Sunday, March 29, 2009
ROBERTA: I'm a big fan of Michelle Obama: I think she handled the campaign and the transition to the White House with grace and style. She gave up a big job to support Barack even though I'm certain she's smart enough to become the president herself. I totally love what she's doing on the White House grounds: starting a garden and talking about diet and health. (Although I didn't see tomatoes on the garden plan, and certainly not okra!) She wears what she wants (including no sleeves) and she looks good doing it. She's firm but loving with her kids, and a terrific role model for disadvantaged kids, and god knows she must have a good relationship with her own mother since they'll be living together for four years. And she's gained a lot of points with the public by supporting military families.
I'm pretty sure this question would be considered non-PC, but I'm going for it anyway. If you were going to serve as the first lady (first man if you're in Bill Clinton's shoes), what agenda would you push? What would be your strong points and your pitfalls?
JAN: I'd give some great parties. I'd really be into the nice clothes. Oh, and was there something else??? Oh right, public service. I'd like to deal with hunger and homelessness because in my mind, that's where you have to start. Oh, and I'd also be a real nag about the deficit.
HANK: It could be kind of fun. You could jab your husband with an elbow, and say--hey. Do we really need another one of those Trident missiles?
RHYS: My big problem would be having to be gracious to politicians, including foreign politicians whose agenda was repugnant to me. My agenda--although I feel passionately about health care reform I'd learn from what happened to Hilary Clinton. The First Lady is not an elected official. Her role is to lead by example. I think I'd try to be green, to encourage educational excellence and discourage waste. I'd like to step in and stop government pork, but I'd probably have to grit my teeth and shut up about that.
HALLIE: I'd be a lousy first lady. I'd be early Hilary and put my foot in my mouth about chocolate chip cookies. I'd probably have to be sent to charm school. And then I guess I'd devote myself to encouraging people to consume less and give more back, to make the common good everyone's priority. Wall Street would hate me.
ROBERTA: That would fun for us, Hallie! All the reporters could buzz Jungle Red Writers trying to find out about the real Hallie--and can't her husband put a lid on her? And we'd have to say, nope, what you see is what you get--and we love it that way!
HALLIE: Thanks, Roberta. I'd probably come out in favor of kind words. It's amazing how a few of those can turn around a day.
HANK: I'd be big on libraries. Early education. After-school programs. Self-esteem for pre-teens. And history. Somehow, when kids learn about the past, like a story--they care more about the present and the future. Plus, I could handle the press corps. Some of those questions in news conferences--puh-leeze. When the question is longer than the answer, you've got an ego problem. As First Lady, I could put a stop to all that.
ROBERTA: And if I was the First Lady, I'd definitely want you as my press secretary Hank!
RHYS: I hadn't thought about the clothes. It would be great to decide what "My look" would be and then have designers fighting to produce it for me, rather than cruising the sales and seeing what Ralph Lauren has at fifty percent off! Oh, and I'd love to choose the First dog!
RO: I'd probably just want to stay out of the way and let the guy they elected do his job, but I suppose that's not realistic. First ladies always take these risky stands - "I'm for children! Literacy!" Who's not?
I'd be the first lady who converted all the government cars to fatwagons... running on waste vegetable oil. Of course not having converted my own, I'd have to learn how to do it first. And they do tend to smell like onion rings..but that's okay.
Pile on, JR readers. What would your time in the White House be like? (Photo credits to Army.mil and sskennel)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
get back to the small matter of a deadline...So I'm thinking about titles and what buzz words make people pick up a book. I've heard that words like blood and bones make mysteries sell better. And I guess that food in the title does well too. And knitting and quilting.
I know I'm attracted to books with unusual titles, like "the Shape of Water."
And what about blogs? I believe we've found that the buzz words "Yard sale" have generated the biggest interest in our blog so far. More even than "sex" or "chocolate". Interesting. So what makes you read a blog? Buy a book?
HANK: First we had Water for Elephants. Then the Elegance of the Hedgehog. Secret Life of Bees. Maybe we should all think of weird animal titles. I like clever. That's what does it for me.
In fact, I'm always thinking of titles. My brain is consumed with it. I'll hear a little random snippet of conversation--like someone says, "well, that was the end of my interest in etc..." and my brain picks it out. Mulls it over.
I'll think "End of My Interest." Hmm. Is that a title for something? Right now I'm trying to make something out of Voir Dear. (Is that too insiderly double-meaningy? Maybe..a short story about a woman who sees her ex-husband on a jury? Hey. Don't steal it. Mine.)
HALLIE: Darned. I liked that.
When talk turns to title my mind turns to "Eats Shoots and Leaves"...the clever book title from a fairly serious book about punctuation. Talk about a great title--I mean, a book about grammar and punctuation on the best seller list? Another great title: "See Jane Run". Beats me as to why, but it is. And I'm partial to Sharyn McCrumb's title "Bimbos of the Death Sun".
ROBERTA: It's been proven that I stink at titles--I've never had one accepted by the publisher that I actually thought of. I fought hard for DEADLY ADVICE to be LINE IN THE SAND, but it wasn't judged mysterious enough. To Rhys's question, I think titles with blood and guts put me off. And not that crazy about punny names, though my stable is full of those horses:)
JAN: I love a title that gets to the essence of the book in a not-on-the-nose way, so I'm not crazy about mystery titles with Death or Murder in the title. Too easy. I know she hated it at first, but I've really come to like Rosemary's The Big Dirt Nap. Something amusing and ominous about it.
RHYS: I've been quite lucky with my titles. I've only had to change one or two during my mystery writing career. I have to say I got a little weary of all those Evan puns and wished I hadn't started along that route because it made the books sound cozier than they were. But I'm now very tempted to call my next book "Blood and Bones with the pandas at the Yard Sale."
RO: I'm with Jan on Death and Murder in the title..although the book I'm I'm working on has Dead in the title (DeadHead) and I seem to like it fine! I also agree with Rhys on animals..look at how well Silence of the Lambs did. (People should ask me anything this morning, I'm feeling very agreeable..) It's hard to tread that line between clever and cutesy. BTW Before The Big Dirt Nap was TBDN someone wanted to call it Stalking the Corpse Flower. How awful is that? Any other near disasters?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
RHYS: Back again with Jackie to continue our interview. So, with our second cuppa tea, let's go on...
To what do you attribute the enormous success of a series that is neither sensational or violent, but just tells a good, well-written story?
Jackie: I think that the broad readership is so often underestimated - there is an assumption that every page must have some blood-thumping event to maintain interest.
That simply is not true - a story well-told does not mean you have to have blood, guts and sex on every page. Thus far the storyline in each of my books has been rooted in the Great War - in telling a story about the characters' feelings, their memories, their fears and the decisions they make based upon their experiences, can tell as much about a violent time asgraphic scenes of violence, and often with more impact.
Sensationalism plays into the belief that we are a society addicted to instant gratification - and there is a truth in that - but at the same time, we cannot tar all readers with the same brush. There will always be a place for the good, well-written story.
RHYS: Are you planning to continue with Maisie and do you have plans for any other books outside the series?
RHYS: Okay, tell us about your horses, including your new baby who likes to be hugged. Since they are such a big part of your life, why no horsy books yet?
JACKIE: Oliver ("Ollie"), my Friesian, (in yesterday's photo) is now four and a half and is nicknamed "the baby Friesian" by everyone at the ranch where he lives. He is just the mostwonderful boy, and he so loves people. He is also extremely affectionate.
Ollie was imported to the USA about 18 months ago, and was born and raised on a farm in Germany, where he became a favorite of the breeder's 12-year-old daughter - she was his first rider, and you know what girls can be like with horses they love! He must have been showered with affection and cuddles, because this horse can really get into a hug - he sort of wraps his head around you as you put his arms around his neck (and you should see him with the farrier - the poor guy will be leaning over trimming Ollie's feet while Ollie is licking his collar and neck, or trying to pull a handkerchief out of his pocket!).
Today's picture shows Serendipity ("Sara"), my Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred mare turned 15 last week - and she is a very different horse. She is a diva through and through, has a very fine sense of herself. Sara loves to work, and wants nothing more than to just get the tack on and get out into the arena for a training session.
She is lovely to ride, but such a perfectionist - she'lllet me know if she thinks I could be doing better, or if I am in even slightly off in my position for a certain move. So different from Ollie,who is still honing his sense of direction!
And you will see a horse or two in my next series - but we're a couple of years away yet ....
RHYS: Okay, some of the famous Jungle Red questions:
Pizza or chocolate?
I'm now allergic to both chocolate and pizza crust, so I would probably sell
my soul for a mouthful of either! I love Green and Black dark chocolate -
so very crisp and bitterly scrumptious.
Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?
Pierce Brosnan - he has a great sense of humor and a very down-to-earth
quality about him. Of course, he's easy on the eyes too!
Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot
I think I prefer Hercule, but to tell you the truth, I have never cared for
either of them - though on TV I really liked Joan Hickson as Miss Marple,
she brought a real sharpness and depth to the character.
Making dinner or making reservations?
I'm just coming to the end of a long book tour, so making dinner in my own kitchen is just fine with me.
RHYS: Jackie, thank you for visiting us at Jungle Red. I should add that Jackie's new book is in a store near you and that she blogs regularly at http://www.nakedauthors.com/.>
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
So Jackie, how did a typically English rose like you wind up in California? (of course, I> could ask myself the same question!)
There are three main points of inspiration for this novel. The first is anexperience I had when I was in the final two years of school - from 16-18. I attended a school where, in those years, you were expected to undertake some sort of community service. Mine was in what was then called a mental hospital.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Yeah, I think we've come a very long way, baby. When I was a kid there were virtually no school sports programs for girls, and the choices career counselors talked about for us were your basic nurse, teacher, librarian, and maybe social worker. It's great that about half the crime novels that cross my desk are written by women. And both my daughters never hesitated about considering the widest array of career options. However, I also realize I was being naive to think, "if only women were in charge..." there'd be less self-serving policy making, general dishonesty and mean-spiritedness in politics. Sadly, we've come a long way in that department, too.
Then I paused. Then I said, as I smiled sweetly: And your station's license is up for renewal right now at the FCC and you don't have any women working here.
The Internet and the insatiable US demand for pornography (and I'm not talking about Playboy or even Hustler-type porn, I'm talking about really sick stuff) has made for a brisk sex slave trade. In someways, I think we've actually gone backwards.
Friday, March 20, 2009
But the funny thing about book clubs is they get to be about a lot more than just books.
Our group is all women. About twelve of us now, and at least half of us have been together for ten years. We’ve given each other advice on hair dressers, yoga teachers, ski lodges, and the best New York hotels. We’ve supported each other over miscarriages, divorces, parents' deaths, and trouble with our children. We’ve celebrated birthdays and book launches and major promotions.
Last summer, one of our members, Beth was promoted from commander to captain in the Navy Reserves. We all attended a military ceremony on the USS Constitution in Boston. It was an emotional and beautiful event, illuminating service and dedication. We were all blown away with pride. Afterwards, we got a private tour of the historical battleship, and toasted Beth's promotion with champagne cocktails at brunch aboard the cruise ship Odyssey.
Last week, our book club got together for a different kind of party. This one was to say goodbye. Beth was assigned to a command post in Iraq. She’ll be gone for at least a year.
Because of Beth's attitude about the assignment – that it was an exciting opportunity – we treated it as a celebration. Rose hosted, we all brought food and wine, and even spouses were invited. Beth arrived in a terrific black cocktail dress accessorized with Navy issue desert boots.
We did not cry. At least not at the party. We gave Beth a gift certificate for her new Kindle so she could keep up with the books we were reading. We were quite bossy about expecting her opinion of each month’s choice by email.
We will be thinking about what we can send her, and what we can do for her family left behind. But mostly, we’ll be reading all news out of Iraq with a new intensity. We'll start seeing the war a lot closer up, holding our breath after each new terrorist attack, and praying hard until the day she comes home.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Jamie Cat Callan is both a writer and writing teacher.. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Modern Love column, to The Missouri Review, to UCLA Magazine. Awards include the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the Goldwyn Award in Screenwriting, two First Prizes in the Writers Digest Fiction Competition, a Bread Loaf Writing Conference Fellowship, and several residencies.
Her newest book, French Women Don't Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love is her second book on love and romance. She’s also the author of three YA novels, including Just Too Cool, and is currently writing a new novel based on adventures she had as a script girl for Meg Ryan.
Her unique right brained approach to writing, which she’s taught at Yale University, Wesleyan University, NYU, UCLA, and closer to home, Boston's Grub Street, is explained in The Writers Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for the "Write" Side of Your Brain. We’re hoping she can give us a few hints here..
Jan: Tell us about your technique writing from the right side of your brain, and why it works.
Jamie:The Writers Toolbox evolved out of 25+ years of teaching writing. It's a box that contains sticks and cards and spiny dials--all geared to make writing fun. I began teaching writing in the late 70's in psychiatric hospitals to adolescents, so I learned early on that the best kind of writing happens when people feel relaxed and playful.
Writing from the right side of the brain means writing from that part of your brain that is intuitive and nonlinear and can make unexpected leaps and connections that move the narrative into interesting, even "dangerous" places. Writers tend to be sensitive people and often self-critical. The right brain games in The Writers Toolbox are all geared to make the process of writing a little less serious and a lot more fun. It's also very tactile and I think that inspires people to think in new ways.
Jan: Do you have any special tips to deal with procrastination or writers block (not that I have a problem with that or anything….ummm.) Do you have any advice on writing schedules, what works what fails?
Jamie: First of all, get out of the house. Shake up your routine. I often write in cafes. I keep a pad of paper and pen by my bedside and I'll even write down dialogue while on the phone or in line at the CVS. Make an appointment with yourself to write and keep it. Better yet, make an appointment with friends and write in a group. There's something special and inspirational about writing with friends. If all else fails, tell yourself you're just going to "fool around" when you sit down at the computer. Tell yourself you're just going to write 50 words. Generally, it's hard to stop at 50 words.
I'm also a believer in procrastination. I think that sometimes it simply means your subconscious mind is doing some important pre-writing. I would honor that.
Jan; If I’m making the correct assumptions, you’ve lived an adventurous, geographically- diverse life, moving from Connecticut to LA to New York to the Cape. Tell me how your life and experiences inspire your writing and your choice of writing projects.
Jamie: And I've lived in London and France and four different homes in Connecticut! Oh, and six different homes in New York--including a vegetarian commune and a single room occupancy hotel for women!
All these different homes have been challenging, but I love being shaken out of complacency. Every time I've moved, I've seen it as an opportunity to see the world in a brand new way and to see the world through a new character's eyes. One of my most successful stories, "Star Baby" (which appeared in Story Magazine back in the early 90's) was based on a conversation I had working temp in a real estate office in Orange County, California. This woman told me she was psychic and that was the beginning.
Of course, all my Hollywood stories and the new novel come from my experiences working for the actress Meg Ryan. Some of this writing has already been published in Buzz Magazine ("Hollywood Slave Girl Tells All") and The Missouri Review ("I Do Believe in Ghosts. I do. I do.") Truthfully, I continue to mine my adventures for stories. Right now, I'm living on Cape Cod. My husband is a climate change scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic and I love listening in on all the science talk. It's really so foreign to me, it's delicious.
I think writers are never truly "at home" anywhere. We are always slightly outside. We are the observers. So for me, moving has been very stimulating.
Jan: Being a Francophile myself, I'm especially interested in you new book Frenchwomen Don’t Sleep Alone. I know your grandmother was French, but was she the sole inspiration for this?
Jamie:You know, I never really appreciated my French grandmother when she was alive. In fact, I always told people I was Irish-American, because the French part seemed so mysterious to me. And now, I realize--that's the point! They're mysterious. I now look back at my life with my grandmother and how she taught me to stand up straight and how to wear a scarf and how to make an apple pie and I realize I have been very, very lucky. When I returned to France to research the book and interviewed all these French women, I realized that in a way they were giving back my very own DNA. I have always been French, but just didn't realize it. Nowadays, I embrace the French way of life--cooking, taking care of my skin, using the good china every day and of course, wearing a scarf.
Jan: Can you give us an inkling of what French women know that we don’t about love. What we can learn from them.
Jamie: Well, first of all--they don't date! They have dinner parties instead. Every Friday and Saturday night, they're entertaining one another. Married and singles mix. It's a great way to get to know a potential lover in the context of lively conversation and delicious food. And even after a man and a woman decide to get together privately--they still don't "date." Rather, they'll take a walk and again, this is a terrific way for a woman to be seen. This is the secret to their confidence.
Jan: And tell us about your novel-in-progress, and how you apply your writing philosophy to this.
Jamie:My new book is a Hollywood romp called "Whatever Happened to America's Sweetheart?" I don't write everyday, but I do write at least three times a week and yes, I often tell myself, "Oh, I'm just going to write 50 words." It really works. Also, lately, I've been writing at Starbucks. There's something about the crowd and the noise that helps distract the critical side of my brain. I also collect images of Hollywood movie stars and tabloid headlines and paste them on the wall of my office. That inspires me because I'm a very visual person.
For more information on Jamie, check out http://www.jamiecatcallan.com
And now the Jungle Red Writers Quiz:
Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Hercule Poirot, of course, because he's French!
Sex or violence?
Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate. Dark. But just a little (that's very French.
Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Ooooh, but I love Sean Connery. Okay, Pierce Brosnan. Daniel Craig is just too craggy.
Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine Hepburn, because she's a fellow Yank and a feminist.
Myspace or Facebook?
Facebook, because I'm on it.
Your favorite non-mystery book?
Pride and Prejudice. Brilliant plot. Great dialogue. Funny and sexy.
Making dinner or making reservations?
Making dinner. And dinner parties!
And now, tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.
1.My pet Siamese cat that won first prize at the Madison Square Garden Cat Show.
2.The name on my birth certificate is actually "June-Marie".
3.My father worked for the CIA.
4.I once dated a fire-eater.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
JAN: Michael Phelps is back in the news with an interview about being caught smoking pot at a party.
Now, I think if he'd been caught taking steroids or some other performance enhancing drug, I'd be really upset by it. I'd be all over what a jerk he was, what a cheater. But I'm not particularly upset that he was smoking pot at a party, and I don't feel owed his apology. I figure he's a young kid, who like the rest of us, is bound to make a few mistakes along the way. He didn't hurt anyone else and he wasn't operating any heavy machinery.
Mostly I feel sorry for him -- that he always has to look over his shoulder for the creep at the party who is going to photograph whatever he does and exploit his celebrity.
So is this just me? or does anyone else think that this is celebrity-mistake-overkill? Is Phelps right when he tells Matt Lauer: "I've come to realize that people want to bring you up, but more people want to bring you down. And that's how our public is."
I, for one, find that I follow with great interest anything to do with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds perjury cases. I can't explain why, deep in my heart, I want them to go down.
HALLIE: I agree that the bigger you get as a celebrity the more pleasure the "public" takes in taking you down a peg or two. On a related note, at Left Coast Crime mystery conference I was on a panel as a critic and heard that question I've often heard...do I think it's my job to point out when some perennially bestselling author writes a less-than-stellar book. (I don't.)
As a PS, Rhys was a great Guest of Honor... and sang a song (YES!) when she received her GOH award. So, one day we all want to hear more about Rhys's checkered (or perhaps it should be star studded) past and hidden talents.
HANK: Rhys! What was the song?
JAN: Oh dear, I hope this doesn't mean Matt Lauer will be gunning for Rhys soon! (just kidding Rhys, you're safe as long as you decline the Kellogg's endorsement.)
ROBERTA: I definitely think we common folk expect too much from our celebrities. And we probably have mixed feelings about how well they're doing, compared to little old us. However, once a person signs on with sponsors for big endorsements, the standard of behavior expected does rise. And rightly so, in my opinion. If Michael Phelps didn't want people watching him, he could have faded into the woodwork after the Olympics. And as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, yikes, we all have skeletons in our history. What bothers me most is the people who are paid dearly for their name and presence who don't want to take on the rest of the burden.
Hallie, would love to hear more about that question about the best-selling writer with a clunker. Would you just not choose to review that one?
RO: I felt sorry for Phelps, too. Jeez, who cares? But I was more upset that Wheaties trashed the boxes of cereal (with his picture on them) instead of donating them to a food bank.
I like to think that I don't care about this stuff, but dang if I didn't want to know what the hell happened to Charlize Theron's father.
HANK: Well, Jan, because cheating and lying are not good. There's something that happens, with celebrities, and of course as we see every day now, with financial celebrities, that makes people somehow decide the rules don't apply to them.
That's what I think the problem is. Suddenly, celebrity means freedom from the constraints and self-control the rest of us use every day. And we hardly think about it, do we? I mean, have I thought--oh, you know, I'm just not going to pay my taxes, who'll ever find out? NO! I pay them. Those are the rules.
I'm FUMING over the AIG bonuses. (And everything else, of course. But that's a different blog.) And I do stories about people who have ripped off the system, and they say: how could you do that to me? And I say--*I* didn't do anything! You did!
<>JAN: Yes, Hank I think you're right, it's the cheating that makes me crazy, (Roger Clemens) not the youthful mistakes (Michael Phelps).
So I guess we all have the celebrity crimes we want to excuse and the ones we want to see punished. Tell us, if you could run the world, who should we leave alone and who should go down?
Friday, March 13, 2009
Has it been almost a whole year? I remember, so vividly it almost brings tears to my eyes, the moment this photo was taken. And before that, the moment my name (and Prime Time) was called as winner of the Agatha for Best First. I can tell you my life has not been the same sine. And there’s not a moment I’m not grateful.
So, as my Agatha year ticks away, here’s a photo of me and Best Novel winner Louise Penny. There were not two happier people on the planet at that moment.
Have a web link you’d like people to check out?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I say, come on, buster. NO way.
Way, he says.
And turns out, it’s true. He’s put together a truly charming and inspirational book called The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. It’s fun to read, full of honest and helpful stuff, and I must admit, I now keep it right by my computer in case I need a wake-up call or a jolt of compassion or a hit of writerly community.
HANK: How did you get all these wonderful authors to provide advice?
**SUZANNE BROCKMANN: “I never said…”
**MARY HIGGINS CLARK: “Where to get the idea? Easy. Just…”
HANK: How did your take on that change, as the project progressed?
ANDY: I was a bit surprised by how generous everyone was with their time and willingness to share their secrets. Looking back, however, I shouldn't have been because I have found over the years that most established authors are delighted to help new authors of merit.
**SJ ROZAN: “Read read read read read. If it means less TV…..”
**RHYS BOWEN: “If you get writers block, it could be because you…”
**JOAN JOHNSTON: “No one likes a….”
**ED GAFFNEY: “I believe that my subconscious mind…”
HANK: Okay, here’s what some of them said, at least…the rest, well, you can (you know what’s coming) take a look at Andy’s book.
**SJ ROZAN: Read read read read read. If it means less TV, less family time fewer movies, whatever it means….
**RHYS BOWEN: “If you get writers block, it could be because you are trying to force your character to do something he would not do…
**SUZANNE BROCKMANN: “I never said if I get published. For me it was always when...…
So Jungle Reds, what advice and info about your own 101 habits do you have for your fellow readers and writers? And hey, it doesn’t have to be about books. For instance: I say steam the milk for your coffee in the microwave. Delicious! And I learned it from Hallie.
Andrew McAleer is the author of The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists and the co-author of the number 1 best-selling, Mystery Writing in a Nutshell. Mr. McAleer is also the author of three novels including the critically-acclaimed, Double Endorsement and Bait and Switch. A prosecutor with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Mr. McAleer is also an adjunct professor at Boston College and a recipient of the Sherlock Holmes Revere Bowl Award. He serves as a specialist in the Army National Guard. Visit Mr. McAleer at http://www.crimestalkers.com/
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
"Kozak keeps the laughs and chills in bewitching balance as Wollie uncovers the secrets of Yuri's extended family—and suffers a first-time dating consequence in the surprising denouement."
I love to say it—star of stage and screen. But to us, she’s always a star of page.
Her debut novel, DATING DEAD MEN, won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Its sequel was DATING IS MURDER, followed by DEAD EX and the upcoming A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE. Of which Janet Evanovich says: "A page-turner of a mystery. A loveable sleuth. A real winner!"
Like everyone else on the planet, we visit her (and her very talented pals) at her blog The Lipstick Chronicles . But now she’s visiting us.
HANK: Ah, Harley. A question I've never asked before. Sex in a parking lot? A Neiman Marcus parking lot?
HARLEY: Yes, Hank. Times are tough and hotel rooms expensive, and when one is undercover, on-the-fly decisions must be made. Still, parking lots sex does come at a cost, not the least of which is dry-cleaning bills. At least I sent Wollie to Neiman Marcus, and not Wal-Mart. (I also send her to Costco in this book, but not for sex.)
HANK: ON THE FLY?? You see, this is why we love you. A Date You Can't Refuse--tell us more about your latest!
HARLEY: Wollie finds herself a "social coach" -- that is, combination babysitter, bus driver and dating therapist for a trio of eastern euro eccentrics: a heavyweight boxer with substance abuse issues, a Soviet country & Western singer, and an evangelical diet book author. The FBI is involved. Hijinks ensue. And she's being poisoned, while attired in the couture clothing of a dead America's Next Top Model contestant. However, it's more highbrow than I've made it sound here.
HANK: Your wonderful Wollie Shelley--where did she come from in your head? And her name is hilarious...did you think of the name first? Or create the character first, and then name her? Or was she just--born?
HARLEY: She was a greeting card shop owner first -- I saw the shop in my head, and then the woman running it, and then realized she not only manages the shop, she designs greeting cards, and then her name came to me, followed by her wacky mother (who only appeared briefly, in Book #2). I hate to sound like I channel this stuff, but it does sort of feel that way. I imagine all authors work like this, but what do I know? Do you channel your characters, or do you do a by-the-numbers Excel spreadsheet character study?
HANK: Oh, some spring full-blown, personalities, characteristics, everything. Charlie, certainly, and Franklin, and little Penny. Who I tried to rename Ella, but it just wasn't her name, you know? And yes, I do think "channeling" is part of it, and I feel incredibly lucky when it happens.
Speaking of channeling--dialogue, too? Do your characters talk to you? Have you ever tried to get them to say or do something that they just won't?
HARLEY: They don't talk to me so much as they talk to each other, but if I don't get it right, they make me rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it. My biggest dialogue problem is that one of them will go on and on, a veritable aria, and then I have to go back and remind them that there are other people in the book too and let the other people interrupt, as other people (in my house, anyway) are wont to do.
HANK: Speaking of, um, channeling. I see you on TV all the time. (Thanks, Tivo. And you know, Arachnophobia is even funnier when you see it now.) Do people recognize you from movies and TV? How does your stage and screen experience translate into your novels?
HARLEY: People recognize me on occasion, but it's rare enough to be fun. As in, I never need to punch out the paparazzi. The best is when people recognize me in front of my children, who are convinced that the only life I ever had began on their respective birthdays.
I think acting trains you to put yourself into other people's shoes automatically, which comes in handy when writing novels. Mine are definitely character-driven. My plots are more left-brain; I have to work at making them credible and interesting, and then I have to interrupt my long-winded characters and make them pay attention to plot, to hit the road and carry the action forward because frankly, they'd rather sit at home and yak.
HANK: Anything you wish someone had told you when you started all this writing stuff? When was that, anyway?
HARLEY: That I'd never read fiction in the same way again, and that while I'd get lots of free books (blurb requests, conventions) I'd never have time to read them.
I started to write novels about 15 years ago in a serious way, but I've been writing long (very) letters, journals, plays, poems, and country & western song lyrics my whole life.
HANK: And now you're such a...beloved and loving part of the community. (ACK, sappy. But true.)
HARLEY: Oh, bless you. You make me feel like the mayor. Of what town, I'm not sure.
HANK: Well, Ms. Mayor , you still can’t get away without the Jungle Red Quiz:
Pizza or chocolate?
Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?
Sex or violence?
Facebook or MySpace?
Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Your favorite non-mystery book?
currently? The Golden Compass
Favorite book as a kid?
Making dinner or making reservations?
*****And finally, the Jungle Red Big Lie. Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.
I was a National Merit Scholar.
My dad was an Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent.
I was Courtesy Queen of the first grade at St. John's School
I was a chain smoker, coke addict and pot head
Harley’s debut novel, DATING DEAD MEN, won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Its sequel was DATING IS MURDER, followed by DEAD EX and the upcoming A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE. She’s still a sometimes actress, and lives with her family in California’s Conego Valley. Her short prose has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Soap Opera Digest, The Sun, The Santa Monica Review, and the anthologies Mystery Muses, This is Chick Lit and A HELL OF A WOMAN.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Now here’s the critical element. "I write the things." Problem is, seriously, half the time I can’t read them.
I see on the list “April 5.” I remember this especially, because when I looked at it a few minutes later, I forgot why I had written it on the list. Better write myself a reminder, I thought. SO now I see I wrote, um, s? r? u? h? SRUH? Or maybe it's srguth. Srguk? I still can't decode it.
Now here’s on entry from last week: 13V06. And then I had drawn some “this is important” stars on each side of it. No idea.
That was followed by wLAI. Which I recognized as “what.”
Then “vo,” which I recognized as “to”.
I stared at it. I stared at it. I scoured my brain for what it could mean.
Suddenly: “13V06” morphed into BLOG. A HA. Something about the blog. Maybe a blog idea?
“Hejpevd.” Hedge funds? The economy? Ah. It's "Happened." What happened…to….
“Travduiy.” Ah. No idea. None none none.
Then I got it. Handwriting. “Travduiy” is Handwriting.
“What happened to handwriting.” My blog idea for this week!! Because, of course, everyone types or texts or twitters now. And I had wondered, has handwriting gone the way of the rotary phone?
I rest my case. (Aloha to Rhys and Hallie at Left Coast Crime...please check in and tell us the latest! Because if you send postcards, we probably won't be able to decipher them.)
JAN: I know EXACTLY what you mean. Although I can't get anyone to believe this, I used to have beautiful handwriting, that I took a lot of pride in it. But now??? I think it has to do with the fact that I type EVERYTHING, and those handwriting muscles have now atrophied.
I used to take longhand notes as a reporter, but no more. Now I bring my laptop WITH me to the interview and type my notes so I can read them later.
RO: This is weird. I used to have beautiful writing until I wrote my first book in longhand. Now I've got this gnarly scrawl..I have to really work at it when I sign books. So Jan is blaming NOT writing and I'm blaming TOO MUCH writing.
HANK: Well, RO. I can't even imagine doing that. I literally would not be able to read it after I wrote it. Now that would be annoying.
And I remember being so thrilled to learn how to write, not print. So thrilled. I remember doing "cursive" exercises, on that triple-lined paper, two thick lines, a thin one in the middle. Making ovals, was it? Singing "here we go round the pony track." That seems so bizarre now, can it possibly be true? Now I can takes notes as quickly as someone I'm inerviewing can talk.
I just can't read it later.
ROBERTA: I think my handwriting is still okay--hmmm, maybe I haven't seen it in a while. No wait! I use it to sign books! I remember when I was waiting for my first mystery, SIX STROKES UNDER, to come out in 2002. I talked endlessly to my husband and the people on my listservs about how I'd sign those books. I had a full paragraph worked out featuring my gratitude and best wishes for the readers' lives, all packaged in clever golf lingo. I think that lasted through the first book signing. Now it's strictly a half line of chicken scratch. One lady looked at the book I'd personalized for her recently and said: "That's a signature?"
But I sure can relate to those lists on lists on lists, Hank. My lists are all by hand, but the busier I am, the deeper they get buried on my desk. I usually do a thorough sorting when I finish a draft and then those lists surface, along with all the ones I made to replace them as they disappeared into the morass. Hey, the good news is the items that didn't get checked off are so far overdue they've become obsolete!
HANK: And wow, there's nothing better than checking something off a list! Blog for today--check! (Blog for tomorrow--a really really special guest! Check.)
How about you all? Can you still read your own handwriting?
Friday, March 6, 2009
HALLIE: I met KC Dyer at the wonderful Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver. She was the one in charge of coordinating speakers (aka herding cats). Wearing a red mini skirt with bright purple-and-yellow striped tights, her long blonde hair cascading in curls down her back, a smile lighting up her face, she’s the kind of person one doesn’t forget. Her fifth book novel for teens, A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, is just out.
KC confesses a secret fondness for inducing nausea in teens and can often be found sharing some of the greatest grotesque moments in history with large groups of high school students.
Welcome to Jungle Red, KC. Please, tell us how you channel grotesqueries into your fiction?
KC DYER: Picture this:
Bodies pressed together; many bodies. Where skin touches skin there is sweat and stench, but extremities are always cold. Any air available is foul; fetid with the mingled breath of dysentery, malnutrition and slowly rotting teeth. There is no food beyond powdered grain crawling with maggots and puddled with a few drops of grey water to take a form that is burned black before somehow being choked down. A place where any germ can become a plague through sheer proximity. A place where death is never welcome, but always, always present.
And this is the best alternative.
I have a new book coming out this week. I write for kids and teens, and A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW is my fifth published story. All writers know the varying degrees of soul-baring that emerge with the production of a novel. True to form, after five books, I’ve found out a couple of things about myself. Turns out I’m a bit of a history fan – real history, not the theatrical version. I don’t like dates and battles and kings and queens. I simply have a yen to rip a hole in the fabric of time and plunge into the lives of real people who lived as though no one would ever look back on them in awe. And I kind of like the gross bits best.
I write time travel stories. In another life, I used to be a teacher, and the juxtaposition of the lives my students led -- in relative comfort and safety, generally with access to clean water, high standards of health and education, and families who loved them – as compared with the standards under which those who came before them survived, always struck me as problematic. Even in those days, I was big on telling stories, and since my audience was primarily teenagers I soon found – and I still find today – that there is nothing like a decently running sore or mucous-filled buboe to grab the attention.
So, though I have written of Kings and Queens, and of artists and geniuses, it is the gruesome realities of everyday life, be it in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or aboard one of the coffin ships bringing pioneers and pestilence to the New World that seem to most capture my chosen audience. The Black Plague, The Reign of Terror, The Irish Potato Famine, The Smallpox Epidemic – ah, good times, good times. But I hope you believe me when I tell you that my secret goal is not only to turn stomachs. Instead, these gruesome scenes are my route in – my way to demonstrate that deep inside the folks who lived through the monstrous events in which happenstance placed them, there was a streak of something that allowed them find the strength to not only persevere, but thrive.
I see every story as a promise to the reader. You know – a little bit of blood and pus is a great way to capture attention, and a small price to pay for the resolution of a tale well-told.
And if you are interested, you can read more about what I am up to with my latest novel at my blog leftwriter , or my website at www.kcdyer.com.
HALLIE: I confess, my own favorite grotesque moments from history involve guillotines and blokes getting drawn and quartered. In classic lit, you can’t beat the bloody mayhem in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” And I’m sure I’m wasn’t the only kid who used to sing:
When you see a hearse go by
You may be the next to die
They'll wrap you in a bloody sheet
Then throw you in about six feet deep
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout
Something, something, something... (that rhymes jelly beans and fresh whipped cream, I do believe.)
What is it about kids and worms? Ah, nostalgia.
KC will be with us today, so please, share your pet grotesqueries.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Her creation, Boom This!, is a web site loaded with great information on health, fitness, money, lifestyle, food, and more.
Where else can you learn about a Florida retiree’s invention, pickleball—a cross between ping-pong and tennis. The game’s even got its own association and official rules.
So Teri, what’s a Baby Boomer?
TERI: When I am asked to explain who is a Baby Boomer (and I get that a lot since I have spent six years writing about us), I know what to expect. What’s the age span for Boomers, they will ask, you know, just what years are we talking about here? When I tell them that Baby Boomers were born during an 18-year span, they are generally OK with the beginning year -- 1946 -- since that was what they already had in mind (i.e., the end of WWII). But many are mildly shocked when they hear the later end of the span -- 1964. Not me, they cry. I am way too young to be lumped in with those boomers.
HALLIE: Sounds famliar.
TERI: To that I say, ha! Who wouldn’t want to be one of us? We are youthful and fun-loving people. Just ask and we will confirm it, telling you all about ourselves, more than you ever needed to know. For the most part, we are always keen for an adventure, but we know how to work hard and expect a lot from the world, sometimes having to tamp down our “me” generation qualities just a tad.
No rocking chairs on porches for this crowd. Boomers would rather be jumping out of airplanes than sitting around on the couch or planning a volunteer vacation to Africa than hoarding plastic bags in their kitchens.
Boomers like to spend time together, but they are also very interested in what the other generations have to say, especially their children’s. Admittedly, we are completely enamored with our children, which can be a drawback sometimes (though we might never see it), but this is not likely to change any time soon.
HALLIE: So who are the glitterati among the Boomers?
TERI: Hollywood is rife with Baby Boomers, of course. Can you figure out which celebrities on this list are Baby Boomers and which are Wannabes? You may be surprised!
1. Goldie Hawn
2. Kim Basinger
3. Treat Williams
4. Jeff Bridges
5. Martha Stewart
6. Tom Cruise
7. Ben Stiller
8. Brooke Shields
9. Susan Sarandon
10. Tim Robbins
11. George Lucas
12. Al Pacino
13. George Clooney
14. Charlie Sheen
15. Steve Martin
16. Diane Keaton
17. Farrah Fawcett
18. Elton John
19. Tom Selleck
20. Jo-Beth Williams
(Answers: 1 No, 2 Yes, 3 Yes, 4 Yes, 5 No, 6 Yes, 7 No, 8 No, 9 Yes, 10 Yes, 11 No, 12 No, 13 Yes, 14 No, 15 No, 16 Yes, 17 Yes, 18 Yes, 19 No, 20 Yes)
HALLIE: Okay, I confess, I missed a few of those.
Here’s Quiz II – which of these mystery writers are Boomers?
1. Sue Grafton
2. Janet Evanovich
3, Michael Connelly
4. Tess Gerritsen
5. Lisa Scottoline
6. Kate Atkinson
7. Rex Stout
8. Lawrence Block
9. Elmore Leonard
10. Sara Paretsky
11. P. D. James
12. Mary Higgins Clark
13. Laura Lippman
14. Dennis Lehane
15. Carl Hiaassen
16. Patricia Cornwell
17. Linda Fairstein
18. Elizabeth George
19. Walter Mosley
20. Robert Crais
(ANSWERS: 1 No, 2 No, 3 Yes, 4 Yes, 5 Yes, 6 Yes, 7 No, 8 No, 9 No, 10 Yes, 11 No, 12 No, 13 Yes, 14 No, 15 Yes, 16 Yes, 17 Yes, 18 Yes, 19 Yes, 20 Yes
And no, we are not interested in guesses as to which Jungle Red Writes are Boomers and which are not...
Monday, March 2, 2009
HALLIE: The other day I was typing a letter and at the end, I typed:
Such a great typo, because "beset" is what I truly feel, half the time. So not Zen.
Then, this morning I was writing a scene in my book and my character dropped her purse and "lounged for her lipstick" as it rolled away. Lounged for instead of lunged for. Another typo with great possibilities, possibly even a better verb.
Then, in "Never Tell a Lie" (thank you Hank for catching this one) I wrote: There were narrow aisles with housewares, mixing bowels and kitchen utensils and dish towels, alongside weed whackers and paint supplies. Bowels and towels. Maybe I was trying to rhyme?
Could be that it's genetic. My daughter tells me she wrote an entire paper about Janis Joplin's addiction to heroine. And then an essay on Savannah's pubic squares. She's also the one who, celebrating her first Passover in her own apartment, had her (Catholic) best friend hide the Kofi-annan instead of the Afikomen). Okay, you have to be Jewish to appreciate that.
Do you exhibit some creative unawareness, perhaps some Freudian insight in your typos?
RHYS: Remind me never to go to that store where they have the bowels and the kitchen utensils side by side. You have quite put me off my breakfast! I wonder if there is a Freudian side to typos? Mine are usually homonyms--there for their etc--because my brain has rushed on ahead and left my fingers to themselves. Sometimes it's just my bad spelling. I was a terrible speller as a child, unlike my best friend, who had been to a school where they got one hit with the cane for every spelling word they got wrong. Consequently she was the best speller I have ever met. Modern educators take note??
RO: Now that I'm working on a mini (2-3 days a week) I have tons of typos because the keyboard is smaller than a standard size and my chubby little fingers are flying all over the place. I have to be super careful, otherwise my writing looks like pig latin (no wisecracks!!)
On a regular basis..I misspell my own name and type Rosemray.
HALLIE: I have a computer with one of those mini-keyboards. The only way I can get even close to correct spelling is to poke the keys, one-finger typing.
Just got an email from a panel moderator for an upcoming conference who began her message by addressing the panelists as "Kindley authors" instead of "kindly."
HANK: Are you sure that was a mistake?
ROBERTA: I'm trying to think of typos, but my mind seems to be a dead bank. (Hallie had to help me with that one.) My last name is a fallow field when it comes to typos...Isbeil, Isabub, even one day, a letter came addressed to Rupert Sleiba. Then one day in the newspaper that usually screwed everything up, it was spelled perfectly--the day I came in dead last in a golf tournament, with a very high, extremely embarrassing score. I-S-L-E-I-B. Sigh.
HALLIE: ACK! You're reminding me of when I was giving a talk with my then co-author and I got introduced as Nora Ephron and he got introduced as Peter Zak (our character).
HANK: I'm howeling (oops) with laughter. I mean--how do you gracefully correct something like that?
I'm also laughing because I'm right now in the midst of proofing the typeset pages for my dear AIR TIME (I'm in a phase of liking it very much right now and that's fun. MIRA Sept 2009.)
Anyway, in one scene, I have the new Special Agent in Charge of the Boston office of the FBI talking.
"Your question is duly noted," the SAC replies. "But I repeat, classified. We're following big money. International smuggling. Child labor. Legitimate companies ripped off for millions."
Except in the typset version, it says: International snuggling.
I literally laughed for fifteen minutes. And I'm still laughing now. I guess it's a romantic suspense thing.
JAN: Lately, I've been mispelling my name a lot, ending emails Jn, instead of Jan. As if JAN is just so long, it requires an abbreviation. I think the nature of email and online communication is just going to provide more of these opportunities for humor and humiliation. Although I don't like typos, they bother me less when they are obvious typos. The kind everyone can spot. The public/pubic one is the most embarassing.
HALLIE: And Jan leaves us wondering if she's being deliberately ironic...
What's your favorite typo...and don't you hate it when your computer "fixes" a mistake and makes it even worse? (Like just now I almost used the SPELLCHECKER on this blog.)