Monday, April 30, 2012

Get this party started!

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Truth be told this party has been warming up since last Tuesday at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York where the launch party for MWA's latest anthology was held. Vengeance, edited by Lee Child, features stories by Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Dennis Lehane, Zoe Sharp, Alafair Burke and a dozen others.

Next up was the Edgars Agents and editors party on Wednesday where Reds Lucy and Ro helped celebrate Hallie's second Mary Higgins Clark nomination. Thursday Edgar Judge Ro got to strut her stuff in a Mad Men style dress at the annual Edgars banquet (that's me with Meredith Cole, Erin Weston and Raven winner Molly Weston waiting for our limo!)- a list of all of the Edgar winners here http://theedgars.com/nominees.html
...and on Friday a trio of JRs headed south for Malice Domestic.

LUCY BURDETTE: We are delighted to report that our own Red, Rhys Bowen, won the Agatha teapot for best historical mystery, Naughty in Nice, Lucy (aka Roberta Isleib) did not come home with a teapot but was thrilled to be nominated for best short story!


HANK PHLLIPPI RYAN: Yay, Rhys! And Roberta, too--that's fantastic! (Oooh, and I'm nominated for three Emmys! For investigative reporting.) Party on!

ROSEMARY: Are you in party mode yet? Well, if you didn't make any of those events, this week on JR we're continuing the celebration by sharing our swag from those parties and hosting our own virtual Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday. Every day this week three lucky commenters will win books and bags from this season's mystery parties.

What's up this week?Tuesday - My trip to Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey
Wednesday - a visit from novelist Daniel Judson, who will share information on his latest cutting edge publishing venture with Amazon
Thursday - The Return of Kale (you know how the JRs love food!)
Friday - your official invitation to the Cinco de Mayo party
Saturday - Party On! Best outfit wins a bag of books
Sunday - Do we still love Don Draper?


So in honor of the release of Vengeance - tell us what you'd do - big, small, real or (hopefully) fiction - to get back at someone who did you wrong!

Three winners will receive copies of the book.

(Monday through Friday winners announced on Saturday, Saturday's winners announced on Sunday.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Hit Wonders and the Edgar Award (TM)

Reds are pleased to welcome Ben LeRoy, Publisher of Tyrus Books and, previously Bleak House Books. Ben has long been a standard bearer of the history of our genre, whether of the noirish, or more traditional mystery bent. It is a privilege to welcome him today. Without further adieu...


On April 26th, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Awards across a variety of categories including Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best Episode of a TV Series, and Best First Novel in the mystery world.

The Edgar Awards have been given out since the mid-40s, though some categories weren’t handed out until later or handed out irregularly. As is the case with any award’s history, there are many familiar names. Stalwarts like Raymond Chandler, John le Carre, Donald Westlake, Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman, Robert B. Parker, Ken Follett, James Lee Burke, and Lawrence Block have won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. The bibliographies of these authors are common knowledge among fans of crime fiction.

But what about some of the other names on the list? What became of the winners who didn’t produce a string of best-selling books and whose names are lost to history to all but the most knowledgeable fans of crime and mystery fiction?

I’m particularly curious about those writers whose careers started off on a high note—winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Notable winners include, James Patterson (1977, The Thomas Berryman Number) and Michael Connelly (1993, The Black Echo). In these instances, perhaps in part because of the attention the win brought to them, those authors have gone onto phenomenally successful careers that have made them household names to even casual readers not interested in mystery fiction.

But what about Julius Fast, the winner of the first ever Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1946 for his novel Watchful at Night? Fast went on to write a few more crime novels, but then spent the better part of his career writing non-fiction medical works. The first woman to win the Best First Novel was Helen Eustis for her work, The Horizontal Man (1947). Eustis wrote one more novel, The Fool Killer, and a collection of short stories. Is Eustis a name familiar to crime fiction readers today?

Nearly sixty years ago, in 1953, William Campbell Gault’s novel Don’t Cry for Me won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Don’t Cry for Me is the story of Pete Worden, the black sheep of a well-to-do family in California. Pete claims his only strengths lay in football and the military, and in an attempt to find honest work—and therefore inherit his portion of his father’s estate—he finds himself tangled up with a crime boss who’s got a finger in every unsavory pie in town. Two dead bodies show up in Pete’s apartment building in rapid succession, and he teams up with a police detective to clear his name and bring down the big man, Nick Arnold.

How does it compare to this year’s crop of nominees? Were there things—innovative at Gault’s time—that have become the eye roll inducing clich├ęs that sometimes earn the genre a bad rap? I started Prologue Books with a particular interest in the evolution of the crime fiction family tree, knowing there was an almost inexhaustible collection of authors I’d never read or even heard of that have leaned heavy in the course of my own life. Now that the hard work of curating the first batch of titles has finally bore fruit, I’m excited to find the answers, and hope others will join in the pursuit, too.

From April 29 – May 5th, Prologue Books will be giving away Don’t Cry for Me for free in the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble NOOK stores. Later in May, Prologue will sponsor a book club to discuss the differences and similarities in crime fiction as represented by Don’t Cry for Me and more contemporary novels, including this year’s Edgar Award winner for Best First Novel.

Visit http://www.prologuebooks.com/

Reds Sunday Afternoon Matinee

Fear not faithful ones! Reds have NOT gone dark. Visit us for a very special episode of Blossom...no,no, no wrong header...visit us for a (late) Sunday afternoon Reds matinee!

Ben Tyrus, formerly publisher of Bleak House Books and now publisher of @TyrusBooks, visits with a fantastic historical piece on the Edgar Awards, their evolution and place in the literary oeuvre (oh yeah, nailed "oeuvre"!). Ben is clearly bucking for an Honorary Redhood, and a Reds peerage could not be conferred upon a neater guy. See you late Sunday afternoon!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pico de Gallo from Linda Rodriguez


LUCY BURDETTE: We are all so excited about Linda Rodriguez's debut novel, but I was doubly delighted to find out on Monday that she's also the author of a Mexican cookbook. So I begged her to share a recipe...and ps, the photo is not of Linda's pico de gallo, so don't be surprised if your dish looks nothing like this:).

LINDA RODRIGUEZ: The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican was designed as part of a series to make cooking easy, even for people who don’t know how to cook or have never tried to cook. If fast food tacos and burritos are your idea of Mexican food, you’re in for a surprise. No one eating what passes for commercial Mexican food in America would have any idea of the variety of tastes and textures good Mexican food provides—or the variety of fruits and vegetables (almost always missing on that restaurant plate) found in good Mexican cooking.

Rooster’s Bill (Pico de Gallo)

You will find this different from the pico de gallo that your favorite Mexican restaurant serves, which is made from diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Use this as a sauce for tacos or as a side dish for a meal.
Serves 4

What You Need:
1 medium jicama
1 small yellow onion
1 large orange
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano

What You Do:
1. Wash, pare, and chop jicama into 1/2" chunks. Remove skin from onion and cut into 1/4" pieces.
2. Pare and section orange, reserving juice, and add to jicama. Pour orange juice over mixture. Add onion, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until evenly mixed.
3. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
4. Sprinkle with chili powder and oregano before serving.

This recipe got its name because it is frequently served by street vendors in Mexico City as finger food for their stand-up diners. The action of eating with the fingers is compared to the rooster pecking at corn in the farmyard.

Published in The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican (Adams Media, 2008)

Thanks Linda! And good luck with the launch of EVERY LAST SECRET!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Social Media Round-Up


LUCY BURDETTE: Don't you sometimes feel like you're in a whirling dervish of social media snippets, with no idea about how it really works or why? I sure do. I have a fan Facebook page and a personal page and a Twitter account and now I've arrived on the Pinterest scene.

I feel like I'm always a step behind on Facebook and Twitter, though I gamely march on. But Pinterest-I love it! I was a little worried about signing on because other writers warned about how addictive it can be. And it does take a little work to set up your boards, but after that, it's just fun for me. Here's a helpful link from Janet Boyer about how to think about marketing through Pinterest. But honestly it seems like it could be great for brainstorming, or sharing recipes, or remembering and organizing events and ideas that might otherwise get lost.

So I'd love to get your thoughts about what kind of social media you love (or hate) and why. And I've asked a few of our other writing pals to comment too.

KRISTA DAVIS
: I'm enjoying Pinterest because it's one-step communication. There are no messages to return. I don't have to check to see what everyone pinned that day. If I skip it for a week, nothing bad happens. It's not like I missed anything. Yet, I can convey messages with simple images. I'm having fun adding the covers of my books as well as my friends' books. I've even started a file for photos that correspond to a book that's coming out soon. Wendy Watson had the brilliant idea of adding a Pinterest button to Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. Such a great idea. Now people can pin photos of our covers and recipes without worrying about copyright issues.

RHYS BOWEN
: Oh, Lucy and Krista--I don't think I could find another moment to start any new form of social media. Already in my in=box is a long line of people wanting to connect with me on Linked-in. I have yet to find the value for me of Linked-in. Or of Goodreads. Or of Red Room. But they all communicate with me, demanding time and attention.

I'm a big Facebook fan. I love the instant connection with fans and friends. When I broke my wrist a year ago I got 300 messages of sympathy within a few minutes, advice on how to scratch within the cast and ten different people offered to type my manuscript for me.

I do tweet although I've yet to see the correlation between tweets and selling more books. I write my personal blog about twice a week and of course good old Jungle Red. Oh, and when I find the time, I write two books a year as well!

LUCY: so Krista, now you're the princess of Pinterest, but you're also the Twitter queen. How's that going? Any late-breaking tips or warnings?

KRISTA: LOL! No warnings, but I'm seeing a lot of agents, editors, and publishers using Twitter these days. Authors should look up their publishers and be sure to include them with an @ on important tweets about releases and reviews. The same goes for agents and editors. They have some impressive follower numbers.

SHEILA CONNOLLY: Actually I'm finding Pinterest kind of fun, too, because you can do whatever you want with it. Although my in-depth survey indicates that the most popular items are...cat pictures. Hey, that's easy--I've got plenty of cute cat pictures, and more coming all the time.

As a battle-scarred veteran of the Media Wars, I have seen all too many
social media variations surge to the fore, with hordes of adoring fans
stampeding to jump on them, only to watch them fall by the wayside when the Next Big Thing comes along in a week or a month. It's hard to get too excited about any one of them.

Just go with the cat pictures--works every time.

HALLIE EPHRON: I know I'm in trouble when cat pictures are required. I still don't tweet, and now here's something else that I don't do. I will, I will... or so I keep telling myself. Still love Facebook.

LUCY: So tell us, how do you think about posting to facebook Hallie?

HALLIE: I think of it as the beast that needs to be fed. Honestly? It's a guilty pleasure. I post in there just about daily. The friend page AND the fan page. And catch up with what friends are up to. It's one more way that people can find me, which is not a bad thing.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love Facebook. I post on my public page almost every day, often just about things I think are interesting, rather than all about my books. I love getting comments and feedback, and I love keeping up with what other people are doing as well.

I am tweeting, but have to admit I don't like it as much. It seems overwhelming, and impersonal. But I keep trying, because it does seem to be the big promotional thing these days. (Although someone told me recently at a book event that their publicist said Facebook was much more important. And a fellow author at my publisher said they were told not to tweet, while I've been encouraged to do so... Hmmm.) I signed up for Pinterest, but forgot my password. I haven't looked at Linked-In for months and months, even though it seems like I get invitations to link every day. And I'm dreadful about posting regularly on my own blog.

It's all just too much, and I think you have to choose what works best for you. AND I'd really like to WRITE MY DAMNED BOOK.

ROSEMARY HARRIS
: I need a tutorial on facebook public versus facebook profile. I'm dangerously close to advertising on craigslist for an expert. I like fb more than twitter. I love retweeting other people's fun tweets but don't see myself sitting aroiund creating soundbites so that people will retweet mine - and apparently that's the way to get people to follow.

And I love Sharing when other people have good news - it's such a positive thing to do!

LUCY BURDETTE: But Ro, you've got over 7000 fans--you must be doing something right! How about you all? What's your take on social media?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You Say You Want A Revolution…

LUCY BURDETTE: Libby Fischer Hellmann was one of my earliest friends in the mystery business--energetic, talented, and indomitable. Since her first novel was published in 2002, she's never stopped stretching her writing muscles in different and interesting ways. Today we welcome her to talk about her new thriller, A BITTER VEIL.

LIBBY HELLMANN: As crime writers we learn early that “conflict” is the most essential ingredient of fiction. We learn that there must be conflict on every page, even if a character just wants a glass of water but can’t get it.  Over the years, I’ve taken that lesson to heart. I’m always looking for conflict, large or small. Recently I may have taken it to the extreme by writing about revolutions. In fact, my publisher says I’m in the midst of my “revolution trilogy.”  (She’s not far off—my next book will be set largely in Cuba.)

But I come by it more or less honestly—I was a history major in college, and I still love to examine the past and how it affects the present.  And what triggers more conflict than a revolution?  Whether it’s the French, Russian, Cuban, Chinese, American—well that one was a little different—or what we’re now calling the Arab Spring, nothing shakes the foundation of a society more than internal strife.

A revolution provides conflict that can affect an individual, a family, a village, a government, and its relation to the rest of the world…in a word, everything. It is a time where people can prove to be cowards or heroes, informants or patriots. People form unusual relationships, while others are torn apart. Love can flourish, but so can hate. A member of one family can be an enemy to the others—to the point of violence or death.

The rumbling of discontent always precedes the revolution, and there’s usually an overreaction afterwards. In the French, Russian, Cuban, and Chinese revolutions, a period of extremism followed the overthrow of the king, czar, or government. And those periods can prompt even more conflict and chaos. Even a revolution that didn’t quite make it—for example, the period of the late Sixties in the US, which was the setting for my previous thriller, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE—can be a powerful source of turmoil.

That was one of the reasons I chose to write about Iran. The Islamic Revolution profoundly changed the Iranian people and their culture. Persia has been invaded many times over the centuries, but invaders tended to assimilate the magnificent Persian culture rather than imposing their own on Persia. Not this time. Was it because the revolutionaries were insurgents and not foreign invaders? I’m not sure, but it was a compelling question. Plus, the revolution was relatively recent. Fortunately or not, the Iranian revolution has been of the best-covered revolutions in history. Most of us can remember TV news footage of the Shah piloting his plane out of Iran, and the return of Khomeini a few weeks later. It was not difficult to find films, books, articles, and other materials that made my research relatively easy.

The other reason I chose to write about Iran was personal. It’s a strange story, and I still am not sure how I got it wrong. I went to a high school reunion years ago, and one of my former classmates told me how she’d fallen in love after college with an Iranian and moved with him to Tehran before the Shah left. Afterwards her life became difficult and ultimately impossible, and she came back to the States. I decided to fictionalize her story and when it was done, I, of course, called her to let her know what I’d done. When we finally connected, it turned out that she hadn’t gone to Iran at all. She’d gone to India! My first reaction was disbelief…how had I screwed that up? Clearly, it was a subconscious error. After a while, though, I realized it didn’t matter. I’d written the story I was supposed to write.

However it developed, though, it’s never been my intention to write a political screed. For me story trumps everything, but if it can be enhanced by conflicts large and small, so much the better. That’s what I hoped to accomplish in A BITTER VEIL. I hope it works for you.
A BITTER VEIL -- April 2012


 Libby will be happy to take comments and questions. You can also like her on Facebook
and follow her on Twitter. :

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Body in the Boudoir: #20 for Katherine Hall Page

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm psyched because I'll be hanging out with one of my favorite traditional mystery writers, Katherine Hall Page, both at Malice Domestic later this weekend and then at the Leominster library (MA) on May 10, along with Rosemary Herbert. Katherine will be celebrating the release of her 20th Faith Fairchild novel on May 1. Twenty! so thrilled for you Katherine. Tell us how in the world you keep things exciting but believable for your character--and for you, the writer?

KATHERINE HALL PAGE: As for the believable part, I'll tell you what my legendary editor, the late Ruth Cavin, replied when I asked her how people could believe that this woman kept stumbling across bodies (this was at book three). "It's fiction, Katherine. You can do whatever you want." This sounds simple, but it's a very liberating notion. I'm creating an imaginary world and telling a story that occurs within it. If I believe it, readers will. The exciting part is not too difficult as there's always another peril awaiting my Pauline. I alternate the books set in Aleford, a fictitious town west of Boston with what I call the "Someplace Else Books"—coast of Maine, France, Vermont, Norway, Manhattan, Hilton Head, Martha's Vineyard, Charleston to name some. It keeps things fresh for me and adds another challenge.

LUCY: That's such good advice! Ruth Cavin was full of wisdom, from what I've heard. (Our Julia had her as an editor as well.) When you first cooked up (ahem) the idea of a caterer married to a minister, did you ever imagine you'd have a successful series that lasted this long? Anything you would have changed about Faith if you'd known you'd be traveling together for 20 books plus?

Katherine: As for so many series writers, I thought I was just writing one book and until Ruth Cavin asked when she could expect the next one in the series was clueless. I started out writing in real time, but after the fourth or fifth book slowed things down (again, it's fiction!). I've tried to think whether I would have changed anything in those early books "Had I But Known", but really have never been able to point to anything specific.

LUCY: Since I'm following (very far behind) in your footsteps as a culinary mystery writer, I have to ask: What kind of a cook are you? Do you develop the recipes in the books?

KATHERINE: The recipes are the most difficult parts of the book to write as they need to be original, can't just copy Julia. I also have never wanted them to be caterer's recipes specifically, but accessible to all with ingredients anyone can afford and find plus no complicated techniques.  Above all, they have to be tasty. I cook like the recipes not like Faith Fairchild when she's catering something—you'll seldom find one of these recipes included unless it's simple. I've always thought of food as a way of communicating—love, caring, all those good things. Despite an empty nest, I'm still cooking dinner every night. And yes, on occasion, I do use my own cookbook Have Faith in Your Kitchen, which came out last year.

LUCY: Before you go, will you give us a little thumbnail sketch of the new book, THE BODY IN THE BOUDOIR? And maybe a recipe too?

KATHERINE: It's 1990, and Faith Sibley is a single young woman leading a glamorous life in New York City. She has good friends, a cozy apartment, and her own flourishing catering business, Have Faith. Then, at a catering event, she meets the handsome, charming Reverend Thomas Fairchild. A daughter and granddaughter of clergymen, Faith has sworn to avoid a parish's fishbowl existence. But it's love at first sight, and before she knows it her life is changing drastically.

In spite of being overwhelmed by her decision to leave her home in the Big Apple and the multitude of tasks involved in getting married, Faith has no doubts about being married to her beloved Tom. But someone out there is dead set on making sure that she doesn't reach the altar. Before it's too late, she needs to figure out who is trying to sabotage the wedding—by eliminating the bride!

The following recipe is what she makes when she goes to Aleford to check out the parsonage where she'll be living—almost a deal breaker. Fiance Tom's fridge offers very little, but she puts together this ultimate comfort food and the two lovers eat in front of a cozy fire. She decides things are going to be all right after all.

Veggie Mac ‘n Cheese

6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
2 red bell peppers
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces penne, ziti or elbow macaroni
5 cups cauliflower florets

Shred the cheese and set aside. Reserve 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top.
Dice the peppers, mince the peeled garlic cloves, and place in a saucepan with the 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil and lower to simmer until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes.
Boil water for the pasta.
Steam the cauliflower and when it is soft, transfer it to a bowl and mash roughly—you want some texture.
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and in the meantime place the contents of the saucepan, the butter and milk in a food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth. Add the mixture to the cauliflower along with the shredded cheese, paprika, and salt. Drain the pasta and fold it into the sauce. Stir well so all the pasta is coated. Pour it into a casserole and top with the reserved cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 ° oven until nicely browned and bubbling. The red peppers give the sauce a bright color and the smoked paprika, widely used in Mediterranean cooking, adds a subtle flavor as well as more color.
Serves six.
You may also serve this sauce over pasta without baking.

Thanks for visiting Katherine! Katherine will stop in today to answer comments and questions. You can also follow her on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's an Honor to be Nominated by Steve Ulfelder

 LUCY BURDETTE: We writers have some really special moments and one of them is getting nominated for an award. (Right now, Hallie's book COME AND FIND ME is nominated for the Mary HIggins Clark award, and Rhy's NAUGHTY IN NICE is nominated for a Malice Domestic's Agatha award for best historical novel, and my story "The Itinerary" is nominated for an Agatha for best short story.) One of our good New England friends has a book nominated for an Edgar best first novel--as you've heard in other blog posts, we'd all kill for to land an Edgar. Instead of wallowing in envy, we're so thrilled for Steve. And as he's going to tell us, there's nothing better than the days and weeks before the winner is announced.

STEVE ULFELDER: While waiting for a panel at Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis, I struck up a conversation with a guy who looked even more overwhelmed than I was by the
massive conference. (No mean feat, that - I'm easily overwhelmed. It's my
natural state.)

We had a lot in common. Like me, the guy was from Massachusetts. Like me, he'd recently seen his debut novel published. And like me, he was - I remember this great line - "waiting for the parade to come by my house." Unspoken follow-up: It would be unwise to hold your breath waiting for that particular parade.

The guy turned out to be Leonard Rosen. His debut was the brilliant All Cry Chaos. And half a year after that Bouchercon meeting, the two of us are up for the Best First Novel Edgar.

Small world.

Funny thing, publishing your debut. It's the biggest moment of your life. People tell you you're pretty great. You are queen or king for precisely 24 hours (release day) plus the duration of your launch party.

And then.

The wheel keeps rolling. The machine grinds on. The next batch of writers, debut and otherwise, get their turn. Their reviews are (at least) as good as yours, their blurbs (at least) as impressive.

So you take one last glance out front just in case there is a parade going past (there isn't), then do what writers do: plop yourself in the chair and work on another book. A better book.

As it turns out, Len Rosen and I have become friends. We bump into each other at panels, conferences, and festivals, and I'm always happy to see him. Len, who has the right perspective on life in general, is quick to point out the true value of an Edgar nomination: It serves as validation
from folks you very much admire that your book is good, that it does stand out.

And boy, do this year's Best First nominees - my competition, I guess, though I (naively?) don't view them that way - stand out. I read them all, starting with All Cry Chaos, and damn are they fine books. Edward Conlon's Red on Red, David Duffy's Last to Fold, and Lori Roy's Bent Road are utterly different from one another. And they're all ridiculously strong.

I'm honored that Purgatory Chasm is among them.

Here's the part where you roll your eyes while I insist I truly mean it: I  feel like I've won by being nominated. This week's Edgar Awards in New York will be a blast, icing on somebody's cake, but it's the nomination that made my year.

Knock it off with the eyes. I mean it! Truly!

After all, I got a nice bump in sales. I've received congrats from writers I admire. I'll benefit from the Edgar Finalist Author tag for the duration of my career.

Which, when you think about it, means I got a parade after all.


Steve Ulfelder is an amateur race driver and co-owner of Flatout Motorsports Inc., a company that builds race cars. In addition to being nominated for MWA's Best First Novel Edgar, his debut, Purgatory Chasm, has been named Best First Mystery of 2011 by RT Book Reviews. His second novel, The Whole Lie, comes out May 8.

Our own Hank Phillippi Ryan will be moderating a panel of the Edgar best first nominees this Wednesday--including Steve!




Monday, April 23, 2012

Cookbook Nostalgia


LUCY BURDETTE: The other day I realized how much my search for recipes for favorite or new foods has changed. These days I almost always find them online-either I run across recipes on the web that sound yummy, like those from my pals on Mystery Lovers Kitchen, or I search sites like Epicurious. Of course I often look up basic stuff in the JOY OF COOKING. And I know plenty of folks rely on TV cooking shows and celebrity recipes.

And that made me nostalgic for the old days, when my first go-to cooking bible was THE MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK. My first copy is dog-eared and stained; I remember eating tons of food like mushroom strudel (1/2 pound butter plus cream cheese plus sour cream), Vericheesy Casserole (soybeans and brown rice), and Sour Cream-Orange Cake (soaked in Grand Marnier, which I served to my dissertation committee after they'd accepted my opus--the cake, not the booze). Molly Katzen came out with sequels and the new, improved lower-fat version, but I loved the first one the best.

Do you have an old favorite cookbook that's fallen out of favor? Where do you go when you need guidance these days?

HALLIE EPHRON:
Here are my two favorite cookbooks: "The Joy of Cooking" and "Michael Fields Cooking School." Both belonged to my mother. "Joy" taught me the basics. But the most recipes that I still make regularly for very special company are from Michael Fields. His curried chicken (made with an apple) and his broiled butterflied boneless leg of lamb with egg lemon sauce are sublime.

These days I go to Epicurious for recipes. It's not just the recipes but the reader comments that give you a real sense of whether the recipes work (or don't).

RHYS BOWEN: Oh my goodness, I grew up with Mrs. Beaton--you know, recipe for oxtail soup is "first take your ox."  Everything has at least half a pound of butter and is made in about ten stages. But it was what my mother used. I also had a binder of recipes my mother-in-law sent me. And these were mostly from the war--terribly economical. As I learned to cook I branched out to Julia Child (I even served souffles as a starter once. I was so ambitious in those days). But when I married John I had to learn to cook curries and Asian food as he'd spent so much time in Asia and then became sales manager of Air India.

More recently I buy cook books for the pretty pictures and for nostalgia. One day I'll go through the wad of magazine clippings in my kitchen drawer.

LUCY: I love that Rhys--first take your ox! And I have a drawer stuffed with clippings too...

JAN BROGAN - Lucy, I have the Moosewood Cookbook, too, although I have to confess I haven't used it as much as you did.  I love the Joy of Cooking, the Silver Palette, The New York Time's Sixty Minute Gourmet,  and I still use Giada de Laurentiis's Giada's Family dinners.  

But you a right Roberta, they get a lot less use these days. I love calling up five different recipes for the same thing online and patching them together for my own version.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I did a serious cookbook purge a few years ago. My husband used to work for Random House (think Clarkson Potter)and then Workman Publishing so I had tons of cookbooks - many of them beautiful but never used. I grew to love SOAR (Searchable Online Access to Recipes), but I think that morphed into something else, so I just google whatever I want and voila, it pops up. Usually it's on the Food Channel or All Recipes site
http://allrecipes.com/

Some of the books I had to keep, even if I only love one recipe from the book and by rights, should know it by heart by now. Joy of Cooking - eggnog recipe, Cooking from Quilt Country - Onion pie, the charmingly named Desperate Measures, 90 Unintimidating Recipes for the Domestically Inept - Patsy Cline's chili and gorognzola scallion cornbread

The one I still use most often, drum roll... Martha Stewart's Entertaining. I'm on my third copy, but have kept the first. Old, sticky, and has my handwritten notes "like use the dark, brown sugar."

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, I still have my Moosewood books, but I've kept them for the illustrations.  I don't think I ever actually made a single recipe from either of them!

The books I loved, and still use, are Laurel's Kitchen, Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (second or third copies of both, as they wore out), The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book by my friend and past JR guest Crescent Dragonwagon, and Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. My mother was a big Adele Davis fan, so many of my basic cooking techniques came from that.

Current faves?  Lots of Jamie Oliver.  I adore Jamie, and have never made a recipe I didn't like.  Some Gordon Ramsay, the simple stuff.  And my very latest, Robin Ellis's Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.  I'm not diabetic, but from the previous list you can see I'm a life-long whole foods nut, and love Mediterranean-style food, so I'm really enjoying this book.  (And besides, Robin is adorable.

And, I use the online recipes, too, but am not giving up my cookbooks.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, I have a lot of cookbooks, too. And I actually used to cook. :-)  You know what was the absolutely pivotal transcendent constantly useful and still-relevant one? The Blue Strawberry Cookbook, by James Haller. I'm telling you--it--taught me how to cook. It doesn't have reciptes. It just has--chemistry. WHY things work. That for a roux, you need an oily thing, and an oniony thing, and a thickener, and a liquid. (It could be water, or wine, or chicken broth.) That for pesto, you need a oily thing, and a cheese, and a nut, and a green thing. (But it could be basil or arugula or spinach.) Because--when you know WHY it works, you can make dinner out of anything.
Oh, life-changing.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Still have, and use, THE JOY OF COOKING. I think my mother gave that and the mid-eighties BETTY CROCKER COOKBOOK to me when I got married. I went through a big foodie period with THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK and THE SILVER PALATE GOOD TIMES cookbook. Then I went to law school, and the kids started arriving, and for a few years, my idea of cooking consisted of Kraft Mac n Cheese and take out pizza. Like Ro, I also purged a lot of cookbooks a few years ago: I decided even though there were some great, great recipes, it didn't make sense for me to keep my shelf loaded up with books I didn't use.

My current every night fave is DESPERATION DINNERS by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. The best book for cooking fast, without relying on lots of processed foods. For fancier fare, I like RECIPES FROM A VERY SMALL ISLAND by Martha Greenlaw. The recipes rely heavily on Maine foods; it has the most amazing blueberry section. Also? Gingerbread to die for.

LUCY: Oh Julia, we must have a gingerbread bake-off. The recipe in the Moosewood Enchanted Broccoli Forest is killer too--lots of fresh ginger! Now your turn: cookbooks you love? where do your recipes come from?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fusion Food and Dialog

RHYS BOWEN: It's Sunday and we usually reserve today for writing tips or blogs about food. I'm going to combine both today. My son recently went to a restaurant called, if I remember correctly, Chopsticks and Chapattis. He thought that Chinese/Indian fusion food might be an interesting experiment.  He looked at the menu and decided on the Cumin Lamb. His dialog with the waitress went like this:
Son: This cumin lamb sounds good. Tell me about it.
Waitress: Well. It is lamb.  With cumin.
Son: So how exactly is it prepared?
Waitress: You take the lamb... and put some cumin on it.
Son: And?
Waitress: And then you cook it.

That would make a terrific scene in a funny movie, wouldn 't it?
But I'm trying to prove a point here. I want to show what real life dialog is like. We don't speak in long, expressive sentences. One of the mistakes that new writers make (and some old writers too) is making the dialog unrealistically eloquent. In the real world we break apart sentences, interrupt, stop to think. Of course we can't make speech exactly true to life... or it would be full of fillers like "like" and "y-know", but it should give the impression of real life.

Another pointer that this dialog illustrates is: make sure we know who is talking. Too often, especially in opening chapters, we have characters chatting away madly and we really don't know who we are listening to. (or should that be to whom we are listening?)

In this dialog the waitress has a distinctive voice and also an Indian accent, but I can only hint at that by the way she breaks up her sentences, but you get a good impression of her from these few lines of speech. So close your eyes. Have someone read dialog out loud and see if you get a feel for each person speaking. Also notice from that small speech how conversation flows back and forth, like a tennis match. One person does not hold the stage for long speeches.

I set my mysteries in the past and dialog is a great tool to take us back to a place and time. My characters really do express themselves in long, eloquent sentences. People in those days had more time and much bigger vocabularies. I base Molly Murphy's speech on that of my great aunts who read extensively and didn't hesitate to use big words in their every day speech (they were, after all, from a generation who gave us words like Perambulator for a baby buggy and Omnibus for that big red thing.) Also they considered words like damn and hell swearing. A man would apologize if he used such words in a lady's presence.

I don't know how we got from Asian fusion to Edwardian novels If anyone has tried good Chinese/Indian fusion, do let me know.
But a last word of warning... if a restaurant is called anything like Chopsticks and Chapattis, run away as fast as you can.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pairings, not couplings!

RHYS BOWEN: In the Huffington Post last year there was an interesting blog on pairing wine and music. So I thought we'd take this one stage further and let's pair books, wine and food. (Or should it be trio not pair three things?) Does it help to have particular food or drink when you read? Does it enhance the reading experience?

There are obvious examples. When I am reading one of Louise Penny's books and it's winter in Quebec, I need a rug over my knees. I need a hot chocolate to sip.
If I'm reading Morse I need Scotch and opera in the background.
If I'm reading Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, or someone wants to read my Royal Spyness books, may I suggest scones, clotted cream, jam and proper English tea (not made from those awful bags of floor sweepings!)

fellow Jungle Red Deborah Crombie's books need a pint of good ale to go with them. And a pasty,scotch egg, bangers and mash? Now I'm getting hungry.

I love reading about food. I love good descriptions of meals. I love books with recipes in the back. In my upcoming Royal Spyness book, called The Twelve Clues of Christmas, we linger over several Christmas feasts and I even provide some recipes.

So do you love to read about food? Do you like recipes in books? What would some of your food/wine/books pairings be?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I may be in the minority but I don't like to eat or drink when I'm reading. Maybe a glass of lemonade if I'm outside in the hammock, but even then I usually get so absorbed in the book that flies and no-see-ums drown in the glass before I have a chance to take a second sip.

And since you mentioned it and I am in England - what is the deal with clotted cream? I can't bring myself to ingest anything that sounds like Arterial Plaque in a Tub. What does it taste like?

LUCY BURDETTE: Don't hold back on the clotted cream Ro--especially if it's served with scones! Tastes like whipped cream, only better.

The only true pairing I can think of is must read the New York Times while I'm eating breakfast cereal.

HALLIE EPHRON: Mmm, clotted cream. Tastes like really sweet butter to me. Or creme fraiche. Sublime with a mound of fresh raspberry jam on a hot flaky scone.

I do like food with my fiction. I like food any time. You can tell which books on my shelf I've read by the grease and coffee spots on the pages.

I'll read Lucy's "An Appetite for Murder" with a big wedge of Key lime pie and a grouper sandwich.
A hot dog with "Shoeless Joe."
Honey on toast with "The Secret Life of Bees."
A dry martini with "The Group."
A nice dark glass of red wine with "Dracula."
Pomegranate and walnuts with "Like Water for Chocolate."
Barbecued spare ribs with "Fried Green Tomatoes in the Whistle Stop Cafe."

RHYS: Hallie, I'd love to see the state of your book if you're reading it with barbecued spare ribs. I always end up so messy if I've tackled them. I wouldn't have a clean hand to hold the book!

JAN BROGAN _ I'm with Ro on not liking to eat or drink much when I'm reading - but I do have to have one of my husband's Latte's when I'm reading the Sunday Boston Globe.

 I'm more influenced by television. Completely and thoroughly impressionable I like  to have a sherry with Downton Abbey (and I don't really LIKE sherry, except to cook), and a glass of red wine with the Good Mother (Juliana Margulies is always having one)   and old episodes of Poldark (where they even seem to have wine in the morning).  I often crave a martini with Madmen, but its too damn late on a Sunday night to consider it.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, I have to confess--I went out and bought a bottle of sherry during the last season of Downton Abbey.  It wasn't very good sherry, unfortunately, and it's just not quite right if you're not dressing for dinner.

Ro, if you're going to try clotted cream, you must find somewhere that has really good clotted cream.  (I'd suggest going to Devon but that might be a bit far...) And the scones should be warm, and the strawberry jam should be homemade...

I love books with food, books about food, books with recipes, and although I'm not really big on eating while reading, I do like to try things I read about in books.  Or things I write about--I learned to like really good Scotch when I wrote Now May You Weep, although I don't drink it often.  It makes me want to be curled up in front of the fire in a B&B in the Scottish Highlands, with a tartan rug over my knees.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I remember reading A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and constantly wanting to take part in the character's food and drink. I understand Deborah Harkness is a wine blogger as well as a fiction author, and you can really tell in that book. There's a description of the meal (and wine pairings) that the heroine first makes for the vampire hero, who can't eat anything that's been cooked or, if I recall correctly, heated. First time I ever considered the "raw foods" movement might have something going on.

And I totally agree with Jan and Deb - a nice glass of sherry for Downton Abbey! You could do a drinking game - Mary and Matthew look longing at each other: one sip. Thomas and O'Brien light one up while plotting outside the kitchen: two sips. Lady Edith gets inadvertently cut down by a family member: chug!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oh, that's so Punny!

When I started writing my Constable Evan Evans mysteries set in Wales it seemed like a good idea to play with the word Evan or Evans in the title. So the first book was called Evans Above, and nine others followed with titles like Evan Help Us and Evan Only Knows. I don't think there were too many punny titles when I started that series in 1997, but toay, if you want to write a cozy mystery, it has to have a pun in its title. Some of them are witty and clever, some make me groan. I'm particularly fond of Avery Ames Quiche of Death, of Jill Churchill's Grime and Punishment and several of Tamar Myers books with titles like The Crepes of Wrath, Batter off Dead, Play it again, Spam. Then there is July Hyzy's Affairs of Steak and Lorna Barrett's Chapter and Hearse.

I won't give examples of the ones that make me groan. No sense in creating enemies among my fellow writers. Actually I think the titles are often thought up by the marketing department at the publishing houses and not the fault of writers at all.

But I have to confess, I'm fascinated by puns. Why do we like them or hate them? Why do some of them make us groan? They've been around forever, haven't they? Shakespeare uses them liberally in his comedies for a good laugh. But why should we laugh or applaud a play on words? it's not like slipping on a banana skin, after all. I think it must have something to do with our inner satisfaction at being literate enough to know that we get the joke. Or perhaps our early ancestors made up puns to show that they were good at this new language thing! If anyone out there is a Latin scholar--were there puns in ancient Rome? Were there even puns on those old Assyrian tablets?

I've actually always loved them. The first ones I remember were signs on shops in our village. The butchers shop said, "Happy to Meat You," and the fishmonger said, "If you want fish, here is the plaice." Even the coal merchant joined in with "one good tun deserves another." We were obviously quite a witty village!
Then the hairdressers got into the act. Shear Locks, A Cut Above, I'm sure your town has a hairdressing salon with a punny name. So why the punny names? Do they make us sit up and take notice? Make us think that a witty person inhabits that premises? Would a punny name drive you to a particular hairdresser, or make you buy a particular book, for that matter? I'm not sure.

What do you feel about puns--love 'em or hate 'em? Anyone have a favorite pun to share?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Murphy's Laaw

RHYS BOWEN: Yesterday I returned, dripping wet from the shower, to my locker at the gym and found I couldn't reach it because the next locker was open and a woman was busy getting dressed. We were the only two people in the locker room. "Oh, do you want to get in here?" she asked. "Sorry. It's always the way, isn't it? Murphy's Law."

I've been thinking a lot about Murphy's Law recently for several reasons. The first being a good one, that the popularity of my book by this name has surged after the publication of HUSH NOW, DON'T YOU CRY. I wrote it in 2001, the first in a new series, so it's great to see in on bestseller lists again.

Of course I titled my book that because my heroine's name is Molly Murphy and she was desperately seeking justice, but I have to confess that Murphy's Law, in its true sense of IF SOMETHING CAN GO WRONG, IT WILL, rears its ugly head quite often in my life. And not just "If there are only two people in a locker room, they will inevitably have next door lockers."

If you're observant you'll notice that I misspelled the title. That was because of another Murphy's Law: if you come home thirsty, craving an orange, you won't notice that someone has sharpened the knives until you slice through your finger and can't type!

More desperate cases are, "If you wear white, you will be served spaghetti in a red sauce and it will drip down your front."
"If you only bring one pair of black pants, you will spill coffee down them."
"If there's one person in the room you can't stand, you will be seated next to them at dinner."

So now I'm throwing this open: Let's hear your versions of Murphy's Law!

HALLIE EPHRON:
If it's deee-licious then it's loaded with calories.
If I didn't bring an umbrella then it's going to rain.
If someone reads my book, they will find the typo that eluded me.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: At any given cocktail party/BBq/coffee hour, the one person who is most keen to talk with you will be the one person whose name you cannot remember. (Bonus point: your spouse will be across the room so you can't ask him.)

The fabulous clothes sales rack (like you used to find at Filene's Basement, sigh) will have two copies of the designer piece you desperately want. One will be too large for you, and the other will be too small.

The more deadly dull the school talent show, the later your kid will appear on the program.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, YES, Julia, the person you most do not want to see will be right there. There is also a "boss" corollary to this..which includes certain elevator encounters on the days you try to sneak out early.

When you need change, you don't have any. When you don't need change, you have so much your purse could be a weightlifting implement.

When you want to open your car door in the grocery parking lot, either a person will pull in right next to you so you can't or someone will be opening their car door at exactly the same time. (Hmm..I guess this is the corollary to Rhys's lockers.)


ROSEMARY HARRIS: If you run out for one brief errand and don't even put on a swipe of lipstick or fix your hair, you will bump into five people you know.

If you don't bring business cards, someone you'd really like to connect with meet will ask you for one.

The candid picture of you will be taken when your eyes are half-closed and your mouth mid-guffaw.

I think I'll stop here...

LUCY BURDETTE: If you're on the road and the dog seems anxious, so you let him ride in the car to the restaurant and wait there while you eat, he will throw up on your seat by the time you return.

If you purchase a new item of furniture, it will become the cat's favorite scratching post.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If you have a really big event/book tour/TV appearance--anything that has been scheduled for a long time and absolutely CANNOT be missed, you will wake up with the flu on the morning.

If you are the tiniest bit late for a flight or an important appointment, you will run into the traffic jam from hell.

And how could anyone forget that classic:  If you wash your car, it will rain.

JAN BROGAN: As you live your life, you will confront Murphy's Law. If you are trying to think of an example, it will elude you. (especially if your blog sisters have already done such a good job.

RHYS: I have to confess that all of the above have happened to me. How about you? Who'd like to share their own Murphy's Law experiences?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Meet Mary, Or is it Claudia?

Today it's my pleasure to welcome to Jungle Red Writers two of my favorite authors, who happen to look remarkably alike. Twins, separated at birth, you ask? Actually one person who manages to write two very different series. Her real name is Mary Stanton, and she writes the Bree Beaufort series of mysteries under this name, but she is better known as Claudia Bishop, writing the incredibly popular Hemlock Falls cozy mysteries. She is also my good friend with whom I have great fun in Florida every spring. And as you can see from her photo, she loves animals!
Rhys: Hemlock Falls has been around a long time. How many are there?
Claudia, who is also Mary:  I just signed a contract for the eighteenth. I am, to borrow a cant phrase from your heroine Georgie, a bit gobsmacked. Back in 1994, when I first signed with Berkley, I hadn’t planned to do more than one. I don’t seem to be able to shut myself up!
Rhys: Hemlock Falls is a small village in upstate New York. You grew up in Hawaii—and when you were a youngster, Hawaii was a territory and not even a state. Why did you decide on a small American town as a backdrop for murder?
Claudia: I thought upstate New York was hugely romantic, in the same way that all those Cotswold villages in English mysteries are romantic. I read a lot as a kid—and it was mostly the Golden Age writers; Christie, Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Cyril Hare, Michael Innes—all those Oxbridgeans. Later on, I switched to Reginald Hill, Simon Brett, and Robert Barnard.
Rhys: The seventeenth book is out this month. Tell us about it.
Claudia: It’s titled DREAD ON ARRIVAL. Two competing antiques roadshow television shows come to the village. One is called “Your Ancestor’s Attic.” The other is “Pawn-o-rama.” The two hosts loathe each other on sight.  My amateur detectives are inn-keeper Sarah Quilliam and her gourmet chef sister Meg. They get pulled into the murder of the arrogant host of ‘Your Ancestor’s Attic. I had a lot of fun writing it.
Rhys: Let’s switch personae for a moment. As Mary Stanton, you also write a series featuring a young lawyer who discovers that her law practice consists of handling appeals cases for souls condemned to Hell. What on earth gave you the idea for such an unusual premise? And why angels?
Rhys: Hemlock Falls has been around a long time. How many are there?
Claudia, who is also Mary:  I just signed a contract for the eighteenth. I am, to borrow a cant phrase from your heroine Georgie, a bit gobsmacked. Back in 1994, when I first signed with Berkley, I hadn’t planned to do more than one. I don’t seem to be able to shut myself up!
Rhys: Hemlock Falls is a small village in upstate New York. You grew up in Hawaii—and when you were a youngster, Hawaii was a territory and not even a state. Why did you decide on a small American town as a backdrop for murder?
Claudia: I thought upstate New York was hugely romantic, in the same way that all those Cotswold villages in English mysteries are romantic. I read a lot as a kid—and it was mostly the Golden Age writers; Christie, Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Cyril Hare, Michael Innes—all those Oxbridgeans. Later on, I switched to Reginald Hill, Simon Brett, and Robert Barnard.
Rhys: The seventeenth book is out this month. Tell us about it.
Claudia: It’s titled DREAD ON ARRIVAL. Two competing antiques roadshow television shows come to the village. One is called “Your Ancestor’s Attic.” The other is “Pawn-o-rama.” The two hosts loathe each other on sight.  My amateur detectives are inn-keeper Sarah Quilliam and her gourmet chef sister Meg. They get pulled into the murder of the arrogant host of ‘Your Ancestor’s Attic. I had a lot of fun writing it.
Rhys: Let’s switch personae for a moment. As Mary Stanton, you also write a series featuring a young lawyer who discovers that her law practice consists of handling appeals cases for souls condemned to Hell. What on earth gave you the idea for such an unusual premise? And why angels?
Mary, who is also Claudia: My little sister is going to smack me if I put this in print, but I was inspired to create Bree Beaufort when I sat in on a case my sister was litigating. Right before my eyes, my angelic baby sister turned into a fierce and formidable advocate. (Sort of like Ziva David on NCIS, only more articulate.) She’s been a lawyer for years, of course, I’d just never followed her around to see what she actually did.
As far as the supernatural stuff—I honestly don’t know how I came up with that. As Nora Ephron famously said when somebody asked her why she wrote Michael (a fabulous movie about a visit from the archangel), she doesn’t believe in them, but they are terrific fun to write about. I think of the Beaufort & Company novels as urban fantasy. The latest one is ANGEL CONDEMNED, and that was out two months ago.
Rhys: Do you enjoy writing urban fantasy? Any plans to go back to it?
Mary: I love reading well-written fantasy almost as much as I love reading mysteries. Right now, I’ve joined the millions of readers hooked on George Martin’s GAME OF THRONES. It’s a terrific challenge for me, though. I have an idea.  I’m hoping that I’ll be up to it.
Mary, who is also Claudia: My little sister is going to smack me if I put this in print, but I was inspired to create Bree Beaufort when I sat in on a case my sister was litigating. Right before my eyes, my angelic baby sister turned into a fierce and formidable advocate. (Sort of like Ziva David on NCIS, only more articulate.) She’s been a lawyer for years, of course, I’d just never followed her around to see what she actually did.
As far as the supernatural stuff—I honestly don’t know how I came up with that. As Nora Ephron famously said when somebody asked her why she wrote Michael (a fabulous movie about a visit from the archangel), she doesn’t believe in them, but they are terrific fun to write about. I think of the Beaufort & Company novels as urban fantasy. The latest one is ANGEL CONDEMNED, and that was out two months ago.
Rhys: Do you enjoy writing urban fantasy? Any plans to go back to it?
Mary: I love reading well-written fantasy almost as much as I love reading mysteries. Right now, I’ve joined the millions of readers hooked on George Martin’s GAME OF THRONES. It’s a terrific challenge for me, though. I have an idea.  I’m hoping that I’ll be up to it.
Rhys: These angel books are so different, so atmospheric that I look forward to any new fantasy that you write. Readers--do you like a touch of paranormal in what you read? Mary is here today to answer questions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

RHYS BOWEN
For those of you who visit my Facebook page from time to time, you will notice that I have a photograph as my header now. It's the view from my balcony in California and I love it. I look out over hills and trees,with Mount Tamalpais peeking over the far ridge. In fact I love it so much that I pay the neighbor on the street below me to have her trees trimmed every year so that don't get in the way of my view.

I've decided there are certain things I need in the place where I live. I don't do well in cities with noise. I need to be close to nature. I need sunshine. I need beauty. I need hills. It's part of my Welsh heritage, I suppose, that there has to be a nearby mountain. I can remember the first time I saw a mountain. My Aunt Gwladys took me to relatives in Wales. We arrived at night. In the morning I opened the curtains and there was a mountain outside my window. I was only about seven at the time but I remember feeling "This is it. This is what things should look like."

We spent three years in Texas, flat as a pancake. Every day I'd drive down the freeway trying to invent hills on the horizon in my head.
So I think I've made the right choice about where to live. It's not perfect, of course. The traffic has become horrible. There are gangs and shootings in the  Bay Area. And I do get the occasional fantasy about buying a cottage in England and walking to the village with my basket over my arm to buy the eggs. But then I remember that it rains in UK and I escape to Arizona to have sunshine year round. And I read the English newspapers and see that life is no longer idyllic there.

So I think I'm pretty fortunate to have lived in a place that feels right for most of my life. I lived in Sydney once with its lovely harbor--oh, and I really appreciate water nearby which is one of the reasons I couldn't live in Arizona all year. But I love my stark mountains and cactus in the winter. And in both cases having a big city within reach for concerts, art galleries etc.

So how about you--why did you choose where you live? Would you live somewhere else if you could?

LUCY BURDETTE:  For me it's salt water. My mother was an utter nut about the ocean and it rubbed off! I can remember deciding to move to Boulder when I was just out of college. I was so excited to get away from New Jersey. But the mountains closed in around me as we drove into town and I panicked. Felt so claustrophobic that I simply kept driving until I reached the other coast...

I did enjoy four years in Knoxville, TN, but my preference is to be closer to the coast.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Someone asked me just the other day at a book event why I live where I live.  Good question.  We do have a few slightly rolling hills here north of Dallas, Rhys!  I grew up here, not in the town where I live now, but close enough that it is all home territory for me, and there must be some part of me that needs that grounding.  I have had fantasies of just pulling up stakes and going somewhere completely different, but... I have family here--my mother, still, and my daughter.  We love our old house, and our town (listed as one of most desirable places to live in the US, actually.)  And I don't think Rick and I could ever agree on a different place.  He likes big mountains--Colorado, the Rockies, which don't appeal to me at all.  I love the ocean.  I love green, soft rolling hills, lots of big trees.  And I LOVE cities.  In an ideal world I would probably choose a cottage somewhere in southern England, and a flat in London.  Dream on...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  I'll join you in the Suffolk cottage and the flat in London, Deb!  I love where we live - a very rural area just a half hour from Maine's largest city - but I've loved everywhere I've lived. I think growing up in the military and moving so frequently in my childhood and youth gave me a different perspective on "home." My mother always said there's something to like in anyplace you go, and her philosophy has shaped how I approach my habitats. Ross and I have been in southern Maine for almost twenty-five years now (!!!)and I love the ocean and the mountains, but if we had to pull up stakes and move to, say, the flatlands of Illinois, I'd look forward to seeing what was exciting and different about the new place.

JAN BROGAN - This question is especially relevant for me because we put our house on the market with the idea of moving out of the suburbs and into the city.  We loved a few condos we saw, but when we came home and looked out into our beautiful yard with the granite ledge and everything in bloom, we looked at each other and said: Can we really move?   We're not entirely sure.

HALLIE EPHRON: I grew up in LA, but when I went to NYC for college I found the east coast much more to my liking. (Nowadays, visiting LA makes me feel old, fat, and poor.)

We live just outside Boston, walking distance to the subway. It's the perfect combination of quiet suburban (LOVE my backyard -- it calms me to sit there and watch the grass grow; I also love it that I can throw a big party and everyone can park easily on the street) and quick access to the city.

Havin' my cake...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I grew up in flat flat flat Indiana...moved in my twenties to fabulous glorious Washington DC--loved. Power, insiders, center of the universe, it felt like. Moved to beautiful Atlanta--and it was terrific, but a much slower pace. Now after 30 years in Boston--I can't imagine living anywhere else. (South of France etc, and such, aside..) Even after all this time, I see the ocean, and think--whoa. We don't have this in Indiana.

But yeah, our 100 year old house is just outside of the city--takes us 14 minutes to get into town. Now our gardens are FILLED with tulips and the ducks are back

So let's hear from YOU. Do you live where you do because you have to for work? Or is it the place of your choosing?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Coincidence?

RHYS BOWEN: Do you read online reviews? I know I shouldn't, but I do. And then I'm miffed if someone says something snippy about my books, especially when I feel it's unjustified.  This happened to me the other day when I read a review of Murphy's Law, which is now an eleven year old book, which said the plot relied on coincidence. Apart from the fact that this book won four awards, the only coincidence in the story is that the false name my character is using becomes a prime suspect in a murder on Ellis Island. 

We're often told that coincidences are a no-no in writing, and I agree that we can't use coincidence to solve major plot points. However I'm always amazed how often coincidences happen in real life. Amazing coincidences.  Here are a couple from my own experience:
My daughter goes to Europe. She happens to be in Germany, looking at the Brandenburg Gate when she hears a voice behind her that she recognizes. She turns around and there is my good friend's mother. Neither knew the other would be in Europe.
Or how about this. We go to Ashland to the Shakespeare festival. We're waiting in line to get to our seats when we are tapped on the shoulder and our next door neighbors are standing there. What's more they have seats next to ours.
Or this. I'm in e-mail correspondence with a person who runs a book review site. We are getting along well and become chatty. Where do you live? She asks. In California. So do I. Where abouts? Just outside San Francisco. So do I. Where. San Rafael. So do I. We're neighbors.


And at Left Coast Crime two weeks ago I had to interview Guest of Honor Jacqueline Winspear. I started by quoting all we had in common: grew up in Kent, worked in London, moved to California, married someone called John, write about feisty young women in 1930s England, live five miles apart. Talk about about coincidence!

So my real life seems to abound with coincidences, but I'm not allowed to put them into books. Is that fair?

How about you? Can you remember any amazing coincidences in your life? Do you feel you are allowed to bring coincidence into your stories? And readers, does it annoy you when we do?


HALLIE : Rhys, you do live a charmed life! And yes, I allow myself ONE coincidence in a book, and it's got to be in the first act.

I do remember once we were camping in Shenandoah National Park and one of my husband's college students came walking out of the woods. Very unexpected. We ran into Another one of his students on the beach in Tangiers. Those Curry College students -- they do get around.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We go to the grocery store. There is ..oh, gosh, I can't remember, but someone Jonathan went to law school with. Random, random. They just happened to be there. Couple days later, we're there again, and the person is there AGAIN. I literally said to Jonathan: If I put this in a book, no one would buy it.

At a convention in Florida a few weeks ago, Sleuthfest, a person came up to me and said: are you from Indianapolis? I said--yes, that's where I grew up. Long back and forth ensues, which I will spare you but it was hilarious and adorable. The upshot: she is the cousin of my first husband's first wife. Now I ask you--in a book--would you believe that?

LUCY BURDETTE: No I would not! And Hallie certainly wouldn't...Writing about three different amateur sleuths over the years, I am always struggling with coincidences. Why in the world would one food critic find two bodies in succession? I would freak out if I found even one...but figuring out another way to introduce the main conflict and draw the character into the mystery is not that easy. Sigh...I'm going to be working on this today so if anyone comes up with a good idea, please send it on!

Of course not--you'd say-aw, that could never happen. And yet...

JAN BROGAN- My husband and I went to a wedding in San Franscisco a few years back, and who was playing the piano for the band? My high school flame. From New Jersey. I had been absolutely crazy about him, but he was lukewarm.  The band did this really cool thing where they came around at cocktail hour and you got to sing a cappella  with them.  I wound up having a great time singing with his bandmates.  They started heckling him, the way guys do, refusing to believe I'd ever "waste my time"  going out with him.  It was perfect.  Later he even apologized for the way he had treated me (leading me on, mostly) It was a female fantasy come true!

I kept thinking it was like an opening to a movie it was so bizarrely coincidental. Which I think goes to Hallie's point. You can have a co-ocidence in the first act - in fact, most first acts probably DO have some coincidence  to get the story rolling. You just can't resolve the story with a co-incidence.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The most bizarre thing I can think of in real life?  A couple of years ago we were invited to a 4th of July party by friends, held in an airplane hanger in a Dallas suburb that has one of the biggest fireworks shows in the country.  We sat out on the runway to watch the show and it was a great party, but afterwards the traffic was so terrible that a group of us stood around in the parking lot, visiting, until we thought it might actually be possible to drive.  A guy asked me if I wanted to share a seat on his beer cooler.  I said, "Sure," and sat down. And in that instant we really looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Oh, my God."

It was my first really serious boyfriend.  I was madly in love with him when I was fifteen and sixteen, and he dumped me for my best friend.  I hadn't seen him in more than thirty years.

It turns out it was not that bizarre.  He was a mutual friend of the friends who invited us to the party, but I didn't know that. (Did I still hold a grudge, you may ask? Not really.  Still like him?  He aged well:-))

In fiction, I'm always trying to write around coincidences.  You can't make them as obvious as the ones that happen in real life, so I think the key is misdirection.  Or at least I hope so, as I have more than Hallie's one in the WIP...

So dear friends who are readers--does it annoy you when you come across a coincidence in our books?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marathon Day




JAN BROGAN - Tomorrow is a big day in Massachusetts. Patriots Day. That is our celebration of Paul Revere riding through town and alerting everyone that the British were coming and, of course, the first shots of the Revolutionary War. 

 Once, I celebrated the holiday by actually going to the reenactment of the battle on the Lexington Green, which was followed by a fabulous brunch (Thanks Cynthia), but mostly I celebrate the way everyone else around here celebrates: By going to the Boston Marathon.

Yes, tomorrow is Marathon Day in Massachusetts, a holiday I hold dear to my heart because during college  I worked at the Eliot Lounge, formerly "the running bar."  I always made a lot of tips in Marathon Day and once I even often got free sneakers.

Today I'm going to celebrate Marathon Day at the blog by explaining how I used a running book to help me write.


Recently, I did an interview for the Boston Globe with Catharine Utzschneider, a professor of competitive performance at Boston College, running coach, and the author of MOVE!: How Women Can Achieve Athletic Goals at Any Age.  

Anyway, in our interview, she mentioned that a number of her  friends  had used her structured approach to motivation to tackle the marathon of writing a book. So I thought, okay, what the heck? I used to run. It's almost as grueling as writing. 

Turns out there are a number of really good suggestions that applied, including breaking goals into short term and long term goals, re-assessing, picking yourself up after injury, and keeping motived by enlisting the help of a buddy who will push you on days you don't want to be pushed.

I will talk about the two points that most helped me.

First  was keeping a "training" journal. I've  had a journal for  each novel I've written but it was mostly space to work out character traits or plot points. Now  I started a daily calendar journal - to keep track of how much time I was spending actually writing and where I was frittering time away.  It was illuminating. I frittered less than I thought, but certain projects took more time than I realized.

Most importantly though,  I  stumbled upon  a new trick to help fight my Internet/email addiction. (which, by the way, I learned last night at a panel discussion at Mass General Hospital, is considered a serious problem in China, so I have LOTS of company).

As part of keeping track of the where I'm spending my time, I forced myself to write down every time I check my email or the Internet.  And viola! It works the way keeping a journal about  how much food you eat keeps you from eating so much.  
In other words, it's really sort of embarrassing when you see in your own handwriting just how often you click on that MAIL icon in the corner. Shame is a really good incentive NOT TO DO IT.

My buddy Barbara also suggested jokingly that I award myself little gold stickers for every day I work uninterrupted for four hours. We laughed over that.  Little gold stickers - hah! -  like we used to give the kids

On the way home from the gym that day, I stopped at CVS.

It may not be as exalting as running through the finish line, but you might be surprised  how satisfying a little gold sticker can be!