Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reading Room Interview with Wendall Thomas

I am so excited to have Wendall Thomas on The Reading Room Blog today for an interview.  She has Cyd Redondo #2, Drowned Under, out tomorrow, March 19th.  My review is already up her on my blog, and as with the first book in this wonderful series, I loved every page of it.  In today's interview with Wendall, readers will discover that Wendall is every bit as interesting as her character Cyd.  At the end of the interview, I'm including links to Wendall's website and other connections to her, which I'm sure you'll want to explore.

Note: My questions will be prefaced by KBR for Kathy Boone Reel, and Wendall’s answers will begin with WT for Wendall Thomas. 


KBR:  Wendall, I’m always amazed by the “day jobs” so many authors have, how many different hats they wear besides author.  I must say that you take “day job” to a whole new level.  Readers only have to visit your author website and view the bio information to see just how multi-talenteid and constantly busy you are, but what I’d like for you to do is tell readers what a typical year is like for you these days, if there is a typical year.  What are your regular gigs, and has that changed since adding novelist to the list? Does sleep even figure into your schedule?

WT:  Any freelancer juggles a million things—it’s the nature of the beast.  Since I never know if I’m going to get another job, or if I’m going to get paid on time for the one I’m doing, I rarely turn down work, even if I don’t have time to do it. In a regular year, I teach at least one class in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, run some kind of screenwriting mentorship program in the UK or Australia, prep and deliver 24 hours worth of lectures for the Melbourne International Film Festival, create and host “The Living Room Lectures” in my house, and do personal script consulting. In 2018, while I was trying to write Drowned Under, I also had a script optioned (which involved major rewrites for the producers) and had to create and film a term’s worth of video lectures on screenwriting for UCLA’s online program, so it was probably my most stressful year ever. I’ve pretty much been getting up at 4 a.m. for the last 18 months, just so I can work enough to afford to write novels and stories. I do make sure to set aside time to write every day, no matter what.


KBR:  The next logical question I suppose would be, with already having a full career with screenwriting, consulting, teaching, speaking, and lecturing, how did you get into writing novels?  Was there a lightbulb moment when you thought, aha I want to write a novel, or did that seed get planted when you were little Wendall conquering grade school with your pen and paper?  

WT:  I’ve always been an obsessive reader - my third-grade teacher was concerned I was reading too much and called my parents in, but my father told her to go to hell – so I always wanted to write novels, but for years I believed if I couldn’t be as good as Jane Austen or Flannery O’Connor or Henry James, I shouldn’t even try. I started out writing songs, then scripts. Lost Luggage was originally a script which didn’t sell. I was reading a ridiculous amount of mystery novels at the time and, not wanting to give up on Cyd, I wondered whether she might be right for a series. So I took a deep breath and tried NaNoWriMo. I think the sheer speed that it requires finally allowed me to get out of my own way.

KBR:  I know that dialogue is supposed to drive the story forward and deepen characterization, and the dialogue in this series absolutely does all that, but it’s also some of the most entertaining, witty dialogue I’ve read.  Do you think being a script writer, dialogue is easier for you to write, or is it harder in the context of a novel?  And, what do you think is the biggest difference or adjustment you’ve had to make from script writing to novel writing?

WT:  Dialogue has always been my favorite part of writing scripts and I absolutely believe that the kind of pacing and rhythm you try to create in a film script can help you in novel writing. The hardest things for me in the transition to novel writing were, first, being inside my characters’ heads, (forbidden in screenwriting, you have to externalize everything) and, second, trying to create the same “zany” film rhythm in the physical comedy, since it is a million times harder to do it in prose. With a script you can use the “white spaces” for timing and to set up physical jokes, which you really can’t in a novel. The big set pieces, like the shoot-out at the smuggling compound in Lost Luggage, or the helicopter descent in Drowned Under, Both took an unbelievable number of drafts to get right.

KBR:  Of course, your fans will want to know where you came up with the character of Cyd Redondo.  Is she a complete figment of your imagination, or is there someone whom you met that inspired her creation? And, did you think of the character Cyd first or the story line of the mishap travels?

WT:  I was doing a screenwriting lecture - in Scotland of all places - and she just showed up in my brain. I saw a small woman in a mini skirt, heels, and about fifty flea market bracelets standing in a jungle clearing. A guy came toward her and she whacked him with the bracelets and knocked him out. I liked her.


KBR:  Setting is always an element that I take an interest in.  It can be an important part of what makes a character who she/he is.  Being that you grew up in and went to school in North Carolina, and you now live in Los Angeles, what brought you to the setting of Brooklyn for Cyd’s home and business?

WT:  When Cyd showed up, she just seemed like a Jersey or Brooklyn girl. I had a couple of close friends in college who were from Jersey and had multiple older brothers, and so that just seemed right for her. Once I figured out I wanted her to be a travel agent who specialized in senior citizens, I looked up “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities” and found Bay Ridge. I flew there, befriended the hotel receptionist, and she introduced me to half the town. That was pretty much it. It’s a great, singular place and, of course, the setting for Saturday Night Fever and Peggy Olsen’s home borough in Mad Men.

KBR:  Continuing with setting, Tanzania in Africa was a fascinating location for Cyd’s first adventure in Lost Luggage, and it looks like we’ll be following her to Tasmania in Australia in Drowned Under, book #2.   I must ask, did you intentionally pick locations with names that closely related spelling-wise?  Is Cyd working her way through the T/ania names?  Hahaha!  And, are these places you’ve traveled to yourself?

WT:  Haha. The two “T” names were an accident, but come to think of it, she might have fun in Tonga... I have been to Tasmania, twice, and I’m obsessed with it. For Tanzania, I couldn’t afford a proper safari, but I had several friends who had been there, so I really depended on them as well as multiple travel writers and bloggers. It took a significant amount of reading, YouTube watching, spreading out maps on the floor, going to the San Diego Zoo, etc. to pull it off.


KBR:  Were you always interested in mystery/crime books?  Did you go the usual route of reading Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew growing up?  Agatha Christie?  As an adult, is that genre a favorite to read?  Has your reading of mystery/crime increased since you’ve become a part of that community yourself as a writer?  (I know once I started doing reviews of mystery/crime for my Reading Room blog and attending Bouchercon, my TBR list exploded.)  Are there any authors, any genre or non-fiction, that you’ve been a long-time fan of?

WT:  I jumped from Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown to Agatha Christie. I was babysitting for my cousins and they had all her novels, so I worked through them the summer I was thirteen, moved to Ngaio Marsh, then fell in love with Chandler and Hammett in college. Since then, I have to admit I love everything from noir to zany in crime fiction. And of course, I idolize Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton. Yes, my mystery reading has increased exponentially since I started writing mysteries, mainly because the mystery community has the loveliest people ever and when I meet someone new, I instantly want to read all their books.

KBR:  Then, I must satisfy a curiosity of many readers about their favorite authors by asking you what books are on your nightstand waiting?

WT:  I’m doing some research for a period novel at the moment, so in addition to The Best American Noir of the Century, The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, All the Way Down by Eric Beetner, and Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard, I’m set to reread Henry James’s The Better Sort, Wilkie Collins’s No Name and The Moonstone and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman.


KBR:  Although reading is my first love, I’m pleased with so many amazing mystery/crime/detective/amateur-sleuth series on television, from the regular channels to Netflix to Acorn to Amazon Prime to Hulu to Brit Box and more.  Do you have a favorite show or justice-seeker in these ever-growing number of programs?

In terms of filmed series, my absolute favorite at the moment is Patriot on Amazon Prime and after that, probably Shetland, Happy Valley, and Justified.

KBR:  And now, to close out our time together, here is one of my favorite questions I ask authors.  What would you like your readers to know about you that isn’t in your bio information?  Besides your obvious writing talent, any special interests or talents, quirky or not, you’d like to share?

WT:  I was a musician in my youth and put myself through college playing in various sleazy and semi-sleazy bars across America. Probably the worst one was in Marathon Key, where I was the featured “intermission entertainment” between the crab races. My music obsession finally paid off when I got to write Bonnie Raitt’s induction speech for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so that’s probably the thing I’m proudest of. I also taught high school – I was the first single female teacher and dorm supervisor in the English Department at the all-male Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts in the early 1980s, which is why I don’t have children.

Wendall Thomas, author connections:


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Drowned Under by Wendall Thomas: Reading Room Review

I have been eagerly awaiting and anticipating Wendall Thomas' second Cyd Redondo mystery, Drowned Under. The phrase good things come to those who wait is perfect to describe my reward for waiting for this thrilling new tale of the travel agent who is willing to go the extra 10,000 miles for her clients, from Brooklyn to Tasmania. It's hard to believe that murder can be as much fun as this series is, but with the witty dialogue and the mishaps that Cyd experiences, laughter is a large part of enjoying this read. With the addition of an adorable endangered/extinct animal that captures Cyd's heart, Drowned Under is my favorite excursion on the high seas of reading. 

It's almost Christmas in the borough of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and Cyd Redondo is not feeling the warm and cozy of the season. Her Uncle Ray's incarceration is a result of Cyd's last adventure in which she uncovered a thriving, illegal exotic animal business operating within her close community. The community and Cyd's extensive expanded family are not happy with her, and there is a freeze-out blowing her way in the holiday cheer. When Cyd's ex-husband Barry Manzoni asks her for help in locating his missing parents who took a cruise to Australia, Cyd is only too happy to absent herself from a Brooklyn Christmas disaster. After phoning her friend and Australian cruise contact Harriet Archer, Cyd is set up to join the current cruise of the Tasmanian Dream and share a cabin with Harriet.

With a tight window of meeting Harriet and the cruise ship in Melbourne, Cyd arrives too late. But, the good and bad news is that Harriet had a plan B, a helicopter waiting to fly Cyd to the Tasmanian Dream. That's the good news. The bad news is that there is no place for the helicopter to land on the ship's deck, so Cyd must be lowered via a rope ladder to her destination. Balancing a carry-on bag and her beloved Balenciaga bag, Cyd makes it mostly down the ladder with a last minute detour into the arms of a lifeguard with a "significant torso" and a final landing with him on a lounge chair. Making her apologies, she is met by the cruise director and taken to her cabin. A grim sight greets Cyd in her cabin, as her friend Harriet is lying dead on the floor, with blood pooling around her head. The ship's doctor is called for, and the man who caught a falling Cyd on deck is now changed from Speedo to a tux. He and others call Harriet 's death an accident, but Cyd and her unerring tuition, plus some clues, convince her that her friend has been murdered.

Cyd is distraught that Harriet is dead, and Cyd's especially worried that Harriet might have been targeted because of asking about the missing Mazonis. Now, the trip to find Barry's parents also becomes a race against the clock to find Harriet's murderer. Of course, two impossible tasks aren't enough, and before long, a complication named Howard, whose very species will depend on Cyd's help, is thrown into the mix and her Balenciaga.

There is so much to love about Drowned Under, as Wendall Thomas is an extraordinary storyteller and writer. The characters are all fascinating, both the good eggs and the bad ones. Cyd's tasks may seem to be impossible, but the characters who become her partners in crime solving work with her in one crazy scenario after another to accomplish that impossible. From eighty-one-year-old Sister Ellery Magdalene Malcomb, former nun and Cyd's former teacher, to Koozer, the young steward who is fond of large tips, to the doctor, who makes Cyd's stomach feel bubbly in a god way. All these characters and more make the journey of the Tasmanian Dream a great adventure. The pace of the story is always moving at just the right speed to create suspense and danger and release to more suspense and danger, ending in typical Cyd Redondo style, a few messy loose ends, such as Cyd's heart.

I received a copy of this book from the author, and I have given an honest review of Drowned Under, a smashing good read that shouldn't be missed.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Murder in Just Cause by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review

Murder in Just Cause by Anne Cleeland is the ninth book in the Doyle and Acton Mysteries, and I devoured it like I always do a book in this favorite series. The Irish fey lass married to the sophisticated powerful Lord provides no end of interesting and humorous scenarios, but the stories are also about serious crime and too often corruption in the esteemed policing institution of Scotland Yard. Acton's tendency to be swift with his own justice and ruthless is tempered by Doyle's Roman Catholic sense of right and trying to save him from going to hell. DCI Acton's a man of many secrets, but his wife is one wily woman and manages to ferret them out with unerring accuracy. Of course, it helps that they both enjoy a good roll in the hay, quite literally, too. 

What gives me so much enjoyment from these stories is that they are police procedurals with the procedure thoroughly tweaked by Acton. With his own sense of justice and Kathleen trying to tame it, the cat and mouse game is a hallmark of the series, the vehicle for the unraveling of clues. One of those twists of justice which Acton approves of is a matter of law on the English books called "murder in just cause," in which a murder can be committed with, well, just cause. Doyle, of course, thinks that there is no just cause for any murder. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and she believes in letting the chips fall where they may for the guilty. All the while, of course, her husband is gathering those chips to avert scandal. 

Back at work at Scotland Yard after maternity leave, Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle is disappointed to learn that she will be assisting DS Isabel Munoz, being her second, instead of having a separate caseload. Adding insult to injury, their first case is the suspected suicide by drug overdose of a "kook" at the less than desirable location of a seedy housing project. It turns out to be a "kook" with whom Munoz is familiar. "Kooks" are those people who wander in off the street or call the police station with what they deem important information on either and old case or one they claim to be reporting. Usually, the information from these people turns out to be useless, but all the officers must take "kook" duty at some point, interviewing the would-be heralders of coveted news. That there are already two police officers on deck at the scene in the projects makes Doyle wonder why detectives, such as Munoz and herself, were called in. Of course, the suicide is determined to be a homicide, and Doyle again wonders at its sloppy set-up to look like a suicide. She soon learns that it was instead a trap, one intended to knock off her fellow detective and often nemesis Munoz. And, what’s even harder to believe is that she, Doyle, was sent as Munoz’s assistant to shield against the success of that attempt. Something is definitely rotten in Denmark, and it might seem like Greek at first to the fair Kathleen Doyle, but she already suspects that her puppet master husband, Chief Inspector Acton, is pulling strings behind the scenes, even though he wasn't the one who sent her there. As Doyle is kept on assignment shadowing Munoz, strange events keep piling up, and Doyle even enlists a certain knight to help her try to decipher Acton's continuing non-involvement/involvement in what seems to be more corruption in the Scotland Yard police force.

Although Acton is a cool customer, Doyle intuitively knows that something is troubling him, as his over-protectiveness with their baby Edward seems extreme. And, even though extreme protection is something that is normal for Acton, Doyle doesn't want the presence of their baby to cause her husband to go off the deep end. So, she must work out what is troubling Michael and if it's related to the "kook" death and its subsequent events. She would also like to untangle what's going on at Scotland Yard so that she can really get back to work and quit being under Munoz's thumb. Munoz does shows a little softening in this story, as she realizes that it's love she wants in a relationship and struggles to understand how that might play out. Doyle must determine why Munoz is in danger and from whom if Izzy Munoz is to continue to have a love life or any life. 

Murder in Just Cause left me wanting more, because one of my greatest reading pleasures is getting back in touch with the characters in this series, and I just can never get enough. Doyle and Acton drive the plot, but they have an outstanding supporting cast to help them. Fans of this series will be delighted to see Isabel Munoz break her stern, serious posture a bit, actually having conversations with Kathleen that border on snark-free inner feelings. Reynolds, the ever-loyal butler to Doyle and Acton, seamlessly delivers helpful information to Doyle, while never being condescending towards her. Detective Inspector Thomas Williams, who serves as both Kathleen Doyle’s best friend and Acton’s unflinching henchman, lends a hand to Kathleen when it’s not compromising his duties to his boss, and Williams, once set on life with Kathleen himself, always has her back. Then, there are the ghostly characters at Acton’s ancestral estate of Trestles and Acton’s mother, the Dowager, who can’t be trusted in her loyalties. She is the bad penny that keeps turning up, but through whom we learn interesting Acton background from time to time. With these regular characters and new ones showing up in each book, Anne Cleeland keeps the story moving through its thrilling twists and turns. Perfection each and every time.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Coming for You by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review

I became a fan of Kristi Belcamino's writing shortly after she started her Gabriella Giovanni series, an immediate favorite of mine. She has gone on to write more series and a few young adult stories, all exceptional books that cemented her place as one of my favorite authors. I have given all her books well-deserved high praise, and now I am delighted to take the highest praise and apply it to what I consider her best work yet. Coming for You is akin to a gymnast doing amazing routine after routine, and then, the gymnast hits a flawless performance that causes an audible gasp in the audience. I knew Coming for You would be a great story, because all of Kristi's previous stories were that, but the intricacies and twists of plot in this new book are that flawless performance all artists strive for. 

Sofia Kennedy is living a good life, happy with her husband Jason and her teenage daughter Kate. Kate is a week away from leaving for college, and Sofia and Jason are having an "empty nest" party with their two closest couple friends, who are also the parents of Kate's two closest friends. But, the morning after the party, Sofia discovers that Kate has not slept in her bed the night before and didn't leave any phone or text messages saying she was staying out. Sofia knows that Kate wouldn't leave them worrying, and after checking with her two friends, she calls the police. Because Kate had not yet turned eighteen, there is an investigation started immediately, but Sofia feels the urgency of the situation more than the police do. She and Jason and their friends, Cecile and Alex, Dan and Gretchen start their own search. As the couples look for Kate or any clues to her whereabouts in the last place she was known to be seen, there is suddenly an intense increase in police activity in the area, and Sofia learns that Kate’s body has been found. There is no question that foul play is involved. 

Sofia’s greatest fear about the investigation into her daughter’s murder is that the past Sofia worked so hard to put behind her has caught up with her and is a factor in Kate’s death. Even Jason doesn’t know that Sofia Castle Kennedy was born Sofia Castellucci and grew up in a world of violence that ripped her family apart, sending her father to prison and her across the country in denial of that world and to the creation of a new world. Of course, lots of people have secrets they don’t want exposed, and there is no dearth of secrets amongst the characters in this tale. Before the denouement, Sofia will have used her dogged determination to uncover many of the shocking secrets of her once safe sanctuary.

The different elements of this story work brilliantly together to create the perfect thriller. The method of telling the story both moves it along and fills in blanks. After the initial set-up of the discovery that Kate is missing and her body being found, there is not only Sofia’s voice moving the narrative along, but Kate’s is there as well, as she writes in her journal and as she experiences the events leading up to her death. Their dual voices not only allow us to have a complete picture of events, they show us the loving relationship between mother and daughter, an important part of Sofia’s overall story, as her relationship with her own mother was the opposite of loving. Sofia had found her unconditional love in life, and that reminds us of just how tragic this story is. And, there is one of the most satisfying consistencies in Kristi Belcamino’s stories, a strong female lead character, and with Sofia we certainly get that. No one takes a character from the depths of despair to an avenging angel better than Kristi Belcamino. 

As full of wonderful twists as this book is, it is exceedingly fair. After I reached the end and had all the answers, I realized that I had overlooked a few important clues on the road to revelation. I don’t often want to reread a book to do a fine tooth combing of it, but I’m betting that a second read of Coming for You would be quite exciting for me as I zero in on the early signs of what is to come. It truly is a book that doesn’t let go. It is a crime thriller at its best, building the suspense to a fever pitch at a pace that is right on target. Sofia’s unraveling of clues never seems forced and always plausible. Those wishing to write a suspenseful thriller would do well to read and study this work. The ending was the best of all, as I thought I’d figured it out, but I was wrong. I love being wrong when it’s a twist served up with perfection. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Readers enjoy books best when the story swallows them whole, and this story will consume you from beginning to end. If they make movie of this book, and I hope they do,  I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

March Madness for Books: New Releases That Score

March 4th

Murder in Just Cause: A Doyle and Acton Mystery by Anne Cleeland
Murder at the Old House by Betty Rowlands

March 5th

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Before She Knew Him: A Novel by Peter Swanson
The Dutch Shoe Mystery: An Ellery Queen Mystery by Ellery Queen
The Man with No Face by Peter May
Her Father’s Secret (Family Secrets series) by Sara Blaedel
Smoke and Ashes: A Novel by Abir Mukherjee
The Perfect Alibi: A Novel by Phillip Margolin
Woman 99: A Novel by Greer Macallister

March 7th
Past Life by Dominic Nolan


March 12th
The Liar’s Child: A Novel by Carla Buckley
The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
A Beautiful Corpse (A Harper McClain Mystery #2) by Christi Daughtery
Mercy River: A Van Shaw Novel by Glen Erik Hamilton

March 13th
Deadly Politics (Nichelle Clarke #7) by LynDee Walker

March 19th
Drowned Under (Cyd Redondo #2) by Wendall Thomas
Catch Me When I’m Falling (A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery, #3) by Cheryl A. Head
Finding Katarina M. by Elisabeth Elo
Run Away by Harlan Coben


March 21st
She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge


March 26th
Border Line (Gia Santella #8) by Kristi Belcamino
Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman
The Night Visitors: A Novel by Carol Goodman
Blood Oath (An Alexandria Cooper Mystery) by Linda Fairstein
The American Agent (Maisie Dobbs #15) by Jacqueline Winspear