Friday, February 26, 2016

When Real People Wander into a Novel...

I don't advise writers to put their friends and relatives in their fiction, and I certainly never set out to do so myself. In fact, I often try to write about the kind of people I don't know very well to try to figure out what makes them tick.

That's what I did with Camilla. I read a newspaper article about a debutante who seemed shallow and unsympathetic, but I knew there had to be more to her than the reporter was letting on, so I wrote a kind of "rebuttal" to his interview and what appeared on the page was Camilla Randall--naive, over-polite, and over-privileged, but a person who always wants to do what's right. I talk about this in my post "Why Camilla Randall?"

Clara Peller
Sometimes I try to write about a character who turns into somebody quite different. This happened with Violet Rushforth, who's a major character in The Best Revenge. I gave her the name of my former landlady in San Luis Obispo, Violet Goforth, who was a tough old bird who raised little yappy dogs. Pekineses, as I remember. She asked me to move out when she wanted to move her boyfriend into the little "granny unit" house where I lived behind her big old Victorian. I hadn't intended to make the character anything like Mrs. Goforth. I just liked the name.

I imagined her looking like Clara Peller, the actress in the famous "Where's the Beef" ad from the 1980s.

But Violet Rushforth took on a life of her own as soon as she walked into the story. It was only after the first couple of scenes that I realized she had become my mother's "Cousin Jean" Birch--actually my grandmother's first cousin. Jean was girlishly charming, garrulous, and fierce as a mother bear. A force of nature.

Jean sent every child in the family a card on our birthdays and Christmas. She never missed. Even when she was well into her eighties. She had lots of crazy ideas, but nobody could argue with her. She'd just talk right over your objections until you realized it was best to just relax and enjoy the ride.

The Hotel del Coronado, where the fictional Violet has her 85th birthday party
Cousin Jean could make friends with anybody. She was obsessed with genealogy and once met a woman on a plane and within minutes had discovered they were distant relatives.  When the woman died, she left Jean a substantial legacy.

Because Jean was living in a Medicaid assisted living facility at the time, she couldn't keep the money. So she gave herself the world's biggest birthday party for her 85th birthday. She rented the posh Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara, and paid to fly in relatives from all over the world. It's the only time I ever got to meet most of the relatives from that part of the family. So Violet Rushforth's unlikely 85th birthday party at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego became the scene of the climax of The Best Revenge. Violet appears to be completely dotty when Camilla meets her, but she's crazy like a fox, and turns out to be smarter than anybody realized.

At the same time, Camilla discovers that she herself is smarter and tougher than anybody realized, and she gets a lot of her confidence-boosting from Violet, whose unwavering optimism keeps Camilla going, even when she's in jail accused of murder.

Cousin Jean died long before I published The Best Revenge, but I'm pretty sure she would have enjoyed it. She might have recognized herself, but she was a good sport and I think she would have liked to know she was the inspiration for such a heroic and lovable character.

Have you ever written a story where a real person walked into your fictional world? Have you read any books where you suspect the characters are based on real people? 

The Best Revenge is available at all the Amazons, Smashwords, Kobo, Google Play, Apple, and NOOK.

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM  is now in paperback! The paper version is available at AmazonAmazon UK , and Barnes and Noble
And in honor of its hard copy debut, the ebook is only 99c until the end of February. The ebook is on sale at all the Amazons
It's also available at KoboNook Smashwords, iTunesInkterraGoogle Play, and Scribd.


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.

Friday, February 19, 2016

So Much for Buckingham Now in Paperback, and the Ebook is on Sale!

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM  is now in paperback! The paper version is available at AmazonAmazon UK , and Barnes and Noble
And in honor of its hard copy debut, the ebook is only 99c for one week! The ebook is on sale at all the Amazons
It's also available at Kobo, Nook Smashwords, iTunesInkterraGoogle Play, and Scribd.


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.

Favorite Characters: Vera Winchester

One of my favorite characters in the Camilla books is Vera Winchester, the office manager at Sherwood, Ltd. She's an important character in both Sherwood Ltd and So Much for Buckingham. 

She's very kind and adores animals. Her excellent business senseand ability to ignore unpleasant detailskeeps the unorthodox company running in spite of the sometimes-criminal antics of the owners.

I imagine her looking a bit like Elizabeth, Hyacinth Bucket's long-suffering neighbor in Keeping up Appearances, played by Josephine Tewson.

Vera usually wears a serviceable navy blue pantsuit and her hair is cut in a "no-nonsense gray bob."

The character was inspired by the real-life office manager at the UK publishing company that published my first two books. The real Vera, whose name was Pat, was actually younger than meand not quite so long-suffering. She had a sharp wit and wasn't as lacking in self-awareness as Vera.

Pat became a close friend when I lived in England. She often invited me to her lovely house for Sunday dinner and let me take baths in her luxurious tub. My digs only had a dribbly shower in an unheated bathroom shared with five or six men. (I did say my experiences there were an adventure.)

Pat and I always exchanged long letters at Christmastime. I loved getting the news from Gainsborough and hearing about the dramas as the company fizzled after the mysterious disappearance of the co-owner. Pat was sure that the real life "Peter Sherwood" had staged his death in order to evade creditors and she thought he might be somewhere in France.

But two Christmases ago, no card arrived, and I had a bad feeling. I Googled her name in the local Gainsborough paper and was devastated when I found her obituary. All I could find out was that she had died "after a short illness."  It was a real blow to me. I had always planned to go back and visit her someday. She and her family had been so welcoming and there was something timelessly English about their home and way of life. Pat was an avid gardener and voracious reader. She took the "pervy books" side of the publishing company in stride and glossed over it most of the time, although she could make some hilarious jokes about them.

But in a way my friend lives on in Vera Winchester. Vera is as fiercely loyal to Peter Sherwood as Pat was to her real life bosses.

I brought Vera back in So Much for Buckingham. She is the one who finally helps Plantagenet when he is stuck in the "custody suite" in the Swynsby Constabulary jail accused of murdering a historical reenactor. In the awful, windowless cell, poor Plant has been hallucinating visitations by the ghost of Richard III and has only a tenuous hold on his sanity.

Here's what happens when Vera finally appears in So Much for Buckingham:

"A uniformed officer appeared.
"You have a guest, Mr. Smith," he said. "A lady."
Good god. He hoped it wasn't Queen Elizabeth I or any other dead royal personage.
"Am I in the right place?" A high pitched voice came from the corridor outside. "Is this where you have Mr. Plantagenet Smith? You must let him go. He's a famous Hollywood film writer. From America."
A sweet-faced woman in her fifties fluttered into the room. She wore a flowered dress and a large, swooping sort of hat over a no-nonsense gray bob.
"Mr. Plantagenet Smith?" she said. "I'm Vera Winchester. Office manager at Sherwood publishing." She extended a hand. "I'm afraid I was on my way to my son's wedding rehearsal dinner, which is why the hat…" She patted her dramatic head gear. "He's getting married tomorrow. Our Callum. To his girl Bryony. Nice young woman, if a bit flighty. Her brother's not right in the head, unfortunately, but luckily it's not hereditary. She's in the family way, but of course they all are these days, aren't they? Cart before the horse. It's all been rush-rush-rush since we found out. They've had to throw together the wedding and tonight's rehearsal dinner is in the back room at our local. We had no time to do anything posh."
Plant clutched Vera's hand, not wanting to let go. He shook it again, hoping against hope that she was real.
"I can't tell you how glad I am to see you," he said. "So Camilla somehow got in touch with you? Is she all right?"
"I haven't the foggiest," Vera said. "I haven't heard a peep from Camilla, and we've been that worried about her because of all those nasty reviews. But I suppose she doesn't have my home email address."
Maybe Camilla hadn't been overreacting to those reviews. Vera looked genuinely stricken.
She went on. "It's Henry Weems who sent me here. He's my boss at Sherwood Ltd. He's sent the money for bail, but apparently they don't need it yet. They're supposed to release you to my custody, he tells me. Although if you really were a murderer and wanted to escape, I can't imagine how I'd stop you, but…do you think I might have my hand back now?"
Plant realized he'd been hanging onto the poor woman's hand.
"You mean I can leave?" He needed to compose himself. "I'm free on bail?"
"No bail set, because you haven't been charged. You're still a person of interest. But you're free to roam the confines of Swynsby-on-Trent," she said. "Which means you may come to Callum's rehearsal dinner…I do hope you like roast beef. We're serving a roast, with Yorkshire pud, of course. Fresh peas and carrots from our community garden. And a nice cream cake for afters."
"That sounds like the food of the gods to me, Mrs. Winchester." Plant felt himself salivate. He didn't know exactly how long he'd been in here living on mystery meat sandwiches, but he knew that any real food would be a taste of heaven right now.
A different officer arrived and escorted them down the hall to the reception area where Plant had first come in—how many days ago? It could have been years.
Vera kept up her chatter as they walked.
"Bryony is watching her figure, and didn't want us to order a cream cake, but it's Callum's favorite. Bryony doesn't want her baby bump to show in her gown tomorrow, but of course it will. It's not as if everybody doesn't know already. The truth has a way of getting out, doesn't it?"
"The truth?" Plant stared at his unlikely rescuer as the custody sergeant sorted through some papers. 
"Oh, I certainly hope the truth will come out, Mrs. Winchester. I deeply hope so." He turned to the sergeant. "When do I get my things? l have to change out of this, um, uniform or whatever it is."
"Not until the case is closed," the sergeant said.
"I'm supposed to walk out of here naked?"
"Oh, I forgot," Vera said. "I must run out to the car. They told me to bring you something to wear. So I brought you one of my George's old suits, since we're going directly to the rehearsal dinner. But you're quite a bit trimmer than George. I've also brought a shirt and shoes and some smalls. I do hope they fit."
Vera ran outside as Plant signed many pieces of paper and the sergeant informed him in a stiff voice that he must not leave the area, and must check into the station daily while the case was still pending or he would not receive his passport.
"And what is the Sywnsby address where you'll be staying?" he asked. "We can only allow you to go if you have a local address."
Plant tried to remember where Brenda said Vera lived. "Rope…Rope Road," he stammered.
Luckily Vera reappeared, carrying a garment bag.
"1187 Ropery Road," she said. "Mr. Smith will be in my custody. Me and my husband, George Winchester. I think you know George from down the pub, don't you Sergeant?"
The sergeant gave a small smile. 

This is excerpted from So Much for Buckingham, which is #5 in the Camilla Randall Mysteries, but can be read as a stand-alone.

Do you have favorite minor characters in books? Do you wonder if they're inspired by the author's real friends? Who are some of your favorite minor characters? If you want to know more about using real people in your fiction, check out my piece at Artist Unleashed this week.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What's Your Favorite Word?

Do you have a favorite word? I'd never thought about it until I got these interview questions from Alex South.

I think my favorite word right now is one my ex-husband made up: "Ensnotified". It's what a really rotten cold does to you. I've been fighting ensnotification for over a week now. Snuffle. Snort.

But here's another interview from the archives. This one is from when I visited British horror author Alex South's blog, Seven Stories High in February of 2013

Alex: What got you into writing?

Anne: I can't remember when I didn't write. I used to make up stories to go with the pictures in my coloring books and write words underneath them. Must be in my genes. My parents were both academics who spent lots of time writing. And my mom is a mystery writer, too.

Alex: How do you go about creating a character?

Anne: I'm not sure I'd say I "create" characters. I set up a situation and watch them as they respond to it. They usually seem to come to me fully formed. In my comic thriller, FOOD OF LOVE, I needed a hairdresser for what I thought would be a minor scene. In walked this amazing, six-foot, bald, lesbian Iraq war veteran and she took over the story.

Alex: Writing can be tough. What do you do to stay motivated?

Anne: I started writing seriously later in life, and it was something I always wanted to do. So I was pretty motivated, and that hasn't let up. I don't want to die before I write the stories stacked up in my head.

Alex: When do you get your best ideas?

Anne: When I'm walking. Any time I don't know what happens next, I take a walk down by the bay and the idea comes to me. I'm lucky to live by the beach in California, where walking can be very solitary and inspiring.

Alex: What is your biggest fear/worry when you write?

Anne: It's funny. I've been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, but when I’m writing is one of the times when I have the least anxiety. If I have one fear it’s that I won't reach the readers who will enjoy my work the most.

Alex: What would you like to be better at?

Anne: Driving. I hate to drive. Other drivers terrify me. I don't trust them at all.

Alex: What is your favourite word & why?

Anne: I've never thought about having a favorite. I love them all. Total wordophile. The first one that springs to mind is "luxuriate". Isn’t that a lovely word?

Alex: Outside of writing, what are your other interests?

Anne: I was in the theater—acting and directing for 25 years. And I appeared in some films. I still love acting, but I live in the country now, and I hate the long night driving to get to rehearsals. I also love music, especially roots and world music. I'm lucky to find that closer to home.

Alex: Who is your favourite author and why?

Anne: This is always a tough one for me, because I have so many. I adore Marian Keyes, who I think is one of the most underrated authors around. She gets dismissed as a "chick lit" author, but I think she's the Jane Austen of our era. She's a brilliant observer of human behavior. I'm also a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut. I think I've read everything he ever wrote. Love his dark humor and brilliant, cryptic prose.

Alex: Give us a sentence or passage from your book that you’re especially proud of and explain why.

Anne: Here are a few that reviewers have mentioned they liked:


"Punch had the kind of pansexual magnetism that comes from good bone structure and an unquestioning sense of one’s own self-worth."

THE GATSBY GAME is available in ebook at all the Amazons, and Barnes and Noble for NOOK. It's also available at Scribd. It's also available in paper on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble


"Amaretto isn't chocolate, but if close your eyes and think of chocolate-

covered cherries, it can be quite satisfying. Especially by the tumblerful"

"Hollywood celebrity isn’t the celebrity of power. It’s the celebrity of the victim—the virgin about to be tossed into the volcano; the garlanded lamb being led to the altar of a blood-hungry, primitive god."

FOOD OF LOVE is available in ebook on all the AmazonsSmashwordsKoboiTunesScribdBarnes and Noble & Page Foundry (Inktera).  Also available in audiobook at Audible and iTunes

Thanks, Alex! 

What about you, readers? Do you have a favorite word? 

Alex South writes zombie thrillers. His first in the series, SWARM is FREE on Amazon

"Full to the brim with great characters, and heart-stopping action. I cannot recommend it enough!" Ian Douglas – Author of The Infinity Trap.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What Was Your First "Grown-Up" Book? Anne R. Allen talks with Carmen Amato

I've given many interviews in the past five years, and they're over the 'Net. I'm sure most of my readers haven't seen them. So I'm going to be posting some here on the new blog. This one is from November 14, 2013. 

Carmen Amato
My interviewer is international mystery author Carmen Amato, who writes the Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco. Check them out! She asked some great questions. 

Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Anne R. Allen:
I remember when I was in fifth grade I picked up a new book my dad left on the coffee table. (He was a professor of Classics at Yale.)

It was a thin volume and had pictures and lots of white space, so it looked like books I was used to. I sat down and read it cover to cover. One of the most exciting stories I'd ever read. When my dad saw I'd read it, he freaked. "That's not for children!" he said. "Did it upset you?" I said it didn't but I thought the hero was pretty much of a creep.

The book was a new translation of Euripides' Medea. Kids aren't as shocked by bad behavior in adults as we think they will be.

CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

ARA: That's hard because I have so many favorites. But maybe I'd rather find something I haven't read: some of those long, dense ones I've never had time to read, like Spenser's Faerie Queen, Don DeLillo's Underworld, or War and Peace.

CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

ARA: Maybe the New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons. The best kind of book to keep on the coffee table to keep guests occupied while you're hostessing. And most people find cats funny. I don't know exactly why that is, but nothing gets my Facebook page active like a Grumpy Cat picture

CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

ARA: Dorothy Parker, and the conversation could be about anything she wants. LOL. I'd just sit back and take notes. I'd probably serve martinis.

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

ARA: Probably one of the most inspiring books, quotes & concepts ever is Pay it Forward. The book is so much more inspiring than the movie and I am blessed to call the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, a close friend. She has inspired me—and the entire world—in so many ways.

CA: Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

ARA: I'm a novelist, blogger and actress who believes that laughter is the best medicine. The biggest compliment I ever got was from an old Borscht Belt comic who came backstage after seeing me in Auntie Mame and said, "I didn't see you act funny once in that whole performance" (pause) "you don't act funny—you THINK funny—the secret to great comedy." I feel so blessed to be able to write funny books and have people buy them!

What was your first "grown-up" book? What about desert island books? 

And in case you're planning a shipwreck, here are three hilarious ebooks to take to your desert island or wherever you want, and they are only 99c for all three. This sale is at Amazon only and ends on February 14th.


Ghostwriters in the Sky, Sherwood, Ltd. and The Best Revenge in one convenient box set. for only 99c for ALL THREE (until February 14th, 2016)

Downwardly mobile former socialite Camilla Randall (aka The Manners Doctor) is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the case in her loopy, but oh-so-polite way.

The Camilla Randall Mysteries Box set is 99c (or the equivalent) for one week at all the Amazons,

Also available at KoboiTunesSmashwordsGoogle PlayInkteraNOOK, and Scribd

Ghostwriters In The Sky: When a young writer is found dead in her gay best friend's bed at a writer's conference in California wine country, Camilla must enlist the help of a cross-dressing dominatrix to clear Plant's name. Unfortunately, she suspects the hot LA cop who has stolen her heart may be the murderer.

In Sherwood Ltd. a homeless Camilla lands in Robin Hood country, where some not-so-merry men may be trying to kill her, and of course Camilla once again ends up in the most improbable, but always believable, circumstances.

The Best Revenge
is a prequel to the series, and takes us back to Camilla Randall's teen years, when she first meets Plantagenet Smith—and is accused of murder herself!