Monday, November 30, 2015

Reds Holiday Shopping Ideas for Book Lovers!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Since we've now left Thanksgiving in the dust, it's time to start thinking about holiday gifts. And if you're bookish the way the Reds are (and I'm assuming you are, if you're reading this blog!), we have some ideas for you bibliophiles out there!

First off, something free! 

Penguin Random House is having a contest for copies their beautiful classics, with new covers illustrated by Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. Aren't they gorgeous? Today's the last day you can enter, so don't dawdle! 

And three runners-up will receive ALICE IN WONDERLAND, celebrating its 150th anniversary!

For the writer in your life, I found these fab pencils.... (Ordered the  Kiddo's stocking...)

If you'd like something festively bookish to carry your new pencils (or, you know your regular stuff), this book-illustrated pouch is gorgeous (and keeps lead and ink and whatnot from getting on things in your bag).

And for the mystery fan who has everything, I recommend the new ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES — a boxed three-volume set with gorgeous illustrations of all of Doyle's stories, as well as annotated goodies to enjoy.

Reds, what books and bookish gifts are you giving (or do you want) for the holidays?

RHYS BOWEN:  I know one bookish gift I've already put on my own wish list. I'm a big fan of Kate Morton and she's just come out with a new book called The Lake House. And I already have a signed copy of another book for one of my daughters, but I can't tell you what it is because she reads this page sometimes. I've just realized my whole family reads this page so I can't tell you any other brilliant suggestions. For my birthday my brother gave me a beautiful fountain pen in natural Tasmanian wood. My kind of gift!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Rhys is being quite modest, as her Christmas book, AWAY IN A MANGER, just came out — but more on that on Saturday!

HALLIE EPHRON: I lust after lovely pens and pencils, but I know better -- I lose them too fast. One of my favorite gifts for readers and writers is personalized stationery. I know, from another era. But because use email and messaging so much, an actual handwritten letter has more meaning. Love the designs on And is there the equivalent of Netflix for audio books? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh, thank you. You remind me I have to think about this. Yes, I love pens and pencils, too, and paper. And notebooks! I found some wonderful notebooks. They're made by a non-profit called More Than Words, from the  covers of old video boxes. You know? The covers are  the fronts of the  cardboard boxes that held video rentals, and they've been made into spiral bound notebooks. So brilliant.  I love them! I have Sabrina, For Your Eyes Only, and Only The Valiant. And Spiderman.  And the good part--they are so inexpensive, I'll actually use them. I have a whole stash of gorgeous notebooks that I don't use because (so silly) I think oh, what I'm writing is not important enough. So the secret--use cool but inexpensive notebooks--I'm not afraid to write in them!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My daughter and I made a stop at Barnes & Noble last week. Coloring books galore! I have asked for one called Hidden Paris--so fun. AND I saw the Robert Galbraith book and the new Jim Butcher (beginning of a new series.) Both big doorstoppers of books, the kind I love to get for Christmas. Oh, those are all for me, aren't they?  Well, there are lots of books by fellow REDS to give to other people...

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh grand ideas, which sent me on an ordering pens or pencils for us, though, we lose them like Hallie! I love the idea of the notebooks, Hank, but I couldn't find them online. And Debs, you reminded me that my daughter was itching for coloring books--found them very soothing when in the hospital by my mother-in-law's bedside. For John, David Lebovitz's THE PERFECT SCOOP and the Ben and Jerry ice cream book. (You can guess what else Debs talked me in to!) I'm also giving signed copies of Kristan Higgan's IF YOU ONLY KNEW (for lovers of women's fiction), Isabel Allende's THE JAPANESE LOVER, and 100 YEARS OF BEST SHORT STORIES, edited by Lorrie Moore. I'm going to have to put the Kate Morton on my list!

Some other ideas: for short story crime fiction lovers, RED DAWN, for mystery and foodie people, THE MWA COOKBOOK, and for Florida and nature lovers, my own sister Susan Cerulean's gorgeous book, COMING TO PASS.

Julia Spencer-Fleming: The top item on my Christmas list is definitely book-related: the DVD of the first season of POLDARK. I forswore watching it so I could get more work done on my own book, (so that didn't work out quite as planned...) in exchange for the promise that someone in the family would get me the televised version of Winston Graham's beloved saga. My interest is strictly literary, and has nothing to do with hot Aidan Turner.

A book-lover's present I may be giving this year: one of Storiarts' book scarves. They're beautiful cotton knit infinity scarves silkscreened with excerpts from Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austin, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens, among other classics. A new twist (no pun intended): this year, Storiarts is offering custom-order scarves with the text of your choice. So you can give your favorite author a wearable form of her own book!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: For more ideas, check out Lucy Burdette's Pinterest board, called Mystery Books as Stocking Stuffers.

Lovely Reds, what books or writing things are you planning on giving (or would like to receive) this year? Tell us in the comments!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving, Advent, and Turkey Salad on a Roll

Youngest showing her Turkey Spirit
JULIA: It's the last day of Thanksgiving vacation and the first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season preceding Christmas. Advent is a nice balance to the pre-Christmas craziness, because it calls people to slow down, anticipate, and be mindful. For us, it means keeping the run-up to the holiday gradual; so today we'll put up some outside decorations (if the drizzle stops.) Next Sunday, the Smithie (and me, a little) will do indoor decorating. The third Sunday is known as Rose or Refreshment or, if you're British, "Stir-up" Sunday, and that's when we get our tree. 

Yes, that's our Shih Tzu on my sister's deck. He came along!
In some ways, I think instead of "keeping the Christmas spirit all year long," we should try to keep the Thanksgiving spirit throughout December - that kind of fun, mellow appreciation of family and friends. Yes, we stress on Thanksgiving - how can we bake the cornbread if the turkey's not out yet? What do we say when Great-Uncle Bob tries to hand out Trump bumper stickers? But nobody except Martha Stewart is trying to make Thanksgiving perfect. Good is good enough. 

The Boy and the Boy Wonder
So today's recipe is an turkey salad that uses the ingredients you still have hanging about in your fridge and pantry. Perfect for dinner tonight with soup or for your lunch bag tomorrow. Sadly, I have no turkey (!) so I think I'll pick up a plump chicken on the way home from church and roast that.

The original recipe was created by Jocelyn of inside BruCrew Life, a baking blog which has some great recipes.

3 cups cooked shredded turkey
3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup diced apple chunks
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (Jocelyn substitutes this for half the mayo you might ordinarily use to cut the fat/calories down)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup fresh finely diced parsley (I actually had leftover spinach leaves when I made this salad last year, and they worked fine.)
salt and pepper to taste
King's Hawaiian dinner rolls (the original sponsors of the recipe. I used regular leftover white dinner rolls - for some reason, there is always one unopened sheet of dinner rolls after my holiday meals - but since we love Hawaiian bread, I can only imagine how delicious the salad would be on these.)

Mix it together. Yes, that's the sum of the preparation. My favorite kind of recipe. No, wait, I'll add a final instruction:

Relax while you enjoy your sandwich!
Me, the girls and Robbie at the National Zoo. We're all holding leaves Robbie gave us.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Minotaur and Me; a guest blog by Susan Cox

JULIA: Along with being the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, this time of year marks another important milestone for thousands of writers: the last days of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  So let's say you're finishing your manuscript this coming Monday. What then? Don't panic - it's not hopeless. Here's Susan Cox to tell us about how she got a contract for THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE.

We all stand at the entrance to a labyrinth trying to get published. Writing may be difficult (okay, it is difficult), but it pales when compared to the dead ends, the wrong turns, the retracing of steps taken earlier, the lost sense of direction and general feelings of discouragement that follow.

But there are occasional shortcuts for a very lucky few. Probably the best for those of us in the mystery field is the annual First Crime Novel contest co-sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and Minotaur Books, the mystery imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

Hundreds of unpublished crime novel manuscripts of every mystery sub-genre are submitted in December. MWA judges read, evaluate and choose the finalists, which are sent on to the editorial staff at Minotaur Books for the final decision, which is announced in March. The winner is presented with the Holy Grail (a publishing contract) and a nice advance.

And yes, I won it last year. (Yay me!)

The year before I’d had a moment of “If not now, when?” And after some careful budgeting and even more careful finger crossing, I gave up my career to write full time. I’d tried to do both over the years and couldn’t make it work (kudos and respect to the many who can), so I spent the next year worrying just a little that I couldn’t make this work either.

I wrote three books that year. I also took another look at one of my earlier novels—a San Francisco murder mystery I felt had real potential—tore it apart and re-wrote it. I’d lived in San Francisco for more than twenty years by then and I enjoyed writing about the coffee shops and small specialty shops I knew, and creating an imaginary neighborhood for my characters to inhabit.

When I’d polished it to gleaming, I sent it off to the MWA contest and crossed my fingers. One of the difficulties about writing novels is that it takes a long time to write 80,000 good words. Mostly you’re on your own, providing your own motivation to keep going, and you’ve no idea if what you’ve written is marketable or even any good. While you may have a novel at the end of several months’ work, you suspect your writing group partners may be bored with it, no agent has decided to represent it (I had a couple turn me down), which means that no publisher has seen it, which means that the novel may be the greatest book ever written or it could be complete dreck.

And then came that phone call.

Afterwards, agents returned my calls and I chose one to help guide my future career.

Next came edits and polishing and all the things that go into getting a book ready for traditional publication, and I’ll be holding it in my hand on December 15th.

So it all worked out in a big way, but the important take-away here is that I had no expectation of winning. None. I entered as a way of keeping my spirits up on the fairly lonely (and slightly nerve-wracking) journey I was taking. The time between submitting it in December and hearing the result in March was the literary equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat; I hadn’t won the contest, but I hadn’t lost it, either, which was encouragement enough for me to keep writing.

Sometimes it feels as if everything and everyone is conspiring to keep you from getting published. There are too many writers in the world and too much competition; there are only so many writing courses and seminars you can take before your brain explodes; agents don’t respond; publishers are only in it for the money and your work isn’t commercial; no one understands how hard it is.

But other writers have been there, too, and they do understand.
A contest like this requires untold hundreds of volunteer hours from other writers who have nothing to gain from the experience. I’ve never felt more grateful or supported. 
So tell me—What do you do to hold onto your writing mojo and keep your motivation shiny and bright?

Former party girl and society photographer Theophania Bogart flees from London to San Francisco to escape a high-profile family tragedy. But sudden death shines a light on her hiding place and she learns she’s been providing cover for a sophisticated smuggling operation. Her apartment is burgled, she starts to fall for an untrustworthy stranger, and she’s knocked out, tied up and imprisoned. The police are sure she’s lying. The smugglers are sure she knows too much. Her friends? They aren’t sure what to believe.

Theo needs to find a killer before her new life is exposed as an elaborate fraud. But the more deeply entangled she becomes, the more her investigation is complicated by her best friend, who is one of her prime suspects; her young protégé, who may or may not have a juvie record; her stern and unyielding grandfather, who exposes an unexpected soft center; and THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE, who isn’t quite what he appears, either.
You can find out more about THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE at Susan's website. You can friend Susan on Facebook, talk books with her on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter as @cox_suecox.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Red's Black Friday Blues

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Happy Day-after-Thanksgiving! Or, as it's come to be known, Black Friday. When I was a kid, back in the days of whale oil lanterns, the weekend after Thanksgiving was the big start to the holiday season. The Friday paper would arrive stuffed with ads for sales on Saturday and Sunday, although since my mother has always shopped for Christmas presents throughout the year, I don't recall her making any special trips out on those days.

Then the sales themselves moved up to Friday, and acquired the trade nickname of Black Friday from merchants who marked it as the beginning of the most profitable four weeks of the year. I think the first time I heard it called Black Friday was in the 90s, in one of those de rigueur articles about the Christmas Economy. 

Sometime between then and now, Black Friday became a Big Thing. TV ads blared out the doorstopper specials for weeks in advance. Mother-daughter pairs mapped out their assaults on stores, parents got in line at 3am to get that year's hot toy, and many people came to see it as an essential part of the Thanksgiving holiday – at least as popular as the Macy's Parade and possibly more so. As we all know, the opening times were pushed back and back, in a way not dissimilar to the race to be the first-in-the-nation primary. If New Hampshire goes to the polls on January 15, Iowa will change their date to the tenth. If Best Buy opens at midnight, Wal-Mart will open at 10pm. Despite a pushback to carve out some time for turkey, football, and family, there are stores which will be welcoming the public at 4:00 Thanksgiving afternoon. 

Ross and I have done Black Friday twice, each time when we wanted a specific big household item. One year we got in line at Circuit City at 4am to be one of the 20 people to carry off a desktop computer/software/printer package at a ridiculously low price. A few years later, we badly needed to replace our dishwasher. I had been reading Consumer Reports and comparison shopping online when I saw Sears would be marking down a dishwasher I liked. We got to the store when it opened at six, reasoning rightly that the big crowds would be lining up for toys and electronics. The guys in the large appliance area seemed pleasantly surprised to see anyone.

At both occasions, after we nabbed our big buys we went on to get a lot of shopping done. It was fun, actually, with a festive atmosphere and a lot of happy people crowding the stores. There is a decided sense of accomplishment to knock off half or more of your holiday presents list in one morning – and the stores were more heavily staffed than at any other time of the year. Nonetheless, we have no plans to hit the malls today. I'd rather spend my money supporting Shop Local Saturday, and for the things I can't get in town, well, that's what the Internet's for. You don't even have to stick to “Cyber Monday” - Amazon and other large retailers have good buys throughout the month.

How about you, Reds? Are headed out this morning to shop til you drop? Looking for bargains online? Or do you, like my mother, already have your holiday shopping in the bag?

LUCY BURDETTE: No Black Friday shopping for me, though it sounds like you and Ross made the absolute best use of those occasions. I get freaked out by big crowds of desperate people. Probably the closest I came was the year that Macy's closed In New Haven. Everything on sale for rock bottom prices. I got the most amazing pile of sweaters for everyone for Christmas that year, but it involved standing in long lines and scrabbling through piles of goods with other driven shoppers. Sort of the opposite of the Christmas spirit...

And PS, I LOVE the shop local movement and do so whenever I can!

And PPS, handmade is even better, though since I've started to write on a regular schedule, that's only in my dreams. But one year I took a ratty quilt that had belonged to my mother in law, and made sachets stuffed with lavender for all the women in the family. Then I included a note about the provenance of the quilt. It was fun and felt special.

HALLIE EPHRON: Scrooge, here.

I hate crowds and I hate shopping… so Black Friday feels like the perfect storm, and not in a good way. You couldn’t drag me to the mall. And there are very few things for which I’d stand in line to get a price break (an iPhone or a MAC Air, but neither of those get discounted.) And am I the only one who’s noticed how crazy afternoon traffic has become already, another sign of impending holidays -- storm clouds building.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays, and I adore having something special to give to the people I love.  It’s getting there that gets me down.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nope, nope, nope. I don't like to fight or scramble for a "thing." Although I must agree--Julia, what you and Ross have figured out is kind of brilliant.  But the parking! And the craziness. Yeesh.

We are lucky to be able to decide yes or no for such a question, you know? There's so much to have, and we have to remember not to take it for granted.  (Sorry, digression).

I'm all about the internet for holiday gift shopping. Because it also SHIPS! Yay! And free shipping is one of the glories of the universe.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Julia, you and Ross make it sound fun, but I'm with Hallie and Hank on this one. Honestly, shopping on so-called Black Friday sounds like the fifth ring of hell. All those crowds. All that lust for _stuff_. I'd rather stay at home and eat leftovers and watch Christmas movies with the family....  

DEBORAH CROMBIE: No Black Friday here, either. Ack. Although I've know people who do it every year as a family tradition and have a great time, it's not my idea of fun. I don't like crowded stores, and I really don't like frenzied holiday drivers in parking lots... And I feel sorry for the store employees who no longer get to enjoy Thanksgiving. I'll probably do some of my shopping online (the catalogs are coming like gangbusters!) some in my local shops, and Kayti and I will definitely get to Northpark (Dallas's fabulous mall that doubles as an art museum) but it won't be on a super busy shopping day. It's a must, though, just to see the Christmas decorations..

RHYS BOWEN: Sorry, no Black Friday for me either. There is nothing I want badly enough to make me stand in line for hours.. And I found that last year I did most of my shopping online. Actually I do less shopping as the grandchildren become teenagers and request gift cards from their favorite stores.

But I have a good Black Friday story, from a Microsoft tech who fixed my computer after a disastrous Windows 10 upgrade. He said he'd been working at Best Buy and some people had camped out all week in front of the store to be first in line. At 4 a.m. on the morning of Black Friday a policeman had found them intoxicated and with open bottles of liquor and had arrested them all. One hour before the doors opened! That doesn't seem fair somehow.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Have you already nabbed the best bargains of the day? Or are you waiting on the ghost of Christmas shopping Yet To Come?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving for Two; a poem by Marjorie Saiser

Some of us are sitting down with our family members today, and some Reds and readers are having a much smaller celebration. Whether your Thanksgiving is for two or twenty, we wish you all the blessings of the season.


Thanksgiving for Two
by Marjorie Saiser

The adults we call our children will not be arriving
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving.
We must make our feast ourselves,

slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates,
potatoes and green beans
carried to our table near the window.

We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted

to be good company for one another.
Little did we know that first picnic
how this would go. Your hair was thick,

mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff
to look over a storybook plain. We chose
our spot as high as we could, to see

the river and the checkerboard fields.
What we didn’t see was this day, in
our pajamas if we want to,

wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting
whatever’s next,

the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.
Poem copyright ©2014 by Marjorie Saiser