Sunday, December 30, 2007


It is not good enough for things to be planned - they still have to be done; for the intention to become a reality, energy has to be launched into operation.”
--Walt Kelly

”Our intention creates our reality.”
--Wayne Dyer

”All that counts in life is intention.”
--Andrea Bocelli

"Before you agree to do anything that might add even the smallest amount of stress to your life, ask yourself: What is my truest intention? Give yourself time to let a yes resound within you. When it's right, I guarantee that your entire body will feel it.”

--Oprah Winfrey

So--we know you've been thinking about it--what are your resolutions for 2000 gulp 8?

ROBERTA: I hereby resolve to leave enough time that isn't filled with busywork so if an idea comes up, I might notice it!

JAN: I hereby resolve to FINISH my latest book this MONTH and to STOP wasting so much time on the Internet. I also hereby resolve for my next project to find a story that desperately needs to be told.

HANK: I hereby resolve to stop worrying and just do it, whatever it is. And to figure out what to do with all my collection of sloganed tshirts so they're not just stacked to the ceiling on the shelf of the guest room closet. (Okay, it;s a silly resolution. But there are a lot of tshirts.) And to answer emails faster, not just read them all for the instant gratification, then mark them to answer later which then leaves me with an impossibly long to-do list. And to continue to remember how lucky I am.

HALLIE: I hereby resolve to strike a balance between 1) reading, writing, teaching, and promoting the book I have coming out in '08 (1001 Books for Every Mood)...and 2) enjoying life and the people I love. Sappy, I know, but there you are.

RO: Will someone please remind me of this resolution in March when I'm tearing out my hair? I hereby resolve to stay focused on wrapping up book two and not let myself volunteer for anything else until it's done. (I've already committed to spending a week in El Salvador with Habitat for Humanity so that doesn't count, but that's it. Nothing else. I mean it.)

HANK: Ro, your hair is gorgeous and you would never tear it out.

ROBERTA, HANK, HALLIE, JAN AND ROSEMARY: Happy New Year to all! And let us know your resolutions, okay? We promise NOT to remind you of them later!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


And a one
And a two
And a-
All together now!

Follow the little bouncing ball..
**Mitch Miller

HANK: Last year, about his time, I was deep into revisions. In order to prevent myself from actually working, I decided (as any of us would) to write new words to an old song. The revisions were fine, and now just a fond memory. The book will be out next year, if all goes as planned. But the song? Well, it's almost New Year's Eve so what better time to wrap up the holidays. Let's do a little Jungle Red caroling!

On the first day of revisions, my editor said to me:
A partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the second day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Write a little faster
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the third day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Try to use some humor
Write a little faster
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the fourth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Make your chapters shorter
Try to use some humor
Write a little faster
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the fifth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.
On the sixth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the seventh day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the eighth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Eight titles vetoed
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the ninth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Nine new characters needed
Eight titles vetoed
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the tenth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Ten motivations missing
Nine new characters needed
Eight titles vetoed
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Eleven conflicts iffy
Ten motivations missing
Nine new characters needed
Eight titles vetoed
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Twelve months til the sequel
Eleven conflicts iffy
Ten motivations missing
Nine more characters needed
Eight titles vetoed
Seven chapters bore me
Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter
Write a little faster
Try to use some humor
And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

ROBERTA: Love the song Hank. But I'd still much rather revise than write that dratted first draft!

HANK: Oh, I actually love revisions. Not that you'd know it from the song. But let's see, maybe I should write a first draft song. Or better, a synopsis song.

To the tune of MARIA:

I still have to write my synopsis
But not one useful word
Or sentence has occured
To me....

Okay, sing along! Anyone???

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Someday soon, we all will be together,

If the fates allow

Hang your brightest star above the highest bough..

HANK: I'm a sap. And I embrace it. That song always make me teary, and it's not only because I'm often wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. My pals know to expect New Years cards. It's not because I'm Jewish, it's more because I'm behind.

At the urging of my siblings and me, my family actually celebrated every holiday you could get presents for. My mom drew the line at live Easter chicks, as any wise mom would do. But otherwise, we attempted to cash in at every opportunity.

One year, though, when I had just turned 16, my mom drew the line. We're Jewish, she said. No more Christmas trees. Which seems logical now, but didn't, then. My sibs were 14, 10, 9 and 8. And I knew they wanted a tree.

I had just gotten my driver's license, so The Night Before Not-Christmas, my sister Nina and I said we were going to the movies. We took the car, and we did go to the movies. But just to the concession stand. We got popcorn. Then we went to the grocery, the A and P, and got cranberries. And we also purchased the last of the scrawny old Christmas trees, not even good enough to be a Charlie Brown tree.

We hid the tree behind our barn, then scurried upstairs with our popcorn and cranberries, and stayed up for hours stringing them. (Is there a trick to this, by the way? The cranberries got very mushy.)

Then late late late, we sneaked outside and brought in the tree. Everyone else was, um, snug in their beds. We set it up, and decorated it, and put the presents underneath it. (Oh yeah, we still had presents. It was just the tree that was prohibited. Go figure.) Anyway, all finished, we scampered back upstairs.

The next morning--we got up early early as usual, and hid in the living room. It worked perfectly. We got to see the shocked and surprised looks on our parents faces. "Santa came!" Mom said. (And I guess that's how they felt when they saw our faces as little kids.) And to this day we still remember "the year without the tree."

Memories, anyone?

RO: My gosh, that sounds wonderful. Christmas Eve was always the big celebration in my family - the day itself was anti-climactic. On Christmas Eve we'd all gather at Grandma's house - my mother was one of eight, so I have a zillion cousins, and yes, being Italian, most of the males are named Anthony, or some version.

(It's even more complicated now that one cousin Pam, whose father was Anthony, and who has a sister named Toni, has married a Tony, and they have a son named Anthony. Another cousin Anthony had a son named Anthony and he married a Pam.)
Anyway my grandmother would make an antipasto that was a work of art, and god help you if you picked at anything before everyone saw it. She also prepared seven different types of fish, it's a Neapolitan thing, including bacala, which we kids never touched.

My mother would make zeppole and struffoli, two of the most fattening things on the planet. It was an orgy of eating.

There was always one aunt who gave great presents, and another who gave us all the same thing - usually a boring, practical gift like an umbrella, which is the last thing you want when you're seven - so after the first cousin opened his gift, we all knew what we got, and had to fake being excited. Other than that, it was big fun...and I still make struffoli.

So did you have an official tree the next year?

HANK: You know, I think we didn't. I was a senior in high school, then, way too cool for such things. Nina was probably on a date. The other kinds were older. And way too knowledgeable for such things. As will happen. Which makes it all the sweeter. I'm off to look up struffoli.

ROBERTA: Oh my gosh, I wish I'd been at Ro's house for Christmas Eve! Especially that antipasto! I can't even remember what we ate CE, because my mother was busy shopping for stocking stuffers. We were all crazy for stockings. She'd go out the day before Christmas to Two Guys, a discount store that must have been insanely busy, just to be sure each stocking was crammed to the top. My aunt had knitted all of us a two-footer with our names on it, plus Santa's head with an actual fuzzy white beard, leaping reindeer, and so on. It's hanging up by the chimney with care right now!

JAN: Once I heard about the seven fish dinner, I wanted to be Italian. The half-Polish, half-Irish thing didn't many Christmas rituals, except that we always had to have Kielbasa and horse radish on little rye breads for every holiday. (Luckily, the horrible Irish food was reserved for St. Patrick's Day.) Probably my best Christmas memory is just after college. My room-mate Beth was Jewish, with limited Christmas experience, so I got this inspiration to fill a stocking full of little presents for her. She was so tickled by this that the next year, she handknitted me a stocking with my name on it.I still hang that stocking by the chimney and for years, Beth and I exchanged stocking stuffers for Christmas. Once we had kids, we made Christmas ornaments together. We still have them and put them up on the tree.

HALLIE: The thing I remember most fondly about Christmas, growing up in Los Angeles, was the night BEFORE the night before Christmas, going out to bag a tree. Every year, my mother would beg my father to bring home a small tree, just about this tall (her size). We'd pile into the family wagon and cruise through Westwood and Santa Monica where, on vacant street corner lots (there were such things back in the olden days), the tree vendors would be set up for the season. We'd hold our noses at the pink Christmas trees, the silver ones, and the ones laden with fake snow (did the rest of the world have those back then?). Invariably we'd be drawn to the monster trees (what was usually left by that late date) and my father would haggle and we'd all have to squeeze in the front seat for the drive home because the tree would take up the whole back of the wagon, filling the car with that lovely pine smell. And when we got home my mother got her person-sized tree, because that was about the size of the top my father had to cut off to get the thing into the house.

HANK: Yes, decorating the tree is another whole blog. There was the year Mom wanted all red bows. Then we'd all sneak on our favorite ornaments, just one, and eventually the red bows were overtaken by the family treasures.

So--how about you? Traditions and memories? Did you put out milk and cookies? Read The Night Before Christmas? Hang stockings? Make struffoli?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tagged #5

HANK: Okay, I'm "it" now. SO here are my seven things. And, then, to complete our assigned task--we get to tag seven more people to tell all. I have a lot more things I could tell. But I only get seven. Lucky you.

1. I'm probably a workaholic. I never take all the vacation days I'm allotted. I think about work--TV reporter and writing my books--much more than I think about anything else. Sometimes I'll realize I've just stopped talking in the middle of a conversation, because something gave me a good idea, and I'm suddenly in another world.

2. I'm ridiculously competitive and I like to win. Charades, Monopoly, Celebrity, Trivial Pursuit. I won't play Scrabble with my husband any more, because he beats me. I almost got all the badges in Girl Scouts, but I couldn't figure out a way to get "Beekeeper"without being around bees. It was all I could do to let my 4 and a half year old grandson beat me at Fish. And even then I thought Eli should learn about losing. I even like to take standardized tests.

3. I stink at sports. You name it, I stink at it. Tennis. Skiing. Softball. Swimming. Whatever other stuff people all do. I'm terrible. (This is where my competitive streak disappears.) Okay, I'm a pretty good softball pitcher, but I can't bat or catch. Not much call for such specialized playing.

4. I kind of do have, um, ESP. From time to time. Or whatever you call it. I saved someone's life when they tried to kill themselves. I was home. I sat up and thought, oh no. He's in trouble. I called. No answer. I beeped. No answer. I called a neighbor. They called the ambulance. He had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Another time I had a boyfriend. I was home. He was at his house. I thought: oh no. I called him. No answer. I called his sister. He had been taken to the hospital with a ruptured appendix.
Less dramatic stuff happens all the time. But not always.

5. I can wake myself up at any time with some sort of internal alarm clock. I don't totally rely on it because you never know when this kind of thing is going to stop working. But if I tell myself: I'm going to sleep now, I want to wake up at 7:35 in the morning, I will. On the dot.

6. I'm kind of superstitious about some things. Walking under a ladder, why do it? Throwing spilled salt, why not? Rabbit rabbit, yup. Hat on bed? nope. I kind of like Friday the 13th though. Plus, I believe in life on other planets. And possibly time travel.

7. I don't go to sad movies. I haven't seen Steel Magnolias, or Beaches, or Terms of Endearment. I start crying instantly, within ten minutes, because it's so clear to me what the ending is destined to be. The first movie my husband and I saw together was Sling Blade. Which I hadn't known was touching and emotional.
Few minutes in, I started sniffling. It was obvious this movie was on the path to be devastating. My husband-to-be leaned over and said--"do you have a cold?"
I whispered, "No, I'm crying."
He was baffled. "It's not sad," he said.
"I know," I replied. "But it's going to be sad."

NOW! Nancy Pickard tagged us. So that means we can do it, too. Jungle Red writers tag:

The Femmes Fatales
The Plot Monkeys
Poe's Deadly Daughters
Cathy Cairns
Robin Agnew

You guys are it. And lest you forget, here are the "rules."

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

(Okay, I'll admit it. I was actually kind of fun.)

Did any of us surprise you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tagged: Part 4

Mr. Daruma Fell Down (A Japanese Game of Tag)
How to play the game
First, the person who is 'it' (the tagger) yells to other children, "Mr. Daruma fell down!" When the tagger yells, the other children run away. Then he turns his back to them. Next he calls out again, "Mr. Daruma fell down!" After that, he turns around and looks for the other children because he has to catch them.
When a child moves and is caught, he has to go to jail. The other children have to get close to the tagger and hit his back; however, they cannot move when the tagger looks at them.
Therefore, they have to run as fast as possible while the tagger's back is turned and he is yelling, "Mr. Daruma fell down!" Whenever a child hits the tagger's back, other children can escape from the jail.
When the tagger catches all but one child, the game is almost over. In that part, the tagger is given many chances to catch the child because he can yell quickly.
When the tagger has tagged everyone, a new game starts. Then, a new tagger is selected by a finger-flashing game.

I just though this sounded fun..yelling "Mr. Daruma fell down!" I would have played this a lot when I was a kid, although the part about the finger-flashing at the end sounds suspiciously like something we used to do back in Brooklyn usually while driving and passing slower vehicles.

Ro’s Stats

1.I weight train with a NYC fireman.
2.I’ve made it to the top of Kilimanjaro.
3.Pushing Up Daisies is the first thing I ever wrote for publication.
4.I sat in a limo with Bill Clinton when he was President
5.I own over 300 cookie cutters
6.My garden was featured in Connecticut Magazine
7. I kissed Pete Townsend once.

My little twist on this? One item is false, can you figure out which one?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tagged Three

"Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools..." Aretha Franklin

Tagged by Nancy Pickard, I'm number three on the list, followed by Ro and Hank, who all must tell seven facts about themselves.

Here are Jan's facts.

1. Unlike Hallie, I've never wanted to be a torch singer, and cleavage just seemed too big of a dream, but I've actually sung before a crowd of one thousand, a solo even, a couple of times, although not an entire song. I did this without fear, oddly enough. But that's because all the performers were all newspaper reporters and the crowd (At the annual Providence Journal Follies) had low expectations.

2. I ran away from home once -- at about age fourteen -- by ripping my bed sheet in half, tying it together to make a rope, and shimmying down from my second story window. I stayed away for three days. My poor parents.

3. I am the youngest of four. The three older being brothers. This means that unlike Roberta, I could not be bossy. No one would have listened to me if I tried. I also never understand when people are sensitive to "being told what to do." You can always just ignore anyone bossing you around. That's how you survive when you are the youngest.

4. I spent more than twenty years struggling with a very severe plane phobia. I tried hypnosis, desensitization, cognitive behavioral therapy, dry martinis, and all sorts of prescribed drugs. I finally conquered the phobia two years ago. I now fly all the time! Yeah me!

5. I play tennis five times a week. I also play acoustic guitar. Both involve equipment that demands regular restringing. Also a fifteen-minute warm up before you are any good.

6. I'm almost five feet ten. I started smoking cigarettes at thirteen because they warned it would stunt growth. I actually think it worked. My brothers were 6'6'' 6'4'' and 6'2''.

(I quit in my twenties)

7. I would have loved to have met Marilyn Monroe, but hey, I did interview Patty Duke once. You could tell she had been an actress from a very young age.

Tagged - 2

Here are Hallie's facts. Jan, Ro, and Hank will come later this week! And our mystery taggees will be announced on "Anything can happen day!" (See Roberta's post below for the rules.)

1. I have beautiful indoor plants. The secret: when one dies, throw it away and buy a new one.
2. I won the horseback riding trophy when I was 12 at summer camp.
3. My secret ambition has always been to be a torch singer...and have cleavage.
4. I've read all the Oz books, the Nancy Drew books, and the Harry Potter books.
5. I'm a Trekkie. 6. I met Marilyn Monroe.
7. I hate writing. I LOVE having written.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


"Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools..." Aretha Franklin

[SORRY - We lost all the wonderful comments when this got edited...]

Doggone Nancy Pickard has tagged the Jungle Red Writers for the blog equivalent of a chain letter.

Here are the rules, she said glumly:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.

2) Share 7 facts about yourself.

3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.

4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

And so here are Roberta's facts. Hallie, Jan, Ro, and Hank will come later this week! And our mystery taggees will be announced on "Anything can happen day!"

1. I despise chain letters. I don't care what you threaten me with--plague, tanking sales, loss of love--I refuse to pass them on. The only reason I'm going along with this is that we adore Nancy. And Hank was so darned excited about being tagged--who could resist?

2. I'm the second of four in my family, but people say I act like I'm first. In Hallie's terms, I suppose that means I'm bossy.

3. I once made an appointment and paid big bucks to visit a hand-reading expert in Tennessee. I still remember him telling me I'd be married twice, the second time to the love of my life. He was right!

4. I love taking lessons. Right now Tonka the wonder dog and I are attending agility classes together. This teacher is going so slowly that I may have my lesson-craving satisfied for the rest of my life before we ever get ready to compete.

5. I did not make the cut for cheerleading in high school. I did, however, nab a spot on Highlander dancing team for the all-girl bagpipe band.

6. I used to sew my own clothes. Now people in my house are lucky if they can get a button replaced.

7. I love groups of women working together. Did you read the style section of the NY Times a couple weeks ago about the woman who'd had a bad experience in her sorority and avoided women ever since? I feel really sorry for her.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Perfectionism

Both the artist and the lover know that perfection is not loveable. It is the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person loveable.

Joseph Campbell

JAN: All I can say, is THANK GOD, because perfection is so far from my personality type, it's never, ever been an objective.I used to worry about that because achievement is about exceeding expections. Without only the highest expectations, how can you achieve excellence? Then I worked with an editor who was a sweetheart, but a perfectionist. He actually wrecked pretty much every article he got his hands on because he wanted it to be perfect. In the news biz, that meant answering every question. When I moved to a larger newspaper and I worked with a new editor for the first time, he said to me: "Jeez, I've never actually said this to a reporter before, but you have too many facts in here. Too much information."

You see, when an article tries to answer every question it becomes dense and unreadable. In fact, it loses its focus.

This provided three lessons that I found valuable in fiction writing. The first was: readers can only absorb so much information at once. Throw too much into a paragraph and no one gets anything from it. The second was that if you strive for perfection, you may not see the forest from the trees. And the third was that if you try to please every reader, you will please no one.

Personally, I haven't so much as struggled with perfection, as discovered my justification in not being a perfectionist. But I'm wondering, have any of you struggled with perfectionism? And what have you learned from the battle? Or do you have a completely different take on its value?

RO: I certainly don't strive for perfection in my writing. I'm hoping to be entertaining, pure and simple. In other, smaller areas, I sometimes try. I'm frequently disappointed but I keep trying. Examples? The perfect flower arrangement..I can happily try 8 or 9 vases before settling on the right one. I have been known to move cooked cranberries or blueberries with a toothpick to make the perfect arrangement in a tart. I've just about stopped making tart tatin because I can never get the apple slices to fan out perfectly.Roberta, have I just revealed a deep neurosis to the entire blogosphere?

ROBERTA: Ro, yes. But they probably already had that figured out:). I would so not move fruit with a toothpick in a tart. But I would worry about choosing the perfect words, all while knowing that isn't possible either! I think I've learned a lot from being in a writers' group. On the nights when I've sent chapters to be read ahead of time, I remind myself that I'm just going to listen to all the comments, take notes, ask questions, and otherwise keep my yap shut.

I think there's such a continuum of perfectionism--my family thinks I'm a nut about the house. Whereas I can practically see my neighbor's eyes bulge out when she stops over--dog hair everywhere, piles of shoes, stacks of mail...

Did anyone read the Science Times article on perfectionism this week? Interesting stuff:

JAN: Yes, it says perfectionism is at the root of many mental illnesses, including depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. So I'm feeling much better about being a slacker

HALLIE: I am so NOT a perfectionist, but I do know how to cut corners. Back in the day when I crocheted, I started an afghan and it ended up being a perfectly adorable pocketbook. I once watched Martha Stewart, the Princess of Perfection, ice a wedding cake and got inspired to try a recipe for a 12-layer dobos torte (12 thin cake layers, each baked on the BACK of a cake pan; mocha butter cream filling; a glaze of cramelized sugar on top.) Mine ended up with only 5, albeit delicious layers. It doesn't have to be perfect--adorable and delicious is good enough.

HANK: Yes, I'm the last to add. And it's just about deadline moment. And I was asking myself why I had waited til the last minute to post. Well, I wanted to think of the perfect thing to say, I replied.

And this internal dialogue happened with no sense of the irony involved.

Perfectionism is a truly complicated need. I'm a TV reporter of course. So I have worked for the past 30 years knowing I can NEVER make a mistake. Never be one minute late. Actually, not one SECOND late. Never choose the wrong word, never call someone by the wrong name, never make a math error, never have a bad hair day. You try that, and see if it doesn't make you a little crazy. And of course, to have chosen a profession where perfection is required, also may put me in some DSM-4 category that we will leave un-named.

But it does certainly carry over into my regular life. My holiday presents are wrapped beautifully. Moving a cranberry in a tart, as Rosemary described? Of course. I have discarded out-going mail envelopes because I put the stamps on crooked, or if I decided someone might think I was making some sort of a statement by my choice of stamps.

I could go on here, but I see you all shaking your heads. And hey,I can let go. It does not carry over into all realms. Don't even look in my dresser drawers. Or kitchen drawers. (I, too, have stacks. Of magazines. What's the 'perfect' thing to do with the ones you haven't read but might?)

But as I get happier, my need for perfection diminishes. (What can we learn from this?)

And when it comes to writing. You know, the sense of "perfection" is kind of--different. I's a sense of "right"-ness. For me, not for others. When it feels right, you know it. And that's a fun journey, not a struggle for perfection.
How do you know if you're pushing too hard?

JAN: I think we've nailed this topic, PERFECTLY, so to speak. And now that you all know I don't struggle with perfectionism, check in on Friday, when I reveal that I struggle with caramelism. Yes that's making home-made caramels for the holidays --at the last minute of course. A mental illness all its own.

Friday, December 7, 2007

On Surprises

Today is a day that is filled with surprises,

Nobody knows what's gonna happen.

Why, you might find yourself on an elephant on the moon

Or riding in an auto underneath a blue lagoon.

Yes, we Mouseketeers think you're gonna have some thrills,

And you know it's true that a laugh can cure your ills.

And so, if you're pleasure bent, we are glad to present

The Mouseketeers' "Anything Can Happen Day"!

**Jimmy Dodd

On the original Mickey Mouse Club--if you remember and please say you do--it was Wednesday. On "Anything Can Happen Day." Mickey flew on stage on a magic carpet wearing his sorcerer's robe and hat. The Mouseketeers wore different costumes since anything could happen.

We tried to get Roberta, and the newest Mouseke--I mean, Jungle Red Writer--to wear a costume today, and she flat out refused. Rosemary is pulling up her dahlia tubers (or whatever they are), Hallie is reading the newest crime fiction and Jan won't reveal what she's doing. So since I'm supposed to be at work and since I'm the reporter--here's the scoop.

Fridays will now be Anything Can Happen Day at Jungle Red. Okay, today what's happening is the announcement of anything can happen day, which isn't so wild and crazy, I know, but you didn't expect it, right?

So from now on, every Friday, we'll have someting new. Different. Unexpected and unpredictable. (Actually that's what Jan is doing now. Cooking up next Friday's surprise.)

It could be: free books. Free verse. A contest. A protest. A rant or a rave. A special guest. Or the dishy scoop on something new. We'll give you hints and allegations in the comments during the week--so keep in touch. You may want to contribute or cash in.
Monday, come back to join our usual Monday chat. (I know, on the Mouse Club, Mondays was Fun with Music day. Hey. Just be grateful we ain't gonna sing. (We're more about--signing. Books, that is.)
(I was going to put a cute drawing of Mickey Mouse here, but it's probably some horrific copyright violation. So--imagine the Mouse.)
Now back to our regular programming...and go buy Roberta's new book!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

On Roberta

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.
**Girl Scout camp song

Now we are five!
Jungle Red gets a fabulous holiday gift. (You've probably noticed our snazzy new look.) (And her snazzy new book!)

Roberta Isleib--sister in crime extraordinaire and beyond--successful mystery writer has slid down our chimney (am I pushing the metaphor here? Plus, is she too lady-like for that?) and agreed to sign on as a Jungle Red Writer. We have issued her a bottle of our special blazingly crimson nail polish, and given her our secret code book. (We have not yet told her about the initiation rites, but that can wait.)

I first met Roberta at Kate's Mystery Books--I think it was at the signing for Hallie's "How to Write and Sell.." How meta can you get. Anyway,I was new new new, and a huge fan, and just agog to meet her. She was charming and gracious and made me feel right at home.

(This wasn't that day. But it's another day at Kate's. Good
enough. That's me, Ro-2, Ruth McCarty (new pres of SINC-NE) behind Hallie, and Cathy Cairns (out-going pres of SINC-NE. But she's not going far away, of course. But. I digress.)

So now, please note, her lovely photo has been added to our row of smiling faces, and you can click right over to her website. And click to buy her books. But wait. Not yet. First..let's get the scoop on the Jungle Red Ro. Or, I guess, she's Jungle Red Ro-2.

HANK: So, Roberta. You're president of National Sisters in Crime. One of the best-known mystery authors in the country. You have a wonderful husband, a beautiful home, many many pals and an extremely cute dog. How much do you think about crime and death?

ROBERTA: Hank, you were agog? You crack me up! I'm so excited to be part of Jungle Red--you girls are the cream of the crop in mystery fiction! Now on to the question...
What a lovely way of asking how come a nice middle-aged lady has killed off so many people! Knock wood, I haven't been the victim of a crime other than the five times my radio was stolen out of the same car. I could have murdered someone around broken window #4. As far as solving crimes, I'm not a brave person. If a burly cop growled at me to butt out of a crime scene, you'd see me sprinting as fast as my short legs could take me.

All that said, when I'm working on a book, of course I spend a lot of my day thinking about crime and death--who was murdered, who did it and why, how's my psychologist going to solve it. I try to consciously remind myself that the characters are dealing with a death that is real to them--an event that would feel scary and upsetting. I don't want to leave a group of cardboard cut-outs on the pages.

HANK: Preaching to the Corpse is coming out December 4--just in time for the holidays! And reveiwers are loving it. One said: "Preaching to the Corpse is a fun holiday mystery with a heroine who will easily win new fans and keep old fans well satisfied."
And some of your "old fans" also loved your Cassie Burdette golf mysteries. Talk a bit about starting with one main character and her world--then switching to another. How did your brain handle that?
ROBERTA: I did what I always do when faced with change: I kicked and screamed and said "no way!" But keeping Cassie going wasn't really an option. The publisher had suggested they'd "like to see something new", a polite way of saying the golf series wasn't selling well enough to support more books. After a couple of weeks of deep depression over losing Cassie, I was able to start thinking about a new adventure. And I love writing this new series. The work of a psychologist is right up my alley. And my new character adores cooking and eating, so I eat right along with her. Actually Hallie is my cooking muse. You haven't lived until you've had her roast chicken and gravy...

(HANK: Oh, we're all going there for roast chicken dinner next week to celebrate your arrival. We just have to tell Hallie. La dee dah.)

JAN: I think the idea of advice columnist as protagonist is terrific. I can just imagine the crazy letters real advice columnists get. How did you come up with this idea and how much of your own experience as a psychologist are were you able to draw on?

ROBERTA: I can't remember the "aha" moment, but I've always loved reading those columns--I'm an advice junkie. The kind of therapy that I did (and that Rebecca does now) involves biting your tongue when the urge to give advice arises. The idea is rather to help the patient explore what's inside and then life decisions evolve from that knowledge. So giving advice without a lot of data and introspection is just good fun! The trick for me as writer is to avoid having the column turn into a gimmick and try to integrate it naturally into the story.

HALLIE: **The idea is rather to help the patient explore what's inside and then life decisions evolve from that knowledge.** This is why you're a psychologist and I'm not -- I want to scream "You did WHAT?!" and shake the person until their head flops back and forth. And I happen to know that you have your own streak of bossiness that quite matches my own. Did you have to watch that in writing Rebecca Butterman?

ROBERTA: Ha, ha, what me, bossy?? I channeled all of that stuff into my home life so Rebecca could be sympathetic. Just ask the family!

HANK: Okay, we'll get right on the phone with them and we'll let you know the bossy verdict. (Rosemary Harris is in Africa right she'll weigh in later. With questions. Not about Ro-2 being bossy. Or not.)

ROBERTA: Oh you'll find out first hand soon enough!! Really, it's an honor to be here and I'm looking forward to all kinds of conversations. Just don't expect me down the chimney--I've already had a few too many holiday treats to make it a comfortable fit...

HANK: We're all thrilled! And happily, Jungle Red readers, Roberta is ready to answer questions from you! Need advice? On anything?? Now you know exactly who to ask.

And she would never do it herself--that's what sisters are for--so remember to look for PREACHING TO THE CORPSE in your favorite bookstore or on line! Having trouble finding it? That shouldn't happen--but just visit us here at JR and we can point you in the right direction.

Now--Roberta is ready for questions!

Monday, November 26, 2007

On ideas: And then the phone rang, and then...

Things come to me in driblets. and when the driblets come I have to work hard to make them into something coherent.
...Aldous Huxley

HALLIE: Taking off on a question that Mike Draper posted on Mystery Writers of America's listserv (EMWA) last week: Suppose a chapter of your book has just ended with your hero being told that a friend is dead and the authorities are saying it's suicide. How would you open the next chapter?

Does the room spin? Does your character dissolve into a tearful puddle? Is your character angry that, once again, her drama queen friend has made herself the center of attention... I know, I know, it all depends on the relationship between the two characters.

Here's one possible next-chapter opening:"At least now I wouldn't have to shoot her myself."

Anyone else want to take a few potshots at this??

HANK: How about: "Stella was murdered. Absolutely. No way she'd kill herself before the last episode of Project Runway. Plus, I knew she just paid off her Visa bill. If she were going to kill herself, why bother to write a check?"

Okay, I know I'm the fun-light one. Let me think of something else. Darker. Back soon.

HALLIE: See, this exercise is actually a kind of Rorschach.

RO: My character, Paula Holliday is a wisecracker, and if it was not a friend I can definitely hear her saying something like "Suicide? If it was, it was the only thing she ever did herself. Her servants had servants." But a friend...ooh, that's a bit different. My plucky protagonist would probably refuse to believe the death was suicide, would find the bad guys and beat the crap out of them.

JAN: Protagonist X would immediately charge over to the police/doctor/mother of the deceased friend to find out what she drank/inhaled/injected and whether the champagne/crack/steroid came from a suspicious source.Later, after Protagonist X obtained some stimulating, yet frustratingly ambiguous clue that could lead her in any number of directions, she'd see something on the drive home that reminded her of her deceased friend. Protagonist X then has a vivid, meaningful memory. She doesn't quite collapse, but emotes deeply, yet in an intelligent way that allows her to maintain control of the car, so she doesn't tragically veer off the road, way too early in the novel, and end up as a fatality before chapter three.

HALLIE: Okay, I wanna read that book. Especially the *emotes deeply yet intelligently but not tragically* part.

HANK: Said I'd be back. Hallie, I think this is a fascinating exercise. On the face of it, it seems like an off-the-wall idea. But I now think it's actually very, as you say, revealing. I've been experimenting all weekend (between reheating stuffing and deciding how long is too long to keep sweet potatoes) with openings for the next chapter.

And some I write (in my head) don't seem like me. The dark, writhing-in-pain ones, or the bitter self-blaming ones. The ones I COULD write are questioning, certainly, like:
"I tried to list all the reasons Stella would kill herself. Just like Stella did. She made lists, for everything, while she was alive. Maybe, somewhere, she left one last careful roster of pros and cons."

I could also go the conspiracy route. "I dashed for the kitchen.For my recycling bin. I suppose I could have gone on line, but all I could remember was where the article had been on the newspaper page. I had to see how it looked. I knew I had read articles about two other suicides of thirty-something single women, just in the last week. That seemed like too many."

And looking at those ideas, I guess you can tell I'm a reporter.

HALLIE: I can see it now - BREAKING NEWS: The first serial suicide novel!

So, folks, please chime in with your response to this challenge: Suppose a chapter of your book has just ended with your hero being told that a friend is dead and the authorities are saying it's suicide. How would you open the next chapter??

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Based on a True Story

RO: Some years ago I read a book called An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne. I thought it was pretty good and was surprised to learn after the fact that it was based on the true story of Alfred Bloomingdale (as in "would you like a sample of Daisy by Marc Jacobs?"...that Bloomingdale)and his longtime mistress Vicki Morgan.

I wasn't so naive as to think all fiction sprung full-blown from the author's head - even Shakespeare ripped things from the headlines - but I was a little surprised that there weren't legal ramifications in creating a story so close to an actual event.How close do you tread to that line? And does the line move as you get more involved in a story?

JAN: I once wrote three quarters of a fictional book based largely on a true story. I worried that even though I had the protagonist's okay on the book, that I might get sued by one of the more minor characters. It also started to make me feel a little queasy about what I was doing with a real person's tragedy.(The victims, not the perpetrators), but I don't think there's anything wrong, ethically or creatively, with it.I don't know how Dominick Dunne, who I believe has based more than one novel on a true crime event, avoids a legal suit. Especially since he is a bestseller and thus, a potentially profitable target. But I'd guess that he knows what he has to change, character-wise, to avoid liability. And he's an awesome writer, so ripping that closely from real life creates some great books.

HALLIE: The legal issue for the writer is 1) are the characters recognizable and 2) if they are, is what you tell about them the truth. As I undertand it, if you create a character recognizably based on a real person and defame them in your characterization, you can be (successfully) sued. So, if you write a character based on an ex-friend and disguise that person's identity by making her horrendously ugly, only people still recognize her, she could sue you and win.

My first book was based on a true case. I decided not to pursue publishing it for the same reason Jan said so perfectly above -- because I got queasy about what I'd be doing to the survivors. Everything I've written since is 150% made up, though news stories do inspire. Anyone see that story last week about a wealthy relator who was bludgeoned to death with a yoga stick (whatever that is) by her assistant who said she was provoked because "she wouldn't stop yelling at me." Truth is often stranger than fiction.

Ro: Do any of you Beantown babes know if Gone, Baby, Gone was based on a true story?

HANK: Hmm.. Don't know. And a quick Google search did not produce any clues. Google aside, though, I did hear that the movie's release was delayed because the plot was too close to the story of Madeleine McCann, the little girl who vanished from her parents' hotel room in Portugal.

As for real vs fiction. Well. I must say my closest brush with disaster in that realm is how angry my mother was (briefly, but unpleasantly) about the portrayal of Charlie McNally's mother in Face Time. Seriously. And the more I insisted it was fiction, the more she insisted I was being absurd. Now THAT was just about as close as I want to get to the line. Now that's she's read it of course, she's delighted. Although she still thinks she's Mrs. McNally. Even though she isn't.
The more I write fiction, the more careful I am not to get anywhere near reality. Everyone always thinks it's them.

Plus, I had someone say to me--oh, you're so lucky to have a husband who's a lawyer. It makes it so easy for you. You don't need to make up plots, you can just get them all from him.
Snort. Thanks lady. Straight to the moon.

RO: I just had a friend tell me that she couldn't recognize anyone in my if I was going to describe all my pals in excruciating detail. Cheesh.
OTOH, Hank, I'm very disappointed to learn that your own mom is nothing like Charlie's. I think she's a riot! Haven't finished the book yet, but hope we haven't heard the last of her.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New England Crime Bake 2007

"Think Die Hard without the smirk." —Playboy on Jack Reacher

JAN: This conference just keeps getting better in every category. Better panels, better hotel (this year the Dedham Hilton in Massachusetts) and better turnout. So good, in fact, that maybe, just maybe, we can overlook certain liberties taken with the criminal justice system.

As always, the organizing committee secured a great guest of honor. This year’s host, Lee Child, charmed the audience, not just with his panel appearance and guest interview, but with his performance as his protagonist Jack Reacher, who was put on trial for murder at the dinner banquet.

Our own Hallie Ephron introduced the cast, which also included Hank Phillippi Ryan as the television reporter (gee, what a stretch), Michele Martinez as the prosecutor, Julia Spencer-Fleming as the defense attorney, Lee Lofland as the police witness, and Judge Ken Freeman as the judge.

Despite a preponderence of evidence to premeditation and excessive force offered by the prosecution, Reacher got off on a lame self defense argument. And why? Because certain jurors (we all got to vote) would not listen to reason, and argued that Reacher was too likeable, too enduring as a mystery protaganist, or simply too hot to go to jail.

Yes, the "hot" defense. This from our Rosemary Harris, who could not be swayed.

In legal terms, it may have been a travesty, but in entertainment terms it was a hit.

So thanks and congrats to the Crime Bake Committee members who worked so hard to pull it off: Catherine Cairns, Lynne Heitman, Ruth McCarty, Leslie Wheeler, Paula Mello, Roberta Islieb, Hans and Judy Copek, Jeff Cutler, Paula Munier, Kate Flora, Vaughn Hardacker and Hallie Ephron.

Ro: Busted by my own blog sister. I tried to convince the defendant that it wasn't me, it was the short guy with the mustache (who voted Hot), but I don't think he bought it. Among the panels I attended was the one on Amateur Sleuths, given energy, humor and sex appeal by the glam Jan Brogan. (Since it's impossible for me to grow another three inches or get your tennis player's bod, can you at least tell me where you bought those cool earrings?)

Had a great time, connected with some old friends, made some new....already thinking about next year, too.

HANK: Yeah, RO, Lee Child totally knew it was you who voted hot. And I think, actually, he was delighted.

RO: Are you suggesting I was less than subtle?

Hank: You? Anyway, yes it was terrific. And so inspirational to see and hear from other writers who have the same hopes and fears and goals and thought processes.

To hear Lee Child and Bill Landay and Joseph Finder and Julia Spencer Fleming admit they have moments of total despair about their work--yikes. I mean, if those icons of perfection have doubts, then we're all fine, right?

Now--more photos. I know the amazing Mo Walsh was everywhere with that camera of hers, and so a shout out to Mo--if you're out there, can you email me some of them? And we'll have a wonderful MO Show right here on JR.

Here's a lovely one of the panel of the trial of Jack Reacher...Judge Ken Freeman, Detective Lee Lofland, starstruck me, Lee Child, Prosecutor Michele Martinez, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Hallie (the mogul of the operation.)

And a hilarious one of Bill Landay, me, Lee Child and Ro (And Dear Miss Manners, anyone know who this other person is?) that I think I might make into a poster. Cutting out everyone but me and LC. Sorry Ro and Bill. Love ya lots, but bye.

You're seeing a theme here. We don't deny it.

HALLIE: I agree, it was great-great-great. I was so wiped when I got home I took a two-hour nap and then was asleep for good at 9. The hotel was absolutely the best yet. We all already have our agents, but for those new authors attending, the AGENTS this time were particularly strong. And the Friday night events a blast.

I knew JR would get off...he did at Thrillerfest, too. It's the HOT factor, but it's also the 'victim deserved to die' and distrust of official powers that be. It was so great to have a real judge, Ken Freeman, who talked seriously after about things like "jury nullification" and how in a real trial Reacher would never have been called to testify.

A great time was had by all.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Connect, connect, connect has brought us to a place where we feel overwhelmed, overstimulated and unfulfilled. We're under constant stress because our orientation is: ‘I don't want to miss anything.' " Linda Stone, former executive for Microsoft and Apple
Multi-tasking. It's so last week.

I think I can do three things at once. Maybe four. I can check my email and talk on the phone at the same time, certainly. And have lunch at that same time. If someone holds up a piece of paper with a question on it, I can nod yes or no without losing track of the rest of the goings-on. ANd if there's a breaking news pop-up on my computer, I can read that, too.
If I'm on the phone and have to answer an email at the same time, I'm very careful to type quietly so the person on the phone doesn't know I'm doing it.

I used to think this was a very supergirl accomplishment, cool and competent and efficient. Now it's just beginning to drive me crazy.

My producer Mary, colleague and pal, is even better/worse at it. She wears one of those earheadphone things so she has two hands to do other stuff. And so it happened one day recently, I was trying to tell her something important.

And she was "listening" to me, but she was also checking her email. I stopped talking. A fraction of a moment later, she said--What, again?" And that was the moment my life changed.

You're not listening to me, I said. Maybe in more snippy a tone than absolutely necessary. She insisted she was, but she wasn't. Okay, she was, but only half her brain, if that. And that was so annoying.

So, I've stopped checking my mail while on the phone. And I feel better about it. I still eat lunch at my desk. But if you're talking to me, I promise you'll have my full attention.

Multi-tasking. It's so last week. For me. Maybe. Do you multi?

JAN: I meditate every morning for fifteen minutes just so I WON'T multi-think, let alone multi-task. Stay in the moment and all that. Very this week. Or maybe next week.

But the truth is I'm not efficient enough to multi-task with any aplomb. My children make fun of me because I make everybody stop talking when I make a left turn. And if you were talking to me while I was also checking email or paying bills, you can be 100 percent sure that my brain will screw it up.

So simply to maintain quality control standards, I don't multi-task. And some days I have to concentrate, real, real hard just to task.

RO: There's a certain level of activity where I happily juggle four or five things - e.g., checking emails, talking to my 85 yr old aunt on the phone, watching the game, paying bills - but, as the importance rises, whether it's personal or professional, I like to limit it to two or three. When I'm writing that's all I can do.

I multithink all the time - Africa, promoting Daisies, writing book two, my weight, gardening, my friend who needs a job, oh yeah, my husband, it's all there, all the time. The quiet time comes when I garden or row.

HALLIE: Multithink. I like that. But really, that thing where you talk to someone and they start doing something (filing nails, reading the paper, answering the cell)? That's rude. And you know, great for that moment in writing a book where you're looking for the TELLING gesture to show DIS-R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And how come all the great ideas come when you can't possibly write them down (in the shower, driving)?

HANK: It's supposed to make you more efficient. Multi-anything. When it makes you LESS efficient, then there's a problem.

Although we all have our different ways of looking at the world. If I have to make 2 turkey sandwiches, I put out 4 pieces of bread. Mayo on 2. Then, lettuce on each sandwich. Tomato on each. Turkey on each. Close. Result: 2 sandwiches. When my husband does it, he makes one whole sandwich. Then the other whole sandwich.. Neither of us can fathom why the other would do it their way.
That's maybe off the point. But it does show brains are funny things.
Do you multi? Are you a one sandwich at a time? Or two?

** P.S.
Breaking news (you can read this while doing something else)
A very nice article about me and the Charlie MCNally Mysteries.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Red Sox Redux

"I think that the task of an American writer is not to decribe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball

...John Cheever

HALLIE: Back to the Red Sox for just a sec. I watched the beginning and the end of every game in the series. In between, I watched with my eyes closed--a habit I got into in the bad old days when every good thing would inevitably be followed by something bad, stupid, horrifying, or all of the above in rapid succession. What this "eyes closed watching" usually involves is falling asleep until my husband vaults off the bed in ecstasy or agony.
And that rhythm section in the bullpen--those big guys playing eensie weensie triangles and cymbols and water-bottle maracas? (Shades of the Nairobi Trio--Ernie Kovacs old gag--or am I dating myself?) Now that's comic relief. Shades of the Nairobi Trio.
In the bad old days, the game WAS the comic relief. Anyone besides me looking back fondly at being perennial losers?
HANK: I watched, too. I'm from Indiana, so I grew up with basketball. Football is fun to watch because it's so easy to multi-task. You don't have to look at the screen the whole time. Hockey, forgive me, I don't understand.
But baseball. What gets me is that when it's two outs, bases loaded, and everything on the line, the world is divided exactly into two kinds of people. The ones who want to be up to bat. And the ones who don't.
The Red Sox--want to be up. And I love it. Ortiz with his congenial ease and oozing good karma. Manny, who is the most hilariously droll--I can't believe he doesn't run. Lowell, who always comes through. Pedroia, the new kid.
Perennial losers? Gets old. I 've watched so many segments of Red Sox games between my fingers, hands in front of my face. When you work at it, isn't it supposed to pay off?
And--heading to writing now--that's persistence. And when you persevere, you win. Just do it, right? Just write the book. And I promise it won't take as long as it took the Sox.
JAN: Sorry Hallie, I'm not looking back fondly at the years of perennial losses. Except to say that those years of agony led to complete esctasy when the Sox became World Series Champions in 2004. The present victory is terrific, but not quite as mind-altering.
What I love best about baseball is the ongoing story. Every player is a protagonist with his obstacles and reversals. The at-bats were clearly set up to build a crescendo of suspense. And there's always a climax (world series) and a resolution. (The Red Sox rock!)
RO: I'm a Mets fan; I'm still licking my wounds and trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. But I grew to - if not exactly love the Red Sox - love the fact that they never give up. What's really bugging me now is how good the Celtics are going to be this year. You guys are going to be insufferable.
HALLIE: The Celtics just don't do the same thing. Seems like pro basketball (and football) players are outsized and extraordinary, whereas baseball players are more merely mortals. Just like (yeah, right) the rest of us.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Book 'Em

At seven thirty Saturday, on a rainy morning best for long hours of sleep, the last thing I wanted to do was get up and drive two and a half hours to Lebanon, New Hampshire. But promises are promises, and this was a good cause. What could be more up a mystery writer's alley than supporting an organization dedicated to increasing literacy, decreasing crime and helping police solve unsolved crimes?

And even better. Because my son had a rugby game nearby in Hanover, I was able to talk my husband into coming (and he drives a lot faster than me.) Fueled by Dunkin Donuts, we charged north.

The Book 'Em Foundation is a national organization, founded by theWaynesboro, NC police, but the Lebanon event was hosted by the local police department and the city itself. Authors, sixty of them in Lebanon, NH alone, included such names as Jodi Picoult, Archer Mayor, Michele Martinez, Bill Tapply, Nancy Means Wright, Jenny White, Tom Tancin, and Vicki Stiefel. All donated the bulk of the book sales to the cause.

Okay, so I was tired and bleary eyed, and the rain did not let up. The windshield wipers wrecked the promise of leaf peeping at its peak. But I can't say enough about the warm welcome and the great job these organizers did. They greeted authors with coffee and bagels and a high school gymnasium full of eager book buyers.

But the best part was the panel with mystery authors Archer Mayor and Michele Martinez who addressed the difficulties of the publishing industry with humor, honesty and insight.

This is a tough business that often brings out the negatives. But these two successful authors had very different approaches to the problems that plague writers. I found inspiration in both of them.

I want to thank the organizers of the Book 'Em Foundation for inviting me to their event. For the most part, writers sit alone in front of their computers, making up people, struggles and resolutions. It felt good to be with a group of real people with a real objective. As if to mimic my mood, the rain cleared and the sun highlighted all the red leaves on the ride home. And there was the most amazing rainbow. A real one. Not a metaphor.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reading maketh a full man..Francis Bacon

RO: According to the Baltimore Sun, reading also maketh a fullback, a halfback, and a quarterback as the Sun reports that the NFL's Baltimore Ravens are apparently quite addicted to James Patterson.,0,2547755.story

Who'd a thunk it? I think it's wonderful. Who else would you like to see with books in their hands..and what books?

I'd like to give James Dobson a copy of The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta.

JAN: I'd like to give Venus Williams a copy of Yesterday's Fatal. She's one of my tennis heroes and apparently, she's a big mystery reader. There's also a famous women's tennis coach from Stanford University whose name is also Jan Brogan, only her USTA rating is much, much, much higher than mine. I'd like to give her a signed copy of my book and check and see if our signatures are anything alike.

HANK: I think I know what you're going for here, RO, and it's fascinating. I'd like to give the Tao De Ching to--well, any number of politicians. But we won't go there on Jungle Red, is that the deal? Give 1984 (War is Peace...remember the rest of that slogan?) to--well, just imagine. The Great Gatsby to Donald Trump. Not that it would matter. To Kill a Mockingbird to Clarence Thomas. Little Women to Britney Spears. Presumed Innocent to OJ Simpson. (But if we're doing the wishful thinking mode, okay, I'll play. Please get Face Time to Renee Russo. Or Jane Kaczmarek. Just a thought.)

HALLIE: When I did a Sisters in Crime talk for Massachusetts prison librarians, we asked them what authors prisoners favor--turned out to be James Patterson (#1), followed by Janet Evanovich. Go figure. Did everyone see Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature? We should all give ourselves The Golden Notebook and read (or re-read, as the case may be) to remember why.

BREAKING NEWS: FACE TIME makes the Boston Globe best seller list! And is now number 7 in paperback fiction.

RO: Holy Cow!!! And I know the author...

On Having HEART

Heart (from Damn Yankees)
You've gotta have....Heart! All you really need is heart!

When the odds are sayin' you'll never win, that's when the grin should start!

You've gotta have hope! Mustn't sit around and mope. Nothing's half as bad as it may appear, wait'll next year and hope.

When your luck is battin' zero,get your chin up off the floor.

Mister, you can be a hero. You can open anydoor.

There's nothin' to it, but to do it.
You've gotta have heart! Miles and miles and miles of heart!

Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course! But keep that ol' horse before the cart! First you've got to have heart!

A great pitcher, we haven't got!

A great slugger, we haven't got!

A great pitcher, we haven't got!What've we got?

We've got heart! All you really need is heart! When the odds are sayin', You'll never win, that's when the grin should start!

We've got hope! We don't sit around and mope! Not a solitary sob do we heave, mister'cause we've got hope.

We're so happy, that we're hummin'. Hmm, Hmm, Hmm

That's the heart-y thing to do. Hmm, Hmm, Hmm.

'Cause we know our ship will come in!Hmm, hmm, hmm.

So it's ten years overdue! Hoo, hoo, hoo.

We've got heart! Miles and miles and miles of heart!

Oh it'sfine to be a genius of coarse, but keep that old horse before the cart!

So what the heck's the use of cryin'?Why should we curse?We've got to get better..........'cause we can't get worse!

And to add to it; we've got heart! We've got heart! We've got Heart!

I'm a Mets fan, but you've gotta hand it to those Red Sox for not just cleaning out their lockers, taking their dough and going home.
Go Sox! (At least until next year..)


Monday, October 15, 2007

On Preconceived Notions

"Criticism is prejudice made plausible."
H. L. Mencken

You could call it prejudice, but I'm not talking about race, sex, or ethnicity, here. I'm talking about our silly notions on character.
For example, even though I am a night owl myself, or maybe becauseI am a night owl myself, I have this notion that early risers are better people. They are not just good at waking up early, they are more efficient, harder working, and pure at heart.

So I make my protagonist, Hallie Ahern, an early riser.

I might chalk it up to my own weirdness, except that a good friend always makes her protagonist a bit messy. Why? My friend is almost Felix Unger-neat, and she swears that people like messy people better than neat people.

Why does sneezing through an allergy make a character seem weak, I wonder, when suffering through a more major illness, like a heart attack, make a character seem dramatic?

My brother confessed that he thinks people who wear a lot of purple are overly emotional. But that's completely wrong. People who wear a lot of purple are more artistic than the rest of us.

Seriously though, early risers aren't more noble, messy people aren't more loveable, and the kind of illness you suffer doesn't say anything about your inner core. I'm wondering where these connections come from, whether they are universal or idiosyncratic, and how they work themselves into our fiction.

HALLIE: I think a lot of us make our protagonists more noble, taller, thinner, and handsomer, and generally just plain better on all dimensions than we are ourselves. Our villains, the opposite. I knew a writer who was constantly dieting and all of the bad guys in her novel were fat.

Which points out a pitfall--we often write from cliche. It is, as you suggest, sort of a built-in to be aware of. This is why, as Jan is always pointing out, your first idea is rarely your best. And my own aphorism: if you don't surprise yourself, you'll never surprise your reader.

RO: Yes, I have to be careful not to make all of the tall, thin blondes evil or stupid. (What does thst say about my average brunette self?) I have a blonde bimbo in book two and Stuart Kaminsky called me on it. It is a cliche, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. I don't know if she'll make it to the end of the book, but she's still there.

HANK: But this is Blink, isn't it? Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating book that posits (in part) that we all make snap decisions based on exactly the things Jan's bringing up. How our experience with how someone looks, or dresses, or their gestures, or attitude--causes us to make a decision, in the blink of an eye, about who they are and what they'll do. If that's true, and it feels like it is, how can we separate that from the choices we make in creating characters? Maybe we're not really "deciding"--the character is real, they're going to do what they're going to do. It's already all in there.

There's also that recent study that says more attractive people are more successful. More people who are bosses are taller. And certainly many TV reporters have put on a "fat suit" to show how people who are overweight are treated as invisible. And have you taken that online test that'll prove--whether you believe it or not--that you're ageist?

(And Ro, you are not average.)

JAN: Now that you mention it, Hank, maybe that's why I loved Blink so much. I guess all of humanity comes up with some kind of short-hand analysis. For good and ill. Some of it is cliche. Some of it is a real stretch. But I'd like to hear about it from all of you out there, because I think it tells us something about ourselves. Maybe something really deep. Or maybe just where our mothers bought our clothes.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Talking about dreams is like talking about movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of image. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.
**Federico Fellini

Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason, too. Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature.

**Ralph Waldo Emerson

HANK: I used to have a recurring dream where I am supposed to write a story for the 6 o'clock news, and I'm in the car on the way to the station to edit my video. I know, in order to get it done, I have to write my script in the car. (In reality, this happens every day for a general assignment reporter.) But in my dream, I can't find any implement to write with. All my pencils break. All my pens are dry. I finally wind up writing my story using my fingernail to make indentations in my notebook, hoping I'd be able to read them.

The first time I had this dream, I was so freaked out when I woke up! My husband said I should put that time on my time sheet as having worked--I was certainly as tired and stressed as I would have been if I were awake through it all!

Clearly this is a TV stress dream, and I had it over and over. (Anyone have the "I have to take a test and I can't find the classroom and why didn't I study" dream? I certainly have. I think it's so prevalent they call it the "Yale Dream." And I've always wondered whether they have it in other cultures, or what stress dreams are in, say, Siberia.)

But the last time I had the TV dream, I said to my sleeping self, and I remember this clearly: Oh yeah, this is that stupid pencil dream. And it stopped. And I've never had it again.

What do you think about that?

And is there a book dream? A writer's dream?

RO: A lot of people seem to have "The Test Dream." Anthony Soprano even had one....he was "unprepared." If I've ever had that I don't remember. I do have one recurring dream - all of you wannabe shrinks out there, get your pencils sharpened.

I'm in a one story house in the middle of a barren landscape. It's warm and everything in the dream is some shade of brown or gold. There are a lot of doors to the house. I'm outside and so is a pride of lions. They start to approach me and I manage to walk slowly to the house and get inside. One of the lions comes in another door. I go out a third door. I'm concerned but, I never run. This goes on for a while, but the lions never catch me.

Then there's the dream where Julia Roberts options my book. (Just kidding.)

HALLIE: Ah, anxiety dreams. I used to teach, so I have teaching anxiety dreams. I can't find my classroom. I can't get the class under control. Lately, it's that I've taken a job teaching and I'm going to have to do it, all year. That's a real nightmare.

What I love is when I realize I'm dreaming and I can make the me in the dream do what I want. Like fly.

Oddly, I never dream about the book I'm writing.

JAN: I have the reporter dream, where I've filed the story and there's nothing I can do but wait for it to appear in the next day's paper. I suddenly realize that I've gotten some key piece of information wrong. Like the name of the subject I'm writing about. Or the correct charges. Or whether the company made money or lost money for the quarter.

Lately, I've had a new dream . Now that my youngest is off to college and by husband and I are officially empty nesters, I keep dreaming I've adopted more children. Last night, I dreamt that I thought I was adopting one more child, only she came with two younger siblings and I was starting childrearing all over again! I don't think I need Freud to analyze what that dream means.

HANK: And if I might add, sometimes dreams do come newest Charlotte McNally mystery, FACE TIME, goes on sale this week! Sara Paretsky says "FACE TIME is a gripping fast-paced thriller with an important story line and an engaging heroine..." There's more from the divine Sara (whose anthology with other Sisters in Crime is on sale right now and a MUST read) but check my website for all the info.

And now--tell us your dreams! Or, if you dare, what ours mean...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ode to a great store...

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.
-- Jerry Seinfeld
HALLIE: A lot of us knew it was coming, but that big FOR SALE sign out in the front of the Kate's Mystery Books gives me serious separation anxiety about potentially losing our wonderful independent mystery bookseller in the red Victorian house on upper Mass Ave in Cambridge and, for years, the heartbeat of the Boston crime fiction community (she as one of the founders of Sisters in Crime).

I had my first signing there...September of 2000 and a line snaking out onto the sidewalk in the rain, friends there to cheer for my first (finally!) Her Christmas parties where you can count on a Robert Parker sighting--are legendary. She has to schedule signing authors like a fleet of buses coming into South Station because there are too many of us to be docked there at one time.

JAN: I interviewed Kate once for The Improper Bostonian and she told me a wonderful story about the early years of the store. Authors who would become big names were still newbies, and helping her out on a nuts and bolts level. Robert Parker came in to install bookshelves, which she showed me, noting that they weren't perfectly level. She said he really had no choice but to become a bestselling author because carpentry wasn't an option for his career.

Anyway, to me that story illustrates Kate's longstanding impact on the mystery world. She's not just a bookseller, she's an incubater of new talent. Still, life moves on, so I wish her the best of luck with the sale of her store.

RO: On a totally personal level, I'm sorry that when my first book comes out in February, it doesn't seem as if I will get to experience the rite of passage that hundreds (thousands?) of mystery writers before me have, a signing at Kate's. I was looking forward to it as a sign that I had "made it." That I was finally "real", like The Velveteen Rabbit.(Don't mean to sound obnoxious, but I think you all know what I mean.)

As a New Yorker/CT'er Kate's was not my local shop; I heard about it, and Kate from NE'ers, and at Crimebake. Although I live closer to Borders and B&N, I'm going to make a conscious effort to spend my mystery dollar at the wonderful Partners&Crime in the NY's west village...
Good luck, KM!

HANK: I happened on a pal, more of a friend of my husband's than mine, on the street the other day. He's a judge, very erudite and thoughtful. Kind of--ivory tower, as judges sometimes are. Makes life and death decisions--well, not death, since it's Massachusetts, but 30-to-life, that's for sure.

Anyway, he was kind enough to have read my book, and said he loved mysteries set in Boston. And in fact, he said, he was off to Kate's to pick up his latest stash.
Really, I said? You go to Kate's?

I picture him, more easily, sending off some frightened clerks to the stacks at the courthouse library. Or ordering from Amzon where he didnt have to deal with real people.
But no, he said Kate was the only one who really knew her stuff. He just reads what she gives him.

Where will he go, if she closes?

There are lots of great bookstores here, no question. With wonderfully knowledgeable staffs and owners, and they are lovely places to visit and I've spent waaay too much money in them.
But Kate's brain, and her history, that's what you can't replace.There's an open storefront here in West Newton, Kate! Come move to my neighborhood!

HALLIE: Great idea, Hank. We'll all be waiting to hear...who knows, Ro, we may be able to fete your book in February at Kate's after all. She specializes in making authors feel Real.
QUIZ: Name a mystery novel with Kate's Mystery Books in it. HINT: There are LOTS of them, and it may even be the scene of the crime.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


"It takes two, baby..." Tina Turner

"I am a rock...I am an island." Paul Simon

RO: Chinese or Italian? Your relatives or mine? Wuthering Heights or 40 Year Old Virgin?

With all the choices that couples have to make - and all the agonizing that can go into even small decisions like what toppings to put on the pizza (at least in the Harris household)how in the world do couples actually write together. My husband (poor guy) can't pull out of the driveway without my editing him. How can there be so many successful writing teams? Married or not, I've got to think that a writing partnership is like a marriage, with all of the attendant give and take, joys and frustrations. Could you ever do it? Do you?

HANK: I always write as a team. A team of three. The real me, then the me who thinks I'm a good writer, and then the me who thinks I stink. We all talk. Oh yeah, there's also the Me who answers for the writing mentor I sometimes wish I had.

But I actually have written with a real other person. I've been a TV reporter for thirty years--for maybe 15 of those, I've had a producer, and we do investigative reporting as a team. Usually, we chat about what the point of the story is, and come up with a sort of thesis sentence. Then I write a rough draft. I give it to her for tweaks and adds and comments and fact checking. She gives it back to me, and we go back and forth with it. Finaly I say, OK, this is done. And get her to read it one more time. In the edit booth, when I hear how it sounds out loud, I often change it again.

It truly works. I think it all hinges on respect. Knowing each other's strengths. That the goal is to have the best story possible and that it doesn't matter whose idea anything is. That laughter is good. Could I do it writing fiction? With someone good? Hmm. You know, I think yes.
(Choosing a movie with my husband? We take turns.)

JAN: Definitely yes. Like Hank, I'm used to the collaboration of a newsroom. I also wrote a screenplay with a good writing buddy, and although we never sold the screenplay, we had a hoot writing it. It was a comedy we called Fatal Feng Shui, and I don't know how effective our humor was in the screenplay, but we cracked each other up writing it.
I also have tentative plans to write a thriller with my brother, who is an avid mystery reader (much more so than me), a chick lit book with my daughter, who will be home this winter on a college break, and the great American novel with my son, who doesn't know about this plan yet. Okay, maybe not with my son -- he probably wants to write the great American novel alone.
But it gets lonely writing alone. I'd love to try writing with a partner!

HALLIE: I have a series of 5 Dr. Peter Zak mystery novels from St. Martin's that I wrote with a writing partner, Don Davidoff. Our shared, authorial pseudonym is G. H. Ephron. Don is a neuropsychologist who runs a unit at Harvard's McLean hospital and he's also often called as an expert witness in criminal trials. So, roughly speaking, our model for Dr. Zak was Don.
Don took the lead on plotting, I did all the writing. Supposedly that's how the cousin partners who were Ellery Queen (Frederic Cannay and Manfred B. Lee) collaborated. It was a great partnership--we had virtually no overlapping skills. Working together for 8 years was enough. Now I'm working on my own nonfiction projects and novels.

HANK: I remember the Marvin Gaye version of It Takes Two, Ro, and now it's incessantly going through my brain. (cf. our blog on earworms...)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Email

"No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide."

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996

I'm starting to believe that email is a writer's worst enemy. It could be the enemy of anyone who works at home, or on a computer, but I think writers are the most vulnerable to its stealthy attack.

Here's why. If you are a writer, answering email feels like you are working. You are typing, after all. And sometimes it is work, but other times it's just conversation. And even if it is important work, it's still a distraction.

For writers, who love to communicate through writing, its an incredibly tempting distraction. In fact, it's much more fun to answer email than to remain stuck in the middle of a scene that isn t working, or wrestle with a feature story that's overly complex. I'm fairly convinced I've acquired ADD (attention deficit disorder) from checking and rechecking my email.

Clearly I'm lacking in mental self-discipline, so I've tried other solutions. With my old computer, I could take out the wireless card and put it in the basement. With my new computer, the wireless is built in. I've tried disabling the software, but it's too easy re-enable to be an effective deterrent. I've even tried unplugging the modem and shutting the whole system down, only my neighbor's wireless isn't secured, so my computer automatically started picking up my email through her system.

When people buy Blackberries or the I-Phone for the ability to connect to the web, I think they are insane. The last thing I'd ever want is mobile access to my email.

So is email a problem for anyone else, and if it is, have you found a solution?

HANK: There's no question I'm addicted to email. I always think: there might be good news. And I can't wait to see it. I physically miss it when I don't check. It's ridiculous.

So. When I'm writing, I turn off the little music that comes up to announce I have new mail. I've realized I'm a perfect Pavlovian specimen when it comes to that little sound. It bings, and I can't stand it. I have to look. So I just turn off the sound.

I also set a time. When I'm writing, I can only look at the email once an hour, and I choose the time, very specifically. It's now--4:16. I can look at my email again at 5:16. I obey myself. This actually works.

My email has a little indicator where you can put a red flag on stuff you absolutely must respond to. Every one of mine is flagged, so that doesn't work at all.

Because it's true: the amount of time you can spend on email expands to fill the amount of time you have. I could do it all day, every day. And not be finished. Never, ever be finished.
And sometimes I power through a bunch of correspondence...and feel very virtuous. Then I wonder--did any of that matter?

Gotta go. I heard a bing.

RO:It's very easy to convince yourself that checking email, or Myspace or voicemail or whatever is "working." I think of it as working "light". It's not really working, but it's closer to it than going shopping, or kayaking or any number of things that you might be doing. It may be a problem if you do it every day or for more than an hour a day but, I think I have it under control. I can quit anytime I like, as they say....

HALLIE: Sure you can.

Actually email is like "research," or Marbles (my husband got me hooked on it after I took Solitaire off my system) -- the thing I do to put off writing. Then again, maybe email addiction is nature's way of keeping us from pouring too much dross onto the pages.

Related question--how come the more I have on my plate, the more I get done? I open email nine thousand times on a day when all I have to do is write fiction. When I've got an article due and training materials to write and work for a client and and and...I may not open email at all.

Do you check the mail that gets automatically shunted to your SPAM or SCREENED mail folder?
If an email shows up in your SPAM or SCREENED MAIL folder with the topic GREAT NEWS, can you NOT open it??
If you get an email dated three minutes ago, do you put off replying because the person will think all you do all day is email???

RO: Yes, yes, no. But, uh, did you just post this...does that mean all I do all day is...

HANK: Yes. Yes, easy to ignore. (But if one says: 'Congratulations!' That's harder.Also if one says: 'Why did you miss the meeting?' I generally fall for that one. And, no. (I feel great if I happen to be able to answer quickly. That's one more thing I "accomplished.")

JAN: No. No. (always skeptical) Yes. You think there's a 12-step program that can help me?