I Can’t Wait to Get Back to Three Pines

Leave a comment
Mostly Musings


Today, November 27, is circled in bright red on my calendar. It has been for months. You see, today is the release date for Kingdom of the Blind, book number 14 in Louise Penny’s series of Armand Gamache mysteries.

Here’s how addicted I am to these books. I slept with my iPad on my nightstand last night. Immediately on waking up, I checked and found the ebook downloaded to my Kindle app, ready for my reading pleasure.

Before going any further, I have a disclaimer: I wrote this yesterday and posted it this morning. At this moment, I’m curled up reading the book, as many, many other fans surely are.

I am a relatively new fan, having read the first book, Still Life, a year or so ago. My friend, Sue, deserves credit for getting me started. And once I entered the world of Inspector Gamache, head of Quebec’s famous crime-fighting Surété, I never wanted to leave it. I devoured books 2 through 13, finishing the last a couple of weeks ago.

If you have never read Louise Penney, you are missing out on so much. To borrow from several reviewers, she creates intricately-plotted mysteries written in elegant prose. She is a master at intertwining the personal lives of her characters with the crimes being investigated. Each book can stand alone, but the series features strong character development lines that make it advisable to read them in order. The reader continues learning more about a handful of fully-drawn recurring characters, who are surrounded by other fascinating characters who come and go. One of them will end up being the murderer, but good luck guessing who it will be. I am never able to figure it out until he or she is revealed, and then it all makes perfect sense.

This is how Ms. Penny describes the books on her website:

My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

If you only take one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.

In this series, the setting is equally important as the plot and characters. More than anything, it is the setting that stays with me and keeps drawing me back. Three Pines is a fictional, almost a mythical, village. We are told it is in rural Quebec, not too far from the border with Vermont. Yet Three Pines itself is a mystery. It appears on no map; GPS cannot find it. Characters have to stumble upon it, or, occasionally, follow a resident to find it. Here is what the author says about it:

Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.

Today I am so incredibly happy to be back in Three Pines. I’ll be in touch again soon… but not until I finish the book.

My Radio Adventures

comments 4

It began as a 3-way chat on Messenger. It was a couple of weeks before my trip to visit Joe and Sylvia in Asheville, NC, and we were discussing plans for my stay. Sylvia and I were making decisions about places to visit and things to do. Then Joe jumped in.

Screen Shot B

Screen Shot A

Screen Shot D

Wait. A set of questions about the novel I wrote?? I took a deep breath and typed:


Yes, it turned out, that was exactly what he had in mind.

Screen Shot 3

What ensued was the biggest adventure I’ve had recently.



Before we step into Studio A at 103.3 Asheville FM, here’s some background. Joe has had an interest in radio, and in being on the air, for quite a while. He also has an extensive knowledge of all kinds of music and an impressively large collection of it. Soon after moving to Asheville, he became involved with Asheville FM, which is a volunteer-based, listener-supported, grassroots community radio station. One thing led to another, until he found himself hosting his own show, Life Out of Tunes, using the DJ name of Joey Books.

If you are interested in knowing more about how Joe became a DJ, follow the link below to a post on his blog, Life Out of Tunes: Chasing a DJ Diploma.

And a little more background. The book in question is Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike, a mystery set in 1972 that I wrote and published last year.



I had 20 days before the show. Plenty of time to prepare. Except that I didn’t prepare, other than sending Joe the interview questions, along with a list of the songs I mentioned in the novel. Why did I need to prepare? I had spoken to a number of groups about the book. I had reread it over the summer. And I would be answering questions that I had made up myself.

I arrived in Asheville a few days before the show. Once there, I was busy sightseeing, walking around the West Asheville neighborhood, drinking wine with Joe and Sylvia, and getting reacquainted with Bandit, their dog.

Suddenly it was Monday. I woke up in a panic, realizing that in a few hours I would be on the radio. I dug out a copy of the questions and skimmed it. “I don’t know the answers to any of these,” I said to Bandit, who had jumped on my bed. He gave me a quizzical, head-tilted look. Why hadn’t the retired teacher done her homework?

When we arrived at the station, Joe gave me a tour and introduced me to other staff members who happened to be there. Fortunately, we were able to get settled in the studio a few minutes before air time. I had my headphones on and had passed a quick sound check. I got out my scribbled notes and was as ready as I would ever be.

The next thing I knew, Joey was saying into his mic: “It’s 2 p.m., and you are listening to Asheville FM…” He finished his intro, then Willie Nelson was singing Vote ‘Em Out. Off the air, Joey told me he would be spinning several tunes from the early ’70s before I would be on.

So I relaxed a bit and began noticing things. Like how much Joe was doing while music was playing. He was adjusting levers and pushing buttons, looking at his detailed notes for the show, marking off items with a highlighter, locating the copy for the announcements he had to read. Sometimes he spoke briefly between songs. After they played, he gave explanations and details that most listeners wouldn’t know.


Then Sarah McLachlan began singing Building a Mystery, which Joey had (appropriately) chosen to lead into my interview. While it played, he asked me, Are you ready? I said I was, and hoped that was true.

His plan was to ask me two or three questions, then play two or three songs from the book; then we would talk more, followed by more songs. It was a great plan because it gave me breaks to collect my thoughts and to just enjoy the music.

Looking back, the only thing I clearly remember talking about is how I chose the music in the book. I needed songs to fit the story and my setting. So I had called Joe because he knew so much about music. I asked him to suggest songs that might have been playing on a jukebox in a rustic bar during the fall of 1972. He got back to me very quickly with a number of choices. They all ended up in the book.

Here’s what surprised me the most about the experience. It was the complete relaxation I felt while “my” music was playing. I could easily imagine I was with my character, Andrea, in the bar after parent-teacher conferences, while Saturday in the Park, You’re So Vain, and The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A blasted from the juke box. Joey and I could take off our headsets and talk with each other and with Sylvia, who was there for moral support and to take the pictures in this post.

Joe and me

But that wasn’t my only surprise. When I sent Joe the list of songs in my book, there was one I really, really hoped to hear, though I honestly didn’t think that I would or could. Like Andrea, I had had a ritual to lift my spirits when I was feeling down. I would darken the room, light vanilla-scented candles, and play sentimental music by Rod McKuen. I hadn’t heard him since those long ago nights in my dorm room. So I assumed his recordings might not even be available anymore.

I should have known, though, that Joey would come through. When he played The Sea, and I heard it for the first time in nearly 50 years, I may have shed a nostalgic tear. And here’s another surprise. By the time the song finished playing, my nervousness had disappeared.

At that point, time sped up. Joey and I chatted some more. He played three more songs from my book—Cherish, The Sounds of Silence, and Here Comes the Sun. With that, my segment of the show was finished.

I was relieved, happy, proud, and maybe a little sad that it was over. But I can relive the experience whenever I want to. All I have to do is pop in the CD of the show that Joe made for me.

If you would like to hear the show, you can too. Simply click here. This link will take you to mixcloud.com, where all of Joey Book’s shows are available to listen to.


To visit Joey Books’ page at ashevillefm.org, click here.

To visit the station’s website, follow this link.

Finally, my novel, Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike, is available at Read Between the Lynes (for local folks) or here.


The Bee in the Rose at the Biltmore

comments 6

Hi, readers…

Long time, no see. Long time, no write. The ugly truth is that I haven’t blogged since July. Honestly, I don’t have a good reason for my absence. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get motivated to write. What I do know is that I’m back now. And it feels good.


A few days ago, I returned from a delightful week visiting friends in Asheville, NC. Joe, Sylvia, and Bandit were my neighbors in the Maples until they moved to Asheville. Here they are, posing for a picture by a lovely waterfall not too far out of town.



I couldn’t begin to describe everything that we saw and did and experienced. So I’m narrowing my focus to one site—Asheville’s most famous and popular tourism spot—the Biltmore estate. If you are not familiar with it, Biltmore House was built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 as his family’s home. Of the seven days I was in town, we spent parts of four of them at or near the Biltmore.


Friday evening found us at the Antler Hill Village and Winery. As the sun set, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, sipped a glass of wine, and listened to live jazz outdoors. It was a great introduction to the beautiful sights, sounds, and tastes to be found on the estate.




[A reader interrupts: Wait. What does your title mean?  Me: Don’t worry, gentle reader. I’m getting to it.]


The next day we were back at the Biltmore for a harvest event in their vineyard. This was not open to the public. But I was lucky to have the right connections to score a ticket. And wow! It included a large appetizer buffet and an opportunity to walk into the vineyard. Oh, and of course, wine. Several delicious wines to choose from.


[Reader: What does it mean? A bee in the rose?  Me: Please be patient. I’m getting there.]


On to our third consecutive day of Biltmore adventure. This time, we didn’t technically set foot on the estate. But we did attend Sunday services at The Cathedral of All Souls, which was built by George Vanderbilt as the parish church for the village adjacent to the Biltmore estate.



[THE BEE? IN THE ROSE?   I know. Almost there.]


Our fourth and final visit to the Biltmore estate was where most tourists begin their experience—with a tour of Biltmore House, which was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt as his family’s home. The first view is impressive.



The mansion, sometimes described as the largest home in America, is as fascinating as it is grand. I highly recommend taking the audio tour to learn as you go. After more than two hours in the mansion, I’m sure I could go back next week and find a lot that I missed the first time. It was so overwhelming that I chose not to take photos, but just to try to absorb as much as possible.

The views outside the mansion show just how lovely the setting is. Then it was time to walk through the adjacent gardens.


All of this touring and sight-seeing can wear a person out. So our last day at the Biltmore ended with a picnic in a shady spot in one of the gardens.

On our way to the parking lot, we pass the rose garden. It is late in the season, but there are still flowers blooming. I decide to take a couple more pictures, including the obligatory close-up of a rose.

[And there’s a BEE in the rose??????   Yes, yes, there is, dear reader! There is a bee in the rose at the Biltmore.]







Maples Friends Are the Best

comments 6
Neighbors / Social Life

I was working in my unofficial role of homeowner-sales assistant when I asked a question of a couple here on a first visit. It was a typical question that received an atypical answer.

I asked when they might be buying their new home and moving.

The wife answered: When I find what I’m looking for.

I asked: What is important to you?, expecting to hear about square footage, number of bedrooms, price, or other popular concerns.

Instead, she answered: We will be moving here knowing no one. I want to live where I can make friends and take part in social activities.

I’m sure a big smile spread across my face. I knew I could deliver what she wanted… and more. Our vibrant social life is one of our strongest points as a community.

On our way out to the models, I talked about our book club, monthly neighborhood coffees, potlucks, games club, and outings to nearby restaurants and attractions. A neighbor called a hello to me from her patio as we walked by. A car drove past and the driver waved at us.

I would like to say that the couple bought on the spot. But that didn’t happen. They liked the models and picked out a favorite. They asked to talk with Kelly, our “real” sales person. My job was done.


After they left, I went home and checked my email. There I found a message from a neighbor thanking me for thanking her and her husband for volunteering to take on a job in the community. She ended her message with these words:

“We are all so fortunate to have found our homes and friends here!”

I couldn’t agree more. As I reflected on our unique friendliness and volunteer spirit, I began looking through photos that reflect our social ties. Here are a few that I found:


Book club Christmas party

group3 fitz

fish boil in Genoa City, WI

walkers swimming

walking group cooling off after a hot walk


Maples friends at my book signing


impromptu gathering at the garden

using poles

working together to put up Christmas lights


I can’t end this post without thanking the Maples social committee, both present and past members. This hard-working group plans and runs our events. Without them, our social lives would not be nearly as full as they are.

Thank you from your neighbors!


comments 7
Mostly Musings

Hello, Perfectionism. My old nemesis. My worst enemy. My jailor. We meet again, though you have actually never been away.

You lurk within my mind and taint my feelings. You judge me, then convince me that I will never be good enough. Then to make it worse, you subvert my best efforts to forgive myself.

I don’t remember when you clawed your way into my psyche. I was probably too young to remember. And though I have tried to ignore you, override you, expel you, I never could. You roared back as soon as I had a weak moment.

I weep when I think of the opportunities I have passed up because of your lies. I look back at my life, and what do I see? Things I could have done and been, except that I let you convince me they were out of my reach. Why try at all if I wouldn’t be able to do something perfectly? And so, I didn’t try.

Yet, Perfectionism, you haven’t been perfectly successful yourself. Despite your sabotage, I have known love and friendship; I have accomplished things that make me proud. Best of all, I’m still alive, now armed with insights that can only come with aging.

Perfectionism, consider yourself kicked to the curb. From now on, I pledge to fill my heart with inspiration like this: