Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Election Day Message to All Women.

From Rhys: We are not often political or controversial on Jungle Red but this weekend I have to share something that was mailed to me this week. It's a cause I feel strongly about, partly because I am so aware of the struggles of women for equal rights in the early Twentieth Century. They feature in several of my Molly Murphy books, including a suffrage march that is violently broken up in the book In a Gilded Cage.
It's hard to remember that less that 100 years ago we could not vote, not own property in many states, could be legally beaten and legally raped by our husbands. So please read the following carefully and then act upon it.

This is the story ......
of our Mothers and Grandmothers who lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
A plucky group of women decided to picket the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
They were arrested and thrown into jail.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
When a doctor was asked to declare her legally insane and thus have her committed to an asylum, he refused to do so, stating, "In women strength is often mistaken for insanity."

So, if you're not planning to vote this year because you are uninspired by any of the candidates..... If it's raining and you can't be bothered, please remember these sisters who put their lives on the line so that we could have the rights all men enjoyed. Get out and vote. You can make a difference the way they did!

Friday, October 29, 2010

RHYS: When I interviewed Tasha Alexander, earlier this week, I was delighted to find that she too had cut out and played with paper dolls as a child, acting out scenes from her favorite books--exactly the way I did. And I was even more delighted when so many people chimed in to comment that they had also played with paper dolls. So I'm wondered if it was a writer thing.

Do really creative people always find a way to invent their own universe?

As a small child my other main plaything was my grandmother's box of buttons. She had cut buttons from every discarded item of clothing and had this huge collection. I used to play with them all the time. One day a large button was the mother and the tiny pearly buttons were her children. Another day I'd line buttons up and have a school. (I'd always have badly behaved buttons who got sent to the corner and a favorite pink button who could do no wrong). Then I'd take all the chipped and damanged buttons, put them in match boxes and that would be my hospital. Naturally the white buttons would be my starched white nurses!

So I'm curious now: what early signs of creativity were there in your lives?

JAN: My mother insisted I start ballet and tap lessons at age 3 1/2. I distinctly remember taking all the glasses down from the cupboard and pretending they were dancers. I'd use the kitchen table as the stage, and spend hours choreographing them in different dances. When I was really hard up -- like at night in bed when I had no other toys or kitchen accessories available, I'd pretend my fingers were dancers. And choreograph them. It's amazing what kids will do to keep their growing brains occupied!

HANK: Okay, I'll confess. We used to have bug fights. Bug fights!
We'd find a bug, generally a little one. Then we'd lift up big rocks to see all the other kinds of bugs that were crawling around underneath it.
(I never touched a bug, actually, I made my sister do it. And we carried them on cardboard.)
Then we'd put the little bug in with the other bugs, and see if they'd fight.
Now, I admit. This was weird. And hardly as adorable as glass dancers or as clever as button people.
Kinda more along the lines of incipient serial killer, but happily it did not turn out that way.
However! Lesson learned! The bugs NEVER FOUGHT. The "invading" bug would always curl up in a little ball. The other bugs would sniff around (or whatever bugs do) and then get bored and crawl away.
Then the invading bug would hightail it out of there.
Passive resistance. Very win and survive by not engaging.

ROBERTA: I was a big fan of paper dolls too. And Barbies. I loved when the family went to my aunt and uncle's home because my cousin (an only child) had all the accoutrements--the Barbie Dream House, the convertible, the Ken doll, the Skipper, and tons and tons of outfits. My sister and I also collected simple little china figurines from the charm machines at the New Jersey boardwalk. They were about two inches high, with no clothes, and few features. We would write out slips of paper that had girl or boy on them and others with a number. And then we would draw slips to design families--the number of kids in the family and the order of sons and daughters. Then we poured through a baby name book and named each of them. An early (and simple-minded?) approach to creating characters?

HALLIE: Oh, is this bringing back memories. I was big into dolls. But mostly I loved to play out different roles, coercing my poor sister Amy to be the student to my teacher, my friend Linda to be slave to my queen. In retrospect, I wasn't so much creative as bossy. I was also friends with a very creative young man who wrote plays (at 8) and we'd act the out in his backyard. His mother was a screenwriter so we got a bit of help, and when we performed them one time I got to wear a real movie costume. With gold high-heels which, between the time that we rehearsed and performed, I outgrew.

RHYS: I was also very big into role playing too--with my poor great aunt. I was the good princess and she was the wicked queen, or the witch, or the poor woman gathering sticks. I got a big shock when I went to school and found you can't always be the princess in real life! This is probably the deep psychological reason behind my creating royal characters. We're still all role playing like crazy!

How about you? What did you play?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Heratwarming Story in New York

In a world in which NEWS usually means BAD NEWS, this heartwarming story appeared a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times. On Tuesday I gave an example of how writers find their ideas. This one comes ready-made. I'm hoping Hallie will show it to her sister Nora, who would be the perfect person to turn it into a movie (and Nora, I only want a small thank you in the credits!)

When Elizabeth Goodyear died late last month, at 103, a handful of friends, all more than two generations younger, sat vigil. They toasted her over dark chocolate, the elixir Ms. Goodyear had savored daily since she was 3 years old, and Champagne, a more recent favorite.
Two years ago, a front-page article in The New York Times featured Ms. Goodyear, a lifelong lover of books, and the small group of people who would stop by her apartment, in Murray Hill, to read to her after she lost her sight. Those readers became a family to Ms. Goodyear, who had outlived her relatives and loved ones.
It all began about seven years ago, after Alison West, a yoga instructor who lives in Ms. Goodyear’s building, posted a sign seeking readers in yoga studios downtown and sent an e-mail that was forwarded again and again.
“Liz has no family at all, and all her old friends have died, but she remains eternally positive and cheerful and loves to have people come by to read to her or talk about life, politics, travel — or anything else,” the message read. “She also loves good chocolate!”
Alison West Elizabeth Goodyear, shortly after her death, Sept. 23.
Young women in their 20s, many of them Ms. West’s students, started to visit. It evolved from there.
After Ms. Goodyear was featured in The Times, her circle widened. At first, there were letters and packages, including a box of dark chocolate from the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd. (Ms. Goodyear, a newshound, was thrilled.)
A Brooklyn couple who had read the article began visiting regularly with their dog. Distant relatives who were unaware that Ms. Goodyear was still living got in touch: Robert Goodyear, who said he was her fifth cousin, came several times from Pennsylvania, always bearing chocolates.
Nadia Bowers, an actress, contacted one of the readers quoted in The Times on Facebook, asking to be put in touch with Ms. Goodyear. Ms. Bowers wanted to know if Ms. Goodyear, who wrote plays, would be interested in having one of her plays read to her — only 2 of the 20 plays she wrote or collaborated on had made it to the stage. Last winter, five actors gathered in Ms. Goodyear’s living room to read “Final Chukkah,” a play she wrote in 1941 that portrayed a love triangle and treated bisexuality as commonplace.
For Ms. Goodyear, it was the highlight of her year, Ms. West said. For Ms. West, it was a striking reminder of Ms. Goodyear’s candor and forward thinking.

For Ms. Bowers, who has performed on Broadway, it was a rare opportunity to hear about the world of theater in the 1920s. “It was really wonderful to hear about a different time and when theater was a different thing in New York,” Ms. Bowers said. “There was an innocence about it. You waited in line in front of the Broadway theater itself to meet the producer. It was fun picturing a 20-something-year-old Liz, saying, ‘Hey, Mister, are you going to see me or what?’ ”
On Sept. 23, Ms. Goodyear died quietly in the rent-controlled apartment she had lived in for 60 years. With labored breath, she managed to take two sips of Champagne right beforehand. “I asked her if she’d like a sip and she whispered yes,” Ms. West said.
Later that night, Ms. West and four of Ms. Goodyear’s other friends, readers who got hooked many years ago, sat vigil. They decorated her body with six dozen red and white roses, forming a halo.
“For a long time we sat in silence, and then we exchanged thoughts,” Ms. West said. “We also laughed.”
Stephanie Sandleben, 32, a tattooed yoga instructor, reminisced about one of her last conversations with Ms. Goodyear, in which they had traded tales of losing their virginity as teenagers.
In an interview, Ms. Sandleben recalled how her worries would evaporate during visits with Ms. Goodyear, “because I’d realize the long-view perspective that someone can only have when they’re 103.”

So a word to those writers who wonder about running out of ideas--keep scanning the newspapers. There are stories waiting to be told every day!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tasha Alexander, Not at all Dangerous to Know!

RHYS: It's funny in our profession how every now and then we come across an alter ego. It happened to me when I first met Jacqueline Winspear. We clicked instantly and had so much in common.
And more recently it's Tasha Alexander, writer of the Lady Emily Ashton novels of suspense. I was first attracted to her books by their gorgeous covers. I'm always skeptical of English historical novels written by Americans but she has a great feel for Victorian England and I was hooked.
Then her books started showing up next to mine on Amazon. You know--people who bought your book also bought.... one by Tasha Alexander.
We met last week at the Bouchercon mystery convention and Tasha was still in that newlywed glow, after her recent wedding to fellow novelist Andrew Grant.
And yes, she really is that gorgeous. It would be easy to hate her but she's also SO NICE!

So welcome to Jungle Red, Tasha. You're a girl from the Mid West, so what drew you to Victorian England?

TASHA; I've been a confirmed Anglophile from an early age. When I was ten, I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and was a little worried about Lizzie when she turned down Mr. Collins's proposal. At the time, I couldn't imagine ANY boy ever liking me, EVEN someone as awful as Mr. Collins, and figured it would probably be the same for Lizzie. As far as I was concerned, she was taking quite a risk hoping for a second chance. Needless to say, I was relieved when it all worked out with Darcy, and celebrated by making paper dolls of all the characters. My paper Lizzie was not kind to my paper Mr. Collins. From then on, I read everything I could get my hands on that was set in England. As I got older, I became more interested in the social history of the Victorian period, particularly the latter part of it. I've always been drawn to its strong women who struggled against social mores and repression to live vibrant, fascinating lives.

RHYS; How did you get a feel for the lifestyle of the British aristocracy?

TASHA;I read a lot: histories, diaries, memoirs, letters. Some of the memoirs published by vanity presses are especially wonderful insights into the period and the people. Just the fact that so many "Great Women" (and men) felt the need to see in print the tales of their experiences is extremely telling. There was certainly was no lack of ego amongst the aristocracy. Also, because I spend loads of time in the UK, I visit houses, which helps give me a concrete sense of how these people lived. Chatsworth is one of my favorites, but there's no shortage of great country estates. Unfortunately, many of best London townhouses were torn down, but there are still some (Spencer House springs to mind) to see.

RHYS:Lady Emily Ashton? In what ways is she like you? Does she lead the life you'd like to read?

TASHA: When I started, I set out to write the book I wanted to read. Emily's like me in some superficial ways--it would be no fun to write about someone who likes things I hate, after all. I've always been fascinated by Classical art and antiquities, love to read, love to travel, and wouldn't object to a nice glass of port. There's lots about her life I envy. I certainly would have no issue having an enormous fortune irrevocably settled upon me, and I'd love to have a house in Mayfair. But Emily is much more impulsive than I am. And I was never married to a viscount....

RHYS:Tell us a little about the new title, Dangerous to Know.

TASHA: Emily has come to the lush Norman countryside in search of respite. Instead, she finds a brutally murdered woman, a ghostly child, and a family being destroyed by hereditary madness. Not to mention a disapproving mother-in-law. Most importantly, however, this book continues developing her character. When I started writing, I wanted to tell the story of a young lady in a repressive time period who found her way to independence. And I wanted to do this in an historically appropriate way. In the first book in the series, Emily underwent an intellectual awakening that led her to start to question her role in society. Over the course of the following books, she branches out more, seeing a world beyond the sheltered, aristocratic one in which she grew up, and has to reconcile her own intellectual and emotional growth with her place in the world.

RHYS: Tasha, I can't let you go without asking you about your recent marriage. How did you meet Andrew? How much time do you plan to spend in England? What do you like about UK better than US and the other way around?

TASHA:We met at Bouchercon in Baltimore. I saw this tall, handsome guy leaning against the bar, and couldn't resist introducing myself. We clicked immediately. By the end of the weekend (most of which we spent sitting on a couch and talking in the hotel lobby until the sun came up), we were already (half) joking about him moving to Chicago. We now spend about a third of our time in England and are constantly diverted by new differences we find between the two countries. I've been converted to craving scampi and chips, am addicted to Boots hand cream, and carry more Fortnum and Mason tea in my suitcase than is probably decent (have to keep my US supplies up!). The wonderful thing about having a foot in each culture is gaining new appreciation for them both--the drawback is it's much more difficult to romanticize either place. That said, Andrew playing Heathcliff and stalking across the moors is a sight to behold.

RHYS: We wish you both a lifetime of happiness and good books! So thank you for visiting us today and the best of luck with Dangerous to Know!

(It is spooky that I have always loved Pride and Prejudice (my hero is called Darcy, after all) and also used to make paper dolls to act things out. And I also come back from England with a suitcase full of tea. If this were a soap opera, you'd be my long lost young sister..or the child I never remembered having!)

Tasha's website is

Monday, October 25, 2010

True Crime Tuesday--The Riddle of the Human Hearts

We writers are always asked where we get our ideas. And the answer is that they are all around us. I was once swimming laps at my health club and overheard the woman in the next lane saying to her swimming partner, "Of course the gunbelt weighs you down." So of course I started swimming as slowly as they were to overhear the rest of that conversation.

Another way to find ideas is through the news media. This incredible piece showed up locally a few days ago and I thought I had to use it because it's perfect for Halloween week:

Gruesome Find in Colma Cemetery.

A maintenance worker was working in an isolated part of Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery on Oct. 12 when he saw the tops of two jars sticking out of the ground. He pulled one of the jars out of the ground and saw a human heart with a photo of a young man and woman pinned to it, police said.

The second jar had another human heart but with a photo of a different couple. Police also found partially burned cigars and candles. Both of the couples look to be in their early 20s and the pictures were not professionally taken, police told Bay City News.

The San Mateo County Coroner's Office says the hearts likely came from corpses because embalming fluid was found on them. A pathologist examined the organs and determined that they had been surgically removed from bodies that had undergone autopsies.
There have been no reports of graves being dug up in Colma, which is home to 16 cemeteries, or any other city in San Mateo County.

The investigation is pointing "toward some kind of ritual involving Santeria," Colma police Cmdr. Jon Read told the San Mateo County Times. But an expert told the paper that Santeria rituals don't involve human organs. There was no indcation of how long the bodies from which the hearts were removed had been dead, Read said.

Colma cops are working with other law enforcement agencies in the investigation

This is the kind of thing that gets the brain of a crime writer ticking away furiously. Were the hearts removed from murder victims and then embalmed to preserve them? By a man jealous of the happiness that the couple shared? Who loved the girl who could never love him? Were the hearts those of two people who loved each other but could never be together and someone saw that their hearts were reunited in death?

Anyone intersted in mystery novels could come up with a hundred different takes on this, couldn't they? What is yours? Who can come up with a great Halloween story? Virtual candy (the type with no calories) awarded to the winner.

Sex and the Single Sleuth

RHYS: Lately my thoughts have been turning to sex.
No, it's not a last ditch attempt to recapture my lost youth. It's just that the subject has come up in different circumstances. As you know, I've spent the last month on a book tour , promoting Royal Blood. At almost every one of my question and answer sessions, one of the questions has been "are Georgie and Darcy going to do it soon?" or, more tamely, "are we going to see more of Darcy?"

Deciding how much sex to put into a mystery novel is never easy. Some mystery readers are annoyed by anything that takes them away from the central plot of solving the murder. They see the introduction of a relationship as something that demeans the book--reducing it to the level of romantic fluff.

However others like their sleuths to have relationships. Obviously to my readers the will-they-won't-they relationship of my protagonist is a big issue.
Equally obviously I know that I am writing a fun, light book and that romance is part of the enjoyment. I was asked whether I chose the name Darcy deliberately because of Pride and Prejudice. The answer to that one was "Duh!" Every time I type the word Darcy I see Colin Firth coming out of the lake with his shirt open and his clothes clinging to him.

So it's always an inflamatory subject. During my panel discussion with Deborah Crombie and Louise Penny Deborah revealed that she has had hate mail about the relationship between Duncan and Gemma. "I will never read another of your books if you keep up this disgusting sex between unmarried people."

Personally I like my sleuths to have a life. I don't write about the loners who spend their nights nursing bourbon in bar rooms or stalking the mean streets of the city. I have always enjoyed the sexual tension of Moonlighting.
On the other hand I too get annoyed if writers add sex scenes for no reason or if a character is too promiscuous for my taste.
So what is the answer? How much sex is appropriate? How much is too much?

Please share your thoughts as readers and writers...
and to conclude, I'm conducting a poll. Which fictional sleuth would you like to sleep with?
Or if you want to keep this PG rated--which sleuth would you like to spend a romantic evening with?

ROBERTA: I love the will they, won't they tension in a series as long as it's done with a deft touch. Julia Spencer Fleming does it so well in her series starring an Episcopalian priest and a police chief. Of course Janet Evanovich took this to a new level with Stephanie Plum until it got plum silly.

On the other hand, I'm not that eager to read about graphic sex. I'd rather experience the exciting run-up and then let the characters close the door and have some peace:). And Rhys, sounds like you have the answer--the sex and sexual tension must be consistent with the character! Easy, right?

ROSEMARY: I'm enjoying the image of Colin Firth with his shirt open..must Netflix that one, although I am addicted to the Keira Knightley version and seem to watch it a few times a year.

The one serious comment I got from my editor on my first book, Pushing Up Daisies, was "take out the sex." Okay, I rather expected her to nix the masturbation scene. But it was one sentence along the lines of "she found that spot most men couldn't find with a GPS and rocked herself to sleep." Pretty tame. Same for the two person sex later in the book. Paula and someone - a man - getting frisky in the greenhouse. No body parts mentioned, just a litle heavy breathing on a potting table. I did take the offending sentences out, to no ill effects, but I thought it rather ridiculous that I could kill off five characters, including impaling one on a garden implement, but not let my single, straight heroine have protected sex. She still hasn't after four books and I can tell you, she's GETTING CRANKY.

Which fictional sleuth? Easy, Jack Reacher. He'd be great and then he'd be gone in the morning.

RHYS: So you can see we writers tread a fine line, and we're never going to please all our readers, or our editors for that matter. And my choice for the sleuth with whom I'd like to spend the night? Morse. I think he deserves a good woman once in his life!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Doesn’t She Just Leave Him?

"Sharing an insider look into the intricate dynamics of the criminal justice system blended with the powerful draw of intense and realistic characters, Leotta has created more than your typical thriller. This is an author to keep your eye on."
— Suspense Magazine

“With this riveting debut legal thriller, Leotta joins the big leagues with pros like Lisa Scottoline and Linda Fairstein.”
**Library Journal starred review

JRW: Today it is our pleasure to welcome Allison Leotta whose debut novel, “Law of Attraction,” is just out. Its protagonist, Anna Curtis, does just what Allison does in real life: she's a federal attorney in DC specializing in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence.

**Imagine Allison's photo here. You can see it by clicking here, but Blogger will not allow JRW to upload Allison's photo. Or her bookcover. Or any other photos. We'll keep trying.

Allison, your book is so compelling, and so timely (October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month). And you really tackle, head on, that tendency to “blame the victim”--usually a woman--for these crimes.

Do you think that attitude is changing?

ALLISON: America is slowly getting over the blame-the-victim attitude in rape cases. Nowadays, you don’t hear many folks saying, “She had it coming – just look what she was wearing!” People generally understand that “date rape” is rape, and a woman who goes back to a man’s apartment does not automatically consent to have sex with him. And many artificial barriers to bringing rape prosecutions are now gone.

JRW: Like what?

ALLISON: Not long ago, many states had rules barring rape prosecutions if the only witness was the victim (which prevented most prosecutions – rape isn’t a crime that happens in crowded restaurants). Only a few years ago, a man couldn’t be prosecuted for raping his own wife. It took women’s advocates years of tireless work to make this happen, but there has been a seismic shift in American attitudes toward rape.

But this shift hasn’t happened in domestic violence cases. In cases where a woman is repeatedly beaten by her husband or boyfriend, people still ask the question: “Why didn’t she just leave him?”

JRW: In “Laws of Attraction,” that’s just the question you ask, but you add some intriguing twists, and you make it personal.

ALLISON: The heroine of my book is a beautiful young prosecutor named Anna Curtis, who suffered a violent childhood herself. She takes her job personally. And she’s devastated when a domestic-violence victim lies under oath to protect her abusive lover. The lover goes free, the victim turns up dead, and Anna is heartsick and determined to bring the killer to justice. Standing in her way is her own boyfriend, a public defender representing the accused. As Anna’s personal and professional lives collide, she struggles to understand why she and so many women are attracted to men who hurt them.

JRW: What were your thoughts about that? What have you learned in your years handling cases like this?

ALLISON: I think people try to recreate the families they grew up in. Girls who see their mothers being abused are much more likely to be abused themselves. Boys who see the same thing are much more likely to grow up to be abusers. In prosecuting domestic violence, we can't just focus on the single incident involved in the case -- we have to help the victim break out of this whole violent pattern. In my office, we have counselors to help the victims with this. In "Law of Attraction," Anna struggles to figure out how to deal with her own warped romantic compass.

JRW: It must be difficult, in your lawyer-life, to see what happens behind closed doors.

ALLISON: It's definitely not a job you leave at the office. I think about my cases all the time, whatever I'm doing.

JRW: So how do you keep your equilibrium?

ALLISON: By writing, actually! It's an incredibly positive way to process all of the heartbreak, evil and tragedy I see -- and to focus on the moments of courage, love and healing that are also part of the job.

JRW: The book has some wonderful humor and lightness in it, not to mention great settings.

ALLISON: Thank you! There is some good old-fashioned fun: a wine-soaked summer romance, inter-office flirtations among Washington’s Ivy-League lawyers, and, of course, plenty of mystery and courtroom drama.

One woman told me she forgot she was on the Stairmaster because she was so engrossed in the book that she climbed 100 flights more than usual.

JRW: High praise indeed!

Allison will be here all day. Please share your thoughts on why that question can be so hard to answer: “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”


(All of the views expressed here are Allison's alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.)


Allison Leotta is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., where she specializes in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Michigan State University. “Law of Attraction” is her first novel. Library Journal gave “Law of Attraction” a starred review and said, “With this riveting debut legal thriller, Leotta joins the big leagues with pros like Lisa Scottoline and Linda Fairstein.” Alan Dershowitz said, “I loved this novel. It is realistic, gritty, and filled with twists and turns. This is a great read for anyone who loves legal thrillers, cares about domestic violence or wonders how lawyers can live with themselves.” Allison is blogging about the TV show Law & Order: SVU – what it gets right and wrong, from her perspective as a real sex-crimes prosecutor. Check out:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Key West Food Critic Mysteries

We were thrilled to find out that Roberta will be writing a new mystery series featuring a food critic and set in glamorous, sunny Key West. The first in the series (from NAL) is A TASTE FOR MURDER. Roberta will be writing under a new pen name, Lucy Burdette, but here at Jungle Red, we're still going to be calling her Roberta.

JAN: You've written mysteries with protagonists who were golf
pros, advice columnist/psychologist, and now food critic. How do you
go about learning the occupation of your main character and how does
that play into their personalities and/or sleuthing.

ROBERTA: The golf lover's series came at a time when I was deeply
obsessed with golf. I knew how to play, though certainly not at
the level of a professional, and was familiar with what happens to a
neurotic personality under the stress of competition! To get ready to
write about Cassie, I read a lot about pro women golfers, watched
tournaments, and even played with two pros in a tournament. So much

The advice column series featured a clinical psychologist and this
character was actually much closer to home for me. I gave her a
private practice very similar to the one I had and placed her in New
Haven, CT, which is very familiar to me. the advice column stuff I
simply made up...

Now this new series is something different--the first time a publisher
has suggested a character's occupation. I probably wouldn't have
thought of writing about a food critic, but I love to eat, cook, and
read and write about food, so why not give a try? I've been reading
memoirs by retired New York Times food critics (Born Round by Frank
Bruni and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl) and other food writers
like Kim Severson (Spoon Fed.) And most luckily, the Key West Literary
Seminar in January is focused on food writing this year. So I'll get
to hear and learn from all kinds of well known food writers, including
the two critics I mentioned. I'm so excited!

JAN: I love Key West, but tell everyone else, why it makes such a
terrific setting.

ROBERTA: Key West is a gorgeous tropical island at the very tip of
the Florida keys, just 90 miles from Cuba. Tolerance of differences
seems to be higher here at the end of the earth, so KW attracts a
fascinating mix of people--artistic types, wealthy, homeless, gay,
straight, you name it. It has a kind of Caribbean island mentality,
while maintaining the advantages of being in the US. The police and
the town struggle to balance welcoming tourists and taking care of
actual residents. And the foodie scene is terrific!

JAN: Tell us about your new protagonist, Hayley Snow -- is she native to Key West, an import??And how does either one of those factor into her personality or her
sleuthing skills.

ROBERTA: She has just arrived on the island and fallen in love with
the place. As the book opens, the boyfriend she moved to be with has
dumped her. She can afford to stay only if she lands the food critic
position at the new Key Zest style magazine. Jan, I'm realizing as I
think about your question that I have so much left to find out about
this new character...
JAN: I know that you are a enthusiastic cook -- does that factor into your development of Hayley. Will you be sharing your recipes??

ROBERTA: Hayley's a great cook--she learned that from her mother. Her critical streak comes from her father. I loved having my character Rebecca Butterman think about problems while she cooked, and feed people both physically and emotionally (including herself!). So I'm delighted to have the chance to write another character for whom food and eating are important and pleasurable. I have no idea whether the
publisher will want recipes in the book, but I can definitely picture sharing some on a new blog. It's going to be a challenge to figure out how to promote this series under a brand new name--and a challenge to answer to "Lucy"!

JAN: Please feel free to ask Lucy more about Key West, cooking or her new series!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Living History

I met Leslie Wheeler when we were both first time novelists published by Larcom Press, a small, New England publisher. Since then, Leslie, an award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, has gone on to write two more murder mysteries in her "living history" series. She's also written numerous short stories published in four anthologies by Level Best Books and has become a contributing editor. Her latest short story will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Thin Ice.

Please welcome Leslie to Jungle Red.

JAN: Since you always set your mysteries in historical locations, tell me a little about Spouters Point and why you chose this setting for your mystery?

LESLIE: Spouters Point is a fictionalized version of Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. I chose it because I’ve long been fascinated by the history of whaling that is presented at the museum. I’d visited the Seaport years ago, but during my second visit in 2003, I really fell in love with the place, especially with the Charles W. Morgan, which is the world’s oldest surviving wooden whaling ship.

Mystic Seaport was also attractive to me, because of its proximity to Foxwoods, the Mashantucket-Pequot-owned gambling casino complex. These two sites allowed me to further explore a theme I’d dealt with in Murder at Plimoth Plantation: the often troubled relations between the white settlers and the Native peoples.

JAN: Tell us a little bit about your protagonist Miranda Lewis, the workaholic history book writer, and more importantly, how she evolved from your first book Murder at Plimoth Plantation.

LESLIE: When we first meet Miranda in Murder at Plimoth, she’s completely absorbed in her work, but in the course of the novel, she changes from armchair historian to a woman of action. She solves a murder and, as the novel closes, begins a relationship with Nate Barnes. In the second book, Murder at Gettysburg, she continues to get more involved in the real world rather than simply living vicariously through her writing. She solves another murder, but in the process is disillusioned to discover that a man she’s worshipped for years is not the person she thought he was. She returns to Nate, in part because she cares about him, but also because she knows him for who he really is, warts and all.

JAN: Every mystery protagonist has his/her special skills. What is it that makes Miranda such a good sleuth?

LESLIE: I think she’s a good sleuth because she’s observant and curious, always wondering what’s going on beneath the surface of the people around her. She’s also incredibly stubborn. She’ll pursue a possible suspect even though everyone, including Nate, warns her against it.

JAN: Speaking of Nate, I was immediately intrigued by him. He seems fresh and authentic. Maybe I'm just tired of sensitive new age guy/fictional characters, but when Miranda has to cool him down from an episode of road rage, I immediately wanted to know more about him. Tell us where he came from (idea wise) and why you chose him (and if he's not new to this book, just tell us about how he's grown or changed across the series).

LESLIE: I’m so glad you asked about Nate, Jan, also that you like him, because someone else, who read the book pre-publication, was really put off by him, and I found myself defending him. Nate is modeled after a friend’s volatile, Italian-American husband, who couldn’t be more different than his reserved WASP wife. I chose him because I wanted to write about a relationship between two people from very different worlds, who have a lot of issues to work out. There’s also a bit of my adopted son, who is part Native American, in Nate. I imagined Nate as looking much as Nick would thirty-some years down the road.

The odd thing is that as Nick has grown older, he’s become more like Nate in terms of his personality. Hmmm.

JAN: Hmmm is right. Are we mothers just in love with our sons?? (I know I am) Or is this just life imitating art?? Hmmm.....

Anyway, in this book you interweave two fascinating cultures. The seafaring and the Native American. Tell me about your on-site research. Did you spent a lot of time in the casino? And learning about modern day Native American gambling culture?

LESLIE: I confess that because of a deep-seated aversion to gambling, which, I suppose, goes back to my Puritan ancestry. I didn’t spend much time in the casino. I went in, looked around, and that was it. Where I spent the most time was the Mashantucket-Pequot Museum, which is adjacent to Foxwoods. There, I learned a great deal about how a tribe that was all but extinguished in the 1600s was able to make a remarkable comeback by qualifying for Federal recognition and then opening a successful casino complex.

I also attended the Mashantucket-Pequot-sponsored powwow, Schmetizum, which takes place over several days at the end of August every year, and is the largest and richest (in terms of prize money) powwow east of the Mississippi.

JAN: That's pretty cool. A real powwow...

LESLIE: It was a fascinating experience, which taught me about another important aspect of Native American culture. But back to gambling: Like my protagonist, Miranda, I do have a fondness for the race track, though I haven’t indulged it in a while.

JAN: What was your biggest personal challenge in writing this book? The hardest obstacle to overcome?

LESLIE: My biggest challenge was writing a climatic scene where Miranda almost kills another character. True, she’s fighting for her life, but the scene was still hard to write, because Miranda is an extension of me, and I don’t like to think that even if I were up against it, as she is, that’s what I’d do. Miranda is horrified by what she almost did. As she later says, “The worst part was that she [the other person] stopped being a human and became an object I needed to destroy.” The scene is meant to counter the racist stereotype of Indians as savages and white people as civilized beings.

Even Miranda wonders at times if there’s any truth to the stereotype. So I had to put her in a situation where she behaves like a savage herself.

JAN: To find out more or read the excerpt, check out Leslie's website at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

True Crime/When Opportunity Strikes

JAN - I don't mean to be dumping on Wisconsin two blog weeks in a row, but this is just too good an opportunity for anyone contemplating writing a thriller.

In Madison, the electronic monitoring system tracking sex offenders, parolees and other bad guys went on the fritz. When some sort of computerized system in Boulder Colorado, unexpectedly hit its "data storage" capacity one Tuesday, authorities in 49 states were left in the dark about 16,000 of these bad guys whereabouts for twelve hours.

The tracking devices still tracked. But the good guys couldn't read the data. Why this affected Wisconsin more than the other states is unclear. The only thing I know is that in Wisconsin, most of these untracked bad guys were sexual offenders.

So there you go: You have your bad guy free at large, you have your ticking clock, twelve hours and you probably need some good guy who is the first to figure it out. Et VOILA. A thriller is born.

Or conversely, you could have a good guy, convicted unfairly, who now has twelve hours to go to the one place in the world he's not allowed to go -- by his parole rules - and find the proof that will get him a new trial.

Or you have the victim, the abused girlfriend/wife/gay lover who receives notice from her/his boyfriend at the data company in Boulder what just went down and knows her tormenter could be after her for the next twelve hours....

In real life, this appeared to be a technology snafu - but in YOUR novel, you also have the option of making it sabotage.

OKAY everyone, put on your thinking caps. I want to hear some great PLOT scenarios out of this one.

And come back tomorrow, when I interview Leslie Wheeler about Native Americans, seafarers, and New England Living History.

Thursday, I'll be interviewing our own Roberta Isleib about her new Key West mystery series featuring Food Critic Hayley Snow as sleuth.

And Friday, we have a special guest, debut author Allison Leotta. Her novel is "Law of Attraction."

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Grace

JAN: While Rhys and Hank were on their way to Bouchercon (Hank collecting yet another award, this time the Macavity for her short story "On the House"), I was at the Bloomberg Tower in New York at a reading for the anthology: I'm Going to College Not You by Jennifer Delahunty.

When I learned that I was one of TEN contributors who would read that night, I was worried. Several of the friends I invited didn't have children and I figured they'd fall asleep listening to excerpts from TEN essays about the parental insanity that ensues when sending kids off to college. I imagined an ENDLESS night -- the kind that keeps you eyeing the door -- because no matter how much you tell people to keep it short, it's human nature is to keep going on and on.

Boy was I wrong.

The reading lasted exactly one hour. Every single author was brief, funny and gracious. But perhaps the most gracious of all was Jane Hamilton. For those of you who don't know her, she's one of Oprah's favorite authors, a winner of numerous awards (like Hank) and she wrote -- among other New York Times bestsellers, Map of the World, The Book of Ruth, my favorite, The Short History of a Prince and the more recent Laura Rider's Masterpiece. Frankly, I was star struck. When it was her turn to read her essay, she got up, made a few self deprecating remarks, praised Jennifer Delahunty and her other friends from Carelton -- where they all went to college together, and sat down.

It was clearly done to support the author, while giving up her time to other essayists -- so the program would move swiftly. It was ego-less and classy. It was one of the most thought-provoking acts in a night that provoked a lot of thoughts.

So I'm wondering, guys, what's the most gracious act you've witnessed recently?? What bit of human nature has reminded you that humans can be pretty cool, after all?

HALLIE: I know this sounds weird, but to me the most generous thing an established author can do is read a newly published author’s book. I still remember the first time I met Lee Child was at a conference, who knows where, and he bought my book (!) which at the time I thought was completely amazing. I was bowled over when he emailed to say he’d actually read it (icing on the cake: he enjoyed it). Lee does this over and over for new authors, giving them a leg up, and it really is an incredibly gracious and generous gift.

JAN: I don't think that sounds weird at all. I think that's pretty amazing.

ROBERTA: That's pretty exciting Jan--I would have been starstruck too! I think there's a lot of graciousness in the mystery writing business. I've been struck with how it permeates Sisters in Crime. Maybe it's the way the organization was set up--to promote women crime writers, not any individual writer, but writers and unpublished writers as a group. those founding members had an amazing idea and it's carried through over the years. More experienced writers really do have a sense of duty about passing on the support they received when they were new.

RHYS: I'm just back from sensory overload of four days of convention, but I witnessed gracious acts all the time--established writers listening patiently as new writers talked about their first books, or when fans stumbled shyly through words of praise. I think we are an especially caring community. And of course Hank was gracious and modest as ever when she accepted her Anthony award for best short story (yes, her third award for this story!)

JAN: Welcome back Rhys. Anyone else have any stories of grace?? Come back tomorrow for True Crime Tuesday -- a scenario that could find its way into anyone of our thrillers!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Creativity

JAN: After studying the "structure" of writing for so long, I've turned my attention to something I used to think was simply innate, but have since learned can be enhanced. And that's creativity. And I've learned something really about being creative.

To be more creative, you have to shut up.

I'm pretty sure it is an occupational hazard of writers that we never shut up. At least not me, and not internally. Often when I'm in a room, I'm not in a room at all. My mind is automatically talking to itself about how I'd describe the room, or what I'd say about the people in the room, or about the event that's taking place. It's as if I'm always writing a letter about whatever I'm doing, instead of actually doing it.

Along the same lines as when you are TALKING, you can't LISTEN, when you are internally WRITING, its impossible to take in all the available sights, sounds, textures, experiences. If you think you know something well enough to write a letter about it, you've stopped really learning anything new.

So in the ULTIMATE paradox, it appears that I have to learn to stop processing all my thoughts in words to be a better writer.

EXPERIMENT: Since I had time to kill anyway, I tried this on the train ride home from NYC Thursday. I looked like just your average passenger, but really I was trying like hell to process all the sights, textures, smells and sounds (mostly sounds because a train is incredibly noisy) without naming anything, without letting the analytical part of my brain talk too much. (Shutting it up completely is impossible.) I managed this for three separate 15 minute intervals.

RESULT: I'm guessing that it takes more than one train ride experiment to have any kind of impact on my writing -- and how will I know exactly, unless I'm writing a train scene? But I did have an unusual side effect. I arrived home in an incredibly good mood that won't seem to go away. And I was also unusually efficient and productive yesterday -- on a Saturday no less.

Has anyone else ever tried an experiment in creativity? Mindfulness? Any tips to share?

Come back tomorrow when we talk about acts of grace
On True Crime Tuesday, I offer a scenario for a thriller and hope to hear some brainstorming.
Wednesday, I interview Leslie Wheeler on the latest in her living history series -- Murder at Spouters Point.
On Thursday, our own Roberta Isleib talks about her new mystery series set in Key West
and Friday (which I always think of as green for some reason)-- well I'll have to figure out SOMETHING good for Friday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bouchercon - Day 2

Rhys checked in with this report on Day 2 on the conference that devoured San Francisco...

Bouchercon, day two. Highlights were definitely the Reacher's Creatures party, at which there were four, repeat FOUR Jack Reacher lookalikes and we had to vote on which one we thought was most like him. Let me tell you that all four were as tall as Lee (about six five) and very easy on the eye so it was hard to choose. I didn't see any of them kill or maim anybody so couldn't really judge--and the second highlight was supplying Dove bars in the hospitality suite. (you can tell from this what a shallow creature I really am.)

By the end of the day I had seen most people I wanted to see. I finally bumped into Tasha Alexander and new husband Andrew Grant, looking so sweetly happy together and I attended a fun panel chaired by Don Bruns, in which the panelists had to create a story from a headline read by the audience from today's newspaper. Let's just say that Hilary Clinton ended up in a mess of trouble according to their story..

I had to zoom across the Bay to sign books for Penguin at the Northern California booksellers convention. I looked up and sitting directly opposite me was Val McDermid. We waved to each other in between signing like crazy as the publisher gave away free books and booksellers had them signed. Came back to convention with tired hand.

Tomorrow is my panel at eight thirty a.m. Will try to be bright and witty very early. And tomorrow night is the disco ball. I'm not sure about that.

HALLIE: Rhys, Hank, we want pictures of you at the ball!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Big Day at Bouchercon 2010...

This year, Bouchercon (the mega-mystery conference for fans and authors) is in San Francisco. Hank and Rhys, who are there partying and schmoozing and working their fannies off, took time off to report back on all the fun --

**NEWS BULLETIN from HANK** Do I sound happy? I am! My short story "On the House" won the Macavity for Best Short Story. How amazing is that? Many many thanks to everyone, including the wonderful Janet Rudolph and Mystery Readers International. Whoa.

HALLIE: Congratulations from all of us!!

So, ladies, how's it going out there at the Hyatt in the Golden State near the Golden Gate?

RHYS: Bouchercon for me started with a breakfast for first time attendees. I was asked to be a meeter and greeter and one of the first people I bumped into was Hank. So that was a nice start. Then I never made it up the escalator. I stood at the bottom and everyone I knew went past and we hugged and chatted. So it seemed like a good plan. Stand at bottom of escalator all weekend and the world will come to me!

HANK: Bouchercon is like Disneyworld for mystery fans. Something like that. Around every corner is something wonderful--get on the elevator and there's--Laurie King, or Lee Child, or Val McDermid. (Or Rhys Bowen!) Endlessly charming, endlessly generous, endlessly talking to awe-struck fans. It's pretty hilarious, really--the people you see on book covers, suddenly come to life in the hallways of the Hyatt.

And then the news pals--people from Jungle Red--Hi Christine! People from Facebook. People from DorothyL and 4MA. Guppies and SINC members. It's a lovely reunion.

HALLIE: So how's the weather? It's dark and cold and rainy here in New England...

HANK: It's hot! 89 degrees today. I can hear cable car bells out my hotel window and see the Bay Bridge. San Francisco! Very cool. But I have no idea what time it is. Time zones.

The weather in San Francisco could not be more glorious--perfect temperature, sparkling blue water--and we're stuck inside a hotel all day. That's the trouble with conventions. Luckily this hotel has an interesting atrium and an open feeling to it so it's not as bad as some.

The opening ceremony was long. It started with a brilliant compilation of snippets from every film shot in San Francisco, but then there were a lot of speeches, introducing all the guests of honor and then the MacAvity and Barry awards. I had to leave as I had to attend my publisher's party at a restaurant on the Bay, but I was delighted to come back to find out that Hank won for best short story. Way to go, sister!

HANK: I am still in shock. But grateful and smiling.

So, let's see. Panels everywhere--the hotel is sneaker-friendly and not made for high heels, let me say. RJ Ellory brilliant and thoughtful, Jackie Winspear charming, Brad Parks adorable, Laurie King introducing her beautiful daughter, Reed Coleman (who won the Macavity/ with a sincere and touching speech, Christopher Rice hilarious, Kevin Guilfoile and Bryan Gruley (two new writers who you must read) fun and enthusiastic. Julia Spencer Fleming is back--hanging out with her is like being with a rock star. Kate White oh so glam. Everyone missing David Thompson--McKenna is here--so brave.

So many people--I couldn't possibly list. Nancy Martin. Molly Weston. Jen Forbus. Heather Graham. Attica Locke. Harley Jane Kozak. Our own Maddee James. Cathy Pickens got the seal as the new President of Sisters in Crime--she's terrific, Marcia Talley emeritus--she's really worked hard.

RHYS: I have to confess that I didn't go to many panels. I mean how many times can one listen to the same thing? So I only go to show support to friends these days.

These conventions actually turn into one long schmoozefest--which is great for me. I love hanging out with people I like, and a lot of my favorite people are at this convention. Had a long chat with guest of honor Lee Child, bumped into Jacqueline Winspear coming out of the ladies' room (after she'd gone into the men's room by mistake and was a little flustered by this). We had a nice Sisters in Crime get together and I was invited to a small party honoring McKenna, David Thompson's young wife, or rather widow (David being a well-respected bookseller who died suddenly aged 38 a month ago). Strangely he had emailed Lee Child and Val McDermid literally minutes before he died. He'd sent Lee a picture of the dog, called Reacher, saying he'd just bathed him and here was a picture of Reacher all wet and bedraggled. When McKenna came home to find him dead, the dog was still wet. So strange and sad.

Tomorrow I have a breakfast--why do these things revolve around food and drink? And then I have to go across the Bay to sign at the bookseller's convention taking place in Oakland. But then in the evening it's the Reacher's Creatures party.

Saturday ends with a disco ball. I'm not sure many people who attend mystery cons are of the age and shape to disco dance! Then there's the Anthony brunch on Sunday. I'll try to report in again.

HANK: Big day tomorrow--more to come. And next year--St. Louis!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Happy Endings... the mine rescue

Foreman Florencio Avalos, 31, was the first of the miners to ride up the shaft. Wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes from aboveground lights, Avalos squeezed into a specially fitted, bullet-shaped capsule only a shade smaller than the 28-inch diameter of the tunnel and was winched to the surface over 14 agonizing minutes. -- LA TIMES

HALLIE: As I was reading the exhilarating story about the Chilean miners rescue, I was reminded of how few big news stories there are with truly happy endings. Seeing that first guy who came up, hugging his weeping 7-year-old son--doesn't get much better than that. "Trapped in a mine" rarely ends with a successful rescue, never mind 2 months later. Happy endings are usually reserved for our novels.

I tried to remember events in the past that have captured us like that? Remember Baby Jessica who was 18 months old when she fell into an 8-inch pipe and was stuck there for more than 2 days? Radio and TV were riveted as rescuers drilled in sideways to free her and she sang Humpty Dumpty to herself. The banner headline on papers across America: "BABY JESSICA RESCUED."

Or when Elizabeth Smart was found and returned to her family 9 months after she'd been abducted from her bedroom.
What are some of the happy endings you remember?

ROBERTA: Oh my gosh, I LOVE this miner story. Because I've been trying to picture myself trapped down in that black, dusty, hot space for all those days and hoping I'd rise to the occasion. But really not at all sure I'd do as well as those guys. I watched the video Tuesday morning of the first man to surface in that little capsule--amazing! (And just by the way, riding in that little tube would do me in, though I suppose you'd put up with anything at this point when you are deliriously happy to get out!) And I'm so curious about what kinds of long-term psychological effects this will have on them. A lot we'll probably never know.

ROSEMARY: I had just landed at JFK when I saw everyone riveted to the television monitors. It would be three hours before the first man came out but I had to stay up to watch. The second man - Mario Sepulveda - was amazing. He was high fiving the president and handing out rocks. Ye gods,what a great story. BTW, did Larry King really say "I was on Sepulveda Avenue just today"?

I can't say it's not without some negatives, but the Utah hiker who had to cut his own arm off, but survived was one happy ending. And I remember being transfixed by the story of the Uruguayan rugby team that survived the plane crash in the Andes. The survivors just celebrated an anniversary. Wow...they are few and far between aren't they?

RHYS: I have found myself quite weepy over this and I saw that all the hardened media types were teary-eyed too. My favorite happy ending was Apollo 13. I remember watching it live on TV and literally holding my breath for the one and a half minutes that they were out of contact before that capsule appeared in the sky. Years later I saw the movie, and even though I knew it was going to end happily, I still held my breath!

ROSEMARY: Apollo 13...I've seen the movie 8 times and I still get excited when they hear Hanks/Lovell's scratchy voice.

HANK: Oh, of course, Apollo 13. And how about the moon landing? Has there ever been such an amazing event? I still get teary. Yeah, the miners. All those guys, the drillers, being so proud of themselves. And the trapped miners not turning into Lord of the Flies, but all wanting to let their pals go out before them. Two empire state buildings down. Pretty amazing.

HALLIE: News this morning - they're all out!

What happy endings that have stuck with you over the years?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dangerous rescues: Lily Prellezo and "Seagull One: The Amazing and True Story of Brothers to the Rescue"

HALLIE: When I met Lily Prellezo at the Miami Dade Writers Conference, she told the class that she had a story entrusted to her that she had to write. It was the about “Brothers to the Rescue,” a humanitarian group of courageous men and women who risk their lives to pluck men, women, and children from certain death, fleeing Castro’s Cuba on makeshift rafts.

Lily’s just published book, Seagull One: The Amazing True Story of Brothers to the Rescue, is also a thriller -- one that really happened. Lily tells how two spies, one who was a double agent working for the FBI infiltrated the group and collaborated with the Castro government in planning the shoot down over international waters of two unarmed Cessnas in 1996.

Welcome to Jungle Red, Lily! Please, tell us about your collaborator José Basulto who entrusted you with his story.

LILY: José Basulto is a patriot, a family man, and a dreamer. He's larger than life, and yet, he's a gentle grandfather, a devoted husband, and he loves to hang out with his friends. He fought in the Bay of Pigs, worked for the CIA, bombed a hotel full of Russians (no one died), enlisted in the US Army, helped the Nicaraguan contras building field hospitals for the mutilated men, and then converted to the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Then, at age 50, he started Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR).

I had never met him until four years ago when mutual friends, René and Marta Guerra, approached me and declared: "You are going to write the story of Brothers to the Rescue!" We were at the Sony Ericcson Tennis Tournament here in Miami and after two glasses of wine, I said, "SURE!"

I met him, we hit it off, and we started going through a warehouse full of information on BTTR.

HALLIE: I remember reading some pages of your manuscript and being so captivated. One of your challenges was writing such a vast cast of characters--you interviewed hundreds. How did you manage it?

LILY: First I created a timeline with the significant events of BTTR's history and literally taped it up on the walls of the A+ Mini Storage warehouse where we worked every day. It went around the three walls.

Then as I interviewed, I would tape up that person's story under the correct chronological date. It was like a puzzle, not done in order, and not even doing the borders first, put just putting the right piece in the right place.

HALLIE: I remember seeing, on exhibit near Key West, one of the boats that had been used to flee Cuba, and realizing for the first time what a treacherous journey it was, and how desperate and courageous one would have had to be to risk it. Did you talk to any of the survivors who had been helped by the Brothers?

LILY: Boat is a big word for what some of these rafters, these balseros, came on. That's where they got that moniker, rafter, because they came on truck tire inner tubes and such.

Yes, I interviewed several of them and tried to recreate their journeys as best I could in the book. Several of them were here at my launch party and they were reunited with the pilots who saved them. It was the most moving evening of my life. It felt like I opened my copy of Seagull One, and all the characters jumped out and were walking around my home.

HALLIE: And how did you uncover the group’s infiltration and the murders?

LILY: Well, I read what investigative reporters and the FBI and the spy trial attorneys had uncovered. I interviewed one of the spy's ex-wife, Ana Margarita Martinez, who was married to Juan Pablo Roque, the spy who got away. René Gonzalez is still in jail at Marianna State, and we exchanged letters, but he never really answered my questions, but rather, sent a bunch of propaganda.

The murders were also very well documented, but the most arresting testimonials came from the survivors who were on Basulto's plane. Also, the four families of the murdered men took the time to speak with me, also.

HALLIE: Did you ever feel that the work you were doing put you in any danger yourself?

LILY: No, although I've been warned about that! But some other people may have felt in danger, in particular the Havana Air Traffic Controllers that I interviewed. Their story was the most gripping. Some would not allow that I use their name because they still have family in Cuba.

A group of eight controllers, who were supposed to work the day of the shoot down, and at the last minute were told not to come to work on February 24, 1996, because another team would replace them. That other team was manipulated during the events of the shoot down. But when the original team of controllers came back, they endured six months of de-programming on the events of that day--and then were all fired! And when you're fired from a government job in Cuba, you are fired for life--you can never work again. It took some of them eight years to be able to leave and come to the U.S.

HALLIE: Tell us what you’re up to now? Book promotion? Working on a new project? And where can our readers find you talking about this amazing story? 

LILY: I am busy, busy, busy promoting my book. I've been on TV, radio, newspapers, and my first book presentation was Thursday, October 7. Over 100 people attended and the radio, newspaper, and television covered it. We hope to tour the rest of Florida, then New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico. The list of events can be found on my website,

I am currently working on the memoirs of a 101 year-old Cuban American woman whose life I find fascinating. I've also been approached by several very prominent persons to write their biographies. I believe so strongly that people's voices should be heard, their stories told. It's an honor to do that.

HALLIE: For more information about the book and and Brothers to the Rescue, visit Hermanos al Rescate. For information on Seagull One: The Amazing True Story of Brothers to the Rescue, visit

Lily will be visiting with us on Jungle Red all day today, so please, share your comments and questions.