Thursday, January 18, 2018

What would I be if I wasn't a writer? Jenn McKinlay

First, we have some news!       *Drum roll* 

Congratulations to our Rhys Bowen for being nominated for the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery for IN FARLEIGH FIELD!!!

And to Jenn McKinlay for being nominated for the RT Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Contemporary Love and Laughter for BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE!!!

Hip Hip Hooray!!!

And now, if I wasn’t a writer, what would I be?

While I love being a writer, there are days when the words won’t come where I am convinced I would prefer to be anything else…but I want it to be fun. Is that asking so much? Most occupations have a pretty steep learning curve, require multiple levels of education, licensing, residency, and what not. I am not interested in those professions. Nope.

What I want to be is the namer of names. Yes, I believe that is the proper job title. Specifically, I want to be the person who gets to come up with the names of things like the colors of nail polish or paint chips.

I feel like that would be a pretty sweet gig, allowing me to play with words but not require the commitment of an entire book.

A Prankster got loose in the paint chips! Click HERE to read more!

What about you, Reds? What is the wackiest job that you felt might be your true calling, you know, if you weren’t married to the word-smithing thang?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm not sure if it's wacky, but I would be a interior designer. Sure, you're supposed to study something or get a certificate, but Dorothy Draper didn't have any credentials other than taste and creativity, and look how well things fell out for her. I love to add and subtract and tweak and change slipcovers in my own house - I can only imagine how much fun it would be to do for a client with more than a fifty dollar budget! (I get all my stuff at Goodwill or the 75% markdown aisle in Target.)

Also, working with someone else's money means I could hire burly laborers or skilled seamstresses to do the work - instead of having to do it myself. I have all these clever ideas about painting in my house, but whenever I run up against the fact that I'D be the one spending a week prepping, painting, and cleaning up (all while trying to keep dog and cat hair off wet paint) I decide I can live with what I have. But as the principal of Spencer-Fleming and Associates (the associate would be the Smithie, whom I would need to keep me organized) I would make a call and hey, presto! The professionals will lacquer that ceiling for me.

Confession - I may have a slightly skewed sense of how hard decorating is or how long it takes due to a steady diet of HGTV. Like, a whole-house renovation is only six half-hour episodes. How difficult could it be?'

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jenn, I'm so mad you got Namer of Names first!!! Nail polish, lipstick, perfume, paint colors!!! I always think, "Who comes up with these??"

My next favorite job would be writing the tasting notes for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Here's an example: "The nose contrasted golden syrup sweetness with the sharpness of aniseed and lemons squeezed on a barbeque--peat-reek and barbeque char, like a battle scene from Master and Commander." Or, "The nose was fresh as the morning dew on a wakening daisy, with invigorating but subtle aromas of zingy lemon, mint, grass, pear and milk chews." (What on earth is a milk chew?) Of course, writing these would would require a lot of practice in tasting scotch whisky...

 JENN: Count me in, Debs!

But if I couldn't do either of those jobs, I'd be a film set designer. We had part of a film shot in our house once, and it was so interesting to see the little changes they made in the rooms to reflect the characters and the story. I will watch films over again just to pay attention to the set details--stories within stories. And wouldn't it be fun to be a location scout??? I could definitely do that!

HALLIE EPHRON: Namer of names would be sweet - or picker of colors-of-the-year. If those are taken, I'll be a pole vaulter. Imagine having the physical strength and grace to actually get yourself up and over. Sprint, plant, SOAR! The part where people watch as I fall on my arse? Not so much. 

RHYS BOWEN: Namer of names sounds like a sweet occupation! I wouldn't mind being a secret shopper at upscale stores, secret restaurant critic. When I was a small child I wanted to be a lion tamer. Now I am horrified how circus animals are abused so that occupation is a no-no. I also wanted to be an opera singer. I fulfilled that occupation a little when I sang with an opera chorus. Actually I'd like Rick Steve's job. Travelling around the world, exploring foods and wines and meeting local people. That sounds pretty sweet to me.

LUCY BURDETTE: if we are not being realistic, I would like to be a basketball player, or even better a rock ‘n’ roll/country music singer, along the lines of Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt. Or for that matter, I wouldn’t mind performing in musicals on Broadway. 

However, if talent, age, and height are problems, then John always tells me I should have been a very high-quality hotel tester. The kind of person that would go into a really top notch hotel and check out their towels, their sheets, the comfort of their beds, and other amenities. Maybe I would check in for a night and experience the room, order room service, and then write up reviews. But no flea bags please!

INGRID THOFT: Namer of names would be the best job ever!  But second to that, (and is this is wildest dreams, right, so the laws of nature don’t apply?) I’d be an ice cream flavor tester at Ben and Jerry’s.  Somebody has to suffer through the grueling work of trying scoop after scoop, deciding if a flavor needs more peanut butter or perhaps fewer nuggets of cookie dough.  I’d also like to develop new flavors (and name them!) which would provide an outlet for my creative energy.  And since the laws of nature have been suspended, my cholesterol would be A+ worthy, and I wouldn’t gain a pound!

JENN: I have your back, Ingrid, or more accurately your spoon!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  All these sound wonderful! And I would happily be your apprentice, all of you. As for me, my choices, I fear, are a little bossy.  I would love to be a stylist for people, maybe on TV, maybe? Or in general? Like the fashion police, only  thoughtful and compassionate. I could stop people and say, in the nicest of ways, want to talk about what you’re wearing? 
I am sure it is completely shallow, and I am embarrassed. But sometimes I think… with “With Just the tiniest bit of tweaking, or, perhaps, a nice camisole, you would look so much better.”
Maybe I could be a restaurant table arranger, to make sure everyone has enough room, and their chairs don’t knock into the people behind them.
Or! Because I am sitting in the Phoenix airport now, perhaps I could be the “everybody get in line, and no pushing” supervisor. And also the onboard luggage enforcer, requiring people to put their carry-on bags over their own seat, and not simply where it is convenient for them.

Or, yeah. A rock star. 

What about you, Readers? If you could do anything, what would be your wackiest job choice?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shifting from Cozy to Suspense by Susan Furlong

I was lucky enough to meet Susan Furlong at Bouchercon in Raleigh, NC, a few years ago and what struck me about her immediately was the friendly warmth she radiated even though we were across the table from each other and could do little more than smile and wave, although we did manage to chat a bit. Susan has written several cozy mysteries but recently she stepped into the thriller genre, and I thought it would be interesting to have her share a bit about her new venture. Welcome, Susan!

Susan: When Jenn invited me to guest post for Jungle Red Writers, she asked what inspired my recent shift from writing cozy mysteries to dark suspense. For a heartbeat I felt defensive of cozies—I mean, I did enjoy writing them. I was able to mentally walk through the flowering peach orchards and quaint buildings with the small town familiarity of quirky and nosey and fun characters as they solved mysteries. I could whip up peach salsa and jam recipes to include in my Georgia Peach Mystery series. What’s not to like? It was, well, cozy both for readers and for me as an author.

So why the switch?

Jenn’s question about my writing brought to light in my mind how 
many changes have occurred over the past year for my family, 
seemingly unrelated to my writing:  

We moved from country living to a suburban neighborhood.

We sent a child off to college … in China.

I bought a new writing chair…(This might seem like a small 
change to most, but I spend a lot of time in this chair.)

Yes, the move of our home base was our own choice, but one
instigated by life events. And children do leave home eventually, 
although not usually to the other side of the globe. And the chair? 
Well, sometimes things do break down or wear out or just need 
replacing. So we do initiate some changes in our lives, and those 
are usually the good ones.

Yet sometimes events simply happen to us that impact us deeply 
and unexpectedly. These are the ones that are most difficult to 
embrace. Our family also experienced that type of change this year
—a personal, tragic loss and perhaps, if I really thought about it, 
the impetus for many of the other decisions in our lives.

So when I pondered Jenn’s original question of why I shifted my writing style from light and cozy to deep and dark it made me realize how much my life overall has changed. And I realized the changes in my writing are, in fact, related to the other events in my life.

My family’s life has been uprooted on several levels and, in that 
process, I see life as less peach cobbler and more, well, let’s call it 
beef jerky. Not sweet but salty and tasty in its own way. Gritty and 
dark and sometimes tough with gristle that forces us to chew a bit 

Unwelcomed changes force us to work a bit harder to get through, 
to reflect and, eventually, to grow.

Life is always moving. We hope forward, though sometimes a bit sideways. And if we allow it, our personal experiences offer an opportunity to view the world through a different, perhaps wider, lens. Because of my recent life’s changes, I gained a new perspective, and I viewed my writing differently. I found myself unable to stay bound by the comfortable, visceral limits of the cozy mystery genre. I felt compelled to create a story with that wider lens.
The divergence of good and evil and the violence and impulses that arise from that conflict fascinate me. I want to explore that concept in more depth and create flawed characters who struggle to make moral choices. I enjoy bringing my characters, villains and the heroes alike, to the full extent of their conscience and then exploring the fallout of their decisions. Writing a darker novel gives me these options. It’s also allowed me, in SPLINTERED SILENCE, to present the grittier side of social issues such as the mental and physical afflictions of war vets, PTSD, cultural and racial prejudices, and drug addiction. I want my stories to shed light on many of these issues and present them in an intriguing and honest way to readers.
I’ve loved writing about Brynn, a Marine veteran and her canine military partner, Wilco, in the first of my Bone Gap Travellers Novels. When they return home, injured and struggling with their recent past, to her Irish Traveller subculture, they face yet more changes. Not easy ones and not of Brynn’s choosing—rather like real life.
I think that as writers grow and accumulate experience, it’s natural that their storytelling voice will evolve. For my writing, it’s about accepting and embracing whatever life throws my way and using it to bring a new story to my readers. A story from a different view and, for now, a view that is dark and gritty.
Maybe that is what life is about—growing our perspective. And maybe writing—and reading—can help facilitate that growth.
What changes handed to you by life have given you a different perspective in other, seemingly unrelated, areas?

Splintered Silence is available NOW! 

Among the Irish Travellers living in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, no one forgets and no one forgives. And as former Marine MP Brynn Callahan finds out when she returns home, it's hard to bury the past when bodies keep turning up . . .
After an IED explosion abruptly ends her tour of duty, Brynn arrives stateside with PTSD and her canine partner, Wilco—both of them bearing the scars of battle. With a mix of affection, curiosity, and misgivings, she goes back to Bone Gap, Tennessee, and the insular culture she'd hoped to escape by enlisting in the Marine Corps.
Marginalized and wary of outsiders, the Irish Travellers keep to themselves in a secluded mountain community, maintaining an uneasy coexistence with the “settled” townspeople of McCreary. When Wilco’s training as a cadaver dog leads Brynn to discover a body in the woods, the two worlds collide. Soon it’s clear that Brynn and Wilco are in danger – and they’re not the only ones.
After the police identify the dead woman, Brynn is shocked to learn she has a personal connection—and everything she’s been told about her past is called into question.
Forming a reluctant alliance with local sheriff Frank Pusser, Brynn must dig up secrets that not only will rattle her close-knit clan to its core, but may forever change her perception of who she is . . . and put her back in the line of fire.