Monday, February 20, 2017

Travel: Rolling the dice

HALLIE EPHRON: When you travel, sometimes you luck out, and sometimes you roll snake eyes.

Two weeks ago a blizzard was forecast for the northeast. I was supposed to meet my editor and publicity team at HarperCollins the next morning and I was determined to be there.

Just before the storm hit, at 7 AM I drove to the Amtrak station just outside of Boston and boarded a train to New York. It started snowing in Rhode Island. Then whiteout. By the time we got to Queens you could not see the surrounding streets, never mind the Manhattan skyline.

But we arrived... only ten minutes behind schedule. I boarded a subway to Brooklyn (the A-train arrived as I was climbing onto the platform). Emerged in Brooklyn and slogged a block in well-trodden snow to my daughters' apartment. Spent the day playing with my grandchildren! Next morning, took the subway to my meeting, feeling as if I'd slipped through a crack in the space-time continuum and singing the praises of mass transit.

On the way back, two days later, I boarded an Amtrak train that had arrived an hour late to Penn Station. By the time it approached Boston it was creeping along at about 10 miles an hour and the PA system had died and many of the doors were frozen shut. I hoofed it through two cars to find a working the exit. But I got there.

MEANWHILE, THAT SAME DAY Mm friend Barbara Fournier tried to get to Boston from... Casablanca:

I had just flown from Casablanca into JFK airport to find my flight, and all others to Boston, cancelled. I went online and managed to buy the last seat on a 10:30 pm Greyhound bus to Boston! I grabbed the shuttle to the Port Authority, slogging through snow and ice. I printed out my ticket and headed for the dock when a representative announced that all buses to Boston had been cancelled three hours ago!!

But I just bought the ticket!" I whined. He shrugged.

I then checked the Amtrak train schedule and grabbed a ticket for the 2:30 am train. I cabbed it to Penn station and paced anxiously in the jammed waiting room. We left on time!!! I found a seat and dozed off as the train left the station. 

But in a few minutes I was jolted awake by the train stopping. The lights went out except for some dim back ups. The heat was off. The train was dead. We were not fifteen minutes out of the station, in the Bronx. We were getting colder by the minute. The toilets began to overflow. The first announcement informed us that the electrical system was down; an hour later it was announced that 'they' were working on it.

Four hours later, finally the train started. We limped into the next station ( New Rochelle). We were directed to leave the train immediately. We can leave our luggage on board, we were assured. The next train is right behind us. We piled onto the platform. It was ten degrees and the wind was howling. The doors shut and slowly the train pulled out of the station. People who left their luggage on board were yelling.

Three trains stopped but didn't open their doors, despite our pounding. Finally a train stopped for us - but it was already full. Many of us stood for the remaining four hours to Boston. But we were warm! We could go to the bathroom!  We were going home!

So it took me six hours to go from Morocco to the US but eighteen hours to go from New York to Boston. What a world!"

What are your good-luck/back-luck travel stories?
(Photo credit Matt Donnelly Lake Shore Limited Boston-DC)

RHYS BOWEN: My worst bad luck travel experience was when we were in Kashmir and wanted to go to Ladakh, in those days a forbidden kingdom high in the Himalayas.

We started in a jeep at four in the morning. Drove up a steep mountain pass with streams gushing across the road and a three thousand foot drop on one side. The pass was 15,000 feet high. Bitterly cold. Then for hours through a high bleak valley. At four in the afternoon we came upon a place where the road had been washed away for fifteen miles. No way around.

We had to turn around and drive back for twelve hours mostly in the dark, with a driver who thought he could save gas by shutting off the engine when going downhill. I had to sit with my hand poised above the keys to knock his hand away!

A good luck experience was when we wanted to visit Yellowstone. We spent the night in Cody where it was snowing and all the signs said the park entrance was closed. John, being stubborn, said we would drive up there, just in case. We drove up and they had opened the gate ten minutes before! We were one of the only cars we saw all day.

INGRID THOFT: A few years ago, my husband, mom, and I traveled to Vietnam.  We're an adventurous threesome, and it was a destination that interested us.  It was a fascinating and amazing trip in many ways, but it also included one of my worst travel experiences. 

As we drove away from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon,) we did a passport check only to realize that my mom's passport was missing.  We had a guide and driver for the day (we were supposed to be traveling to the Mekong Delta,) so we returned to the hotel. 

A lengthy search ensued, but the passport could not be found.  First, we went to the local police station to report the missing passport.  Next, we went to the American consulate where they very efficiently issued her a temporary passport.  Phew!  Except we then had to go to the Vietnamese immigration office to get a new visa. 

The next eight hours were filled with chaos, anxiety, and bribes.  Many, many bribes.  At one point, I went out to the car to get more money from my husband, only to hear that he and the driver had been involved in a car chase.  And you know what?  I didn't really care, that's how fraught the situation was in the immigration office! 

Finally, with a lot of cash and the help of our guide, we got the required visa and set off for the Mekong Delta.  A couple of days later the hotel in Saigon contacted us to say they had found the passport in her mini-bar.  Maybe it would have ended up there after our fiasco, but not before.  We suspect the front desk staff misplaced it during check-in and eventually discovered it amongst their paperwork. 

As for good travel stories, every time my plane lands safely, I consider that a successful trip!  Most travel aggravations can be overcome, but not if you don't finish it in one piece!

JENN MCKINLAY: My Mom and I decided to indulge in a trip to Florence (Ah, Firenze) Italy for my fortieth birthday. I left the Hub and Hooligans behind in the frat house for a week of visiting museums, historic sites, and Tuscan vineyards.

It was a wonderful trip. Amazing food, beautiful city, lovely people, lots of laughs, and more gelato than I could ever eat, although I did my best. The only blip in the trip was when Mom got into it with a transportation officer on a city bus and the next thing I knew we were getting hauled off the bus and charged seventy-five euros. Mom hadn't punched her ticket right away and when she remembered and went to do it, the transportation guy nabbed her. Not very sporting of him since she was trying to do the right thing but we were already under way so he felt he had a case. Mom, being feisty, refused to listen to the man, and started calling for "La Polizia!" (I kid you not), meanwhile the other woman who got snagged with us made her escape.

I was too busy laughing at the insanity and taking pictures of the cute police officers, they had white hats just like the British bobbies, who smiled and nodded and told us with a shrug that we had to pay. Mom was miffed but once we caught the bus to our vineyard tour at a castle and had some wine, she settled down.

Still one of my favorite memories. Mom has spunk!

LUCY BURDETTE: Our scariest travel moments involved driving to ski houses in Vermont back in the 1990's. If you rented a house with another couple for a weekend, by God you were going to get there no matter what it took.

I wouldn't have minded staying home if the forecast was for black ice or a blizzard while traveling. Especially with two squabbling children in the backseat! At one point I was reduced to a quivering blob moaning "motel, motel." John honestly could not see the road more than 100 yards in front of him.

I finally prevailed and we got the last room in a crummy dive and we were oh so glad to be there. I consider it sheer dumb luck that we survived all those weekends--and that our fledgling marriage survived too!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, good luck is when it all turns out fine and everyone is safe. My plane to Atlanta Friday was FIVE HOURS delayed, and there's nothing like the crazed and frantic atmosphere of a planeload of travelers trying to to figure out how to get somewhere. It was doomed. It was presidents day weekend and school vacation week, and seriously, there was not one seat. It all turned out fine, I arrived five hours late, but my event was the next day, so all fine.

But once on a trip to Indianapolis, I smelled a funny smell. you know how when some thoughtless person brings Chinese food on a plane? That's what I thought it was.

Finally, though, it was clear it wasn't. I went to the flight attendant and said, you know, there's a funny smell. (I mean, you have to understand the level of terror I had to mention it..) And she looked at me like I was really annoying, and said this plot has twenty years of experience, I'm sure it's fine. So I shrugged, and tried (and failed) to believe her 

And truly, the smell  grew to be incredibly pungent..I had my scarf over my nose. The flight attendant saw me, and said: the smell is less in the back, want to change seats? And I did. 

As the Indianapolis airport came into view, and we were almost landing, the flight attendants came on the PA. 'BRACE BRACE BRACE"  they yelled. "Heads down, heads down! Brace brace brace!" I peeked out the window.MANY Fire trucks. SILENCE on the plane, except for the commanding flight attendants. We landed. We taxied way to the end of the runway. The pilot came out, and said they that before we deplaned, they had to make sure the plane was not going to catch on fire.

Turns out, the electrical system had shorted out, and been burning, and just before we landed, the ENTIRE electrical system went down.

Forgive me for how long this is, but I had the same pilot on the flight back. I said to him--wow, that was scary yesterday.

And he said yeah, in my twenty years of flying, nothing like that had ever happened. He said--the cockpit was filled with smoke. We put on our masks, and landed.

Oh! PS. He also said "When I first smelled it, I thought someone had brought on Chinese food."

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I made my book signing yesterday in Phoenix by the skin of my teeth! Flying early yesterday morning from Portland, big mess at PBX with a flight very delayed from Chicago and all the American agents scrambling to get people sorted who had missed planes, which delayed my flight, too. But so far, that's the closest call for book tour.

I have a fun travel story. A few years ago, my daughter and I were flying to London. She had booked us for afternoon tea at Gordon Ramsay Claridge's for that afternoon. Even reserving months ahead, that had been the only available date.

So we arrive at Gatwick at 7 in the morning. We get through customs and my bag comes in. Then we wait, and wait, and wait. No bag for Kayti. We finally realize it is not on the plane and fill out the necessary paperwork. Kayti is in sweats and we are panicked about our tea reservation.

So we go shopping in Gatwick and find her a dress at Monsoon, and then some shoes. By this time it's noon and we have to be at Claridge's at two. No time to go to the flat to change and freshen up. I said don't worry, we can change in the Ladies at the hotel. Really? Kayti asks. It's Claridge's, I say. Of course we can.

So we did, and our tea was fabulous, one of our most memorable experiences. Kayti's bag arrived the next morning...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My scary experience? A "free" week-long vacation in Manzanillo that my father-in-law got us when he sat through a time share offer. (He used the same technique to acquire a weekend in the Bahamas for us later.) We were young, adventurous and child-free, so we jumped at it.

First off, we booked a cheap flight (not included) saving money by arriving in the middle of the night. There was a driver from the time share company waiting for us, who ushered us into the back seat and began to drive. And drive. And drive. He didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Spanish. We went for what seemed like hours, seeing nothing but impenetrable jungle in the narrow headlight beams. Ross was convinced we had fallen into the hands of kidnappers.

When we finally arrived at the Barefoot Hotel, we were pleased with the spacious accommodations - but the only part of the hotel that seemed lit was our room and the antechamber leading to it. The only sound we could hear was the beating of the Pacific waves. No voices. No muzak. No greeting. Ross told me to bar the door and not open it for anyone, then went to see what he could find out.

Turns out, we were the ONLY guests in the hotel, which was otherwise closed for renovations. Only we never saw any work going on. There was one maid - from the village? - who cleaned our room. We never saw her. The only other person around was Ramon, a sixty-something who spent his days trying unsuccessfully to clear the pool of leaves and who kept a cooler full of ice and beer for Ross, whom he called "Patron." I felt like we had fallen into a Winston Graham novel.

It was a relaxing and eerie experience, made more so by the fact that I can't find any reference to a "Barefoot Hotel" in Manzanillo...

HALLIE: So please, were any of you out and about in a blizzard or trying to get somewhere in California's epic rains? Share the good, bad and the ugly.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Swag! Freebies! Goodies! What is wrong with me?

Jenn McKinlay

     Okay, I have a confession to make I love free stuff. I mean I really love free stuff, which is deeply at odds with my utter contempt for clutter. I swear it’s like I have split personalities about stuff. At a conference, I will vault over three other people and add a back handspring with a twist for a free pencil, but if the Hub or Hooligans leave their shoes in the middle of the floor, I will kick their shoes all the way to their bedrooms and if I’m really irritated, they will find them neatly tucked into their beds. Clutter makes me bonkers. Give me free stuff. These are my issues.
     Compounding my issues is the reality that I have developed a swag problem. It started so simply. “We’re going to make you a few bookmarks,” my publisher said. “Something you can hand out at conferences and signings.”
     That seemed smart. Then they offered to make postcards, too. Very nice. I felt like it was a sort of a business card for the books. I dutifully took them to events but then I noticed that other authors had even cooler stuff to hand out. Pens, sticky-notes, and sometimes key-chains, water bottles, and tote bags. In a blind panic of newbie authorness, I decided I had to up my game.

     The darkness began with the book Sugar and Iced. Set against the backdrop of a beauty pageant, I thought it would be hilarious to offer up tiaras as a silly giveaway. Well, if the beauty pageant in the book was cut throat it was nothing compared to the rabid response I got from readers wanting to win a tiara. Seriously, bribes were involved! It just proves everyone wants a tiara, yes, even some dudes. I have to say, they were pretty sweet with real rhinestones on a metal base from a British import company and they only cost five bucks. After that, the madness snowballed into cupcake squishy balls, aprons, berets, library card swag, some of which was produced exclusively by the Poisoned Pen, you name it, we did it.

     I can hear you asking why even offer swag? Aren’t the books enough? I imagine every author has a different reason for offering bookmarks, bags, pens, or whatever. For me, I write several series so I’m promoting multiple stories, usually at the same time and this gives me a way to differentiate between them. For the current cupcake mystery out in April, I’m giving out measuring spoons. But then in May, I am debuting my first romantic comedy so it’s beach bags for everyone, okay, not everyone but the lucky ones who win a giveaway.

     Because naturally, as the swag mountain began to grow, my inner clutter hater reared her persnickety head, and I realized I needed to have structured giveaways to unload the loot.  So every Wednesday on my FB page, I have a giveaway of whatever crazy swag I have going, my book, or if I’ve signed with another author recently, their book. Why do giveaways? Well, mostly because in the beginning of my career I felt like every social media post was a pitch to buy my book, buy my book, buy my book. Bleh, I hated it! So, doing giveaways became a way of talking about the book or a friend’s book without talking about the book and it felt like an opportunity to say thank you to the readers, which, truly, I can never thank you all enough! So, here have a pen! LOL!

Leave a comment and be entered
to win this ridiculous giveaway!
So, Reds, tell me, do you like free stuff? Like a sweet Jungle Red Writers bookmark? What’s some of the best author swag you’ve seen? Readers leave a comment, telling us your preferred author swag (i.e. a book, a bag, a tiara, etc.) and be entered in a random drawing to win…well, free stuff! Because, of course, there's a giveaway!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Titles or What’s in a Name?

Jenn McKinlay

Romeo and Juliet: proving names matter
Whenever I get flummoxed over my titles (frequently) I think of the iconic lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Juliet:
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Here’s the thing – spoiler alert – both Romeo and Juliet die at the end, thus one can argue that, yeah, names do matter and so do book titles. They matter so much, in fact, there is a dent worn into the top of my desk from where I bang my head while trying to generate acceptable titles.

Now, for those of you who’ve read my work, you know I write comedy. Shenanigans and snappy dialogue are my thing and I like my titles to reflect that. This leads to some rather pointed discussions with sales and marketing since they are actually the ones who have the final say on an author’s book title. They argue that since they have to sell the book first, they need a title that allows them to do so. It’s a fair point, but given some of the titles I’ve had to contortion twist out of myself to get everyone in agreement, again, I defer to the words of Juliet:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

True story, funny story: I decided to write one of my cupcake bakery mystery capers against the backdrop of a zombie walk, because why not? I mean if you’re going to have cupcake bakers solve murder mysteries you might as well go all in and dress them up as zombies, too. I did mention that I write comedy, right? Lots of humor potential with zombies, I’m just sayin’. Well, when it was time to come up with the title, my agent at the time thought up the single greatest title ever…ready…wait for it…drum roll… yes, it’s that good…wait for it…really ready...okay………The Baking Dead! 

Brilliant, right? I know! What did sales and marketing say? Um…it’s not very cupcakey. The dent in the top of my desk got much deeper that day. Thankfully, a reader came to rescue and came up with the title Dark Chocolate Demise, which we all agreed was a good one and then the art department kicked butt, making one of my most favorite covers, ever, so it’s all good, but still. Titles! You’re killing me!

And now, just because I am title obsessed, I want to share with you a few of my favorites. I won’t list the ones that I find horrible, because that would be mean, but you know they’re out there. Those are the books where you think, Ish, what were they thinking? Of course, then the book hits the bestseller’s list and you realize you know nothing – story of my life!

Some of my favorite mystery book titles in no particular order:

I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim is Getting Better by Sarah Shankman
The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey
If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him by Sharyn McCrumb
Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson

How about you, Reds? How do you feel about book titles? Critical to a purchase? Not so much? What’s a title that you think is brilliant?

Friday, February 17, 2017

When a Book Becomes a Movie!

Jenn McKinlay

Jenn and Kate, drinking wine. Shocker.
The book to movie conundrum. I don't think there is an author alive who doesn't think about what will happen if their book becomes a movie, so I am thrilled to have Kate Carlisle, my long time friend, mentor, wine-drinking buddy, and partner in shenanigans, share her perspective of this very thing, since Kate's fabulous Fixer-Upper Mysteries were brought to the small screen by Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, in the first of what will be a series of movies starring Jewel and Colin Ferguson. Yay!

Kate Carlisle is the New York Times bestselling author of the Bibliophile Mysteries and the Fixer-Upper Mysteries. 

Learn more about her books at

Kate: On January 15, I had the honor of seeing characters who were born in my head come to life on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. It was quite a milestone in my career. And here's the best part: I loved the movie!

Jenn: I did, too! Jewel and Colin had real chemistry and as an amateur sleuth she was utterly charming.

Kate: The feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly positive. I have heard from a few who questioned why the producers made changes to the story. The way I look at it, Shannon now lives in two parallel universes—in the books, and in the movies. We can enjoy them both for what they are, even if they're not identical.

Jenn: Agreed. They are such different formats. Still, your sly sense of humor, snappy dialogue, and clever plotting was evident in the film just like your books. Such a treat for me and all of your readers to see your work in a new medium.

Kate: When I'm writing books, I don't have the same limitations that filmmakers have. I can write a car chase without worrying about how I can afford to total two cars. They also have only two hours, minus commercial breaks, in order to tell a satisfying story. That means they need to limit the number of characters, and get all emotions across as best they can through dialogue and the actors' expressions.

As a novelist, I have no limits other than my imagination, and that I stay true to the world I've created. In the small resort town of Lighthouse Cove, California, the best man for the job is a woman—Shannon Hammer, owner of Hammer Construction Company and an expert in Victorian home restoration and renovation. Shannon discovers not only skeletons in her neighbors' closets, but murder victims, too! Book 1 is A HIGH-END FINISH.

Jenn: I loved this book! The whole series is just wonderful. BTW, Mac is my fictional boyfriend! 


1. The initial offer. I wasn't shopping my books around to producers. I had no idea this was in the works until my agent called to tell me that Hallmark was interested in my series. Can you imagine how I danced around the house as soon as that phone call ended?

2. The casting. Right from the first call, I was told they were looking for a project for singer/songwriter/actress Jewel, and I couldn't have been more thrilled. She is the perfect blend of feminine, smart, and tough to capture Shannon's character. And Colin Ferguson, her male lead, is handsome, intelligent, and has great comic timing. Here I am with him (and a copy of THIS OLD HOMICIDE) at the red carpet gala in Hollywood the night before the first movie aired.

3. Seeing my name in the opening credits. "Based on the Fixer-Upper Mysteries by Kate Carlisle." Pinch me!

4. The explosion. In the first scene of the movie, a boat explodes. That wasn't in the book, but wow, did it make a great impact on screen. It kicked off the mystery with a bang. Literally.

5. The secrecy. I wasn't allowed to publicize the movie until given the go-ahead. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries issued a press release, but I couldn't say a word. Filming started. Jewel and Colin Ferguson both posted videos and pictures from the set on their Instagram account, while I remained silent. For months, readers would email me or post questions on my Facebook page about the Hallmark movie because they'd read about it online, and I simply… couldn't answer.

But now I can shout it to the world—and the good news hasn't stopped coming. That was just the first Fixer-Upper Mystery movie! Filming on the second will happen in February. I'm planning to visit the set this time, and I'll be sure to share pictures in my newsletter. Sign up at While you're there, check out the free goodies available to members of my mailing list in the Secret Room.

Jenn: I can not wait to see pictures from the set! Very exciting!

So, Reds, what is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation? Any questions for Kate?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

To Do Lists

Jenn McKinlay

I'm a list-maker. To do lists, grocery lists, idea lists, lists of books I've read, you name it, if it needs to happen in my world it ends up on a list. Conversely, if it's not on a list, it doesn't happen. The Hub and Hooligans have learned this truth the hard way.

I am such a list maker that on our first anniversary while enjoying dinner at Monti's Steakhouse, I looked at the Hub, giddy that we had clocked in our first year, and said, "Let's make a five year plan." Yes, of course it would have been in the form of a list. He looked at me in horror, raised his hands with fingers pointed like they were six-shooters and said, "Uh, I'm more a seat of the pants kind of guy." Equally horrified, we spent the rest of the meal in awkward silence. Now we laugh about it, but at the time we were both thinking, How did I not know this about this person? We are doomed! 
Needless to say, I made a list about this situation, how we could manage this compulsive divide, and Hub did not. Somehow, despite his lack of lists, we have survived.

While struggling with a scene the other day, I came to that fictional crossroads, you know the one, where the story can go this way or that way and still allow the plot to follow the loosely penned outline in the proper direction. I couldn't decide which way to go. It was maddening. I closed my laptop and found a piece of paper and started making two lists, each one spelling out the ramifications of each direction. The answer became clear and my faith in list-making was confirmed.

Curious to see if I was the only compulsive list-maker out there, I did some research and found a fabulous article about Ray Bradbury and the value of lists: Ray Bradbury on How List-Making Can Boost Your Creativity. 
You can click on the title above to read the whole article on, but the line that got me was: "These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull." 
YES! You really can't argue with Ray Bradbury, now can you?

Now I have to ask you, Reds, are you list-makers or do you just fly by the seat of your pants? (Oh, horror!)