Just a quick note to let you know my new novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is now available in all formats: paperback, ebook, and even audiobook. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was terribly disappointed when the physical book was out of stock for a while but it’s now available. Whew!
Dark Petals was inspired by the evocative yet sinister books by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol grew up in Provence and created stories based on his childhood experiences for both literature and film.
One of the more famous of these is the book Jean de Florette, about a city lawyer who inherits his family’s country farm and decides to be a simple, gentleman farmer. But the small-minded prejudiced town blocks his progress at every turn until things come to a dramatic head. It’s a study in dark group mentality and revenge against the strength of familial love and personal dreams.
The Idea Behind the Book
I was inspired by how people behave when a newcomer arrives to disrupt things. And so, I created April Pearce, a modern-day American photographer who visits Provence to take photographs for a travel magazine. April’s in her late 30s and struggling to secure a permanent place at this company to prove to herself she’s not a career failure. But it seems all of the most fascinating shots she finds lead to trouble.
In the book, I tried to bring the hot weather, rough terrain, and alluring culture of Provence to life. I also tried to draw interesting characters whose secret pasts raise questions for the reader. April’s character reaches into my own past feelings as an outsider. And of course the story pivots on one particular plant. How else would I write a novel? haha.
Anyway, if you want more information, check out the jacket description here. And by the way, I do realize the paperback cover is not as beautifully saturated with color as the ebook cover, not sure why nor is my publisher. Regardless, you can also read tidbits on my Instagram feed or read the first chapter here.
And if you’d like to buy it, click here.
In the meantime, have a great day!
Just a short note to let you know the cover for my next novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is finished and ready to go! It was created by designer Jessica Dionne who again expertly combined danger and beauty for a delicious atmosphere.
A Story Set in Provence
The book tells the story of April Pearce, an American photographer assigned to cover the countryside in Provence. On her first night, she sees a teenager running through a lavender field covered in blood. But when she investigates, the local town turns aggressive and threatening, making her job more and more difficult until the climax when April has nothing to lose and reveals the dark secret the village has kept hidden for years.
The Earliest Idea
I’ve always loved Marcel Pagnol’s books Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. They focus on a city family shunned by local country folks and their subsequent revenge. You may remember the movies, which starred Gerard Depardieu. They expertly captured the book’s tension and danger. Plus, you feel like you’re in the hot landscape of Provence. I love them. I thought it would be cool to write an updated version of that dynamic, of an outsider accidentally stumbling upon a local community’s nefarious nature and in effect blowing it all apart.
A Character Near to my Heart
I started with the image of a wounded teen boy running through a field as a photographer accidentally snapped photos of him from a distance. Almost like a Rear Window situation. Then a key character took on the personality traits of my daughter who’s the friendliest, most compassionate, cognitively delayed young person you’ll ever meet. And the plot unfolded from there.
An Alluring Setting
The book also grew out of my love of stories set in Provence. A few years back, I spent a bunch of time reading mysteries by Serena Kent and M.L. Longworth and others. They’re some of my favorite books in which to escape. So now, I offer my own mystery that combines my love of France, my wish to dream of Provence, and my urge to spin a compelling story. Plus, of course a unique plant! I hope you enjoy it. You can pre-order it through Amazon now.
One of my nightly rituals is reading in bed before I fall asleep. It’s my favorite time to read. The house is quiet, the work’s done for the day, the daily chores are taken care of. But too often, I find myself reading dark novels, I mean really dark novels, that stress me out and make me worry. This hasn’t been good for my psyche. If I try to sleep while feeling anxious or sad, I toss and turn. My mind races. Those dark novels are better read during the day on the weekends. Instead, I’ve learned to be careful in what I choose to put inside my imagination at night. Luckily, I discovered a Spencer Quinn mystery is exactly what I need to drift off into a happy, relaxing slumber.
A Dog Detective and his Human Pal
Spencer Quinn is the pen name for Peter Abrahams, a prolific author of both serious thrillers and humorous detective stories. He’s an easy-going guy and his Chet and Bernie series reflects that. The books aren’t exactly cozies, more like funny detective stories. They focus on a high-strung black Shepherd mix named Chet and his owner Bernie Little. Chet narrates the books from his doggie perspective, providing a lively commentary on the two’s adventures in solving crimes. The cute thing about Chet is that he’s always in a good mood. He calls himself “a real pro” and when he’s feeling great, which is almost always, he says he feels, “tip-top.” His memory isn’t that good because of course he’s a dog and he can only count to two. But what Chet lacks in human traits he makes up for in his observant smarts and keen sense of smell. He’s always on the lookout for bad guys and always ready to help someone in need.
There are 12 books in the series and the latest (non-Christmas) story is Tender is the Bite. It’s an adventure that kicks off when a young woman tells Bernie she needs his help but then disappears. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say the story includes some dirty politicians, Ukranian financial schemes, and a ferret named Griffie, who of course Chet’s suspicious of. It takes place in the Phoenix area and there’s lots of dangerous desert ambiance.
Why I Love This Book
Whenever I read a Spencer Quinn mystery, I find myself smiling the entire time. I love Chet’s goofy voice, his inability to remember that he’s barking, and his doggie talent of sniffing out everything of significance. It’s almost as if the book’s narrated by a child, which I guess it kind of is. According to canine researchers, dogs have toddler-level intelligence and Quinn captures this innocent awareness well. And if you have a dog, you’ll love all the little references to catching treats, not liking cats, and wanting to mark one’s territory.
I also have a personal affection for these books because I had a black Belgian Shepherd mix who was nearly a dead ringer for Chet. I know how energetic and whip-smart they are. But I love these books for more than just Chet’s naturally likable personality. Bernie is his own person and we witness the ups and downs and romances in his life. Quinn also knows how to create an interesting secondary cast, even with brief descriptions and snappy dialogue. It all makes for a compelling read that engages my mind but reassures me later as I turn out the light that everything, in the end, will be okay.
Hi everyone, I’m excited to tell you my new novel, Harvesting the Sky, will be published in fall, 2021! This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons.
The First Novel That Melded my Plant Passion With Fiction
Some of you know that I resisted focusing on plants in my fiction for years. I saw plants as soothing and beautiful, which they are, and so I struggled to find the darkness. Then I reworked the novel that was my MFA thesis with a botanist at the center of the story. Everything clicked. The story brimmed with stronger danger, atmosphere, and intrigue. Plus, it had this alluring premise related to a special plant. Instead of feeling sheepish about the book, I felt proud. I shopped it to agents in 2016 but couldn’t find a home for it. But now, post The Forgetting Flower, and thanks to my publisher, Woodhall Press, I can properly share it with the reading world.
A Very Special Apple Tree
Harvesting the Sky is about Renia’s professor friend, Andre Damazy, who appeared in The Forgetting Flower. In this book, he finds a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan and brings branches (also called scions) back to Paris so he can propagate the tree. It’s a personal mission for him as his mother had a stroke and he hopes to help not only her but many others who suffer from illness. But a stranger constantly harasses Andre and vandalizes his greenhouse. He can’t figure out why. Not only does he have to battle this mysterious person but other dark forces as well until the tension and anger and intrigue all culminate one warm fateful night.
Renia Plays a Key Role
One unexpected surprise I learned about The Forgetting Flower was readers really liked Renia. They rooted for her and wanted her to succeed. Well, I’m happy to let you know she’ll return in this book. At first, I struggled with how to fold her into the story but then suddenly found a logical way that felt perfect and obvious. You may remember Renia had a secret crush on Andre in TFF. Now in this story, that relationship grows through his perspective as well.
Set in a Secret Greenhouse
Though the book is a stand-alone read, it’s set in the same world as The Forgetting Flower. The story picks up about ten months after TFF ends. While outlining the plot, I realized Andre would be propagating special, coveted trees and therefore needed a hidden greenhouse in Paris. After some research, I found a real-life work yard with a greenhouse. It’s out of view from the public and available only to parks department employees. This real-life place provided the inspiration for the area called “L’Enclos” where most of the mystery and action takes place.
More Updates Coming
My publisher and I have completed some preliminary work on the novel so I’ll have more to share in terms of release date, cover, and other details soon. You can sign up for monthly updates if you’d like here. And in the meantime, you can read my three-part series of posts about Harvesting the Sky, which cover how I got the idea for the novel and created its characters and plot. It includes an excerpt from the first chapter at the third post’s end.
Apple photo by Janos Patrik
Death in Avignon is another delightful mystery from British author Serena Kent (a.k.a. Deborah Lawrenson and husband Robert Rees). It’s an even tighter follow up to the fun Death in Provence. This time the murder takes place in the larger city of Avignon rather than Penny’s small village of St. Merlot, making for a rich puzzle of clues and evidence against the backdrop of the art world.
British divorcée Penelope Kite has been renovating her house and brushing up on her cello playing. When the handsome mayor, Laurent Millais, invites her to the opening of an exhibition by four famed Provençal artists, she happily accepts. Romantic tension between the two builds while Penny tries to tease out whether the mayor’s intentions are romantic. But that matters little when suddenly the most outlandish artist at the opening collapses. It looks like poisoning, maybe a heart attack, maybe an allergic reaction, and of course, Penelope slips into finding more out about the case.
Affairs and Liaisons
Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say Penelope starts to visit with those who knew the artist and uncovers clues as to what happened. The plot is believable and draws you in, making you suspect almost everyone and wonder at each little encounter and event. The story ambles along in a rapid but comfortable rhythm, the characters are crisply drawn and interesting. We see the return of her extroverted friend Frankie as well as the new mysterious character Gilles de Bourdan. But in addition to the beautiful sun, lavender fields, ancient villages, and French people, the true star of the show here is Kent’s wit.
It manifests again and again in Penny’s thoughts and conversational asides. So believably human, she’s a middle-aged woman struggling to look as chic and slim as the French women around her. She’s a mom whose adult step-kids can sometimes be annoying and a talented musician who knows her limits when it comes to practicing and performing. Penny moves through the world with sharp, self-deprecating prose. We get her observations about the absurd, about how envious she can be, how awkward she can be, all while we readers learn how elegant and relaxed and forgiving she truly is.
If you’re looking for a light fun mystery to read this summer, check out Death in Avignon. There’s nothing too disturbing, too upsetting, or too intense. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s an intriguing yet breezy novel that will put a smile on your face before you fall asleep at night.
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