Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MJ ROSE with marketing tips for writers

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.

She also founded and still runs the first marketing company for authors -, where she works with debuts and bestselling authors. She is also the co-founder of and

JAN BROGAN: How did you as an author wind up starting AuthorBuzz?

M.J.: I left advertising to write fiction. Only to find out that to stay alive as an author I had to get back into the ad business. I got into publishing just when it was becoming evident that authors who are marketing partners with their publishers have a better chance of a happy, healthy career.

As one friend said, it's like I finally became a Russian Princess on the eve of the revolution and I think it’s an apt description.

But most authors not only don’t want to do any marketing (and why should we – we’re writers), but they also haven’t had any experience as marketers.

To that end I started AuthorBuzz - offering services that are the culmination of a 15-year career in advertising and a multi-book career as a novelist.

What I learned from marketing my own books, I now help authors and publishers do for theirs.

JAN: How do you juggle writing, marketing and running your own company.

M.J.: I cloned myself – haven’t you? No? Right, not me either. I split my day and am really disciplined about it – plus AuthorBuzz has a staff. Running the company is the morning, writing is the afternoon and sometimes night. The part I have the hardest with is marketing that AuthorBuzz can’t do for me either – social networking. It’s a huge time suck. See next question.

JAN: I for one, am relieved to hear someone who is an expert in marketing say that! I always wonder why I am wasting my time. How important do you think social media really is? How important is it for authors to promote their work on Facebook and Twitter?

M.J.: I think that’s hardest thing for all authors to figure out - it is for me - is social media really working? Is tweeting when your book is out a solution or a drop in a vast ocean?

I don’t have any answers but I’m thinking about it a lot and writing about it as much as I can. ( -been-told-tweet-facebook-myspace-blog-use-all-the-free-tools-and-use-th.html)

Recently I found this article ( that’s going to shake up a lot of authors who think they’ve solved their problems with a fan page at Facebook and maybe a little Twittering on the side.

It’s critical because it explains what happens at Facebook. And how it really isn’t the be all end all marketing solution we all hope it is.

Basically it explains how few of your fans are getting your messages and all your Facebook efforts may not really be getting you what you think.

JAN: What advice can your offer authors on how to best use their time?

M.J.: Do what you feel comfortable doing. Find your own way. But if you want to press me into answering…

I think the two most important things authors can be doing are the two most old fashioned. One writing, one marketing.

1. Write the best book we can. Because that’s what makes people tell other people about a book. That it was amazing. That it was a wow – in whatever genre it happened to be. That you can’t stop thinking about it after you turn the last page.

2. Have a newsletter list and sign up fans. Ultimately the single most critical thing you can have - bar none - is the email addresses of your readers. Nothing matters more - not even 1 million Facebook fans. Email addresses is why Amazon is the most powerful force in the publishing biz right now – they know who buys what books. When you buy ads on websites- say a highly powerful one – like Martha Stewart’s – the cost per thousand impressions is about $37 but if you wanted an email in her newsletter it would go up to $100 per thousand.

JAN: Although, I'm the worst at collecting email addresses, this sounds like incredibly sound advice. One important thing to focus on. Tell us about your new novel, and about your research into the perfume industry.

M.J.: My next novel – The Book of Lost Fragrances - comes out in March. That novel the two after that feature a woman named Jac L’Etoile whose family has owned a fine French perfume house since 1770.

And I’ve become obsessed with fragrance. In the last two years I’ve met with over a dozen perfumers gotten thousands of samples and bought hundreds of bottles.

As well I’ve fallen in love with collecting vintage perfumes. Not a good idea if you have limited funds. Every day EBay tempts me with glorious fragrances can be exorbitantly priced. Most recently I lusted after a $900 bottle of Djedi by Guerlain with one inch of juice left.

There is nothing like those scents created before the 1990s before certain ingredients started to be identified as allergens or outlawed by governments for environmental reasons.

Now if there was only a fragrance that when readers smelled it – it made them run to a bookstore and buy our books….

JAN: Learn more about MJ at: and please, ask M.J. your own questions about marketing and social media.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TRUE CRIME: Yoga for inner peace and murder motive

JAN BROGAN: For those of your unfamiliar with LuluLemon Althetica, it a clothes store that capitalizes on the current yoga movement.

Not that I am opposed to that. I hate to tell you how much money I've spent in that store, how many yoga outfits I actually own, and how much money I've spent on the stretchy yet still flattering bottoms and form-fitting tops. This is how both prized and expensive they are: when I come home from yoga, I immediately change because I don't want to wreck my "good" workout clothes.

As my husband points out, there's something just so conceptually wrong with that.

All this is to explain my interest in a murder in a Bethesda, Maryland yoga clothes shop by a woman with a gun. The actual event wasn't funny at all. The woman is charged with killing her co-worker and making up a story that they were robbed at gunpoint. Allegedly she injured herself to make it all seem believable.

But, as a devotee of yoga and a daily meditator, I couldn't help but be struck just a little bit by the irony. First there's the irony that those of us searching for inner peace actually spend that much on clothing for our journey to inner peace. Then, there's the irony of murderous violence in the commercial sale of the outfits needed to obtain inner peace while making the appropriate fashion statement.

Tragic in real life... but you have to admit, it would make a perfect opening for a chick-litty kind of mystery with lots of humor.

But I'm struggling for motive in our newly created chick-lit mystery. I mean obviously, if she were an employee, the accused murderer already got a pretty good discount. Was she trying to coverup outright theft? Embezzlement? Were they in love with the same guru?

You get the picture. The more absurd the motive, probably the better. Any suggestions? Or maybe even some red herrings?
Tomorrow, please join us for an interview with M.J. Rose, bestselling author and founder of AuthorBuzz. She'll be talking about book promotion and whether the time you spend tweeting and on Facebook is actually worth it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Would you trade your sanity?

JAN BROGAN: After something like my sixth trip back to Provence, I realize that I've probably seen just about everywhere Vincent Van Gogh was treated for mental illness. This has less to do with a fascination for Van Gogh, or mental illness, and is more a testament to the fact that the French tourist industry has learned to market the crap out of pretty much everything to do with the impressionists.

Nonetheless, the last mental health institution I found myself in -- in St. Remy - was worth every euro. (That's me with Vincent on the road to St. Remy left now and below, that's Vincent's painting of the road to St. Remy then) And the most fascinating part was that you could actually see the exact scenes Van Gogh was painting from the windows.

Poor Vincent. Treatment for bipolar disorder was pretty lame. Warm baths. That was pretty much it. Six months after he was released, he committed suicide. Still, as I looked from the actual skyline he painted, to a copy of the painting itself, I couldn't help thinking of his genius, of the creative perspective that produced such a unique rendering. Could someone sane have seen the wheat field or the sunflowers or the starry night that way? And what would we have all lost without Vincent's bipolar disorder.

I am boringly sane. I don't really even have minor mood swings. I could drink six cups of coffee and still not be manic (which I think is a big disadvantage for a writer.) I found myself wondering, would I trade my sanity to see the world from such a unique perspective. Might I sell my sanity to the devil to create such world-altering and enduring art?

Would you?

Okay, fine, thinking about this. Still no.
I have asked, however, at dinner parties, whether you would give up your life if someone told you that you would first be able to see the first real creature or being from another planet. That, as a result, you would KNOW there was intelligent life on other planets.
Most people, okay, everyone, says no. I'm still on the fence.

JAN: Now see, life from other planets doesn't tempt me at all. But creating Starry, Starry Night?And actually seeing the sky that way in one mind-blowing artistic moment.....hmmmm.

LUCY BURDETTE: Now my other self, Roberta, is going to make sure I answer this with a resounding NO! Because as a clinical psychologist, I saw plenty of people suffering from mental illness. Nothing fun about it. Except maybe at the peak of a manic phase when you don't know how crazy you are--but the people around you are paying dearly for your condition. and you will too, once you're back to baseline.

Besides all that, I'm not convinced that insanity correlates well with amazing art. And Hank, no to the other planets too. I'm just too much of a chicken. Though I would like to take the Jungle Red trip to Provence and have Jan show us around....

RHYS BOWEN: I have little interest in other planets, would never pay a million dollars to go to the moon. Give up my sanity to become a genius? Also no, much as I would like to write the great defining novel once in my lifetime. But I've been close enough to two people with bi-polar disorder to know that there are no circumstances that would make me accept this for myself.

Selling my soul,on the other hand? Would any of you do that to become the most gifted writer/painter/tennis player? I guess I'll settle for being sane and ordinary.

JAN: Rhys, I hadn't even thought of selling my soul to become a more gifted tennis player, but now that you mention it.....

HALLIE EPHRON: Vincent Van Gogh. Alexander McQueen. Virginia Woolf. Ernest Hemingway. Moss Hart. Sylvia Plath. F. Scott Fitzgerald. David Foster Wallace. Some say Agatha Christie. As someone who comes from a family of "crazy creative geniuses," I can tell you that it's not fun to live with. Particularly for the kids. Manic is scary. Depressed is terrifying. Having lived through both, I'm with Rhys. I'll take sane and ordinary every day of the week.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You know, in some ways, I think the writer's imagination is a bit like mental illness already. I mean, I can recall different times in my life when I shared the fact that I had a constant running cast of imaginary characters in my head. My confidants looked at me like I was... crazy. When I was young, I would lie, not to get out of trouble, but because the lie was more interesting than the truth. I knew other people weren't always making up stories. (Excepting Hallie - I'm guessing that when you grow up in a family of writers, the creative imagination is the norm and everyone else's mental process seems rather flat.)

So I don't know if you have to go whole hog into manic-depressive or obsessive-compulsive disorders to be great. That kind of Van Gogh talent seems to strike like a comet fall, and whether you're mentally or physically ill or whole seems to have little to do with it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never bought into the "genius requires insanity" thing. Most of the best writers I know are extremely disciplined, hard-working, and not the least bit dysfunctional. I did have a friend once who was brilliant but suffered from bi-polar disorder and later committed suicide. She could never have finished a novel, as talented as she was.

But, like Julia, it often occurs to me that all writers are crazy on a MINOR level. Non-writers don't walk around with a completely imaginary cast of characters carrying on lives in their heads. (I don't think.) My family doesn't blink when I say, "Oh, Charlotte needs one of those." Or, "Duncan would cook that."

But back to Jan's question. Would I trade my ordinariness for a moment of blinding genius, if insanity WAS required? Nope. I like my ordinary life just fine, thanks very much.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I mentioned this question to my husband and his response suggested that he thought I already HAD traded my sanity for my "art."
But, of course not. I like my life far too much and I don't think writing a bestseller or painting a masterpiece would change things for me that much. Now, if you threw in unlimited amounts of time and the ability to reverse the aging process then we might have a deal.
JAN: If I'm not mistaken, Ro, you are talking about immortality, and I think those deals are brokered strictly by you know who in the infernal fire beneath us. I'll give him your card.

But back to creative genius, while I don't think you have to be crazy to be genius, I think an awful lot of artistic geniuses had some serious mental disorders. The first time I read David Foster Wallace, I said to my son, he has to suffer from mania, right? And my son asked how I knew and I said, you just can't write like that without being manic. There's a certain....well, brilliant mania to it that just doesn't come out of an evenly paced mind.

Would any of us voluntarily make the exchange of inner peace for artistic genius, probably not. But is anyone else out there tempted?

Tune in tomorrow for true crime tuesday, the irony and possibilities in the yoga shop murder.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And the WInners Are!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, we hope it's a happy Sunday for you-are you all surviving the Hurricane? Please let us know..

And continuing our Jungle Red win--book-a-day week--we'll give a special prize to a hurricane-commenter! It'll be a signed copy of...well, let me see what wonderful mystery I can find! Just leave us a comment. Wanna take a chance? It'll be worth it..

And now, this week's winners! If you haven't already emailed me your address, just go to my website and click on contact in the upper left. And Congratulations!

MONDAY: The winner of Joe Finder's BURIED SECRETS: Nancy. And a special runner-up prize to Thelittlefluffycat.

TUESDAY: The winner of Jon Land's BETRAYAL and the Jungle Red book of your choice: Dixie 50.

WEDNESDAY: The winner of Kathleen George's HIDEOUT: Laurie Moore.

THURSDAY: The winner of Melissa Bourbon's Pleating for Mercy: Dee

FRIDAY: The winner of Tammy Kaehler's DEAD MAN'S SWITCH: Jacqueline Seewald

SATURDAY: The winner of June Shaw's DEADLY REUNION: Edith Maxwell

SUNDAY: The winner of a wonderful new mystery: find out tomorrow! And join in a very very unusual discussion where we pose a very difficult question.
To win: Just tell us your hurricane status... we hope you all are staying safe.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cajun Cousins

“When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite is as good as the first, that's Cajun.”

Paul Prudhomme
'Quotable Feast' by Sarah E. Parvis (2001)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN : June Shaw lives along a lazy bayou in south Louisiana. (Sigh. Isn't that a wonderful vision?) She became a young widow with five children, completed a college degree, and started teaching junior high students. Then--finally--she followed her dream of becoming a mystery writer.

Louisiana...exotic, weather-ravaged, home of fantastic movies and deep south sensibilities and amazing authors and its own way of life. And oh yes, food. Amazing food! Creole. And Cajun. (MWA-U is comng to New Orleans October 1--and I can't wait! Still time to sign up!)

Anyway. June knows all about Cajun food—but she doesn’t like to cook it! That’s okay—we figured—cooking is one thing. Telling us the secrets of Cajun cuisine is another. And today June's agreed to do just that.

JUNE SHAW: If you like good food, come on down! But I should admit this right up front—I will not be the person who’ll prepare it. I live in south Louisiana and am accustomed to scrumptious Cajun food. Many of you probably know we have stews and gumbos and jambalayas and crayfish pies and boiled shrimp and crabs and crayfish (my absolute favorite—you have to slap me to get me to stop eating them, but darn, the season’s over and won’t start again until early spring—Can’t wait!)

HANK: Okay, I admit. I’ve never tried crayfish. There was a big scandal recently when someone said the lobster salad at Zabar’s in New York was selling was actually crayfish salad. Does it taste like lobster? And what’s the deal with the heads?

JUNE: Crayfish are much better than lobsters. They are much more flavorful, and the meat is more compact. I’ve never heard of anyone having crayfish in salad. Nobody wants to wait long enough; we eat it as soon as it’s boiled. I don’t suck the heads, but my squeeze Bob does. So do lots of others down here. They say there’s lots of flavor inside. I get enough flavor in the rest of the body.

Of course sometimes we save a few crayfish to put in stews and omelets or fry them for our sandwiches like po-boys. People from other places seem most familiar with oyster po-boys.

HANK: Oh, sure. Oyster po-boys. Why are they called that? And why don’t you set your series down south near all that great food?

JUNE: Po-boys were originally sandwiches with various things thrown inside them for poor boys who needed a cheap meal.

I’ve considered setting my series down here. Sure, we have interesting characters, a unique culture, and fabulous meals. But my protagonist Cealie Gunther wants to travel—just like me! We like to visit various locations while we still eat great meals. That’s why her hunky lover Gil Thurman owns a chain of Cajun Delights restaurants.

HANK: Of course spunky widowed Cealie is trying to avoid him so she can rediscover herself. But he opens some of his restaurants wherever she travels—and she is horrible at avoiding tempting dishes and men, but—can you teach us a bit about Cajun cooking? Like—we need know how to make a roux, right?

JUNE: Many people joke and say every Cajun dish begins with a roux, which is a mixture of almost equal parts oil and flour stirred over a low fire until it turns golden brown. It’s what thickens and darkens our gumbos and stews and many other dishes. And a roux is not actually used for everything--not cake, anyway.

HANK: And so…

JUNE: You might start with a small roux, maybe 4 T. flour and 4 T oil, although some people make them much larger, maybe 1/4 C. of each. If you have any extra, roux can be saved in the fridge for quite a long time. You’d cook a roux in a heavy pot (keep stirring and watching so it doesn’t burn), and once it’s uniformly brown, add onions and other desired seasonings, stirring until transparent, and then add needed liquid.

HANK: So now that we’re armed with our lovely smooth (and unburned) roux, tell us a real Cajun recipe where we can use it!

JUNE: How about making Stuffed Crabs!

HANK: First get some crabs...

JUNE: I'm ignoring you! :-) Easy to get crabs in LA--and I'm sure crab meat is everywhere!

SO take: 1 C. crab meat, 1 large onion, 2 T. flour, 2 T. cooking oil, 1 C. stale bread broken into pieces, ¼ C. chopped bell pepper, ¼ C. chopped celery, 2 T. parsley, ½ C. water, salt and pepper to taste. Make a golden brown roux with oil and flour. Add bell pepper, celery, and onion; cook five minute. Add water and cook until thick. Add crab meat and cook about 15 minutes. Add bread and chopped parsley. This will stuff about four crab shells. Sprinkle them with bread crumbs and brown for a few minutes in the oven. Terrific!

HANK: That would work with shrimp too, I bet. I’m so hungry now.. what else is in your Cajun cook book?

JUNE: Hank, you do remember I write humorous mysteries, right?

HANK: Laughing. But they all have recipes!

JUNE: So here’s one for Chicken Stew: 1 large hen, 3 onions, 1 bell pepper, 1 large T. cooking oil, ½ cup flour, green onions and parsley, salt and red pepper to taste. Cut up the chicken, chop bell pepper and onions very fine. Brown the chicken in hot oil. Remove the chicken and add flour. Stir until the mixture is light brown. Add onions and pepper and cook about five minutes. Add the chicken and one quart or more of boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and when almost done, add green onions and parsley. Stir the stew as it thickens to prevent burning. If you like mushrooms, add a can toward the end. Serve dish over rice. Yummy!

HANK : But now you don’t love to cook?

JUNE: Nope. I love to eat but keep busy and like faster dishes. That’s why I offer Oven Dressing, one of my family’s favorites, on my Web site, Many people down here spend half the day preparing dressing, but my recipe lets you throw everything raw in a casserole dish and stick it in the oven. I hope you’ll check it out.

My squeeze Bob is a terrific Cajun cook. When I want some of his best recipes to include in my books, I ask and he jots them down. That’s why he’s a great help for my books. Also, he stays out of my office. (If I mention problems with my mouse, he’s ready to kill it.)

You can find some of Bob’s recipes in the first two books in my series, RELATIVE DANGER and KILLER COUSINS, available now on Kindle and Smashwords. He’s given me more great dishes for DEADLY REUNION, just released in hardcover. This book has a class reunion taking place on a cruise ship in Alaska. Bob and I sure enjoyed doing the research.

HANK: Thanks, June! So, Reds: Have you ever eaten Cajun dishes? If so, what are your favorites? Have you tried to prepare any?

(And who has suggestions for MWA-U outings in New Orleans?)

And continuing Jungle Reds win-a-book-a -day week--one lucky commenter will win June's new book!

Here’s a link to DEADLY REUNION in case you’d like to take a look:

Friday, August 26, 2011

And Ginger Did It All Backwards!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There are certain movies that are must-sees, right?
If you're flipping through the channels and see, say, Gene Kelly here dancing with the umbrella and the lightpost--you gonna click? No, of course not. You'll slowly lower yourself to the couch, saying..oh, I'll just watch this one little part. Right?

Or Fred and Ginger doing the Continental. Or Flying Down to Rio. You'd listen to Put the Blame on Mame. Louis Jourdan singing "She is Not Thinking of Me." Oh, how about Broadway Babies? Struttin' down the avenue, doing what they have to do, to be in a SHOW! And High Society? Forget it. I'm watching every second.

Anyway. What does this all have to do with the hard-driving, thrill-seeking, need-for-speed (and quite hilarious) debut author Tammy Kaehler?

We'll just let her tell you. (And see below for today's question..and today's FREE BOOK!)

From Singin’ in the Rain to Racing ‘Round the Track
by Tammy Kaehler

I grew up watching classic movie musicals from the golden age of Hollywood. My obsession started with Shirley Temple and moved on to Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Top Hat, Summer Stock, you name it. Everything with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, and other favorites. The movies were fun to sing and twitch my feet along with, but their worldview was often very traditional—doesn’t the plot description say it all? “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, BOY wins girl.” With the benefit of age and time, I look back on them and wonder, what on Earth is the girl doing in all of that?

Fortunately, I didn’t internalize that male-female dynamic. I grew up and spent a couple years extolling the values of a women’s college education (I worked in college admissions).

Today, I write a mystery series with a female racecar driver protagonistand if there’s ever a character in charge of her own destiny, particularly as she hurtles 2,500 lbs. of Corvette around a track at 150 m.p.h., it’s Kate Reilly. (ed. note: That's Tammy in the photo below!) Kate’s story would seem about as far removed from those classic films as it’s possible to get. And yet … not only do similarities exist, but watching those musicals just might have predisposed me to write what I do.

First, there’s the element of beating the odds, with a side dish of suspension-of-disbelief. How do Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney save the orphanage in Babes in Arms? How do Judy and Gene Kelly save the farm in Summer Stock? They put on a show! How does every amateur sleuth in contemporary mystery fiction deal with finding a dead body and being incriminated in the murder?

They solve the crimes while also being a success in their day jobs. In Dead Man’s Switch, Kate Reilly gets a chance at her dream job, shows her potential when it counts, and figures out whodunit. All of these characters—literary or cinematic—have something special. Judy can dance and sing, and Kate can drive. But they also have a touch of the average, everyday person about them, which means we still find them relatable.

Most importantly, what classic musicals and traditional mysteries share is the knowledge that everything will turn out all right in the end. I don’t mean every mystery ending is a happy one, but as SJ Rozan says in her excellent talk on genre, the basic arc of a crime novel is that the reader will get to the end and know what happened. There will be a reason for the tragedy or the crime—which is often better than we get in real life, where events and situations are often random and unexplainable.

In mysteries, as in movie musicals, the good guys usually win and the bad guys are typically caught and punished. The farm is saved, the race is completed, if not always won—and sometimes, the girl even gets the boy. Obviously characters in mysteries aren’t toe-tapping their way into the sunset in every final scene, as on screen … more’s the pity?

Much as I might like to attempt to stretch my point and argue that mysteries are as silly as movie musicals (some cozies are, perhaps), I won’t. I’ll simply admit to enjoying it immensely when the joy or despair in a character’s soul can only be expressed by a soft-shoe, a waltz, or a softly crooned ballad. I guess if Kate ever breaks into song in one of my novels, you’ll know why….

HANK: Well, I just read they are figuring out how to do ebooks with soundtracks! So sounds like you're a perfect candidate. (Do you think that's going to work?)

How about you all, Reds? Are you musical fans? What's your fave? One lucky commenter will win Tammy's DEAD MAN'S Switch!


Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate marketing introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.

Ed note: ooh, lookit that cover blurb! Hot stuff!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sew What?

A crime-solving ghost and magical charms from the past make PLEATING FOR MERCY a sure winner! The Cassidy women are naturally drawn to mystery and mischief. You’ll love meeting them! —NYT Bestselling Author Maggie Sefton

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Remember the first time you ever sewed? I have such a clear memory of the first thing I ever made. It was back when Home Ec was called Home Ec--my sister told me it's now called Hum Ec, for Human Ecology, but I refuse to believe that.

Anyway, back in the day, girl took home ec and boys took shop. That's how it was. We learned to make baked bean burgers, and tuna pizza--I mean, can you imagine anything worse? THAT was supposed to inspire us to become good cooks and homemakers? But I, as usual, digress.

We also learned to SEW. With a pattern.

I must admit, I thought this was pretty cool. Being a kind of chubbette, at the time, for whom shopping was basically a hideous enterprise, the idea of making clothes that fit was genius.

Don't try anything too difficult, my mother warned. So did Mrs...oh, gee, I forget the teacher's name. Anyway, I decided on a pleated skirt.

I know, I know, dumb, but it was 1964 and I was enthusiastic.

So I got his fabric, and got a pattern, and cut it out and put in the zipper and did the pleats and it WORKED, by golly it did. EXCEPT, the pattern on the FRONT of the skirt went one way, and the pattern on the back of the skirt went the other way.


What I needed, I now know, was a little Harlow Cassidy magic. Via Melissa Bourbon's delightful new character!

(All the Cassidy women possess special gifts. Harlow Jane Cassidy’s is creating beautiful dresses. And in Melissa Bourbon's new book, she’s about to discover secrets in her own family, and another gift—one that can reach beyond the grave… When her great-grandmother passes away, Harlow Jane Cassidy leaves her job as a Manhattan fashion designer and moves back to Bliss, Texas.)

Shades of Tim and Heidi! This adorable mystery is Project Runway meets (a very hip and grown-up) Nancy Drew.

Melissa--how did this all begin?

MELISSA BOURBON: I was in elementary school when my mother taught me to sew. The first big project I made completely on my own, a dress, was hard, definitely, but I am nothing if not dogged and focused when I put my mind to something.

The pattern had the option of using two coordinating fabrics which I decided to attempt. I made the whole thing from scrap pieces from my mother’s ample collection. I worked for hours and hours on that dress, even adding buttons up the straight skirt. I was so proud of myself, but what I remember most is how proud my mom was. That was the beginning of a lifelong love of sewing.

Sewing is, in some ways, a lost art. I’m teaching my daughter. She went to a fashion camp this summer. She doesn’t love sewing (it’s hard work, after all), but thanks to Project Runway, there seems to be a renewed interest in fashion, in general, and she has an interest in it.

But attention spans are different now from when I was a kid, and it’s so easy to go into a store and buy something nice at a fairly reasonable price. So, why sew?

I asked myself this question as I came up with and wrote Pleating for Mercy, the first Magical Dressmaking mystery (which was released on August 2nd). What is it about sewing and fashion that inspires my character, Harlow Jane Cassidy (a descendent of Butch Cassidy)? What is it about sewing and fashion that inspires anyone who has a love for this craft?

For Harlow, it’s about the creativity, the art, and the heritage of hand sewing in her family. I have that in my family, as well. Generation upon generation of women have sewn, quilted, embroidered, and knitted. It’s a legacy, and that’s something infused in Harlow’s fictional DNA.

One of the best parts of writing this series is that I get to research fabrics, fashion, style, and accessories. I bought Nina Garcia’s (from Project Runway) The One Hundred (tips for every fashionable woman). I bought a book on vintage 1800s dress design (book 2, A Fitting End has Harlow creating a period gown for a town historical pageant). I get to buy dress forms and trims and myriad other goodies to inspire me.

I may not have much time to actually sew, but I get to write about sewing machines, technique, and notions. And I get to peruse bridal magazines, and anything else that strikes my sewing fancy. It may not be the same as sitting down at my Pfaff® and creating a color-blocked dress or a quilted tote, but it works. For now.

So tell me, are there any sewers out there? Any quilters, knitters, or crocheters? What is your take on sewing for today’s generation of girls (and boys) as compared to what it was in the past?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I must say--most of the women who work with me could not--and I am not exaggerating--thread a needle. And, actually, might not even realize why they should! How about you?

And continuing our win-a-book-a-day at Jungle Red, a copy of PLEATING FOR MERCY will be sent to a lucky commenter!



Here’s what Hank Phillippi Ryan said about Pleating for Mercy. I have her quote hanging up to inspire me as I write book 3 in A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series. Love ya, Hank!

“Enchanting! Prepare to be spellbound from page one by this well-written and deftly-plotted cozy. It’s charming, clever and completely captivating! Fantasy, fashion and a foul play—all sewn together by a wise and witty heroine you’ll instantly want as a best friend. Loved it!”~ Hank Phillippi Ryan Agatha, Anthony and Macavity winning author

Visit Melissa at her website

Melissa on Twitter

Melissa on Facebook

And at Books on the House, a website bringing books and readers together!

About the Author:

Melissa Bourbon, who sometimes answers to her Latina-by-marriage name Misa Ramirez, is the marketing director with Entangled Publishing. She is the founder of Books on the House, the co-founder of The Naked Hero and is the author of the Lola Cruz Mystery Series and two upcoming romantic suspense novels (written as Misa Ramirez).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

18,850 SALADS

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Addictions? Oh, yes. When it comes to food, I tend to have addictions in cycles. There was one summer, many years ago, when I was in the throes of a love disappointment, that I lived on frappucinos and plain bagels. I craved them. I went through a broccoli and baked potato phase. And I just finished a peanut butter and apples addiction.. I cannot look at peanut butter and apples now. NO. But that's after a many-month love affair.

When it comes to clothes, I'm clearly addicted to black. If you look in my closet, it's like being in a silhouette. Black, black, black. I just did a little shopping, and even the store clerk could not contain her amusement when I arrived with my choices in the dressing room. "The Hank Collection," she announced. "Black, black and black."

But if I had to finish the sentence: Not a day goes by that I do not have______"-- hmm. What would that be? I would certainly miss coffee. And my brain-alarm absolutely rings when it's time for the six o'clock news--it's actually kind of scary.

But the wonderful mystery author Kathleen George knows how she'd finish the sentence. And her answers might surprise you!

What would she miss?

Eighteen Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty...Salads!

KATHLEEN GEORGE: I have addictions: Ice cream, chocolate, baseball, football, reading, writing, and salad. By this I mean that if a day goes by (sports in season) in which I do not do or have these fixes, I’ll feel restless, funny, unfinished. Also, let it be noted that there are a few weeks in autumn in which it is possible to get both baseball and football on the same day.

The salad thing started when I was a child. The elder, helpful child, I got a daily assignment (beyond practicing the piano and cleaning the upstairs). I was to make the family’s salad for dinner. I learned later than many Lebanese people are addicted to salad dressed in lemon and olive oil and that they have to have it daily. There was once a secretary in my department who was married to one of my countrymen and she exclaimed, “He says he needs a salad every day. He makes it.”

Yes, I know,” I said. “Lemon and olive oil.”

Lately one of my brothers in law, said, as if he could surprise me, “ “Vivie makes a huge salad every day, I mean huge.”

“I know,” I said.

In summer the salads are glorious with the lemon and tomato juices mingling. In winter, we eat the salad anyway. Lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, sometimes mint, dressed in lemon, olive oil, lots of salt, coarse black pepper. Everything tastes better—steak, pork chops, salmon, chicken wings, lentils and rice, everything.

When I traveled on Semester at Sea, I bought a bowl in one port and thereafter each time I hit a port, I stocked up on vegetables I could store in my cabin refrigerator. In France, Cape May, Provincetown, Mexico, wherever I go, I make salad.

I read. I must read. Every day. No exceptions.

My husband taught me about writing every day whether I felt like it or not—whether I felt I was doing something good or not. “Ten years later,” he assured me, “you can’t tell the bad days from the good days.” After I started writing every day, that was it. And addiction for sure. If a doctor’s appointment can’t be rescheduled and I have to be out of the house in the morning, I am pretty growly for the day.

So I write, bad or good. I check the baseball scores. I make a salad, winter and summer. I might read or have chocolate midday. I definitely have chocolate in my ice cream at night. I definitely read before I go to sleep. Some of these are ordinary addictions, I know. Some aren't particularly healthy.

On the other hand, I think of the poor folks who need alcohol, heroin or crack. I write about them substituting one fix for another. Alcohol and Valium in combination are what keeps my character in FALLEN going, alcohol buffers the pain and guilt in AFTERIMAGE, heroin and booze mark two characters in THE ODDS, and I have a fellow who needs crack in HIDEOUT. My detective friend and mentor tells me that substance abuse us contributed to a huge amount of crimes. Might there almost be no crime without it? Wikipedia (we don't rely on it, of course!) says:

“One survey shows that in about 67% of child-beating cases, 41% of forcible rape cases, 80% of wife-battering, 72% of stabbings, and 83% of homicides, either the attacker or the victim or both had been drinking.

Addiction, the mystery writer’s friend . . . .What’s your fix?

HANK: Or--because summer's almost over: What's your favorite salad? Continuing the Jungle Red win-a-book-a-day this week: A copy of Kathy's brand new HIDEOUT to one lucky commenter!

Kathleen George is the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR and the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist, best novel), and HIDEOUT.
Her website is

And let me ad
d: *HIDEOUT got a starred review from PW!

In Edgar-finalist George's stellar sequel to The Odds (2009), Cmdr. Richard Christie and Det. Colleen Greer of Pittsburgh Homicide look into a late-night hit-and-run, in which a young woman died. Meanwhile, brothers Jack and Ryan Rutter, the two young men in the truck that fatally struck the woman, skip town and break into an unoccupied house in Perrysville, a nearby summer community. Jack is a hapless, sweet-natured kid, but Ryan is an angry, drug-addled coward who's looking for an excuse to hurt someone. The suspense grows as the innocent people of Perrysville go about their business--and the owner of the brothers' hideout heads home for the season. An expert at handling investigative details and pacing, George makes readers care about the people who are about to confront each other. The inevitable violence hurts because it matters. Told in lean, efficient prose, this is a top-notch, emotionally satisfying police procedural. (Aug.)