All Write

Buried in a Good Book

I’m often asked what I like to read and my answer is always M&M’s– Mysteries and Memoirs.

So, I was delighted to be asked to write a profile about Edgar Award-nominated Tamara Berry. (Spoiler alert: SHE WON!)

Here’s the story I wrote for The Spokesman-Review.


PS: I loved “Buried in a Good Book” and have already received an advance copy of the third book in series “Murder Off the Books.” Can’t wait to read it!

Tamara Berry always wanted to be a writer.

“But it seemed like such a pipe dream,” she said.

Yet, next month the Spokane Valley native and East Valley grad will travel to New York City to attend the 77th Annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Berry’s mystery novel “Buried in a Good Book” has been nominated for the Lillian Jackson Braun Memorial Award.

The Edgars honor the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television. Past winners include heavy hitters such as Walter Mosley, Stephen King, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Patricia Cornwell. Spokane novelist Jess Walter won the best novel award for his 2005 book “Citizen Vince.”

The kid who once dreamed about life as an author has published under three pen names in a variety of genres.

Berry graduated from Eastern Washington University with a literature degree and in 2012 released her first e-book, “Love is a Battlefield,” as Tamara Morgan.

“I started writing romance when my kiddo was super young,” Berry said. “The only thing I had the mental capacity for was romances and I read a ton of them.”

Her first two contemporary romances were set in the world of the Highland Games.

“They feature burly, strong guys and romance readers go for that,” she said.

More than a dozen books followed before she retired Tamara Morgan and was reborn as Lucy Gilmore.

In 2018, her agent told her doggie romances were selling well – that is, romance novels featuring dogs.

Soon she’d written a three-book series about service dogs in training and two stand-alone romantic doggie comedies.

“I write mainly comedy,” she said.

When she pitched her next romance idea no one seemed interested except for one editor who asked “Can you put a dead body and a cat in it?”

And the Eleanor Wilde mystery series was born penned under Tamara Berry. Wilde is a pseudo-psychic/medium with a penchant for solving crimes.

“I love con artists,” Berry said. “There’s quite a few of them in my books. I’m drawn to the way they manipulate people. They’re interesting characters with a high level of insight and they tend to be more self-aware.”

While the Eleanor Wilde series sold well, the author had a new story in mind.

“I pitched a lumberjack series where a thriller author and her teenage daughter move to Winthrop, Washington.”

Her agent told her what was really selling was book-themed mysteries.

“Could you put a librarian or a bookmobile in it?”

Berry could and did.

“But I got to keep the lumberjack,” she said.

“Buried in a Good Book,” the first book in the cozy mystery series featuring thriller author Tess Harrow, is up for an Edgar award next month. This is the first year the Lillian Jackson Braun Memorial Award will be granted and it’s the only Edgar award that comes with a cash prize.

Braun, who died in 2011, wrote more than two dozen novels in her “The Cat Who…” mystery series. The award named after her will be awarded for the best full-length, contemporary cozy mystery.

Having read lots of Nancy Drew books as a kid, Berry said crafting cozy mysteries is well within her wheelhouse, but the formula is quite different from romance novels.

“There are no steamy sex scenes, no swearing and no gore,” she said. “The violence is hinted at, but not on the page. And of course, you have to have a murder and solve it.”

For Berry, that’s the fun part.

“I often don’t know who the culprit is going to be,” she said. “I get to be as surprised as the reader.”

Cozy mysteries are generally more gentle than hard-boiled detective fiction or grisly suspense thrillers. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, or TV’s Jessica Fletcher of “Murder, She Wrote,” as examples of the genre.

Berry said there are two types of writers – plotters and pantsers.

“Plotters sit down and write an outline. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. I’m a pantser.”

The prolific author usually writes in bed or on her couch with her two dogs and two cats cuddled up next to her. She writes seven days a week and has a strict 1,000 words per day, daily word count.

“Once I hit 1,000 words I can free myself to do other things,” Berry said.

That includes promoting her latest Lucy Gilmore book, “The Lonely Hearts Book Club.” Due March 28, the lighthearted novel tells the story of the community created by a book club full of misfits including a young librarian and an old curmudgeon who forge an unlikely friendship.

And of course, she’ll be in New York City for the Edgars.

“I’ve been working at this so long,” she said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s pretty great. If 16-year-old me could see me now, she’d be freaking out!”

Columns, War Bonds

Magic, Make-Believe and Me

In this column for the Spokesman Review, I address the importance of keeping magic and make=believe alive for our children– especially now.

I was smiling as we walked out of the movie theater into the warm summer night.

“That was absolutely magical,” I said.

My sons, 16 and 21, nodded, but they didn’t seem as enthralled by “The BFG” as I’d been. The movie, based on the book by Roald Dahl, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an orphan girl named Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant. The two join forces to rid the world of mean, nasty giants.

I loved the retelling. It brought back memories of curling up and reading the book with my second son, who was notoriously difficult to get to sit still and read anything at all. Dahl’s books were just scary enough and just off-kilter enough to capture his imagination and still his ever-churning legs.

 The week before, we’d seen “Finding Dory,” and both sons preferred that movie to “The BFG.”

Not me. While “Dory” was a fun film with great visual elements, humor and a compelling message, it lacked the heart of “The BFG.” It lacked magic.

For me, the best part about being a parent has been the ongoing permission to indulge in my love of make-believe. From sharing beloved childhood favorite films and books with my boys to discovering new stories and new adventures with them, parenthood has allowed me to retain a bit of the ability to believe in the impossible.

Perhaps that’s why I reacted so strongly when my youngest got in the car one day after kindergarten and announced, “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”

Furious, I whipped around and gave his older brothers the “look” – you know the scary glare meant to stop even the naughtiest child in their tracks. My offspring have dubbed it “Mom’s Death Ray.”

“Don’t look at us!” said Zack, then 11, “We know Santa is real!”

Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Why do you say that, Sam?”

“Tyler’s mom helped us with Christmas crafts today, and we were talking about what we wanted Santa to bring us for Christmas. She said, ‘Santa Claus is a made-up character, and he doesn’t take presents to children all over the world.’ Is she right? Is there really no such thing as Santa?”

I looked into his troubled blue eyes and tried to gauge his desire to know with his longing to believe.

So, I reminded Sam of the story of St. Nicholas and how he used his wealth to give to the poor and needy. I told him the story of Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas’ and asked him what he thought.

He scratched his head, looked at his brothers and then replied, “Oh, he’s real all right, but I think he has help getting all those presents delivered.”

Crisis averted. Magic preserved.

I know not all parents agree that a healthy dose of make-believe makes for a happy childhood. For instance, one of my sons told me of a millennial parent in his acquaintance who told him that allowing his preschoolers to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is the same as lying to them, and he will never lie to his kids.

But children are not miniature adults. The brain, body and emotions of a 5-year-old boy are not equivalent to those of a 30-year-old man. Fairy tales and make-believe allow imaginations to soar. They create a sense of wonder and possibility.

These past few weeks have made it difficult for many of us to hold onto any sense of hope, wonder and enchantment. The world can be a harsh, unlovely place. Maybe that’s why we need stories of magic and mystery all the more.

In a darkened theater we can watch a blue fish with memory problems cross the ocean to find her family, or see a little girl have tea with the queen of England and help banish evil giants from the land.

Stories offer us a respite from ugly reality and fan the flames of flagging faith, encouraging us to believe in the unbelievable, at least for a little while.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Writing from the reservoir

I don’t know any writers who haven’t at one time or another thought, Why am I writing this? Is anyone even going to want to read it?

Whether you write memoir, fiction, essays or poetry, the words are or should be, uniquely yours– your voice, your character’s voice,  your story, their story that you’re trying to tell. And there’s the rub,  the risk of the writing life– you feel compelled to tell a story birthed in the isolation of your own mind and heart and send it out into the universe

While wrestling with the organization of my second book, a collection of essays and columns about life, love and raising sons, I’m getting tripped up, and bogged down with second guessing just about everything from the title to the contents of each chapter.It’s hard to have perspective when you’re writing your own life.

Then I remembered something award-winning author Shawn Vestal said at a recent reading of his debut novel Daredevils. Someone asked if it was difficult for him to write from the perspective of Loretta, a 15-year-old girl.  Vestal replied that it was actually quite freeing and then added, “Really, the only reservoir you have is your own life.”

Yes! Everything from our wildest flights of imagination to our earliest childhood memories, comes from the same reservoir.

Don’t be afraid to drop your bucket down into its depths and pour out what you find.