Monday, April 22, 2019

The House Next Door

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So listen to this. We have lived in the same house near Boston for the past twenty-something years. We love it, it's peaceful, and in a little town with a town center, and green and wonderful. And it has ducks. So. Our next door neighbor on one side is a dear pal. And on the other side is a perfectly nice couple we see walking their some kind of dog.

But next door to that is a big big house with kind of mysterious inhabitants. In that there seemed to be lots of them,  with too many cars and too much clutter in their back yard.  We never approved.

Anyway. the other day woman who looked like me with a cute dog showed up at the front door. (Her name turned to to be Meg, and her terrier Bowie, and she's lovely. A new pal.)

Anyway. She said: I need to tell you there's a new neighbor in the big house! And he wants to cut all our trees that have branches that hang over his yard!

Here is our back yard, the view from Meg's house.

The tree he wants to cut is a 200 year old sugar maple. Here's a closer shot, and we think it's about 60 feet tall. 

But look at the photo below.  See the branches to the left of the lines? We think... he wants to cut them all. (We have called our own arborist, the one who has taken care of our trees for years, and he is coming tomorrow to trim as much as we can. Crossing fingers.)

A situation is about to ensue. But I really hope not.

Can you believe it? Don't get me started. I will be so so incredibly sad if that fabulous and historic tree gets chopped up. I love it, every day. In winter, in spring, in summer and the fabulous fall. It it a hobbit tree, I know, and has birds and squirrels and everything.  We LOVE the tree. It is an ancestor.  It was the civil war. Oh. I cannot bear it.  We are trying to make this work. I hope we can compromise.

So do you know your neighbors? Did you when you were a kid? How neighborly are you?

RHYS BOWEN: We have lived on the same street since 1980. There are still some original neighbors and the new ones are friendly. We have a Halloween party every year ( with plenty of alcohol flowing after kiddies are in bed) and summer street parties, we are very friendly with our next door neighbor. Only one horribly creepy family nearby. 

We knew everyone when we had a condo in Arizona, and we've met the neighbors at our new house . They are sweet people. I'm a naturally chatty person so I speak to everyone!

HALLIE EPHRON: We do know our neighbors and are SO LUCKY with them. On one side, a State cop (he parks the cruiser in our shared driveway... better than a burglar alarm!) and his lovely wife (a teacher) with two grown kids we've known since they were babies. When enormous maple tree in our backyards precisely on our property line needs pruning, we share the cost. 

On the other side a couple just moved in with a new baby. They wanted to take out the hedge between their driveway and our front yard and replace it with a fence. We said GO TO IT! (one less hedge to trim) We also know our neighbors across the street and up the adjacent dead end where our grandkids race their scooters. 

I LOVE my neighbors! But it hasn't always been so (cue scary music)... 

LUCY BURDETTE: let me put it this way, I want to love my neighbors. When we were growing up​,​ we lived in ​a​ neighborhood te​e​ming with children and friendly people. There were block parties and bridge parties and kids roaming everywhere and nobody worried. 

In fact, stranger than fiction, our next-door neighbor Mary Jane  married my dad when he was widowed many years later. It was wonderful to have a stepmother who knew us as children!

We live in two places​. I​n Key West things are always changing. People get older and can’t stay there, transient tourist​s​ move in and out and so on. (People have actually died--I hate that!) But we do have a nice group of people in our condo whom we visit with and could call in an emergency. In Connecticut, well, how shall I say this? Some of the neighbors we know well and love. With others, situations​ have already​ ensued. It’s a small neighborhood and we are hoping for the best when we go back this summer. Fingers crossed, okay?

JENN McKINLAY: We adore our neighbors! In fact, we just had dinner at one of their houses last week, along with our other neighbors, and it lasted about seven hours because we all genuinely like each other. Our neighborhood is old, the houses small, but it's full of kids and families, and we live on a street with a school at the end so there's plenty of activity but in a good way. 

When the hooligans were young, I had no problem them tossing them out of the house to "go play and see you at dinnertime" because I am a free range mom, who thinks the best part of childhood is the shenanigans. I am happy to report the hooligans got up to plenty. I think the thing I love most about my neighborhood is that I feel safe. Everyone knows each other and we all look out for each other. Hub and I have been contemplating moving as the hooligans leave the nest, but it will be hard to say good-bye to our home of twenty plus years.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: On the plus side, we love our "historic" neighborhood, with its town square, historic houses (some of them), and beautiful trees. And as our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live next door on one side, we count ourselves extremely lucky in that neighbor department. It's a very mixed neighborhood age-wise. There are young couples with babies either side of our kids, there are middle-aged people, retired people, and some very elderly folks who have been in their houses for decades. I think our catty-corner neighbors are in their nineties. And our former across-the-street neighbor stayed in her house until she was a hundred. We still miss her.

BUT. There was a huge, heritage, at least a hundred-year-old native elm tree just on our new rear neighbor's side of our shared fence. It was glorious, maybe the biggest tree in the whole town, and we have some serious trees here. It shaded our entire back yard, patio, deck, and the west side of our house from the afternoon sun. I loved that tree in every season for almost twenty-five years.

In February, the neighbors informed us the night before the tree crew started that they were cutting it down. I was hysterical. I mean, literally hysterical, and I'm not normally given to emotional outbursts at all. I begged them not to do it. (We'd always shared the cost of maintenance on the tree with the previous neighbors, who were friends.)

But the tree is gone--it took them four different crews to finish the job, and the crews had to work out of our back yard to get it down. It was a devastating loss.  Now, not only do we have no afternoon shade, we no longer have any privacy in our back yard. We're in the process of seeing if we can put up shade sails to give us a little relief on the deck and patio.

HANK: Oh, Debs.. that is horrific. Ridiculous. Amazing. Breathtaking. And so so so scary. WHY??  
(And bizarre coincidence, I am no reading a terrific book by the amazing Louise Candlish, called THOSE PEOPLE. It's wonderful. And guess what it's about?) 
What about you, Reds and readers? Are you lovin' thy neighbor? Or...not so much?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Waiting for the purple cow...

Wishing all our readers a happy Easter, happy Passover, or just a happy Sunday!

Last week, to a huge fanfare, NASA published
the first photo of a black hole. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Because how could you photograph... well, never mind, there it is. Looking for all the world like a golden donut. Something I thought I'd never see. Like the Yeti. Or El Dorado. Or a purple cow.

It got me thinking about all those things we never thought we'd see and then we did. Like:
- the dark side of the moon
- the Red Sox win the world series
- a 3-D printer
- fake hamburger at BurgerKing (apparently coming soon to an outlet near you)
- gene editing cures children born with compromised immune systems

I'm still waiting for ruby slippers, a time machine, and a cure for Alzheimers. So what are the things you thought you'd never see and the you did... and what remains elusive?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Hallie? I was hoping your darling
husband could give us a little black hole lesson.

Anyway!  I REALLY want to see the Loch Ness monster. And beings from other  planets. Just as likely (maybe)  I'd adore to have a dishwasher that empties itself,  but I have to say I am grateful for mine (and the washing machine) every day.

Who'd a thought fax machines would be obsolete? And we have a stash of DVDs but no longer nay device to play them on.  And now
I have gotten into the habit of telling appliances what to do, but only a few of them do it. And mapping the human genome--that's pretty amazing.

Who'd have thought we could trace ancestors and relatives based on spit? And I still marvel at on demand digital TV--remember when "instant replay" seemed like magic? And when the Dick Tracy two-way radio seemed ridiculous.

Self-driving cars--I could do without.
What I wish for? A memory protector. And a device of some kind that would secretly remind me of people's names. And some way to make sure everyone has food and a place to live.

JENN McKINLAY: And let's give credit where credit is due - Katie
Bouman, MIT grad student, created one of the critical algorithms used by the team of over two hundred international researchers, to be able to manifest that photo. Can I just say - Go, Girl!

And as for things I thought I'd never see? Myself as married or a mom. It was not on my agenda (shrug). I really thought we'd have colonies on Mars by now, so that disappoints :) And I really wish there was a way to have men birth the babies. It's their turn. I'm just sayin'.

Video phones! They seemed so cool when people on Star Trek and the like could see each other when they communicated. But now the reality of FaceTime, Skype means I have to spruce myself up to make a phone call.

I never thought we'd see cure for disease by altering genes, being able to map ancestry through DNA.

However I thought we'd see equality for women by now. Hah.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Flying cars! I'm still waiting for flying cars! And transporter beams! I mean, we have "communicators" now, and "tri-corders (more or less)" so why not those?

LUCY BURDETTE: I have to say that the black hole business boggles my mind. I too would like a lesson from our resident physicist Hallie!
Speaking of cars, our Subaru does things I'd never imagined--it beeps like mad when it thinks you might back into something.

Sometimes we accuse it of over-reacting, and sometimes I'm so glad I didn't run over the person it spotted! It will also slow you down if you're following too closely and slam on the brakes if it feels the need. I would like everyone to have those features so we're all a little safer!

Can I say I never thought I'd see HID FROM OUR EYES finished? Ba-DUM-bump! Of course, the first things that come to mind in the "never thought I'd see" category are political, but I'll be good and elide over that topic. Some of mine are personal - I never thought I'd see my children grown (or nearly so) holding down real jobs, serving in the military, thinking of getting married. I mean, I know this stuff happens to 99% of all humanity, but when you're in the throes of child-rearing, the fact it might end never seems quite real.

I never thought I'd see China rise to compete with the US for the title of "Most Influential Nation in the World." Does
anyone else remember being told to "Eat your food, there are children starving in China?" There's a funny twist on this in CRAZY RICH ASIANS where a wealthy Singaporean Chinese dad tells his kids, "Eat up! There are kids going hungry in America!" (On reflection, it's probably not that funny...) 

On the things I still want to see: people on Mars! A cure for Alzheimer's! I can skip on the flying cars, but I'm totally down with truly autonomic vehicles that will enable me to read while on the road. Oh, and as I start planning getting the house painted, I'm still waiting for a safe paint that can match the coverage and long life of those terrible, wonderful lead paints. How's that for a specific wish!

HALLIE: So what did you think you'd never see and 'lo and behold, here it is?

And by the way... YOU'LL NEVER KNOW DEAR is downpriced! Going for $1.99 starting Monday for one week only! Here's a link to booksellers.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mourning Notre Dame

HALLIE EPHRON: It was heart wrenching watching the news break on Monday when Notre Dame cathedral caught fire and burned. And burned. The tower crumbling. The roof caving. Visiting Paris has been, for many of us, a right of passage. A life-defining moment.

I've been there several times. The first on my honeymoon (Europe on $5 a day, really,) staying just across the river on the Left Bank near the Place San Andr√© des Artes staying at the Hotel Eugenie (still there!) 

Jerry and I couldn't even afford to sit in a cafe after our prix fixe dinner (lined up with students for the restaurant to open), so after dinner we'd walk along the banks of the Seine and watch the sun set and the light change on the cathedral on the Ile de la Cité. SO romantic.

I remember visiting the Notre Dame with its facade of carved saints outside and extraordinary rose window, climbing the tower and petting a gargoyle as we looked out over Paris.

We walked from there to the Isle Saint Louis, shopping the menus of restaurants we could not afford on our way to splurge on ice cream cones at Bertillhon. The cones were tiny with a ball of ice cream about the size of a golf ball. The taste: an explosion.

Julie Anne Workman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

We returned years later with our two daughters, nine and fifteen. The cathedral was just as breathtaking. We could just see it from the window of our top-floor room in the ancient Hotel Esmeraelda. We sat in the beautiful garden behind the church, admiring the flying buttresses. Then a repeat pilgrimage across the bridge to the Isle Saint Louis. Bertillhon was still there. It still is.

That's the wonderful thing about Paris. After decades it still feels like Paris. Notre Dame needs its spire back. The city needs its cathedral. I hope it will be there when grandkids to pay their first visit.

What are your memories of Paris?

Friday, April 19, 2019

A sniff of subtext & a touch of murder from Leslie Karst #bookgiveaway

THIS WEEK'S WINNERS: Congratulations Flora Church, Liz Milliron M, Cynthia, go to the CONTACT page on Hallie's web site and email her your mailing address to get your book!

HALLIE EPHRON: Leslie Karst is an author after my own heart. There's homemade PASTA on her web site! She came to writing culinary mysteries by way of a career in law, of course, that forked into culinary arts. Reviewers call her Sally Solari mysteries sharp and smart and spicy. Murder From Scratch is the fourth in the series.

LESLIE KARST: Those of you familiar with my Sally Solari mysteries know that they all share a culinary theme, as Sally’s family runs two restaurants: Solari’s, her father’s old-school Italian seafood joint, and Gauguin, the trendy French-Polynesian place she inherits from her aunt in book one.

But what you might not realize is that the series has a secondary subtext as well (perhaps so very “sub” that you would miss it if I didn’t tell you), in that each book also concerns one of the five senses. The first, Dying for a Taste, concerns (duh) taste; the second, A Measure of Murder—in which Sally joins a chorus singing the sublime Mozart Requiem—involves the sense of hearing; and the third, Death al Fresco, which has Sally taking a a plein air painting class, deals with the sense of vision.

In the fourth book, Murder from Scratch, I decided to address the sense of touch. But, I wondered, how could I make “touch” an important part of the story or, better yet, a key to how Sally solves the murder?

It so happened that while I was musing on this question and coming up with the plot for this latest book in my series, I spent the afternoon with a blind friend, Herman. While hanging out with him at his house that day, I was struck by how easily he located whatever he needed in his home—be it that jar of orange marmalade in the fridge, a specific CD he wanted to play for me, or the right colored shirt to match his green slacks.

How much more reliant on their other senses a blind person must be to get along in the world
I realized. And how very organized their life needs to be, compared to someone who can simply rely on their vision to get by. And then it hit me, what a perfect setup this would be for my new mystery—a blind character who, by virtue of her heightened sense of touch, is able to discover clues the sighted sleuth, Sally, misses.

And so I created Evelyn, Sally’s estranged blind cousin
, who comes to stay with Sally after Evie’s mother is found dead of an overdose. Or was it murder?

When the police appear convinced the death was an accident, the two cousins set out to learn the true story and discover the identity of the killer. But along the way, they discover also how very much they share in common—including a love of food, cooking, and hand-rolled pasta.

Nothing Beats Your Nonna’s Homemade Pasta

I was initially a little nervous about including a blind side-kick in my book. After all, how could a sighted person possibly create a realistic character who has gone her entire life without the ability to see? So I asked Herman if I could come stay with him for a full weekend, in order to hang out with him, pick his brain, and try to get a better understanding of his life. Not only did he happily agree, but he informed he that he now had a roommate—a thirty-year-old blind gal who was also excited to spend time with me and to help breathe life into Evelyn.

Then, after finishing the manuscript, I asked several beta readers who were blind to provide me with comments and advice as to the story and my rendering of a blind character, and I revised it accordingly.
The early reviews of Murder from Scratch are approving of my portrayal of Evelyn, which makes me very glad. Because—like Sally—I’d come to think of her as a close friend by the time I finished the book.

HALLIE: So brave, writing a character whose experiences, day to day, would have to be so different from your own.  Have you ever had to go, even for a short period of time, without one of your senses?? I get why Leslie started with taste... for a culinary mystery series.

Today Leslie is giving away a copy of MURDER FROM SCRATCH to one lucky commenter.

About Murder from Scratch:

Sally’s life is already plenty complicated, what with running the popular and bustling Gauguin and dealing with irate cooks, scheduling headaches, and other staffing issues. So when her dad convinces her to take in a blind relative, Evelyn, whose mother has just died of a drug overdose, she’s none too happy. Sally’s cousin, however, turns out to be not only highly competent, but also lots of fun. And she’s a terrific cook, to boot—taught at an early age by her chef mom, Jackie.

When moved objects around her house cause Evelyn to suspect that Jackie’s death was not the accident or suicide the police believe it to have been, she and Sally decide to investigate on their own. And Sally soon learns that Evelyn’s blindness makes her more attuned to her other senses, allowing her to discover clues that Sally would easily have missed. The cousins’ sleuthing takes them into the world of pop-up and Southeast Asian restaurants, macho commercial kitchens, and the cut-throat competitiveness that can flame up between chefs—especially when stolen recipes are at stake.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

S. A. Lelchuk, inspired by a cross-country drive to write a kick-ass character

Yesterday's winners: Flora Church & Liz Milliron win a copy of Kris Frieswick's THE GHOST MANUSCRIPT, and Kris thanks everyone for their great advice.  (Flora, Liz, go to my web site; my contact page has my email... send me your mailing addresses so Kris can send you a book.)

HALLIE EPHRON: It's always exciting when a new series and its writer start generating the kind of buzz that's accompanying S. A. Lelchuk's SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN. The series features Nikki Griffin, not your typical private investigator. In her office above her bookstore's shelves and stacks, where she luxuriates in books and the comfort they provide, she also tracks certain men. Dangerous men. Men who've hurt the women they claim to love. Clearly what's selling the book (already optioned for film and TV) is the main character.

So here's Saul to talk about Nikki.

S. A. LELCHUK: Hello, Jungle Red community!

My protagonist, Nikki Griffin, has been compared to Lisbeth Salander and Jack Reacher, which was so exciting for me, as a huge fan of both those series. There are plenty of differences, of course: Nikki lacks the dark, pure vengefulness of Lisbeth, and certainly the kind of raw power and physical imposingness of Reacher.

I wanted a character who is larger than life in some ways – able to dish out punishment to those who deserve it – but also susceptible to the same fears that probably most of us have felt.

Uncertainties about career, worries about relationships, feeling not in control of her emotions and reactions, this intense, sometimes blinding loyalty to those she loves… to me these things are fairly integral to who Nikki is.

A few readers have liked that Nikki doesn’t have to trade emotion, especially empathy, for toughness, and that’s been great to see, because that was a big part of how I envisioned her. I hate the notion that toughness needs to mean cold-heartedness or aloofness.

One reviewer compared her to Becky Sharp; in fact, Nikki even worries aloud about this similarity. But, as she is reminded in the book, even though they share a … definite single-mindedness, Nikki is ultimately driven by empathy, by a desire to protect. She’s gone through this horrific childhood tragedy, and in her mind, she failed to be there when it mattered. She bears a lot of guilt, and might never be able to fully let go of the idea of protectionism—even if she sometimes can’t help but take it to an extreme.

Sometimes I feel writing and insomnia go together, as Nikki might say, like gin and olives. I first came up with Nikki at about 3:00 am one morning, and by the time I fell asleep at 6:00, I had the rudiments of who she was. That day I happened to be starting a solo cross-country drive from New Hampshire to California.

Turns out that meandering, solo road trips through remote parts of the country are not only a guaranteed way to feel deep gratitude for the invention of satellite radio, but also a pretty perfect way to wrestle with the beginnings of a book! I wrote the first scene in an Applebee’s in Eerie, Pennsylvania, continued in the prairie around the Badlands in North Dakota, through Yellowstone, the Southwest, and so forth. If time allowed, before every new book I’d drive cross-country alone.

The suspense/mystery genre is a little terrifying, because so much amazing stuff is already out there! The challenge for me was: how to find a bit of ground that maybe hasn’t been fully stepped on, and yet also pay homage to writers I love? I think having Nikki run a bookstore allowed me to get at the latter, and it’s been great seeing the responses from book-lovers who enjoy the literary references.

Only so much can go into a single, 300-ish page book, so I’m delighted this is the start of a series. Getting to explore more backstory, bring back favorite characters or introduce new ones – these are very fun things to play with. Hopefully Nikki will be around for a long time! 

HALLIE: I'm a huge fan, too, of Jack Reacher and Lisbeth Salander. What a power couple they make!! AND adding the bookstore sands the edges.  

Anyone else out there who found a road trip a fertile time for coming up with great ideas?

If you're in Phoenix near The Poisoned Pen Bookstore on Saturday at 2PM, drop by and hear Saul talk about SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN.