Farewell to 2014

I have mixed feelings about leaving 2014 behind. There were times when it was great and times when it really wasn’t. I guess every year is like that.

So what were the highlights?

1. My first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, was published in July. Woo hoo!

2. I finished my second novel, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and started a third.

3. Our family went to Europe over the summer. All things considered, it was an amazing experience and I want to go again!

4. Two of my kids started new schools and love them.

5. My third child got a great score on her first attempt at the SAT.

6. Kayaking!

7. I got a little more involved with Facebook and Twitter.

8. I completed a few of my New Year’s resolutions (more about that next week).

9. I had my first book signing! Thank you again, Corbin’s River Heritage!

10. I ran my first 5K and got to watch my husband finish the Maui Warrior Challenge in September.

And what were the not-so-highlights?

1. I have learned that having a book published isn’t all fun. It’s hard work, very time consuming, and each book, even after it’s published, is a long-term commitment.

2. Our family went to Europe over the summer. Someday, when the memories aren’t so raw and I can laugh at them, I’ll tell you some of my stories.

3. One of our children was hit by a car in August and is still recovering.

I would like to thank all of you for your support over the past year. I have enjoyed blogging and love reading your comments and hearing your thoughts. Let’s grow it in 2015!

Happy Thanksgiving

Last year at this time I made a list of the things I give thanks for all year ’round. I was going to make another list for this year when I re-read that old post and realized that nothing has changed, with one addition:

I am thankful for all the people who have read and enjoyed my first book, Secrets of Hallstead House, and for all those who have said they are excited to read my next book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor. You people make me so happy, so thank you!!

So now that my list is updated for 2014, I’m going to share a different list with you.

Anyone who lives in my house knows that Christmas carols and Christmas movies are strictly forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. This year has been a little different, though, since my daughters and I are singing at various local tree lighting ceremonies with a community choir group and the first one is before Thanksgiving. We have to practice, so I’m allowing an exception to the normal rules. We are allowed to listen to the practice cd.

But that’s it. No other Christmas music, no Christmas movies, period. Not until this Friday.

Once Friday comes, look out. I don’t want anything but Christmas playing until January 1st on any radio, any cd player, any electronic device, any television, any anything at my house. Having said that, here is the list of movies I’ll be watching starting November 28th. I’d list my favorite Christmas songs, too, but I only have so much time to write this post and the list is way too long.

1. The Bishop’s Wife. Please note that, while I have nothing against Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, I will be watching the black-and-white version starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. I was introduced to this movie many years ago by my aunt Jeanne and I watch it as often as I can during the holiday season.

2. White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. The singing and dancing in this movie are enough to make any child want to grow up to perform in a lodge in Vermont.

3. Holiday Inn. Another Bing Crosby classic, he stars with Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds in the story about an inn that only opens on holidays. There’s music, comedy, love, and snow. What more could anyone want from a Christmas movie?

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. With apologies to Jim Carrey, I just stick with the original animated version. I like it better than the feature film because I have all the lines memorized and I sing along with Thurl Ravenscroft.

5. A Christmas Carol. I will watch any version of this movie, but my favorite, for reasons I haven’t figured out yet, is the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, and Kathleen Lockhart. The acting can be a little over-the-top and corny, but I love it anyway.

6. It’s a Wonderful Life. There was a time when I refused to watch this movie because it was sooo depressing, but I’ve changed my mind and I watch it every year now. I’m glad my husband insisted on me watching it with him years ago, because it’s become an annual tradition.

7. Elf. Because it’s hilarious.

8-9. Home Alone and Home Alone II. You can never get enough Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. They make the two greatest bandits in the history of Christmas, with the exception of King Herod.

10. A Charlie Brown Christmas. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like the Charlie Brown movies, but I love the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas ones. My two favorite parts are when Linus recounts the Christmas story on stage and when the Peanuts gang is singing together at the end, mouths open and little noses pointed straight up to the sky.

I wish you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving and a beautiful start to the holiday season.

Until next week,

Amy

Suffolk, Virginia Mystery Authors Festival

Before I get started, I’d like to let everyone know that Secrets of Hallstead House was featured as the Cool Book of the Week on Amy Metz’s blog, A Blue Million Books. I’d love for you to check out the post: you can find it at http://abluemillionbooks.blogspot.com/. You may have to scroll down just a bit, but I promise it’s there. Many thanks to Amy Metz for the opportunity to appear on her blog!

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Suffolk, Virginia Mystery Authors Festival, hosted by the Suffolk Division of Tourism in partnership with the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts and the Suffolk Public Library. It was a gathering of twelve very talented and prolific mystery writers, a literary agent (Dawn Dowdle), a freelance editor (Jeni Chappelle), several members of the Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime, and hundreds of very happy readers.

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I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the likes of Ellery Adams, Mollie Cox Bryan (who shares my Kensington editor), Mary Burton, Erika Chase, Vicki Delany (who also writes as Eva Gates), Linda O. Johnston, Joyce and Jim Lavene (who write together as Ellie Grant and J.J. Cook), Maggie Sefton, Gayle Trent (who also writes as Amanda Lee), LynDee Walker, and Wendy Lyn Watson (who also writes as Annie Knox).

Many of these authors write cozy mysteries. The cozy is a sub-genre of crime fiction in which the main character, generally a woman, is an amateur sleuth with a day job that allows her to interact with members of the close-knit community in which the crime usually takes place. The cozy is populated with quirky-next-door-neighbor-type characters and the reader gets to know many members of the community as a cozy series progresses. Often the main character has a close relationship with a member of law enforcement (say, a brother, best friend, boyfriend, ex-husband, etc.) and you’d be amazed at how often cats, dogs, and other animals are important cast members. Cozies tend to be on the milder side of crime fiction and generally avoid strong cursing and graphic descriptions of violence and intimacy. It is common to find the main character’s job or hobby (such as knitting, scrapbooking, or animal rescues) as a theme throughout a cozy series.

But not all the authors I met write cozies: some write novels and stories that are a bit darker, such as Mary Burton’s Cover Your Eyes or her Texas Rangers series or Maggie Sefton’s newest political mystery Poisoned Politics. I’m happy to report that both Mary and Maggie are charming in real life and exude none of the danger they write about.

I wish I had time and space to write more about the books I discovered and the authors I talked to, but I will provide their website addresses below for you to check out.

The festival included presentations throughout the day that focused on everything from the History of the Mystery to a talk by Dawn Dowdle, literary agent, about the importance of finding an editor that fits a writer’s needs and genres. While the presentations were being held, many of the authors read from their most recent releases, which was a treat for the readers who attended.

If you ever have a chance to visit Suffolk, Virginia, I have a couple pieces of advice. First, try to avoid I-95 at all costs, even if it means walking the entire distance (you’ll get there faster if you walk, anyway). Second, get there on a day when the Suffolk Division of Tourism is hosting one of its tours, such as the Suffolk Ghost Walk (which I missed because I was sitting on I-95) or the Great Dismal Swamp Guided Nature Walk. Third, don’t leave until you check out the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts, which is housed in a restored high school and is a beautiful space that houses, among other things, art galleries, a gorgeous theater, a ballroom, and studios for dance, weaving, pottery, photography, and much more. The Suffolk Division of Tourism couldn’t have picked a more breathtaking and inspiring place to hold its Mystery Authors Festival.

Here’s that list of the authors’ websites:

Ellery Adams: http://www.elleryadamsmysteries.com/
Mollie Cox Bryan: http://molliecoxbryan.com/
Mary Burton: http://www.maryburton.com/
Erika Chase: http://www.erikachase.com/
Vicki Delany: http://vickidelany.com/
Linda O. Johnston: http://www.lindaojohnston.com/
Joyce and Jim Lavene: http://www.joyceandjimlavene.com/
Maggie Sefton: http://www.maggiesefton.com/
Gayle Trent: http://www.gayletrent.com/
LynDee Walker: http://lyndeewalker.com/
Wendy Lyn Watson: http://www.wendylynwatson.com/

Jeni Chappelle: http://www.jenichappelle.com/
Dawn Dowdle: http://www.blueridgeagency.com/

Sisters in Crime: http://www.sistersincrime.org/?7

Suffolk Division of Tourism: http://www.suffolk-fun.com/

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Mystery Authors Festival!

Until next week,

Amy

Time to Vote

In honor of mid-term election day here in the United States, I’ve decided to take a quick poll on my blog. Please note, the last question allows you to say whether you’re from the U.S. or from outside the U.S. It also allows you to write in an “Other” answer. Sorry about that–couldn’t get that choice off there! I assume all of my readers are either from the U.S. or they’re not!

Thanks for participating!

Until next week,

Amy

Location, Location, Location!

I have a friend who has lived in Indiana most of his life, except for going to college in Texas and working for a brief time in Washington, DC. He said to me recently that even though he only spent a few years in Texas, that state feels like home to him. I’m sure there are Texans wondering why everyone doesn’t feel that way.

I understand how he feels. A place can exert a powerful pull on a person, even if the person hasn’t spent much time there. Maybe it can happen even if the person hasn’t spent any time there.

That’s why book settings are so important. Could Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier take place anywhere but the Cornish coast of England? Could The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner take place anywhere but Mississippi? The setting of a story is often its most essential element; in other words, there are stories that simply wouldn’t make sense if they were set somewhere else. IfRebecca took place in Paris, the story wouldn’t have the same heavy atmosphere and spookiness that it has in Cornwall. If The Sound and the Fury were set in small-town Vermont, what would be the source of Quentin’s cultural angst?

Secrets of Hallstead House is set in the Thousand Islands, one of those places that has a strong pull for those who have spent any time there. I don’t know of a single person who has been to the Thousand Islands who didn’t want to return. Could my story be set somewhere else? Not as far as I’m concerned. The St. Lawrence River and Hallstead Island are characters in the story just as much as any of the humans are.

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The same is true with The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, my story set near Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that stays with a person. Have you ever been to Charleston? It’s inhabitants are passionate about their city, much more so than lots of other cities. And I can see why–it’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture all its own. It’s like no other city in the South.

I am lucky enough to live in a place which has that pull, a place that people return to year after year (particularly in the summertime). When I first moved here, I was amazed at the number of kids who went away to college and wanted nothing more than to return to their hometown to find work upon graduation. Their happy memories of many seasons spent at the beach, of surf and sand, of the boardwalk and sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean are strong enough to make those people want to return.

So in that same vein, my third story, as yet unnamed but tentatively entitled Hanging Jade Hale, (pronounced “hah-lay”), is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. I know of exactly two people who have been to Hawaii and didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a place where people experience a kind of magic that is only found there, a magic that comes from the ocean and the mountains and the trade winds and the knowledge that Hawaii is alone in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. A story set there can’t take place anywhere else in the world, and that makes its setting special.

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Is there a place that calls you back, even if you’ve never been there? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy

First Book Signing!

This past Saturday I had my very first book signing for Secrets of Hallstead House. I was at Corbin’s River Heritage in Clayton, New York, as a guest of Alan “Hutch” and Marilyn Hutchinson, owners of Corbin’s. I never guessed that a book signing could be such a thoroughly enjoyable and fun experience. I will admit that I was a little nervous at first, but Marilyn and Hutch were friendly and gracious and put me at ease immediately.
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For those of you who have never been lucky enough to visit Clayton, it’s a small town right on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The public dock area has a well-kept, beautiful park with Adirondack chairs and comfy benches. I could have sat there all day watching the boats go by. The main streets down by the water are filled with boutiques and cozy restaurants nestled side-by-side with old-fashioned hardware stores, Save the River! offices, and one of my favorite cheese shops (River Rat), just to name a few. I even found a place I hadn’t visited before- an oil and vinegar store that invites shoppers to sample each and every one of their delicious offerings. The 1000 Islands Cruet is my new go-to spot for special oils and vinegars. This time I only bought one bottle (Black Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar), but you can be quite sure that on my next visit I will pick up a Vermont Maple Balsamic Vinegar as well as at least one bottle of oil- probably the Tuscan Herb Olive Oil. If you get to Clayton, I highly recommend the Cruet.

Happily, Corbin’s is situated next to the best sub shop in Northern New York or anywhere else on earth- Jreck’s. Not to put too much pressure on Jreck’s, but I did read recently that one of my old friends traveled 1700 miles to get one of their subs. Okay, it was in conjunction with a visit to his family, but the fact that he wrote about how good the sub was tells you something, doesn’t it?

Corbin’s itself is a gem of a bookstore. The walls were covered with black and white photos and drawings of the river and its environs. My favorite was an old photo of a horse race that took place on the frozen river years ago. And as for the books, as I told Marilyn, I wish I could have bought at least one of every book in the place. If there is a book in print about the Thousand Islands, St. Lawrence River, or surrounding region, Marilyn and Hutch either have it or can get it. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction, a book for children or adults, a cookbook, or a book of photography, they’ve heard of it and can talk about it with authority. I saw them discussing books with countless patrons who came in looking for specific items or just general ideas of what they wanted to read. Marilyn and Hutch were able to tailor their suggestions to each and every person who asked for assistance.

The best part of my book signing was the opportunity it gave me to meet lots of wonderful people. I met locals and tourists alike of all ages, and enjoyed talking to each one of them. Several members of my family (close and extended) stopped by, so that was an extra-special treat. I loved the stories that people shared with me about the recipients of the books I signed and about the writings some of them have produced.

So to Hutch and Marilyn and all the people who were kind enough to visit Corbin’s on Saturday and share a few moments with me, thank you. You made my first book signing a wonderful experience that left me with many happy memories.

Until next time,

Amy

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Ode to the Cookbook

Before I begin, I’d like to thank everyone who has purchased my book, either in paperback or ebook form. It’s getting some really nice reviews online, and I appreciate each and every one of you. And if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, please consider putting up a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are greatly appreciated by all authors!

This week I am blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart: cooking. Specifically, cookbooks and how much I love them.

There are certain people in my family (they know who they are) who read cookbooks like novels, and I am proud to count myself among them. (Incidentally, my family is also made up of fabulous cooks, and I get my love of cooking from them. Note that I didn’t say I am a fabulous cook myself, but I do love the process). I like to curl up with a good cookbook just like many other people do with thrillers and romances. I love those books, too, but there’s just something about cookbooks that is different from any other type of reading.

Whenever I eat a meal at home by myself, there is always a cookbook or a cooking magazine next to me. When I need to take a break from writing or editing or research, I reach for a cookbook. Sometimes I’ll read a cookbook before I go to sleep at night.

Just today, my husband was trying to have a conversation with me while I perused the pages of a cookbook devoted entirely to macadamia nuts. I have casserole cookbooks, dessert cookbooks, an ahi tuna cookbook, a Halloween cookbook, a million Christmas cookbooks, and even a butter cookbook. I also have countless regular cookbooks- you know, the ones with thousands of recipes of every variety. Think Better Homes and Gardens with the red-and-white checkered binder. One of the things I love to do is to find new recipes for my weekly menu. If nothing in my millions of recipes sounds good at the moment I make my grocery list, I go with one of the tried-and-true favorites, like tacos or Greek chicken salad, but I do like to try something new as often as I can.

Cooking is how I relax. It’s how I show people I love them. I love to cook for friends and family; I cook as often as I can for people who have been sick and for mission groups that come to my church.

My favorite thing to cook, unfortunately, is dessert. I love making anything sweet. Luckily for me, my husband does not love dessert, so I don’t make it all the time. If I did, we’d all be fifty pounds heavier. The kids love it when I make dessert, though, so I do try to have it once in a while.

If any of you have visited my website, you’ll see that I have a section devoted to wines that I enjoy. The truth is that I also wanted to include a section devoted to the meals that my characters eat. My first book, Secrets of Hallstead House, has lots of meals in it. My hope was to include recipes for all the dishes I named in the book, but in the end I decided that I didn’t have the time to make up and test the recipes for those meals. My second book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, has food in it, too, but not as much as in the first book. And I can’t wait to start writing my third book. I don’t have a name for it yet, but the main character is a personal chef in Hawaii. That’s right- a book that combines two of my great loves- Hawaii and food!

One of my favorite cookbooks (don’t laugh) is Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs. It’s full of recipes from the various Disney properties. It’s got everything in it from Coconut Curried Chicken Stew from Boma-Flavors of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to Fantasia Cheesecake from Plaza Inn on Main Street, USA, to Grapefruit Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from the Hollywood Brown Derby. But my hands-down favorite is Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier Steakhouse at EPCOT. My son, whose normal response to my home-cooked meals is “I hate chicken” or “can I just have cereal?” begs for this cheese soup all year long. Fortunately for our waistlines, I only make it in the fall.

There’s a movie out right now called “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” I can’t wait to see it. I don’t go to the movies often, but this is one I want to see in the theater rather than waiting for its release on DVD. It’s about a family from India that wants to open a restaurant in a small town in France. It’s actually based on a book of the same name by Richard Morais, and I may just have to read the book first.

So what’s on the menu at your house this week? Got any good recipes that you’d like to share?

Until next week,

Amy

The Electronic-Free Zone

I’ve been sending you all over the web the last couple of weeks, so today you get a break. You can stay right here and read my rant about kids and electronics.

As you may know, I have three children. When they were infants, then babies, then toddlers, then school-aged, I read to them constantly. I continued to read to them as they got older, probably long past the time when many parents stop reading to their children. I loved reading to them.

But something else happened as they grew older–they started to spend more time on their electronics than reading books. And by electronics I mean anything that can be plugged in or has a battery. This list includes, but is not limited to, television, DVD players, computers, video games, tablets, cell phones, and personal electronics of the iPod variety. I understand that my husband and I are at least partially responsible for this (when the electronics are on, the kids aren’t interacting. No interacting means no fighting and the lure of peace and quiet is just too much to resist sometimes), but we’re not going to accept full blame. We still encourage reading every single day, but the kids are old enough now to be making decisions for themselves. And they are choosing, to our great dismay, to spend time on electronics instead of with books.

Raise your hand if you remember spending summers as a kid playing outside and spending all your indoor time with your nose stuck in a book.

Sadly, for our family as well as for many, many other families, this just doesn’t happen anymore without a great deal of argument. The kids want to play games on the tv or the computer or their handheld devices. They want to read the latest funny Tweets and the latest gruesome food challenges that somebody has dreamed up.

What to do?

In all fairness, I don’t like to spend tons of time outside in the summertime because it’s just way too hot and humid. And my kids don’t like the beach, which is just a couple minutes away and to which almost every other family in our area flocks in the summer. So we’re a bit stuck indoors sometimes, and I’m okay with that.

But what happens when we’re stuck indoors? Inevitably someone wants to turn on some electronic and spend hours upon hours with his or her face glued to an LED screen becoming visibly dumber.

So we’ve instituted electronic-free days in our house. We’re having one today (electronic-free does not apply to my husband or to me, since we’re both working, but it might be an interesting experiment). I must admit, it’s not going well. My husband and I are both working, so the kids are fighting like cats. I have been tempted at least eight thousand times to let them back on their electronics just to get some work done.

But I work through the noise and try to get them to solve their own problems, and we continue to have the electronic-free days because I am convinced that eventually they will do something with their time that is creative, imaginative, and fun.

A friend of mine has a rule at her house–if one of her sons wants to play an electronic, he is allowed to play for 15 minutes after he has read for 20 minutes. I think it’s a great idea; we may institute it in our house.

There are other things we can do to keep the kids off electronics, too. My son went to Boy Scout camp for a week and had fun. One of my daughters will be a camp counselor for a week in August. One of my daughters has a job that keeps her busy during the days. We try to do things outside when it’s not too hot, like bike riding and going for walks.

And there’s always my favorite solution: read a book!! I am constantly offering to take them to the library. In fact, they’ve taken me up on today’s offer and we’re leaving as soon as I’ve written this post.

But I’m always looking for new ideas. What about it, readers? Any good ideas for keeping the kids off electronics during the summer?

Until next time,

Amy

This has been a big week for me. I’ll be doing three virtual book tours over the next month or so, and I’ve been busy writing guest blog posts, answering interview questions, and choosing excerpts from my novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, that don’t contain any spoilers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting much more often here on my own blog to let you all know where I’ll be online so you can visit if you’d like. There will be several giveaways of my book, so you might want to check out those sites periodically.

For today, allow me some shameless self-promotion as I announce that Secrets of Hallstead House is now available in paperback! You can find it online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Hallstead-House-Amy-Reade/dp/1601833008/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404719479&sr=1-1&keywords=secrets+of+hallstead+house) and Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/secrets-of-hallstead-house-amy-reade/1118882335?ean=9781601833006).

Long links, I know.

The ebook comes out on July 17th, about a week and a half from now.

I’ll close by thanking my family and friends who have been so supportive of me while I write and promote my book. I’d also like to thank all the people who have visited my blog, visited my website, or followed me on Facebook or Twitter. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Until next time,

Amy

If You Could Only Keep Three Things, What Would They Be?

The other day I was driving my eldest home from work when she asked, “What would you save if the house was burning and you could only choose three things?”

The lawyer in me answered immediately, “Well, I’d save you and your sister and brother and Dad and then the dog and the cats. I don’t consider those ‘things,’ so they don’t count.”

She sighed. “Just pick, will you?”

I had to think about it for a minute. What would I pick? To make a very long story short, I couldn’t choose only three. It made me feel a little better that my daughter couldn’t choose just three, either.

Here are some of the many things I chose:

1. My purse. If you’re a woman, then you understand. If you’re not, don’t even try to understand.

2. The stuffed koala I keep on my bed. I got him one Christmas when I was ten or twelve years old- I don’t remember exactly. He went on trips with me when I was young, and he went to college and law school with me. He’s like a member of the family- how could I leave him behind?

3. Thousands of photos taken over the years. These include the photos from my childhood, my husband’s childhood, and every single thing that I’ve ever documented from my children’s lives, including but certainly not limited to their births, friends, parties, holidays, silly faces, our old cats, trips, graduations, and the day we got our dog.

4. My Kindle.

5. All my books. There are thousands, and they are everywhere. I have books in the attic, in my closet, under the bed, and in every other room of the house, including the kitchen and the garage. It would take ages to gather all the books together, but it would be worth it.

6. A laptop. Without access to a computer and the Internet, I’m doomed.

There are lots of other things I would take with me, but I’m more interested in what you would take if you had to choose. Care to share them?

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. Want to know what my daughter picked? Her iPhone, photos, stuffed animals, and her boxed set of all ten seasons of “Friends.”