17 June, 2011

Where do you find your characters and plot?

Today, July 18th, is National Caviar Day.  Who knew?   June is also National Candy Month, National Dairy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, National Iced Tea Month, and National Papaya Month.  Who knew? Or cares?

Personally I think caviar is vile – probably a result of my brother telling me, in vivid detail, what it was when I had a large mouthful at age 7.  Mother was not amused when I spit it out. And, I’ve never touched the stuff again.  This is a bit of information none you are interested in, with good reason.  But what about the other sound bites we snatch every day?

As a writer, I love sites that list trivia, and that includes the “today in history” pages.   How else would I know that on July 18th, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor aboard the French ship Isere , or that on this day in 1991, the remains of President Zachary Taylor were briefly exhumed to test a theory that Taylor had died of arsenic poisoning (results showed death was from natural causes). These are facts I might be able to work into a plot.
Most writers I know carry around little notepads so that they can jot down thoughts, bits of conversation or interesting ideas for future books ( I usually resort to the back of my grocery receipt).  You can pick up great ideas people watching at Starbucks or riding MetroNorth into the city.  

My town (population 17,637) still has annual town meetings.  Now just imagine the high school gym bleachers packed with hundreds of people, the town  Selectmen (we don’t have a mayor) up on the dais, everyone watching the line of incensed residents lining up behind the microphone, waiting for their 3 minutes of ranting.  Oops, I meant fame.  You can actually hear the buzz of speculation bouncing off the gym’s walls: who is going to bring up the increase in the tax mil rate?  Is Joe going to complain about lack of leash law enforcement again?  Will Sam and Marion get into a shouting match over wetlands preservation like they did last year? What a perfect setting for a murder.

Plot and character inspiration is all around us if we’re just willing to pay attention.

Have you ever used an overheard conversation in one of your books? Did you feel guilty or amused?

11 June, 2011

Heat's on, but not for dinner

Connecticut just had it's first heat wave of the summer. That means I'm concentrating on salads for dinner.  Check out one of my favourites.

Shrimp & Asparagus Salad
  • 3 cups spiral shaped pasta, uncooked  
  • 1 lb  shell-on medium sized shrimp  
  • 1 lb  asparagus, tough ends discarded, remainder cut into 2" pieces  
  • ½ cup bottled ranch dressing  
  • 1 cup lite mayonnaise  (not salad dressing)
  • ½ cup seafood cocktail sauce  
  • 2 Tbsp  fresh lemon juice  
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce  
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded and chopped  
  • 6  scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal  
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley and chives, chopped  
  1. In a bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, ranch dressing, seafood cocktail sauce,lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and salt& pepper to taste. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp salt. Drop in the asparagus and cook 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook 4 minutes longer. Remove the asparagus and shrimp with a slotted spoon or Chinese spider and drop in an ice bath..  When cool, drain all.  Peel the shrimp.
  3. Cook the pasta in the same water according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water to cool quickly; drain well.
  4. Mix the shrimp, asparagus and pasta together in a large bowl. Add the tomato, scallions and parsley. Add enough dressing to coat well - as little or as much as you like.
  5. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Serves 4
Serve with warm ciabatta rolls and a chilled rose wine.
Note: Any remaining dressing makes a great sandwich spread

09 June, 2011

Flights of Fancy

Today I'm indulging in a flight of fancy - anything to escape the heat and humidity which have suddenly descended on Connecticut.

A couple of days ago, a Jungle Red blogger posted about St. Hilda's Crime and Mystery Conference. held every August in Oxford, England. As I sit fanning myself with a paperback, my thoughts wander into the realm of "what if," as in what if I won the lottery or a rich relative (of which I have none) left me a large legacy.

Normally, I only attend two conferences each year, more for financial reasons than anything else. One is Murder 203, a Connecticut-based event heavily attended by readers as well as writers, and, of course, Crimebake.

But, what if ? Just sit back and fantasize with me.

St Hilda’s  is one of the longest running events in the United kingdom -- the first event having been held in 1994.  The annual themes have been as diverse as the presenters: “The Queen’s of Crime” (1994); “The Golden Age – There and Now” (1995);“The Historical Mystery” (1996); "Murder in Academia"(1997);  “Partners in Crime”(1999); “Mind Games, Psychology, Crime and Mystery” (2000); “The Scene of the Crime” (2001);  “A Female of the Species….” (2002); “Absent Friends and Future Loves” (2003); “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (2005).

This year's conference, Aug. 19 - 21st - is just around the corner, so I'm making my fantasy plans. Obviously,
the only way to get there is on Cunard's Queen Mary II.  Seven days of relaxation,gourmet food, and constant pampering on the high seas will definitely put me in the mood.  As long as this is my fantasy, I'll be staying in a Princess Grille suite - the one with a private balcony and a butler who assists with unpacking your case and, should you be so inclined, delivers breakfast in bed every morning. And let's not forget the Pillow Concierge  -- he's the guy offering nine pillow options and various duvets of your choice.  

Cunard has thoughtfully provided a list of 100 things to do on a TransAtlantic crossing, so I don't have to stretch my imagination.  So while renewing my wedding vows during a ceremony conducted by the Captain might not work (I am, after all, still single), a string quartet concert, a massage, afternoon tea, Yoga, and a stargazing stroll around the Promenade Deck all fit in nicely with my R&R theme.

The QMII leaves NY on July 27th, so I'll have plenty of of time to attend the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, as well.  It's July 21-24th, at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, where David Baldacci, Linwood Barclay, Lee Child, Martina Cole, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane and Howard Marks. among other will be appearing. I can hardly wait to hear them speak!

Okay, that was fun, but now it's time to feed the dog and start dinner. Reality trumps fantasy every time, but it's still fun.  Where would mystery writers be without fantasy?

If you could attend any conference, which would you choose?  And how would you get there?