Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What I Learned from Being a Woman; a guest post by Lance Hawvermale

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yesterday, I toured two colleges with Youngest (yes, dear reader, I'm doing it again) and one of the things I learned was that incoming students are assigned rooms based on the gender with which they identify. Since I've known quite a few young people who are any sort of shade between male and female, this strikes me as useful. As an author, I know we all have the ability to identify with both men and women; if we didn't, how could we write believable characters of a different gender?

Why is this relevant for today's guest? I'll let Lance Havermale, author of the fascinating new thriller FACE BLIND, tell you himself.

I had to become a woman to get published.

When I was 19, I wrote one of the greatest action thrillers of the 20th century. Unfortunately, not a single literary agent in New York agreed with my assessment. So I wrote another, received more kind rejections, and wrote yet another. Result: several stacks of “no thank you” notes because this was pre-email and editors killed a lot of innocent trees on my behalf back then.

I spent a decade with an ever-rising pile of unpublished manuscripts crammed with derring-do and dashing male leads. Like James Bond or Indiana Jones, my protagonists were larger-than-life, and so were their adventures and love affairs. I couldn’t understand why the publishers weren’t driving one another off the highway in a race to get to my front door.

Then something happened. For no particular reason, I wrote a book about real people, saying real things, colliding with real challenges. The lead role in my women’s fiction novel Seeing Pink (Five Star, 2003) was shared equally by five female characters, heroines who fought everyday battles. In breaking out of their routines, those characters showed me what it means to be extraordinary. That novel was released under the woman’s pseudonym of Erin O’Rourke.

Becoming O’Rourke and writing as her for years eventually brought me here, to my thriller Face Blind (Minotaur Books, 2016), where I finally get to be myself. Here’s what my journey has taught me about writing and about being a man:

  • The best heroes are normal people forced outside their comfort zones.
  • Women talk to other women in a way very different than how men talk to other men.
  • Every horrible thing that happens should be balanced with something magical.
  • Romance is important, no matter your age.

These days the pages of my novels are shared equally between women and men. And those fictional characters frequently remind me that—in the end—gender doesn’t really matter at all. These are human problems we’re facing, both in books and in the real world, and human hearts that we’re breaking.

I’ve learned a lot from my lifelong love of reading and writing. What about you? What secrets of life can you share that you first found in a book?

FACE BLIND: A man with a neurological disorder that prevents him from recognizing human faces confronts an enigmatic killer in Chile's Atacama desert--the most lifeless place on earth.

Gabe Traylin is face-blind, unable to tell one face from the next. Content to earn his living well away from civilization, he works as an astronomer at an observatory in the earth's driest desert, where no rain has fallen in 400 years. But when he finds a man murdered, he is compelled to leave his self-imposed exile and avenge the dead. Gabe's investigation brings him face to face with the killer, but he's unable to provide a description to the police--and soon he becomes their suspect in a series of horrific and unexplained mutilations. To discover the truth before he's arrested for crimes he didn't commit, he must put his trust in three strangers: a fearless young adventurer, a washed-up novelist who thinks he's bulletproof, and a woman with a face he'll never see.
Together they unearth the secrets of Chile's fascist past, a time of kidnappings, torture, and political turmoil. Following the clues given to them by one of the country's most notorious war criminals, they venture further into the desert, discovering the secrets of revenge as well as the secrets of themselves.
 You can find out more about Lance Hawvermale and read an excerpt of FACE BLIND at his website. You can also friend him on Facebook and find him on Twitter as @LanceHawvermale.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dress Your Age - Do or Don't?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Yesterday, in the NYTimes Sunday Review, I read a terrific article by Julia Baird entitled "Don't Dress Your Age." In it, she points out the many, many ways in which women's appearances are policed as they get older, whether it be from well-meaning store clerks or magazine articles on how to disguise your widening middle or minimize your wobbly upper arms. I loved this line:
"We are also told to monitor our appearance in a way men are very rarely told to. Find me a man leafing through a magazine that tells him to upturn his collar to hide his neck wrinkles, and I will upturn it for him."
My first encounter with the question, "Am I dressing too young" came not with clothing, but with my hair, which I had colored since my gray became noticeable at the age of 26. After two decades, I was tired of the expense and the bother (not to mention having to touch up my roots every three weeks) and was ready to go natural. But I admit, part of my calculation to stop dying my hair was to allow myself to be gray before I looked too old. In other words, I hoped people would see my white hair and then my not-yet-wrinkled face and think it charming, rather than decrepit.

I'm fortunate to live with my 24- and 16-year-old daughters, who will always answer when I ask, "Is this too young for me?" Actually, they often encourage me to push the envelope a little more, which I appreciate. But I wonder: when did I absorb the lesson that I had to "dress appropriately?" That my hair might be too long, or my nail color too wild? I'm not talking about the kinds of imposed-from-without fashion trends many of us have voluntarily eschewed, like wearing high heels or trendy but uncomfortable cuts. I mean the voice in the back of your head which, if you're over 40, will ask you, "Isn't that a little too much?" as you look at yourself in the mirror. Does it sound like your mother? Maybe.

Men do not hear that voice. Men wear shorts and T-shirts identical to those worn my their five-year old grandsons. They don't switch from bikinis to one-piece swimsuits with skirts attached; they show up at the beach and let it all hang out, Or over. They don't cut their hair differently at twenty and at fifty - although there may be a lot more arranging to cover the bald spot going on. So why do we do it? Should we worry about being "mutton dressed as lamb?" Or, in the vein of Rhys deciding she's going to wear white clothing when she wants to, in season or not, should we all say the hell with it?

What say you, Reds? Have you ever had that "this is too young for me" moment? And what do you wear if you're not dressing your age?

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh I loved that article Julia! I had never heard of that awful expression--a mutton dressed as a lamb. I don't wear high heels, but that's because my feet hurt and has nothing to do with fashion. But maybe I am guilty of wearing what teenage girls might wear at home--jeans and a hoodie. I don't show my belly, but then I never did!

This summer we attended my nephew's wedding in Malibu--it was going to be a truly happy celebration, but we all stewed over what to wear in order not to shame ourselves in front of the LA crowd. (Trust me, you can't keep up with LA fashion, so it's best not to try.) Anyway, I came up with this dress and definitely brooded over whether I was too old to carry it off. Such a silly waste of good worrying! I'm ready to sign a pact saying, we are who we are, and we wear what we like and where we like it:)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I've certainly had the "too young for me" moment, many of them, and so relieved I thought so! Dresses that look like babydoll pajamas or cheerleader outfits, with random weird places cut out, or midriff showing (why?) or so low cut that you couldn't possibly sit down. It's embarrassing! Yes, I remember my mother cringing at my too-short skirts, which they were, I suppose, but I was sixteen! Still, and I don't mean to be judgmental, but some things are inappropriate. And there's nothing wrong with seeing that. It's about self-respect.

I don't think it's about age, I think it's about what makes you feel good, and what's appropriate for the situation. I have to look business-like for work, and wear suit-type things and high heels all the time. I'm comfortable, it's fun, I'm happy. I'm not much of a risk taker, but loved what I put together to be toastmaster at Malice. It's a dress and leather jacket. And my shoes were...well, great. They didn't show, but I knew they were there.

 That's what's fun about fashion and clothing. At ANY age. Wear what you love.

HALLIE EPHRON: Men's clothes are boring. It's so much more fun to be a woman. And yes, I once wore very (very) short skirts. Didn't my generation invent the micro-mini? With knee-high boots, of course. And no, I wouldn't wear that today, but more because now I dress for comfort. I'd be forever tugging at the hem and feeling a cool breeze up my behind. And boots? Am I the only person whose feet sweat?

Weddings are always a challenge. I have a wonderful little black dress (Yay, Eileen Fisher) that I wear to almost everything. I've got a black skirt of the same material I can wear under the dress to make the hem longer.The trick to making it work is accessories! I have a sequined dickey that makes it glamorous. My pink pearls for more sedate but classy. A paisley shawl for more casual.  Jackets, of course.

RHYS BOWEN: There are certain items of clothing that nobody over fifty should wear. Knees are not an attractive part of the female anatomy, especially as they get older and wrinkly. So why is every dress above the knee these days. I love dresses and can never find one that looks smart, well cut and finishes just below the knee. I don't like droopy mid calf and maxi dresses are hard to wear.

I don't like exposing any part of me that droops or wrinkles. So no bikinis for me. Oh and leggings. Nobody over sixteen should wear leggings without a long top or dress over them. I have settled on the tailored look and I have to say that I like most of Hilary's pantsuits. If I had time I'd start a clothing line for my age--not what male designers think women over fifty should look like but well tailored, smart, longer jackets,I used to wear Ralph Lauren a lot but recently he has gone younger and brighter than I like. I saw a Lauren dress this week that was above the knee, pink with brown and green flowers. Not me at all!  I have a couple of Eileen Fisher items but I don't look good in black or brown and her colors are all a bit drab for me.

I did buy a fabulous black silk tuxedo for an award ceremony this year. It looks great on me.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I don't worry too much about what is "age appropriate." On the other hand I'm not baring my midriff for anybody, but I don't see too many under-thirties that should be baring theirs, either. I do like my skirts above my knees, but maybe I should reconsider:-)

But while I think high heels were invented as a conspiracy against women, I'm a bit horrified to see that I am turning into my mother, who had trouble with her feet and for years wore leather lace-up walking shoes. You all have photos of cute outfits. I have shoes. I bought a pair of very pricey, supposedly VERY comfortable, boots for London, but I didn't have time to break them in. In my packing panic, I decided to leave my old, shabby, incredibly comfortable boots at home. You can probably guess the next bit.Two days in London and my feet hurt so much I thought I would die.

So I bought THESE and they are heaven. (You can't tell from the photo but they are actually more mauve than tan, so very funky.) My mom would have loved them. The good thing is that here in London most women of ANY AGE are either wearing trainers (tennis shoes in American) or something similar, because everybody walks, everywhere.

JULIA: Debs, you keep wearing short skirts if you like! I think that's the point of Baird's essay - not to wear what's suitable "for your age," but to wear what's suitable for you. How about you, dear readers? Do you think some looks are in or out based on your date of birth? Or should we all say to hell with it and dress like Iris Apfel?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Debs' London Journal--Portobello in Pics

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If I'm in London on a Saturday, you can guess where I am!

Today was a gorgeous day for Portobello Market. Mid-fifties (that's Fahrenheit, for those of you who are inclined to think in Celsius,) and mostly sunny. Portobello Road was jammed with people and there was a barrage of sights and sounds and smells. I can't share the smells with you, and while I did video several of the buskers, I think putting those together will have to be a separate project.

So here are some favorite photos from the day, starting with the gorgeous florist at the corner of Kensington Park Road and Elgin Crescent, where I got off the bus. (You will see this corner again in GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS, so take note!)


The olive stall, which I adore. If I didn't give in to the temptation to buy today, it was only because I'd bought some at the Italian deli in Pimlico. Olives here are SO good compared to the olives we get in the US--maybe because they're fresher?

The handmade journal stall. These are fun (I have a couple at home) but they are nowhere near the quality of Iona journals.

My favorite out of the many buskers. He was singing in Spanish, lovely sort of jazzy bossa nova stuff. I would happily have listened to him for an hour or two.

But food called! In case you thought I might have starved... There is a stall at Portobello Green that has, I am convinced, THE best grilled cheese sandwiches in the world. This had smoked bacon (British bacon, which is more like ham,) and onion relish and I don't even know how many different cheeses. When the sandwich is almost done, the lady sprinkles some grated cheese right on the griddle between the two halves, so that you get these crispy cheese edges... Absolutely fabulous!

And here's my favorite shot of the day--the most beautiful veggie stall on the market.

Of course you know that what Portobello Market is famous for is the antiques, but you can see I have my priorities...

REDS and readers, would you be more tempted by the food or the trinkets?

Signing off from Pimlico for now!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Debs' London Journal--Or I Travel to Eat

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Here's an update on my first less-than-forty-eight hours in London. Readers often ask how I, as an American writing British novels, research my books, and the past two days have been a pretty good example.

Triangular building in triangular Pimlico
I like getting the feel for neighborhoods, and on this visit I'm learning one that is fairly new to me, Pimlico. On the north side of the Thames and south of Victoria Station, Pimlico sits in a little downward curve of the river between Chelsea and Westminster. I have stayed in Pimlico once, years ago, and I have visited my friend who lives here a number of times, but that is not the same as living, at least temporarily, in a place. Pimlico seems to be made up of a series of slightly off-angle triangles, so I'm still struggling with my inner geographical map. (I've learned which way to walk to the shops, and which way to walk to the bus stop--and, oops, both ways end up in the same place...) Somehow Pimlico feels a little set apart, out of the hustle and bustle of central London, and I'm loving that sense of difference.

My local chippy

And I have, of course, found places to eat. Last night, I had tapas with my friend Barb at a little Spanish place called Goya's across from Pimlico tube station. Oh, my, it was amazing. We had at least half a dozen little plates--chorizo, and baby squid, and ratatouille, and spinach with goat cheese, and stuffed aubergine, and kidneys in sherry (I think), and Manchego cheese with quince... Oh, that's more than half a dozen, isn't it? All delicious, and we ate it ALL. Which didn't keep me from being hungry at two in the morning.

Today I had lunch at the Italian deli just down the street, Veroni, and it is my new favorite place. It's tiny, and packed with customers eating in and taking out, and it has fabulous coffee and the most beautiful array of Italian salads and charcuterie. I have to figure out their least busy times so that I can go in with my journal and drink lattes while I write. 
Veroni, Pimlico

Then tonight I took the tube up to Victoria Street, to the very posh new shopping complex called Cardinal Place (across from the Catholic cathedral) because there is a Wagamama. This is a UK Japanese food chain, and I'd been craving their ramen since I was here last January. I brought Shirodashi ramen back to the flat, and in case you're wondering, that's noodles with barbecued pork belly, greens, and a tea-stained egg, in a chicken broth. Yum.

The cooks at Wagamama. So cute!

In between all this eating, I've dealt with an all-day plumbing emergency, shopped for groceries (more food), walked, read newspapers, watched TV, and stared to feel at home in this bit of London. I have no idea how any of this will fit into books, but I have no doubt that it will.

And then tonight, as I walked up to Pimlico tube station in the crisp autumn dusk, the bells were ringing at St. Savior's church. 


REDS NEWS FLASH--Bec, you are the winner of Ellen Byron's book and swag! Email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com, and I'll connect the two of you. Congrats!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ellen Byron--A Moment That Changed My Life

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love this inspiring story from writer Ellen Byron--especially after having just made a ten hour trans-Atlantic flight! I ran into Ellen, who is as charming and funny and relaxed as can be, at the New Orleans airport, when we were both boarding flights home after Bouchercon. We chatted about writing, and books (as writers are inclined to do) and about how perfect Bouchercon was for her new Cajun Country Mystery novel, Body on the Bayou

I had no idea that for her, flying was--well, I'll let her tell you!

ELLEN BYRON: We can all point to moments that changed our lives – marriage, childbirth, getting our first book published. But these are the moments you expect to have huge consequences. What about the ones that seem inconsequential at the time?  I had a moment like that during an interview with legendary actress Shirley MacLaine.

From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, I earned my living as an entertainment journalist and commuted between New York and Los Angeles. Problem was, I hated flying. On one flight, my poor seatmates were a mother and her young, hearing-impaired daughter. When we hit a bumpy patch over the Rockies, I burst into tears. The little girl held my hand until the plane stopped bouncing, only letting go to sign a few words of comfort.

Okay, back to Shirley. Out on a Limb, the book she wrote about her spiritual journey, had just come out, and Redbook magazine hired me to write a short article featuring her relaxation tips. I made my way across town to her Sutton Place duplex. However, it happened to be my “time of the month,” and I felt terrible. (Don’t worry, this isn’t TMI, it has a point.)

The interview went great, but when it concluded Shirley asked if I was feeling all right. “You look pale,” she said. “I have cramps,” I reluctantly admitted, to which she responded, “You need brandy.” She poured us each a shot. (And yes, the thought going through my head was, “OMG, I’m hanging and drinking brandy with Shirley MacLaine, OMG!!”) We made small talk as we sipped, and somehow my fear of flying came up. Shirley gazed at me thoughtfully, and then said, “I’m going to give you a mantra. The next time you feel panic on an airplane, say this over and over to yourself: ‘I am having a safe, uneventful journey.’” A few days later, when I was on yet another flight to Los Angeles and we hit turbulence, I began muttering Shirley’s mantra to myself. And it worked. The panic disappeared.

I’ve been using Shirley’s mantra ever since that interview umpteen years ago. These days, as I travel the country for events to publicize my Cajun Country Mystery series, the mantra has become my BFF. I use it on land as well as in the air. You have no idea how handy it comes in on the L.A. freeways. Whenever I feel a rising sense of panic, I repeat those seven words to myself – ‘I am having a safe, uneventful journey’ – and feel an immediate sense of calm. With that single, simple sentence, Shirley MacLaine changed my life.

DEBS: Ellen, my mom loved Shirley MacLaine, and we both read that book. Your story brought back such fun memories of time spent with her. I'll bet we both read your piece in Redbook, too! Isn't life full of bizarre and wonderful connections? And I think you were very brave to keep getting on airplanes when flying was so terrifying for you.

REDS and READERS, Ellen wants to know what moment changed your life. She'll be checking in to chat, and will give a copy of Body on the Bayou (and some great swag!) to one of our commenters.

Ellen's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. The second book in her Cajun Country Mystery Series, Body on the Bayou, offers “everything a cozy reader could want,” according to Publishers Weekly, while the Library Journal says, “Diane Mott ­Davidson and Lou Jane Temple fans will line up for this series.”
Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. http://www.ellenbyron.com/

In Body on the Bayou, the second book in Ellen Byron’s USA Today bestselling Cajun Country Mystery series, Maggie Crozat agrees to be frenemy Vanessa Fleer’s Maid of Honor. But when a murder occurs prior to the wedding and Vanessa tops the list of suspects, meeting this Bridezilla’s wedding demands takes a backseat to keeping her out of jail.