Monday, April 22, 2024

What she wrote: Still loving getting older?

 HALLIE EPHRON: Welcome once again to WHAT WE'RE WRITING week! I wrote a magazine piece years back, about getting older, written from the perspective of middle age. It's one of the many efforts I've exhumed from my computer's depths and am revising. Here's the opening: 

I'm sitting at my computer trying to read the title of this piece, the letters swimming on the screen – "I Love Getting Odder"? Make that "Older." I try to remember where I left my glasses. In the bedroom? I go upstairs, pause on the landing. Why did I come up here? When I scratch my head, that’s where I find them.
Yes, middle age can be a series of bad jokes. Failing eyesight, forgetfulness, not to mention a drooping eyelid that reminds me of Columbo (who’s that actor – Peter something with an F?) whenever I look at myself in the magnifying mirror.

On the upside: not having to wear panty hose, shave my armpits, or blow-dry my hair.

Would I trade aging for youth? Not a chance. I was a pathologically self-conscious teenager for whom life was a constant source of humiliation. I slouched through high school with my shoulders hunched, school books hugged to my front like a plate of armor.

Every new place had its unwritten rules that everyone knew but me. When I walked down the street I was sure everyone was staring at me because I had on the wrong clothes, the wrong shoes, the wrong haircut, and walked like a duck. When I got lost I was too embarrassed to ask directions.

When I was 15 I begged my parents for modeling lessons which of course they refused, saying it was a ridiculous waste of money. For weeks I practiced walking with a book balanced on my head. I posed the way I thought models posed – one arm bent, my hand floating in front of me, the fingers delicately arranged. Holding that position, I pushed my hips forward, trying to imitate the way those sylph-like creatures slide down the runway, pause, pivot, and then retrace their steps, eyes trained on some invisible vanishing point at the horizon.

When I sprained my pinky finger for the third time ramming it into a door jamb as I tried to pass through, my mother gently suggested that I give it a rest.

At least now I don’t worry about how I walk and I know strangers aren’t looking at me – in fact, I’m not even on their radar. As an older woman with graying hair and a blurring middle, I am wonderfully invisible. Best of all, I’ve discovered that I can pretty much do whatever I please because there are no rules. There never were any. Other people are just as clueless as I am. ...
So today's question: So how's it going for you? Are you embracing the years or fighting like hell to turn back the clock?

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Pick Your Poison by Barbara Ross

 Jenn McKinlay: I'm delighted to be hosting one of Jungle Red Writers' favorite guests, the brilliant Barbara Ross, here to tell us all about her latest release. Take it away, Barb! 


Barbara Ross: Torn Asunder, the twelfth book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, releases on Tuesday. I am so happy to be there with the Reds to celebrate! The Reds supported me for the release of my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, and for Clammed Up, the first book in this series. It’s kind of amazing that we are still all here together.

To celebrate the release, I’m giving away signed copies of Torn Asunder to two lucky commenters below.

Readers often ask me if I outline or “just write.” The answer I always give is, “A bit of both. I have to send a synopsis to my editor for approval before I begin writing so I have a general idea of where the book will go. But in truth, the synopsis is a hand wave. Once I’m actually drafting there are still so many decisions to be made, each one affecting the other.”

For example, a six-to-eight-page, single-spaced synopsis might refer to a character called, “the son-in-law.” But what is his name? What does he look like? How long have he and the daughter character been married, which will surely affect his relationships with her and the other relatives? Most of all, what kind of person is he? I know generally how he will move through the story, but not how he will react to the situations unfolding around him.

Another example is a synopsis that says, “So-and-so drinks a glass of brandy that has been poisoned.” You see the issues. What poison? How did it get in the brandy? Who had access to the glass and when? It’s a mystery so multiple characters must have been able to do the deed. And, always a tricky one, how did the poisoner make sure the target drank the poison instead of some other person? You get the picture.

I haven’t used poison much as a weapon in my cozy, culinary mysteries. There’s a cliché about poison being a woman’s weapon and a cliché about it being a cozy murder weapon. Those twin beliefs have kept me away from it, in a sort of reactive, rejection mode. Up until Torn Asunder, I had only used poison once, and that was in non-fatal way.

I don’t know exactly why I decided on poison as my murder weapon in Torn Asunder. It may have been because in the first eleven books I had never had someone die from a massive allergic reaction to shellfish, something someone who runs a clambake like my protagonist, Julia Snowden, would worry about all the time. But this was a murder, so I needed a poison that would look like an allergic reaction but would not be one and would not respond to treatment for one.

As I wrote, other conditions emerged. How would the poison be administered? How long would it take for symptoms to show? How long to die? As the portrait of the killer emerged, I had to figure out how a person in those circumstances would have gotten ahold of the poison.

Audio Edition

Luckily for me, I had a resource at hand, Luci Zahray, renowned in the mystery community as the Poison Lady. In a series of emails, I described the circumstances of my murder. Luci made suggestions. Through the first draft and revisions, more detailed questions emerged. I wrote more emails and go more answers. Luci was a fan of my series which made it fun for me and I hope fun for her. Others have sung Luci’s praises here. Truly, she is a wonderful resource. It takes a village to write a cozy mystery.

I’m sure I still got things wrong. If you have murder in mind, please don’t follow the directions in Torn Asunder. Your results will certainly vary. But gaining an understanding of my poison gave me confidence. And confidence is what makes good writing possible.

Readers: How do you feel about poison as a weapon? Over-done or not-nearly-done enough? Do you want the descriptions and uses of poison in a work of fiction to be accurate or is near enough, good enough to suspend disbelief? Answer the question below or just say hi to be entered to win the giveaway.

Barbara Ross is the author of twelve Maine Clambake Mystery novels and six novellas. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at 

About the book:
A short boat ride from Busman’s Harbor, Maine, Morrow Island is a perfect spot for a wedding—and a Snowden Family Clambake. Julia Snowden is busy organizing both—until a mysterious wedding crasher drops dead amid the festivities . . .

Julia’s best friend and business partner, Zoey, is about to marry her policeman boyfriend. Of course, a gorgeous white wedding dress shouldn’t be within fifty yards of a plate of buttery lobster—so that treat is reserved for the rehearsal dinner. Julia is a little worried about the timing, though, as she works around a predicted storm.

When a guest falls to the floor dead, it turns out that no one seems to know who he is, despite the fact that he’s been actively mingling and handing out business cards. And when an injection mark is spotted on his neck, it’s clear this wasn’t caused by a shellfish allergy. Now, as the weather deteriorates and a small group is stranded on the island with the body—and the killer—Julia starts interrogating staff, family members, and Zoey’s artist friends to find out who turned the clambake into a crime scene . . . 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Live Music and Rock Concerts by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN McKINLAY: Hub and I love going to concerts. He's a musician so it makes sense. Also, we're children of the 70's and 80's when concerts were events! Going to the show, getting the shirt, and wearing it to school the next day was a big freaking deal. Thus, my need to buy Springsteen's T-shirt a few weeks ago when we were lucky enough to catch him on his latest tour.

What do I love about concerts? The performance, for sure, but it's more than that. As Hub and I sat in our cheap two-kids-in college-seats, I chatted it up with the people around us--as you do. There were people in attendance who had seen the Boss over thirty times and they were now there with their grown children, making it a generational experience. I get the generational thing. My mom is a serious live music lover and concert goer and has seen everyone. I will likely never catch up to her.

There were also people from other states and even far away countries (Australia) who were following Springsteen on tour so after they caught him in Phoenix, they were following him to San Diego. No two shows are ever exactly the same, so I get it. 

Jenn and Hub (waving to our friend Paige Shelton who took this pic from the floor)

Steve Van Zant and Bruce Springsteen

One of the best concerts I ever attended was U2's Joshua Tree tour in the Hartford Coliseum with all of my college roommates. The crowd left the arena singing "And I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" all together and it was so powerful it made the hair on my arms stand up straight. 

Recently, Hub and I have seen Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) and the Gin Blossoms (Hub is in another band - Honeygirl - with one of them) and we had tickets to see Jimmie Vaughn but he had to postpone. This is mostly why we've been filling our empty nest days with concerts. It occurred to us that we're getting up there and our musical icons are, too. If we don't see them now, we might not get the chance.

We were lucky enough to see the Rolling Stones before Charlie Watts passed away, and it meant a lot to us to bring the Hooligans to that show as well as many others over the years -- such as ZZ Top at the Arizona State Fair (their first rock concert), Dead & Co (several times) and Guns N' Roses for H2's birthday when the band reunited. Also, I was delighted when they recently went to see Post Malone and had to buy the T-shirt. 

Full disclosure: I'm writing this on Wednesday, but on the day this posts, I will have just seen Phish in the Sphere in Las Vegas, assuming all goes well :) I'll be sure to report back in! 

So, what about you, Reds and Readers, are you a concert goer? What show made a lasting impression upon you? If you could see any rock band or musical artist (living or dead) in concert, who would it be? 

P.S. Okay, it's Friday and the Phish concert is tonight. This is the view of the Sphere from our room! Wild, huh?