Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WHAT WE'RE WRITING--Hank Phillippi Ryan and WHAT YOU SEE

HANK PHILLIPPI  RYAN:  It’s what we're writing week, and I am being grateful for deadlines, because otherwise how would we ever be finished? When I look back at my work (sometimes), or read it out loud at events (rarely!) there is always some little thing I would change. Sigh. I guess that’s good, always striving to be more evocative, more emotional, more exciting. Shorter.
          I’m five thousand words into a new book—more on that soon. And every word feels like a triumph. Not that the words are so great—simply that they exist, where there was once only a blank page! And I keep telling myself that if I keep going, inevitably and inexorably, the new story will emerge. So far, I’ve got a car accident, a murder victim, and a new job for Jane. And that’s only the first three chapters. I can make it better later.
          You know, every time I start a book, I have a moment of thinking: this cannot be done!  And then, months and months later, there it is. Now we are coming up to the pub date for  the fourth Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan thriller, WHAT YOU SEE. I am so excited to say it’s October 20, and why sure, you can pre-order.

WHAT YOU SEE begins with a murder in broad daylight, a stabbing at Curley Park just outside Boston City Hall.  (Inside info: This incident is very loosely based on a case my defense attorney husband had! He represented the accused killer. More on that another day…) Anyway, in the book at least: Soon after the crime, a newbie police cadet takes our hero, Detective Jake Brogan, aside, and tells him a bystander might have a lead on the bad guy.


  Chapter  3
     “Down that way—in the alley!” The cadet grabbed Jake’s arm, and Jake followed the kid’s pointing finger toward the narrow curved passage between the bank and the liquor store. “Some guy, hiding in a Dumpster. Down there. Or someone put something in the Dumpster. Something like that.” The cadet gulped for air, trying to get the words out. “A girl—I mean, a woman—told me. Anyway, what if it’s the—”

“Who told you? Where’d she come from?” Jake needed specifics. “Where is she now? This girl-woman? What’d she say?”

“Ah, I don’t know, she just said—what I said. The Dumpster. We were all taking names and addresses, see, they’re still doing that, like you wanted, and she came up to me and—” 

The cadet’s black plastic name tag said brad lonnergan. Lonnergan pointed again, jabbing the air. “Down there. What if it’s the guy who—”

“You kidding me? Do you see her? Find her.” This Lonnergan kid was not clear on the law enforcement concept. “Hold her. Do not let her leave. Understand? D!”

Jake signaled DeLuca with one finger. Me. You. That way. Let’s go.

They couldn’t afford to spook the crowd. All he needed, a mob following them into Franklin Alley, hooting like medieval peasants while they dragged some poor jerk from a Dumpster. Jake, checking to make sure D was behind him, snaked behind the spectators, dodging and weaving. Only one or two seemed to notice they were on the move. He and D didn’t look like cops, after all. Just two guys wearing jeans and leather jackets. Walking fast.

Jake glanced over his shoulder again. Most eyes focused on Kat McMahon, the ME now kneeling over the victim. For once, better to keep it that way. Cadets—the ones with brains—were taking names and addresses. Asking if anyone saw anything. Asking spectators with cameras and cell phones to stand by. The whole thing was already verging on out of control. And now this.

But maybe this would solve the whole damn case and they all could go home.

Ahead of them, the alley. Cracked pavement, cobblestones scattered with gravel. Framed on the right by the bank’s brand-new red brick, on the left by the pockmarked brownstone of Jodi’s Liquors and the University Inn. With its twists and turns, only the first ten feet or so of Franklin were visible from the street. Jake knew it was a dead end. If someone was in there, like Lonnergan’s “girl-woman” said, there’d be no way out except toward him and DeLuca. A bad guy who planned where he was going, or was at least familiar with this part of the city, would never have chosen this as an escape route. Unless he was panicking. Or hurt. Or trying to hide, waiting it out.

Or luring them in? Trapping them?

At the curb, Jake stopped, put up a hand, assessing. DeLuca skidded to a halt, almost slamming into Jake’s back. Broad daylight, not like anyone could surprise them. The quiet hubbub of Curley Park softened into background.

One second, two.

Jake felt for his Glock, drew it, felt the sun on his face. A seagull squawked, swooping, headed for the harbor. Lured into a dead-end alley? Windows above. Rooftops. Where was the woman who’d sent them down here? Who was she? Whose side was she on? What if—well, there were too many what-ifs to consider right now.

“You ready?” he said.

“Ready,” DeLuca said.

“On my three.” Jake began, “One.”

“Help!” A voice, from down the alley. “Help me!”

“Three,” Jake said.

HANK: Okay, I like it. It still makes me smile.  That‘s a good thing. 

 And let’s give away an advance reading copy, whaddaya say?  I need a name for a female drama teacher at a small college in Boston. I was thinking her first name is Sasha. What’s her last name? (No beginning with J, or M, or D, or R. In fact, can it begin with V? )

Is she a good guy or a bad guy? Too early to tell.  But I’ll choose an ARC winner at random for the suggestions…and I’m hoping I can also use a name!

(And who is going to Malice this weekend? Crossing fingers for my Agatha-nominated TRUTH BE TOLD  and WRITES OF PASSAGE!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hallie: Time traveling to the people if not the places...

HALLIE EPHRON: It's WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK, and I have not been writing. Instead I’ve been traveling and talking about about Night Night, Sleep Tight.

The book takes place in Beverly Hills, and I just got back from the nicest ever trip to Southern California. I almost wrote “trip back in time” but it really can’t be back in time, because while we New Englanders like to preserve our landmarks, those Southern Californians are all about making it bigger and better and adding parking garages.

When I grew up there (BEFORE there were zip codes), I never thought about whether the houses were big or not.  I loved the whitewashed stucco walls, the orange tile roofs, the enclosed courtyards with their lush tropical green, a showy orange and blue bird of paradise tucked in here and there.  Each house ended only a few feet of a wall or densely planted hedge that separated it from its neighbor.

In Beverly Hills, latitude equated to status.
There was really a right and wrong side of the railroad tracks that ran right through town. 

Above Sunset, way north in the canyons, houses were big sleekly modern in the gated estates.  That’s where big stars like Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra and Charleton Heston lived. Just above Sunset lived TV greats like Lucille Ball and Jack Benny. 

Our house in 1967
Below Sunset, in the “flats” where we lived, the houses were more modest. My parents were screenwriters and our neighbors were Carl Reiner (he was writing for Your Show of Shows) and David Janssen (TV actor: The Fugitive). 
Our house in 2013Add caption

South of Wilshire the houses grew smaller still until there were multi-family apartment complexes surrounding concrete courtyards.  It was almost like some force of nature was at work, siphoning away anything
organic and replacing it with dust and cement.  Looking at them now, those less wealthy neighborhoods look cozy and the houses and apartments go for millions.

The house my parents sold in 1967 for $100K and sold in 2014 for $7M. Yes, SEVEN MILLION, a number I can barely wrap my head around.  And the house isn't an inch bigger than when we moved out.

Almost nothing I remember from growing up in Beverly Hills remains. No Robinsons or Bullocks or Lanz where I spent hours trying on clothes I didn’t buy. Or Jax, the fancy women’s clothing boutique that I was too timid to walk into. The old Beverly Hills Library in the north wing of the city hall is gone; the new library where I spoke is gigantic, gorgeous, and new

No Hamburger Hamlet (for Those Potatoes or an Oak Plank) with its wonderfully hokie dioramas hanging over each booth with "scenes" from Hamlet, as in "Get thee to a bunnery!" No Bifs where I spun around on a stool at its one counter and sipped chocolate malteds.

No Wil Wrights ice cream on south Beverly Drive or C. C.
Brown’s hot fudge on Hollywood Boulevard. I wonder what happened to the cow mural on the wall of 31 Flavors.

I tried to pay a nighttime visit to the Electric Fountain which figures prominently in my book and is still there! But it was walled off and being renovated. And "the witch's
house" which was just down the block from us was still standing, though much more buffed and polished than I remember it.

Only DuPars at the Farmer's Market looked exactly like it once did, and though parking isn't the breeze it once was, their pancakes with real maple syrup are still delicious.

Still there, though, were some cherished friends.
Leonora who became a torch singer and then a Rolfer; or Christie who was the world’s best elementary school teacher and now volunteers at the school she retired from; or Jodyne, an attorney who manages the shopping centers her dad opened when we were kids; or Tony who wrote for the high school newspaper with me and is now a judge and a writer.

I was glad to get back to Boston where, like Beverly Hills, it’s the people not the places that make it feel like home.

Can you go back and visit the places from your childhood, or like me, do those exist only in photographs and memories?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

What We're Writing — Susan Elia MacNeal and MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hello Reds and lovely readers! I'm so delighted to show you the cover design for the next Maggie Hope novel, MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, which is coming out October 27, 2015 (so not too long to wait!):

I hope you love it as much as I do! I adore Fala, of course, as well as the ghostly figure in the window.... And, um, I'd really like Maggie's coat, please! (With a faux-fur collar, of course.)

And what's on the inside is progressing nicely as well. The manuscript is now typeset and in page proofs. So my job is to go over the book one last time.

Look! It's a book! (Amazing what typesetting will do.)

And I'm particularly proud of the dedication. I asked Miss Edna about the political and racial events of the 1940s often, and it led to great discussions. I treasure the memory of them.

As you may know, I'm also working on the next book in the Maggie Hope series, THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE, and just returned from a two-week research trip to London and Beaulieu, in Hampshire. (It's pronounced Bew-lee — go figure!) 

Fantastic trip and I have so much to share that it will take additional posts, but one of the most amazing thing was visiting the real-life SOE secret agent offices in London and "finishing school" in Beaulieu. I never forget for a moment that although I'm telling a story with a fictional protagonist, real women and men sacrificed everything to be dropped behind enemy lines and, as Winston Churchill instructed "set Europe ablaze!" 

Here are a few of the sites and plaques honoring the SOE in London:

On what used to be one of the main SOE offices on Baker Street.

Now it's a lighting store and anonymous office space.

This building was home of the SOE and Free French. It's now banking offices.

This is the plaque in memory of the Free French and SOE

And also in Beaulieu:

This is the SOE memorial on the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, originally built in 1204

A close-up of the inscription

The outside of what's left of Beaulieu Abbey

Inside the domus. It was originally a dormitory for monks. During World War II, dances were held there and it also served as sleeping quarters for soldiers heading to Normandy.

U.S. soldiers getting some rest before the invasion of Normandy.

I'm in awe of the agents' bravery and courage — and so many of them didn't return. But, thanks to their efforts, along with the Free French and La Résistance, so many telephone lines were cut, bridges blown up, and roads blocked before D-Day by the "underground army" that the Allied invasion of Normandy had just that more going for it.

Hats off.

Reds and lovely readers — are you familiar with the work of the SOE? And are there any war memorials that are particularly important to you? What's your personal connection? Please tell us in the comments.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Liz Mugavero — Deadlines, Day Jobs, and "Book Jail"

 SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Please welcome Agatha-nominated author Liz Mugavero — her latest Pawsitively Organic Mystery is The Icing on the Corpse. She also has two of the most adorable dogs, ever, as you will see when you read her post. Take it away, Liz!

Liz Mugavero: Ive become that reclusive writer. The one the neighbors regard curiously in those rare times when I do step out of the house in some strange outfit, hair gone awry, blinking like I havent seen the sun in months. Which, come to think of it, we havent here in the northeast until the past few days.

This has truly been a winter to forget. Never mind the godforsaken weather, Ive also been working on two back-to-back deadlines, celebrating the launch of my latest Pawsitively Organic Mystery, The Icing on the Corpse, working a full time corporate America job, doing freelance work, sitting on two boards and helping plan an event for another related committee. Along with family and taxes and leaky roofs and all the other everyday Things to Address.

Im not sure Ive been doing any of them particularly well.

Please note, I recognize how blessed I am to have these problems. They are truly in the category of good problems to have. Im successful at two careers and have found ways to give my time back to two excellent causes.

My weekdays look like this:

Get up.

Stumble to the coffee/tea bar. Make drink of choice.

Get a bleary-eyed half hour (hour if Im lucky) in at my personal computer.

Make a green smoothie in the Vitamix.

Get ready for work.

Drive 45 minutes to the office.

Spend eight hours looking at another computer, or sitting in meetings.

Drive 45 minutes home.

Eat dinner.

Sit in front of my personal computer until I fall asleep on top of it, hopefully not deleting the days work.

Weekends are a little different. For example, last weekend I spent 12 hours both days in front of the computer. I had a couple of breaks to throw the dogs a ball outside. (Theyve been enjoying the nicer weather, rolling in the grass, exploring the long-forgotten bare ground.) On Sunday, the neighbors came over to drop something off. I had barely showered when they showed up and had to answer the door with my hair wrapped in a towel at one in the afternoon, barely able to form a coherent sentence. When I did speak, I called someone by one of my characters names.

At this point, Im not fit for public consumption. My body feels like its slowly atrophying from lack of movement. I went outside at lunch the other day while I was at my day job office. Fresh air and sun made me feel a bit vampirish. I have unrequited dreams of being in the car, sunroof open, enjoying the breeze and going (gasp!) somewhere fun. I long to pick up a set of barbells or do some kickboxing.

Someday. Someday.

Over at Wicked Cozy Authors, we call it book jailbut this has graduated to an alarming level of solitary confinement. The good news is, in exactly two weeks the locks are springing open, whether Im ready or not. Deadlines must be met. I HAVE TO leave this desk. I never want to look at another computer again. At least for a week, until I have to jump into the next book. I have to reintroduce myself to those around me, and remind the dogs that there is such a thing as a walk on the town green.

So Im wondering, is this just me? How do others handle multiple deadlines and major commitments, especially us multi-career authors? 

Would love tipsin the meantime, spring is here! Im going to at least open the window next to my prison so I can see the flowers blooming, watch the dogs play and smell some fresh air

Liz Mugavero is the author of the Agatha-nominated Pawsitively Organic Gourmet Pet Food Mysteries Kneading to Die, A Biscuit, A Casket, and The Icing on the Corpse. As you can imagine, her canine and feline rescues demand the best organic food and treats around. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Salem State College and a Master of Arts in writing and publishing from Emerson College. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime New England, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. She lives in Connecticut. Find her at www.lizmugavero.com.