Friday, September 30, 2011

A CONVERSATION ON WRITING WITH LOUISE PENNY


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Louise Penny and I have been friends since her publisher sent me the galley of her first book, Still Life. I thought it was the best thing I'd read in years, and that she would be a shining star in the literary firmament. (Turns out I was right, wasn't I?) There's nothing Louise and I like better than a chance to have a good old writerly natter. The last time we had a chance to do this in person, we were in London. We met Ann Cleeves at Le Pain Quotidien in Notting Hill, and lunch turned into a long afternoon chat about writing and books. Then Louise and I walked across Hyde Park on a perfect autumn afternoon and sorted out the state of the world.

So today, we thought it would be fun to have the sort of conversation we'd have in person, and to invite you to join in.


DEBS: First of all, congratulations on Trick of the Light. It's a brilliant book, I think perhaps the best of the series so far, which is saying quite a lot. The reviews, the awards, and the sales have been fabulous. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by all this?

LOUISE PENNY: You are just so kind to say that, my friend. Thank you! Especially coming from you, whom I not only adore but admire as a writer - and aspire to. Thank you. You know, I think a lot of people assume writers are nasty to each other, and some are - but our reality is that your success helps me and my success helps you, and we're just happy for each other. Thrilled, in fact. I know far more writers of crime fiction who are genuinely happy for the success of others, than are not. This is quite a difficult field, so why make it worse by trying to bring others down? I try to stay away from people, other writers or otherwise, who are just nasty. Which is why I so adore you, Debs. you're the anti-nasty.

But, back to me, me, me.

It's a funny sort of feeling. Wonderful, exhilarating. The dream come true. People are buying the book, coming to events, writing me. But suddenly so much more is being asked of me. More events and interviews. And I'm not sure I have that much more to give. I think it helps that this isn't my first book but my seventh and so the success hasn't been like a tornado, out of nowhere, but a sort of lovely, slower, sunrise. But it's still easy to be dazzled by it, and thrown off a little. It's so hard, don't you find, talking about this without sounding like some spoiled little girl, burdened with success. And it's not a burden, but it is more draining. It's hard to explain this sort of contradiction. I love the success - completely. I love that people are reading the book and come to events, and am genuinely grateful.

But I also get run down fairly quickly. Tired. But it's not just the tour. What comes with this are a lot more discussions with the publisher, strategizing for what to do next, interviews. And suddenly the requests for personal appearances skyrocket. And I haven't, in the past, been very good about saying no thank you. I'm getting much, much better. But I feel horrible doing that. When the first couple of books came out I was the one begging for bookstores and libraries to pay attention, to invite me. I don't want to become that writer who's too big to visit a smaller library or bookstore -after all, they were the ones who created my success. Do you find the same thing? If we say yes to everything we have nothing left for writing, or our families and friends. But what to agree to and what not to? How do you handle it?


DEBS: I don't think I handle it very well, but I have become better at saying "no" over the years. You're on a punishing book tour schedule at the moment. It's always wonderful to talk about a new book, and to hear reader's reactions. But do you sometimes feel a sense of displacement? Because by the time a book is published, we, as writers, are usually well into, if not finished, with the next book. So we've been living in our imaginations in a new and different story for a good while. Do you have any special way of pulling yourself back into the just-published book, so that it has immediacy for you?

LOUISE: Oh, I love talking about this! Before Still Life (my first book) was even bought by a publisher I went to listen to a crime writer talk and he described being interviewed and asked about characters from an earlier book, and he said he sat there, stumped. None of it sounded familiar. The audience of other crime writers roared with laughter and recognition. I sat there, confounded. How could that be? How could you possibly forget characters or events from a book, since I had Still Life practically memorized.

But now I understand. I've just spend almost a year thinking about, living with and in, writing, considering and editing Book 8. It was all consuming. I was rushing to finish it before going out on this book tour for the very reasons you describe. I knew if I spent six weeks back in the characters and events of A TRICK OF THE LIGHT, I'd 'lose the plot' as it were, of book 8. I managed to finish the book and turn it in. But leaving it behind was a wrench. I felt like a cargo ship, one of those old, barnacled vessels that had to make a turn and wasn't doing it very quickly or very elegantly. Luckily, for the past couple of tours I've started with a five hour train trip from Montreal to Toronto. I take the book that's just being published with me, of course, and spend the trip finding readings for the tour and scanning it. Remembering
themes and phrases and characters. And just getting myself back into that story. What's been sort of fun, and very challenging, on this tour is that I've done a couple One Book, One Community events. This is where an entire city (or in one case, a whole Canadian province) chooses to read a single book - and then the campaign ends with the author visit. One place chose Still Life and the other chose Bury Your Dead. So I've found myself discussing three books - while still trying to disengage from Book 8. No wonder so many writers are nuts. I honestly think that as long as we show up to events clothed and sober, we're doing well.

DEBS: I know exactly what you mean. This week's panel at the Henley Literary Festival and the BBC Radio interview will be the first time I've really spoken in public about No Mark Upon Her, which I finished last November! So I'll be reading a galley on the plane to London, trying to drop myself back into the story and the characters and the place. I'm looking forward to it, too. Going back to a book is like meeting old friends, and it also really gets the gears going for the book-in-progress. Do you find that as well?

LOUISE: Great way of putting it. Meeting old friends. A year or so ago, when reading from Still Life for the first time in years I actually started crying. I think it was partly the pleasure of meeting those old friends - but also all the memories of that time, when Still Life first came out and I held my first book in my hands - that unimaginable time - all overwhelmed me. The problem I have, though, is when or if people ask why I did something in a book that is three or four or five years old. I can't explain why I chose the clothes I'm wearing - to explain something that I'm sure made literary sense at the time, many years later, is very difficult. I end up sounding kinda moronic. Do you find yourself in that position - explaining something from years ago?


DEBS: We've talked here on Jungle Red earlier in the week about writing mementos--I tend to save little physical things that remind me of a particular book. (Right now I'm looking at the painted enamel canal-ware mug I bought when I was writing Water Like a Stone, now holding pens on my desk.) Do you keep any physical touchstones that connect you with your books?

LOUISE: I don't. But I love the idea. Most of the things that remind me of writing a particular book I end up eating. Different sorts of pastries accompany me through different books. For the latest book it was these very thin cinnamon and raisin bagels, toasted. With a bowl of cafe au lait. Whenever I smell cinnamon now I'm immediately back in the living room, in front of the fireplace, writing. What I do have, though, is a playlist. I never listen to music while actually writing, but music really inspires my writing. I listen to it a whole lot while driving or walking - it opens something inside me. And each book has a different sound track. On flights I stare out the window and play the different sound tracks. On the ipod I have them all listed. And again, I'm transported. Do you find music plays a part for you? I'm really curious to know if you have any thing you do that allows you to get ever deeper into a character or a theme.

DEBS: I'm laughing out loud here. Your books always make me want to eat!!!! I dream of the food at the bistro!

And I love the idea of soundtracks. Could you give us just a little hint about what you've listened to for different books?

I'm not as good at listening to music as I should be, especially since two of the previous books and the one in progress center on music--opera in Leave the Grave Green, Gregorian Chant in A Finer End, and the main character in the b-in-p is a rock guitarist. I did listen to chant for at least a year while writing A Finer End--and I love the idea of your new book (more on that in a bit.) But at the moment I'm exploring all kinds of music that I'm not very familiar with, and loving it, but I hadn't really thought of making a soundtrack. Hmmm.

LOUISE: I'd forgotten you'd also explored Gregorian Chants. How wonderful. I knew we were sisters of the soul. My sound tracks are real mix ups of all sorts of music. Lots of Celtic - some classical, some classic rock like don McLean, some rap - I love Eminem, though I suspect he'd be humiliated to know a middle aged white Canadian woman was listening to him. Alicia Keyes, Ali in the Jungle, Lux Aeterna, Foo fighters. All a bit of a smush up.

DEBS: Have you found a way to integrate the private writer, the person who sits for hours struggling to get a sentence just right, wearing old sweats (in my case), and drinking endless cups of tea (although I imagine you drinking cafe au lait from the bistro) with the public writer, who is (more or less) well-groomed, articulate, and who must talk about a book as if it appeared full-blown, a WHOLE thing, not an amorphous jumble of ideas stuck together with terror, prayer, and the occasional
blinding burst of delight?

LOUISE
: Oh, I do adore you - what a perfect description of the writing life. Old sweats, stained with bits of food and dribbled coffee or tea, fighting to keep terror at bay and sometimes, sometimes, standing up and feeling that wings have somehow sprouted. Elevated, miraculously, beyond anything I'd planned to write. Yes - that's me. And the real me. The touring me is also a facet, but much smaller. My preference is always to be at home, with Michael. Quietly. Not even answering the phone. A perfect day for me is one without other people. I'd make a great hermit. But not, I think, eventually a happy hermit. Meeting people, and having to go on tour, is probably a blessing.

I've been thinking about this and realize what I like and what I don't. I like doing the events. Standing in front of the room and talking with people about the book and the series. I like signing books and chatting with readers. I don't like a different hotel room every night. I don't like crappy hotel rooms. I don't like the travel itself. And while I know people are doing it to be kind and hospitable, and that it's part of the job for me - I honestly don't like the social side - the dinners I'm invited to. I'd rather order room service, conserve my energy, and use what I have for the event.

DEBS: One of my guilty pleasures is room service in a nice hotel room when I'm tour. Like you, I love the events and signings, but they're draining, so I tend to be very protective of that little bit of down time. I very seldom even turn on the television or talk on the phone. And I have my little hotel-room-as-sanctuary rituals; the careful unpacking, the book and reading glasses by the bed, sometimes even a little scented travel candle. It's a way to make it seem like the space belongs to me, and it's very centering after a day of throwing everything outward.

LOUISE
: I'm quite anti-social. Always have been. But, oddly, I actually like people. But it can get overwhelming. I have to say, when I speak, I sure admit the terror and the muddle and my confusion and my crappy first drafts - and all my insecurities. you do too, I know. You're very open with your readers. Were you always?

DEBS: I've never forgotten how kind people were to me when I first started writing, and how overcome I was when I met REAL writers for the first time and they were not only nice to me, they seemed just like ordinary people. Which of course we all are, but I think we're also a little split. It's a funny job, isn't it? It requires a capacity--actually a very deep need, I think--for time spent alone. But on the other hand, I like people. I'm very social, I like interacting with readers and other writers. And if I didn't like people I doubt I'd enjoy writing about them as much as I do.

And speaking of the next book, I think you're finished, or almost finished, with the new Gamache novel. Can you tell us anything about it?


LOUISE
: Dear Lord, woman, you're dragging me baaaaack. Bitch.Actually, as you know better than most, we never really leave any of the books behind, and certainly not the latest. Yes - book 8 is actually called The Beautiful Mystery and it's set in a remote monastery in Quebec, where the monks have taken a vow of silence but have become, unexpectedly, world famous for their recording of Gregorian Chants. It's such fun to see Gamache and Beauvoir in that setting, with men who barely speak. It becomes, really, an exploration of voice and communication - and all the ways we
express ourselves, with and without words.

DEBS
: I LOVE this!!! (You knew I would!) And what a challenge this will be for Jean Guy. I can't wait to read it. And the one that's gestating now. But I suspect if I join the "write faster, writer faster" chorus, you'll hit me over the head with something.

LOUISE
: But it will be edible. A croissant, perhaps. Killed by a croissant - death where is thy sting? Love the travel candle idea, thank you. I'm very scent oriented. And I just heard from Michael that your latest book has just arrived at our home - and I'm dying to get back there....a huge treat to look forward to at the end of the
tour.

DEBS
: Louise will be checking in to Jungle Red today to answer questions and respond to comments, although honestly with her tour schedule I'm not sure how she's managing that! But do say "hi" to Louise if you have the chance. It's been such a treat to have her on Jungle Red!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

THRILLS, CHILLS (AND WINE) WITH SOPHIE HANNAH


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've just done a panel called "Crime and Wine" at the Henley Literary Festival with the delightful Sophie Hannah.

I'm thrilled to be back in Henley, where I've set my latest book, and on a panel with Sophie, as I am a huge fan. Sophie has just come back from a grueling tour for her new book, just out in the US, The Cradle in the Grave, so we were both a bit jet-lagged, but we had a great time. (And yes, we did get to drink the wine.)

The Cradle and the Grave is Sophie’s fifth psychological thriller to feature detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer.

TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four – numbers that mean nothing to her.

On the same day, Fliss finds out she’s going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four…

Intriguing? The Guardian says, ""This book's triumph is that it is not just a perfectly executed psychological thriller, but a pertinent meditation on society itself." -The Guardian

DEBS: Was this your first US tour? And if so, did you enjoy it?

SOPHIE HANNAH: No, it was my fourth or fifth US tour - I can't even remember which, I've been doing this for so long! I tend to use Bouchercons as a way of counting. So, I've been to Bouchercons in Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and now St Louis - so this is my fourth US tour. Oh, no, fifth! Because once I also came out to America in the summer. (As you can see, I'm still a bit jet-lagged!) Yes, I have loved all my tours and all my events - great fun! - apart from one bookstore, where the staff were unbelievably rude to me.


DEBS: What about Bouchercon? Did you enjoy it, or were you too jet-lagged? Bouchercon is exhausting under the best of circumstances.

SOPHIE: I loved Bouchercon - it's always one of the highlights of my annual tour. It's wonderful to meet so many people who really know about crime fiction - fellow experts! And lots of friends, and I always make new friends too. Also, I enjoyed my panel on 'The Troubled Protagonist' - it gave me an opportunity to point out that you can't divide fictional or real people into troubled and non-troubled. It's a totally false distinction. Everyone has their problems!

DEBS: You've written very well received comic novels, award-winning poetry that is studied in schools, and books for children. Did you always want to write crime fiction? Who were your influences?

SOPHIE: Yes, I always wanted to be a mystery writer! It's far and away my favourite genre. My influences at a young age were Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, then, slightly later, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. Then, later still, Val McDermid and Minette Walters...I am an avid crime fiction reader. I also still write poetry, though, and short stories, and I have plans to write all kinds of other things. Not instead of crime fiction - as well.

DEBS: You were a Fellow Commoner at Cambridge, a Fellow at Oxford, and are now a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Can you explain to American reader what these terms mean?

SOPHIE: All these titles are just, basically, fancy ways of saying 'Writer in Residence'! No responsibilities, nothing I don't want to do, no teaching - I'm just attached to the college; I'm the writer that belongs to that college. At Lucy Cavendish, I help to organise a fiction prize, and to programme and run the annual literature festival, Women's Word (it's a women-only college).

DEBS: (I want to be a Fellow . . . you have my dream life. ) All your crime novels, like mine, are series novels. Are there non-series crime stories you want to tell, or do you feel that the series novels, as they tell such complex stories from so many viewpoints, give you enough scope?

SOPHIE: I do feel there's plenty of scope in my series novels, yes, since each one is mainly narrated by a protagonist who is unique to that novel, so every book feels very fresh and unique to me. It's only my police characters that return. However, there's an idea I have for a novel which I think could be brilliant, and it simply won't work as a series Simon-Waterhouse-and-Charlie-Zailer novel. So, yes, I will one day write a standalone. Definitely. Also, I think an author should always surprise his/her readers. And I'm too interested in writing itself, the possibilities that are out there, to restrict myself to a series indefinitely. Having said that, I have no plans to stop writing about Simon and Charlie, as I adore them, so will probably mix series and standalone - and maybe even start a new series (assuming I don't drop dead from exhaustion before doing all this!)

DEBS: The Zailer/Waterhouse books are being adapted for British television. Can you tell us about that? Will we see them in the US?

SOPHIE: Yes, they'll come to the US eventually! The first one (The Wrong Mother/The Point of Rescue) was broadcast in the UK in May, and the next one (The Dead Lie Down/The Other Half Lives) is being made now and will be on next March. They did a fantastic job! Stars Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd were superb as Simon and Charlie.

DEBS: I can't wait to see them! But why do the books have different titles in the US and the UK? I really like the UK titles.

SOPHIE: My US publishers think my English titles are too subtle! Hence the latest book: A Room Swept White in the UK, The Cradle in the Grave in America - only the American title makes it clear the book involves some dead babies! Actually, I love having two titles for each book - makes me feel doubly productive, when I look at a list of my output!

DEBS: I adore Simon and Charlie, too, and I can't wait to read it--although I might have to buy the UK version as I'm here and have the choice. Love the title ... it's brilliant. Thanks for dropping in, and for those of you who haven't read Sophie, I'll just say you must--smart, funny, dark, um (a bit) twisted, and completely addictive.

You can learn more about Sophie at http://www.sophiehannah.com/, and she'll be dropping in to chat on Jungle Red. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ENTER THE DRAGON


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been fortunate enough to know Crescent Dragonwagon (if you're curious about the name--and who wouldn't be--you can read about it HERE) for almost twenty years. She was, once upon a time, the best of all innkeepers at a magical place called Dairy Hollow House in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is where we met, but in the years since our paths have crossed in several strange and interesting ways.

Crescent now lives in Vermont, and I'll let her describe herself for you, as I couldn't do it better. "Your basic ultra-prolific trans-genre'd writer (novels, children's books, cookbooks/culinary memoir, poetry) who also leads workships in which participants go from I've-always-wanted-to-write-BUT into fearless action. Plus, makes one hell of a rockin' cornbread. It's dragonisma!"

And she is brilliant at all those things. I've been cooking from Crescent's Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book almost as long as I've known her. It's my favorite cookbook, and I've given it to everyone I know who cooks. (And some who don't, in hopes that they will.) So I think we'll start with the cookbooks, and expand from there.

DEBS: Can you tell us about the new cookbook coming out this year?

CRESCENT DRAGONWAGON: Bean by Bean will be out in mid-December. What's it about? On the one hand, cassoulet... Dahl... Chili Mole... Elsie's Cuban black bean soup... Senegalese peanut butter stew... vegetable-bean hash with poached eggs... Peter Rabbit's Salad... Three Sisters Salad with Green Beans, Fresh Corn, & Zucchini Ribbons...socca... Peanut-Butter Banana Cream Pie...

On the other hand, much more.

Deb, my deep fondness for beans has its roots in my early days as a home cook and a young, newly-on-my-own frequently impoverished freelance writer.

That there could be an ingredient which was so inexpensive yet so reliably satisfying, and so amenable to diverse incarnations --- soup, chili, salad, side-dish, even dessert --- was a great discovery for me. Not only could I eat well for not too much money, I could entertain and feed others, which as you know, is something I've always loved doing. Eventually a skinny little cookbook, my second, grew out of -it. It was Workman Publishing's first cookbook. It was called The Bean Book, had a spiral binding, and retailed for $2.45. This was 1972. I was 20 when it came out.

Fast forward 39 years (and they did fast-forward). Along the way I became, among other things, an ardent gardener (legumes are the one agricultural plant family which actually enriches, rather than depletes, the soil in which it grows), a vegetarian (protein!), an innkeeper in a part of the country which reveres beans and cornbread. I also kept growing as a cook and a traveler; Indian, Asian, African & European winds blew through my kitchen.

Bean by Bean is a cornucopia of all this: as with all my cookbooks, they're seasoned with lore, how-to, anecdotes, silliness (the sidebar 'Beans That Aren't" includes not only coffee, chocolate, and vanilla beans, but Mr. Bean and jelly-beans), memoir... and recipes. Also as always: I fall in love with the ingredient or dish I'm focused on, and just keep on discovering and reinventing. Beans are generous, as a plant and as an ingredient (I just roasted a few pounds of them from my own garden, with garlic and tomato, and froze them last night, for the winter). I hope to infuse those who read and cook from the book with this sense of generous possibility.

And it's with Workman, who did the first one so long ago.

DEBS: The soups from the Soup and Bread Book that are the staples in our house are the bean ones! Especially the Black-eyed Pea Soup. Fabulous. And the Skillet Sizzled Cornbread. Oh. My. The best ever. But before I get out my cast iron skillet, let's talk about the new children's book. I've had a peek at the illustrations, and they are gorgeous!

CRESCENT: "My little one/lay down your head/ it's time for rest/ it's time for bed... You tell me,/ 'I'm not sleepy now'./ 'Just try,' I say, You ask me how... " So begins All the Awake Animals, in which a mother tells her child, animal by animal and letter by letter, how every creature is getting sleepier... or is already asleep. "Baby bison is bedded down by the barn, beside her brother... Cat's curled up on a crimson couch cushion..." It ends with another small, rhymed exchange between mother and now-very-sleepy child. I've seen the rough sketches, by David McPhail, and they are luscious, gorgeous, perfect, warm, cozy, but with just a little mystery...

This is my first picture book in nearly a decade, so I'm thrilled. It's also my first ever with Little, Brown.

DEBS: AND can you tell at least a bit about Fearless, as I think our readers will love it. We have a lot of aspiring writers who read the blog.

CRESCENT: Basically, participants discover --- experientially, as they write over the weekend; not just abstractly --- how to use uncomfortable feelings, such as fear, anxiety, uncertainty as forces to power creation, rather than stop it.

As Jerri Farris, who's taken Fearless twice, said, "Now I laugh at my limitations on the way to work. "

DEBS: HERE is a link to a wonderful pictorial essay on Facebook that explains the genesis of Fearless Writing. (I'm not actually sure I want to share this, as I think anyone who reads it will want to sign up. Then Fearless will be booked up for the next decade, and there won't be any room for me . . .)


For more about Crescent and her work, there are two wonderful blogs:

Nothing is Wasted on the Writer: Living, loving, writing, reading, thinking. Listening, tasting, sniffing. Cozying up to mystery at midlife. I think we're all part of the narrative life tells itself.

And:

Deep Feast: writing the world through food: if you want answers to the big questions (identity, life, love, death), start by talking to your dinner. Oh, yeah: recipes, too.


I'm addicted to both. Hope you all will be, too!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

LONDON CALLING

DEBORAH CROMBIE: As you read this, I will be back in lovely London, staying in my favorite little hideaway hotel in South Kensington, trying to recover from jet lag before going on to events in Henley on Wednesday. In the midst of my usual frantic packing and last minute prep (does everyone else do that, or is it just me?) I was trying to organize my thoughts about what I needed to do the following week, when I will be back in London and doing some much-needed research for the book-in-progress. And I wondered what I might bring back with me that will keep me feeling connected to this particular book over the next few months.

Because it occurred to me that over the years, and the books, I have begun to collect what I think of as "writing momentos." Not that I haven't collected enough British things over the years! (We're not even counting the London Transport posters, or the teapots, or my photographer friend Steve Ullathorne's London prints. Or the generic things like handmade journals from Portobello Market , jewelry, hats, gloves, scarves . . .)

But rather things that are specific to a particular book. Touchstones. (On Friday, Louise Penny has some interesting things to say about how she stays connected to her books.)

There is the painted enamel canal-ware mug that I bought at the Canal Museum in London when I was writing Water Like a Stone. It now holds pencils and pens on my desk.

A scrap of framed chant manuscript, from A Finer End. A (rather cat-hairy) purple tartan blanket from the Scottish book, Now May You Weep. AND, although the bottles of scotch bought while writing the book have long since disappeared (mostly drunk by other people) I still keep a bottle of good scotch to remind me of those wonderful visits to the Highland distilleries.


From No Mark Upon Her and my time spent in Henley, I have a Leander pink hippo mug, and a Leander wooly hat, which I actually wore out sculling on the Thames. (But that's another story.)

So what do I want to bring back this time, to keep me centered in the current book?

A vintage Fender Stratocaster. Preferably Fiesta Red.

Somehow, I doubt that is going to happen. Sigh.

What about you, Jungle Reds and dear readers? Do you need things that physically tie you to your books?

Monday, September 26, 2011

FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES

DEBORAH CROMBIE: On Sunday night, September 25th, a new series, Pan Am, premieres on ABC. Set in 1963, it stars Christina Ricci, and "follows the lives of stewardesses circa 1963 and their bouts with passion, jealousy and espionage at 30,000 feet." (I'm quoting the show's Facebook page.) "Stewardesses," mind you, not "flight attendants." Remember them? If you don't, the show will bring it all back, especially those adorable sky-blue uniforms and the little pill-box hats. And girdles. They had to wear girdles!

It all sounds like complete fluff--super soapy Mad Men in the Sky--but the show is directed by Thomas Schlamme of The West Wing, and written by Jack Orman of ER. Not only that, but for all you former ER fans, this season will feature a four-episode guest arc with Goran Visnjic (Dr. Luka Kovak). Be still my heart.

But pitter-patter aside, all this retro-sixties air travel glamor started me thinking about the way we used to dress for plane flights. Can you imagine that we used to actually "dress up" to get on a plane? (My first plane flight, for the record, was circa 1966--a Dallas to Houston hop on a prop plane for my brother's wedding, on which I disgraced myself by having to use the sick bag. Remember those? These days I am, fortunately, a much better flyer.) Even in the mid-seventies, when I made a number of trips to Europe with my parents, we took our in-flight ensembles very seriously. My mother was horrified at the thought of not being well-turned out on a plane.

These days, I'd wear pajamas on a transatlantic flight if I could get away with it.

I'll have to watch the first episode of Pan Am a few weeks after the premiere, as on Sunday night I will be boarding an American Airlines 767 flight to London. Ten hours of scrunched up economy, bad food, and circulating viruses. Glamor, indeed. I'll take my own blanket as I'm not sure AA is still giving them out in Economy even on transatlantic flights. (Business Class is my idea of heaven...)

What about you, Jungle Reds? Do you miss the days of glamor in the skies, when air travel was an adventure rather than a trial?


JAN BROGAN
: I still can't believe I used to smoke cigarettes on an airplane. But while I miss leg room - and will pay extra for it -have to point out that air travel is also way more affordable. No matter how much glamor there may or may not have been (wasn't most of it in our heads anyway, because the experience was rare?,) you were always cooped up on an airplane for an ungodly amount of time. At least now it costs less.

But of course, I suffered from a really bad plane phobia for a long time and now I don't. So for me, personally, there's been a lot of progress in air travel.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, it used to be such fun! My sister and I would fly to see my father (When I was maybe, 10? And Nina 7), and instantly scoop up all the little salt and pepper shakers from the dinner tray. Remember? They had real food! And we thought those little bottles of alcohol were SO exotic. We dressed up, of course.

And I adored the flight attendants, and wanted to be a "stewardess" for such a long time. I mean--they were gorgeous, had those cool uniforms, and were so worldly, and seemed to be in charge.

Now I make sure I have a shawl and flat shoes and non-smelly food. And I still am impressed by the flight attendants. They are so patient, and so brave.

RHYS BOWEN: I remember the first time I flew to Australia the plane made about six stops along the way and at each one we had to get out and go into a lounge. And every segment they served another meal and more alcohol. My husband John was an airline sales manager so we got to travel first class everywhere, but had to dress accordingly--me in suit and high heels, the kids as if going to church. I liked getting dressed up. I liked the glamor of flying. I liked the linen table cloths and the caviar (sigh). And friends coming up to the plane door to see us off and my kids sitting up with the pilot and helping to fly the plane. When John was laid off reality struck and the kids stared in horror. "You mean we have to fly economy?" they asked. It's been going downhill ever since.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, that makes me laugh. "You mean we have to fly economy?" And also helps put in perspective my nostalgia for flying in the pre-deregulation days. Yes, it WAS nicer, and people did dress up instead of wearing pajama pants and flip-flops, and you actually looked forward to the "jet set" experience...but I wasn't the one paying for the tickets back then.

Hank, my mother had a whole collection of those china salt-and-pepper shakers! When I think of the glamor of air travel, I think of my mom back then - a slim, stylish officer's wife in a miniskirt and long red hair. (I quickly add she's still slim and stylish.) Even back in a time when there were porters and skycaps all over, my mother perfected the art of packing for a week in a single Samsonite Fashionaire.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: We didn't fly anywhere when I was a kid - it was more like piling into the Chevy and driving to upstate NY. How glamorous you all were! Don't remember my first flights - probably Freddie Laker to Europe. Anyone remember him? I'm sure I wore jeans and wanted to look adventurous. Nowadays i try for Kate Moss chic - black, denim, shawl, slipons, large carryon. I think it works, although I suppose there's always the chance I think I look like Kate Moss and I really look like a bag lady.

In the 80s I didn't pinch the salt and pepper shakers but I had a pretty large collection of those cloth napkins with the hole in them (so men could attach them to their shirt buttons.)

It is nice to fly first class or business - and I upgrade whenever I can - but I'm a pretty good traveler and don't really care, particularly if my husband is with me. What I do confess to loving is Priority Access. Not having to wait in line is such a good thing!

LUCY BURDETTE: Ha, ha, you girls make me laugh. Hank, you'd be the best stewardess ever. And Ro, you couldn't look like a bag lady if you tried! We didn't fly when I was young either, we drove everywhere in a station wagon with no AC, two German shepherds, and a pop-up trailer towed behind. The only flight I can remember really loving was an accidental upgrade to first class years ago from Hawaii to New York. It was one of those planes where the seats reclined completely into a real bed. Heaven. We took a bike trip in Hungary this summer and I lobbied hard for an upgrade--told my sister-in-law we were doing that so she could pile on.

"I'm not that big," she said. "I don't need that much room."


I'm not that big either, and I'm here to say that has nothing to do with it! Being treated like a reasonable human is what I crave. And I DO look like a bag lady when I travel--it's all about comfort and as close to PJ's as I can get:).

DEBS: I lost my Priority Access this last year--missed it by 500 miles. Didn't have immediate trips planned so didn't want to pay the ridiculous fee to re-up. I am SO regretting that . . .

What about you, readers? Do you still like flying the friendly skies?

Oh, and be sure to come back, as we have a great week! We have the multi-talented Crescent Dragonwagon to tell us about Fearless Writing, and cooking; thriller writer Sophie Hannah; and on Friday, Louise Penny!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin!





ROSEMARY HARRIS: So happy to find this recipe online (so I didn't have to type it.) I first made this cake at least 15 years ago! It was originally in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine. The only reason I remember that is because I misplaced the recipe (..this pre-dated everyone's being able to look up everything online and expecting to find it as I just did) and I CALLED the magazine - easily three years after I first saw it and someone there found the recipe and sent it to me. Can you imagine that kind of customer service now? Anyway..I make this every fall and since it's officially fall, here goes..



(btw..for some reason the pic only shows two layers but it's actually four layers. - two cakes sliced in half.) It's heavenly and you WILL look like a domestic goddess.


Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Torte
Prep: 50 min. Bake: 20 min. Cool: 10 min.

ingredients
2-2/3 cups toasted slivered almonds
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 15 square crackers)
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
8 eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
1-1/3 cups sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese , softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup finely chopped pitted dates or raisins
1/2 cup chunk-style applesauce
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel





Directions
1. Grease and flour three 8x1-1/2-inch round baking pans; set aside. Process or blend almonds in small batches in a food processor bowl or blender container, covered, until nuts are finely ground but not oily. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in crumbs, baking powder, 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, and 3/4 teaspoon orange peel; set aside.







2. Beat egg yolks and 2/3 cup of the sugar in a small mixer bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for 6 minutes. Stir in pumpkin and vanilla. Fold in nuts.







3. Wash beaters. Beat egg whites in a large mixer bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add remaining 2/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Fold 1 cup of the egg white mixture into pumpkin mixture. Fold pumpkin mixture into remaining egg white mixture. Spread evenly in prepared pans.







4. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until light brown. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool thoroughly on racks.








5. For the filling, in a small bowl beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the brown sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice; beat well. Stir inthe dates and applesauce. Set aside. For the whipped cream, in small chilled mixing bowl beat the whipping cream, 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon orange peel with an electric mixer on medium speed just until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

6. To assemble torte, split each cake layer in half horizontally. Place bottom of one split layer on a serving plate. Spread with about 2/3 cup of the Apple-Date Filling. Repeat with remaining cake layers and filling, ending with top cake layer. Spoon Sweetened Whipped Cream on top layer. Serve immediately or cover and chill up to 4 hours. Makes 16 servings.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Remember bookstores??

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I certainly remember bookstores. I was a Waldenbooks bookstore manager in Lawrenceville, NJ and then I was transferred to manage the "big" bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. At the time it was the highest volume store in the chain. It was one of my favorite jobs ever and I often refer to my five or six years managing bookstores as my version of an MBA - I learned so much. In addition to learning about book marketing - bomb scares, shoplifters, employees, um, making out in the stock room - I learned how to handle a lot!

But now that I'm on the other side of the book gondola, so to speak, - where have I been in the last nine days? A library in Greenwood, IN, a mystery conference in St. Louis, a street book festival in Brooklyn, NY, a casino in Uncasville, CT and a five state fair in West Springfield, MA. Nary a bookstore in sight. It isn't that I don't still love them and wouldn't go in a heartbeat if invited, but as bookstores disappear non-bookstore venues are becoming my bread and butter. I don't mind sharing space with gamblers and people selling chamois mops (what ARE those things and why do people need so many?) if it means that I can meet readers and chat them up.

Maybe the fact that I used to be in Special Markets Sales when I was in the video business prepared me for this. I sold adventure travel videos to sporting goods stores, fine arts videos to opera houses, puppy videos to pet stores! Never sold to video stores.

A very sweet woman actually said to me today (at the Big E) "wow, how often do you get to meet a real writer?" And a father said to his three daughters "this woman wrote all these books!" Forget the ego boost - wait a minute, let's not forget the ego boost, there are far too few of those in life - when people see your books and hear a few words about them they BUY them.


Yes, I know I could "sell millions online for 99 cents" in my jammies, from the comfort of my living room. But for how many people is that really working ? Four? Five? One hundred? And how many thousands more are deposting $10 checks from Amazon because no one knows they exist.

Of course, I'd like to do it all - be an online hit, see my books stacked a mile high at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square and have them fighting to get into Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor to hear me speak. But tomorrow, I'm heading back to The Big E where I'll stand in the Connecticut bldg. I'll bring my little "show in a basket" - bookmarks, signs, badge holder, biz cards, etc. and talk to hundreds of strangers, many of them carrying chamois mops.

What's the strangest place you've ever sold books or seen books being sold?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ms. Fix-it?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I think there's a line in a Woody Allen movie about one's appliances acting in concert and deciding to fail three or four at a time. Mine must have had a powwow last week because this week I've had a steady stream of - things that didn't work whihc in turn caused another thing that didn't work - me.

Computer died. the one that 3 experts and PC Warehouse said there was nothing wrong with. I resurrected an old one - just for the time being and spent a full day downloading drivers for it. I had a lot of shipping to do this week and wanted to have a movie on in the background - DVD player didn't work. Wanted to make sure I got to the post office on time so I checked my - kind of expensive - watch which I had serviced 9 months ago. You got it. Didn't work.


In addition, all the rain we've had has wreaked havoc on every door and window in my house so simply getting some air has been torture.



Why are these relatively small problems so exasperating? A tree didn't fall on our house during Hurricane Irene. My husband, my dog and I are all healthy. Is it that when machines or appliances stop working I'm completely baffled as to why something that was fine 24 hours earlier is now dead as a doornail? I'm fine with natural disasters but let the Ipod or the toilet stop working and I start snarling.

Can/do you fix things..or do you just pitch them? (not that one can pitch a toilet...)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Letters From Home


ROSEMARY HARRIS: This has been quite a year for me re: old pix, documents and even recipes which I have either stumbled upon at tag sales or have discovered in the course of going through the home of a recently deceased relative.

Two days ago I received an envelope containing a batch of letters - all written in 1945 by a dear aunt. Sixty-six years ago she must have been in her early twenties and she was writing to her brothers who were in the service. They are surprisingly well-written for a young girl of modest means who was home looking after parents,nieces and nephews and the occasional girlfriend (my mother in particular.)They are wonderful letters filled with popular culture (she loved the movie A Bell for Adano), philosophy, spirituality and war news.

But my favorite is dated Friday, September 14, 1945 and it's about Dashiell Hammett, who had apparently just returned from the Aleutian islands where my father was still serving. (Who knew..I guess you really can see Russia from Alaska. Not only was my father there, but so was Earlene Fowler's.)

Like my father, Hammett was posted to the island of Adak. Hammett was assigned to write for the local newspaper, The Adakian.

















I don't know whether Hammett wrote the piece she refers to for the 50,000 troops on the island or for the folks at home, but Aunt Mary didn't think much of it! Here's a snippet of what she had to say...

"Fred, dear,
This is what is known as looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Dashiell Hammett just returned from a two year stay in the Aleutians..He writes melodramas for the movies; stories that have a sophisticated touch, so that may have an effect on his romanticism for he paints the Aleutians as a place of beauty. The footing, he tells us is rather precarious, hence the average G.I. spends most of his time looking downward whereas he tells us he looked up and never saw more beautiful mountains and lakes...Mr. Hammett is too romantic...the bleakness of the islands, the hurricane speed of the wind are quite unromantic things and they should be painted with stark realism."

You tell him, Aunt Mary! From this vantage point I'm guessing they were probably both right - from the pictures I've seen online Adak was wildly beautiful but barren and difficult. What a treat for me to find that my feisty, cigarette-smoking, scotch-loving 90 year old aunt was as much of a pistol in her youth as she was in her senior years!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Song of the Open Road

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today our guest blogger is Rachel Chou, Chief marketing officer at from Open Road Media. I didn't get to hear the presentation from Rachel's colleague at Bouchercon (and maybe you didn't either) so here's what Rachel has to say about one of publishing's newest and most innovative companies.

Connecting Mystery Authors with Readers
While reading is a solitary activity, it is also inherently social. People tell their friends about a book they just loved or that they hated, discuss the latest bestseller at a local book club, or rediscover an old classic on a colleague’s recommendation. So in this day of social networking, online and off, what can a publisher offer readers and authors beyond what they are already doing on their own?

Open Road Media, founded less than two years ago, is a digital publisher and multimedia content company. We strive to create connections between authors and their audiences by marketing their ebooks through a new proprietary online platform, which uses premium video content and social media.

Open Road has published ebooks from legendary authors including William Styron, Pat Conroy, and Virginia Hamilton, and has launched new e-stars like Mary Glickman. We have a constantly growing mystery/thriller list that includes Ruth Rendell, Jack Higgins, Lawrence Block—and the addition of dozens of authors with the recent partnership with Otto Penzler’s MysteriousPress.com.

Throughout the publishing process, we work closely with our authors—who we see as partners, not clients—and use a variety of new media tools to market our books, including online advertising, social media, and content partnerships, as well as traditional publicity. We want to bring our authors and their fans together, and our “special sauce” comes from the ongoing marketing into and within readers’ social circles. It’s not only about the launch date, but also about ways to connect with readers months and years after a book has been published.

We are often asked what truly distinguishes our marketing. I believe it is the quality and variety of the content we syndicate. Whether it’s sharing five questions with Jack Higgins, hearing from Jonathon King on the occupational hazards of working the crime beat, giving new life to a 1982 article by Lawrence Block, or asking Ruth Rendell about the weird mother-son relationship in A Dark-Adapted Eye, we’re interested in bringing these new insights to readers, wherever they are.

Another example of this content comes from our in-house production team. These incredible producers, production assistants, and cinematographers travel around the globe to film our authors and capture their worlds. Instead of focusing on a single title for a release, hours of filming are conducted and the interviews therein cover a wide-range of topics, from writing to authors’ passions and life backstories.

You can see authors speaking about achieving “thrills and chills” or geeking out for International Geek Pride Day. You can watch a profile about horror master Ira Levin, for which we interviewed contemporary writers, such as Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain, who were influenced by his work. Based on the above range of videos, it’s easy to see that from serious to silly, inspirational to celebratory, the topics for discussion are truly endless.

There are few genres with more opportunities to engage directly with readers than mysteries. At the end of last year, the Book Industry Study Group released a report revealing that mystery fiction is one of the two fastest growing genres for ebooks. And the digital and offline worlds are filled with dynamic and engaged communities of mystery readers. As a result of the rise of ebooks and online communities, iconic books can, in the words of our cofounder and CEO, Jane Friedman, come “back to the future.” With robust digital marketing, Open Road is paving the way for these incredible reads to be found.

Here's a look at something Open Road created for one of its clients...pretty cool.


Visit Open Road at http://www.openroadmedia.com/Default.aspx

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Killed first, made to look like suicide







ROSEMARY HARRIS: I was at a tennis match a few weeks back when I got an email with the above subject line Killed First, Made to Look Like Suicide. I showed it to my friend and we agreed that Killed First would make a good book title (unfortunately not for my WIP.) Even before I read the posts - which may have been on a SINC listserv -I knew to what they wewre referring.




Following is a pastiche of a few articles that ran in newspapers this summer concerning the death of a southern California woman.

San Diego area authorities have concluded that the July hanging death of the girlfriend of the CEO of drug maker Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. was a suicide.
At a news conference, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Rebecca Zahau, who lived with Medicis Chief Executive Jonah Shacknai in Coronado, Calif., died by suicide, not by homicide. The 32-year-old woman was found July 13 hanging naked from a small bedroom balcony at their home with her feet and hands bound.



Her death was all the more shocking because it happened just two days after Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, suffered fatal injuries in a fall down a set of stairs at the home.


I don't pretend to know more than the Sheriff and at the risk of sounding heartless, I think if I handed in a story like this to my agent or editor I'd be told it was wildly implausible.


Wouldn't there be some drugs at the home of a pharmaceutical executive that could get the job done in less dramatic fashion?


Naked? What woman over thirty wants the entire planet to see her naked body - especially after the effects of a hanging which I gather from movies is not particularly pretty or tidy. Hands and feet bound? Let me put on this noose (made of sheets, I believe)tie my hands and feet and hop over the balcony?


This doesn't strike me as someone overcome with remorse over the accidental death of a child in her care who - if I were writing the story would probably take a bottle of pills with a bottle of vodka and simply slip away.


RHYS BOWEN: I'm always fascinated by real crimes and how completely dumb and clueless the real police departments can be. How do they think the order of this death went? Strips. Binds feet. Hops across to balcony. Puts noose of bedsheets round neck before binding hands. Hops off balcony?? Just not possible and so stupid too. Of course it was a homicide and one designed to deliver a strong message to her boyfriend who hasn't been supplying drugs to the right people etc. Death of son should also be investigated as homicide. What they need is a team of smart mystery writers, ready to travel around the country to help out clueless sherriffs departments!

HALLIE EPHRON: This news story so unbearably sad. I can't even imagine the level of despair that would lead someone to kill herself in this way, but losing my six-year-old son could do it. True stories are often so sad and incomprehensible that they make lousy fiction.

RO: The death of any child is heartbreaking ..although this was her boyfriend's son not her own and there's been the suggestion that she was at fault and perhaps her death was in retribution. I hadn't read about the possibility of drug dealers being involved.


What do you folks think? Would you write this story? Have you already?

Monday, September 19, 2011






ROSEMARY HARRIS: 'Tis the season. I know a lot of us have just returned from Bouchercon, the annual capo di tutti capi of mystery conferences - and I have too. But I left St. Louis a day early for the Brooklyn Book Festival.


In my never-ending quest to go - as my husband puts it - wherever two or more are gathered to talk about my books and meet readers I've discovered book festivals.

When I was younger the only one I had ever attended was New York is Book Country and as I recall it was kind of weird because they didn't sell books. If I'm not mistaken publishers had booths and you could LEARN about the books but you'd have to buy them somewhere else. Oh my how things have changed. NYIBC went away for a few years - probably while publishing execs had meetings to figure out that maybe they should sell books and I didn't attend another until the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2008. VA Book takes over Charlottesville for close to a week and they have a series of panels and talks they call Crime Wave which I've been fortunate enough to participate in.

At VABook I met a woman who recommended the Decatur Book Festival outside of Atlanta. Went with Meredith Cole. Loved it.

Every year I've added at least one book festival to my schedule. It isn't that I don't love the mystery cons but at general book festivals and fairs you get to meet so many different people - poets, biographers, historians. It's kind of cool. And you're not - ahem - one of 500 authors all writing in the same genre.

Two years ago I found out about the Collingswood Book Festival in C'wood NJ and I'll be returning on Saturday, October 1 with other members of MWA's NY Chapter. Collingswood is a small, lovely town just outside of Philadelphia (oh, yeah..did that one too this year.)I know it's not just about selling books but dang if I didn't sell 5 times the number of books there than I did at the previous mystery conference.

So what's your favorite book festival?

RHYS BOWEN: Book festivals are something I plan to do more and more. My thinking is that most people in the mystery world already know me and this is a great way to meet new readers. I attend the LA Times Festival of the Book every year when it doesn't clash with Malice Domestic, but it is huge and all the biggest names in the literary sphere show up. I remember looking at the next book from us and there was Ray Bradbury. I mean, Ray Bradbury. I never thought he was a real breathing human being. Awe-struck. So I think my favorite festival so far is the Virginia Festival of the book. Great small town atmosphere and lots of panels to give writers good exposure to their readers. Next year I'll have a November book out and plan to attend several such fairs. Any suggestions?

JAN BROGAN - I'm not the conference or book festival mavens that you guys are, but I will say one of the best times I ever had was at the Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor. I think a large part of that has to do with the awesome planning put in by Aunt Agatha's Bookstore in Ann Arbor -- and how terrific bookstore owners Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie are. I met great people and great readers.

HALLIE EPHRON: I love love love book festivals. And so in awe of Rosemary's connectedness with book and library festivals. The one I want to get to is the Virginia Festival of the Book. Yoo hoo! Hope they'll invite me one day.

But by far my favorite events are writing conferences. Willamette Writers in Portland, OR. Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The Writers Digest writing conferences wherever they are. Penn Writers. The wonderful Mad Anthony writers conference in Hamilton Ohio ("The City of Sculpture"). Aspen Writers was my capo di tutto whatever. And now I'm looking forward to Antioch Writers.

LUCY BURDETTE: First of all, may I say how sad I am to miss Bouchercon? It's sprawling, exhausting, intimidating...but so much of the mystery community gets together for the party--I miss it! I have hardly attended any book festivals, other than the New York is Book Country back in the day when there were no books. Hmmm. I'd like to visit some of these others, but it's so darned hard to figure out where to spend money and time! I AM looking forward to the Midwinter American Library Association conference in Dallas--thanks to Ro, our intrepid library maven!



ROSEMARY: Brooklyn Book Festival was great! Lots of great authors and thousands of wonderful readers. Can't wait to do it again next year! Meet us at the fair...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Purloined Peach Cobbler

LUCY BURDETTE: So it's peach season here in Connecticut and the peaches are amazing--so tasty! Bite into one and the juice runs right down your chin, as one of our local food stand owners will tell you if you try to walk away without buying something. My hub needed dessert for his bridge cronies and I thought I remembered saving a recipe from allrecipes.com for peach cobbler last spring. This was the first time I tried it and the results were spectacular! And not at all hard to make--though if you don't have decent and ripe peaches, just go for chocolate.

I prefer light on cinnamon and no nutmeg or lemon, so I took those out. You could also try adding half a teaspoon of almond flavoring or vanilla to the topping, but I don't think it's necessary.

Ingredients
• 8 fresh peaches - peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
• 1/4 cup white sugar
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (I didn't have this and it turned out fine)
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch

• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup white sugar
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
• 1/4 cup boiling water


Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
2. In a large bowl, combine peaches, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour into a 2 quart baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips, or a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.
4. Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with sugar. (Here you could add more cinnamon if you're of the more than less school of seasoning.) Bake until topping is golden, about 30 minutes.

We ate some hot right out of the oven...mmm, mmm, mmm. It would also take kindly to whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, in my opinion. John's bridge cronies ate it with chocolate almond chip with no ill effects...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sisters in Crime: Celebrating 25 Years!


LUCY BURDETTE: I like to imagine being in the room about twenty-five years ago when nine or ten feisty women crime fiction writers got together to talk about their careers. They realized that men were drawing the majority of book reviews and that women's books weren't getting nominated for awards at the same rate men's were. And smart women, they knew that letting readers know about a book is a necessary prerequisite to selling. And so the concept of Sisters in Crime was born. (Here's a wonderful history about those early days and years.)
Today the organization has grown to 4000 plus members with chapters in most states and a smattering of other countries.

But when I was starting out writing my first mystery (as Roberta Isleib), I knew none of this. Only after I landed a contract and got published did I meet my first "sister"--Hallie Ephron. "You should join this organization," she said. "It will be good for your career." She said the same thing when I was nominated as vice-president and then president of the New England chapter, and then went on to serve on the National board and as its 21st president.

And she was right. I've learned more than I could ever describe about the nuts and bolts of writing and the publishing world from SinC. But best of all, I've made lifelong friends who support each other through the peaks and the troughs of this crazy writing life. So thanks to that first gathering of brave and thoughtful women. And here's to twenty-five more years of Sisters in Crime!

I know my other JRW sisters are members too. What are your thoughts or memories about SinC?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: WELL..so glad you asked! I remember going to one of my first SINC meetings at the home of someone named Jan Brogan and the speaker didn't show up so Jan and someone named Hank Phillippi Ryan and I just took over and created a program. (I had never met either of them before but if I'm not mistaken, we were brilliant.)

I've met so many great people..too many to count. And of course there is the famous generosity of spirit SINC members share. I was honored to be asked to be president of New England SINC a few years back following in some great footsteps - including yours Lucy!

LUCY: And you did a great job, Ro! The amazing thing about the New England Sisters is the president also co-chairs the New England Crimebake conference. It's a miracle any of us stagger out of that alive. But we have so much fun!

HALLIE EPHRON: I remember that meeting, Ro. You were definitely brilliant.

I think the first "sister" I meet was Kate Flora. She's a founder of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and became one of SinC national's presidents. The thing I appreciate so much about the organization is the focus on promoting the work of women mystery writers (as opposed to promoting MY new book). I remember so many writers coming to meetings before they were published and staying for the long haul. Like the current chapter president and VP, Sheila Connolly and Barbara Ross.

RHYS BOWEN: I remember going to my first SinC meeting when my first mystery novel was about to be published and feeling overawed because I was in the presence of big name SinC founders Linda Grant, Sue Dunlap etc. But being made to feel instantly welcome and that I'd arrived in the right place. I've felt that way ever since.

If you're members, we'd love to hear about your experience in SinC! And here's to 25 more years! (Photos include Carolyn Hart, Joanna Carl, Margaret Maron, Mary Saums, Jim Huang, Cathy Pickens, Kathy Wall, Beth Wasson, Nancy Martin, Charlaine Harris, and an early iteration of the JRW gang--all taken at SinC events.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Barry Eisler and The Detachment

You've seen blog tours. You've seen book excerpts on authors' sites. But have you ever seen first five chapters of a to-die-for thriller on five separate blogs? With commentary, interviews and essays?

No you, haven't. It's never been done before.

Our guest today specializes in "never been done before." Barry Eisler has been a CIA operative, a technology lawyer, and a Silicon Valley start-up exec. After his John Rain series achieved critical and commercial success, Barry shocked the literary world by turning down a major contract with one of the Big Six publishers in favor of self publishing. Then he set New York buzzing again when he teamed with Amazon for their groundbreaking digital publishing venture. Smart people in the industry keep an eye on what Barry's doing. Smart readers keep an eye on what he's writing. If you haven't read one of his icy-hot thrillers yet, you're in for a great ride.

JRW: Barry, it's a treat to have you here with an excerpt from The Detachment on the day it goes on sale.

Barry: My pleasure, guys, and thanks for having me.

JRW: A lot of people are excited about the return of your series character, the half-Japanese, half-American assassin John Rain. What made you decide to bring Rain out of retirement? And to combine him with your black ops guy, Ben Treven, and the other characters from the Treven series?

Barry: Well, I never felt like Rain retired exactly. It was more that, at the end of the sixth Rain book, Requiem For An Assassin, it felt like he was going to get a break for a while -- a chance to work things out in Paris with his lover, Mossad agent Delilah. Of course, that romance didn't end happily (for the break-up itself, there's my short story, Paris Is A Bitch), so I imagined Rain back in action in a general sense. And then, as I closed in on the end of my previous book -- Inside Out, a Treven book -- and started thinking about the plot of the next one, I realized my antagonist, JSOC Col. Scott Horton, would need several high-security, high-profile targets to die of what looked like natural causes. Which meant he would need someone like Rainso why not Rain himself?


And once I started thinking about putting into the same mix all the Rain characters and all the Treven characters, I fell in love with the idea. I mean, these guys are all so dangerous, and also so lone-wolf… what would happen if they were forced to work together? They'd barely be able to avoid killing each other. And what would happen if everything went south (because, of course, it's going to), and they're betrayed by their employers, and the entirety of America's metastasized national security state is targeting them… will they turn on each other? Will they be able to avoid that? And if so, how?

So overall, the book became a continuation of the Inside Out plot (though it also works perfectly fine as a standalone) but with Rain as the central character. And I got to drop him into the biggest canvas I've painted to date: rolling terror attacks across America; an attempted coup; presidential hit-teams, secret prisons, White House backstabbing… everything. All as real and timely as I could make it, and quite a challenge for my unlikely team of lone-wolf killers.

Here’s Chapter 4 of Barry’s new thriller, The Detachment, available today exclusively from the Amazon Kindle Store (and in paper in bookstores everywhere on October 18). You can read other chapters, and Q&A with Barry on other topics, at the following blogs:

Chapter 1 – Truthout: The Politics of The Detachment

Chapter 2 – A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: The book’s unusual path to publication

Chapter 3 – Buzz, Balls & Hype: The book’s image system

Chapter 5 – A Newbie’s Guide to Writing: Publishing a book with Amazon



Chapter 4

Larison stood just beyond the ambit of a streetlight, watching the silent images on the handheld video feed. One second, an empty street; the next, a crazy montage of kaleidoscopic images: limbs/grimaces/a car/a building/the sky flashing past. Darkness. Then the sky again, and glimpses of Rain, apparently going through Beckley’s pockets. Rain’s face in close-up, peering with dawning recognition directly into the button lens on Beckley’s cooling torso. A flash of static, then, finally, darkness.

He heard rapid footfalls from the direction of the Jinbocho subway station and looked up to see Treven come tearing around the corner. Larison pocketed the video monitor and stepped into the street with his arms forward, palms out.

Stop,” he said. “It’s already over.”

Treven slowed, his face registering confusion. Probably he’d been expecting Larison to be riding to the rescue, too, no matter how futile a rescue attempt would be at this point. Meaning he hadn’t absorbed what Larison had told him about the contractors not being part of the team.

Go!” Treven said, moving to go around. “Didn’t you see the video? Rain ambushed them!”

Larison moved with him and shoved him back. Treven’s face darkened and he dropped his weight like a bull about to charge.

Larison held up his hands again. “Don’t make a scene,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do. They’re already dead.”

We don’t know that. Rain’s gone, okay, but—”

They. Are. Dead.”

Treven straightened and some of the tension went out of his body. “What about the cell phones?” he said. “The equipment. We need to retrieve it.”

Rain took it all.”

How the hell do you—”

Wouldn’t you have? But it doesn’t matter. I watched him, over the video feed. He took the equipment and he’s gone.”

Treven watched him silently for a moment. Then he said, “You were close enough. You could have done something, if you’d wanted to.”

Larison glanced at the street behind him, then back at Treven. In some ways, he sympathized with Treven, who Larison understood was grappling with his recent first contact with the real world in the same way Larison once had. On the other hand, he didn’t care for Treven’s stubborn patriotism, which he found sanctimonious and na├»ve. And he hated that Treven knew his secret, having discovered Nico, Larison’s other life, when he’d tracked Larison to Costa Rica, looking for the torture tapes Larison had stolen.

You manipulated them,” Treven said. “All that talk about taking the point… you goaded them. Because you knew what would happen.”

Larison shrugged. “What did I owe them? They were sent over here to spy on me. On both of us.”

Treven’s expression was incredulous bordering on disgusted. “They were Americans.”

Larison blew out a long breath. The contractors had been a hindrance, and he had gotten rid of them. It was no more complicated than that. He tried to remember a time when such a thing would have been a problem, when he might have paused beforehand and maybe even felt a pang of conscience after. He couldn’t. It had been too long ago, and too much had happened since.

What does that have to do with anything?” he said.

Treven shook his head. “You’re a burnout.”

Larison didn’t respond. He didn’t know what to do. Kill Treven? But he needed him to get to Hort, and anyway Hort knew about Nico, too.

But once Hort was dead…

Once Hort was dead, the only person who would even know Larison was alive, let alone about his other life, would be Treven. Plus Rain, soon enough, and this other guy they were supposed to find. Larison needed them for now, he knew that. But once Hort was dead, all they’d represent would be downside.

Use the others to finish Hort, then finish them, too. Walk away with the diamonds, and silence everyone who posed a threat.

It was perfect. It could be done. All he had to do was bait the hook. The rest would take care of itself.

He tried not to smile. “Let’s just call Rain,” he said.