Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Remembering James Garner...

HALLIE EPHRON: I was saddened to see that James Garner died last week. Dead at 86 -- not a bad run. And I thought: was he adorable or what? I wish I'd met the guy just so I could say I did.

I had such a crush on him, first when he played Maverick with wry humor, his hat tipped back on his head. Then again, much older as Murphy Jones in Murphy's Romance when he ogles Sally Fields's behind as she grabs a bale of hay.

Could he really have been as nice as he seemed? So I read his obituary skimming past his considerable credits to find out that he grew up in an unhappy home (his stepmother beat him and his two older brothers) in Oklahoma where his father ran a country store. He got into acting on a lark. And... he was still married to the woman he married two weeks after he met her in 1956. And he had two daughters.

If you asked me why I was so in love with him it would be a) he's knock-down-dead gorgeous and b) he made me laugh.

Another actor I was mad about was Robert Mitchum. Look at him,
is he the anti-James Garner or what? He died at 79 in 1997, and his NY Times obit described him as "rugged with dignity." True to his image on screen, in real life he was hard-drinking, chain-smoking bad boy who slept around.

If you ask me why I had a thing for Robert Mitchum it would be: a) those hooded eyes were sexy as could be and b) he scared me to death.

If I had to pick, James Garner (white hat) or Robert Mitchum it would be no contest -- though I'm not saying which one or for what.

So today I'm asking you to reveal yourself. Who would you rather be (or be with)?

  • Robert Mitchum or James Garner?
  • Barbara Stanwyck or Debbie Reynolds?
  • John Boy or Walter White?
  • Sharon Stone or Cameron Diaz?
  • Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr.?
  • Jack Nicholson or Carey Grant?
  • Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman?
  • Jennifer Anniston or Jennifer Lopez?
Your answers will tell us everything we need to know about you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Tripping to Peaks Island, Portland, ME

Hallie Ephron: Today I'm taking you on a summer trip to  a little island in Casco Bay, just a 10-minute ride by car ferry from Portland, Maine. 
Most people haven't heard of Peaks Island, which it turns out isn't a bad thing since it's small -- a mile and a half long, about a mile and a quarter wide. Year-round population in 1896 was 343. Today about 860 people live there year round; with summer visitors the population swells to between 2,000 and 4,000. Most roads are not paved and there aren't many vehicles.

We park our car in Portland and walk to the brand new ferry terminal. It's teeming with people on Thursday afternoon, waiting for the 5:30 ferry.

But it's off-peak for cars -- only a few get on making the view from the car deck as we cross the bay nothing short of spectacular.

 Fifteen minute later, we're arriving at Peaks. Walk off the boat and up the hill to the little house that once belonged to my son-in-law's grandmother (or possibly great grandmother.)

Our itinerary always includes: A walk to the cemetery. It's got a fantastic view of incoming ferries, old gravestones with stories to tell, and trees that are teeming with cedar waxwings.

Take any street and you'll find Victorian cottages, the earliest homes on the island, and quirky vacation homes. This one makes a statement with an enormous guitar covering the front porch.

The main street features the world's only umbrella cover  museum, along with a couple of restaurants, an inn, an ice cream store, and a terrific coffee and breakfast sandwich place. Walk a bit further and you'll reach the public library and the laundromat. And honestly, that's about it.

But the beach, hidden away, is the big attraction. Here's me on Sandy Beach where the sand is fine and the water freezing. 

Just a short walk up along the back shore is the aptly named Stone Beach where visitors spend hours creating stone towers.

Dinner requires a walk back to the ferry dock to the Peaks Island Lobster Shack, hours of operation daily from 5 to 6 PM. Period. 

They haul the lobsters up from the ocean twenty feet below the floor of the shack. Cash only. And talk about fresh! Soft shelled lobsters, 5.99 a pound. Hard shelled lobsters, 7.99 a pound. We buy pound-and-a-half hard-shelled lobsters, take them back to the house, cook them with corn we've brought with us, and pig out.

Okay, I've shared mine... What's your favorite place for a quiet summer getaway?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The hem that can't make up its mind...

HALLIE EPHRON: When I first saw a pair of four-inch spike heels with horse-hoof toe beds, I thought that trend can't last. And yet it did. For years. Until finally -- if Marshalls, where I shop for my shoes is any indication -- comfortable (wearable!) heels are once again everywhere.

A few years ago it seemed as if anyone endowed on top was letting it overflow. Much more boob and cleavage than I personally wanted to know about was on display from young and old alike. That, too, seems to have ... deflated.

So now comes the skirt with the hem that can't make up its mind.
Short in front, long in back. Show of hands, who thinks this is a good idea? And this dress is from Eileen Fisher, whose clothes I would generally love to be able to afford.

When I posted this on Facebook, there were people who stuck up for it:
"...women who've been 'graced' with ample rear bumpers don't have to worry so much about the hem riding up in the back. Also, there's room in case you leave the ladies room with a bit of dress caught in the pantyhose." (Rhonda Lane)

But for the most part, it was "Looks like it's a mistake" (Sue Robinson) and "the mullet dress." (Cornelia Reed)  And my favorite, from Keenan Powell: "On shirts, it's a public service in the event the wearer bends over. In skirts it's just stupid."

What fashion trends are you digging or avoiding.

RHYS BOWEN:  I've tried on several dresses with that hemline and I simply don't like it. When I was shopping for an outfit to wear for the wedding it seemed that skirts were either halfway up the thigh or long. And if long, then the waist was usually right under
the boobs, making me look pregnant.

It took a lot of shopping before I found an elegant dress online. Most of the sites that were titled "Mother of the Bride" were full of clothes that no sane woman would wear--either bride of Frankenstein or covered in pleats, drapes, fake roses, lots of beads, making the wearer look like a walking advert for Joanne's Fabrics.

 I've come to the conclusion that nobody caters to anyone over 50, expecting us to wear comfortable clothes and lace up shoes, no doubt. If I wasn't fully occupied with writing, I'd start a chain of stores for elegant older women--well tailored clothes, good fabrics and the waist in the right place.

HALLIE: Laughing, Rhys, because most of us "over 50s" would kill to have your shape!

LUCY BURDETTE: I've always like handkerchief hemlines, but that sounds different than what you two were seeing. Rhys, when you start stocking your boutique, make sure you find some dresses that make us look cute. Why shouldn't we still look cute over 50?

For a family wedding this summer, our daughter shopped through She looked adorable--but I went to the site
and was immediately overwhelmed by the choices. I think I need to see something in person and try it on.

I'll tell you one trend I hope never comes back--that's shoulder pads. We went to a Miami Vice party a couple of weeks ago, so I dragged this dress out of the back of my closet. (I know, why is it still in my house??)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Rhys, I hear you
about waistlines -- why are they always so high? I don't get it. Do most women like that?

And Hallie -- I'm with you on the four-inch-heel shoes, too. Whenever I see a woman wearing them, my first thought is always "Ouch!" and then, "Chinese foot-binding!" — not "What great shoes."

So-called "skinny jeans" — don't even get me started....

Honestly, I know very little about current fashion —I don't even know what the trends are, let alone how to critique them! I'm a New Yorker and just default to black, I'm afraid....

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I thought the "short in front, long in back" was a country fashion thing, not a good look, and one that they will probably view with absolute horror in twenty years...

Lucy, I thought you looked adorable in your shoulder pads! None for me, thank you--my shoulders are broad and square enough
without any help.  No four-inch heels either. Yikes! I think the worst fashion decade of the 20th century for women may have been the eighties. Just watch some old episodes of Miami Vice. The guys looked fabulous, the women... ack.  Will anyone confess to having had Big Hair?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: See, they have to think up new stuff, so people who want to be trendy have to BUY the new stuff. They tried it with "color blocking," right? An easy way for clothing manufacturers to use up odd sized leftover fabric.  Sleeveless dresses? SO much easier to fit, righ? Because you don't have to adjust sleeves.  AND it uses a lot less fabric to make sleeveless things...right ? But do they COST any less? Oh, my dear, no.

Cleavage? Do NOT get me started.
But shoulder pads? Um, subtle ones? I'm, I have to admit, in. And high heels? Oh yes, NOT PLATFORMS. Those are absurd and dangerous, And ugly. But gorgeous high heels can fit beautifully and even be comfortable. Semi-comfortable. Comfortable enough.  And I do wear them all the time.

Big hair and shoulder pads in the 80's? Oh yes, Here I am covering the 1988 Democratic Convention in all my big-haired shoulder-padded glory.

HALLIE: Hank, what sells it is the attitude. You are all Hildy Johnson.

So where are the rest of you in all this? When we look back ourselves, what will we be wearing that prompts us to say: "What was I thinking?"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What We're Writing Week: Susan Elia MacNeal on Maggie Hope's continuing adventures

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: As many of you know, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT came out at the beginning of this month! (Number 10 on the New York Times bestseller list, woo hoo!) 

Also, Miss Edna is now out of the hospital. She's resting comfortably at home and thanks you all for your good wishes. One of the things she wants to learn to do during her recovery is learn to use the computer, so with luck, she'll be able to interact in person!

And I've been busy doing book events in Pittsburgh, Houston, and New York. And going to Philadelphia, Ann Arbor for more book tour fun. And maybe Charlotte, for research.


For the most part, I'm pretty good at writing while traveling. First, beyond keeping up with the schedule, your down time is your own. (As opposed to at home: "Mommy, can you get me the (fill in the blank)?" "Miss Susan, when you have a moment...." and "Uh, honey....") 

I work happily on planes, trains and autos (just need an electrical outlet) and I loooooove to work in hotel rooms. (The silence — oh, the blessed silence!)

And so, even though I've been on the road, talking about THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT (Maggie Hope #4), I've also been writing MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE (Maggie Hope #5).

Since the new book is just out and I don't want to give away any spoilers by quoting from the next one, I'm going to talk a little about the characters we'll see in MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE.

The book opens with our old friends from MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY —  Maggie Hope, David Greene, John Stirling, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill — now reunited in Washington D.C. just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Having Maggie return back to the U.S. has been great fun to write, as has been having the Brits be the "fish out of water" characters for a change.

Of course they meet President Roosevelt and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.

And OF COURSE they meet Fala, the President's dog.

Maggie will go on to meet a character inspired by Pauli Murray. She's pressuring Eleanor Roosevelt to use her influence on staying the execution of a black man, inspired by Odell Waller. Needless to say, this doesn't go over well with certain Southerners who have secret ties with the KKK — and when bodies start piling up, Maggie and Mrs. Roosevelt investigate....


Meanwhile, there's a subplot where Walt Disney makes more than a cameo (he and the Disney Studio were heavily involved in war work for the U.S. government — not just propaganda films, but also animated instructional films for the armed forces, designing icons, logos, etc.) Disney's seen here with RAF pilot turned British spy, turned children's novelist Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, et al.)

We'll also see how Maggie's half-sister, Elise Hess, does as she's granted a temporary leave from the Ravensbrück concentration camp and returns to see her father in Berlin.

And we'll continue to follow the story of Clara Hess. (That's all I'm going to say — anything else would give some big surprises away.)

I'm so excited about this book — Maggie's first line is "I'm back!" — and so she is. 

Literally, back in the U.S. for the first time since 1937.

But she's also figuratively back — in that she's recovered (more or less) from her battle with the Black Dog of depression. Not only is she back to the Maggie we know from past books, but she's ready to start her next adventure — this time, in America.

Wonder Woman made her debut in December of 1941, 
the same month Maggie returns to the U.S.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What We're Writing Week: Julia Spencer-Fleming is writing...and writing...and writing...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Aaaand....still working on HID FROM OUR EYES. There are writers who can turn out two books a year like clockwork - our friend Brad Parks comes to mind. (For all his merry japes, Brad is an extremely disciplined writer. He's the Sir Percy Blakeney of the mystery community.) There are writers who can manage three a year, if pressed, like our own Rhys Bowen. There are even an extraordinary few who can craft more good books in a year - I was talking with Maine author Al Lamanda earlier this month, and since his 2012 Best Novel Edgar nomination he's produced an amazing fifteen completed manuscripts.

Then there's me. Sigh.

Here's an excerpt from HID FROM OUR EYES. A third Millers Kill Police chief is presented with the discovery of a third seemingly-identical murder:

Hadley had done a good job as first responder. By the time Russ turned his truck onto the county highway, the fire and rescue guys were already in place with cones and blinkers, ready to reroute any morning traffic that might come through. The scene – an isolated stretch of road with pastures running away on either side - was ringed round with yellow tape fluttering from flex poles. Hadley's unit blocked the road on the Cossayuharie side, its lights looking almost dim in the brilliant May sunshine.

It had been a beautiful day the last time, too.

He heard the whoop-whoop-whoop of a siren as he climbed out of his truck. He waited while the squad car crested the rise, slowed, and pulled in behind his pick-up. Lyle MacAuley, his deputy chief, flipped off the light bar and got out, stretching and snapping his back. “Heard we have a traffic fatality.”

God, maybe that was it. Russ had been in such a hurry to get to the scene, he hadn't pressed Harlene to patch him through to Hadley for the details. “I hope so,” he said.

Lyle's bushy gray eyebrows shot up. 
Not that way.” Russ headed for the yellow tape. Lyle fell in beside him. “Just...I hope it's not a homicide.”

Person dead in the road? Vehicular manslaughter and fleeing the scene. Probably some damnfool jogger not watching where she was going meeting up with another damnfool texting and driving on his way to work. What have you got here, Knox?” Lyle held the tape up so Russ could duck through.

Hadley Knox, three years at the department, was their juniormost officer, and the only woman sworn as a peacekeeper. Despite taking the job as a last resort – she had two kids and an infirm granddad to support – Russ thought she had the potential to be an excellent cop. If he could keep her on the force. If he could make sure there would be a force for her to work at. He pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses and tried to make himself focus.

White female, looks to be in her early twenties. No ID I could see in the first pass.” She stood next to a blue Tyvex tarp spread over the body. Whoever it was beneath there, she was so slight she barely lifted the plastic shroud. 
This where you found her?” Lyle looked around at the verge of the road as if expecting to see signs of the body being dragged. A scattering of gravel marked the line between asphault and the field beyond. No blood. No crushed grass or broken wildflowers.

Right here in the middle of the lane, dep. I wouldn't move her.” Hadley sounded defensive.

We know that, Knox.” Russ pulled his purple silicone gloves from his pocket and tugged them on. Lyle did the same. “Let's take a look.” He peeled the tarp away from the body.

Young. Pretty. Dressed up like one of the girls he saw in town just a week ago, headed for the prom. He glanced at her feet. No shoes.

Where the hell's the blood?” MacAuley got down on one knee. “No scrapes. No torn clothing.” He stretched himself flat on the roadway next to the body. “Doesn't look like there's any blood underneath her.”
Doctor Sheeler's on the way,” Hadley said. The Washington County ME. “And the state crime scene lab.”

Good job,” Russ said automatically. 
Doesn't even look like anything was broken in impact.” MacAuley got back up onto one knee. “Damndest thing I've ever seen.” 

If any of you have any suggestions for producing more words on schedule, let me have 'em!