Knock Three Times on the Table if You Want Me….

How much do you know about Spiritualism?  Spiritualism was a religious movement that focused on contacting the spirits of the deceased via mediums. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a believer in Spiritualism and so was Mary Todd Lincoln. Communication often took the form of rapping on tables, séances, and automatic writing. I’ve been reading about Spiritualism because it plays a role in my next story.

I’ve started (just barely!) on a sequel to The Gardenia Blonde, set in July 1935, immediately after the events of the first book. Lana Hayward and Andy Halloran flee New York City for Europe aboard the RMS Athena, an ocean liner with a very spooky history. The Athena, you see, was built in 1912, and is the physical twin of the world’s most famous sunken ocean liner. As Andy says wryly in chapter one:

“Other passengers kept clustering around the ornate Grand Staircase in first class, pointing and gawking. I’m not a superstitious man as a rule, but none of it improved my mood. And I was tired of hearing people talk about icebergs.”

I was inspired to create the Athena after reading about the RMS Olympic, a real-life ocean liner that was the sister ship of the Titanic. The two ships had similar architecture and the Olympic actually continued to sail well into the 1930s, so it provided an appropriately creepy inspiration for the RMS Athena. What’s unusual about my fictional ship is her passenger list–a famous spiritualist medium and her entourage. They aim to use the ship’s unique characteristics to commune with the spirit world because of the Athena’s relationship with tragedy. Getting in touch with the spirit world leads to earthly misfortune for Lana and Andy, who find themselves entangled in a murder investigation during their voyage. While some may want to talk to the dead, there are others onboard the Athena who’d like the spirits to remain silent…

I’m trying not to get too derailed by research, because spiritualism is a fascinating topic and it would be easy to lose myself in reading. Intriguingly enough, the popularity of Spiritualism allowed some female mediums to become important social figures. Even though its popularity peaked in the Victorian era, spiritualism still exists as a movement today. In fact, one of the books I’m reading for research is about Lily Dale, NY, a famous spiritualist community that still holds workshops every summer. I was dazzled by this quote from author and Lily Dale visitor Christine Wicker, describing a summer resident’s daily bicycle ride around the community:

“Lynn passes the Lily Dale Spiritualist Church, the little white church where people gather summer mornings hoping to be healed, and Assembly Hall, a two-story meetinghouse where students practice bending spoons and making tables rise. She coasts around men who carry passports to Orion in their wallets and women who give lessons in how to tell an angel from a human being. She wheels around widows hoping to talk with their late husbands, skirts lovestruck girls anxious to find out if their boyfriends are cheating, steers clear of divorcees yearning to know whether passion will ever visit them again.” –Christine Wicker, Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead

Doesn’t that just make you want to visit Lily Dale?

The Devil and Mrs. Bradley

I started Gladys Mitchell’s The Devil at Saxon Wall today. The opening chapters, about a timid young woman who marries a strange man on impulse and then begins to suspect that her new husband is using witchcraft on her, are really creepy and effective. I hit the end of my e-reader sample chapters and was all, “I CAN’T. I have to find out what will happen to this poor girl.”

Mitchell was a contemporary of Golden Age mystery writers like Sayers and Christie, but if you know her protagonist Mrs. Bradley today, it’s probably from the British television adaptation starring a very glam Diana Riggs as Bradley. The novels are much darker than the series and Mrs. Bradley is usually described as “reptilian,” rather than elegant. That’s one of the things I enjoy about period novels–characters are sometimes less likable than contemporary mystery protagonists and you read them in frustration and amusement rather than identification (this is a very fancy way of saying I find Nero Wolfe obnoxiously endearing!).  It looks like the Mrs. Bradley ebooks have been recently re-issued, since all I could find were used copies when I looked for them after watching one episode of the series on Netflix sometime last year.

My new mystery, The Gardenia Blonde, is live on Amazon and B&N right now, but is tragically short of mysterious and potentially homicidal husbands.



So, I wrote a mystery…

Big News! My first mystery novel, The Gardenia Blonde, has just been uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon. It should go live at major retailers over the next few days.

That’s where I’ve been all this time: writing about my protagonist, Lana Hayward.  Lana is an ex-actress who once starred in movies like The Gardenia Blonde and now dabbles in detective work in 1930s Manhattan. Of course, every good detective needs a partner. Lana has Andy Halloran, a regular-guy smart aleck who tolerates his boss’s fondness for good-looking men and Cubist artwork because working for her is more fun than working anywhere else. Here’s the book description:


June 1935. At first, everyone assumed that pretty young heiress Jane Campbell had eloped with her boyfriend, a popular nightclub singer. But Jane is still missing…

A phone call from Los Angeles convinces ex-actress and private detective Lana Hayward to look into the most notorious disappearance in the city.

Lana and her partner Andy are asked to find the missing woman—and clear her boyfriend of suspicion. Has Jane Campbell been murdered? Or kidnapped by disapproving relatives?

Only the flamboyant Lana can discover the truth. When Andy stumbles over a familiar corpse, the ex-actress is also on the lookout for a deadly poison that leaves its victims a gruesome shade of green.



I am a terrible blogger.  I’ve been working a lot this semester and the blog has suffered as a result. Sorry! Still, some exciting news. My next Where is My Guru book review, Claire Dederer’s 2011 memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, will air Friday. Dederer is really funny, smart, and touching and her work fits perfectly with WIMG’s current “GuruMamas” parenting theme. You can read more about the book here. Listen live at 11 am.



It’s been a busy month of teaching and writing for me. Still, this great quote from the poet Matthew Arnold in Gretchen Rubin’s daily letter caught my eye. Beautiful, right?

“All knowledge is interesting to a wise man, and the knowledge of nature is interesting to all men.”
- Matthew Arnold

The 100 Thing Challenge on Where Is My Guru. Tune in Friday at 11!


On Friday’s Where is My Guru show at 11am , I’ll be talking about Dave Bruno’s fantastic book, The 100 Thing Challenge. It’s all about a regular dad who realizes his life is being suffocated by his lifestyle of shopping and spending. Deciding to ditch the mall in favor of family time, Dave tries to limit his personal possessions to 100 items. I really loved this book and thought Bruno had so many interesting insights during his project.

Read more about it on the WIMG blog.


        Here’s David giving in a TED talk about the book:


Hollywood, Philo Vance, and what the kids are reading

Some cool things to talk about for booklovers:

  • I have a new Daily Muse column up on Hollywood themed books and other media.
  • I’ve got my next Where Is My Guru book, a yoga themed novel that I will unveil soon.
  • Renaissance Learning–the people behind the Accelerated Reader program that I loved as a kid–have an interesting new survey out on what high school students are reading now. They compare their 2012 results to previous decades, all the way back to 1907. What do you think of these results?
  • I’m still reading my way through classic mysteries this summer. Lots of Rex Stout, some Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Cater Dickson. I’m in the middle of The Bishop Murders. Not sure how I feel about Philo Vance, though. Any SS Van Dine fans out there?