Thursday, August 17, 2017

Paddington it shall be.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Aw. Love you, Mary Feliz.  We are honored to have you here today.
Reds and readers, grab a cup of tea or coffee. Just–take a minute for this.

Two men and their bears...
   By Mary Feliz

When I first spotted Michael Bond holding a Paddington Bear who clearly adored him, I gasped. It was the same noise that might result from being punched in the stomach, but I'd been punched in the heart. Or had my heart squozen so hard the sound splurted out.

I couldn't figure out a way to tie my need to write about the death of Paddington Bear author Michael Bond with a blog about Mystery and Thriller writing. But I knew I couldn't write about anything else.

Michael Bond died in June 2017. My own father had died weeks earlier. Born six months apart, they grew up in the Great Depression and served in World War II. And both had bears they loved, with photos to prove it. Both had enormous respect for children and bears and were dispensers of the unconditional love some people connect to only in dogs or stuffed animals.

My own relationship with Paddington is a meandering one. I didn't grow up with him, but the bear wandered into my life several time. At age eleven, inching beyond the age of wonder but with one foot still firmly anchored in childhood, I discovered the Paddington books. I don't remember the text so much as the illustrations, which looked nothing like bears, as far as I was concerned. With his ears covered by a slouchy hat and a nose that was far too pointy, I thought Paddington resembled a porcupine or muskrat more than a refugee bear. I wrote to the author and told him so. I don't remember receiving a response, but Paddington was a refugee in London and as such needed a hat to keep his ears warm and dry. He's also not the sort of bear who worries about keeping his hair coiffed, or who bothers about spilled marmalade.

Eight years later, I embarked for a year at a British university. While I immersed myself in academics I didn't skimp on sightseeing or gastronomic exploration. I made friends and became part of a community. When I left I was given a stuffed Paddington, which had recently taken toy stores by storm. The shopkeeper instructed my friends that his boots were "specially made for him by Dunlop." My housemates were quite taken by Paddington's wellies, and by the idea that "when you have children, they can wear them." At 19, the idea of children was terrifying, but in little more than a decade, both my children stomped around in Paddington's wellingtons. (Paddington was happy to share.)

Paddington now supervises my writing desk. He kept me company in the days following my father's death, when creativity and sleep escaped me. Bond knew similarly difficult days and credited Paddington with pulling him through, “There is something so upright about Paddington. I wouldn’t want to let him down."

Which brings me to my father's bear. I don't know whether he had a favored soft toy as a child, but he certainly honored those my brother, sister, and I chose as companions. He conversed with them and instructed them to watch over us. He solemnly tucked them in at night when he put us to bed. Many years later, when my husband's mother suffered from dementia, my father suggested a stuffed animal might provide comfort. In her case, we chose a snuggly elephant who protected her when she was in the hospital among strangers and surroundings that were stranger still.

A year or two later Dad's memory began drifting. His hallucinations included gang members who lived in his living room and threatened my mother. As his doctor struggled to find a medication that would banish the gangs, I lived a continent away and scrambled for ways to help. In the wee hours one morning, I decided Amazon could provide a bear to protect my Dad from his demons. (My stuffed Paddington supervised while I logged into my Amazon account. Paddington hales from Peru, which is home to the Amazon River. Coincidence? I think not.)

Did my Dad believe the bear I sent him was real? I don't think so. But, partly to entertain me, he spoke to him in "bear language" and made sure he was tucked in at night with a view of the front door he guarded. When I learned my dad thought 24-hour protection service might be too arduous a chore for a single bear, we adopted a friend. The second bear was smaller, fit under my Dad's chin when he slept, and became known as Rusty. On a dark, rainy night when my Dad fell out of bed, we called paramedics to tuck him back in. When they handed him Rusty (with all the respect a proper bear companion deserves), raindrops shed by their turnout gear had dampened Rusty's fur. My dad noticed. "Rusty! You're all wet! What happened to you?" Full of concern, he dried Rusty gently with a corner of the sheet. "He gave the fireman a hug," I told him. "The fireman's coat was wet because it's raining outside."

"Ahhh," said my father. "Well, you're safe now." And they both fell asleep quickly.

Years ago, I learned that many law enforcement officers stash bears in the trunks of their squad cars to give to youngsters in trouble. In comforting the stuffed toys, the children feel stronger. And while a child might not admit her fears to a stranger, she might be willing to reveal the terrors stalking her bear.

And that brings me full circle, back to talking about writing, characters, and the community we all need to feel safe and connected. Community arises spontaneously among humans even in the most dire of situations because we all feel that need to both give and receive comfort. My mysteries look at what happens when that sense community takes a damaging blow, and what members do to restore the balance between good and evil. While my characters aren't based on real people, I strive to make them seem authentic. Michael Bond felt the same way about Paddington,  “Unless an author believes in his character, no one else is going to."

Whether my father or Bond believed their bears were real isn't important. Both respected bears and people, particularly people in danger of being overlooked. In 2014 when tempers erupted in Europe regarding the influx of refugees, Bond said, "Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.” 

Bond didn't shy away from Paddington's illegal entry into the UK. In the books, the bear's adopted family is ever aware of his risk of deportation. (Paddington reached London after stowing away on a steamer from Darkest Peru.)

After my father's death, friends, neighbors and former co-workers wrote to my mother. Nearly all of them penned some version of this description, "He was a kind and genuine man who helped me when I needed it most." I think the same could be said of Michael Bond and any man who is beloved by a bear. My Dad and Mr. Bond, had a capacity for unconditional love and an ability to embrace the imaginary world that means they both will live forever.

HANK: As I said. Oh, Mary, you are a treasure. And Paddington, too. We talked about him recently, I know…(and our darling Coralee told me where to find an okapi! Thank you!) 

Do you still give stuffed animals as baby  gifts?  Which ones?

And aren't you glad Mary came to visit?


Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She's worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character's stead, but Maggie's skills leave her in the dust.

Mary's newest:  

Silicon Valley Professional Organizer Maggie McDonald tackles her toughest case yet when a dear friend is falsely accused of murder. Aside from a depressed mastiff with PDSD, the only witness is an undocumented teen. Should he make a statement and risk deportation or stay mum and let the bad guys run amok? Or can Maggie organize a third solution without putting her friends, her family, and her community at risk? 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Uh-oh. What's the PROTOCOL for THAT?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Debut author day! And what fun to find a brand new author with a brand new book—not only the reading-of-it part, but the idea that there’s a person who now knows the joys and the delights, the terrors and the fears. The hugely satisfying moment when that new box of books arrives—and your dream has come true.
And you also know that inevitably, someone will ask: where did you get your idea? But ha! Kathleen Valenti has a terrific and tantalizing (and terrifying!) answer. Whoa. What would you do if this happened to you?

(There’s more about her book PROTOCOL below. And an ARC to one lucky commenter!)
(And yesterday's winners below!)

By Kathleen Valenti

My husband and I recently watched Apollo 13 with our two children. The film’s a favorite of ours and was a natural inclusion in our self-designed list of Films the Kids Must See. (Last month’s showing: The Princess Bride.)
Our pre-teen son is a movie mimic, so I knew he’d love the zippy one-liners. His favorite line wasn’t the iconic real-life utterance, “Houston, we have a problem,” but rather the reference to technological advances “like a computer that can fit into a single room.”
Forget space travel and rockets and astronauts stranded in a flying life raft. The idea of
a room-sized computer was what captured his imagination.
It made me think of how far technology has come.
That computer that guided the astronauts’ journey? It can now fit inside a cell phone. And that cell phone? In a recent survey, eighty-four percent of Americans said they couldn’t go a day without it.
It also called to mind the genesis of one of my book’s primary storylines.

Technology has a starring role in my debut novel, Protocol, not because I’m super-techy (understatement alert), but because its omnipresence, with all of its attendant risks, gave me an idea for a murder mystery after I had my own technology puzzle to solve.

Several years ago, I sent my laptop to the manufacturer for repair. It came back with someone else’s hard drive, complete with all its digital contents. Turned out the computer snafu went both ways. My hard drive had been swapped into the computer that once housed the stranger’s hard drive I now possessed.

The mix-up left both of us vulnerable and me with the seed of an idea for a hook for the book I always wanted to write.

Houston, I have an idea.

Ideas, as they say, can come from anywhere. Evidently that includes computer problems.

I have a love-hate relationship with technology, and I think many of us can relate. After all, it’s responsible for both important advancements in science and medicine (and cute cat videos) and a crack through which danger can crawl, whether by hacking, identity theft or something much more nefarious.
So what is technology for you? Blessing? Curse? The font of awesome BuzzFeed quizzes? (I just learned that if I were a sandwich, I’d be a PB&J.)

And what real-life events have inspired you creatively? We may not be astronauts stranded in space, but we all have moments—big, small, happy and tragic—that inform the stories we tell.

 HANK: Wait wait wait! What happened about the hard drive? 
(I admit I always take those tests, too. Except for the ones that make it clear they’re swiping your entire email list. Plus, it’s fun to take them twice and see how you can make them come out the way you want, right?)

And you know every one of the inciting moments of my books is a version of something that really happened to me.

But technobabble! The things that come out of  our mouths—the two years ago we’d have no idea what meant! (How many gigs of ram? I store it all in the cloud?)  

What have you said recently, Reds and readers, that surprised you with your techno-knowledge?

Or else: what's on your list of must-see movies for kids?

 (And see below for yesterday's winners!)

Kathleen Valenti is the author of Protocol, the story of freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley who embarks on a pharmaceutical career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. Yet on her very first day of work, Maggie’s pulled into a world of uncertainty as reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series.
Pre-order Protocol here:
Barnes & Noble:


(Winners from yesterday--tell us your addresses via our websites or Facebook! Hurray--and thank you!)

Lucy's winner   Idteacher 14
Ingrid's winner  Hulamom
Hank's winner   Karen M from Kentucky
Rhys' winner .  Raquel Muniz 
Hallie's winner .Sally from PA. 
Jenn's winner  Coralee 

Debs' winner: Marni