Friday, November 19, 2010

Bente Gallagher: The DIY series

Bente Gallagher (Jennie Bentley) is my third guest author who contributed recipes for Killer Recipes. She's here today to discuss her DIY series and her contributions to the cookbook.

Bente, congratulations on the success of your adorable series.

Thank you, Susan! The Do It Yourself home renovation angle seems to have been a hit with the readers, just as my editor hoped, so we’re all happy! Last I heard, Fatal Fixer-Upper was into a fifth printing, which is just awesome!

Please tell readers what inspired you to write this series.

In a word, money.


Actually, it’s kind of a twisty road, seeing as I didn’t originally set out to write a cozy mystery series about a home renovator. What I wrote instead, was A Cutthroat Business, a sort of romantic Southern chick-lit mystery/suspense novel about a real estate agent who stumbles across a dead body in an empty house. (It was released in June, under my real name.) I used that manuscript to find an agent, and she started shopping it to publishing houses in New York. While we were waiting for someone to decide to pick it up, an editor at Berkley Prime Crime approached us with the idea of the DIY series. They wanted someone to write about home renovation, my background as a Realtor® and renovator (I’m living in my 9th house since 2000) gave them the idea that I’d be a good person for the job – coupled with, I guess, the fact that they liked A Cutthroat Business even if they decided against publishing it – and the rest is history. I was offered a three-book contract with Penguin, and that’s not something you turn down when you’re a rank nobody just starting out in the publishing business.

Could you give us a short synopsis of Fatal Fixer-Upper, Spackled and Spooked, and Plaster and Poison?

I don’t know about short, but sure:
Fatal Fixer-Upper is book 1 in the DIY series. When the book begins, the main character, Avery Baker, is a textile designer in New York City. She loves her life, has a great job, a great boyfriend – also her boss – and a great, rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan, so when she inherits an old house (and two cats) on the coast of Maine from a relative she hasn’t seen in 26 years, she wants to get rid of it. But when she realizes that the perfect boyfriend isn’t so perfect after all, and she loses him and her job in one fell swoop, she decides to spend the summer in Maine renovating the house, to make some money. She hires local handyman Derek Ellis to help her, since she has no experience with renovating, and the two of them start butting heads immediately. Derek is a purist who wants to restore Aunt Inga’s Victorian house to its 1870s glory, while Avery wants to squeeze in every newfangled convenience she can think of. There’s a missing professor of history from a local college, a bunch of valuable antiques dating all the way back to Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, and some unsavory relatives heating things up, as well as Derek himself, who’s one of those hot handymen with power tools.

At the end of the book, Avery decides to stay on in Maine and work with Derek instead of going back to Manhattan, and in Spackled and Spooked, the two of them purchase their first house together: a supposedly haunted mid-century ranch they’re planning to renovate and resell. The supposed haunting stems from a murder that took place seventeen years earlier, and Derek believes enough time has passed for them to be able to sell the house and make a profit. But when they find a skeleton buried in the crawlspace, and then a next-door neighbor turns up dead, it becomes questionable whether anyone will ever want to take the house off their hands.

When book 3, Plaster and Poison, opens, they’re still trying to get rid of the haunted ranch house, and there’s no money in the bank to take on another project. As a result, Derek and Avery agree to go to work for their friend Kate, a B&B owner, to turn an old carriage house at the back of her property into a romantic retreat for two in time for Kate’s wedding to chief of police Wayne Rasmussen. But when an old friend of Kate’s shows up, and then ends up dead in the carriage house, it’s anyone’s guess whether the wedding will ever take place. It’s a book about family: Avery’s mother and stepfather are in town from California to meet Derek, and Derek’s family, the Ellises, features prominently in the history-mystery aspect of the book, which deals with tracking down a set of initials carved in the wall in the carriage house. There’s also a really cool connection to a real person by the name of William Avery Ellis who died during World War One.

Is there a favorite character that runs through the series?

Probably Avery herself. I spend so much time in her head that I feel I know her pretty well. She can be annoying, sure – she’s insecure as well as slightly neurotic with a penchant for jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions – but I like her. The scenes with Avery and Melissa are an awful lot of fun to write, too. Melissa is Derek’s ex-wife, and the person we all love to hate. Pure perfection, she was married to Derek for five years, and never lets an opportunity go by to remind Avery that she knows him better than Avery does.

When will the next DIY book be released?

DIY-4 is called Mortar and Murder, and will be released January 4th, officially. Sometimes the books make their appearance early, though, so in some places, I suppose you might be able to get your hands on a copy a week or two early. It doesn’t hurt to look, anyway. It’s a not a Christmas book, though: #1 takes place in the summer, #2 in the fall – how could I not take advantage of Halloween for the haunted house book? – and #3 in November and December. By #4 we’re into spring; the book actually opens on April Fool’s Day. In it, Derek and Avery are renovating a 1783 center-chimney Colonial house on an island off the coast of Maine, and they run into smugglers both historical and current. It’s a little less cozy than the others, in that it deals with the very current subject of human trafficking, but it has all the other aspects people have come to know and love, including a new kitten for Avery.

Where can folks purchase them and in what formats?

Most big bookstores should have them in mass market paperback. Same goes for any specialized mystery bookstore. Independents; yes or no, depending on size, I guess. Around here they have them, but that may be because I’m local. If you can’t find them in your local store, any bookseller should be able to order them for you. Amazon has them on Kindle, and Barnes and Noble have them for the Nook. There’s really no excuse not to read one!

Bente, you submitted recipes for my cookbook, Killer Recipes, with all proceeds going to cancer research. I thank you for that. I hope to try your Whoopie Pies over the holidays. Is there a personal reason you got involved in the project?

My mother died of cancer, and I have a young relative who’s just come off four years of treatment for childhood leukemia. She’s holding her own, and doing very well, so we hope the worst is over, but you just never know, do you? Cancer is the kind of disease that’ll end up touching everyone’s family sooner or later, and although I’m honestly not sure we’ll ever be able to come up with a cure for it, we can’t stop trying, can we? Can’t win if you don’t try, right?

We send love and prayers.

Do you have upcoming events you can share with us?

I’ve got a few things going on for the release of Mortar and Murder, including a signing at Mysteries and More bookstore in Lenox Village, on the south side of Nashville, on January 8th, and the Coffee County Library’s annual author day in Manchester, Tennessee, the following Saturday, the 15th. On April 7th, I’ll be doing a mystery panel for the WNBA – that’s the Women’s National Book Association, not the basketball players – and a little later in April I’ll be going to Bowling Green, KY, for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. And then it’s on to June and the release of Hot Property, the second book in the Savannah Martin series, after A Cutthroat Business.

Thanks for the interview, Bente. And folks, here's the recipe for Whoopie Pies. For the rest of the wonderful recipes, head over to Amazon where you can purchase Killer Recipes in print, ebook, and Kindle formats. They make great gifts and support cancer research.

Warped Whoopee Pies

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth. Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake. Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, beat together shortening, sugar, and Marshmallow fluff; stir in vanilla extract until well blended. When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies to make 9 pies. Wrap whoopee pies individually in plastic wrap, or place them in a single layer on a platter (do not stack them, as they tend to stick). You can freeze them the same way, by wrapping each pie in plastic wrap and putting them in a freezer proof container. Thaw them again in the fridge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vicki Lane: Tales of Appalachia

I am beginning a new series on the blog, one which includes authors who contributed recipes for the cookbook, Killer Recipes. Even though each recipe has the contributing author’s book titles and web sites, that’s it. After all, it’s a cookbook. Now I’d like to interview a good number of these generous writers and learn more about them. Come along. I think you’ll enjoy meeting every one of them.

My guest today is Vicki Lane, author of the recently released standalone, The Day of Small Things and the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries: In a Dark Season, Old Wounds, Art’s Blood, Signs in the Blood and the forthcoming (2011) Under the Skin.

Welcome to the blog, Vicki.

Hey, Susan, thanks for inviting me! I was so pleased to be a part of Killer Recipes and I’m delighted to be here today.

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to visit. Tell us who Elizabeth Goodweather is and from where you got the inspiration for your heroine.

Elizabeth was born ten years ago in a class I took at the local branch of Asheville’s community college. Writing Fiction That Sells met six times and our first assignment was to come up with a protagonist and an idea for the type of book we might like to write.
Well, I almost quit right there. I was 57 years old and had lived on a small farm for the past 25 years and really hadn’t a clue about what sort of protagonist I could credibly write. So I chose to write about a fifty-something year old widow, living on a farm very much like ours in a house exactly like ours. A dreadful lack of imagination. I did make her a widow so she had room for romance to enter her life and I gave her daughters so as not to embarrass my sons. She’s definitely not me – but she shares my beliefs and world view.

Elizabeth is a very endearing character.

Even though I've read all of your books, I’m not sure I have your titles in the right order. Please set them up for us with a short synopsis of each.

Signs in the Blood introduces Elizabeth Goodweather. A still-grieving widow, she has wrapped herself in the serenity of Full Circle Farm, safe amid the idyllic fields of herbs and flowers on Pinnacle Mountain. The puzzling death of a neighbor's son shatters that peace and sends her on a life-changing quest in search of a missing shotgun.

Traveling the winding roads into the hidden coves and hollows of the Appalachians, Elizabeth finds the laurel thickets and rocky hillsides are full of surprises --- serpent handlers, star children, tongues-talkers, sang hunters, militia men --- and murder.

Art’s Blood - North Carolina's hills are a crazy quilt of old farmsteads and new beginnings, of locals, strangers, artists, and new age wanderers. . . Here Elizabeth Goodweather has made her life -- a still-young widow who moves easily between the gentrified world of Asheville and old-timers in their hollows. But when a flamboyant performance artist is murdered, and Elizabeth learns the amazing history of a magnificent piece of folk art, she is caught between her two worlds -- and in the middle of an agonizing mystery.

Old Wounds - On Halloween night of 1986, Maythorn Mullins disappeared from her home near Elizabeth Goodweather's Full Circle Farm. Now, almost twenty years later, Rosemary Goodweather wants to find out the truth about her lost childhood friend. She begins to suspect that she herself knows . . . if she can just remember. As Elizabeth helps her daughter to delve into the past, memories come alive -- old friends, old enemies, old loves . . . and old wounds.

From the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain and the hidden Cave of the Two Sisters to the homeless shelters and self-realization programs of Asheville to the Cherokee Reservation where the noisy, glittering world of the casino gives way to the pristine woodlands and waterfalls of Big Cove, Elizabeth and Rosemary, aided by Phillip Hawkins, search for the answers to long-suppressed questions. Elizabeth must finally confront her own failings as she learns that there are some wounds time alone will not heal.

In a Dark Season - Crouched on its ledge above the historic Drovers' Road, the house at Gudger's Stand has witnessed many a dark and bitter deed. When a new friend of Elizabeth Goodweather leaps from the upper story of the old building, Elizabeth and Phillip, already tangled in the problems of their own off-and-on relationship, are drawn into a web of long-kept family secrets. Brooding madness, mountain magic, and a tale of bewitchment and betrayal in a by-gone time all come together in the best Goodweather novel yet!

The Day of Small Things, a non-series standalone, is set in Elizabeth Goodweather’s Marshall County and tells the story of her beloved neighbor Miss Birdie. Called Least by her mother, the girl who will be Birdie grows up cursed by her mother’s cruelty and blessed by her neglect. Deemed unfit to join the outside world, Least turns to the wisdom of the land, to voices she alone can hear, to legends left by native Indians, and to the arts of divination and healing.

Oh, I love Miss Birdie!
But the time comes when Least has to choose between an ardent suitor and her childhood magic, between his church and her spirits. Now, as her life enters its final chapter, her world has been invaded by a violent criminal with a chilling plan. To stop him from committing an unspeakable crime—and to free an innocent child—the woman who was once Least must break long-held promises, draw on long-buried powers, and face a darkness no one else can even see.

You live in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. Tell us how that environment affects your writing.

Pretty much in every way possible. My characters and stories are based on people I’ve known or have been told about. I live in a very rural county that, for the most part, didn’t have paved roads and electricity till after WWII. We learned a lot of the old time ways from our neighbors and, at the same time, I absorbed a good bit of the language. The seasons and the land itself are integral to my writing. Many people have said that the setting is like another character.

You submitted Ba’s Pound Cake for the Killer Recipes cookbook. I plan to bake it for the holidays. Tell us about your grandmother, Ba.

My grandmother grew up in Troy, Alabama and, though she spent most of her married life in Florida, she never forgot her small town Alabama roots. She was a wonderful Southern cook and the sort of grandmother everyone should have had. She made this pound cake about once a week. (Killer Recipes is available in print, ebook, and Kindle formats at

As Thanksgiving approaches, what are you most thankful for?

My family, of course, and the beautiful place I’ve had the good fortune to call home for thirty-five years.

Do you have any new projects in the works?

The fifth Elizabeth book – Under the Skin – will be out in 2011. It’s pretty much done and now I’m putting together a standalone proposal for my editor based on a story I was told about a local cemetery where there was a grave with a little house sitting atop the grave. And there were dolls inside . . .

Where can readers find more information about you and your writing?

My website, my daily blog, and my monthly newsletter cover the ground pretty thoroughly.

Vicki, thanks so much for the interview. I have enjoyed the Goodweather series and look forward to many more adventures with Elizabeth. Congratulations on your success! I look forward to meeting you in person at Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington.

Thanks for inviting me, Susan! It’s been a pleasure!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rob Ballister's God Does Have a Sense of Humor

Rob Ballister can find humor anywhere.  Whether it’s in the operating room, in the classroom, in a relationship, or in Spain, his unique style takes you on a journey through the significant events that shaped his life.  Through a never-ending struggle to understand his family, women, and God’s sense of humor, he stands defiantly with nothing more than a smile and his teddy bear Oscar. Follow him as he joins the Navy, sees the world, beats cancer, and gets beaten up. It’s a wild ride filled with laughter, friendship, a bit of heartbreak, and a lot of love.  You will laugh, you may cry, but one thing is certain.  You won’t forget it.     Rob is my special guest today. Welcome to the blog, Rob.

Born and raised in a very Italian, Catholic family in New Jersey, Rob Ballister left home for the Naval Academy at age 17. Since then he has survived cancer, a Naval Career, and his mother in law’s cooking. Armed with his sense of humor, he still serves in the Navy, and also speaks at cancer survivor and cancer support events. GOD DOES HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR is his first book, and won the 2007 Gold Medal for Humor from the Military Writers’ Society of America.

Rob, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions so that folks can learn more about you.
What is your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

My wife and I send lots of books to cancer patients as well as troops deployed overseas. When we hear that one of those books made someone smile who really needed it, it makes all the effort worth it. The two single best “feel good” moments were when a buddy send me a note from Kuwait saying he found my book in the medical tent, where it was making the sick and injured troops laugh, and when the wife of a cancer patient told me that she took my book with her to the hospital with her now deceased husband every time they went. Making a difference makes a difference.

You bet! That's awesome!

Tell us about your book. Is it available in print and e-book formats?

GOD DOES HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR is a collection of short writings inspired by the events of life. From dating disasters to surviving cancer to learning the truth about Santa Claus, the stories take potshots at the author, the establishment, and most of my relatives. The book is available in hardcover, softcover, e-book, and kindle formats. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or iUniverse websites.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Being raised in an Italian family in New Jersey provided no end of material. Add to that surviving cancer and traveling the world with the Navy, and you have plenty of influence into the foibles of life.

Any current projects?

Two, actually. First, I’m working on a sequel to the first, tentatively entitled YOUR FEET ARE VISIBLE FROM SPACE, AND OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T TELL YOUR PREGNANT WIFE. The first book handled everything up until I met my wife. The second book covers our time together as well as the birth of our daughter.

Second is a more serious work for those recently diagnosed with cancer. No title yet. The idea is to profile people that were diagnosed with cancer as young adults (I was 22) and then went on to live normal lives. This will hopefully give those newly diagnosed a glimpse at the other side and give them something to shoot for.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Recently launched Everything is there. 

Rob, it's great to have you over. So glad you beat cancer. My cookbook, Killer Recipes, is a compilation of recipes from mystery writers across the country who were willing to give up a few family secrets for a good cause. Killer Recipes (available in print, ebook, and Kindle formats at offers delicious food and we're giving all proceeds to cancer research in hopes of wiping out this disease in our lifetime. Thank you for telling us your story. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.