Critical praise for Christy!

For "Murder Hooks a Mermaid:"
"Author Christy Fifield creates the kind of characters that stay with you for a long time. Fifield’s new Haunted Souvenir Shop mystery, Murder Hooks a Mermaid has it all: a sunny, relaxed setting, captivating locals, delicious food, and—of course—murder! Delightful amateur sleuth Glory Martine is back with her wisecracking parrot and charming group of friends in this thoroughly entertaining adventure. Don’t miss it."—Julie Hyzy, National Bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mystery series
"A whodunit with a dose of the supernatural, "Murder Hooks a Mermaid" is a worthy successor to the series opener and showcases Fifield's talents for plotting, characterization and humor." - Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Quirky and unique, a heroine for whom you can't help but root. The story sucks you in." - The Maine Suspect
"With a lovable cast of characters, good conversations and a great setting, this well-written book is a terrific read." -- Dru's Book Musings

For "Murder Buys a T-Shirt:"
A refreshing new sleuth! - Lynne Maxwell, Mystery Scene Magazine
"A fun book that will make the dreariest of days a little brighter! Socrates' great Book Alert" - Socrates' Cozy Cafe
"An entertaining and clever Florida whodunit" - Harriet Klausner
"Hilarious! A great murder mystery with well-written characters" - Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews
For the Georgiana Neverall Series:
"Christy Evans will find legions of fans with this new series" - Sheldon McArthur, Lincoln City News Guard
"Funny and entertaining -- a solid mystery filled with likable characters." - RT Book Reviews"
Cute cozy mystery debute -- wry humor -- adorable dogs" -Publisher's Weekly
"Will have you giggling out loud! Four Stars." - Kathy Fisher, The Romance Readers Connection"The Book is good! Keep them coming, Ms. Evans!" - Mystery Scene
"Evans delivers a fast-paced mystery with admirable finesse!" - Sharon Galligar Chance,
"Christy Evans has a hit on her hands" - Harriet Klausner,
"Christy Evans is aces. I'll be very suprised if Sink Trap isn't an instant hit with cozy readers!" -

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Great Cookie Mystery

With all the Southern cooking going on around our house as research for the Haunted Gift Shop series (hey, it makes a good excuse!), I am constantly picking the Official Taster's brain for ideas.  I want to know what dishes he remembers from his childhood, the things his mother, grandmother, aunts, friends, and neighbors cooked.

One evening recently, he started telling me about a cookie his Mema used to make.  He couldn't remember what she called them, but as he talked, I realized he was describing what I knew as a Russian Tea Cake.  Curious, I called on my Google-fu and started looking for recipes and history.  What I found was a basic shortbread cookie with nuts added, and many, many names.

What do YOU call these?
Online, I found Russian Tea Cakes, certainly.  I also found Southern Butterballs, Viennese Crescents (though with a variation in shape), Biscochitos,  Kourambiethes, Moldy Mice, Rohlichky, and Mexican Wedding Cookies.  At work, I offered several people samples, and asked what name they knew them by.  My boss, who grew up in Pennsylvania, called them Italian Wedding Cookies.  Another friend said they were Mexican Wedding Cakes, and a couple Mexican friends identified them as Polvorones.  Intrigued, I went back to online searches, and found Polvorones, with the speculation that the name was derived from the word "polvo," meaning dust, or powder.  Other friends called them simply Wedding Cookies.

I found versions with pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and poppy seeds.  Some recipes called for an egg, others did not.  There were variations with all butter, all lard, or a combination of the two.  The ratio of flour and sugar to ground nuts varied from 4:1 to 1:1.  Some had vanilla, some cinnamon, some chocolate, and one included orange zest.  Polvorones are said to date to 16th century Spain, with several regions claiming ownership, and some references claim the Spanish were introduced to them from Medieval Arab cuisine.

Of course I had to make a batch, which the Official Taster pronounced good, but not exactly the same as Mema's.  However, there are dozens of recipes for every one of the many names, so I'll keep experimenting until I find that magic combination that perfectly matches his recollection.

Making the cookies:
I started by toasting the pecans.  I have a stash of very good pecans in my freezer, thanks to the generosity of my mother- and father-in-law, who harvested them from their trees and shipped them to us.  I placed a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about five minutes, then let them cool.  This richens the flavor and helps reduce the tendency to turn into paste in the food processor.  When they were cooled, I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon or so of flour (another trick to help you get chopped, not pureed, nuts) and pulsed it until the nuts were finely chopped.

A few simple ingredients is all it takes
With the nuts ready, I measured the flour, powdered sugar,and vanilla, and softened two sticks of butter.  These are very rich, though they don't have a lot of sugar; the flavor comes from the butter and the nuts.

The butter should be at room temperature, soft enough to work.  The dough can be mixed by hand (which I did) but a stand mixer is well-suited to this dough.  If the butter isn't soft enough, give it a few seconds in the microwave.
Mix the flour, powdered sugar, nuts, and vanilla into the butter, just until it forms a ball in the bowl.  You want the dough to hold together, but don't overmix.  Refrigerate the dough for an hour or so, in order to make it easier to handle, then form it into small balls on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Cookies ready for the oven

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  They will be faintly golden.

After baking.  Gold, not brown
Now comes the fun part.  Let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet, then roll them in powdered sugar.As each cookie is rolled in the sugar, place it on a cooling rack.  The sugar will cling to the hot cookies, but it will tend to melt into them because they are still warm.  That's just fine.

You're going to get sugar on your fingers, and that's okay!
 Resist the temptation to nibble, and let the cookies cool.  Because once they are cool, you are going to give them another coat of powdered sugar.  You can also sift powdered sugar over them, but I like to roll them, making sure the entire surface of the cookie has a coating of soft white.

One tip:  If you place your cooling rack over a clean cookie sheet, you can use the powdered sugar that falls off to roll the cookies the second time.  Because there will be sugar that falls off!
After the second coat of sugar, the cookies are ready to be packed in an airtight container, and enjoyed for several days, or weeks.  As if there will be any left that long!   

With a second coat of powdered sugar. Yummy!!

The Cookies of Many Names

2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups flour
2 cups chopped nuts - your choice of pecan, walnut, almond, or hazelnut
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix dry ingredients into softened butter, along with the vanilla.  Stir, or mix at low speed on stand mixer.  When the dough forms a ball in the bowl place it in the refrigerator for an hour.  The cold dough will be easier to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut.  Place them about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until they turn light gold.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes.

While the cookies are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar, coating all sides, and place on cooling racks.  Once they have cooled completely, roll  them in powdered sugar again, and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Case of the Vanishing Writer

I have been missing in action from this blog, and from most of my life, for several months.  Although I try to keep the posts here upbeat and cheery, sharing the interesting, unusual, and delightful moments I encounter, there are times when I have to be serious.  This is one of those times.  I hope you will bear with me as I share the latest developments in the Case of the Vanishing Writer.

Mom and her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt
Once upon a time - about three months ago - Steve and I were posting a series of interview-style entries about each of our mystery series.  I also posted a couple reports on my trip to Washington and Bethesda with my mom and sister for Malice Domestic, talking about what a wonderful time we had, and I was planning several more.

Life was good.

Not perfect, mind you.  I knew my mother was ill, and facing a serious operation, but the doctors were confident, she was prepared, and we had just completed a fairly strenuous week in D.C.  We thought she was ready to battle the tumor that was discovered just before our trip.  It was a fresh start, the beginning of a new chapter for her, after two years of constant care-giving as my dad lost his battle with dementia, and a third year of dealing with residential care before he passed away last August.

I struggled last year, trying to write about Dad in a way that made sense.  I never could, and I said very little about his death at the time.  The loss was greater than I could have imagined, even though he had been slipping away a little at a time over several years.  Even now, I find myself getting teary-eyed when I try to write about him.  He really was a fine example of what Tom Brokaw dubbed The Greatest Generation.

At the WWII Memorial, remembering Dad
When we came home from Washington, Mom went to get a routine cardiac clearance for her surgery.  Seemed like a reasonable request for an 81-year-old patient facing a major operation.  Only this wasn't so routine.  They found a serious blockage, in an area unreachable with a stent.  The only alternative was heart surgery before she they could remove the tumor.  The day after Mothers' Day she had a triple bypass, and started the long road to recovery.

My two sisters and I did not want her to go to a nursing home to recover.  She wanted to come home, and we wanted her to.  So we banded together, worked out a schedule, and started sharing around-the-clock care so that she could recover in her own home.  We helped her in and out of bed until she was able to get up by herself.  We cooked meals, urging her to eat "just a little," even when she had no appetite.  We did laundry, washed dishes, cleaned floors, whatever needed doing.  My shift was from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, so that I only had to make the 150 mile roundtrip once a week.  For two months, I left work every Friday afternoon, drove 75 miles to Mom's and relieved my sister.  On Sunday afternoon my relief would arrive and I'd drive home so I could work the next day.

Unfortunately, she wasn't the only hospital patient this summer.  On July 14 (my long-suffering, incredibly patient husband's birthday), I became violently ill.  A trip to the emergency room confirmed that I was, indeed, very sick, and they loaded me into an ambulance for a 90-mile trip to a regional medical center - our small town didn't have a qualified surgeon.  I can tell you that "Code 3" really does mean they use the lights, and siren if needed, all the way.  I can now take that little item off my bucket list.  Probably shouldn't have been there to begin with.

I was immediately poked, prodded, pictured, and prepped.  Six hours of surgery later, I arrived in recovery minus a gall bladder, an intestinal blockage, and at least four major hernias - silly me, I thought I had one hernia.

For the next nine days my husband lived in a small motel room a few blocks from the hospital, spending his days with me as I tried to recover from surgery.  He was my rock, my security blanket, and the one person I trusted absolutely during that time.  Several times he sat at my bedside and read to me when I didn't have the strength to hold a book or focus on words, and I often fell asleep as he read, comforted by the sound of his voice.  Hearing him made me feel safe; nothing bad could happen while he was there, watching out for me.

My sisters stretched themselves to cover the care of my mother, since I couldn't help.  In fact, just three days after being released I was back in the hospital with a post-operative infection.  The next four days were a round of IV antibiotics, short walks around the ward, and exhaustion, but eventually I was released again, and allowed to come home.  That was August 1.  For the next six weeks I had a WoundVac and an open incision, which kept me fairly immobile.

During that time I visited my mother a few times (the 150-mile roundtrip was a huge challenge), and talked with her on the phone, as well as getting regular updates from my sisters.  The news wasn't always good.  Mom's appetite didn't recover.  As a result, her healing was very slow, and she continued to lose weight.  She had several setbacks, urgent trips to her doctor, or the emergency room.  She would up back in the hospital in mid-August.  Finally, on August 15, she made the decision to refuse further treatment.  She asked to be released from the hospital and to be placed  on hospice care.

My husband immediately drove me the 70 miles to the hospital, and I spent the afternoon talking with her.  She was in full control of her senses, she knew what she was doing, and she had very good reasons for her decision.  Devastating as it was, I had to admit she was making the right choice for her.  For the rest of us, it was heart-breaking.  But seeing her relaxed and smiling, even cracking jokes with us, made us all realize how right her choice was.  She was happy again, for the first time in months, and that meant more to us than we could say.

My sisters, bless them, stayed with her through it all.  My aunt came to stay, too, and the three of them were with her around the clock.  I went several times, and each time I had the chance to tell her I loved her, and to hear her say she loved me.  The last words she spoke to me were "Love you bunches."

Mom passed away peacefully on the morning of September 1, just two weeks after the first anniversary of my father's death.  As I wrote in her obituary, "A strong, remarkable, woman, she faced her final illness with grace, courage, and amazing good humor."

Physically, I am still recovering, and the doctor tells me it will  probably take the rest of the year before I am fully healed.  I am back to work at the day job, but have yet to work a full week - thankfully, I had a lot of vacation time accumulated, and my bosses have been amazingly understanding.

Thanks for bearing with me through a long, serious post.  This last year has taken a lot out of me, but I will eventually recover my usually-optimistic outlook, and my sense of humor.  With luck, they will both be on display when I make the next post.

And I certainly hope that will be sooner than another three months!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Panhandling Part 3: Christy and husband Steve Discuss Murder and Mystery on the North Florida Coast

Christy and husband J. Steven York  continue discussing their respective mystery series, both set in the Florida panhandle:

CHRISTY:  When I mentioned colorful characters, I immediately thought about Big Bass, the chief of police in your Panorama Beach stories.  Is he based on anyone you knew, growing up in the South?  I know I've heard stories about a lot of the people that lived around you when you were a kid, but I don't remember any law enforcement people specifically.

STEVE: In Alabama (about 15 miles from the Florida line) we were so far out in the country that we didn't see the law much.  State troopers would cruise through once in a while, and being a fan of cops on TV (re-runs of the old series "Highway Patrol" were a special favorite) I always paid special attention to the cop-cars and motorcycles around city hall.  But as for actually having much to do with actual officers, I don't much remember it.

No, Big Bass is more based on an idea than a person.  Thinking back about the south in that part of the 60s, the legality of segregation in every aspect of society had been broken, but it was still deeply ingrained in the culture.  It struck me that for anyone with visibility to be at all fair-handed with blacks, you had to be something of an outlaw.  Somebody like Big Bass could only survive if he hid his true nature, played the good-old-boy game, and kept enough political dirty tricks up his sleeve to keep himself on top.  So in some ways Bass is that hoariest of southern cliches, the crooked Sheriff.  But he turns that cliche on its head in that he is (sometimes, anyway) a force for good.  Certainly he sees himself as the hero of his story, and he does try to help people and keep his beloved beach from being despoiled.  But his methods are questionable, and he stumbles over to the dark side if there isn't somebody there to turn him back.  Fortunately, there are people to do that, and one of them is Deputy Mustang Sawtell.

Mustang is based on a lot of people I knew, and on some level, he's based on me a little, too.  And I think there's some of my late uncle Wayne in him.  But there's a little of every good-hearted southern boy I've ever met in him.  That's his core.  I just feel that at the core, the character of southern people is kind and generous and hospitable.  But it's also got this strong tradition of intolerance that, to my mind, seems completely incompatible with that.  That dichotomy isn't a southern thing, it's a human thing, and that's a big theme of the Panorama Beach stories.  It's about doing the right thing the best you can when there's nobody to show you the right way, and everything is trying to steer you wrong.  And it's about how good people sometimes do things that are unspeakably evil.

That's really the biggest difference between our two series I think.  In some ways, 1967 and 2012, they might was well be different planets, even through we're talking only a few miles apart.

CHRISTY:  And yet some of the themes you're working with are so universal that they fit any time, and any place.  In writing murder mysteries, we're dealing with characters who do things that are unspeakably evil, who violate the biggest taboo: the taking of a human life.  It doesn't get much worse than that. 

But if we are to create a believable bad guy, he has to have an understandable motive.  He has to think he is doing the only possible thing to achieve his goal, whatever that goal is.  The path that the character takes to  the point where he (or she) commits murder has to make sense to the reader.  Similarly, a character like Big Bass has to make sense within the context of his world, within his definition of necessary actions.

In my books, the victims are killed for a reason.  It might not be what you would call a good reason, but nevertheless the killer must come to a point where killing another person seemed like the only logical path.  And unlike Big Bass, there isn't anyone to pull them back from that murderous impulse.

As you said, however, the South of the 60s and the South of today are definitely different.  Race certainly continues to be an issue within our society, but it does not dominate our social interactions the way it did fifty years ago.  In the Haunted Gift Shop series, I barely touch on the issue, except in occasional historical context.  In fact, I have an interracial couple as secondary characters, and their race is hardly an issue.  The fact that they're gay, well, that may occasionally create problems.

I've noticed something else about your characters, something that certainly reflects the time in which your stories are set.  Many of your characters are military veterans.  What drew you to that background, and why do you think you've made that a central part of so many characters?

STEVE: You know, sometimes you sit down and say, "this is a theme I'm going to write about," and sometimes theme just develops out of story and character.  That's what happened here.

Early on I had the idea that Mustang Sawtell's best childhood friend would have been killed or be MIA in Vietnam, that he would have left him with this Mustang convertible that he drives, that Mustang had never served in the military, and that this would be a source of guilt and conflict for the character.  But as I started writing, it kept coming up again in different ways.

First of all, the military was really pervasive in that part of Florida in those days (and still is).  Panama City had Tyndall Air Force Base, and Eglin Air Force Base near Ft. Walton takes up a huge part of the panhandle with its bombing ranges and satellite airfields.  Then there's the huge Naval Air Station in Pensacola.  It's a very important place for the military, especially military aviation, and it was really buzzing in the 60s, what with Vietnam and the cold-war both in full-swing.  There were military planes in the skies all the time, and you saw military personnel everywhere.

But it's also a matter of history.  In 1967, the WWII generation was in charge of the world, but they were graying, and the world was starting slip from their grasp.  Sheriff Bass is an example of that generation.  We're going to learn that he was a great hero in the Pacific in WWII, saved a lot of lives, and has a lot of friends who remain very loyal to him because of it.  But he also did a lot of bad things in the service of good, and it damaged him in many ways.  He's a danger junkie, and in many ways ruthless.  He's killed many times, and he won't hesitate to kill again if he thinks there's just cause.

Then there's Korea, "the forgotten war," dismissed by many of the WWII generation as "not a real war," and the veterans often treated poorly in a way that echoes the later experiences of Vietnam vets.  My next Panorama Beach Mystery, "The Beat of Angels Wings," delves deeply into this.  It's about a tight group of helicopter pilots who flew air-ambulance missions in Korea, a secret they all share, and how the war has changed them all.  We're also going to reveal that one of our established characters is a Korean vet, someone people might not expect, and their experiences there play a big part in their life.

And of course, Vietnam is looming, not just in Mustang's lost friend, but in the growing unrest in the country that will figure into future installments.

Goofy Golf, Panama City Beach, 1960s
Hmm.  This is getting a little dark and serious.  Let's shift gears and talk about something that I know drew both of us to write about North Florida: the strange, wacky, and wonderful sights and landmarks, both natural and man-made, that dot  (or in some cases, used to dot) the area.  Like some of the things that inspired aspects of Keyhole Bay in your books, and the strange attractions in Panorama Beach.

CHRISTY:  Keyhole Bay is a modern-day tourist town, with all the plusses and minuses that go with an economy based on a constant flow of strangers. In that sense, it has a lot in common with tourist towns across the country; only the geography changes.

The first time I visited Florida, and traveled through the Panhandle, I was astonished.  I'd grown up near the beaches of Southern California, and thought I knew what a beach was all about.  Boy, was I wrong!  The sand was whiter than anything I had seen on the West Coast.  It looked like snow!

All along the coast there were touristy places; restaurants and lodging, of course, but also go-karts, mini golf, souvenir shops, T-shirt shops (LOTS of T-shirt shops), and assorted other attractions.  The wacky, kitschy, slightly tattered tourist attractions had not yet given way to high-rise condos, and I felt like I was a teenager again, at some of the places I'd known in Southern California in the 60s.

In Keyhole Bay, geography has shaped the history and personality of the town.  The small harbor supports both commercial and recreational fishing, and the proximity of the Gulf provides amazing scuba diving opportunities.  So, while it shares much with other tourist towns, it has its own unique attractions.  In Florida, it's all about the water.

One of the places that intrigued me most was DeFuniak Springs, not only for the Chautauqua connection, or the beautiful houses, but for the almost perfectly-round lake.

STEVE:  I loved that lake the first time we saw it.  I'd been driving by it several times every summer, but until a few years ago while visiting with you, I'd never gotten off the main road to see it.  It's like stumbling into some kind of fantasy: the placid, round lake, the historic building, the quaint little small-town main street, the railroad station, and then there's the library.

You go into this tiny little library, and every available wall and shelf that isn't full of books is full of medieval weapons!  It's right out of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer!"  The place demands to be written about, to have some thin layer of fantasy or imagination.  It's a hell-mouth.  It's a star gate.  It's a time-window.  It's the lair of a sea-monster.  It's a bay on a magical fairy ocean in another universe.  It's a place where true love lasts forever.  It's the small town that just happens to be the center of the universe.  It's a town where time moves in circles and loops back on itself in infinite combination.

Sometimes it's that way.  There's a place that's already so special, it just requires just a little twist to turn it into something really special.  I think we both found that in the Florida panhandle...

NEXT: Christy and Steve talk about how writing about fictional towns is still about "keeping it real."

For an important announcement about upcoming "Panorama Beach Mysteries" titles, see HERE!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Panhandling Part 2: Christy and Steve Discuss Murder and Mayhem On the North Florida Coast

PART 2: Real Places and Imaginary Towns

STEVE: One thing our two mystery series (The Haunted Souvenir Shop, and Panorama Beach Mysteries) have in common, other than being set in the same region of north Florida, is that they're both set in fictional cities, mine in Panorama Beach itself, and the environs of fiction Pascua County, Florida, yours in the town of Keyhole Bay, just a bit further west on the coast.

There are a lot of reasons to write a fictional place, and I wonder if the reasons we did it were the same, or very different.

For my part, I'm writing about fairly recent history, and an area with a fairly small population.  I wasn't trying to write an expose or a literal history.  My initial intent was just to see all those crazy attractions, the fake volcanoes, the concrete dinosaurs, the space-age observation towers, the amusement park midways, and create a mythology of where they came from, and where they went.  But my myth kept trending back towards the truth.  Maybe a bigger, grander, more colorful version of the truth, but real things that happened in Florida and the south back in those days, some I experienced, some I only heard about later, but all, in spirit derived from some kind of truth.

There are even times when you can be more truthful in some way, because you don't have to worry about being sued by real people.  I'm careful to remind people that while sometimes the events I write about have truth to them, the people, relationships, and circumstances are completely fictional.

So, what's your reason for creating Keyhole Bay?

CHRISTY: My reasons and experience are both the same and different.  I do agree that it's nice not to worry about being sued, especially when you have dead bodies piling up!  But I had other reasons, as well.

In many of my previous books I have used real locations, especially in my two Alias novels where I had scenes in places as remote as the Blue Desert in the Sinai, a Russian apartment building, and Deadhorse, Alaska.  My gratitude for travelers who posted reports and photos on the net is extreme.  Doing that research, however, made me realize how complicated using a real setting can be.

The Haunted Gift Shop series, along with the previous Lady Plumber series, require an intimate connection with the location.  I have to know the location of each and every business, the streets and highways, the kinds of houses and neighborhoods, the population demographics - just tons of details.  Of course, every story requires at least some of that knowledge, but these stories are very localized, and the small towns where they are set are almost another character. 

In developing the fictional city of Keyhole Bay, I have control of all those elements, but I am still constrained by the limits of probability.  For instance, I can't have snow storms, but I can have hurricanes, and summer heat.

What restrictions have you discovered in creating your fictional setting?

STEVE:  Well, I think you've hit on something when you say the location is also a character.  I feel very much that way about Panorama Beach, and I think that for a smaller locale anyway, that works better when you fictionalize the place.  With a major city like New York or Chicago or Las Vegas it's fine, because nobody knows everything about them, or expects to.  There are a million untold stories there, and even a local can easily accept that the story you're telling about the city is just one of those.  But you could study a small place like Defuniak Springs or Panama City Beach and know, if not everything, then most of the major stuff about it, and I'm sure there are people with that level of knowledge.

It's also like writing a non-fiction novel about a real person.  You never really know what their most private experiences and inner thoughts are.  You can speculate.  You can go on what they're chosen to share of themselves.  But on some level you have to speculate, just start making things up, or simply have to string the facts of their life together without really being certain how or why those things happened.  But when you make up a fictional character based on a real person, for example the character Charles Foster Kane in the movie "Citizen Kane," who is clearly based on William Randolph Hearst, then the writer can know with great precision everything about them, every secret, every private thought, every hidden failing, and act on them without hesitation.  I never have to ask myself, "was the Chief of Police in Panama City Florida in 1967 a crook or a straight-shooter?  The Chief of Police in Panorama City is a corrupt bad guy, representative of other corrupt lawmen and politicians of the period, if not in that exact place and time.

But you mentioned restrictions in making my fictional setting.  I can't think of many.  In fact, it was very liberating in many ways.  Like you said, I want to know where everything in Panorama Beach is, to the extent that the reader should eventually feel like if they were there, they could get in a car and find their way around based on my descriptions.  I have a map, which continues to be refined as I advance the series, so I can keep it all straight.

If you look at a map of the Panama City/Panama City Beach area, you'll find a lot of similarities.  But for the sake of clarity, I simplified a lot of things, cleaned up coastlines, and the big change, Panama City Beach is on a spit of land that runs from the northwest diagonally to the southeast.  Just for clarity's sake, Panorama Beach in on a spit that runs east-west, with most of the major roads running the same direction, and cross streets are mostly north-south.  It saves confusion for both me and the reader.

How about Keyhole Bay.  Do you have any kind of map?  I know you've at least worked out some of the overall geography.  And it's interesting how the central body of water evolved from the inland, almost perfectly circular lake in Defuniak Springs to the keyhole shaped bay that the town is now named after.

CHRISTY:  I do have a map, although it isn't as well-developed (or attractive) as yours.  Mine is a just a pencil sketch, and you know I'm not an artist!  More important, for my stories, is to know where all the neighboring shops and things are.  A great deal of the map is devoted to laying out the main drag of Keyhole Bay, figuring out who Glory's neighbors are.  One of the other things I spent a lot of time on was the actual layout of Glory's apartment over the store.  A lot of scenes take place there, and I needed to know where everything is in her home.  The same goes for her friends' homes, and her shop.

Moving from DeFuniak Springs was an easy decision.  I still want to use DeFuniak someday as a setting for historical fiction (back to those ladies in hats!), but I also wanted a fictional town for my series, and wanted it to be reasonably close to a larger city.  I spent a lot of time looking at the map of the panhandle before I made my decision.

And while there are lots of limitations from the setting, it does allow me the freedom to create characters-some of them quite colorful-without inviting comparison to real people.

NEXT: Christy and Steve talk about the colorful characters, and where they come from.

Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Best Devil Money Can Buy
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: A Breath Away From Dying
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: Two Bad Days of Summer
(Print collection of both of the above, coming soon)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Beat of Angel's Wings
(Ebook coming soon)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Panhandling: Murder and Mayhem On the North Florida Coast

PART 1 - Southern Roots

Christy's Husband and Number 1 fan, Steve York here.  You know that Christy writes mystery, of course (thus the name of the site, duh!), but I've been writing professionally even longer than she has.  Even though my roots are in fantasy and science fiction, I've always enjoyed mystery.  Recently I've also taken to writing the stuff, with my Panorama Beach mystery series, and discovered to my surprise that I like it quite a lot.  Which brings me to today's subject...

I'd like to share with you one of those things that can only happen in a two-writer household.  Christy and I are not at all secretive about our work.  We talk about what we're doing all the time, have collaborated on several short stories and science fiction books, and even on our solo projects we often brainstorm together.  But that doesn't mean we always think about what the other person is doing in the context of what we're doing.  We just each write what we want to write, and stuff like this happens.

What this?  Well, Christy and I are now going to kind of interview each other and let you listen in...

STEVE: Seriously, I had no idea it was going on, and I can't even tell you for sure which one of us started first, but I can very distinctly remember the moment, and it was probably after I'd finished my first Panorama Beach installment and you'd finished "Murder Buys a T-Shirt," when I looked up and realized, "hey, both of us are writing mystery series set in the Florida panhandle, in fictional towns on the Gulf Coast."

In fact, if you tried to place our fictional places on a map, they'd probably only be about thirty miles apart, with Keyhole Bay being west of Panorama Beach.  Who did go first, and do you have an idea how this happened?

CHRISTY: Well, since I sold the Haunted Gift Shop series back in 2010, I think I actually started the North Florida mysteries, but it goes back a lot farther than that for both of us. I fell in love with the area the first time we went there, more than 25 years ago.

From that first time I visited North Florida I wanted to write about it.  You took me to see DeFuniak Springs, an incredibly photogenic small town which was an important part of the Chautauqua movement in Florida.  Situated on a perfectly-round lake, it is a beautiful small town, steeped in history.  I could imagine turn-of-the-century ladies in ornate hats and walking suits, being courted by gentlemen in starched collars and spats.

And you've got some deep roots in North Florida, correct?

STEVE: Well, I've always had a nostalgic connection to the place.  When I was a kid, Panama City Beach was the place to go in the summer.  It was a little bit of Disneyland, Oz, and paradise all rolled into one.  In retrospect it was all a bit tacky and cheap, but the beaches were breathtakingly beautiful, the water was warm, and I'll never forget the fun I had with my family there.

Now, I always knew there was some kind of family connection to the inland part of the Florida panhandle.  When I was young we visited a graveyard where some family was buried, extended relatives who lived back in the woods there, and an abandoned cabin where family once lived.  But none of it really sank in, and I didn't realize On a more recent visit we hit some of those places again, but the significance of it still escaped me.

It's only recently, as I've been researching the Panorama Beach Mysteries, that I've discovered how deep that connection was.  Turns out my mom's side of the family comes from Scottish settlers who arrived in the area in the 1820s.  But I've got even older roots than that.  One of the men in my line married a woman of the local Euchee (Yuchi) native tribe, who had befriended the Scots, and that area north of Panama City, along the banks of the Choctawhatchee, had been their home since well back into the 1700s.  So it's ironic that, well before figuring this out, I'd decided that my fictional Panorama Beach deputy would be from a place in the piney woods inspired by those childhood visits, and decided that he was going to have roots there going back into the 1700s.

Speaking of Florida history, you mentioned the Chautauqua circuit.  Most people probably don't know what it is.  Even being from the area, I'd never heard of it until we prowled around DeFuniak Springs together.  Care to explain?

CHRISTY: Chautauqua was an adult educational movement that started shortly after the Civil War.  They brought speakers, musicians, entertainers, and educators to rural communities across the country.  The first Chautauqua was located in New York, on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.  "Daughter" locations grew up around the country, following the pattern established in New York, and Florida was the first of those.

I was aware of the movement, though I didn't know a lot about it.  And now that you ask that question, I went searching for more information.  There's an overview of DeFuniak history at SouthernTravelNews, which includes information on the Chautauqua, and pictures of DeFuniak(such as this one of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood).

You have to remember, this was at a time when many small, rural towns didn't have much in the way of entertainment - unless you count a saloon or pool hall - and there were no movie theaters, no radio, no television, no telephones.  The chance to hear a popular speaker (like William Jennings Bryan or "Fighting Bob" La Follette), see an opera singer, or listen to a traveling orchestra, was a real treat in these communities.

And DeFuniak was a popular tourist destination at the time.  It retains a lot of that 19th century charm.

But there are a lot of other places in North Florida.  You mentioned Panama City Beach, which shares a lot in common with your fictional Panorama Beach.  Care to elaborate?

STEVE: So Chautauqua was like the proto-internet, trying to bring information, education, culture to every part of the country?  Cool.

Anyway, there are a lot of reasons that what we're writing is similar, but there are just as many in which it is different.  One of the biggest differences is that what your Haunted Souvenir Shop mysteries are contemporary, and my Panorama Beach mysteries are historical (though I die a little inside every time I call something that happened in my lifetime "historical!").

They're currently set in 1967, which is the golden-age of my childhood, and pretty much the golden-age for Panama City Beach and that whole part of the coast.  The beaches were still beautiful and accessible, and the beach was experiencing a boom in the building of wild and colorful attractions to bring tourist families to town.  The first major roller-coaster in Florida was in PCB.  There were amazing miniature golf courses with folk-art concrete dragons, monsters, and dinosaurs, there was a Swiss sky-ride, there were two-different trains leading back to two-different old-west towns hidden back in the inland scrub-brush, there was a gigantic fake volcano that spit fire at night, and a knock-off of Seattle's Space Needle   To my memory, it was a shining age, and it was brief, probably only about ten years.

You go to Panama City Beach now, and almost all those attractions are gone, and so is the Gulf, screened off by a near-continuous wall of high-rise condos that blot out the view, and even the sun.  The other side of the beach road is shopping malls and tattoo parlors.  The family-vacation trade has largely been pushed out by a hard-drinking, hard partying, "Girls Gone Wild," spring-break culture.

So while Panorama Beach is a series of murder mystery stories, on the larger scale, it's my attempt to tell a mythological version of that transition on the Gulf Coast.  If you've ever read the work of Carl Hiaasen, he writes in the landscape of a corrupted and despoiled Florida.  I'm telling the story of how that corruption came to be.  It's fictional, but it's the essence of a lot of things that really happened, or at least, could have.  More than once already I've made something up out of whole cloth, and somebody, often my mom, will come along and say, "I've heard that's a lot closer to truth than you think."

NEXT: Christy and Steve talk about writing in real places vs. fictional towns.

Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Best Devil Money Can Buy
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: A Breath Away From Dying
AMAZON - NOOK - SMASHWORDS (Also available through all major ebook outlets)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: Two Bad Days of Summer
(Print collection of both of the above, coming soon)
Panorama Beach Mysteries: The Beat of Angel's Wings
(Ebook coming soon)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some Really Great People, and One Nasty Woman

A typical crowd of tourists, and mounted police
During our time in DC we were, admittedly, tourists.  My impression was that DC is a city used to being full of tourists; a city that has learned to adapt to the constant invasion of the species tourists horribilius, and the sub-species school trippius busloadius.  Believe me, there were plenty of both. 

For the most part, the school groups were reasonably well-behaved, though they exhibited all the faults of junior high and high school children in large groups: boisterous, high energy, clueless, and inclined to have at least one clown for every three or four students.  They talked loudly, they giggled, and they often didn't realize - as the very young so often don't - that they blocked the sidewalk, hogged the path, or disturbed their fellow travellers. 

Viet Nam Nurses Memorial
Some groups were better than others, though only one bunch were truly disrespectful - a group of younger boys who reacted inappropriately to a statue of Viet Nam combat nurses with a wounded soldier - and to be fair, several of the boys were chiding the misbehavers.  I suspect it was something they didn't know how to handle, so they acted out.  It's what kids do. 

They were children who hadn't yet learned they were not the center of the universe, small bodies packed with enough energy to power a small city, at an age where hormone floods make everyday life intense.  And they were on a grand adventure, a trip away from home, in a strange city.  Their behavior was to be expected.

What was unexpected, and delightful, was the Washingtonians themselves.  We were strangers, tourists who sometimes had no clue where we were supposed to be going.  With a single exception, people were friendly, helpful, and polite.  I'll tell you about the exception first, because bad behavior makes a good story.
We got good at spotting the signs
There was a woman we now refer to as the Elevator Nazi.  We encountered her once, and that was once too often. 

The underground train system in DC is excellent, but accessing it (Remember that scary escalator picture on the first DC post?) can be difficult for an older woman who occasionally has trouble with escalators.  After the first trip down the Scariest Escalator I Have Ever Seen, we discovered the stations had elevators, if you just seek them out. 

Mom, though she doesn't consider herself handicapped, does admit to being elderly at 81, and on the longer stretches she much preferred the elevators.  Coming back to our hotel one night, we got in line for the elevator back to street level.  We waited as one car filled, and the elevator made its slow round-trip to the street and back.  In front of us was a couple, middle-aged, well-dressed, top-dollar haircuts.  She wore good jewelry, and he spent the entire time in our presence with his attention riveted on his iPad.  They did not appear to have any handicap, they weren't toting heavy luggage, or small children, and they were likely younger than I am.  In short, then didn't appear to need the elevator, but they chose to take it, which was their right.
I wouldn't want to drag this up the escalator, either!
Behind us was a young woman with two small kids, one in a stroller.  When the elevator doors opened, the woman in front reached to hold the door open.  Mom and the woman with the stroller both stepped forward.  The younger woman waved Mom ahead of her, and Mom stepped in and to the back corner of the car.  As the rest of us waited for the young woman and her kids to get on, the older woman started yelling at my mom for crowding ahead!  She said she was holding the door "for the children," and kept it up while everyone else got on, even though the poor gal with the stroller looked like she wanted to melt into the floor.  Then another man got on, and his backpack was apparently in the plane of the door.  Miss Elevator Nazi proceeded to chew him out, repeating several times that he needed to move back, he was blocking the door, even while he was trying to do just that.

When we reached the street level, the woman and her silent companion rushed off, while the rest of us made our way out of the car, smiling apologetically at each other.  When the three of us (Mom, my sister, and me) were finally alone, Mom turned to us and said, "Well, I didn't know there were elevator police, but apparently there are."  We cracked up, and had several laughs over the rest of our stay, at her expense.

The other side of this, though, were the people who volunteered directions, offered Mom a seat when we got on the train, and helped us out whenever we asked.  Not living in big cities, we had forgotten about the traffic congestion that comes with quitting time, and the first night we found ourselves trying to catch a train at rush hour.  People were hurrying, and we were out of place.  No one was actively rude or inconsiderate, they were just in their normal routine and they wanted to get home.

Metro at rush hour.  Busy place!
Mom, feeling tired and a little unsteady, didn't want to push into the car with the crowd, and held back.  As a result, two or three trains departed with us still standing on the platform.  Worried about how long we might be stuck, I looked around and noticed a group of nice-looking, well-dressed (the DC uniform of good suits and ties) younger men a couple feet away.  Bolder than I usually am, I stepped over and asked one of them if they could do me a favor.  I explained that Mom had waited for several trains, and asked if they would help me see that she got on the next one.

Not only did they agree, the four of them formed a semi-circle behind Mom, and protected her from the crowd as she stepped onto the train.  It was a little thing, and it delayed them only a few seconds, but it made all the difference for us.

Another day, feeling like we finally had the trains figured out, we waited for an incoming train on the platform at another station.  A tall man approached and told us we needed to move down the platform because the next arrival was a "short train."   He explained that meant there were fewer cars and thus the end of the train would be ahead of where we were waiting.  As we moved to the point he indicated, he also explained how to read the arrival board to know the next time we were waiting for a "short train."

Mom in the Congressional cafe
It wasn't just the men, either.  At one point Mom and I were waiting in the Congressional cafeteria while Jeri retrieved a jacket she'd left in an office across the street.  Coming out of the office, she realized she didn't know where the above-ground entrance to the Capitol was, and it wasn't easy to find.  Frustrated, she called and told us to finish lunch, she'd just go to the trolley stop and wait for us.  Overhearing her problem, a woman approached and offered directions to the public entrance.  A few minutes later Jeri joined us and claimed her share of our lunch.
Jeri finally got her lunch!

Incidents like these happened every day, sometimes several times in a day. 
They lead me to believe that the people of Washington are among the friendliest, most gracious hosts I have ever met, proud to share their beautiful city with a flood of visitors every day. 
Washington is full of really great people.  That one nasty woman?  I figure she just doesn't belong.  Even if her address is Washington, she doesn't have the real Washingtonian spirit in her heart.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Beautiful Washington, DC!

I'm home, but I'm still thinking about my trip to Malice Domestic.  The conference was wonderful, and I'll have more to say about that as time goes on. but for now I want to write a love letter to the city of Washington, DC.  I had an amazing visit to your city, and I can't wait to come back.
The last year has been tough; probably tougher on my mother than any of the rest of us.  So when I knew I was going to visit Washington, I invited her to join me.  She'd never traveled east of Chicago, and she had talked about wanting to see our nation's capital.

As luck would have it, my sister was able to go with us.  And here we are, our first day in Washington, getting ready to leave our hotel and explore the city.  If you can't guess, that's Mom on the right, and my sister Jeri on the left in the picture below.

My mom was pretty cool the whole time we were there.  We went all over the city, took the Metro to lots of places, and walked miles and miles.  There were times we moved a little slower, or stopped more often, but it was worth every pause and every stop.

Jeri tried to get us a tour of the White House, which we didn't get, but she did get us a Capitol tour through her Congresscritter.  There was so much to see, we could have spent several more hours - or days - just on the Capitol, and not have seen it all. 

What did we see?  First, we arranged a two-day pass on the Old Town Trolley, a great way to get an overview of the city.

 We started by taking Metro from our hotel is Bethesda (the site of Malice Domestic), to downtown Washington.  That first day we hadn't figured out the elevator system on Metro, and we took the scariest escalator I have ever seen.  The ride went on forever, and Jeri said she wondered if some guy in red was going to show up with a pitchfork at the bottom.

Think I'm kidding?  Here's what it looked like from the bottom.  The picture's a little shaky, probably because I was having trouble getting the whole thing in the viewfinder!  According to Wikipedia, the escalator is 475 feet long, the second longest in the Western Hemisphere.  The longest? 508 feet, near the other end of the Metro Red Line.

 Metro took us into downtown, where we walked a few blocks and found the Trolley station.  We hopped on their Green Line (apparently color-coding is big in DC) and saw the northern loop, through Georgetown, past Embassy Row, past the National Zoo, and the National Cathedral, under Dupont Circle, and back to our starting point.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

A quick check-in to say hello.  Just returned from Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland.  The conference is amazing, and I had a wonderful time.  It was good to see the crowd of fabulous writers, and the amazing fans.  I have a few photos from the conference, which I will try to get posted over the next few days.
I went in a couple days early and stayed an extra day after, for my first real sight-seeing in Washington, DC.  Much to my delight, my mother and my sister went with me.  They got to continue their adventures around town while I was at the conference, and we saw a LOT!
I have DC pictures, too, that I'd love to share, once I get them all downloaded and labeled.  That may take a while - especially since I have to catch up from being gone a week.  But in the meantime, I am hapy to be home.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Read the first Panorama Beach mystery for FREE!

As a tie-in to Christy's visit to the Malice Domestic mystery convention this week, we're offering you the chance to read husband Steve's first "Panorama Beach" mystery. "The Best Devil Money Can Buy," for FREE through the end of May!

And look for an announcement soon from Tsunami Ridge publishing regarding "Two Bad Days of Summer," a trade-paperback omnibus which will collect the first two "Panorama Beach" ebook mysteries!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Christy Update

Husband and #1 Fan Steve here:

Christy has turned in the manuscript on her second book in the "Haunted Souvenir Shop Mystery" series, working title (subject to change), "Murder Takes a Dive."

Also, you can read an "in-character" guest blog post from "Murder Buys a T-Shirt" star Glory Martine at the "Killer Characters" site HERE.

A reminder, Christy will appear next week at the Malice Domestic cozy mystery convention in Bethesda, MD, April 27-29th.  When she returns, she's diving right into the third book in the series, but hopefully you'll see a bit more of her here then, including some new southern-cooking posts!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Christy-sighting Update!

Husband and #1 Fan Steve Reporting:

Have you seen this writer?
If you're a long-time Christy Evans fan checking in, or a newly arrived Christy Fifield fan, you may be wondering, "Where's Christy What's-her-name?"

Well, the reason you haven't seen more of her is that she's crunching very hard right now to finish the second "Haunted Souvenir Shop" mystery, and closing in on the end!  Hopefully she'll be checking in here real soon, but new pages come first!

Her next public appearance will be at the Malice Domestic cozy mystery convention in Bethesda, MD, April 27-29th.  She's scheduled to be on several programming items, so if you're there, be sure to look her up!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy Release Day!!

MURDER BUYS A T-SHIRT officially releases today!  I'm delighted for you all to meet Glory, Karen, Jake, Linda and Guy, Sly, Bobo, and all the other people that inhabit Keyhole Bay!  And especially Bluebeard, the foul-mouthed parrot.
Available online at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and at bookstores everywhere.

I don't know how many books it takes before you stop wanting to celebrate Release Day.  All I know is that I'm not there yet!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Free Fiction! - God Speed

"Godspeed, John Glenn."

With those words, a true American hero rocketed into space fifty years ago, aboard Friendship 7.  A decorated Marine pilot, he became the first American to orbit the earth, and gained a permanent place in the minds and hearts of his country.

Years later, after a lifetime spent serving his country, he returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77, the oldest man to ever fly in space.  When the shuttle Discovery lifted off the pad, we once again heard the iconic words, "Godspeed, John Glenn."

Today we offer the story "Godspeed" for free, in honor of a real hero, a man who has lived a life of service and honor, and who has served his country with grace and dignity for more than half a century.  This is my tribute to a man I greatly admire.

Hero worship?  You bet!

Godspeed, John Glenn.

(Sorry, but you missed out on this free, limited-time posting.  You can purchase "Godspeed" for your electronic reader instead of reading it here, it is available for Kindle,  Nook,  iPad, through most other major ebook outlets, and downloadable in all formats directly through Smashwords.)

President John Glenn has Only Seconds to Change History...
His Own!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Cover, At Last! (Plus, Romance for Valentine's Day!)

There it is, in all its glory!  OK, bad pun.  My heroine - the owner of the gift shop, and the parrot - is Gloryanna Martine, Glory to her friends.

Sorry it took so long.  There were a couple changes, and tweaks along the way, but I am delighted to have a real, final, gorgeous cover to share with you.

The book is available for pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and bookstores everywhere.  It's also available in ebook.  And if you want a signed copy, I'll be at Malice Domestic the end of April, or you can order a copy from my local bookseller pal, Sheldon McArthur at North by Northwest Books.

Number-one Fan and husband Steve jumping in here...
The post above was supposed to go out Sunday, but got stuck in the pipes somehow, so Christy asked me to play tech support and knock it loose for y'all.

While I'm at it, I'm going to remind you good folks that Christy (writing under her real name of Christina F. York) has written three contemporary romance novels, Loaves and Kisses, Dream House, and Dory Cove.  And given that it's Valentine's Day, it seemed like a good excuse to give them a quick plug.  All are available in ebook form, from Amazon (links below) and all other major ebook vendors, including Nook, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, etc.  There are also still a few copies of the Five Star print edition of "Dream House" out there too, if you're quick about it!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Morning Musing

Number One Fan, AKA husband J. Steven York,  has been on my case to get back on here and talk to y'all.  Being MIA is understandable and all, but at some point you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back to the business at hand.

To quote Morgan Freeman, "Get busy living, or get  busy dying."  I choose living.

So I'm going to try and be here more often.

For starters, I want to share some good books with you.  One thing I have discovered is that I tend to read more nonfiction when I'm writing, and I just finished a really interesting book, THE WAVE, by Susan Casey.

I live close enough to the ocean to fall asleep to the sound of the surf.  I love being near the beach.  More than that, I need to be near the ocean.  The flat Midwestern plains?  They make me jumpy-there's no water nearby.  My West Coast roots go deep, I grew up in Southern California is the surfer-60s, and I now live in a tsunami evacuation zone.  (We watched - from a safe distance at the top of our hill - the surge from the Japanese earthquake last year.)  Of course I read this book!

My husband read it first and recommended it to me, and I'm passing along that recommendation.  Here's what he had to say about it:

"As it happens, I just recently finished reading an excellent book about big waves, dealing alternately with big-wave science, big-wave surfers, and the history of giant waves and their impact on people and ships. Amazingly little is known about the huge waves our planet is capable or producing. We don't even know how big they can get, and in fact, scientists are having trouble explaining the biggest waves that have already been reliably been observed. Waves seem simple, but it may actually require quantum physics to decode the mysterious behaviors and energies of giant waves."

And if you're a mystery fan (if you're here, you probably are!) and you haven't yet read any of Julie Hyzy's books, you should.  Her latest White House chef book, AFFAIRS OF STEAK, recently hit the NY Times list.  It's book 5 in the series, and she just keeps getting better!  But start with #1-STATE OF THE ONION.  You won't want to miss a single adventure in our nation's capital.

That's it for now.  I still have some books to write, and some cooking to do, you know.  I'll try to be back more often with bits and pieces from the life of a crazy writer!