Saturday, April 30, 2011

Yeasty! Tips for charging your creativity...

HALLIE: Teri Flatley, who has a wonderful blog for Boomers, Boom This! Where Boomers Bloom, has a new creative endeavor. It's called Yeasty, and I love the whole title: Yeasty: For the Exuberantly Creative (YOU!) It's one part green, one part craft, another part artistic. Where did the idea of "Yeasty" come from?

TERI: I had been thinking about a creativity blog for a long time. With Yeasty, I want to celebrate the creativity in every one of us, even in those who swear they don't have a creative bone in their bodies. We are ALL creative in our own ways, whether it's coming up with a new plot for a mystery novel, deciding what to paint on a blank canvas or choosing which bowl to serve peas in for your next dinner party.

Finding the name Yeasty actually was a serendipitous thing. I happened upon the definition for "yeasty" -- after all the bread references -- that said the word meant exuberantly creative. Loved that!

HALLIE: Yeasty is a very energizing blog, full of wonderful creative tips on how to charge and recharge your creativity. Teri, please, share some of your tips with us.

Teri: I would love to. Some of my favorite creativity tips are:
  • Love the List: Want to write a short story about the cabin you used to visit as a child? Make a list beginning each sentence with "I remember. . ." Write down whatever comes into your head, and don't edit. You can do that later. Even if it doesn't make sense, write it down. After a few minutes, when you are done, you will have several fresh prompts to begin with when you return to your story. Prompts like "I remember being so scared that the old dock would collapse under our feet as we stood there, fishing poles in hand.. . "
  • Journal Writing: Thanks to Julia Cameron and her philosophy of "morning pages", I try to write three pages of long-hand journal entries every day. While my mind is engaged in jotting down "to dos", I often enjoy a flash of creativity. These creative moments don't happen every time I journal, but when they do, it's magic. For example, I was writing about having talked to my aunt who has moved to Florida. I kept trying to think of ways to stay better in touch with her, and by writing my concerns down, I came up with the idea of mailing her occasional small gifts. Voila! That idea became a favorite Yeasty blog for me and something I have done for others.
  • Fish out of Water: Sometimes the old adages work best, which is why they are adages, I'll bet. Try a new perspective on an old idea, juxtaposing two ideas/characters/quotes that you don't think belong together. One way to do this is to make your own Clue game with flash cards listing each of your story's characters, each of the locations in your story and a potential situation that will appear in the story. You can also make up a stack of cards with quotes on each. Mix the cards up and pick three different cards out of the bunch you have chosen. Try to work up a scene or chapter with that combo. You may never use it, but it will jumpstart your creative juices.
  • Zen Out: When you do hit a creativity dry spell, sometimes the best thing to do is do nothing -- at least for a little while. When that happens, I go for a walk, sit and watch the birds feeding outside my window -- or shut down all of the techie devices I use every day, just letting my mind rest. Think about anything but your writing problem when you lay down to sleep and an idea might bubble to the surface, ready to be acknowledged. Write it down and see if it makes sense in the morning.

I also read a lot to help me be more creative, as I'm sure you do. I keep a shelf of books on the subject in my office. I am a sucker for any new title on the subject.

Some creativity books at home now in my office:

The Creative Habit: Twyla Tharp

The Write-Brain: Bonnie Neubauer

A Writer's Book of Days: Judy Reeves

. . . a bunch of books by Julia Cameron (Artist's Way, the Vein of Gold, The Right to Write), as mentioned above, and by SARK

. . .and two I haven't cracked opened yet: Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko and Kick-Ass Creativity by Mary Beth Maziarz

HALLIE: Thanks for sharing so many great ideas and resources! Now if I could just get a shot of creativity that would catapult me from page 100 to page 150, I'd be ever so grateful.

Teri will be checking in today -- join the conversation and share your creativity tips.

Friday, April 29, 2011


HALLIE: Just in time for Mother's Day and the perfect gift is Caitlin Shetterly's new memoir "Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home." It's a terrific mother-daughter (and mother-son) story about ties that bind us, creating an emotional and often physical safety net.

It's also a story that is a writer's dream: a blog that goes viral.

They say that success in this life is about timing, and Caitlin's memoir tells of her own colossally bad and good timing. Bad timing: the writer and her husband Dan, a photographer, packed up their dog, cat, and belongings in hatchback and drove Maine to Los Angeles with big dreams of success. More than a year and a baby later, they threw in the towel (I've never heard it as sponge--but either is fine with me!), defeated by the recession, and drove home to move in with Shetterly's mother in Maine.

Now comes the good part: Along the way, Caitlin blogged about their situation for NPR's Weekend Edition. The response was overwhelming, and led to a contract to write this book. She and her husband were down to their last $16 when she got her advance.

Welcome to Jungle Red, Caitlin! I have the sense that you are, by nature, a fairly private person. Have you always written a journal?

CAITLIN: Thank you for having me! Honestly, I'm a terrible journal keeper. I mostly just write illegible ideas down--or lists of things I want to remember (like groceries and then something my son said on the same wrinkled post it)--and then I have to try to figure out what the hell I was talking about! You're right about me being private--even a little shy. But when I write I let it all pour out of me.

HALLIE: How was it to write about (and publish!) such a painful experience?

CAITLIN: I believe that being an artist--for me--is about telling the truth. And when you're writing it's so private you aren't thinking about the publishing part. So, I just lived it as I was writing it--which was, of course, hard at times because I sometimes sat there with tears cascading out of my eyes. But I also made myself laugh out loud, too. The work of being a writer, in this case, was just another part of the journey.

HALLIE: When did you realize you'd struck a nerve with your blog?

CAITLIN: When my first audio diary aired on NPR. I had no idea that so many people would be touched by our story and that it would, as they say, "go viral" and that I'd become, overnight, the human voice of the recession. I had no idea that people all across America would offer my family plane tickets, land, money, places to stay, meals. We didn't take anyone up on any of these gifts, but we were so moved by the great heart of Americans.

HALLIE: Were you surprised by the response?

CAITLIN: I was so surprised! I was just doing the work of making the audio diaries and writing my blog--and I was trying to do them with honesty and love. I had no idea thousands of people would react to my story.

HALLIE: You became pregnant when you got to California. And it was a difficult pregnancy. It seemed like an impossible complication in an already hard situation; and yet it turns out to have been such a blessing.

CAITLIN: Motherhood is the best thing that every happened to me; it was the grace that saved me during a tough time. My mother used to say "Gifts always come in packages we don't expect." This is true and I live by these words now. And, of course, in the book I come home as a new mother and move in with my own mother!

HALLIE: I really enjoyed reading the pieces in the book about food and swimming. Seems like you have a special relationship to each.

CAITLIN: I grew up on the coast of Maine, so water is in my being. I could never live in a landlocked place. When I get in the water, I feel alive in a way I don't anywhere else. It's almost like I go into some nascent state. And, of course, I swam during my pregnancy, too--talk about nascency! Food is also a big part of my book--I throw recipes into the story, things I love to eat, things my family makes, etc. Food is such a part of all of our lives, I wanted to include it naturally as a part of the conversation.

HALLIE: How do you think the experiences you lived through changed you?

CAITLIN: When you have a child, it's amazing, you laugh every day. I don't know that I laughed once a week before I had my son! Now, I laugh all the time. And, also, I learned to smile and laugh even when things are hard. In fact, I made a goal out of smiling at strangers when our lives were going to hell in a hand basket in LA. Smiling surprises people but it makes them and you feel good. And, also, I learned something really beautiful being home with my mother. When we were staying there she would get up every day and say, " I love this day." I had no idea why anyone would do such a thing!! But now I try it...and it really works!

Thank you for having me Hallie! It was such an honor!!

HALLIE: Caitlin will be here all day so please, join the conversation!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Raven winner: ONCE UPON A CRIME

HALLIE: Jungle Red is happy to congratulate Once Upon a Crime! Owners Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze are being honored tonight(!) with the Raven Award by Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards banquet .

We're so delighted to have Pat and Gary visiting today.

I had the great good fortune of visiting their delightful Minneapolis store when one of my first novels came out, and I was charmed Pat an Gary who, with their warmth a generosity, made me feel so welcome.

It's that same spirit that has been bringing readers back to the store, year after year, to buy more books.

Pat, Gary, do you two have different tastes in books? Do you think women readers prefer to read different kinds of books than men?

PAT & GARY: We like a lot of the same books. We have loads of regular customers, mostly women, who love cozies, and we have racks and end caps with the new cozies. Plus there are women whose tastes run, like ours, to the more hardboiled stuff, too. Lee Child's best audience is women; the same with John Sandford. Hunks as protagonists.

We do have a few customers who refuse to read women mystery writers. Sometimes we want to pass off someone with initials and see how they feel. Remember when J. A. Jance went as JA because she couldn't get published? Alex Kava sells really well to men and women - most everyone think she's a man.

And we have a ton of regular women readers who only want to read women writers. Guess it's because they want to support women because women had such a hard time breaking into the genre.

HALLIE: Sounds like you really know your customers.

PAT & GARY: We have so many loyal customers who keep coming back. Our formula seems to work. We recognize people by name. We try to be accommodating and and pay attention to the customers. People can come here and find an entire author's back list. People recommend us - every day we have people who show up and say, "I finally got here!"

We have a reading group and our local chapter of SinC. We've got a pretty good chapter her. We give discounts to encourage people to shop here.

What sells best at Once Upon a Crime?

PAT & GARY: Local authors in hard cover. Paperback cozies outsell anything.

HALLIE: Do you agree on the books you love?

PAT & GARY: Sometimes. When we do, we sell the crap out of them. The majority of our sales are hand sells.

Right now we're recommending Steve Hamilton's The Lock Artist which just got nominated for the Edgar. It kind of transcends typical crime thrillers. Part coming of age story, nice romance in it with a kid, really good characters, and some nice arcane information about safe cracking in it. The protagonist is mute, which is tough to pull off.

Another is a book just out from Poison Pen, Big Wheat, set in 1919 Dakotas during the threshing harvest, after the war and right before the dust bowl. It's got marvelous information about the mechanics of steam and threshing which I thought would be so boring. I probably sell two or three a day. It helps that he's local.

Pat really loved a thriller, Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry. It's about a woman who lives near Vancouver on a ferry going to an island she sees someone throwing a child off the deck of the ferry and without thinking she jumps in and saves the child and keeps the child. And she starts snooping around and finds odd things going on.

HALLIE: Writing those down and putting them in my TBR list!

I know the store is a "labor of love," but you guys took that to extremes by getting married in the store.

PAT & GARY: We got married in the store. The oncology chaplain at Methodist Hospital where Gary spent months when he had leukemia came and married us. It was us and seven people who happened to find out that we were getting married. (On top of that, it was the day the bridge collapsed and people just couldn't get there.)

HALLIE: I know that was on the FIFTH anniversary of your buying the store. A 'cozy' wedding sounds just right for Once Upon a Crime.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And the Award Goes To.....

HANK: There's always that moment of intense suspense...the category has been called, the names of the nominees intoned, the possible winners arranging their faces into "it's lovely just to be nominated" composure. The presenter tries to open the envelope--why is it always difficult?--decide whether to make a joke of the difficulty, or just, for gosh sake, GO ON. The audience titters with nervous laughter. The composure on the nominees' faces begins to crack and fissure.

And then: they say the name. If you're Sally Field of course, the first example of "acceptance-oops" in everyone's mind, you gush and overdo. (Although it was endearing, really. )

Steven Spielberg, who won the Oscar for Saving Private Ryan, was honest: "Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic."

Kim Basinger, at the 1998 Academy Awards (she won for LA Confidential) was just as honest: "I just want to thank everybody I've ever met in my entire life."

And Benicio Del Toro who won Best Supporting Actor for Traffic, was realistic. "I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow."

There aren't as many people watching at Malice, or the Edgars (r). But wow, the emotion is just as strong. And the desire is just as deep. And the gratitude--is just as heart-warming.

Right now, nominees are wondering--should I think of something to say? Or just wing it? And if I decide to plan--is that a jinx?

(A wise person once told me--always plan what to say. It's the only respectful thing to do for your audience. So, okay, I'll try to plan. But it's probably a jinx. So I'm not really planning. It won't matter, anyway. It's a thrill to be nominated. And I mean it.)

You know--let's just change the whole subject. Sort of. And give the floor to the wonderful Carolyn Hart.


by Carolyn Hart

Even though I won’t be able to attend Malice Domestic this spring, Malice is always in my heart.

The very first Malice in 1989 made a huge difference for me as a writer.In 1987 Bantam published Death on Demand. I wrote it thinking it was my last book. I had written seven books in seven years and sold none of them. At that point, any realistic writer would have found a more productive pursuit. But, as my fellow writers will understand, if you write, you have to write. However, I swore that Death on Demand would be my final try. If the ms. didn’t sell, I would play tennis.

So, not expecting the book to sell - after all a great many mss. were stacked in my office - I decided to write the kind of mystery I enjoyed reading, an old-fashioned, traditional mystery with clues and suspects. Moreover, my protagonists would be a young couple who truly loved each other. At that time, most female protagonists either had no relationship with a man or the relationship was dysfunctional. Unfashionable as it was, I created Annie Laurance and Max Darling. Hey, it was fiction, so Max was tall, blond, and rich, Joe Hardy all grown up and sexy as hell. I used a mystery bookstore as the background which gave me a chance to talk about wonderful mysteries of the past and present.

The first miracle occurred. Bantam bought Death on Demand. The editor said, “It’s the first in a series, of course.” I replied immediately, “Of course,” though it had never occurred to me that there would be a first, much less a second and third.

The third book was definitely the charm. Malice Domestic was created by Barbara Mertz and Charlotte MacLeod to celebrate traditional mysteries, which then, as now, are often overlooked or dismissed. I saw a little ad in Mystery Scene and decided to attend. There was also an announcement of a contest for the Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel. Bantam entered SOMETHING WICKED.
I was astonished when the book was a nominee, one of five, for the Agatha.

Not only was the nomination a huge surprise for an unknown author, Something Wicked was a paperback original, so of course it wasn’t on the level of the other nominees. However, the nomination was thrill enough for me.I attended the first Malice. It was held in a shabby hotel in Bethesda, but I was walking on air as a nominee. At the first Malice dinner, the winner was announced: Something Wicked.

I walked to the podium in a state of shock. I could scarcely manage a word.

My thank you was a whisper. What a difference the Agatha made for me. The books began to attract notice. I continued to write them. On March 29, the 21st in the Death on Demand series - DEAD BY MIDNIGHT - will be published.

Thank you, Malice Domestic.

Carolyn Hart is the author of 46 mysteries. New in 2011 is DEAD BY MIDNIGHT, 21st in the Death on Demand series. Hart’s books have won Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. She has twice appeared at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. LETTER FROM HOME, a standalone WWII novel set in Oklahoma, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers. She is excited by the new technology which will soon make possible the reappearance of 12 of her early books on Kindle. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband, Phil. She loves mysteries, cats, happy ghosts, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

SO REDS--do you think of your acceptance speech in advance...just in case? What's the best-worst one you ever heard?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Friend on Broadway: The Normal Heart

HALLIE: I know this is a detour for Jungle Red, but I hope you will indulge me...

Tomorrow night is the Broadway opening for Larry Kramer's searing drama, "The Normal Heart." It's about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and I only wish that my friend Dr. Linda Laubenstein (in the picture at the left) could be there to see it.

One of the play's main character, Dr. Emma Brookner, is a smart, caring, take-no-prisoners physician who has been confined to a wheel chair since she contracted childhood polio. Emma Brookner is based on Linda. Linda was also my roommate at Barnard College and a dear friend.

"The Normal Heart" ran for years off-Broadway in the '80s and since in various productions. Dr. Emma Brookner has been played by, among others, actresses Julie Harris, Barbara Bel Geddes, Joanna Gleason, and Judith Lightfoot. Barbara Streisand optioned the play for years, planning to play the role herself in a film version.

Now, on Broadway at last, Ellen Barkin steps into the role; Joe Mantello plays Ned Weeks, the character based on Larry Kramer; Joel Grey directs.

I met Linda the day I arrived from California as a freshman at Barnard College in 1965. She was attractive and slim with straight brown hair cut in bangs, and big features--large, expressive brown eyes and a toothy smile that took over her face. From years of physical therapy, her shoulders were muscular; from a summer spent on Cape Cod her skin was the color of coffee with cream in it. Despite multiple operations, her back was twisted. Her legs, encased in steel braces, were delicate and child-like. Among other things, we shared a subscription to the New York City Ballet.

I never intended to become friends with Linda. I have no patience with people who can't keep up. It turned out, neither did Linda.

She went on to complete her MD at NYU in 1973, became a hematologist, and in 1979 she was at the heart of the early discovery of AIDS. She was the first among her profession to hear the name Gaetan Dugas, the flight attendant who would become known as "Patient Zero," the friend and common denominator to both of the first gay men patients whom she saw with unusual cancerous lesions. She organized the first medical conference on AIDS, and developed a groundbreaking chemotherapy regimen, a so-called AIDS cocktail, that prolonged lives.

In the 1980s, Linda got to know Larry Kramer, the outspoken writer and activist who organized the Gay Men's Health Cooperative and the more radical ACT UP. She treated his partner and many of his friends, making house calls via New York City transit busses. When they died, as they all did, she went to their funerals.

Over the decade of their friendship, Kramer told me that he became Linda's voice, and she became his conscience. She didn't mind that he wrote a play about her, but he once told me she was furious that he'd put her character in a wheelchair. She refused to attend even a single performance.

Linda died suddenly in 1992. I wish she'd seen "The Normal Heart" because her friend Larry really did justice to her and all of her anger, despair, and passion. I wish I could be there Wednesday with Linda's mother Priscillla and her brother Peter, and to congratulate Larry Kramer, still alive against all odds, when the play opens at the John Golden Theatre on West 45th Street.

The Broadway cast of The Normal Heart with Ellen Barkin playing Dr. Emma Brookner and Joe Mantello as Ned Weeks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Phone memories

HALLIE: I'm always startled these days when the phone rings. I think: Anyone who needs to contact me would send an email or text message.

Remember when every bit of really good news came by phone? Now, seems like only really bad news that comes that way ("Are you sitting down...?"

Now, if my land line rings (why do we still have two plus my cell??), nine times out of ten it's a telemarketer despite our having registered DO NOT CALL. Or that bizarre call that begins, "This is your credit card company. There is no problem with your account, but it is urgent that you contact us..." Or, if you move in those circles and it's three in the morning, maybe it's Charlie Sheen.

I wonder what would my father, who had me and all my sisters on speed dial, have made of the seismic shift away from using the telephone.

Do you remember when...
  • You waited for a boy to call and kept picking up the phone, just to be sure it was working?
  • You came home and counted the message blinking lights to see how may messages were waiting?
  • It took so many calls and call-backs to arrange a get-together of more than two people?
So do you still have a land line? And how has your relationship with your phone changed?

I think the next generation doesn't even consider a land line, right?

JULIA: My kids don't. I recently realized they didn't know how to answer a phone that wasn't theirs! We had to have a lesson: "Hello, this is -----'s phone, may I ask who's calling?"

ROBERTA: When I had my private psychology practice, I had to get a second line put in at home for emergency calls, right next to my bed. I dreaded that phone ringing! and then another line at the office with an answering machine. Now professional types just carry their cell phones with them everywhere. The good news (and the bad too) is that they're immediately reachable.

Back in the days of one phone per household, there were intense negotiations of how long anyone could be on the phone in my family--and when. I remember being intensely envious of my friends whose parents got them a "children's line." The line was listed that way in the phone book--you don't see that much now!

And one more thing--when you call someone's cell phone, it's almost certain you'll reach them. So no unexpected chats with the spouse or the kids. I wonder how many mothers and mothers-in-law never ever talk with their kids' significant others these days?

RHYS: We have two land lines, one for that other obsolete piece of equipment, the FAX. About twice a year we receive a fax and yet it sits on my credenza, gathering dust. Remember when the fax was new and vital to business?

I always use my land line unless I'm out and about, because the quality is better and I don't lose calls in the middle. When I phone my daughters inevitably I'll lose them a couple of times because they forgot to charge their phone, or in the case of my daughter who owns a swim center, she dropped her Blackberry in the pool.

But I can remember that bitter sweet waiting by the phone for a certain boy to call. Please, please call. Please, please, please... and then my father wanting to make a call just at the wrong moment. Agony.

I've never noticed that only bad news comes by phone. In fact it's always been the other way around. When I used to submit manuscripts before I had an agent, the editor always telephoned within a couple of weeks to accept. I've had all my notifications of award nominations via the phone. What a sweet thing to hear, "This is the Edgar/Agatha/Anthony committee and I'm happy to tell you...."

What I have noticed is that people have to stay in touch every second these days. Plane lands. Cell phones are whipped out. I've just landed. I suppose it's good. It certainly slowed down those old private eyes when they had to find a phone booth.

DEB: Oh, my gosh, I remember when telephone exchanges had NAMES! (Hey, at least I don't go back as far as the days of operators . . .)

HALLIE: Me, too! And of course I remember the number: Crestview 57146.

Because my parents worked from home, when I was in my teens they got me a "children's line" so my calls wouldn't interrupt their business calls. Oh, what bliss! Hours of uninterrupted gossip--in my room!!! And they didn't know when I was talking to boys. . . good thing, too, as I suspect those conversations wouldn't have passed muster.

But times have changed. Growing up, answering the family phone, you learned to chat politely to your parents' friends, your neighbors, your extended family. Now, although we still have a land line in our house, no one I actually WANT to talk to calls on it, and I'd be just as happy to do away with it altogether. My friends call my phone, my husband's call his.

Nor do I answer land or mobile if the call is unidentified. It's come to feel just as intrusive as a stranger ringing your doorbell.

And yet we chat on Facebook and blogs with people we may never meet, and feel comfortable with it. Weird psychology, isn't it? I'm not sure if the person-connected-to-phone is a good thing, but I don't think there's any going back.

JAN: An odd development, at least in my life is that now there are certain people I only call Cell-to-cell, partly because I recorded their phone number there, and partly because as Roberta pointed out, it's direct access. And there are people I call more now that I have their cell number than I would on a landline - like my nieces and certain friends.

Growing up, I had my own landline telephone, which I wheedled out of my indulgent father. It was a big mistake because I gave that number to the school department instead of the real home number and took it off the hook anytime I wanted to cut school. In today's world, the school department would call a parent's cell number. So I think that's progress.

JULIA: You were lucky! We had call waiting so my parents could receive calls despite two teenaged girls in the house. If anyone beeped through, my sister or I had to say goodbye! How about you, Hank? What did you have as a teen?

HANK: UPtown 3-2768. And my pink princess phone. I LOVED it. (Even though it was cooler to have an AXminster exchange.) PRAYED for boys to call. Checked, constantly, that maybe the phone was broken, or something, when they didn't.

Now when our landline rings--you need a landline, BTW, because cell phones DO NOT connect directly to 911--I leap into the air, startled. Then I argue with my husband about who has to answer it. Bottom line, I refuse to answer it.

Remember A Thousand Clowns, when Jason Robards answers the phone: "Is it someone with good news or money? NO?" and then hangs up? That's me. I HATE THE PHONE.

JULIA: I'm with you. I've come to dislike phoning. I am the queen of text messages - I can get them no matter what the background noise, and if it's important information, I don't have to remember it in my increasingly-porous head: it's right there! Written down!

I hope we don't have any emergencies, because we got rid of our landline a few years back. Out in the country, our local carrier covered four towns, and anything outside that area - including Portland, where our kids went to school and Gorham, where my husband works - was long distance. Plus, whenever we lost power, which happens several times each winter, for up to 4 days at time, the electrically-powered phone was dead. We started getting the kids their own cell phones: Victoria before her sophomore year, Spencer at the start of high school - Virginia's on track to have one by eighth grade! Once you have FOUR cell phones in a house, the landline starts to seem a little like overkill.

ROSEMARY: Most people who call me know - I don't answer the phone. I'm just not one of those "Hi Alice...Hi Ursula" gals from Bye Bye Birdie. Never have been. My business card doesn't have a phone number on it and if anyone actually pries my cell phone number out of me there's only a slight chance I'll pick up if it rings(the bag's so big, who can find the phone?)I just deleted 7 messages from from husband. He's the only one I pick up for and even he doesn't always get through. OTOH I love to be able to read email messages on my phone.

I did just cancel my fax line because I got tired of all those offers to Go To Orlando for $300!! which were the only faxes I got. This week, of course, I had to send a fax and still haven't done it...

Phone Judy Holliday in Bells are Ringing - about the answering service gal who butts into the lives of and eventually falls in love with one of her clients. (BTW Paula Holliday's last name is an homage to Judy Holliday.) And my personal memory...being in a hut in Tanzania in the middle of the night and having Mitch Kaplan call about an event in Coral Gables. Surreal.

HALLIE: Wrapping it up with more phone memories, here are my favorites:
Sexiest: Mary and George Bailey sharing the (old fashioned) telephone receiver in It's a Wonderful Life.
Funniest: Bob Newhart's one-sided calls (loved the one where Sir Walter Raleigh is calling from the colonies; Newhart greets him, "Hey, Wal-baby!" and tells him "That boatload of turkeys you sent us last November? (pause) They're still here, Wal. They're wallking all over. See that's not a holiday here..."
Scariest: Tippie Hedren trapped in the phone booth in Hitchcock's The Birds.

And do you remember these lyrics from "The Telephone Hour" in Bye Bye Birdie, the teens are all on their phones:
Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?
Did they really get pinned?

Did she kiss him and cry?
Did he pin the pin on?

Or was he too shy?

Well, I heard they got pinned
Yeah! Yeah!
I was hopin' they would!
Now they're livin' at last,
Goin' steady for good!
Share your phone memories with us! We'll hang on...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Quick Six questions with Edgar Award Winner Steve Hamilton

I met Steve Hamilton at the first Bouchercon I ever attended. It was 2002. The ink was barely dry on my first book, and Steve had already produced three or four novels. He had won the Edgar and the Shamus awards, been shortlisted for an Anthony and a Barry - in other words, he was the shizz. We had the same editor - the legendary Ruth Cavin - and on the basis of that relationship, I hit him with a few questions about publishing. We wound up talking for over an hour, and he gave me solid advice about writing and my career that has served me to this day.

Steve’s been nominated for a Best Novel Edgar for The Lock Artist, a brilliant stand-alone. In June, Misery Bay, the eighth book about his much-beloved series character, Alex McKnight, launches. He was good-humored enough to knock a few questions around the field with me.

JULIA: What moved you to write a new Alex McKnight novel? Aside from relentless badgering from your legions of fans, which includes me.

STEVE: I always knew I'd come back to see what he was up to. I never figured it would take so long (it'll be nearly five years since the last one), but that's what happens when you get totally lost on a big standalone.

JULIA: You are once more an Edgar Award nominee, this year for THE LOCK ARTIST. Tell us a bit about it. It's been well-received in Young Adult circles as well. Did you write it as a YA?

STEVE: This will make me sound like the most dense and oblivious person ever, but I swear it's true... I've been promising myself that I'd try a YA novel at some point, but THE LOCK ARTIST wasn't it. At least, it wasn't supposed to be. I wrote that as an adult crime fiction standalone, but after I was all done and a very smart first reader read it, she said to me, "I didn't know you were writing a Young Adult book!" After she made me look at the story from a higher level (protagonist is 17 going on 18, trying to escape from a world he wants no part of, just trying to get back to the girl he loves), I realized she was totally right. But even then, the book didn't come out as a YA book and was never marketed that way. But right now if you go to Amazon and look at that "People who bought this book also bought..." list, the first 25 books are all YA. You literally have to go 26 books deep to find an adult mystery.

JULIA: Paradise, Michigan is such an amazing place that it is almost a character in itself. Is it based on any place you've lived? Or is it a composite? Or simply a remarkably vivid fantasy?

STEVE: You and I are going to fly to Detroit right now. We're going to rent a car and get on I-75 and drive for six hours, over the Mackinac Bridge, into the Upper Peninsula. We'll loop around Whitefish Bay on this amazing road that runs right along the water until we finally get to a blinking yellow light. That's the very real town of Paradise, Michigan. (Just don't expect to find a real Glasgow Inn!)

JULIA: What writing projects are you working on now?

STEVE: Well, MISERY BAY (coming out in June) is the return of Alex McKnight, and I wasn't sure what I'd do after that. But everyone who has read this book says it's like Alex 2.0, bigger and better, so now St. Martin's would like me to do some more. So the next two books will both be Alex again.

JULIA: How do you manage to juggle two full-time jobs (with IBM and writing), which one is your day job, AND is it true you fit in a bit of golfing along the way?

STEVE: I'm fortunate that the people I've worked with at IBM (for 28 years now!) are all fantastic and they're very proud of my other career and they give me a lot of flexibility to make both things work. I write late at night, after everybody's gone to bed. And yeah, I'm afraid I do golf. I grew up in a golf family, with me and my cousin being the two holdouts. Now he's a golf pro, and I'm out there whenever I can. (Which isn't that often, believe me.) It's in my blood whether I like it or not -- sort of like being a vampire.

JULIA: A couple of favorite classic movies? A couple of recent film favorites?

STEVE: For the classics, anything by Hitchcock (especially Vertigo, and Rear Window). Oh, and of course Caddy Shack, a watershed moment in film.
Recently? I thought the Coen Brothers nailed No Country for Old Men, off-stage ending and all. And another great adaptation, Winter's Bone.

Thanks, Steve! JRW readers, I’ll tell you a secret. I can’t read Steve Hamilton’s work while I’m writing. Why? Because he’s so damn good I either try to copy him, or I spiral down into a why-can’t-I-write-like-this funk. Do yourself a favor and pre-order Misery Bay. You’ll have time to catch up on all his previous books before June. You’ll thank me

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tales of the Teapot: Interview with Best First Agatha Nominee Sasscer Hill

Sasscer Hill came out of the gate strong on her maiden race to publication; her book Full Mortality garnered excellent reviews and the coveted Best First Mystery Agatha nomination. Today, she talks with us about hard times, fast horses, and learning to write by the seat of her pants.

JULIA: What was your path to publication? Did you work your way through small presses? Land a deal with a major press? Win a contest? Everyone has a different story to tell.

SASSCER: Julia, I wrote my first novel years ago, and it’s in a drawer, where it belongs. In 2005, I wrote a second novel, featuring young jockey Nikki Latrelle, and named it FULL MORTALITY. Many query letters later, I landed an agent, and being a neophyte, I thought my novel would be on bookshelves within months.

My agent was sure the book belonged with a big NY publisher, and so we sent out the manuscript, waited for months, got rejected, then repeated the process. While the novel languished in slush piles, my agent steered me away from small publishers – there just wasn’t enough money in it for her.

In the meantime I wrote a second Nikki Latrelle novel, RACING FROM DEATH. Ultimately rejected, the manuscript lingered with publishers for thirteen months. And so, five years crawled by.

By an odd coincidence, John Betancourt, publisher of Wildside Press, joined my critique group while I was writing Racing From Death. I helped John with the horse-racing lingo for a novella he was working on. That story won a Nero Wolf Black Orchid Award, and in 2008 John offered to publish the second in my Nikki Latrelle series. I said thanks, but I want to wait for the “big New York deal.” I waited. The stock market crashed and my farm business in the Thoroughbred horse market crashed alongside it.

I became desperate, and with the blizzard of 2010 scheduled to hit the next day, I emailed the first in the series, FULL MORTALITY, to John. He read it and accepted the manuscript for publication that night! My agent promptly informed me that no New York publisher would touch the rest of the series. Coming out with an independent who planned to publish Full Mortality as a print-on-demand title, she said, was a bad way to go. She and I parted ways.

Then Dick Francis, my most beloved author of horse racing mysteries, died on February 14. His death jolted me into admitting I hadn’t felt well for weeks, that I was weak and having trouble breathing. I told myself it was stress, or struggling with the weight of firewood and the endless smoke and ashes from the wood stove in our farmhouse. I attributed it to walking through the deep snow, to the two tough yearling colts I handled each day.

On February 15, I woke up with chest pain, barely able to breathe. Thinking “heart attack,” I went to the kitchen, chewed up an aspirin and swallowed it. I fed the dog, then collapsed in a chair where my husband found me. He rushed me to the Emergency Room, and after three days of high tech scanning, a lung biopsy, and enough blood tests to satisfy a vampire, I knew I had five or six “things” in my lungs. While I was preoccupied with keeping my hospital gown closed, a scammer compromised my Facebook page and sent everyone a message saying I was in London, had been mugged at gunpoint, had no money and couldn’t get home. “Please send $2,500 to the following Western Union address.” Of course, I was in the hospital without cell phone or computer, and no one could contact me. In the meantime, someone in the hospital scanned my credit card and went on a shopping spree!

When I finally got home, on February 17, my Facebook page was shut down, and no book announcements could be sent. I fixed the Facebook and credit card problems while waiting for the test results due on Friday February19. Except, the doctor didn’t like the biopsy result and sent my piece of lung to a pathologist at Johns Hopkins. Now I waited another week. I began marketing my forthcoming book, Facebooking and emailing like a lunatic. This filled time while waiting for the axe to fall.

The final diagnosis was indolent, non-Hodgkins, B-cell lymphoma. It appeared as tumors in my lungs, no cancer in any lymph nodes. I hooked up with a good oncologist, who found my case so unusual, he presented it to Johns Hopkins. Gee, how nice for them.Turns out the magic word in the diagnosis is in “indolent,” or slow and lazy. My doctor could have been describing New York publishers.

Incredibly, Wildside Press published advanced copies of FULL MORTALITY in time to sell at the 2010 Malice Domestic conference. And if Barnes and Noble won’t stock my books, many of the indies do. Besides what large press could have signed a contract in February and produced a book in April? I’m happy to say that FULL MORTALITY has sold more than a thousand copies, received glowing reviews from “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine,” and “Mystery Scene Magazine, and a nomination for a Best First Agatha. Sometimes the small path is the shortest.

JULIA: "Write what you know" is the oldest piece of advice around. Is your mystery based on your own interests/vocation/experiences?

SASSCER: Absolutely. I was born with horses in my veins and started galloping about the family farm on a stick horse when only four-years-old. By the time I was seven or eight, I was sneaking rides on the Belgian plow horses. I did this because my father didn't like horses and considered ponies dangerous. So instead, I drummed my heels on the sides of a 2,000 pound draft mare, while grasping whatever rope I managed to tie to her halter.

Loving horses, galloping Thoroughbreds, and helping a newborn foal find his sea legs is my passion. The rare-air highs of winning, the crashing lows of losing, the thrill of riding a race – it doesn’t get more intense.

JULIA: Sasscer is such a striking name. May I inquire?

SASSCER: Yes, my full name is Lynda Sasscer Hill. It’s an old Maryland family name, and I chose the pen name as it’s memorable and has an androgynous quality I like. Besides, I was named Lynda solely to go with Lillian -- the name of my older sister. And my mother called me Lynda-Lou-Pinky-Poo. Need I say more?

JULIA: How much thought and planning did you put into Full Mortality as the first in a series? (I only discovered the term "story arc" after I was told my book would actually be published.) 5) What's your writing process? Outline or organic?

SASSCER: After my first novel, HEART OF A WINNER found an agent, but was turned down by New York publishers, I took the rejections really hard. I’d never heard of Sisters In Crime, was a loner, and had no writer’s group for support. Five years of pointless self-pity passed by before I started “Full Mortality.” I never thought about a female jockey series, only that jockey “Nikki Latrelle” seemed a good idea for a protagonist. Unfortunately for me, I galloped into the book the same way as the first novel – by the seat-of-the-pants. I took a snail mail course with Writer’s Digest, where I developed characters and setting, but plot totally eluded me. I’ve never been so stuck.

Desperate, I signed up for a mystery writing course at Maryland’s Bethesda Writer’s Center with author Noreen Wald. She told us to bring a one page plot outline the first day. Yeah, right. But I did it. Don’t ask me how, but I suddenly saw the story, got pumped, and had the basic plot down lickety split. I was always a good writer, but Noreen showed me craft. Synopses, story arcs, chapter endings with a punch, all the things I knew nothing about. She also convinced me to nail down my plot first. It is, she said, a road map to keep you from getting lost. Amen to that!

JULIA: Having your debut mystery nominated for an Agatha is an amazing experience. There were only about 15 gazillion mysteries published last year. What did you do when you found out?

SASSCER: I cried. But I never went crazy with excitement. Instead, I felt validated and content. For me, the nomination was a spring in the desert.

JULIA: Your cover is quite striking, and not at all a typical cozy cover. Did you have input?

SASSCER: My publisher, John Betancourt, designed the cover. I loved it the moment I saw it, but was a bit horrified when John had the nerve to put “America’s answer to Dick Francis” in a banner at the top. It seemed so presumptuous. But the horse graphic stole my heart. Those horses looked so elegant and fierce. I thought maybe my story had the strength to run with them.

JULIA: Play movie critic for a moment. The Black Stallion, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, National Velvet. Which are your favorite equine movies, and why?

SASSCER: For me, “Secretariat” broke from the gate on top and won the film race by many. “Seabiscuit” was an also ran because there are too many characters with no central human protagonist to root for, a must have ingredient for me be. If the movie, “The Black Stallion,” had been my first introduction to Alex Ramsey and The Black, it would have been a love affair. But I’d read all the Walter Farley books as a child and the movie didn’t grip me nearly so tight as Farley’s printed pages. National Velvet is a wonderful movie, but filmed so long ago it lacks the sense of “being there” that Secretariat has. With its close up, high-definition shots and sounds -- the starting gate crashing open, the horses rocketing out, the crowd screaming – “Secretariat” kept me on the track, gripping the reins tightly.

The story of Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, hit an emotional chord and gave me a strong sense of deja vu. Women CEO’s were rare in 1973, and Penny Chenery was up against a male dominated industry. Back in the late seventies, I was the executive secretary for an all male DC aerospace industry association, which means I took the minutes at their meetings and served coffee. Those men never took me seriously, even when they couldn’t understand the monthly financial report, and I had to explain it to them. How could Penny Chenery’s persona in this movie not resonate with me?

But beyond that, I met Penny Chenery in 1984 at the Maryland Horse Breeder’s yearling show. I had a race-colt named Ruling Home. There were about twenty colts in the ring, parading for Chenery, the judge. Ruling Home was very stud-like for a youngster and the only one in the paddock boldly displaying what we call a “fifth leg.” He was loud, too, continuously blasting my ears with a screaming whinny while jerking me around on the end of the lead like a rag doll. I remember shaking my fist at him. Each contender had to take their horse to the center of the ring, walk him, then make him stand him for Chenery. I was a nervous wreck and uncertain how to proceed. I remember Chenery stepping up close to inspect my colt.

When she glanced at me, I said, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

That’s all right,” she said, “I don’t either.”

JULIA: What's next?

SASSCER: RACING FROM DEATH, the second in the Nikki Latrelle series is scheduled to appear in January, 2012, with advance copies available this coming December. Here’s the back cover:

Racing at Virginia’s beautiful Colonial Downs twists into a nightmare for jockey Nikki Latrelle. A sociopath sells diet cocktails – killing jockeys who struggle to make racing weight. Alarming events greet Nikki and exercise rider Lorna upon their arrival at Colonial – strange noises echo in the nighttime woods, a man with haunted eyes drags a dirt-smeared shovel from the forest, and the body of a burn victim lies on the road outside the track. Nikki’s unease turns to dismay when bad-boy Bobby Duvayne mesmerizes young Lorna with his raw sexuality and a dangerous supply of drugs.
A hidden meth lab, an old family secret, a body buried years ago in the woods, and Lorna’s disappearance pull Nikki into a race against death.
JULIA: What are you working on?

SASSCER: My current project is “The Sea Horse Trade.” In this one, Nikki works the January meet at Gulfstream Park near Miami, where something about new racehorse owner, Currito Maldonista, worries her. Bad enough she’s expected to handle the evil-minded colt that reflects his owner’s personality, but Nikki discovers the Colombian is a drug lord, selling his product to the US. Even worse, she suspects he might be abducting young American girls into a network of overseas slave trade.

Friend Carla Ruben contacts Nikki, desperate to find the teenage daughter she gave up for adoption. The adoptive parents have died unexpectedly, and the exotically beautiful girl was last seen in Miami. Nikki’s ominous association with Maldonista drags her down a dark road where time to search for Carla’s daughter is running out.

JULIA: Do you blog? Enjoy social media? Where can we visit you?

SASSCER: I feel like I’m everywhere! I have several blog sites, two Facebook pages, and I Twitter everyday. Here are the links to the two main blogs, the second of which allows you to read the first chapter of “Full Mortality.”
My author FaceBook page is “Sasscer Hill,” my personal Facebook page “Lynda Sasscer Hill,” and my Twitter name is “SasscerHill.” No wonder I’m in a daze half the time!

Thank you, Sasscer! JRW readers, as Sasscer says, you can find the first chapter of Full Mortality on her web site, along with more of her thoughts on writing and some beautiful pictures of horses. Do you follow the Sport of Kings? Or are you more of a hobby-horse enthusiast? We want to hear from you!