Saturday, December 31, 2011
RHYS BOWEN:The Old Year Passeth!
Don't they seem to go around quickly these days?
Later today I'll be completing my yearly ritual for New Year's Eve. I have a special note book and every year I write down my hopes, plans, dreams and resolutions for the coming year. So the first thing I'll do is to look at last year's list and check off those things I have accomplished and note those that didn't come to pass.
It's interesting looking back over the years and noting how my aspirations have moved from being centered on money and career to more spiritual matters. Friends and peace of mind and good health seem to matter more than making a zillion dollars from my writing (although I have to confess I do want that NYT bestseller before I hang up my pen. And an Edgar would be quite nice too--although I have been nominated which is almost as good)
So my list for this year will go something like this:
Make the most of every day. Don't waste one minute doing things that don't bring joy and satisfaction, unless these things are absolutely necessary, like mopping the floor occasionally.
Try to learn something new every day.
Stay fit and healthy. Maybe take up a new sport?
Treasure my family and friends and make the effort to stay connected with those who are far away.
Treasure my husband and try to be patient with his little failings--too numerous to list here.
Laugh a lot.
Be silly with my grandchildren.
Never act my age.
Oh, and write a number one best seller!
Do you have lists for the coming year?
HALLIE EPHRON: I hate new year's resolutions. The whole idea of the gives me a toothache. Still, I do make them. Every year, right up there with finishing the damned book is losing weight. One I manage to do; the other not so much. To which I'd add: stop kvetching especially about things I cannot control and chew more slowly.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Oh dear...I don't. If I did I'd have everything on mine that you have on yours. Perhaps I would pay more attention to the library that my husband and I started in Tanzania. I've left so much of the work to him. He's been amazing since I started writing and I never thank him enough.
And..maybe I'd add some smaller things like..spending less time online!
LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, I love your list--would love to borrow it for 2012!
JAN BROGAN - I may be the only person on the planet who is making a new year's resolution to exercise LESS. But it's true. And Hallie, I just did a story for Monday's Boston Globe with tips from a wellness coach and psychiatrist on new year's goals, and one key is to make really big new year's "visions" without deadline that you later break down into flexible, manageable goals. So my VISION is to be more productive as a writer.How I attain that is flexible. Hmmm... maybe I'll try exercising LESS. See? Doesn't give quite the same toothache. And so much easier to achieve. Kind of. In a way.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm still laughing over Rhys's resolution to be patient with John's "little failings which are too numerous to mention here." My resolutions:
1. To keep up with swimming at least three times a week (it really is helping my poor knees.)
2. To be better at keeping in touch (this one is my perennial, and I never seem to decrease the amount of time it takes for me to return phone calls and emails.)
3. To spend more quality time with my husband (important as the nest is slowly but surely emptying out) AND
4. To finish the next book!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am banishing fear. Seriously. The whole "life is not a rehearsal" thing. Here, now, I love it. Everything doesn't have to be perfect. I do the best I can, and care, and I'm so grateful.
Jan, I'm with you on the vision idea. I'm already pretty organized, focused, productive. But this year, I am going to envision myself differently . I think 2012 is going to be a year of big change, and I embrace it completely. Exciting, wonderful, new. Bring it on.
And I'll be delighted see what wonderful things happen to us all.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I make the same resolutions every year. I can prove it. All I have to do is look at my journal. "Write faster. Exercise more. Meditate. Worry less. Take more time to enjoy every day." I manage to do some of all these things, and not enough of any. So I think maybe this year I won't write anything down. Like Hank, I'll just do the best I can, remind myself often that I'm doing the best I can, and wish all our friends and readers and very happy and productive new year!
So a very happy New Year to all our Jungle Red friends. Anyone else want to share their resolutions?
Friday, December 30, 2011
To help spread the word, Minotaur is also offering In the Bleak Midwinter in ebook format for only $2.99. Then at the end of January, they're offering the second in the series for $2.99 as well. At the end of February - you got it, the third ebook gets marked down to $2.99. This is a shameless ploy not dissimilar to the cigarette companies giving away thousands of packs of free smokes to the GIs during WWII. Their goal, and mine, is to turn you into slavering addicts, eager to rush out and buy every book in the series. (The only health warning attached to my mysteries, of course, is that you risk staying up all night if you start a book in the evening.)
But if the ebook sells the trade paperback, what sells the ebook? How about a free, original short story, set in the fictional Adirondack town of Millers Kill? I've been releasing a series of Christmas-themed flash fiction on my personal blog (you can find the first two here and here.) Yes, Christmas day is over, but good Episcopalians like the Rev. Clare Fergusson know Christmas is a season that runs until January 6th. So: set after my fourth book, To Darkness and to Death:
Away in a Manger
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
The fourth Sunday in Advent. The last of the four weeks of preparation before the feast of Christmas. The vestment and altar colors are Sarum blue or purple. The collect begins, “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation...” And in St. Alban's, Millers Kill, it was time for the Christmas pageant.
“Sydney, hold still.” The Reverend Fergusson struggled to tie a donkey-eared hat beneath the chin of a wriggling three year old.
“I want wings!” the little girl yelled. “I want angel wings!”
Ned Donovan, who had taken on the thankless job of directing the pageant, leaned down. “Sydney, you didn't learn the angel song. You learned the animal song. Won't it be fun to sing it right up next to baby Jesus?”
“I want wings!”
Clare Fergusson looked over to where the last of the angelic choir were suiting up in satin sacks and tinsel halos. “Can't you stick her in an angel costume? It doesn't really matter if she sings or not.”
He sighed. “Sure. Whatever. Come on, Sydney, let's get you changed. You can be an angel.”
“No!” The child's shriek was even louder. “I'm a donkey! With angel wings!”
Ned looked at Clare and spread his hands.
She nodded. “Jesus is a Bitty Baby doll and two of the three kings are girls. I don't think a winged donkey will be stretching it too much.”
“Okay, then. Come on, Sydney. Let's get your wings on.”
Clare left the other volunteers – mostly moms – to herd the cast out of the Sunday school room and into the church for their final rehearsal. She sprinted ahead to the sanctuary, where two dads were muscling the stable roof onto its cross-barred supports. The manger was already in place in front of the altar, with two bales of real hay thoughtfully provided for Mary and Joseph to sit. One of the benefits of being in a small, rural town. She was checking to make sure the two microphones were turned on when she spotted the tall man coming through the narthex doors.
It was Russ Van Alstyne.
Her stomach bottomed out. She replaced the mike in its stand and walked steadily down the aisle. He was in civvies, instead of his police uniform. “Chief Van Alstyne,” she said. “This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Reverend Fergusson.” He paused, then looked past her, frowning. “I didn't expect so many people here.”
“It's a church. At Christmastime.” He gave her a look, and she relented. “This is the day we have our Christmas pageant The kids do a dress rehearsal at nine and perform it at the ten o'clock Eucharist.”
“Ah.” He glanced around at the stone pillars and arched windows of St. Alban's. “No Christmas decorations?”
“It's still Advent. We'll green the church later this afternoon. Did you come here to check out the holiday décor?” She tugged Russ to one side as Nathan Andernach pushed his way through the narthex door. She smiled and waved at the verger. “Perhaps I can get you a schedule of the services?”
“I'm not going to be in town for Christmas.”
“Oh. You're--” her voice faltered. “You won't?”
Russ looked around again. The pageant kids were shuffling in the side door to the church, in roughly their order of appearance. They would process down the north aisle, up the center of the sanctuary, and take their seats in the front pew, hopefully without the youngest getting distracted or taking stage fright. “Is there some place we could go for a little privacy? Your office?”
She shook her head. “I need to be here.” She swallowed. She had a feeling she didn't want to hear whatever it was he was going to say. “Could we meet after services? I have an hour or so before the greening.” She paused for a moment, because she rarely invited him into her home, but if he needed privacy-- “You could come to the rectory.”
He looked down at his boots. “God. I wish I could. But I'll be gone. I'm leaving—we're leaving for Montreal. I have to be at the train station in an hour.”
“Montreal.” With his wife. Of course.
“We're going for a week. Linda has this idea--” he turned and faced her for the first time, “--you know we're in marriage therapy.”
“Linda has this idea that we need time away together. Sort of a...” his voice trailed off.
“A second honeymoon.”
His lips tightened. “The therapist says it's a good thing, to break out of our usual rhythms.”
“Montreal will be beautiful at Christmas.”
“We've got Duane and Tim coming in to cover the extra patrols. So they won't even notice I'm gone at the station.”
“I don't want to go.” His voice was a whisper. “A whole week without seeing you or talking with you--” he removed his glasses and wiped his hand over his eyes. “Christ, I sound like a whiny little kid, don't I?”
The real little kids had assembled in their pews. Mary and Gabriel were taking their places as the narrator – one of the teens in the youth group – read, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth...”
“No,” Clare said. “You sound like a man gearing up to do the right thing.”
“I want to fix my marriage. I swear to God I do. But I can't just turn off these feelings.” He reached toward her. “Clare, I--”
“Don't say it.” She wrapped her arms around herself, “Please don't say it. It doesn't help.”
He let his hand drop.
In front of the altar, Gabriel spread her wings flamboyantly. “HAIL, oh FAVORED one, the LORD is WITH you!”
“That's great.” Ned Donovan's voice drifted up the aisle toward them. “Maybe a little less...dramatic?”
Russ snorted. “Sounds like she's understudying for Evita.”
Clare smiled a little. “The angel of the annunciation and the Fear-not angel tend to be played by the less, um, reticent children.”
“Did you do this when you were a kid?”
“What part did you play?”
She smiled outright at him. “All of them. I started as a cow and worked my way up through shepherd, angel choir, king's page, king and both speaking angel roles to reach the pinnacle of Christmas pageant success – Mary.”
“Where do you go after you've been Mary?”
She gestured to her black clericals. “As you see, I had to enter the priesthood.”
He smiled a little. “God, I love you.”
Clare shook her head. She felt a hot pricking behind her eyes. At the front of the church, Mary stood up. Bits of hay stuck to the backside of her blue robe. “Behold,” she said. “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
“It doesn't matter what you feel or what I feel.” Clare kept her eyes on the rehearsal. “What matters is what we do. I'm going to get through the fourth Sunday of Advent and two services on Christmas eve and another one on Christmas morning. You're going to go to Montreal with your wife and put all your effort into closing the gap between the two of you.”
She glanced at him. He was facing the rehearsal as well. He nodded, a sort of jerk of the chin. “Yeah. You're right.”
A four-foot-high centurion marched to the center of the aisle and unrolled a scroll. “A decwee fwom Caesah Augustus and Quiwinius, govewnah of Sywia. All the wowld shall be taxed.”
“Low bar for auditions?” Russ said.
“No auditions. Everybody plays a part if they want to.”
“Yeah.” He turned to her. He did not touch her. “Merry Christmas, Clare.”
She didn't try to smile. She could at least be honest with her face. “Merry Christmas, Russ.” She didn't watch him as he left, but she felt the push of cold wind at her back when he passed through the narthex. At the front of the church, the animals gathered by the manger. There were two cows, a dog, a cat, one duck and something striped that was either a zebra or a tiger. And there was a donkey. With wings.
“Away in a manger, no crib for his bed.” They were in tune, more or less. “The little lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.”
Clare started down the aisle. It doesn’t matter what you feel. It matters what you do. “The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,” she sang. “The little lord Jesus, asleep in the hay.”
Want to try that $2.99 ebook? You can get one at ebooks.com, at Amazon, at Kobo, at B&N, at the Sony Reader Store and at iTunes.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I promise not to make this a dreaded holiday letter--we all get them, I'm sure--one I had this year literally gave a day by day recital of everything the family had done. (On Thursday Feb 2nd Freddie had a dentist appointment but he was very brave and we were proud of him!!) My daughter Jane threatened to send out a spoof letter : "Oh and we were thrilled when Lizzie won the Olympics and the national spelling bee in the same month..."
So I'm limiting my reflections to three highlights of the year. What were three things that happened this year that you will treasure and remember for the rest of your lives?
My first one is easy because it's still happening--it is having my whole family together to celebrate the holidays, my own children and grandchildren and also my brother and his wife from Australia. Sixteen people in the house for a week--chaos, endless cooking and washing up but so great. Bocce ball tournament, charades, Taboo and musical evenings with everyone playing the guitar and singing. What a blessing and who knows when,if ever, we'll get everyone together again?
My second highlight was our trip to Spain, Morocco and Portugal. It's the first time we've ever taken a tour and I loved having every detail being taken care of by someone else. Bags up to the room, meals provided, evening entertainment and interesting people to travel with.
My career highlight? I think it would have to be the Love is Murder conference, at which I was one of the featured speakers. It was in Chicago, the day after that awful snow storm. We were about the first plane to land and drove along one cleared lane of the freeway with towering snowbanks on either side. I was driven to speak at a library and was sure nobody would come out in such awful weather. Instead the room was full. Amazing. And the conference ended with my winning the Readers' Choice award for best mystery series.
I am so grateful that I've been able to make my writing a career all my life and that the mystery world has not only given me an income and some accolades but some really good friends.
So who would like to share their highlights of the year? On Saturday I'll be looking ahead and finding out our resolutions and dreams for 2012.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: AH, Rhys, having to think back over the last year makes me realize I have NO IDEA what happened half the time. Was it this year that Jonathan had his operation? If so, his health is my number one item--but now, I think that might have been the year before.
Hmm. Clearly I'm not good at the reflection stuff. But certainly, THE OTHER WOMAN. And the two book deal beginning is about as life-changing as it comes. The cover is perfect and gorgeous and I get goosebumps every time I look at it. Who'd a thought?
Second, I won't exactly "treasure" it, but in the remembrance reel, my mother's death at 84 must take its rightful place. She was amazing, hilarious, and ALWAYS RIGHT (just ask her) and I'm completely who I am because of her. My family has a tradition of think of each other when the clock says 11:11. SO, I continue to do that. And I will treasure her memory.
Vacations? Nope, worked all the time. Fun? Yup, but let me think. I see my grandchildren growing and flourishing..Eli can read, can you imagine? And Josh is a big Batman fan--little boys are so funny. What could be better than that?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Three things? Gosh. Rhys, you're brutal... Joining Jungle Red is certainly on the list! I've been so lucky in my writing career to have made so many friends and enjoyed such a sense of community, but this year with my fellow Reds seems to have multiplied that exponentially. And it's been such fun!
And in September I was asked to speak on a panel at the very prestigious Henley Literary Festival, as No Mark Upon Her (Feb. 7th, 2012!) is set in Henley. That was brilliant, but the best thing was being asked to introduce Felix Francis, the late Dick Francis's son. I'm a huge fan of Felix's, as I was of his dad--and as writers we are still fans--but there was an enormous sentimental element for me because Dick Francis was MY father's favorite author, so there was a sense of coming full circle. (And Felix is lovely...)
Oh, so hard to choose one more! A starred review in PW for No Mark Upon Her, hopefully a harbinger of things to come in 2012!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The first thing that pops to mind is professional: ONE WAS A SOLDIER made the New York Times list in April. That was wonderful, thrilling, exciting, but I also treasure the silly family celebration we had - iced champagne (a surprise from Ross) and take out pizza and watching THE KING'S SPEECH. That sort of encompasses the high life here at chateau Hugo-Vidal.
The second thing is not one event, but a season: summer. Short and oh-so-sweet in Maine, especially now our oldest is away for much of the rest of the year. We saw great musicals and Shakespeare in the park, we went to the beach and to the Independence Day pops concert, we ate fried clams and home-grilled burgers. I felt as if we really took advantage of every moment and made wonderful memories as a family.
Finally, it was just about a year ago that I was invited to be part of Jungle Red Writers. It's been a wonderful, hectic, sometimes-frantic, always funny trip. I'm so glad you all asked me to be part of the club!
RHYS: Anyone else want to share memorable moments from 2011?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Who has watched Murder, She Wrote? Hands up. Okay, hands down. That's everyone, right? And read the books? Again, everyone, right? Well now, the author of the Murder She Wrote series of novels along with his wife and collaborator have started a--well, Murder, they Published.
Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain (note the hyphen) are now immersed in the publishing biz! The new company is Hyphenates Books And we're so thrilled they're debuting a new book here on Jungle Red. So--Hyphenates Books?
DONALD AND RENEE: Well, it was originally conceived to bring out digital editions of some of Don's previously published works. But now, Hyphenates Books has published this wonderful novel by Joe Stockdale.
HANK: How'd Joe and Don get connected?
RENEE: Joe was Don's theater professor at Purdue and they have remained in touch all these years. Several years ago, Joe sent Don the manuscript and asked his opinion. Don loved it (and so did I) and tried in vain to interest his agent in taking it on. The book is difficult to characterize. It doesn't fit neatly into a genre. There's no murder, although a death is helped along. It's more of a crime caper, kind of like Donald Westlake with literary overtones.
HANK: My intrepid investigative reporting reveals Joe Stockdale is dean emeritus of the School of Theatre and Film at SUNY Purchase where he helped launch the theater and film careers of many young people, including Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco, prior to which he’d taught theater for 25 years at Purdue University. His long and distinguished career in theater has involved a lifelong immersion into the life and works of Tennessee Williams.
And today at Jungle Red--we welcome Joe Stockdale!
JOE STOCKDALE: Now that I’ve had my first novel, Taking Tennessee to Hart, published at the age of 86, I feel a kinship with the eight Jungle Red Writers, although our differences are obvious, not just physically, but in the great success you’ve achieved. One thing we do have in common is the slug-a-beds who always ask the question: “How did you come up with the idea for your novel?”
Here’s my shorthand answer.
Fact: The esteemed playwright Tennessee Williams added a codicil to his will instructing that he be buried in a clean, white sack at a spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his idol, the poet Hart Crane, had leapt to his death years earlier.
Fiction: What if a friend, a retired theater professor (write about what you know) enlists two young helpers, a soap opera actress and a former flower child rock musician, to dig up Tennessee’s body and deliver him to his preferred resting place?
But as each of you know it’s hardly ever that simple. It’s myriad things in confluence, and the various rivulets flow into and enlarge the river that becomes the story.
I remember driving to work at SUNY Purchase one morning, my car radio tuned to a country music station, its music relaxing before hitting the Halls of Academe. Don Williams was singing Bob McDill’s "Good Ole Boys" and I glommed onto the lyrics: "I can still hear the soft Southern wind in the live oak trees/ And those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me/ Hank and Tennessee/ I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be.” I was directing Tennessee Williams’ "The Night of the Iguana" at the time and laughed aloud thinking how Tennessee would have giggled at being considered a good ole southern boy of song.
Or maybe the germinal idea was when I was on the same stretch of highway in cold, blustery March. I swear I saw a flock, swarm, whatever you call it, of yellow butterflies flying in a wintery field. What were they doing out there in the cold? Didn’t they migrate like birds? And then the idea of being free and doing what you want to do struck me.
Or maybe the germinal idea was when I read in Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s book on Clifford Odets (p. 549) about when Odets and a friend traveled to Cuba on the same boat as Hart Crane, and Crane pronounced, "This is no time for poets," and jumped to his death.
Or perhaps the idea started when I was directing Iguana, and Hanna says to the defrocked minister, Shannon. "When the Mexican painter, Siqueiros did his portrait of the American poet Hart Crane, he had to paint him with closed eyes because he couldn’t paint his eyes open—there was too much suffering in them." Did Hart Crane become Tennessee’s role model, freeing him artistically and sexually?
Then again, it might have struck me when of my Purchase students, Melissa Leo with her red hair and worn leather jacket, was down in the dumps because she couldn’t get work. Or maybe it was because of a guy I knew who needed a father-figure.
In actuality, I got the idea from of all the above in a play that I wrote, Taking Tennessee to Hart. On March 25, 1986, after rehearsals of all the scheduled shows finished, the Theatre and Film kids and I gathered in what was called The Spotlight for the first reading of the play." We finished just minutes after midnight. And following the generous and supportive applause, I told them that "Today is Tennessee’s birthday."
That first try-out of the "idea" morphed into a full-fledged novel. The process was easy since I started out as an actor and always created a back-story for the character I was playing. Same with this novel. I loved discovering the iceberg below the surface that supports that tiny triangle of ice above which becomes the story.
Find the full story of Joe’s detective work linking Tennessee Williams and Hart Crane at Hyphenates Books. Taking Tennessee to Hart is available as a trade paperback and e-book through the Hyphenates website, as well as through amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble online.
HANK: Ah, this is no time for poets. That is--so compelling.And it's amazing to think about the fabulous Melissa Leo being forlorn and despondent. SO! Jungle Red is giving a copy of Taking Tennessee to Hart to one lucky commenter...let's talk about the theater! What's your favorite play? Anything you saw on stage change your life? How?
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
RHYS BOWEN:If you're anything like me you've spent the last week or so baking. And if you're like me, you've been baking the things your mother baked before you. My family always expects mince pies and sausage rolls to eat as Christmas day snacks. A Christmas cake in the afternoon, complete with white frosting. They are not so keen on Christmas pudding but I have to have to anyway because it's part of the English Christmas tradition--it should be brought to the table flaming with silver coins and charms inside.
The smells and tastes of Christmas take me straight back to my childhood. Isn't it amazing the power smells and tastes have to evoke memory? I use them frequently in my books to create Lady Georgie's world of 1930s England. (I don't want to imply that my childhood was in the 1930s, but I'm sure her childhood was pretty much like mine, down to the freezing houses with no central heating). So Georgie eats what I remember eating--my sumptuous feast becomes her sumptuous feast.
And I love reading about meals in other peoples' books. One of my favorite books in the past few years was Nicole Mones's The Last Chinese Chef--an exciting novel that is all about the legends of Chinese cooking. And of course I'm looking forward to blogmate Lucy's new series making its debut next week, featuring a food critic. I hope there will be lots of description of menus.
So how about the rest of you? Do you like reading about food, writing about food? Was your holiday full of childhood tastes and smells?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: A little food is a nice touch in a book. It helps to know if someone is hanging on the refrigerator door eating out of containers or setting a nice table for herself, even if she's alone. Whether her idea of fine dining is pepperoni pizza or Paul Bocuse. Paula Holliday isn't much of a cook so she relies on diner food - some of which is pretty tasty - to keep her going. MY WIP is partly set in Brooklyn so you know there will be more food involved.
My family traditions have changed over the years. I like to have a pot of apple cider simmering on the stove so the house smells nice when people come over - even though not many drink it! And once it dips under 50 degrees I make a fire. My two fave holiday smells!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Baking. Huh. Nope, not me. Sorry, I'm not a baker. I love to cook, and I am a good experimenter, but you can't experiment with baking. That's--chemistry. I bow to you bakers, and will happily accept cookies.
My Gramma Minnie made a fabulous coffee cake, and it filled her house with cinnamon and mocha fragrance--still, my favoirite. After she died, we all pounced on her recipe file box. And we found the recipe! Hurray. But then--it had no quantities. Flour, coffee, sugar, chocolate, etc. No amounts. So the recipe is extinct.
JAN BROGAN - First off, Rhys, I must have that mince pie recipe - mostly because I've never really understood mince pie and I would love to know what's inside from a real, true, Englishwoman.
HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Rhys, I LOVE Christmas pudding. With hard sauce. Or just hard sauce, served on an index finger.
My mother did not bake. She did not cook except the occasional command performance after which she left the kitchen looking as if it had been hit by Irene and expected others to do the washing up.
I cook all the time. And for the holidays I'm making hanukah cookies (mandelbrot) and iced ginger cookies and trying out a new recipe for a spice cake with a maple bourbon glaze.
LUCY BURDETTE: My father was the only one in the family who would eat mince pie--which I believe he most appreciated as a vehicle for the hard sauce. I already made my double batch of iced sugar cookies as we'll be visiting family over Christmas and not in charge. Somehow a coffee cake called "Aunt Alvina's crumb cake" became the gold standard amongst my family. It's a recipe in the back of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, though no one has any recollection of an Aunt Alvina. Nor can we find her on the family tree. It's mostly butter, sugar and flour, and completely delicious!
And Rhys, I loved THE LAST CHINESE CHEF! Also AFTERTASTE, by Meredith Mileti who was a guest here earlier this year. I love, love, love food in fiction!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Ladies, I'm salivating just reading your comments. So let's see: Baking. I make cookies, and Ross does all the cakes and pies. And I do enjoy reading about food in fiction, because it adds another sensory impression for the reader. If I read, "She stirred the orange chicken in the wok," I can see, smell and taste it.
I made the Rev. Clare Fergusson a foodie because when creating the character, I tried to think of what kind of hobbies or pastimes a young, female Army officer constantly on the move might have. Cooking and running seemed the logical choice. It's added some nice downtime moments to the book, as well as giving characters interesting "business" to perform while talking. Chopping, stirring, and tasting certainly livens up he-said, she-said dialog.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm not much of a baker, but my mom made wonderful pies when I was child. My fave? Mincemeat! I still love it, but unfortunately I'm the only one in the family who does, and I don't want to make a whole pie just for me. (Maybe I should reconsider that...) I love Christmas pudding, too, Rhys! But again, I'm the odd one out, so must fall back on store-bought.
I don't make Christmas cookies or candy, but I do make lovely gingerbread (the recipe is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking.) And nothing smells more like Christmas than gingerbread.
I love books about food, and food in books (so looking forward to our Lucy's Appetite for Murder). What fictional (and real) characters eat and cook and how they feel about food tells so many things about character, personality, background, place... And, as Julia, says, food provides a very nice "bit of business" so you don't have talking heads in your scenes.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Twas the day after Christmas
We're off in the car.
Returning gifts we travel afar...
RHYS BOWEN: I'm not going to ask how many of us are taking stuff back to the store. Instead I want to know what was the one gift you really really longed for and didn't get. If you'd had the chance to whisper in Santa's ear what would you have wished for? Neiman Marcus catalog kind of stuff. The best gift ever. Money no object.(and it can't be world peace or freedom from hunger, because we all want that and even Neiman Marcus doesn't have the power to grant it)
I started gaily on this topic and now I'm finding it hard to come up with an answer because I don't really lust after material things. I'm happy driving my Camry and don't need a Lexus under the tree. If I had a huge diamond I'd only worry about dropping it down the bathroom sink. (I did that to a sapphire).
A few years ago it might have been a date with Robert Redford. But now he's looking a little worn. One thing I've always wanted was to land a 747. To make that giant bird touch down gently would be so cool.
And I'd like a luxury safari... a house on an island in the Caribbean maybe?
So how about you, dear JRW sisters? Secret longings please.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Okay, this is a trick question because if we SAY something we're shallow, but if we say we have all we need we're smarmy. So I'll go first and be shallow - then the rest of you will sound more highly evolved.
I went to a fabulous dinner party last week (Ladies only.) Among other things the hostess had a giving tree from which we all plucked watches or bracelets. But it wasn't just the opulence of the home (I would happily live in her kitchen) or the event. There were two dining rooms set up and I chose to dine in her library. A wonderful book-lined room with a giant fireplace. Me like.
HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Okay, I'll play. And I'm not evolved either, you've seen my closet. Anyway, you're going to be so surprised, because you know me, and you know I hate to drive and and I do not care about cars. At all. But the other day I saw a great looking car. I said to Jonathan: whoa. What kind of a car is that? And he said it was a Porsche Panamera.
FOlks, this is a VERY cool car. SO nice, I started singing a song about it. To the tune of Guantanamera. "Porsche Panamera, I want a Porsche Panamera....Porsche Panameeeeeraaa...we need a porsche panamera..."
We're not getting one. I think--well, how much do they cost?
JAN BROGAN - Oh Hank, please don't tell me there is another Porsche my husband is going to want. We have one, and I hate driving in it. And not because I'm evolved. But because it's too low to the ground and you feel the road. Which I guess is the point, since its a sports car, but I hate going fast. If I were going to long for a car, I'd long for one of those antique Bentley's or even a Model-T Ford. Something you only drive on Sundays and that you usually see parked at ice cream places.
HALLIE EPHRON: Hold the car. Don't need no boats. Can't tell the difference between really good champagne and a 12-dollar bottle. I'd lust after cashmere but it makes me itch. Expensive jewelry makes me nervous.
We're dreaming here, right? The one thing in this world that I would love love love to have is my pick, a print from the original elephant folio edition of Audobon's Birds of America. The Flamingo or the Gyrfalcon or Avocet or Arctic tern or America White Pelican.
LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, ditto on the Robert Redford! Hallie, cannot believe you didn't say something about decadent comestibles...like here's some mail-order ham and bacon, recommended by my new friend Scott Haas, from whom you'll hear next week: Gatton Farms Bacon, found at http://www.fatherscountryhams.com You will salivate just reading about it.
But what I really, really, really want is to see AN APPETITE FOR MURDER on the New York Times extended bestseller list. Doesn't have to be the top twenty, that would be over the top.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, every wish I made on the first star for a year before my last book came out was, "Please let it be on the New York Times list!" And it was! So get star-gazing, and I'm sure AN APPETITE FOR MURDER will do you proud as well.
As for my dream Christmas gift, it's that Ross and I could take an exotic, warm-weather, grown-ups-only getaway. I'd like to be in Barcelona and stay up eating and drinking til midnight, or see Carnival in Rio or go back to southern Africa for another safari. But with two kids still at home, any holiday we take is a family holiday, which can also be lovely except... with one in college, our funds only stretch as far as a weekend up the coast here in Maine.
Of course, I know this is something that can be solved with time. I just worry that by the time we've paid our last tuition bill, the only place we'll want to visit will be the Bide-a-Wee Rest Home!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm with Lucy on the wishing for the New York Times Bestseller list!!! Hallie, cashmere makes me itch, too. Don't especially want a fancy car--I'm perfectly happy with my three-year-old Honda. And Rhys, I agree, Robert Redford is looking a bit worn.
But if we are going for real fantasy here, I'd like to have a Christmas in an English country cottage. With snow. And fairy lights. And a fire. And carols in the village church. Christmas pudding and long, cold walks across the fields with the dogs. With a nice cuppa or a wee dram waiting. (And no murders!)
RHYS: So who would like to share his or her secret longings? And who got exactly what they wanted for Christmas?
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Nipping in before heading out for last minute shopping to add a couple of our favorite off-beat Christmas songs. You'll understand what sort of thing gets played at my house when I tell you one of the presents Ross requested this year was the CD of "A Rat Pack Christmas"...
And a contemporary group that our son got us turned onto: Mannheim Steamroller. Since his favorite music is Scandinavian Folk Metal (I know, I had never heard of it either) we're grateful he has some remotely mainstream holiday favorites.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Not only that, but if you screw up and let the caramel cook too long, your Christmas gift to the neigbors will break their teeth.
And do they really need all those extra holiday calories anyway? I always wonder.
But forget about caramels. If you go in for making Christmas candies, you want my English toffee recipe.Actually, it's my Aunt Clare's Engish toffee recipe -- she's the one who got me started on this candy making business. (although even she was not insane enough to do caramels)
It takes about fifteen minutes, and its absolutely delicious. Just be careful about the pan
Aunt Clare's English Toffee recipe
24 unsalted saltines1 cup butter1 cup packed light brown sugar1/2 tsp. vanilla6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13 by 19 inch pan (or thereabouts) and arrange saltines right side up in a single layer. On stovetop, melt butter and brown sugar. Bring to boil, boil for three minutes, stir at least twice.Remove from heat, add vanilla and pour over the saltines. Spread evenly with a spatula. Bake five minutes. Remove from oven, add chocolate chips, spread as they melt.Let cool ten minutes on a rack. Remove and cut in triangles. BEWARE: If you let the toffee cool too long, it can stick to the pan and be difficult to remove. If that happens, put the pan in a larger pan filled 1/4 inch with hot water and it will loosen the candy on the bottom. Don't overfill.Enjoy!
HANK: Ah, you've been literally burned by candy? When the food fights back, you've gotta watch it. I battled our pop-up timer on this year's turkey (I won. Eventually). And I'm planning a ranting letter to a certain food editor about a fabulous recipe in the paper that was billed as "easy" which took me THREE HOURS on Thanksgiving eve and used every pan in my kitchen. It was, indeed, delicious. But regular sweet potatoes might have been just as good. And take only 15 minutes. (If you want the recipe, just ask. I'll post it. But I'd advise--run away run away.)
Still, family and friends. It makes going all out worth it. And Jan, you think of Aunt Clare every time you make the toffee. That's what its all about.
ROBERTA: I was thinking the same thing Hank. My mother was not much of a cook. She didn't like it and yet she didn't want anyone in the kitchen helping either. She cooked 50's style--everything overdone except for the chow mein out of a can. But when it came to Christmas cookies, she became a machine. We had one of those little screw top presses where you could change the disk so different shapes would be squeezed out--wreaths, candy canes, mini-Christmas trees, etc. And she dyed the dough different colors. Then we put on pounds and pounds of glitter and those teeth-cracking silver balls.
All that to say, it's neat that your daughter's into this ritual Jan--I'm sure she'll always remember it!
RO: All that unnecessary flour? I'm crushed. I'm more like Roberta's mom...a cookie machine. I didn't do it this year (some book thing keeps interrupting me..) but most years I start making my cookie dough in November. Then I pop something like I, Claudius or The Sopranos into the dvd player (for 10 hours of straight video)and make cookies from morning until nighttime - while reciting favorite lines. I've never used the little silver balls though, can you really eat them?
HALLIE: Here it's not a cookie Christmas -- it's dark chocolate covered orange rind. It's completely exhausting and completely worth the effort. I mean, the stuff costs a fortune and what you can make yourself tastes better...provided you've got a half day to kill. Step 1: go to that candy-making Zen place. It's the same as the pate-making and bread-making Zen place. Then, peel lots of oranges, boil the peels, scrap away the white part so it's just the 'zest,' cut in strips, simmer zest strips in sugar(enter candy thermoneter), cool, dip one end of each piece in melted dark chocolate and the other end in sugar (keeps them from all sticking together). Yum.
JAN: Yes, my mother, actually a good cook, made no Christmas candies or cookies, established no holiday rituals, and put up a fake tree. To compensate, I went with the caramels....an insanity, I lovingly pass on to my daughter.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
JAN BROGAN: One of the most intimidating things for me as a mystery writer was the whole "weapons" thing. Not only were guns completely foreign to me, I had so many preconceived notions, I didn't even want to learn about them. I had to get over that for Teaser, and the way I did was spend a morning at a shooting range(where I learned a lot of respect for gun owners.) But there are easier ways, and Bill Chipman, police sergeant, firearms instructor, and mystery author, has agreed to give us a primer.
Bill Chipman: Ever read or watched a scene and realized that the author has described or depicted something that’s impossible? He’s talking about a city where you lived for a few years or went to college, and you realize that those streets he’s talking about don’t exist, or traffic travels in the opposite direction?
Depending on your suspension of disbelief, your reaction can range from wanting to scream and throw the book out the window to a mild bump in the smooth path of your enjoyment of the story. It’s about attention to detail and research, and it happens all the time with guns, on the screen and the page.
Ever read in a book about how someone’s just fired ten shots from a revolver? Doesn’t happen. Revolvers carry six shots. Yeah, sure, a tiny number of specialized revolvers carry five, and fewer still eight, but a revolver is a six shot gun. Once you fire six, you have to open it up and reload the bullets into each chamber, and then it can fire six shots again. And revolvers are not ‘pistols.’
‘Pistols,’ or ‘Automatics’ are common names for the Semi-Automatic Pistol. They are not fully automatic. They cannot fire multiple rounds from one trigger pull. The trigger must be depressed each time a round is fired. The ‘Semi-Automatic’ part refers to the way the gun reloads the chamber to fire again.
When a Semi-Automatic Pistol is fired, the explosion from the charge creates rapidly expanding gas, generating recoil energy, just like a revolver. The difference is, the Semi-Automatic makes use of that energy to push the long part on the top of the gun, known as the ‘slide,’ along rails to the rear (hence the name), held in place by those rails and a big spring.
The spring then stops the motion to the rear, reverses it, and brings the slide back forward to the firing position. As it does, it scoops another bullet from a spring-loaded magazine (often incorrectly referred to as the ‘clip’) and deposits that bullet in the chamber, so that the pistol is ready to be fired again. All of that happens in a fraction of a second, mechanically and ‘automatically.’
The Semi-Automatic Pistol was designed so that it could carry and fire more bullets in a shorter period of time, giving its carrier a tactical advantage over the revolver. And then it can be reloaded easily by carrying extra magazines. The revolver and the pistol are markedly different weapons, a fact often overlooked, both in our writing and in TV shows and movies.
And there are no guns made of plastic that can pass through metal detectors without setting them off. Some guns have parts made of polymer plastic. Incorporating the polymer prevents corrosion and reduces weight. Both good things.
But there is no plastic that can withstand the heat and trauma associated with the explosive charge of a bullet. It melts and deforms. So even guns with plastic parts have enough metal, necessary to the function of the weapon, to set off a metal detector or bein an x-ray.
Ever read a newspaper story where they talk about someone having an ‘accidental discharge,’ and how ‘the gun just went off?’ Guns don’t just go off, even if dropped. Unless there’s something mechanically wrong, the trigger has to be pulled.
Now that can happen, for instance, when someone’s sticking a gun into their waistband, and the trigger catches in clothing, or if something else gets caught in the trigger guard as a cop is holstering the weapon. But guns do not just go off. Accidental discharge is a neutral way of saying that someone screwed up.
The fact that the trigger has to be pulled itself points to another common inconsistency on the screen: Cops running around with their fingers on the trigger. Cops don’t do that, because it’s proven to be one of the precursors to accidental discharge. Imagine that something startles the officer, and she tenses up. Her fingers tense too, it’s an instinctive reaction. Fight or flight stuff. You get scared, your whole body tenses up. And cops get scared.
But say it’s not something dangerous, just something unexpected, in an already tense situation. The cop tenses and pulls the trigger instinctively, without making a decision based on the threat level. Bang goes the gun, the bullet finds whatever stands in front of it, and an innocent or unarmed person is shot without cause. Cops are trained not to place their finger on the trigger until a rising threat creates the need to fire the gun.
And the whole dramatic approach, with the gun up by the protagonist’s ear. I know it looks great, because you can do a tense facial close up, and still see the gun. But not in the real world. Guns are kept pointed at the ground unless they’re about to be fired. This is because if you have an accidental discharge while the gun is pointed up, well, what goes up, comes down. And, while rare, there are documented cases of innocent citizens, miles away, being injured by a stray round fired into the air. Think Third World celebratory gunfire. Scares the hell out of me every time I see it on TV.
The gun is kept in the ‘low-ready position’ until there is an identifiable threat. That means pointed at the ground, never up, and never ‘lasering’ the cop in front of you. Imagine a laser attached to the front of the gun, on all the time. Any time that laser crosses another person, you either intended to shoot that person, or you made a mistake. That’s gun safety 101.
Every gun manufacturer has a schematic of its weapons on the internet, and will send them to prospective customers upon request. And there’s no shortage of gun enthusiasts posting how to use them, and what they’re capable of, on Youtube and similar sites. Not to mention the helpful enthusiasts at your local firing range. The guns in our dramas deserve the same attention to craft that gardening, or racecar driving, deserves.
JAN: In the spirit of holiday giving, Bill has generously agreed to try to answer any gun questions you may have, so.... pardon the pun....shoot away! And if you want more information on his new mystery, Sucker's Dance, check out his website at www.billchipman.com