Sunday, January 24, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: AMBER ROYER


ABOUT THE BOOK


Felicity Koerber has had a rough year. She's moving back to Galveston Island and opening a bean to bar chocolate factory, fulfilling a dream she and her late husband, Kevin, had shared. Craft chocolate means a chance to travel the world, meeting with farmers and bringing back beans she can turn into little blocks of happiness, right close to home and family. She thinks trouble has walked into her carefully re-built world when puddle-jump pilot Logan Hanlon shows up at her grand opening to order custom chocolates. Then one of her employees drops dead at the party, and Felicity's one-who-got-away ex-boyfriend - who's now a cop - thinks Felicity is a suspect. As the murder victim's life becomes more and more of a mystery, Felicity realizes that if she's going to clear her name in time to save her business, she might need Logan's help. Though she's not sure if she's ready to let anyone into her life - even if it is to protect her from being the killer's next victim.  For Felicity, Galveston is all about history, and a love-hate relationship with the ocean, which keeps threatening to deliver another hurricane - right into the middle of her investigation. Can she figure it out before all the clues get washed away?


Book Details:
Title: Grand Openings Can Be Murder
Author: Amber Royer
Genre: cozy mystery

Series: The Bean to Bar Mysteries, book 1


Publisher: Golden Tip Press (February 2, 2021)


Print length: 266 pages




IFs ANDs OR WHATs INTERVIEW WITH AMBER ROYER

Ifs


If you could step back into a moment or day in time, where would you go?
I’ve done a lot of research about food, for several different projects, and you find that there aren’t always definitive answers as to how culinary techniques came about.  People can get quite passionate about their theories. (Want to start an argument? Try asking if the Chinese or the Italians invented pasta first.) But sometimes it comes down to individual chefs, and individual dishes. Which means, back in the distant past, someone stole someone else’s idea. It happened with eggs Benedict. Both Delmanaco’s Steak House and the Waldorf Hotel both lay claim to having invented it for a specific customer in the 1920s. The stories of who those customers were are very different. Both Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club lay claim to having invented Minneapolis’s famous Juicy Lucy burger – and you don’t have to be in town for more than a day to realize the locals have passionate—and somewhat split—feelings about who actually did.

But I’d like to take a step farther back into history. In Paris (because if you’re going to explore culinary tradition, what better place could you be?) in the Belle Epoch.  Onto Rue Bourdaloue. Where there are multiple bakers who have shops creating cutting-edge desserts. You have Mr. Fasquelle, Mr. Lesserteur, and Mr. Coquelin. And on this day, one of them is inventing a cake that will be perfected and adapted, first with apricots, and then other fruit until it eventually becomes the ubiquitous Bourdaloue Pear Tart. I would like to step into right bakery that day, and discovery which one of those bakers I would be looking at.

If you could time travel for an infinite period of time, where would you go?

I was just go back to pre-COVID when travel was still a thing. I’d go to some of the places I’ve been but not had time to explore as much as I would like. I would take a cruise ship from California to Hawaii, then from Hawaii to Japan. One year, I did a series of lectures for one of the cruise lines, but I wasn’t able to take enough time off from real life to do something that extensive. But I have never slept so well as on a boat, gently rocking on the water.

California has some of my favorite beaches (Crystal Cove and Redondo beach), and there is nothing like the carne asada fries at the Taco Stand out near La Jolla Beach. Our friends in California live north of LA, so that’s the main area we’ve visited, though we did once take a drive to see the General Sherman sequoia. It would be nice to have time to drive to other areas of the state. The state parks and ski resorts have a reputation for being amazing.

And, of course, Hawaii has amazing beaches and food. I could basically live just on the fresh pineapple and POG (passion fruit, orange, guava juice) that seems to be on every breakfast table. We’ve only been to Maui, so I would love to see some of the other islands.

The one time we went to Japan, we were there for only two weeks, and that was barely enough time to explore part of Tokyo and Yokohama (the ramen museum there is one of the most amazing places I’ve even been). One of the YouTubers I follow does travel videos, mainly in the Sendai area. I would love to be able to visit some of the restaurants and parks he has featured.

And then I would show up the next day like I had never left.  And plan a trip back to Mexico . . . .

If you could choose a fictional town to live in what would it be and from what book?

I would live in Pickaxe, in Moose County, 400 miles North of Everywhere —from the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun. There just seems to be such an optimistic, friendly feel to the place—and the food there is obviously amazing. And because it’s fictional, and people don’t seem to be freezing all the time, the cold can’t really be as cold as the geography implies, right? Who wouldn’t want to be in a world where cats are harbingers of justice, people can go from rock bottom to respected members of society, and love and friendship come easy. As long as you can avoid getting murdered, it would be great.


If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?
Hawaii.  I love the ocean, and the most fantastic place I’ve ever snorkeled in my life was Black Rock in Maui. The amount of marine life was astounding—especially the parrotfish, which would turn towards you as a group if they thought you had food. Hiking there was gorgeous as well, with rainbow eucalyptus trees with elegant multicolor trunks reaching for the sky.  Mountains—waterfalls—pretty much anything you could ask for, all in one small space. I love spending time in nature, and gardening and the climate there is perfect for both. Since I got into learning about chocolate, my husband and I have started growing cacao trees as houseplants (we’re in Texas, where it gets both too hot and too cold to grow them outside). The weather in Hawaii is perfect for cacao—and there are a number of farms that grow and process their own chocolate. It’s the only state where that’s popular. The soil is also great for most culinary herbs (I am a huge fan of kitchen gardens), and there are gorgeous hillside lavender farms.    

If you could meet any author for coffee, who would you like to meet and what would you talk about?

This requires time travel again, but I’d sit down for coffee with Agatha Christie. I’d want to ask her how to keep a series fresh and exciting when you have so many books starring the same sleuth. I’ve heard that she got sick of writing Poirot – but the public never did (I’m fairly certain Poirot’s the only fictional character ever to have an obituary in the New York Times). I’d also ask her if Ariadne Oliver really was her writing herself into the books, and if that made the fictional world feel more real to her? I think it would amuse me to write myself into my own work, though I’ve never done it. We’d discuss our mutual hobby of photography, and our favorite books, and how travel has affected our writing. I’d ask her about her experiences surfing during the Empire expedition in places like New Zealand and Australia, and tell her about the character in my book who surfs (something I’ve only done a couple of times). And then we’d talk about pets we’d had over the years, because who wouldn’t want to while away an afternoon talking to Agatha about her dogs?




Ands


5 things you need in order to write:
    •    coffee
    •    my laptop
    •    noise (music, television, coffee shop chatter)
    •    snacks
and
    •    coffee

5 things you love about writing:
    •    starting a project and brainstorming ideas
    •    building characters and getting to know their backstories and who they area as people
    •    the way I change/grow as my characters change/grow while I’m writing the story
    •    that feeling when I get to the end and everything feels right about how the story threads draw together
and
    •    when people tell me that something I’ve written has touched them in some way

5 things you never want to run out of:  
    •    friends
    •    love
    •    laughter
    •    story ideas
and
    •    toilet paper


5 things you always put in your books:   
    •    found family
    •    romance subplots
    •    second chances/reinvention/redemption
    •    literary/movie references
and
    •    food

5 favorite places you’ve been:   

    •    Charleston, South Carolina
    •    Samana,Dominican Republic
    •    Monterrey,Mexico
    •    White Sands,New Mexico
and
    •    Tokyo, Japan

5 favorite things to do:

    •    entertain
    •    cook
    •    hike/explore nature
    •    swim
and
    •    travel


Whats

What’s the loveliest sight you’ve ever seen?
When we were in Maui, my husband Jake and I took a bicycle tour where we rode down Mt Haleakala. But first, they drove us up to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise over the clouds (we hadn’t packed parkas so we were miserable from the cold, since there are seven climate changes from the base of the mountain to the top).  But the spectacular view was worth it!

What’s your favorite vacation spot?

When I lived in Southeast Texas, my family went to Galveston a couple of times each summer. After all, it was just a ferry ride away. My husband and I did our honeymoon in Galveston, so it will always be an extra-special place to me. Now we live in the Dallas area, which means Galveston is a good six hours away, but it’s still the closest beach. Not to mention full of fascinating history, with a tall ship you can visit and a railroad museum, historic homes, and even an offshore drilling museum.  For a weekend getaway, it’s our favorite option. Is it any wonder that I set the Bean to Bar Mysteries there? There’s an element of wish fulfillment, as I’m here in landlocked Dallas, to be writing about Island breezes and toes on the sand—even if I have to put a dead body in the picture to make it cozy mystery worthy.

What’s your favorite dessert?
Jake will occasionally make a chocolate pear tart, using the sweet-dough crust recipe he got from his grandmother. You only need a tiny slice, but it’s amazing. There’s a version of the recipe in our cookbook, There Are Herbs in My Chocolate.  The cookbook started out as a pamphlet when we were doing presentations for the local herb society, but once my choc-centric novels came out, people asked us to bring it back into print—so we did!

What do you collect?
I collect coffee mugs and teacups/teapots. I regularly use 90% of the cups in my collection (I have a few things that area so old and fragile that I’m afraid hot liquid might be the end of them). Many of my mugs are thrift store finds or gifts.  I also look for mugs as souvenirs when I travel.


What’s one thing you never leave the house without?
My cell phone. I have no sense of direction, so I need it for the maps program alone. I also like to take photographs throughout the day, so having a decent camera on my phone is critical. I tend to lose paper, so I take photographs of anything people give me immediately. I believe writers need somewhere to record ideas, snippets of dialogue, research facts no matter where they are. I use a note-taking app to record all of this on my phone. I can also do preliminary video editing and post to social media from the same device.

What’s your favorite beverage?
Coffee. I have an espresso machine at home, because sometimes you need a cortado or two to get through the day. But I also love how coffee is such a global thing.  Coffee itself is grown in a number of different countries. Traditions in some areas include brewing the coffee with spices, such as cardamom-infused Turkish coffee or
Mexican café de olla, spiced with cinnamon, clove and anise. Other coffee cultures fuse ideas, such as Brazilian affogato, which take the traditional Italian dessert involving gelato drowned in espresso and substitutes fruit ice cream. And you can definitely see the French influence on Vietnamese coffee, which is brewed in something similar to a small French press.

What’s your favorite social media site?

One of my hobbies is photography, so I prefer Instagram. Since both of my published book series involve chocolate, you can expect to see a lot of that on my feed. And coffee pics, obviously. Most weeks, I do a #MugMonday post where I talk about how my writing week is going and invite others to check in. I’m also a writing instructor/author coach, so I do visual writing prompts using photos I’ve taken. It’s my way of answering the question, “Where do your ideas come from?” I choose pics that inspire me with the hope they will inspire you too.

What’s your favorite color?

Purple.


What book are you currently working on?
I finished the first draft of the second Bean to Bar Mystery during NaNoWriMo. It still has some rough edges that need smoothing out, but I’m pretty happy with the basic structure. It develops some of the relationships introduced in the first book—and introduces a pet octopus that tries to steal the show.

What’s your all-time favorite place you’ve visited?
Once, my husband and I took a road trip from Texas to Santa Monica. (Interesting fact: the end of Route 66 is technically at the end of the Santa Monica Pier.) We stopped overnight at the Grand Canyon. We were at the South Rim, and just before sunset, we went out onto a viewing area that gave a clear 360 view of the sky. When the stars came out, it was like being inside a planetarium, and I was there with my favorite person. It was one of the most meaningful moments of my life.

What’s your favorite ice cream?
We sometimes make a cocoa nib, cinnamon, and bay ice cream. The recipe for that is in the cookbook too.
And I will share it here:
Cocoa Nib, Cinnamon, and Bay Ice Cream
1 ½ c. heavy cream
1 ½ c. whole milk
¼ c. cocoa nibs, plus 3 tbsp.
3 (3”) cinnamon sticks, crushed
2 bay leaves
½ cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Combine the heavy cream, milk, ¼ c. cocoa nibs, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar melts. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover the saucepan and let the liquid steep for half an hour. Strain the mixture (discarding solids) into the chamber of an ice cream maker, and place the chamber in an ice water bath. Freeze in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s direction. Add the 3 tbsp. cocoa nibs near the end of the freezing process. Transfer the soft ice cream to a lidded container. Harden for at least three to four hours before serving.


What’s your latest recommendation for:
Food:  
If you’re ever in the Dallas, Texas area, go grab a dirty horchata (rice-based beverage plus a dose of coffee) from CocoAndre Cholocate and Horchateria. You can also have them make you a chocolate horchata (they make their own chocolate, from beans sourced from Chiapas, Mexico)—or if you want to be especially decadent, a dirty chocolate horchata.

Music:  
Vance Joy mixes make for a good all-purpose writing soundtrack. And probably a good all-purpose reading soundtrack.

Movie:  
True Memoirs of an International Assassin. We haven’t been to the theater—obviously—so we’ve been catching up on movies we’d missed. This one stars Kevin James (yes, Paul Blart) as a writer who gets kidnapped and taken to Venezuela because everyone assumes he’s an actual spy. It feels like a modern update of Romancing the Stone.

Book:  
Written Off by E.J. Copperman. I love anything meta, and this one did not disappoint. Mystery writer Rachel finds her protagonist has come to life—maybe. At least someone claiming to be him has shown up in connection to a real murder case. As a writer, I found myself thinking about this one weeks after I read it. If my characters came to life, what would they think of me?

Audiobook:
Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field. This one was quirky and funny, and the narrator did it justice. The protagonist is a modern poison taster, working for a clandestine agency that caters to the rich and famous. When a client dies, she gets drawn into solving the murder. The characters are larger than life (including a fun neighbor and a dangerous debt collector), and there’s a subplot romance.

Netflix/Amazon Prime:  

We just did a re-watch of Chuck on Amazon Prime. I love the mixture of relationship building (for the whole main cast) and spy/action elements. Plus, Adam Baldwin is in it, and he’s one of my favorite actors (ever since he was Jane on Firefly).

What books do you currently have published?

Free Chocolate
Pure Chocolate
Fake Chocolate
There are Herbs in My Chocolate 
Story Like a Journalist 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the Bean To Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like A Journalist: A Workbook For Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She blogs about creative writing technique and all things chocolate. She also teaches creative writing for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas. If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.



Connect with Amber:
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads YouTube  Instagram  |  Amazon

Buy links:
Amazon  |  Barnes and Noble  |  Kobo  |  Apple Books  |  Indie Bookshop



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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: CARA PUTMAN


 

ABOUT THE BOOK


If they expected silence, they hired the wrong woman.

Caroline Bragg’s life has never been better. She and Brandon Lancaster are taking their relationship to the next level, and she has a new dream job as legal counsel for Praecursoria—a research lab that is making waves with its cutting-edge genetic therapies. The company’s leukemia treatments even promise to save desperately sick kids—kids like eleven-year-old Bethany, a critically ill foster child at Brandon’s foster home.

When Caroline’s enthusiastic boss wants to enroll Bethany in experimental trials prematurely, Caroline objects, putting her at odds with her colleagues. They claim the only goal at Praecursoria is to save lives. But does someone have another agenda?

Brandon faces his own crisis. As laws governing foster homes shift, he’s on the brink of losing the group home he’s worked so hard to build. When Caroline learns he’s a Praecursoria investor, it becomes legally impossible to confide in him. Will the secrets she keeps become a wedge that separates them forever? And can she save Bethany from the very treatments designed to heal her?

This latest romantic legal thriller by bestseller Cara Putman shines a light on the shadowy world of scientific secrets and corporate vendettas—and the ethical dilemmas that plague the place where science and commerce meet.

“Intriguing characters. Romantic tension. Edge-of-your-seat suspense. And a fast-paced ending that will leave you exhausted (in a good way!).” —Robert Whitlow, award-winning author of Promised Land

“I loved Cara Putman’s Lethal Intent and rooted for her heroine Caroline Bragg through every twist and turn. This legal thriller perfectly captures what it’s like to grow from law clerk to lawyer, and when Caroline finds herself faced with a heartbreaking ethical dilemma that leads to the corporate battle of her life, she confronts the challenge with strength and resources she never knew she had. Putman seamlessly blends the story with a wonderfully inspiring romance, too. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lethal Intent !” —Lisa Scottoline,  #1 Bestselling Author of Eternal

Book Details: 

Title: Lethal Intent

Author: Cara Putman 

Genre: Legal Romantic Suspense 

Series: stand alone  but shares characters with the Hidden Justice series

Publisher: Harper Collins Christian Publishing/Thomas Nelson (January 12, 2021)

Print length: 336 pages




LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH CARA PUTMAN


A few of your favorite things: books! Our home is filled with books and bookshelves. Every room literally has some. The other thing I can’t live without right now would be coffee. It’s helping me stay energized through the long winter days.
Things you need to throw out: I try to keep a regular rotation of donations to Goodwill, a local foster care closet, etc., but I really need someone to help me pare down my dishes. It’s crazy, but we are hitting a stage where our glasses and silverware are mismatched. I’ve decided we need the equivalent of a bridal shower every twenty years or so to replace worn out items!


Things you need in order to write: time! I need some time to get back into the headspace to create. I also couldn’t live without my laptop, The Quill http://thequill.io for writing on any computer I have access to, and coffee.
Things that hamper your writing: tied to the answer above, the chaos of 2020 did a number on the space I need for creativity. As a professor at a university, a lot of my creative energy had to go into constantly flexing in how I taught. It reinforced that chaos makes it challenging for me to create. I also often need space away from the house to write, because there is always something or someone at home that needs me.  


Things you love about writing: I love creating worlds and the times where the words flow because I see the scene playing and hear the dialogue in my mind. That is magic!
Things you hate about writing: proposal writing is hard work. I’d much rather just write.

Easiest thing about being a writer: cranking out the words when I’m in the flow of the story.
Hardest thing about being a writer: sitting alone at a computer


Things you love about where you live: Lafayette is a small city with a major university. It makes for a great place to raise a family. It’s small yet has everything we need with Indianapolis an hour away.
Things that make you want to move: I miss DC! I’d love to move back to that city because politics and history.

Things you never want to run out of: coffee and inspiration!
Things you wish you’d never bought: adult coloring books. A good idea, but I don’t have time!


Words that describe you: hard-worker, collector of people, loyal, charismatic.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: over-committed, can’t say no.

Favorite beverage: coffee.

Something that gives you a pickle face: Matcha.

Favorite smell: citrus or light florals.

Something that makes you hold your nose: lapsang souchong tea.

Something you’re really good at: communicating: leading classes and writing.

Something you’re really bad at: sitting and watching a TV show or movie without doing something else at the same time. 


Something you wish you could do: play the piano by ear, write calligraphy, speak another language fluently.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: buy planners; I buy a lot but rarely use them for more than a week or two. It’s such a waste, but I’m looking at two for 2021 as I type this.

Favorite places you’ve been: Italy and Germany.

Places you never want to go to again: Alabama, apologies to everyone who lives there.

Favorite books: anything with suspense.

Books you would ban: science fiction or fantasy: I have a hard time seeing the story world.



EXCERPT FROM LETHAL INTENT

Caroline shifted in the high-backed chair. The massive conference room table made her feel more petite than usual. Quentin Jackson, the man propelling Praecursoria through its rapid growth, vibrated with energy as he studied her.

“We are on the cusp of amazing developments and a transition from the lab to trials. We have a few CAR T-cell therapies in early stages now with more in our pipeline.”

She racked her mind for the importance of T cells, and he gave a hearty laugh.

“Don’t worry if the science overwhelms you. We’ll have you up to speed in no time. All you need to know right now is that T cells are one of the two cells that make up white blood cells. The treatments we’re working on could be the difference between life and death for young cancer patients. We need your legal expertise and quick mind to synthesize the science with the map to market.”

“I’ve overseen several court trials related to patents, which should help with that process.” It had been an unforeseen aspect of her days clerking for Judge Loren. She swallowed against the lump in her throat that still welled up when she thought about his untimely death from pneumonia. A month ago she couldn’t imagine interviewing for a job somewhere else, even if a part of her knew that she should stretch her wings.

“When can you start? Today?”

She felt rooted to the chair. Everything was moving so fast. Could she really transition her experience managing clerks for a judge into managing patents and contracts for a start-up? While Praecursoria had been around for a decade as a cancer research lab, about eighteen months ago Quentin sold off its lucrative genetic testing branch to focus exclusively on the development of cutting-edge CAR T-cell therapies. Starting over that way was a bold if risky move.

She lifted her chin and forced a smile that didn’t waver. “If that’s what you need. First we have a few details to work out.”

He laughed. “I like the way you tackle issues head-on. That will be key in this role. I know how to steer the ship, and my chief scientist can navigate the research, but you’ll keep us on the legal straight and narrow.” He tapped his pen against the legal pad in front of him. Then he picked up her résumé and named a salary that pressed her against the chair. “There will be performance bonuses tied to the successful conclusion of trials. We want to look into stock options as well. That will be one of your assignments in conjunction with HR.” He slapped his hands on the table and she jumped. “My enthusiasm gets away from me sometimes.” He shrugged but never wavered as he examined her. “Let’s start with a field trip. The best way for you to understand why we’re doing this work and research is to show you.”

***

Excerpt from Lethal Intent by Cara Putman. Copyright 2021 by Cara Putman. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  



Since the time she could read Nancy Drew, Cara has wanted to write mysteries. In 2005 she attended a book signing at her local Christian bookstore. The rest, as they say, was history. There she met a fellow Indiana writer Colleen Coble. With prompting from her husband, Cara shared her dream with Colleen. Since those infamous words, Cara’s been writing award-winning books. She is currently marketing book 36 and dreaming up future books, not hard when she sees what-ifs everywhere.
Cara Putman is an active member of ACFW and gives back to the writing community through her service on Executive Board. She has also been the Indiana ACFW chapter president and served as the Area Coordinator for Indiana.



Cara is also an attorney, full-time lecturer at a Big Ten university, and all-around crazy woman. Crazy about God, her husband and her kids that is. She graduated with honors from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Go Huskers!), George Mason Law School, and Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.

Connect with Cara:
Website Blog Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads  

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble 



Friday, January 15, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: ALISSA C. GROSSO


 

ABOUT THE BOOK


An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

Caitlin Walker hasn't had a dream in nine years. Nightmares torture her son Adam and awaken in Caitlin buried memories and a dark secret. Her husband Lance has a secret of his own, one that his son's nightmares threaten to reveal.

In Culver Creek newly hired detective Sage Dorian works to unravel the small town's notorious cold case, the grisly murder of a young girl.

How are Caitlin and Lance connected to the horrific crime? And how far will they go to make sure their secrets stay hidden? Find out in this riveting thriller.

Book Details:

Title: Up the Creek

Author’s name: Alissa C. Grosso

Genre: Mystery Thriller

Series: Culver Creek series
, book 1
Publisher: Glitter Pigeon Press
 ( January 12, 2021
)
Print length: 356 pages




   


LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH ALISSA C. GROSSO


A few of your favorite things: my boyfriend, a cozy bed on a cold night, a book I don’t want to put down.
Things you need to throw out: all those notebooks that are filled with random notes I can’t even decipher.

Things you need in order to write: ideally a computer with a working keyboard, but I’m resourceful.
Things that hamper your writing: doubt, negativity and unpleasant news.


Things you love about writing: bringing made up people and fictional worlds to life.
Things you hate about writing: sometimes writers hit a quagmire known as the muddy middle, and it is extremely unpleasant.

Things you love about where you live: the deer, foxes and woodpeckers I see out my office window.
Things that make you want to move: it’s a 25-minute drive to the nearest full size supermarket.

Words that describe you:
quiet, bookish, creative.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: messy, nearsighted.

Favorite foods: pizza, soup, cheese, cookies.
Things that make you want to throw up: anything with coconut in it, lima beans, mushrooms.

Favorite music: my music tastes are pretty eclectic. If there’s a favorite genre I guess it would be 1990s punk and ska.
Music that make your ears bleed: the only genre of music that I universally loathe is country music.

Favorite beverage: tea.

Something that gives you a pickle face: coffee.

Favorite smell: citrus smells, especially bergamot.

Something that makes you hold your nose: vanilla.

The last thing you did for the first time: manually corrected with an eraser and a colored pencil a mistake on 36 photo Christmas cards that were printed at Staples.

Something you’ll never do again: order holiday cards from Staples.



Something you’re really good at: memorizing things.

Something you’re really bad at: remembering which is my left and which is my right.



Last best thing you ate: the waffle I made for breakfast this morning was pretty good, I have to say.

Last thing you regret eating: I probably should have skipped those cheese doodles I just had for a snack.

Things you’d walk a mile for: a hike along a pleasant walking trail.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: formal parties, or even informal ones, if I’m being honest.

Things you always put in your books: I try, even in my darkest books to make sure there’s some hope and redemption.

Things you never put in your books: cruelty to animals.

Favorite books: far too many to list, but some I never tire of reading are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Books you would ban: I’m not in favor of banning, but I don’t see myself ever rereading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne or A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Things that make you happy: funny movies, when the sun sets early in November and December, cute animals, that first really warm day in the spring, cooking dinner with my boyfriend.

Things that drive you crazy: when a brand discontinues a favorite product (Side note to the L’Oreal corporation: Bring back Almond Rocca hair color, you cowards!), the fall, the way tea is served in most American restaurants, the comments section on news articles, removable pads in sports bras—either sew them in place or don’t put them in at all!


Proudest moment: every time I complete a novel. That feeling never gets old.
Most embarrassing moment: in second grade I had to be a garbage bag in my school’s Halloween parade because my mom didn’t get there in time with my Princess Leia costume.



EXCERPT FROM UP THE CREEK


Caitlin emerged from a black, dreamless sleep to screams. Adam’s tortured cries sounded almost otherworldly. They turned her blood to ice and made her heart race. She sat straight up, then bolted from bed, blinking sleep from her eyes as she raced toward the door, banging her shin on the dresser as she went. She yanked on the doorknob and almost toppled over when it didn’t yield as she expected. Goddammit. Lance had locked the door again.

She spared a glance toward the bed, but her husband wasn’t there. Instead he was standing, looking out the window. For a moment she thought she was mistaken. Were the screams coming from outside?

“Lance?” she asked.

He turned to her, but his eyes looked past her at some point on the wall.

“What’s going on?” he mumbled, barely awake.

“Adam’s having a nightmare,” she said.

“Again?” he asked. “Maybe we should just let him sleep it off.”

The screams had subsided now, but she could still hear her son’s whimpers from down the hall. Sleep it off? Could Lance really be that clueless? She unlocked the door and flung it open. It bounced almost silently off the rubber doorstopper, which didn’t really give her the dramatic exit she was hoping for.

She still couldn’t quite wrap her head around her husband just standing there looking out the window while Adam cried for them. Usually Lance was the one who woke up first. Maybe he had already gone to comfort Adam and came back to their bedroom by the time she awoke. He seemed so out of it, though. Well, that’s what a lack of sleep could do to a person.

Adam sat on his bed in a nest of tangled sheets. His face was damp with tears and sweat, his dark hair plastered to his forehead. The hippo nightlight cast large, ominous shadows when she stepped into his room. He looked up with a start, then relaxed when he saw it was her.

She sat down beside him and pulled his small body to her, wrapping her arms around him and rocking him gently back and forth. The tears subsided, but he still felt tense.

“Mommy, I’m scared of the bad boy,” he said. “The bad boy’s going to hurt me.”

“Nobody’s going to hurt you,” she assured him. “You’re safe. It was just a dream. Look, you’re safe in your bedroom.”

At this, Adam pulled away from her a little to study the dimly lit bedroom. Maybe they should get a different nightlight. She had never realized how spooky that hippo light made everything look.

“There were trees,” Adam said, “and a river. She was playing in the river.”

Caitlin stiffened. Adam noticed it and looked up at her. She smiled at him.

“It was just a dream,” she said, as much to reassure herself as him. “It wasn’t real.”

There were lots of rivers out there, and wasn’t Adam just watching a cartoon show with cute animals that had to get across a river? That was probably where that detail came from. Plus, she reminded herself, it hadn’t been a river. It had been a creek. She wasn’t sure Adam knew the difference between a river and a creek, though. But a little girl playing in a river? No, wait, was that what he had said? He said only “she.” For all Caitlin knew, this she could have been a girl river otter. Maybe he had been having a cute dream about river creatures.

And a “bad boy,” she reminded herself. She remembered his bloodcurdling screams. There was nothing cute about the dream he had. Still, she clung to the “bad boy” detail. Was he talking about a child? If so, then the river was just a coincidence. She wanted to ask him more about the bad boy, but this was the worst thing she could do. He was already starting to calm down, starting to forget the details of his nightmare. She couldn’t go dredging things back up again.

“Mommy, can I sleep in your room?” Adam asked.

#

Lance was fully awake and in bed when Caitlin returned with Adam in her arms.

“Hey there, champ,” Lance said. “Have a bad dream?”

“Daddy, he hurt her,” Adam said. “He hurt her head. She was bleeding.”

Her son’s tiny body stiffened again in Caitlin’s arms, and she gave Lance an exasperated look as she set Adam down in the middle of the bed.

“We’d already gotten past that,” she said in a whispered hiss.

“Obviously,” Lance said with a roll of his eyes, “which is why he’s sleeping in our bed. Again.”

She slid into the bed beside Adam and adjusted the covers, ignoring her husband. She petted Adam’s head and made soft, soothing noises.

“Remember, that wasn’t real, just make believe, like a movie.” She didn’t want him to get himself worked up again talking about the dream, but it wasn’t just that. She didn’t want to hear any more details from the nightmare because the bit about the bad boy hurting the girl’s head and the blood felt a touch too familiar.

She stroked his face, and his eyelids slowly drooped closed. He looked so calm and peaceful when he slept.

“I thought we said we weren’t going to do this anymore,” Lance said. Even whispering, his voice was too loud. She held her finger to her lips. He continued more quietly, “I’m just saying, I think it would be better for him if he sleeps in his own bed.”

“It’s already after three,” she said. “It’s only for a few hours.”

“That’s not the point,” Lance said. “He’s nearly five years old. We can’t keep babying him.”

It was like the school argument all over again, and Caitlin didn’t want to get into it. Not now. She was still tired and groggy and needed more sleep.

“I want to get him a new nightlight,” she said to change the subject. “The one he has makes these creepy shadows.”

“A new nightlight,” Lance repeated in a skeptical voice. “Sure, that will solve everything.”

“The important thing,” she said, “is that we have to remind him that his dreams are not real. That they’re make believe. We have to be united on this.”

Lance made a dismissive noise and lay back down on his pillow, turning his body away from her and Adam. He muttered something, but his voice was muffled by the pillow.

“Lance, this is important,” she said. “We have to make it clear that his dreams are not real. He has to know they aren’t true.”

He sighed. “What kind of moron do you think I am? Do you really think I’m going to start telling him his dreams about boogeymen are real?” He squirmed around and pulled the covers up in an attempt to get comfortable. She thought he was done, but he stopped shifting around long enough to add, “It’s not exactly like you’re the foremost expert in dreams.”

***

Excerpt from Up the Creek by Alissa Grosso.  Copyright 2021 by Alissa Grosso. Reproduced with permission from Alissa Grosso. All rights reserved.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 


Alissa Grosso is the author of several books for adults and teens. Originally from New Jersey, she now resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. 



Connect with Alissa:

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble



Thursday, January 14, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: PAULA DARNELL



ABOUT THE BOOK

Artist Amanda Trent, accompanied by her beloved golden retriever Laddie and her persnickety calico cat Mona Lisa, is determined to start a new life after her husband divorces her to marry a younger woman, but it isn't easy.
   

After a disastrous interview at the prestigious Roadrunner Gallery in Lonesome Valley, Arizona, far away from her previous home in Kansas City, Amanda's afraid that she'll fail at her new career. But her prospects begin to improve when she's accepted as the newest member of the cooperative gallery. 
   

Then, on her very first day, she discovers Janice, the stern director, has been murdered right in the art gallery, and the Roadrunner's members, including Amanda herself, become suspects. Which gallery member murdered the unpopular director? Or was the killer an outsider with an ax to grind?

Book Details:

Title: Artistic License to Kill

Author: Paula Darnell

Genre: cozy mystery

Series: A Fine Art Mystery

Publisher: Campbell and Rogers Press
 (January 2021
)
Print length:  251 pages





LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH PAULA DARNELL


A few of your favorite things: chocolate, tea, roses, silk fabric, hats.
Things you need to throw out: old magazines, receipts, and paperwork.


Things you need in order to write: paper, pen, and concentration.
Things that hamper your writing: lack of time.


Things you love about writing: telling a story.
Things you hate about writing: proofreading.

Favorite music: opera.
Music that make your ears bleed: rap.

Favorite beverage: tea.

Something that gives you a pickle face: soy milk.



Last best thing you ate: coconut cake.

Last thing you regret eating: coconut cake.

Things you always put in your books: a lovable dog.

Things you never put in your books: author.

Things to say to an author: I loved your book!

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: It's a wonderful book, but I didn't really like the way the sub-plot worked out, so three stars for this one.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

An instructor at five colleges over the years, Paula Darnell most often taught the dreaded first-year English composition classes, but she's also been happy to teach some fun classes, such as fashion design, sewing, and jewelry making. Paula has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a Master's degree in English from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Like the main characters in her DIY Diva Mystery series and her Fine Art Mystery series, Paula enjoys all kinds of arts and crafts. Some of her memorable projects include making a hat and a cape to wear to Royal Ascot, sewing wedding gowns for both her daughters, exhibiting her textile and mixed-media artwork in juried art shows, and having one of her jewelry projects accepted for inclusion in Leather Jewelry, published by Lark Books. She sells some of her jewelry and hair accessories in her Etsy shop.



She is also the author of The Six-Week Solution, a historical mystery set in Reno, Nevada, in 1955. A former Reno resident, she was inspired by the local history and found the 1950s, when Reno was considered the Divorce Capital of the World, to be an interesting era in which to set a mystery.
 
Paula won two writing awards in 2020: one from the National Federation of Press Women for Death by Association and another from the Public Safety Writers Association for The Six-Week Solution. 
  


Paula lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband Gary and their 110-pound dog Rocky, whose favorite pastime is lurking in the kitchen, hoping for a handout.

Connect with Paula:
Website  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads Amazon

Buy the book:
Amazon 



Monday, January 11, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: PETER W.J. HAYES


 

ABOUT THE BOOK


After a house fire hospitalizes his partner and forces him onto medical leave, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police detective Vic Lenoski starts a desperate search for the woman who set the blaze. She is the one person who knows what happened to his missing teenage daughter, but as a fugitive, she’s disappeared so thoroughly no one can find her.

Risking his job and the wrath of the district attorney, Vic resorts to bargaining with criminal suspects for new leads, many of which point to North Dakota. He flies there, only to discover he is far from everything he knows, and his long-cherished definitions of good and bad are fading as quickly as his leads. His only chance is one last audacious roll of the dice. Can he stay alive long enough to discover the whereabouts of his daughter and rebuild his life? Or is everything from his past lost forever?


Book Details:
Title: The Things That Last Forever
Author: Peter W. J. Hayes
Genre: mystery, police procedural
Series: The Vic Lenoski Mysteries, book 3
Publisher: Level Best Books (September 1, 2020)
Print length: 278 pages






TWENTY QUESTIONS/ONE WORD ANSWERS WITH PETER W.J. HAYES


1. Where is your cell phone? Charging.
2. Your hair? Missing.
3. Your workplace? Desk.
4. Your other half? Home.
5. What makes you happy? Efficiency.
6. What makes you crazy? Inefficency.
7. Your favorite food? Ribs.
8. Your favorite beverage? Wine.
9. Fear? Health.
10. Favorite shoes? Hiking.
11. Favorite way to relax? Music.
12. Your mood? Positive.
13. Your home away from home? Car.
14. Where were you last night? Home.
15. Something that you aren't? Impatient.
16. Something from your bucket list? Ireland.
17. Wish list item? Enstrom’s.
18. Where did you grow up? Pittsburgh.
19. Last thing you did? Slept.
20. What are wearing now? Carhartt.


EXCERPT FROM THE THINGS THAT LAST FOREVER

Chapter 1

Sometimes you walk into a room and what’s inside changes your life forever. That sense stopped Vic just inside the doorway. A woman with skin the color of dark amber lay on the only bed, her bandaged arms shockingly white among the shadows. She was reflected in a large window in the far wall, the outside sky as black and still as the inside of a tomb. He smelled disinfectant and blood. Numbers and graph lines flared on grey-eyed medical monitors. Somewhere in the vast empty spaces of the hospital a voice echoed.

He’d never visited a burn ward.

Never had a partner so close to death.

Never thought a room could seem as hollow as he felt inside.

The feeling was so disembodying that when he reached the bed and looked into the woman’s face, he half expected to see himself. But it was Liz, her forehead and knobby cheekbones smeared with ointment, eyebrows and eyelashes burned away. A bandage covered her left earlobe where her favorite earring, a small gold star, usually sat. It seemed like every breath she took pained her.

He wanted to take her hand but the bandages made it impossible. “Liz,” he said softly, her name almost lost among the beeps and clicks of the monitors. Liquid dripped into a tangle of IV tubes at the back of her fist.

Her eyelids fluttered.

“Liz. Doctor told me I could talk to you.”

Her eyes opened. He watched her pupils widen and narrow as they absorbed the distance to the ceiling and distinguished shadows from feeble light.

“Vic?” A hoarse whisper.

“I’m here.”

She turned her face to him. “You got me out.”

Relief rose in Vic’s throat. “Yeah. But the house didn’t make it.”

“Cora Stills?”

Vic squeezed his eyelids shut and rocked on his heels. He didn’t know where to start. Cora Stills. The one person who knew something—anything—about his missing teenage daughter. Liz on her way to arrest her. Instead, Liz, handcuffed to a radiator pipe as flames lathered and stormed through Cora’s house. Cora’s burned-out car found two days later on a crumbling stone dock next to a deserted warehouse, the Allegheny River emptying westward.

Cora, alive and moving through that tomb of darkness outside the window. Free.

“Vic…” Liz said something more but he couldn’t make it out.

He bent closer.

She forced her words from somewhere deep inside, and as she spoke, he knew this was what she saved through all the fear and pain to tell him. “Someone told Cora I was coming.”

***

Excerpt from The Things That Last Forever by Peter W. J. Hayes.  Copyright 2020 by Peter W. J. Hayes. Reproduced with permission from Peter W. J. Hayes. All rights reserved.

 

 

OTHER BOOKS BY PETER W.J. HAYES

The Pittsburgh Trilogy (The Vic Lenoski Mysteries):

Book 1: The Things That Aren’t There

Book 2: The Things That Are Different

Book 3: The Things That Last Forever



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Peter W. J. Hayes worked as a journalist, advertising copywriter, and marketing executive before turning to mystery and crime writing. He is the author of the Silver Falchion-nominated Pittsburgh Trilogy, a police procedural series, published by Level Best Books. He is also a Derringer-nominated author of more than a dozen short stories. His short work has appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern and various anthologies, including two Malice Domestic collections and The Best New England Crime Stories. He is also a past nominee for the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Debut Dagger Award.

Connect with Peter:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble
 
 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

FEATURED AUTHOR: ROB BATES

 



ABOUT THE BOOK


Max Rosen always said the diamond business isn't about sorting the gems, it's about sorting the people. His daughter Mimi is about to learn that some people, like some diamonds, can be seriously flawed.

After Mimi's diamond-dealer cousin Yosef is murdered--seemingly for his $4 million pink diamond--Mimi finds herself in the middle of a massive conspiracy, where she doesn't know who to trust, or what to believe. Now she must find out the truth about both the diamond and her cousin, before whoever killed Yosef, gets her.

Book Details: 

Title: A Murder is Forever

Author: Rob Bates

Genre: mystery 

Series: The Diamond District Mystery Series

Publisher: Camel Press (October 19, 2020)

Print length: 216 pages





LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH ROB BATES


A few of your favorite things: my son and my wife are my favorite people, and I feel very lucky to have had them with me during this crazy pandemic year. I also appreciate all the i- devices that give me unlimited access to books, music, etc. But I also hate them because I spend way too much time on them. It’s a complicated relationship.
Things you need to throw out: our apartment is absurdly cluttered. Don’t get me started. 


Things you need in order to write: a deadline helps. Basically, fear.
Things that hamper your writing: the news has proven a major distraction this year. So, also, fear.

Things you love about writing: when you tell people you’re a writer at parties, sometimes they find it cool. Unless, of course, they know other writers.
Things you hate about writing: the low pay. The rejection. Also, a lot of writers like to whine, which is exactly what I’m doing now.
 
Things you love about where you live: New York City, despite its high cost of living, is a fantastic place to live, with tons of things to do.
Things that make you want to move: New York is a little less fantastic when, like this year, you can’t leave your small apartment, which now also serves as your office, plus you also have a seven-year-old who needs attention.   

Words that describe you: a guy from the Jersey suburbs.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: bald.

Favorite music: I’m a huge Beach Boys fan. I generally like older music. Not sure why, other than being old myself.
Music that make your ears bleed: the music blaring from the guy in the next apartment. Turn it down, dude. 



Last best thing you ate: we just bought chocolate-covered pretzels. They are pretty great.
Last thing you regret eating: I really should stop eating those chocolate-covered pretzels.

Things you always put in your books: humor. Warmth. Oblique references to my favorite TV shows. 

Things you never put in your books: I try not to be excessively cruel. Some of the stuff I read or watch is so bleak and nasty. I don’t find that entertainment.

Favorite places you’ve been: I’ve been to Africa, and it’s beautiful and amazing. 

Places you never want to go to again: The McDonalds in my neighborhood is kind of gross.   

People you’d like to invite to dinner (living): it’s COVID time! I’d be happy to have dinner with anyone!

People you’d cancel dinner on: I once read an expression, “everyone is interesting, as long as they’re honest.” So anyone who is honest about their life is worth having dinner with.

Things that make you happy: great music, great TV, great books, great movies. And, of course, my great family.

Things that drive you crazy: the news. Not great.

The last thing you did for the first time: this is my first book! Does that count?

Something you’ll never do again: a few years back, my wife and I were in a taxicab accident. We weren’t that badly hurt, but it was made worse because we were sitting in the back seat and not wearing seat belts. So I’ll never again not wear a seat belt. None of you should, either. This has beemn a public service announcement.



EXCERPT FROM A MURDER IS FOREVER


CHAPTER ONE

As Mimi Rosen exited the subway and looked out on the Diamond District, she remembered the words of her therapist: “This won’t last forever.”

She sure hoped so. She had been working on Forty-Seventh Street for two months and was already pretty tired of it.

To outsiders, “The Diamond District” sounded glamorous, like a street awash in glitter. To Mimi, who had spent her life around New York, Forty-Seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was a crowded, dirty eyesore of a block. The sidewalk was covered not with glitz, but with newspaper boxes, cigarettes, stacks of garbage bags, and, of course, lots of people.

Dozens of jewelry stores lined the street, all vying for attention, with red neon signs proclaiming “we buy gold” or “50 percent off.” Their windows boasted the requisite rows of glittery rings, and Mimi would sometimes see tourists ogling them, their eyes wide. She hated how the stores crammed so many gems in each display, until they all ran together like a mess of kids’ toys. For all its feints toward elegance, Forty-Seventh Street came off as the world’s sparkliest flea market.

Mimi knew the real action in the Diamond District was hidden from pedestrians, because it took place upstairs. There, in the nondescript grey and brown buildings that stood over the stores, billions in gems were bought, sold, traded, stored, cut, appraised, lost, found, and argued over. The upstairs wholesalers comprised the heart of the U.S. gem business; if someone bought a diamond anywhere in America, it had likely passed through Forty-Seventh Street.

Mimi’s father Max had spent his entire life as part of the small tight-knit diamond dealer community. It was a business based on who you knew—and even more, who you trusted. “This business isn’t about sorting the diamonds,” Max always said. “It’s about sorting the people.” Mimi would marvel how traders would seal million-dollar deals on handshakes, without a contract or lawyer in sight.

It helped that Forty-Seventh Street was comprised mostly of family businesses, owned by people from a narrow range of ethnic groups. Most—like Mimi’s father—were Orthodox, or religious, Jews. (“We’re the only people crazy enough to be in this industry,” as Max put it.) The Street was also home to a considerable contingent of Hasidic Jews, who were even more religious and identifiable by their black top hats and long flowing overcoats. Mimi once joked that Forty-Seventh Street was so diverse, it ran the gamut from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox.

Now Mimi, while decidedly secular, was part of it all. Working for her father’s diamond company was not something she wanted to do, not something she ever dreamed she would do. Yet, here she was.

She had little choice. She had not worked full-time since being laid off from her editing job a year ago. She was already in debt from her divorce, which had cost more than her wedding, and netted little alimony. “That’s what happens when you divorce a lawyer,” said her shrink.

Six months after she lost her job, Mimi first asked her father for money. He happily leant it to her, though he added he wasn’t exactly Rockefeller. It was after her third request—accompanied, like the others, by heartfelt vows to pay him back—that he asked her to be the bookkeeper at his company. “I know you hate borrowing from me,” he told her. “This way, it isn’t charity. Besides, it’ll be nice having you around.”

Mimi protested she could barely keep track of her own finances. Her father reminded her that she got an A in accounting in high school. Which apparently qualified her to do the books at Max Rosen Diamond Company.

“We have new software, it makes it easy,” Max said. “Your mother, may she rest in peace, did it for years.”

Mimi put him off. She had a profession, and it wasn’t her mother’s.

Mimi was a journalist. She had worked at a newspaper for nine years, and a website for five. She was addicted to the thrill of the chase, the pump of adrenaline when she uncovered a hot story or piece of previously hidden info. There is no better sound to a reporter’s ears than someone sputtering, “How did you find that out?”

“It’s the perfect job for you,” her father once said. “You’re a professional nosy person.”

She loved journalism for a deeper reason, which she rarely admitted to her cynical reporter friends: She wanted to make a difference. As a girl, she was haunted by the stories they told in religious school, how Jews were killed in concentration camps while the world turned its head. Growing up, she devoured All the President’s Men and idolized pioneering female muckrakers like Nellie Bly.

Being a journalist was the only thing Mimi ever wanted to do, the only thing she knew how to do. She longed to do it again.

Which is why, she told her therapist, she would tell her father no.

Dr. Asner said she understood, in that soft melancholy coo common to all therapists. Then she crept forward on her chair.

“Maybe you should take your father up on this. He’s really throwing you a lifeline. You keep telling me how bad the editorial job market is.” She squinted and her glasses inched up her nose. “Sometimes people adjust their dreams. Put them on hold.”

Mimi felt the blood drain from her face. In her darker moments—and she had quite a few after her layoff—she had considered leaving journalism and doing something else, though she had no idea what that would be. Mimi always believed that giving up her lifelong passion would be tantamount to surrender.

Dr. Asner must have sensed her reaction, because she quickly backtracked.

“You can continue to look for a journalism job,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe working in the Diamond District will give you something to write about. Besides,”— here, her voice gained an edge—“you need the money.” That was driven home at the end of the forty-five minutes, when Dr. Asner announced that she couldn’t see Mimi for any more sessions, since Mimi hadn’t paid her for the last three.

By that point, Mimi didn’t know whether to argue, burst into tears, or wave a white flag and admit the world had won.

It was a cold February morning as Mimi walked down Forty-Seventh Street to her father’s office, following an hour-plus commute from New Jersey that included a car, a bus, and a subway. With her piercing hazel eyes, glossy brown hair, and closely set features, Mimi was frequently told she was pretty, though she never quite believed it. She had just gotten her hair cut short to commemorate her thirty-eighth birthday, hoping for a more “mature” look. She had always been self-conscious about her height; she was five foot four and tried to walk taller. She was wearing a navy dress that she’d snagged for a good price on eBay; it was professional enough to please her father, who wanted everyone to look nice in the office, without being so nice that she was wasting one of her few good outfits. She was bundled up with multiple layers and a heavy coat—to protect against the winter chill, as well as the madness around her.

Even though it was before 9 AM, Forty-Seventh Street was, as usual, packed, and Mimi gritted her teeth as she bobbed and weaved through the endless crowd. She sidestepped the store workers grabbing a smoke, covering her mouth so she wouldn’t get cancer. She swerved around the stern-looking guard unloading the armored car, with the gun conspicuously dangling from his belt. And she dodged the “hawker” trying to lure her into a jewelry store, who every day asked if she had gold to sell, even though every day she told him no.

Finally, Mimi reached her father’s building, 460 Fifth, the most popular address on “The Street.” After a few minutes standing and tapping her foot on the security line, she handed her driver’s license to the security guard and called out, “Rosen Diamonds.”

“Miss,” growled the guard with the oversized forehead who’d seen her three days a week for the past two months, “you should get a building ID. It’ll save you time in the morning.”

“It’s okay. I won’t be working here for long,” she chirped, though she wasn’t quite sure of that.

Next stop, the elevator bank. Mimi had an irrational fear of elevators; she was always worried she would die in one. She particularly hated these elevators, which were extremely narrow and perpetually packed. She envied those for whom a subway was their sole exposure to a cramped unpleasant space.

As the car rose, one occupant asked a Hasidic dealer how he was finding things.

“All you can do is put on your shoes. The rest is up to the man upstairs.”

Only in the diamond business. Mimi’s last job was thirty blocks away, yet in a different universe.

At each floor, dealers pushed and rushed like they were escaping a fire. When the elevator reached her floor, Mimi too elbowed her way to freedom.

As she walked to her father’s office, she marveled how the building, so fancy and impressive when she was a kid, had sunk into disrepair. The carpets were frayed, the paint was peeling, and the bathroom rarely contained more than one functioning toilet. If management properly maintained the building, they’d charge Midtown Manhattan rents, which small dealers like her father couldn’t afford. The neglect suited everyone.

She spied a new handwritten sign, “No large minyans, by order of the fire department.” Mimi produced a deep sigh. She had long ago left her religious background behind. Somehow, she was now working in a building where they warn against praying in the halls. She was going backward.

Perhaps the dealer in the elevator was right. You could only put on your shoes and do your best. She grabbed her pocketbook strap, threw her head back, and was just about at her father’s office when she heard the yelling.

“I’m so tired of waiting, Yosef! It’s not fair!”

Max’s receptionist, Channah, was arguing with her boyfriend, Yosef, a small-time, perpetually unsuccessfully diamond dealer. Making it more awkward: Yosef was Mimi’s cousin.

Channah and Yosef had dated for nearly eighteen months without getting married—an eternity in Channah’s community. Still, whenever Channah complained, Mimi remembered how her ex-husband only popped the question after three years and two ultimatums.

“Give me more time,” Yosef stuttered, as he tended to do when nervous. “I want to be successful in the business.”

“When’s that going to happen? The year three thousand?”

The argument shifted to Yiddish, which Mimi didn’t understand, though they were yelling so fiercely she didn’t need to. Finally, tall, skinny Yosef stormed out of the office, his black hat and suit set off by his red face. He was walking so fast he didn’t notice his cousin Mimi standing against the wall. Given the circumstances, she didn’t stop him to say hello. She watched his back grow smaller as he stomped and grunted down the hall.

Mimi gave Channah time to cool down. After a minute checking in vain for responses to her latest freelance pitch—editors weren’t even bothering to reject her anymore—she rang the doorbell. She flashed a half-smile at the security camera stationed over the door, and Channah buzzed her in. Mimi hopped into the “man trap,” the small square space between security doors that was a standard feature of diamond offices. She let the first door slam behind her, heard the second buzz, pulled the metal handle on the inner door, and said hello to Channah, perched at her standard spot at the reception desk.

Channah had long dark curly hair, which she constantly twirled; a round, expressive face, dotted with black freckles; and a voluptuous figure that even her modest religious clothing couldn’t hide.

“Did you hear us argue?” she asked Mimi.

“No,” she sputtered. “I mean—”

Channah smiled and pointed to the video monitor on her desk. “I could see you on the camera.” Her shoulders slouched. “It was the same stupid argument we always have. Even I’m bored by it.”

“Hang in there. We’ll talk at lunch.” Mimi and Channah shared a quick hug, and Mimi walked back to the office.

She was greeted by her father’s smile and a peck on the cheek. If anything made this job worthwhile, it was that grin. Plus the money.

“How are things this morning?”

“Baruch Hashem,” Max replied. Max said “thank God” all the time, even during his wife’s sickness, when he really didn’t seem all that thankful.

Sure enough, he added, “We’re having a crisis.”

Mimi almost rolled her eyes. It was always a crisis in the office. When Mimi was young, the family joke was that business was either “terrible” or “worse than terrible.”

Lately, her dad seemed more agitated than normal. As he spoke, he puttered in a circle and his hands clutched a pack of Tums. That usually didn’t come out until noon.

“I can’t find the two-carat pear shape.” He threw his arms up and his forehead exploded into a sea of worry lines. “It’s not here, it’s not there. It’s nowhere.”

Max Rosen was dressed, as usual, in a white button-down shirt and brown wool slacks, with a jeweler’s loupe dangling on a rope from his neck. His glasses sat off-kilter on his nose, and two shocks of white hair jutted from his skull like wings. When he was excited about something, like this missing diamond, the veins in his neck popped and the bobby-pinned yarmulke seemed to flap on his head.

Mimi stifled a laugh. That was the crisis? Diamonds always got lost in the office. As kids, Mimi and her two sisters used to come in on weekends and be paid one dollar for every stone they found on the floor. “They travel,” Max would say.

It was no surprise that things went missing in that vortex of an office. Every desk was submerged under a huge stack of books, magazines, and papers. The most pressing were placed on the seat near her father’s desk, what he called his “in-chair.”

When Mimi’s mother worked there, she kept a lid on the chaos. After her death, Max hired a few bookkeepers, none of whom lasted; two years later, the job had somehow fallen to Mimi.

Eventually, Channah found the two-carat pear shape, snug in its parcel papers, right next to the bathroom keys. The only logical explanation was that Max was examining it while on the toilet.

Max sheepishly returned to his desk. Mimi loved watching her father at work. She was fascinated by how he joked with friends, took grief from clients, and kept track of five things at once. It felt exotic and forbidden, like observing an animal in its natural habitat.

For the most part, they got along, which was no small thing. Over the years, there had been tense moments as he struggled to accept that she was no longer religious. Lately, he rarely brought the topic up, and she didn’t want him to. Her split from her non-Jewish ex probably helped.

On occasion, the old strains resurfaced, in subtle ways. Max’s desk was covered with photos—mostly of Mimi’s mom and her religious sisters and their religious broods. One time when Max was at lunch, Mimi tiptoed over to glance at them, and—not incidentally—check how many were of her. It made her feel silly, yet she couldn’t help herself. She was a professional nosy person.

She got her answer: out of about twenty photos, Mimi was in three, an old family photo and two pics from her sisters’ weddings. That was less than expected. She tried not to take it personally. She had no kids and her marriage was a bust. What was there to show off?

Mimi spent most of the morning deciphering her father’s books—a task made more difficult by his aging computer system, which regularly stalled and crashed. Her father’s “new” software was actually fifteen years old.

Sometimes she wished he gave her more substantial tasks to do. While her father would never say it, he didn’t consider the diamond industry a place for women, as it had always been male-dominated—even though, ironically, it catered mostly to females. That was fine with Mimi. She didn’t want to devote her life to a rock.

At 1 PM, Channah and Mimi headed for Kosher Gourmet, their usual lunch spot. Mimi always joked, “I don’t know if it’s kosher, but it’s not gourmet.”

In the two months Mimi had worked for her father, she and Channah had become fast friends, bonding over their shared love of mystery novels, crossword puzzles, and sarcastic senses of humor.

Channah was not Mimi’s typical friend. She was twenty-three and her parents were strictly religious, even more than Mimi’s. She commuted to Forty-Seventh Street every day on a charter bus from Borough Park, a frum enclave in Brooklyn. The Diamond District was her main exposure to the wider world. She reminded Mimi of her younger, more religious self, under her parents’ thrall yet curious what else was out there.

Mimi was not Channah’s typical friend either. During their lunches, Channah quizzed her on the taste of non-Kosher food (it didn’t taste any different, Mimi told her); sex (“When the time comes,” Mimi said, “you’ll figure it out”); and popular culture (“Can you explain,” Channah once asked, “why Kim Kardashian is famous?” Mimi just said no.) Today, as usual, they talked about Yosef.

“I don’t get it.” Channah wrapped sesame noodles around her white plastic fork. “I love him. He loves me. Why not get married?”

Mimi took a sip from her Styrofoam cup filled with warm tap water. She preferred bottled water but couldn’t afford it. “Have you thought of giving Yosef an ultimatum? Tell him if he doesn’t marry you by a certain date, that’s it.”

“Yosef wouldn’t take that seriously.” Channah turned her eyes to her tray.

“Why not?”

“Cause I’ve done that already. Three times! I backed down every time.” Her fork toyed with her food. “I believe it is beshert that Yosef and I will end up together. I’ve thought so since I first met him at your father’s office, and he smiled at me. What choice do I have?” Her elbow nudged her tray across the table.

“I understand why he’s waiting. He wants to be a steady provider. That’s a good thing, right?”

Actually, Mimi found it sexist. She didn’t say that, because she found many things in Channah’s world sexist.

“He just needs to sell that pink,” Channah said, spearing a dark brown cube of chicken.

Mimi took a quick sip of water. “That pink” was an awkward subject.

One month ago, Yosef had bought a three-point-two carat pink diamond. It was the biggest purchase of his career, the kind of high-risk move that could make or break his business. Max was overjoyed. “Do you know how rare pink diamonds are?” he exclaimed. “And it’s a three-carater! Sounds like a great buy!”

That was, until Yosef proudly presented it to his uncle Max, who inspected it under his favorite lamp, muttered “very nice,” and quickly handed it back.

It was only after Yosef left that Max dismissed his nephew’s score as a strop, a dog of a diamond, the kind of unsellable item that gathered dust in a safe.

“It has so many pepper spots,” Max lamented. “The color’s not strong at all. No one will buy that thing.”

“Maybe he got it for a good price,” Mimi said.

“I’m sure whoever sold it to him said it was the bargain of the century. Anytime someone offers me a metziah, that’s a sign they can’t sell the stone. There’s a saying, ‘your metziah is my strop.’” His face sagged. “I wish he talked to me first. That stone is worthless. I don’t have the heart to tell him.”

When Channah brought up the big pink at lunch, Mimi didn’t want to dwell on the subject. “What’s happening with that?” she asked, as casually as possible.

“Didn’t you hear?” Channah jerked forward. “It got the highest grade possible on its USGR cert.”

“You’ll have to translate.” Mimi tuned out most diamond talk.

“Cert is short for certificate, meaning grading report. The USGR is the U.S. Academy for Gemological Research, the best lab in the industry.”

Mimi just stared.

“That stone’s worth four million dollars.”

That Mimi understood. “Wow.” A lot of money for a dog of a diamond.

“Four point one million, to be exact.” Channah laughed. “Don’t want to leave that point one out!”

“I thought that stone was—”

“Ugly?” Channah chuckled. “Me too! I don’t understand how it got that grade. I guess it doesn’t matter. As your father says, ‘today the paper is worth more than the diamond.’” She slurped some diet soda.

“Is Yosef going to get four million dollars?”

“Who knows? He isn’t exactly an expert in selling such a stone. Your father convinced him to post it on one of the online trading networks. Someone called him about it yesterday.”

“That’s great!”

“Hopefully. If anyone could screw this up, Yosef could.” Channah’s mouth curled downward. “I keep checking my phone to see if there’s any news.” She flipped over her iPhone, saw nothing, and flipped it back. “The way I figure, if he sells that stone, he’ll have to marry me. Unless he comes up with some new excuse. He wouldn’t do that, right? Not after all this time. Would he?” 

Mimi struggled to keep herself in check. She was dying to shake Channah and scream that if Yosef wasn’t giving her what she wanted, it was time to move on. She didn’t. Yosef was her cousin. Mimi was in no position to critique someone else’s love life. She always told people hers was “on hold.” It was basically non-existent.

Plus, she remembered how, weeks before her wedding, her friends warned her that her fiancé had a wandering eye. That just strengthened her resolve to marry him, even though in retrospect, they were right. “With situations like that,” her therapist said later, “I always recommend not to say anything. Just be a supportive friend.” 

Mimi waited until Channah stopped speaking. She touched her hand. “I’m sure it will work out,” she said.

***

Excerpt from A Murder is Forever by Rob Bates.  Copyright 2020 by Rob Bates. Reproduced with permission from Rob Bates. All rights reserved.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  


Rob Bates has spent over 25 years writing and reporting on the diamond and jewelry industry, including 20 years for JCKonline.com. In that time, he has won 12 editorial awards. He has also been a comedy writer and performer. A Murder is Forever, the initial entry in the Diamond District Mystery Series, is his first novel.



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