Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: New mystery book

Author prepares culinary journey through time in debut novel

2
Guest writer

In her debut work, Melodie Winawer created an historical novel, mystery and love story that transports readers—and her protagonist, neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato, to fourteenth century Tuscany.  The recipient of a Publishers Weekly starred review, Winawer explains here the variety of early Italian food (and painstaking research) that went into her novel.

Three years into writing The Scribe of Siena, I started to get really hungry.  I’d been spending a lot of time with The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy,  and many of the dishes described there had found their way into the book. I wrote about the food but I hadn’t tasted it, and certainly hadn’t tried to cook it either.  Something essential was missing.

Food is a bridge to understanding the past. It goes straight to the visceral—literally.  To make that sensory connection come alive for myself and for the story, I needed to live it, not just write about it.  Beatrice, my protagonist, contemplates a similar choice when she is forced to choose between medieval and modern life. Read about it or live it? For me, there was an obvious route to living the past: making dinner.

I planned the menu for a month. I sourced ingredients at specialty food stores and online outlets that ship overseas, so not precisely an authentic medieval experience. The spice trade in the 14th century doesn’t compare to Amazon Prime.

I had to test drive a few techniques including making almond milk, an essential medieval Italian ingredient.   Fresh almond milk has no relationship to the carton-packaged liquid at health food stores, and it took me six pounds of raw almonds and two days.

First the almonds had to be blanched in a huge pot of boiling water. (Imagine doing that with only a fireplace and a pot hanging over it).  I dropped a load of nuts in, splashing and scalding myself in the process. Then—uh oh—remove all the almonds rapidly after three minutes. SERIOUSLY? Accomplished, but barely.  Then the next step: “When cool enough to handle, remove skins from almonds.”

Ever tried to make almond milk? People did in medieval Siena. So did the author.

This translated into pinching hundreds of almonds between my fingers until the nuts slipped out of their skins. At first it was awkward; many shot suddenly across the room. Then the rhythm set in.

The steam wafted from the cooling nuts, the sun slanted through the kitchen windows, and I started to feel the long stretch of centuries I’d dropped into.  Hours later I had to soak the nuts, then grind them. (Imagine this without a blender.)  Then I had a milky slurry of  almonds and water to push through a strainer. 

At this point I realized my strainer was seriously inadequate, and I ordered a same-day delivery, heavy duty version on line—a luxury I didn’t share with my medieval predecessors.  But they would probably have started with a better strainer. Continue Reading →

Author creates a good fracking mystery; here’s how she dug up the story

1

By Sherry Knowlton

Topical issues that affect real people are a perfect foundation upon which to construct a suspense novel. And you can’t get much more topical than fracking mixed with government and corporate corruption.  The research I did into fracking uncovered environmental nightmares and much more. That’s why I chose it as the backdrop for my new Alexa Williams novel, Dead of Spring. 

I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist, so I’ve followed the evolution of fracking quite closely, both here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  In my day job, I interact a lot with Pennsylvania state government. That’s given me a front row seat to the contentious debate about whether the Commonwealth should tax fracking companies.  I’ve been concerned that the negative impact of fracking on people and the environment has been overshadowed by the drive for energy independence and economic growth.  That’s what I wanted to explore in Dead of Spring – in a suspense story context.

But what exactly is fracking?  It’s the commonly used term for a natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing.  This process is unique in that the gas wells are drilled, first vertically, and then at a 90-degree angle that can extend as much as a mile both down into the earth and parallel to the surface.  The process has opened up huge swaths of geologic formations known as shale to gas drilling.  In Pennsylvania, the region that is being fracked is known as the Marcellus Shale. 

Fracking has its pros and cons.  It has opened up new reserves of natural gas, lowering energy costs and helping reduce the US reliance on foreign oil. And advocates argue that natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and other fossil fuels.  But the drilling process uses a slurry of toxic chemicals, releases methane into the air and can degrade water supplies. The injection of the fracking waste back into the ground has caused earthquakes.  Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquake activity is well-publicized. Maryland and New York have banned new fracking activity.  But, other states have welcomed fracking’s economic boost. Needless to say, fracking is a controversial issue. 

One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. Although I did considerable additional research, that visit was most enlightening.  Continue Reading →

Need to disappear? Here’s how

1
By Lori L. Robinett
Second of two parts

Last time, we talked about how difficult it is to disappear like the character in Fatal  Obsession has to do. As I mentioned, you need cash to survive, you’d have to think about your obligations like pets and your job, and social media adds a whole new level of difficulty to escaping notice in today’s world.  Consider all the other sacrifices you would have to make to truly disappear. Could you do it?  But the better question is, how?

Home – If you can afford it, make a couple of months’ payments in advance to give yourself a cushion. Your landlord/banker will be mad and might try to collect when you do become delinquent, but you’ll be gone by that time. Have your mail held at the post office for as long as possible, so an overflowing mailbox doesn’t tip folks off that you aren’t there. Cancel your newspaper. Think about your neighbors, too.  Tell them you’re moving or going on an extended vacation. This is a prime opportunity for redirection. If your plan is to run to the western United States, tell them you’re going to Florida. Leave clues at your home too, maybe a map or notes about airline tickets. If you have time before you leave, order a bunch of tourist brochures from various locations.

ID – Before you run, gather every piece of identification you own, from your passport to old drivers’ licenses and your library card. There are two schools of thought on this. Some say you should destroy it all. Others say you should take it all with you. Personally, I say take it all with you. Gather it all up in a freezer bag and place it in an inside pocket of your go-bag. If you decide to return to your life at some point, you’ll be glad you have that stuff.

Pictures – Destroy every picture you have of yourself. Every. Single. Picture. The first thing authorities (or whoever is hunting you) are going to do after you are reported missing, will be to look for a current photo of you. Make that as difficult as possible. This has an added bonus. If someone calls the authorities and reports you missing, but they find your home intact, Continue Reading →

%d bloggers like this: