Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Phyllis and Me by Greg Herren

LUCY BURDETTE: We're delighted to welcome Greg Herren to JRW today. As readers and writers, you will appreciate what he has to say!


When I was eleven years old, my parents allowed me to join the Mystery Guild as a birthday present. They’d noticed I wasn’t really reading the mystery series for kids I’d been addicted to for the past three years, and saw this as an excellent way to transition me into reading mysteries for adults. I remember getting four three-in-ones for my penny plus shipping and handling: Ngaio Marsh, Charlotte Armstrong, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner. When the books arrived, the catalogue with the next month’s choices came in the box. The featured selection surprised me; I’d known Phyllis A. Whitney wrote mysteries for teens, but I hadn’t known she wrote them for adults as well. Having enjoyed her work, I went ahead and ordered the book, Listen for the Whisperer.

    When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to read it. It was a Saturday, and I just climbed back into my bed with a bag of BBQ Fritos, and shut the bedroom door. I took the book with me to dinner, and went right back to bed with it after eating. I was captivated by the story of young reporter Leigh Hollins, going off to Norway to confront the birth mother she’d never known. As a kid who loved to read and was also fascinated by Hollywood, the fact that Leigh’s deceased father had been an international bestselling writer and the mother—Laura Worth—an Academy Award winning actress, made the book all the more involving for me. After refusing to marry Leigh’s father and dumping their child on him, Laura went on with her career—until the filming of The Whisperer. Fighting on the set every day with the director, Cass Alroy—Laura was the number one suspect when he was murdered. She was never charged with the crime, but she fled Hollywood and lived in Norway as a recluse ever since.

    Leigh’s trip to Norway, ostensibly to do an interview with the former star for a book of actress profiles she is doing, triggers a series of events with their roots on that studio sound stage twenty years earlier, the night Cass Alroy was murdered. As Leigh struggles to come to terms with her complicated feelings for the mother who abandoned her, she also finds her own life in danger. There was also a bit of romance in there, too—enough to get the book labeled as a romantic suspense novel rather than a mystery.

    I went on to read Ms. Whitney’s entire backlist—Seven Tears for Apollo, Columbella, Hunter’s Green, The Winter People—and also bought her new releases when they were released in paperback: Snowfire, The Turquoise Mask, Spindrift, The Golden Unicorn, and so on. I eventually moved on from Ms. Whitney in the 1980’s, as I discovered new women mystery writers like Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Julie Smith, and Marcia Muller. But I never forgot the hours of pleasure I found in the pages of Ms. Whitney’s books.

    I wrote Ms. Whitney a fan letter after finishing The Turquoise Mask. I sent it to her in care of her publisher. I’d never written a fan letter before (or since, really), but I told her how much I enjoyed her books and that I aspired to be a writer someday.

    Two weeks later, I received a typewritten personal letter from Ms. Whitney. It was three pages long, and while the first paragraph thanked me for my letter and my kind words about her own work, the rest of the letter was encouragement for me to pursue my dream, and advice about writing. I kept that letter from 1976 until it was damaged in Hurricane Katrina; I’d always intended to scan it so I could keep it forever.

    It meant a lot to me as a young aspiring writer, and many times, when I got down on myself or wanted to give up, all I had to do was pull out the yellowed, much-handled letter from a very kind writer who took the time to encourage a fifteen year old she’d never met—or would ever meet.
    So, thank you, Ms. Whitney, not only for the great kindness in writing me back and encouraging me to chase my dreams, but for the many hours of pleasure I got from your novels, and for writing about strong, independent women in a time when that wasn’t really the norm.

GREG HERREN is an award winning New Orleans mystery writer. His next novel, “Dead Housewives of New Orleans,” will be an ebook exclusive and will be available soon. He can be found on-line at his website; on Facebook, and on his blog.

LUCY: Thank you Greg for the wonderful post today! Reds, did you have someone in your life who inspired you and encouraged your dreams?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Car Games

LUCY BURDETTE: On Facebook last week (isn't it always Facebook anymore?), some of my pals started talking about a game they played in the car as kids, which involved counting cows. One point per cow. But if you passed a cemetery on your side, all your points were erased. If that isn't training--for something!We played that game too, but it included other animals--horses were two points, sheep three, maybe pigs were four. And no cemeteries--we were too busy holding our breath passing those. We also played the license plate game, the rules of which I no longer remember.  

And there was a game maybe idiosyncratic to my family, in which houses were distributed. On the way down to the Jersey Shore most weekends, my older sister and I would "claim" houses as we passed them. That one's for me, that's for you, and then occasionally a shack for my younger brother. Eventually he would cry and my mother would implore: "Give him a nice house, girls."

Nowadays, I imagine there are fewer games in the car because everyone's got a movie screen or an iPad instead. Maybe a lot less fighting too? Reds, what kinds of car games did you play?

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh we had a million of them. I spy, with my little eye (something pink...). And "I'm going on a trip and taking with me..." Each person adds on one more item and the next person has to remember everything 'packed' and add another. Then there's the game one person names a state (California) and the next person has to name one that begins with the state that that state ended with (Arkansas)... same game with vegetables, cities, you name it.

It does make the time pass without everyone killing each other.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, absolutely. We played "It's not the New York Yankees." Which we made up, but loved. It's a stream of consciousness game, where the first person starts "It's not the New York Yankees--its the confederate army." (Because see how that's connected?)
Then the next person says something like "its not the confederate army, its the army-navy game."
Then the next person would say somethig like:  "Its not the army-navy game, it's Monopoly." (Because they're both games, see?)
And on and on, different, of course, every time.
And the way we played (This is when we were a bit older, of course) there could be no hesitation in answering, the only time you had to think was when you repeated what had come before.
My mother's favorite, of course, was: "Let's see who can be quiet the longest."

There was a HUGE rush, always, to say "I LOSE!"

RHYS BOWEN: My kids always played car games, the most frequent being the alphabet game. You had to spot a word beginning with a letter, then move on to the next and the first person to get through the alphabet won. And it couldn't be a license plate or behind you.
My kids also played the license plate game--when you see an out of state plate you hit the person next to you and shout "Nevada!" My grand daughters play the slug bug game. One point for a VW bug, and five for a yellow one. I think that also involves hitting the person next to you and yelling "Slugbug."
We also used to play games involving songs--someone singing a TV theme song or commercial and the rest of us having to guess which show or product it was.

The great thing is that my grandchildren play the alphabet game--not easy for the Phoenix lot when we drive across the desert without a town for miles. And the 9 year old is really quick.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Sometimes I think I slept through my entire childhood..or sprang fullblown into adulthood. I don't remember playing any car games. 

I was quiet.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  Lucy, you're right that ipods and mp3 players (and DVD players and Game Boys and smart phones) have dealt the death-knell to most car games. I remember playing many of the same ones the rest of you remember - though not Hank's family's "It's not the New York Yankees," which is way creative! And when my children were very small, we played simple "spot the animal/construction vehicle/color" games. But even before they all got their personal entertainment devices, our favorite diversion on long drives were audio books. We listened to most of the Harry Potter series, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OX, CORALINE, and many others. 

Now, of course, they all plug in and settle down.

My favorite riding-in-a-car story: as the mother of two toddlers (the Smithie and the Boy are only 15 months apart) I got used to pointing out all the fun sights as we drove through the Maine countryside. My mother was visiting, and we headed out for a just-us-grownups shopping trip. As we drove by a pasture, I automatically assumed the Romper Room voice and pointed out, "There's a cow!"

My mother gave me her driest look. "I've seen cows before, Jule."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Smear Campaigns in History

RHYS BOWEN: I'm really torn about Suzanne Adair's blog. I mean, as a native Brit I should be cheering for the Redcoats, right? But as a naturalized American I should see them as bloody foreign invaders trying to rob me of my freedom. And the truth is that they were ordinary men, pressed into a role they didn't want. That's really true for all wars, isn't it? The foot soldier is a puppet, dancing to his master's grand designs, be they good or evil. Only now and then are the soldiers part of the general's vision--as those who fought with Washington in the revolutionary war, or most men who joined up in WWII, fighting with a clear cause.

Anway, read Suzanne's interesting take on the Redcoats and maybe you'll feel differently about them.... take it away, Suzanne.

Smear Campaigns in History

 Early February 2013, people worldwide were amazed by news that a skeleton unearthed from beneath a parking lot in England was that of King Richard III, unhorsed and slain during battle with his rival, Henry Tudor. Also amazing was the reconstruction of Richard’s head: that of an attractive man in his early thirties. The main reason for all this amazement over the “king in the car park” was because he wasn’t the Richard we’d expected to find. Henry Tudor, the victor in that battle more than 500 years ago, had conducted one of history’s most successful smear campaigns.

After Richard’s death, his supporters were silenced, slain, or banished. His portraits were altered to show a surly sourpuss in his fifties. Richard was blamed for the disappearance and presumed execution of his nephews. Shakespeare, sucking up to the Tudors, hacked Richard’s character for his eponymous play, turning him into a Quasimodo-esque, black-hearted troll on horseback. For the next 500 years, most people believed King Richard III was a monstrosity, body and soul. It was smear campaign crap.

Whenever I conduct research for my mystery series set during the American Revolution, I open whole barrels of smear campaign crap, and I’m reminded of the saying that the victors write history. What American citizen who has sat through history class hasn’t been baptized with the stereotype of redcoats? Men of rank and file who were stupid brutes, who’d been forced into service as boys, who had to be flogged into obedience—redcoats, right? Hollywood sure gets a lot of mileage out of that stereotype.

So here’s the truth. Redcoats in Revolutionary America weren’t shanghaied; they volunteered as adults. About 20% brought wives and children with them. Fewer than 3% of enlisted men were ever flogged for a crime. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were deemed so valuable that soldiers with an education could hire themselves out as tutors to their fellows. Some regiments even set up schools to teach men the basics.

Armed with common sense, anyone who contemplates history for more than a few seconds realizes that the stereotype of redcoats couldn’t have been accurate. Otherwise, the Revolutionary War would have been over within a year instead of pulverizing America for eight years. If you believe that an army of knuckle-draggers in scarlet coats could resist Napoleon’s machine a few decades later, you’d also believe that a hunchbacked king could wear armor, control his charging warhorse, and fight like a tiger. Great! I have some land to sell you.

I’ve created a redcoat detective, Michael Stoddard, to bridge the gap in common sense. He and the fellows he works with in his regiment are ordinary guys, soldiers stationed in a strategically-located town. You know, doing their duty to their country, trying to keep the peace, all-too-aware that they’re on foreign soil and among people who resent their presence.

The eerie familiarity of that scenario isn’t accidental. You see, not only is history written by the victors. History repeats itself. In the news every day.

Which smear campaign in history gets your back up?

 **And Suzanne is offering a signed copy of her new book to one lucky commenter!**

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her next Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, was released April 2013.

Blog and social media links:

Blog: http://www.SuzanneAdair.typepad.com

Quarterly electronic newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/Suzanne-Adair-News

Web site: http://www.SuzanneAdair.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Suzanne.Adair.Author

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Suzanne_Adair

Book description:

A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity.

Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Some Like It Hot!

RHYS: The other day I bought a chicken sandwich at a deli. It was a really good sandwich, crispy bread, lots of white meat chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and I was really enjoying it until.... I bit into a chili pepper. A really hot chili pepper. You know, the kind that makes your eyes water.

I went up to the counter and complained and was told, "Most people like it that way." As if I was an old fuddy-duddy who didn't appreciate good food. This is really stupid. If you eat a chili, all you taste from then on is...chili. It could be chicken or cardboard, it wouldn't matter.

I've certainly become aware that food tastes are changing with the latest immigrants. We all eat tacos now, we even eat mole which is really spicy. Indian food is showing up more often. Thai food is everywhere and that's pretty hot. And it seems that to eat hot food has become a macho sort of thing. Look at those commercials for buffalo wings--the kind that make steam blow out of a person's ears.

I watch people (usually men) spray tabasco sauce all over their breakfast eggs, looking around with satisfaction as if to say "Look at me. I'm fearless."

So why this attraction for really hot food. Spices were originally added to dishes in countries without refrigeration to stop meat from spoiling. If you could buy good fresh meat from the butcher you didn't need to disguise its flavor under a mountain of spices. If you cook something delicate like shrimp in a spicy sauce its flavor is completely overwhelmed. What's more, if you eat too much hot foot, it spoils your palate for delicate flavors. Are we raising a generation who will never appreciate French
cooking, or grilled fish, unless it's blackened?

I'm afraid that I still like subtle flavors and good fresh food. Lamb chops grilled, fillet of petrale sole, lobster, oysters, fresh asparagus. Mmmmm. I do enjoy an occasional curry or even a Thai meal, but not the really hot ones. Chicken tikka masala, rogan gosh, sag paneer..which is spinach with curd cheese. But really good curries retain the flavor of the food. A chicken sandwich with sliced chili peppers is a wasted sandwich.

So what about you, Reds--do you approve of this fascination with really hot and spicy food?

Friday, April 26, 2013

What I Did for Looks.

RHYS BOWEN: When I was younger I swore that I would never have cosmetic surgery. This decision was confirmed by seeing a face lift on TV--watching the surgeon actually peel back the skin then pull it up and staple it under the hair line. Not for me. Never. But then I used to look like this:

Then I got older and lines started to appear and my jaw line sagged and I thought well maybe... Not a full face lift but just a little tuck here and there? I'd better not name actual procedures or I might get sued, but there was one that sounded good--an in office job, no anesthetic, no down time. Then I went on line to read the reviews. One woman had needed 50 injections to numb the pain. She described feeling the blood running down her neck and the scalpel digging around. Uh, strike that one.

Then the thermal heat sounded good. The doctor applies a wand with some kind of high frequency heat signals and it tightens the jaw line. I checked on that. The discomfort level was rated 5 on a scale of 1 - 5. No thank you. I'm a chicken when it comes to pain.

Have noticed how they use the word discomfort when they mean pain? My dentist always says "Just a little prick," when he means a bloody great four inch needle is about to be rammed into my jaw.

And then my dermatologist suggested I should have blue light therapy to correct my sun-damaged skin. They put gel on your face. You sit in front of blue light for 17 minutes. How bad could that be? Then I read the fine print. Again it mentioned that "most people will experience considerable discomfort." (For that read agony). Also...You have to leave the office completely covered from the sun. If any sunlight reaches you for 48 hours you can continue to burn. The face bleeds and scabs and some people couldn't go out for a month.

So I guess I'm resigned to having wrinkles and sun damage. The occasional microdermabrasion is fine, but it doesn't do much. Neither do those expensive creams. So do tell, Jungle Reds--what would you do/have you done for looks? Are you willing to endure pain to look good? And most pressing of all--can anyone recommend a procedure that will make me look young and lovely AND NOT HURT?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: No. :-) Smiling, maybe.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Rhys you're so funny. No, big chicken on pain here too. And besides, everyone makes catty comments about a woman who's had a face lift--why is that a good outcome?

I would kind of like my eyelids pinned up before they droop so low I can't see out:). (This runs in my family, unfortunately.) But too busy to fool with it.

And we think you look amazing Rhys! xoxo

HALLIE EPHRON: I earned my wrinkles mostly by laughing, and I intend to continue to do so, thank you very much. Plus I'm cheap and I'm a fraidy cat, and I can think of lots better ways to spend my money. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My beauty routine, such as it is, is a Retin A cream at night (when I remember) and SPF 30 every morning, which I never forget, because MELANOMA. I'm not opposed to plastic surgery per se, but I do hate the idea that aging is some sort of condition that one has to cure. My mother always said a woman's goal is to look like a really great ___-year-old, not like a superannuated teenager.

That being said, if I had the money to blow on surgically-enhanced vanity? (Which I won't until we're through paying college tuitions in, oh, 2021...) I'd get the girls lifted. If you have a great decolletage, no one cares if your face is wrinkled.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let's Hear It for the Bad Boys

RHYS BOWEN: Today Jungle Red is delighted to host one of our trusty regular contributors, Linda Rodriguez. Since hanging out with us Linda has written a stellar novel that won her the St Martin's Press Best First Traditional Mystery award plus other honors, and is about to publish the second. (See what hanging out with Jungle Reds can do for you??)

 And I hadn't realized that she is a woman of many talents, an internationally renowned poet. But today she's talking about one of our favorite subjects--BAD BOYS. Take it away, Linda.

In the second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, which is launching May 7, I’ve complicated Skeet’s life and relationships with a dark and dangerous man of mystery who walks into the story and makes Skeet feel things that scare her, as well as bringing out the jealous side of nice Joe Louzon, Skeet’s friend and possible love interest. This was not what I’d planned to have happen in this book. I don’t know where this bad boy came from to complicate Skeet’s and my lives, except of course he had to come from my own head.

I must confess I’ve always had a fascination with the bad boy. You know, like Marc Antony, Heathcliff, Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, and Buffy’s Spike. I know it’s not healthy, but judging by the sheer number of bad boys in fairy tales, literature, movies, and television, it must be pretty common.
I have been fortunate enough to have been married to two of the nicest men in the world, my late first husband and my current husband, but before and between them, I had lamentable taste in men. I blame it on all the reading I did as a child. The bad boys were always the most interesting guys. I mean, Dickens’s Sydney Carton was a drunken wastrel of a lawyer prostituting his great intellect to the ambitions of lesser men with more willpower, sure. But what a passion he had for pretty Lucy Manette! He sacrificed his own life to save the man she loved, just so she would be happy. Wow! And Heathcliff, well, we all know how he made the pages steam with his great love for Cathy.

One sizzling scene in Buffy of a lovesick Spike watching outside Buffy’s window at night inspired me to write a poem, Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote” (“Closing his eyes, Coyote can see within/ your walls as you undress and slide under/ covers”).  This was followed by a whole sequence of poems about the bad boy archetype as Coyote, the Native American trickster figure, such as “Coyote in Black Leather,” Three O’Clock in the Morning Alone, Coyote,” “Coyote Invades Your Dreams,” “Coyote at Your Wedding,” and others, ending finally with “Coyote in High School,” where I asked, “I wonder/ if anyone ever warns the hard-shelled boys in leather/ against the honor-roll girls?”  (These are my most popular poems with women. I even have a whole group of female fans in the UK just for the Coyote poems.)
Of course, I am the woman who wrote an entire book of passionate love poems with the title Skin Hunger (“forgive me for touching so much/ while we talk/ I can’t help myself”). So the Coyote poems and the new bad boy in my mystery novels should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all me.
After the wild and disastrous period in my life still referred to by family and friends as the time of “the mad monk” (don’t ask!), I began to date a man who was a number of years younger than me. One woman friend confronted me to tell me over and over again that I was being stupid, that this younger man was only going to get tired of me and throw me over, that it was just sex that was blinding me. I tried to explain that I loved the kindness and brilliance of this man, but she kept holding forth. Finally, fed up, I said sweetly, “You’re absolutely right, of course. I know he’s no good and is going to break my heart, but I just can’t help myself—the sex is just so good!” Her mouth flew open in silence, and she stormed out, never to be seen by me again. That younger bad boy and I have been together now for twenty-five years.
So let’s hear it for the bad boys! Have you a penchant for the guys who exude trouble, the dark and dangerous types? Have you had any of those passionate, crazy, and sometimes destructive loves? Or do you like to keep those guys between the pages of a book, as I prefer nowadays?

And thank you, Rhys, for hosting me on Jungle Red Writers today. I love the Jungle Reds and am grateful for all the ways you lovely women support and promote other writers.

Linda Rodriguez’s second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books), will be published May 7. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was selected by Las Comadres National Book Club, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez received the Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award, KCArtsFund Inspiration Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. She is the president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. She was formerly director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Women’s Center. She spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindaRodriguezWrites.  She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

RHYS: Thank you, Linda. And good luck with the new book. I think I had the same illustrator for my first St Martin's books. It looks like one of my covers! And folks, Linda will be giving away a copy of the new book to the best comment of the day, so do chime in.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

RHYS BOWEN: In two weeks time I'll be in England, joining my closest friends from college for a weekend of good food, friendship and much laughter. Among that group is Jane Finnis, someone I clicked with soon after we arrived at Westfield College, University of London. We found ourselves as co-writers for the freshman review (a rather juvenile attempt at witty satire, I'm afraid). And we remained writing partners, working so well together that it was impossible to tell which of us had written which words to a song. After college we wrote and performed at cabarets together, witty political and contemporary stuff, or so we hoped. We wrote pop songs together, managed a rock group. And then, when I went to Australia, and then America, we stayed in touch, and visited each other.

Jane became a successful BBC reporter. When she semi-retired she told me she was going to write a Roman mystery as a radio play. "Why waste that good material on one radio play?" I said. "Write it as a book, instead." And that was how Aurelia, Roman innkeeper in Britain was born and the first book now called Shadows in the Night.

So I'm pleased to have Jane as my guest today and hope that more of our US friends will take a look at her terrific Roman Britain books. I should add that this was her university special field and she really knows her stuff!

Take it away, Jane.
JANE FINNIS:  When one of my nieces was young, she asked me why I write about Roman history. Is it, she suggested, because I can remember what life was like then?

I told her what the Romans would have done with cheeky youngsters, but I had to admit it was a fair question really. Indeed it’s top of my Frequently Asked Questions list. “Why the Romans?”

Answer: “Because they interest me.”
And that’s also nearly the answer to the second item on my FAQ list: “What advice can you give to someone who wants to be a writer?”

Answer: “Write about what interests you.” That’s my top tip. Creating a novel can be a long hard slog, and selling it even more so, especially if it’s your first one. You need to enjoy the process and keep your interest alive throughout, because if you get bored before the finish, so will your readers.

I’ve been fascinated by Roman history since I was five or six, when we lived in York, with its rich ancient history and many Roman ruins. The visible remains were what first intrigued me, and then I began to realise that despite a gap of two millennia, the Romans were in lots of ways very like ourselves.

People find that hard to believe if their classical history has been gleaned solely from Hollywood movies, which naturally focus on the things that are different just because they are different, and therefore more dramatic. Gladiators fighting to the death for sport, slavery, imperialism, democratic ideals perverted by tyranny…you can’t ignore the violence and cruelty if you want to paint the historical background accurately, but they are certainly not the whole story.

The Romans believed in many of the same things we do…I should put that the other way round, because we’ve inherited many of our beliefs from them. They knew the importance of law, history, and education; they valued books, poetry, and the arts. On a practical level they insisted on good roads, centrally heated houses, and regular bathing. They enjoyed eating and drinking – forget the gross orgies pictured in films; if you dined with friends at home you’d get a good dinner accompanied by fine wine and maybe by music.

They built busy towns, with paved streets and shops and theatres and grand public buildings. A case in point was Londinium, London, the British capital then as now. It’s the setting for the mystery I’m currently writing, and it’s fascinating, with many features you find in London today. It was a major trading centre, bringing the riches of the known world to Londoners’ doorsteps. It was cosmopolitan, a magnet for people from all over the Empire, who flocked there to seek their fortunes. And there was plenty of crime – a must for a good mystery!

As I said, Roman history has been a lifelong interest with me. Rhys can vouch for that: she and I were students together in London, and even then I was hooked on the Romans. Years later, I still am. So thank you, Rhys, for giving me the chance to share my fascination with you all.
There are four Aurelia Marcella mysteries so far, all published in the USA by Poisoned Pen Press and in the UK by Head of Zeus. The fifth, which I'm working on now, will I hope be out in summer 2014; the working title is BLOOD ON THE WATER.

RHYS: Thanks for visiting, Jane, and see you in two weeks. Have the champagne bottle ready!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Real Life Crime Scene?

RHYS BOWEN: I know we've all had enough of crime and tragedy in the past week. Sometimes I wonder why I dare to write about crime, when it is so devastating and horrible. But then I think that the kind of mystery stories I write attempt to make sense of the senseless. They bring justice, punish the guilty--which we can't always do in real life.
Anyway, I thought I'd keep it light today and tell you about a real life crime scene. I came into the kitchen the other morning to see a trail of red across the floor. Dark red. Sticky in places, dried and crusted in others. I've written about enough crime scenes to know what blood looks like. Something had died in my kitchen.
Now, my kitchen is good-sized by modern standards, but there's nowhere to hide a body in it, apart from the pantry and that's at the far end. I crept forward, my heart beating very fast. The trail led me around the refrigerator. There were spatters on the white wall. Was I about to find a corpse on top of the fridge?  And then I saw it--the cask of red wine that I'd been nagging John to remove for months had finally given up the ghost and started to leak.
But the incident made me think how cool-headedly our sleuths examine crime scenes, comment on blood spatters and stab wounds. I can assure you I was in no way cool as I crept across the floor, following that blood trail. So I wondered about my fellow Jungle Reds: how do you think you would do in a real crime scene situation? Except for Hank, who has already been involved in quite a few in her career. But the rest of us?
And how do you handle it when you write something really creepy, like Hallie? Can you detach yourself, shut off and sleep well at night?
I'm afraid I'm very impressionable. I could never take horror movies, apart from giant ants that ate New York. That's why my crimes and sleuths are genteel and not very graphic.

HALLIE EPHRON: I confess, when a reviewer called my book "deliciously creepy," I was over the moon. I used to love listening to ghost stories around a camp fire. Loved even more telling ghost stories and scaring the bejesus out of my friends.

I still watch reruns of Twilight Zone with its "journey into the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition . . ." And I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock movies.

I try to write the kind of creepy that earns its thrill because it feels real. Like that just-off moment when you arrive home and realize your front door is ajar. Or you hear water running and running and no one is turning it off. Or something isn't where you know for sure that you left it.

Hold the graphic for me, too.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, I've had enough of creepy this week. I had to interview the twenty-year old young son  and brother of two Marathon victims--I showed up at his door, and he flung his arms around me, so upset.

I spent lots of Saturday on the verge of tears. It's very disturbing. I'm better now, which is also disturbing.

But to lighten up a bit--our coffee maker keeps coming on, like it's possessed. I kept wondering--WHY is this happening? WHO is turning on the coffee maker?  (Turns out, someone had hit "auto" and it was the timer. Sigh.

And I skip graphic. Just skip it. I even watch TV through my fingers sometimes--I don't want those pictures in my head.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I certainly don't want real life to imitate my books, even though most of the time my detectives are dealing with the aftermath of crime rather than being in the midst of it. How would I respond to the real thing? Well, you don't know, do you, until it happens. But a few years ago, my husband got the end of his finger cut off when our front door slammed on it. (The door is the original four-foot wide arts and crafts door built in 1905. It's VERY heavy, and we were having our house leveled so it was swinging shut with even more force than usual. I was just down the street at the supermarket. He called me, and when I got home he'd found the fingertip and put it in a baggie. I put that in another bag with ice, put him in the car, drove to the nearest emergency room, checked him in. When they still hadn't seen him after nearly an hour (blood dripping all over floor, terrible pain) I called another hospital, put him back in the car, drove there VERY fast, checked him in, got him treated, went to pharmacy to get prescriptions filled, got him home and settled--then collapsed. 

So I think most of us do what we have to do, then think about it afterwards.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Your husband was able to put his fingertip in a baggie? I hope I'd be able to do something like that. I'm pretty good in a crisis, but dang, I've never been tested like that.
Creepy can be good (like HALLIE-creepy) but I don't write graphic violence and I don't want to see it or read it. No nail guns thank you. that scene in Scarface...can't watch it. The images stay in my head forever. I saw someone get hit by a car twenty years ago and the image is still fresh...the last thing I'm gonna do is watch Saw III. Or write it.

I have to say I'm loving writing a book that doesn't have a murder in it.

RHYS: So have you ever had to handle a real-life crime scene, dear friends? Do you think you could?

STOP PRESS: We just learned today that Writers Digest has named Jungle Red Writers as one of its top sites for writers for 2013.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Road Not Taken

RHYS BOWEN: After the emotional roller coaster of last week I feel in a contemplative mood.

When I was a teenager I was very much attracted to Australia. I made a plan to go there as soon as I graduated from high school, and whatï's more I wanted to drive there in a bubble car. These contraptions were new when I was in my teens-- they were glorified scooters/motorbikes with a Perspex bubble over them, making them into tiny cars. I decided I'd drive one of these to Australia and then write a book called "Around the World in a Bubble."
I tried to persuade my best friend to join me but she (wisely) declined. Looking back it was a ridiculously dangerous dream. How would I have carried water for the Iranian desert or the Afghan mountains? Since I knew nothing about engines, what would have happened if I'd broken down miles from anywhere, or met hostile tribesmen? Still, at the time it seemed so very possible and I often wonder--what if?

Mu other big 'what if' was studying opera. When I was a small girl I told my mother I'd like to be an opera singer. She took one look at eighty pound me and said scornfully 'You'll never have the build."  But now, when I go to the opera, I see lots of slim sopranos. So I again I wonder "what if?"
So Reds and friends, do you have any dreams you wish you had dared to fulfill?

LUCY BURDETTE: You have so many talents Rhys! I flirted briefly in college with going to medical school or law school (I was all over the place), but I don't think either would have suited me. In the end, the careers I chose (clinical psychology and writing) are good fits. Now if only I'd had some talent, I would have loved to be a singer like Bonnie Raitt or Emmy Lou Harris...but I hate to stay up late. Hmmm, do you think they'd let me do concerts in the morning or afternoon?

HALLIE EPHRON: I was supposed to spend a summer in Accra in Ghana -- I had a university-sponsored job lined up, was studying West African politics at Barnard and planned to do some field work. When I got to the airport the (charter) plane had been oversold. WAY oversold.
So I went home devastated. Needing a shoulder to cry on, I called the chap I'd dumped a few months earlier. Within a week I had a summer job and a sublet (that sweet man moved in with me.) Less than a year later we were married. Talk about turning points.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yup, I was a law school possibility, too...I had thought that would be the way I could help change the world. Instead, Kent State happened. I went into politics, as a staffer in several political campaigns.  However. Every candidate I worked for--lost. (Not that it had anything to do with me--I was 20 years old.) So instead of being an aide to the governor, I was unemployed.  That was the only reason I--searching for something that could make a difference- applied for a job as a reporter in 1971. And I've been a reporter ever since.
I always talk about how seeming disappointment turns to unexpected wonderfulness. You never know.
SInging? In my dreams. When my family sings Happy Birthday together, you can't  even recognize what song it is.)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Rhys, I think about this sometimes.  So many choices that could have made my life turn out so differently. What if I'd gotten into Cornell for that master's degree in wildlife biology? Would I have gone somewhere exotic? Ended up teaching at a college and doing research? Lived on a wildlife preserve?
Or what if I'd gone to New York to look for a publishing job after college?
Or what if my ex and I had stayed in Scotland or England instead of coming back to Texas?
What if I'd decided to go back to grad school instead of writing that first novel???
Oh, and a funny thing. When I'd sold the first Duncan and Gemma novel, I contemplated writing another series about a female park ranger, using my hard-won biology training. Guess who published her first novel the same year? Nevada Barr. We were both nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel. She won.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Road not taken? You mean other than the time I turned down JFK Jr for a date? Just kidding...no, no, no! I am exactly where I'm supposed to be.

RHYS: I should add that actually I did go to live in Australia in my twenties and met my husband there. My parents and brother bother moved there, so I started a trend. My brother still lives in Tasmania. And I did sing with the local opera chorus for a whileï. And looking back, I'm so glad I've been a writer all my life.  How about you, dear friends? Have you ever had a turning point, a road not taken?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Tides of History

HANK:  Susan Orlean had a great tweet Saturday. She wrote something like: "can we just have a nice boring week, please?"

 I'm with ya, Susan. I woke up yesterday and thought I'd feel safe..instead, I felt sad. I walked into the Dunkin Donuts, saw all the regular t-shirted messy-haired normal people just..buying coffee! And I burst into tears. My husband thinks I've lost it.

Anyway.We've been talking all week about the intersection of fiction and reality, so how perfect it is that debut author Kay Kendall (she's fabulous!) is here today to explore that, too.

The Lure of Terrors Past—and Conquered
                           by Kay Kendall

My first experience of the lure of historic catastrophe happened at the movies when I was eight. On the screen a small town celebrated the return of victorious soldiers from World War I, I thought—How exciting it must’ve been to live during wartime. I longed for the drama, the glory. What did I know?

That memory flickers in my head while I watch events in Boston on my television screen. As I write this, the city is in lockdown and Watertown is the focus of the manhunt for a nineteen-year-old terrorist. 

Lives have been lost this week. Many people have been maimed. This terror has not yet been conquered. Perhaps there are more people involved, perhaps more unexploded IEDs lying about. This may be drama, but it is not entertainment. This is not fun.

But people clamor for fiction that features events like this. How do we explain being drawn to horror movies, spy stories, serial killers’ tales and the like? I think fiction of this sort shows how people can act in catastrophic times, overcome their fears and come out on top. When we read novels set during past wars, we can get scared but know how things turn out. The Nazis always lose, even if a few survive to plot another day.

I grew up when the Cold War was pretty hot. I moved rapidly from a severe case of Nancy Drew-itis to being mesmerized by John le Carré’s twisted spy stories. Much later, when I felt compelled to devise my own mysteries, it seemed natural to turn to my favorites as models. For a year I drowned myself in mysteries set during World Wars One and Two and the Cold War. 

Of all the major wars of last century, only the wars in Korea and Vietnam weren’t “taken,” weren’t overrun with thrillers. Vietnam offered a dangerous yet fairly empty niche that needed filling…and I concluded I’d do the filling.

Draft protests, draft dodgers and resisters are symbolic of that war, so much so it seems millions of young men fled to Canada. However, that exodus wasn’t huge, although it was the largest since colonists loyal to England moved north after the American Revolution. (Famous in Canada, that group is called United Empire Loyalists—I’d never heard of them.)

During the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, by law Canadian immigration officials couldn’t ask men entering the country about their draft status. Consequently accurate statistics aren’t available. Informed guesses range from 125,000 down to 50,000. Whatever the number, further estimates conclude that roughly half those who moved to Canada still remain. They settled into Canadian society, made families and careers. Some even entered Canadian politics and were elected to office.

For the half of draft resisters who left Canada eventually, it’s impossible to tell where they went. In 1974, President Ford offered clemency to Vietnam draft resisters and deserters. Only 27,000 of 350,000 eligible applied before the offer (mandating two years of government service) expired in 1975. Two years later President Carter pardoned those who dodged the war by not registering or fleeing the country. Stigma still attaches to the subject of draft evasion.

Desertion, however, is a more serious offence, and it created political furor, especially among American veterans of World War II and Korea. As late as 2005, a Vietnam era deserter was prosecuted by the Marine Corps.

In my debut novel, Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery, one young woman gets swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties. She’s a moderate—not an activist like “Hanoi” Jane Fonda or Angela Davis. My fictional Austin Starr, homesick Texas bride of a Vietnam War activist, must prove her husband didn’t murder a fellow draft resister in Canada, the black-sheep son of a U.S. Senator. When the Mounties are convinced David Starr is guilty and jail him, Austin must find the real killer herself or risk losing everything.

I enjoy writing about historical turmoil that lends itself to personal drama, intrigue and murder, I can control the world that I build on the page. That is comforting.  But now I must return to my television screen, to wait for the newscasters to tell me that the crisis has passed, the bad guys are conquered. Waiting for comfort to come, even if it is only temporary, only until the next horror fills my screen.
HANK: Kay (who apparently has...a rabbit??) will drop in to answer questions and respond to comments, and she'll give away a copy of DESOLATION ROW (Stairway Press, Seattle) to a lucky commenter.

And we'll announce all this week's winners later today!
 Learn more about Kay and her book at www.kaykendallauthor.com, on Facebook  <www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor>, on Twitter @kaylee_kendall, and at LinkedIn  <http://www.linkedin.com/in/kaykendallmysteries>.