Books & Reading, Writing & Life
This post originally appeared on the blog Mystery Fanfare, a website of Mystery Readers.org, thanks to the support of Janet Rudolph
The Winery of His Dreams
Pinch me: Just like that, the Bennett Sisters Mystery series has been going strong for thirteen years already, starting in 2009 with Blackbird Fly. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. It’s humbling that readers still want to explore the world with the five sisters and their partners— and for me to come up with new and delicious adventures for them. It’s not always easy, which may explain why I’ve written two stories now featuring Pascal d’Onscon. He is middle sister Merle’s partner. As a member of law enforcement in France, he has access to the best things.
By which I mean criminals, of course.
I am writing fiction, I tell myself. Anything goes, as long as you can sell it properly to the reader. I can involve my five lawyers in any and all sorts of legal issues, secrets and lies and sketchy characters. But I do try to keep things on a somewhat realistic level. So far I have dealt with squatters, wine scams, drug deals, art theft, runaway dogs, and of course a bit of bloody murder. Stumbling over dead bodies in every book stretches credulity at times, especially if your characters are civilians. The five sisters are in various stages of midlife and are professional women, attorneys, not detectives.
Are my books cozies? Yes and no. They aren’t the typical cozy and yet they aren’t gritty either. I have been known to call them ‘women’s suspense’ which doesn’t actually exist as a sub-genre. International crime? Sure… but… You decide, reader. And, please, tell me your verdict.
The problem I faced with the latest novel, Château des Corbeaux (Castle of Ravens— #17 in the series), is that I have given my wine fraud detective, Pascal, an office job in Bordeaux. (What was I thinking? That this would create tension for him, what he needs to do versus what he wants to do? So that worked.) He works for the Republic’s agency that keeps wineries honest, assures that the grapes are from the proper AOC, honoring all rules and regulations the French have for their sacred nectar. Plenty of money in French wine, thus plenty of wine crime to go around.
In the 2020 book, the first starring Pascal, he is summoned to the Champagne region to investigate a bottle of still white wine with a Champagne producer’s label, a vigneron travesty. (There is no point in still wine if you have grapes growing in the proper Champagne AOC. Make bubbly and make money is the implied motto.) That book, Dead Flat, also chronicled Pascal’s dilemma about whether to accept a promotion in the agency. By Château he is out of field work and into the office, renting a smelly apartment, and hating every minute of that illustrious French invention called bureaucracy.
His dissatisfaction with office work bubbles up in his mind as the idea emerges of owning a vineyard of his own. The desire grabs Pascal— being back on the soil, feeling the terroir, the grape on his tongue, the sun on his face. Although he has never been a farmer and in the past disparaged them as being prey to the whims of weather, markets, and a hundred other things, the idea blossoms into an obsession when he spies an abandoned vineyard seemingly waiting for his loving attention.
Thus begins his struggle to become a vintner. Not an easy one for Pascal— one day discouragement and resignation that it will never come to pass because he is too poor to buy a Bordeaux vineyard. (They are often priced in the multi-millions and he is, as he often says, a simple public servant.) The next day a glimmer of hope with strapped owners needing a cash infusion. And then, a death in the vineyard to upset all dreams.
The beautiful countryside of France is again a character in the story, providing spectacular imagery, delicious recipes, and rich history. The rolling hillsides planted with undulating rows of vines, dotted with the turrets of châteaux. Wide rivers flowing to the sea. Quaint villages hiding their secrets behind the intoxicating smell of baking bread and the piety of charming churches. I love the long, bloody history of France and have managed to wind the prehistoric age into this book. There are archeological sites all over France but we tend to hear about Viking ships unearthed in England. France too had its ancient tribes and lost settlements. Iron Age and early Roman finds figure in the tale.
Will Pascal get his vineyard? Will Merle buy her cottages? What is ailing Francie? How did the man come to die in the vineyard?
After those questions, the main events of the mystery, are resolved a few loose ends remained. So I wrote a free bonus epilogue that you can link to at the end of the e-book. (Use the QR code in the paperback.)
Some secret treasures to be revealed… Enjoy!
Giveaways and Flash Rewards
First, congratulations to Kristen Cox who won the giveaway here on the blog, for the deluxe edition of ‘Blackbird Fly.’ Whee! Thanks to everyone who entered! You can still get a copy over on the Kickstarter:
Then, another round of congrats to the ladies who won the Bennett Sisters French Cookbook during the Bookworm of a Suspect launch party madness. Vanessa, Tina, Jess, Judy and Becca: happy cooking!
We didn’t make the USA Today bestseller list because they discontinued it in December, but it’s still a great project. Please help get books in the hands of children and teens and promote literacy!
FLASH REWARDS: Four days only
The Kickstarter still has a week or so to go! I’ve added flash rewards for anyone who pledges or ups their pledge by $5 between April 20 and 23. You get a set of Bennett Sisters character cards, all five sisters!
For $10 or more you can get an e-book of the collectible edition!
Once we get to $1,000 (almost there!) I will add four more color interior pages to the deluxe edition. Thanks for your support for this project. It means the world to me.
Kickstarter has FUNDED!
The Kickstarter launched yesterday and promptly funded on DAY ONE! Woot! Many thanks to all who pledged, shared, and supported the campaign. There’s still plenty of time to get in on the action… and yes, now you know you will get your items because we met our funding goal. Woot!
Win a Collectible Hardcover of Blackbird Fly!
The Kickstarter campaign starts very soon– April 10.
To help it take off, I am giving away one copy of the hardcover featured in the campaign, to anyone who signs up for the Kickstarter before it launches. The more the merrier on followers! You don’t have to pledge to the campaign but you will be notified when it is live and you can browse through all the books and swag at your leisure! Right now, those details are hidden from view. But April 10 – BOOM! It’s live.
The hardcover has a dust jacket and interior color art and other illustrations. It’s just a gorgeous thing, and entirely readable as well! It will be available as an e-book too, in case you want to keep your hardcover pristine. Totally understandable! But do crack it open to see the cool stuff inside.
I’ll be revealing more cool swag in the next few days… stay tuned! But now, sign up
Here’s the giveaway
Congrats to Kristen, who won the hardcover giveaway! Thanks to all who entered. You can now bid on items in the Kickstarter over at http://bit.ly/KS-Kickstarter
This year, 2023, I am trying a bunch of new things. I have stories coming out in four– count ’em!– four mystery anthologies. All this spring and early summer, argh! I will be nagging you to help out. Most of them are charity anthologies. Two will contribute to reading charities for children. There is no better hope than more readers for the future, to keep us all informed, safe, educated, and sane!
Here is the first one… coming up April 1. No fooling’! This anthology is themed around small businesses, shops, bookstores, and the like. My gallery owner, Alix Thorssen, is featured in Wild Irish Dreams. Appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day, if a little late! There are 15 stories in this anthology, check it out on Amazon.
Next up the juicy stuff… I am doing a Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe new hardcover of ‘Blackbird Fly.’ The star of the show is this gorgeous book, with a new cover, dust jacket, color title page and ‘thank you’ page, and more interior illustrations.
If you’d like to take a look at the campaign (which doesn’t start for about a month) you can click through below, follow it, and get notified when it’s live. There is a lot of other stuff, swag as we say, including character cards, bookmarks, e-books, paperbacks, and more. I worked with a British artist to create these character cards of 12 main characters in the series. Here’s a sampling.
I will be posting almost constantly– and no doubt obnoxiously– once this campaign is live. I hope it looks good to you! Thanks for your interest and support. Merci!
Making a run for a bestseller list
Along with thirty other mystery writers I’m making a run for it! ‘It’ being the USA Today bestseller list. It is one of the easier ones to get for an indie writer, with a long 100+ titles each week. But sadly I’ve never made it! It takes some 10,000 copies sold in one week, across multiple e-book platforms to qualify. So I’ve joined forces with a great group of writers to publish an anthology of short stories about books and libraries. The anthology will sell for just 99 cents, making it within the means of just about anybody. It’s called Bookworm of a Suspect and debuts in April 2023. Can you help us get over the line by preordering the anthology? There will also be prizes, including several Kindles, to be announced as the pub date approaches.
All proceeds for the launch week will go to the charity, FREE BOOK BUS, a 502(c)(3) out of Charlottesville, Virginia, that provides free books to any child or teen who wants one. A cause close to my heart.
I’m working on my short story for the anthology. It will not be a shock that it involves a mystery writer! She has run out of ideas and has writer’s block. Here’s the start of it… it is really fun, and as a cozy, squeaky clean.
Under the Gun
“I would kill for one good idea,” I said aloud, scaring my cat, Zeus. He jumped from the bookshelf, his napping spot, and disappeared. He knew my mood was ugly. Everyone knew.
The deadline loomed, a dark cloud, gathering thunder. I was under the gun.
I stared at the blank page for a good ten minutes then sighed and pushed away from the typewriter. With both hands gripping a hank of my hair I pulled gently. I didn’t want to start pulling out clumps of hair but I was almost there. The end of my rope.
The deadline for my novel was so close. I had no idea what the story would be about. Not a breath of an idea.
I glanced at the calendar, a large, obnoxious thing taped on the whiteboard that took up nearly the entire south wall of my office. It was too horrible to contemplate. Instead I turned back to the window. My view of San Francisco Bay was this tiny apartment’s best feature. At night the Bay Bridge lit the night like a string of luminous pearls.
But now the view didn’t cheer me. I felt the weight of my editor’s expectations on my shoulders. Not to mention my literary agent. Maisie could be a real bear. She believed in me when I had given up but her advice was basically get busy, send pages. As if.
I spun around to look at Zeus’s empty spot on top of the bookshelf. He hadn’t returned. Below the shelves were lined with my books, a testament to an ambition and imagination that had deserted me. On the top shelf were the most recent tomes, psychological thrillers, all proudly penned by Zoe Sexton. I’d finally started using my real name after decades of pseudonyms. The red lettering against glossy black glared back at me from the spines and from the cover of last year’s release, face out on the shelf: TINDER IS THE NIGHT by ZOE SEXTON, bestselling author. A quote from the New York Times below my name read, “Scintillating, scorching, and unputdownable! A treat from a master.”
A master. Ha! Of procrastination apparently. If only one could believe their own publicity.
My eye fell down the shelves. Mysteries, romances, even some sci fi. I’d tried nearly every genre, to the chagrin of my agent. I got bored with myself. It happened to the best of us.
On the bottom shelf were my first books. They were all westerns, a genre with an audience so small it now consisted mostly of rocking chair grandpas. It was sad. I loved westerns when I started. They seemed so exotic, like real-life fairy tales of good and evil. My pen-name back then was Zayne Black, a silly confection to piggyback on the famous author. My stories were nothing like Zane Grey’s but they sold for a while. By the twenty-second book sales tanked and I moved on.
My first husband, he of the western period, used to call me N-Zayne. As in, insane, to write so fast and publish so much. He said I would burn myself out. If he was here today he would not hesitate to say, “I told you so.” He was nice that way.
I stood up, sick of looking at the blank sheet of paper. Should I turn on the computer and stare at a blank screen? No. I stretched and turned inadvertently to the oversize calendar on my wall. It was hard to avoid, which was actually the point.
There, on today’s date, was the notation: “Launch Party, Emerson Bullock, 7 pm, Seventeen Gallery.”
I felt sick. Months ago Maisie had sent me the invitation and made me promise to attend. Emerson Bullock was her client too, a big bestseller, not unlike the way I used to be. It would be painful to be in his presence, for several reasons. He was a well-known miscreant of the first order, a drunken bully even in the best of times. While celebrating himself? Intolerable.
I groaned and bent over. What further terrors would this day throw at me? I didn’t want to know. The landline in the kitchen rang then. I had a pretty good idea who it would be.
“What are you wearing?” Maisie Brooks asked abruptly. My agent, full of courtesy, the queen of tact. “Because you’re going. You promised. So what are you wearing?”
“Right now? My bathrobe.” This wasn’t true but it often was at this time of day.
© 2022, Lise McClendon
If you buy on Apple Books can you preorder there? Everyone goes to Amazon. You can be the rebel! Thank you!
Listen to Lise Talk Mysteries
A podcast Lise did with Australian blogger Jenny Wheeler is now available! Listen to Lise talk about her career, the Bennett Sisters, and the latest mystery, Chateau des Corbeaux, on the podcast Joys of Binge Reading. The transcript is also available.
Pascal’s little adventure
A surprise almost as welcome as an April shower!
When I wrote Blackbird Fly I had no idea where Pascal went when he simply left town for a few days. Was it a week, a day, two weeks? I wasn’t sure. Merle thought it was too long and was pretty pissed about it. So I decided to explore his whereabouts… which led to this … a new story about Pascal for you! It’s a companion piece to BLACKBIRD FLY… a full mystery short story that fits in at the beginning of Part Three- Winging It- when Merle cuts her hair, dyes it orange, and gets a job in France.
Find out what the French boyfriend was up to in this new, complete story! Get the story with the deluxe hardcover of Blackbird Fly on Kickstarter!
I’ve had a summer of audiobooks, and not just the ones I’ve been listening to while driving and walking. (I love those so much!)
No, these are some of my own, produced by my favorite narrators. They have really breathed new life into each and every one of my books. When I listen to my audiobooks, books I wrote last year or years ago, it’s like listening to someone else’s story. It’s brand new to me. So thank you, Denice, Adam, and Naomi for these marvelous treasures. (Click on the covers to read more about the audiobooks on Amazon. Most are available at all your favorite audiobook sites including iTunes, Audible, Chirp, KOBO, Libro.fm, NOOK, Scribd, and Google Play.
LET’S GET LOST
The year started with the audiobook version of LOST IN LAVENDER, the latest full-length novel in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. Denice Stradling does it again, transporting us to Provence this time, where the lavender is blooming and people aren’t very nice to Elise but she works out a win for herself anyway. She’s come for a farm stay at a lavender farm but discovers so much more about her own courage.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Next up, Denice narrated the compilation of the three parts of BIRDS OF A FEATHER that released at the end of July. Off to Wales for the holidays, Elise and Conor navigate the family drama that ensues, along with food, drink, and, well, murder. A traditional English manor house mystery, BIRDS will keep you guessing about who the culprit is… and drooling over the feast for Twelfth Night. Excellent work, Denice, as usual!
Along the way the first audiobook that Denice narrated for me, Blackbird Fly, number one in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries, got lost in a change at the original publisher. But they were kind enough to give us the rights and files back so we have re-released it. How it all began!
Back up to 2020
I’ve been saying that I don’t remember much of 2020 (on purpose) but that’s not really true. I released the three parts of DEAD FLAT over the winter months, then compiled them in the spring, like I did with Birds of a Feather this year. I never got around to releasing the audiobook though until this summer. Denice and I agreed that, since it’s Pascal’s story, it required a male narrator. I threw it out there and got an audition by an out-of-work Broadway actor named Adam Wesley Brown. (You might have seen him as Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet.) Adam does a great French accent for Pascal — and lots of other accents in this story set all over France but mainly in the Champagne region. Much intrigue, much French travel, much bubbly. Dead Flat is available everywhere audiobooks are sold.
NEWS FLASH: Dead Flat is 99 cents on ChirpBooks for a limited time!
Last but not Least
My last audiobook for 2021 is BLUE WOLF, a book celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It came out in June, not long before September 11, 2001. Not an auspicious time for publishing but the book did well as the 4th installment in the Alix Thorssen Mystery series set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (The first three books in the series were produced in audio by Books in Motion but they never bought the fourth book.)
I am fascinated by gray wolves, living near Yellowstone National Park as I do. Their reintroduction in 1995 set off my imagination as a way to include them a mystery. BLUE WOLF is the culmination of that search, a personal story for Alix, and for a woman still grieving the loss of her son after 25 years. Naomi Rose-Mock did a masterful job bringing the story to life.
The production of Blue Wolf is now available at Audible and iTunes. Check the Amazon site for the book here: https://amzn.to/3yRpILB
AUDIBLE Available at iTunes here: iTUNES
Happy listening! Please leave a review where you bought one if you enjoyed the audiobook. Thank you!
Happy holidays with a new Bennett Sisters Mystery ❄️
Birds of a Feather
Part 1: Swan & Peacock
Your midwinter reading feast is about to begin! Part One of the winter trilogy launches December 30.
The Bennett Sisters meet in Wales for the holidays, gathering at Elise’s new boyfriend’s country home.
The Albion ‘flock’ comes together at their country house in Wales this year for their traditional solstice to Twelfth Night family gathering. Elise joins her summer fling, new boyfriend, Conor Albion, but finds some of the relatives are hostile to both of them. When Elise receives an unwanted attention from one of them, two of her sisters decide to come to the nearby village for emotional support. Elise won’t run away from her problems this time– but how will she deal with this indecent proposal?
Elise is in an awkward position but is determined not to run away from her problems. The presence of two of her sisters helps give her courage her troubles, but will it ruin her relationship with Conor and his family? Meanwhile Conor’s parents tell him they won’t support his golf ‘hobby,’ leaving him unsure of his financial and professional future. Then an uninvited guest descends, giving a promise of chaos to the gathering.
Will Annie and Merle be able to help Elise with her problem? Will the sisters stay for the announced but doubtful twelve-course French New Year’s Eve dinner? Will the unwanted guest ruin the entire holiday?
Get Lost in Provence
You may never want to go home
A dollop of mystery, a soupçon of romance, mixed well with intrigue and lavender:
a recipe for a Provençal adventure
Now on the dark side of 40, Elise Bennett is ripe for a midlife crisis. She went into the law because her four older sisters are all attorneys but she hates her job. The sisters have all found love. Elise broke up with a boyfriend she couldn’t marry. Nothing seems to work out for her.
How can she be happy? The constant pressure from her family to be a successful lawyer is crushing. Her ex is driving her nuts. She decides to escape to France where she books herself an exotic vacation. A farm stay in Provence at a lavender farm sounds ideal for thrashing out her future.
Unfortunately all the other guests at the picturesque family farm are twenty-year-old college students. And the work is menial and dull. There is Conor who drives the family tractor but even he rejects Elise. She feels like the world has turned on her. So when she meets a suave Frenchman at a village festival she falls for his charms.
Only after Elise runs off to the man’s house near Aix-en-Provence does she begin to wonder who Ari is– and where he is. Thus begins a tangle of suspicion and mystery that Elise, along with her sister Merle and her policeman/partner, Pascal, must unravel.
Intrigue, adventure, murder, and romance: all is not all sunshine and flowers in the south of France. But for Elise’s sake, will there at least be time for a summer fling?
This is one of the most delightful series I have ever read. I couldn’t wait each day to get back to reading. The Bennett Sisters are filled with adventure and excitement. Romance, joy of living and dead bodies accompany their adventures! You will be amused and mesmerized by this delightful series!
— Jo Gibbs, Amazon reviewer