Cam’s Gardening Tips: Deadheading

Deadheading. That sounds pretty mysterious. Does your murder story include chopping Is your garden an interesting mystery (1)someone’s head off? Or feature a zombie with a dead head, whatever that would be? We’re not talking about following a laid back folk-rock band, either.

But no, deadheading is actually just lopping off a flower after it has bloomed. Flowers are ovaries, and, when they are finished being showy and pretty, turn into seed production factories. But if you want the plant to continue to grow and thrive, and put out new flowers, in general you need to remove the old flower.

JonquilleRight now in New England the daffodil family is blooming. Jonquils, narcissus, all those bright yellow and white trumpet-shaped flowers brighten our still-cool days and make us smile. The flowers come from a bulb, and the bulb only contains so much energy. If it puts its energy into making a nice fat seed pod, it has less to make new flowers and to let its leaves replenish nourishment to the bulb and grow bulblets.

Many flowering plants benefit from deadheading all summer long. I didn’t know about this until one time some years ago an older friend was visiting, and while we sat on my deck sipping wine and chatting, she moved from  hanging pot to hanging, pinching off the old blooms.  Now I do the same at friends’ houses. Depending on the tenderness of the stalk, you can use scissors or just pinch them off with your fingers.

In another post I’ll tell you about growing garlic, and removing the scapes is really just a form of preemptive deadheading.DeadHead

SINC New England’s own Rosemary Harris even published a mystery called Deadhead, the third in her Dirty Business Mystery series. 

Readers: Do you deadhead? Or does it give you an idea for a story?

Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods mystery series from Kensington Publishing, in which geek-turned-organic farmer Cam Flaherty grows produce for members of the Locavore club, but also has to solve more than one case of locally sourced murder.



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Plot Shot Challenge


OK, Sisters, feeling sluggish after the holidays or a weekend jelly bean binge? Accept our challenge to write and post right here a compelling crime story of no more than 150 words based on the image below:


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Not Quite Twenty Questions for Laura DiSilverio

NQTQ – Not Quite TwentyHank Phillippi Ryan: She looks like such a nice woman. Pleasant, well-dressed, smiling and cheerful. But Laura DiSilverio has a pretty amazing—and incredibly tough!– resume. She spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer – serving as a squadron commander, with the National Reconnaissance Office, and at a fighter wing.

Just thinking about what training and skills that entailed is astonishing. And hey–I saw the movie Air Force One with Harrison Ford. And I watch The Americans on television, too. I know what kind of stuff goes on. Imagine the stories she has to tell! But, of course, she can’t.

Fiction, though? Sure.

So here’s our Laura, president of national Sisters in Crime, mom, wife, authors of, gulp –is it TWELVE mysteries? Written in–how long Laura? Two years? That can’t be true, but she’ll tell us in the comments.

And now she’s on the path to another whole series of books…

As always some of the Not Quite Twenty Questions are the same very week—that’s part of the fun. As always, some are new!

Frankly, I cannot even believe she had the time to answer these questions. But when you want to get something done? Ask Laura.

Title of your autobiography?
Never, Never, Never Quit (with Apologies to WC)

Perseverance is one of my defining qualities. My mom tells the story of how when I was eleven or twelve, I dove into an Olympic sized, outdoor pool wearing my brand new contact lenses (the ones my father didn’t want to buy me). One of them came out and I searched the pool for hours until I found it. Ever tried to find a smidgen of green plastic (back in those days, they were hard contacts) in a swimming pool?

Book you wish you had written?
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard.

It’s lyrical and meaningful and so well structured that it inspires me as a writer.

Movie you would see again and again?
I don’t like to re-watch movies, for the most part. That said, I have re-watched Sense and Sensibility and Four Weddings and a Funeral after a suitable gap (and everything Disney during that period when children want to watch the same movie eight times in one day).

Exotic drinks–yes? No?
No. Wine.

When in history would you choose to visit?
As long as I can come back when I need to use the toilet or shower, the court of Elizabeth 1.

What are you working on now?
The second novel in a YA dystopian trilogy. Having a blast with it!

Tell us more—what are you learning from it?
I’m learning a lot about pacing and writing action sequences. Also, through research, I’m learning a lot about future weapons and farming technologies, as well as DNA, locusts, and genetics. My protag is a 16-yr-old bio-chem genius, and she exists in a world decimated by pandemic and famine where the government, the Pragmatists, decide who can bear children and who can’t, and who manipulate DNA to try to create children with the “optimal” qualities for rebuilding and repopulating the country, the Confederated States of Amerada. (Anyone want to guess what countries I combined to come up with Amerada? :-) )

We’ll give a Laura book to a correct guesser! So does it have a theme? Did you know that when you started?
I hate to talk about themes up front but I had a couple in mind when I started and others have emerged as I’ve written. Really, I’m more wrestling with questions that have no right or wrong answers (at least, I don’t think they do). How much control can/should a govt exercise over people’s rights to ensure the population’s survival? Can individuals be sacrificed for the good of the whole? Who gets to decide who gets sacrificed? If one (or a govt) is willing to sacrifice individuals, does that devaluing of humanity, that willingness to say one life is worth more than another, lead to negative consequences, no matter how good the intentions? If you’re born with a specific talent, are you obligated to use it for everyone’s betterment, even if you’d rather do something else? (If you’re a great soldier but hate killing, do you have to be a military leader, if that’s what the country needs, or can you go off and be, oh, say, a musician?) You’re sorry you asked, right?

DiSilverio1-466x700Nope. But here’s an easier one! Pizza or chocolate?

Two girls.

One Wire-haired Pointing Griffon, two immortal goldfish. They may discover their mortality not long after Daughter #2 goes off to college in 3 ½ years.

One. Starter model.

Singing. I started taking voice lessons for the first time in my life last summer.

Really? Why?
I decided I needed a new creative outlet and that I had never worked on developing my voice, even though I’ve sung in choirs since middle school. It’s mostly for my own pleasure, but I like the feeling of tackling something new and challenging, and I even sing in my teacher’s recitals. I call myself the AARP rep since all the other students are teens or younger.

Yes, although I prefer planting to weeding and my garden attests to that.

Fear or phobia?

Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
Write a good book. Nothing else matters.

Are you optimistic when you begin each writing day?
Almost always. I am so grateful to hop out of bed every day and head to my computer, eager to work. Most people I know dread Mondays and drag themselves home from work at the end of each day. Writing invigorates me and I am grateful, grateful, grateful to work at something that inspires and fulfills me.

What did you learn in the air force that you bring to your writing job?
Self-discipline, the need to show up and do my best every day, even when no one’s looking over my shoulder.

Anything you had to UN-learn?
I can’t be responsible for results as a writer. What I mean is, I can write the best possible book I have inside me, but I can’t dictate what happens to it after I type “the end.” The publisher markets it well—or doesn’t. People read it—or they don’t. I can’t control any of that. It’s hard—but necessary—to let go and be satisfied with writing the best book I could at any given moment. I have to get my joy from the writing, not from anything extrinsic to the process.

Wonderful .Thank you. So–Do you watch TV? What?
Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Elementary, Blue Bloods, NCIS, Castle, Big Bang Theory

Best concert you’ve ever seen?
Oakridge Boys (in college). More recently, Carrie Underwood. I’m sure you see the musical theme . . .

Secret talent?
I can wiggle my ears.

Do you have a motto? (What is it?)
You cannot discover new worlds unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.


Laura DiSilverio’s Bio (from her website):

I wrote my first novel for a creative writing class at Trinity University. Professor Bob Flynn inspired me and heroically refrained from gagging when reading the contemporary romance I titled “Jeweled Torment.” That manuscript is buried in a box in the garage, along with the Regency romance I wrote shortly after joining the Air Force. I concentrated on becoming a good intelligence officer for many years before doing any more significant writing. I served with an F-16 wing in Korea, helped resolve reports of live-sightings of Vietnam prisoners of war while working out of the embassy in Bangkok, pushed paper at the Defense Intelligence Agency, earned my Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, taught English for three years at the Air Force Academy, learned cool things about satellites (none of which I can ever write about) at the National Reconnaissance Office, attended various professional schools, did my time in the Pentagon, commanded a squadron in England, and ended up in Colorado. Along the way, I married my wonderful husband and produced two beautiful children who re-defined what is important in life. A moment of Holy Spirit-guided epiphany in Elliot’s Bay bookstore in Seattle convinced me it was time to embark on writing and mothering full time. I retired from the Air Force in late 2004.


Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 Emmys and dozens of others honors for her ground-breaking journalism. The best-selling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: two Agathas, the Anthony and the Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her newest thriller THE WRONG GIRL (now an Agatha and Left Coast Crime nominee) was dubbed “Another winner!” in a Booklist starred review. Her upcoming novel is TRUTH BE TOLD (Forge, 2014.) She is 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

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Cam’s Garden Tips: Cold-Hardy Plants

Cam Flaherty here. What can you plant before the frost-free date? Which vegetables don’t Is your garden an interesting mystery (1)mind some cold weather?

Think greens. Think onions. Think peas. When your soil dries out a bit, direct seed salad greens and lettuces after you have added some good organic compost to the bed. Order onion sets and slip those in. Direct seed peas according to the directions on the packet. I prefer sugar snap peas so I can eat the whole sweet pod, and around here it’s traditional to serve the first peas with salmon on the fourth of July, because the salmon used to run just as the peas ripened.

platningzone_mapIn my far northeast corner of Massachusetts, the frost-free date used to be Memorial Day, but it has been creeping earlier, and it can vary. You can find your planting zone at the USDA site. Even within your property, though, you might have warmer or colder micro-climates.

I love that word, micro-climates. Imagine a sheltered  south-facing brick wall or stone foundation. If you create a garden bed directly in front of it, the soil warms earlier and whatever you plant should flourish before anywhere else. You can also create your own lowtunnelsmicroclimates with low tunnels: wire hoops and floating row cover constructed over a garden bed. The row cover lets light and rain through but raises the temperature a few degrees. This picture depicts one at New Harmony Farm in West Newbury, but you can easily make a small version of your own for the home garden.

Readers: Have you had luck with spring gardening? What’s your favorite early crop, either from your own plot or from the farmers’ market?

Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods mystery series from Kensington Publishing, in which geek-turned-organic farmer Cam Flaherty grows produce even in the winter for members of the Locavore club, but also has to solve more than one case of locally sourced murder.



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Writers at Work: Hank Phillippi Ryan Welcomes Sheila Connolly


Hank Phillippi Ryan welcomes ...

Hank Phillippi Ryan welcomes …

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What does someone’s face look like when they’re telling you their dream has come true?

I saw that look, I really did, on Sheila Connolly. She’ll be able to tell us how long ago it was—it was certainly at least seven years ago, which in writing world is both forever and the blink of an eye.

We were at a SinC meeting at someone’s house, Sheila, help me here, and I said something like—How’s it going?

(I’m a great small-talker.)

And Shelia said well, fine, I guess. I’m not sure what to say, she said. I just got—and she kind of gulped. A three book deal.

Her face was –lit from within. A wonderful combination of baffled and delighted and awestruck and thrilled.

Because I’m editing a book of essays for Sisters in Crime (you’ll see it soon) I know that Shelia wrote more than a million words before a publisher bought her first novel. When I heard that I could not fathom the level of determination she must have embraced.

And she is now a New York Times bestselling author. There is no story—none—that is more important than that for us to hear.

How does she do it? Continuing our nuts-and-bolts questions, here is the queen of talent plus persistence, Sheila Connolly.sheila-connolly-new-217h

1. When you need to do your writing for the day, how difficult is it to get yourself to begin? Why?

After thirteen years of writing (when did that happen?), I still feel like the new kid at school. I’m amazed and grateful that anybody lets me write full time, much less buys what I write. So I still get a little thrill when I sit down in front of a blank screen and say, what’s going to happen next? (I don’t outline, so I don’t always know!)

But I’m also conscious that my brain works better in the morning, so it’s important to capture whatever is going on in there before it gets lost in the sludge.

2. Is there something you say to yourself every day? Whether it has to do with responsibility, or deadlines, or commitment, or fear, or optimism, or creativity?

I haven’t missed a deadline yet, and that’s always in the back of my mind. But it’s not a driving force. Mostly it’s like sitting down with old friends. I see the story in my head; I hear the characters’ voices. No, not literally—I can still distinguish reality from fantasy. But the writing process for me is like stepping into another world (one that I’ve created) and just listening to what’s going on. Looking at details. What’s the weather, what’s for breakfast? I know, that sounds rather boring—I could say, “who’s dead this time?” But life is made up of a lot of boring small details, and most of us won’t trip over a body. That body has to be placed in a context that people will recognize. (Notice that I don’t write thrillers set in Hong Kong!)

3. When you sit down to work, what’s the first thing you think?

Business first. Take care of the pressing emails, check the online news to see if anything has blown up overnight, take a look at a few of my favorite blogs (and make sure any posts I’m responsible for look all right). Then I make a list, or look at the endless to-do list (why are those never finished?). Then I let myself write.

4. What’s the first thing you do? Really? Do you check your email, or Facebook, or Twitter FIRST?

Drink coffee and read the (real) paper. Drink some more coffee. Then emails. I rarely look at Facebook for fun in the morning, although if someone has a new book out I’ll push that. Facebook is more like a guilty indulgence for the end of the day. Also the best way to keep track of what my daughter is doing! (My Twitter account was hijacked years ago, and I haven’t missed it.)

5. How do you handle the temptations of the internet?

I love the Internet! I use it a lot for research. I started out as an academic, so I’ve always done research for whatever I’m pursuing. The good side of that is that I’m skeptical of any single source, which means I have to look at a range of sources and fit them together and decide what’s true and what’s questionable and how I’m going to use the information. And sometimes I intersperse that with useful things like finding custom millwork for my Victorian house or checking out upcoming local events. But I get my main internet “fix” by looking for writing-related material. I love to learn almost anything new.

6. When you begin writing, are you optimistic or pessimistic about where you’ll be two hours later?

I’ve been doing this long enough that I know how long it takes me to accomplish something. Sometimes the spark just isn’t there, but that doesn’t panic me—the words will come when they’re ready, and I can’t force the process, so I might as well sort my pencils while I’m waiting. Or chase down dustbunnies. Or (gasp) file.

7. Do you have a daily word or page quota? How committed to that are you?

When I started writing I had no idea how long a book was supposed to be, either in pages or in fictitious time. I just sat down and started spewing words. After a while I learned that I’m most comfortable writing books in the 75,000-80,000 word range, and most of my plots take about two weeks to resolve themselves. I like to write a chapter a day, and most of my chapters are around 2,500 words. But that’s not always just length—a chapter is a self-contained unit that moves the story forward or provides a piece of essential information (or bemoans the lack of information if the investigation is stalled) and opens the door for the next step. So it may be longer or shorter than 2,500 words. And knowing that, I can estimate pretty well how far from finishing I am. I keep a basic table with word and chapter counts, and if I’ve reached Chapter 15 and we still haven’t seen the corpse, I know I have to fix something.

8. Do you work on the book every day? How do you feel when you have a day where you don’t write? How often do you think–”I should be writing!”?

As far as I can tell, there’s no time when I’m not writing. I usually work on the WIP every day (hands on keyboard, pixels on screen, whatever), but there’s also a lot of thinking time involved, sometimes for more than one book at a time. Car trips are good for that—I can work out plot elements, and I’ve found that saying some things out loud helps to make them clearer or reveals the flaws. But there are times when I’ll be minding my own business and my subconscious will lob a thought at me, which is a very odd sensation. In Monument to the Dead, it was “She knows how to shoot.” It came out of nowhere, and was something that I’d never even thought about.

When I travel, it’s usually either to conferences, which is writing-related, or it’s for research (which I call the best of all possible worlds—I was very strategic about setting my series in places I love to revisit!).

9. Are there things you have given up as a result of your–well, okay. What have you given up to allow yourself to write?

Play time? I don’t go to a lot of movies, or take long lunches with friends (they’re so scattered geographically that a lunch is an all-day commitment), or visit the beach, or go whale-watching. But I miss things like that more as an afterthought—you know, “goodness, it’s been three years since I visited a museum!” I have no children at home and my husband is a homebody, so not a lot has changed.

10. Do you actually drink the wine or champagne your friends gave you when you succeeded at something? Or do you save it for a more special occasion?

Most of my friends take me out to lunch (with wine), which works for me. My husband has learned to give me champagne when a book hits a Big List, but if it’s only the two of us, it’s a challenge to finish the bottle.

11. Think of your last success. When it happened…how long did you float? How soon after did you start focusing on the next success?

It’s such a double edged sword kind of thing. The first time I hit the New York Times mass market bestseller list, it was like, “What? Me? Cozies don’t make that list, Nora Roberts does, or James Patterson. Not me.” And then people start complimenting you and you realize they’re paying attention and it matters to them. It’s good for about a week—until the next list comes out and you’re not on it. And then you start worrying, will the next one make it? Was that first time a mistake and it will never happen again? You can never assume that any success will last (you’re only as good as your last book). So every time that bleeping list comes out the week after a new release, you’re chewing your nails and checking the internet listing every three minutes.

It does put some pressure on making the next book as good as possible (as if we don’t already?). And of course we get just a little greedy: hey, let’s see if we can stay on that list for two weeks, or three this time around, although we have no control over that. And there are always those people who have been in the top twenty for 87 weeks in a row (curse you, George R. R. Martin!) to keep you humble.

12. For extra credit: what do you wish someone had told you? (Something personal and specific. Not like how wonderful Sisters in Crime is, or how supportive everyone is, or how wonderful librarians and bookstores are. We agree.) What is something you really–learned?

Shoot your inner editor. When you start writing you’re going to churn out a lot of crap, but that’s how you learn. It’s harder than it looks, isn’t it? Give yourself permission to be lousy, and keep trying. You may not see it, but you’re improving, bit by bit. And choose your critiquers carefully. Forget family—they have to live with you, so of course they’ll be kind. But at the same time, a harsh if honest comment can be devastating if you’re just starting out.

12+. For double-duty extra credit: because this is a very important question which may be difficult to answer but may be very helpful to others. Do you think you are a good writer?

That is tough. I think I’m a dependable mid-list writer. I write what I love and I respect my readers: what I tell them is true, at least for me, and I’m very happy when they “get” what I’m trying to say, which they all won’t. But there are writers, living and dead, who I admire greatly and who I can’t imagine surpassing, not matter how hard I try. I am happy writing what I write, and I’m glad other people enjoy my books.

* * *

Sheila Connollscandal-skibbereen-200y writes three series. The latest in the County Cork Mysteries (featuring razing-dead-200Maura Donovan) is SCANDAL IN SKIBBEREEN. The Orchard series features Meg Corey. PICKED TO DEATH is due out in October 2014. The Museum series features Nell Pratt, and takes place in Philadelphia. RAZING THE DEAD will be out in June 2014.


Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 Emmys and dozens of others honors for her ground-breaking journalism. The best-selling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: two Agathas, the Anthony and the Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her newest thriller THE WRONG GIRL (now an Agatha and Left Coast Crime nominee) was dubbed “Another winner!” in a Booklist starred review. Her upcoming novel is TRUTH BE TOLD (Forge, 2014.) She is 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

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Cam’s Garden Tips: Poisonous Plants

Cam Flaherty here. By popular request, we’re talking plants in your garden you definitely Is your garden an interesting mystery (1)do not want to eat. Or, if you’re a mystery writer, the ones you might want to slip into your victim’s tea.

One of my author Edith Maxwell’s favorite reference books is Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother wickedplantssmand Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart.

In it you can find descriptions of common toxic plants from azalea – “Eating any part of the plant can cause heart problems, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme weakness” – to yew: “Eating just a few seeds or a handful of leaves will bring on gastrointestinal symptoms, a dangerous drop in pulse rate, and possible heart failure.” In Edith’s short story “Reduction in Force” a poisonous tea from the garden dispatches the victim. In her story “The Stonecutter” (in Fish Nets, Wildside Press 2013) other poisonous garden plants are slipped into a kale stew.

Another good resource is Book of Poisons: A Guide for Writers by Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon. It includes poisonous plants and fragile fungi, but also lists medical and

Aconite, or monkshood. All parts of the plant are toxic.

Aconite, or monkshood. All parts of the plant are toxic.

industrial poisons and poisons by toxicity. Watch out for the common deadly nightshade, hemlock, jimson weed, lily of the valley, monkshood, oleander, black-eyed susan, rhubarb leaves, and of course, the strychnine tree.

Readers: Have you come across deadly plants in your garden? Or used them in your writing?

Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods mystery series from Kensington Publishing, in which geek-turned-organic farmer Cam Flaherty grows produce even in the winter for members of the Locavore club, but also has to solve more than one case of locally sourced murder.

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Frugality, Simplifying Life & Writing

Don’t believe everything you read. If I practiced the title of this post perfectly, I’m sure I’d still have a lot to learn about all three topics: frugality, simplifying life and writing. But incorporating frugal and simple living into one’s life is a great way to improve your writing career. It’s helped me.

Like many of you, I didn’t grow up knowing that I was going to be an author. Sure, I dreamed of it as a kid–who wouldn’t when blessed with great books like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series and the ever clever Encyclopedia Brown? Not until many years later, however, after a plethora of jobs–everything from scooping poop as a vet’s assistant to being a case manager for the elderly and many others in between–did I ever really consider that I might be able to make a career through writing.

It was while working as an administrative assistant at a proverbial dead end job that the light bulb finally clicked on for me (Hello, illumination–where have you been?). I put the pieces together while reading (of course!) the book, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The book’s basic premise? We exchange our work hours for our life: so what are we working for? A new boat? A flashy car? Or time to write the novel we’ve always dreamed of? Of course, the book is much more in-depth than this, but for the first time I saw that another way of life was possible. And it wouldn’t require me selling everything I owned and moving to New Zealand to pick apples in order to have the type of life I craved.

Fast forward several year and I’m living my dream: writing for a living. It wouldn’t have happened without being frugal, paying off debt, getting my financial act together and being (gulp!) responsible with money. I’m a woman to whom the word budget brings up a mental image of a ball and chain so all this growth wasn’t necessarily fun. Still, it wasn’t entirely painful and most importantly it’s helped me live a dream.

After that first peek into the world of YMoYL, I became a little obsessed. This former mall-aholic started spending less and living more. And as I learned about living more simply it tied in perfectly with being more frugal. Over time both have allowed me more freedom. And that feels good!

If you’re interested in learning more about living a simpler life and more frugally, check out the following sites:

The Simple Dollar

Janet Luhr’s Simplicity School

The Art of Simple

Zen Habits

Frugal Living via

Becoming Minimalist

What do you think? Have you ever taken a foray into simple living or being more frugal in order to reach an important goal? If so, what measures did you take and were the results worth it?

J.P. Choquette writes nonfiction articles for business publications in between crafting her third suspense novel in Vermont. She would love to answer any questions you have on the subjects of living more simply and frugally. Feel free to email her at


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