Friday, August 17, 2018

Who Would You Rather Be?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Names. Don’t even get me started. Okay, too late.
A million years ago, I was offered an anchor job in another city. But, the news director said: you can’t be Hank Phillippi. Come up with another name.
Really? I thought. I could be ANYONE? Sadly, I came up with Amanda Armstrong. (C’mon, it was the 80s.) Happily, I didn’t take the job.
But it did get me thinking about the importance of names and  how we think of people when we hear them. My book TRUST ME just sold in the UK (yay!) and I will be Anna Ryan. Another blog for another day.   (And TRUST ME was just named one of Book Bub's  19 Incredible Thrillers--yay!)
Anyway. You know Mary Sutton, right? She is fabulous, lovely, hilarious, and a true dear darling friend of Jungle Red. A stalwart. A treasure. A FOTR extraordinaire.
And now, we are so gloriously happy to tell you her first book --ROOT OF ALL EVIL-is out! YAY. (Please not blurb on the fabulous cover.)
But. You might never know. Except that you’re wise enough to be here! Because she is using a different name.

Why? Well, let her tell you. And we’re awarding a book to one lovely commenter, no matter what your name is!

The Name Game
  By Mary, er Liz Milliron

First off, thanks to the Reds for having me. I can’t believe I’m guest posting on JRW!
When I first started commenting on JRW, I was just “Mary.” Then a few months ago, I started signing my posts as “Mary/Liz.” Why? Because I write under a pen name – Liz Milliron (that’s mill-iron if you’re wondering).
Now multiple names in fiction is nothing new. Edith Maxwell writes under no less than three (her own, Maddie Day, and Tace Baker). One of the questions I get is “why a pen name”? There are many reasons a writer might choose one. I’d written for kids and I wanted a clean break between my adult fiction and middle-grade.
But this occasions other questions. “Do I call you Mary or Liz?” My answer is usually, “I’ll answer to both.” I’m Mary when I’m with friends, but I’m Liz when I’m “on the clock” so to speak – like at conventions or with readers. As my grandfather would say, “Just don’t call me late to dinner.”
Speaking of conventions, I met Bruce Robert Coffin at Malice this year. He asked if the pen name was like an undercover sting for the police (sort of) and if I ever got my identity confused. I assured him I knew exactly who I was supposed to be at all times. Then I went to check in and forgot which name I’d registered under. Oops.
But the more I write and publish under “Liz Milliron,” the more I realize something. There’s a reason superheroes used special names. It isn’t simply for identity protection. There’s something empowering in the use of a public persona. 
Samuel Clemens used Mark Twain. That's cooler, for some reason.
Writers are often, by nature, introverts. I am. I’m not
particularly smooth when it comes to talking to strangers. I’m a wallflower at parties where I don’t know most of the attendees. I can do public speaking, but I’m a nervous wreck and I hate hearing my voice waver with nerves. Mary is just a woman in her mid-40s, living in the suburbs with two teenage kids, a hum-drum job, and is a bit of a nerd. In a good way, but still a nerd.
Liz is completely different. She’s a lot cooler than I am—and in some ways, a lot braver. Need to introduce yourself to a group of strangers? No sweat. Mingle at conferences or dinners? Easy-peasy. Stand in front of a group and talk? In the bag.
I’m rather jealous of her. Even though she’s me.
I wonder how Marianna Evans felt as George Eliot? Though she had other reasons. 
So Liz is my “mask,” something I can slip on when I need to go out and do things I might not have the guts to do without her. Cool, right?
But Liz wouldn’t exist without Mary. Just like Superman and Clark Kent are intertwined or Bruce Banner and the Hulk (although now I think of it, why does it seem like only the DC Universe superheroes have mild-mannered personas?). 
Without Mary sitting quietly in her house, tapping away at the keyboard, guzzling tea in her yoga pants, Liz wouldn’t have anything to talk about. There’d be no opportunities to meet and greet or pitch books to readers. She’d be a ghost…that is if she even existed at all.
 I guess I’m both – Mary and Liz. And I’m happy with that. Because being Liz is fun and all, but it’s Mary who makes the stories.

Readers, what about you? Do you have a “persona” that helps you push your boundaries? If not, have you ever thought about whether using one would help? One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Root of All Evil (US entries only, please).

HANK: Oh, good question! I cannot wait to hear. This oughtta be good….

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog - one of these days. (Headshot courtesy of

(Photos of George Eliot and Mark Twain from Flickr; used under Creative Commons license)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Which Chris?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: This blog is late, my internet is wonky, it's 84 degrees and 84% humidity out (at 9am!) and it's the end of August. We don't want deep thoughts, do we? No. What do we want? Man flesh To admire handsome actors. 

You've all heard of the Four Chrises, right? 

Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine and Chris Pratt:

We're going to determine today who is the Official Chris of Jungle Red Writers. Scan these pics (all modest head shots, so no one is too swayed by the sight of sweaty abs) and vote in the comments!

1) Chris Pratt 

 2) Chris Pine

3) Chris Hemsworth

4) Chris Evans

 4a) Chris Evans with a beard

Special Bonus Chris Round!!!

 A) Chris Noth

 B) Chrissy Teagan

 C) Chris O'Dowd

D) Chrissy Hynde

Can you believe Chrissy Hynde is almost 67? Rock and roll, girl, rock and roll. Okay, dear readers, ready, set -- vote!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Old House

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If you're a person of (ahem) a certain age, you'll know there was a moment, or two, or three, when you woke up and discovered things were not as they once were. The "sleep wrinkles" on your face didn't disappear after breakfast. Your joints began to snap, crackle and pop like your bowl of cereal. Eating a danish resulted in a one pound weight gain that wouldn't go away. Like, ever.

My house is hitting that period. To be fair, she has a lot of years under her belt. Two hundred, give or take a decade. And, just like an old person, the hot and humid weather isn't helping. The front door is swollen with so much moisture we sometimes have to go through the barn and open it from the outside by crashing into it like an offensive lineman through the Crimson Tide defense. The front stair banisters, which were finished in marine varnish a couple centuries ago, get uncomfortably sticky, so that going up to bed feels like holding hands with a really bad first date. The master bath's toilet, which dates from the Eisenhower administration, responds to the heat with a steady drip-drip-drip of condensation which runs across the bathroom floor in a gentle stream. Why does it do this? Because that floor, and every floor, slants. There's not a level vertical or horizontal surface to be found anywhere in my house.

But these seasonal annoyances are as nothing compared to the Large Systems Death Spiral I have entered. When Ross and I purchased  our farmhouse in 1994, we were the beneficiaries of the previous owners good maintenance and bad timing. In preparation for living in their country home full time in retirement, they prudently invested in the best furnace, water heater, etc. etc. available. Unfortunately for them, the husband died less than a year after he stopped working. (I'd wonder if the place was bad luck for husbands, but two deaths in sixty years isn't that much of a statistical anomaly.)

Over the years, Ross and I replaced and upgraded here and there. The eternally freezing-and-bursting copper pipes became impervious PVC. The WWII-era downstairs bath eventually went to the way of all flesh (and ceramic, and moving metal bits.) We painted (and by we, I mean Ross and the Sailor), we had the roof replaced, we had the septic tank pumped out.

Now, however, the bill is (literally) coming due. Last spring, the water pump, which had steadily supplied us from our well since before we were owners of the place, died. We didn't even know where the well was buried after all those years. Fortunately, my plumber had a good eye, and the backhoe guy found it without having to dig up more than a 3x5 trench in our yard. 

Both the front and back storm doors gave up the ghost (with a little help from the Sailor, who managed to break the glass in both doors within a two month span.) I have two dear cousins who are super-good at carpentry and all that jazz, and they volunteered to come over and do a quick change for me. It wound up taking them nine hours to install one storm because the back door wasn't standard size. None of my doors are. I have three in the parlor/office in which I'm writing this, and every one is a half to three-quarters of an inch off from the rest.

My cousins called one door good for the year. They'll be back in September to install the front storm door. I'm planning to have them stay overnight.

This summer, I was hit with a plumbing/bathroom trifecta. The oil-fired water heater, which again, had been there when we moved in, died. Over thirty years, who could blame it. Thank God, it was the hottest part of the summer, when taking camp showers were, at the very least, bearable. I had a new, fancy-dan green hybrid heat pump heater installed to replace it, for only about as much as I paid for our trip to Hawaii. Sorry, kids. This year, you get hot water for Christmas.

When the hot water came back on after three weeks of being shut off, the accumulated mineral deposits blasted into the dripping-for-some-time kitchen and shower faucets and kludged them. (Yes, a filtration system is on the list. But it's a long list.) The kitchen was so bad we had to turn the water off to the sink. Again. The plumber (who likes me very, very much, since I am financing his new car) will be over this Thursday to finally put the new faucets in. They are transitional in style, and it took me more time to pick them out at the plumbing supply design center than it did ti find my wedding gown.

But wait, there's more! While all this was going on, the electricity went off in the master bath - which is also the laundry room. It's not the circuits - I checked. And rechecked. So while the water has been off, and on, and off, and on, the lights and the washer haven't been working. I've been performing my nighttime ablutions by candlelight, which is very flattering. I may keep that. Sadly, having to lug my dirty clothes and sheets to the laundromat (or to kindly friends houses) is much less gracious and romantic. So as soon as Jeff the Plumber is finished with his part, I have to call Joe the Electrician.

Is it any wonder I religiously go to the DIY Network and HGTV sites every day and enter their Ultimate Retreat Giveaway? I linger over pictures of the brand-new, perfectly plumb construction, the cunningly designed laundry room, the kitchen with the full-sized refrigerator that doesn't have to fit in the hallway around the corner from the stove because there's literally no space for it on walls pierced with four doors, three windows and a wood stove.

Do I sound a little on edge? I read that most of the winners of the Dream Home and Ultimate Getaway houses wind up taking the cash option - it's too far from home, and they don't want to pay the taxes. Not me. When I win, I'm putting this old house on the market and moving. North Carolina, Washington State - it doesn't matter to me. Sure, I'll miss the friends I see so often now. But I can always Skype with Jeff if I get lonely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Deb Pines' Chautauqua series set in an edgy Cabot Cove

HALLIE EPHRON: I met Deb Pines in NYC at an event for mystery writers. She was writing crime novels, but her day job was as a headline writer for the New York Post. She wasnresponsible for THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING headline (remember the JetBlue pilot who lost it?) In other words clever, smart, and a dab hand with words.

Now she's back, launching her 5th(!) mystery (Vengeance is Mine) in her series set in Chautauqua and featuring a former copy editor (right up Deb's alley) Mimi Goldman. Reviewers call the series "enjoyable," "twisty," "fun," and "snappy." The setting especially sets them apart.
My first question: Why Chautauqua?

Good question. First, two things it’s not. It’s not Chappaqua, New York, Bill and Hillary’s New York City suburb that it’s mistaken for the most. It’s also not a fictional creation like Agatha Christie’s sleepy British village of St. Mary Mead, Louise Penny’s Canadian town of Three Pines or “Murder, She Wrote’s” Cabot Cove, Maine.

Chautauqua is a real place. A gated, leafy lakeside community
of narrow streets—with quaint Victorian cottages, modern homes and public buildings—it is located in very far western New York state, about 400 miles north and west of New York City but only 60 miles east of Ohio.

Chautauqua, which has a tiny year-round population of several hundred, comes alive for a nine-week summer season of lectures, concerts and church services often compared to a summer camp for adults.

But the tradition-bound spot is also a little culty—drawing many of the same families, generation after generation, to the place that began in 1874 as a tent retreat for Methodist Sunday school teachers.

Nowadays Chautauqua offers TED Talk-like lectures, Tanglewood-like concerts and Burning Man-like spiritual recharging in a far less hip, more white-bread, All-American setting.

HALLIE: OK, so why murder mysteries there?

For many of the same reasons, other writers set spooky stories and murder mysteries in idyllic small towns.

Sin intruding on an Edenic paradise feels like a greater trespass.
It’s shocking.  And, I think, it gets readers more behind my newspaper reporter sleuth Mimi Goldman’s relentless quest for justice.

My Chautauqua mysteries have a lot of small-town Us-(locals)-vs.-Them (outsiders) drama; close-knit neighbors with secrets; quiet, dark locales that, to a city girl like me, seem extra scary; less-savvy cops; beautiful settings with poetic names; and trusting inhabitants.

In VENGEANCE IS MINE, Chautauquans never dream there’s a killer lurking among them at the annual July Fourth concert when spectators pop paper bags to simulate cannon fire during the “1812 Overture.”

But in the giddy commotion a visitor is shot. An outsider is arrested.  Most Chautauquans are satisfied.  But not series hero, Mimi Goldman, a former New York Post copy editor and wary granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors.

Mimi, an outsider herself, shares the skepticism of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and, apparently, Miss Marple’s model, Christie’s grandmother.  Writing about her grandmother, the author once said she “always expected the worst of everyone and everything and was, with almost frightening accuracy usually proved right.”

While Miss Marple drew upon lessons about human nature learned from her small-town St. Mary Mead neighbors, Mimi often draws on lessons she learned from her past editing big-city tabloid crime stories

Sounds like cozy with a lot of wit and a bit of an edge. I love this picture of you at Chatutauqua... perhaps surrounded by some of the characters in the books?

It’s fun to be a mystery writer in a small place.  Readers of all ages volunteer plot suggestions and gotcha corrections. The model for a character in my first novel, SHADOW, introduced herself and asked me if Meryl Streep could play her in the movie. Another woman, the model for the Lost & Found character in VENGEANCE, said that after her recent book cameo, her husband mock-complained, “There’ll be no livin’ with her now.”

This got me thinking about other kinds of seasonal venues, like Tanglewood or Jacob's Pillow or Aspen or Breadloaf or Burning Man... that are temporarily full of strangers who could easily inspire characters in a murder mystery. Has anyone been somewhere like Chautauqua and imagined it as a stage set for murder?

DEB PINES, an award-winning New Post headline writer and former reporter, is the author of three other Mimi Goldman novels and one novelette including In the Shadow of Death, a Chautauqua Bookstore top-seller, and Beside Still Waters, an IndieReader-Approved Title.

A SoulCycle indoor cycling nut, Deb also loves puns, Scrabble, cooking and hiking. A mother of two, she lives in New York City with her husband Dave and had her 15 minutes of fame this summer when “Jeopardy!” featured one of her Post headlines in a question—that stumped the contestants.
VENGEANCE IS MINE: Deb Pines’ fourth Chautauqua murder mystery starts with a bang—when Maureen Donahue, a filmmaker and speaker at the historic Chautauqua Institution, is killed at a raucous Fourth of July concert. There’s a quick arrest. But reporter and relentless snoop Mimi Goldman, even with her own wedding to plan, is on the case. Mimi’s questions about a racist personal trainer, shadowy piano teacher, chatty chimemaster and others lead to more questions—and to Mimi unearthing an ugly secret that points her to the surprise real killer.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Peak of Summer

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If August is the top of the ferris wheel of summer, this week is the very tip, the moment before the wheel begins to fall back to earth. It's the arc of a baseball just before it descends into the waiting glove, the three-scoops cone about to start dripping onto your hand - but not yet, not yet.

For those of us in the civilized regions of the country, it's still two weeks before the school buses call us all to duty - three before Labor Day puts the final coda on the summer of '18. Its the perfect time to assess what you've done and, more importantly, what you want to do before the first cool breezes of September start to blow.

For me, I've done more traveling than I planned this summer, some celebratory (being there for the Jungle Reds appearance at Brookline Booksmith) some fun (time with extended family in the mountains of Vermont) and some sad (My mother's death and funeral.) I've cooked less than in previous years, giving away a lot of my wonderful CSA produce. I've read more, however, and had many lovely lunches and dinners with friends.

What's left on my summer bucket list? More open-faced tomato sandwiches. Fresh-picked corn from the local farmstand. The last concert of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, this coming Saturday. I went to this past Saturday's performance and it was amazing! So I'm very much looking forward to the evening.

We usually see several Shakespearean plays each summer, but with the sad demise of Maine Shakespeare, its been more difficult this year. Instead, Youngest and the Smithie and I are going to see a family favorite, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, at the Lakewood Theater on the shores of Wessenrunsett Lake in north-central Maine. 

The big event for me isn't very summery - it will be moving Youngest into her dorm at the University of Maine (Orono) at the end of the month. So I guess I'm looking forward to lots of runs to Target and Bed Bath & Beyond to buy dorm stuff.

Afterwards, however, one of my bffs and I will celebrate with our annual visit to Old Orchard Beach, Maine's largest white-sand sea shore. When our kids were little, we would park our butts in our chairs and watch them run in and out of the surf. This time around, instead of packing  a picnic for seven, we'll have grown-up snacks and Mojitos - made from Lucy's recipe, of course! - in the cooler.

How about you, Reds? What are you trying to get done on these last days of summer? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, ah, ah. I have to write five million blogs and articles about Trust Me. Do seventy five billion interviews about Trust Me. FINISH A WHOLE NEW BOOK. Plan a launch party, confirm a book tour, have the launch party (you're invited! August 28 at Brookline Booksmith!)  Keep up on social media. Sleep, see my husband, remember to go outside, remember to do laundry, think every single solitary minute about whether people will love TRUST ME

It got a starred review from Booklist, YAY! Which called it "A knockout." So, that's good. And Library Journal says: It's sure to be a late-summer hit! So, yay.
So no lazy-hazy says for me. Just crazy! But TRUST ME, wonderful. Now, back to writing A WHOLE NEW BOOK!

JULIA: Okay, so we're crossing you off the "Lazy haze of summer" list and putting you on the "New York Times Bestseller" list.

INGRID THOFT: Where did the summer go?  I feel so old saying that, but it’s true.  I feel like I’m just getting in the summer groove, only to have it end in a few weeks.  So what are my plans for the remaining days?  I have a lot of writing to do, particularly because September is full of travel, which always translates into less productivity.  I have some niggling errands to run: the cobblers for a pair of shoes, the tailor for the lining of a purse that has become a black hole, and Goodwill to donate various items that need a new
home.  We also have some events on the social calendar including a cookout we’re hosting on the 39th floor roof deck of our building, and a Tuscan-themed dinner our friends are cooking.  There aren’t many weeks left, but there’s a lot to look forward to!

JULIA: I have to mention that August has been very good to Ingrid so far - her novel DUPLICITY is a finalist in the fiction category of the Washington State Book Awards!

LUCY BURDETTE: I knew the summer would be hectic and it certainly has been! Book launched, family hosted, friends seen, family reunion, golf played, and of course you know about losing my precious Tonka. All that said, there is more good stuff I need to cram in. We have a dear niece coming to CT with her little kids--will want to see plenty of her. I have a number of events still planned--are you near CT? Hope to see you at one of them. Our garden is bursting so I'm *hoping* to get some pickles made etc. And I want to play more golf because I'm playing well for the first time in several years and it's so much fun when that happens. And reading--I want to read and read and read! Rhys's new book and Hank's and Jenn's, just to name a few. Oh, and write a little too???

HALLIE EPHRON: Summer has been super hectic for me, too. I've been at Yale teaching at their annual summer writing conference, in Oregon teaching at Willamette Writer, in Sacramento giving a writing workshop for their Sisters in Crime chapter, and just back from NYC presenting at the Writer's Digest NYC Conference. I love my life!  In NY I got to see my kids and 2 grandbabies who live in Brooklyn. 

THREE more weeks of summer and I plan to enjoy doing nothing. I have some writing to do, but mostly I shall eat lobster (they're so cheap this year), eat local peaches, take walks, slow down and sit out in my backyard. And I have Rhys's FOUR FUNERALS AND MAYBE A WEDDING and Lucy's DEATH ON THE MENU to read, so life is good.

JULIA: Yes! They're on my nightstand right now!

JENN MCKINLAY: The Hooligans go back to school during the first week of August (no idea why they do that in AZ - we all hate it) so summer is pretty much over for us. Wah! Now it's school, homework, activities, go, go, go. *Sob*

JULIA: That is just wrong, Jenn. So very wrong.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Only three more weeks??? I would say, YAY, only three more weeks, if I didn't have so much writing to do. We are so over summer here. We always are here in Texas by August, but after our record-breaking heat in July we are just
dreaming about cooler weather. The bucket garden is pretty shriveled, although we may get some fall tomatoes. We certainly didn't get any summer ones--it was too hot. We did have a good peach season but that's finished as of this last weekend. I'm just back from my one August trip/event, so nothing on the calendar for me except writing until Bouchercon! 

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are your plans for the last days of summer?