Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bother the Librarian!


Let me introduce you to my favorite librarians (after our own Jenn McKinlay, of course), Andrea Gough and Linda Johns.  They are both reader services librarians at The Seattle Public Library, where their jobs involve connecting readers with the right book at the right time.  Doesn't that sound like an amazing job?  They were kind enough to give me the scoop on their days in the stacks.

INGRID: The Seattle Public Library does much more than just provide books to Seattle’s citizens.   Can you tell me a little bit about the library’s patrons and the services they utilize?

The spectacular Central Branch
ANDREA: First, I will just say that I feel lucky to be a librarian in the city of Seattle, where so many people are readers. So we do have a ton of people who use the library to get books (print, digital, audio) and suggestions for what to read next - for themselves, and for their kids. Outside of books and reading, the library is still very much “the people’s university,” a place patrons come to learn new skills or just satisfy their curiosity.

Of course, our computers are still very in demand, by folks who may not have internet access or a computer at home, and we’ve tried to expand that type of service by assembling a collection of WiFi hot spots available for check out. I’m continually amazed at how busy our library branches are - along with the bus, it’s really one of the only spaces left where every part of society mingles. We try to do fun stuff, too - writing classes, bookish happy hours in bars, story times (for children and adults!), occasional concerts, book bingo, and summer learning.

LINDA: I hope people will keep in mind that libraries are the “people’s university.” You can dabble or dive in, keep up on civic discussions through programs, attend an author reading and feel like you’re coming away from it a bit smarter, a bit more enlightened. The same wonder you loved about libraries as a kid still holds true for all ages and stages of your life.
Linda in the stacks

IPT: I always recommend that visitors to the city take time to see the spectacular Central Branch, which was designed by architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus.  What’s it like working in an iconic building?  Are there things you like best?  Least?

LINDA: Going to work in the Central Library in downtown Seattle feels like a privilege - and I truly love it.  It feels a bit like a European museum structure. It’s not for everyone, though, and particularly not for people who haven’t been in a library for years (or decades). Those people tend to cling to nostalgia about libraries, hoping for hushed atmospheres and dark corners. It’s the light that I like best in the Central Library. It’s apparently hard to find bathrooms in our library, though, based on the number of times each day staff get asked!

ANDREA: I love that it brings in people - both tourists and Seattle residents - who haven’t been to a library in years, although Linda’s right that that may clash with their expectations of a library. I love coming to work in this building, in part, because it is a testament to how much the people of Seattle support libraries. The navigation here is tricky, though, which I think can lead to frustration for people who just want to use the resources, not marvel at the architecture.

IPT: What do you wish library patrons knew about librarians?

LINDA: Remember that you can ask a librarian ANYTHING! You can walk into any library, anywhere and ask for a book recommendation, ask for ideas for your book group, or ask how to research a new vacuum cleaner in your budget. When school groups come in, we encourage them to always talk to the librarian. In fact, we often have them shout “Bother the librarian!” in unison. It’s a glorious thing to hear 30 middle-schoolers shout “Bother the librarian,” (although less enchanting when a lone adult does it) and we hope they remember that motto for the rest of their lives. 

ANDREA: Ditto. Also, I always want to know when a patron has read a good book and what they liked about it - come tell me! 
They're well-read and glamorous!

IPT: What would you like to know from readers?

ANDREA: How do you find your books?!? Where are you looking to find new authors and titles to read? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been surrounded by professional readers for so long that I don’t know how other people figure out what to read next.

LINDA: I want to know how readers make their choices, too! And how do they stay on top of things? I’m always mystified and delighted when I go to place a hold on a forthcoming title, feeling like I’ve got insider knowledge from an early review, and then find that 22 readers are already in the hold queue for that book. How did they know? How do you decide what to read when browsing online? Also, if I recommend a book to you, I’d love to hear what you thought. It helps me make a better book match for you in the future.

IPT: How do you figure out what to read next and what to recommend to us next?

LINDA: We look to trade reviews (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal) for forthcoming titles and to keep up on the pre-publication buzz.  We also pay attention to Library Reads where librarians across the U.S. vote for their favorite new books each month. I feel super lucky to work in a reading culture where there are daily conversations with colleagues about what we’re reading and loving. I’m always eyeing Andrea’s book stacks for my next reads, too.
ANDREA: I’m pretty active on Goodreads, where I keep track of what I’ve read and also get to see what other people I know are reading. I also love NPR’s book coverage, especially their end-of-year Book Concierge; it’s a great discovery tool! I feel lucky to have a community of readers, too, friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers.

IPT: Last question:  Name a book you love recommending to patrons.

ANDREA: Just one?! I frequently recommend the Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) series, beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling. I feel like the books in that series fire on all cylinders: twisty plots, well-written, and I find the main characters Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott to be so interesting I just want to spend more time with them.

IPT: I love that series!  Great pick!

Andrea with one of her picks.
ANDREA:  In a very different direction, I love suggesting Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran. That book and its sequel take a very specific kind of reader, one who is open to weirdness, unconventional methods of detection, and a sometimes unlikable character - but when I find those readers, I get so excited!

LINDA: The Ellie Rush series (starts with Murder on Bamboo Lane) by Naomi Hirahara stars a young L.A. bike cop whose connections to the rich ethnic neighborhoods of Los Angeles and aspirations to be a homicide detective combine into terrific character-driven mysteries. I’m always looking for younger sleuths and it’s a pleasure to recommend this series. 

Thank you so much Andrea and Linda, and now, it's time to "Bother the Librarian!"  They'll be checking in all day to answer your questions!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

House Guests: Yea or Nay?


“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”  - Benjamin Franklin

Summer is the season of visiting out-of-town friends and family and hosting them, especially if you live in a particularly appealing location.  July and August are perfect in Seattle, but for better or worse, we don’t have much room for hosting.

Some people set the hosting bar quite high.  Martha Stewart suggests you provide guests with a manual on how to operate appliances, a baked good for the trip home, and chilled water at their bedside.  She even advocates for a attractive sitting area if space permits!

Arden goes for it!
When we lived in Massachusetts, ten years ago, we didn’t host many overnight guests.  However, we had a pool, and we’re the hosts with the most in the summer months. We routinely welcomed twelve + guests for the day with the goal of feeding and entertaining them, and of course, making sure no one drowned!

It was great fun, but exhausting.  Interestingly enough, I found the clean-up from such days to actually be meditative.  I’d put on some favorite music, and my husband would tackle the outside while I put the kitchen and laundry (lots of beach towels to be washed!) in order.  We’d finish the day worn out, but so happy that we could provide a fun respite to those we love.

Ella and her turtle.
Most of my visits are to family, and although there’s a familiarity there, I try to follow the same rules as I would with a friend: be considerate, take care of a couple meals, strip your bed on your last day, and always write a thank you note. And, as Benjamin Franklin so aptly said, don’t overstay your welcome.  I’ve also found that a box of my favorite chocolates, Harbor Sweets, makes every host happy, and for a truly unique hostess gift, I bring some murder-themed cocktail napkins!

What do you say, Reds and readers?  Do you like to host or visit?  Any pet peeves?

House guests should be regarded as perishables:
Leave them out too long and they go bad.
-Erma Bombeck

Jay Roberts you won yesterday's giveaway!  Send me your address on FB!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Happy Pub Day, Glen Erik Hamilton!


I'm thrilled to welcome Glen Erik Hamilton to Jungle Reds. The third book in his critically acclaimed Van Shaw series, EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND, is out today.  Glen's debut, PAST CRIMES, won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards for Best First Novel and was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards.  The follow-up in the series, HARD COLD WINTER, was published to rave reviews in 2016.  Glen is a native of Seattle, but currently resides in LA with his family, where we recently met up at a tiki bar for great conversation and strong zombie cocktails!  I'm so glad he's spending his pub day with us!

INGRID THOFT: Your new release EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND is out today, and it’s fantastic. Can you tell us about it?

GLEN ERIK HAMILTON: Thank you! EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND is the third in the Van Shaw series.  Van was raised by his grandfather, a professional thief, and escaped the criminal life in his late teens to serve in the Army Rangers.  At the start of EDAG (as the publisher and I affectionately call it), Van has been out of the military for a few months.  He’s trying, with some difficulty, to rebuild his life and home after the events of the last book.  An old partner of his grandfather’s approaches Van with the offer of a safe cracking job.  Van would normally refuse any criminal work, but he convinces himself that this score is at least semi-legal and on the side of the angels.  As is often the case in crime thrillers, the job does not go as planned.

I had a lot of fun writing EDAG:  Van is forced to contend with some wild characters, villains at both the apex and bottom rungs of the smuggling world, and no less dangerous for being at either end.  His personal relationships are also rocky.  Van has the bad habit of neglecting his emotional life for his more active one, even when he needs the people around him more than ever. He’s a family guy without a normal family. Part of EDAG is him wrestling with those friendships and those responsibilities. 

IPT: You grew up on a boat, which is a very unique setting in which to live.  Has that experience influenced your writing?

GEH: Tremendously.  Some of those inspirations are easy to spot: I have major characters living aboard and many scenes set on or around the waterways that almost completely surround Seattle. Seattle is also our largest western seaport north of Los Angeles, so the shipping business is a tremendous opportunity for crime stories.

But beyond that, people who live aboard boats make the deliberate choice to be a little removed from mainstream society. There’s an outsider mentality, which includes a distrust, if not outright rejection of the norm (whether that’s a positive or a negative, I leave for the observer).  I have at least some of that outlook, and there’s no question that Van, with his skewed upbringing, does as well.

IPT:  If writing is your dream job, what would your second dream job be?

GEH:  This is a tough one.  I love acting on stage.  Before writing, theater was my primary creative outlet; I have a degree in it and it’s how my wife and I met. I fully intend to continue acting for the fun of it when life allows. I also enjoy reading history, and teaching, and can easily imagine an alternate life path that could have lead me to becoming the world’s foremost expert on post-WWI North African territorial wars, for example, and the impoverished academic career that might result.

IPT: Ha!  I had no idea that you have an interest in post-WWI North African territorial wars!  What are you working on now, and is there a book you’re dying to write? Romance?  Sci-fi?

GEH:  I’m working on a standalone novel, more of a direct thriller than the mystery-thrillers of the Van Shaw series. What I’m most eager to try next, time allowing, are short stories. The interstitial chapters of the Van books show our hero at different ages.  I approach those as if they were independent stories, and I have a lot of fun with the flexibility and the challenge.  Seeing one of my short stories appear in "The Strand" or "Ellery Queen" someday would be a huge milestone.

IPT:  Okay, you know I have to ask: How do you come up with character names?

GEH:  [For the reader:  Ingrid is asking this because one of the major characters in EDAG is also named Ingrid.  She’s a bad bad person.  The character, that is…]

Anytime I hear a name that strikes me as unusual and evocative, I note it down in a running list.  The best names have a particular tone, a musicality.  For example, Ostrander is a town in Washington State. The name always struck me as chilly, removed, and monied. I used Ostrander for the name of a well-heeled attorney and personal fixer for a billionaire in my second book, HARD COLD WINTER.

Van Shaw has a fun genesis – Van is short for Donovan; I wanted he and his grandfather to share the name.  In the Irish way, the granddad is Dono, so the younger Donovan is Van.  Shaw comes from two places: my favorite playwright George Bernard Shaw, and the late actor Robert Shaw, who would have made a wonderful Dono. The name Shaw also has an appropriate music to it, like a sword being unsheathed.

Oh, and the character Ingrid?  “Ingrid Ekby” had a great sound, both Nordic and subtly mechanical. Ekby, by the way, is a shelf unit from IKEA

IPT:  Now it’s Glen’s turn to shoot a question to the readers of Jungle Red!
GEH:  What’s your favorite character name, the one that best sounds like the fictional person’s personality?

I’m going to make this a little harder and say: No Harry Potter characters allowed.  J.K. Rowling is just too good at that game.  Comment, and you'll be entered to win a copy of EDAG!

It sounds like a thief's dream to Van Shaw: A terminally-ill ex-con tells him of a fortune in gold, abandoned and nearly forgotten after the original owner died in prison. To rebuild his destroyed house and to help the dying man leave a legacy for his pre-teen daughter, Van agrees to the job. But the safe holding the fortune is a trap and Van must figure out who the hunters are really after—while being hunted himself.

Glen Erik Hamilton's debut Past Crimes won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards for Best First Novel, and was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave Past Crimes starred reviews, and Kirkus called the book "an exciting heir to the classic detective novel". The follow-up in the Van Shaw series, Hard Cold Winter, was published to rave reviews in March 2016 by William Morrow (US) and Faber & Faber (UK).
A native of Seattle, Glen grew up aboard a sailboat, finding trouble around the islands and marinas and commercial docks of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family but frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.


Facebook: @glenerikhamilton
Twitter: @glenerikh

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My Favorite Teacher


Pencils and notebooks and binders.  That's what I recently stumbled upon in the "seasonal" aisle of my local Target.  Is it really back-to-school season already?  I imagine it can't come soon enough for some parents, but it was a walk down memory lane for me rather than a not-too-distant goal!  I thought about my school days:  dissecting a fetal pig in science class; pieces of pizza that resembled floor tiles; field hockey drills wearing pinnies; and my favorite teacher.

Her name is Mrs. Harder, and I don't think that it's a coincidence that my favorite teacher was my English teacher.  Kind, thoughtful, and energetic, Mrs. Harder was the highlight of my academic day, and she will always be bonded in my mind with Edith Wharton and Shakespeare.  She fed my love of reading, and she taught how to write, which has clearly served me well.  More than that, in her classroom there were always lively discussions about bigger, more complex issues, which suggested she thought we were up for the challenge of beginning to tackle the adult world.  She taught us about values and integrity and the power we all have to choose the kind of people we want to be.  Grammar, punctuation, imagery, and ethics:  It was all on the agenda in Mrs. Harder's classroom.

These days, she insists I call her Joanne, which I still can't quite get used to, and she's one of my most enthusiastic and loyal fans.  She attends my Boston-area events, and last fall, invited me back to speak to the student body at my alma mater.  I feel enormously grateful that she was my teacher all those years ago, but I'm also thrilled that these days she's my friend.

How about you, Reds?  Who was your favorite teacher?  Were you in touch after your school days?

LUCY BURDETTE: Ingrid, you are so lucky to have your favorite teacher morph to fan and friend! Probably like the rest of you, I adored school and going back to school. I think my fave was Mrs. Covey in fifth grade. She was warm and interesting and made school fun. The details are fuzzy, and here's a story that tells more about me than her. Report cards came out and I had nothing but A's. Except for one B, which must have been given by the gym teacher. But my best friend Lynn had an A in gym. I went sobbing to Mrs. Covey, and she changed it to an A:). 

In high school, we had the most wonderful drama and choral music teachers, Mr. Schneider and Mr. Dorhout. I had very modest (almost minimal) talent in both of those subjects, but I was in love with the community they built and the seriousness with which they taught us and their great good humor and dedication. I still remember the alto harmonies from the choral pieces we sang...such a gift!

HALLIE EPHRON: My favorite teacher was in sixth grade, Barbara Ann Schenkel at El Rodeo school in Beverly Hills. She was lively, interesting, and she encouraged me to think for myself and say what I thought. Maybe it was because of her that I decided to go to Barnard College (she was an alum) and become a teacher. Sadly, by the time I tried to reach out to her (I'd moved to the East coast, was teaching education courses at the college level, had started a family...) it was too late. She'd died of breast cancer.

So my advice to everyone about your favorite teachers, if you want to reach out and tell them so, don't wait.

JENN MCKINLAY: I did not love school. In fact, if it weren't for my English teacher, Mr. Taylor, my science teacher, Mr. Meehan, and my favorite teacher, Mrs. Bodwell, I probably would have cut school a heck of a lot more than I did. Mrs. B was the choir teacher at East Lyme High School in CT, and I was lucky enough to be in choir, select choir, and her specially chosen group of eight for a small ensemble choir, where we were invited to perform as backup singers for a Broadway recording and in a gospel church in New London to name just a few of Mrs. B's field trips. Pretty much any cool gig she could throw us into, she did, and it was awesome. She was an amazingly talented woman who performed as a soprano in operas at the Met, but what I remember most about her was that she always wore four inch heels (she was on the small side of petite), kept her blonde hair in a neat bob, and had the biggest grin when she was conducting us from the podium. The woman was a live wire, and it was contagious!

We recently reconnected through social media. She's retired and living in Vermont, while I am in AZ. She still sings, I do not, but we both have a passion for knitting. We've been sharing our knitting adventures, and it's like rediscovering our friendship all over again. During my turbulent teen years, she was definitely one of the few teachers who saw past my tough exterior to the creativity inside of me, looking for an outlet. She taught me to be poised and confident, to pursue my passion wholeheartedly, and to push through failure and try, try, and try again until I got it right. I owe her so very much.

RHYS BOWEN: Like Jenn I did not adore school! I was very smart, always at the top of my class, but I was at an all girls school, and most of my teachers were close to retirement age--mean-spirited old spinsters who loved to criticize and inflict punishments. In sewing class, the teacher would walk around with a ruler and if our hands moved to the wrong position beside the sewing machine THWACK came the ruler over our knuckles!  I did like my music teacher and was also in the choir. We had a lovely young history teacher, but she got married and left. Great weeping and wailing. I didn't particularly like my sixth form English teacher, Miss Willis, but she helped to make me the writer I am. She challenged. She also mocked, I'm afraid, but she set creative assignments and a friend and I took those challenges, which resulted in my winning the English prize, editing the school magazine and being invited to tea with Arnot Robertson, a famous novelist, when she visited the school.

Oh, but college was a different matter.  I had some wonderful professors, especially for my thesis. She never taught. She would throw out seemingly unrelated questions, and then suddenly light would dawn, and we'd see the connection and go "Oh!". She wanted me to stay on and do my PhD, but I got lured away by the BBC. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Have you ever heard of a high school where the English teacher created a club, called The Hastings Club, and encouraged all his students to wear black armbands on the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings to mourn the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans? I am thrilled to have a chance to once again honor the name of the fabulous Thomas Thornburg. I was just at my high school's 50th reunion, as you know, and every single person there mentioned how much Mr. Thornburg had changed their life. (He probably would have mentioned that my pronouns do not agree in the previous sentence.)

He was hilarious, and, hoping he doesn't read this, so incredibly cute, and brilliant--and I mean brilliant. He let us all love Shakespeare and Spenser and F Scott Fitzgerald and writing and poetry and the power of our own language and imagination. 

He was incredibly tough grading papers. He had a rubber stamp with the word GUG on it, which he would stamp on our papers when something was so indescribably terrible that he couldn't even manage to explain why it was so terrible.

I would not be where I am today (wherever that is) without him, and I have to say that so many people at the reunion said just the same thing.
The good news is he lives in Montana, and his wife and I are Facebook friends, and how cool is that? (I still imagine him looking just like this photo. And that's me and good pal Susan Palmer in the Hastings Club yearbook photo.)
I have used his name as a character in several of my books, just in honor of him...the books would not exist without him, you know?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: School was not a great experience for me once I hit middle-school, although I did have a very good and encouraging English teacher in tenth grade. But in elementary school, my best friend and I had the same teacher in third and sixth grade, Miss Schwann. I can't imagine what either of us would be like today without her. She was a wonderful teacher, kind and demanding and funny. She always let you know she had expectations, and you had better live up to them. She loved reading, and the half hour when she would read aloud to us was the high point at the end of every day. In sixth grade, she read us A WRINKLE IN TIME, and it was such an experience it has stuck with me ever since. I was a good reader before her classes, and a great (and addicted) reader after.

Here's the "Wrinkle" cover from my youth.  It cost $1.25!  

Tell us readers, who were your favorite teachers?  Do you stay in touch with them?

From English to Emoji.

RHYS BOWEN: Did you overlook an important public holiday this week? It was national Emoji day! I mentioned it on my Facebook page and so many readers came forward to tell me which emojis they love using. Do you use emojis? I really don’t apart from adding a heart to the end of a note to granddaughters. Other than that would feel weird and self-conscious.

I’m not even very good at texting. When people text me they get a coherent sentence in reply. Some long words. How can I reply to my publicist THX CU AM.  But my grandkids generation communicate with each other like this all the time. So I’m wondering: have we come to the end of language as we knew it. Let’s think about it.
We started with grunts and gestures which progressed to words. To sentences: meat good. Go kill more.
Then writing was born from keeping tally of goods in early Babylon. Cuniform. And the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Duck duck maiden sun god meant “Would you like to come to tea on Friday?”
Well, I think we’ve just gone back to that with emojis. Sad face sun trees means “I’m sorry but I can’t join you for the picnic because I’ve got a sunburn.”
With English as the world language it was only a matter of time that it was spelled phonetically any way. Don’t cum thru Ive got a cof.
Where are those lovely long poetic sentences of the Victorian poets. All those impressive words they invented: permambulator  omnibus umbrella

You see the one thing they had that we don’t is time. I’m not talking about those who toiled in factories or trekked Westward. But the educated class had too much time on their hands and no television (another lovely invented word). They were quite content when their books started with twenty pages of description of the roof of the house. They loved sentimental poetry. My great aunt knew by heart endless recitations that she performed with great drama at parties.
Words for them were to be savored, enjoyed, made the most of because they had to fill time.
Now we are always in a rush. Half an hour for lunch? Can’t leave the office.
Can U pu fish for dinr? And add the smiley face to show you are not mad/stressed etc.
Do you use emojis frequently? Do you text? Do you still try to write coherent English?