Saturday, February 6, 2010

Egg on My Face

Good grief - it's been months since I posted anything. And I woke up this morning realizing that I'd missed the boat. I could be sharing with you the wonderful authors I'm reading.

I discontinued my radio show Mystery Matters after the one-year contract expired. It had always been a one-year deal in my mind, and I found that when the last show aired at the end of December, I had LOADS of extra time on my hands. Naturally, I spent a lot of it reading and writing.

So now, I'd like to share with you the fine writers whose work I'm exploring. Even though I'm not interviewing them (for now), at least I can pass on the word. I hope you'll check them out.

For today, I'll mention Joanne Harris. If you already know her work - and you just might - good for you. If not, here's my take on one of her books:

I frequently re-read books, but there's usually a span of four or five years between readings. Late last night, though, I finished GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS by Joanne Harris and turned right back to page one.

Now, on the second reading, I'm seeing that the clues are there - some of them are rather blatant in hindsight - but I missed them the first time around and was completely astonished by the twists and turns at the end. You know me, I'm generous with praise when I like a book. With GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS, though, I wonder if I can find the words to praise it enough, so I'm not even going to try except to say that on a scale from one to ten, this book is an eleven.

Joanne Harris, according to her website, lives in England. Thankfully, she keep s her references to cricket at a minimum; like most Americans I doubt I'll ever understand that game.

The only objection I have to anything in the text would be the two mentions of the height of the St. Oswald's roof (200 feet? 300 feet?) but I'm willing to believe that was the natural exaggeration of the child who was narrating at that point.

If you read the book - let me know what you think of it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Catching up and forgiving myself

I refuse to apologize for taking off a couple of weeks again. I’m going to forgive myself and quit making this such a struggle. Part of the reason I’m late is that two of the shows were pre-recorded on April 1st and then played on April 24th (Denise Swanson) and May 8th (Jeanne Dams). You’d think that would give me MORE time for writing this blog. I finally had a chance to sit back, put up my feet, sip tea, and enjoy listening to my show. And what fun to relive the connection I felt with each of those amazing women. Denise writes about a school psychologist in her Scumble River series, and Jeanne has delved into the history of South Bend Indiana around the turn of the last century for her Hilda Johansson series.

In between those two shows I spoke with Jana Oliver on May 1st about her Time Rover series and Victorian London during the time of Jack the Ripper. I kept referring to him as “Jack the Ripper,” but after all her research, Jana is more on a first-name basis with “Jack.”

I took a weekend off in there and visited a friend of mine in the mountains of North Georgia. Polly Hunt Neal is an artist who loved my books and asked me once to be her guest at a meeting of the National League of American Pen Women. She ended up sponsoring me, and I love the organization. Anyway, I spent two delightful days with Polly, sat for hours writing in her gazebo, and made friends with an ancient tree beside the little creek on her land. It was the surge of rejuvenation I needed, and I came back to my cats more than ready to resume the work of preparing the radio show each week.

Speaking of which, I’m still on the look-out for a sponsor for my radio show. The cost is prohibitive on my budget. "Quick, Frannie, sell more books!" So, send a friend my way if they want to advertise their business to thousands of listeners. And believe me, I truly appreciate every one of those thousands.

Friday, April 17, 2009

So much for discipline

I thought I'd be disciplined enough to post to this blog every single week, within a day or two of interviewing another writer on Mystery Matters. Ha! I hadn't anticipated the role of big windstorms and heavy rain and even hail.

You're right - those are only excuses. Yes, there were two days there where I kept the computer turned off most of the day because of the lightning. But the real reason I forgot to blog was that I was having so much fun reading books for upcoming guests. Curling up with a cup of hot chai and a good book while the rain is pounding down is a great way to spend a morning . . . and an afternoon . . . and an evening. . . .

On Friday April 10th I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Sarah Shaber about her Professor Simon Shaw mysteries, and I learned that the Goody's Headache Powder she mentions in her books (as a remedy for Simon's migraines) is a real product that's been around for a long time, and actually seems to do some good. I'm not endorsing it, of course, but if you have a good story about Goody's, let me hear from you.

This morning I spoke with Jane K. Cleland. She lives in an apartment in New York City, and our talk was punctuated with various sirens and horns - that's live radio! If you didn't get a chance to listen this morning, be sure you access the archives -- you simply have to hear her story of the wild turkey that scared her into moving back to the city after a trial run at country living.

Ever since the radio station updated their website, I've had some emails from people who said they could find the archives just fine (under "episode listings"), but couldn't figure out how to listen to the live show from my host page. Here are two ways to do it:

Go to and click on the "Variety Channel." That will be like turning on your radio. OR
Go to my host page and click on the bar at the left that says "channel home page"

Holler if you have problems! I need to know.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What a Week - Panic and WHEW

What ever led me to schedule three shows in one week? There's the live show every Friday morning, of course. But then I went and booked two pre-records, both of them on Wednesday. Ahhh! It was April Fool's day. That must have been it.

When I started the radio show, I committed to read at least two (usually three) of each writer's books. That meant nine books in one week. Luckily I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books, and hated to have to read so fast. I love to soak up books, absorb them, relish them, wallow in them.

Denise Swanson (her show will air on April 24th) writes cozies about a school psychologist named Skye Denison. Jeanne Dams (May 8th) has two cozy series, one modern, one set in South Bend in the very early 1900s.
After the reading, I had to get three lists of questions together. There are always the usual questions, but then I have great fun digging deeper to find out who this writer really is - and why I should ask my listeners to spend their time (and their money) buying the books. I do hope you'll buy books. Preferably from an independent bookstore. We need to be sure those stores stay afloat!

The live show was Cassandra King - all right, she's not exactly a mystery writer, but I love the mystery (true sense of the word) that weaves through her book The Same Sweet Girls. Friday April 3rd wasn't April Fool's Day anymore, but the joke was on me - I'd just started on the morning meditation I do every weekday morning by phone with my friend Kathi Moon, and I glanced over at the file folder where I keep the Friday morning "script" (I use that word very loosely indeed) for the show. Nothing there! I'd forgotten to compile the questions. PANIC ! ! ! !

Needless to say, there wasn't much meditation going on for the next hour and a half. Luckily I got it done with a few minutes to spare. Called Kathi to tell her the world had not come to an end. Listened to her tell me to take a few deep breaths. Took them. Called in for the show. And had a great time talking with Cassandra. WHEW!

Speaking of WHEW - If you're in the vicinity of Lawrenceville Georgia this coming Thursday evening (the 9th) I'll be teaching a one-hour class on Overcoming Negativity for the "W.H.E.W. 50 Thursdays" program at The Singin' Bean W.H.E.W stands for Women Helping Educate Women, and it was the brainchild of Cindy Pitts Gilbert, the Bean's owner. Every week, a bunch of women get together at the Bean from 6:30 to 7:30, and learn about something interesting. The last class I taught there was on composting, something that Biscuit McKee, the librarian in my cat mysteries, does a lot of. Hope to see you there . . .

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Talking with Linda Barnes

It's funny that the people I think I'll have the most trouble interviewing on Mystery Matters are the ones I end up truly comfortable with. Maybe it's because I write cozy mysteries with a librarian and a cat - so the idea of speaking with someone who writes about a hard-boiled, former-cop private investigator leaves me wondering where I'll ever find a heart-to-heart connection.

But that connection certainly happened right in the middle of my conversation with Linda Barnes about her Carlotta Carlyle mysteries, when Linda said, after a listener emailed a question about Carlotta's mob-connected boyfriend Sam Gianelli, "A lot of my friends are smart women who've made dumb choices about guys."

Soon after that, she said that one of her greatest accomplishments was that readers in Germany started a Big Sisters program there after learning about Big Sisters through Linda's books. In those two moments I felt Linda reach across the phone line and grab my heart. I knew we were connected as people, as women, as fellow-writers, and in that ineffable bond of reader and writer. Count me as a proud Linda Barnes fan, for more reasons than just her good books.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My astologer friend says Venus is in retrograde

Two week in a row - no guest. Last week it was a glitch. This week it was an illness. Lyn Hammond-Gray told me that Venus was in retrograde, and Venus rules technological stuff. Makes sense. Kathi Moon said I ought to pre-record every single show so this never happens again. My daughter emailed me half way through the show and asked what was going on.

I had so been looking forward to interviewing Jacqueline Winspear. She and I have emailed back and forth, and finally agreed that sometime this coming fall would be best. Sign up to receive my newsletter on my website, and you'll be [among] the first to know when she's scheduled. In the meantime, I'm going to see her healthy as can be.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and Biscuit McKee mysteries

I'm not a superstitious person. In fact, Friday the 13th has never posed a problem for me. Until this morning. My mystery author guest each week is supposed to call the station at five minutes before show time. Well - that didn't happen this morning, and I was left having to "wing it."

It's live radio, and I suppose I've known that something like this might happen at some point. I just wasn't expecting it quite this soon. This was only the 11th show, after all. In the two minutes I had to think about it - and then the half-minute of commercial intro, I decided to read from my own books and call the show "The Evolution of a Mystery Series." I figured I could answer a lot of the questions I get asked when I speak at book clubs and writers groups. How did you get the idea for Biscuit the librarian? and Where did Marmalade the orange library cat come from?

Luckily two listeners emailed questions -- they're both going on my gratitude list tonight! I made it through the show. Listen to it on the archive for February 13th and let me know how nervous you think I sounded on a scale of one to ten.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Libby Fischer Hellmann - 03/06/09

One of the challenges of hosting Mystery Matters has been to read, read, read. I committed to myself, the station, and the people I interview that I would read at least three books by each author I interview. In some cases I've already read a lot more than that, but many of the people I've invited to be on Mystery Matters are known to me only by reputation or by personal recommendation.

Such was the case with Libby Fischer Hellmann. I found her in the "Books in Print" listing on the Sisters in Crime website Then I checked with my friendly Gwinnett County librarian, who waxed enthusiastic. Finally I browsed at one of my favorite book stores, The Book Nook in East Ellijay, GA.

I ask each author I interview to send me a copy of the book they want to discuss (usually it's their latest one), but I figure it's up to me to get the rest. I'm the kind who will take money out of my monthly food budget to buy a good book.

I write cozy mysteries - but I'm beginning to see how compelling a heartfelt thriller can be. Libby's characters - Ellie Foreman and private investigator Georgia Davis - mirror enough of me to pull me into the story. Have I ever shot at anyone? No. Have I ever wanted to? Well . . .

Libby's forthright discussion of her fears around her daughter's teenage years touched a deep chord within me, and I was so caught up in our discussion (including the one off-mike during the breaks) that I completely missed a cue. I need to go to the archive and listen to the show to be sure I didn't say anything embarrassing! It's live radio for sure.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mark Schweizer - Feb 27, 2009

My gosh, I laughed through the whole interview on Mystery Matters this morning. In my work as an editor, I've found that really bad writing is never funny; it's usually pathetic. It takes a truly good writer, therefore, to be able to write bad prose that is hilarious. And Mark Schweizer is that kind of good writer, weaving the bad writing of a police-chief/organist wanna-be-writer with the hilarious doings of a small North Carolina town in his "liturgical mysteries."

One example,:Mark has Hayden Konig (his main character) write: "...her voice was as husky as last year's Iditarod."

Mark did pretty well in our conversation, considering that he spent 22 hours yesterday returning to Kentucky from a business trip in England. Maybe jet lag hadn't hit yet. I had hoped to ask him about his journey during the interview, but we spent so much time laughing, I never got around to that particular question.

Kathi Moon emailed in from Rochester NY to ask if he'd ever done stand-up comedy. "No," he said, "only in my regular job as a choir director."

Be sure you check out the Mystery Matters archives on and hear Mark talk about Archimedes the owl, the helium balloons shaped like naked women, and his mid-life crisis Jeep story. It's an hour of fun. And look up his website

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Patricia Sprinkle - February 20, 2009

Finally! I'm caught up with my blog entries. From now on I'll post once a week to give you a bit of behind-the-scenes info about each of my shows on Mystery Matters. I hope you'll go to my host web page frequently to listen to the archived shows

Two days before the show was due to broadcast live, Patricia Sprinkle called me and tested my new-found determination not to worry about things that hadn't even happened yet (see my blog entry about Julia Spencer-Fleming's February 6th show). Patti said that she needed to leave early on Friday morning to attend a 100th birthday party for a relative who lived in another state.

Thank goodness for Atlanta rush-hour traffic - I never thought I'd make such a statement! Patti and her family decided that leaving after the rush hour would make more sense than leaving at 8 a.m. So, as soon as Ruben gave us the all-clear at the end of the show on Friday, Patti said a quick goodbye and headed out with her family.

Patti's a former national president of Sisters in Crime. That wonderful organization is open to anyone who's interested in mysteries - readers, librarians, writers, bookstore owners. Its purpose is to level the playing field so that women, who write more than 50% of published mysteries, can begin to get a proportionate number of reviews.

I'll be back next week with another post. Thanks for reading!

Jean Keating - Feb. 13, 2009

If you've ever read my books or looked at my website or met me at a book or networking event, you'll know that I'm a cat person. I like dogs, as long as they're well-behaved and they belong to somebody else and they don't drool on me. But I am a confirmed cat person.

Jean Keating, though, has just about convinced me that I need to make an effort to meet the tiny show dogs called Papillons. Jean's books have taught me so much about these little butterfly dogs of the show dog circuit.

I met Jean several years about when we were both presenting at the Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina. One of her Papillons is now trained as a hearing-assist dog, so she takes the dog with her to booksignings and conferences. I can't wait to meet him at the next Book 'Em Foundation event!

Julia Spencer-Fleming - Feb. 6, 2009

I really need to work on being more positive. I was so delighted to have Julia Spencer-Fleming as a guest on Mystery Matters, because I have loved her Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series for years. Before her live interview, though, I wasted an unwarrantable amount of time worrying about how the weather in Maine would cooperate with the phone hook-up.

These interviews are conducted by phone. I call VoiceAmerica, the internet radio station in Arizona. My guest calls the same toll-free number, and the station engineer, a most helpful young man named Ruben, works his magic and connects us. We chat for a few minutes, until Ruben warns us that we'll be starting in 30 seconds.

My worry must have brought about the major windstorm that ravaged Maine that Friday. About a minute before our second scheduled break, the phone line went dead in the middle of one of Julia's answers. AARGH ! ! ! I said a tentative "hello?" and nobody answered. In a few seconds Ruben came on and told me he'd switched us to the commercial a bit early. The next minute felt a lot longer than 60 seconds. Julia called back on a cell phone and said that a big branch had fallen over the phone line.

All turned out well, and I decided that, since I happen to believe that thought is creative and that we become magnets for whatever we think about, from now on I absolutely refuse to worry about the show, the guests, the phone lines, or anything else.

Mark Kearney - Jan. 30, 2009

My friend and fellow mystery writer Trish Terrell, who writes as p.m. terrell, suggested months ago, when I first came up with the idea of Mystery Matters, that I call Mark Kearney, a police officer in Waynesboro VA. The two of them co-founded The Book 'Em Foundation, and Mark had recently written his first mystery.

Of all the people who ended up on the Mystery Matters schedule, I have to admit that I was the most nervous about interviewing Mark. One reason is that just the title of his book, Twisted Obsession, scared the you-know-what right out of me. I'd made a commitment to read what my guests had written, so I could ask intelligent questions, but I was not looking forward to being terrified. Instead, I found that the book presented the case of a cop gone bad in a way that, while it gave me pause to wonder, did not result in too many sleepless nights.

And the conversation with Mark was a delight. A listener emailed the question: "If your children said they wanted to follow your steps into police work, what would you tell them?" What a wonderful question followed by an amazingly wonderful answer. You simply have to listen to his thoughtful recommendations that started with finish school and read, read, read.

Jackie Lee Miles - Jan. 23, 2009

Although our conversation ranged over many topics during the one-hour interview, I've recevied the most comments about Cold Rock River, Jackie's novel that weaves together threads of domestic abuse, child abuse, an injured VietNam vet, and the way in which the hundred-year-old diary of a slave woman whose children were sold away from her. helps a young woman heal and take charge of her own life.

Last year at the Decatur Book Festival, Jackie and I ended up on the same stage, reading from our books. I was particularly impressed at the way she had the beginnings of all her books memorized and could flow seamlessly from one reading to the next. This is a skill I need to work on.

Several weeks before the show I asked Jackie why she hadn't joined Sisters in Crime, and she said, "But I don't write mysteries." Well, they may not technically be called mysteries, but her Roseflower Creek and Cold Rock River are chock full of mystery in the very best sense.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jaclyn Weldon White - January 16, 2009

Show number three turned out to be the smoothest so far. I began to relax into the format somewhat and trust that a good conversation was more important than getting through a list of proposed questions.

I'm not interested in tripping anyone up. I do send a list of proposed questions to the author ahead of time, so they can correct any misconceptions I may have. Jackie White was most gracious about letting me know where she wanted the interview to go, but also to assure me that she was an old hand at interviews and wouldn't be thrown off-stride if I popped up with an unexpected question. Of course, most of the writers I'll be talking with are pros at this anyway, but it's comforting to know they won't hate me if I come up with something off-the-wall.

I do so appreciate the listeners who've emailed questions during the show or ahead of time.

Nancy Atherton - January 9, 2009

The second show still had my hands shaking. Thank goodness it's radio and not video. Fortunately, I felt a good connection to my guest Nancy Atherton, author of the Aunt Dimity mystery series. I've read and loved her books for years.

Part way through the show, as I tried to read an email that had just come in, I lost the thread of what she was saying. I fell back on the time-honored ploy of asking about her animals. She's a cat person (as I am), and I think my question and her answer covered my momentary brain-lapse.

I have such high hopes for Mystery Matters. There are so many good mystery writers out there - and I want to let the whole world know aabout them. The point of the show is not to push books - although I do hope listeners will decide to buy the books they hear us discussing - but rather to learn more about what makes the book-creator tick.

Getting started - January 2, 2009

I love to know the story-behind-the-story, and I thought you might like to, also. Each week, therefore, I'm going to post some notes about what went on behind the scenes in my radio show, Mystery Matters: Where Murder is an Open Book.

I've waited a while to get up my nerve to start this blog. There's been so much reading to do, and so much preparation for the show each week, that blogging seemed like one too many chores. On the other hand, I've collected some fun stories I'd love to share. So I'll go back to the beginning of the show, January 2, 2009, when I interviewed Patricia Terrell, who writes as p.m. terrell. I'd met Trish several years ago, when we both spoke at a writers' conference. When she invited me to speak at the Robeson County Library in Lumberton NC last year, I jumped at the chance. She was kind enough to put me up at her house, and we stayed up talking after the Thursday night program until three in the morning. What a joy to get to know a kindred spirit.

It made sense, then, for me to ask her to be my first guest on Mystery Matters. After the show my sister called me from Colorado and said, "I'm not sure anybody else would have noticed, but you sure did sound nervous." I hope nobody (except my sister) could tell that my hands were shaking. I was most scared about making the transitions between air time and commercial time smooth. Hmmm. It took a few shows. Luckily, Trish and I were able to laugh about her dog-story, and since I'd already met her dogs, I think our conversation came across quite well. Thank goodness nobody heard the paper rattling as I tried to hold the script, juggle email questions coming in from listeners, and pay attention to the clock.

For the next few days I'll post about each show until we've caught up to the current week. Then I'll post each Friday (or Saturday) after Mystery Matters.