Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

(With apologies and appreciation to Clement Moore...and maybe Dr. Seuss. And here's a little instant replay from last year..just for Auld Lang Syne.)

Twas the week before New Years'
And all through this site
Not a blogger was working
Not even to write.

Our books are all saved on our thumb drives with care
In hopes that bestseller lists soon would be there.
Our new novels were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of royalties danced in our heads.

The Jungle Red sisters, five east and one west
Had just settled our brains for a well-deserved rest.

When in PW’s pages--There arose such a clatter
We opened the mag to see what was the matter!

To the review pages we turned in a flash
To see Hallie and Jan both praised with panache!

The bookstores were loving “A for M’ by our Ro
And Rosemary’s gardener continued to grow!

And what to our wondering eyes should appear
Rhys and Hank pubbing new ones—and early next year!

But what makes us the happiest—keeps every day new?
We knew in a moment—it’s our blogging crew!

You listen, you chatter, you join in the game
We cheer you, we love you, we call you by name!

Thanks, Laura! Thanks Edith! Thanks Becky and Lee!
Thanks Michael, Susannah and S. Con-no-lly!

We love Maddy, and Rhonda, Felicia and Clare
We hope Amy and JB will always be there

To June and to Karen, to Marianne, too
Love to Janet. And Mo. And to Peter. (He’s new.)

Our guest bloggers were stellar
Chris! Mary! La Barnes?!
To the Paulas, and Maddee, and the fab Cathy Cairns.

To Jane, Gin and Charlaine (queen of the LIST!)
To the Femmes and to Lipstick--consider you're kissed.

Christina! Elizabeth! Alex! Michelle!
Hail “Anonymous” too—your comments are swell.

We had memories, recipes, tales of our youth
We’ve had jokes, and disasters, and telling the truth.
To the top of the lists! To the top of them all!
We’re revising, and writing, and sharing our call!

As dry words before our reviser’s pen fly
When they meet with cliché, and we fix them (we try):

We’ve landed at New Years, and our thoughts go to you
May you read perfect books, may your wishes come true!

May you waste not a word, may you write fresh and new
And fill all your stories with mysteries and clues

And remember: on days that things don’t turn out right
And you wonder if this was a fraud and a fright

You have sisters on line—there are six of us here!
And each one is wishing you all-the-year cheer.

And we all say—we love you! ‘Fore you click from our site--
Happy New Year to All
and long may you Write!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who Killed the PinUp Queen?

HANK: It's really difficult to go to a group appearance with Toni Kelner. She is SO FUNNY--and so droll and so soft-spokenly southernly hilarious, she has the audience in stitches (whatever that means) and they mob her afterwards, thronging for books. Her husband is a motivational genius, and her daughters are marvelous and hip and smart.

Bless their hearts. (Little southern humor I learned from Toni.)

Anyway--Toni is everywhere! Writing her own books, editing anthologies with someone named Charlaine Harris (heard of her?) and winning awards. She also is the absolute QUEEN of TV trivia! (We should try to stump her. Anyone? It's kind of impossible..)

But today, she's talking about another queen. A pin up queen.

The Mystery of Bettie Page

There were lots of pinup queens during the fifties, but only one Queen of the Pinups: Bettie Page. Her photos range from outdoorsy bikini shots that wouldn't even raise an eyebrow to seriously kinky bondage and domination pictures, and everything in between. But whether she was posed as a dream girl next door, a sultry vixen, a bound beauty, or a stern dominatrix, the camera loved her. Her photos were ubiquitous from 1951 to 1957--the best estimate is that she posed for half a million pictures and worked with almost all of the amateur and professional photographers in New York City. Then, at the height of her popularity, she left the modeling business.

That could have been the end of the story, but in the 1980s and 1990s, Bettie's photos started re-emerging, and artists based a multitude of drawings and comic books on her. As interest grew, the search for her began in earnest, and there were endless theories about her "disappearance." Had she been murdered by a mobster? Been abducted by a sheik for his harem? Gone into a convent? What could have happened to the so-called Dark Angel?

In 1993, Bettie finally came forward after having heard about the frenzied search. She was amazed that anybody even knew who she was, let alone cared. She'd been living in obscurity for most of her life, and was nearly broke at that point. For a few years, she would only give interviews by phone and if her likeness wasn't shown, saying that she wanted her fans to remember her as she had been, not as an old woman, but in 2003, she did allow her picture to be taken for Playboy, in which she'd last appeared as a Playmate of the Month for January 1955.

So what was the mystery of her disappearance? It was no mystery at all, really. She stopped modeling for a combination of reasons: she was getting older, the laws surrounding pinups--particularly where bondage was involved--were getting more strict, her acting career had never taken off, and she got religion. So she left New York and went on to live her life. She had some good times and sadly many bad times before fame found her again. Bettie died just over a year ago, but still continues to inspire artists, models, film makers, and even musicians (including Bob Dylan, who included an image of Bettie on the back page of the album booklet of his brand-new album, Christmas in the Heart).

More importantly to me, Bettie inspired this mystery writer to write Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in my "Where are they now?" series. My protagonist Tilda Harper is a freelance entertainment reporter who specializes in tracking down the formerly famous to write about them, so Bettie Page's story is right up her alley. Tilda interviews the once buxom Sandy Sea Chest, who has discovered late in life that there's still plenty of interest in her, and who has gone public with her story. When the former model is bludgeoned to death, Tilda sets out after the killer.

When I decided to use pinup queens for a backdrop for a mystery, I knew I wanted to draw on Bettie's story. But which story should I use? The story of the disappearance, and the fans' search for her years later? The real story of her life? Or the legends about what could have happened to her? I decided to use all three.

Sandy, the murder victim, takes pleasure in her pinup past and capitalizes on it with a web site from which she sells autographed photos and t-shirts. But another former pinup Tilda encounters is desperate that her past--which she considers sordid--stay deeply hidden. And a third has disappeared completely, even more thoroughly than Bettie did, creating a special challenge for Tilda.

Of course, none of these stories are exactly what happened to Bettie Page and none of these characters are exactly like Bettie herself. Despite all that's been written about her, and all the pictures, and the movies of her, and the movies about her, she's still a bit of an enigma. I suppose the irony is that even though Bettie bared all for the camera, she still kept her secrets.

Of course you can't wait to read the book--comment for a chance to win an autographed copy! And if you have a TV trivia question for Toni--let's see if she can answer..

Toni L.P. Kelner multitasks. In mysteries, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in her "Where are they now?" series, is just hitting the shelves. In urban fantasy, she edits anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Death's Excellent Vacation is due out in August. In short stories, she has her first noir story coming out in March in Carolyn Haine's anthology Delta Blues. Kelner has won the Agatha Award and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, and has been nominated for two other Agathas, four Anthonys, and two Macavitys. She lives north of Boston with author/husband Stephen Kelner, two daughters, and two guinea pigs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'The most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.'
**Library Journal*starred review

When Brad Parks' editor asked me to blurb his book, FACES OF THE GONE, I said sure, send it, I’ll read it. Fellow journalist, good guy, St. Martin’s publishes the only highest quality. It’s probably going to be fine.

When I closed the book, I mulled it over for a bit, then handed it to my husband. I said: Honey? Could you read this, too? What I didn’t say: I thought it was such fun and so good—I figured somehow I might be wrong. But Jonathan agreed.

I have one little problem with it—smiling now—which Brad understands full well. And I’m sure he wont be able to resist talking about it.

HANK: What was the first seed of your book that you thought of? The main character? The twist of the plot? The setting. When did you think—oh, hey, this could work!

BRAD: In my case, it was the crime. I had covered this quadruple homicide in Newark, this grisly, execution-style slaying: Four people shot in the back of the head, left to die in a vacant lot. The crime was a total mystery. No one knew who did it, why, or even how these four people in particular had come to know each other. So one day -- with the real-life murder still unsolved -- I just started typing. I invented this journalism-hero protagonist, Carter Ross, a guy who was the kind of investigative reporter I maybe always hoped I could be. And, page by page, he solved the crime for me. Though, to be honest, I really had no clue what I was doing. It was pretty much a high wire act right until the moment I typed "the end." Then I had to go back and try to make it seem like I knew what I was doing all along.

HANK: So recently you got--an email? And the subject line says: Library Journal review.

BRAD: Yep, it was an e-mail from my editor at St. Martin's, Toni Plummer, and it came in at 8:51 a.m. on the last Wednesday in October. The subject line was "FW: FACES OF THE GONE LJ." The top of it, the part Toni had written, simply said "One word: Wow." I read the review, then calmly poured myself a spot of tea...

No, actually, I started parading around my home office (which also doubles as my kids' playroom), tripping over Thomas the Tank Engine trains while impersonating a marching band doing "STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER." I must have done this for close to 10 minutes, because my reply to my editor went out at 9:01 a.m., and it read: "One question: Do you think 'The most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.' would fit on a tattoo? Because I'm about to have that inscribed on my chest." Shortly thereafter my agent, Jeanne Forte Dube, called and said, "Forget tattoos. I'm thinking Turnpike billboards!" And then we took turns hyperventilating for a while.

HANK: Having a first novel published is such a complicated thing. You see your actual book. There it is, the thing you loved, and worked on for so long, and it actually exists. I don't know about you, but I look at every person on the street, assessing: have they read it?
Tell me about what you're thinking these days.

BRAD: Well, first off, Hank, you're so popular, everyone you pass on the street probably HAS read your novel.

HANK: Oh, absolutely. They all wear I Heart Hank t-shirts. And I get all the good tables at restaurants.

BRAD: That's only because they're afraid you'll go undercover and expose unsanitary practices in their kitchens if they're not nice to you. Anyhow, what was the question again?

HANK: (You guys see what I mean, here...) Anyway, Brad, what's it like being a debut author? Heady? Humbling?

BRAD: I guess I'm still in that phase where I find it incredibly gratifying that anyone -- other than my mother or someone legally required by the bonds of marriage to do so -- wants to read my book. And if they actually like it? I start to get a little dizzy. My publication date was Dec. 8 and on Dec. 9 I got my first piece of legitimate fan mail from a woman named Maureen in Massachusetts. It began, "I just finished your first book...WOW. As an avid reader of mysteries, I can't wait until your next book." In some ways, getting a note like that is even better than the Library Journal review, because it came from a real reader who said she had never written an author before but just felt moved to do so in this case. I mean, getting a note like that, I felt like I could have flown all the way to Massachusetts to thank her personally.

HANK: (She wrote me that, too. Oh, gee, not really…but I know what you mean. A stranger—reads your book and likes it. That’s a real moment.) )So, your life is changing. After you get back from thanking the Massachusetts fan—are you thinking of yourself in a different way? The pressures? The—expectations? The lack of control over your future? (Or are you still just reveling?)

BRAD: Paaaaarty!! Wha? Huh? Were you sayin' somethin' Hank?? I'm having a tough time hearing 'cuz the music is so loud. Okay, there we go (had to find the volume control). I guess I AM really trying to heed the advice everyone gives a first-time author, which is: Your debut only comes once, so enjoy it. And I am. I mean, the notion that someone actually wants my signature on a book I've written? Incredible. That's just not getting old anytime soon. Of course, it probably helps that Book Nos. 2 and 3 in the series are already written. That takes some of pressure off. As for "the future," I guess I've tried to take a very long-term view. The fact is, writing books is my dream and it's what I want to keep doing for the rest of my life. So I figure I've got a long time to build an audience and can enjoy the process of doing that one book -- and one reader -- at a time. I don't know. Is that naive?

HANK: When someone asks-what do you do for a living—what do you say? Seriously, if you can.

BRAD: Usually I just say, "I'm a writer." But I'm thinking I need to change that. Because I think when you say "I'm a writer" I think what people hear is, "I'm a shiftless, lazy, unemployed bum who is only pretending to be a writer so you will be slightly less ashamed of me." Example: For more than a year now, I've been writing at this coffee house nearby me. I probably see the owner of this coffee house four, five times a month, and we always chat and exchange pleasantries. Finally, publication date comes, and we hold a big book launch party at my wife's school. Well, who should show up but the owner of the coffee house -- only he's looking at me in a whole new light, apologizing the whole time. "Everyone comes into my cafe and says they're a writer," he said. "I didn't know you were a real writer." So maybe I need to start saying "I'm an author." I don't know. Still feels a bit... pretentious or something. Or maybe I just need to bring my son everywhere with me. He's two-and-a-half. When you ask him what Daddy does for work, he says, "Daddy is auffer. He writes books."

HANK: Rewind a moment. Your Book 2 and 3 are already written? Are you daft, man?

BRAD: Darnit, Hank! Here I was going to try to go this whole interview without pointing out the inherent superiority of print reporters to TV reporters, and now you've forced it out of me. See, unlike you beautiful people on TV, who can get by on your charm and good looks, we lowly, humble newspaper reporters learn to work for a living. So that's what I've been doing. I signed my book deal in July 2008 -- and book No. 1 was written by that point, of course. It's now December 2009. So, two more books in 18 months? Really not that big a deal. I mean, shoot, James Patterson has probably published 28 books during that span.

HANK: Ahem. Happily, you don’t have to rely on TV reporters purchasing your books to make you a best-seller! And don’t worry, I won’t mention this to any of my pals on the Today Show or Oprah. (Just kidding.) (Probably.)

And just to prove there's no hard feelings, Jungle Red is giving away an autographed copy of FOTG! Just comment to be entered to win.

Brad Parks debut novel, Faces of the Gone, is the first in a series from St. Martin's Press (December 2009). Parks relied on his experiences as a staff writer at The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger to create Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for the fictional Newark Eagle-Examiner. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks lives in Virginia with his wife and two children. His website is

Monday, December 28, 2009

Phoning It In

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you."
**attributed to Alexander Graham Bell as the first phone call in 1876.

"There's an app for that."
**attributed in some circles to Alexander Graham Bell (the twentieth) as the first call on the iphone.

HANK: Love-hate. Approach-avoidance. That's my relationship with my cell phone. It's--complicated. (I have a regular flip-phone. Usually the batteries are charged.) Jonathan wanted to get me an iphone for Christmas. "Yes! Wonderful!" I said. All enthusiastic about access and connections and all the general cool stuff I could do.

Then three minutes later, I changed my mind.

As much as I want a cool phone, I don't want one. I was on the elevator the other day, and the other person in the 'vator with me was on her iphone. Completely, totally focused on her phone. She didn't even flicker a look at me. The doors opened, and in walked another person, focused on HER little screen. The phone-people didn't look at each other, didn't acknowledge me. They were in phone world.

At booksignings recently, I've seen people walk into stores, oblivious. Focused
on their phones. They're not even where they are--they're in phone world. Their only reality is on the small screen.

I vote: no. Probably because I know my own weaknesses. I'd easily be right there in total phone world. And I don't wanna go. You?

ROBERTA: I did go for the iphone and I love it when I travel--no need to lug the heavy computer unless of course, I'm planning to do some writing:). My hub and I are addicted to the maps application--after that first doozy of a fight when I didn't get how to use it and we drove past our turn-off at least three times. John uses his like an ipod too, listening to podcasts and Spanish lessons while he exercises.

But I'm not a phone addict. I don't have it with me half the time and I don't feel obligated to answer every time it rings. I think that phone world thing can happen no matter what kind of instrument you use. Don't you think?

HALLIE: Is it the people or the phones? Especially I see the rudeness at the checkout counter, where the customer is doing the phone thing and not even bothering to thank or make eye contact with the clerk.

HANK: Hmm, you may have a great point there...

HALLIE: Still, if someone GAVE me one I wouldn't return it. I love being able to search for a great restaurant NEAR the street corner I'm standing on. But the value of most of the apps would escape me.

RO: I'm not a phone person so my having an Iphone would be a little like someone who hated to drive having a Maserati. I rarely call anyone and when my phone rings it's usually because my husband's phone has accidentally gone off in his backpack. I did need to replace my phone this year and it took me months to it because I don't enjoy buying new electronics.

I did own an Iphone for about 7 hours. It never left the Apple store though because it took 7 hours for the "geniuses" to erase all the mail on my minicomputer and then try to retrieve it from the "cloud" or wherever they'd sent it. (They never did, so if anyone emailed me last April and I didn't respond, it wasn't my fault.)I was there so long I saw the employee shift change. They saw a change in me too. I started out nice enough but by the time I left I'd turned into Cruella DeVil. I have a feeling some of the employees are still undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eventually I bought a Blackberry which I long as I remember to charge it and take it with me.

JAN: Well, I almost got an I-Phone for Christmas, but the AT&T store in Manhattan screwed up so badly, changing the price at the last minute, Bill walked out. ATT shut off my service, by mistake, and it took four days to get my service AND internet access on my L-G phone back The moral of this story:

Cell phones don't always make life easier. They actually take quite a bit of work in the buying and maintaining (of course I maintain FOUR of them for the family. )

Bottom line?? I got a MAC instead. And I'm totally psyched!! But I agree with Hallie, it's not the phone its the phone USER. I really hate getting calls on my cell. I always find it startling and inconvenient, so I don't encourage people to call. And its also really rude when people are texting someone else when they are with you. But sometimes texting is the most well behaved way to communicate. (ie. I tell my kids if they AREN'T coming home, to text me instead of calling. This way, IF I WAKE up to worry, I can see they are all right, but they don't wake me to let me know they are all right.)

And Hank, from one email addict to another -- I was worried I'd be checking email all the time on my cell phone -- but on the LG at least, it's okay to read, but a pain to reply, so I tend not to get into it It's strictly as NEEDED.

RHYS: I have the most basic cell phone and only use it to call John and tell him my flight just landed or I'm in hotel room number 309. He only uses his to ask if we're out of Brussels sprouts and did I pick up a newspaper.
There is one great benefit of cellphones. I have always driven around in my car to work through a scene I'm writing. I like to talk my way through it, dialog and all. In the past people would look at me as if I was crazy, driving along, talking, animated. Not any longer. They just assume I'm on the Bluetooth.
But don't you find it worrying when people walk toward you talking to themselves? I never know whether they are crazy or just on their cell phone.

HANK: Or, you try to talk to them and they can't hear you because their ears are plugged up.

RHYS: But I must confess--I have an ipod touch.

(HANK: Oops.)

RHYS: It does all the cool things that the iphone does (without the ATT involvement) I can check email, Google Maps, weather, stocks, find restaurants. The only problem is that I need the wifi hotstop. I only wanted it to play my music so I haven't yet invested in any apps, games or cool stuff. But I may download Scrabble and even virtual tennis.
HANK: Virtual tennis. Sigh.
BREAKING NEWS: Hallie's smashing best-seller NEVER TELL A LIE is now out in paperback! Cue the marching bands and majorettes...! And it's an INDIEBOUND feature.
HANK: And now--how about you all? Are you going to order Hallie's book on your iphone? Or where do you stand in the communication wars?
(Coming up this week: Toni LP Kelner! (And free books) Brad Parks! (And free books.) Thursday, something special. And Friday--looking ahead to--gulp--2010.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

On Christmas

We hope Santa filled your fondest wishes. Ours is that you have Happy Christmas!

Here's today's entry from Hallie's "The Bibliophile's Devotional"

Dec 25

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

There’s a reason this short story, written in 1955 for radio, has become a classic. The voice of a small child wonders: Could Christmas really have been so different years and years ago. The narrator answers: “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”

The vivid imagery and rolling rhythm of the prose cry out to be read aloud before a roaring fire on Christmas.

Born in Wales in 1914, Dylan Thomas had already begun to make his mark as a poet by the age of eighteen. This work— based on a piece Thomas wrote for the BBC and an article he penned for
Picture Post magazine—was published in a 1954 volume of collected works, Quite Early One Morning, a year after Thomas’s unexpected death at the age of thirty-nine. He is buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.

“In a way Thomas is a simple poet; as with Blake, his prophetic revelations are based upon songs of innocence.”
—Louis MacNeice, New York Times

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On "Love, Loss, and What I Wore"

HALLIE: My sisters, Delia and Nora Ephron, have written a wonderful play that’s off-Broadway right now, “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” It’s based on the poignant illustrated book/memoir by Ilene “GingyBeckerman. To Gingy’s stories they added lots more, including some that I recognized (Nora and her bottomless purse, Delia and her hot pink Mexican wedding skirt). Even my daughter got into the act, collecting bra stories from her friends.

What is it about women and clothes?

DELIA: we start young. Really it's the first thing we get to chose -- what to wear. Even before we get to decide what we want to eat, our moms let us pick out what we are going to wear that day. So we define ourselves with clothes from the start. And we shop with our mom's and we rebel with clothes when we're teenagers. And don't forget dress-up -- I mean "play," pretending to be other people, clomping around in our mom's high heels.

HALLIE: We’re not talking about “fashion” here, right?

DELIA: Absolutely. Not fashion. This play is about the clothes we wore and the memories they trigger. We always remember what we were wearing when ... we fell in love, broke up, and so on and so forth. The stories of our lives told through our clothing.

HALLIE: Of course, our mother picked our clothes growing up. I don’t know why but the dress I remember you wearing as a child is a dark blue and white striped taffeta dress with a drop waist and a swishy skirt, and a red velvet bow at the neck. Do you remember that dress? I was so happy when I grew into it.

DELIA: Now that's interesting. I thought mom let us pick all our clothes. And that dress -- I die when I see myself in it. I was built like a stick, and that dress required someone with curves. And that bow!

HALLIE: What can I say? It was yours, so I coveted it!

The production features five actresses with a cast that rotates every six weeks or so. I went to see it with a half-dozen friends from college. We saw Rhea Pearlman and her daughter Lucy DeVito, Kristin Chenoweth, Capathia Jenkins, and Rita Wilson. They were so phenomenal and seemed to be having so much fun doing it. Do you get to work with the actresses, and how do you decide which one gets to perform which story?

DELIA: Yes and it is the most fun. We rotate in a new cast every month. Since the play is a collection of stories, with each new cast, we have to decide which actors are right for each piece.

The audience I saw this with was rocking, from the minute the cast walked on stage. Do you get to watch audiences respond and talked with them after they’ve seen the show?

The actors love to do the show because the audience -- which is mostly women, since this is the story of women's lives -- are very interactive. What happens is that the show triggers your own memories -- so the audience is having a really personal experience. And often they don't want to leave the theater because they are so busy talking to their friends about their own experiences. But not all audiences are alike -- and no two performances are alike -- so there is always the excitement and anxiety, what will this show be like.

HALLIE: After the show I couldn't stop thinking about clothes. The date decision: whether or not to wear a padded bra. The California shoes that nearly dissolved in a New York City rainstorm my first day at college. Not knowing what to wear to my mother's funeral.

What are the clothes that meant something to you?

DELIA: My crocheted dresses that were so, so short and so so sexy that I used to wear everywhere, even to work, when I was in my twenties. My raspberry silk sweater -- I can see it so clearly -- I wore it on my first date with my husband. I was wearing it when the menu caught fire in the restaurant. Very symbolic.

HALLIE: How about you? Please, tell us about something special and what it meant.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In praise of skirts...

HALLIE: I miss skirts. Remember the days when hemlines made headlines?

They went from just below the knee (at school they made us kneel and your skirt had to touch the floor), to barely below your fanny, to the course of a few years (I'm not saying how long ago this was).

I was too late for poodle skirts, but my older sister had one that I coveted. Wish I'd saved that long black velvet skirt I wore for the holidays, and a swirly-twirly patchwork skirt made of strips of pastel ginghams, and that short leather skirt that barely cleared my fanny(tights and over-the-knee boots were de rigueur with that one).

Nowadays there's no one hemline, and though the stores are awash in sweaters and over-the-knee-socks, and sure there are plenty of suits and dresses, where are the skirts designed for folks past puberty? It's (almost) enough to make me drag out the sewing machine.

Do you yearn for skirts?

JAN: Well I play tennis, so skirts are very much a part of my everyday life. The question there is pleats? no pleats? What is Maria wearing?? What is Nike pushing?? But even in my non-athletic world, I just bought a new skirt this summer in France. But I don't think I have the nostalgia for skirts that you do. Usually I look better and feel better in pants. Even when I find the perfect skirt,it never seems to become a staple in my wardrobe -- outside of tennis that is.

RO: I LOVE skirts and have dozens. The leather, the silver sequined, silk, lace, denim, the one slit up to there and the long ones I wear to the opera. Some days only a skirt will do. You walk differently when you wear one. The other night I wore a pencil skirt and felt like an Italian movie star! I'm just sorry I didn't go all out and resurrect the elbow length gloves.

Hallie, it's not too late to get that poodle skirt..okay maybe sans poodle..but that swingy flared skirt, ...twin set..go for it!

If you wear your skirt to ALA, I'll wear mine.

ROBERTA: The trouble with skirts is shoes. Since I have a resistant case of plantar fascitis, I can't wear a lot of fashionable shoes or boots--especially narrow toes and high heels. But I love summertime skirts with Mephisto sandals. For a while it was hard to find them, but they are back in stores now I have a whole cedar closet full of wool skirts, mid-calf length. Not sure when I'll ever wear them but I can't bear to throw them away...And Jan, the same closet is full of my tennis skirts--mostly pleated. Can't wear those either, but they're there waiting, in case of a medical miracle.

Oh, and I have a black and white faux fur cow skirt that is simply aching for the right occasion--price tag still on it. Any suggestions?

RO: What's a cow skirt? Does it come with udders?

HALLIE: Roberta, sounds like we need to throw a hoedown! (Before ALA in Boston?)

Yes, the shoes are a problem.

The OTHER trouble with skirts is panty hose. ICK ICK ICK.

HANK: See, my problem is pants. I don't like to wear--slacks, trousers, whatever you call 'em. I wear skirts and dresses to work every day. I have some puffy shaped big skirts I wear with little jackets, long straight ones for boots, a row of black pencil skirts for white shirts and red belts. Suede, leather, fleece, lace. On TV, you can wear the most staid black jacket that will show on the air--with a slinky leopard skirt that no one at home will see.

And because the legs are the last to go, short skirts and tights are still (barely) doable. (Although not as short as some of those I see on office interns. Yikes!Did I do that at age 22?)

And for the holidays, I love big gorgeous ball gown skirts with a turtleneck sweater and lots of pearls and velvet ballet flats. I wish I had a huge jewel-toned plaid, long and satin--the kind my mother used to try to make me wear when I was a little girl and I loathed. Now, I see what she meant.

And Roberta, a cow skirt? I do have a suggestion. Maybe--smiling--send it to ME?

HALLIE: Legs ARE the last to go! That's priceless and so true.

Wednesday, we'll still be talking about clothes--but not in the fashion sense. Come back and meet one of the authors of the off-Broadway smash hit, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," who also happens to be my sister Delia.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Love Actually - All I Want For Christmas Is You

...gremlins in the machine

Love Actually - All I Want For Christmas Is You

Happy Holidays!!! (just click on the link to Youtube and/or the small pix underneath)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ho, ho, ho....

Hopefully we've gotten you into the holiday spirit with recipes, gift ideas and most important - book buying recommendations.
What keeps you in the holiday mood? For me, it's holiday movies ...and baking.

Two years ago, I was too lazy to move all the furniture in my living room and decided to put my Christmas tree in my kitchen. It was a brilliant move.

I should probably explain that my house has an open floor plan so I can still see the tree from the living area, but it's changed everything (and I can get a taller tree.) I've also started collecting ornaments that are cooking or baking related - got three charming tea cup ornaments last year and a set of snowmen chefs.

Anyway..while I'm in the kitchen admiring my tree and baking I require even more visual stimulation. Rolling dough can be zenlike, but it can also be a tad boring. That's where the movies come in.
So this year's must-watch holiday films, which are very much like last year's are -
The Snowman - adore this book, this film AND the music.

A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim version) - the quintessential Scrooge

Scrooged (Bill Murray) - "can't we staple the antlers to the mouse's head?"

Scrooge (Albert Finney) -esp., the rousing "Thank You Very Much" number

The Bishop's Wife - it's Cary Grant, what's not to like?
Falling in Love - I was so pleased to see Sandra Brown - on the S&S website - say this was one of her favorite holiday movies. Me too. And I love the Dave Grusin music. And last but not least

..Love Actually. Can you ever see that movie too many times??? Not me. I may actually be wearing out my dvd.
So, on the outside chance that I haven't already named them, what are your favorite holiday movies?
JAN: Miracle on 34th Street, with the young Natalie Wood, is the only holiday movie I can watch over and over again. I like Its a Wonderful Life, but I've maxed out on it.
RO: It's a Wonderful Life used to be a must-see for me. I started a public domain video line in the 80's and that was far and away our biggest seller. I've seen it dozens of times so I've taken a break too. "Sentimental hogwash!" but we love it. It will eventually work its way back into the rotation.

Re MOTFS - I was in Macy's this week on a wooden escalator so old I kept thinking I was going to see Maureen O'Hara or Edmund Gwenn somewhere.

HALLIE: I'll happily spend another hour and a half with Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" (surely Malcolm in the Middle was smoking this)
Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you'll shoot your eye out
And if we're talking radio, I love listening to David Sedaris's "Santa's Little Helper" (diary of an elf at Macy's department store)

RO: How could I forget A Christmas Story??? Frrra-geeee-laaaayyy!

HANK: Love, Actually. NO question. I burst into tears thinking about it. I play the CD all year. I think about it every time I'm at the airport. It's just so--personal.

RO: I'm with Hank. If you are too, come back on Saturday for a Love Actually treat!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Six Word Memoirs

JR: Today we welcome Jen Forbus, a diehard mystery fan, book blogger and the force behind a very interesting project which she's going to tell us about.

JF: Wow! This is the first time I’ve been asked to guest blog. I’m so flattered that the wonderful women of Jungle Red are hosting me today. And even better, they’re letting me talk about my pet project – “You Have the Right to Six Words: Six-Word Memoirs from Crime Fiction’s Greatest Writers.”

Just before I started highlighting authors on my blog, a friend showed me a book called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: SIX WORD MEMOIRS OF WRITERS FAMOUS AND OBSCURE. It was compiled by SMITH Magazine when they revived the challenge that was rumored to have been given to Hemingway: “write a story in six words.” (RO: If I'm not mistaken Hemingway's six word novel was For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.)
I enjoyed the memoirs. Many were funny, some were thought-provoking, but none were written by the authors I most wanted to hear from. That’s how the question became part of my regular interview on my blog.

It didn’t take long for me to see the response to that question. People would comment about the authors’ responses, they’d email and mention the memoirs in conversation. The authors responding often remark that they liked the question. It was fun; it was harder than they thought; it made them really think. Everyone was looking forward to that question with each interview. So, a scheme started to hatch in my brain. I wanted to find a way to recap all the memoirs that had been submitted in interviews, but I also thought maybe there would be authors who didn’t necessarily have the time or the desire to do an entire interview, but they would be interested in just submitting a six-word memoir. I could blend the recap together with new interviews and make it a feature of its own.

When the little wheels start turning in my brain, they don’t seem to be able to stop - once in motion, they stay in motion! So, at this point the wheels are turning, and I did some calculations: how many new authors would I need to be able to do this for 9 or 10 weeks? It could be a summer feature. So, I sent out my first four invitations to the six-word memoir project. I thought, “What the heck? All they can say is say ‘no’, right?” When James Lee Burke responded with the first six-word memoir submission, I almost fell out of my chair. Then I floated on Cloud 9 for about a week. More submissions started to come in, and with each submission, I grew more and more energized about the project.

Initially I spent about two months collecting memoirs before anything was posted. The response from readers to the first post was overwhelming, which only fueled my enthusiasm that much more. I continued collecting memoirs and 29 weeks later, I wrapped the first season of “You Have the Right to Six Words: Six-Word Memoirs from Crime Fiction’s Greatest Writers.” I guess technically I should have titled it “You’ve the Right to Six Words,” but regardless of what you call it, I had such a wonderful time talking to authors, meeting NEW authors and sharing with readers. If you peruse the whole series you’ll notice quite of few of the ladies from Jungle Red participated. There are writers from all over the world in every sub-genre of crime fiction. I feel very blessed that the crime fiction community was so generous with their time; this project really is precious to me. I think it embodies what the crime fiction community is all about. Everyone made it work, not just me. I had willing authors, excited readers and an unbelievable support network. The only problem is I’ve lost my signature final question for my interviews. I’m still trying to come up with a new one.

Since the feature has been so popular, I have decided to try and make a Season 2 next year. I’ve started contacting more authors already, and I’ll work on collecting up the memoirs to start again next May.

In the interim, I created a tangible memento of this project. I made a scrapbook of the memoirs. It’s actually expanded to two scrapbooks now and it isn’t finished, so we may end up in the vicinity of four scrapbooks before all is said and done. But, I worked very hard to finish all the memoir pages of those authors who would be at Bouchercon in Indianapolis. I had each of the authors sign his/her memoir page, and I’ve started adding pictures of the authors as well. As I find the chances to meet more of the authors who participated, I plan to collect more and more signatures in the books. Maybe one day they will all be signed!

The one memoir I would have loved to have gotten but wasn’t able to was Robert Crais, so if anyone knows how I can manage to snag that, let me know! ;)

O.k., I couldn’t come as a guest to Jungle Red without bringing a gift. So, I’m going to give away a Mystery Lovers Bookshop $15 gift certificate and tote bag to a reader who shares his/her favorite memoir from this year’s collection. (And if you’re not aware, if you spend $10 online at MLB, shipping is free in the U.S. – so that’s $15 of stuff no matter where you live in the U.S.) All you need to do is read the memoirs over at my blog
( ) and then leave your favorite one in the comments here at Jungle Red. On December 26th I’ll take all the entries, put them in the hat and pull a lucky winner. Make sure you leave a contact email so I can get a hold of you if you win.
Thanks so much to Jungle Red for having me today and for everyone stopping by to visit! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Still shopping...?

RO: ....then again a candle or a cashmere sweater never changed anyone's life (see Hank's comment below) so we're going to recommend some books (not our own or each other's) that would make great holiday presents or stocking stuffers.
Whether you shop at the big box stores, the chains, your favorite indie or online bookseller, books are wonderful gifts. They don't make you fat or get you drunk. They'll never shrink or pill, and you can't possibly buy the wrong size. They're easy to wrap. And there are a zillion to choose from....Here are some of my favorites from this year.
Merry, Merry Ghost by Carolyn Hart
The Living Witness by Jane Haddam
A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory
The Witch Doctor's Wife by Tamar Myers
and my non-mystery selection, which I confess I haven't yet read but my husband read so many passages aloud to me I almost feel as if I had,
Vanderbilt, The First Tycoon by TJ Stiles

ROBERTA: I can't recommend hardcover mysteries because I'm sitting on the Edgar committee this year. But here are some others:

LIT by Mary Karr (memoir, haven't read this yet, but I can't wait)JEREMY DRAWS A MONSTER (a very cute kid's book that I first saw at the New England Booksellers convention)THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass--for the writer on your list.
Any of the Kristan Higgins books for stocking stuffers for ladies who love smart romance
RHYS: I'm a big fan of Connie Willis, the science-fiction/speculative fiction writer and I'm just re-reading all her books in anticipation of the new one coming out in February. I heartily recommend her blissful romp TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. In cheerless times what a fun read this book is. And her Doomsday book evokes Christmas past in a most realistic way.At this moment I can't think of any newly published books that I thought were outstanding. I don't believe it was a stellar year--what do you think?

JAN: Hey, this is what I just did on the radio (Reading With Robin) but minus your books, which according to these rules we can't suggest.

My absolute favorite book: Recommended to me by Julia Spencer Fleming -- although not a mystery, was Here If you Need Me, by Kate Braestrup. It's a memoir about a mother of four whose husband, a state trooper, gets killed in a car accident and she fulfills his DREAM of being a minister. She works with the Maine Game Wardens going out to find people lost in the woods and often has to offer support to the survivors. The funny thing -- and yes, this book is actually funny as well as poignant -- is that she was raised atheist. Her views are wider and deeper than merely ecumenical.

Next is Lynn Griffin's, Life Without Summer, which is sort of a mystery, but also Women's Fiction. And in the mystery category, Spencer Quinn's (aka Peter Abrahams) Dog On It -- which is laugh out loud funny.

HANK: I brought DOG ON IT to the last SinC one of my fave books! I can't talk about recent mysteries, since I'm judging for the Mary Higgins Clark category fo the Edgars. But--I'm loving BEAUTIFUL CREATURES...a wonderful mystical strange and beautiful book. I can't wait to read U is for UNDERTOW, the new Sue Grafton, since after Crime Bake, I'm such a ridiculous fangirl. And people are loving the new Stephen King, UNDER THE DOME. (I'm going to read soon as I get finished judging.) I love the INDIEBOUND slogan: "Buy books. A scented candle never changed anyone's life."

HALLIE: 2009 was an outstanding year for crime novels. Just a few of my favorites:
LOOT THE MOON by Mark Arsenault
THE BROKEN TEA GLASS by Emily Arsenault (no relation to the above)
A BAD DAY FOR SORRY by Sophie Littlefield
JUMP by Tim Maleeny
BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell

And yes DOG ON IT by Spencer Quinn (aka Peter Abrahams)
RO: So, opinions and choices as varied as - well, as we are.
Come back tomorrow to meet Jen Forbus and learn about the 6 Word Memoir Project.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's the thought that counts...sure it is.

RO: I know I'm supposed to feel it's the thought that counts - and every other year I'm good at pretending I really like the gift that my darling husband buys me. But every OTHER year I can't seem to suppress the urge to say something along the lines of "what posessed you??" or "gee, I guess this will go with all of the other Carmela Soprano-like jewelry I have."

As soon as the words leave my lips I regret them. If I don't actually utter the offensive words, there's still "the look." The frozen smile. The eyebrows disappearing into my bangs. I'm horrible...I know it.

But I can't help it.

We've been together now for close to 20 years and if you count Christmas, birthdays and Valentine's Day presents that makes approximately 60 times I've had to grin and bear it...and pretend to like the autographed picture of Alan Houston..the camera that wasn't the model I asked for..the incredibly expensive earrings that would look lovely on a 25 yr old hooker or the dvd of The Sound of Music (I'm more Martin Scorsese than Maria von Trapp.)
He tries so hard - he's taken to emailing my friends and asking them for advice. But it's no good. If it's possible to misinterpret or hear a name wrong, he will. If I want silver, he gets gold.

To be honest, I'm not the best gift buyer either. I had a good run in the early 2000's - kayak, telescope, prescription diving mask, bicycle. But I'm running out of ideas and he's running out of hobbies. Right now his favorite activity is reading The New Yorker. And he gets a comp subscription. If I buy him another sweater he's going to have to learn the Mr. Rogers song..."Will you be my friend?"

It's not that either of us needs more stuff, but I'd just like to open a present one day and think "Wow! That's just what I wanted!!"

So..on the outside chance that some significant others are reading this post, what do you all want for the holidays?

JAN: I want to NOT spend a ridiculous amount of money on Christmas. I say that every year, it never works. Bill loves Christmas. He's frugal about a lot of other stuff, so I can't complain.
He knows to consult me first on jewelry decisions (but we've been together 33 years, and its taken that long....) and it helps to have a daughter with excellent taste. She considers it her personal mission to do most of his Xmas shopping for him..... I lucked out.
PS. Have you heard that Verizon ad: "If it really was the thought that counted, wouldn't there be thoughts underneath the tree?"
RO: I love it!
RHYS: I learned long ago to be specific if I wanted something males are not good at buying. eg: Go into Nordstroms, first jewelry counter on the right, third necklace from the left. (or even tell them that my husband will be coming in so please help him). But having been married waaaaay longer than 20 years, I've resorted to pyschology. I ask for presents that a. he will approve of and b. he will have to research--his favorite occupation. So last year I got the most fabulous camera. I am still in love with it. One thing that doesn't work is to say, "I'd love a surprise." I said that one year and got Winston Churchill's War War 11, because he wanted it. My problem with him is that he doesn't want presents. If he needs something he goes out and buys it. Even if it's a week before Christmas he'll go to the store and buy what he wants. Infuriating.

RO: Bruce does that too! He just bought a laptop and a December..what's up with that??? ( was the Winston Churchill documentary? Was it The Finest Hours..I loved that one.)

HALLIE: I love soap. Seriously. Especially if it smells like mango or tangerine. Or dark chocolate-covered just-about-anything. Or tulips--especially near the end when they get that "in flagrante" look and seem to be about to fling their petals. Oh yeah, and good caviar and champagne. Generally speaking, give me sensual stuff that disappears when it's used up.

RO: Sensual stuff that disappears when it's used up? Do you think you were a man in a previous lifetime?

ROBERTA: I'm like Rhys, I don't leave too much to chance. I've been known to even order the item in question and then hand it over to be wrapped. My inner control freak at work, I'm afraid. Last year my hub turned up with a gift certificate to the store he knows I love. Now that was a great surprise! And he almost always delivers a box of chocolate-covered cherries from one of the local chocolate shops. He can never go wrong with that!

HANK: Jonathan is amazing at choosing jewelry, and that's what he generally buys. To my great delight.(When we first met, we were strolling down the street in Nantucket, and he said, "What kind of jewelry do you like?" I was so hilariously overwhelmed, I said, "Hang on a second, I have to go call my mother.") But this year, I don't need a thing. Not one thing. But I do love...shower gel. And grapefruit-smelling anything. And scarves and shawls. What to get Jonathan? One hundred per cent impossible.

RO: Yikes, with all this thinking, maybe it is the thought that counts. Aside from the thoughts, I'd like the last two seasons of the Sopranos on dvd, a signed copy of U is for Undertow, a white gold and pearl ring and a black cashmere sweater, but I promise to love whatever is under my tree this year.
(Stop back tomorrow for JR's favorite non-mystery books to give for the holidays. And visit us on Wednesday when book blogger extraordinaire Jen Forbus tells us about her incredible Six Word memoir project.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Holidaze

ROBERTA: 'Tis the season for marking the upcoming holidays and this year I'm finding decorating and baking to be a grand tool for procrastination. We have our tree up and decorated, lights outside and on the mantle, and I'm well into Christmas cards and wrapping presents. I've even contemplated dragging out the sewing machine and whipping up a few things. Besides that, I've made my first batch of sugar cookies--they're almost gone so natch, I'll have to bake more. Doesn't that sound like more fun than slogging along in another first draft? In case you, too, need a distraction, here's the recipe for my sugar cookies:

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

cream butter and sugar, beat in egg and vanilla. combine flour and salt separately, then mix in with the butter/sugar mixture. chill the dough 3 hours. preheat oven to 350. roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured surface. dip cookie cutters into flour before each use. bake on ungreased cookie sheets about 10 min or until lightly browned.

They are good this way, but even better with creamy vanilla frosting:). beat 3 cups powdered sugar with 1/3 cup softened butter. stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and about 2 tablespoons milk. color and ice as desired.

How's your holiday spirit this year?

JAN: Usually I feel oppressed by the commercial demands of Christmas, but this year I'm into it. Maybe because my daughter, the self-proclaimed Xmas Nazi, was in Dubai for a month last Christmas. This year, I'm happy, instead of irritated, when she puts on the Christmas music. House already decorated. One batch of cookies made and eaten. I even sent out one card: to a friend I've lost contact with. The real question: WILL I DO THE CANDY??? All that stirring.....we'll see.

HALLIE: As the recipient of some of Jan's last year's toffee: Please, Jan, MAKE CANDY! I'll definitely be making a batch of dark chocolate-covered orange rind.

I stuck some greens on the front door, which is about the only Christmas-y thing I do. And baked a batch of mandel bread which are twice-cooked cookies kind of like Jewish biscotti (for Hanukah--made with oil instead of butter) loaded with almonds, raisins, and cherries. Easy and delicious. And I've laid in some nice Yukon gold potatoes for latkes and stocked up on oil.

Have been to the mall once and it was mobbed. Am I the only one who thinks people are shopping again?

HANK: Yes, people are definitely shopping. And one boosktore owner told me they're buying lots of games! (Apparently families are staying home...which is an interesting development. We should talk about games some time..don't play with me, I'm too competitive.)
So, yes, I'm getting ready for the holidays! I purchased holiday cards which are now taunting me from their boxes. And that's---about it. Hmm. Interesting.

RO: I'm definitely in the spirit. I've been to five holiday parties (and two birthday celebrations.) My tree is up, but not yet decorated. I've already had one baking session - the infamous cranberry tarts and applesauce spice cake. (I tend to make each half a dozen times before the market runs out of cranberries.) Rachel Ray has a quickie latke recipe that I like which would probably horrify a purist - she uses shredded frozen potatoes - but I'll make it anyway. Anyone ever hear of The LeeVees? They have a cd of Hanukah music including that perennial favorite Latke Clan.

But this year my stepsons are staying in California and I have no immediate family so it will be a quiet one chez Harris. Bruce, me, lots of baked goods for two people and repeated viewings of Love, Actually.

ROBERTA: Hallie--need that recipe for biscotti. Our supper club is having a Hanukah theme this month and I'm in charge of dessert. I know they are traditional, but I have never liked ruggelach (spelling?). And Hank, games. We wouldn't dare play with you. But if we did, it should be this new smash sensation game called Bananagrams. We are so hooked. It's like Scrabble only each player uses her own tiles to make words. addictive!

RHYS: I've sent out over 100 holiday cards, all over the world. I keep threatening to cut down the list, but we never seem to. And sometimes it's the only way to keep in touch with almost-forgotten friends in far flung places.
I've done a lot of shopping online this year and bought theater tickets instead of presents for one daughter and her family (whoops, I shouldn't have said that, should I? But I blogged on my other blogsite on the overwhelming abundance that spoils my holiday spirit. I don't want choirs and orchestras singing carols. I don't expect a Lexus under the tree. I'm all for the home made gifts and the baking and decorating with greens.
I haven't started baking yet but I'll be expected to do the usual mince pies, sausage rolls and stollen. Interesting mix of English and German, but I happen to love stollen--nobody else does but I still make it.
My granddaughter Lizzie got Bananagrams for her birthday last week. We love playing family board games and I also belong to a group of women who play.

And one last word from JAN: If anyone is around and awake tomorrow morning, I'll be on Reading With Robin's program talking about the Best Books of 2009. That's 7:20 in the am. on 920 AM WHJJ. Call in with your favorites and we can chat! (come on JR readers, set your clocks and give her a buzz!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Inspiration of Eugenia West

JUNGLE RED: A couple of years ago, we were delighted to introduce Eugenia West's debut novel Without Warning. Eugenia was torn about whether to reveal her real (and quite remarkable!) age. Would admitting to being in her eighties have a bad effect on sales? she wondered. Now she's decided to come out of the closet. With great admiration, we welcome her to talk about her second book, Overkill--and what it's like to be writing novels at 86. Nice to have you back Eugenia!

EUGENIA: It’s so good to blog again with the Jungle Red writers. An inspiring and amazing group. You ask what it’s like to be churning out mysteries at age 86. The short answer is, it takes a little longer.

Two years ago I sent you the Cinderella story of how I came to be published. My first mystery was rejected to the point that I decided to do POD as a Christmas present for family and friends. They liked it, so I entered it in the St. Martin’s Press contest Malice Domestic. Forgot about it. Months passed. One morning I opened my computer and there was an e-mail from their grande dame editor Ruth Cavin offering me a contract for two books. It doesn’t get better than that for wannabes.

When Without Warning appeared in 2007, I wasn’t advertising my age. Not hiding it, but I was afraid of losing younger readers. Now the sequel, Overkill, is just hitting the bookstores. My amateur detective protagonist, Emma Streat, is alive and well, so this time around it seemed comfortable to come out of the age closet. In fact, I seem to have become a spokesperson for the older writer. Message? Age and creativity can exist happily—and productively—together.

There are some advantages to high mileage. By now you should have evolved a style and found your rhythm. You have a sense when a phrase isn’t working. You cut down on adverbs and avoid phrases like “her eyes fell to the floor.” You learn not to underestimate your reader by telling, not showing. Far better to have Emma slam the door than just to say she was very angry.

When Emma was still a blip in the stratosphere, she was an older woman of around sixty. Now she’s sort of a median 47, but I have to remind myself that she is a different generation. I depend on my daughters to keep me current. The Hermes signature scarf may have to be given away.

In Overkill, Emma continues to have a rocky relationship with a rich, handsome, dynamic English peer who has a seat in the House of Lords and is a consultant for one of the British Secret Services. Let’s just say this was a fun flight into fantasyland.

By now, I know Emma as well, maybe better, than my own children. This woman and I have suffered together. She has had to dig deep to find strengths, and I’ve come to love this ex-opera singer, widow, and hands-on mother. Perhaps writing a book is like making a big stew. You throw in your own experiences, people met, places visited—here age can be an advantage. Then you stir and hope for the best.

Do I have a mission? For me, writing is a payback for those rare and sanity restoring hours of escape reading when I had little children yammering for cookies and older children needing rides. I try hard to bring total immersion into stories about successful people working out their problems in places like Venice, England, Ireland; my readers will never go on a bus to Jersey City. All is worthwhile when people tell me my books helped them through a bad patch.

It would be misleading to say that there is no downside to hitting the big eighties. One has a stronger sense of needing to make every day count. Maintenance on the aging chassis cuts down on writing time; my children, grandchildren, and extended family have priority. But older writers are lucky. We can wake up every morning with work to do, places to go, people to invent—and it can all happen just sitting at the computer.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An attitude of gratitude?

ROBERTA: I'm noodling around with a new book idea these days that features an academic psychologist who has stumbled into writing a popular psychology book on happiness. Each chapter starts with a blurb from that book within the book, based on actual research. Here's the lead-off to chapter four:

Though it may sound completely goofy, gratitude has been shown to boost happiness by promoting the savoring of positive life experiences, bolstering self-worth, helping the reinterpretation of stressful life experiences, encouraging helping others, building social bonds, inhibiting invidious comparisons, diminishing negative emotions, and thwarting hedonic adaptation!! One simple technique pinpointed by the research of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirski is counting blessings. In her study, people who actively expressed optimism and gratitude felt happier and less depressed than those who didn't. From THE HAPPINESS CONNECTION by Cooper Hunziker, Ph.D

So I figured, why not try this at Jungle Red? Tis the season, after all!

Roberta's List:

1. I'm grateful for the family I grew up in, and the family I married into, especially of course, my husband John.
2. Sounds corny, but I'm grateful for my pets. They provide hours of entertainment, plus pet therapy at no cost, and uncomplicated adoration.
3. I'm grateful to have such an interesting "job". Actually, this is my second amazing job -- psychotherapy was the first. Nothing like seeing people change their lives or hearing from readers about how much your book meant to them at a hard time!
4. I'm grateful for friends, for the generous, funny writers I've come to know and for old pals from years ago who've stuck with me for years.

Now it's your turn, JRW!:

HALLIE: I happen to believe that counting blessings does make me happy, but enumerating them feels like reciting the Brownie pledge. But ooookay.

1. I'm grateful for my daughters who keep me from taking myself too seriously.
2. For my husband, one of the kindest and gentlest souls on the planet, and who had to great gift of persistence. Can manifest as stubbornness...but that's another list.
3. For this new career I started in, ahem, midlife, and through which I've met so many interesting people.
4. For good health...which I try to remember to notice each and every day.

JAN: I don't think it's at all goofy that counting your blessings proves to have positive psychological effects. I think its common sense and is all part of this pseudo-Buddhist-yoga philosophy smattering I've been adhering to (except for the steak and alcohol avoidance). But I'm with Hallie, it feels a bit like the Brownie pledge....

1. In that vein, I'm grateful my mother was too cheap to spring for the Brownie uniform. I have no practical inclinations and never would have made it as a Girl Scout anyway.

2. I'm glad she forced me into ten years of ballet torture, even though I'm way too tall and inflexible and was clearly the worst kid in the class. It made me start smoking early to shock the kids waiting for their mothers to pick them up and established my tough chick reputation at a tender age. This was essential to survive the teenage years in New Jersey.

3. I'm glad my mother wore really clunky jewelry because it's kept me from being able to wear and spend a lot of money on all the costume jewelry trends that come and go. (it's the only passing trend I've saved money not investing in.)

4. But most of all (and you might have picked up on the mother theme) I'm really glad I had her as a mother. It would have been her 88th birthday last week and she was SUCH a tough, frugal, take-no-prisoners mother who insisted from day one that I was more confident, more graceful (hence the ballet lessons) and better than her in every way. None of this was true, of course, but it was as if she personally WILLED me to a successful life -- despite the early smoking and tough chick delusions.

5. Just as an aside, I'm also grateful for all the other stuff: entire family, father, brothers, husband, children, aunts, cousins, life, house, friends, yadayada... but you're all going to go into that, so I figured I'd try not to be repetitive.....

RO: Bad Ro is having a diabetic attack from all of this sugar...soooo
1. I'm glad I didn't marry the first two guys who asked me.
2. I'm glad I never had the nosejob or boobjob.
3. I'm glad that I saved that black sequined miniskirt because yippee it still fits.
4. I'm glad that I never slept with that guy, that time when I wanted to but knew I shouldn't so I didn't.
5. I'm glad I never shot heroin.

(PS.I seem to recall going to one Brownie meeting and that convinced me I wasn't a joiner..until I started writing mysteries.)

JAN: Hey, I wasn't that sweet. Mostly I was sarcastic!!

RO: Was I too dark? I'm grateful for Russell Crowe, Elvis Costello, Helen Mirren, Stephen Sondheim, Larry David, The National Park Service, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Hamm, Mario Batali, Meryl Streep, The Dalai Lama, Jonas Salk, Bryan Ferry, Sean Connery, Roger Federer, Derek Jeter, Robert De Niro and my husband.

JAN: But not Tiger Woods?

ROBERTA: Obviously I've been outed as the best brownie scout in the Jungle Red crew. I must say Ro, you're giving me some very good ideas for the new I'm grateful for that:)

RHYS: Such interesting dark glads. I bet Roberta, in psychological mode is having a field day with this.
In similar vein then:
1.I'm glad I grew up lonely and in the country in a big spooky house because it scared the hell out of me at the time but it created the imagination that turned me into a writer.
2.I'm glad I had the guts to break the mold and take chances--move to Australia alone, meet John, come with him to America because I'd never have had this great life living in UK suburbia.
3.I'm glad for my kids and that they are all bright and talented. I wouldn't have found it easy to be patient with stupid kids.
4. I'm glad I've matured into a nice person. I was too prickly in my youth.
5: I'm glad I have been lucky enough to write professionally all my life.
6. And of course I'm glad for my grandchildren. Having someone rushing to meet one with open arms and face glowing with happiness is the best feeling in the world.


1. It was worth it to be the unpopular geeky one in grade and high school because it made me turn to reading and not peak too soon.

2. With ya on the drug thing, Ro. Whew.

3. I never pierced my ears, and I'm still happy about that.

4. I'm glad I listened to my mother, although she still doesn't think I did.

5. Again, sister Ro: I'm glad I didn't marry fiance #1. Eeesh.

6. I got some good genes, and I am constantly grateful for that.

7. Gosh, I have four books. I love them, I guess I can admit it. And this whole thing still brings tears to my eyes.

8. Jonathan. I still can't believe it.

9. I can still do a great big Brownie smile. (I have something in my pocket, it belongs across my face...anyone?)

Now comments welcome, snarky or un!