Wendall Thomas’ Distractions

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Some authors have as much trouble concentrating as we do. In Wendall Thomas’ case, it’s for a different reason. The author of Lost Luggage and Drowned Under was kind enough to find time to write for us. Look for her books in the Web Store, as well as copies of the books that have helped her get through the social isolation right now. https://store.poisonedpen.com/

Wendall Thomas teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as an entertainment reporter, script consultant, and film and television writer. Her novel, Lost Luggage was nominated for the Lefty and Macavity Awards for Best Debut and the follow-up, Drowned Under, was nominated for a Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery of 2019 .  Her short fiction appears in the crime anthologies LAdies Night (2015), Last Resort (2017) and Murder A-Go-Gos (2019).

Thank you, Wendall, for your “Distractions”.

*****

I write in restaurants. I’ve done it since 1992, when I quit my last “real” Hollywood assistant job to become a writer, instantly became creatively paralyzed, and spent much of my days watching The Today Show, going to bargain matinees, and making pointless trips to the dry cleaners—as my savings dwindled.

I realized I needed to treat writing as a job and decided my office would be a Los Angeles coffee shop called Jan’s, where I arrived each morning at 6am, drastically over tipped, and wrote for three hours. Then I came home, took out the dry cleaning, and moved to the historic El Coyote for a working lunch. Although some of the restaurants have changed over the years my routine has not, so for the first weeks of the “Safer at Home” restrictions, I was paralyzed again. Reading helped. So here are a few things I’ve been happily distracted by in the last few weeks. 

One of my favorite new discoveries is author Bill Fitzhugh’s “bug,” series which begins with Pest Control.

This book, featuring a groundbreaking exterminator who hates pesticides, decides to breed “assassin” cockroaches, and winds up being mistaken for a real assassin, had me snorting with laughter. The combination of entomology and bounty killing was just what I needed and, especially if you like Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, or David Attenboroughs’s nature specials, I highly recommend both this book and the follow up, The Exterminators

Being a screenwriter and lecturer in film history, I was also riveted by Sam Wasson’s The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood.

The book’s insights into the personalities and politics behind this film and the way it dissects one of my favorite eras in cinema was a real treat. I would recommend it for anyone who loves Jack Nicholson, who loves the film, or who loves Hollywood history.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is one of the books I love best and its butler, Gabriel Betteredge—with his devotion to Robinson Crusoe—is one of my favorite characters in literature.

I was lucky enough to adapt this book for the PBS kids’ show, Wishbone, and it’s up there with Alice and Her Adventures Through the Looking Glass as one of stories I return to again and again.

I also headed back to one of my other “comfort” reads, Ngaio Marsh. This time it was Death in a White Tie, where social butterfly Sir Robert Gospell is murdered while spying for the police during debutante season.

I’m particularly partial to the relationship between Inspector Alleyn and his eventual wife, Agatha Troy. (Spoiler Alert!) This is the book where she finally says “Yes,” which invariably cheers me up.

Finally, I’m a North Carolina girl, born and bred, and so am a bit obessed with Vivian Howard of A Chef’s Life.  I’ve owned her cookbook, Deep Run Roots, since it came out and often make her recipes, but I hadn’t had a chance to really read all the text. The stories behind the recipes are just as delicious.

All these books remind me why I wanted to write in the first place, so if I’ve almost gotten my “mojo” back, it’s largely due to these great authors.

*****

Maybe it will be Wendall Thomas’ own books that help you get your “mojo” back. Here’s an introduction to her books and her character, Cyd Redondo.

Macavity Award 2018 nominee, Best First Novel
Left Award 2018 nominee, Best Debut Mystery Novel

“Thomas makes a rollicking debut with this comic mystery featuring an unconventional protagonist who proves to have the skills of MacGyver. With its sexy overtones, this fun, character-driven novel will appeal to Janet Evanovich fans.” —Library Journal STARRED review

Cyd Redondo, a young, third-generation Brooklyn travel agent who specializes in senior citizens, has never ventured farther than New Jersey. Yet even Jersey proves risky when her Travel Agents’ Convention fling, Roger Claymore, leaves her weak in the knees-and everywhere else-then sneaks out of her Atlantic City hotel room at three a.m.

Back in Brooklyn, when she reads about smugglers stopped at JFK with skinks in their socks or monkeys down their pants, she never imagines she will join their ranks. But days after the pet store owner next door to Redondo Travel is poisoned, Cyd wins a free safari. Her boss, Uncle Ray, wants to cash it in for computers, but Cyd is determined to go. When Roger turns up at the Redondo clan’s door, Cyd invites him along as her “plus one.” And just like that she is thrown heels-first into the bizarre and sinister world of international animal smuggling.

She and Roger arrive in Africa, luggage lost, to find two of Cyd’s elderly clients in a local jail. She manages to barter them out, only to discover smugglers have hidden five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of endangered parrots, snakes, frogs, and a lone Madagascan chameleon in the clients’ outbound luggage. When Roger steals the bags—is the U.S. Embassy in on the contraband ring?—Cyd and the chameleon helicopter into the jungle to go after Roger on their own.

Wondering if “plus one” Roger is actually a minus, Cyd dodges Interpol, faces off with a cobra, steals a diplomatic bag, hijacks a FedEx truck, crashes an eco-safari, winds up in a leopard trap, and is forced to smuggle snakes in her bra. It’s a scramble to find the smugglers, save her clients, and solve Mrs. Barsky’s murder before finding herself at the top of the endangered species list.

“Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will cotton to Cyd.” —Publishers Weekly

Eggnog notwithstanding, travel agent Cyd Redondo is not looking forward to the holidays. The borough of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn—along with most of her family—holds her responsible for landing her Uncle Ray in a minimum security prison.

So, when Cyd’s ex-husband, Barry Manzoni, announces his parents have disappeared from an Australian cruise, she rushes Down Under to enlist the help of travel liaison and friend Harriet Archer, who offers a free cabin on the Tasmanian Dream and insider assistance with the search.

Cyd’s flights are delayed, so she hitches a helicopter ride to the ship—which lacks a heli-pad. She and her Balenciaga bag barely survive the harrowing drop, landing on a gorgeous man in a Speedo. When she finally makes it to her cabin, she finds Harriet dead, lying in a pool of blood.

The ship’s doctor/coroner—now wearing a tux instead of his Speedo—declares the death an accident. While Darling Cruises hurries to cover up the “unfortunate event” and sanitize the crime scene, Cyd scrambles to preserve evidence, terrified the murder is connected to the Manzonis’ disappearance, and to prevent the heist of the world’s last Tasmanian tiger.