Friday, January 29, 2016

Can Mr. Wrong Become Mr. Right? Choose your Favorite of Camilla's Unsuitable Suitors

The Camilla Mysteries feature perennially down-and-out former socialite Camilla Randall. I love writing about Camilla because she's so different from me. She’s an ultra-polite New York fashionista who’s a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong. (More about the real-life debutante who inspired her in my post "Why Camilla Randall?")

Me, I'm an old hippie who tends to use more four-letter words than I should. I live in a blue-collar small town on the coast of California. I'm partial to Crocs, sweatshirts, and stretchy jeans. My life is peacefully boring.

Camilla and I have one thing in common, though: we both make bad choices when it comes to romance. I won't say that the men in my life haven't taken me on excellent adventures, but I discovered some time ago that I'm happier living solo.

Camilla, on the other hand, is still looking for love in all the wrong places.

In the prequel to the series, The Best Revenge, we see Camilla as a teenaged New York debutante. While she's being interviewed in a trendy restaurant by the condescending reporter Jonathan Kahn, she sees her current boyfriend—a "Eurotrash" prince—with another woman, supermodel Regina (a cameo by the heroine of my comic thriller Food of Love.)

Camilla quickly gets over Prince Aldo, and proceeds to fall in love with the arrogant, but oh-so-sexy Jonathan Kahn.

But in Ghostwriters in the Sky, she's in the middle of a messy divorce from Jonathan and meets the charming L.A.P.D. captain, Maverick Jesus Zukowski, and they seem to be headed toward a happy ending.

But by the beginning of Sherwood, Ltd, Camilla's long-distance romance with Captain Zukowski has fizzled and Camilla falls for Peter Sherwood, the enigmatic, Robin-Hood-like figure who runs her UK publishing company. But she has to deal with the small problem that he may be trying to kill her.

In No Place Like Home, Camilla meets her most unlikely suitor, Mr. X, a.k.a. Ronzo (Ronson V. Zolek.) He's charming and brave, but he's a New Jersey boy and she's now living in California. 

Jonathan might look like '80s Jeff Goldblum
In So Much for Buckingham, Camilla reunites with two of her former suitors. (I'm not telling which ones: spoilers.)

I haven't decided who she will end up with in book #6, which has the working title The Queen of Staves. Maybe she'll have a whole new love interest.

Readers, if you have a favorite among Camilla's suitors, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Vote for the one you'd like to see more of! 

Jonathan KahnThis is how Camilla describes Jonathan at their first meeting:  "He had a profile special-ordered from Mount Olympus, a tanned, muscular body, and quantities of unruly black hair that a stylist would die to tame."
Or maybe Jon Hamm? 

Jonathan was a dedicated newspaper reporter, but he fell from grace when his success as a Geraldo-Rivera-style TV muckraker went to his head. And, um, other parts. He got caught up in a hooker scandal, and established a serious relationship with Jack Daniels. His relationship with Marva, aka Mistress Nightshade almost got a lot of people killed.Last heard from, he was drinking his way through the dive bars of Southeast Asia. 

But what if he got sober? Could he and Camilla finally reconcile? He says he still loves her.

Jimmy Smits could play Rick
Captain Maverick Jesus "Rick" Zukowski—Rick is a tall, Mexican-Polish L.A. policeman. He also writes novels (not very good ones.) He has overcome a difficult childhood and a street-gang past. He never quite recovered from the death of his wife and has some anger management issues. 

On the other hand, he's honorable and kind, with a great sense of humor, a "scrumptious smile" and "warm brown eyes." Camilla says "He had a brotherly/boy next door manner that made me feel safe."

Rick and Camilla couldn't keep up a bi-coastal relationship, and eventually he leaves her for "a sweet vice detective named Lola". 

But what if it never worked out with Lola? Could Rick and Camilla click again, now that she lives in California, too?

Peter might look like Peter O'Toole
Peter Sherwood—Peter is a charming Englishman with a murky past and a less-than-reliable moral compass. He's wiry and "good-looking, in an unkempt, What-Not-To-Wear sort of way: Oxford don meets Pirate of the Caribbean." 

It's rumored he won his publishing company in a poker game. Some people think he has an aristocratic background, but it's more likely he grew up poor in the English Midlands. 

The staff at Sherwood, Ltd. are loyal to him, but they're also aware of his faults. He has a habit of disappearing for months—or years—at a time. 

But he saves Camilla's life more than once, and protects her when everything around her is chaos. Did he really die when his yacht went down off Jamaica? 

Ronzo's a Jersey Boy like Jon Bon Jovi

Ronson V. Zolek a.k.a. Ronzo—Ronzo's Croatian immigrant parents died when he was young. He was raised in a Newark slum by his grandmother. He's a jack of all trades and full of contradictions. 

He's a music blogger for Rolling Stone who also works as a detective for a law firm. He has a Tony Soprano accent, but his manners are impeccable. He's an easy-going rock and roll guy and also an Iraq War veteran. 

He seems to have a lot of compassion for the homeless and loves small animals...or does he? He's famous for his butt tattoo of a Stratocaster guitar. Camilla finds him irresistible, and thinks he looks like Jon Bon Jovi. But is he a good guy or a bad guy? 

People tell Plant he looks like Leslie Howard
Plantagenet Smith—Through all the stories, Camilla's one constant is her best friend, the bisexual playwright, Plant Smith. Early in their friendship, they have a romantic relationship, but it doesn't last long. 

Plant was an orphan raised in poverty, but he earned a scholarship to Princeton and re-invented himself as a blue-blood by changing his name from John Smith and befriending Camilla's wealthy debutante set. He becomes an Oscar-winning screenwriter, but he seems to be as unlucky in love as Camilla, until he meets California businessman Silas Ryder. They marry, in a big wedding planned by Camilla, but the relationship is rocky.

In So Much for Buckingham, Plant finally gets his own voice and tells the story himself in chapters that alternate with Camilla's narration. He also gets accused of murder when he discovers the body of a young historical reenactor playing the Duke of Buckingham in the Old Hall at "Swynsby-on-Trent".

So readers, which one of Camilla's unsuitable suitors do you like best? Do you want to see any of them reappear? What kind of man do you think Camilla could find happiness with? 

News: I'm currently recording the audiobook of So Much for Buckingham with narrator C.S. Perryess reading Plantagenet Smith's chapters.

THE BEST REVENGE: The prequel (Camilla Mystery #3)

When Camilla Randall, a 1980s New York debutante, is assaulted by her mother’s fiancĂ©, smeared in the newspapers by a sexy muckraking journalist, then loses all her money in the Savings and Loan Scandal, she seeks refuge with her gay best friend in California. But her friend has developed heterosexual tendencies and an inconvenient girlfriend, so Camilla has to move in with wild-partying friends. When a TV star ends up dead after one of their parties, Camilla is arrested for his murder. She must turn to a friendly sanitation worker, a dotty octogenarian neighbor and the muckraking journalist who ridiculed her--who also happens to be her boss. 

The Best Revenge is 99c until February 1st at all the Amazons. It's also available at SmashwordsKoboGoogle Play AppleNOOK, and  Page Foundry (Inktera)

"…while laugh-out-loud funny, [The Best Revenge] carries a message about how we view ourselves and how others' views of us may conflict, yet make us grow."...composer Richard Alan Corson

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bag Lady Fears: How I Faced Mine by Writing "No Place Like Home"

No Place Like Home
is #4 in the Camilla Randall Mystery series, but it actually started out as a stand-alone novel, without Camilla's comic presence. 

I started writing the story before my big success with the first three Camilla comedies. The Martha Stewart-like Doria Windsor was the protagonist. She materialized in my consciousness as a result of what some people call "Bag Lady Fear Syndrome."

According to MSN financial columnist Jay McDonald, "Bag lady syndrome is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute."

The Washington Times reported, "90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure…and almost half are troubled by a 'tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady'."

Bag-lady syndrome can be paralyzing, according to Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology.

She says "Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet."

"It cuts across women of all social groups; it's not like wealthy women don't have it," says Mellan. "Heiresses, women who have inherited wealth, have bag-lady nightmares because they really feel like the money came to them magically and can leave them just as magically."
I imagined Hobo Joe's campsite looking like this.

When you quit your day job to write full time—especially if you're single—those fears can escalate to nightmares, anxiety attacks and debilitating self-doubt.

For me, they hit a crescendo when my first publisher went out of business and I had to go back to square one, writing query letters to agents and editors again like a newbie. 

My magazine writing gigs had dried up, too: either the journals had gone under or were no longer paying. I'd been out of the workforce for years and the world was in the middle of a recession. My savings were dwindling fast. I feared I'd made all the wrong financial choices and I'd soon be living out of my car...or worse. 

I modeled Camilla's bookstore on Coalesce in Morro Bay
I started having a recurring nightmare about living in a rusted, wheel-less truck in some kind of dump full of rats. My skin was crawling with insects. Sometimes parts of my body would fall off. I'd wake up screaming.

One morning I woke from one of those horrific dreams to an interview on NPR's Morning Edition. (Yes, I have Public Radio on my clock radio: I guess that qualifies me as a super-nerd.)  They were talking to a successful Manhattan magazine editor who had lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff

Look: it can happen to anybody, I told myself—even people with a ton of savings who have done everything right.

I got up and read my local morning paper, which was full of letters to the editor complaining about how homeless camps and panhandling were ruining our town's idyllic image as "the happiest town in America."

I realized that magazine editor I'd heard on NPR could be one of those scruffy people standing outside the San Luis Obispo Mission with a cardboard sign. She could be one of those despised people living in the "filthy" camps. 
The intrepid homeless crew find the bad guys here at Big Sur

So I took a day off querying and jotted down an outline of a story about a magazine editor who lost everything and ended up in a homeless camp in San Luis Obispo. She was not only conned by a Bernie Madoff type, but married to him, so in addition to losing everything, she was accused of being complicit in his crimes. (Writers can be so mean.)

But it was cathartic. Picturing somebody like Martha Stewart living in a tent and cooking over a Sterno stove, worrying about where to go for showers and basic bodily functions—not knowing which homeless people she could trust—helped me to walk myself through my own "bag lady" fears.

Thinking the "unthinkable" sometimes helps us to cope with our anxieties. If we can visualize ourselves in a terrifying situation that has a positive outcome, it can help us overcome the terror.

As the Anxiety Doc says "When it comes to treating anxiety, panic attacks and phobias, creative visualization techniques have proven very therapeutic for sufferers. In order for the visualization to be completely effective, the person must involve all their senses in the process. They need to see themselves performing the behavior, hear the sounds associated with it and feel any tactile sensations. In some cases, even the senses of taste and smell will be involved."

Hobo Joe and the Boll Weevils played here at the Red Barn
And of course, that's exactly what a writer does. So when I visualized Doria Windsor in that homeless camp, I pictured her surviving each of my own fears: the lack of hygiene, the stink, the cold, hunger, loss of dignity, etc.

And if she could do it, so could I.

To give the homeless people in the camp personalities and backstories, I talked to the homeless people who panhandle in front of some of my favorite stores in Morro Bay. One woman was remarkably plucky and full of humor.  She became the model for my character of Lucky.

I decided not to make my homeless characters objects of pity, but strong-minded survivors who help solve the mystery of a homeless man's murder. In a way, they're the real heroes of my story. Hobo Joe is a musician who puts together a band of homeless musicians called the Boll Weevils. They play at the Red Barn in Los Osos.

Not long after I started the book, I got an offer from the editor of an independent press to publish my backlist. Then another offered to look at the new stuff.  Between September 2011 and December 2012, I published seven books. Two of the Camilla mysteries made the bestseller lists, and my editor wanted another Camilla book ASAP.

I was still working on the Doria story, but I realized that Camilla is usually on the brink of homelessness herself and she and Doria might even be friends I had left Camilla at the end of Sherwood Ltd working in a bookstore, not the most lucrative of businesses in the age of ebooks.

So I wove Camilla into the story and added a mysterious murder and of course, some romance for my always unlucky-in-love sleuth. I gave Doria a boyfriend too.

Turning the story into a romantic comedy-mystery lightened it up considerably and helped turn a lot of my fears into laughs.

Things are looking up. I think making my characters face the "unthinkable" helped me to think it through for myself. I hope it helps my readers, too.

What about you? Do you have fears of becoming homeless? Do you know any people who do? Do you think women are more likely to have the fear than men? Do you deal with your fears by writing about them? 

I've written on this subject for More magazine and a shorter version of this piece appears in the SLO Nightwriters anthology

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Journey to Lincolnshire: Time Traveling in the English Midlands

by Anne R. Allen

The second Camilla novel, SHERWOOD LTD, is something of love-letter to England'East Midlands and the county of Lincolnshire—one of the least touristy spots in the British Isles, but one rich in history and folklore.

It's a place I discovered by happy accident several years ago, when my novel FOOD OF LOVE was accepted by a UK publishing company that had recently moved from the bustling industrial city of Leeds to the little market town of Gainsborough, on the banks of the River Trent, which marks the border between Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

As I wrote last week, my new publishers turned out to be an eccentric band of publishing outlaws who published mostly hard-core erotica—the opposite of my comic mysteries about Camilla, the Manners Doctor. But the company was eager to branch into mainstream fiction and the managing partners invited me to fly over to promote my book and share free digs in a vast 19th century factory complex they’d just bought. 

Fittingly, the factory had last been used as a ladies underwear factory and was called "The Shadowline Building." (I call it "The Maidenette Building" in my novel.)  Most of my California friends thought I was deeply bonkers, but I've never turned down a chance to travel, so I found a tenant for my little beach house, bought a plane ticket for England and jumped into the adventure.
Yes, there's a real Sherwood Forest.

I'd lived in England many years ago—working in London for eight months after college—but Lincolnshire is the opposite of the big, modern, multi-ethnic capital to the South. It’s the "green and pleasant land" of the storybooks I read in my youth—"the Shire" of Middle Earth. I immediately fell in love with the lush, pastoral landscape, the friendly people, and the history-steeped, time-travel atmosphere. 

There I was, in the land of Robin Hood—the home of "Lincoln Green."

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest
 I even loved the food. Make all the jokes you want about English cuisine, but they make some of the best cheeses in the world, and in a town full of old-fashioned bakeries, small artisanal butcher shops and a twice-weekly farmer’s market, I ate very well. (Probably too well. Lincolnshire is not the best spot to be watching your weight. Especially when you add the wonderful micro-brewery ale.)

Gainsborough itself has a long and romantic history. It’s the town George Eliot called "St Oggs" when she wrote The Mill on the Floss—and the river that flowed by the warehouse windows was "the Floss" of her iconic novel.

Gainsborough was already ancient by the time George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans sought refuge there. In fact, it was well established by the time a Viking King named Sweyn Forkbeard, having defeated the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready, made it the capital of England in the ninth century.
Sweyn Forkbeard

That lasted about five weeks until he had a fatal fall from his horse and was succeeded by his son King Canute, of stopping-the-tide fame. (Which he also did in Gainsborough, pretending to stop the Trent’s great tidal bore, the Aegir.)   

In my novel, I call the town Swynsby-on-Trent, in honor of Mr. Forkbeard (literally “Sweyn’s home, since "by" was a Viking place-name suffix meaning “home.”)

I ended up living in Gainsborough on and off from 2002-2005, and in the end the publishing company went under rather tragically, with the mysterious disappearance of one of the owners (his body was never found—which of course I had to use in my novel.) But it was a fine adventure while it lasted, and I’ll always cherish the friendships I made there. 
One of the best preserved medieval manor houses in England
I'm not the only person to have fallen in love with Gainsborough in the 'oughties. According to the Guardian, Gainsborough real estate became some of the most expensive in England in 2007. Writing in August of 2008, Tom Dyckhoff said:

"Gainsborough marked the high water mark of house price madness before - cue thunderclap - the Crunch! Oh, happy days! Oh, halcyon days! Last year, Gainsborough's house prices leaped by a frankly barking 156%, the highest in the country. Inexplicable. I mean, it's a perfectly respectable place, with that appealing tinge of not-quite-in the-modern-world common to Lincolnshire. But come on, it's Lincolnshire, miles from anywhere."

And that's its appeal, exactly. It's the town that time forgot. It's in the middle of nowhere. A green and pleasant nowhere. Surrounded by fields of daffodils and forests carpeted in bluebells.

It's the England of storybooks. I was dying to set a novel in Gainsborough, but in order not to hurt any feelings (or incur any lawsuits) I decided to fictionalize the town and set an entirely made-up mystery there, featuring my always-polite amateur sleuth, Camilla.

I wasn’t able to incorporate all my favorite Lincolnshire haunts, however, or the story would have turned into a travelogue. (In fact, my editor made me eliminate several of my more tour-guidey digressions.)

Downtown Gainsborough on market day.
I did include a glimpse of the open market in the central square, where traveling peddlers still display everything from fresh produce to meat pies and ribbons and pots and pans, just as they did in Robin Hood’s day—only a few blocks from the very modern Tesco supermarket.

I also have several scenes set in one of Gainsborough’s picturesque pubs, many of which began as coaching inns in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Where Plantagenet meets the ghost of  Richard III
Unfortunately, I had to eliminate a scene set in Gainsborough’s greatest landmark—the "Old Hall"—one of England’s best-preserved medieval manor houses. The beautiful building, built on the ruins of Sweyn Forkbeard’s castle, was a place visited by the likes of Richard III and Henry VIII (who met his last wife, Katherine Parr, there.) It also sheltered the Separatist "Pilgrim Fathers" as they made their escape to the Netherlands and then to the New World on the Mayflower

So when I revisited Lincolnshire in Camilla mystery #5 SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM, I took Camilla's best friend Plantagenet to "Swynsby-on-Trent" where he meets what appears to be the ghost of Richard III in the tower of the Old Hall. When Plant is accused of the murder of a mysterious historical re-enactor, unfortunately, Richard III seems to be the only witness.

Someday I'd like to take all my characters to the historic city of Lincoln—only fifteen miles from Gainsborough—which houses one of Europe’s greatest Gothic cathedrals, as well as an 11th century castle that is the home of one of the original copies of the Magna Carta.
Lincoln Cathedral, build in 1072

Lincoln Cathedral, built in 1072, rivals Chartres in its soaring Gothic magnificence. It is actually taller than Chartres, and was the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300–1549.) The cathedral was used as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey in the 2005 film of The DaVinci Code.

Across the square from the cathedral is Lincoln Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and one of the country’s best-preserved castles. William built his castle on the ruins of the fortress originally built by the Roman armies who occupied Britain from 43 AD through the fourth century.

Many houses in the old part of Lincoln are built on top of the old Roman forum. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit a woman whose townhouse had the base of a huge marble column in the basement. Walking up the stairs was like walking through time, from the ancient forum to the medieval kitchen, to an 18th century dining room to a Victorian parlor and up to a modern couple of bedrooms that looked out on the whole city.

That house screamed to be used in a novel, but I haven't worked it into one of my plots yet. 

Lincoln Castle, built in 1068
I have health problems that make travel tough for me these days, but I've always fantasized going back to Lincolnshire. 

So far, I have only been able to do it in fiction. 

But someday I'd love to get back for a little more of their delectable poacher cheese, plum bread and Lincolnshire’s famous sausages.

And if you'd like to do some armchair traveling, pick up a copy of Sherwood, Ltd or So Much for Buckingham. 

What about you, readers? Have you ever visited the English Midlands? Have you seen Lincoln Cathedral or Sherwood Forest? What is your favorite part of the UK for time-traveling? Or do you prefer to do your travel via armchair? 

SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her. When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky. Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Sherwood, only $2.99 or the equivalent in ebook from all the AmazonsiTunesGooglePlayScribdInkteraKoboNook, and Smashwords. It's also available in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Sample Reviews:

"A wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills" David Keith on Smashwords

"Smartly written and nearly impossible to put down, I found myself counting the hours until I could leave work and get back to reading! Well done!" T.L. Ingham on Smashwords

"An intriguing and fast paced novel that demands you read on to the next page and beyond. The characters are well constructed and believable and I enjoyed the difference between the USA and UK people. The plight of our heroine is complex and well -managed and in the beginning I was striving for her to find some genuine help and support. The flip over to the UK added more spice! Highly recommended."—David L. Atkinson, author of The 51st State

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: Camilla mystery #5

This comic novel—which takes its title from the most famous Shakespearean quote that Shakespeare
never wrote—explores how easy it is to perpetrate a character assassination whether by a great playwright or a gang of online trolls.

It's a laugh-out-loud mashup of romantic comedy, crime fiction, and satire: Dorothy Parker meets Dorothy L. Sayers. Perennially down-and-out socialite Camilla Randall--a.k.a. "The Manners Doctor"--is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Usually she has more than a little help from her gay best friend, Plantagenet Smith. In this hilarious episode she makes the mistake of responding to an online review of one of her etiquette guides and sets off a chain of disasters that lands poor Plant in the Swynsby nick, and nearly gets her murdered.  

Sample reviews:

"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, "Canada's Queen of Comedy."

"Both a comedic romance and a crime suspense thriller, it presents the 'Perils of Pauline' adventures of a modern author, Camilla, whose mad-cap follies are hugely entertaining. But the novel has a serious undertone of social comment. Even the craziest of its zanies have their counterparts in the real world and the author faithfully depicts their grim, and often deadly, sub-cultures behind a veneer of knockabout wit. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys romance, and crime suspense, with a lethally satiric edge." Dr. John Yeoman.

"Anne Allen's ability to weave throughout her stories a current social commentary easily and throughout the story amazes me. She does this without jeopardizing her plot or her characters' development."...
blogger Sherrey Meyer

So Much for Buckingham is about $3.99 at all the Amazons,
KoboSmashwords, iTunesInkterraGoogle Play, and Scribd.
(And it's about to come out in paper very soon. I'm proofing galleys now.)

Friday, January 8, 2016

In Which I Meet the Ghost of George Eliot…and a Mystery Series is Born

I'm planning to write a weekly Friday post detailing the background stories of my novels and the real-life people and incidents that inspired them. Today I talk about the origins of the Camilla Randall series. 

When I moved to the Central Coast of California to follow my dream of becoming a mystery writer, I had no idea of the realities of the business. If I'd known, I might have chosen a less stressful profession—like cat-herding, or maybe staging an all-Ayatollah drag revue in downtown Tehran.

As an actress with years of experience of cattle-drive auditions, green-room catfights and vitriolic reviewers, I thought I'd built up enough soul-calluses to go the distance. But after nearly a decade of rejection, I was ready to give up.

I had three novels represented by a New York agency—the fourth agent who had not managed to sell my books. And by then, my savings had evaporated, my boyfriend had ridden his Harley into the sunset, and I was contemplating a move to one of the less fashionable neighborhoods of the rust belt.

Even acceptances turned into rejections: journals that accepted my stories always seemed to fold. When one editor sent the bad news, he mentioned he had a new job with a UK book publisher—and BTW, did I have any novels?

With very little hope of anything coming of it, I sent him the novel my agent deemed had deemed "too over the top," Food of Love: A Comedy about Friendship, Chocolate, and a Small Nuclear Bomb. But within weeks, I got a phone call from England! I was offered an advance and a contract by my new editor—a former BBC comedy writer. It even included an invitation to go "over the pond" to do some promotion.

I found a tenant for my Los Osos beach house and flew to Lincolnshire, where my new publishers lived and worked in an early 19th century building on the banks of the Trent—the river George Eliot fictionalized as "the Floss."

George Eliot. I would live a few hundred yards from the house where she wrote The Mill on the Floss. An English major’s fantasy come true.

At the age of… well, I’m not telling…I was about to have the adventure of my life.

I knew the company published erotica but was branching into mainstream. They’d published a distinguished poet, and a famous Chicago newspaper columnist was in residence, about to launch his new novel.

But when I arrived, I found the Chicagoan had mysteriously disappeared in a fit of pique, the erotica was hardcore, and the old factory was more of William Blake’s Dark Satanic variety than Eliot’s bucolic flour mill.

I tried to be enthusiastic when I was greeted by a group of friendly, but unwashed young men who presented me with warm beer, cold meat pies and galleys to proof.

I held it together until I saw my new digs: a grimy futon and an old metal desk, hidden behind stacks of book pallets in an unheated warehouse, about a half a block from the nearest loo. My only modern convenience was a radio abandoned by a long-ago factory girl.

I admit to feelings of despair.

Then from the radio, Big Ben chimed six o’clock.

Six PM, GMT.

Greenwich Mean Time. The words hit me with all the sonorous power of Big Ben itself. I had arrived at the mean, the middle, the center that still holds—no matter what rough beasts might slouch through the cultural deserts of the former empire. This was where my language, my instrument, was born.

I clutched my galleys to my heart. I might still be nobody in the land of my birth—but I’d landed on the home planet: England. And there, I was a published novelist.

Just like George Eliot.

And somewhere in that chilly room, I felt a presence. Somehow the spirit of Mary Ann Evans—Miss George Eliot, was there, telling me to hang on. I knew then that I was a writer, and no matter what stood in my way, I should always follow my dream.

Three years later, I returned to California, older, fatter (the English may not have the best food, but their beer is another story) and a lot wiser. That Chicagoan's fit of pique turned out to have been more than justified. The company was swamped in debt. Shortly before my second book was to launch, the managing partner withdrew his capital, sailed away and mysteriously disappeared off his yacht—his body never found. The company sputtered and died.

I freelanced for a few years, started a blog that took off beyond my wildest dreams and finally found new publishers. I relaunched the two UK books, Food of Love and The Best Revenge, and began working on a humorous mystery series based on the main characters in The Best Revenge: Camilla Randall, downwardly mobile socialite with impeccable manners, and her best friend, gay playwright Plantagenet Smith. I figured they could be a sort of Nick and Nora Charles for the 21st Century.

The first book in the series was Ghostwriters in the Sky, set on the Central Coast. I actually started writing that one in England. I guess I was feeling homesick living in that Lincolnshire warehouse. 

The second, Sherwood, Ltd. was inspired by my English adventures and put Camilla in that seedy warehouse where I had lived and that missing company director became the notorious Peter Sherwood.   

As my career finally took off, I couldn't help thinking the spirit of George Eliot had been watching over me.

Sherwood Ltd, in which Camilla builds a "Wendy House" from pallets of porn, just as I did, and deals with a band of rough, but well-meaning publishing outlaws (and a diabolical murderer), is available in ebook and paper from Kotu Beach Press. 

The other two books in the series are No Place Like Home and So Much for Buckingham.  Buckingham revisits Lincolnshire and takes Plantagenet to Camilla's old haunts on the banks of the River Trent...where he's accused of murdering a notorious Internet troll.  

I'm now working on #6, which has the working title, The Queen of Staves. 

Sherwood, Ltd. is available in ebook from all the AmazonsiTunesGooglePlay ScribdInkteraKoboNook, and Smashwords. And in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Sample Reviews:

"A wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills" David Keith on Smashwords

"Smartly written and nearly impossible to put down, I found myself counting the hours until I could leave work and get back to reading! Well done!" T.L. Ingham on Smashwords

"It's an hilarious lampoon of crime fiction, publishing and the British in general. Anne Allen gets our Brit idioms and absurdities dead to rights. The story reminds me of the louche satirist Tom Sharpe, who did for middle England what Hogarth did for 18thc London. Its digs at the heroic vanities of micro-publishing and author narcissism are spot on...Its droll phrases often had me giggling (not a pretty sight): "Those breasts need their own postcode." And the plot twists, as its cauliflower-brained heroine Camilla lurches from one crisis to another, are delicious. Whether you enjoy crime suspense, comedy or satire - or all of them together - you'll have enormous fun with this cleverly structured romp. Highly recommended! John Yeoman, director of the Writer's Village

If you're interested in seeing more pictures of Gainsborough and the places that influenced the writing of Sherwood, Ltd, check out my Sherwood, Ltd. Pinterest page.

If anybody has any questions about my adventures in Lincolnshire or a similar adventure to share, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why Camilla Randall?

Happy 2016 and welcome to my new blog!

This is a blog for readers of my books who may not be all that interested in the nuts-and-bolts of writing that I talk about on my big blog at

This blog focuses on the Camilla books, but my other novels (which sometimes include cameos by Camilla characters) will also get some attention. You can read about all my books on my books page.

People often ask me why I write about Camillaa character who is so wildly different from me.

Camilla is a formerly-wealthy fashionista with a taste for Chanel bags, high-end designer clothes and expensive, very silly shoes (which she often finds make convenient weapons.)

Me, I'm a child of academia who is more likely to carry a backpack and slouch around in baggy jeans and Crocs.

Camilla is excruciatingly polite and always gives people the benefit of the doubtsometimes many doubts. Me, I tend to use more four-letter words than I should, and I'm skeptical of everything.

Camilla is sort of a Bertie Wooster for the 21st century. She's a comic heroine we can love dearly, even as she stumbles into trouble once again. She couldn't get by without her best friend Plantagenet Smith, a gay screenwriter who isn't exactly Jeeves, but is generally the voice of reason as she careens off into another adventure.

I'm not sure that I chose to write about Camilla as much as she chose me. I first wrote about her in a short story I scribbled in the early 1980s, based on an interview I read in the New York Times with a debutante named Cornelia Guest. Guest has been called the first "celebutante" and was so thoroughly snarked in that article that I felt compelled to write the other side of the story.

I figured nobody could be as brain-dead and self-absorbed as that reporter portrayed Ms. Guest. (And she has proved to be a savvy businesswoman, author and fundraiser. Her book "the Debutante's Guide to Life" was published by Ballantine about 5 years after that interview )

Camilla isn't Cornelia, and I don't want to suggest my character is like herafter all, Camilla lost all her money by the time she was nineteen—but that interview inspired me to write about the debutante who became Camilla Randall, reluctant sleuth.

Camilla doesn't so much explore mysteries as stumble into them, get things wrong, and then solve them in her own quirky, and oh-so-polite way.

The number one book in the series is not the one I wrote first. That was The Best Revenge, which is now the prequel to the series. The Best Revenge was written as a comic coming of age novel, not a mystery, so although there is a mysterious death and Camilla is accused of the crime, The Best Revenge isn't a classic whodunnit.

The book introduces us to a nineteen-year-old Camilla and her best friend Plantagenet Smith, an aspiring playwright. It opens with the scene inspired by that interview with Cornelia Guest.

Like the interview, The Best Revenge is set in the early 1980s, and when Ghostwriters in the Skynow #1 in the seriespicks up on the characters in the second decade of the 21st century, Camilla is in her mid thirties and Plant in his forties.

Yes, that means I've done a little wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff there. I figure there's precedent. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple didn't age very much over forty-something years and Kinsey Millhone only ages about one year for every five in real time.

When I decided to write a mystery series about six years ago, Camilla and Plantagenet seemed to be the perfect Nick and Nora Charles for the 21st century. They are a straight woman and a gay man who stand by each other through the upheavals of bad relationships and unfortunate romantic choices we seem prone to in our era. And like all the protagonists of the mystery genre, they find the people around them have a habit of turning up dead.

You can buy The Best Revenge right now for only 99c at all theAmazons, Smashwords, Google Play Kobo, Apple, and NOOK. It's also available at Page Foundry 

Sample Reviews:

"…while laugh-out-loud funny, [The Best Revenge] carries a message about how we view ourselves and how others' views of us may conflict, yet make us grow."...composer Richard Alan Corson

"Once I started THE BEST REVENGE, I found I couldn't put it down. An engaging Hollywood caper set during the 1980's pits a fashionable New York debutante against a hard nosed reporter who's had a bad day. I don't even know what to classify this book as -- thriller, romance, comedy, drama, whodunit, who's going to do it -- it has everything! 
I cannot wait to read the rest of Allen's work. And definitely put this on your summer beach reading list. You won't be disappointed. "...Regency Romance author Anne Gallagher

Buy this book if you love mystery, adventure, humor, spicy romance, female protagonists, sexually ambiguous confidantes, snippy rivals, reality-immune mothers, Feds who actually know what they're doing, reporters who don't, or the wisest garbage collector since "Dilbert". This is the first book I bought purely because I liked the author's blog post. Her writing gave me complete confidence that I would be in good hands, even way out of my normal genre. And it's probably the best story I've bought this year. My highest recommendation!...