While we all know 2020 was a terrible year, I made friends through social media. Kate Lansing is one of my new friends, and she has graciously stopped by for a visit.
What’s in a Name?
What’s in a name? Yes, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, yada yada yada. But in general, I’ve found that names carry weight. They can add depth to characters, offer an opportunity for humor, and bring fictional worlds to life.
For example, one of my favorite things to learn is what people name their pets. It’s like a snapshot of their personality and instantly tells me something about them. Are they foodies with a cat named Baguette? Comedians who dubbed their dog Horse? Or book nerds that celebrate their favorite wizard by constantly calling for Gandalf? (My cat’s name is Maple, btw, in case anyone else harbors similar curiosities).
So, in the writing of my Colorado Wine Mystery series, it figures I spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with names. For characters (Parker Valentine being the protagonist), Parker’s winery (Vino Valentine), her cat (Zin, short for Zinfandel, naturally), and the handcrafted varietals themselves.
For the fictional wines, I leveraged alliteration and the picturesque setting of Boulder, Colorado, while also **maybe** having a little too much fun with puns.
There’s the Chautauqua Chardonnay that becomes infamous in the first book, Killer Chardonnay, based on one of my favorite parks in Boulder, with hiking trails, climbing, and even an amphitheater (where I once heard Stephen King speak!).
Along those lines are the Pearl Street Pinot, based on the quirky outdoor mall, Mount Sanitas White, an ode to one of my favorite hiking trails, and even Ralphie’s Riesling, named after the local college’s mascot (go Buffs!).
In the second book, A Pairing to Die For, I introduced the Jail Break Red, a blend Parker perfects during harvest while simultaneously trying to prove her boyfriend’s innocence. And another personal favorite: What Happens in Viognier.
The third book in the series, Mulled to Death, comes out in October, and there’s a lot of attention on the Snowy Day Syrah, fitting since it takes place at a ski resort over a weekend getaway.
If you had your own winery, what would you name the varietals? Do you put as much thought into names as I do?
Author Bio: Kate Lansing is an award-winning short story author. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and a chair-napping tabby cat named Maple.
When did you begin writing? Have you always wanted to write? I think I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and I always knew that I wanted to be an author someday. I’m so very blessed to be working at my dream job every day now!
Do you have a pet? Does your lead character have a pet? I do! We have one outdoor cat, Tracy, and an indoor dog we adopted from a local shelter. Her name is Violet and she’s a chihuahua/dachshund mix. She’s gentle and sweet and the perfect pet to balance out our energetic boys!
The lead characters in Secondhand Chances live on the farmstead they inherited from their parents, so they have pets as well: dogs named Tink and Pal, a cat named Butterscotch, as well as goats and chickens. In my book, Pal plays a crucial role in the ladies solving the mystery… but you’ll have to read the book to find out how 😉
Is this book part of a series? Yes, Secondhand Chances is the final book, book 25, in the Mysteries of Lancaster County series. It can be read as a stand-alone book, but I’d recommend trying to read the other books in the series as well. They’re all written by well-known Christian Fiction authors, like Nancy Mehl, Kathleen Y’Barbo, and DeAnna Julie Dodson.
What’s the location and why’d you pick this spot for your story? The Guideposts’ editors conceptualized the series, so they chose where the book was going to be set. That said, I can see why they chose Lancaster County, PA! The town of Bird-in-Hand is so charming, and it’s been a wonderful setting to explore throughout the series.
Do you prefer the beach or the mountains? I like them both, but I’ve had more opportunity to travel to the mountains. One of my favorite family memories is when my oldest son was three years old, and my family went on a vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. We rented a cabin with amazing deck views and spent most of the trip hiking and enjoying nature. It was wonderful. We’re hoping to get to the beach sometime later this year, to revisit one of my favorite places, Savannah, GA.
Savannah is one of my favorite places to spend time. Is there a place you’ve always wanted to visit? I would love to visit Ireland someday. My family history can be traced back to Italy, Scotland, and Ireland, and I think it would be incredibly meaningful to walk where my ancestors walked.
What’s your favorite sport? And or…What hobbies do you enjoy? I never used to consider myself an athletic person, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned I really enjoy hiking and running. I have a lot of hobbies– reading, writing poetry, cooking, organizing, and antiquing, to name a few. In the future, I’d love to learn French and watercolor painting. Plus, now that our boys are getting older, I’d love to travel more. I’m trying to talk my husband into packing up and RVing around the country for a summer or so!
I took French in high school and one year in college. I can read it better than speak it. I hope you enjoy learning French, and merci beaucoup for spending time with us today!
Friends, Shaen can be found on social media. Here are her links:
I met Grace through our agent Dawn Dowdle. We’ve attended many Zoom meetings together, and she’s a delight!
Grace took time out of her busy schedule to visit with us today. Her new book Upstaged By Murder comes out later this month. Welcome, Grace!
Hi, Jackie. Thank you for having me on your blog.
When did you begin writing?
I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, particularly traditional and cozy mysteries, but I had never thought to write one—at least not since my feeble attempts in high school. It wasn’t until I attended Malice Domestic, a conference for fans and writers of traditional mysteries—mysteries written in the tradition of Agatha Christie or Murder She Wrote (without violence, sex, or bad language) that I thought of actually writing one.
I attended Malice for the first time with a friend who didn’t want to go alone. I had no idea what Malice was, but when I heard I would be able to meet some of my favorite authors, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. I discovered that the authors were ordinary people I could relate to and wondered if I could write a mystery too.
So the seed to become a mystery writer was planted at Malice. I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn. I spent a career writing pretty boring nonfiction like computer user manuals, but I didn’t know anything about writing fiction, particularly a mystery. The most valuable thing I did was sign up for an online course on writing mysteries through my local community college. Without that foundation, I probably would still be trying to find my way. As it was, my first book wasn’t published until ten years and 38 versions later. Every time I learned something new, I applied it to my work in progress. I’m so glad my earlier attempts didn’t get published.
Do you have a pet? Does your lead character have a pet?
My husband and I don’t have pets, but we do a lot of dog sitting for our three grand dogs, which is always interesting when they are together (a cocker spaniel, a pit-bull blend, and a 110-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback). Initially, I didn’t include a pet in my series. At a conference, one of the readers in attendance asked me if I had any cats in my work in progress. When I said no, she abruptly turned and walked away without another word. Some cozy readers love pets in mysteries. You can be sure I went home and added a cat. Thus, Inky, my main character’s small black cat came into being. While it’s fun including a pet in a series, it also requires some thought. You have to have your main character caring for the pet and having someone watch it while she is away, or you are going to hear from readers or the ASPCA.
Is this book part of a series?
Upstaged by Murder is the third book in my Laura Bishop Mystery Series. It’s being released April 20, 2021. Laura is a professional home stager, so each book in the series focuses on her adventures and on home staging. I provide tips about home staging and decorating at the beginning of each chapter.
In cozy mysteries, the main character usually has a business or interest that is featured prominently in the series. When I decided to write a cozy, I needed to pick a business and find one that hadn’t been used a number of times already. One of the things I enjoyed was watching home staging shows on HGTV. I’d learned so much I even helped friends stage their homes. So I made Laura a home stager. Before the first book, Staging is Murder, was published, I contacted a home staging training and certifying organization in Texas. They offered to review my manuscript, gave me a few tips, and said I had gotten it right. That was such a relief. I didn’t want to receive letters from home stagers telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
What’s the location and why’d you pick this spot for your story?
My series is set in a small fictional town in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. I live in Virginia, but I grew up in Pennsylvania. I based a lot of my setting on my hometown. That’s where my heart is. Small towns make the perfect settings since the main character knows lots of people there. I also have my characters frequently meet in their favorite coffee shop. That way they cross paths with people in town that they might not ordinarily come into contact with, and they get to hear lots about what’s going on in town. Just what you need for a mystery.
Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
Given where I come from, definitely the mountains. And if the spot has rolling water close by, even better. I would pick rolling water, even a small bubbling brook, over the ocean.
So soothing and restful. Now that I’ve finished the latest book, I could use a trip to the mountains.
Grace Topping is an Agatha Award finalist and the USA Today bestselling author of the Laura Bishop home staging cozy mystery series. She’s a recovering technical writer and IT project manager accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she’s now killing off characters who remind her of people she dealt with during her career. She is the former VP of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Membership Guppy of the SINC Guppy Chapter, and a member of Mystery Writers of America.
Grace, thanks so much for stopping by. It’s been great getting to know you better.
I think you know we have a West Highland Terrier named Heinz. He’s fourteen and pretty set in his ways, but he keeps us entertained. He also keeps us moving. That dog likes a walk on the beach better than anything.
He walks taller and stays alert to everything going on around him.
April is Active Dog Month. While Heinz may nap more, when it’s time to be active, he’s ready.
There are also other pet holidays in April. Pet care, pet first aid, Lyme disease prevention, heartworm prevention and preventing cruelty are also highlighted in April.
For my cat loving friends, April 6 is National Siamese Cat Day.
Tybee Island Light Station was the first lighthouse I visited years ago. Recently, Tim and I decided to visit it again.
We climbed 178 steps to reach the top. The steps go around and around, and thank goodness there are landings where you can catch your breath on the way up.
Before the lighthouse ran on electricity, the station was manned by three Light Keepers. These men carried fuel to the top multiple times a day to keep the light shining.
Light Keepers also had to be able to supply their own food by gardening, raising chickens, and fishing for food. There are buildings on the property where keepers lived, there was a seperate building for storing the fuel, and there was a summer kitchen.
The Tybee Lighthouse was built in 1773 and has seen many changes over the years.
If you have the opportunity to visit the Tybee Light Station, I’d love to encourage you to go. The views from the observation deck are breathtaking.
I’d love to hear if you’ve ever visited a lighthouse. Do you have a favorite?
I think Tybee will always be my favorite because it was my first. (However, I have seen some spectacular lighthouses in Maine. But that’s a story for another day.)
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Dane McCaslin. Her new book, Cat’s Meow releases tomorrow. Dane was gracious and took time to answer some questions.
Where is the setting for Cat’s Meow? How did you decide to pick it?
I’ve placed this series in Portland, Oregon. After a visit there a few years ago, it seemed perfect for Gwen Franklin, my protagonist and retired teacher. It’s small enough to feel cozy but still has all the amenities of a larger city. And you can’t beat the proximity to the Columbia and Willamette rivers, as well as the gorgeous Multnomah Falls.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I entered my first poetry competition when I was nine and won. Of course, it was only our local library, I was most likely the only nine year old that had submitted to a contest meant for adults, and my mom was friends with the librarian. Aside from that one foray into rhyme, I’ve stuck with prose since.
Did you always dream of writing or have you always worked as an author?
I was reared in a home without a television (gasp!) but it had lots of books. We all read, and I loved going to the library. That led me to believe that “I could do that!” and I gave it a whirl. Thankfully, none of those earlier attempts ever saw the light of day. I began writing in earnest one summer break (I taught high school English) and haven’t looked back. Being retired now gives me more time to plot and write more murder and mayhem.
Do you have a favorite character? If you could spend a day with this person, what would you enjoy doing?
That’s a tough call. Most likely I’d choose the indomitable Miss Jane Marple. I absolutely adore the way her mind works! Or there’s Jo March. I’d love to spend a day with that spunky gal and observe how she maneuvered between her life as a writer and as a mid-nineteenth century woman.
Do you have a favorite beach or vacation spot?
Yes! As an Arizonian, I like that Coronado Island is only a short drive. The homes there are incredible – it’s so atmospheric – and the Pacific Ocean is extremely accessible, Of course, I’d probably live at Disneyland if I could, but that’s another story.
(We visited Coronado Island in 2011, and I agree. It’s fabulous.)
Is there a place you’ve always longed to visit?
I would love to visit the Acadian area that straddles the northeast Canadian and United States border. My heritage on my mother’s paternal side is Cajun, people that are descended from the New France settlers of the mid-eighteenth century. Forcibly removed from there, they and their descendants ended up in places such as Louisiana, where my extended family lived and still lives.
How did you decide on a pet valet for your sleuth?
That was easy! I am a dog lover of the highest rank and wanted my protagonist, Gwen, to be able to enjoy animals as well. When her best friend, the much-married and divorced Nora Goldstein, suggests that they begin a pet valet business, Gwen is completely skeptical. Of all things, she is allergic to pet dander and has to find a way to handle her post-retirement adventure without constantly scratching and sneezing. Besides, I wanted an excuse to include animals of all sorts in the series.
Dane, I have terrible allergies which is why we have a West Highland Terrier. They are hypoallergenic. Thanks so much for taking time to visit with us today.
I discovered I’m not the only person who grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I got hooked when visiting my grandmother’s house. I found my mother’s Nancy Drew books. She only had a couple, so after that I saved my money to buy my own copies.
Last weekend I discovered a treasure trove for Nancy Drew fans. In Savannah, I was visiting antique stores. There was a young couple I kept bumping into. We ended up at Books on Bay at the same time. She was organized and had a list of exactly what she needed. Books on Bay had every book she needed.
I also found a book to add to my collection.
I learned there were book club copies in addition to books sold at stores. If the back of a Nancy Drew book is solid yellow, it’s a book club edition.
There’s also some fun lingo. For instance, bird means man. Cheaters means sunglasses. Derrick means shoplifter. Scatter means hideout. And clubhouse means police station.
Another thing I learned while visiting Books on Bay, the picture cover illustrations were painted by artists. Russell H. Tandy was one of the artists.
Did you read mysteries when you were growing up? If you collected Nancy Drew books or other books and need to complete your collection, I’d recommend contacting Books on Bay. You can find them at http://www.booksonbay.com . Better yet, stop by for a visit at 224 W. Bay Street in Savannah. (I don’t get any kickbacks, but I found the place and owners to be charming.)
What were some of your favorite books to read as a child?
Have you ever kept running into the same person? In 2020 Georgiana Daniels and I kept showing up in the same groups. It didn’t take long to discover we had a lot in common. So I was delighted when she agreed to join us today. I’m even more excited to share that she has a book releasing this month.
Hi, Jackie! Thank you for hosting me today. I’m really excited about Crumbs of Passion, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. Is it wrong to crack yourself up with your own work? Asking for a friend….
Great! I’m going on the assumption the sleuth is a baker, but if that’s wrong, what does your sleuth do?
KC Crumb is returning home after losing her job as a corporate social media manager for a shoe company. Of course, her Aunt Lulu ropes her into working at Crumb’s Bakery as soon as possible. If only KC could quit sampling the goods!
Where is the setting? How did you decide to pick it?
Crumbs of Passion takes place in fictional Beaver Bluff, Oregon. It’s a cozy town on the coast, and it was relatively quiet—until KC moved back and found a dead body in the garage of her new rental! It was easy to pick a coastal town because I love the water. Living in AZ, I don’t get to the ocean nearly enough.
How long have you been writing?
Writing was always something I would do “one day.” About 16 years ago when our middle daughter was born, I decided to go ahead and get serious. For some reason I thought the path would be pretty straightforward. The joke was totally on me! But, it’s been a great ride and I’ve met some of my closest friends along the way. Crumbs of Passion is my fourth published book, and the plan is to release books 2, Crumb and Punishment, and book 3, A Crummy Way to Die, later this year.
I completely understand the dream of writing “one day.” Did you always dream of writing or have you always worked as an author?
Let me answer with a resounding YES! I have always wanted to write, but instead of doing that straight out of the gate, I spent eight years in retail management and two years as an investment advisor. (I guess you could say I have diverse interests!)
But wait, there’s more! Right now, I’m in grad school to get a master’s degree in library and information science. I work part-time as a librarian, and the goal is to get a full-time position after my youngest graduates high school.
Do you enjoy baking? What are your hobbies?
Wait…we’re supposed to have time for hobbies? Haha, just kidding…mostly.
Because I write, work part time, do graduate school, and homeschool our high-school daughters, I don’t have a lot of time left over. When I do, I mostly read. The goal is to read 100 books in a year. So far, the most I’ve read in a year is (I think) 72. Also, I adore knitting, and my newest love is playing the piano. Not that I’m good at that, mind you. I believe I have about three or four half-learned songs in my repertoire.
As for the baking, I leave that to my kids who still live at home. Our middle daughter bakes cakes that are to die for, including specialty items like baklava cheesecake. I’m totally spoiled!
Baklava cheesecake? I’m craving it now.
Do you have a favorite character? If you could spend a day with this person, what would you enjoy doing?
Naturally I want to pick KC as my favorite! She’s a little sneaky and she can wield a stiletto like nobody’s business. Like KC, exercising is not my favorite thing to do (even though it’s always on my to-do list) so we’d probably hit the ice cream shop and hang out in Beaver Bluff’s town square, catching a little sunshine.
Also, I can’t leave out our pal Verity. I know, I know—I’m totally cheating by picking two! But she’s pretty neat in her own right as a jiu-jitsu expert/librarian, plus she’s KC’s sidekick and self-appointed new best friend. In fact, I wrote a prequel short story to Crumbs of Passion and featured Verity because she’s that cool. If we spent the day together, she’d want to teach me some slick self-defense moves, but I’d probably break my neck. I’d talk her into hitting the bookshops with me!
Do you have a favorite beach or vacation spot?
Ahhh, lovely question! The beach in Cancun was so relaxing and I would love another visit. Also, the beach in St. Lucia was amazing! I’m all about the surf and sand. However, the next big vacation will probably be back to Alaska to visit family. Going there never gets old!
Is there a place you’ve always longed to visit?
SO many places, and I want to see them all! Mostly I want to take a big trip to the British Isles. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to them, but I’ve never made it there. Reading eight million cozies that take place there is whetting my appetite for travel.
How did you decide on a social media manager for your sleuth?
Great question, and I’m really trying to remember how I came up with her job as a social media manager. Really, KC’s character grew so organically over time that I can’t pinpoint when I made that decision. The fun thing is, she uses her social media prowess to find the killer!
Do you have a pet? What about a pet in your book?
We do! She’s a beautiful and somewhat aloof Siamese cat named Meekö. Yes, she has an umlaut in her name—our youngest daughter insisted, for reasons known only to her. (She cracks me up! My daughter, not Meekö.)
In Crumbs, we’re introduced to a killer canine named Pooh Bear. He likes scaring people, eating pizza, and riding shotgun.
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Jackie! It’s been fun hanging out together. People can also hang out with me on Facebook and Twitter. And watch for Crumbs of Passion, coming out on March 19!
It’s been so fun getting to know you better. Thanks for spending some time with us. Please share your blurb with us.
What do you get when you cross a jilted ex, a dead body, and a killer canine named Pooh Bear?
When social media manager KC Crumb is fired from her bougie job in L.A., she returns home to Beaver Bluff, Oregon only to discover a dead body in her new rental. Unfortunately, the body belongs to her philandering ex-boyfriend—a man she publicly threatened before she left town 15 years ago. Now all eyes are on KC, including those of hunky officer Antonio Hamson.
With the help of her new best friend, who happens to be a jiu-jitsu expert/librarian, and a gaggle of gung-ho ladies from her aunt’s bakery, KC and Pooh Bear set out to track down the real killer. Half the town is under suspicion, including a shady car salesman and a preening personal trainer, causing the clues to mount faster than the followers on her newly single social media profiles. And when her life is mysteriously threatened, KC has to sniff out the murderer…before the handsome officer hauls her in for homicide.
Today’s my birthday, and this is a big one. I turn sixty today, and I’ve been feeling old. I told my husband I just wanted to ignore it and treat today like any other day. My thought was turning sixyt-one might be easier.
I’ve never really worried about turning a specific age before. I do remember turning thirty, and BOTH my mom and brother said they weren’t sure how they felt about ME turning thirty. Haha!
Last week it came to my attention Amy Grant turned sixty in November. I also learned Robin Robers and George Stephanopoulous just turned sixty too. So, I decided to do a little search for others my age.
Did you know Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Antonio Banderas turned sixty last year? What about women? Valerie Bertinelli, Julianne Moore, and Jennifer Gray are a few to note.
Next I looked at who was born in 1961. Woody Harrelson wasn’t a surprise because I met in my freshman year at Hanover College. Meg Ryan, Toby Keith, Nadia Comaneci, Wayne Gretzky, and George Clooney.
None of these people seem old, so I’m going to take a big breath and slowly exhale. I can handle turning sixty with grace.
Thanks for letting me ramble. I’d love to hear if you ever struggled with a birthday.