Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On hot flashes

JAN: Most women don't think hot flashes are very funny, but Paula Munier does.

An acquisitions editor at Adams Media by day and writer by night, Paula coauthored a new humor book, Hot Flash Haiku, with Jennifer Basye Sander. And she's here with us today to share some of her wit and wisdom in perfect haiku form: (five, seven, five syllables).

Age Inappropriate

Is Just another way to

Keep This Old Broad Down

JAN: (laughing) How did you come up with the idea for this book?

PAULA: Jennifer came up to me at BEA (Book Expo America) and said, I have this idea. I want you to write it with me. It was such a funny idea, hot flash humor in seventeen syllables. I knew we'd have a great time writing it, we just needed to come up with an organizing principle.

JAN: Which was......???

PAULA: In some ways, as you age you are grieving your loss of some things. So we organized it according to the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the denial category...

If I could turn back

Time, I'd look just like Cher

Before surgery.

JAN: How did you go about writing these and how long did it take?

PAULA: We split them up. There are about 250 poems in the book. I tried to write the more funny ones, Jennifer wrote the more profound ones and we had some contributors. A lot of red wine and chocolate was consumed to put us in the mood. It took about six months

In the anger category,

A cruel magic act

Gravity Tugs, I go from

Woman to Shar Pei.


Whenever someone

my age gets a face lift

It pisses me off.

JAN: Was it hard to master the haiku form?

PAULA. Once you get into the groove, the trick becomes how to make them all different. To write 250 of anything without repeating yourself is a challenge. Jennifer and I brought different perspectives. I'm older than Jennifer and a grandmother. She was married once and is still married. I've been married and now I'm dating.

In the bargaining category:

If Men Think about Sex

Every seven seconds

Why can't we get laid?

JAN: So are you thinking haiku now on every date?

PAULA: Not really, but it's a little like writing a country western song, you are always thinking in a narrative. And how to make so few words tell a story.

In the depression category:

Once I was hot

But now hotter than ever

Many times a day.

JAN: Right off the top of my head, I can think of three or four women I want to buy this book for. What has the reception been like?

PAULA: People everywhere love this book. The copy editor loved the book. The people at Penn Station Borders couldn't wait to tell us how much they loved this book. It resonates with people. You've heard that women over a certain age become invisible? Well, women of my generation are not going to settle for invisible. This book celebrates that. We're not doing that. We didn't anything the way our parents did and this either.

In the acceptance category....

Men Over 50

May need viagra

So drug him.

Paula Munier is also the author of Yes, We Can, 365 Ways to Make America a Better Place, On Being Blonde and the young adult novel, Emerald's Desire. She is the co-author of 101 Things You (and John McCain) Didn't Know about Sarah Palin.

Jennifer Basye Sander is the author of The Sacramento Women's Pages, as well as the author, coauthor and ghostwriter of more than thirty books including the recent gift book hits Wear More Cashmere and The Martini Diet.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On changing language

JAN: Everyone likes to complain about how the language is going down hill. How young people maul it, changing the meanings etc. I, for one, always grumble about the overuse of "what's up?"

It drives me crazy when I answer the phone and my daughter asks: What's up? I inevitably respond: I don't know, you called me. This is because I think "What's up?" should be a response, not a salutation.

I'll also never really like the ever-ready "sweet" and "sick" But I'm not here to complain. I want to point out the changes in the language I do like.


It's not a change in pronunciation, but a definite shift in emphasis. It's not really?? As in I'm semi-amazed. It's Real-y, as in I'm going to subtly suggest that you think about what you just said. THere seems to be a hole in your logic, I'm going to give you a moment to see that.

This is used, okay overused, as a superlative and supposedly comes from gamers (as in video-gamers.) Often heard: "That's Epic," I find the very enormity of the overstatement appealing.

When my son wanted to convey to my daughter that he really liked the girl he was seeing and now it was "serious," he said, "I guess I'm wifed up." The reason I found this interesting, rather than say, sexist, or demeaning to wives, was because he was happy about it. He also immediately added, "Just like you." (She's got a long term boyfriend.) Making the term non-gender related.

My bad
This is hardly new, but lately, I've been thinking how much I Iike this expression. By saying "My bad," you are not just accepting blame, you are acknowledging and reiterating a very important point: hey, we all make mistakes, this just happens to be mine.

Glamazon Barbie
My daughter uses this to refer to young women her age who go for the sexy-but-stupid look. It always makes me chuckle.

RO: I can't say "sweet" in today's usage with a straight face. I would feel like my mother saying "far out."

Wifed up..never heard that the suburban version of mobbed up or lawyered up? If I didn't spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer talking to myself I might be more au courant. I can't remember the last sort of hip phrase that I truly adopted.

JAN: I think it's the college version.....

HANK: That's "sick"--meaning good--I don't get it. And yes, RO, I agree, sweet has passed us by. Happily. Even the people who say it somehow sound phony. (Oh, is phony passe?)

Cougar? Shall we discuss and dismiss?

And what happened with "good'?: How are you? Good! That seems to be completely socially acceptable. It's wrong, right?

And Jan, I often hear that new-ish use of reee--ly. Like (oops) a thoughtful response. And yes, it works.

JAN: Yes, Hank, I forgot about cougar. It so adeptly conveys aggression. I put that in the "good terminology" department.

RHYS: Sorry, but I can't stand My Bad. The grammarian in me shouts "My bad what?"
I realize that my language will never be hip. I didn't say "Far out" when it was in. I felt stupid saying "cool". So it's lucky I write historical novels where my protagonists can say things like "spiffing, and topping and Rah-ther!"
(Not that I ever said those either) but then I've only just found out who Lady Ga Ga is so I'm probably a hopeless case.

JAN: Except for the Glamazon Barbie outfits, I like Lady Ga Ga. What a voice!!

Please tell us your favorite new expression of use of language, and come back tomorrow when I interview Paula Munier, who co-authored a hysterical new book, Hot Flash Haiku.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Warning labels we'd like to see.....

JAN: Massachusetts is going the way of New York City and supposedly federal law is to follow: restaurant chains (with more than twenty outlets) will have to give calorie counts -- a warning of sorts - letting you know exactly how many calories are in that chicken parmesan sandwich.

More importantly, I think, because we all know a chicken parmesan sandwich is going to be an indulgence, is how many calories are actually in that goat cheese salad with dried fruit that deludes you into thinking you are dieting.

But it makes me yearn for honest warnings on any number of consumer items I fall prey to. I, for one, would like to see every glass of wine labeled. "A real glass of wine," or as in most cases, "a glass and a half of wine," or every now and then, "you are really drinking two glasses of one in this one goblet, so slow down."

Also, at CVS today, I was perusing the explosion of women's anti-aging skin products. I'm a sucker for a product that says it's going to lighten dark circles, and even though not a single one of them ever works, I'll still buy the next big promise. But it would be nice if these, and all skin care products, were labeled: big exaggeration, 100 percent delusional, and you're-actually-applying-toxins-to-your-face. . Think how much money we'd all save.

So if you could mandate the warning labels of the future, where would you put them?

RO: How about...yes these shoes will make you look taller and look as if you have legs that go from here to there and back again, but they will ultimately give you callouses, blisters and maybe even cripple you? Or...Do not apply this product to the apples of your cheeks because unlike the 20 year old in the ad who looks dewy, you will simply look radioactive with that much glow on your puss.

JAN: Exactly, and how about....this shade of red hair coloring is actually purple and will make you look vaguely European, or in extreme circumstances, like an alien.

HANK: I'm laughing too hard. "100 per cent delusional" is, somehow, the funniest thing I've ever heard. Let's see: How about on the MERGE sign on the highway? Which should say: MERGE but only if the moron in front of you decides he's gonna let you, if not, hit the accelerator (or brakes, your call) and hope the other drivers gets out of the way.

Or: These black tights will look really good and slinky for one wearing, but as soon as you sit on any kind of upholstery, they will get all snaggy and when you wash them, forget about it, the elastic in the waist is only good for one wearing.

Or: Yes, this facial cleanser costs 100 dollars, but 99 dollars is for the packaging and advertising, and 50 cents for the shipping, and 50 cents for the actual soap which includes the costs of our employees emptying the huge jars of Dove into our little containers. I rely on fooling myself with the wine thing, Jannie, so I could do without that warning label, please.

RHYS: Frankly I think the calorie labels on food are a waste of time. Those of us who care are generally savvy about what we eat. Those who supersize everything would still eat it even if a neon sign above them flashes TEN THOUSAND CALORIES AND YOU'RE GOING TO DIE YOUNG.

I saw the first Jamie Oliver special in which the school kids tipped away their fruit and ate only the chicken nuggets and pizza. Education has to begin young. I wish someone would invent a tasty fast food that is completely good for you.

And Jan--I'm also a sucker for the promises on anti-aging products (take a peek in my bathroom closet). On a bigger scale for delusional promises--how about Peace-keeping force that will actually produce peace??

JAN: AMEN. And on anti-aging products, I've created a new rule. I have to FINISH the anti-aging product I recently bought and doesn't work, BEFORE I can buy the new anti-aging product that also won't work.

ROBERTA: (Whining a little because we just got home from sunny Florida)--how about spring meaning better weather than 42 degrees, windy, and raining? (And just having driven a long ways up the east coast)--how about the traffic law that says you don't pass on the right applying to everyone?

I'm sort of in favor of the calorie thing--maybe it will end up being a little contribution to food education. And here's another travel rant--we stopped at a rest stop on the good old Jersey turnpike. You know how hard it was to find something to eat that wasn't fried and disgusting? And how was that restful?
Okay I'm finished. Better go slather some stuff on my face and pour one of Hank's glasses of wine. And Rhys, your peacekeeping force is the best idea of all...

JAN: Welcome home Roberta, you'll get used to the awful New England weather again in no time. Maybe each region of the country should come with its own warning. I'll start with New England, WINTERS ARE LONG, SPRING IS AN EMPTY PROMISE and despite the whole northern climate thing, SUMMER IS REALLY HOT.

Come back tomorrow when we talk about new phrases in the English language we are not too old fogey to like. And in the meantime, tell us... where would you put your warning labels?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How Does It all End?

"Hart writes with a lovely eloquence about how character is shaped by the music, the achitecture and the history of this harsh and beautiful land..."
—New York Times Book Review

HANK: Mystery authors meet in mysterious ways. I think Erin Hart and I "met" because we share the same web designer, Madeira Jamesa at (Erin's website is so perfect, go see.) And then I found all kids of wonderful things about Erin. She's--well, you can read all about it.

But then we found we shared another mysterious phenomenon. When we begin writing our mysteries, we don't know whodunnit. How does that happen? And why?

ERIN HART: One question I'm always asked at book chats is: "Do you know how the story ends when you begin writing?"

And my answer is a resounding: "Never."

It's not that I haven't a clue, mind you; I do have theories about whodunit, and why, but I'm wrong more often than I am right. How can that be? you ask... Aren't you, as the writer, the creator of your own story, the manipulator of character, the inserter of clues? Well, yes, but...

All I can say is that I don't HAVE to know how the story ends before I can start. And that's because I write to find things out. For me, the process of writing is similar to what my characters -- an archaeologist and a pathologist -- go through when they are engaged in an excavation or an autopsy. Writing is an investigation, and I sometimes think it's better if I'm finding things out along with my characters, rather than directing them about what to find, even what to look for.

So what do I need to know in order to begin?

Most of my stories have begun with some actual piece of history: HAUNTED GROUND grew from a true story about two farmers cutting turf who came upon the perfectly-preserved, severed head of a beautiful red-haired girl. LAKE OF SORROWS sprang from many visits to Ireland's National Museum, perusing displays of mysterious votive offerings -- gold jewelry, weapons, and human beings -- found in bogs. My new book, FALSE MERMAID, is a bit of a departure, because it finally digs into the main character's backstory: pathologist Nora Gavin finally returns to Minnesota to tackle her sister's unsolved murder.

I usually also have an idea for setting before I begin -- for HAUNTED GROUND, I envisioned a 17th-century manor with an adjoining ruin of a tower house at the edge of a lake. I wanted to set LAKE OF SORROWS in a place that not many tourists would have seen, the barren-looking industrial bogs of the Irish midlands. It helped that my husband Paddy used to work on those very bogs, and was full of fascinating details about peat storms and blood-red sunsets that would help color my tale. (It also helped that Paddy's cousin discovered a 2,300-year-old corpse while digging a drain in a bog, just as I was finishing up research for the book. I really couldn't make this stuff up.)

For FALSE MERMAID, I knew that the Mississippi River would play a role in the story, because of the themes I wanted to explore...

At the risk of sounding like a major geek, I have to say that theme -- the central idea behind the story -- is really at the root of what I do. It's the single most important factor driving the plots of my novels. And once again, the writing becomes an investigation of my characters' thoughts and feelings around that central idea.

HAUNTED GROUND grew out of look back at Irish history, at all the various waves of invasion over the centuries and seeing that the lives of the conquerors and the lives of the people they conquered were far more intertwined than one might at first imagine. Archaeology has been a wonderful metaphor for me. I'm fascinated by the layers of the past that remain directly underfoot, how pieces of the past are constantly intruding into the present.

As William Faulkner once pointed out, "The past isn't dead. Hell, it isn't even past." LAKE OF SORROWS was about pagan sacrifice, and exploring the notion that humans have been repeating the same patterns -- the same beliefs and behaviors -- for thousands of years. How all of us are connected to the past in so many ways we don't even perceive.

So what's the theme in FALSE MERMAID? One of the few details I'd settled upon in the murder of Nora's sister was that she was killed by several savage blows to the face. In psychological terms, it meant that the killer somehow wanted to destroy her identity. At the time that I decided upon that detail, I wasn't even sure where it might lead. My other strong desire was to somehow connect the murder of Triona's sister with something that lies deep inside us, and that is a strong belief in the Otherworld. I'm fascinated by folklore about fairies, mermaids, and selkies, because those stories tell us so much about our fear of changelings, of people who can slip from one personality into another.

I wanted to play with the multiple meanings of the words "true" and "false." There's an awful lot of gray area between what is fact and what is fiction. And when the words "true" and "false" are used about a person, as they are in old traditional songs about true and false lovers, those words take on implications about faithfulness and loyalty. As Nora is exploring her sister's final days, I wanted her to face the possibility that she didn't really know Triona at all, that the person she discovers at last might be a complex, hybrid creature from mythology, half animal and half human, wild and even dangerous, a disturbing embodiment of the duality that exists in all of us. Even though Nora has suspected her brother-in-law all along, I wanted her to begin to doubt her own convictions about him as well.

And because I'm not satisfied with a single mystery, part of the story is set back in Ireland with Nora's sweetheart, Cormac Maguire, I gave him an historical murder case, the disappearance of a woman many people believed to be a selkie, a seal that could shed its skin and become human. In the folktales, the selkie only retains its human form if someone captures its sealskin; once the skin is returned, the selkie must return to the sea. Cormac comes to believe that the woman who disappeared was not a selkie who returned to the sea, as local stories maintained, but that she may have been murdered by her husband. It's a puzzle that seems unsolvable, since her remains have never been found.

As I write, I find that each of my characters embodies some aspect of the theme, and as the characters themselves develop, their thoughts and actions drive the plot. So that's why I don't know the ending before I arrive there, along with my detectives. As I said, I might have a few pet theories along the way, but I can't really know what will happen until I get to know each of the characters and discover what they might do.

I'm working on a new novel as we speak, based once again on a fragment of a real-life story, about a ninth-century book discovered in a bog -- but I'm adding something that wasn't in the real-life story: the ninth-century monk who was carrying the book. I think the theme for this one will be something about the power of language, and about Ireland's transition from pagan oral culture to a Christian society that revered the written word.

Growing a novel is such an intuitive, organic process for me, every single time. Maybe it's just that I don't know any other way to work, but I'm very curious to know how other writers begin! Where does the impetus come from, and when do you know that you have enough of an idea for a whole novel?

HANK: So interesting! I think I beging with the--well, I fear to reveal call it "the one cool thing." It's the twist or the scheme that's new and unique and suprising, usually something that begins as very ordinary, and gets twisted into something that makes it not what it seems. Then I have to discover out how to make a whole mystery out of that. How about you, Jungle Red readers?
Erin Hart writes archaeological crime novels set in the mysterious boglands of Ireland. Her debut novel, HAUNTED GROUND, introduced readers to pathologist Nora Gavin and archaeologist Cormac Maguire.

In addition to winning the Friends of American Writers award and Romantic Times Best First Mystery, HAUNTED GROUND was shortlisted for Anthony and Agatha awards, and was named by Book-Of-The-Month Club and ALA Booklist as one of the best crime novels of 2003. Second in the series, LAKE OF SORROWS, was a Minnesota Book Award finalist in 2004, and now FALSE MERMAID, published on March 2, has been selected as an Indie Next notable, and won starred reviews from all the major trade publications.

In addition to being published all over the English-speaking world, Erin’s work has been translated into German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, and Japanese. She lives in Saint Paul with her husband, Irish button accordion player Paddy O’Brien, with whom she frequently visits Ireland, carrying out essential research in bogs and cow pastures and castles and pubs.

Visit Erin's website at
her blog

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lost--Deeply Lost!--in Translation

HANK: I just had to share this with you. And apologies, up front, I have no idea who wrote this (I'll show you in a minute) or where it came from. I got it as a Google Alert, and I read it, as we all do, to see how and where we're being mentioned.

Let's just look at this sign first. You're baffled, right? What on earth are you supposed to do?
Now, back to the Google Alert.

So I'm reading along in this Google Alert, I'll show you in a minute, and it--kind of--makes sense. Kind of. But you know, not really. It's clearly about Bouchercon, the world mystery convention. And it's clearly from someone who attended, and had a great time, and met a lot of authors, as we all did. So that was great, and I was delighted, but I was still kind of--baffled.
Because although it was in English, there was just something a bit--off. And then I remembered I'd recently gotten one of those emails that you can't help but laugh about--about translated signs. And what happens between the reality and the dictionary. Like this one. (I hope this is real. Forgive me if it isn't.)

And then I realized--maybe the Google Alert article had been written in another language, and put through an on-line translation. So it was--kind of right. But kind of--hilarious. See what you think. And whoever wrote this? Thank you! I was in nirvana, too.

Everybody Holds a Fan at Bouchercon

In 1985, a supergroup of players named US for Africa got together to enter the vocal `` We Are the Macrocosm, '' which was sold to raise humanist help for Africa. And by supergroup, I intend people like Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonderment, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Kim Carnes, Cyndi Lauper, and Bruce Springsteen.

That Holds what Bouchercon is like for secret authors.

This yr 's Bouchercon was kept in Indianapolis this past weekend. The hotel was a great selection, the outside locales playfulness and easy to get to, and the country was saturated with good eatery. The panels were great merriment, you bet can you reason with honorees like Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan, Wendelin Vanguard Draanen, Aluminium Hubin, and Kathryn Kennison? The convention commission maked a terrific line.

Naturally, the style I near Bouchercon is not the same as that of the average fan. I verbalize on a panel, moved for drinks with an editor, attended my publisher 's cocktail party, ate tiffin with two other editors, subscribed books, attended awarding observances for the Macavity and the Antonius, entered a podcast, seed with a book packager, and discourse a outgoing anthology. The other authors were merely co-workers, so naturally I maked n't take any particular notice of them.

And if you believe that, I 've got some swamp in Florida au courant eBay...

My gosh, make you cognise was there? If the honorees were n't impressive plenty, there wasC.J. Box, JoAnna Carl, Carolyn Hart, Lee Fry, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, Scoop Allan Collins, Broom Graham, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Loren Estleman, Danu Cameron, Peter Lovesey, Mary Saums... And that Holds but a start. Make you seriously conceive I could vagabond through a hotel filled with gifted authors like that without desiring to twitch myself? I was in nirvana.

The fact is, I was a secret fan long before I was a secret author. And one of the best parts about being a professional is the interminable chances it supplies for being a fan, for seing these people at conventions and cocktail parties and panels. So you can wager that I took place a loading of autographed books, only like any other fan.

Seed to consider of it, I understand the players of America for Africa subscribed autographs for one another, excessively...
*************I think "I was a secret fan before I was a secret author" should be "I was a mystery fan..." and maybe Broom Graham is Heather Graham? What else do you see?
Happy Friday! Tomorrow...all about endings!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pssst...have we got a deal for you!

Is it raining where you are? Still chilly? Is it time, maybe to grab a cup of tea, and a comforter, and curl up in a chair and read?

But, you say, I have to much to do--it would be lovely, but, sigh, my responsibilities will interfere.
No time to read a book.

Pssst. Hey. How 'bout a nice short story?

Today on Jungle Red, we are happy and proud to introduce you the five nominees for the AGATHA Award for Best Short Story. And to offer their stories for your reading pleasure.

No waiting, no traffic, no credit cards or squally babies. Just--a click or two, and you'll be transported to the holidays, or another century., or...well, you'll see. And if a couple of people get killed, well, what can we tell you. That's how it goes in mystery world.

We’ll give you the title, the description, and just the first line! And a link to read the rest. And then the JRW question.

"Femme Sole" by Dana Cameron
Boston Noir (Akashic Books)

From Dana Cameron:In 1740s Boston, Anna Hoyt owns a North-End tavern and all the local thugs—including her husband—want a piece of it.

"A moment of your time, Anna Hoyt.” Click here to read the rest.

JRW says: “What do you think about it?”
DANA says: “About the story: I'm always delighted when my work makes my friends and family nervous...”


The Worst Noel" by Barb Goffman

The Gift of Murder (Wolfmont Press)

From Barb Goffman: When a little too much family togetherness, coupled with some professional humiliation caused by Mom, pushes Gwen over the edge, she plans a Christmas Eve dinner that no one will ever forget.

Okay, Gwen. Get ready to fake it. Click here to read the whole story.

JRW asks:”What do you think of it?”
BARB: “What I think about the story: The story has been called both funny and disturbing, which delights me because it shows the black humor came right through. "


"Handbaskets, Drawers and a Killer Cold"

by Kaye George Crooked ezine

From Kaye George: A Chicago cop, uncovering a possible felony committed by his wayward brother-in-law, has to decide whose wrath he fears more, his wife's or his captain's, while battling a killer of a winter cold.

"If your brother screws up once more..." Click here to read the whole story.

JRW asks: “What do you think about it?”
Kaye says: “What I think about the nomination? I'll let you know when I come back to Planet Earth.”


"On the House" by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Quarry (Level Best Books)

From Hank Phillippi Ryan: A twisty tale of broken promises, broken hearts and intricately-planned revenge proves when true love goes wrong, a woman's best friend may be her dog. Or--not.

“Do you think he's dangerous?" Click here to read the whole story.

JRW asks: What do you think about it?
HANK: “I’m so grateful for the nomination...oh, the story? Readers always argue about whether the killer will get away with it—I love that.”


"Death Will Trim Your Tree" by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Gift of Murder (Wolfmont Press)

From Elizabeth Zelvin a not-so-typical Christmas story--Bruce wrestles with the Xmas lights, goes to the hardware store, and solves a murder.

I sat on the floor in Jimmy and Barbara's living room with a pile of blinking electrical spaghetti in my lap and ground my teeth.
Click here to read the whole story

JRW asks: “What do you think about it?”
LIZ says: Not sure what you mean by "what you think about it." You mean like does my opening still make me laugh every time I read it?


But wait--there's more! Are you now thinking--wow, I could write a short story! Well, do! And there's still time to submit it to the Al Blanchard Award.

The Al Blanchard Award is given at New England Crime Bake which is held every November in the Boston area. The award is given for a crime story by a New England author or for a crime story with a New England setting. It must be previously unpublished and may not be more than 5,000 words in length. The story may include the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, and horror. (No torture/killing of children or animals.)

The prize is $100 in cash, publication in THIN ICE, Level Best Books' eighth crime fiction anthology, plus admission to the Crime Bake Conference. It costs nothing to enter. The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2010. Details can be found at

Good luck, everyone!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nancy Martin Explains It All: Including Chickaboomboom

"In this stellar first in a new series, Martin introduces Roxy Abruzzo, ultra-sexy Pittsburgh sleuth and owner of Bada Bling Architectural Salvage... "
STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly

HANK: Nancy Martin's an amazing mixture of Grace Kelly and Rosalind Russell and Dorothy Parker. That's what I think at least. With a little--hmmm...Glinda the Good Witch thrown in. (Since wonderful things seem to happen whenever she's around.) She's also none of the hardest working and most generous people in the biz.

So when Nancy Martin decided to put her hilariously best-selling Blackbird sisters on hold and go for something completely different--many of us thought--of COURSE. Genius. How did she decide to do it? (And--should we?) As always, Nancy knows all. And is here to dish.

HANK: So, Nancy. You have taken the exciting step of creating a brand new series heroine--where did Roxy (the main character in Our Lady of Immaculate Deception) come from, and why? (Set in Pittsburgh, the series stars Roxy Abruzzo, a tough girl from the Rust Belt “with a heart of black and gold.”)

NANCY: I don't know about you, Hank, but I most enjoy reading books that surprise me. And recently I decided I might scream if I read one more mystery about a sweet woman sleuth with a cat and a cop boyfriend and a meddling mother.

Sure, Agatha Christie mysteries always seemed to feature a vicar and the lady of the manor and the attractive young couple, but when do those stock characters become boring cliches?

Television was turned on its ear by the likes of Tony Soprano, Nancy Botwin and Nurse Jackie. But when I thought about our genre, I wondered: Where are our ground-breaking characters? The bad girls, for instance? The characters who take chances, make wrong choices and surprise readers? Are writers limited to only writing about nice girls? I wanted something new to read, and I figured I'd better try writing it.

About the same time I was stewing about all this, my husband and I bought a very old house which is lovely and full of character, but there's always a disaster looming. (Ex: Two weeks ago, our copper gutters fell down. Ack!) During our repairs and renovations, we have met every kind of contractor known to suckers like ourselv----er, I mean typical homeowners.

The crew we hired to fix the porch, for instance, actually included a couple of guys wearing Lojack ankle bracelets, which the contractor tried to convince me were the "latest thing" for engaged couples. The girl gets a diamond, and the guy gets an electronic locator. Needless to say, we decided to hire a different crew when our kitchen renovation became unavoidable. The woman contractor who took charge of that job got me thinking about tough women in non-traditional careers. Roxy started to grow in my imagination--a woman who considers herself an expert in architectural salvage, but actually runs a junk yard and has to be *really* tough to deal with the people she encounters. Roxy's definitely full of surprises.

HANK: The Roxy books have been described as Chickaboomboom. That is--wonderful.
Um, what does that mean?

NANCY: If you figure it out, please tell me! Publisher's Weekly came up with "chickaboomboom" for OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, not me. I think it means a girl thriller--a hybrid between a mystery and a suspense novel, but with a woman driving the action--lots of action--and, yeah, there's sex, too. But any other writer who wants to try writing "chickaboomboom" should make her own story choices. Labels can force writers to pigeonhole and limit ourselves.

HANK: You've been such a fixture in the mystery world--and by that I mean a pillar, a goddess, a paragon. How do you think things have changed since you started writing? In fact, how have *you* changed?

NANCY: How have *I* changed after thirty years of keeping my butt in the chair to write books? My butt has changed, that's for sure! Otherwise, I hope I've become more generous to other writers, because we're all in this together.

How has our world changed? The publishing biz definitely ebbs and flows. I rode the big wave of the romance genre in the 80s and jumped ship just as the tide receded. I think we've experienced a similar high tide for mysteries in recent years, and now things are beginning to recede again. The marketplace gets flooded. Readers tire of us or get lost. Technology changes the game, etc, etc.

But one big factor that always drives change in publishing is . . . us.
Writers have the power to make things different. We have more control of our fates than we sometimes think. We need to push the limits, come up with new ideas, stretch the boundaries of the wonderfully flexible literary form that is the mystery novel. Take chances--that's my motto these days.

HANK: Check out Nancy's website--where Roxy even has a playlist!

It includes, of course, Naughty Girl, Bad Girl, and of course, um, Respect. (Any ideas for what she should add?) Nancy will stop by to say hi--so questions for Nancy--or Roxy? Bring it on, sistahs. (And bruthas.) As Roxy says--just keep reading, and nobody gets hurt.


Cool stuff:
Winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement award for mystery writing from Romantic Times magazine, Nancy Martin is the author of 48 pop fiction novels in mystery, suspense, historical and romance genres. Nancy created The Blackbird Sisters in 2002--- mysteries about three impoverished Main Line heiresses who adventure in couture and crime --as if“Agatha Christie had wandered onto the set of Sex and The City.” Nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery of 2002, HOW TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE won the RT award for Best First Mystery and was a finalist for the Daphne DuMaurier Award. Nancy lives in Pittsburgh, serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters. She blogs at the popular and trend-setting The Lipstick Chronicles.

PRIZES! We are delighted to offer a free personally signed copy of OUR LADY OF THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION to one lucky lucky commenter! Winner announced tomorrow...
(if you don't win, sigh, check out Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which will send you a signed copy!)

and also tomorrow...short stuff. (Clue: If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal...)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Scrabble. Are you any good at it? I thought I was—until I played with Jonathan. Early on in our “courtship,” competitive me challenged my now-husband to a game of Scrabble or two…between us here at JRW, I was always pretty good at it and figured it would show him I was not just a pretty face. (Joke, okay? Joke.)

Anyway, that lasted about two games. Game three ended with me yelling “Earthquake! Earthquake!” and shaking the board until all the tiles scattered. Jonathan was too good. No more Scrabble at our house!

So I’m gonna set him up now, mano a mano, with Stephen D. Rogers. (Two men enter—one man leaves.)

Because I have just learned that if Stephen D. Rogers asks you to play Scrabble, don’t. And you’ll see why if you read his bio. But he probably won’t have time to challenge you to beat him at triple word scores, because he’s probably writing YET ANOTHER short story!

More than five hundred of his stories and poems—five hundred!-- have been selected to appear in more than two hundred publications, earning among other honors two "Best of Soft SF" winners, a Derringer (and five additional nominations), two "Notable Online Stories" from story South's Million Writers Award, honorable mention in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror," mention in "The Best American Mystery Stories," and numerous Readers' Choice awards.

So, obviously, there’s not much time for Scrabble. But Steve’s a member of Mensa AND the National Scrabble Association. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But question is—did Steve learn how to play Scrabble as a kid? He says it was only after reading a certain review that he saw a pattern in his own short stories. And it has to do with— LIFAYM. I mean: FAMILY. (But you knew that.)

Steve: I never realized something about my own writings until a reviewer pointed out that many of the stories in SHOT TO DEATH revolved around family, but they do. The mother who kills in SMOKING GUN; the father who absents himself in BREAKDOWN; the young adult who attempts to flee her parent in TENANT AT WILL.

As I consider each of the stories in the collection, recall stories that have appeared elsewhere, I see again and again the trend and theme that crime begins at home.

Of course it makes sense. From the moment we're born, we're competing with family members for emotional and physical sustenance. It is within the framework of the family unit that we first learn -- or don't learn -- how to share, how to play nice, and how to get what we want.

Our family teaches us about customs, morals, and laws. We test limits to see how far they can be bent and what happens-- or doesn't happen -- when they're broken.

Then we enter the school system and go through the process again.
Enter the workplace and go through the process again. Start our own families and go through the process again.

All of which brings several questions to mind.

How big a part does family play in what you write or choose to read?

If you write, have you found family situations and personalities slipping into your fiction? If so, was it accidental?

Also if you write, does your family ever point at your fictional situations and personalities claiming to be the spark for what's on the page? If so, how often are your family members correct?

When you read, do you find families that echo your own? For better or for worse?

And there's no need to push. Everybody will get a turn to answer the questions, assuming they've finished their vegetables.

HANK: And I want to know—is your family good at Scrabble?

(Tomorrow: NancyMartin! explains it all to us..)

Stephen D. Rogers mystery short story collection SHOT TO DEATH (31 stories of murder and mayhem!) is now out from Mainly Murder Press ( SHOT TO DEATH has been described as "New England noir" (Richard Helms), "terse tales" (Linda Barnes) of "the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared" (Kate Flora).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oops, I Did It Again...

Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
~Author unknown, from a Washington Post word contest

HANK: Every year, I mean EVERY YEAR, I promise myself the same thing.
And the promise occurs around April 16. And every year I break the promise.

And every year, I mean EVERY YEAR, I realize that broken promise on (pretty much) the same day. Let's say, around today.

Every year I swear I will not leave my taxes until the last minute. And not just "doing" the taxes, but every year I promise, I resolve, I swear that I will not stuff all my receipts and check stubs and envelopes of convention expenses and invoices and bills from the bookmark guy into a big shopping bag. But, I do.

One year, determined, I actually bought an accordion file, one of those expando things where you can file by category, and then at the end of the year it's already organized. Yeah, that worked for a little while, but then it got too full and the old paper bag seemed like the best solution.

DO NOT tell me about excel spreadsheets, I just won't do it. First, you make a spreadsheet. Stymied from moment one. So, next weekend, I'm going to dump the bag(s) on the bed and organize and list on a yellow pad and then get a calculator and...Grrr. Grrr. Grrr. And then, after I'm finished, I'll resolve never to do that again.

If I had to predict: I'd say: Jan and Hallie and Roberta are all finished and have sent in their forms to Uncle Sam. Rosemary and Rhys give all their stuff to an accountant and don't have to worry about it. How'm I doing?

JAN: No. I'm not finished, but I do have it all in an Excel spreadsheet.

HANK: Sigh.

JAN: Well, "all" is an exaggeration. Although I do try to record all my bills as I pay them, I'm not what you call a perfectionist. Or even a good "double checker" because there's always an unexplained absence of say.... two months worth of Internet bills or travel expenses. There's always something important missing for no apparent reason, providing great insight into the holes that are in my brain.

HANK: I know! Why do we never learn?

JAN: But Hank, take heart, I'm behind the 8-ball, too, I haven't started nagging Bill yet to get the taxes done, which is BIG part of my job.

HALLIE: In my house taxes is 'men's work' - yes I assemble my income and expenses (nearly done) but my poor husband does the heavy lifting. It's too easy to file an extension!

RO: Oooooh, I think there's only one royal on this blog. My reputation as a princess is somewhat unwarranted - at least in this respect. Yes, Nancy the accountant extraordinaire makes sense of all my little scraps of paper but during the year I keep separate files for work expenses and I highlight those credit card purchases that are work-related. I've never been able to just use one credit card for all work expenses, though, not sure why. It would be very easy to spend a ton of dough promoting our books but I like to make a budget and stick to it.

HANK: Make a budget? What a concept. And I am inspired, Hallie, to get Jonathan to read this. I must say we each do our calculations separately--then off it all goes to the accountant. So we're not actually subtracting line 4(C)sub3 from Line 4 (c) sub2, or whatever.

So how are you all doing? Sent your forms off to the IRS and now patting yourselves on the back? (Good for you!) Or sorting receipts with the rest of us? Any tax tips? Besides, of course, to do them before April?


And coming up this week: Tomorrow--do you use your family secrets? Wednesday: *fanfare* NANCY MARTIN! (And a book giveaway.) Thursday, bring a cup of tea, because we have short stories for you. And Friday, a truly hilarious thing that took me three times reading it to figure it out. The ultimate lost in translation.