Books & Reading, Writing & Life

The Mystery Novel: Halloween All Year Long

Posted by on 10-10-17 in Mysteries, Readers | 0 comments

Rides the Black-and-White Horse

Some years back at a mystery convention in Boulder, Colorado, I performed this tone poem with John Harvey on tambourine, Bill Moody on drums, and a variety of semi-volunteers snapping their fingers to the beat. I wrote this as an homage to the mystery novel. Recently someone quoted snippets of it on Twitter with illustrations, and I liked it so much I’ve added a few of my own.

I’m always amused at reactions of people who don’t read mysteries and thrillers, who don’t know the excitement of entering a frightening world of evil or an everyday town where strangers wait their turn to make mayhem. Got the shivers yet?

Here’s how the book sees you the reader.

I am a book. 

Sheaves pressed from the pulp of oaks and pines
a natural sawdust made dingy from purses, dusty
from shelves.
Steamy and anxious, abused and misused,
kissed and cried over,
smeared, yellowed, and torn,
loved, hated, scorned.

I am a book.

I am a book that remembers,
days when I stood proud in good company
When the children came, I leapt into their arms,
when the women came, they cradled me against their soft breasts,
when the men came, they held me like a lover,
and I smelled the sweet smell of cigars and brandy as we sat together in leather chairs,
next to pool tables, on porch swings, in rocking chairs,
my words hanging in the air like bright gems, dangling,
then forgotten, I crumbled,
dust to dust.

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
a book brand-new, sprung from the loins of ancient fathers clothed in tweed,
born of mothers in lands of heather and coal soot.
A family too close to see the blood on its hands,
too dear to suffering, to poison, to cold steel and revenge,
deaf to the screams of mortal wounding,
amused at decay and torment,
a family bred in the dankest swamp of human desires.

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
I am a mystery.

I am intrigue, anxiety, fear,
I tangle in the night with madmen, spend my days cloaked in black,
hiding from myself, from dark angels,
from the evil that lurks within
and the evil we cannot lurk without.

I am words of adventure,
of faraway places where no one knows my tongue,
of curious cultures in small, back alleys, mean streets,
the crumbling house in each of us.

I am primordial fear, the great unknown,
I am life everlasting.
I touch you and you shiver, I blow in your ear and you follow me,
down foggy lanes, into places you’ve never seen,
to see things no one should see,
to be someone you could only hope to be.

I ride the winds of imagination on a black-and-white horse,
to find the truth inside of me,
to cure the ills inside of you,
to take one passenger at a time over that tall mountain,
across that lonely plain to a place you’ve never been
where the world stops for just one minute
and everything is right.

I am a mystery.

“Rides a Black and White Horse”
Lise McClendon

happy halloween ?

Happy Halloween ?


What exactly is a ‘book within a book’?

Posted by on 10-10-17 in Bennett Sisters, France | 0 comments


We’re getting ‘meta’ here. Of course there is a book inside those covers, or behind that e-book screen. But what about two books, one inside the other? One that reflects, develops, and deepens the other?

That was the task I set for myself when I wrote ‘The Frenchman.’ In the story, Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to let the beauty of France cure her ills (as we do) and write her gothic romance she alluded to in the previous book, ‘The Things We Said Today.’ In that story she is briefly in France during the time of her sister’s wedding in Scotland. While watching the cherry blossoms at Pascal’s cottage she has an idea: write a gothic romance like she and her sisters loved to read when they were younger. A character came to her, based on the neighbor’s goat farm. Her character would be a goat herder during the French Revolution. It would be a way to incorporate some history, always a bonus for me.

Along the way I read a mystery that includes a book-within-a-book, The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. This classical-style mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie features another puzzle mystery written by a curmudgeon of an author and a Hercule Poirot-type detective. As Janet Maslin said in the New York Times: Magpie Murders is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don’t often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers.” 

Although there are parallels between the stories — and I admit I do not find puzzle mysteries particularly compelling — in the end they didn’t really reflect on each other. They are separate mysteries, so as Maslin says, double the fun for puzzle fans.

After reading this mystery (I ordered a British edition to get it early!) I realized that, for me, for the inside book to work it had to be close to the main story in some way, either in ideas or plot or something. Without this connection your mind just bounces from story to story, unable to connect the dots. So I worked hard when writing the nine chapters of ‘Odette and the Great Fear’ that are included in ‘The Frenchman,’ to make the stories hang together.

Then there is the issue of history itself. The French Revolution was a rolling nightmare that didn’t begin or end with the beheading of the king and queen. It lasted for ten years, until a short guy named Bonaparte ended it all. Unlike the American Revolution of the same period, there was no happy ending, only more war and deprivation. But the French Revolution did change France– and the world– in remarkable and lasting ways, and I hoped to show some of that in ‘Odette.’

But only some. Because with a scant few chapters and a real story to portray within them, there isn’t a lot of time for exposition about the Committee for Public Safety, or the Commune, or the storming of the Bastille. (If you’re interested in the French Revolution I recommend a fabulous book by Peter McPhee called Liberty or Death.)  With ‘The Frenchman’ done, and the included chapters of ‘Odette’ as seamless and reflective of the main story as I could make them, I then turned back to ‘Odette’ to flesh out her story.

Odette ‘Odette and the Great Fear’ now has nearly 20 chapters, instead of just the nine, and more back-story into the characters and what happens to them. It is such a fascinating time. I wondered what a young merchant’s daughter, radicalized by the Parisian women who marched to Versailles to demand decent wheat prices so their families wouldn’t starve, might do after all that. Odette wanders south by foot, to the Dordogne, and finds a farmer in need of a goat herder. It’s not her favorite job — goats don’t follow directions — and she won’t stay forever, but she’s grateful to the farmer and his wife for taking her in, giving her food and a place to sleep, all the things she took for granted before the Revolution. When she finds a wounded man near the farm, her life changes. But who is Ghislain? Why is he so secretive about his past? Like any good gothic there is a creepy, half-burned chateau, a scarred noble, and a bunch of rabble-rousing villagers.

The Great Fear was a time early in the Revolution when a panic went through French society, a rumor that nobles were trying to starve the peasants by burning wheat stores. Like all good gossip it spread like wildfire and contributed to violence and a general terror in the populace.

I’d love to hear what you think about my success, or lack thereof, of my book-inside-a-book experiment. ‘The Frenchman’ is now available from Thalia Press on all e-book platforms. ‘Odette and the Great Fear’ is available for pre-order.

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What’s your favorite conspiracy theory?

Posted by on 10-10-17 in Fave New Book, Thalia Press | 0 comments

In an era where the outlandish and fantastic has permeated our media 24/7, where mind-bending conspiracy theories shape our views, THE OBAMA INHERITANCE writers riff on the numerous fictions spun about the 44th president… [C]ontributors spin deliberately outlandish and fantastic twists on many of the dozens of screwball, bizarro conspiracy theories floated about the president during his years in office and turn them on their heads. — Maureen Corrigan, NPR

9781941110591_cvr-189Yesterday was release day for a new short story anthology edited by my friend, Gary Phillips, who conceived of this wild gathering of tales based on conspiracy theories that were floated about Barack Obama, our 44th President. It’s had a nice reception so far, including this week’s review on National Public Radio. Maureen Corrigan highlighted the first story in the collection by my (other friend!) Kate Flora, calling it a “truly fabulous story” and reading a sampling of it. (We are all thrilled!) Corrigan’s take on the anthology? She calls it  “15 stories so sly, fresh, and Bizarro World witty, they reaffirm the resiliency of the artistic imagination.”

You can read her full review HERE

Also in the anthology are mystery great Walter Mosley, Lise McClendon (me, obvs) and a diverse group of writers including Danny Gardner, Christopher Chambers, and, well, here are all the stories:

Michelle in Hot Water by Kate Flora
. . . The Continuing Mission by Adam Lance Garcia
True Skin by Eric Beetner
Evens by Nisi Shawl
A Different Frame of Reference by Walter Mosley
Brother’s Keeper by Danny Gardner
Forked Tongue by Lise McClendon
Sunburnt Country by Andrew Nette
I Know They’re in There! by Travis Richardson
The Psalm of Bo by Christopher Chambers
At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party by Robert Silverberg
Deep State by Désirée Zamorano
I Will Haunt You by Anthony Neil Smith
Give Me Your Free, Your Brave, Your Proud Masses Yearning to Conquer by L. Scott Jose
Thus Strikes the Black Pimpernel by Gary Phillips

Other reviewers say…

“Pulp fiction for the post-Obama era . . . Readers who enjoy political satire in its many varied forms will certainly enjoy this collection.” —Booklist

“The stories are adrift with white supremacists, secret locations, strange conflicts, and subtle aliens. . . . Truly excellent.” —Publishers Weekly

“A mashup of genre fiction . . . imagines the consequences of white supremacist politics on American society.” —Kirkus Reviews

A instant bestseller on Amazon! Check it out HERE. On Barnes & Noble & iTunes!

Support your local independent bookstore by buying it there!

One last thing!

The darkly comic serial killer tale, written by five of us writing as Thalia Filbert, is FREE this week. Its tone works well with The Obama Inheritance – get them both!

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge

This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic…  Beat Slay Love is the perfect read.” — Bestselling author Charlaine Harris


Thalia Filbert is a pseudonym for Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, and Gary Phillips.

FREE ON AMAZON for a limited time.


Sunday Sentence

Posted by on 10-10-17 in Bennett Sisters, France | 0 comments

Sunday Sentence was started by my fellow Montana author, David Abrams, who lives in Butte. He is the author of two books based on his military experiences: FOBBIT and his new one, Brave Deeds,  about a group of AWOL soldiers in Baghdad. This Sunday Sentence was chosen by Emma at France Book Tours, where I was recently featured in the launch of The Frenchman.

What do you think? My protagonist, Merle Bennett, believes that just being in France can change you, make you lighter, happier, your better self. Pascal, her French boyfriend, laughs at this, mocking her belief in the magical nature of France as a “gastronomic Disneyland full of sunflowers!” How do you view the places you visit, or the places you love? Do they change you? Travel is always transformative, I think, but the view that change comes from outside you and not inside your “soul” — whatever you believe that is — is a stretch for me. This is one of the debates in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries: what changes you, how you change, can you change?

My fellow Francophile, Helen, will agree with Merle though: she always feels better in France. The French have cultivated a culture of good living that is hard to argue with.

And I do love sunflowers.

Check out The Frenchman to get your virtual French fix!

Looking for the paperback? CLICK HERE

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Imagine… that Frenchman on sale today!

Posted by on 9-09-17 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

The Frenchman: #5 in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries

Just 99 cents today!

Available on all platforms

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Here are some new reviews:

on September 16, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase


Why I Love My People

Posted by on 9-09-17 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

As a writer it can be easy to fall in love with your characters…. too easy, some would say.

But writing a long series (is five books long? For me, yes) makes loving your characters a necessity. Without a strong connection to their foibles, their humanity, their traits and mistakes, you will falter as a writer. The plots become stale, the situations trite, the people dull.

So it is with some trepidation that I can say that I still love these Bennett Sisters. Here is a post I wrote for a blog tour of The Frenchman that explains my views toward my characters.

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.

So Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right:  “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it Odette and the Great Fear, and it will be available soon as an e-book.

Odette and the Great Fear, Merle’s gothic romance, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Hey, she’s quite a writer for a pretend person! ?????

Yow. Where has the year gone?

Posted by on 7-07-17 in audiobooks, Bennett Sisters, France | 0 comments

It’s past midway in 2017. Yes, already. 

Is summer (or winter for you southern hemisphere folks) going well for you? I hope so. Here in Montana we’re looking forward to the solar eclipse in August. I have to travel a few miles south into Idaho but I will report! I hope you report too if you’re in the trajectory of this rare event.

The Frenchman: a Bennett Sisters Mystery

My news this summer is the new Bennett Sisters mystery, The Frenchman, coming in early September. It’s number five — again, already! So here it is!

In this story we continue the thread that began at the end of The Things We Said Today where Merle gets an idea to write a gothic romance, like those she and her sisters loved as young girls. [Hint: Me too.] She decides to go to France for a longer stretch so she can research and write her novel, set during the French Revolution.

Meanwhile (isn’t there always a meanwhile??) Pascal, who works in the Wine Fraud Division of the Policier Nationale) is doing an undercover investigation when he falls off Merle’s radar. She tries not to be a hovering girlfriend while vandals spray graffiti on her lovely stone house and she tries to finish her remodeling to-do list.

There are a number of fascinating Frenchmen in the book, including of course Pascal d’Onscon, Merle’s boyfriend. There is also a stranger with a scar, a couple of intriguing Frenchmen during the revolutionary period, a criminal, a vandal, some wine shenanigan-ers. (Is that a word? It should be.)

If you’re ready to read a little bit of the new book, check it out here. You can read a preview on InstaFreebie here:

Read a Preview of The Frenchman

Catching up on the Bennett Sisters? You can get this box set for much less than the individual books.

Check it out on Amazon!




And one more thing– the audiobook for The Things We Said Today is out!

Thank you, Denice Stradling for your awesome narration.

Get the audiobook now!


Please share your reactions in social media. You know the drill– I love your opinions! Link to the Preview if you can.

I’ll be back when the pre-order is live. Thank you!!

Miss you, pops ❤️

Posted by on 1-01-17 in life | 0 comments

I wrote this in 2012 on my father’s birthday. He would have been 96 today (2017). For his grandsons, Evan, Nick, Zach, and Ian. And all of us who loved him. Miss you, pops. ❤️ And we WILL get that book off the computer.

Jesse Francis McClendon with John, circa 1921

As a crime writer I often have to deal with death — fictionally. But as most of us have, I also have experienced the loss of a loved one.

John Haddaway McClendon, my father, would have been 91 today. I miss him, of course, and wanted to do a memory piece for him today, nearly eight years after his death. There are many things he missed these last years, college graduations, a wedding, the birth of his great-granddaughter. He would have enjoyed them all, in his quiet way. He was a shy man although life made its requirements on him and he adapted. His father was an academic and 40 when he was born. His mother died when he was 16, of cancer, which must have made a mark on him. He followed his father into university life (my grandfather, Jesse F. McClendon taught physiology to medical students at the University of Minnesota) and was above all else a student, a researcher. He graduated from high school as World War II broke out in Europe, and joined ROTC at Minnesota.

After college he was in Army Intelligence (maybe that’s where I get my love of intrigue!) and spent six months learning Japanese in preparation for the invasion that never occurred. He had a lifelong love of Japan after spending a year there with his parents and older brother when he was 11. After the war ended he was sent to Japan for the Occupation, where he met my mother, a secretary from Texas who worked in his office. They knew each other for six months before tying the knot, and were married for 57 years.

Those are the basics. John taught and researched plant physiology his entire career and continued his interest in the origin of species in a book he wrote after retirement — we still have to get that book together, sisters! (Grandsons?) It sits on his computer, waiting for us to rediscover it. John had three daughters, none of whom followed him into science, a consequence that never seemed to bother him. Or if it did, like many things, he never mentioned it. He ended up with four darling grandsons to make up for the lack of sons. They often remind me of John. They are tinkerers and thinkers, conjurers of brew, hands-on builders of stuff,  outdoor adventurers, and computer whizzes — all things he loved.

My father had to teach freshman biology every so often at the University of Nebraska. It makes me squint just thinking about. I never took a course from him, but now I wonder why. I should have. I had friends who took classes from him. I’m sure he wasn’t the best lecturer in the world and public speaking was low on his favorites list but I’m also positive that his students felt his genuine love of pure science and the way it relates to the world we live in. (Zero Population Growth was one of his passions.) I can hardly remember one thing my father ever said about his teaching. He wasn’t one to discuss his work, successes or not. Like many academics he felt his work spoke for itself, or maybe that none of us would understand. A family story — when I was about six or so and wanted to be noticed by my father (middle child, what can I say: I always wanted to be noticed) I climbed on his lap, stroked his cheek, and said in a vampish voice: “Tell me about your enzymes.” I still have no idea about enzymes, not really. So if you, blog reader, want to tell me about your enzymes, go ahead.

Betty and John in Japan, c. 1946

My father named me Lise after a physicist he admired, Lise Meitner. An Austrian physicist, Meitner helped develop nuclear fission. The spelling is often a problem, people never know how to pronounce it (lee-za) but I will never change it. (Yes, I am still daddy’s girl.) He loved to sail, a consequence of growing up in Minnesota around all those lakes. He had a sixteen-foot sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay when we were young, and made us a little yellow bathtub sailboat with a polka dot sail to learn on. I’ll never forget sailing with him around the Bay, and the time the wind knocked the boom into him, he tumbled overboard, and lost his glasses! Fun times!

In 1999 my parents came out to Montana for a vacation in our ski house at Big Sky. My book, Nordic Nights, had just come out and I was going on a little tour around the state to bookstores. I piled the kids and the grands in the Suburban and hit the road. I love so much that we were able to share that time together. Like my father I don’t like to boast about my work. Writing, like research science, is a pretty private affair. My father loved to read and would often pass me mysteries he loved, like Tony Hillerman or P.D. James. He particularly liked James, whose books include brainy characters like himself. At a reading in Whitefish someone asked me if I was Norwegian like my character, Alix Thorssen. My father popped up in the back of the room (so much for shyness!) and said: “The Scots are just shipwrecked Vikings, you know!”

He had a great sense of humor. Mostly he loved a good pun — “the lowest form of humor.” I will always remember his laugh — even if I have forgotten all those puns. I hope you’re enjoying a pun and a dram of single malt with Darwin, Daddy, wherever you are.

Love you always,


Oh 2016, please quit me.

Posted by on 12-12-16 in life | 0 comments

It’s been a rough year on so many fronts in public life: politics, musicians, all sorts of beloved people up and leaving us. One thing is clear from this list (link on pic below), I didn’t see enough movies. Last week I caught “Miss Sloane” which is great in a European, talk-y switcheroo thriller way which I love, but I don’t even remember what I saw before that. Probably something in LA or Seattle when I can go to a fancy theater where they serve wine and have reserved seats and no stupid ads. Going to the theater isn’t as much fun as it used to be, like airplane travel, activist politics, and so many things.

But on this blizzardy day in Montana I have a whole lot of movies to look forward to on the small screen. So many of this list look fabulous, and, wow, I never heard of them at all. Does that mean they’ll come out sooner on HBO or Netflix? Who knows? But I’m making my list (of flicks to see in 2017) and checking it twice.

Have you seen any of these 25 best films of 2016 (according to Little White Lies: Truth and Movies)? Do tell.


Ah, December

Posted by on 12-12-16 in Bennett Sisters, Kindle | 0 comments


It’s been a crazy autumn. Whew. Still reeling a bit but it’s time to get back to writing and reading and holiday food and all the things that make you happy. The stress of the election hasn’t left us but we are learning to deal with it. Here in Montana the snow is falling and the temperature is dropping, reminding us to stack more wood, find the snow boots, and hunker down for a long winter. And get the reading list re-tooled, if necessary!

Check out this great list of food and drinks for December on my Facebook page. Click on the little ‘f.’ You can ‘Like’ the page while you’re there if you’d ‘like.’ 🙂 Be sure to check in about where you live on the top post.

I’ve been reading again — fiction! (Obsessive news junkie here. Hard habit to break.)

I read a great book I want to share: Francine Mathews’ Too Bad to Die – a sort of James Bond continuation novel but not exactly. The main character is Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, working in Naval Intelligence during World War II. Hey, the Nazis can stay in fiction forever! It’s a great thriller with (imagined?) asides about the origins of Bond. Loved it.

What have you been reading?



Looking for a comfort read? My French suspense novel (no overt violence!) Blackbird Fly is just 99 cents right now. Check out the reviews and see if it’s for you. Here’s a recent one:

Excellent read, October 20, 2016

When Merle Bennett’s husband dies of a sudden heart attack the rose colored glasses come off and Merle gets to examine the truth about her life. Merle is a well developed character and I found it easy to identify with the emotional impact of such a profound life change. The majority of the book takes place in a small French village where Merle tries to untangle the web of deceit around the birthplace of her husband. An absorbing story that I didn’t want to end. Happy to see there is a series!

• • •

Speaking of… the Bennett Sisters Mysteries are now exclusively on Amazon. That means they are FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers for the first time. Not a Kindle Unlimited member? Because of the low price on Blackbird Fly currently, you can get the whole series for less than 11 bucks for someone you love (hey, you love yourself, right?)

Paperbacks are still available all over the place, usually by special order. Ask your bookseller or drop me a note.

Happy December. May the snow be deep, the whisky strong, and our hearts full of cheer.


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