Wednesday, October 31, 2018

BOO! Scary movies


HALLIE EPHRON: It’s HALLOWEEN! I feel as if this is my holiday since once upon a time my husband made me a cartoon Halloween card that wished me a HALLIE HAPPOWEEN.

Instead of taking the fattening route and discussing our favorite candies (Swedish Fish, if you’re taking notes), I’m going to take a detour into scary movies.

I haven’t see any of the HALLOWEEN movies, though #11 is just out starring Jamie Lee Curtis who starred in #1. I’m a huge fan of Jamie Lee Curtis. I will see A FISH CALLED WANDA any time I find it. But I’m done with movies that kill girls.

I’m much more a fan of THE BLOB. 1958. You remember: ambulatory alien blob of protoplasm that devoured everything in its path. Did you know it starred Steve McQueen?

And PSYCHO. The poster looks like an ad for Maidenform. That movie scared the bejesus out of me. Wide open eye resting on the tile floor, cue scary music. The dessicated mother sitting ‘looking’ out the window. SO terrifying even when you know it’s coming.

I was a lot less enthusiastic about FRENZY, another Hitchcock movie about a serial killer who rapes and then strangles women with a necktie. MUCH too creepy and explicit for my taste. Wish I could erase my memories of that one. It's that line I try to walk between CREEPY and ICKY. 

Around now we should be asking ourselves: why are the victims always women and the truly scary creatures OLD women or Jell-O?

Can I count THE SIXTH SENSE? Loved it loved it. Ditto SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. And Catherine Deneuve feeling her way down the claustrophobic hallway with hands reaching out for her in REPULSION, which I must have seen when I was in high school, is seared into my brain.

THE FLY (with Jeff Goldlblum looking fly-like even before the transformation; Geena Davis plays his girlfriend.) ROSEMARY’S BABY (Mia Farrow faces off against Ruth Gordon). THE STEPFORD WIVES (with Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss and Tina Louise). And the divine BEETLEJUICE (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder) which I gather is now being made into a Broadway play! Sign me up!

On this Halloween night, what scary movies would you be up for watching again? Oh, and what candies do you hope you’ll have left over after the trick or treaters have swarmed through? Sadly they were out of Sour Patch Kids when I got to the supermarket to buy candy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Memories of Scottish Halloween (rutabaga lanterns) Catriona McPherson


HALLIE EPHRON: I first encountered Catriona McPherson as the author of a book entitled Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. LOVED her writing (tart, taut, funny), and I knew I'd follow her anywhere. She writes standalones and traditional mysteries, is a MULTI-award winner, and a generous soul who's served as president of Sisters in Crime.

Her new book, just out, Go to My Grave, is a Gothic thriller, set in a B&B in a rambling old house (be still my beating heart!) Estranged cousins reunite a decade after a 16th birthday party that started with peach schnapps and ended with a girl walking into the sea. Kirkus gave it a starred review and called it "a virtuoso explosion of guilt, remorse, and revenge."


So who better than Catriona, on Halloween eve, to share her memories of Halloween in Scotland?

CATRIONA MCPHERSON: How I love Halloween. I always did, from when I was a child.

Scottish Halloween has elements clearly related to American Halloween. Where you go trick-or-treating, we went “guising”. Literally “in disguise”, we traipsed around the neighbours’ houses asking for sweeties, but we had to earn them by performing a song or dance or reciting a poem. Some people let the kids off with telling a joke. Not the hard-liners.

The whole point of the performance – well, a useful by-product of the performance anyway – is that two hundred pounders home from college are too embarrassed to join in, which keeps the sweetie costs down marvelously. Mind you, if the adults don’t feel like taking part they don’t have to. We don’t have the toilet-paper revenge option if anyone’s too stingy to fork over a mini Mars Bar.

We always used to carve lanterns too. But we didn’t have
pumpkins, so we carved rutebagas (which we call turnips. They’re not the things English people call turnips. Those are swedes. The things English and American people call turnips, we call . . . wee purple turnips.)

There are two things to note about making jack-o-lanterns out of rutebagas. One, it’s a miracle any Scottish child gets to its teenage years with all ten fingers intact. (Have you ever tried to carve a rutabaga?) And two, the smell of a candle in a turnip is indescribable. The folk who moan about a whiff of pumpkin spice in Starbucks for a week or two (okay, a choking pall of pumpkin spice in every centre of commerce from Labor Day to Black Friday, but let’s not quibble) should count themselves lucky.

Where I used to live in Galloway, the farmers grew stubble turnips to feed the sheep in winter. The flock ate them right out there in the fields. Or rather they half-ate them and moved on. The smell of half a turnip in a muddy field, liberally wee-ed and pooped on by sheep, frozen and defrosted and refrozen again in the changeable weather . . . still smells better than a warm turnip lantern.

The other entertainments of a Scottish Halloween seem very low-key and wholesome compared with the Bacchanalia of an American one. (Full disclosure – I know them mostly from soaps and sitcoms. Maybe there’s less bloodshed and adultery in real life.) We dooked for apples. That is, we filled a baby bath with water, floated apples in it, kneeled down and tried to bite the apples out of the bath without drowning. Posh chidlren (or so I’ve heard) used to lean over the back of a chair and drop a fork into the bath to spear their apples. Less saliva but also less fun.

One of the mysteries of Halloween is why we worked so hard at it. We usually brought our apples back from school untouched every day. But on the 31st of October they were suddenly precious to us, and well worth half-drowning for. There were monkey nuts too. Do you call them monkey nuts? Peanuts in their shells. They were much easier to get out of the water, via a Moby Dick impersonation: head down, mouth wide, hoover them up like
plankton. The taste of a soaking wet peanut shell takes me right back to my mum’s kitchen, with our cat watching from her basket in feline outrage at the disturbance and my big sisters shouting at me “Swallow! Swallow! Mu-um! Catriona’s spitting in the dooking water!”

There are other traditional Halloween games. Scones coated all over in treacle could be hung from a string across the room for kids to try to eat without using their hands. We never did this in our house. I’m glad. I was the wee-est one and I know my sisters would have loved swinging the string to belt me in the face with a treacly bun and then complain to our mum that I was making everything sticky.

We did do the spell of peeling a tangerine in one long strip and throwing it over our shoulder to see the initial of the man we would marry. It was usually an S, tangerine skins being what they are and we would have good giggle about the Stephens and Scotts in our class at school (and Starsky (unfortunately not the cute one), Scott Baio (changed days, eh?) and did Woody from the Bay City Rollers count, since his real name was Stuart Wood?) The uselessness of this method was proved in later years by our husbands’ names: John, Greig, Tom and Neil.

I think those happy days of low-key bickering probably gave me some of the material for my new book, GO TO MY GRAVE. Eight kids – siblings and cousins – have spent twenty years trying to forget the aftermath of a birthday party that went seriously, disastrously wrong. When they find themselves back together again, the decades fall away along with all the tricks they’ve tried to keep the secrets of that night from ever surfacing.

Also, while I didn’t plan it like this – publishing is as mysterious to me as it ever was, twenty-odd books in – October is the perfect month to send GO TO MY GRAVE out into the world. It’s got a big old creepy house with far too many dark corners as well as all those secrets and all those lost children, grown-up now but not nearly over the past that ties them together. BOO!

HALLIE: Honoring Halloween, what are you cherished memories of Halloweens past? Pumpkin carving? Setting out a scarecrow? Dunking (dooking!) for apples? Putting together a 'haunted house' with bowls of Jell-o and cold spaghetti and peeled grapes to feel blindfolded? TRICK OR TREAT!

-->

Monday, October 29, 2018

Shopping down Memory Lane

Today we're reminiscing about kinder and gentler times. And though we try to keep Jungle Red Writers a safe place for our readers, an escape from divisiveness and rancor, we need to acknowledge the horrors of the last week. The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The pipe bombs sent to people Donald Trump has villified. The killings at a Kentucky grocery store. Tragedy upon tragedy, outrage upon outrage.  The real world is very much on our minds and hopefully in our actions, too.

HALLIE EPHRON: The news that Lord & Taylor's flagship store in NYC is closing gave me an acute case of nostalgia. When I left Los Angeles to go to NYC for Barnard College, my mother took me to Best & Co. for my first real winter coat. A bit further down 5th Ave. at B. Altman's I got my first leather gloves. And a little further south an across the street was Lord & Taylor where I looked for a dress for my first "mixer." (Does anyone remember mixers??) Most of them had lovely ladies-lunch restaurants... and that reminds me of eating on a stool at the counter at JJ Newberry - five and dime.

With the recent announcement that Lord & Taylor is closing, all of those stores will be closed. Along with Korvettes and Ohrbachs where I shopped with my mother-in-law for bargains. Gimbels, and Loehmann's. Sears, which was the go-to stores for life's more mundane vacuum cleaners and appliances, is closing now.  The stores I loved growing up in Southern California -- Robinsons, I. Magnin, Lanz -- are long gone as well.

Macy's survives, only because it's gobbled up everything else. Also Saks and Bloomingdales hang on. I confess my go-to store these days is Marshalls. In ten minutes I can sweep through and see if there's anything for me there.  And of course, Amazon. Is anyone using Rent the Runway?

What stores are you missing, and is 'going clothes shopping' with a ladies' lunch something that you miss at all??

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, I went to Lord and Taylor on a long ago visit to New York. How sad that it is closing. When I was a child, our big treat was going to Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas, especially their yearly "Fortnight" every fall, which was themed every year on a different foreign country. Neiman Marcus is still there, thank goodness, although they have had financial troubles the past few years, but I never shop downtown.
Of my other childhood stores, Joske's was swallowed by Dillard's, and Sanger-Harris is long gone. I just read that a new smaller footprint Target is going into their space.

But my favorite and most nostalgic shopping experience is Dallas's Northpark Center. My mom and I started shopping there when it opened in 1965. (There used to be a Lord and Taylor there, but it closed years ago.) My mom and I took Kayti to Northpark, and now Kayti and I take Wren. The stores have changed, of course. Out of the four anchor stores, Neiman's, Dillard's, Macy's, and Nordstrom, Nordstrom is our favorite, but it's Dillard's for shoes!

INGRID THOFT: My nieces use Rent the Runway for prom dresses, Hallie.  I wish it had been around when I was in high school! 

Is the Lord & Taylor in Boston closing, too?  I hope not.  I have many fond memories of going in to the city on a Saturday afternoon and browsing there before heading over to Copley Place and then the Dubarry Restaurant on Newbury Street for lunch.  The Dubarry was my parents’ favorite, but it’s long gone, too. 

Here in Seattle we have Macy’s and the flagship Nordstrom store, which has had financial troubles, but seems to be on the upswing.  I worry that one day we’ll have just one of everything: Store, Bank, Airline, etc.  Not a good scenario!

RHYS BOWEN: When I first moved to San Francisco there were several elegant, old fashioned department stores: City of Paris, I Magnin, The White House. You know, the kind with a doorman who wore white gloves and a cafe where they served lady-sized
portions. They all went long ago but Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Nordstroms still survive.

I also remember shopping at Lord and Tayor in New York. For some reason I was buying a box of handkerchiefs as a present. Or was that in a dream? For whom would I be buying handkerchiefs?

Anyway these days I love Nordstroms for special outfits (my dress for the Edgars) and their real customer service. Apart from that I
don't shop often for clothes any more. Most things stocked in Macy's don't appeal to me. I have become a fan of Steinmart when I'm in Arizona. There isn't one near me in CA. And I have to confess that I do my clothes shopping in Europe in the summer.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rhys, you are too much ! We want to
come with you. I keep thinking there’s a Filene’s—do you know it? For so many years, the flagship department store of Boston. With Filene’s Basement (in the actual basement, the real one) where a savvy shopper could truly find a treasure.

I got my very first super-duper designer suit at Bergdorf’s in Boston,  in 1983, I bet. And I could still wear it now. (If I, um, ignored the shoulders. But I keep waiting for them to come back.) That store was in a gorgeous building, some sort of mansion I think, and they would serve tea as you tried on clothes. RIP.  Another was a tiny store in Boston called Lady Grace, I know it sounds old fashioned, and it was, but you could buy slips. (Anyone, anyone?) That’s gone, too.

Shopping? Well, you know me. I don’t mind shopping but I will admit I use a personal shopper, (it’s FREE) who can put me in a special room and bring diet coke and take care of everything. A few days ago I was in a store and had to wait at a cash register—and I realized how long it had been since I did that. Amazon? Not for clothes, but whoa, for so many other things. Mailing supplies. Birdfood.  Pens. Makeup. Poof, it arrives. Hard to resist.

JENN McKINLAY: I love shopping - but only for bargains. I blame
my high school years when my gal pals and I would ride the train from New London to Boston to hit Filene's bargain basement (the original one) like an elite shopping unit. I still can't buy something if I can't say I got it for fifty to seventy-five percent off. I can't help it, I'm Scottish - thrift is in my DNA. Besides what's there to brag about in paying full price? There's no sport in that at all! LOL! I do hope we don't lose all of the classic stores. Maybe they'll make a comeback, like vinyl records, when everyone gets tired of Amazon. Right?

LUCY BURDETTE: Yes, Best and Co, that's where we went for
winter coats and dressy dresses in New Jersey too. I also remember Bamberger's fondly. And there was a Brentano's bookstore in that same mall, where I later worked. All gone. These days I mostly shop at a little one-off store in Guilford CT. You can tell them you need something cute for a booksigning, and they bring outfits to try on that you never, ever would have chosen. And they look great!

Hank, please tell me those big shoulder pads are never coming back...please...


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:
I don't know, Lucy - the high-waisted wide-legged pants of the 80s are coming back. (Of course, they themselves were a retread of a 40s look.) I'm with Jenn in that I'm the queen of discount shopping - I instinctively head straight for the end-of-season 70% off rack wherever I am. That being said, I've always gone to Macy's for fancy dresses, as my mother did before me. I'm grateful the local branches survive, but I've heard the famous and original 7th Avenue store is closing? That makes me sad. I went there on a pre-Christmas holiday with the family back in 2010 and got the girls some beautiful winter coats and boots - brands we didn't see at the Maine Mall.

As a brand new career girl in the early eighties, I loved going to Garfinkels and Woodward & Lothrop for my investment wardrobe. Woodies, particularly, was an old-fashioned temple of commerce, with a beautiful main floor that was a must-see at Christmastime. They would have a pianist playing while you shopped - tell me that's not better than elevator music! 

And thinking of Christmas, who doesn't have childhood memories of the Sear's Wishbook? My sister and I would pour over that magical catalogue for hours, each of us circling our many, many picks (in different colored pens, so as to avoid confusion.) Honestly, looking through the Wishbook and dreaming of its bounty was as enjoyable as actually getting toys on Christmas morning.


HALLIE: Oh! The Sears Wishbook! Used it for many 'art' projects.

Are you missing the grand old department stores? "Going shopping" with friends with lunch in the tea room? Are you more likely to rent the runway than shop the sales? 


For those of you who'd like to stroll down memory lane, visit The Department Store Museum.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Time Has Come

INGRID THOFT

This is a bittersweet post for me to write, but it’s time to let you know that I'm hanging up my red, leopard print pashmina in the coming weeks and leaving Jungle Red.  This was not an easy decision to make, and it was driven by a lack of time—not enthusiasm—for the blog and the JRW community.  My nearly two years as part of this amazing group of women has been terrific, and I look forward to transitioning to the role of enthusiastic fan.
 

The blog has introduced me to so many wonderful writers, offered travel tips, book recommendations, and a respite from the bad news that seems to be ever-present.  It also gave me the chance to pick the brains of writers I love and share that with readers.  Chevy Stevens, Nick Petrie, David Joy, Meg Gardiner, Linda Fairstein, and Carla Buckley are just some of the writers who answered my questions and yours.


This will come as no surprise, but the Jungle Red Writers are a group of funny, smart, supportive women who have enriched my life.  Behind-the-scenes, if someone is overwhelmed or life throws her a curve ball, the others step in seamlessly and offer support and guidance.  Having technical difficulties with a post?  Someone will wrestle with Blogger and fix the problem.  Frustrated with your publisher? The Reds will chime in with their horror stories and offer you advice.  A family crisis?  They’re on it.  As one of four daughters and an alumna of a women’s college, I’ve spent my life in groups of terrific women:  Jungle Red Writers is one of the best.

Lastly, the Jungle Red readers are an extraordinary bunch.  Thoughtful, perceptive, smart, encouragingyou all are an integral part of this blog.  Your comments are insightful and funny, and your fierce loyalty is without compare.  I am a better writer and reader for having spent time with all of you.

This is the last day I’m in charge of the blog, but I’m not disappearing; I’ll still be a Red for a couple more weeks.  Then I will be out of touch on a long-planned scuba diving and snorkeling trip in the South Pacific.  Barring an unplanned shark encounter, I’ll be back after Thanksgiving and checking in regularly as a fan.  Thanks to all of you for making this a wonderful experience.



Friday, October 26, 2018

Reach Out and Touch Someone

INGRID THOFT

Earlier this week, my husband called from the car during his commute to say that our friend Jonathan had just been interviewed on NPR.  It’s not unusual for him to be on NPR or TV news shows in an expert capacity, but as I brought up the interview on the web, I realized it had been over a year since I’d been in touch with Jonathan.

We’re not the kind of friends who talk every day, every week, or even every month, but a year?  That’s way too long.  I’m busy, and he’s busy, and the world is chaotic right now, but that’s all the more reason to reach out to our friends and family, even if it’s just a quick text or private message on social media.


So I’m challenging everyone today.  If you’ve been thinking, “I really need to be in touch with so-and-so,” today is the day.  Who is that person, and can you reach out to them before another day begins?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What a great idea, Ingrid. I've been really bad at keeping up with people this year, especially my dear friends on the other side of the Pond. So I'm happy to report that in the last couple of days I've made plans to see many of my UK friends (when I'm not writing, of course!) You are so rightwe need those connections now more than ever.

HALLIE EPHRON: This is why I love Facebookit's easy (and so non-invasive) to refresh a contact with friends who hang out there. And I was just thinking about Christmas cards, and the time may be right for reviving my habit of sending them.

JENN McKINLAY: A couple of years ago, I made a New Year's resolution to have lunch/coffee/dinner with every friend I'd lost track of and I did. It was lovely but...life. I have come to accept that I can't hang on to everyone so I've lost touch with a few friends. Now I randomly text people when they pop into my head. It's the best I can do at the moment and it works because it's the best most of my friends can do as well. When did we all become so busy?

RHYS BOWEN: This is so true! While I'm great at keeping in touch with family, I realize I have dear friends whom I should call more often. I'm so glad when I do call them or see them in person but life seems so busy that I forget how important people are to me. That's one of the reasons I'm so grateful to be part of JRW. At least I talk to you ladies every week!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ingrid, this is so increasingly important to me. Seems as if our lives are going by so quickly, and there’s no time, and we figure, oh, I’ll catch up with that person soon. And soon never comes. I always think about how semi-complicated it is to keep friendships strong—even conversations, well-meaning and affectionate as they are, are so brief and shallow. Sometimes, after a dinner or party or whatever, I’ll say to Jonathan, “Did anyone talk about anything real?” But those kinds of conversations are not instant, and only can come with care and time and attention.  And I am as guilty as anyone of having my life go by so fast that those connections falter.  Yes, yes, I promise to do better. Thank you, dear Ingrid. You are so wise.

It's your turn.  Who are you going to be in touch with today?

Judy, who loved Replique perfume, you've won a copy of Ellen Byron's new book.  Send me your mailing address at ingrid@ingridthoft.com.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Discontinued Lipstick? Ellen Byron is on the Case!


INGRID THOFT

Today's guest is a renaissance woman of writing.  Ellen Byron wrote for TV, including "Wings" and "Just Shoot Me," has written plays and writing how-to books, and more recently, is the author of the award-winning Cajun Country Mystery series.  She also worked for Martha Stewart in a non-writing capacity!  Is there anything she can't do?  Yes, apparently, there is at least one thing that is stymieing Ellen at the moment.  I'll let her give you the scoop.


ELLEN BYRON: It’s super frustrating when your favorite lipstick color is discontinued. I’ve spent the last year on a fruitless quest to replace a shade Nars stopped making. (Curse you, Nars!) With the launch of my fourth Cajun Country Mystery, MARDI GRAS MURDER and a slate of personal appearances coming up, that quest became urgent.

I recently sold a second mystery series that revolves around a catering hall. My friend Kristen runs Pickwick Gardens, a popular Burbank party venue, so I paid her a visit to do some research. In the middle of asking questions, I noticed her lipstick—and couldn’t take my eyes off it. I finally blurted out, “I love your lipstick. What color is it?” Kristen responded, “It’s called Khlo$ - K-h-l-o-dollar sign.” She paused. “It’s from Kylie Cosmetics.”

I gasped in horror. No exaggeration, I really did. I’m not a fan of reality TV in general and that Kardashian clan, with their first-world problems, body enhancements, and vocal fry  really works my last nerve. Still, there was that lipstick.

When I got home, I fought a losing battle not to check out Kylie’s cosmetic website. “I’m just looking, I’ll never ever buy anything,” I told myself as I typed the address into my search engine. Seconds later, there was Kylie in all her surgically enhanced glory, looking right into my eyes with a Mona Lisa smile, beckoning me to click on “Lips.” Which I did. And let me tell you, whoever designed that website deserves the lion’s share of the gazillions twenty-one-year-old Kylie is raking in. It’s informative, simple, and seductive. 

Did I shop? Oh, I shopped, spending sixty-three bucks on two lipsticks and a Lip Kit. (It comes with a matching lip liner!) I wasn’t proud of myself. I would have been less embarrassed buying dinosaur porn. (Yes, that’s actually a thing. And now half of you will go look it up.)

I became obsessed with the website. I kept clicking on all the pretty pictures. I even watched a ten-minute video of Kylie putting on makeup, which was weirdly mesmerizing. She’s like an American geisha or something, which I hope isn’t insulting to geishas. Or America.
Okay, now to answer the billion-dollar question—because Kylie is like, the world’s youngest billionaire, thanks to people like me spending sixty-three dollars on three lipsticks –how’s her product?
It arrived in an unmarked box. (Which I assume would also be true of dinosaur porn.) And it arrived fast. I ordered on Thursday and had it by Saturday. The box sprang to life when you opened it, with a personal greeting from the gal herself. As to the lipsticks, on a scale of pouty lips, five being the highest, I grudgingly give Kylie three and a half—okay, maybe even four—pouty lips. 

She runs a crack operation, for sure. I loved the texture of the lipstick. The liquid matte lipsticks are so long-lasting I still had the sample swatch on the inside of my arm three days after applying it. (Which is kind of scary, to be honest. It’s more like lip glue than stick). None of the colors replaces the discontinued Nars, although that’s more my problem than Kylie’s. But there are no refunds or exchanges, and that’s a drag.

I’m giving the Khlo$ lipstick to Kristen because it looks better on her than me, and I sent the Nova to my daughter for the same reason. I’ll find a way to put the Ginger Lip Kit to use. But there’s still one question that needs to be answered. I bought Kylie’s lipstick - three of them to be exact. Now how do I get Kylie to buy a copy of MARDI GRAS MURDER?

This post is so timely!  Did you see the news this week that there's a shortage of TAB soda?  What product have you fallen in love with, only to have it disappear?  One lucky reader (in the U.S. only) will get a copy of MARDI GRAS MURDER!

Joan Emerson, you've won a copy of Michael Wiley's MONUMENT ROAD.  Please send your mailing address to ingrid@ingridthoft.com.

MARDI GRAS MURDER
It’s Mardi Gras season on the bayou, which means parades, pageantry, and gumbo galore. But when a flood upends life in the tiny town of Pelican, Louisiana―and deposits a body of a stranger behind the Crozat Plantation B&B―the celebration takes a decidedly dark turn. The citizens of Pelican are ready to Laissez les bon temps rouler―but there’s beaucoup bad blood on hand this Mardi Gras. 

USA Today bestselling author Ellen Byron is a television writer, playwright, and freelance journalist. Her TV credits include Wings, Still Standing, and Just Shoot Me, and her written work has appeared in Glamour, Redbook, and Seventeen, among others. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, their daughter, and the family’s very spoiled rescue dog. A native New Yorker, Ellen still misses her hometown and still drives like a New York Cabbie. This is her third Cajun Country mystery.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Poutine Done Right

INGRID THOFT

Last week I arrived in Montreal a poutine skeptic.  I'd had it before, the Canadian comfort food of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.  My first and only experience with the dish was in Vancouver, which seemed like a reasonable place to try it.  I wasn't wowed by the concoction, but my niece in Montreal insisted that I hadn't had good poutine, and she knew just the place to remedy that.


At Dirty Dogs, the lighting was low and the menu extensive.  French fries, gravy, and cheese curds were just the bases of the poutines on offer.  My niece opted for the Soprano:  bruschetta, bacon, mozzarella, and pesto.  My mom—always up for an adventure, culinary or otherwise—opted for the Eastwood.  It was topped with caramelized onions, barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, monterey jack cheese, and bacon.  The Dirty Sanchez featured crushed corn tortillas, four cheese sauce, sour cream, salsa fresco and green onions.  I decided to go all in or whole hog as it were:  Le Pig Mac was a heaping bowl of the french fries, gravy, and cheese curd base  topped with mac n' cheese, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions.


It was very dark in Dirty Dogs, hence the poor photo
Did I lose you?  Probably.  You're probably thinking that the combinations I've described sound disgusting and weird.  I thought the same thing, but I put my hesitation aside and was rewarded for it.  It was delicious.  We sampled one another's, all of which were great, but I have to say that my Le Pig Mac was so tasty, I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing.  Sure, my arteries had hardened and I'd ingested enough calories to fuel a Canadian hockey team, but it tasted fantastic!  This weird, messy heap of food was just the ticket for a cold Montreal night.

My mom, of course, wanted to learn about the origins of the dish, but an online search netted little information.  The best we could find is that in 1957, a truck driver in Quebec asked that cheese be sprinkled on his french fries, and a tradition was born.  It seems a bit flimsy to me, so maybe some of you Canadian readers could enlighten us?

Lest you think that all the food in Montreal falls into the drunk or hangover category, I can assure you that we had many delicious meals with nary a cheese curd in sight.  At a Spanish restaurant, I had a bowl of bright orange carrot cumin soup that was creamy and flavorful.  A plate of jet black squid ink pasta at the art museum was delicious as was the salmon tartare.  Before heading across the border, we tucked into eggs benedict that was as beautiful as it was tasty.


I would return to Montreal in a heartbeat.  It's a beautiful city with friendly people, amazing street art and fabulous food.  And I would definitely make a return visit to Dirty Dogs.  I need to try Le Angry Goat (roasted red pepper, arugula, baby spinach, goat cheese, pesto, and balsamic glaze)!


Have you tried poutine?  Or is there another dish that made you a believer, despite your reservations?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Michael Wiley: Justice in the Sunshine State

INGRID THOFT

Serving on a panel at a conference is always a crap shoot.  Sometimes, the panel gods work in your favor, and you end up sitting next to a true gem, and other times, you'll be just fine if your future interactions are a wave across a crowded hotel lobby.

Luckily, my experience with today's guest falls into the first category.  Michael Wiley and I were on an Sunday 8:30 a.m. panel together at the Long Beach Bouchercon (correct me if I'm wrong, Michael!) and seeing him has been a Bouchercon highlight ever since.  This year, Michael was nominated for the Shamus Award for Best P.I. Novel for his latest, MONUMENT ROAD.  Alas, he didn't win, but this book should definitely be on your TBR list. 

Set in present day Florida, MONUMENT ROAD introduces readers to Franky Dast, an investigator like no other.  Released from prison after being wrongly convicted of a heinous crime, Franky goes to work for the Innocence Project-like organization that won his freedom.  Here's the scoop from Michael.


INGRID THOFT: Franky is an intriguing character because he is so complex; he inspired such mixed emotions!  I felt sympathetic and outraged that he’d been wrongly imprisoned, but then, I’d cringe at his poor choices!  How did Franky Dast come to be?

MICHAEL WILEY: When I was a kid, I was much more disturbed on the few times when my parents or teachers accused me of doing something I didn’t do than the times when they punished me for doing something I did. The failure of adults to see what I imagined must be obvious innocence shocked and shook me. As an adult myself, I’m as interested in moral ambiguity and think I understand it as well as the next crime writer—but false accusations still horrify me. For a long time, I wanted to write a book about a character whose life has been ripped apart by such an accusation and who is struggling to put that life back together, but I couldn’t find the right story.

With all the recent news about false convictions and exonerations, I found the story. Men and women who’ve fought for years or decades against incredible odds—from behind bars, against a criminal justice system designed to keep them there—to convince others of their innocence are some of the most complex real-life heroes I know of. Men and women who run innocence projects and justice initiatives—Bryan Stevenson, Barry Scheck, others—are equally complex sidekicks and often heroes themselves. I model Franky Dast on a number of real exonerated death row inmates. When he gets out of prison, he joins a justice initiative as an investigator.


What looks like a poor choice to you or me may look like a reasonable or at least acceptable one to him. He has lost everything except his life—which he almost lost—and he’s starting from the very bottom, unable to go lower. So he takes risks, sometimes very dangerous ones. The ability to take them is all he has, his only freedom.

By the way, to my thinking, the biggest risk he takes in Monument Road is one most of us take. Through the course of the book, he allows himself to fall in love.


IPT: That's a very good point, and I also love the idea of taking risks being his only freedom.  I was definitely looking at Franky through my lens of experience ("make good choices!") when, of course, his experience has taught him there are no good choices.  You've got me thinking long after I finished the book, Michael!

When reading it, I often felt like I needed to cool off from the Florida heat and humidity because of the terrific sense of place you established.  Did you set out to make the setting a character of sorts?  And/or was the setting critical to the story in your estimation?

MW: I love powerful settings and think they’re just as critical to a story as characters are. In Toni Morrison’s SONG OF SOLOMON, Guitar Bains says, “I do believe my whole life’s geography.” I’ve lived in the Midwest (Chicago), the Northeast (New York), and the Deep South (Jacksonville), and I’ve found Guitar’s words to be true to my life. I’ve also found that other writers’ fictional settings thoroughly color my reading experiences and even color my experiences of real places when I visit them. When I started setting books around the Florida-Georgia border, I worked hard to catch the colors—and the sounds, smells, and humidity—of this place. If the setting makes readers want to turn on the AC, I’m a happy man.

IPT: In addition to writing, you teach literature at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.  Can you name a book or two that you love to teach and why?

MW: The one I’ve just mentioned is among them. To me, SONG OF SOLOMON is nearly the perfect novel. The characters are immensely complex, conflicted, and lovable (even Guitar Bains, who is a psychotic killer). The settings—north, south, in between—are rich and evocative. The plot is gripping. The language is narrative and lyrical. The book is also great crime fiction. All these characteristics—including the part about crime fiction—are also present in many of the other books I love to teach, ranging from HAMLET to Marlon James’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS to James Ellroy’s THE BLACK DAHLIA.


IPT: What has surprised you most about being a published author?

MW: In 2006, when I sold my first book (THE LAST STRIPTEASE, to St. Martin’s Press), I was surprised by the warmth and friendliness of the writing community. That fall, I went to my first crime-writing convention—Bouchercon, in Madison, WI—and writers I’d known only as a fan and admirer took me under their noir-ish wings. The crime-writing community does a better job of passing it around and passing it forward than any other group I’ve met.

IPT: Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Non-fiction?  Cookbook?

MW: I love how successfully crime fiction cross-pollinates with other writing genres: dystopian, fantasy, historical, horror, literary, romance, true crime, western, etc. I know of a basket-load of mysteries that include recipes. So I don’t feel very constrained. In BLACK HAMMOCK, I rewrote one of the oldest crime stories—about Electra and Orestes reclaiming their house from the man who killed their father—setting it on a twenty-first century barrier island off the coast of Florida. Not many people read that one, though, so maybe I should have considered agents, editors, and fans more closely.


I'm off to download a copy of SONG OF SOLOMON, which I'm embarrassed to say I've never read!  Michael will be here today to answer your questions, and he's giving away a copy of MONUMENT ROAD to one lucky reader!  



MONUMENT ROAD
Having spent eight years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, Franky Dast now works as an investigator for the Justice Now Initiative, seeking to help others in the same situation. But when he learns that Bill Higby, the detective whose testimony helped convict him, is facing his own murder charge, Franky is torn. Should he help the man he hates more than any other, the man who remains convinced of Franky’s guilt to this day?

As Franky delves further, he comes to realize that in order to prove Higby’s innocence, he must also prove his own. Unless he finds out what happened that fateful night eight years before, the night 15-year-old Duane Bronson and his 13-year-old brother were murdered, Franky will always be under suspicion, and the real killer will remain free. What really happened that dark, wet night on Monument Road? And is Franky prepared for the shocking truth?


Along with the Franky Dast mysteries, Michael writes the Daniel Turner Thriller series (Blue Avenue, Second Skin, Black Hammock) and the Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarski Private Detective series (A Bad Night’s Sleep, The Bad Kitty Lounge, Last Striptease). He is a frequent book reviewer and an occasional writer of journalism, critical books, and essays.
Michael grew up in Chicago and lived and worked in the neighborhoods and on the streets where he sets his Kozmarski mysteries. He teaches literature at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville—the setting of Monument Road and the Daniel Turner stories.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Dipping Your Toe in Instagram

INGRID THOFT

The Reds have recently been contemplating Instagram, the social media platform that focuses on pictures, and is the favored platform for kids today, meaning everyone under forty!  There will always be debate about the benefits and drawbacks of any one social media platform, but there's no denying that Instagram is a treasure trove of amazing images and the potential to connect users with shared interests no matter where they live.

Even if you have no interest in posting on IG, you can set up an account and look and lurk to your heart's content.  No matter your interests, you'll find instagrammers who are on the same wavelength.  Obviously, you can find everything and anything book-related, but rather than play favorites, here are some of my favorites beyond the realm of books.


@atlasobscura

Dedicated to the world's "strange and wondrous side," @atlasobscura features places you'd love to visit and even some you wouldn't.  If you have wanderlust or like to rubberneck in front of your phone or computer, this account is one to follow.



@thepetpark

Okay, full disclosure, I'm friends with the guy who owns this account, but I'd love it even if I weren't.  @thepetpark aggregates the funniest, cutest, most jaw dropping pet pics and videos.  If I'm on my phone, and I burst out laughing, chances are, I'm catching up on The Pet Park feed.  Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.



@theroyalfamily

This account also puts a smile on my face, and not just because of the Duke and Duchess (and their baby on-the-way.)  @theroyalfamily features a variety of family members and is focused on their charitable works.  Have any doubt that the Queen is one of the hardest working women in the world?  You won't after a couple of weeks following her on IG.




@dinneralovestory

I've long been a fan of Jenny Rosenstrach's blog and cookbooks, which offer recipes and meal planning for the non-Martha Stewarts among us.  Rosenstrach's IG account offers meal ideas, great guests, and terrific travel posts that will point you to the best restaurants in town.  




@divingpassport

Even if you don't like to wade out past your ankles, it's hard not to be wowed by the amazing photographs on @divingpassport.  The colors, exotic locations, and sheer variety in sea life, always make me itch to get back in the water.




Do you have any Instagram favorites?  Or are you looking for some suggestions?  Stop by the comments and weigh in!





What We're Reading


INGRID THOFT
It's time for another edition of "What We're Reading" here at Jungle Reds.  I always love to hear what the other Reds and all of you are enjoying; my TBR pile threatens to topple over after getting so many terrific suggestions!

I just finished MONUMENT ROAD by Michael Wiley, which is a terrific, unique novel featuring an investigator in Florida.  Michael will be my guest on Wednesday, and I'll let him tell you more about the book.  WILD FIRE the final Jimmy Perez book by Ann Cleeves is off to  strong start, although I suspect I won't want it to end.  I'm looking forward to the latest Jodi Picoult, A SPARK OF LIGHT and I'm saving the new Robert Galbraith, LETHAL WHITE for an upcoming vacation.  I gave in and will be reading that one electronically; if I were to drop the hardcover on my face when drowsy, I might break my nose!

How about you, Reds?  What are you enjoying in the book department these days?


LUCY BURDETTE: What we're reading can never come too often for me! I finished HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP by Veronica Henry and loved it. It's perfect for readers who are desperate for some happy endings after difficult life events (like me!) I also loved Juliet Blackwell's THE LOST CAROUSEL OF PROVENCE, with multiple strands from two periods in the past and one in the present and lots of French countryside and chateau viewings. And I've just started Joshilyn Jackson's GODS IN ALABAMA and Hemingway's MOVEABLE FEAST, which I'm chagrined not to have read before!


HALLIE EPHRON: I'm reading THE CHILD by Fiona Barton. Just started it but intrigued by the multiple viewpoint and the SECRET... which I'm sure will be revealed. Also reading Ellen Byron's latest, MARDI GRAS MURDER. And Amy Stewart's GIRL WAITS WITH A GUN. I'm *watching* SCOTT AND BAILEY on Amazon. That show is so smart and so character-driven, it's like reading a many chaptered superb novel.

RHYS BOWEN: I just finished THE STRANGER DIARIES by Elly Griffiths. I'm not sure when it's going to be released in the States but I think it's out in UK now. It's terrific--gothic, multiple narrators, a creepy school, an old story...not usually my cup of tea but it's well written. And now I've also just started a Juliet Blackwell: THE PARIS KEY. I've had such a stressful time recently that I needed a Paris fix.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love "What We're Reading!" Last week I read LETHAL WHITE, the new Robert Galbraith, which I loved. But it did take me a week! I'm behind on everything else, though. I just finished THE CHALK PIT by Elly Griffiths, so now need to read the newest Ruth Galloway, THE DARK ANGEL, to see what happens next. I've been hearing a lot of good buzz about the Elly Griffiths standalone, THE STRANGER DIARIES so have that on my list. I seem to have read Ann Cleeves' Shetland books in bits and pieces, so would like to go back and start the series from the beginning before I read WILD FIRE. I will be reading a good bit on my Kindle the next month, as on Tuesday I fly to the UK for three and a half weeks. Of course, I suspect there will be some book shop finds there, too!

On the watching front, I discovered the UK TV adaptation of the Cormoran Strike books (Robert Galbraith/aka JK Rowling) which are available on Amazon Prime for a couple of bucks an episode. These are so good that I'm sad I only have one episode left. I'm hoping that LETHAL WHITE will air in the UK while I'm there.

INGRID: I loved the STRIKE TV series, Debs.  I'm jealous you might get to see the newest installment while in the UK!

JENN MCKINLAY: Currently, I am on deadline with a book due Nov 1, galleys due Oct 23, and revisions due Oct 30. There is little to no reading happening for me. LOL! I am, however, listening to ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE while I walk my dogs every day and, interestingly (to me), I don't think I would like this book nearly as much as I do if not for the incredible narration by Cathleen McCarron. She is absolutely brilliant. I'm not a big fan of unlikable protagonists but the narration, hearing Eleanor in my head like this, is making me reluctantly fond of her. I'm halfway through so we'll see how it wraps up.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I am reading for a contest, so I can’t tell you everything :-) but out of the contest  (not eligible) THE 71/2 DEATH OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE.  It is an amazing tour de force of point of view, and I am loving it.   I also read  Katy Tur’s UNBELIEVABLE,  her chronicle of covering the election of 2016. It is absolutely wonderfully riveting.  And I just finished Louise Candlish’s OUR HOUSE ,  that was also terrific! One of those ideas that you think… Wow.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Raving about Joshilyn Jackson made me check her website, and sure enough, I missed a book last summer. Just downloaded ALMOST SISTERS. I bought and read THE CONSUMING FIRE, the second novel in John Scalzi's Interdependency series, in one night. So good, and I continue to steer people who are SF curious to Scalzi. Very approachable writing that values characters over technological whiz-bang.

Audio book in the car is non-fiction: HERE IS WHERE: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History. The author, Andrew Carroll, traveled all over the country looking for the spots where significant historical events have happened - and then forgotten.  I'm loving it, and it's perfect for the car or brief periods of reading.

What about all of you?  Please add to our already toppling TBR piles!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

On Your Own or In A Group? By Diane Vallere

JENN McKINLAY: One of my very favorite people to see at conferences, partly to see what she's wearing, but mostly because I adore this mid-century modern gal is Diane Vallere! She's here to chat with us about collaboration, and I'm sure by the end of the blog you will adore her as much as I do if you don't already! Take it, Diane!



DIANE VALLERE: Thank you so much for hosting me on Jungle Red! (and guess what? The phrase “Jungle Red” appears in LOVER COME HACK. #tribute!) 

There are two types of people in this world: those who work well with others and those who don’t. That’s not to say people don’t try to work together, or always choose to do everything themselves, but some people are just not cut out for collaboration. 

Diane repaints her kitchen!
Take me, for example. With an ever-growing to-do list, a mountain of projects in my head and on paper, and an awareness that I can only do so many things (well) at a time, I would love to have help. Yet when push comes to shove, my first thought is: I know what I want, and I can do it faster myself. 

This may not be the healthiest attitude. 

There was one time that I wanted to redo the kitchen. I waited until I had a weekend alone and took on the task by myself. Was it fun? Yep. Did I enjoy the alone time to work (and break) at my own pace? You betcha.

And then there are the times I do my own taxes. Are they fun? Heck to the no. Yet I’ve done them more than once. 

In defense of anyone who has ever thought it would be faster/easier/less hassle to take on one additional project themselves, I’ll point out that it isn’t that we think others are less qualified. In most cases, we know the opposite is likely true. And as I sit here thinking about the subject, and the countless times I’ve asked the universe for help while plowing through my list, I would go so far as to say it’s not a quality of work thing, or a saving-money-paying-people thing, but a trust thing. In that if I take a project on myself, I trust that it’ll get done. 

Oh, but there are so many flaws to this logic!

Diane's Kitchen Drawers! 
You fellow do-it-all-yourselfers out there: have you ever felt that twinge of jealousy when you saw what a professional could do versus your own efforts? Have you ever banged your head against the table trying to figure out something that wasn’t second nature? Have you ever needed—yes, I said needed—a glass of wine after finishing something simply to celebrate the fact that you never have to tackle that particular project again? 

The true test: have you ever turned down an offer of help because you were too scared of what it would mean to accept it? 

And you ask-for-help-all-the-time folks: does it stress you out to ask? Do you feel indebted to those who help you? Is there a bigger, grand karmic swap meet where you feel like it all evens out in the end? Inquiring minds want to know. 

I live in awe of the people who can ask and receive help. Not by manipulating with guilt or paying mass amounts of money, but simply by with, “hey, can you help me with this?” It seems like a nice way to live. Maybe one of these days I’ll try it. 

In LOVER COME HACK, Madison Night finds herself collaborating with a friend. And Madison, to date, has been a DIY kind of person. The collaboration brings up all sorts of issues in Madison’s personal fiber, ending in some not-particularly-desired outcome. 

So, how about you, Reds and Readers, can you ask for help or are you a do it aloner? 



About LOVER COME HACK: 
After a falling out with a friend flips interior decorator Madison Night’s world inside out, she’s determined to revamp her life. Jane Strong, fellow mid-century modern enthusiast, encourages Madison’s entry in an upcoming design competition, but their rift makes collaboration no longer an option.  

When Jane is found dead, Madison tops the suspect list. And when anonymous computer hackings interfere with both the investigation and the competition, Jane’s murder no longer seems random. With a mess of a love life, an angry client, and a looming deadline on her contest entry, Madison turns to an unlikely ally to decode a motive before a crash becomes imminent.

Diane’s Bio:
After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. She is a three-time Lefty Award nominee for best humorous mystery and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.



Preorder Contest:
To celebrate the release of LOVER COME HACK, Diane is giving away a house! A reissue of a 1962 Barbie Dream House, to be specific. Get the scoop here (and get a peek at chapter one while you’re there!)  https://dianevallere.com/lover-come-hack Good luck!

Connect with Diane: