Thursday, July 18, 2024

I Me, Her She

 Michael - Alternate Thursdays

One of the things an author has to decide is the voice that tells the story. It’s often quite a hard choice. If one decides on first person, that means that the main character or protagonist herself is going to tell the story. It has plusses and minuses. Among the plusses are that the protagonist is in action on every line. She is saying what she did or is doing (if one opts for present tense) in every sentence. Right away that points out a disadvantage. If she is telling the story in the past tense, we know she survives to “tell the tale”. (That’s not a huge disadvantage though because protagonists usually don’t get killed off during a story anyway no matter how long the odds of them surviving.) The important thing is that her voice is the voice of the story and that feeds back strongly to character. Everything relates to her.

So is this a great way to develop character? Yes, as long as one’s careful to avoid tropes. A classic is: “I looked in the mirror and saw a pert face with wrinkles starting to develop around the eyes.” Rather let the reader imagine her, and let her age develop from other background information. Readers are smart. They don’t need to be told everything and can get bored if they are.

From the point of view of a mystery story or thriller, a disadvantage is that you can only tell what the protagonist has seen or experienced herself. Often tension is built by seeing the bad guys getting close or betrayals taking place. You can’t do that in first person. Also, since everything is in the protagonist’s voice, it better be a voice that the reader is prepared to listen to for the whole book.

When Stanley and I started our stand-alone thriller Dead of Night we decided we were going to try for first person. We also decided to use present tense, hoping that the immediacy and strong voice of the protagonist would help carry a thriller. We were also keen to try something new and stretch ourselves from our third person past story telling of Kubu. It didn’t work for a variety of reasons that we didn’t completely understand. First, to be in your character’s head for the whole book, you need to know the character really well. For us, this was a new character and being pantsers we like things to develop as we go along. That's hard to do in first person with a character you don’t know. Stan volunteered to write a few chapters about her background and see where that went. It ended up as a separate novel – Wolfman. After that we certainly knew Crystal Nguyen better and although we dropped the present tense, we wrote the whole book in first person.

Our editors were not delighted. Basically, it didn’t really work. We rewrote the book, but still Crystal’s voice as narrator didn’t seem to ring entirely true. Eventually, at our editor’s request, we took the “nuclear option” and rewrote the whole book in third person close. That means that the narrator follows the character page by page but is still observing, not telling the story in her voice. That approach worked much better, and that’s how the book was eventually published.

Afterwards we thought about why this particular book caused us so much trouble, even after we got to know Crystal really well. We came to the conclusion that perhaps it was too challenging for two people to be inside one person’s head at the same time, which is what we were trying to do. Narration has to be in a consistent voice too, of course, but if one thinks about it, the narrator is not a person, not a character in the story. So the voice must be seamless, but the internal thoughts behind it can vary somewhat.

We have written a few short stories in first person, but our way of writing short stories together is quite different from our novels. For a short story, one of us writes the whole first draft and then sends that to the other for edits, comments, suggestions and so on. Thus the voice is really one author’s voice not the voice of two authors writing together.

For example, The Ring is a short story we wrote for the Crimefest anthology Ten Year Stretch. I was intrigued by the informal recyclers who operate in Johannesburg (and many other cities around the world). On the day when a suburb puts out its garbage for collection, they appear early and sort through it for bottles and cardboard and any usable items that the suburbanite no longer wants or needs but that they can use or sell. These are then loaded onto homemade trolleys and dragged to where they can sell the items.

I wondered how they thought about their informal jobs and chatted to one who filtered my rubbish where I was living at that time. Afterwards, I wondered how he would react if he discovered a body in the bin? Or better than a whole body, what about a chopped off head? I never had any doubt that the story should be in first person. I didn’t want to describe his reactions, or what he thought of the police. I wanted him to show us himself. It seemed to work pretty well, and received a positive reaction from the editor and readers of the anthology.

If you would like to read it and judge for yourself, you can download it HERE as a pdf from our website. I’d love to know what you think. Would it have worked as well in third person? And while we’re on the subject, if you’re a writer how do you choose between I Me and Her She?

Monday, July 15, 2024

Me (a King) and the African Queen.

 Annamaria on Monday

I am revealing a private joke today.

Long, long before I ever dreamed of writing novels about Africa, I was in love with The African Queen, both C. S. Forester's brilliant 1935 novel and John Houston's 1951 film. So great was my infatuation with that story that for one of my birthdays, my dear departed David gave me a gift of an original Hirshfield cartoon with Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in their African Queen roles.

This is the best photo I could take of it.

I have watched the movie umpteen times, read the book a few times, and have taken to listening to and re-listening to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Michael Kitchen.

In researching for the second in my Africa series, Idol of Mombasa, I did my usual deep dive in the real story, including reading heavy but also extraordinarily helpful tomes such as J. Spencer Trimingham's Islam in East Africa. How, then, could I resist, while in the research phase, also indulging in a frequent diet of those wonderful versions of the story I love so much--in all of its tellings.

Forester's story takes place just a few years after Vera&Toliver#2.  In C.S. Forester's tale, an English missionary and his sister are in German Central Africa, and WWI is in full swing. My tale is set just over the border from German EAST  Africa in late January 1912.

As usual, my research set my imagination boiling with ideas.  I knew that the main theme of V&T#2 was going to focus on the second Commandment, which forbids worshiping any but the one true God.  And that the sin that ought to have a Commandment was going to be slavery.  The missionaries in Africa in those days were as much anti-slavery activists as they were workers in the vineyard to bring converts to Christ.

It was just then that I sat down to a Bouchercon dinner with my MIE cohorts.  I brought with me to that gathering my friend and later our fellow MIE blogger, Susan Spann.  Susan was sitting to my right and on my left was my blog brother Jeff, both lawyers.  Susan, in fact, is an intellectual property lawyer.

As the shop talk progressed, at one point, I talked over a possibility for my next book that had legal implications.  I told Jeff and Susan that I was thinking about inventing two characters inspired by C.S. Forester's African Queen: the missionary Samuel Sayer and his sister Rose.  Jeff, rightly, warned me that I could not just adopt them.  I did not want to plagiarize them, just make my own version of that duo, a very similar brother and sister. Certainly it was not unheard of that a missionary would have a sister (ahem) asSISting him.

Susan confirmed that although I could not use the names that C.S. Forester gave his folks, it was permissible to create similar characters.   And so, as a private joke, I gave my invented people, who were inspired by The African Queen, the names of the actors who played Samual and Rose in John Huston's film.  My missionary's name is Robert Morley and his sister's name is Katharine and this is what they look like:

To my knowledge, only one reader has seen through my little ruse.

Of course the characters in the photo above are in German Central Africa, Forester's   fictional colony.  My characters live in the real British East Africa.

My Robert and Katharine disappear into German East Africa at end of Idol of Mombasa, more than two years before the outbreak of WWI. And out of sight, my characters and Forester's will be leading somewhat parallel lives through the war.  I am hoping that Katharine will return to BEA in 1919, for book nine of the series. She will be without her brother, I fear.  But with her husband, Humphrey.


Sunday, July 14, 2024

I fought the Loire, and the Loire won – Guest post by Ian Moore

Ian Moore describes himself as a comedian, author, columnist, corporate speaker, blogger, podcaster and chutney maker. He's also run an upmarket B&B in the Loire Valley, but more of that later.

The "author" part includes a best selling murder mystery series covering the adventures of the rather inept English owner of an upmarket B&B in the Loire. (Write what you know?) He stumbles across murders, which he and his partner Valerie D'Orcay solve in an unconventional fashion. The latest in the series is Death in le Jardin. It's hilarious!

He also has an acclaimed thriller series set in the same area, for those who prefer the edge of the seat stuff.

Here Ian tells us about the Loire and becoming a best-selling fiction author.

As any writer will tell you, where you set your book is vital, as important as any character. It informs, directs and gives reason to everything you want to take place, it is cause and effect and - bonus - if you happen to live there, you can save a fortune on research costs! The French word for setting is cadre, which is also the French word for picture frame and that, to me, is a perfect description of what a setting should be.

I have lived in the Loire Valley in Central France for twenty years and I made a promise to myself when I first moved here. I would not, under any circumstances, never in a million years, write one of those ‘family moves abroad’, fish out of water, humourously twee, sentimental bordering on mawkish ‘memoirs’. I wouldn’t parade my family like that, invade my own privacy for financial gain. Not me.

In my defence, I lasted out a whole seven years before I finally caved in and wrote, what is now being re-released as, Vive Le Chaos (LINK)

But I felt it was time to move on. It was time to write fiction. But about what? Where’s my inspiration? Well, like I say, I live in the Loire Valley, there’s so much inspiration around here you have to first spend time sorting out the highly stimulating from the merely exhilarating. And that’s just the stuff within fifteen minutes of my front door.

The oft-forgotten fact of the Loire Valley is that there are two great rivers running through it, not just the better known namesake. For centuries the Loire, the longest river in France, has been the romantic centrepiece, all regency chateaux and Joan of Arc. The less-heralded Cher, among its tributaries, has done more of the heavy lifting, with man-made trade routes extending further into the valley. The difference between the two rivers could be described as canonisation versus canalisation.

Chabris, three kilometres from me is on the River Cher. The bridge over the river was the border between occupied France and Vichy France in the Second World War, and while nothing much happens here now, there are modest monuments to its strategic past, such as the Circuit Jeannot Bizeau, a guided tour of local Resistance activity named after a local maquis. Two kilometres north of Chabris is the village of Gièvres. It has a population of just two and a half thousand now, but in the First World War it was a major quartermaster supply depot for the American Expeditionary Force, supplying front line troops with thousands of tonnes of equipment and rations on a daily basis.

Chateau Selles-sur-Cher

Three kilometres from me, but in the other direction is Selles-sur-Cher. Cheese aficionados may recognise the name as one of the premier goat cheeses, exporting all around the world. You can’t move around here for goat cheese variations and it’s an industry I used for Death and Fromage (LINK), where a murder is committed after vegan goats cheese is substituted for the real thing, a heinous crime for the locals. Recently Selles-sur-Cher has regained attention in other areas too. Its chateau has been largely renovated and hosts regular cultural and family events throughout the summer, while the 12th-century church, with its exterior carved friezes, dominates the town centre. It overlooks the site, which is now the local bar, of  where Joan of Arc allegedly stopped off to have her armour polished before heading off to victory in battle. There is a lot of Joan of Arc folklore in the area which was a suggested motive behind a brutal killing in my book The Man Who Didn’t Burn (LINK).

Church Selles-sur-Cher

Religion also plays a big role in the wider area too. The medieval city of Tours is on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail, also known as the Way of St James, and attracts millions of visitors every year. The former capital of France, Tours is a beautiful old city with an enormous cathedral and home to the Basilica of Saint Martin. It’s history is long, bloody, creative and influential – the perfect mix for a crime writer. But sadly, that’s a whole 40 minutes away from my writing desk, so I’ve broken my own brief.

Chateau de Valencay

Closer to home, ten minutes drive and away from some of the blousier chateaux, is the Chateau de Valençay. Built later than all the other valley chateaux, it reached prominence in the early 19th century when Napoleon asked his first minister and all-round fixer, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, to buy the place and use it as a hub of diplomacy. The treaty of Valençay was signed here bringing an end to the Peninsular War, much of the detail for the Congress of Vienna was bashed out here and in the Second World War, the Louvre Museum hid a myriad of treasures in its cellars; the Germans could do nothing about it as Talleyrand, the family who owned it at the time, were also German royalty, so the chateau was deemed untouchable. 

This is where I set my novel Death at the Chateau (LINK) and recently there was an exhibition dedicated to its wartime activities, adding to what is already a wonderful living museum, with restored gardens, an animal park and a very reasonably priced restaurant for the writer who needs a break from the endless inspiration.

Of course, what all this creativity, gastronomy, royalty, religion, geography, warfare and, of course, wine actually means, is that the whole area is a magnet for tourism. I even got involved myself when I decided that travelling back to England every week to perform stand up comedy was just too tiring, it was time to stay put.

I opened my high-end bed and breakfast in October 2018 and by early 2019 realised it was a terrible mistake. Some people are cut out for hospitality, some people should be kept away from the paying public, and I fall sadly into the latter category. Too often I was sorely tempted to plan the actual demise of difficult guests, before realising that that might have a disastrous effect on my TripAdvisor rating. So, I wrote about their demise instead, which kept me going through some awkward, painfully silent, breakfasts. This was how my first book Death and Croissants (LINK) came about and finally I got to put my inspiring location and the peace and tranquillity of the place to good use. I even closed the bed and breakfast for the good of the hospitality industry as a whole, and it’s now open as a Writers’ Retreat, La Pause – Val de Loire, so you too can be inspired to write here. Just don’t ask me to serve you anything.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Wreck of the Myconus


For those of you who might be wondering, no that's not me at the top of the blog. I just sort of feel like him at the moment. :) 

As you may recall if you read my post last Saturday, Mykonos is the target of a lot of eye-popping news coverage. None of that has abated, indeed if anything it's more intense and widespread. Or to put differently, it's everywhere.  So much so that I'm tired of writing/talking about it.  That's why I decided that for this week's post I'd step back and offer a broader perspective on what all this means for the Mykonos I've known for nigh on 40 years. 


 That's when I came up with the brilliant idea of doing it as a parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's, "Wreck of the Hesperus." That turned into monumental time suck. Worse still, I can't say it's my best work, but a least the meter is correct--I think. 

For comparative purposes here's a link to Longfellow's original masterpiece. Please don't offend his memory by preferring my wreck to his masterpiece.:)

Here goes:


It was the island Myconus,

      Across the sultry sea;

That the father had taken his little daughter,

      To bear him company.


Blue were her eyes as Aegean Seas,

      Cheeks the rose of dawning day,

Her bosom white as freshly cresting waves,

      Slashing all that’s in their way.


The father stood tall beside his child,

      Not a word passed his mouth,

As the island’s future his mind did show

      Growth West, East, North and South.


Then up and spake his dear daughter,

      Of places built on fame,

"Take care on your plans for yonder port,

      For I sense a hurricane.


"Uncontrollable and maddening.

      Unleashing harms yet to see.”

The father heard nothing to change his stripe,

      Certain of what best to be.


So, bolder still, his plans found wind:

      Gales from the PR beast

Brought hordes on to the promised show,

      And millionaires rose like yeast.


Then came the grand financial storm,

      That tapped the state its strength;

Greece shuddered and paused, most fearful indeed

      Of a crisis of length.


"Come hither! Countrymen!” called out the father,

      “And do not tremble so;

For Myconus can weather it all

      As we shall the world show."


He wrapped his promise in boastful pride,

      Tied with PR ballast   

That Mykonos drew the mega-rich,

      And those who wish to blast.


"Father! For whom do the church-bells ring?

      Please say, what may it be?"

"They ring for one who has passed away

      On a busy road to the sea.”


"O father! I hear the sound of guns,

      Oh say, what may it be?"

"Someone in distress.” “But who can live

      In such a place as we?


"O father! Can you not see the light,

      Oh say, what may you see?"

But the father answered never a word,

      As if frozen was he.


He stood alone, all stiff and stark,

      With his face turned to the skies,

As if praying for what next to say

      To her fixed questioning eyes.


Then clasping her hands before him she asked

      “Mistaken were we

Attracting profiteers to the Rave,

      Caring not for the Mykoniati?”


Piercing through the midnight dark and drear,

      Her query brought him round to know

Just how his vision had led to this: 

      A time of Fear, Stress and Woe.


And now ever-gloomy gusts of news

      Sound in from the mainland

With tales of the crisis spawning crime and

      Mega profits on rock hard sand.


The answers were right within his grasp,

      He beheld a dreary trek,

And a change of course and likely crew.

      But for now all hands on deck.


There is much to do to right the ship.

      None is soft, none is cool,

But far worse is to surrender.

      To the horns of a raging bull.


It’s not a time for shrouds, or dice. 

      The past has gone by the board;

It is time to focus on the future.

      “Yes, it’s time,” Father roared!


“We’ve harmed both our land and beaches.

      Seen fisherman set aghast,

At the loss of once abundant catch,

      Brought in with each netting cast.”


Tears welled as he made his confession.

      She saw them in his eyes.

What to say to a life now regretted?

Daughter knew only to rise.


Such was the wreck of the Myconus,

      The fault of many not one!

“There is still time to save us, Father,

       For evil has not yet won.” 


––Jeff, with thanks to HWL


Friday, July 12, 2024

A week is a short time in politics!


It's not easy to post on a Friday when election day is a Thursday. I think the French situation looked a bit dire for a while election wise but common sense seems to have prevailed. And I think at the moment the French are trying to form a government based upon a left of centre coalition of parties.

The French, of course use Proportional Representation whereas we Brits use First Past the Post. The former gives maybe a more representational type of parliament, maybe more reflective of the populace. Whereas the latter tends to give a less representative but more definitive type of government. And from my modern studies, the latter tends to be more stable. Even with FPTP there should be enough opposition for policies to be  strongly debated and scrutinized. But then, if the judgement of the people is that the previous lot were such a lot of devious, opportunist, self serving parasites then who’s to blame when the opposition gets in with such a huge majority.

On the Tuesday before the election I put someone out my car when the announced they voted SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party). They voted on the grounds that they wanted independence and that Scotland can do better on its own. Actually, that's not quite true, I put them out the car because I was very close to where they were going. They were voting SNP because  Scotland did us proud in the European Football Championship. 

Yes, we didn't win a game.


The SNP went from 50 plus seats to 9 at Westminster. And to be fair not all that was lack of SNP support. A lot of it was tactical voting to make sure the Tories were voted out.

Before an election, I do get a feel of how things are going cause patients tend to come in and talk about it. And after 23 years or so a lot of SNP supporters were noticing that nothing was changing. That everything and I mean everything, is blamed on Westminster. 

The Scottish parliament is in charge of the NHS and our education system, both of which are plummeting in standard. And if they  have the power to raise taxes why not do the unpopular thing and raise tax and sort the problem out. There’s a name for the main policies of the SNP and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe 'fiscal neutral', they do things that don’t cost them any money. Like fining people for putting stuff in the wrong bin.

However, waiting in the wings, and not playing the Westminster blame  game is a very clever cookie called Katie Forbes. I hope when the time is right, she picks up the mantle of the SNP and tries to do something positive.

However Keir Starmer, not a photogenic or charismatic human, but a very good QC ( Queen's Counsel? King's counsel now ?... The Sam Waterstone character in Law and Order !) rocked home to victory. He has a Great Dane and his mother runs a donkey sanctuary. Already he’s sorting out things that should have been put right after COVID. Many health care professionals were paid a lot of money to leave the NHS and do the vaccinations, they are now locuming permanently at  double the pay rate of the permanent employees. So instead of using bank nurses they are employing more nurses, which is cheaper. Locuming GPs are being sent back to General Practice, which is cheaper. Ditto with pharmacists. And that will help the NHS from the ground up. Obviously catching osteoporosis before the femur breaks is much cheaper in the long run. As well as being less painful for the patient.


Other parties did well too – the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Personally, at my age and the gap I have between stopping work and getting my state pension needs careful financial negotiation and I suspect that Mr Starmer is going to have his hand in my pocket and extract more money in tax. But I’m quite happy with that as long as it's across the board. 

And on another point. His cabinet is very balanced but why, when clever women being promoted to the Cabinet the only thing the media can say about them is that they wore the same dress two days running.

I was going to say something here about American elections but I won’t cause I don’t understand it. We have a joke about Trump in our Carry on Sleuthing Play. The joke has been there now for 5 years and the fact that the joke is still relevant is a slightly frightening prospect.

Talking of sleuthing...

"With a star-studded cast and jokes older than Methuselah, Bute Noir proudly presents Carry On Sleuthing: A Mudder Is Mispronounced. A comedy mystery play for radio performed on the stage. It’s all very complicated…"

The play is going on at Bute Noir and has now got such momentum – fame – notoriety that Sir Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham are clamouring for parts and it's been filmed. So MIE bloggers don’t say you weren’t warned.


Thursday, July 11, 2024

We'll Always Have Paris

Wendall -- every other Thursday

It seems to be a week when everyone is writing about “place,” so here’s an update to a blog I wrote several years ago about the spark of inspiration that starts each Cyd Redondo novel--location.

 I fell in love with palm trees while visiting Florida as a kid.

Travel has always been my passion. And as someone who writes about a travel agent, now it’s also my business.

As a kid, I traveled vicariously through books like Lost Horizons, David Copperfield, Mrs. Mike, The Three Musketeers, The Jungle Book, and my parents’ copies of Dorothy Gilmour’s Mrs. Pollifax novels. As my reading became a bit more sophisticated, I headed to China in The Good Earth, Russia in Dr. Zhivago, and Southeast Asia with Grahame Green. 


I loved traveling with Mrs. Pollifax when I was a kid.

Our family vacations were domestic, but still thrilling to me—Silver Springs and St. Augustine, the Smithsonian, Myrtle Beach, the Smoky Mountains. So, by the time I finished high school, I was ready to hit the road and go as far, and as often, as I could. During my college summers, I waited tables and sang in bars on Nantucket, in Estes Park, Colorado, in Berkeley, in the Florida Keys, and, once I graduated, I headed to Montreal, London, Paris, Ireland, Holland, Italy, and eventually, Australia and New Zealand. 


Me on an early screenplay research trip to London.

Every one of those books and all of those places moved me and influenced the way I look at the world. So, when I thought I might try writing a mystery series, I figured it would be great if the research involved travel—preferably international. When I created Cyd Redondo, a travel agent who'd never been farther than New Jersey, it let me relive the wonder and panic of everything involved in navigating a different culture in an unfamiliar place.


As a writing teacher I’ve always been fascinated by where my students’ stories start. Is it with a concept, with a character’s voice, with a theme, with a scene? I think it depends on the writer and the project and personally, as a screenwriter, my projects had usually started with a character or concept. This time, I had the skeleton for my “fish out of water” protagonist—but before I could really start developing her character and working out the story/mystery, I had to pick her destination.


I wanted the series to be an homage to films like Romancing the Stone, Charade, or Bringing Up Baby, where the characters were off-balance and completely out of their comfort zones. Since Joan Wilder had already been to South America, I needed someplace new. I thought about Cyd’s home in Brooklyn and what might be the most extreme opposite, a place she’d have the biggest learning curve. 


When she was growing up, Cyd uncle made her promise never to let the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge out of her sight.

When the books start, many of her nights are spent at her favorite Bay Ridge restaurant, Chadwick's.

I suddenly had an image of her in the middle of a jungle clearing, in four-inch heels. She was wearing multi-colored bracelets from her wrist to her elbow, and, when a man with a gun appeared, she disarmed him with a whack from her bangled forearm while a leopard looked on. It felt like Africa. 

I chose the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania for Cyd's first safari.


And because she's the Queen of bartering, Karikoo in Dar Es Salaam as her first international market.

I started to research crimes on the continent and was shocked by the extent and horror of the endangered animal smuggling and poaching trade. Cyd, with her snakeskin shoes and tortoise shell barrettes, was not concerned about this issue—yet—so it allowed her an environmental learning curve, and let me place a Madagascan chameleon in her purse. So, once I had a location, everything in the book sprang from there. 


Barry from LOST LUGGAGE.

Now that the series is up and running and I have a handle on Cyd, her family, and her natural habitat, the “where” is always where I start. Until I know where she’s going, I can’t really decide on the crimes, the specific endangered species she encounters, the secondary characters, the ways her character will be challenged, or what she has in her background—and her purse—that might help her survive. Location is everything.


I was lucky in the Australian setting for Drowned Under—I’ve written at length about how I’ve been to and loved Tasmania, the home of the “functionally extinct” Tasmanian tiger. So, it was easy to find the “endangered” piece of the adventure. Once I decided it would be a cruise ship book, that gave me my world and inspired my secondary characters, and I was off.


DROWNED UNDER's Howard the Tasmanian tiger cub.

Cyd experiences the Salamanca Market in Tasmania, of course.

For my third book, Fogged Off, I got lucky again. By the time Covid hit, I’d already decided to set the book in London, where I’d been a frequent visitor over the years. I’m also married to an Englishman I met on one of my trips, so I could see, taste, smell—and discuss—the city from the desk in my bedroom. 


I'd been to the Savoy Hotel, where Cyd stays in FOGGED OFF, and had a drink in the American Bar there, where a few important things happen. . .

And to the Tower Bridge, where Cyd encounters a series of Jack the Ripper guides.

As always, the place generated the content. That book is set in the world of London Walking Tours where Cyd’s client—a Jack the Ripper expert—winds up dead. I had been lucky enough to know two RSC actors who were also London Walking Tour guides and who had often talked about the backbiting behind the scenes which informs that world. Then I researched endangered animals in the UK and, since Carl Hiassen had already taken voles, my first choice, I settled on the hilarious hazel dormouse as the animal in danger of extinction. Everything else came from there.


Me with my favorite London Walks guide, Emily Richard.

Of course, Covent Garden Market was a must for Cyd.

Since travel was still dodgy when I began Cyd’s fourth adventure, I wanted to choose a location where at least a few friends of mine had lived and visited. Because I’m lucky yet again, that happened to be Bali. When I realized the timing of the novel (the Cyd Redondo Mysteries begin in late 2006 and are now up to spring 2007) coincided with the huge popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, I figured most travel agents had requests for Bali trips. 



Cyd's mother falls for the book, and goes behind her daughter's back to book a trip to Bali.


Cyd has an adventure in the Monkey Forest outside Ubud.

Bali Starlings are still highly endangered, but there are more now than there were when CHEAP TRILLS is set, in 2007.

And when I found out it could take at 51 hours and three or four plane changes to get there from Brooklyn, and that the Bali Starling population was down to only seven birds still in the wild in that year, I knew I had the right location for Cheap Trills.


Cyd meets Starling protector, Stu Capistranis, in the Denpasar Bird Market.

Travel is back, but when we can’t afford it or find the time, I’m glad there are books to take us to all the places we dream of.


I joined host Chad Sutton on his music podcast/YouTube show Aural Mess on July 10, where he and I both made a Cyd Redondo playlist. You can find the YouTube version here: or listen to the podcast version here: