little ritual includes a cup of tea and a sit down for a leisurely read. News of the weather and how her garden is doing. What the neighbours are up to. A suggestion for a place we might visit when we get together again in August.

And then the card goes on the mantle piece to be re-read and enjoyed again later, and then eventually tucked away in a box with other cards and letters.

Not to be deleted or forgotten.

And that’s the lasting joy of handwritten notes and letters. They hold and preserve memories.


Sunday in New York

There’s something special about a Sunday in New York. So much to choose from, everybody enjoying themselves. So here’s how we spent our Sunday.

We started the day with a hearty meal in the hotel's book-lined breakfast room

And then made our way to the site of the World Trade Center. The area is fenced off and difficult to see but just being there gives you a feel for the size of 9/11. We imagine the streets filled with people trying to escape, fire fighters and police running into buildings that others are running out of, choking air filled with ash and debris…It was jarring and distressing to see smiling tourists posting for photos as if they were at Disneyland.

America rebuilds

Construction continues

The site has been under development for years

Looking professional

At 34th Street station we met this NYPD officer and his dog. When we saw them, the dog was resting comfortably. When I asked if I might their their photograph, the officer kindly agreed and then told his dog to “sit up and look professional.” Which he did. Two of New York’s finest!

Then it was off to Broadway to see a show. Yes, that Daniel.

And then dinner at the world famous Carnegie Deli.

Share? I think not.

Lucas ordered a Woody Allen which was about the size of a wooly mammoth.

Here it is again, in all its meaty glory.

Portion control is not on the menu at the Carnegie Deli

I ordered an egg salad sandwich. I think I’ve gone off them for life.

Two giant scoops of egg salad!

Lucas bought a T-shirt at the World Trade Center that says it all.

I still love New York

New York is a confident city. Not only is it bursting with energy but it has an undeniable sense of itself. When you’re in New York, strolling down Fifth Avenue, say, there is no where else on earth you could possibly be except in the one and only New York, New York.
I have come to New York to attend the memorial service for the late Ruth Cavin. It was she who called me on the blustery March day back in 2008 to tell me that I had won the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press award and sadly, she died earlier this year. So Lucas and I decided to come to New York for the Victoria Day Weekend.
The trip started off Awesome! We met Neil Pasricha, author of the wildly successful The Book of Awesome at Toronto’s City Centre Airport. He was on his way to Boston with his dad, I was on my way to New York with my son.
We arrived at our hotel in the Upper West side and look who managed to find her way to New York with us!Cross at being left behind on the last few trips, I think Eleanor found some space in Lucas’s luggage at the last minute and stowed away.

I should have known Eleanor would want to come. She loves shopping.

Leaving Eleanor happily sill sitting, I spent a few hours strolling the neighbourhood. Exploring the surrounding streets is part of the fun at staying at a new hotel.

Here are some photos from my walk.

A pet store on Columbus was trying to find new homes for some dogs.

I found this little red merle mix quite adorable.

West 78th is a quintessential New York street.

The TV show Damages is going to be filming here next week.

Displays of spring flowers, including lilacs and peonies, in a sidewalk display

Here's a nice refreshment stand for a thirsty dog.

New Yorkers love their dogs. Saw lots of them being walked, sitting on benches and enjoying a romp with canine friends in the dog run outside the American Museum of Natural History.

I finally reach my destination.

I didn't come here for mini cupcakes. I want the real thing! And six of them.

I take a different route back to the hotel and make my way down 72nd Street.

Do you know why these wrought iron gates became world famous on Dec. 8, 1980?

Because on this spot, about where the doorman is standing, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon. This is the Dakota apartment building.

Gas flames flicker in the old fashioned lamps on either side of the entranceway. I don't know if they were burning that night.

A large planter outside the Dakota

The Dakota is surrounded by a dry moat. This figure is one of many on the moat railing.

The Dakota has a long and fascinating history but it’s primarily remembered for that one night. A few tourists were stopping to take photos today, as I’m sure happens every day, and I’m so glad people remember him.

And then I made my way back to the hotel along Central Park West. Eleanor was very curious to see what I’d brought.

"I think good manners dictate that you take the one closest to you."

For me?

From North Carolina to Malice

We wrapped up the last couple of days of our North Carolina book tour in style.

With Cary librarian Karen Kiley

This was a fun event held at the Page-Walker Hotel, also known as The Page-Walker Arts & History Center, in Cary. The building has been beautifully restored. One can look out the window on the second floor and see the railroad tracks that run by the town. Someone told me that when the civil war ended, Confederate soldiers walked home from the war along those tracks. You could picture them, their wounds wrapped in tattered, dirty bandages, stumbling along mile after painful mile.

There was a great turn out of about 50 people, and we were happy to talk to them and sign copies of our books. We appreciated that the Canadian consultate in Raleigh chipped in for refreshments. Our tax dollars at work!

The next day we had some time for shopping and visited a few book stores. The paper back version of A Brush with Death is out now and available at Barnes and Noble.

A Brush with Death at Barnes and Noble

The last event of our tour was held at my favourite venue, the Carolina Club. One of the people who attended is a Canadian and she had a flag she wanted us to sign.

It was great to see a Canadian flag in N Carolina

Signing the flag

Mmm. Fried chicken

After the Carolina Club event we went for dinner at Mama Dips in Chapel Hill for traditional Southern fried chicken. The food was authentic and fantastic!

Fried green tomatoes

Light, delicious buttermilk biscuits

Vicki Delany gets ready to tuck in

Mary Jane Maffini liked her chicken

Finally, we went back to Molly’s to catch up on our e-mails and pack. We leave in the morning for Bethesda, MD for Malice Domestic. It’s one of my favourite weekends of the year and my favourite conference.

Molly Weston and Raggs

Mary Jane and Vicki finalize arrangements for Malice

With heartfelt thanks for a wonderful time in North Carolina, we set off the next morning for Bethesda, MD. Saw a couple of interesting billboards. The first one promoted a “Gun and Knife Show”. The next one urged us to “Transform a life! Become an organ donor!”

So it’s on to Malice.

Easter lunch in North Carolina

Canadian mystery writers Vicki Delany, Elizabeth J Duncan and Mary Jane Maffini are on a book tour of North Carolina, under the direction and guidance of media escort Molly Weston.

Here’s what happened today, Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011.

A beautiful day in North Carolina. Bright blue sky, very warm. You might say hot, as temperature reached 90 degrees this afternoon.

Molly treated us to the most beautiful buffet at the Carolina Club in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It’s a beautiful campus, with quite a few celebrated alumni.

Smith Hall, the UNC theatre where Andy Griffith, of Mayberry fame, got his start.

Flowers bloom on campus

Another bank of flowers outside the Alumni Center

Pretty North Carolina girls in their summer dresses on their way to Easter lunch

An unusual table in the lobby of the Alumni Center

From left, Mary Jane Maffini, Molly Weston and Vicki Delany about to enter the dining room

Ladies who lunch

Vicki Delany tries to work out where to start

The seafood was delicious

As were the desserts

This is my red velvet cupcake

The tapestry in the dining room is late 16th century

Some of the artwork is based on old postcards

The Alumni Center features an attractive members' library

Check out the end table

After lunch, we drove out to the day lily and koi farm operated by Molly’s husband.

A basket of cotton. It represents so much to the south