Friday, December 6, 2019

Try To Remember

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Is it snowing where you are? We were BURIED, earlier this week, But hey, it’s New England. But you know, if bet if I took a little whiff of that orange gel Bain de Soleil, I might be transported.  And when I wear the ivory leather jacket I got in Florence—well, I am back on the Ponte Vecchio.

Our dear Carol Pouliot has been thinking about what conjures her favorite memories. See if you agree.


First of all let me say how thrilled I am to be here with the wonderful Jungle Red Writers. A sincere thank you to Hank Phillippi Ryan for inviting me to stop by today.

In the midst of the holidays and most of the country already in the grip of winter weather, summer vacation is a fond memory. But . . . we do have our souvenirs.

The French verb se souvenir de means “to remember.” That is exactly what our travel treasures are. They elicit those carefree times, when we pack away our everyday problems and pack our suitcases instead. Now, when we gaze on the shells that we picked up on the beach, we hear the roar of the ocean, feel the heat of the sun on our skin, and smell the salt in the air. When we uncork that special bottle of Bordeaux and unwrap the brie or camembert, we are transported back to the Paris métro and its signature aromas of garlic, Gauloises, and wine. And when we don the cherished baseball cap, we can still hear the crack of the bat and the cheering fans; we can practically taste the hot dogs.

When I was sixteen, I went on a school trip to New York City. It was the first time I travelled without my parents. I was thrilled beyond expression to be in this most glamorous and exciting of cities. During our visit to the Museum of Natural History, I saw things I never imagined existed. My mind exploded with curiosity about archeological digs, ancient cultures, foreign lands, and dinosaurs! I still have the souvenir I bought in the gift shop. It’s a tiny bronze statue of a rooster, Pre-Columbian in design. I have had this statue on my desk for over 50 years. Every time I look at it, I am back in that place, in that time. I can smell the crisp spring air mixing with the diesel fuel from vehicles crowding the streets and the pretzels sold on every other corner. I hear the blaring horns, squealing brakes, and shouting people. I feel alive.

We all have our favorite things to bring back. People collect salt and pepper shaker sets, rocks and shells, t-shirts, mugs, and refrigerator magnets. Many of us purchase an addition to a personal collection. I’ve collected statues of owls since I was a freshman in college. I usually buy one unique to the city or country I’m visitingsculpted from lava rock, hand-painted ceramic, blown glass, carved wood. For years, I bought a purse in every foreign city I visited. Yes, some women like shoes, I go for the leather bags. 

And since I never lost that yearning for exotic locales and archeological digs, I have a small collection of things I’ve picked up off the ground: a piece of limestone from the Great Pyramid at Giza, a tiny bottle of sand that I scooped up in the Sahara Desert, a black volcanic rock from the Minoan eruption of Thera, a stone from Mycenae, and one from Troy that I like to think dates back to 1300 BC. 

But, despite all these beautiful and intriguing objects that I’ve picked up or purchased, my number one souvenir continues to be the photographs I’ve taken. Years ago, I established “My Dining Room Wall,” a display of framed 8x10 photos that I’ve taken. When I return from a trip, friends and family ask, “What’s the new dining room wall picture?” It’s become a conversation starter. The space gets crowded so I rotate them from time to time. I also print out all the best shots and keep an actual, physical album with the pictures pasted in and captions under each. Old school but I love it. 

In Threshold of Deceit, the 2nd book of my time-travel mystery series, 21st-century Olivia Watson travels back to 1934 to spend some time with Depression-era cop Steven Blackwell. As a former reporter, Olivia is a news junkie. She can’t wait to get lost in the local newspaper shop and buy as many newspapers and magazines she can get her hands on. Those and a stack of comic books, to feed her inner child, will be her souvenirs from that incredible trip.

So, Dear Readers and Jungle Red Writers, what are your favorite souvenirs? What do you look for and hope to bring home from a trip or vacation?

Let’s do a give-away. Every comment is entered to win a copy of Threshold of Deceit, A Blackwell andWatson Time-Travel Mystery.

HANK: Oh, this is great! And your dining room wall is such a great idea! Like a room sized photo album. I have little trinkets from all over—including lots of elegant stationery from hotels in Florence and Milan. I should use it, but I can’t bring myself to. Matches. And postcards! And shells. And a billion little soaps. And little bath gels from Paris. How about you reds and readers? What are your favorite souvenirs? And Carol, why owls?

About the Author

A Francophile at age 11, Carol Pouliot dreamed of getting her passport and going to Paris. After obtaining her MA in French at Stony Brook University, she headed to France for her first teaching job. She taught French and Spanish for over 30 years in Upstate New York. She also founded and operated an agency that provided translations in over 24 languages. Carol is the author of The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series, which includes Doorway to Murder (Book 1) and Threshold of Deceit (Book 2). When not working on her series, Carol can be found reaching for her passport and packing a suitcase for her next adventure. Find Carol at


On a sunny spring day in 1934, local lothario Frankie Russo is murdered in broad daylight. It seems no one saw anything, but things are not always what they seem in this small New York town.

Tackling the investigation, Detective Steven Blackwell discovers Frankie’s little black book, a coded list of dozens of flings, affairs, and one-night standsand a solid motive for the widow. Soon, what appeared to be a straight-forward case gets complicated. A witness goes missing, a second body turns up, the victim’s cousin disappears, and an old flame surfaces. Faced with conflicting pieces of evidence, lies, and false alibis, Steven creates a psychological portrait of the killer. He realizes he’s looking for someone wearing a mask. But the killer is not the only one in disguise. 

Two months ago, Steven came face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folded over in the house they share80 years apart. They’ve experimented within the safety of its walls and proven Einstein was right: there is no past, present, or future. All time exists simultaneously. Now, Steven and Olivia test the boundaries of time travel, risking the exposure of their secret. Olivia travels to Steven’s time, where she is embraced by the community, unaware of who she really is. She unwittingly falls in with Steven’s main suspect, putting her life in jeopardy.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

In The Heights

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Have you been to Brooklyn?  Part of my darling family lives there, and my agent, and SO many friends, and relatives of friends—it seems like such a small world!
Our dear friend of the Reds Triss Stein—we are always so thrilled to see you, dear Triss!—knows Brooklyn inside out. It’s her muse and her inspiration—and her new book reveals that In The Heights—well, let’s let her tell it!

In The Heights

In many ways, big bad Brooklyn is really a collection of small towns. After four mysteries set in different neighborhoods, and capturing (I hope) their diversity, I realized I had never written one about Brooklyn Heights, where I used to live.

That first apartment was tucked under the roof of an elegant 19th century town house. My roommate and I put our mattresses on the floor in the center of the room, because at the edges, the bedroom ceiling sloped all the way down to the floor. Through the tiny kitchen window, if we twisted just right, we could glimpse the bridge. At night, we heard the boats on the East River.

We loved it.

Truman Capote had lived down the street to the right. To the left, there was a serious witchcraft shop. WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee had shared a house nearby. Across the street, there was a dorm for Jehovah’s  Witnesses employed at  their nearby headquarters. With their short haircuts and boring clothes, they were easy to pick out in that era of flowered bell bottoms.

There never was a question that this neighborhood could make a great background for a mystery. The question would be which Heights story to choose.

When I did some research, what I learned changed my book.

My plan was to write about the intense fight to create Brooklyn Heights as New York’s very first historic district. Everyone loves a David and Goliath story.  Then I read more about Brooklyn Heights right now. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, it turned out, owned a serious chunk of the neighborhood, and they were selling everything to move upstate. How would that affect everyone else in Brooklyn Heights? Who would miss the Witnesses, with their quiet ways and meticulous building maintenance? And who would say “Good riddance” to what they thought was a too powerful, too secretive cult? And yes, what about those mysterious tunnels connecting their buildings?

This was a current story demanding to be told. But that’s only a theme. A novel needs characters and events to come to life.  I had to maneuver Erica, my historian heroine, over to Brooklyn Heights and give her a reason to investigate a crime. And I needed characters who would be links back to some of Brooklyn Heights’ storied past, and also links forward into the future.

I got lucky. A perfect McGuffin dropped into my lap in the form of a long-lost bronze plaque, a portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman. It used to hang on a long-demolished Brooklyn Heights building, marking the site of Leaves of Grass first printing.

I could give Erica a work  assignment.  Off she goes for a scholarly consultation about that plaque. When an angry, elderly woman storms in, it turns out to be Louisa Gibbs, a famous neighborhood activist and an idol of Erica’s.  She is deep in a feud with her neighbors, the Witnesses. She is also still lives in the splendid house her great-grandfather built, a solid brownstone link back to the days when the harbor was full of sailing ships.

Louisa worked for my story, but I needed an antagonist. He turned out to be Daniel Towns, a mild-mannered, Witness manager, an unlikely fighter, an even more unlikely victim, and an absurd possible villain.

But something was still missing. The situation I created was more of a triangle, with the missing side being the anxious property buyer. Given the amount of land and money involved, that would be a big time property developer, not someone who would normally be any part of Erica’s world.

But – ah-ha!- I already had the answer in my fictional world. Her boyfriend is a contractor. He reminds her about a party invitation she had scornfully turned down, at a multi-million dollar apartment belonging to a big developer who wants to get bigger. She doesn’t like the people she meets there, but she now has a connection, and a bonus. I put the elderly founder of this real estate dynasty there and let him brag about how influential he was in the old days. He is a voice of the past.

My further research told me about Brooklyn Heights disastrous fires and about that witchcraft shop. Walks around the neighborhood told me those lovely antique streets are not immune to modern day problems of lost souls. Reading some of the Witnesses own writing on those topics opened up some surprising doors for the story.

There’s more to life, even in Brooklyn, than real estate. There is old love and new, undying feuds and undying losses, and hidden connections between unlikely characters.

 Some memories are hazy and drifting but I could finally use them to tell  a story of the clash of cultures that was Brooklyn Heights fifty years ago.

HANK: Tunnels? Tell us more!  Isn’t it fascinating how stories evolve? How about you, Reds? Any Brooklyn stories?  Let’s hear them!

And a copy of BROOKLYN LEGACIES  to one lucky commenter!
Murder strikes the neighborhoods of Brooklyn—the hip, the historic, and the hood
The search for a lost portrait of Brooklyn's own genius Walt Whitman sends urban historian Dr. Erica Donato into Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. New York’s first suburb has long weathered political battles about neighborhood preservation and destruction. Is a new one shaping up?
Erica meets an idol, fiery community activist Louisa Gibbs, now locked in a dispute with the Watch Tower Society. One of Brooklyn’s biggest landowners, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are selling off their holdings. Then at a glittering party, Erica meets the threatening Prinzig clan who are trying to buy the Witness’s property adjoining Louisa's historic home.
The discovery of the Society’s Daniel Towns’ body in the Witnesses’ underground tunnels reignites old conflicts. Erica learns Louisa has made bitter enemies in her time while she becomes steadily better acquainted with a collection of characters young and old, sane and not-so-sane, living and dead. They all carry bitter secrets and old enmities.
The beautiful setting only hides them. Can Erica use her research expertise to expose a killer?
About the Author:
TRISS STEIN is a small-town girl who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York City. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident, which she uses to write mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Listen to THIS!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So remember a few weeks ago were talking about podcasts, and it became clear that some of us (ahem, me) were not big podcast listeners. (I mean—I listened to Serial, and then, um, well, I adore Writers Bone, and Authors on the Air, and PDI and Suspense Magazine and Dark and Stormy and several more (oh, I have a cold so my brain is not working. So do remind me what I missed!), but those are writer-nichey and  it also became clear that I was obviously missing out.

And I knew just where to turn. The fab Vanessa Lillie (You know her right?) is totally turned in to podcasts. She listens on the podcast app and on her computer—easy peasy, just click and make sure your volume is up—and I asked her to give us the scoop on some of her faves.

Tis the Season for Writing Podcasts
by Vanessa Lillie

Shoveling snow? Podcast.
Baking cookies? Podcast.
Driving to in-laws house? Podcast.
Avoiding in-laws? Podcast.

That’s right, we’re in the thick of podcast season. With some headphones or your choice of what’s playing in the car, you can plug into the writing community whenever you need them.

I love the feeling of going to a book event. That charge of inspiration when I hear an author talk about craft. Learning the fascinating backstory for a book I love. The connection to book people (the best people!). I listen to podcasts nearly every day because they provide a similar experience and connection.  And, I’ve even been lucky enough to have been on a few for my debut thriller, Little Voices.

If this sounds appealing, here are my recommendations to find a writing podcast for you.

For the conversationalistWriter’s Bone
No book tour is complete without an author chatting with this podcast out of Boston, led by author Daniel Ford. The interviews are not only about an author’s new book, but also the craft of writing it and what’s on their nightstand at home. Search the backlist for interviews with your favorite authors to get the scoop on books you love.

For the busy mom Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books with Zibby Owens
This new podcast has taken the publishing world by storm, and it’s no surprise to me after listening to this podcast from the very beginning. Zibby interviews authors of books she loves, wearing the hats of busy mother, wife, avid reader and writer herself. She’s introduced me to so many truly amazing authors I would have missed without her show.   

For the next generation – Write or Die with Claribel Ortega & Kat Cho 
Both Claribel and Kat are debut authors, women of color and leaders in the YA and MG communities where they write. Their podcast was created to give real advice to aspiring (and published) authors. As hosts, their support of each other (and other authors) really shines. I appreciate their honesty about the challenges and privilege in publishing. Each episode is like being waved over to the cool and smart table in the podcast cafeteria.

For the anxious writer – The Worried Writer with Sarah Painter
Anxious writers (like me) rejoice! There’s a wonderful podcast where authors can chat about their books as well as the ups and downs of publishing them. Sarah is an author herself, and she’s a caring and empathetic host.   

For writers trying to level upThe Taylor Stevens Show with Steve Campbell
Taylor Stevens is an internationally bestselling thriller author, and she also takes craft very seriously. She and co-host Steve Campbell do a great job of talking all things writing craft. They have episodes, called Hack the Craft, where they dissect scenes and discuss what’s not working and why. I learn something new and valuable to my craft every episode.

For the NYT Book Review fanNovel Class Podcast with Dave Pezza
Have you ever finished a book and just wanted to talk about it right away? This podcast comes close. It’s a fresh and insightful take on book reviews with in-depth analysis of what worked and what didn’t. Host Dave is joined by a different writer or author each episode, and it’s a fascinating deep dive into books everyone is talking about.  

For the coolest gal you knowUnlikable Female Characters with Layne Fargo, Wendy Heard, and Kristen Leponika
Three female thriller authors start a podcast and do not hold back on feminism, advocacy or support of other women writers. They have talented and diverse guests, dive into hot topics and discuss important issues around diversity, inclusion and representation in the genre.

For telling it like it isHonest Authors with Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon
Two British suspense authors got together and generously decided to share all the ups and downs of writing and publishing their first (and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th) books. Each season has fantastic interviews, and I love their chit chat about writing and their lives. Don’t miss the latest season with lots of interviews featuring industry professionals from publicists to editors to foreign rights experts.

Other favorites:
The Creative Penn (Leader in indie publishing and trend / tech guru) 
First Draft with Sarah Enni (Wonderful interviews with thoughtful host)
Print Run Podcast (Two agents talking shop)

HANK: Sooo…which of those sound good? Do you listen to podcasts?  Which ones?

OR: Any questions about how to find podcasts?Vanessa will stop by and answer them!

OR: Do you do one that we should know about ! Now’s the time to let us know all about it! Tell us in the comments! (And all of the Reds will be thrilled to come visit).

Vanessa Lillie is originally from Oklahoma, but she calls Providence, Rhode Island home with her husband and dinosaur-aficionado son. Smitten with the smallest state, she enjoys organizing book events and literary happenings around town. Her debut thriller, Little Voices, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal as well as must-read lists in Real SimpleRefinery29Cosmopolitan UKBolo Books, and Bookish. The Providence Journal review said, "Aficionados of mystery, thriller and horror will savor this intricately plotted page-turner that builds to a stunning denouement." 


The voice in her head says he’s guilty. She knows he’s innocent.
Devon Burges is in the throes of a high-risk birth when she learns of her dear friend’s murder. The police quickly name another friend as the chief suspect, but Devon doesn’t buy it—and despite her difficult recovery, she decides to investigate.
Haunted by postpartum problems that manifest as a cruel voice in her head, Devon is barely getting by. Yet her instincts are still sharp, and she’s bent on proving her friend’s innocence.
But as Devon digs into the evidence, the voice in her head grows more insistent, the danger more intense. Each layer is darker, more disturbing, and she’s not sure she—or her baby—can survive what lies at the truth. 

Connect with Vanessa: