Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Letters to Santa From the Keiki of Hilo

Yes, it’s that time of year again—letters from the children of Hilo, Hawai‘i to Santa Claus. These are from the annual “Holiday Aloha” special insert to the Hawai‘i Tribune Herald (whose editor-in-chief, by the way, is the son of Santa Cruz dentist, Paul Bock). Here are some of my favorites from this year’s edition (they all start out “Dear Santa,” so I’ve omitted the salutations):

What I would like for Christmas is some money. It doesn’t matter how much you are giving me but it has to be above $5 and I also want a new video game.
Your friend, 
Kupono, Age 12

I wanted to ask you how Rudolph is because I heard that right before Christmas he was sad. My mom wants a new living room floor so we can have peace and relax. We just finished the hallway and dining room floor. Please help us Santa. May I also have a deck of Pokemon cards because I love to collect them? Thank you for your support,
Daycen, Age 9

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mario’s Linguine With Clam Sauce

Time for another recipe from my protagonist Sally Solari’s family. Up today is her dad Mario's famous linguine with clam sauce. 

The flat shape of linguine (“little tongues,” in Italian) provides the perfect vehicle to soak up this luscious sauce. Served with a tossed green salad and crunchy francese bread, the dish makes for a surprisingly easy meal. All you need is clams, clam juice, white wine, garlic (certo!), olive oil, butter, flat leaf (aka Italian) parsley, and of course linguine. Chili pepper flakes are optional. (The amounts specified below should serve four hungry people.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nonna’s Sunday Gravy

The trend these days is for mystery novels—particularly if they involve food—to have recipes printed at the end. I’ve therefore been pondering over the past few weeks what dishes from my manuscript, A Matter of Taste, would be good to include as recipes in the published book.

One of the obvious choices is Nonna’s Sunday Gravy, which the Italian grandmother of my protagonist, Sally, cooks up every week for a family dinner. This hearty, tomato-based stew is called “gravy” by many Italian-American families, as it’s traditionally eaten as two separate courses. The sauce (i.e., “gravy”) is served over pasta as the primo, or first course:

my gravy, over penne and rigatoni

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Does This Make Me an “Author”?

To celebrate having acquired representation for my mystery novel, A Matter of Taste, Robin and I went to dinner a few weeks ago at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Avanti. Over an apéritif of sparking rosé, Robin confessed something to me:

“I know I’m the one who’s been telling you all along to skip the whole agent thing and just self-publish,” she said. “But now that you’ve gotten one, I’ve gotta say it does change how I think about you and your book. All of a sudden it’s like you’re a ‘real author’ now.”

real authors on my bookshelf

This had been an point of contention between us. When I’d bemoan the frustration and disappointment that went along with the search for a literary agent, Robin would ask why I even needed one, when I could simply publish the book on my own and omit the middleman altogether.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cozy Food (Guest Post By Nancy Lynn Jarvis)

Today I bring you another guest post, this time from fellow Santa Cruz mystery writer, Nancy Lynn Javis, who has recently compiled and edited a cookbook featuring recipes from cozy mysteries:

A little thing like murder shouldn’t make us miss a meal.

We’ve all heard of Nero Wolfe, the gourmand and gourmet detective for whom food played a prominent role, and we all know who Miss Marple is. If you can imagine those two crime solvers creating a genre, surely it would be called the cozy mystery. In cozies, amateur sleuths solve crimes while still working their day jobs and eating every chance they get. Murder, mystery, and food go together well—so well that many modern mysteries come with recipes printed within their pages.

That affinity was the inspiration for Cozy Food—128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes. It seems that cozy writers are as obsessed with food as are their readers, so it didn’t take much cajoling to get 128 authors to submit recipes from their books, along with personal stories, for a cozy cookbook.

Friday, June 27, 2014

It Only Takes One Yes

Something wonderful happened this week: After more than three years of editing and revising my mystery manuscript, A Matter of Taste, after sending out over a hundred query letters to potential agents, I have now entered into a representation agreement with a literary agent: Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management, in New York City.

I am beyond thrilled. Not just to have acquired representation, but because I think Erin is going to be terrific. She seems to really get me, and my book—the voice and style, the characters, the themes. And, from the few comments she’s already provided, I can tell her editorial skills are going to be invaluable (she spent many years as an editor for various major publishing houses before becoming an agent).

Her call came early last week, and I was so flustered that I’m sure I sounded like a complete moron—or perhaps simply like a newbie author thrilled to finally get 
The Phone Call.

how I feel right about now
(okay, so this was taken when
the SF Giants won the pennant in 2010)
[photo: Laura Karst]

I wanted to say YES! right then and there, but I had several other “fulls” (the complete manuscript) currently out to other agents. Politeness and protocol therefore required that I give them a heads up, and let them have several days to consider whether they too might want to make an offer of representation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eating Up Mystery (Guest Blog by Vinnie Hansen)

Today I’m happy to present this guest blog penned by Vinnie Hansen, whom I met last March at the Left Coast Crime mystery writing conference, “Calamari Crime.” We hit it off immediately—not just because Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz, but also because she possesses that combination of warm and witty that I so enjoy. Here's her blog post:

On another blog, which shall remain nameless, they had a discussion of mysteries without food! You may as well have food without mystery—no secret ingredients, no surprising bursts of flavor, no heat that creeps up from the back of the throat.

To me, food and mystery go hand in hand, literally and figuratively.

Vinnie enjoying a good read and a hot beverage

I recently read Cindy Sample’s Dying for a Daiquiri (set on the Big Island) and enjoyed the food references, from the informational description of an imu pit for kalua pig to the amusing riffs on Donkey Ball snacks.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saving the Critically Endangered Palila Bird

Hawai’i is one of the most isolated lands in the world, sitting in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, almost 2,500 miles distant from San Francisco, its closest port-of-call. Up until the arrival of the first humans (some 1,700 to 1,200 years ago), the island chain was populated solely by flora and fauna that arrived in one of three ways: via bird, winds, or ocean currents. And many of those plants and animals that did manage to make the long voyage evolved over millions of years into completely new, distinct species.

downtown Hilo’s new Palila mural,
painted by Kathleen Kam
(you can order a signed print of the mural here)
It has been estimated that there were some 8,500 native species on the Hawaiian Islands before the arrival of the first Polynesian sailors, and that about 96% of these were endemic—i.e., they evolved on the islands and were found no where else in the world. Perhaps even more interesting is that these endemic species are thought to have evolved from only about 1,000 original colonizing species. In other words, some eight new species evolved from each one that made it to the islands. (Many of these facts, as well as ones that follow, are taken from this document.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Making Leis

Its been a very Hawaiian week. Which isn’t all that surprising, given that I’m living in Hilo—perhaps the most “Hawaiian” of all the locales in this state.

Okay, some of you may be thinking that Hawaiian culture doesn’t have a whole lot to do with either custard or clues. But indeed it does! For I am currently working on the sequel to my first mystery m.s., which sequel takes place in Hawaii. It’s a sort of fish-out-of-water story, in which my protagonist Sally Solari of Santa Cruz, California, finds herself delving into the unfamiliar culture of the Big Island as she attempts to solve a mystery: Whose body did she witness being covered over by hot lava?

So back to my Hawaiian week. Last Saturday I had the opportunity to join in the Kauluwehi Lei Workshop, hosted by several agencies (including the DLNR, NARS, and the Three Mountain Alliance) along with the Wailoa Arts and Cultural Center. (The Wailoa Center is also hosting a lei contest in conjunction with the workshops. No, I will not be submitting an entry, but I will go check them out.)

The workshop took place at about 5,000 feet, on the Pu‘u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve, which lies on the eastern flank of Mauna Loa. The reserve is one of the few pristine native forests left on the Big Island, and is host to some of Hawaii’s rarest birds, including the nene (Hawaiian goose), ’akiapola’au and i’iwi (honeycreepers) and i’o (Hawaiian Hawk).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Calamari Crime, and a Sue Grafton Interview

I attended Left Coast Crime last week, a writers and readers conference held annually at different locations in the Western United States. This year’s venue was Monterey, California—famous for its squid catch—so the conference was dubbed “Calamari Crime.”

The event consisted primarily of panel discussions among authors discussing their own books, the craft of writing, marketing and publicity, trends in mysteries, what agents look for in a manuscript, and various other issues of import to readers and writers.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Got Poi?

The title of this post is a bumper sticker one sees a lot here in Hawai‘i. But the slogan is not just an amusing riff on the milk ad; it’s a fact that—unlike cow’s milk, which can have ill effects on humans—poi is one of the most nutritious and healthy foodstuffs in the world, being high in fiber, as well as vitamins A and C.

the finished batch of two-finger poi

made by my neighbor Anya and me

Poi was a staple of the ancient Hawaiians, and remained so until around the middle of the last century, when the advent of the Western diet and the increased cost of taro led to its decline. (Here is a cute video about poi with some vintage footage.) But as with other aspects of Hawaiian culture, poi has experienced a comeback over the past few decades. Festivals now celebrate the art of poi-pounding, and one can find the dish on menus and at grocery stores.