Saturday, February 25, 2017

WORD PLAY: Trying not to miss the pun farts

HALLIE EPHRON: I love words. What fun to mess around with them, making up new words and transposing sounds to amuse myself.

In today’s paper, a piece about Leslie Jones performing in Boston: “We also learned that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is a big fan of Jones. Hizzoner tweeted at the Ghostbusters actress on Friday to invite her to lunch.”

Took me a few blinks to process: Hizzoner? Turns out I’m way out of the loop. It’s a corruption of His Honor, of course. Merriam-Webster traces it back to 1882.

Here are some of my favorite word corruptions, many of which run rampant in my family, brought to us by baby-talking parents and babies learning to talk.

Attacking it in one swell foop

Stop being such a gilly soose

Marauding runny babbits

Catterpiggles before they turn into flutterbies

Try not to miss the pun fart

Act like a jibbertyflibbit

Indulge in belly jeans

Explain to the ossifer that I wasnt speeding

So mixed up I got it bass ackwards

Wearing a Thunderbra under my flaid plannel shirt

Where are my flop flips

Soap for the wishdawsher

Getting it done, dick and quirty.

Quit yer picknitting.

Tighten the nug luts

Freshen your stiplick

And then there are the words we like to mispronounce on porpoise…

Sharpen the skizzers

Eat your pisghetti

Load the hiccup truck

Take a ride in an upticopter

Put the milk in the fridgedator.

And every October 31 my husband wishes me a Hallie Happoween.

Please, share your favorite corruptions of the English language.
(And thanks to Edward Lear for the inspired nonsense of his drawings.) 

To our readers: We're testing out a change -- today's and tomorrow's blog will have 'anonymous' comments disabled. If this affects you and you have trouble creating an ID for yourself that enables you to comment, PLEASE EMAIL ME (Hallie "at" HallieEphron Dot Com)! I'll walk you through (all you need is a GMAIL account). Even more important we want to be sure this change doesn't stifle the conversation.  WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A poetic look back at Baltimore with Lynne Viti

HALLIE EPHRON: Poetry seems to me the most challenging of the literary art forms. Scenes are the atomic particles of novels, and their sheer length (pages!) gives the writer a lot of wiggle room. The poet’s atomic particle is the word. Every one has to be perfectly chosen, placed on the page, and ultimately read aloud and considered.

When I heard that my friend from college days, Lynne Viti, would soon be publishing a collection of poems – Baltimore Girls – I couldn’t wait to read them and to talk to her about how, how on earth, you write a poem.

Welcome to Jungle Red, Lynne… congratulations! And please, share where does this collection of poems spring from?

LYNNE S. VITI: In Baltimore Girls I reach back into my memories of growing up in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties in the city of Baltimore, at a time when that very segregated northernmost Southern city was on the cusp of social and political change, and then became swept up in that chaotic time.

Memories of family— of the city itself, its factories and churches, public swimming pools, taverns, buses and trolleys, churches— blend with my imagined journey, through poetry, back to my adolescence: an all-girls Catholic school, coming of age, the fascination with music, from James Brown to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, our rebellion against our parents’ tastes and mores. We thought we were so cool, that our parents knew next to nothing, relics from the Depression and the World War II era that they were.

HALLIE: Such a perfect way of framing the first poem in the collection, “Salad Days.” It includes this:

Our mothers thought our world was crazy. 

Too much Orbison and Presley, then in a whirr,

James Brown, the man in the orange cape, and

the Beatles, who made us scream, or the

Subversive Dylan, who questioned us,

How does it feel, to be on your own?
--when our mothers wanted us to be safe--

Take the bus to school, be home on time.

No drinking, no smoking, study hard,

Go to college. Find a nice boy. Get

married, stay in town. Our town, which

changed and burned, changed and burned again.
What’s so cool about this is that you’re both looking both ways, both back to when you were a teenager but from the perspective of a mother of two grown sons.

I began to see all of our shared history through the eyes of
a mature woman who now found herself on the other end of it, dealing with two sons and seeing them through their adolescence–out of “adultescence”  and into adulthood, in the new millennium.

What else did you find yourself writing about?

Several of the poems focus on the loss of friendships, whether by neglect or attrition, geographical distance, or death.  This preoccupation with loss is something that has always been part of my psychological makeup. But it has grown more intense, and more poignant, in my late sixties. 

Thinking about these losses and working towards the insights that come from meditating on one’s own mortality, have, I think, made my poetry deeper and more universal. I hope that a reader need not have grown up as a Baltimore girl in my era, for the poems to resonate with her or him.

HALLIE: Do you think poetry needs to be heard (as opposed to silently read)? I often find myself reading a poem aloud to myself, just because the spoken word seems to carry more meaning. And then I need to repeat it so I can hear it again.

LYNNE: Something I feel quite strongly about is the need for
poetry to be out there in the world, as a spoken art, a text read aloud, not merely lines in a printed book that no one borrows from the library. For me, this means doing readings everywhere I can get my foot in the door—public libraries, writing workshops, open mics, bookstores, churches, community centers. I use social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as my blog, to get my poetry in front of people who would not normally buy poetry books, or borrow them from the library.

So will you be giving readings? Where? When??


April 2,  2017, Westwood Public Library, Westwood, MA 3-5 PM

May 6, 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, reading Salem, MA

October 19, 2017  Featured poet, Gallery 55, Natick, MA

January  13, 2017  Florida Center for the Book, Fort Lauderdale, FL

HALLIE: What’s your writing process? Do you workshop the poems with other writers or is it a solitary effort? Does a poem flow out or come in spurts?

LYNNE: I start by writing alone. I write on foolscap, those yellow lined legal pads.  Sometimes I start a poem in a notebook, but those big tablets are my favorite. I revise  right on the first draft, until it gets too messy, then I get it down on the computer. I save every version of a poem, because sometimes I've revised it, but haven''t made it better, and I  go back to an earlier version to get it right.

 I have a poetry writing group of two, actually. As well, I participate on and off in Danielle Legros Georges (Poet Laureate of Boston)'s poetry workshops, and for three years --up until 2014, I was a regular member of poetry workshops that the previous Boston Poet Laureate, Sam Cornish. Getting feedback from a variety of workshop participants is daunting, but also very useful.

I put myself on a schedule. I try to write a poem, or part of one, each day. Sometimes I get stuck, but usually, I start a poem and finish it, revise it, revise it again, and then show it to one of my first readers for feedback. Then I revise.

If I submit a poem over and over again and receive rejections from all sides, I look at it with a cold critical eye and work on it some more.  I hate to give up on a poem.

HALLIE: This is making me want to go back and revisit the many books of poetry we have, slow down, and read aloud to myself.

Today's question: Is there a place for poetry in your life, and which poets (or lyricists) have spoken to you and for you?

Baltimore Girls is a brief collection of poems that examines the poet’s early life in the 1960s and the culture in which she grew up. It is personal history — tales of a small group of young women who lived in the segregated city of my youth. The poems are mini-memoirs, snapshots of young women who had determined they were bound for greater things: “we were in a hurry to get out of town, out of state, through school, to a job…”
Pre-order from Finishing Line Press

Lynne Viti is a senior lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College, where she teaches writing-intensive courses in bioethics, legal studies, media studies, and journalism. Her poetry, nonfiction and fiction has appeared in over forty online and print journals and anthologies, including The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television (2009), The Baltimore Sun, Amuse-Bouche, The Paterson Review, The Little Patuxent Review, Drunk Monkeys, Cultured Vultures, Incandescent Mind, and Right Hand Pointing. She won an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and the summer 2015 music poetry contest at The Song Is. She blogs at

Thursday, February 23, 2017

kc dyer's love letter to Scotland & the elusive Jamie Fraser

HALLIE EPHRON: Today I’m delighted to welcome (back) kc dyer, whose bestselling book FINDING FRASER is a complete delight. Think OUTLANDER meets BRIDGET JONES DIARY.

Her protagonist (Emma Sheridan) has fallen hopelessly in love with Diana Gabaldon’s fictional (we think) creation, Jamie Fraser, and goes off to Scotland in search of the next best thing.

It’s a lovely homage to Gabaldon, who generously and enthusiastically cheered kc’s efforts. And for kc, it’s part love story, part coming of age, and it made me completely believe that the real kc had fallen in love with the real (fictional) Jamie Fraser.


kc dyer: But of course! Who could read the Outlander books and not fall for Jamie Fraser? Tall, noble, willing to do anything for the woman he loves? A heroic figure for sure. And that Scottish accent does NOT hurt.

HALLIE:  Not to get too personal, but were you actually looking for Fraser at the time when you conceptualized and wrote the book? And how has that worked out for you?

kc: Hahaha! You are not alone in that thought, Hallie! I've had a LOT of fan-mail from people convinced I wrote a secret sort of roman á clef, after having combed the auld sod for my own true love.

The sorry truth is that this story is entirely fiction
, apart from the fact I see it as a bit of a love-letter to Scotland itself. I have been to all the places Emma visited, it's true, but not in search of my own Fraser.

Would I mind if one had actually shown up? NOT AT ALL. But so far, no luck on that front!

HALLIE: The setting for the book is spectacular Scotland. Is that a place that holds a special significance for you?

kc: Absolutely. My family originally hailed from Scotland, both Edinburgh and Inverness. My very first book, SEEDS OF TIME, was set in the West Highlands at the time of the Black Plague. I love it there and go as often as I can. And I clearly took my children with me on research trips once too often, as my daughter now lives in Edinburgh. Yet another reason for me to visit!

HALLIE: Were you worried how Diana Gabaldon would respond to you, ahem, appropriating her character? How has she reacted?

kc: Oh my gosh. I was SO worried. When I first had the idea for the book, I told my writing partner and she laughed. So, essentially I wrote the story just for the pure fun of it. I told myself that Diana [who is a long-time friend] would never see it, and went ahead and wrote it. But, just by coincidence, I finished the first draft at about 3 in the morning on the night before Valentine's Day.

You know that post-draft feeling of euphoria that happens in the middle of the night? Well, that's what happened. I was feeling all giddy and happy to be finished, but the story actually opens on Valentine's Day, which is the main character's birthday. I decided to spill the beans to Diana.

I knew I would have to admit that not only does my Emma love the Outlander books, but that I had written Diana herself into the story, too. So I sent her a long letter explaining that if she didn't like the story or felt it impugned the marvelous world she had created, I would put it into a box under my bed.

I felt it was important she knew that Finding Fraser was a story about a fan of Outlander, but it was in no way fan-fiction. Luckily for me, she appreciated that distinction and has been wonderfully supportive ever since.

HALLIE: Have you had a great time watching this book do so well? And do men show up to your readings in kilts?

kc: Watching this book do well has been the most fun EVER. It's now an international best-seller. My first book was published in 2002, and Finding Fraser is my 7th book, but it's my first for grown-ups, and my first best-seller. And yes, I've had many men in kilts come to my signings. It's like a little Scottish miracle. Maybe I'll find that Fraser yet!

HALLIE: I completely loved this book and hope many of our friends out there will have as much fun with it as I did. Anyone who's been to the Surrey International Writers Conference will recognize the inimitable Jack Whyte (author of the Guardians of Scotland series and a true character in his own right) who shows up from time to time to drink with Emma offer his sage advice.

Today's question: What hunks from literature would you be willing to travel across the ocean to meet? Mr. Darcy? Robb Stark? Ross Poldark?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Uppity women

HALLIE EPHRON: Some NYU researchers have concluded that by the age of 6, girls are less likely to view girls than boys as brilliant. On top of this comes the news that American parents Googled “Is my son a genius?” more than twice as often as they Googled “Is my daughter a genius?” They also Googled “Is my daughter overweight?” about 70 percent more often than “Is my son overweight?” (Which got me wondering if it's parents who are more likely to be overweight and less likely to be geniuses.)

I have never had a problem calling myself a feminist. I’m the third of four sisters, daughter of one of Hollywood’s first female screenwriters, a mouthy broad, and I have never doubted women can be brilliant. My daughters, just for example, are brilliant. And it took me a very long time to find a man I thought was smarter than me (and interested enough) to marry. A physicist, he still can’t find the butter in a half-empty refrigerator or fry an egg while sorting laundry.

Now I have two grandchildren, a 11-month old boy and a 3 1/2 year old girl, and you can believe me when I tell you they are both brilliant. However, I find myself questioning my feminist credentials as I bestow upon my grandson a virtual fleet of trucks and cars, while to my granddaughter I search out the fanciest mermaid princess costume and ballerina dolls. It’s what they want, I say.

Or is it what I want to give them?

So where are you in the gender wars? And does hearing that it requires “brilliance” to do something put you off from trying?

LUCY BURDETTE: This is tricky Hallie, because I believe so much sexism and racism is embedded deep below our consciousness, both individually and as a country. I learned about sexism in the women's movement in the late 70s when I went to graduate school in Tennessee. I bought my copy of OUR BODIES, OURSELVES, my own plastic speculum (lol), and joined a consciousness raising group. And I have no doubt that women are as smart as men. But I have many old roots telling me (for one example) that the home is the purview of the woman.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I am so baffled by this. And have no idea. I have two grandsons, 7 and 14. They want trucks, Legos, fighting stuff, wars, superheroes, Pokemon, videogames, competition, silly jokes.

The little girls next door, 7 and 14, are totally different. The are semi-tomboys--hmmm, probably can't say that now?--soccer and horseback riding and running around and skateboards. But they never saw sparkly stuff they didn't like. And would never turn down a tiara.

BUT--if you asked me who was "smarter"? Ah. They are all equally brilliant.

And. As I was deplaning yesterday, the man across the aisle gestured me to go first. He said "Ladies should always go first." And I said "Yes. Very true! Especially in dangerous situations."

I was very proud of myself.

HALLIE: Ha ha ha! Mango, anyone? This reminds me of the hilarious song from FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, Marlo Thomas singing "Ladies First."

INGRID THOFT: I'm the youngest of four daughters raised by parents who always taught us that we were strong, smart, and capable.  Given that as a society we choose to paint newborns' rooms based on their gender (let's remember that newborns don't even see that well,) I would say that humans are still socialized along very strict gender lines. 

It drives me crazy when people talk about a kid being "such a boy" because he's energetic or likes to play with trucks.  I'm an aunt to 14, (eight girls and six boys,) and I can tell you that we have energetic girls and low-key boys, girls who like building things and boys who like stuffed animals.  Their interests and strength run the gamut, but they're all brilliant, of course. ;) 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My parents never gave me the least idea that there was anything I couldn't do because I was a girl, or that I wasn't as smart as boys. And I was a tomboy (what do we say now, for girls who don't play with dolls and girly things?) as was my daughter.

It's too early to say about my granddaughter, but I wonder how much girls' preference for girly things and boys' for boy stuff is due to the expectations of parents? I do strongly feel, however, that there is still a strong cultural gender bias, and that it is on the uptick with the current social climate. 

JENN MCKINLAY: Gender wars. It's difficult for me to accept that we still have to fight, that we haven't evolved as a society enough to see individuals beyond their gender.

I am a feminist but mostly I'm a humanist -- I guess that would be the word. I believe in the power of the individual to defy the odds, to make their own way, to be better than the people who came before, no matter their gender, race, religion, or socio-economic status.

My brother and I are only eleven months apart with him being older. He was my first best friend and the person I admired above all others (still do). As the youngest of six, we were always together. Always. Even our name became one word: JedandJenny! We were allowed to run wild and we did. Mischief and shenanigans abounded and it would never have occurred to either of us that there was anything from skateboarding to sewing that my brother could do that I couldn't or vice versa because of our gender.

I am ever grateful for my childhood and have strived to teach my boys to view the world the same way.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My mother was a feminist in the sixties and seventies (I mean, of course, she still is, but that's when she got her consciousness raised.) She raised my sister and me to expect to work, to value ourselves outside any relationship with a man, and to require respect. She was also adamant about a woman's right to choose - parenthood or not, stay-at-home or career, dresses or jeans and a T shirt. That upbringing has stood us in good stead as Barb and I have been single career girls, working mothers, stay at home mothers and work-at-home mothers.

I worry much less about the girl-toy versus boy-toy divide since I actually had kids. The Smithie and The Sailor are only 15 months apart, so they shared most of their toys and activities. They both took dance, they both took karate. The both swam, the both did gymnastics. Their equality carried on into high school, where they both ran X-C and track, and were both involved in theater.

True, she would spend hours dressing up her Barbies and playacting with them; while he never saw a toy truck he didn't like. And as young adults? They're both "woke," as the kids say today, both very aware of feminism, privilege, intersectionality, etc. The Smithie is a take-charge, aggressive person and The Sailor has a soft heart. And she still likes to dress very "girly" and his first car was a pick-up truck!

I was quite an adventurous girl, always getting knees skinned when I jumped out one of our apple trees. I went to a highly academic girls school and my classmates all expected to go into the professions. When I worked at the BBC I was treated with the same respect as my male colleages. 

I had four children, three girls and then a boy. I was interested to note in what ways he would be different. My girls all liked to play tea parties, to dress up in my clothes and shoes. When Dominic was two months old he was lying in his crib with a cradle gym above him. In his hand was a rattle. For about twenty minutes he looked at the rattle, then at the cradle gym. Rattle. Gym. Then suddenly he gave the gym an almighty swipe with the rattle.

That's a boy, I thought. Although he had all the girly stuff at his disposal he played with cars, trucks, balls, taking things to pieces. And my girls were all in the gifted program, as was my son.

But I think we do unconsciously stereotype. My daughter has twins. When they were babies people would say "Hi, handsome!" in a big voice to the boy, and "Hello, princess" in a gentle voice to the girl. She has turned out to be as physical and tough as her brother: a black belt in karate and absolutely terrifying on a skate board!

And I have to add there are certain males in the USA who still want to think of us as the little women, knowing their place in the kitchen!!!!

HALLIE: Guilty! If my husband tried to take over MY place in the kitchen, I'd drop kick him into the den. This is not because I think women's place is in the kitchen, it's because I'm a much better cook and he'll make stuff I don't feel like eating. Control freak? Yes. Sexist? In effect but not by intent.

It's... complicated. Or is it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mystery Fiction in a Post-Factual World with S. W. Hubbard

“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”
--Tom Clancy

HALLIE EPHRON: Today we welcome Susan W. Hubbard who writes mysteries with a twist. Her new series novel FALSE CAST was inspired by one of the more bizarre news stories ever. I remember reading about the brazen escape of two convicted killers from a prison in Dannemora, New York in 2015, and thinking this is just too bizarre.

I'll let her tell it -- how real life inspires us and sometimes leaves it to crime fiction writer to make it credible.

S. W. HUBBARD: Fiction writers have always been inspired by
real life. Our job used to be to take the framework of real life and strip away all the dull laundry-folding /grass-mowing/car pool-driving part and leave readers with only the witty remarks, smoldering kisses, and tragic deaths. We’d shake up the pieces, but make sure they all clicked together by the last page. Enhanced reality: more intriguing, more vibrant, more fun, but still plausible.

Then came 2017, the dawn of post-factual civilization. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to be a novelist. Every day, the news headlines serve up plot lines wilder than anything a writer could fabricate. Russians hacking our election, country club members snapping pictures of the nuclear code bearer and posting them on Facebook, fake terrorist massacres. Every day people murmur, “you can’t make this stuff up.” And it’s true. If any author invented this and put it in a novel, her editor would come after her with a red pen flowing. Too wild. Too implausible. Too over the top.

Because fiction has to make sense. Real life, on the other hand, doesn’t have an editor.

More’s the pity.

So, can over-the-top reality ever benefit a fiction writer? My new release, False Cast, Book 5 in the Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series, was inspired by the brazen real-life
escape of two murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York in 2015. The case of Richard Matt and David Sweat captivated the nation as the two killers slipped through the heating tunnels of a maximum security prison, and then for three weeks eluded hundreds of law enforcement officers searching for them all over upstate New York.

If their escape plan had turned up in the pages of a novel, it would have been rejected by every publisher in America. Richard Matt, an amateur artist, bribed a guard by giving him original paintings, so the guard helped smuggle tools through the metal detectors. A female prison employee with a crush on the killers hid hacksaws in packages of ground beef. And a two-foot square hole in the prisoners’ cell went unnoticed for months. And all that came before their nightly explorations of the steam pipes behind the walls of their cells.

Susan, can you top this? Not even going to try!
I was less interested in writing about the actual mechanics of a prison break and more interested in how the escape transformed everyday life in the small Adirondack towns where the prisoners were hiding. Who was helping them? What was their endgame? Who was in danger?
And the Keystone Kops-like antics of the escape provided me with plenty of plotting cover. My prisoner in False Cast escapes while being transported from the Essex County Jail to his felony hearing. And while I’m sure police officers everywhere will howl in protest at the sloppy procedures that enable his escape (We would never do that!), all I have to do is point to that undetected two foot hole in the Dannemora cell to justify my plotting. And if anyone objects to the motivations of my fictional accomplices, I can point to that painting as evidence that people are driven by strange desires.

After all the drama of their escape, Sweat and Matt came to a pathetic end: one killed, the other wounded and recaptured by the police. This is where the mystery novelist steps up to the plate. Allow me to fix this saga with a dramatic climax, some well-deserved justice, and a touching epiphany. What power I have to improve the real world!

Whether I’m reading or writing, I want my mystery novels to make sense of the craziness and impose order on a world in disarray. Do you think mystery novels can restore a little sanity to a world gone mad? What’s your favorite “truth is stranger than fiction” story?

False Cast is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. For those who haven’t yet tried the Frank Bennett Adirondack Mountain Mystery Series, The Lure will be FREE on Kindle February 24-28, so be sure to download a copy.

S.W. Hubbard is the author of the Palmyrton Estate Sale Mysteries, Another Man’s Treasure, Treasure of Darkness, and This Bitter Treasure. She is also is the author of four Police Chief Frank Bennett mystery novels set in the Adirondack Mountains: Take the Bait, The Lure (originally published as Swallow the Hook),Blood Knot, and False Cast, as well as a short story collection featuring Frank Bennett, Dead Drift. Take the Bait was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the anthologies Crimes by Moonlight, The Mystery Box, and Adirondack Mysteries. She lives in Morristown, NJ, where she teaches creative writing to enthusiastic teens and adults, and expository writing to reluctant college freshmen. To contact her, join her mailing list, or read the first chapter of any of her books, visit:

Follow her on Twitter @swhubbardauthor or like her Facebook author page. Connect with S.W. Hubbard on Pinterest and Goodreads too.