Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Mystery Writers Love Cats

by Mary Kennedy
 
 
In honor of National Cat Month, I decided to run a piece I wrote for USA Today a couple of years ago. Many of you will remember these charming mysteries with cats and you'll be happy to know that these same authors continue to feature cats in their current novels.
 
So here goes, a look back at some delightful cat mysteries from 2012.
 
Jugs, a chubby feline based on the author's adored cat, Boomerang.
 Miss Marple, a savvy cat who enjoys napping in the Haven't Got a Clue bookstore.                                                          
 
 
 
Merlot, Chablis and Syrah, three delightful felines who star in the Cats in Trouble series.                                 
 
Cats featured prominently in the 2012 crop of cozies. Clever, alert and intuitive, they often provided assistance in solving crimes and always offered a serene, comforting presence to their owners. 
                                                           
 
In WHAT THE CAT SAW, by Carolyn Hart, Nela Farley makes an interesting discovery when she agrees to care for a highly intelligent cat named Jugs. Whenever she look into the cat's beautiful eyes, she "moves into his mind," and immediately receives messages about a murder he witnessed.                                                       
                                                           
 
In THE CAT, THE WIFE and THE WEAPON by Leann Sweeny, heroine Jillian Hart creates cat quilts. She has three constant companions, Merlot, a red Maine coon cat, Chablis, a seal point Himalayan, and Syrah, an Amber Abyssinian. She refers to as her cats as her "four-legged assistants," and she's convinced that they sense her feelings. She's adept at reading their body language and she trusts their intuitions about people.
                                                         
 
In Murder on the Half Shelf, Lorna Barrett delivers another exciting release in the Booktown Mysteries. Tricia Miles, the owner of the Haven't Got a Clue bookstore in Stoneham, N.H., owns a lovely feline named Miss Marple. Miss Marple can nudge Tricia's attention to a clue by merely gazing steadily at it and her interest in a cocktail napkin proves to be relevant to the case.
                                              
 
In Murder of the Cat's Meow, Denise Swanson based the feline character, Bingo, on her lovely real-life cat, Boomerang. In the 15th release in the popular Scumble River series, Skye Denison, school psychologist, investigates the murder of a judge at a cat show. The behind-the-scenes details about cat shows and cat fanciers are exciting and will appeal to anyone who loves felines. And the murder method is unique--death by catnip mouse!
 
Why are cats so popular in mysteries? Why do people rely on their intuitive responses? As Carolyn Hart says, "No one can fool a cat. A cat always knows exactly what someone thinks and feels."
                                                           
In my own Dream Club series, I feature two cats, Barney and Scout, but I have to admit that they have no magical powers, no amazing insights and no detective skills. They are just lovable lap cats, the kind that Gallagher describes as "pillows that eat." I hope you'll share some of your own favorite mysteries featuring cats. I know a lot of you know and love cats and I always enjoy hearing about your delightful fur babies.
 
Mary Kennedy

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cats ... ya gotta love 'em

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett

October is (among other things) National Cat Month.  It's a time for all us cat lovers to celebrate what we love about our cats.


These are my guys, sleeping under the 200 watt light bulb in Mr. L.'s office.  They love it there.  They don't, however, love each other.  It's only because they're asleep that there's no hissing or growling.  I think (secretly) they all wish they were only cats.

Yes, having cats isn't all fun.  Take what happened to me last week as an example.  There I was, sound asleep at 12:09 am. But at 12:10,  I was jolted awake by the sound of a cat retching in my ear.  I quickly turned on light just as Mr. L's cat, Chester, projectile vomited ALLLLLL over the bed and on other our other cat Betsy, who'd also been sound asleep.

I quickly grabbed Chester in time for second of three barfs. (Yes, in our house barfing comes in threes.)  I leapt out of bed and deposited Chester on the hardwood floor (not bedside rug).  While he finished his next two rounds of vomiting, I grabbed a large wad of tissues from the bedside box and started to mop up.  Betsy was still sitting on the bed looking bewildered. Mr. L was foggy, like he didn't know what the heck was going on.

Like dealing with the Borg, I realized clean-up was futile, so I started unbuttoning the duvet cover, only to realize the duvet is also soaked.  I toss them both in guest bedroom to deal with in the morning, then go get a spare duvet and cover. That's when I discovered that vomit is also all over bottom sheet.  I tossed Mr. L of bed, who then just stood there and WATCHED but didn't offer to help me remake bed,which took FOREVER. (Damn all those duvet buttons at 12:15 am.)

Once the bed is made, Mr. L gets back in and promptly goes back to sleep. But my work is not done.  Oh, no.  First I must empty the wastebasket full of vomity tissues.  Next, I hunt down Betsy, who still has vomit all over her tail.  I capture her and commence to wash her off.  Betsy does not appreciate this and screams bloody murder, then runs away in fear and anger.

Finally, at about 25 after, I get to go back to bed.  Chester is already back in bed, cuddled next to his sleeping dad, and looking happy and satisfied, while I must resist the urge to scream at him for fear of waking up the neighbors.

I had to read for almost an hour before Betsy forgot the tail-washing incident and came back to bed.

Meanwhile in the back of my mind was the mantra I've repeated many, many times.

I love cats.  I love cats.  I love cats.

Surely, I'm not the only one with a story like this to share.  I hope you'll leave YOUR story in the comments and we can all commiserate.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baking to the rescue




It’s a dreary day here, cold, blustery and raining.  Trees becoming bare, streets slick.  It’s one of those days that I’m glad I’m a writer. Because it means I work at home wearing cozy clothes. When I say work, sometimes, I might get the tiniest bit distracted, especially on a miserable cold and dark day when the universe says:  

THIS WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO BAKE SOMETHING YUMMY!  

That could rescue the mood, for sure. Surely our hard-done-by sleuth can hold off the bad guy a bit longer while I whip up something sweet and satisfying in the kitchen.
 
But what to bake?  Our favorite chocolate mousse cake?   We like to save that for birthdays. No birthdays here this month.




Sponge cake?  Not sure I have enough eggs.  And it is just the two of us ...




Sweet and spicy cornmeal muffins? That could work. Unless ...



Pumpkin swirl cheesecake!!!     Oops, Better wait, That's a tradition for Thanksgiving. 



Chocolate cinnamon loaves would do the trick: easy and fragrant! But we like to keep those for Christmas.  We make them for gifts, unless we can't resist them ourselves.

 

Cupcakes again?  Been there. Done that.

Whatever it is I end up baking, am I so wrong to want to pilfer Lorraine's chocolate pot to go with it? 

What to do?

Maybe I’ll take peek at The Cozy Chicks Kitchen, Second Edition, and find just the right recipe. I love the cozy mysteries from all the chicks and I love their recipes too.  I was thrilled to be part of the revised edition this year and I have my own copy, but if you don’t, you could download one right now!  It’s easier than pie.  


What about you? Do your thoughts turn to baking on a dark and dreary day?  Do you have a favorite recipe that cheers you up?  Have you tried our cookbook? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pets are the Best!

They are our constant companions, love us when we’re bitchy and in our sloppy PJs with no hair combed and when we have the flu. And they train us really well.
And here I thought we were supposed to train them! Ha!

Pet joke:  What side of the door does the cat like to be on? The other side. That’s why I jump up and down the whole blasted night while trying to watch TV to let my cat in and out of the porch. Am I a well trained owner or what!


And then there’s the food issue. Every three days I bake my cat chicken thighs. Not breasts or legs or wings...but thighs. Then cut into small pieces and served room temp. Not cold and not hot.

And then we have the water glass issue. Know that snotty white cat on TV who eats his kibble out of a crystal glass...that’s my cat’s water bowl. Good grief.

I have two cats at the moment, Pixel and Spooky. Pixel was supposed to be for my son, a gift from my daughter. Yeah, right. We all know how the pet for the kid thing works...parents get the pet! And I got Spooky out of the grocery store parking lot. He was living in the cart area. I herd this pitiful meow and suddenly had a new cat in my life.


If I didn’t have cats I’d have a dog. I know they are more work but they are always happy. Something about a wagging tail will cure any depression. A gift from the pet gods.

In the Consignment Shop Mysteries we have Bruce Willis and in Demise in Denim out in April he and Reagan have an anniversary. Here’s an excerpt to give you a feel of how they feel about each other.

“I have a prezzie for you,” I sing-songed to BW now wagging his tail as we crossed KiKi’s front yard that butted up to mine. I opened the backdoor of Cherry House, went to the fridge and pulled out a little white box and headed for the front porch, BW’s nail tapping across the hardwood floor as he followed me. We sat together on the top step and I opened the box.
“Do you remember what today is?” I took a chicken McNugget from the box and split it in two. I popped half in my mouth and fed the other to BW.
“One year ago you and I became BFFs. I was in a bad way and you weren’t any better. We’d both been abandoned. You were hiding under this very porch though then there wasn’t a hole the roof. I shared my McNuggets with you.” I broke another one in half. “I’d just opened the Prissy Fox. I needed money to keep Cherry House going and I had a closet full of designer clothes I didn’t need since Hollis the now ex kicked me to the curb for Cupcake the now dead.”
BW only seemed marginally interested in my sentimental walk down memory lane. I kissed him on the snout and he gobbled a McNugget right from the box. “So here we are, just the two of us, one year later. Any chance you’ll start doing the laundry any time soon?”
I got an eye roll I swear I really did.
“Vacuum?”
BW chomped two nuggets right out of the box.
“Are you happy?”
This time I got a burp and doggy head in my lap. I took that as a yes.

In Geared for the Grave there are two cats, Bambino and Cleveland. Next week you’ll hear from them.
 
Tell me about your pet and I’ll give away two Geared for the Grave totes from the answers.

Have a barking-good Wednesday.
Duffy



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Planes, Trains, and Lots of Sheep

by Maggie Sefton



Last weekend I had a whirlwind trip into another world, one filled with fuzzy creatures and all the luscious things that are made from their fuzzy soft fibers.  Of course, all of you must have figured out I spent last  weekend at that festival I mentioned earlier in one of my blog posts---New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York.

It was a “multi-layered” trip over and back.  By multi-layered, I mean I used an airport shuttle to Denver Intl Airport, flight to LaGuardia, NY airport, Shuttle from airport to Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station) in New York City, then took an Amtrak train to Poughkeepsie, New York.  That’s where one of the friendly Merritt Bookstore personnel picked me up and took me to my lodging.

The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival truly lived up to its reputation as the largest festival of its kind in the U.S.  It’s located 80 miles due north of Manhattan, so it’s in the midst of the huge population area of New York and New England.  Merritt Bookstore had invited about fifteen authors to sign in their vendor area, where they had set up two rows of long tables and chairs for the authors and their books.  There was a wide space in between for the Festival goers to stroll to their hearts’ content, chat with the authors, and hopefully buy books.    

Boy. . .did they.  Buy books, I mean.  Thank goodness Merritt Bookstore had ordered a LOT of the Kelly Flynn Mysteries.  Saturday was the busiest day with a non-stop flow of people talking about “Kelly World” and buying books.  Oftentimes I had a group gathered around while some of the attendees discussed the characters in the Kelly Flynn Mysteries.  We laughed out loud a lot.  It was GREAT fun.  J

It was a splendid Autumn Weekend with brisk temperatures and only a slight breeze.  Most of the brilliantly-colored leaves were still on the trees.  The picture above is one of them I found particularly beautiful. 

Have any of you ever attended a sheep or wool festival?  Another festival?  Autumn Harvest? 


Monday, October 20, 2014

Which Is Smarter -- Dog or Cat?



By Kate Collins

Nothing like starting a heated debate. Sorry. I couldn’t resist, especially because we're celebrating National Cat Month at the Cozy Chicks and because I read a fascinating article* on cat vs. dog intelligence. I’m betting that you feel one way or the other based on whether you’re a dog person or cat person. If you have both types of pet, you still may favor one over the other. We'll just see about that.

To be honest, because dogs and cats are two different species, it’s not really fair to compare them. According to Psychology Today: “Dogs are designed to be more efficient runners while cats have better ability at manipulating things with their paws. Thus a test that involved pulling strings or operating levers would tend to favor a cat, while a test involving moving from place to place, where speed is a measure of performance, would favor a dog.

If you judge by number of neurons in the brain, then cats win. They have 300 million neurons in their cerebral cortex, the area responsible for processing, problem solving and perception, while dogs have 160 million.

However, if you judge by  the “Encephalization Quotient” (EQ) a tool to compare intelligence and brain weight in relation to an animal’s body size, then dogs win because social animals (dogs) tend to have higher EQs than solitary animals (cats.) Because dogs have had to learn over time to interact with humans, they have had to develop more problem solving and communication skills.

The fact that dogs can sort objects into categories (demonstrating abstract thought) and can tell what people are thinking are indicators of their intelligence. Yet researchers have shown that cats can be trained to do similarly impressive feats, like distinguish between different quantities of objects and follow pointing gestures (like dogs).

Oxford University researchers believe that dogs are becoming progressively more intelligent because of the demands of humans, while cats have stayed mostly the same. “At the risk of starting another argument, these data may explain why we never hear about such things as a ‘seeing eye cat,’ ‘police cat’ or ‘search and rescue cat.’”

To be fair, however, they admit that it wasn’t easy to get the cats to display their talents. In the case of distinguishing between different quantities… this is an ability that fish also possess, and the researchers said it was far “easier to work with fish than cats.”  That made me laugh because it’s so true. Maybe cats have the same abilities but just aren’t in the right mood to display them. Ever.

Another interesting item: “The research also showed cats and dogs can solve simple puzzles to get food, but when the puzzle is unsolvable, dogs will look to humans for help, whereas cats will keep trying,” Isn’t that the truth?

Charles Darwin wraps up this discussion nicely:  ‘Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.’  Basically then, all species that stay healthy, remain numerous and avoid extinction are equally intelligent.

Does that end the debate?



*Dr. Becker’s Oct 17, 2014 newsletter (Mercola.com)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Forget Much?

by Leann

It's been one of those weeks and I am blaming it on the deadline stress. A book near completion but not quite there yet is about the worst thing for me. It messes with my brain. The plot's on my mind constantly as I try to bring all the mystery threads together to finish.

So what happens? I forget things.I lose things. I went to the doctor and had one thing I wanted to ask her about in particular. Never mentioned it. Didn't even realize I hadn't mentioned it until the next day. I have to travel quite a distance to get there and the drive takes a toll. I get fatigued and that only triples the non-thinking thing. And, I realized I'd lost my credit card--I assumed at the gas station--when I went to pay. Oy, what a pain! Called my husband, he cancelled it and then I got a call after I left the doctor's office that they found it in the bathroom. Great. Too late.

Then I got lost trying to find Whole Foods--I'd figure I would go there since it seemed fairly close to the doc's office. Then got lost again trying to find my way back to
the road that would take me home. GPS and Suri were NO help whatsoever. When I queried Suri with "Where is Whole Foods?" from the Trader Joes parking lot where GPS took me twice, she said, "You are very close." Thanks. I knew that. As I said, I found the store, but I drove around various parking lots before, bingo--I asked another human being. Next time I think I'll try that approach first.

Then, I hadn't taken my thyroid medicine because the doctor wanted to see what my lab values were without taking the med right before the test. Did I remember to take it when I got home? That would be no. And boy did THAT screw me up even more. I fell asleep on the couch sitting up at 8 o'clock. One of those drooling, neck crinking naps that doesn't do a body good. And then I couldn't sleep that night.

The following day was no better. I still couldn't think straight and though I remembered my medicine, I forgot Marlowe's seizure med until it was 4 hours late. That's not good but thank goodness he didn't seem bothered at all. He was fine, but I worried and watched him like a hawk all day.

I am recovering from being an idiot for several days but still not finished with The Book That Will Not End. But I'm close. Very close. As long as I don't have any more no good, very bad days. But just in case, I'm keeping the following list on my computer. I believe I need it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Favorite Fall Supper--Soup and Pizza!

by Mary Kennedy                      
                                                       
 
Yes, I know the usual combo is soup and a sandwich, or soup and a salad, but this is an easy dinner that really hits the spot on chilly nights. Both the tomato soup and pizza are home-made (of course!) and this is the kind of thing you might find on the menu at Oldies But Goodies. (the candy store-café in my Dream Club Mysteries.)
 
Let's start with the soup. This isn't the time to be counting calories, by the way. As a famous TV chef says, "Where's the butter?" This a great recipe for creamy tomato soup and everyone I know loves it. Here goes.
 
Dice an onion and cook till transparent in 6 tablespoons of butter. Next add two 14 oz cans diced tomatoes,
   
                                                        
 
One 46 oz bottle of tomato juice.
                                                         
 
 
Now add 3 tablespoons of sugar. You need the sugar because tomatoes tend to be acidic. You can even use a little more than 3 tablespoons of sugar if you wish.
Next, add one or two tablespoons of chicken base (I use Better Than Bouillon Low Sodium Chicken base. You can find it in the soup aisle, it comes in a small jar).  
                                                       
Add some pepper. Bring almost to a boil. Add 12 oz heavy cream. I have substituted Half and Half for the heavy cream and it was very good. Some people add half a cup of white wine or sherry at this point but you don't have to.
                                                          
 
Now add chopped parsley and basil to taste. I use a lot of fresh parsley and basil because I like the taste. And voila! You have delicious home-made tomato soup that will serve 4-6 people.
 
And now my favorite one-serving (yes, you can eat the whole thing!) pizza.
Start with a Pita Bread. I use "Joseph's Flax, Oat Bran and Whole Wheat Pita Bread," but there are several other brands.  Choose something high-fiber if you can.                                                       
 
Here's what I use for the topping. I start by spreading 1/4 cup of sauce on the pita--it can be spaghetti sauce, it can be tomato sauce, either home-made or from a jar, whatever strikes your fancy.
                                                          
Now the toppings: I chop up one piece of light string cheese and one wedge of Laughing Cow Light Swiss cheese.  I sprinkle this on top of the sauce. Obviously, if you have some other types of cheeses sitting in the fridge (like mozzarella) and you want to use them up, go with them.
                                                         
Then you can get creative. I usually add two tablespoons of chopped tomato and I often add sautéed red or green peppers and mushrooms. The toppings are up to you, add what you like. One of my friends adds "vegan pepperoni" and it's delish.  If you have some roasted veggies left over from last night's dinner, add those. Next sprinkle a tiny amount of parmesan cheese on top.                                              
                                                       
 
I always add fresh basil at this point because I love basil. (and I grow it indoors and outdoors, all year round).
Pop the pita in the pre-heated oven on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick coating. It will cook in 10-12 minutes. (see, I told you it would be easy!) It's delicious and best of all, it makes just ONE serving and you can eat the whole thing ("mine, all mine!")
                                                          
 
I hope you've enjoyed this look at my favorite Fall supper and will give the recipes a try. Happy cooking!
 
 
Mary Kennedy
 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gotta love those audiobooks!

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett 

Yesterday I got the good word that A Fatal Chapter will appear as an audiobook the same day as the print and ebook editions.  A Fatal Chapter will be the 9th Booktown Mystery, and will be published on June 2, 2015.  (The Good News:  I've seen the cover and it's gorgeous.  The Bad News: I haven't been given permission to show it off yet.)

Everyone keeps saying that AUDIO IS THE NEXT BIG THING.  I'd like to believe it.  Why?  Because I currently have 11 books out in audio. (And another one in production.)  The entire Booktown Mystery series is available in audio as are the first three Jeff Resnick Mysteries.  (Even as I type this, the next book in the series, Cheated By Death, is being recorded for audio.)

Why do I love audiobooks?  Because they make boring tasks easier to handle.  Things like ...





and




and




and


But I'm not the only Chick with audio books.  Leann's Yellow Rose and Cats In Trouble series are on Audio.  Mary's Talk Radio series is on audio.  Mary Jane's/Victoria Abbott's Book Collectors series is on audio, too!  And Ellery's Book Resort Mysteries have just been sold to audio, too.

So if you're an audiophile, there are a lot of cozy mysteries out there on audio you can listen to.

Where do you listen to audiobooks?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The gift of a golden day






We are in mid-October.  The weather is one degree off an all-time high for this date in our part of the world. There is still some brilliant red and orange foliage in our vicinity. Golden leaves are drifting from our black walnut trees to the ground, but the air is warm enough for a lunch outside and a pleasant walk. The last morning glory has vanished, but there’s a stubborn rose to make us smile.



The squirrels are in a joyous frenzy. The dogs are caught up in that too.  Someday, they’ll learn to climb trees too. They are convinced of it. In the meantime, they are enjoying a walk through crunchy leaves in the neighborhood.


Our summer clothing has all been backed away, but this afternoon, there’s no hint of cold winds, naked trees to come, or snow.  It’s a wonderful gift and one of those surprising moments that makes me realize how lucky I am to be a writer working in my own home. In the days before I was able to work at home bumping off the unwary for fun and occasional profit, I had quite interesting jobs in libraries, government departments and associations. I was always glad to go to work, except on these rare golden days in the fall.  It was the only time I ached to be free to simply mouse around outside, free of schedules, meetings and indoor traps. 

Spotted on our walk - too neat to be ours!


Now I have deadlines, commitments, much to keep me busy, but on this golden day, I can take some ‘required reading’ for the book I’m working on and peruse it outside. A stroll around the block with three little dogs will be just the ticket to free up my mind to get over a sticky plot situation.  

Today is the best sort of day to be a writer. I’ve been feeling flashes of happiness.  And if I have to work at nine o’clock tonight, well, that will be a small price to pay.  We know we'll be raking leaves again this week, but for today, it's time to relax. 


What about you? What kind of day brings you happiness?  Are there some when you simply have to step outside to experience what the world has to offer?   Let’s hear it!