Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guest Blogger: Margaret Grace, author of the Dollhouse Miniature Series

(A word from Hailey: This is my first guest blogger! A wonderful author, gifted scientist, and good friend, Margaret Grace is the author of the Miniature Murder series from Berkley Prime Crime, including Murder in Miniature and the new Mayhem in Miniature, coming out August 5. Check out these ideas from a master miniaturist!)

Double Strangeness

Here's what a good friend sent me as a birthday present—a pile of junk. She knows me so well!

Crafters are strange people.

I've trained many of my friends and relatives to save their bottle tops, pill containers, small pieces of, well, anything.

In the lower left hand corner of the first photo is a piece of bubbly plastic that covered a layer in a box of chocolates. It will be transformed into a mat for the floor of a dollhouse shower.

The wooden container next to it is an old stamp holder; the plastic cup in back of the dime is the cap of a liquid cold medicine bottle; the white plastic "table" is a pizza order staple, keeping the cover off the cheese. You'll see how I used them in the second photo, for different scales of room boxes or dollhouses.

The small cylinder is one of those ubiquitous moisture absorbers that come with nearly every mail order package. I'll print out food labels from the 'net, shrink to size, and wrap dozens of these cylinders for use in a miniature kitchen or grocery store. The green sheet is actually sandpaper (it comes in all colors these days!) that will be used as a lawn in an outdoor scene.

In the second photo you can see the stamp holder being used as a small coffee table; the plastic cup is a wastebasket; and the pizza keeper is a bistro table, made by removing the plastic legs and gluing on a twisted wire base. I've also added a contact paper top to it. The chair is more wire, twisted to shape; its seat is a bottle cap.

Crafts are like that. They start from "junk," like pieces of yarn or tangled necklaces, and get worked into a coherent piece of art. Hopefully.

For me, writing is like that, too. A mystery novel starts with odd pieces that eventually get shaped into a story. It can be an unusual name that strikes my fancy, an interesting interaction in a coffee shop, a view from a hotel window, or a job that no one thinks much about, like bagging in a supermarket.

Oh, the arm? It's from a broken doll. Or did I pull it off myself while building a miniature crime scene?

Mystery writers can be strange, too.

For more miniature scenes by Margaret Grace, visit

Friday, July 11, 2008

Out with the old, in with the new: A New Series!

Should I change the name of my blog???

I've got a new contract for a new series!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, books 4, 5, and 6 of the Annie Kincaid Art Lover's Mystery Series will not be coming out anytime soon. (This despite the fact that Feint of Art was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Novel, and is being translated into Japanese even as we speak... what can I say? Publishing is a cutthroat business these days.)

Believe me, I'm sad about it...Book 4, Arsenic and Old Paint involves a mystery at an exclusive men's club, tunnels under Chinatown, and a secret collection of paintings...not to mention lots of progress on the Annie/Michael/Frank romantic triangle. It's way too much fun not to publish!

In any case, the Art Lover's Mystery series is on haitus for the near future. We may find another publisher, or Signet may relent and continue the series at a later date. For now, the books are still available and in print, so if you're a fan please remember they make great presents for Mother's Day...and Father's Day and Groundhog Day and Christmas!

About the new series: Secondhand Spirits features a woman, Lily Ivory, who owns a vintage clothing store, Aunt Cora's Closet, in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco...and who just happens to be a witch. And no ordinary witch, at that. For one thing, her familiar is a shape-shifting gargoyle marquerading as a miniature Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig. For another, Lily attracts demons and spirits like flies to honey, even though all she wants is to finally settle down, run her vintage clothing store, and develop normal human friendships...and maybe even find a man. Too bad the most interesting guys around are an arrogant male witch on the one hand, and a dedicated "mythbuster" on the other.

The new series is a bit of a departure from the world of art forgery. But I've had so much fun writing it, I hope even those of you who don't normally venture into the paranormal might give it a try! Beyond the fun San Francisco setting, the beguiling mystery, and the engaging characters, I get to delve into the history of witchcraft, the study of botanicals and herbs, the history of healing...and plenty of fascinating tales of contemporary folks who call themselves as witches. It's a truly captivating world of its own.

Secondhand Spirits will be coming out July 2009, under the pseudonym Juliet Blackwell. I'll be writing more about the pseudonym, and what's in a name, very soon. So please do check back!

My latest portrait

Keeping up with my blog isn't the only thing that takes a while...gee, I'm sensing a pattern here. Could it just be that I'm habitually late? I arrive on time to dinner...

In any case, last summer/fall we ran a portrait contest in conjunction with the release of Brush with Death, the third in the Annie Kincaid Art Lover's Mystery Series. Linda Adams, of Virginia, won and decided she wanted a painting of her grandmother in the style of Monet. In the above picture, peeking out to her left you can see the black and white copy of an old photo portrait of her grandmother, Della (known as Dick). Doesn't she seem like someone you'd like to know?

Don't Blink....

Most of the time I'm a true Oakland type, listening to a funky blend of classic 60s rock, reggae, newer pop folks like Macy Gray and Ozomatli, and even venture into a little hip-hop with M n' M, Kanye West and the Black-Eyed Peas.

But there's one time of the year that only country music will do: when I make my annual trek to the Siskiyou mountains in Northern California, up near the Oregon border. That's when I switch on the local country station and catch up on what's up in country music. One thing I love about country songs is that they tell stories; another thing is that the stations play them so repetitively that I am able to learn the entire current repertoire by the end of the first weekend, enabling me to croon along with them for the rest of the trip.

There's one song I kept hearing that seems particularly appropriate to this time in my life: Don't Blink. The song is about the advice of a 100-year-old man, who tells all that you blink and your childhood's over, then your children's childhood, then your own life...because "100 years goes faster than you think. Don't blink."

Lately I'm trying to keep my eyes wide open, because time does, indeed, seem to be slipping by with alarming speed.

Those of you out there who happen to stumble upon this blog (or wait breathlessly for the next instalment, never sure what will be said or when it will be said...) have probably noticed that --once again! -- I have let a good deal of time lapse between posts.

Why, one might wonder, does a writer have such a danged problem with...ahem...sitting down and writing?

When I was a kid I would start a new journal every New Year, positive that this year was the year when I would begin my deep emotional journey--a journey which I would duly note in scrawled volumes which were destined to be published one day, after I had become the world's greatest surgeon/actress/ veterinarian. Of course, I never actually studied medicine/acting/veterinary science, so the road was decidedly less sure for me than for many others. But I suppose it's just as well, since, after all, I never made it past February in those diaries. Years ago my mother presented me with an entire cardboard box full of old diaries with only the first ten pages written upon. Given the content of those pages, however, it was a blessing for all concerned that I never continued. My early life with a loving family in a ranch-style tract house in the Cupertino suburbs was safe and wonderful for a young child, but not a circumstance that would encourage a rich emotional inner life that needs to be set down for posterity on the pages of a journal.

I do have a rich emotional inner (and outer) life, now, however, which has become the stumbling block. I'm just so danged busy all the time, if not physically, then emotionally. I admire people who seem able to do it all, and get their car washed.

But I keep forgetting not to blink.

I looked at my calender to find some reasons I haven't written:

My 16-year-old son (do you remember being 16? I do. I empathize. Still, I find myself yelling a lot, and under any kind of normal circumstances I'm not a yeller.)

Personal paperwork.

Business paperwork.

Open Studios (big local art event in which we artists throw open our studios so people can wander through and, we hope, buy stuff. It requires a lot of cleaning.)

My dog. (No, I'm not still in deep mourning for my dog. But she was a truly great dog, and a member of the family, and I still hear the "click click click" of her nails on the hard wood floor at five in the morning, expecting in my sleepy state to see her coming into my study to curl up on the rug as I write.)

My 16-year-old son.

Paying bills.

Painting for money (this is connected to the last one--that pesky rent).

Painting for fun (very occasionally)

Being president of NorCal Sisters in Crime (because I didn't have enough to do)

Sick and elderly parents who live two states away.

Checking in with/visiting those parents.

My 16-year-old son (did I mention that he's 16?)

Oh yeah...and landing a new contract for a book series from Signet! (More on this in the next post)

So once again, for those of you who check in from time to time, I apologize! I am pond scum. I'm the scum that feeds off of pond scum. I'm a lazy blogger.

And I keep forgetting not to blink.