Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What We're Writing: Hank's Big Reveal of The Murder List

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, wow, you all. Here's a moment. I'm second alphabetically, so today is my turn for what we're writing--and I am so thrilled! No one has seen this but my publisher/editor/agent types. So I'm crossing fingers and taking a chance. It hasn't even been through the proofreading stage yet, we're still in editing. Early days. Ish.

But THE MURDER LIST does have a cover! (Which we revealed on my newsletter--are you signed up for that? Many prizes will be offered soon! Click here. )

THE MURDER LIST:   Law student Rachel North will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right things. She’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston’s defense bar. She's a rising-star intern in the prosecutor's office. Problem is—she’s wrong. And if she takes one false step in this cat-and-mouse game, the battle for justice will become a battle for survival. What is the murder list? Who is on it? And who is next?  

(And who is the woman on the cover? She will change everyone's lives.)
Now, just for you, here are the first two pages.

  We never fight. Not in the past six years, as long as we’ve been married. Not even in the months before that. It isn’t that Jack is always right or I’m always right. Usually our disagreements are about things that don’t matter, so it’s easier and quicker for me to acquiesce. Jack’s a lawyer, so he likes to win. It makes him happy. And that’s good.  But now on a Saturday morning in May, sitting face-to-face across our breakfast table in sweats and ratty slippers, we’re definitely on the verge of a real fight. This time, the fight matters. This time I have to win.

“I forbid it,” Jack says.

I burst out laughing—all I can think to do—because “forbid” is such an odd word.

“Forbid?” I say the word, repeating it, diluting it, undermining it. “What’re you gonna do, honey, lock me in the castle tower? You’re not that much older than I am. Come on, sweetheart. Get real. Have some more coffee. Read your Globe.

He doesn’t look up from the Metro section. “It’s absurd, Rachel,” he says into the paper. “That woman is evil. Plus, I can’t understand why you’d want to fill your brain with that kind of . . .” 

He shakes his head as he snaps a page into place, the newsprint crackling with his impatience. “Absurd. An exceedingly unwise decision on Gardiner’s part. And yours, too, Rach.”

I take a sip of dark roast to defuse my annoyance and to clear the looming emotional thunderstorm. I know his problem isn’t my summer internship in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Jack’s impatience with me is fueled by the headlines he’s reading, news stories that feature his name. Jack hates to lose. Especially in court. And especially to Assistant District Attorney Martha Gardiner. 

My new boss.

Martha Gardiner. The woman Jack usually refers to as “Satan in pearls.” He never laughs when he says it.

“Honey?” I soften my voice, knowing there are many ways to win. Law school is teaching me that.  “It’s only for three months. I’m required to do it. All the 2L students are, or we can’t be 3Ls. And then we can’t graduate. And there goes all that law-school tuition you’ve loaned me. Plus, we’ve planned the whole thing. We’re gonna be partners. You’ll get me on the murder list. And we’re a team. Your very own word. Remember?”

“Team? Certainly doesn’t feel like it. I thought you chose a side.” He lowers the paper, one inch, looks at me with narrowed eyes. “And not that side. Not hers.”

“But—” How do I handle this?  He pays the bills, at this point at least. As a student-- at 36, the world’s oldest law student--I have zero income. You’re my investment, he told me. I took it as a compliment. “But—”

“There are no ‘buts.’ Gardiner’s a predator. She maligns the law. Twists it. Corrupts it. Her every instinct is to destroy and defeat.” The newspaper barrier goes back up.

I can’t escalate this, so I’ll ignore the fact that prosecutors are supposed to be the champions of law and order. Jack’s oversensitive because Gardiner’s the one prosecutor who can beat him. My dear husband is not the most reliable narrator, though, and he’s probably exaggerating when he spins me stories about her disturbingly unfair and manipulative tactics. But Martha Leggett Gardiner is a touchy subject.

Jack’s frown, hidden by newsprint again, chills me. I’ve seen that same expression in the courtroom, and it’s never a good sign for the witness he’s about to interrogate. But I’m not his witness. I’m his wife.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's a twisty triple triangle of domestic suspense! (I made that line up myself.) And I cannot wait for you all to read it.

It's coming August 20!  And you can pre-order now, just saying.   

Does it sound good?  (And tell us--what are you reading now? Anything great?)   

Monday, December 10, 2018

What We're Writing: Hallie's parachute jumpsuit

  • HALLIE EPHRON: Fanfare! It's WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK! I go first with this  condensed excerpt from CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (August 2019, Wm Morrow) which seems utterly appropriate after last week's take-down of fashion trends (thanks, Julia!) 

Background: Emily Harlow is a 30-something professional organizer. She's filming a ritualized (see Marie Kondo) clearing-out of her own closet, keeping only those items that spark joy, when she comes across turquoise jumpsuit that brings back memories. A decision looms... 

PS: I really did have a turquoise "parachute jumpsuit" which I loved. I wore it so many times that I wore out the seat. Here's the only picture I can find: a headless me wearing it at my daughter's 7th birthday party.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Hallie Ephron - first ever peek
What have you held onto even though you know you'll never wear it again... though fashion trends go around and come around, so you never know!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Dinner: Couscous and Apple Cider Cake

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Two Sunday dinner recipes, since my couscous roasted veg dish is barely harder than popping a frozen pizza in. I've been eating a lot of couscous lately because 1) I love it and 2) it's even easier than pasta, which is really saying something. I had loads of winter veggies left over from the Thanksgiving shop (and the last CSA box) so I decided to use a bunch up. I also had walnut pieces left over, which made me think of a beautiful roast veg and walnut salad I had in California. The only thing I had to go out to buy was the Feta cheese.

Couscous with roasted winter vegetables

Cube assorted winter vegetables, toss in oil with some salt and pepper. I had two different squashes, onions, carrots, beets and brussel sprouts. Roast them until fork-tender.

Prepare couscous according to package directions. I cooked mine in chicken broth (also left over from Tgiving.)

When the veggies are done, toss them with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of walnut pieces and balsemic vinegar to taste. I was making enough to serve maybe two for dinner, and I used 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Mix in the couscous, sprinkle with feta cheese. Eat quickly so you can get to the really good part of the meal: desert!

Joan Emerson (via Betty Crocker) provided us this recipe for Apple Cider Donut Cake, which made everyone drool in yesterday's comments section.

Mix together
1 box Super Moist™ yellow cake mix
3/4 cup apple cider
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Beat with electric mixer for two minutes.
Stir in 1 cup coarsely shredded peeled tart apples (2 medium)

Pour batter into greased and floured twelve-cup Bundt pan.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for twenty minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack.
Place a plate or waxed paper under the cooling rack.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter; mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Brush the cake with melted butter; use your hand to press sugar/cinnamon mixture up the side and over the top of the cake. Wait twenty minutes and repeat.

Cool cake completely; store loosely covered.

Sounds perfect for a cold winter night to me! How about you, dear readers? What are you cooking or eating today? 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

5 Things In My WIP

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Next week, we're bringing back one of our readers' favorite events: What We're Writing Week. That's right, gang, you're going to get exclusive peeks at the Jungle Reds as-yet-unpublished works, everything from excerpts of soon-to-be-out novels to paragraphs of first drafts that may never see the light of day. Exciting!

In honor of our upcoming event, and to whet your appetite, we're going to play a game (do a thing? Share a meme?) I've seen on Twitter, entitled, you guessed it - 5 Things in My WIP. Here's what you'll see in HID FROM OUR EYES:
1. Breastfeeding

2. County fair

3. Caterers

4. Russ getting sprayed with a hose during a fist fight

5. Forbidden Love

Of course there's forbidden love. What else do you expect from me?

Reds? Name your Five!

JENN McKINLAY: I'm working on next year's rom com THE CHRISTMAS KEEPER. My five things are:

1. Ugly Christmas sweaters
2. Orphaned baby elephants (yes, for real)
3. A romance bookstore
4. The Royal Order of George (long story)
5. Spiked eggnog

HALLIE EPHRON: I just wrapped up CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR -- pub date next August. My five things:
1. Yard sales

2. A locked storage unit

3. A MAD Magazine "What Me Worry" board game

4. A retired librarian

5. A stun gun


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Just got the big BRAVA for THE MURDER LIST!  Coming next August 20.              My five things:
1. Envy

2. A necklace

3. Snow

4. Choosing sides

5. Jury tampering?

(May I have forbidden love, too? It's not in there, but--oooh, wait. Yes it is! It totally is! It's actually the point. Whoa..)

JULIA: You get a forbidden love! And YOU get a forbidden love! And YOU get a forbidden love!

RHYS BOWEN: Just handed it my next Royal Spyness for next August. My five things:

2.Bed hopping
3. Polo
4.charging elephant

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh I can't wait to read every one of these!! I'm working on a women's fiction novel called THE HAPPINESS CONNECTION. Five things:

1. Yale Law School

2. a gargoyle

3. chocolate cake (you of course realize that's MY substitute for forbidden love)

4. a self-help happiness group

5. betrayal

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, just reading your list made me laugh. Can't wait to read everyone's WIPs!

 I promise mine does have a title, I'm just waiting on the final thumbs up from my publisher's sales and marketing folks. So until then, from Kincaid/James #18, five things:
1.a car crash



4.a break up


JULIA: Okay, dear readers, if you're writing, tell us five things in your WIP! If not, let us know what elements intrigue you... and what's YOUR forbidden love? (Spoiler: mine is Reese's Peanut Butter Cup minis. So good. So bad.)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Wake Up Alone and Like It!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Friends, I have finally achieved Empty Nest. And a truly empty one it is; with Ross gone, it's just me and an eight-year-old cat manning the fort at chateau Hugo-Vidal. (Perhaps that ought to be manning the chateau at Fort Hugo-Vidal...)

The Smithie was out this past spring, moving in with her Very Tall Boyfriend, although her place was taken almost immediately by her friend Samantha, who lodged with me while she got up and running at her new Portland job and apartment-shopped. This took some time, mostly because the rental situation in our area closely resembles the Death Race scene in Mad Max Fury Road, with far too many contestants peeling ahead recklessly and doing anything to win.

Meanwhile, as you know, Youngest headed up north to the University of Maine in September, so although she's still "residing" at my house (honestly, tax agents who may be reading this blog!) I don't expect her to be here for more than a few weeks at a time from now on. She's already looking into a summer job...in Kosovo. We have dear friends who are Serbian, so that's going to be an interesting conversation.

Samantha finally found a terrific, affordable, safe rental and moved out the week before Thanksgiving, which gave me a week to clean, cook, pick up Youngest, etc. etc. I was so busy, it wasn't until the guests had all departed and Youngest was back up in Orono that it really struck me - I'm all alone.

And I like it!

Let me tell you - there are some nifty advantages to living on one's own. First and foremost: it's insanely easy to keep the place clean. I was worried about this, because for the past 24 years I've struggled to keep the giant dust bunnies and ghostly fingerprint buildup at bay. I used to consider the house well cared for if three of the five downstairs room were not embarrassingly messy and you couldn't smell any cat pee or dog barf. I always had the sneaking suspicion that my family was making most of the mess, and now I have proof - I'm keeping 3000 square feet tidy and dust-free in less time than it used to take me to do one load of laundry.

Which is another delightful change.  For years and years, I did at least one wash a day. Every day, and of course, that didn't count special, tiny little loads when someone's team uniform or only remaining school shirt was dirty. (Catholic school. regulation shirts.) Now? I'm only limited by the amount of clean underwear in my drawer. It takes me three weeks to get full white, colored and dark loads, and yes, that included the sheets. Heck, I used to have a whole basket each week comprised solely of face cloths and towels (for some reason I've never ascertained, the Sailor used THREE facecloths every time he cleaned his face.)

Of course, this means I'm probably going to wind up tasing my children to keep up standards when they're all home for Christmas.  Needs must, I suppose.

Some other benefits? Last night I made myself pearl couscous with roasted winter vegetables, feta cheese and walnuts. Every one of those ingredients would have raised an objection from at least one of my offspring, and my dear Ross, a man who thought all salads should include steak, chicken or bacon, would have asked, "Where's the beef?"

Also, unhitched from the demands of after-school rehearsals, homework, and 9 to 5 work weeks, I'm eating earlier these days. I like prepping dinner while there's still natural light in the kitchen. On the plus side, it's supposed to be good for you to get the bulk of your calories in early and have time to digest. On the minus side, I'm clearly just one pair of sensible shoes away from the 5pm senior citizen all-you-can-eat buffet.

There are a few quasi-negative aspects. I talk to myself these days. A lot. I haven't started losing arguments to myself, so I guess I'm still okay. Per my kids' request, I carry my phone with me whenever I go outside to haul wood or shovel snow - in case I Fall Down and Can't Get Up. And when I get take-out pizza, I can't pretend I'm doing it as a delightful treat for the kids - I have to own the fact I have a craving for ham and pineapple and run with it.

How about you, dear readers? Ever experience the upside of solitude? Or, surrounded by kids, cats and dogs, do you ever dream of what you'd do if you were left home alone?