The historian David McCullough died this past week. He’s known for his presidential research and biographies, as well as other work. He saw history as the study of human life, including art, and I was particularly struck by this advice he gave:
“I paint all the time. I love it. And I highly recommend it for everyone. Get out there and paint. It’s good for the soul. But I also particularly stress to people who say they want to become writers, young people, take a course in drawing or painting because it helps you to learn to see, to look, and that’s what writing is often about.”
— historian David McCullough (1933-2022), in an interview with Jeffrey Brown of the PBS Newshour, aired Monday, Aug 8, as part of its coverage of his passing
“In The Emotional Craft of Fiction, I wrote, ‘How you feel in writing is how we will feel in reading.” To be vividly alive is to be open to everything: unrestrained, honest, brave, awake and aware.’ – Don Maass, literary agent and teacher, on Writer Unboxed. I highly recommend The Emotional Craft of Fiction (2016), and all Maass’s books on the craft of writing.
Catch me this weekend at the Bigfork Art Festival, on Electric Avenue in the Village!
Like me, Pepper Reece believes that every retail shop is a little sweeter — and a little more successful — when it includes books, whether it’s books on wine and wine country travel in a wine shop, regional art in a gallery, or local ghost stories in a coffee shop! In the Spice Shop, Pepper’s haven in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, you’ll find shelves and shelves of cookbooks, especially those that focus on spice or cooking for whatever holiday she’s celebrating! You’ll also find a healthy dose of foodie fiction, combining two of her favorite things — yours and mine, too!
In Peppermint Barked, Pepper sends a customer with a daughter just learning to cook home with Mark Bittman’s classic How to Cook Everything and Ian Hemphill’s go-to compendium, The Spice and Herb Bible. The customer adds a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies to the stack for a friend, then treats herself with David Lebovitz’s Drinking French. Not coincidentally, three of those four are go-to books in our house. And while we don’t have a copy of Dorie’s Cookies yet, I do love her classic Around My French Table, not least because it includes a recipe for a fabulous pepper steak from Bistro Paul Bert, a restaurant we discovered on our first trip to Paris in 2009 and revisited in January 2020. It also includes the marvelously simple recipe for chocolate mousse from the back of the Nestle’s chocolate bar sold in France, which we make often. (My girl Erin Murphy, from the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, adds a Montana flavor to it with huckleberry syrup. Here’s the recipe for her Huckleberry Chocolate Mousse.)
Of course, Pepper loves a good mystery, too, especially one with a foodie theme. In Peppermint Barked, she’s enjoying the delicious combination of crime, retail, and food served up by Cleo Coyle, Ellen Byron who also writes as Maria DiRico, and Maddie Day aka Edith M. Maxwell.
And as always, she calls on her spirit guide, the medieval monk and herbalist Brother Cadfael, from the oh so good series by Ellis Peters that she discovered in a box books and videos her parents left in her storage locker before heading off to Costa Rica.
Here’s what Pepper was reading in The Solace of Bay Leaves and Chai Another Day, along with Parts One and Two of Pepper’s Bookshelf, dishing on her discoveries in the first three books of the series, Assault and Pepper, Guilty as Cinnamon, and Killing Thyme.
I’m deep into Book Seven as I write this, and I can tell you, she’ll have some great fiction to recommend as well as some intriguing nonfiction diving into Seattle history.
From the cover: When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s suspense debut.
Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah’s guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.
Now that she’s a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she’s greeted by an old friend–and by news of a murder that’s clearly tied to that tragic day she’ll never forget.
And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.
“Bitterroot Lake is a twisty, haunting thriller propelled by a delicious hint of otherworldliness. It’s a book that’s both an expert mystery and an affirmation of love and family. I was absolutely enthralled.” —Emily Carpenter, bestselling author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls
Most of you read this blog for creativity sparks and writing advice, but once or twice a year, I let you know what’s new for me. Next Tuesday, July 19, my sixth Spice Shop Mystery, Peppermint Barked, launches! I‘m celebrating on my Facebook Author page with a Christmas in July party and presents. (“Beat the heat — pretend it’s December!”) If you’re in Western Montana, come join me for a book talk and signing at Bigfork Art and Cultural Center, in the Village, Sat, July 23, 12:30 – 2:00, followed by a signing at Roma’s Gourmet Kitchen Shop.
Just a pinch of murder . .. When her life fell apart at age 40, Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves. But her impulsive purchase of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made. Between selling spice and juggling her personal life, she also discovers another unexpected talent – for solving murder.
A Dickens of a Christmas turns deadly . . . In Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, Pepper investigates when a young woman working the Christmas rush in her friend Vinny’s wine shop is brutally attacked, on the busiest shopping day of the year.
So here’s the promised quote: “It’s easy to celebrate the publications, the performances, the exhibitions, compositions, recognitions and awards. All of the achievements that form into important lines on a professional resume… “But what is also to be acknowledged are all the attempts that never find their way to this self-proclaimed piece of paper we’ve come to value as our calling card of worth to the world: countless hours spent in pursuit of your vision, researching, writing, creating a practice that creates myelin and muscle memory; time spent pushing away doubt and feelings of ineptitude; all the added up minutes spent pondering that gap between where you are and where you wish to be, who you are and who you know you can be… wanting to know in some unassailable way that your art makes a difference, that you matter. “There are many tender moments in life that get tucked away into corners, shoved into closets and into boxes because they feel like failures. Yet I would suggest there is no such thing as a failure because these difficult moments have a rugged beauty and place in our lives. They provide contrast that leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of our art, of the world we live in. They shape us as surely as each achievement.”
~ fia j. skye, Flying Edna newsletter, 3/31/22
Celebrate it all!
(P.S. Writing Wednesday is taking the summer off, because of my deadlines. It will return this fall.)
“The novel is the instrument to examine the insides of people’s minds. … In a way, that’s what fiction is about, watching people change. … Fiction is where I go to ask questions [as a writer and a reader].”
– novelist Jennifer Egan, on PBS Newshour, 4/29/22
A few weeks ago, Mr. Right and I took a road trip through central Montana, where we grew up, though in different towns. We spent a couple of nights in Great Falls, staying in a historic hotel where I cribbed details for my WIP. Prowled the galleries at the Charles M. Russell Museum, which we love, and visited a few other favorite spots. And Saturday evening, we went to the Mansfield Civic Center to watch Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, his 1931 silent romantic comedy, accompanied by the Great Falls Symphony playing Chaplin’s original score. (The last time we heard them? With guest artist Joshua Bell. So, yeah, we knew they can play. And play they did.)
The entire experience was wacky and delightful. Though we’d both seen snippets of the movie, with Chaplin as the Little Tramp, neither of us had seen the full movie.
What struck me was how Chaplin pushes the gags. The Little Tramp is in a fancy club with his billionaire friend, eating noodles on New Year’s Eve. He’s slurping them up, one at a time. A curly streamer drops down and winds around a noodle and he keeps slurping. And slurping. And slurping. Just watching makes you respond physically. You lean forward. You wonder how long this can go on. You physically need some relief. And when it comes, your body relaxes and you laugh and laugh. And then it happens again, with the Tramp and the Billionaire lighting a cigar, and the Tramp and the lady whose dress he’s set on fire and another man exchanging seats in a sort of game of musical chairs. The gag goes on to the point where it is almost but not quite too long. You want, you need, a resolution, and when it comes, he has you.
As writers, we can’t do that the way music or physical comedy can. But we can make our readers physically respond, make them want and need a resolution of the tension on the page.
What other lessons can you learn from other art forms? Have you seen City Lights? If you get a chance to see it with a live orchestra, go! And be prepared to laugh, silly and wacky as it is.
BY THE WAY, you’re a writer. That’s why you subscribe to this blog. I don’t very often post here about my books, except around launch time, which is coming up — Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop Mystery, will be out July 19, and Blind Faith, Alicia’s second suspense novel will be out October 11. If you are interested in more book news, including what I’m writing and reading, where I’ll be and more, I do hope you’ll subscribe to my newsletter, through this link. Subscribers get a free download for a short story, currently “The End of the Line” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dec, 2006) featuring an elderly Greek man who seriously hates change.