Friday, December 9, 2016

Jungle Red Book Club Coming: Bel Canto

LUCY BURDETTE: Remember a few months ago when we talked it about what fun it would be to have a Jungle Red book club? And then Bel Canto came up as a perfect book to discuss, and Kristopher Zgorski came up as the perfect discussion leader? Well we're going to make it happen! Kristopher has very kindly come up with some good questions--and some Youtube clips to get you in the mood. All you have to do is read the book and think about these questions by January 18. Mark your calendars, ok?

1. Bel Canto has been bestowed with (or saddled with) the moniker of being a “literary” novel, and yet it contains many of the hallmarks readers associate with genre novels – crime fiction in particular.  Why do you think critics feel the need to label things “literary” as a way to elevate them?  And do you agree that Bel Canto is more “literary” than thriller?

2. How does the closed environment setting of the mansion work to elevate the suspense?

3. Think about the role language plays throughout Bel Canto. Keep in mind that music is referred to as “the universal language.”  How do music and language serve different roles with in the action of the novel?

4. Think about which characters are the most interesting to you and try to get a sense of why that might be. Do you think Ann Patchett intended readers to feel closer to some characters over others?

5. Bel Canto was released in May 2001, just a few months before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Do you think US readers experience the novel differently now that the risk of such attacks on home soil is no longer unthinkable?

Listen to performances of two opera arias important within the story of Bel Canto. It is worth noting here that Renee Fleming is generally accepted to be the inspiration for Roxanne Coss – the diva in the novel.

Renee Fleming performing Song to the Moon:

Angela Gheorghiu performing O mio babbino caro:

Lastly, in November 2015, Bel Canto (the novel) was turned into Bel Canto (the opera) having a premiere at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Here is a sampling of the music, sets, and costumes from that production:

Lucy again: The system for our discussion will probably be a little clunky--I'm thinking you can post any answer any time on 1/18--just label it with the corresponding number. But suggestions welcome! And thank you Kristopher Zgorski

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Love Letter to Broadway by Lesa Holstine

LUCY BURDETTE: A couple years ago, I spotted Lesa Holstine at a book conference in New York, and somehow we began chatting about Broadway. I loved hearing about her family trips to take in as many shows as they could in a short stretch, and I'm betting you'll enjoy it too!

LESA HOLSTINE: Kristin Chenoweth, who originated the role of Glinda in “Wicked”, just did a concert series called “My Love Letter to Broadway”. I could easily say the same, but I can’t sing. I’m passionate about Broadway, and, recently have tried to make a couple trips a year to see shows in New York City.

I credit my mother and two good colleges for my love of theater. My hometown, Huron, Ohio, has the longest running summer theater in the state. My mother would take us to see their children’s productions – “Cinderella”, “The Wizard of Oz”, and the actors would come out in costume to meet the children afterward. Both Kent State University and The Catholic University of America had outstanding theater departments. I had a wonderful “History of Theater and Drama” class at Kent State, taught by the chairman of the department, and we were required to attend plays and review them as part of the class.

But, it was the first show I ever saw on Broadway that won me over. I was attending a conference, and decided to go to the show that was closest to the hotel. It turned out to be “Les Miserables” before it closed the first time on Broadway. I had first row balcony seats, perfect for all of those songs addressed to the heavens. And, the theater! I had only been in giant modern theaters. There’s an intimacy to Broadway theaters that is seldom felt elsewhere. I fell in love with Broadway, but also fell in love with “Les Miz”. 

It wasn’t until I moved to Indiana four years ago, though, that I had the chance to go to New York regularly. It’s so easy to get there, flying non-stop from Nashville. When I go to BookExpo in the spring, I usually go to three shows. And, then, in 2014, I went on a mad, week-long trip with a friend, and we crammed as many shows in as we could. We saw “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” twice. I had a front row seat to “You Can’t Take It With You”, and James Earl Jones was just six feet away from me! I saw “Pippin”, and sat behind the conductor. I could see every song that was coming up next. There truly is “Magic to Do” at a Broadway show.

Best of all, I went back to see “Les Miserables”, once again at the Imperial Theatre. And, I fell in love with the actor playing Jean Valjean, an Iranian-born actor, raised in Canada, married to a British woman, Ramin Karimloo. He had been the youngest actor to play the Phantom. And, now, he brought a depth and strength and passion to the role of Jean Valjean. I went back to see the show a second time that week. And, in 2015, I would go see him two more times in the role before his run was over. 

Remember, though, when I said my mother took us to the theater when we were children? My sister, Linda, and I decided to return the favor. In June 2015, we took Mom and our younger sister, Christie, to New York. Neither of my sisters had been there, so we all picked three things we wanted to see while we were there. I picked three shows. And, I carefully selected shows that would be memorable. We went to see “The King and I” at Lincoln Center, starring Kelli O’Hara, who went on to win the Tony Award. Tyne Daly from Cagney and Lacey starred in “It Shoulda Been You”, and her partner in crime, Sharon Gless, sat in front of me, and talked to me afterward. And, maybe the most memorable show was “The Audience” with Helen Mirren. Only two corgies could steal a scene from the queen.

Linda and I have been back to Broadway twice together, long weekend trips that are really Broadway trips. She made me stand at the stage door to meet Ramin Karimloo after I dragged her to Les Miz. We laughed at the irreverence of Jim Parsons in “Act of God”. Our last trip took us to “The Front Page” starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman, and Jefferson Mays, “Sweet Charity” with Sutton Foster, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and “Holiday Inn”, where I met Bryce Pinkham afterwards, and learned his grandmother was a librarian. And, coming full circle, we ended our recent weekend with Kristin Chenoweth’s show, “My Love Letter to Broadway”.

I, too, love Broadway. I pick my shows carefully, sometimes with a star in mind, sometimes based on the recommendation of a friend. I read The New York Times reviews, and follow Playbill. I won’t pay an enormous amount of money to go see Hugh Jackman when he’s in a play that doesn’t interest me. But, I’ll pay full price to see a show starring Sutton Foster or Bryce Pinkham or Jefferson Mays or James Earl Jones or Ramin Karimloo or Kelli O’Hara when it’s a plot or musical that entices me. I’ll go see a drama or a comedy, but I truly enjoy the musicals.

I already have my spring 2017 shows selected. “Come From Away”, the musical about the flights that landed in Newfoundland on 9/11 was recommended by a friend. Another friend saw “Groundhog Day” in London. How can I pass up Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce in “Hello, Dolly!”? And, “Anastasia”. Ramin Karimloo will be back on Broadway in that show.

Thank you, Lucy, for asking me to write my own love letter to Broadway. Have you been bitten by the theater bug? Or, do you have your own passion, some hobby or interest that demands your attention? For me, it’s books and Broadway.

Lesa Holstine is a library manager/administrator who blogs about books and authors, especially mysteries.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best Habits for a Healthy, Happy Life from the Jungle Red Writers

Beautiful Tonka

LUCY BURDETTE: This week, I came across an interesting article about the 25 habits you need in life in order to succeed and be happy. It’s a great list including eating breakfast, exercising every day, journaling, taking vitamins, setting goals. I don’t agree with every single one of them, and looking at the list as a whole can seem overwhelming. But it got me thinking about what habits we at Jungle Red Writers feel are most important…

I’d put on my list: walking or biking most days with some strength training thrown in twice a week, eating lots of fruit and vegetables but then treats in moderation (actually, everything in moderation!,) spending time with people and animals whom you love, reading every night, and writing 1000 words a day, five days a week (if only.) Phew!

How about you Reds, off the top of your heads, what habits are most important to cultivate?

Hank and Jonathan in Paris
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I love that you said off the top of our heads, because that'll be most revealing. 
  Walking. Eating less. Being kind and supportive. Writing my words. Taking time to think.  Really focusing on Jonathan. (You can pick your own person to focus on...) Being aware of the world. Looking at the sky and your garden (whatever it is) every day. Not forgetting to enjoy things.
 I just interviewed a doctor who says there are only three absolute things you need to do to be healthy: Eat less. Exercise more. Don't smoke. 
And sure, goals.  But I do not take vitamins. :-) 

RHYS BOWEN:  Lucy, I love your list. Agree with all of it. John and I walk every evening. His family motto is inter utrumque tene which means steer a middle course. I try to do that. Don't eat too much, don't drink too much. Love fruits. Love salads. Love spending time with my family. Work to keep up with friends. Laugh every day. Take time for a cat nap. Enjoy nature. Be
grateful. Give back...

HALLIE EPHRON: Hold the vitamins -- just eat well.

Lucy with Jerry and Hallie
#1 for me is being kind. I try to make it a habit, when my first inclination is often to sound smart instead. To my husband in particular who is a lovely human being whom I sometimes think I do not deserve. 
#2 Keep moving; try to do some kind of real exercise at least 3 times a week and walk every day. 
#3 Write, yes, my goal is 500 words a day. 
#4 Stop eating when I'm full, nap when I need to. 
#5 Tell my children how much I love them.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:You all have great lists, but I'm laughing about the "no vitamins." I've taken vitamins since I was a teenager, so probably shouldn't stop now...

Being kind is way up on my list these days, not only to family and friends, but making an extra effort to treat everyone with courtesy and respect. 
Eat less. 
Walk more. 
Enjoy my family
Enjoy my friends.
Enjoy my animals.
Enjoy nature. 
NAP. (For me this makes a huge difference in being happy AND productive.)
Read every day.
Oh, and the biggie. WRITE every day.

Red readers, what would you put on your lists?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Four Steps to Social Media Emancipation

LUCY BURDETTE: Do you get the shakes if you think about going too long without checking Facebook or your Twitter feed? Are you terrified about missing out on the newest iteration of social media? Help is here! Our guest today, Chris Syme of CKSyme Media Group has some great suggestions for accomplishing more while doing less! Welcome Chris...

CHRIS SYME: We have lots of names for it: FOMO (fear of missing out), peer pressure, Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS), and more seriously, Internet Addiction Disorder. However we frame it, it can be debilitating for writers.

The amount of time people spend in front of screens is staggering: anywhere from 28 to 44 hours per week depending on the age group. If you write on a computer, your average number of hours per week is probably higher than that. According to Pew Internet, one-fifth of Americans report going online “almost constantly.” Social media use accounts for 28 percent of our online time, according to Social Times. And of that 28 percent, 22 percent is spent on Facebook and the other six percent is spread out over the various other channels.

We are distracted…and stressed.

Social media exacerbates the problem. The noise factor on social media is overwhelming. It’s almost impossible to be seen anymore online unless you already have a huge following or enjoy celebrity status. Too much information passes by too quickly. Eight years ago people were liking every Facebook page they could because it was the shiny new toy. In 2009, Facebook users liked an average of 4.5 pages. By 2013 it was up to 70 (Social Bakers). Add to that the average user has 338 friends. No wonder Facebook now has an algorithm.

So how does an author find success promoting and engaging on social media without spending all day trying? Contrary to everything you may have heard, my advice to authors is to pull back and quit trying to conquer every social media channel out there. The days of amassing followers and being everywhere are over. That is strategy from five years ago. Today, the trend in marketing is moving towards targeting more invested audiences. Less is more. You don’t have to be on every social media channel, just the right ones.

There are four steps to mastering this process of less is more:
1.     Finding your target audience with simple research. There are several ways you can do free audience research to define your target:
o   Use your Facebook Insights and check that data against other social media channel data you have
o   Use the Pew Internet Research 2016 social media update to look at the global data on social media use. Best resource, hands down.
o   Do a survey of your readers with a Google Form or free Survey Monkey survey to find out where your readers are. Send out links to your survey in email and in social media. You may want to offer an incentive such as a couple prizes to random responders.
2.     Designating your primary channel for engaging and selling. A primary channel is the one place where you engage personally with your readers AND earn the right to sell your books. For most authors that is a Facebook Author page.  There are five measures to use to find your best primary channel.
o   Find the best fit for your reader/audience demographics.
o   Look for the channel with the best overall global numbers. Consult Pew’s data for this. The answer is Facebook
o   Look for the channel with the best commerce tools or opportunities to buy a product without having to leave the platform.  Again, Facebook.
o   Look for the channel that is a good match for your genre. The difference between this measure and number one is that every channel that matches your demographic might not be a good match for your genre. For instance, if you’re a fiction writer LinkedIn may fit your reader demographic by age and gender, but in reality it’s a worthless channel for fiction writers.
o   Look for the channel with the best ability to help new readers find you and then convert them to a sale.

3.     Setting up outposts on other major social media channels that fit your audience where you only maintain a presence and redirect readers to your main channel. An outpost channel is a social media channel that doesn’t deliver the optimized opportunities of your primary channel but you still want to maintain a presence there. If you are already trying to engage on channels other than your primary channel, you’ll want to consider turning the rest into outposts. Have a presence but don’t engage.
4.     Learning how to craft more engaging content where you give more than you ask for and earn the right to sell. One of the chief pieces of learning to use less social media is to revamp your content strategy so that it offers value to your followers and earns you the right to sell without feeling sleazy.

You may need a paradigm shift. There are still be a lot of people out there who will tell you that you need to be everywhere, try everything. My objective is to teach authors how to spend less time marketing and more time writing. You don’t have to be on every social media channel, just the right ones.

You can dig deeper into this system in my new book, Sell More Books With Less Social Media. The book is accompanied by a free online course to help you learn how to implement the system. If you want to spend less time marketing and more time writing, this may be your path to freedom.

Chris Syme has logged over 20 years in the communications industry and is the principal of the award-winning agency, CKSyme Media Group. She is the author of four books on social media, including her newest Sell More Books With Less Social Media which also includes a free online class.  She is on Twitter as @cksyme, blogs at and co-hosts a weekly podcast for authors with her USA Today bestselling daughter.

questions? comments? Chris will be stopping in over the day to answer them as she can...

Monday, December 5, 2016

At the Library?

LUCY BURDETTE: When I was a kid, I went to the library in my little town every week and came out with a stack of books. 

Today, as I was putting the finishing touches on this month's Friends of the Key West Library newsletter (I'm the editor,) I got to wondering how the rest of you are using libraries these days. Last week I went to hear debut author Nathan Hill talk about his 10-year-in-the-making novel THE NIX--he was every bit as charming as I expected--and I scored a Christmas gift for a family member! Saturday, I helped set up for our monthly Friends' book sale in the library's palm garden. (Which is every bit as charming as it sounds.) Beginning in January, my intention is to start taking Spanish lessons at the library--I think it will be good for my brain and who knows when it might come in handy?And like most  authors, I love talking to library book clubs about writing and my books. However, I've gotten into the habit of buying books, rather than taking them out of the library the way I did growing up. 

How are you using your local library these days?

HALLIE EPHRON: I love my local library. We helped get the expansion funded, and our gorgeous mostly-new library is packed most of the time, really functioning like a community center. Right now because I'm under deadline so I'm not doing much, but I always support the Friends of the Library and have volunteered in their used book store. They have wonderful resources, like a scanner that I use all the time and access to any book you could ever want through their network of libraries. Did I say, I love my library? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  It's funny, isn't it, how online buying and e-reading have somehow supplanted libraries? But as you can see from these photos, I cannot live without them--and am always so thrilled to visit. (They always do such marvelous publicity!) 

And look at this terrific night at the Concord LIbrary--I'm on a panel with Peter Swanson and another author--isn't this room right out of Hogwarts? 

Librarians and patrons are the most enthusiastic, and truly, where would be be without them? I love how libraries become a gathering place, for lectures or talks or panels or classes--and I've done many an event for my local Newton Library, whether speaking or emceeing or hosting. 

One more important thing:  Sometimes readers say--as if apologizing--"I can;t buy your book tonight, but  always take your books out of the library."  My answer to that is --great!  It's so critical to keep our books in circulation...if no one checks them out, they go off the shelves.    Nothing better than having a long waitlist!

RHYS BOWEN: I grew up in the country, outside a small village where the only library was a small paid lending library in the yarn shop. We moved into town when I was 14 and I spent so much time at the big library down the hill that my father was sure I was meeting a boy. And I was allowed into the adult section. I found Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy and lots of good stuff. We had Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers at home so I knew them.

I used to use the local library here in Marin for reference. The reference librarians were brilliant when I asked questions like "In what year was elastic first used in underwear?" Now most stuff can be found online. I don't often check out books, as most things can be read on a Kindle. I do attend programs from time to time, but our local libraries are not brilliant as they are in other parts of the country. I'm spoken at libraries all over Illinois and they are fabulous. Also Santa Monica was gorgeous and vibrant. When I am in Arizona I usually drive to Scottsdale main library where they do have diverse programs from book groups to classes. And the best library is out in a small town called Cave Creek where there is always something fascinating going on. Half an hour's drive but worth it.! (I've spoken at an English tea party there).

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, yikes, I am embarrassed to say how little I use my library. I loved my local library when I was growing up--checked out the full allowed number of books, every week--and then when my daughter was growing up we used the library in our old Dallas neighborhood (even after we moved fifty miles away) all the time. We did weekly story times, and then summer reading club, all the great activities. And I volunteered. In fact, I was working as a volunteer at the library when I wrote my first novel.

But now, it's the "busy-ness" syndrome again. I have more books in paper and on Kindle than I'll ever manage to read and there's always something new I need to keep up with. When I do check out books, I forget to return them. I'm afraid the most I see of libraries these days is when I get to do speaking engagements in them.

The next generation is starting out right, however. Granddaughter Wren is going to story-time twice a week at our local library!

How about you Red Readers, do you use your library?