Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anything can happen on Friday, even if it's Thursday night!

ROBERTA: First of all, if you haven't yet started to read the Sisters in Crime blog entries this week, trot right over and take a look. The reports from the publishers summit team's visit to New York are now posted, along with lots of interesting discussion about the state of publishing, mysteries in particular.

And second, if you're feeling depressed about the business, may I present our guest poster for the day, debut author Eugenia (Jeannie) West. Lest you feel there is not one speck of hope left for getting published, read on about how Jeannie won an amazing contest through St. Martin's. Welcome to JR Jeannie!

JEANNIE: Thanks, Roberta, for inviting me on Junglereds. I loved the blog about contests, and here’s my twist on that subject. Several years ago I was a unpublished member of Guppies, collecting a large pile of rejection slips for my first mystery. The biological clock began to tick, so I decided to go the POD route and at least have Christmas presents for family and friends.
The response was amazing. “I couldn’t put it down, and ” I lost a good night’s sleep.” Taking a deep breath, I entered the Malice Domestic contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. The chance that a POD book would be accepted seemed miniscule. Stuck the entry in the mail and forgot about it.
Imagine the shock when I opened my computer one June morning in 2006 and there was a message from the grande dame of mystery editors, Ruth Cavin of St. Martin's, offering me a contract for this book and a sequel. Suddenly the wannabe with nose pressed against the glass was a real author again.

As we know, the production wheels turn slowly. Without Warning appeared in the bookstores in December 2007 with a new title and cover, but few changes in the text.
Right now, the sequel is in editor Ruth Cavin’s hands--relief, relief---and am tossing around ideas for Emma Streat’s third set of disasters, and reviving a serious historical ms. (Some years ago Doubleday published The Ancestors Cry Out, a historical/suspense.)
Judging by Guppies and Sisters in Crime, there’s a great support system of mystery writers out there. I’m looking forward to being a ”rookie” panelist at the New England Crime Bake next November. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping up with junglered and hope you’ll let me blog with you again. Eugenia L. West (Jeannie)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On What We're Reading

"She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." (1873) ~ Louisa May Alcott ~

ROBERTA: Even though this topic may seem like the busman's holiday for Hallie, summer's coming and I'd like to hear what everyone's reading!

I just finished THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson and David Olive Relin. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this book. It was chosen as my book club's May read and the only only only reason I started it was so I wouldn't be considered a bad sport. No, no, not one more onerous tome about the miseries of the Middle East, I moaned, as I turned the first few pages. But I ended up enjoying it very much. Mortenson's astonishing work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is enough to give the most entrenched skeptic a glimmer of hope--no wonder it lurks near the top of the bestseller list. I found myself fascinated with this man's complete disregard for his own physical safety and comfort--so not my cup of tea!

And now I'm sailing through an old favorite's new book: Ellen Gilchrist's A DANGEROUS AGE. The characters are familiar from decades of her novels, though I've forgotten much of their history so I don't think it would be difficult to start with this book. A DANGEROUS AGE is set in America during the first years of the Iraq war, and Gilchrist's characters are all affected by it in one way or another. Really lovely writing and engaging characters. But sad...

And then I have a wonderful stack of options sitting beside my bed...will I choose Nevada Barr's WINTER STUDY, Julia Spencer-Fleming's I SHALL NOT WANT, Jennifer McMahon's ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS, or Roxana Robinson's SWEETWATER? An embarrassment of riches...

RO: Well - after finally delivering the manuscript for book two I'm ready to hunker down with some of the books I've been stockpiling all winter and spring. I started I Shall Not Want yesterday (thanks Ross!) and I was up at 3am reading it so that should tell you how much I'm enjoying it. Julia Spencer-Fleming just gets better and better.

My book group is reading Northanger Abbey and it's our last meeting before the summer break so I guess I have to buy/read it! After that, I'll be rereading Lucky You by Carl Hiassen for the wonderful Dianne Defonce's Beach Reads discussion (Borders Fairfield, June 25th, 7pm) that Hank and I will be participating in. And I'd love to finish Chris Grabenstein's middle grade mystery The Crossroads before his book party on June 3. I had to put it down, though - it was pretty scary! That covers June.

HANK: I have to start writing DRIVE TIME on June first--though a lot of it is in my head--so my tbr pile will not be budging that much, I fear. Love Julia S-F! And I can't wait for I SHALL NOT WANT. Downstairs, I'm reading Peter Abrahams END OF STORY. Upstairs, I'm reading Louise Penny's STILL LIFE. (Yes, I read the fantastically good A FATAL GRACE first, even though it's the second book. SO terrific.)

For the Borders beach reads, I'm taking that, and BODY IN THE GALLERY by Katherine Hall Page. (Come visit us there!) The astonishing Amy MacKinnon sent me an ARC of her soon-to-be-blockbuster TETHERED, so that's next.

Jonathan is reading CHILD 44, and is about to begin Peter Abrahams DELUSION. Then we're going to fight over who gets Harlan Coben's HOLD TIGHT.

JAN: Well, I just finished Josephine Tey's Daughter in Time, a classic, dubbed the best mystery ever by the New York Times and a favorite of my very first publisher. Let me start by saying I'm a history buff and I especially like the time period the mystery is set in: Old England, just prior to the reign of Henry VII. That said, I find it hard to believe this is the best mystery ever written. There is literally NO ACTION. It involves no special intelligence or detective work to unravel the mystery, and it all takes place in hospital room and the protagonist never leaves the bed. In fact, it's the sidekick, a young American (whose dialogue is completely British instead of American) that does all the investigating or should I say READING. The only thing I can figure is that it was really novel at the time to have a mystery set in such a dull circumstance. (Okay all your Josephine Tey fans, skewer me!)

Anyway, I'm reading screenplays these days, and recently finished The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was awesome, and I'm about to start Shakespeare In Love.

Roberta, I agree. Three Cups of Tea was an inspiring read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants new faith in human kind. And Hank, I think End of Story by Peter Abrahams is one of my favorite mysteries ever.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On Lost Possible Selves

"The individual who has made him or herself vulnerable to acknowledged regret can be seen to adopt a courageous stance toward life: Despite acknowledging the risks of expecting anything from life, the happy and complex person maintains a heroic commitment to continue to do just that." Laura King and Joshua Hicks

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." George Eliot

ROBERTA: For a new book idea, I've been doing some research on happiness. I came across an interesting article in the AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST about what the researchers call "lost possible selves," meaning unattainable ideas about what you might have been or done with your life. (Keep in mind that it's supposed to be a sign of maturity to grapple with this lost possible self!)

That article got me wondering about what I might have done if I hadn't become a psychologist and a writer. And I don't mean a rock star. Yes, singing like Bonnie Raitt or Patsy Cline would be a dream, but I have not one whit of talent to back it up.

Instead I was thinking about paths I might have gone down if I'd recognized them as possibilities before I hit my mid-fifties. Like maybe owning and running a bookstore such as Roxanne Coady's RJ Julia in my hometown. Or starting a small but lucrative publishing company. (I know, I know, neither of those paths is anything but rocky these days.) I'm good at running things. Could be I'm just bossy, but I can't seem to join an organization without ending up in charge of a lot. (Just a case of not getting my hand down fast enough?) I enjoy working in a group of smart, dedicated people like the Sisters in Crime board of directors and steering committee of the New England Crime Bake.

So how come I chose two fields that require long periods of solitude and introspection? Did I misfire in my twenties or just evolve in new ways? I think it's the latter. Or maybe simply procrastinating on the new book!

How about you guys? Any lost possible selves?

RO: If you're not going to be Patsy Cline, can I? Hmmm..I seem to wind up exactly where I'm supposed to be, even if I get there a little late - met my future husband and lost touch for years, so got married late, wrote my first book late, etc.

If there's one regret I'll admit to, deep down, I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument. Not that I have any fantasies about Carnegie Hall - btw -someone on the street in NYC asked me the classic question recently, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" (Practice?) The diet Red Bull nearly came out of my nose. But I'd love to be able to sit down at a piano and make music. I'm a bit jealous of people who can do that.

HALLIE: In 1968 I had a summer job lined up. I'd gone around New York getting internships for African graduate students and earned one for myself in Ghana's capital, Accra. My then boyfriend dropped me off at the airport and I made my way to the airline counter, hours early. Through a really dumb mix-up, I ended up temporarily misplacing my passport. By the time I found it, the check-in area had turned crowded and chaotic. When I finally reached the front of the line, the plane was full--a shady travel agent had overbooked it by about double. I was devastated. In tears at the prospect of returning to my parents apartment, tail between my legs. I tried calling my boyfriend to pick me up, but I would find out later he was already off with his not-so-ex-girlfriend.

I ended up spending the summer in Manhattan. I sublet an apartment on 118th Street and found a job working for the manager of Butler Hall, a Columbia-owned apartment/hotel. And I started dating a City University graduate student whom I'd dumped a few months earlier. By the fall we were engaged--we just celebrated our 39th anniversary.

I've often wondered who I'd be if I'd gotten on that plane.

RO: My god, what a great story!

Have you ever seen the movie Sliding Doors? Two parallel stories ...what happens to Gwyneth Paltrow if she makes the train or misses it....good, but not as romantic as Hallie's story.

HANK: Well, there's no way to follow Hallie's story. I always wonder about the choces we make, and the choices the universe seems to make for us. The road less travelled by, all that.

In high school, nerdy over-studious me was on the track to being valedictorian, getting into any college, etc. But in the summer before my senior year, I went to Germany to visit my Dad (my real father) who was in the foreign service there. Working at the embassy in Hamburg.

It was 1966, and I got all caught up in anti-war stuff. Music. Politics. The world got bigger. I stayed overseas through my first semester senior year, and when I got back to suburban Indianapolis, I fit in even less than before. I ignored college applications, figuring if I didn't get in becuase it was too late, I could go back to Europe where people "knew stuff." (Mom says that's what I told her.)

Mom and my step-father managed to force me into a very good college--where I sometimes even went to class. But when Kent State happened, I was done. I left, and went into politics, working in a political campaign as a press secretary. And my love of reporting, and journalism, and the news, was set.

It was those months in Germany--if I'd have stayed home, taken the road more travelled, lived up to "expectations," I never would have been a reporter. And certainly not a Jungle Red Writer.

(Hallie, what happened to the snake boyfriend?)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

JAN: So all this talk about big screen TV raises the obvious question: Why are men so much more enamored with a big television screen than women?

My husband, who installed a 5 by 9 foot projection HDTV in my family room (luckily it rolls up into the ceiling and disappears), gets just the slightest bit defensive if I comment too enthusiastically about the picture on someone else’s plasma TV. (the option not taken.)

He seems to think that this competitive element has to do with sports. And that man’s need to have a bigger, better and clearer television screen is about the contest to have the best personal arena in which to view sports.

Mike, a mild mannered superhero who lives outside a Detroit suburb, a self-described “technie” and a writer, and owner of an HDTV big-screen, sees the competition in broader terms. “Anything visual and bigger than yours appeals to all men,” he says.

I can't argue with that. But I’m wondering if, there’s any technological product that illicits the same kind of desire and/or competition among women: Best convection oven?? Doubtful. Best washing machine? Maybe in the 1950s. Best laptop?

Or do we wage our competitions in strictly non-technical ways?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Red Sox Nation?" What a bunch of shit that is."
Hank Steinbrenner, one of the principal leaders of the New York Yankees.

JAN: One of my blog sisters (and it wasn't even Ro) suggested that I make public my list of the most attractive Red Sox players. This is the list that I put together during the long hours I spend watching each and every Red Sox game in front of our 8 foot by 5 foot projection style HD TV, which makes all players larger than life and perhaps a little too crystal clear.

(Monday's no hitter by Jon Lester is why it is incumbent on fans to watch EACH and EVERY game, by the way.)

Of course, you might think this is highly parochial topic, addressing only the Red Sox and not all of MLB baseball, but come on, I can't watch EVERY GAME in every division. And besides, the people at NESN, with their non-stop marketing, have brainwashed me into believing that there is actually a RED SOX nation that is not limited to the six New England states.

I'm not going to give you the entire list of HD baseball beauty because it's just mean to put anyone on the bottom of any list, no matter how superficial and stupid that list might be.

So I'm going to give you only my top five in the two categories, pitchers and position players.

And remember this list is purely HDTV attractiveness, which favors fine features that photograph well, and completely omits talent, heart, intelligence, or that certain je-ne-sais-quoi alpha-male thing that goes into real-life attractivness.

And again, the list does NOT correlate to my favorite players.

Top Five Position Players
Jason Varitek (okay, this does correlate to my favorite player list, but just by accident)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Coco Crisp
Julio Lugo
J.D. Drew

Top Five Pitchers

Javier Lopez (who is an unappreciated talent, by the way -- again, just a coincidence)
Mike Timlin
Hideki Okajima
Jonathan Paplebon
Tim Wakefield

Okay, now you may all argue or vote for another player, but remember the parameters AND that they all look completely different without their caps on. Most pitchers look deliberately mean when they pitch, and many batters have outright bizarre expressions. You really have to see them in the post-game interview, preferably AFTER the shower, to vote fairly.

If you want to add your own list of other baseball teams, feel free. But stay away from basketball (this means you, Ro), which we should save for another blog topic, entirely!

HANK: I'm laughing too hard to answer right now. Pause Pause. And now, sadly, I'm thinking about this. (Did you LOVE the game last night? I could NOT bear to watch it. And on the radio, because we listened to mid-game innings on the drive home from an event, the announcers kept talking about a no-hitter. Can you believe that? When everyone knows you're not supposed to mention it.)

Then, during the final inning, finally at home, I was literally listening from around the corner because I could not watch. Then I came to the staggering conculsion that what was going to happen was going to happen whether I was watching or not. That it did NOT depend on me. So I watched. And whoa.

Okay, thinking about good looking players. Hmm. At least not-Sox are easy. NOT Johnny Damon. NOT A-Rod. (Bad attitude trumps good looks.)

JAN: Yes. This list is very official. It's updated according to trades, the DL, and assignment to Pawtucket. We could start a former Red Sox player list though. Johnny Damon might make it, but only with the longer hair.

HALLIE: This is very difficult, because due to a longstanding habit, I cannot watch this team play ball with my eyes open. And I'm still mourning Nomar and Pedro, as adorable as they come and talk about star power.

But hey, okay, here's my vote for...

Top Position Players
Jason Varitek (it's hard not to factor in personality)
David Ortiz (mesmerizing, and too bad if he doesn't fit as the DH)
J. D. Drew
Mike Lowell
Jacoby Ellsbury
Sean Casey

Top Pitchers

Javier Lopez
Jon Lester
Tim Wakefield
Daisuke Matsuzaka

JAN: Okay, some agreement, some differences. Personally, I think Hallie let her heart get in the way of her superficiality (but then again, she doesn't have HDTV, so maybe she can't acheive superficiality). I, on the other hand have honored this ridiculas set of rules I've dreamed up and deliberately left out Mike Lowell, who I've got a crush on, but whose eyebrows made him sixth on my HD list.

What do you guys think?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The aftermath of Big Screen TV

Time has convinced me of one thing. Television is for appearing on, not looking at. ~Noel Coward

JAN: I’m not normally a visual person. Like a lot of writers, I live inside my head. But I’ve got it worse. I walk into rooms and don’t see the décor, can completely miss someone’s new haircut, and have been known to not even notice that it’s been raining all week.

But that’s only in real life.

About two years ago, my husband installed a new television. I say “installed” because it's not actually a television, but a projector screen that rolls down from the ceiling. It’s about eight feet wide and five feet tall. And we have high definition, which mean everything isn’t just large, it’s crystal clear.

And this is changing me. And not for the better, either. In fact, I’m slowly becoming the most superficial person on the planet. I find myself watching a really educational, thought-provoking PBS documentary, with this takeaway: What's with the bad teeth? Aren’t PBS academic experts educated about orthodontia, too? Are they chosen for their bad teeth? Is that a sign of intellectualism?

It’s not just PBS specials. I now notice everything, everywhere. I notice that in the Coors commercial where they catch the “cold train,” every single person spilling out of the office building is uniformly attractive. No one stands out, but no one is below that American standard.
It's as if youth, perfect, but unexciting features and a flawless complexion were part of the occupancy permit for the building they are fleeing.

But worst is baseball. Probably because the game is so slow and because I’ve watched pretty much every single Red Sox game, I’ve actually ranked the players in terms of attractiveness. Two categories: position players and pitchers. Adjusted as players are traded or put on the DL. And this is pure HD superficiality. No bias: the ranking does not correlate to my favorite players.
So this is my question: Am I the only one out there being corrupted by big screen HD television, or has anyone else noticed that they are noticing what should go unnoticed?

HALLIE: Well, I do love to be petty, so if I HAD a large screen TV, I’m sure I’d be counting zits along with you, Jan.

But I was the last person in Massachusetts to get…a tape deck, a CD player, a video player, a DVD player, a microwave oven, a cell phone (and I still have my first which is now an antique at 8 years old)…so it should come as no surprise that I do not have HDTV. A) I’m cheap, and B) the 18”-TV we have works fine and C) I do not want to dedicate a room in my smallish house to watching the tube (have you noticed, those things are seriously BIG).

When my friends George and Barbara got an HDTV, they had us over to watch football in high def (see, I do know the lingo) and George kept switching back to regular to say “See how amazing the detail is?” I saw, but I confess I didn’t get why that was so great. But then, I can't tell a good sound system from a crummy one, either.

Just drove by where they’re tearing down the multiplex cinema in that’s been in Dedham for decades. Certainly movie theaters and the whole experience of seeing a movie with a community of viewers is a casualty of those massive home entertainment systems.

RO: I'm the wrong person to ask...I still have a manual lawn mower.I don't have HDTV either. I have a big old tv from 12 yrs ago that works fine and is huge so I get that movie theatre feel. (We watched No Country for Old Men last night and I saw quite enough of Javier Barden's psycho face thank you very much.)People ALWAYS say it's great for sports...does it make the balls any bigger?

JAN: I hate to admit it, but the big TV is really great for sports. You can see the ball, the tatoos, the rivulets of sweat. You also get well acquainted with the faces of season fans who sit behind home plate and start to notice when someone is a no-show. But as far as movies go, I can get equally drawn into the story on the big screen or a tiny 18-inch with marginal reception.

ROBERTA: Obviously, you have a group of techno-phobes here Jan! My husband and I have been arguing this one for the last year. All his buddies watch sports on enormous HDTV screens and he wants one too. In fact, he says everyone's got to change over come the end of the year. (Is that even true?) In our case, it would require ripping out the custom-built bookshelves with the perfectly-sized TV cubby. So I'm holding out--I can be just as shallow as the next girl and who needs more of that?
HANK: Yeah, I'm all about TV, and we don't have hi def either. (We do, however, go to our best pals' house next door and watch sports on HD. And it's--amazing. I love it.) (And ha ha, Ro.)
But listen gang, soon I've gotta see my face on it. But here's what I'm hoping. Everyone says TV adds ten pounds and ten years. And it does. But HD doesn't. So we're all buying dermablend make-up (ultra-coverage but sheer), and crossing our fingers.

(So Jan, you're saying you now judge people on TV by how they look? Ha. Most people have been doing that for years. Just read Prime Time.)

Roberta, nope, tell your (adorable) husband you do NOT have to change to HD! Thing is, next February, we all have to switch to digital tv. But most people won't have to do anything. And if you do, it can be free. I'm doing a story about it right now, so I do know the scoop. Any questions?

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Revelations

Truth is the secret of eloquence and of virtue, the basis of moral authority; it is the highest summit of art and life.
Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Would you? Or wouldn't you?

When I first read Barbars Walters' revelation, in her new memoir Audition, that she'd had a fling with then-Senator and then-married Edward Brooke back in the, what, 70's? I thought, gee. Why would you tell that?

Last night, I was intereviewed for a tv show,and as the host and I were chatting pre-interview, she asked me what I thought about it. Well, I adore Barbara Walters. Any woman who works in television, as I do, has got to bow down and applaud (if that's possible at the same time) one of the real pioneers in the field. No question, without Barbara, there's no Hank on TV.

So I start from the position of "she knows what she's doing." And I'm grateful.

Still. I was thinking about Senator Brooke's (now-deceased) first wife, and how the book would make her family feel. And what about Senator Brooke himself? The essence of a clandestine affair is that it's secret--for reasons of, well, all that. So why, I wondered, would she decide to reveal it?

Well, to sell books, the interviewer said. And that's certainly happening. Then she said to me--how far would you go to sell boooks? What would you tell? Then she smiled, twinkling, and said: I'm going to ask you that in the interview.

I'm usually pretty cool doing interviews, but I've got to tell you, I backed way off of that one. No! I said. Please don't.

And she didn't. But it got me thinking, and now, I think I've changed my mind.

We all know (cf James Frey and that not-gang woman) that if youre writing a memoir, you can't make things up. And I wonder if it's just as true that you also can't leave things out. Leaving something out means you're not a realiable memoirist, right? If you leave out the affair with the Senator, what else have you decided wasn't for public consumption? And if you've leavin' stuff out, why do I want to read your book?

Barbara Walters is a good journalist, agreed? And she knows how to tell a story. So all in all, I think I'm deciding she made the right decision. Um, for her.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Invitations

"Clothes Make the…"
A high school horror story

Okay, nobody died. So how horrible can it really be? But in high school, where real life and death situations are (we hope) rare, there are other kinds of moments that can be fairly be described as horror stories.
I was—a junior, I think. And we lived in suburban Indianapolis, exurbs, they called it. My parents said they moved far from the city because they didn’t want us kids to go to a "clique-ish" (cf Ruth’s comment) "north side" school where it was all about clothes and money. So we went to a very rural school. Where it was basically all about cows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and it isn’t even exactly true. But it felt like it, to a kid like me who longed to be cool and chic and accepted by the north side crowd.
So anyway, my step-dad was a lawyer, and had some big-shot clients. One of whose daughters was having a "sweet sixteen" party. In May, I think it was. And of course she was a north-sider, and went to the cool school. But because our parents knew each other, the daughter (we’ll call her Jane) was ordered to invite me to the party. Part of me wanted to go, because maybe they’d somehow realize I was one of them. But most of me didn’t want to go, because I knew, actually, it would be horrible.

Of course, my parents made me go.

The key here was the invitation, which arrived in the mail. I can’t remember how it was phrased or presented, but the gist of it was girls should dress as boys and boys dress as girls. Ack, I hear you saying, and yes, indeed. But it was 1966 and times were different. Somehow this was thought not to be icky and fraught, but wacky and funny.

I pleaded not to go.
So the night of the party came, and I put on penny loafers, and madras shorts and an oxford button-down shirt, and a tie. And even though today, a 16 year old girl could wear that and be adorable, trust me, I wasn’t.
So I arrive in this get up---Jane opens the door. In a skirt and a circle pin and a little gros-grain trimmed cardigan. And she says—oh, didn’t anyone tell you? We decided not to have the dress up party.

I won’t tell the rest. Okay, it’s not Carrie. And I know it all turned out fine, forty years later. High school. Goodbye and good riddance. (Except for my English teacher. Hi Mr. Thornburg. Luv ya 4-ever.)

Did you have pivotal high school moments? Good or bad? Gym class stories accepted!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On High School

High School: Fab? Or Forget it?

"True terror is to wake up one morning and find your high school class is running the country. "
**Kurt Vonnegut
HANK: Was high school the best time of your life? Or would you rather forget it? I'm pretty glad it's in my rear view.

I just went back to my home town for an event honoring alums of Pike High School, my alma mater. It was lovely, because I was delighted to be an honoree. But traumatic, because I had to give a speech about it. And that meant I had to think about high school. And my memories of those years--although I can still sing the Red Devils fight song--are not full of heart-warming nostalgia.

Frankly, an unworthy thought crossed my mind. I considered beginning my speech: Thank you for inducting me in to the Pike Hall of Fame. I would like to ask, however, where were you all when I needed a date for the prom? (Can you believe I still thought about that? FORTY years later?)
I discarded that idea, and went with genuine gratitude. I did learn a lot in high school: to love Shakespeare, the fun of analytical thinking, how to drive, and that I should not take any more math. Honor Society, yes. Prom date, no.

And wow. Being one hundred per cent uncool for 4 years was a tough thing. I admitted, in my speech, that I had sneaked into every language club yearbook photo, even though I did not take Latin or Spanish. (You can see what a rebel I was.)
I also admitted that I had not actually attended every phys ed class, and that moreover, I still have dreams that I was not allowed to graduate as a result. And I apologized for how often I got sent home for wearing short skirts. (I had figured if they didn't like me in Indianapolis, they would love me in Liverpool, and I dressed accordingly.)

It turned out fine. of course. And looking back, it's likely that those 4 years of nerd-dom were actually beneficial. I was reading instead of partying, much as I was bitterly sad about it at the time. So, thanks, Pike High School. Turns out, it was a wonderful four years. I just didn't know it at the time. Did you love high school? How did it change you?

JAN: It's not that I have bad memories of high school, its mostly that I have no memories of high school. In our town, CLifton, New Jersey, high school didn't start until tenth grade and by then, apathy was big. It was totally uncool to take part in any school event, even the prom, and in our year book under Who's Who. My class wrote "Who cares?"

One of my major goals in high school was to skip phys ed so I could smoke cigarettes in the bathroom. (note from Hank: this photo is not Jan!) Imagine my surprise, to find out much later in life that I really was pretty athletic and actually would have enjoyed all those team sports I was eschewing.

I was so not into highschool that I figured out a way to skip my senior year and go straight to college. (which back then, was easier than you might think). The great thing about that was I got to go to college with my older brother, and I wouldn't change that for the world (especially since I married one of his college room-mates,)But the sad part is that I missed all that bonding that goes on in the senior year and never felt a "part" of high school. I did go back for a reunion though, and realized that I have a lot of really good memories with the kids I went to junior high with. Back before I was "too cool" to participate!

ROSEMARY: I actually said "Oh, no" out loud when I saw the heading on this blog. Please don't make me relive high school, it was bad enough the first time around. It's a wonder I graduated and with pretty decent marks (I think) since all I remember doing was hanging our with friends, smoking, and going to parties. I travelled with a pack of 30-50 kids....wait a minute..this doesn't sound so bad..

HALLIE: I do think that the reason that Hank is such a thoroughly NICE person (really, just as nice as she seems) is because of that traumatic high school experience. Sheesh, Jan, sounds like a different century not merely a different decade when you were in school.
I went (don't groan) to Beverly Hills High School. Back in the days when it was just another high school (except that it had an oil well on the football field and a gym with a pool that had a baskeball court that could be rolled out over it...maybe not so typical). Classmates were Richard (Ricky back then; he was in all the plays ) Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks (Einstein back then and class clown). Needless to say they were not my buddies.

I know this will surprise many, but I was not a cheerleader or a flag girl. I did a brief stint, marching about on the Drill Team wearing a smelly orange felt outfit and white boots with tassels. Adorable though I was, I never got asked out on a single date. Did not hang out with a 'crowd' or even a best friend. In short it was excruciating. I could have ended up a serial killer.

I went to one reunion, my 25th. Me to one of the once popular and now blonde: "So what are you doing now?" Her answer: "I'm into horses and avocadoes." O-kaaaay.

ROBERTA: Oh high school was so mixed for me too! Of course I was an overachiever in every way. Socially? Just not cool. And you had to be cool to be chosen as a cheerleader, which was of course every girl’s dream. A boyfriend and cheerleading—that’s what I wanted. I made up for the lack by trying out for plays (bit parts, not much talent), singing in the chorale (ditto, lots of enthusiasm but not much talent,) editing the yearbook, and running for treasurer of the student council. During campaign season, we made huge banners that read “Bobbie kisses babies!”

Whatever effect they might have had, I did win the election. Then stashed the accounts ledger in my locker, where it stayed until the end of year. I panicked when I realized I had to try to remember and reproduce all the entries I should have been making. (My husband pays the bills for now…)

But the most interesting thing about my high school was our all-girl bagpipe band—the only one in the country, complete with kilts, drummers, tons of marching bagpipers, and the Highlander dancers. I tried out for that dance troupe and spent the last couple years dancing with swords at the football games. (NOTE from Hank: This photo is not Roberta.)

I dug out a short story I wrote eight years ago (the first incarnation of Dr. Rebecca Butterman) that featured the Highlander dancers:
Ps I never had a date for the damn prom either. The kids do it right these days, often attending with a group of friends. I wonder if they’ll end up less traumatized? But then what will they write???

pps Oh hooray, I found a youtube video for you of the bagpipe band. If you make it as far as the dancers, that is NOT what we wore! We danced wearing kilts and all the traditional accoutrements...

HANK: Wow, what I didn't know about my own blog sisters! I NEED to see Hallie in the drill team outfit, "Bobbie" in her kilt. ( I was a majorette, briefly, but the band director put me in the middle of the back row because I was so bad. I DO wish I still had my white boots.) And what does 'Bobbie Kisses Babies' even mean?

So--how about you in high school? Time to tell all! And come back Wednesday--I'll tell you the worst thing that happened to me. Then we can see if your stories are worse.
Going to watch the You Tube video now...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Frabjous Friday!

HALLIE: Okay, here are the answers --

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
-- Little Women - In this enduring novel, Louisa May Alcott gave us the rebellious Jo March who, more than Nancy Drew, inspired a lot of young women to write.

Amerigo Bonasero sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
-- The Godfather - It's hard to read this Mario Puzo novel without hearing Brando's raspy Don Vito Corleone voice--do you remember why he talks that way (he was shot in the throat)?

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.
-- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers set this novel in the deep South in the depths of the depression; the two characters are deaf-mute John Singer and tomboy/aspiring pianist Mick Kelly. McCullers wrote it when he was just 23.

In a country such as Amerika, there is bound to be a hell-of-a-lot of food lying around just waiting to be ripped off.
-- Steal This Book - Abbie Hoffman late '60s rant about what's wrong with Amerika that begins, appropriately enough, with a "Table of Discontents"

Here's a book quiz, Part II

Anyone else out there love nonsense words? Match these nonsense words to the author who invented them:

1. wampeter, granfalloon, karass
2. frabjous, vorpal, whiffling, uffish, brillig, slithy, gyre, borogove
3. squitch, thneed, sneetch, grinch, gack, Bar-ba-Loot
4. frobscottle, swishfiggler, snozzcumber, Oompa-Loompas, disgusterous
5. scroobious, meloobious, borascible, slobaciously, himmeltanious,
flumpetty, mumbian
6. pensieve, muggle, animagus, bludger, patronus, mudblood, obliviate,

a. Edward Lear
b. Lewis Carroll
c. Kurt Vonneegut
d. J. K. Rowlings
e. Dr. Seuss
f. Roald Dahl
(1 e,2 b, 3 a, 4 f, 5 c, 6 d)
More quizzes, anyone??

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Method to the Madness

HALLIE: Okay, how I wrote it--"1001 Books for Every Mood" was written at a dead run. Six months, start to finish. My husband donated an old library card catalogue box (see photo) to the effort, and I started with the moods. "For a Good Laugh" and "For a Good Cry" were quickly followed by "For a Wallow in a Slough of Despond." Then "To Behave." Followed of course by "To Misbehave"--entries for that one include "Fear of Flying," "Moll Flanders," "Wicked," and "Where the Wild Things Are."

Of course they include my personal favorites, but the truth is, most of the books I've read I wouldn't include because I wanted (as Miss Jean Brodie would have said) the creme de la creme. For months I carried around 3x5 cards and asked everyone who had the temerity to be carrying a book--people on trains and busses, in restaurants and on street corners. I got some pretty strange looks, but most of the time people are delighted to be asked. I also asked booksellers and librarians and book groups.

I jotted each title on a card, and gave the ones I hadn't read my unscientific "sniff test"--I read the opening, sampled more pages, and then checked out all the book reviews and readers' comments I could get my hands on. If the book "passed," I found a mood for it and added it to the file box.

HANK: So it just got bigger and bigger? I love organization--files and charts and lists. So I think the process sounds like so much fun, and like putting together a wonderful jigsaw puzzle when you don't even know yet what picture it's making. (But then, I don't have a deadline.)

How did you decide to use all the icons? Knowing in one glance if a book is provocative, or funny, or a page-turner--it's like a Michelin guide for books, you know?

How did you decide literary merit, if you can reveal it? And how did you do the quizzes? And oh, was there a book that everyone wanted? That came up again and again? And you said you included your favorite..will you tell?

Ah, reporter me can't stop with the questions. You can see I think this book is fascinating. Not only the result, but the process.

HALLIE: Yup, it grew like Topsy. My pile of discarded titles is about 500-strong.

You're right, Hank, I sort of thought of this as a Michelin or Zagats for books...hence the icons. How many stars to give for literary merit? It was easy if the book won book prizes, but otherwise I based the rating on the excerpts I read, the book reviews, and reader comments.

Yes, there were favorites that kept coming up over and over. But once you get past Austen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner (yes, there are people who can read Faulkner), and Stephen King. there's a surprising diversity among the books people suggest. That's because there's no one "reader" out there--there's the occasional omnivore, but there are also those who read only literary fiction, or history, or mystery, or romance, or sci-fi, or sports or ... That's why there's such a range of titles in there.

Okay, okay -- here are some of my favorites:
- The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon)
- The Thurber Carnival (James Thurber)
- A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
- Rootabaga Stories (Carl Sandburg)
- Alice, Let's Eat (Calvin Trillin)

And I had a great time putting together the quizzes. Here are some opening lines. What books are they from?
  • Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

  • Amerigo Bonasero sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.

  • In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.

  • In a country such as Amerika, there is bound to be a hell-of-a-lot of food lying around just waiting to be ripped off.

No cheating by looking them up! Titles will be posted Friday.

Monday, May 5, 2008

1001 MORE Books

April goes out like a lion! Bestseller list from Mystery Lovers Bookshop:
  • #4 Paperback: Face Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  • #5 Trade: 1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron
  • #7 Hardcover: Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris

HALLIE: Last week I was in Ohio and Pennsylvania talking about my new book, "1001 Books for Every Mood." I had such a blast writing this thing--a nice break from fiction. It's even more fun chatting with readers and booksellers and librarians about favorite books. They're tickled to find a favorite has been included--even more tickled when they can recommend a book I left out.

I'm starting a list for "1001 MORE books..." -- here are some of the book people recommended that I wish I'd put in:
- "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan (by the way is #1 on MLB's bestseller list for hardcover)
- "Olive Kitteridge" (Elizabeth Strout)
- "Funny in Farci" (Firsoozeh Dumas)
- "Peace Like a River" ( Leif Enger)

At Books & Co in Dayton, Sharon Roth asked what's the oldest book I have in there. Turns out it's "Gulliver's Travels," in print since 1726. Read it when you're in the mood "For grand adventure." Did you know that the word "Yahoos" comes from GT? In Gulliver's fourth voyage, a mutinous crew abandons him on Houyhnhnms where finds a race of intelligent horses who rule over Yahoos: “abominable animals” with perfect human faces. Turns out they are humans.

So what favorite books would you have included if you'd been putting together a list of 1001 books for every mood?

JAN: One of my absolutely favorite books ever -- that I rarely hear anything about -- is Lisa Grunwald's "New Year's Eve." It's about two sisters who have young toddlers. One of them dies, and the other toddler, a little girl, starts to see visions of the little boy who died. It's all about the different ways we cope with tragedy, and how our belief systems can bring us together or tear us apart. It's beautifully written, and inspirational.

I would add "Ava's Man" by Rick Bragg, which was Amazon's top pick for 2001 and a fabulous read -- although I suspect not too different from the other Bragg memoir you did include: ("All Over But the Shoutin'").

And although you included "Blink" from Malcolm Gladwell, I'd also add "The Tipping Point" -- parts of which I still think about even though its been years since I read the book.

And Hallie, I brought your book to my book group, and we used it to pick our June read. We were looking for either a good mystery or good classic. We scanned your book and came up with Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time." It's a terrific resource!

(Pardon the fuzzy copy--it's the best I could do.)

HALLIE: That's great, Jan - I've added those titled to my "More" list... and I hope someone in your reading will write a "Readers Guide" and win a free copy of the book. (Jan wrote reader's guides for "Rebecca" and "Presumed Innocent." Check them out.

HANK: Oh, what a great idea. And irresistible. I have two ideas, maybe three, but let me ask you something first.

How on earth did you put this book together? Can you tell us--maybe Wednesday? Or whenever. All the icons, the categories, the quizzes, the memorable characters--it's overwhelming to think about the level of organzation that certainly went into this. Did you use note cards? Or how could you possibly keep it straight? And how did you make all the decisions? Cboose the icons? Figure it all out?

It's the most "complicated on the inside and simple on the outside" book I've ever seen. I keep it by my computer now, and can't resist comparing it to what I think, and finding new books, and agreeing and remembering. I love that you put two of my very faves, "Day of the Jackal" and "The Faithful Spy" together. Stuff like that. Genius.

Okay--quickly then. For Grand Adventure: "Winter's Tale," by Mark Helprin. Best book I've ever read, maybe. It's about, um, well, it's complicated. And it takes place during the, well, it's complicated. In New York, though. Mostly. It's fantastic.

And "Custom of the Country." Or "Age of Innocence." Or "House of Mirth." Your call. But we have to have Edith Wharton. But where would we put her?

And then to Slide Down the Rabbit Hole (another of your terrific categories)--"Diamond in the Window," by Jane Langton. Where else can you find magic and transcendentalism in a YA book? If I had an eleven year old son or daughter, I'd sit them right down with it.

RO: Some years back I did a similar book on videos. That was so much fun to put together, but a heckuva lot easier than your book! Oh no particular order...."The Razor's Edge," The "Golden Bowl," "Age of Innocence," "Fall of a Sparrow," used to love John Galsworthy, John O'Hara and Richard Yates but not sure they still hold up,...for pure fun anything by Carl Hiassen.
They'd all be included but I don't know where!

Love that you had the Hug Your Dog section...went on a driving trip with my dog a few years ago and brought "Travels with Charley." It was perfect! Of course we wound up at Gettysburg, so I had to reread "Killer Angels." This is a little like choosing the right wine with dinner isn't it??

ROBERTA: I'm at a disadvantage because I don't have this fabulous book with me on the road...However, the books that come to my overtraveled mind seem to be kids' books this morning: "Charlotte's Web," "Winnie the Pooh," "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase," "The Pink Motel." Can't wait to hold your book in my hands Hallie. congratulations on a wonderful new addition to the book addicts of the world!

HALLIE: Great suggestions, Roberta. Got the first two, not the last two. And ACK! I was so chagrined to see I'd left out Edith Wharton. It was a synaptic lapse...I saw I had Evelyn Waugh and checked off Edith Wharton. Not even the same gender. Do you do that, mix up names? Sinclair Lewis/Upton Sinclair? Wallace Stegner/Wallace Stevens? Tom Wolfe/Thomas Wolfe/Tobias Wolff...

Please share your favorites -- We're keeping a list!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Now you are a....fountain pen!

I'm going to a different kind of party today. (Yes my life is a steady stream of parties but I was also up until 1am tweaking my manuscript which is due on Friday..)

I'm going to a Bar Mitzvah. Somehow, even though I grew up in Brooklyn New York, I've never been to a Bar Mitzvah (or a Bat Mitzvah, which is, I believe a similar ceremony for girls.)

Communions and confirmations, yes. But basically, if you were Italian and grew up in Brooklyn, they involved patent leather shoes, a new dress and lots of food. I don't remember there being any transformation.

Two people I mentioned it to, said the same thing to me...Now you are a fountain pen! Apparently at the end of the ceremony the rabbi (or whoever) says now you are a man, and for many years the standard gift was a fountain pen. The hot gift today is probably an Ipod, but Now you are an Ipod just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I do hope my young friend (who is a wonderful kid..very cute, smart and a little mischievous) gets a fountain pen from someone. I will turn him on to The Fountain Pen Hospital on Warren Street in Manhattan.

I'd heard about the FPH some years ago, but never ventured that far downtown until The Mysterious Bookshop moved there. I'm a pen junky. If my next book contract is a nice fat one
I'm going straight down to FPH to treat myself.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Edgar Awards

And the winners are...
Fresh from last night's MWA Edgars awards...

Best Novel Down River by John Hart
Best First Novel In the Woods by Tana French
Best Paperback Original Queenpin by Megan Abbott
Best Fact Crime Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
Best Critical/Biographical Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Dan Stashower, Jon Lellenberg and Charles Foley
Best Short Story The Golden Gopher by Susan Straight
Best Juvenile The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
Best Young Adult Rat Life by Tedd Arnold
Best Play Panic by Joseph Goodrich
Best Television episode Pilot for Burn Notice
Best Motion Picture Screenplay Michael Clayton
Grand Master Bill Pronzini
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award The Catch by Mark Ammons
Raven Awards Center for the Book in the Library of Congress
Kate's Mystery Books

Congrats to all the winners and nominees.
...I know, you're all really dying to know what I wore, right? I went with the Givenchy tuxedo, an off-white silk shirt, and pointy ankle strap shoes with a little bit of fishnet toe cleavage. I thought I looked pretty good. Then I got there and felt like a total frump! We're talking major taffeta, bows, wraps, and a killer short white dress covered with passementerie (on a blond, of course.)

Ruth McCarty looked spectacular in a black two piece outfit with a long skirt that she called "wearable art'..and it was. I want it.
Maybe next year I'll be more adventurous..


Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Edgars

Tuxedo or slinky dress? Stilettos or conservative pumps? Red nails or just buff? What's a woman to do? Tonight I'll be attending the annual Edgars banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. Last year was my first time and it was a pretty glam event. Stephen King and I didn't hang out but we were in the same room and that's a start.

I was thrilled to be seated in between Parnell Hall and Rhys Bowen and I hope I get just as lucky

I haven't read all of the nominated books but I am pulling for one nominee in particular...a certain bald guy..wait a minute, a lot of those guys are bald. Well, it would probably be impolitic to say who it is...let's just say it's the biker dude.

Pix and winners tomorrow!