Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fifty Shades?

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Um, I haven't. But whoa, lots of people have. It's right there, all over the best seller list, and I have to say I fret for the authors who're pushed off the lists because of it.  In fact, off the record, one such author told a pal of mine that s/he considered herself three places higher in the list because s/he wasn't counting Fifty Shades. But that's a story for another day.

Anyway,  I DID read Bryan Gruley's STARVATION LAKE.  I had no choice. I was going to be the moderator of some panel--do you remember what it was, Bryan?--and since Bryan was on it, I was obligated to read his book. 
(I promise you this has a point.)
I say obligated--because I will admit to you I wouldn't have, otherwise. Because I thought it was about--hockey. Hockey! Until the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, I'd never even watched a hockey game. Fine. Sue me. I hadn't.
But panel responsibilities are panel responsibilities, so into Starvation Lake I went.
And it was life changing. First, it wasn't really about hockey.
Second--it was fabulous. Wonderful. Brilliant. So when Bryan won the Anthony and the Macavity for Best First novel, I had to say--well, of course!  

Now hes on his third novel--a copy of which we'll award to a very lucky commenter. Now Bryan is no longer a newbie, he's an award-winning mystery novelist on his way to stardom. And along the way, Bryan has been considering what that means. And the journey. And who he's met on the way. And a little bit about Fifty Shades of Gray. (See? I told you there was a point.)

If It's Not a Rhapsody

My pal Matt likes my books. He makes a lot of money trading options and would love to see me make a lot of money too. He wonders if I should shorten my sentences, maybe simplify the plots a bit, so I'd sell more books and get rich and, like Matt, have Bon Jovi play at my house.
 Matt's a good guy who wants the best for me (except the Bon Jovi part). Shorter sentences and easier plots might well make me a bestselling novelist, or at least a better-selling one. But, as I told him when we talked books over after-work beers, I don't need to bend over backwards for the sake of sales.

 Is that because I'm an artiste, so deeply committed to the purity of my lyrical prose and penetrating tales that I deafen myself to the siren song of commercial success?

 Nah. I'm all in favor of my Starvation Lake novels rising to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. I'm about as commercial a writer as you can find--just not when I'm writing fiction.

 For nearly thirty-three years, I've been a journalist, writing and editing for newspapers in Michigan, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Now I write long narrative articles for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. It's a blast. I love seeing new places, meeting interesting people, piecing story puzzles together. It pays the bills and then some. Because, from the Kalamazoo Gazette to The Wall Street Journal to Businessweek, what I do is strictly commercial.

 Each of the six publications I've worked for has its own audience. That audience has expectations. You write your stories to meet those expectations. People who pick up the Journal don't expect stories on yesterday's Chicago Cubs loss any more than Chicago Tribune readers want a 1,500-word dive into the ephemera of the Federal Reserve.

 I used to tell a fellow Journal reporter, one of the most passionate journalists I've ever known, that our newspaper's core mission was to make rich people richer. Even though it was a joke, this drove him crazy because, like all jokes, it carried some truth.

 I'm not saying we in the non-fiction world pander. We tell folks plenty of things they'd rather not hear (lots of Cubs losses, for sure). But as we choose what we're going to write about--or, just as important, not write about--we're ever mindful of the age, income, and geography of our audience, lest we lose their interest and, in turn, their subscription and advertising dollars. It's business and, for me, money-grubbing fun.

 Which means I can afford to be, if not an artiste, then a purveyor of sentences longer than See Jane Kill  and a creator of plots and characters more textured than those in The Hardy Boys. I see certain trendy books dominating the bestseller lists and I feel for the authors who've been bumped off the list as a result, especially those who truly need that big break, who aren't as day-job lucky as I've been.

At the same time I admire them and all the writers who put words to paper because a story is burning a hole in their hearts. And I remind myself that even those mega-selling authors, at least most of them, are doing the same, writing what they need to write, writing because they must, because it's as important to them as eating, because no amount of fame or money can outweigh the knowledge that you have done your very best.

 I'm lucky that I don't need to write novels to stay current on our mortgage. Still, I wake up each morning and feel that essential need to sit down and make stuff up. If fortune follows, okay with me. But if it ever does, I'll be inviting Alejandro Escovedo to play at my house. You're all invited.

HANK: So I said to Bryan: who's Alejandro Escovedo? And he said: 

 Escovedo is an old ex-punk rocker turned alt-country artist who mixes 'em all together in songs with lyrical stories. And he can rock. For harder stuff, try Real Animal or Street Songs of Love. For mellower, try A Man Under the Influence. My favorite lyric (perfect for writers):

 If the melody escapes me,
 I will stumble upon it soon,
                                                               If it's not a rhapsody,
                                                               It'll just have to do
Wonderful, huh?
So, reds--a commenter will win a copy of Bryan's newest--so let's discuss: Have you /will you read Fifty Shades? Or--if someone said: "write this way, and I'll guarantee you get big bucks"--how would you feel about that?

Bryan Gruley is the award-winning author of three novels set in Starvation Lake, a fictional town in northern lower Michigan. His new book, THE SKELETON BOX, debuts June 5. The Detroit native lives with his wife in Chicago, where he is a reporter at large for Bloomberg News.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Once in a LIfetime Deals!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  How would you like tickets to Ceelo Green in Vegas? Just click here.

Or here's an offer you don't get every day:  Meet Celine Dion Click here!
Brenda Novak's annual auction is in its final hours--and auction aficionados know--now is the time to snag those once-in-a-lifetime items. NO more lollygagging around, no more holding back on your bids. The auction is closing in a matter of hours.

If you haven't explored the amazing items available in Brenda's auction--well, we don't want lead you into temptation, but there are things you'd never possibly be able to buy anywhere else!

How'd you like to have lunch with Janet Evanovich, Diana Gabaldon or Steve Berry!

Brenda Novak herself is here today--yes, she'd love you to come take part in her annual on-line auction for diabetes research. And Jungle Red is happy to help!  She's telling us the top ten things she loves about her auction--and we just can't resist telling you about some of the items we thought were amazing.:

 Brenda Novak--who I can't believe has time to do this!--says:

1. It reminds me that people are GOOD. More than good—AMAZING! Every year, I approach over 1000 donors and ask them to once again contribute a good or service to be auctioned off for the benefit of those suffering with diabetes. And the response is almost always an overwhelming yes, with other writers and industry professionals leading the pack in generosity. Touches my heart every year.

 Come join the Jungle Red Writers for a day! You'll receive autographed books from all the JR authors: PLUS! A special day all about YOU on Jungle Red.

2. I love, love, love getting the positive feedback when an aspiring writer gets and agent, sells a book or finds great value in published author mentorship or critique. Or when someone else really enjoys one of the trips—or another item they’ve won. It makes me feel good to know the auction is often a win/win, meaning the good karma of our bidders often comes back to them.

3. Watching and charting the numbers. My family wants to kill me every year because I’m absolutely ADDICTED. I check and check and check—and pray and pray and pray that our totals will go up.

AUCTION ITEM:  Evaluation of a FULL manuscript by Agent Victoria Sanders (Karin Slaughter's agent!)

4. I love the symbolic bracelet and the T-shirts that remind me of the small army who digs in to fight with me each year.

5. I love so many of the cool items—like the Celine Dion meet-and-greet, the Ceelo Green tickets, the promotion packages for authors, the cool paintings, handmade chocolates, elegant jewelry and research opportunities.

 AUCTION ITEM: Your own personal shopping spree!

6. I love my auction team—my assistant, Anna, the two auction volunteers who have been so loyal and devoted this year—Danita and Stephani, and my best friend, Pierce Mattie, who does all of the auction PR for FREE. These four people have been instrumental in the auction’s success. I enjoy our planning sessions and getting to spend time with these wonderful people.

7. I love talking to the press and trying to get the word out. It’s certainly given me a lot of experience with handling interviews!

8. I love that the auction runs every May because it’s a celebration of Mother’s Day and my birthday, which are usually only a few days apart. After eight years, May would not be the same to me without the auction.

9. I love that my kids and other members of my family (like my sister, Tonya) do what they can to support me by making things they can donate for the auction. My husband and kids pick up part of the household load so I can keep focusing on the auction.

10. I love that my dream has come true. When I first started the auction, I imagined what it would be like to raise $1 million. But I thought it was pie in the sky, never really expected it to come to pass. Yet, so far, we’ve raised nearly $1.5 million and should wind up somewhere near $1.7 million by the time the auction closes.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: And *Only for Jungle Red readers* one lucky commenter today will win a $25 gift certificate to the auction! And another will win a copy of Brenda's newest book WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES! (Everyone else will have to wait until the end of the summer.)

***So tell us what you love about auctions--ever get a real bargain? Or a real dud?  Or tell us what you've won at one of Brenda's. Or what you're bidding on this year! Good luck--and Go, Brenda!****

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has a brand new small-town contemporary series starting this year. Come meet the long-time friends who have made Whiskey Creek the “Heart of Gold Country,” with WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES, to be released August 28th. WHEN SUMMER COMES will be follow in November and WHEN NIGHT FALLS will hit bookstores in February 2013. Also, don’t miss her latest romantic suspense trilogy available now--INSIDE, IN SECONDS, IN CLOSE. Brenda is a three-time Rita nominee. Her books have won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne and many others. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It Takes Two!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I can confess, now, that Red Rosemary and I discussed this, years ago. What if, we thought, in true mystery author fashion, our two main characters collaborated on a mystery?  My TV reporter Charlotte McNally with Rosemary's wise-cracking master gardener Paula Holliday (digression: I cannot resist telling you that can read Paula's newest adventure SLUGFEST now in paperback! Click here, after you read this post, of course.)

Anyway.We thought, probably over a couple of glasses of wine, that they'd be a terrific team. Charlie, yes, a little older and wiser. Paula, yes, a little younger and braver. And they'd crack each other up, right?

So now, turns out we might have been on to something. The fabulous  (and I do mean fabulous) Jen Forbus has been thinking about mashups, too.  Mystery fiction--becomes mystery fiction fusion.

Mystery Mash-up
Jen Forbus

The Avengers seems to be all the rage this summer in the movie theater. I haven’t seen the movie myself. I know that I’ll get a lot of “boo hiss” for this, but I was never a big superhero fan. I grew up with two sisters, no brothers. And while none of us was overly girly, we also weren’t into the superheroes.

But I’ve always loved my crime heroes. I grew up idolizing Thomas Magnum, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, Chris Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey, David Addison and Maddie Hayes, Angus MacGyver. And you know how every once in awhile there’d be a cross-over of shows, especially if shows ran back to back or if there was going to be a new spin-off? I still remember seeing Mark Harmon on J.A.G just before NCIS was going to start airing.
That got me to thinking – which is usually a dangerous situation – what if some of crime fiction’s writers teamed up to bring their characters together? You know…a mystery mash-up. Would the results be spectacular or devastating? I wanted to think really obscure, not the easy pairings. Here are my ideas for what would make fascinating encounters, even if the results turned deadly:

Craig Johnson’s  foul-mouthed, whip-smart undersheriff Vic Moretti (a former Philly cop) and Chris Grabenstein’s  straight-laced, by-the-book police officer John Ceepak (a former Marine). Now you know someone will end up hurt during this encounter. Vic can’t speak a sentence without profanity and if Ceepak commented on it, ohhhhh my. It would get ugly and you know there’s no way Ceepak could hit a woman. Hopefully they could both take their anger out on the bad guys!

Louise Penny’s  rude, curmudgeonly poet Ruth Zardo and Lee Child’s nomadic former MP Jack Reacher. Think Jack would be quick to jump into bed with Ruth?  And Ruth wouldn’t let Reacher’s unkempt appearance pass by without much harassment. Reacher might actually meet his match with Ruth!

Sophie Littlefield’s  middle-aged, quilt-shop-owner Stella Hardesty who sets abusive boyfriends and husbands straight and Karin Slaughter’s  Sara Linton who can perform autopsies when she isn’t tending to children’s medical needs. Y’all cue up the Martina McBride  on this theme song! Sherman’s march to the sea will look like child’s play when these two open a can of whoop ass.

Alafair Burke’s  smart, Nutella-loving, NYC Police Detective, Ellie Hatcher and Robert Crais’  wise-cracking PI Elvis Cole. These two would be absolutely hysterical together. And they’d drive Joe Pike crazy. Maybe they could meet down in Louisiana since they both have some connections there!

Marcia Clark’s  Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight and Michael Connelly’s (Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller. Oh wait. I think Paul Levine already wrote that series!

Steve Ulfelder’s  auto-mechanic turned amateur sleuth Conway Sax and C.J. Box’s   game warden Joe Pickett. I figure this would be a great pairing because Conway could keep Joe out of the trouble with wrecking his vehicles all the time – or at least fix them before anyone finds out.

Karen Olson’s amateur sleuth/tattoo artist, Brett Kavanaugh and Robert Crais’ strong, silent PI Joe Pike. I can see a whole series of crime solving while Brett tries to convince Pike he needs a full sleeve tattoo!

Cara Black’s PI Aimee LeDuc and Hilary Davidson’s  travel-writing amateur sleuth Lily Moore. I can see Lily on a travel-writing job in Paris, finding herself in the midst of a Aimee investigation, possibly running into each other – literally – in a second-hand clothing boutique.

I’ve had all the fun up to this point. Your turn. What mystery mash-ups would YOU like to see?

HANK: Jen, you so rock.  (I've always thought the Todd's Inspector Rutledge might get together with their Bess Cameron. But that would cause too many problems.  Rhys' Lady Georgie with Cat McPherson's Dandy Gilver. What fun!  And I'd adore to see Jack Reacher with Aimee LeDuc. Sigh. She'd win him over, don't you think?)

 And hey--I'll give a copy of SLUGFEST to one lucky commenter who comes up with a terrific team!

 Jen Forbus (happily here mashed  up between Kelli Stanley and Hilary Davidson)  is a crime fiction fan who blogs at the Anthony-nominated blog Jen's Book Thoughts. When she isn’t reading crime fiction, she enjoys spending time with her house full of furry critters: two chocolate labs, Hershey and Nestle, and four rescue cats. A former high school English teacher, Jen now works with a web-site design company and does various freelance work associated with the crime fiction community. 

Monday, May 28, 2012


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We try not to be too political here,so let's not argue wars or where which troops are fighting which other troops.

But on Memorial Day, how can we not think about it?
It crossed my mind to talk about war movies, but then--I thought about my father, at age 18 or so, being sent from high school in Indiana overseas to fight in World War Two. You have to know my Dad is the most thoughtful, artistic, tolerant, poetic, gentle person you could ever met. A musician. A writer. I simply cannot picture him with a weapon, a member of the army infantry fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and taken prisoner and marched barefoot through the snow and put in a Nazi prison camp. But that's what happened.
He got a purple heart. My little dad.

If I've told you this story, forgive me. But on Memorial Day, the goal is to remember. So it's important to tell and re-tell and make sure the memories aren't lost.

A few years ago, Dad and his wife Juliet (now both retired from the foreign service) rented a house, as usual, in western Massachusetts (near Tanglewood) for part of the summer. Jonathan and I went to visit for awhile. And in the library of the house they rented, Dad found a tattered and worn book of poetry, one of those paperback Untermeyer anthologies.

He pulled it out of the shelf, and tears came to his eyes.

"What's wrong?" I asked.
"This is the same edition I carried with me throughout the war," he said. (He NEVER talks about the war. Won't.)
"You carried a book of poetry in the war?" I was trying to figure that out.
"Yes," he said. "To remind myself there is beauty in the world."

So. War stories. Was anyone in your family in the war? Any war? How did that change them--or you?  If not--do you watch war movies? Why?

JAN BROGAN   Wow, Hank. That is a beautiful story. And being a WWII buff, who - mostly because of my husband - has seen every bit of footage on WWII - I am unbelievably impressed. I even wrote my sixth grade report on the Battle of the Bulge, and seen over and over the footage of the army making their way through France to the battle and thought what must it have been like, sleeping in the snow and waking up to do battle?

HANK: I know. I think about it all the time.

JAN: Anyway, both my parents were in WWII. My father an Army captain, my mother a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. My mother took care of the men returning from the Pacific with TB and other infectious diseases.  Because she didn't talk about her service at all, I didn't realize how important it was to her until she was about to die. Then as she divvied up her charitable contributions it all had to go the veterans. I keep her dog tags in my jewelry box and consider it her finest piece of jewelry.

RHYS BOWEN: My dad was in World War II, in the desert fighting Rommel. He fought at El Alamein, but from what he told us, he actually enjoyed some things about it--the camaraderie of men together. He was a great athlete and played cricket for his batallion. He also picked up a lot of Arabic and years later he and my mother went on holiday to Tunisia and the hotel staff were amazed he could speak to them. They got wonderful service.

My brother was in a very different sort of war. In the RAF he was sent to Aden, South Yemen. Very like Iraq today. They'd go out on patrol and a sniper would kill the man in front of him. Not good for the nerves. Both he and my dad are gentle people. My brother is about to be ordained an Anglican priest!

War is so stupid. As the song says "When will they ever learn?"

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What lovely stories, Jan and Hank. And Rhys, there always seemed something slightly glamorous about the British campaign in North Africa--maybe it was the movies...

My father was in his mid-thirties when the US entered WWII, with a business and a toddler (my older brother) so wasn't called up. And he was such a gentle man--I think the experience would have destroyed him if he'd survived.

HANK: Debs, there's a line for a book...
DEBS: I had two uncles who served in the Navy. One was stationed in New Zealand for at least part of the war, and could never afterwards bear the smell of lamb. Neither of them ever talked about their wars.

I've been fascinated since I was a child (Anglophile that I am) by the British experiences in WWI and WWII, particularly as they affected the British at home. One of my books centers around children who were evacuated from London during the Blitz, another around a Jewish couple who come to London as refugees from Nazi Germany.

LUCY BURDETTE: I hate war and I won't watch war movies and I cannot imagine psychologically surviving the horror of any of it. But I make myself watch the honor roll of soldiers that the PBS Newshour runs at the end of their program every week--so I don't forget that the deaths we continue to hear about are real people with real families.

All that said, my father was also a WWII veteran. (That's him, above, in Wales.) We have paperwork that documents how he went down to the recruiting station in New Jersey and signed up. But then his mother (a VERY strong personality), marched him back down to rescind his application. He signed up again the following year (1943?) and served in the Army corps of engineers in England and France. He was a kindhearted peace-loving guy too, but I have the impression that this was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. He always felt connected to his fellow soldiers--they had yearly reunions until they got too old to travel. And one of them hobbled up to visit him in the nursing facility just months before he died (in January.) When he sat down to hand write his memoirs, most of the vignettes were about the war--so much for our perspective that we took top honors! We haven't had time to sort through all that stuff, but I look forward to trying to understand how the war affected him.

HALLIE EPHRON: These are wonderful stories. My dad never served -- I think it was because he'd had rheumatic fever as a kid, or maybe it was flat feet. I wish he was around to ask. My husband's father worked in a Providence shipyard for his service, and came away with no fond memories of Providence and a lifelong aversion to cold.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: My father was 19 and spent the war in Alaska (probably watching for Russians like you-know-who.)He never talked too much about those years. He was on Adak in the Aleutians. Funnily enough I've since learned that Earlene Fowler's father was there as was Dashiell Hammett who wrote a newsletter for the men. There's a website devoted to the men and women who spent the war there.

As it happens, an elderly relative just passed away and one of the things that came to me in a box filled with old snapshots and letters were my father's dogtags. That's a Saint Theresa medal.  

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I am a member of "one of those families" you mentioned. My father, Lt. Melvin Spencer, served during a different conflict - the Cold War. He was an Air Force pilot, assigned to a Strategic Air Command bomber wing at Plattsburgh AFB when he met and married my mother, who was a coed at the State University there.

Tensions between the USSR and the United States were at a peak in the early 60's, and the USAF was at the front line of defense. Bombers stood fueled and ready on the flight line apron round the clock, with crews rotating in and out of specially connected staging areas so that the enormous planes could be airborne and on their way to Russia within a matter of minutes. The day I was born my father was in "the bullpen." His replacement pilot arrived in time for him to get to the base hospital, but he was still in full fight gear the first time he held his baby girl.

The crews trained constantly over the huge, sparsely populated reaches of the Adirondack mountains, making practice bombing runs. About six months after I was born, my father suited up and left for a pre-dawn training flight. He never returned. One of the B-48's systems - radio? Electrical? - malfunctioned. Flying in the dark, in a snowstorm, the four-man crew never realized they were below altitude. The remains of the ship were found strewn across the face of Mount Wright, the second highest peak in the Adirondacks. This is the memorial placed at the crash site.

I think it's enormously important to be aware to the cost of war to those who pay the ultimate price. But it's also important to remember that for every name on the casualty list, there are a score of others whose lives will never be the same - parents and siblings, husbands or wives, children and friends.

HANK: Julia. I am speechless. And So grateful to know you all.  So what about you, Reds? War stories? This is the day to tell them...and to say thank you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hallie's Coctel de Mariscos: A Cool Dinner for a Hot Night

Years ago, when we were at Disneyland in Los Angeles and desperate for real food, we went to a wonderful Mexican restaurant less than a mile away that my sister Amy, always a food maven, tipped us off about. The parking lot was packed and music playing. You ordered at a window and sat at long picnic tables.

I can't remember what we ate, but what I do remember is the "coctel de mariscos" (seafood cocktail) that other smarter and mostly Spanish speakers had ordered. It came in what looked like a ice cream glass and it was filled with shrimp and tomatoes and avocado and it looked spectacular.

Ever since I've been trying to approximate what I imagine it must have tasted like. My concoction is a cross between a spicy gazpacho and shrimp cocktail, and it's a perfect cold main dish for hot summer nights.

Hallie's Seafood Cocktail (the version I made last night for dinner is in the photo)

Ingredients to serve 4:
Seafood! About 1 1/2 pounds of it. Always some shrimp, and then whatever else you've got (squid, large scallops, white fish (cod, tilapia, whatever)...)
Miscellaneous aromatics for the water that you poach the seafood in (fresh herbs like parsley, celery tops, a piece of onion, a slice of lemon or lime, scallions, peppercorns, salt)
Tomato (or V8) juice (about 2 cups)
Hot sauce (or a finely chopped jalapeno) to taste
1 chopped up sweet green pepper
1 chopped up ripe avocado
1/2 of a sweet onion, chopped
A good handful of chopped cilantro
A pound of chopped fresh tomatoes
Juice of 2 limes (at least)
Salt and pepper to taste
(Optional: white vinegar to taste)

1. Cook the seafood
Boil about 4" of water in a saucepan with the aromatics for about 5 minutes.
Throw in the raw seafood, cut into chunks, and cook until just done, probably about 4-5 minutes.
Drain and separate out the aromatics (and discard).
Squeeze the juice of 2 limes over the drained seafood and and let it cool.

2. Put the green pepper, avocado, onion, cilantro, and tomatoes in a nonreactive serving bowl. Add the seafood. Add the tomato juice and hot sauce (or jalapeno) to taste and salt and pepper. Mix. Taste. Season. (If it's not sharp and piquante enough for you add more hot sauce and some white vinegar.)

3. Chill and serve.

NOTE: If you're going to be awhile before serving, then don't add the chopped up avocados until just before you're ready to serve.

If anyone out there has had an authentic coctel de mariscos, let me know how far off this gringa has wandered.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Barbecue Memories...

HALLIE EPHRON: With Memorial Day nearly upon us, my thoughts drift to fond memories of lost friends and great backyard barbecues.  Two come to mind: a pig roast and a clam bake.

The pig roast was organized by a dear (and sadly now deceased) friend Gladys Martinez, a Cuban emigre full of life and vitality. She and her cousin from New Jersey dug a pit in her yard and lined it with stones and charcoal  and started the fire the night before, setting the alarm to get up every four hours or so and add coals. Her cousin fashioned a grill out of a stolen shopping cart using bolt cutters and wire, and rigged it so it would hang over the fire and could be hand-cranked.

My husband and I were in charge of procuring the pig. We'd found an old-fashioned butcher in Boston's Italian North End that special ordered us a young pig, to Gladys's specifications, and the day before the barbecue off we went on the subway with our 3-year-old daughter Molly in an umbrella stroller (remember those?) to fetch it.

We had no idea the pig would be so big. It was longer and heavier than Molly. We had to bring IT home in the stroller. Bagged in clear plastic, riding in that stroller, it drew LOTS of weirded-out glances from other passengers.

Gladys marinated the pig overnight in her bathtub in oil and garlic and orange juice and achiote (the stuff that makes Spanish rice yellow) and peppers and seasoning. She started cooking it the next morning. Company (including us) arrived in the afternoon.

What a production! But it was so worth it. The pork was fork tender and redolent of garlic and spices. We fought over the crispy bits of skin. Gladys served it with Cuban style Yucca and of course rice and beans. For dessert: a fantastic flan.

The clam bake was in the Rhode Island backyard of the family home of Linda Laubenstein, a college friend who died about ten years ago. Same deal: dig a pit, line it with stones and charcoal. But then, once it was thoroughly heated up and ready for cooking, they lined the pit with a sea-water-soaked tarp. Lined the tarp with heaps and heaps of seaweed dredged from the ocean. Finally piled on the lobsters, clams, and corn and close the tarp, putting some of the hot rocks on top,

It must have taken an hour or more to cook, but what came out tasted like nothing I'd ever had before. All the wonderful tastes of the seafood were melded with sea and smoke. Absolutely delicious, and there'd be no way to duplicate it other than going to all that trouble.

Do you have barbecue memories to share in the run-up to Memorial Day?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Believing in good fortunes...

HALLIE EPHRON: I have a confession: I read my horoscope every single day and I save fortunes from  fortune cookies. I'm an opportunistic believer in their predictions -- I listen when they say what I want to hear.

Sometimes the advice is completely useless, as with this recent warning in my horoscope:
* Avoid snap judgments.
Yuh, right. As if I could.

But more often than not, there's something I need to hear, once I've twisted it around so it's meaningful for my writing life. Like the fortune I got when I was waiting to hear back from my agent on whether a publisher wanted my first standalone novel NEVER TELL A LIE: "If your cookie is in 2 pieces the answer is yes."

It was! A few days later I had an offer. The little slip with that fortune is scotch-taped to my printer.

Here's what my horoscope said one day when I was stuck in the mushy middle of my work in progress:
* Just keep in mind that your current growth phase isn't finished; you simply have a chance now to move a project along at your own speed by taking a good idea and developing it further.

When I lost the Mary Higgins Clark Award:
* Working with amazing people doesn't have to rob you of your self-esteem.

When I was thinking about exhuming a character I'd excised from an earlier novel and inserting it into my work in progress:
Reconnecting with someone from your past is possible as amorous Venus turns retrograde this week. Yet it's best not to expect that history will simply repeat itself.

A day when I was planning to outline a new book:
* Don't be cocky and think that everything you imagine will unfold according to your plans. Just allow your daydreams to flow without analysis; you will have plenty of time to make sense of it all later on.

The day I finally get a decent Kirkus review:
* Just don't let your confidence grow into arrogance because you're still likely to encounter a little turbulence along the way.

And the best writing advice I ever got came from a horoscope:
* Go ahead and set your sights on a far-off galaxy, strap on your seat belt and prepare for blast-off. if you experience self-doubt, remember that he who hesitates is lost. Ultimately, you can figure out a way to make it all work.

Here's the fortune I got when I was down in the dumps and considering giving up writing:
* You will succeed in a far out profession
(I saved that one, too.)

So, Readers and Reds, your assignment for today: Go find your horoscope or crack open a fortune cookie and let us know what useful bit of advice it has for you, or maybe it just gives you a good laugh.

If you haven't got one handy, here's the horoscope page in the LA Times. (Mine begins: Nurturing others comes naturally to you, especially today...)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let the Wild Rumpus Pause: Remembering Maurice Sendak

HALLIE EPHRON: It was with great sadness and nostalgia that I read about Maurice Sendak's death a few weeks ago. I have so many of his books, posters, the record of Really Rosie (his collaboration with Carole King), and a stuffed "wild thing" looks down, inspiring me every day from my office bookcase. This photo is just part of our collection of Sendak books etc...

I can't tell you when I first read
"Where the Wild Things Are,"
but I have probably read it hundreds of times to my kids. Those googly-eyed monsters go so quickly from funny to scary, just like real nightmares.

Here's what he told NPR about his mosters: “I didn’t want them to be traditional monsters, like griffins and gorillas and such like. I wanted them to be very, very personal. It had to come out of my own particular life. And I remember it took a very long time until that gestation occurred and when they began to appear on drawing paper, and they began to be what I liked. And it was only when I had them all that I realized they were all my Jewish relatives.”

It's wonderfully creepy when Mickey loses his pajamas "In The Night Kitchen." I adore the slightly seditious edge to Pierre, a little boy who gets (deservedly) eaten by a lion, and when the lion roars and Pierre falls out... Pierre "rubbed his eyes and scratched his head and laughed because he wasn't dead." That's downright profound.

So, Reds, were Maurice Sendak's stories and illustrations part of your life, and what were your favorites?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: A Hole is To Dig. But Maurice Sendak didn't write it--he illustrated it. Wonderfully. (I hope that counts.) My favorite-favorite from as long as I can remember. And I have given it to new parents and kids for...years. Dozens of copies.

It's just a tiny book of snippets by Ruth Krauss.  Lines like "Mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough." One line goes across two pages of tiny kids saying "I'll sit on your cold feet and you sit on my cold feet and then I'll sit on your cold feet and then you'll sit on my cold feet..."   "A face is to have on the front of your head." Also, "a face is so you can make faces." "A hand is to hold up when you want your turn." "A party is to say how-do-you-do and shake hands."

Now. Confession. I do not like Where the Wild Things Are. And I do not like In the Night Kitchen. I just--thought they were unpleasant. I know I'm in the minority.

JAN BROGAN: No, Hank, I completely agree. I do not know Maurice Sendak except for those two books and ....the art just creeped me out. I did not not respond well to his illustrations, but then, I'm not a big fan of nightmares. 

But Hallie, maybe this is why you write thrillers. Personally, I loved Roald Dahl, who I think is brilliant and witty. 

LUCY BURDETTE: For some reason I don't remember having these books in our house, though I love love love his line drawings and his stories. Seems like the interviews played after his death showed him as a troubled guy, which would make sense with those monsters, wouldn't i

HALLIE: He wasn't what you'd call soft and squishy. Hated book events. But he really got children.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Bruce was one of his publishers and I can remember going to a fabulous party for The Nutcracker. Bruce traveled to Italy with Maurice and spent a lot of time with him, but I only met him once, at a dinner at Cafe des Artistes. I think it was my first dinner with a famous author!

Before I'd met him  - of course - I was convinced that I was Really Rosie and I was a great big deal. I have a few signed Rosie cels and I actually have a reference to Pierre(I don't care) in my WIP, written months ago. Lot of sadness in the Harris household when we heard.

Not to be too grim but, I would also add that today is the 11th anniversary of the untimely death of Douglas Adams, another of Bruce's authors. Met him too and he was incredibly cool. (My husband is very cool and I get to go along on some fun rides...) Wave those towels!

RHYS BOWEN: Two of my favorites--Sendak and Douglas Adams. Where the Wild Things Are is such a profound book. You could teach a child psychology book on it--on tantrums, on wanting to be loved and realizing that one is loved... where his supper was waiting... and it was still hot.  Magic.

And Douglas Adams. The ships hung in the sky the way bricks don't. Another of my favorite lines.

HANK: Oh, LOVE Douglas Adams. The Babelfish. I still think about it. And DON'T PANIC! My motto.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Ro, so jealous.  Loved them both, but Douglas Adams was one of my literary heroes, especially the Dirk Gently's.  The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul is one of my favorite titles ever.

And Sendak! When I saw we were talking about him, I had to go dig out my copies. I loved Where the Wild Things Are, but In the Night Kitchen was my favorite, and I can't find my copy! Again, I would have loved that book just for the title, but I didn't find them creepy. I thought they were little lessons about conquering your fears.  I'll have to ask my daughter what she thinks, and which were her faves. 

He did a lovely book called Outside Over There, about a little girl named Ida who rescues her baby sister from ice goblins.  It has the most beautiful illustrations, including Ida's gorgeous German shepherd. These are more like paintings than cartoons, so do try to find this one if you've never seen it.

ROSEMARY: I think he had a couple of German Shepards.

HALLIE: So what are your recollections of Sendak? Listening to Carole King singing Chicken Soup with Rice... Sigh.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Headlines to Die For

HALLIE EPHRON: A few months ago I had the great pleasure of meeting Deb Pines at an MWA chapter meeting in New York that she'd organized. She's working on a mystery, of course, but what floored me is her day (actually, night) job: she writes headlines for the New York Post, a paper famous for its headlines.

After the JetBlue pilot had a meltdown in midair, her headline:

Is that a great headline or what??

Deb, how did you come up with that headline? Did you sit in a cubicle and experience a visitation from Captain Kirk? Or is it a group process?

DEB PINES: At The Post, my team, the copy desk, doesn’t write the screaming Page 1 headline – the wood – every day. When the top editors are stuck, they come over and say something like, “Why don’t we run it by Barry’s boys?” That means my seven male colleagues (on most nights) and me.

Sometimes, the wood is a collaborative brainstorming effort with everyone calling out suggestions. Often – probably due to girly reticence – I submit my ideas on paper.

We all re-use old words or headlines (short ones that fit).  Or we build on prior headlines or concepts. Or, in rare cases, we come up with something new and original. I owe part of my “THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING” to an earlier wood written by a now-deceased colleague, Joe Cunningham.  When a JetBlue steward in 2010 ranted at passengers then fled the plane, beer in hand, out an emergency chute, Joe wrote, “FREAKING FLYER.” I took the “FREAKING” from him and went from there.

HALLIE: Day in the life... what time do you go to work, are you in a big noisy newsroom, and how many headlines do you have to come up with in a given night?

DEB: I work in a big old-school noisy newsroom on the tenth floor of a modern Midtown Manhattan skyscraper.  My shift is from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.  I’d like to say all I do is write headlines.  But, alas, my main functions are far less sexy.  I chop stories to fit the space they’re assigned to.  And, in what’s often a mad rush, I try to catch typos, inconsistencies, misspellings and other mistakes.

Each night, I write between three and fifteen headlines. The number depends on the size of  – the next day’s paper, available staff and stories assigned to me.

I can do many little postage-stamp-sized stories with one-word or two-word headlines like: Luftwaffler (when a Holocaust-denier changed his tune), Mazel Tough (when a family, denied a bar mitvah at the Plaza Hotel due to renovations, lost a lawsuit against the Plaza) and Eyeful Tower (about a different hotel that got cheers and jeers for allegedly encouraging guests to stand naked or have sex in front of curtainless floor-to-ceiling windows).

HALLIE: I inadvertently stayed in that hotel! I wondered why the room was so reasonable.

How on earth did you end up with this job?

DEB: I’m a former newspaper reporter. When I got bitten by the mystery-writing bug, I wanted a “day job” that gave me time and energy to write fiction, too.

My first “day job,” writing entries for a course-catalog from home, turned out to be deadly dull and lonely. My second “day job,” copy-editing a hip-hop magazine (where I changed gangsters to gangstas, players to playas, motherfuckers to muthafuckas, and so on) ended in me being fired.

Missing the camaraderie and adrenaline rush of a newsroom, I applied for copy-editing jobs at every New York newspaper. I got a try-out at The Post that led to the job that I’ve enjoyed since.

HALLIE: Headlines and short, attention grabbing, and pithy. Novels are 80,000 words long. Is there any cross-over in terms of what it takes to get it done?

DEB: Some similarities exist between mystery-writing, headline-writing and any kind of writing. Each has its own rules as specific as those required of writing loftier stuff like, say, a sonnet in iambic pentameter.

All require a consistent voice. For my mystery, I’m aiming to speak in my own authentic voice.  For my headlines, I’m aiming to channel the voice of some leering old right-wing New York guy (who uses words like perv, fiend and thug and loves cheesecake photos of hot models and celebs).

HALLIE: You know, that wouldn't be a bad voice to channel for a mystery novel.

DEB: For both, I try to withhold something – saving a punchline.  For instance, when a Post columnist denounced greedy unions, I headlined it: “Unions sing same old song: Me, me, me, me.”

HALLIE: Last but not least, please tell us about the novel you're writing. Is it about the news business?

DEB: I’ve just finished the first draft of my novel, tentatively called “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned from the O.J. Trial, ‘Law & Order’ and the New York Post: A Mimi Goldman Murder Mystery.”

HALLIE: Laughing! That will take the "longest book title ever" award. And Mimi is...??

DEB: Mimi Goldman, is – no surprise – a tabloid copy editor.  A younger, braver and prettier version of myself, Mimi thinks it would be a lark to solve her own “Law & Order”-type murder mystery.  But, when a neighbor dies and she gets the chance, her efforts – at times comical, at times harrowing – turn into life-or-death struggle. Mimi could end one of two ways – that, at my other job, I might sum up as:

Back at The Post
or she’s toast!

HALLIE: Well, we wish you great success with your novel -- it sounds wonderful. And anyone can tell,  you definitely have a "voice." We can say we knew you when...

Deb will be checking in today, so please chime in. (Any books that need catchy titles? I bet she'd be great at it.) And I'll bet she could have come up with a much snappier headline than I did.