Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rhys on Boxes and Mantras

I realize as I de-clutter that I have a thing about boxes. I try to bring one back from every place I travel--and the smaller the better. I have a glass topped table full of them. No room for any more. I like interesting little boxes to hide away special little things Here is one of my favorites that John bought for me at a craft show in Idaho. The elephant has so many drawers within drawers. My grandchildren love it!

Being a fan of boxes, I was thrilled when Book Passage bookstore gave me this traveling jewel box as a present. Isn't it perfect?

And this is a more recent tiny box, but also one I'm very fond of. It is made of origami by my talented grandson.

 However I was quite surprised to come across this tiny box in a drawer the other day. I have no recollection of who might have given it to me. I certainly didn't buy it. But I love the message on the lid.

Good things Come to Those who Hustle. It's a quote from Anais Nin but it could be my mantra. I certainly worked hard all my life and kept on plugging away though ups and downs.
And speaking of mantras, I have another saying pinned to my bulletin board back in California. It says NO PRESSURE NO DIAMONDS. That one resonates for me too. And encourages me when I'm really stressed.
John's family motto is INTER UTRUMQUE TENE which means steer a middle course. Very sensible and measured. I think I like the box with hustle on it better.

So I'm curious to know if others have a special mantra. Or a special collection of something.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cindy Brown Has Fun with Research

RHYS: One of the things I always look forward to in the summer is being on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference. This is the one place where the craft of mystery writing is really taught intensely and well by top level faculty. It has produced a whole bevy of published writers--among them Cara Black, Sheldon Siegel, Susan Shea.  And now Cindy Brown. I mentored Cindy at the conference and saw great promise in the story that is now about to become her first published book.
I told her when she was about to be published she should be our guest on Jungle Red Writers, and I'm delighted to welcome her today.  You'll love her quirky humor.  So Cindy, it's all yours:


 Learned how to build a letter bomb.
 Conducted an experiment to see if Diet Coke would dissolve a nail (nope).
 Cajoled my husband into posing as a dead body so I could see how a corpse

In the name of research, I have:
 Attended an Alcoholic Anonymous Back-to-Basics meeting.
 Hung out at my auto mechanic’s shop, spit-balling ideas about car fires.
 Gone on a ride-along with a member of the Sun City West Posse (yep, posses
still exist, at least in Arizona, though they now use cars instead of horses).

As you may able to tell, I LOVE research. And being a mystery writer gives me a
certain liberty. A few months ago, I was standing in line at a store behind a man who
wore an athletic shirt with a pocket on the back (it’s designed so cyclists don’t have
to sit on their wallets). I asked him if he’d ever lost anything out of it. He hadn’t. I got
to my real question: did he think someone could pick that pocket more easily than a
traditional pocket? “Why don’t you try?” he said, putting his wallet in the pocket. He
learned that he might not want to wear that shirt in a crowd, and I learned that I
possess a certain skill that could be useful if I decide to become a criminal.

One of the things I really love about research is the fascinating stuff I run across
during the process. For instance, I wanted one of my characters to buy something in
Costco that could be used in a crime. But what? In researching the idea, I not only
learned about dangerous office products (stay away from paper shredders and
staple removers), but also that Costco sells home monitoring kits, caskets and
I love to look up words and phrases, too. I now know “forty Yiddish words everyone
should know.” I have an online map of the U.S. that tells me where people say “soda”
and where they say “pop.” And I now know that if you are researching current
teenage slang and decide to look up “sex” in the Urban Dictionary, you will get this
message: “What kind of moron are you that you look up sex in the urban
dictionary?” Yes, it really says that.

And though I’m really looking for details to include in my books, I find that my
research often proves to be practically useful. I’ve learned that powdered lemonade
cleans toilet bowls, that Doritos are good fire starters, and that a wooden spoon
placed on top of a pot of boiling water will keep the liquid from boiling over. I’ve
also learned how to make a duct tape bra (I haven’t tried it, as I think I’m a little old
for strapless bras, and besides, it sounds really uncomfortable).

Truth be told, I’m even treating this guest post (thank you Rhys!) as a bit of research,
because I’d love to know what wacky things you have learned while writing. And to
sweeten the pot, I’ll give away a signed copy of Macdeath to one lucky commenter!


Macdeath, a madcap mystery set in the off, off, off Broadway word of theater, was
just released by Henery Press on January 20th. The lovely Rhys Bowen calls it “ a
delicious romp with plenty of humor and suspense.”

Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and
playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s
lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013
international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is
an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband
now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than
25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

RHYS: So thank you, Cindy. I'm dying to hear what kind of insane things others have done in the name of research. I've wrestled on the floor, found where to push someone out of a train, thus terrifying everyone else in the carriage and suffered for my art by having to spend time in Nice and Paris!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rhys's New Year's Resolution: Decluttering

RHYS BOWEN: Hank asked us last week about our New Year's Resolutions.
I have a special note book and every New Year's Day I sit down and write the highlights of the last year, my plans and dreams for the upcoming year. Then I check off last year's plans and dreams and check the ones I accomplished. Also checked off items on my bucket list.
Recently my expectations have more to do with enjoying life, staying healthy, spending more time with friends and less being stressed about my writing. Yes, I'm moving into a Zen-like state.

One of my decisions for the new year was to de-clutter. I love coming to our condo in Arizona because it was new when we bought it. I furnished it with light Skandanavian-style furniture( okay, I confess, Ikea) and we keep a minimum amount of clothing and books here. It's easy to clean and looks uncluttered. In contrast to our home in CA that has accumulated thirty years of family living, far too many book cases of books, as well as boxes of vinyl records and cassette tapes that will never be played, clothes that will never again be worn, photos that will never get put into albums.

So I'm started a serious clean-up campaign. I've been weeding out clothes that are still good, still timeless--like those dark suits kept only for New York visits--and yet are rarely worn. Or the bright jacket with palm trees on it worn only on trips to Hawaii. Or shoes that are good but actually hurt me after twenty minutes.

I've been through my toiletries and ousted lipsticks and mascara that must now be too old, bath products I've been given but really aren't my scent, medicines that are past their sell-by date.  And books. I'm being sensible about books. Even if I loved it, I'll probably never re-read it (the exception to this is Agatha Christie. She's my go-to comfort read. As is "Our Hearts Were Young And Gay.") And if I do decide to re-read there are libraries and Kindle.  And do we really need my forty-year-old daughter's high school English paper comparing the Heart of Darkness with Lord of the Flies, even if it did get an A?

But the serious de-cluttering is being done on my computer. I get at least 100 emails a day. And most of them I didn't want, didn't ask for and don't need. All the on-line stores at which I bought one Christmas present, charities I donated to at Christmas, and now think they can send me weekly updates.  Every cruise line in the world because we took a cruise last year. All the publishing-related sites like Shelf Awareness that are actually interesting but I simply don't have time to read. Yahoo groups to which I've belonged for years but again are neither helpful or relevant. Jokes that friends think I'd like to read. Snippets from the BBC and English newspapers that my husband thinks I should know about.

So I've been going through ruthlessly with the UNSUBSCRIBE button and hope to end up with about twenty important and relevant emails per day.

And ruthlessly eliminating apps I never use on my iPad and phone too.

So how about you, Reds? How do you handle electronic cluttering?

HALLIE EPHRON: I did all my holiday shopping online, but once the packages were delivered I UNSUBSCRIBEd, so my email doesn't need to be de-cluttered. I do go in occasionally and delete email folders I no longer need, or move them a layer down so I don't see them every day. But I've done it often enough that I'm afraid to do too much deleting for fear I'll lose something I really need.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I do the e-de-cluttering for both my laptop and for Ross's computer, so I tend to make it a regular task. (Unless anyone mistake me for a Highly Organized Person, I will say this is probably the ONLY decluttering I do regularly.) Like everyone else, I also get a gazillion unwanted emails, which usually filter into the trash, so all I have to do is empty it on occasion. I tend to save most of my non-commercial email, unless it's something that's otherwise saved online, like newsletter subscriptions or our Jungle Red listserv. I have my mail program set up to automatically delete attachments when I delete the original email, and that saves a lot of time and space.

The part that continues to overwhelm me are my kids' pictures and music files. Having never taken photos with film, they've never learned to carefully set up one or two shots and take them; instead they snap away on their phones and cameras like professional papparazi and upload EVERYTHING. Begging them to sit down and edit their files has been...less than successful. So when I can, I try to slip in and delete most of the blur-of-motion, finger-over-lens and feet pictures. Not my favorite chore by far.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You are such an inspiration! I have just spent a joyous half hour unsubscribing. It's funny--every morning I check my computer, and spend several minutes just deleting stuff, unread, and being annoyed. Why didn't I think of unsubscribing? It's fabulous. Thank you.

I am such a clutterbug, and am working so hard to stop. I made a nice basket to put all the to-do bills and stuff in. So I could be organized and pretty.  The basket filled to overflowing. So much for THAT idea. But suddenly I am madly throwing stuff away. I don;t know what got into me. When the mail comes, Jonathan looks at each piece, and then just puts it down. Recently I started (sweetly) requesting that he *deal* with each one instead: Action file, storage file, or toss. Gotta start somewhere right, so might as well be with him.  :-) 
RHYS: While I'm ruthlessly eliminating I've been searching sites for useful decluttering apps and one of my favorites is EVERNOTE. This is what is said about it. I find it amazingly useful:
Evernote - Decluttering + Organization
Also during the search, you may find a lot of papers in various locations. Whether it's important documents, warranties for appliances, or recipes handed out in grocery stores, these all add up to one giant mess. Enter Evernote, which has the capability to scan these papers into a into digital form which can then be accessed anywhere the internet reaches. Evernote is also handy for making lists, reminders, calendar events, documents, and more to make the ultimate home binder. Free - Available for iOS / Android / Windows Phone
And if you have reached the desperate stage in real lie decluttering need then this is the app for you:
up a bit, the homestead now has a lot of new possibilities. Rebirth that living room by shifting the layout around, but save your energy with a little digital ingenuity. MagicPlan takes your room's dimensions with your smartphone camera and creates a flattened room layout to play with. Add in furniture and move it around to see what can go where. Free - Available for iOSAndroid

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Unfilth Your Habitat - Maintaining Cleanliness
Once everything is done, maintain cleanliness and order with rigorous discipline. Some of us excel in this department, while others weren't born with Martha Stewart instincts when it comes to household maintenance. Enter Unfilth Your Habitat, a tough love app that when used correctly guides users towards less obvious chores around the house. Select a random one that takes either 5, 10, or 20 minutes, use the pomodoro timer to get productive (20 minutes of work, 10 minutes of rest), or create a list of tasks to accomplish. $2 - Available for iOS /Android

So, dear Reds and Readers: what decluttering tips can you share with us? Any more brilliant apps?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dishing on Downton!

RHYS BOWEN: My friends and family know not to call me on Sunday evenings during January. That is because I'll be watching Downton Abbey, of course. I've never actually watched any soap opera in my life (except for the odd episode of Days of our Lives when I was visiting my parents) but I have to confess that I find Downton completely addictive.  When I analyze the ;plot I can see that it's over-the-top and full of holes. The bad characters are so evil, the good so noble. Poor Anna and Edith. They endure one bout of suffering after another, rather like the suffering women in Telenovelas in Central and South America.

And yet I am hooked. I have to keep watching. Will Edith ever find out what happened to Michael? Will Bates be accused of pushing Green under a bus? Will Mary find happiness and with whom? Will Thomas ever become sweet and lovable and abandon his evil ways? (And is he on drugs or trying to cure himself of his homosexuality?)

When I had a personal blog a couple of years ago we used to dish on Downton every Monday morning and a couple of thousand people joined in the dishing. They were the most popular posts ever on my blog. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone cared!

So I'm wondering, Reds, are you addicted to Downton? And why do you think we find it so fascinating? Is it because we are fascinated by lives in such a different time and place? Or are the story lines so emotionally compelling? Has Julian Fellowes raised the emotional bar so high by killing off two favorite characters that we cannot be sure of the safety of anyone?

So let's hear what you think? Who do you think Mary should marry? Please not Charles Blake! What should Edith do about little Marigold? (If I were her I'd buy a little cottage and hire a nanny for her daughter and go to visit her when I wanted). And if I were Bates I wouldn't come across as so guilty. I'd say "Yes, that man annoyed me the one time I saw him, but I don't run around killing everyone who doesn't behave as I would. More offence and less defense). And poor Anna--will she finally have to reveal the rape?
And does everyone else loathe Miss Bunting. She's just plain rude and if she cared about Tom she wouldn't embarrass him.

And who absolutely does not like Downton?  Even if you don't,you have to watch this wonderful Downton Christmas spoof..

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh. SO much to say. But briefly: Gillingham, no. Creepy.  Marigold? PROBLEM.  Bates? Boring. And still I am beyond hooked. Miss Bunting? Predictable. I'd love to have Mary swept off her feet--that'd be fun, right? And Edith;s what's-his=name  should come home and they get Marigold. And change her name.  (Hmm. But that wouldn't work, would it?)

HALLIE EPHRON: First, yes, I love Downton. And I will be watching.

Isn't Edith's lover (whats-his-name) dead, and didn't she inherit a newspaper that she's supposed to be running? Or is that a plot in MY head? And she's gotten so pathetically needy after having a nice spurt stiffening backbone.

I am tired of he Bates/Green murder story. And of course someone's going to find  that missing diaphragm(?) Mary asked Anna to get rid of for her ("No one looks there..." Yeah, right.) Mary and Gillingham? Obviously not. But that other guy that's sniffing around doesn't seem right, either. We'll surely find out why Thomas nipped off to see his "dying father"-- poor conflicted soul.

I think thematically everyone is going to marry UP or DOWN. Because how many times can you get hit in the head with that theme? So that means Mary might marry Branson (even if there's no chemistry, at least he appreciates her smarts). And Isobel's got to end up with Sir Whatshisface.

And of course, someone's got to die...

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  I swore off Downton after Season 2, and didn't watch but a few episodes of 3 and 4. But I have found myself strangely hooked again--really against my will! I love the music, and the setting, and the clothes! Although the plot is over the top, and I think Rhys is right--the plot lines are suitable for a Telenovela... I like Branson better than any of them, Upstairs or Down... and don't understand why he doesn't just bugger off to America:-) Maybe someone will murder Miss Bunting???? (She certainly deserves it!)

RHYS: So did you like the ways things were going last night? I think Isobel should marry Lord Whatsit. He's nice AND he's rich. What more does she want? AND she could be superior to Violet.

And in case you want a good laugh, take a look at the Downton Christmas spoof! it's priceless.
And all our friends in the path of the blizzard, stay safe and warm!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Choice of Jewelry

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  So all this week we've been talking about reinvention: Gigi's recovery from cancer and her new outlook on life; Alice's cleaning out her basement, finding those old photos and transforming them into plots; Cindy Cavanagh's watching her book transform into a TV show; and Becky Masterman beginning a whole new career. So how did they do it? And is there a roadmap to reinvention? 

Nancy Cole Silverman has some suggestions for that very adventure--including jewelry!

The Gold Watch vs. The Brass Ring
   by Nancy Cole Silverman

When my father retired he was given a gold watch. Times change, and as I approached retirement, I was looking for a brass ring.  After nearly twenty-five years in radio the station I worked for was merged with another, and like many of my colleagues, I was purged; thrown out like yesterday’s newspaper and forced to reinvent myself.

In my debut novel, Shadow of Doubt (Henery Press 2014) my protagonist, Carol Childs, a middle-aged, single mom, is working for a talk radio station and has left her secure position as an account executive to pursue her dream job as a reporter. However, her enthusiasm to reinvent herself isn’t matched by her new boss, KCHC’s boy-wonder, Tyler Hunt, who considers her the world’s oldest cub reporter, in search of a good story.

Reinvention is never easy. There are always those closest to us that refuse to see us in a new light.  But along the way I’ve picked up a few tricks that helped me find my way as a novelist.  

not this kind of radio, of course...
After a long career in radio, working both sides of the desk - that of reporter, and later as a sales exec and general manager of a sports radio station (God has a sense of humor!) - I learned it’s seldom the job, but the skills, that define the person, and we don’t leave those behind.  With take them with us. 
So, here’s my bag of tricks. 

#1. Identify who you want to be and what you want to do. Look around, dig deep inside yourself for those lost dreams and hobbies you never had time to pursue and go after them.

# 2. Match your skill sets to that of a new profession.  Are you organized? Detail ordinated? Goal driven?  If you’re a writer, chances are you possess a wealth of skills you’ve never thought about and that many companies need.  

# 3.  Talk about what you want to do in the present tense. Focus on the future, not the past. Will Rogers, famous for his social commentary, said it best.  I’ll paraphrase: If you want to know the direction a man is going, don’t just listen to what he says, look where the tips of the boots are pointed. So often people say one thing and do another.  The fact is we can’t move forward if we continually have our feet pointed in the wrong direction.
This brings me to my forth trick and with it a word of caution. 

# 4. Warning!  I don’t advise this for everyone, but I threw away my business rolodex.  It’s too easy to look backwards and talk about yesterday.  If you plan to move forward, your time and your conversations must be about what you’re doing now. Not about what once was.  Make new friends, seed your new database with people who can help you to advance in a new direction.

#5 Join clubs. Read books. Dress the part.  Hollywood is famous for its stars, and many have reinvented themselves more than once.  Katy Hudson became Katy Perry, going from gospel rock to mainstream pop music. Remember the underwear model Marky Mark? Who could forget those abs? He became Mark Wahlberg, a major success on the big screen today. Of course those of us in California can hardly forget Arnold Schwarzenegger who went from body builder, to action star, to politician. 

And, speaking of politicians, Sheila Kuehl, once known as Zelda Gilroy, Dobbie Gillis’ wannabe girlfriend, today is a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Nobody said reinvention was easy.  The path is frequently peppered with problems, and like my protagonist, Carol, we’re sometimes faced with difficult questions and decisions that may challenge the very things we thought we knew and held dear.

In SHADOW OF DOUBT, Carol is faced with a dilemma.  Her next door neighbor, Samantha, is the niece of a top Hollywood talent agent and has become an invaluable source for insider industry news. But when Sam comes to Carol with news of her aunt’s death, things take an unexpected twist, and Carol starts to wonder if she’s being played by Sam to cover up a murderer.  

I love that as a novelist I’m able to twist the facts and turn up the heat on my characters -something I could never have done when working in a news room.  I hope you enjoy my new novel shadow of doubt. After years of writing broadcast copy and news, it’s been nice to reinvent myself as a novelist.

HANK:  How about you, Reds? What steps have you ever taken to reinvent yourself--as a writer? as a reader? As a person? 


Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in news and talk radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. But it wasn’t until 2001 after she retired from news and copywriting that she was able to sit down and write fiction fulltime. Much of what Silverman writes about today she admits is pulled from events that were reported on from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. In the last ten years she has written numerous short stories and novelettes. Today Silverman lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Bruce and two standard poodles. 

When a top Hollywood Agent is found poisoned in the bathtub of her home, suspicion quickly turns to one of her two nieces. But Carol Childs, a reporter for a local talk radio station, doesn’t believe it. The suspect is her neighbor and friend, and also her primary source for insider industry news. After a media frenzy pits one niece against the other—and the body count starts to rise—Carol knows she must save her friend from being tried in the court of public opinion.
But even the most seasoned reporter can be surprised, and when a Hollywood psychic shows up in Carol’s studio one night and warns her there will be more deaths, things take an unexpected turn. Suddenly nobody is above suspicion. Carol must challenge both her friendship and the facts, and the only thing she knows for certain is that the killer is still out there. But the closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she’s in.