A Wicked Welcome to Leslie Wheeler **GIVEAWAY**

by Julie, enjoying summer in Massachusetts

I am delighted to welcome friend of the Wickeds Leslie Wheeler back to the blog. She has a new book coming out this month, and we’re delighted to help her celebrate.

The Flower Thief

by Leslie Wheeler

There’s a scene in my latest mystery, Shuntoll Road, where a male character describes digging up peony plants by the light of the moon in an old, abandoned garden, and replanting them in his lover’s garden. A beta reader was horrified. “Stealing from private property!” she wrote in the margin.

You wouldn’t be so shocked if you had a mother like mine, I thought. On the outside, Mom looked like any other oh-so-proper Pasadena lady of a certain age. Her silvery hair was beauty salon “done,” her beautiful face with its large hazel eyes carefully made-up. She often sported a lavender velour pants suit with a white collar, and white sneakers on her feet. Yet behind this innocent façade, she possessed a larcenous soul worthy of John Laroche, the orchid thief himself.

My mother grew orchids, roses, camelias, and other flowers in her Southern California gardens, but that didn’t stop her from raiding the gardens of others, if she spotted a bloom she thought would look nice in one of the Japanese flower arrangements she delighted in making. Sometimes she enlisted my help. I remember sneaking into a neighbor’s yard to collect small branches with colorful liquid amber leaves she wanted for an autumnal display. Fortunately, the trees were located a distance from the house, and I arrived safely home with the loot.

On another occasion, Mom wasn’t so lucky. Armed with clippers, under the cover of darkness, she launched a stealth attack on another neighbor’s azaleas. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” the outraged owner demanded when she caught Mom red-handed. But if my mother was chastened by this, she never let on. She even laughed as she mimicked the woman’s angry voice.

With a such a mother, I was bound to become a flower thief. Why did I have a character swipe peony plants in Shuntoll Road? Because I’d done the very same thing.

My Berkshire house sits on an old field with lots of grass, few trees, and the only flowers, wild ones. To create a flower garden, I had to either buy or “find” flowering plants. I did both. In my ramblings on the hill where my home is, I noticed an old abandoned garden. I dubbed it “the secret garden” after the novel by Frances Hodgson Barnett I’d enjoyed as a child. At one time, this garden was so stunning that the townspeople made special trips just to admire it. But after the death of the woman who’d tended it, it fell into disrepair. Weeds sprang up to choke the gorgeous peonies, daylilies, phlox, and other flowers that grew there. The property owners lived far away in upstate New York. They were not about to restore the garden. Channeling Mom, I dug up some of the peony plants and other flowers and brought them home to be replanted in the border I planned. I considered this a form of recycling. And recycling is good, right?

Now, many years later, you can’t see the peonies and other flowers that once grew in the secret garden, but my pilfered plants have thrived in their new home. They are a source of great pleasure to me. As are the purloined peonies to Kathryn Stinson, the protagonist of Shuntoll Road.

Readers: Do you have a family member who has influenced you and/or your characters for better . . . or worse? One of the commentators will receive an ARC of Shuntoll Road.

ABOUT SHUNTOLL ROAD:

Boston library curator Kathryn Stinson returns to the Berkshires, hoping to rebuild her romance with Earl Barker, but ends up battling a New York developer, determined to turn the property she’s been renting into an upscale development. The fight pits her against Earl, who has been offered the job of clearing the land. When a fire breaks out in the woods, the burned body of another opponent is discovered. Did he die attempting to escape a fire he set, or was the fire set to cover up his murder? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to other questions about the developer’s connection to a friend of hers who fled New York years ago for mysterious reasons. The information she uncovers puts her in grave danger.

Buy the book here, or Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple

ABOUT LESLIE WHEELER:

An award-winning author of non-fiction, Leslie Wheeler writes two mystery series. Titles in the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries are Rattlesnake Hill and Shuntoll Road. Her Miranda Lewis Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and includes two other titles. Wheeler’s mystery shorts have appeared in numerous anthologies including the Best New England Crime Stories series. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.

41 Thoughts

  1. I’m afraid my family members aren’t as interesting as your mother, Leslie. At least, they don’t engage in any criminal behavior (that I know of anyway). I do incorporate some of their personality traits in my characters, but that’s about it. Congrats on your new book! It sounds great.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Marla. Even though your family members don’t engage in any criminal behavior, I’m curious about what traits of theirs you’ve used in your fiction. Family stories always fascinate me.

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    2. Hi Marla,
      Thanks for your comment. Good to know you incorporate some of your family’s personality traits in your characters. Thanks also, for your kind words about my book.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Edith. Yes, I remember that you’re from Pasadena, too. Good to know that you would have stolen the peonies also!

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  2. I don’t have much in the way of family members that have some quality that would allow them to be called “colorful”.

    But growing up in an Irish family, a number of the extended family were in law enforcement including my dad. So I guess a healthy respect and support of the police has always been ingrained in me.

    I know my dad, whose been gone for a number of years now, influenced me by how he dealt with people on the job. When a former criminal visits you in the hospital to say thank you for helping him turn his life around, I’d say you did something good with your life. That was my dad.

    As I toy with the idea of writing a story, my main character is somewhat influenced by my dad’s example even if not done in the same line of work per se.

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Jay. Your dad sounds like a wonderful person, and I’m glad to know he’s been an influence on you as well as the main character in the story you’re thinking of writing. I think we often don’t realize the impact of family members on us until we find ourselves incorporating them in our writing, whether fiction or memoir.

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  4. For me too, it would be my Mom that influenced me the most. Her smart and frugal ways of making do with what you have, always keeping a well stocked pantry, never buy when you can revamp what you already have, no impulse buying and don’t go in debt unless given lots of thought and as a last resort.

    Although being told that I can squeeze a quarter until old George has to wipe his nose, I enjoy the good things in life like everyone else. I have things I’m willing to splurge on, but most times I can look around me and make do with what I have. I learned from my parents that going into debt has to be thought out making sure the payments will work for me and worth the months of payments. With some second thought, and some times three times, I’ve often found that what I thought I had to have could wait a bit longer to be caught on sale or maybe even not needed at all. Thanks to Mom’s example of a well-stocked pantry, we weren’t caught with empty shelves when the Covid-19 hit and store shelves were empty. When we found ourselves out of one thing, I am able to rethink it and go another route to put the meal on the table.

    Your Mom sounds like a smart woman to save the flowers from impending doom. I, too, have found bulbs, flowers and plants that needed saving. At one time, hubby’s job dealt with condemned houses. Knowing of my love of flowers, when he knew a house was scheduled to be torn down would take me by the lots to see if there were any plants that needed saving. He always made sure to have a shovel handy because he knew I’d find something.

    As a child, I “found” many flowers that “needed” to be in a vase for Mom and more often than not, that’s where they ended up. 🙂

    Thank you for the fabulous opportunity to win an ARC copy of “Shuntoll Road”. Shared and hoping to be the fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. Hi, Kay, thanks for your comment. I loved the story of your mother’s frugality, which my mother shared in certain ways. When I was growing up, she didn’t serve certain meats at meals, because she said they were too “dear.” And she saved tiny amounts of leftovers in the fridge, because she didn’t want to waste food, and assumed they would be consumed later (which they often weren’t!). I have the same issue with wasting food; could never be a restaurant owner, because I’d hate to see all the food that goes to waste. I’m also glad to hear about your husband’s thoughtfulness in saving plants for you on lots where the houses are being torn down. Now that’s a man after my heart! Thanks again for your comment!

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  5. Leslie, I laughed when I read that scene in Shuntoll Road because I remember helping my wife rescue some daylilies from the woods one time. I like to think that whoever cared enough to plant them there long ago would be happy we saved them. Family members and their antics always show up thinly disguised in my work. So far only one has recognized herself. I’m glad to say she was flattered. I already have the book, which I totally loved, so don’t put me in the drawing.

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  6. Thanks for your comment, Ang. So your wife is another flower rescuer, which is what those of us who do this should probably call ourselves. Interesting that only one family member recognized herself in your work, but not others, especially since you say they’re thinly disguised. A rule of thumb that I’ve been told is that people only recognize themselves if you say nice things about them, but not if you say bad things. A cousin of mine once asked me if she was in my first mystery, and proceeded to tell me about what a nice mention she rec’d in someone else’s book. I had to tell her she wasn’t in mine, however. Thanks, too, for your kind words about Shuntoll Road!

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  7. What a terrific story! Our mom’s could have been sisters under the skin. I can still see my mom, scissors in hand, collecting chrysanthemums from around the US Capitol building. I was horrified, she simply said she was only taking enough to put in a vase at the hotel, and really, her tax dollars had contributed to them.

    As a lover of peonies, I would have helped with the transplanting. The garden was abandoned, you performed a kindness to the plants.

    Best of luck with the book, it sounds marvelous.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Kait. I love the story you told about your mother and her purloined mums. She and my mother would have gotten along very well. I can just see them walking around w/ their scissors, shears, or even shovels, collecting plants, and when challenged, one of them would come up with a witty comeback like your mother’s. Glad to discover that you’re a fellow peony lover, too. Growing up in Southern California, I’d never seen peonies until I moved to New England, and when I did–in a vase at a friend’s house–it was love at first sight.

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  8. This anecdote will give the entirely wrong impression of my grandmother, but I vividly remember being in her 1957 Thunderbird when she screeched to the side of the road, dashed out of car into the woods, and dug up a rhododendron bush. I’m quite sure it was illegal and I remember being shocked at the time.

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    1. Your grandmother sounds like an interesting person, Barb, but was her digging up the rhododendron bush an aberration, or what it characteristic of her? Inquiring minds would like to know more.

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  9. I prefer to think of it as “rehoming” peonies. . When we first moved into our two-family house, the woman who owned the other half was a real…dogsmother. I was nice to her (other half of the house, right?) but then she moved away and I took revenge by rehoming a lovely striped peony. Revenge smells sweet and still blooms. Congratulations on SHUNTOLL ROAD, Leslie!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. “Rehoming” flowers sounds better than stealing them, and I’m glad to hear your striped revenge peony smells sweet and still blooms. Ha!

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  10. What a wonderful story Leslie! I can picture your mother’s lavender pantsuit. My mother was a fabulous cook and baker. When I think back now I realize a lot of our life revolved around food. There was always chicken roasting in the oven, bread rising, etc. Preparations always under way for family cookouts, birthday parties and meet-ups with cousins at the local pizza parlor. I think that’s why there is always food talked about in the stories I write and scenes that have characters unfolding their drama over lunch at the local cafe! Anyway, can’t wait to read the new book in your series! I loved the first one and I’m so happy their adventures are continuing!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Louisa. It’s always nice to hear from you. Your food-centered background, thanks to your mother, sounds wonderful. Wish my mother had been a great cook and baker like yours was. But she was not especially comfortable or skilled in the kitchen. I became a baker by default–in that someone had to make the cookies, cakes, pies, and bread I loved to eat. And I owe my other culinary skills to my older sister, who remains a fantastic book, producing complicated dishes I’d never dream of even trying.

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  11. It certainly would have been a shame to see all the flowers in the untended garden go to weeds – of course you needed to move them! I can’t say I have any interesting characters like that in my family, though.

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  12. Thanks for your comment, Karen, but if there aren’t any interesting characters in your family, I hope you at least have some among your friends and acquaintances to draw upon in your writing, because for me the quirky people I’ve known are an important source of inspiration.

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  13. My mother and I both would have taken the peonies and my sisters too..We have also been known to just knock on a strangers door to ask about a plant or a tree 🙂 The book sounds fun! I’d love a paper book arc

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Sheryl. I’m happy to add you, your mother, and your sisters to the growing list of people who would have taken the peonies like I did. Not sure about knocking on people’s doors to ask about plants, but then again, why not?

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      1. Thank you, Wickeds, for hosting me on your blog today. It was a lot of fun! I enjoyed hearing others’ stories re flower/plant thievery, and knowing that I’m not as alone as I thought. Also, enjoyed hearing stories about how family members influenced people in other ways. Thanks again!

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  14. Well, who’d have guessed that larceny lurked behind that innocent face, Leslie! A delightful story and only makes your book all the more interesting. I have “borrowed” some traits from family members from time to time. I’ll keep them to myself for now, as they may prove useful in a story or two.

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    1. Thanks belatedly for your comments, Claire! You are wise to keep those family traits to yourself for future use in your writing. After all, it’s those special quirks that make characters come alive!

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