The tour got off to a rousing start at the Festival of Mystery. Each year, Femme Marcia Talley drives three writers to the festival in Oakmont, a pretty Pittsburgh suburb.
This year, the hilarious and very British Ann Cleeves and Frances Brody were Marcia’s other guests.
Frances Brody writes the Kate Shackleton mysteries, including "A Woman Unknown." "The series began," Frances says, "with a picture in my head of a man trapped behind a high wall, unable to return home. Someone needed to discover who and where he was. Along came Kate Shackleton, sleuth extraordinaire. She stepped from our family album like the genie summoned from the lamp."
Ann Cleeves has the hit TV series, "Vera." (Order it on Netflix. I guarantee you’ll love it.) Her Vera Stanhope novel, "Silent Voices," finally made its US debut. Ann talked about taking the film crew around Northumberland.
Ann and Frances made the four-hour drive fly by. We stopped for lunch at the historic Jean Bonnet Tavern, which is supposed to be haunted. No ghosts, but a substantial lunch.
Then we went to writers’ heaven. That’s the Festival of Mystery, where about 40 authors are invited to sign their books each year. This annual event attracts busloads of mystery readers, who around the local church hall, pay $8 to go in, and fill huge shopping bags with books. These serious readers have checklists for their favorite authors ("I didn’t get ‘Final Sail’ last year, but I’ll buy it today," one woman told me.) They’re adventurous and love new authors, too.
Best of all, I get to see old friends like Karen Pietsch – a.k.a. Peach – and her daughter Julia, Peach Blossom. This year, Peach severely tested my marriage. She gave me a jar of homemade strawberry jelly. It’s as good as my grandmother’s, and that’s saying something. I hid the jar in my socks so Don wouldn’t find it. He squanders half a jar on his toast. I like to savor the experience and make it last.
St. Louis was my next stop, with six events, including a benefit signing for the local ALS chapter. My good friend Diana Wunning has eleven family members with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She chooses not to know if she has the gene. Diana had just flown back from Washington, D.C., where she talked to our lawmakers about funding research to cure this terrible disease. St. Louisans are so generous. Thanks to you, ALS got more than $800.
After the benefit, I had a high school reunion at the Ferguson Brewing Company. I enjoyed talking to my Aquinas High School classmates (from left) Pat Helbling Davis, Mary Kunz Brock, Richard O'Keefe, Deb Dower Potter, and Rick’s wife, Jan O'Keefe.
There was more – lots more, including a standing room only crowd at Barnes & Noble in Ladue. But the most unforgettable moment was when reader Connie Zuk Nisinger presented me with this unique handmade pin. You can see the big white pearl and the delicate filigree, but I bet you can’t read the writing on the tiny gold shovel. It says, "I Dig Bellefontaine"
That’s Bellefontaine Cemetery, a historic burial ground in north St. Louis. Connie works there.
"Thank you, Connie," I said. "But I’m trying to stay out of cemeteries."
"I know that," she said. "I thought you’d get a kick out of it."
I do. As long as I’m on the right side of the grass.
WIN A COPY OF "FINAL SAIL" today. My publisher is giving away three copies of my Dead-End Job mystery, FINAL SAIL, Friday from 9 a.m. to noon EST. Just follow @penguincozies on Twitter and retweet our tweet about the giveaway for a chance to win.