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Ready for Spring

I like to tell myself that I'm getting better at the social media thing, such as newsletters and occasional blog posts. But then one day I look at the calendar and it's two days into April and that means my quarterly newsletter is already late. Well, that's not really too, too late as I used to say.
My corner of New England, on the Massachusetts coast, has had another "winter that wasn't a winter" year, and even though I'm not complaining, I know I should be. The seasons are off. Spring begins earlier, which means the insects awaken earlier. That doesn't bother me but it means the birds will arrive to fewer or no insects to eat until plant life picks up. The insects come alive with warmer weather, and the birds take flight according to the length of daylight. You can see the problem here. But it also means gardens get planted earlier, and we have a longer growing season.
Last month I visited the tiny town of Wendell, MA, for a Sisters in Crime Speakers Bureau event. As is often the case in small towns far from the main city of the region, we had a great turnout as well as lots of fun making up a mystery on the fly. Judy McIntosh led me, E. Chris Ambrose, and Max Folsom through the steps of making a mystery out of suggestions from the audience, which included all generations.



The most pressing issue for me right now is keeping up with the reading for the next Crime Spell Books anthology. If you write short stories and have been following Best New England Crime Stories anthologies, you know that Devil's Snare, our fourth collection, will be out in October. The deadline for submitting a story has been extended to April 30, so if you're fretting over missing the earlier deadline, you're in luck. Send in your story, and see what happens. The guidelines are here: https://crimespellbooks.wixsite.com/my-site/submission-guidelines
For the fans of Anita Ray, there's good news and sort-of good news. The fifth Anita Ray will be out in paperback this summer from Harlequin. In Sita's Shadow tells the story of Deepa Nayar, who is preparing to meet her past, an unexpected challenge, while Anita Ray confronts a death in the hotel and Auntie Meena's expected response of near hysteria. The sort-of good news is that I'm making my way through the sixth installment, The Lure of Mohini, which is about the dangerous temptations of an achingly beautiful young woman.


And for those who are following my other love, photography, my exhibit of the Pongala festival is now on view at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers, MA. My fifteen photographs share space with my late husband's images of skiffs, a few photos taken by my mother in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India, and two by my grandfather. Yes, we are all into cameras and what they can do in my family. And for the photo historians out there, my mother worked for Ansco back in the 1920s/1930s.
This week will bring another early spring warm-up (right after the snowstorm), which means I can get outside and renew my assault against invasive species. It's hard to know if I'm winning or losing the battle, but at least I'm outside, wielding my shovel against the onslaught. Here's hoping you too are brandishing whatever weapon you need in these changing times.

A Newsletter for the New Year

Welcome to my quarterly newsletter!
I promised to do a newsletter quarterly, and so far I've been faithful to my word--six. So here's another one. And no, I'm not on time. I'm three days late. No matter. I'm here to talk about the past, present, and future.
The fall is usually busy with Crime Bake in November and at least two library association events. But this year the best event was a December book event in Rockport MA, where Andre Dubus III showed up to sign books and talk about writing with readers and other vendors. I was there promoting Crime Spell Books and our newest anthology, as well as my newest Pioneer Valley Mystery, Grave Legacy, featuring Felicity O'Brien. I grabbed a copy of Andre's newest book also, The Garden of Last Days.
Crime Spell Books has opened submissions to its fourth anthology, Devil's Snare, another name for the poison plant datura. Submissions close April 30, 2024.
My focus this month has also switched to photography. On February 1, I'll be hanging a show of 17 photographs of the Pongala festival in South India. This is a gathering of up to three million women who come for a chance to make an offering to Attukal Bhagavati in hopes of obtaining good health for the family in the coming year. The date varies in Kerala, South India, so the festival is sometimes held in January and sometimes later in the year, depending on how the stars align. The photographs document the setup for cooking for each devotee, the carrying of the sacred flame to light the cooking fires (all three million of them), the preparation of the offering, lunch provided to all, and the final act of blessing the porridge cooked and offered to the deity.
This is one of my favorite festivals in India, and its many rich and interesting aspects make a great setting for a crime story. If you are a reader of the Anita Ray stories and novels, you can look forward to one set during Pongala, when the police gather and hold the known pickpockets and petty criminals, women walk the city streets throughout the night, or sleep on them, without fear of harassment or worse,and men are delegated to assisting--handing out free cups of tea in the morning, cooking and delivering full buffet lunches for all the women, and driving small trucks for errands and as ambulances.
On January 11, I'll be at the Lynnfield Senior Center doing a "Mystery Making" event with Connie Johnson Hambley and Edith Maxwell. These are loads of fun as three mystery writers make up a crime story on the spot with suggestions from the audience. When we aren't laughing, we're plotting murder.
February 1, my photography exhibit "Pongala" opens at the Beverly Public Library for one month. It then moves to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers MA for two months, April and May.
While all this activity has been going on, I've also been at home working on the sixth Anita Ray, and planning revisions for a Ginny Means mystery. Ginny is as yet known only through stories about her in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. My goal is to show more of her in a full-length novel. Stay tuned.
And now with the closing of this newsletter, I will turn my attentions to spring and gardening.

Ending the Year


If you're like me, you're surprised to find yourself facing the last three months of the year, and with temperatures that remind me of August. I'm eager to make the most of the last good days, perhaps even good weeks, and bring my yard farther along on the transition to all (or mostly) native plants.

In September I cleared out an area thick with vines and invasive plants that had been growing unhindered for years. On my neighbor's side of the property line the growth serves as a clear boundary, but I chose to clear out my side and replant natives to attract more birds and stabilize the area. I've put in four bearberry shrubs (still very, very small), which will spread and and grow into a low hedge with brilliant colors in the fall, produce berries for birds, repel deer (not that we have so many of them), and they tolerate their less than ideal location. Nearby is a juniper bush, which will also produce berries and keep its foliage during the winter.



This is also the season for the Topsfield Fair, where I saw the sign for Mann Orchids. Mann Orchards is located in Methuen, MA, and their apples are delicious.



And the Halloween season has begun in our neighborhood.


When I'm not rooting out invasives I'll be meeting readers at several upcoming events.

On Saturday, October 14, visit the Sisters in Crime table at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. I'll be there from noon to 1:00 and again from 2:00 to 3:00. This is a great opportunity to meet New England writers and find out what we're up to.

On Monday, October 16, if you're part of the New England Library Association, you can visit me and other writers at the NELA annual conference in Springfield. We'll be at the Mass Mutual Center with other vendors talking about library books along with our books.


On Saturday, October 21, at 6:00 pm. I'll be at Molly's Bookstore in Melrose with Kim Kerdman Shapiro and Kate Flora. If you're in the area, please drop by if you can.

The big event of the season, and perhaps the year, is Crime Bake, November 10-12, with Guest of Honor Deborah Crombie. I'll be moderating a panel on Saturday morning, "A Dab Hand at Sleuthing: Using a Special Skill to Solve Crimes." Five writers—Susan E. Cory, Elise Hart Kipness, Christine Knapp, Vanessa Lillie, and Kim Herdman Shapiro—will talk about how they use their "other" talent in their mystery novels. On Sunday morning, we'll hear from three writers who have worked on the Innocence Project. All in all, this year's conference is lining up to be one of our best.