Monday, February 24, 2020

Being Sick - It's the Worst!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hang on, everyone, I’m going to complain. There’s nothing better than moaning about your illnesses to a captive audience, is there? And I have a lot to moan about. I developed flu symptoms on February 2nd, and I’m still sick, albeit now with a bad chest congestion that may or may not be pneumonia (my doctor doesn’t want to x-ray me until and unless the antibiotics I’m on are a dud.) I’ve managed to drag myself to some of the classes I teach at the local community college, but my students aren’t exactly getting their tuition money’s worth. 

I’ve been conserving what little energy I have for the most important things -  bringing up wood from the wood room, keeping the kitchen fire going, and walking the dog as necessary (The Smithie, who’s been burning the candles at all possible ends with work/campaign volunteering/dating every guy in a 50 mile radius, has also fallen ill.) All extraneous tasks like laundry, cooking anything that doesn’t come out of a can, or shoveling snow that can be waded through have fallen to the wayside.

The thing that’s so frustrating? February was supposed to be the month I ramped up my social media presence heading into my book launch. I was going to be contacting bloggers about guest spots, running a contest for ARCs, sending out newsletters, etc. etc. Instead, I’ve just sat on the comfy chair in front of the aforementioned kitchen wood stove, groaning and hacking. (I sound like an 87 year old woman who’s been smoking in front of a slot machine since retirement.) I’m reminded of the times when, as a young stay-at-home mother, I got sick: I can recall setting out juice and crackers in the family room, shoving a Disney movie into the VCR player, and collapsing on the sofa, knowing I could lay there inert until Beast turned back into a human prince.

How about you, Reds? Have you ever had an illness/accident/can’t-put-it-off surgery at the least convenient time?
JENN McKINLAY: Oh, sweetie, I feel you. Last summer I was supposed to be trotting around NYC, meeting and greeting and shmoozing everyone in the publishing industry, etc. Instead, I ended up skulking in my brother’s basement in Massachusetts, like a bridge troll, while quarantined with Shingles. As if the pain and blisters ON MY FACE weren’t bad enough?! As a show of solidarity, I am going to hit the social media airwaves this week and pimp the shizzle out of HID FROM OUR EYES! We’ve got your back! 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Poor thing!  Always always always. I wish I could forget about the time I had to give a speech in front of 400 people in Miami, and my voice completely went away the day before. COMPLETELY.  I croaked through it, sipping honey-hot water, and managed it, and everyone was very compassionate and atta-girl, but it would have been much better if I had, um, been able to talk.  I think sometimes stress decides to see how much more stressed it can make you...ah HA! It says. Watch what I’m gonna do now. 

And Jenn, ah. I had shingles too, which obliterated an entire holiday season and holiday-card-sending. I know that was brought on by stress. It was HORRIBLE.

Julia, your book is going to fly off the shelves, and we will be the wind beneath its gorgeous wings. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, we totally have your back on this!! We will shout from the rooftops. You REST. And have that x-ray!

My  absolutely-worst-time-to-get-sick was waking up in London the morning I was due to leave for a book tour in Germany, with the flu. It was awful. I did five cities in Germany with an entourage including my German publicist, a translator/media personality, and a German actress who did the German readings. These were all ticketed events and I can’t imagine anyone wanted to be in the same room with me, much less touch a book I had signed. By the last city I had completely lost my voice and we had to drop the English readings all together. Then the Icelandic volcano blew up and my return flight to London was canceled. My fabulous publicist managed to get me the last seat on the train. When I did eventually get back to London, I came down with, wait for it, NOROVIRUS. Gaaa.

HALLIE EPHRON: OMG, I cannot cannot cannot top that. ANY of that! Losing my voice in the middle of a writing conference with several workshops left to give is the worst. Oh yeah, and there was the bad oyster I ate the night before teaching at the Cape Cod Writers Conference. 

Julia, your new book is going to be HUGE.  And everyone out there, please stay well.

LUCY BURDETTE: So sorry you’ve been sick for so long Julia! Probably my worst timing was the day I was supposed to be the guest of honor/speaker at a large golf tournament. I woke up in the night with a stomach virus and had to tell them I couldn’t make it. They were upset (naturally) but you simply can’t soldier on through the stomach flu!

Julia, here’s hoping this is over soon, and we all agree, this book is going to be huge!

RHYS BOWEN:  Oh Julia, the only thing that matters is recovering. Flu is a really bad illness and it takes a month to recover. When you look back the success or failure of any book does not hinge on a guest blog post but on good writing!

My most inconvenient illness? John was told he needed open heart surgery two weeks before I was due to teach a workshop in Tuscany. People were coming from all over the world. I faced being seriously out of pocket and disappointing everyone. Miracle happened and the doctor said he could stent instead. We went to Italy on schedule.

JULIA: Oh, Rhys, I remember that! Nerve-wracking, horribly timed and scary. Okay, I'm actually feeling a lot better about not feeling better - at least I don't have to travel through foreign lands, miss meetings or risk disappointing an audience. Dear readers, how about you? When and what was your least convenient illness?

RED HOT DEALS! Have you ever wanted to be a character in one of JULIA's books? Here's your chance! I'm donating a character name in my next book as part of a fundraiser for the University of Maine Model UN Team. Every $5 donation gives you one chance in a random drawing (ends mid-March.) Go here to donate and enter!  

THE MURDER LIST—now an Agatha award and Mary Higgins Clark  nominee!—is now in gorgeous trade paperback!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Recipe for Time Travel

DEBORAH CROMBIE: In a comment last week, Hallie mentioned a recipe she'd seen in the Boston paper for a cabbage and tomato soup served with sour cream and dill. That reminded me that I used to make a similar cabbage soup called Schi, which I loved. But what, I wondered, had happened to the recipe? 

First, I looked in the big, messy (I mean really messy!) three-ring binder where I stick newspaper recipe clippings and appliance instructions. No luck, although a lot of stuff fell out on the floor. But I knew I had a printed recipe, so I kept thinking about it, and eventually I remembered my little recipe notebook. 

Lo and behold, there it was on the kitchen shelf, hiding in between cookbooks!

I hadn't looked at this in years!

What a treasure! It's filled with typed (on my old Smith Corona, no less) recipes, some from family and friends, others I must have read somewhere. 

Here is my friend Franny's recipe for oat scones. Yum. I'd completely forgotten about those.

There was my aunt's mushroom pate, our old neighbor's Velvet Black-bottomed Cupcakes, my mom's Seafood Gumbo, and so many more. 

In the very back of the notebook, I found the recipe for Schi, the cabbage soup. Eureka! But it calls for boiling beef, which these days sounds very unappealing. How our taste--and my cooking--has changed. (I'll probably make a vegetarian version.) 

One recipe had a note that read, "Similar recipes in the February 1986 Gourmet," which places the little notebook in time--about three years before I started my first novel. How, I wondered, with a small child and a job, had I ever found the time to type up these carefully curated recipes and put the little book together?

Then it occurred to me that my daughter doesn't even own a cookbook. She's a good cook, but she gets Hello Fresh every week, and everything else she finds online. No newspaper clippings or hand-typed recipes!

Were we less busy in those days, before the Internet and social media? We're certainly spoiled for choice now--with a quick Google search we can learn how to prepare just about anything. But the little notebook has charm, and connections to people and a certain time in my life. I'm glad I kept it.

What about you, dear REDS and readers? Do you have a time capsule?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Don’t Call It a Comeback – Elizabeth Little

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Wow, we are having a terrific week for thrillers here on JRW! Maybe that's just what we need to keep us happily glued to our books and not minding dark days or bad weather. PRETTY AS A PICTURE  by my friend Liz Little debuts on February 25th and is getting absolutely rave press--Publisher's Weekly calls it “[A] smart, cinematically steeped page-turner. . ."

My forecast is that we clear our schedules and settle in for a good winter's read. But this is not Elizabeth's first much-lauded novel, and here she is to tell us what it's like to have a new book when you've taken a break from publishing. (Not that's she's counting...)

ELIZABETH LITTLE: Five years. Six months. Twenty-two days. That’s how long it’s been since I last published a new book. 

By any non-George R.R. Martin publishing measure, that’s a pretty long time. And in crime fiction, it’s an eternity. So you’d better believe I’ve tossed and turned my way through more than a few sleepless nights as I get ready to launch my newest thriller out into the world. What if I’m out of practice? What if I’m out of touch? What if I’m not able to discuss my work in anything but the hypothetical? 

What if I don’t know how to do this anymore? 

It’s sort of like going back to the gym for the first time in forever (unless you count that time you tried barre but couldn’t even make it through the trial session, you just collapsed to the mat halfway through in a sweaty heap of lycra and shame). Except I’m not scared I’m out of shape. I’m scared I’m out of personality. 

But then, the strangest thing: This week, as I’ve been gearing up for Tuesday’s release, I’ve realized that I’m not out of practice. I’m not out of touch. Sure I’m still awkward and anxious, but that’s just my default state. In all the ways that matter, it doesn’t even feel like I’ve been gone. 

And I think that’s because even when I was between books, I never stopped being part of the book community. I kept up on industry developments and attended conferences whenever I could. I read widely and deeply, revisiting old favorites while also actively seeking out and supporting exciting new voices that expand our understanding of what crime fiction can be. And I volunteered, too, donating my time and energy to organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Pitch Wars, doing my best to become a better literary citizen. 

But most important of all, I never stopped loving books—and I never stopped believing in them. In their ability to change a person’s day, a person’s perspective, a person’s world. So even though I may not remember how to pace my readings or target ads or even access my Facebook author page, I have no trouble speaking from the heart about everything books mean to me. Which means I’m confident I’ll be able to connect with readers—because I know they feel the same. Thank you so much for hosting me today!

Readers, what’s the last book you read that turned your day around—and what’s the last book that taught you something new?

Elizabeth Little is the Los Angeles Times–bestselling author of the Strand Critics Award–winning Dear Daughter and two works of nonfiction. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. In Pretty as a Picture, a "fun and fast-paced thriller loaded with cinematic flourishes" (Kirkus), a shy but gifted film editor travels to an isolated movie set only to wind up embroiled in a murder investigation. Available Tuesday, February 25 in print and audio from Viking Books.

DEBS: Here's more about PRETTY AS A PICTURE:

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2020

An egomaniacal movie director, an isolated island, and a decades-old murder--the addictive new novel from the bestselling author of Dear Daughter

Marissa Dahl, a shy but successful film editor, travels to a small island off the coast of Delaware to work with the legendary--and legendarily demanding--director Tony Rees on a feature film with a familiar logline.

Some girl dies.

It's not much to go on, but the specifics don't concern Marissa. Whatever the script is, her job is the same. She'll spend her days in the editing room, doing what she does best: turning pictures into stories.

But she soon discovers that on this set, nothing is as it's supposed to be--or as it seems. There are rumors of accidents and indiscretions, of burgeoning scandals and perilous schemes. Half the crew has been fired. The other half wants to quit. Even the actors have figured out something is wrong. And no one seems to know what happened to the editor she was hired to replace.

Then she meets the intrepid and incorrigible teenage girls who are determined to solve the real-life murder that is the movie's central subject, and before long, Marissa is drawn into the investigation herself.

The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be finished.

A wickedly funny exploration of our cultural addiction to tales of murder and mayhem and a thrilling, behind-the-scenes whodunit, Pretty as a Picture is a captivating page-turner from one of the most distinctive voices in crime fiction.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Personal Gas (and Other Oddities--and treasures)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I confess. I organized my dresser drawers. Probably because I was supposed to be writing, and throwing stuff away seemed easier.

I found money! And a necklace I thought I'd lost. And a bunch of gift cards. And about fifty million pencils and pens. 

But at least I didn't have to tackle the completely impossible task of moving. Ah.  The fabulous Alan Orloff (you know him right? One of the absolutely nicest and most talented authors you will ever ever meet, and his new novel I Know Where You Sleep is unique and wonderful) faced this mind-boggling obstacle--and succeeded.

How? And what did he learn from it? Listen to this. Hilarious.

Personal Gas (and Other Oddities)

We’re moving. 

After twenty-eight years living in the same house, my wife and I are moving (I’m NOT retiring, just moving!). We’ve had it with the cold weather and obnoxious traffic of Northern Virginia.

We’ve never really moved before, and we’ve certainly never gone through 28 years’ worth of…stuff (to put it kindly). Our strategy was simple: we’d go room by room together, evaluate each item, and try to agree on its fate. For the most part, it went fine, allowing for differences in communication styles. For instance, when I saw something and said, “It’s going,” I meant that it’s going with us to Florida. When my wife said, “It’s going,” she meant it was going into the trash. As you could imagine, hilarity ensued.

In the end, we decided not to take much with us. Our furniture is old (old, but not old enough to be antiques. Just old enough to be worn out). Our kitchenware is old, too. As is our clothing, and our knick-knacks. Even my golf clubs are old (not quite wooden-shaft old, but old).

So we were pretty ruthless about paring down our belongings. Most of the stuff we donated, a few things we sold, a couple of things we gave as gifts (not the old stuff). We ate all the Thin Mints in the freezer, no matter how old.

Throughout the process, we discovered some interesting things!

A sampling:

  My old bowling ball and spiffy suede bowling shoes (gave the ball away, kept the shoes—maybe they’ll be my new “convention” shoes).

Some truly hideous green and gray pottery we bought from a local artisan about twenty-five years ago (we purchased multiple pieces from this collection). Right now, right here, publicly, I’d like to apologize to the handful of people we gave this pottery to as WEDDING GIFTS! (Did I mention they are hideous?) I have to apologize here, publicly, because those people severed ties with us about twenty-five years ago. I have no idea what we were thinking. I’d post pictures, but I wouldn’t want to cause embarrassment to the artist, if he/she stumbled upon them. (Hideous!!)

A four-foot sword of the Excalibur genre. (My younger son is an actor. Hopefully the sword was for some role of his. I don’t remember for sure.)

 My old sports trophies. I peaked in sixth grade, and it’s been downhill for me ever since.

  A paper mache bear I made in school. It looks like something a third-grader might have made (no offense to third graders!), but I think I was actually in eighth grade. Other things I made and kept for all these years: a sheet metal toolbox, a bookshelf, and a Plexiglas recipe holder. I was good in shop class!

 A science fair-type poster created by my younger son. When he was about eight, he went to a science museum and one of the activities consisted of devising some sort of invention. He came up with a system where people could extract gas for their cars directly out of the ground. The best part? The name. He called it Personal Gas. (I call it hilarious.)

Sifting through twenty-eight years of stuff was exhausting, interesting, cathartic, and emotional, but we managed. Without too many disagreements. For the most part.

And the fate of that paper mache bear?

“It’s going,” we both said simultaneously.

So blog readers, what’s the most interesting or unusual item you’ve found going through old stuff?

HANK: First, I like that papier mache bear, but it probably loses something in the photo translation. I also found a vintage Beatles T-shirt and a note from my Mom. Awww.  So, let's hear it for sorting days! And I love this question, Alan! What have you found, Reds and readers?


“I know where you play,” rasps an ominous voice on the phone at Jessica Smith’s gym. “I know where you pray,” whispers the same voice at her church. The police are no help, so Jessica, tired of fleeing and unwilling to be cowed into hiding, turns to her last resort—PI Anderson West. West dives into Jessica’s case, pro bono. With some overzealous help from his loose-cannon sister Carrie, he unearths a horde of suspicious men in Jessica’s life—vindictive ex-beaus, squirrelly coworkers, skittish boyfriend wannabes. But are any twisted enough to terrorize her?

After the stalker breaks into Jessica’s bedroom—I know where you sleep—and she goes missing, West must find her before the stalker does. Or before Jessica tries something foolhardy, like facing up to the tenacious bastard on her own, armed only with a handgun and a prayer.

About Alan

  Alan Orloff’s thriller, PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT, won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original. His debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was an Agatha Award finalist; his story, “Dying in Dokesville,” won a 2019 Derringer Award (“Happy Birthday” was a 2018 finalist); and “Rule Number One” was selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2018. His first PI novel, I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, was released from Down & Out Books this month.

Alan loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Mid-winter Warmer Primer

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are inching towards March, but the days are still short, it’s still cold (although Rhys and Jenn are enjoying gorgeous Arizona February, I’m sure) and most of us are suffering from the mid-winter blahs. Here are a few things, however, that help me through the last doldrums of February.

A wood burning fire! I’ve spent the last two weeks camped out on the living room sofa, convalescing from meniscus repair surgery on my knee, and in that two weeks we went through at least half of our winter’s supply of firewood. But it was so comforting! Having that cheery fire in the hearth made the time feel more like a treat than a pain. 

In lieu of a wood burning or gas fire, I light candles. I think our need for a bright flame in the cold must go back to our primal ancestors…

I drink loads of hot tea! Not that I don’t love tea any time, but it really perks me up on a cold, gray afternoon.

Comfy quilts and good books--although these two pretty much go without saying for this bunch.

Fresh flowers, the brighter the better. I tend towards white blooms through December and January, but come February, bring on the hot pink tulips and orange roses. Sunshine in a vase!

I have a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table, carefully covered to protect it from the cats. Not that I’ve made much progress on it, but it’s a fun little break to look forward to.

And as contradictory as it may seem, it helps to get outside for at least a few minutes a day even when it’s gray and cold. It reminds our bodies that no, we are actually not hibernating.

What about your, dear REDS? Any special tips for beating the last of the winter blues?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Blankets. I am so big on blankets! I have a wonderful chocolate brown and cream herringbone one that I wear around myself, wrapped like a towel. VERY attractive, I can tell you.

And I so agree--going outside is great. All Ugged and mufflered and mittened. We only have one car, which Jonathan takes on the days I work at home, and I try to still do my walks to the town center to the drug store and post office and bank. And the manicure place, nothing like bright red (or my new love, blue) fingernails!  It’s beautiful outside, the sky here can be an amazing blue. And I always have flowers--right now, yellow tulips. I forgot to get paperwhites this year-is there still time? And oh, our little white snowdrops are blooming out in the garden--so nice to see! 

And I am SO happy the days are getting longer. You can really tell, right? But I don’t like to wish the time away.

DEBS: Paperwhites! Hank, I saw them at Trader Joe's on Sunday. What a great idea. But I know what you mean about not wanting to wish the time away. And for us, spring is a harbinger of summer and HEAT, so I am trying to savor the cold and dark. 

READERS, tell us your tips for coping!