Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Aaron Elkins Lifetime Achievement Award Interview at Malice Domestic

I had the honor of being asked to fill in to conduct an interview with Aaron Elkins, who was being given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th anniversary Malice Domestic. I wrote a little bit about the interview in my Malice Domestic recap blog post earlier this month. 

Since then, several people who weren't in attendance have asked for more details about what we talked about in the interview. Here are some of the fun things I learned about one of my favorite authors:

Learning a Literary Idol is a Real Guy – and a Great One
Aaron Elkins is one of the nicest guys imaginable. Even though we'd never previously met, because he enjoyed my debut novel and he knew how much I loved his books, he thought of me to fill in for Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), who was scheduled to conduct the interview but was sick with pneumonia. We met for the first time for coffee the day before the interview, and after my initial star-struck-fan moment, we hit it off as much as we'd hoped.

Travels with Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters
Because Barbara Mertz couldn't be there, it seemed fitting to kick things off with a couple stories about her. The two of them have been friends for decades. In the '90s, Aaron and his wife Charlotte took a Nile Cruise with Barbara. Barbara's most well-known mystery series is the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mystery series, so the trip location was fitting – and straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Aaron recounted how several of the other passengers seemed to have stepped straight out of a classic detective novel – so much so that he didn't think anyone would believe it if he'd put it in a book!

Writing What You Know
Aaron Elkins' first Gideon Oliver mystery novel, Fellowship of Fear, was the first novel he wrote. It's about a physical anthropologist who gets an assignment teaching at military bases in Europe. Which happened to be just what Aaron was doing at the time. He had some really ingenious plot points that involved deductions Gideon made about skeletal remains. It turns out Aaron never thought those forensic anthropology deductions would be the hook for a continued series. But because he's such a smart guy and made the subject so fascinating, that's what all the readers and reviewers responded to. Thus the Gideon Oliver "skeleton detective" mystery series was born. (And he confirmed he never fudges the forensic details in the books.)

People Confusing Writers With Their Characters
Aaron mentioned how readers often imagine Gideon Oliver to look like him. Well, Aaron is guilty of the same thing – when we first met, the first thing he said to me was "But you're so tall!" He was confusing me with my character Jaya Jones, who's five feet tall. As for me, I'm six feet tall in heels.

The Gideon Oliver TV Show
In the late '80s, ABC made a series of Gideon Oliver mystery movies. I remember watching them at the time, and thinking how funny it was that they were so different from the books. Gideon Oliver was played by Lou Gossett, Jr. as a Columbia University cultural anthropology professor who solves cases with his daughter – not the childless, White, West Coast physical anthropology professor of Aaron Elkins' books. Aaron was paid a consulting fee, but wasn’t asked to consult on the accuracy of the episodes. And with much of the media attention he received after the TV show came out, interviewers assumed the books were just like the show. I've tried to find the series on Netflix to watch it again, but sadly it's not there!

Writing With a Spouse
Aaron has written several novels with his wife Charlotte. How are they still happily married? It turns out they don't actually write "together" in the same room at the same time, but pass things back and forth. That sounds like a much more sensible arrangement.

Fan Gifts
Notice the skeleton tie he's wearing in the photos above? He has several skeleton ties, all of them gifts from fans.

Thank you to event photographer Greg Puhl for the wonderful photographs!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Eating in London and Lisbon for Vegans & Vegetarians (& Anyone Who Wants Great Tasting Healthy Food)

Cancer sucks, but taking good care of yourself doesn't have to. If I had to give up delicious food to eat right, I wouldn't do it. Because I need to avoid hormones in my food, at home it's easy to buy organic food and cook from scratch to make the tasty meals I want to eat. Traveling is trickier. The easiest way to eat right while traveling is to seek out vegan food. Here are the great places I found on my recent trip to London and Lisbon.

Vegan London

Le Pain Quotidien: A worldwide chain of organic cafes that's springing up in more and more locations. I loved eating here when in Paris and Los Angeles last year, so I was happy to find several locations around London. This is one of those restaurants where there's so much good food on the menu that I never know what to order. They serve the usual cafe foods -- salads, soups, sandwiches, quiches, pastries -- but done brilliantly. They serve fish and meat, and the numerous vegan options are noted with a V on the menu.

Dessert at Le Pain Quotidien:
Coconut milk pudding with chia & raspberry.

Vitao: Vegan food in Soho. They've got a mostly organic buffet for lunch, a more formal dinner, and green juices all day. It's a small space, so if you're at all claustrophobic, avoid peak meal times. So delicious we braved the crowds twice.

Vitao: vegan food in Soho, London.

Drummond Street: A whole street full of vegetarian Indian restaurants, all serving the traditional thali meals with a range of dishes served on a steel tray with several small steel bowls. The street is just south of Camden, not far from the British Library.

With my Le Pain Quotidien latte
in front of the British Library.

Leon: I found this cafe chain because of their tag line "Naturally Fast Food," and ate their organic porridge for breakfast almost every day I was in London. (Yes, porridge is way tastier than it sounds!)

Holland and Barrett: A health food chain with stores throughout the UK. Good for when you want a  picnic lunch instead of restaurant food.

Vegetarian Lisbon

It was easier than I thought it would be to eat vegan in Portugal! And not just in Lisbon. My first recommendation below is a little vegan restaurant in Sintra, which is a popular day trip from Lisbon because of its castles and palaces.

Soul Food: Organic vegan food in a beautiful garden at the foot of Moorish castle ruins in Sintra, just outside of Lisbon. They make veggie juices, too, but the selection depends on the vegetables they happen to have on hand that day. The food was so good that after a full lunch and juices, we lingered for a long time over home-made herbal tea and vegan chocolate cake for dessert. (What? We were hungry after hiking through castle ruins all morning.)

The Green Room: A trendy cafe with lots of great vegan options, like a black bean burger with mango and a root vegetable salad. It's in the Cais do Sodre district, just south of the central part of Lisbon, and unlike most restaurants in Lisbon, it's open all day from noon until after midnight. Most restaurants in Portugal close after lunch and don't open again until 7:30 or 8 p.m. for dinner.

Terra: Beautiful vegetarian buffet with a wide range of Portuguese foods on a winding little road in central Lisbon. (Note of warning: If you use the Happy Cow app to find this place, don't pay attention to where it's placed on the map; it's about a block away from where it's listed.)

Os Tibetanos: Vegetarian curries with vegan options noted on the menu. It's just north of the central part of Lisbon, near the Avenida metro stop where many business hotels are located. It looks small on the outside, but inside has a secret indoor garden that's absolutely beautiful. The food is good, the atmosphere great.

Natural Food Markets: Brio and Celeiro Dieta organic supermarkets are both in central Lisbon. Lots of good options for picnic lunches, and Lisbon has great public squares for picnicing.

Thank you, Happy Cow, as always, for turning me on to many of these restaurants! Not all of the restaurants above are on Happy Cow, but it's a fantastic starting point for any trip.

I posted my Paris and Prague vegetarian recommendations here in November, 2012.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Last Minute Trip to London and Lisbon

I had the opportunity to tag along on a trip to England and Portugal, so I jumped at the chance. I'm home now, jet-lagged but with lots of ideas for new mysteries to write...

Here are my top 10 highlights from the trip. I'll also be posting more photos of gargoyles and castles over at Gargoyle Girl.

1. The British Library's Murder in the Library exhibit in London. 

The A to Z of crime fiction kicked things off with Agatha Christie, and included Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen, locked room impossible crime mysteries, train mysteries, the Golden Age of detective fiction, xenophobia in early mysteries, mysteries for kids, and more.

2. Ghosts and Gargoyles in Cambridge. On a day trip to Cambridge, I ran into lots of gargoyles and heard stories about Cambridge traditions including the "night climber" tradition that's been going on for centuries. Under the cover of darkness, students risk expulsion to scale the towers of university buildings and leave behind items such as a Santa hat on a spire and even a car on the rooftop.

3. After arriving in Portugal, I spent my birthday exploring the ruins of a Moorish castle outside of Lisbon! 

4. Birthday dinner at The Green Room Cafe in Lisbon

5. Great coffee. Below, a "bica" (espresso) break at Cafe A Brasileira in Lisbon, a 100-year-old cafe where writers and artists congregated in the 1920s and '30s.

6. Great food and great company. I frequented Lisbon vegetarian restaurants including Os Tibetanos and Terra, where I met up with friends who were in Lisbon at the same time, and ate at the hidden Soul Food restaurant in Sintra at the foot of the Moorish castle. (I found so many great options for vegetarians that I'm going to do a full post about them later this week.)

7. Castle Sao Jorge. High on a hill in the Alfama district of Lisbon, peacocks and cats run wild on the castle grounds. So. Many. Hills...

8. Legend of the ravens on Lisbon's coat of arms. According to legend, two ravens guarded the grave of St. Vincent and continued their vigil as his body was transported to its final resting place in Lisbon. The legend gave me the gem of an idea to begin writing a new short story.

9. Architectural details of Lisbon. Below, the remains of the Convento do Carmo, destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

10. Lastly, all the little random things I didn't plan on. I took trolleys through the hilly streets of Lisbon, found friendly people in beautiful settings, and had picnics in centuries-old squares. Not too bad for a trip without much planning to a country I'd never been to before.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Malice Domestic 25: Interview of a Lifetime, Friends Winning Agatha Awards, and More Fun!

I didn't think the Malice Domestic mystery convention could get any better, but it keeps on surprising me. Here are some photos and highlights from this year:

Me and Aaron Elkins after his Lifetime Achievement Award interview.
One of the things I was most looking forward to at this year's Malice was getting to meet one of my two favorite mystery authors, Aaron Elkins. Even more exciting was the fact that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), my other favorite mystery author, was scheduled to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award Interview.

It turned out Barbara Mertz came down with pneumonia and wasn't able to make it (don't worry, she's doing better now!), so Aaron asked me to fill in for her. As you can imagine, the thoughts running through my brain amounted to the extremely eloquent OMG OMG OMG!

He knew that I was a huge fan of his books, especially the fantastic Gideon Oliver "Skeleton Detective" series, so he correctly assumed that I'd have lots to talk about in the interview. We'd never previously met, but he'd read and enjoyed my debut mystery novel and gave it a blurb—which, until the day of the interview, was the biggest thing that made me feel like I'd made it as a mystery author regardless of what else happened with my books.

The interview was so much fun! The hour flew by, and I was glad to hear audience members tell me they had as much fun as I did.

*UPDATE: Several people who didn't attend the interview have asked me for details about what we talked about, so I wrote up some interview highlights here (including fun facts about Aaron and great photos from event photographer Greg Puhl). 

After the interview, there was more fun to be had. I headed over to my Treasure Hunt panel.

Dorothy St. James, moderator Becky Hutchison,
Penny Warner, me, and Susan C. Shea.

Later that night, Penny Warner was awarded the Agatha Award for best Children's/Young Adult mystery for The Code Busters Club, Case #2: The Haunted Lighthouse! Coincidence that she'd appeared on our treasure hunt panel hours before? I think not ;)

Penny Warner with her husband Tom and the Agatha Award teapot.

Susan Boyer won the Agatha for Best First Novel for her wonderful debut, Lowcountry Boil.
The Henery Press crew celebrating with Susan: Christina Freeburn, Diane Vallere,
me, Susan, Kendel Lynn, LynDee Walker, and Larissa Reinhart.

Me and Susan—with her super-cool teapot award.

Additional highlights:

The Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter lunch.
Lucy Burdette, Shari Randal, Kathy Krevat; me and Edith Maxwell.

Running into writer friends at every turn.
Top row: Barb Goffman and Leslie Budewitz; me and Daniel Stashower;
Bottom row: Maddy Hunter and me; Kendel Lynn, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Diane Vallere.

Kaye George, Tracy Kiely, Larissa Reinhart, Diane Vallere.

Even on west coast time, the early morning breakfasts were worth getting up for.
Top: SinC President Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Bottom: Diane Vallere, one of my fellow debut authors featured at the New Author Breakfast.

I'm looking forward to Malice 26 next year!