Wednesday, April 16, 2014

History Mystery: What's in Your Computer?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  It's scary enough when I look at my computer search history. Recently it says: Cute kids signing Frozen, Hope is a thing with feathers, reaction to steroids, video cache, Boston police when founded, Carolyn Hart, Portmanteau words,  stab wound when fatal, Humpty Dumpty and Philip Margolin. (Not together, Mr. Margolin, really.)   

There are reasons for all of these, of course,  and a mystery author has a lot of leeway, right? What's more,  I have to figure no one is ever going to look.

However. I could be wrong. 

(And may I just parenthetically say I am SO thrilled with today's guest! I have ben a huge fan of hers from moment one, and when her first books sold, and the debut now newly published by the incredibly wonderful Henery Press--well hey. This is exactly they way the world is supposed to work.)

But back to Annette Dashofy's scary question:

What’s In YOUR Computer?
How many old computers have you thrown away? Do you have any idea what kind of information might still be on those old discards?

I love my electronic gadgets and own way too many of them—except I don’t own a smart phone, preferring to stick with my stupid phone for now. But that’s a blog for another day.

While I love my gizmos, I’m extremely technologically challenged.
For example: Recently I installed a new printer to replace the one that died the previous week. The set-up went well until I had to connect it to my wifi. It found my home network all by itself, no problem. But then I had to type in the WEP.

WTF is a WEP?

I have a faded sticky note over my computer on which I had once scrawled “Home Network Password.” That must be it! I tapped in the very long number only to be told by the printer the number was invalid. I must have hit a wrong key. Tried again. Same result. In a panic, I searched my files for some piece of paper with another number on it. Finally, I flipped my modem over and discovered—you guessed it—the WEP.

Problem solved. Until the next morning when I had to set-up my other new toy, a Nook HD+. Again, it found the network. Again it asked for a password. And again I tried the stupid number on the sticky note. It still didn’t work. 

The WEP on the bottom of the modem did, though.

Maybe I should toss the sticky note.

Anyhow, I tend to merrily surf the web and waste entirely too much time on social media, all the while having no clue how it all works. And until I did the research for my book, I had no idea of the data trail left behind on my old defunct PCs.

In Circle of Influence, my protagonist Zoe Chambers shares my lack of techno-know-how. She’s a paramedic who is much more comfortable dealing with human blood and guts than with hard drives and mother boards. (Honestly, I don’t know what either of those things are. I just wrote them here because they sound techie.) 

When Zoe is faced with a murder that turns out to be tied to an obsolete computer, she has to join forces with a computer-savvy teen to find out what secret is on the PC that’s worth killing for.

Or worth dying for.

If you want to know what kind of information can lurk on ancient, discarded electronics, you’ll have to read the book.

Seriously though, what do you do to your out-of-date devices before discarding them or giving them away? I’d like to know. Because right now I’m afraid to toss anything, and I don’t want to end up on the next episode of Hoarders!

HANK: And a copy of Circle of Influence to one lucky commenter! Come on, even just tell us one thing in your search history...

Annette Dashofy, a Pennsylvania farm gal born and bred, grew up with horses, cattle, and chickens. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT for the local ambulance service, giving her plenty of fodder for her Zoe Chambers mystery series including CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE (Henery Press, March 2014) and LOST LEGACY (Henery Press, September 2014) Her short fiction, including a 2007 Derringer nominee, has appeared in Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology, and Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales (December 2013).

Yes, I put the cover in twice. xo Hank
Zoe Chambers, paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township, has been privy to a number of local secrets over the years, some of them her own. But secrets become explosive when a dead body is found in the Township Board President’s abandoned car. As a January blizzard rages, Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams launch a desperate search for the killer, even if it means uncovering secrets that could not only destroy Zoe and Pete, but also those closest to them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Jungle Red Casting Couch. Kind of.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Last CrimeBake, or was it two ago? Jonathan and I dressed as Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy.
(Here's a photo of that.) We carried a Maltese Falcon, which was a (don't tell) stuffed owl we had spray-painted black. (It was a costume party, I guess I should explain. We didn't just walk around like that.)

Now, if I may predict? I predict that my dear pal and brilliant author Dana Cameron is now doing a spit-take with her morning coffee. Because she and her husband were just talking about The Maltese Falcon, and Sam and Mary. And their conversation went another way. Not, shockingly, about Jonathan and me as the leads.

Just--listen. And then--see what you think!

Recasting “The Maltese Falcon”
       by Dana Cameron

            Mr. G and I were out walking at a nearby farm, looking for signs of spring.  The discussion, there being no hawks, coyotes, or frogs in view, naturally turned to movies.

            “Okay, we're recasting 'The Maltese Falcon," I said.  “Who plays what role?”

            “What about Matthew McConaughey?” Mr. G said.  “He's got an edgy outsider look I think Sam Spade should have.”
            “What about Russell Crowe?  Think 'L.A. Confidential.'”

            Mr. G shook his head.  “I think of Spade as being on the coffee, cigarette, whisky, and tough steak diet.  Not getting a lot of sleep.  Getting punched or slipped a mickey on a regular basis.  Crowe is too...”

            I kept “fit,” “strapping,” and “physical” to myself. “Healthy?  Then how about Paul Bettany?”

            “Your obsession with him has to stop.” 

        “Are you kidding me?  'Master and Commander' is one of my all-time favorites!  And he's J.A.R.V.I.S in the 'Iron Man and 'Avengers' movies.  He can wear a big white shirt in a period piece while being the heroic scientific outsider and be the perfect wry yet charismatic computer interface voice.”
Photo by Natasha Baucus
            “And when I say 'obsession,' I mean it in the kindest, most clinical sense.”
            “Okay, okay.  Who's going to play the Mary Astor role, Mary O'Shaughnessy?  The manipulative damsel in distress?”  A few more steps, a pause to take a picture of a cow who was studying us through the fence.  “Aha!  Kristen Bell!”

            “Good one!  She can do low-down and dirty—as in 'Deadwood' and in 'House of Lies.'  And in 'Veronica Mars,' she's all kinds of smart and sweet.”

            “Right, I have one:  John Goodman for Gutman, the Sidney Greenstreet character.”

            “Oh, he did good sinister, erudite, and jolly in 'O, Brother'!” 

            We were on a roll, settling on Jon Hamm for the detective, leaving Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, up in the air, narrowed down to D.J. Qualls or Neil Patrick Harris.  I'm convinced is responsible for saving many relationships simply by quickly resolving arguments over who was in what.

            “You'll have to find out who's available,” Mr. G said, as if
we were wrapping up a business meeting, and our people would call their people.  

By the way, who would you cast in Pack of Strays?

Photo by Gage Skidmore

   “Easy.  I'd get Mary Elizabeth Winstead for Zoe Miller.  I loved her look and attitude as Ramona Flowers in 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.'  Zoe's an archaeologist but she's also a werewolf,  searching for powerful Fangborn artifacts.  It makes her the ultimate outsider."

     “Sounds like a great part for Paul Bettany.”

 “I'm ignoring you.  And when my editor asked about the unreliable Adam Nichols, to get some cues for the cover art, I knew immediately.  Armie Hammer as Tyler Winkelvoss in 'The Social Network.”  When someone suggests they hire the Sopranos to beat up Zuckerberg, he says, “We can do that ourselves. I'm 6'5", 220, and there's two of me.”  That is exactly Adam's attitude.”
We finished the walk and it was time to move on.  “Okay, next movie.  We're remaking 'The Thin Man.'  Who gets cast as Nora?”

            “No one.  Myrna Loy is Nora Charles forever.  I love Myrna Loy.”

            “When I say 'obsession,' I mean your fixation on Myrna Loy.”

            “We're done here.”

So readers:  Who would you cast in The Maltese Falcon?  Or if you believe it should never be remade, who would play you in the movie of your life?  Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a copy of Pack of Strays!

HANK:  I am still searching for my Jane funny! (I have considered the woman in the Chico's ad. You know who I mean? And I wish it could be Annette Bening, or Rene Russo.)  And I agree about Nora--no one but Myrna.  

And Pack of Strays to one lucky commenter! 


 Dana Cameron can't help mixing in a little history into her fiction.  Drawing from her expertise in archaeology, Dana's work (including traditional mystery, noir, urban fantasy, thriller, and historical tales) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination. 
Her second Fangborn novel, Pack of Strays (47North) picks up where Seven Kinds of Hell  left off.  A Fangborn short story, "The God's Games" appears in Games Creatures Play, and her story, "The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars," featuring Pam Ravenscroft from Charlaine Harris's acclaimed Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, will appear in Dead But Not Forgotten: Stories from the World of Sookie Stackhouse in May.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Write Stuff

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, I know Jonathan and I have a funny and unusual life. The other day, I was in a cab on the way to a library event, when Jonathan called me on my cell. He was trying to decipher the handwritten notes I'd made on the draft of his opening statement in a murder case.

I can't read your handwriting, he said. (Here's a photo of it.)

Yes, indeed, my handwriting is --well, incomprehensible. I write thank you notes and people say--I got your note. What does it say?

(Decoding the above: The C (commonwealth) wants you to believe Mr. H and Mr. P shot and killed Mr. R, and they are going to shower you with what they will try to convince you is...) 

Now, I know schools have stopped teaching cursive handwriting--a move I cannot believe.

In that same cab,  I said to the driver--did you take handwriting in school? 
He said no. It was too difficult,  and we all hated it, so they stopped teaching it.
How do you sign our name? I asked.
I just hook the letters together, he said. We learned what they call...  He paused.
Printing? I said.
Yeah. Printing.

Reds? Thoughts? (And if you have a handwriting sample--let's see it!!)

HALLIE EPHRON: My handwriting is so atrocious my husband insists on rewriting shopping lists. Printing is no better. And they taught cursive writing when I was in school - I even earned a "penmanship certificate." The older I get the worse it gets. This is a challenge when I interview someone for research. If I don't transcribe my notes within 24 hours I simply have no idea what I've scribbled.

So here's an example. This is a note I took recently interviewing a friend whose mother was a doll collector. (I think my next book is going to be something about dolls. Creepy dolls, of course.) I challenge anyone to figure out what it says. Hint: She was telling me about a doll her mother's hair dresser gave her when he closed his shop. It stood in his shop window at Christmas-time.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have terrible handwriting and have always had a real complex about it. I think I must have made Cs in cursive writing in elementary school, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Maybe it's poor eye-hand coordination or motor skills or something...  I've never stopped envying people who can write a beautiful, flowing cursive script in journals and letters. That said, I do write by hand, all the time, in cursive, not printing. Printing is so laborious--no wonder people who can only print want to text or type all the time. Here's a garden list, and some book notes.
Debs! This is completely legible. And fascinating, how there are no corrections.....

And there is something special and unique, I believe, about the way our brains work when we write by hand that can't be duplicated with a keyboard. I do a lot of my brainstorming/idea jotting in notebooks, for instance. So if they stop teaching cursive in schools, will our brains lose another bit of wiring?  A very scary thought.

Something weird? In business college I made an A in shorthand.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I have fairly terrible handwriting, even though I remember studying it—with the practice paper with two solid lines and the one dotted line down the middle—in first grade. As an adult, my handwriting has gotten worse and worse. I was a little disconcerted to realize the kiddo would not be learning it in school (he prints and has perfected a scribbly signature), but, yes, he'll probably be using keyboards, so.... 

I recently bought a fountain pen though, inspired by novelist Kim Fay, mostly for the romance of it. [Of course I'm not using it yet, because I need to pick up ink — one of the many things on my (typed and on my smart phone) to-do list.]

Generally I just type right into the laptop when I write, but I do use yellow legal pads and pen when I'm outlining. Like Debs, I think there's some sort of connection to our more emotional selves. Or something....

Here are some of my notes for THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT :

HANK: Oh, let's see Mattie's writing--er, whatevering.

SUSAN: Okay, here's a thank you note Mattie wrote today to novelists Carole E. Barrowman and her brother, John Barrowman (aka Captain Jack of Dr. Who fame), for their gift of an autographed copy of their novel, HOLLOW EARTH.)

HANK: He is hilarious! (Did I mention..hilarious?) (We need to do a blog about thank you notes!)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm a big believer in nice handwriting. I'm glad they taught it at my kids' parochial schools, although in my son's case (left-handed and with small-motor challenges when he was small) it didn't take. My girls have a good hand, when they try. I think I was inspired by my grandmother and my mom. My grandmother Greuling had that classic Palmer penmanship they taught back in the first decades of the 20th century, when almost everything had to be written by hand. I don't know if my mother had it from her mother or from good teachers, but she has handwriting that is lovely, legible, and also distinctly hers.
I can understand the schools dropping penmanship - there are a lot of subjects to be taught and lets face it, our children and grandchildren will spend more time typing and texting than writing. On the other hand, I can't imagine getting through college and law school without cursive. Done correctly, it's both readible and extremely fast. If I had had to block print my class notes, I'd still be a 2L.

LUCY BURDETTE: You all had better let me and Julia write the ransom notes if we're kidnapped...I can't believe they aren't teaching kids to write by hand any more. What about thank you notes? Emails and texts, I'm sorry, do not match up. I can remember the lined paper--I had trouble with the tall looping letters like h's and p's. And Debs is right--when I'm stuck somewhere waiting without a computer, I often take a pad of paper to work on book in progress. It's amazing what comes up on the paper... Here are some notes:
Wait--I can totally read this, Lucy!

RHYS BOWEN: Isn't it interesting that many of us have less than stellar handwriting?

 Perhaps great creativity equals poor handwriting, OR our brains rush so far ahead that our hands scrawl, trying to keep up. I've tried taking handwritten notes for my books and often can't read my own notes. I make John a shopping list and he calls me to say "Did you mean beets or leeks?"  

"Peas" I reply.

So if any of us were ever captured and held hostage and could get out a note with a friendly carrier pigeon we'd write "Help. I'm a prisoner in the old clock tower."  And nobody would understand us.

HANK:  True! Remember that Woody Allen movie where the bank robber hands the teller a note--and the teller reads out loud: "Huh? You're saying--I have a GUB?"

Reds--where are you on the hand-writing spectrum? And the Hank-book of your choice to one lucky commenter!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jungle Reds "forever part of you" and "best writing" books: The lists!

RECAPPING those books...

HALLIE EPHRON: A month ago Deborah Crombie asked, what are THOSE books that you couldn't imagine NOT having read, the ones that have become part of you in some indefinable way.
 And you told us.

Then Susan Elia MacNeal asked for your favorite writing books. And you told us.

So here they all are, two formidable lists. Thank you!  

How many have you read??

The Jungle Reds "forever part of you" books...

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Nashland
All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins
All Clear by Connie Willis
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson
Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams
The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher
The Diary of Anne Frank
A Discovery of Witches by Deb Harkness

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Drifters by James Michener
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Exodus by Leon Uris
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Fire Watch by Connie Willis
Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn
Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Girls by Lori Lansens
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Gone With the Wind by Margaret  Mitchell

The Good German by Joseph Kanon
The House of Stairs by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Journal of Solitude by May Sarton
Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
The Messiah Stones by Irving Benig
Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Lev

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
Plainsong by Kent Haruf's
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Possession by A.S. Byatt and Childrens Book
The Powers of Charlotte Jane Lazarre
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Rabbit Run by John Updike
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
The Rifle by Gary Paulsen
A Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Shadow of Night by Deb Harkness
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Shōgun by James Clavell
Sleeping with Schubert by Bonnie Marson
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
Time and Again by Jack Finney
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Widow for One Year by John Irving
Whirligig by Paul Fleischman
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Jungle Reds writing books...

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
The Art of Character by David Corbett
Bird by Bird by Anne LaMotte
Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden.
Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
How to Write by Richard Rhodes
Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
On Writing by David Morrell
The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood
Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Telling Lies for Fun & Profit by Lawrence Block
Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'em Dead with Style by Hallie Ephron
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Writing the Historical Mystery by Kathy Lynn Emerson