by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review & giveaway of Champagne Conspiracy by Ellen Crosby and an interesting interview with Ellen. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Champagne Conspiracy. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Champagne Conspiracy: Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby
Review by Sandra Murphy
Lucy Montgomery is a vintner in Virginia. With help from her brother Eli and her right hand man, Quinn, they keep the place running. Eli’s daughter lives with them, too, with a nanny to help out.
It’s winter and temperatures below freezing might be good for the grape vines but not the workers. Pruning wayward vines and plowing snow are far down the list of favorite things to do while freezing. Soon there are enough distractions to take their minds off the cold, at least for a bit.
There’s an Anything Goes party planned to raise money for Veronica House, a place for the homeless. It will be at the winery, and of course, everyone will dress as flappers or mobsters from the 1920s. Lucy found the most perfect dress in the attic and can’t wait to wear it. Quinn is in a mood, since he had an unpleasant visitor—a famous vintner who is also a relative. He’s talking about being blackmailed, and it dawns on Lucy and Quinn, Gino is accusing Quinn of being the blackmailer!
In the meantime, there’s a doozy of a storm headed their way, and Lucy is making a “white run”—buying all the white products you can’t live without when the white is falling (milk, bread, toilet paper). It seems Gino’s GPS couldn’t figure out all the country roads so he asked for directions at the market which means everyone in town has now heard of the famous man’s visit and are full of curiosity.
Lucy also has to stop by to visit an old friend in a retirement/nursing home. Faith’s neighbor and good friend, Roxy, had passed away recently so Faith is in need of cheering up. However, Faith says Roxy argued with someone a couple of days before her death, and Faith is sure Roxy was poisoned. She wants Lucy to ask around and find out who did it. One does not say no to Faith. Lucy doesn’t believe Roxy was murdered and can’t think of a motive. All Faith knows is Roxy was shouting she wanted to know the truth.
In uncovering the truth about the blackmail and about Roxy, Lucy is forced to learn more about her family’s history as well as national history during the age of prohibition. It’s sure someone feels she’s getting close when she’s attacked at home and left out in the cold to freeze. The puzzle is, which mystery is she getting too close to?
This is book seven in the Wine Country Mystery series. Information about wine making, especially in the off season, is woven throughout the story without distracting the reader. Past scandals and current scandals all come together for a satisfying conclusion and a happy surprise. Crosby writes with such subtle details, when you stop to catch your breath, you’re surprised it’s not snowing outside. Book eight promises to be even better.
Interview with Ellen Crosby:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Ellen: I think I’ve been writing all my life, making up stories and writing them down since I was a little girl. When I was a junior in high school, I had an amazing English teacher who spent the year teaching us how to write a basic three-paragraph composition. She was tough, but by the end of the year I really knew how to write. After that, any time a professor in college asked “write a paper or take the final exam?” I always chose to write the paper and usually got an A.
Later, when I went on to work on Capitol Hill ? I was the economic advisor to Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri ? I wrote his speeches for the Senate floor and his newspaper columns on business, tax, and economic issues. When my journalist husband was transferred to Switzerland and I quit my job, I started working as a freelance journalist and eventually ended up working for ABC News Radio in Moscow and, back home in the US, as a freelance feature writer for The Washington Post. Along the way I wrote a very bad mystery novel while living in Switzerland and in London wrote Moscow Nights, my first published novel.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Ellen: Moscow Nights came out in the UK in 2000 and just last August, 16 years later, it came out in the US. It’s a mystery that is loosely based on my experiences as a correspondent in Moscow during the waning days of the Soviet Union. The story revolves around Claire Brennan, an American journalist who is sent to Russia to fill in for Ian Kendall, her colleague (and former lover) who died under mysterious circumstances. Gradually Claire is drawn into the shadowy world of stolen art that Ian was somehow involved in before he died and it isn’t long before she realizes that whoever killed Ian may now be after her.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Ellen: I’ve written 11 mysteries, including the book I’m now finishing for my editor, but as I mentioned above, I’ve also worked as a journalist for many years, writing both hard news and ? my favorite ? feature stories.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Ellen: This year I’ve had 3 books out from 3 publishers, or as one of my editors put it, “Congratulations on a hat trick.” Moscow Nights came out in the US in August; in late October, Ghost Image, the second book in my series about international photojournalist Sophie Medina, came out as a trade paperback from Scribner, my publisher for the last ten years, and on November 1, The Champagne Conspiracy, the 7th book in the Virginia wine country mystery series, came out from Minotaur Books, my new publisher.
The idea for writing the Virginia wine country mysteries came about after a trip back to the US one summer while we were living in London in the 1990s. My husband is French and a friend of ours decided that after living on the French/Swiss border for 5 years and visiting the French vineyards during summer holidays, it was time for us to see the vineyards of Virginia. When I got back to London my UK literary agent was so enchanted with the setting that she told me: “That’s your next book.” I finally agreed to write one book. Who knew that I’d go on to write 8? (Book 8 comes out in 2017).
In The Merlot Murders, the first book in the series, Lucie Montgomery, was living in a French farmhouse that belonged in her late mother’s family where she was recovering from an automobile accident that left her disabled and needing a cane to get around. She returns home to northern Virginia’s horse and hunt country to take over the family vineyard after her father dies under mysterious circumstances. Not only does Lucie have something to prove as a female winemaker in a predominantly male world, she also has a physical disability to overcome, which is even more challenging in a tough, physical business like wine making.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Ellen: I write to entertain, but the journalist in me always wants my readers to learn something they didn’t know after finishing one of my books. I’m sort of a history junkie so there is always a historical thread that runs through my books, which are set in the present day. In a history-rich state like Virginia, there are a lot of veins to mine, from Thomas Jefferson, considered the “first wine geek” to Revolutionary War history to Civil War history.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Ellen: Writing is my profession; it’s what I do for a living. So I write every day ? sometimes when I’m on deadline, I write on weekends as well. Morning, noon, night ? whatever it takes to make my publisher’s deadline for turning in the manuscript.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Ellen: I always outline because it helps me keep track of my story. More importantly, it has saved my bacon more than once when a copyeditor asks “Why would Lucie be stopping by the local courthouse if it’s Memorial Day weekend? (it happened; I had to say they made an exception for her) or “You said it was raining in the last chapter; now it’s sunny ? same conversation ? and the rain apparently never stopped.” By the time I’m having these discussions, it is a year after I wrote the book and I’m usually deep in the middle of the next story. Having a timeline/outline is an enormous help.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Ellen: I’m a morning girl.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Ellen: I lived overseas for many years when I first started writing fiction ? Geneva (actually, over the border in France), Moscow, and London ? so, yes, it was very difficult to get published. It wasn’t until I returned to the US and met author friends through organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America that I started to get networked and meet people who helped me enormously.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Ellen: My wonderful, amazing New York literary agent, whom I’ve been with for the last 11 years, called me on the phone after I mailed him a copy of The Merlot Murders as an over-the-transom submission. I had been looking for an American agent after my UK agent retired and the form rejection letters had piled up. I was astonished to receive a phone call from him, but what was more surprising was that he was calling to tell me, “No, thanks.” He also explained why he was turning me down and when I said I’d rewrite the book based on his comments, he agreed to read the revised book one more time.
It took me some months to make that revision and I sent it off again. Ten days later I came home ? it was Valentine’s Day, 2005 ? and found another phone message from him on my answering machine. I called my husband at work and said, “He called back.” So, of course my husband wanted to know how the conversation went. I told him I was too nervous to return the call because it might be another polite call saying “Thanks, but not for me.” Anyway…I did call back, we had a wonderful conversation, and a few weeks later, I had a two-book contract with Scribner Books.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Ellen: When The Merlot Murders came out in 2006 I went to Book Expo the last year it was held in Washington, D.C. to sign Advanced Reader Copies. One of the people in my signing line was the director of publicity for Lord & Taylor, who loved the book so much the store ended up flying me to Lord & Taylor stores all over the East Coast that year to sign books at a charity event called the “Benefit Bash.” I had my own driver and an entourage with security and publicity staff from Lord & Taylor not only for Merlot but also the following year for The Chardonnay Charade. Lord & Taylor ordered 250 books for each Benefit Bash and I had signing lines that snaked through the store. It was amazing.
KRL: That’s awesome! Future writing goals?
Ellen: Just keep writing!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Ellen: Growing up I loved books by Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, Rumer Godden, M.M. Kaye…great sweeping stories with wonderful, evocative settings.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Ellen: I’m a journalist, so I do a lot of research. You’ve got to get the facts/details right or fans won’t trust the rest of your story.
KRL: What do you read?
Ellen: I read a lot of non-fiction, history, and especially well-written narrative non-fiction. Plus, of course, mysteries.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Ellen: Finish the book. Take classes. Get networked. Accept constructive criticism and learn from it ? everyone needs an editor.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Ellen: I have a great website! Please check it out for lots of information about me and the books. Lately I’ve become an Instagram addict; some of my photos are book-related, but most are of places I’ve been or something that intrigues me closer to home.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Ellen: I once had tea with the Queen of England. The actual truth was that my husband and I were invited to one of her summer garden parties at Buckingham Palace … with 10,000 people!! But it was unforgettable!
KRL: Oh wow! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Champagne Conspiracy, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “champagne,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 12, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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