Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-García follows in the footsteps of literary greats Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker, but offers up gothic with a Latinx spin. The story begins when 1950’s Mexican socialite, Noemí Taboada, receives a rambling and disturbing note from her recently married cousin, Catalina. Worried about Catalina’s physical and mental health, Noemí’s father sends her to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside, promising her that she can enroll at the National University upon her return to Mexico City.
Shortly after arriving in the sparsely populated town of El Triunfo, Noemí is driven up the dreary mountainside to High Place, the isolated and crumbling manor belonging to Catalina’s new husband, Virgil Doyle. With Catalina in an almost-catatonic state, Noemí finds it difficult to determine what is real and what is not at High Place. Virgil and his secretive family are British holdovers from when mining was king in Mexico. With the Doyle family fortune and home in ruins, Noemí wonders if Virgil married Catalina for her large inheritance or if there are other, more sinister forces at play.
Moreno-García has crafted a brilliant horror novel which critiques society in a similar vein to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story thoughtfully examines race, class, family dysfunction, colonialism, and the male-female power dynamic while delivering a psychological thriller that packs a punch.
Asked to describe the ideal reader for Mexican Gothic, Moreno-García tweeted, “That would be the reader looking for something classy but trashy and ooooh, the spooky loooky.”
I couldn’t put this book down and stayed up late to read its thrilling conclusion. If you enjoy fantastically written tales involving plucky heroines, dastardly villains, and creepy castles, pick this one up. You won’t regret it.
My fellow bad apple, Angel Luis Colon, and I have great news to share with you. Our two-night reading and fundraiser, Two Bad Apples present Reading for Relief, raised $2100 for charity!!! *AND* Once Upon A Crime bookstore and the Astoria Bookshop sold a lot of books! The majority of book sales were for books by the readers, all crime writers of color. You guys are amazing and wonderful and wow, thank you.
YAY FOR ALL OF THIS!!!
The $2100 for charity were given to the following non-profits:
Redeemer Center for Life, a Black-led non-profit in North Minneapolis with a mission to act as an agent of hope and transformation. Their programs include 26 affordable housing units, youth leadership programs, workforce development opportunities, and community engagement projects.
Black Lives Matter which was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Its mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, BLM is winning immediate improvements in Black lives.
Division of Indian Work, their mission is to support and strengthen urban American Indian people through culturally-based education, traditional healing approaches, and leadership development.
Little Earth Residents Association was originally created to provide affordable housing for Indigenous people in urban Minneapolis. Little Earth provides entrepreneurship training, interpersonal connections, multi-level support, and education services to the American Indian community in South Minneapolis. Their mission is to create highly rated educational and social programs, pre-school partnerships, elder services, neighborhood stability, health initiatives, and cultural programming that fosters a vibrant community.
If you missed our two-night event and would like to view the taped readings, here are the links:
This two-night online reading will be a fundraiser for several non-profits in Minneapolis which are rebuilding the city. There are huge sections of Minneapolis which are now food deserts, especially in minority-populated neighborhoods. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and mercados were burned down by white supremacists.
My home, Minnesota, is the state with the second-largest racial inequality in the country, based on education, salary, house ownership, and incarceration rates. White ownership covenants in the first half of the 20th century helped to segregate Minneapolis, whose neighborhoods remain highly segregated to this day.
Almost 70% of all people now support the Black Lives Matter movement. While that’s a start, I wanted to find ways to help as a Latinx ally, aside from putting a BLM sign on my lawn.
My friend, Angel Luis Colon, and I were discussing the lack of representation in crime fiction. Although there are organizations and writers who promote diversity and inclusivity, several online readings (as well as blogs, book reviews, and conferences) remain segregated. Just like Minneapolis.
Something Angel said really struck a chord with me: Be the change you want to see.
I could sit around and hope that one day, crime writers of color would be included in more industry events. OR I could use my past experience as a literary coordinator to help create an awesome, fun, exciting virtual reading and fundraiser for Minneapolis a reality.
Which is where the idea for READING FOR RELIEF, a two-night virtual reading and fundraiser to rebuild Minneapolis came to life with my friend and fellow bad apple, Angel Luis Colon.
2 Nights, 2 Bookstores, 14 Awesome Crime Writers of Color!
Sisters in Crime award winner Jessica Laine writes contemporary crime fiction with a Latinx twist. Her short stories are featured in two Anthony-nominated anthologies, Pa Que Tu Lo Sepas and Murder-A-Go-Gos. She tweets @msjessicalaine. Learn more at https://jessicalainebooks.com/.
Anthony nominations are now open! The Anthony Award is one of the most prestigious in crime fiction and is awarded each year during the Bouchercon fan convention. Attendees who registered for Bouchercon in 2019 or 2020 are eligible to nominate candidates through June 5, 2020.
I think the diversity of stories is what makes Murder-A-Go-Go’s such a rich and compelling read. Special thanks to Holly West and Down & Out Books for editing and publishing this totally awesome book!
My story, “Lust to Love,” was inspired by the semi-creepy lyrics of The Go-Go’s song as well as a move to Lake Minnetonka. Below is a wonderful review by BOLO BOOKS:
This story of Lulita Conchita García de Bergen, a wronged wife taking destiny into her own hands would have been entertaining on its own, but because Jessica Ellis Laine adds all the clever references to the 1980s to the mix, it is even more wickedly delightful. Everything from C.H.U.D and cabbage patch kids to “the clapper,” Guess clothing, and iconic slang gets a shout out next to an inspired reference to Belinda Carlisle. Thankfully, having this much fun in a serious crime story hasn’t been outlawed.
Relationships matter because diversity is personal. If you’d like to ask a diverse person for information, consider your relationship. Are you friends or acquaintances? The type of relationship you have is important because you’re asking them to share personal experiences. Some people will share this information freely, while others may be more reticent.
No one can be the subject matter expert on all things diversity. People can only speak from their own personal experience. Speaking to a person with a diverse background doesn’t take the place of conducting in-depth research.
Last year, I attended Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery convention, for the first time. It was cool, I got a prize, and I wrote about my experience here: Each year, there are mystery writers and fans who will attend Bouchercon (or Bcon) for the very first time. Bouchercon newbies, you should read BOLO BOOKS’ definitive … Continue reading Like A Virgin: Bouchercon For Rookies
Last year, I attended Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery convention, as a rookie. It was cool, I got a prize, and I wrote about my experience here.
This year’s Bouchercon will take place in Saint Petersburg, Florida from September 6-9, 2018.
SinC Presidents Diane Vallere & Kendel Lynn
Kristen Lepionka, Shaun Harris, Danny Gardner, Mia Manansala
Each year, there are several mystery writers and fans who will attend Bouchercon (or Bcon) for the very first time. Bouchercon newbies, you should read BOLO BOOKS’ definitive guide to Bouchercon here:
A few things I would add to BOLO BOOKS’ comprehensive list:
-Bring comfortable shoes. This year, events will be set at various hotels so you will be walking a lot.
-Pack light. There isn’t a dress code but some people dressed up their jeans with nice shirts and shoes, and many people were dressed in business casual. I’m not a dress person, so I only needed two dresses for dinner, etc.
-Definitely print out the schedule to decide which panels you want to hit. Don’t be afraid to leave a panel if it doesn’t suit you. I sat in the back so I could walk in and out of panel rooms without making a fuss.
-I really enjoyed the Wednesday SinC Into Great Writing workshop last year led by Alexandra Sokoloff, and the workshop this year sounds great, too. It’s free for Sisters in Crime members.
-I packed a canvas bag inside my suitcase so I only paid for one bag on the way to Bouchercon, and then two bags for the return trip. On the way home, I stuffed my clothes in the canvas bag and put all of the free books I picked up at the convention in my suitcase. I saw some people walking around with rolling suitcases. I may do that this year since I’m not in the main hotel. Instead, I booked a place on Airbnb which lists many homes and condos within walking distance of The Vinoy.
-I also packed snacks and one reusable water bottle.
-Don’t forget your business cards. This year I may put some pins on my badge so people know I am a member of Twin Cities SinC and MWA-Midwest as well.
-Don’t be afraid to take breaks and/or naps as needed. You can’t do it all, folks.
-It’s important to network at the bar, even if it’s just for a little while. It is a *bar*, so be careful and hang out with a group.
Recently, my husband and I booked a last-minute trip from Minneapolis, Minnesota to St. Petersburg, Florida after experiencing a $#@*% blizzard in April. My in-laws were going on a month-long cruise, so we jumped at the chance to stay at their place. Between free lodging and purchasing our airline tickets with miles, we were able to do a week-long trip in the Sunshine State on the cheap.
Fair warning: I’m a tourist. I’m sure any local could offer more things to do and see. I was raised in a family which planned every minute of our trips so that we were constantly running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to get everything done. Nowadays, I like to relax when I’m on vacation, so this list includes some low-key things I think are cool.
Trip’s Diner. Trip’s Diner serves great coffee and breakfast food as I found out when I met up with Erin Mitchell, Bouchercon 2018 Chair and PR person extraordinaire; Cheryl Hollon, President of the Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime and author of the Glass Shop mystery series; and debut author, Gale Massey, whose novel, THE GIRL FROM BLIND RIVER, will be released on July 10, 2018. I had a wonderful time with these funny and talented women. My St. Pete friend, Judy, asked me, “How in the heck did you meet people? You’ve only been here a few days.” Just one of the many perks of being part of the crime-writing community. (Trip’s Diner, 2339 Martin Luther King Jr St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33704)
Haslam’s Book Store. There are several nifty things to do and see on Central Avenue including Florida’s largest new and used bookstore. It’s a bibliophile’s dream come true, and they hold frequent book signings by local and national authors. (Haslam’s, 2025 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33713)
Bodega on Central. Their Cuban sandwiches are yummy, yo. (Bodega on Central, 1120 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33705)
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. The no-frills Ted Peters has been serving up smoked fish on its patio in South St. Pete for over 65 years. I highly recommend the smoked salmon meal which feeds two people, and their German potato salad. (Ted Peters, 1350 Pasadena Ave, South Saint Petersburg, FL 33707)
Bealls.If you need a TJ Maxx/Marshalls/HomeGoods fix while you’re on vacay, check out Bealls and their discount beachwear, home goods, and clothing. They have a wide selection of toys, every day wear, and MiracleSuit swimsuits, expensive bathing suits that suck in your wobbly bits. I bought my MiracleSuit which was originally $169.00 for $29.99 at Bealls. (Various locations.)
Pass-a-Grille. Most of the beaches in St. Pete are nice, but one of our faves is the beach in historic Pass-a-Grille. The white sand is gorgeous, and you can drop in at The Don CeSar, that fabulously pink palace of a hotel, for a cocktail. (Don CeSar, 3400 Gulf Blvd, St Pete Beach, FL 33706)
Ka’Tiki. I wanted to make Ka’Tiki’s Beach Bar number one on my list of things to do, but I didn’t want you to think less of me because I like a drink or two. Ka’Tiki, the embodiment of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville,” is where locals and tourists come together to enjoy cheap drinks and the overpowering smell of cigarette smoke. Ka’Tiki’s also offers excellent live music. Come hear local bands such as Ka’Tiki regulars, Corn Fused, probably one of the best live bands out there. One year, we met a member of the Twin Cities band, The Sweet Colleens, who–like us–had returned to Ka’Tiki to hear Corn Fused play once more before flying back to Minnesota. (Ka’Tiki, 8803 West Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, FL 33706)
Disney World. If you have an extra day it’s about a two-hour drive to the Magic Kingdom. We did a day trip this year with little to no planning by purchasing our tickets on the My Disney Experience app. The app gives you pretty much all the information you need to make it a great day at Disney. There are maps of the parks, daily showtimes, meal reservations, and even wait times by attraction. By purchasing your tickets on the app, you will also be given three fast passes to book rides in the morning, afternoon and evening. My recommendation is to use your morning fast pass as late as possible as wait times are not too bad in the early morning. My other recommendation is to bring a lightweight stroller for your kid(s) if possible. Believe me, you will be happy you brought that stroller by the end of the day. Disney says most people will walk about 9 miles during a visit to one of their parks. (Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, FL 32830)
Well, that’s my list. I’d love to hear what places you love in and around St. Pete. Hope to see you this September at Bouchercon 2018!
Last year, I met Tom Dahill and Ginny Johnson at a reading/performance for “Danny Who?: Four Decades in Irish Music,” Tom’s memoir about life as an Irish-American musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. Since then, I’ve become a fan not only of the book but also of the traditional Irish music which Dahill and Johnson perform in venues across the Twin Cities.
In “Danny Who?,” we follow Dahill’s transformation from a young troublemaker on the “mean streets of Highland Park” in St. Paul to a reformed (and refined) performer of traditional Irish music. Dahill leaves his hometown of St. Paul to study and play Irish music while wreaking havoc across the United States. After an evening of alcohol-fueled antics, one publican tells him: “Tom, when you’re good, you’re really good. But when you’re bad, you’re really bad.”
Although American cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants like Chicago, Kansas City, and Boston enjoy Tom’s music, other places are not as appreciative. Dahill writes:
The people in northwest Wisconsin had only so much tolerance for Irish music. They would sometimes ask, “Tom, you’re not gonna play that Irish shit tonight, are you?” I would answer, “Don’t worry. Tonight it’s strictly country.”
Eventually, Dahill ends up in Ireland where he rehabs a cottage and studies with some of the best musicians in the country. Early on, he learns many Irish musicians have a “test song” which they expect a real Irish musician to perform well. He documents this exchange with musician, Paddy Hill:
Paddy looked at me and saw that I had a fiddle. He said, “Do you play the fiddle, Tom?” I said that I tried, but that I wasn’t much good. He said, “Tell me this, Tom, can you play ‘The Blackbird’?” I said that I would try and I when I finished, Paddy said, “Oh thanks be to God, you’re an Irish fiddler. If you can’t play ‘The Blackbird’ you might be some kind of fiddler, but you’re not an Irish fiddler.”
Things are a wee bit different in Ireland than in the U.S. Dahill describes the process of making a phone call before the advent of mobile phones:
Making a phone call from a public phone in Ireland in those days was a long, expensive, and frustrating experience. The process involved standing in a small booth with a pocket full of change and telling the operator where you wanted to call. Then you waited for the operator to find the number and connect you, while continually feeding change into the coin slot to keep the line open. If you were lucky, the call was connected before you ran out of coins and you would have thirty seconds or so to talk to the other party. The whole process often resulted in damage to the public phone.
Life as a traveling Irish musician is not for the faint of heart, filled as it is with courting (Dahill marries three times and is nicknamed the “Zsa Zsa Gabor of Irish music”), brawling, and drinking. Eventually, Dahill completes rehab, meets his long-time partner (fellow musician and “Danny Who?” editor, Ginny Johnson), and purchases a home in St. Paul.
While it’s interesting to read about the Minnesota Irish music scene as a local, it’s certainly not necessary as readers will come to know and love the people and places in “Danny Who?” thanks to Dahill’s extremely vivid, humorous, and skillful writing style.
Tom Dahill’s “Danny Who?” is one of the most enjoyable memoirs I’ve read in the past decade. With its re-release through Gwenwst Books, I hope “Danny Who?” will find the audience and recognition it deserves.
Come join us for Tom Dahill’s book relaunch on Sunday, March 4, 2018 at The Dubliner Pub and Café in St. Paul. Stop by anytime between 2-5pm!
This year I attended Bouchercon for the first time. It was pretty damn good. Here’s why.
Wednesday, October 11th
*SinC Into Great Writing’s “Learn How to Give Your Novel Structure” Workshop with Alexandra Sokoloff
My friend and roommate, Mia Manansala, and I arrived in Toronto a day early to attend the Sisters in Crime’s workshop which was being led by the great author and screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff.
We learned about the eight-sequence structure in film. Originally, film reels could hold only fifteen minutes’ worth of film. To keep the audience’s attention while reels of film were being changed, filmmakers would end each fifteen-minute sequence with a question. Alexandra explained that in a 400-page novel, every 50 pages is considered a sequence. Each sequence should end with some sort of cliffhanger or climax of major suspense (someone dies) or minor suspense (phone rings).
We finished our session that evening with a scene-by-scene description of the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I could write an entire post about that experience, but there’s no need since Alexandra has already done that for us here.
In between sessions, Mia and I checked off two must-have Canadian culinary experiences: poutine and Tim Horton’s. I asked for a “double-double” at Timmy’s.
Thursday, October 12th
First thing in the morning, Mia and I attended “Speed Dating for Authors.” Authors ranging from brand-new to well-known were paired up and given two minutes each to sell us on their books. After five minutes, the authors would move on to the next table of potential readers. As writers working on their first novels, I felt this was an invaluable experience for us as someday (gulp) we might also be in the same position of pitching our completed books.
We met quite a few authors including fellow Finn, Antti Tuomainen, whose darkly humorous book, “The Man Who Died,” sounds wonderful. I was also immediately sold on Sara Driscoll’s “Lone Wolf,” a mystery about an FBI canine handler which features a black lab like the one I had left at home. I told Sara I would see her at noon in the Grand Foyer during her signing.
There were so many other great writers and I was fortunate enough to get photos with a few of them including Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton series), fellow MWA-Midwest member, Lynn Cahoon (Tourist Trap series), and the writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd (Inspector Rutledge series).
In the afternoon, I went to a few sessions including the interesting “Changing Times: The State of the Publishing Industry” which was moderated by the very talented Clair Lamb.
We went out for dinner and ended up at the same place where we ate lunch. And yes, I had another chicken pot pie, they were that good.
Somehow, we walked by the Pub Quiz that evening with several people including fellow Minnesotan Mindy Mejia (“Everything You Want Me to Be”) and author Dale T. Phillips. Someone (not me) suggested our small group enter the competition.
We were shoved into a corner far from the action (kind of like our own Island of Misfit Toys), and as of question #1, I knew we were screwed. It went something like this:
“On June 16, 1823, there was a steam train that ran through Vancouver every day at noon. Name the steam train, which is also the title of Elvis Murphy Brown IV’s mystery best-seller. Since this is such an easy question, we will only be awarding half a point for the correct answer.”
I am a high school quiz bowl nerd, and I was basically crying inside. Apparently, there was another table shoved into the opposite corner filled with hooligans who kept Googling their answers.
“Table in the corner, stop Googling your answers,” the emcee shouted through the microphone, garnering us tons of negative attention.
“It’s a different table,” we told tables nearby, but they didn’t believe us.
“Guys, we have to get out of here,” someone said (maybe me).
I won’t say *how* we escaped the Pub Quiz without having to walk in front of the emcee and surrounding tables. Suffice to say, we did.
And wrote a musical about it. At the bar. The songs went something like this:
“Take Off” – Bob and Doug McKenzie
“I Lost on Jeopardy” – Weird Al Yankovic
“Questions” – Chris Brown
“Hotel California” – The Eagles
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” – The Animals
“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes
“Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp
“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
“Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry
“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” – Glass Tiger
“Looks Like We Made It” – Barry Manilow
“Survivor” – Destiny’s Child
“I Got Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks
Requisite photos at the bar:
Saturday, October 14th
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for all weekend: the 30th Anniversary Sisters in Crime breakfast where I would receive the Eleanor Taylor Bland award for unpublished manuscript by a writer of color. Keeping it short and sweet, I thanked four tremendous women: Eleanor Taylor Bland, Sisters in Crime founder, Sara Paretsky, and my mentors, former Twin Cities SinC President, Erin Hart (Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series) and MWA Grand Master, Ellen Hart (Jane Lawless & Sophie Greenway series). Then I got a hug from Sara Paretsky and decided I could die happy now.
Thanks so much to everyone at Sisters in Crime for their support, especially SinC President, Diane Vallere, Beth Wasson, and Gigi Pandian. It was so amazing to win this award. I hope I make you proud.
Later, the “Best Novel” panel delivered some of my favorite quotes:
“The first chapter is Medusa-like. It turns people to stone.” – Laura Lippman
“I didn’t think Still Life would be published so every decision I made in my writing was selfish.” – Louise Penny
“Reading takes away people’s time. I want to make it worth their time. I want to be good company.” – Laura Lippman
I followed this up with the “50 Minute Novel” panel where authors created a plot with audience participation. Well, we lost the plot (something about a Yeti, some spaghetti, the Himalayas, and a finger in the dryer), but nobody cared. Because Charlaine Harris.
I sort of redeemed my high school quiz nerd past life by sweeping James L’Etoile’s prison trivia game during his 20 on 20.
Here were my fabulous prizes. Can’t wait to read his arc, Bury the Past.
Overall, I had a great time at Bcon17. I met people, came away with tons of free books, won an award, got a hug from Sara Paretsky, danced to “That’s Amore,” and shared a meal with Devin Abraham on the way home.