Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rhys interviews Edgar-winner Jan Burke

Rhys here interviewing one of the grande dames of our genre, and my good friend, Jan Burke. Jan is known for her Irene Kelly mystery series as well as her stand-alone suspense titles and an outstanding collection of short stories. Her suspense novel Bones won the Edgar award for best novel (one of the very few women to do so in recent years!). In addition Jan has served on the board of Mystery Writers of America and is passionately involved in the Crime Lab project, campaigning for increased funding for crime labs.

I should say before we start that I have two fabulous pictures of Jan, with her luxuriously long hair but Blogger is being temperamental and not letting me upload anything. I'll keep trying and hope to add them to the post. Until then picture Rapunzel...

Jan, welcome to Jungle Red Writers and thank you for taking the time to drop in at this busy time of year.
So let's get to the questions:

Rhys: Your new book, The Messenger, is quite different from all your other books. I know you as a writer of tense, noir mysteries and thrillers--notedfor their realism. . The Messenger is described as "a chilling tale of thesupernatural". Tell us a little about it and why you chose to branch out inthis way.

Jan: The Messenger is Tyler Hawthorne. In 1815, at the age of twenty-four, he lay dying on the muddy battlefield after Waterloo. Approached by a large black dog and the mysterious Adrian Varre, Tyler accepts a memento mori ring and a bargain. He becomes a Messenger — never aging and nearly immortal, he will live a nomadic and solitary life, his only companion Shade, the cemetery dog who guards him. In return, given the power to hear the final thoughts of the dying, Tyler must convey these messages to their loved ones.
In present-day Los Angeles, he finds himself drawn to Amanda Clarke, who has secrets of her own. But will Adrian’s return put an end to any hope they have of being together?
As for why I chose to branch out, the idea for the story came to me and wouldn’t let go.

Rhys: Have you always been interested in the supernatural or is this book away to challenge yourself in a new direction? Do you actually believe inthe supernatural?It was once suggested by my publisher that I try my hand at horror. I toldhim that I believed too much of this stuff and would terrify myself tooeasily.

Jan: I’ve always enjoyed a well-told supernatural tale. I often read outside of crime fiction, so the supernatural is just one of the areas I like to venture into as a reader. One of the great gifts of fiction is the opportunity it allows us to consider questions that are important to us —while at the same time enjoying ourselves and entering into imaginary worlds to explore answers to those questions.
One thing I have discovered to be different about writing about the supernatural -- I’m a bit bemused by the “do you believe” questions. As a writer of crime fiction, I’ve never been asked if I believe justice prevails as often as it does in books, or if I believe newspaper reporters solve homicide cases as regularly as Irene Kelly does. But that has no bearing on how important I think crime fiction is, or diminishes the belief I have in the mirror fiction gives us, or the ways in which it can get to the truth.
I don’t believe there is a young man who’s twenty-four forever living in the hills above Los Angeles. Tyler is wholly my creation. And yet I feel strongly attached to him, and Shade, and Amanda. I learned a great deal by entering into Tyler’s world with him. He made me think about aging, frailty, and mortality in ways I hadn’t before, and I’m grateful to him for that.
As for my beliefs — beyond my personal faith — when it comes to things that go bump in the night, I’m mostly a skeptic. But I also have an open mind, and am very far from believing I understand everything there is to know about the universe.

Rhys:Where did you come up with arch villain Adrian Varre?
For a thriller, much of the power of a book comes from its villain. It’s quite useless to leave one’s hero unmatched. If he doesn’t present a challenge, and if he doesn’t have some traits that reveal him to be the antithesis of the hero, I haven’t done my job. What really separates Adrian from Tyler isn’t a difference of power — it’s that Adrian is extremely self-centered. In his mind, he is all that matters. Tyler couldn’t be less like him.

Jan: I will admit that the basement scenes sometimes made it hard to go to sleep after that night’s writing, but no use coming up with a villain who was supposed to be a threat to Tyler if he didn’t scare me.

Rhys Do you have a big booktour planned? Where can we find out about youritinerary? Do you actually enjoy the publicity side of writing?

Jan:The current plan is that I will be on tour from January 5 to January 25. I’ll be in LA, San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, St. Louis, Kansas City, Lexington, Dayton, and Cincinnati.
The tour schedule is on my blog and on Web site – you can see it at either link:

Rhys: Do you have a blog or are you visiting any other blogs during yourpromotion of The Messenger?

Jan:I have a blog at
You can also reach it through my Web site.I will be visiting other blogs. I’ve got something coming up in January on Lipstick Chronicles. And I’ll post things to Facebook and Twitter. I’m Jan_Burke on Twitter.

Rhys: Tell us about your life in Southern California...and how you have themost amazing hair in the world (absolute envy from one who has always hadfine, short hair)

Jan: I live with my husband Tim and two dogs, Cappy and Britches. I spend time writing and running a nonprofit that tries to raise awareness about the need to better support public forensic science – The Crime Lab Project. []
The hair hasn’t been cut for a long time, other than trimming to even it out. I’ve tried very short hair at various times in my life. Some people look really cute with short hair – like you! As for me, who knows what I’ll do with my own in the future, but I’ll admit that the thought of hair appointments is not one that fills me with longing. I guess after a certain point, I ignored the memo about the mandatory neckline cut for women over 19. As you’ll see below, I don’t always follow directions.

Rhys: Finally the famous Jungle Red Questions:

Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?
The Continental Op.

Sex or Chocolate?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?
Tim Burke.

Katharine or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine. Bringing Up Baby is my Prozac.

Making dinner or making reservations?
Cooking over a campfire.

Three true things about you and one lie; we'll guess which.

I was a paid history researcher.
I have never attended an autopsy.
I’m ten hours away from being a licensed pilot.
I brought caterpillars in from recess in the second grade.

Rhys: Thank you for taking the time during this busy season, Jan. I'll beinterviewing Jan in person at Poisoned Pen mystery bookstore in ScottsdaleArizona on January 7th. (And I think I'm going to guess that she never attended an autopsy--just because she's so intimately involved with that kind of thing! What do you think, fellow JRRs?)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Promises, promises...that we make to ourselves

So, it's that time again for New Year's resolutions.
[Imagine picture of list and gorgeous woman writing...picture upload ain't working again today.]

The US Government, bless it, has a place on its web site for "popular New Year's resolutions" -- where these come from I have no idea, since as far as I know Uncle Sam hasn't been snooping in my desk drawer where I keep my resolutions from year's past (which, like Scrooge's ghost, returns to haunt me.)

They're about what you'd expect, taking aim at excess weight, debt, and lousy eating habits, and promising to be a kinder and gentler and more generous soul. All to the good.

But writers have their own set of promises to make or break... Mine are:
- To write 500 words a day
- To check the NY Times, CNN, and Huffington Post no more than three times a day
- To only look at the stock market ticker after 4:30 PM
- To slay adverbs and purple prose
- To finish the book
- To celebrate every triumph, and squelch complaints about the publishing business
- To support my fellow writers

And if I could pick JUST ONE:
- To check email only after I've written at least 100 new words and no more than five times a day

Which dragons are you slaying this year, and what's #1?

Hallie, you've already taken my number#1 resolution: To not check email until I've made my page count: five a day. I'm convinced that I've given myself Attenion Deficit Disorder by checking my email instead of staying with whatever writing problem I'm trying to solve.

My other goals?
- To finish the screenplay by the end of February and the book proposal by March. (writing)
- To stop Googling for reviews.
- To finish my Rosetta Stone program
- To practice the guitar more
- To improve my slice and lob (tennis)
- To purge every last grievance

And even before New Year's, I'm trying to make a critical change. I'm in Day 3 of recovery of my Freecell addiction. It's one day at a time....

My resolutions this year? To take time to smell the roses. I find my life is taken over by work. I have worked my tail off for several years on publicity and promotion, as well as writing, of course, and in the end has it really done that much for me? Okay, so it's moved me a few steps up the ladder in the book world but it has meant that my life has been put on hold. I haven't had time to paint, which I love doing, or to play my Celtic harp or just to go and be by myself in the middle of nature. So this year my goal is to prioritize and learn to say no. I was born wanting to be the good child and to please. This year I will learn that I don't always have to be perfect--that trying to be perfect comes with a physical price. So I will laugh a lot, hang out with people who make me laugh, and not waste time checking my Amazon stats daily.

Things. I think this year maybe about "things." Not getting a lot of new ones, and getting rid of the old ones. In the past few days, I've tossed bags and bags and bags and bags of things (and sent bags and bags and bags of things to charity.) I've cleaned out drawers and discovered stuff that--I'm not kidding--I've never seen. Which means it was put there before Jonathan and I got married. Which was 12 years ago.

I threw away blank stationery from Rolling Stone magazine, circa 1974 and also blank stationery from my days as a US Senate Staffer. Circa 1971. Baskets of old shells, "memories" from beaches but I don't remember where. Bags of--bags. Weird ceramic bowls. Magazines I'm not mentioned in, that I can find. in. Old software. Tape cassettes. What was it all? I can't even remember.

Why did I save this many things? Sometimes I think it was to prove good things happened to me, that I had wonderful experiences or good luck.

Some mementoes, of course, are sweet and nostalgic. The ones I remembered what they were? I saved. The script of my very first news story. Like that.

But I think I'm going to
1. Try harder to live in the moment. And not try to hold onto too much junk that means the past. The future is so exciting.
2. Write--better. (Next year, when this will also be my resolution, it'll be so clever and insightful.) (And to get my new proposals in by March.)
3. I already know I'm lucky. I'm already grateful for that every day. So, I resolve to stay that way. Happy new year, my dear Jungle Reds.

Roberta: Have more fun with folks I love, quit wasting time on stuff I can't control (Amazon stats just one dumb example,) write something different that stretches my mystery-writing muscles. Try to shrug the evil tendrils of envy that spring up unbidden when I'm not looking:)

RO: As usual my far more experienced, and quicker with their send buttons, JR sisters, have already said most of what I would have said although my Rosetta Stone fantasy is Swahili and I'm considering driving to Hank's to poke through her bags of discards since I love everything she wears or carries..
I just want to use my time well, whatever that means, every single day. Some days it may mean writing until four in the morning, others days it's sharing a pizza and a bottle of wine with a friend I haven't seen in ages.
This year(2008)for some reason, we have an extra second. I hope I don't waste it.

Okay, folks. Spill. What are your resolutions for 2009 and what's your #1? Are you looking to get more done, to disencumber yourself from objects or grudges, or just slow down and laissez les bontemps roule?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the Blank Page

HANK: So as the year comes to a close and we're all faced with the possibilities on the new, a fellow Hoosier has a new take on how to face your next blank page.

(Here's a challenge, too. Suddenly, blogger is not letting me upload all of the lovely illustrations I pulled for this post, including Marta's book cover.
So imagine: a terrific cover. (Check her website to see it.) Gorgeous drawings of perspective, and some of our favorite paintings.

Imagine me frustrated, trying trying trying to download. Any solutions out there? Sigh. In the meantime, I've just inserted the descriptions of the paintings I chose.)

Okay, back to Marta Stephens.

Marta Stephens is a native of Argentina who has made Indiana her home since the age of four. Her friends say she's mild-mannered--but she turned to crime with the publication of the first in her Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, SILENCED CRY (2007).The second book in the Harper series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, was just published. (Lots of good info and all her awards on her website!)

She is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer's Workshop.

And she's been wondering how writing imitates art! (imagine nice picture here)

Long before I decided to write fiction, my first love was art.

In school, one of our first lessons covered perspective. Interestingly enough, educator, art historian and author, James Elkins of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago defines linear perspective as "... a mathematical system for projecting the three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface, such as paper or canvas."

(HANK: imagine technical drawing of perspective here, oh, so instructive!)

The parallel between this definition and the process of writing are striking and I can’t help but compare the two.

Whether I write or paint I begin with a white surface that begs to be filled. I start with an outline of the shapes (the synopsis), determine the perspective (decide whose point of view the story will be written in), and then decide the direction of the light and shadows (those wonderful subplots, twists, and turns that will help propel the story forward).

(HANK: oh, what a nice picture was supposed to be here! John Singer Sargent's white lady in Morocco. You know the one that's mostly shadows? Nice.)

Obviously there’s more to consider when we write, but all the same, writing is a layering process that includes; development, plotting, writing, editing, and letting the prose rest.
If you were to paint an object in the foreground of the canvas before the background was dry to the touch, you’d end up with a muddied mess. Writing is no different. It can’t be rushed.

(HANK: imagine Van Gogh here-- Starry Night. Oh! A link!)

Before I type the opening sentence to a new novel, I consider the crime first which for me is essential to the development of the plot. What happened, who did it, how, when, and why?

Next comes the cast of characters. Several of the characters in my series such as Homicide Detective Sam Harper and his partner Dave Mann appear in all of my books, however, the villains change and I usually introduce two or three other protagonists. I write back stories on each new character to understand his or her motivation and to decide how their paths will cross. Giving attention to the secondary characters is a critical step that leads toward the development of subplots.

( HANK (Seurat here-- Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) )

Plotting offers a rough idea of the storyline; the order of the events and how I want the book to end. Details don't play a role at this point of the planning, all I'm trying to do is understand the big picture rather than the individual scenes and of course, all of this is apt to change as the story evolves.

HANK: Check outVelazquez' The Maids of Honor--what going on here?

Now comes the fun part, getting inside each character's head. I have to understand their motivations, what has led them to this point in their lives, how do the characters feel physically, mentally, spiritually, and what external factors are affecting their behavior or decisions. Without a clear understanding of these things, it's hard to know how the characters will act, interact, react, and cope with the situation they face. It’s equally important for me to have a feel for what good or bad things are going on outside of the characters' control that may affect them emotionally (i.e.: friends, family, job, relationships, weather, etc.).

(HANK: Imagine any Picasso you choose..)

Once I'm comfortable with the direction the manuscript is going in, I’ll type a chapter or two a day, let the writing rest for several days and then go back and work on the edits. I may go through this process six or seven times a chapter until I’m comfortable enough to move on. Eventually I’ll read the entire manuscript from start to finish and begin to tweak the prose and fine-tune the details. It’s at this point that I make a list of the chapters along with a brief 1-2 line description of what happens in each to help me keep an eye on the timeline.

(HANK: Nude Descending the Staircase. You know it.)

My method certainly doesn’t guarantee there won’t be rewrites. But regardless of the process used, there are no fast and easy solutions or magic wands to completing a novel. It's a never-ending process that takes patience, practice, and perseverance.

(HANK: the Mona Lisa?)

Thanks Marta!

Tomorrow and Friday--another holiday gift--the inside scoop on query letters! Going to start the new year with a submission? Stop by here first--to chat with a person who can help...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays from Jungle Red Writers

(With apologies and appreciation to Clement Moore...and maybe Dr. Seuss.)

Twas the week before New Years'
And all through this site
Not a blogger was working
Not even to write.

Our books are all saved on our thumb drives with care
In hopes that bestseller lists soon would be there.
Our new novels were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of royalties danced in our heads.

The Jungle Red sisters, five east and one west
Had just settled our brains for a well-deserved rest.

When in PW’s pages--There arose such a clatter
We opened the mag to see what was the matter!

To the review pages we turned in a flash
To see Hallie and Jan both praised with panache!

The bookstores were loving “A for M’ by our Ro
And Rosemary’s gardener continued to grow!

And what to our wondering eyes should appear
Rhys and Hank pubbing new ones—and early next year!

But what makes us the happiest—keeps every day new?
We knew in a moment—it’s our blogging crew!

You listen, you chatter, you join in the game
We cheer you, we love you, we call you by name!

Thanks, Laura! Thanks Edith! Thanks Becky and Lee!
Thanks Michael, Susannah and S. Con-no-lly!

We love Maddy, and Rhonda, Felicia and Clare
We hope Amy and JB will always be there

To June and to Karen, to Marianne, too
Love to Janet. And Mo. And to Peter. (He’s new.)

Our guest bloggers were stellar
Chris! Mary! La Barnes?!
To the Paulas, and Maddee, and the fab Cathy Cairns.

To Jane, Gin and Charlaine (queen of the LIST!)
To the Femmes and to Lipstick--consider you're kissed.

Christina! Elizabeth! Alex! Michelle!
Hail “Anonymous” too—your comments are swell.

We had memories, recipes, tales of our youth
We’ve had jokes, and disasters, and telling the truth.
To the top of the lists! To the top of them all!
We’re revising, and writing, and sharing our call!

As dry words before our reviser’s pen fly
When they meet with cliché, and we fix them (we try):

We’ve landed at New Years, and our thoughts go to you
May you read perfect books, may your wishes come true!

May you waste not a word, may you write fresh and new
And fill all your stories with mysteries and clues

And remember: on days that things don’t turn out right
And you wonder if this was a fraud and a fright

You have sisters on line—there are six of us here!
And each one is wishing you all-the-year cheer.

And we all say—we love you! ‘Fore you click from our site--
Happy New Year to All
and long may you Write!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


HANK: It's all Alexandra Sokoloff's fault.

I was on assignment, walking down a perfectly ordinary corridor in a perfctly ordinary Boston hospital a week or so ago, and I was perfectly--freaked out. I had just read Alex's just-now-in-paperback THE PRICE, which takes place in a Boston hospital very very like the one I was in.

Suddenly--every door, every elevator, every window, every doctor and patient and visitor in the hallway turned creepy and sinister. That had never happened before. I was literally--unnerved. And there was no one to tell. Can you imagine? I turn to my cameraperson, and say, You know, strangest thing, I was just reading this book, and...

So I didn't do anything. Except invite the very talented Alexandra to chat here on out very un-creepy blog. And fair warning: do NOT begin THE PRICE unless you have time to read the whole thing. And unless you're in a well-lighted place. Still, no matter what, it'll haunt you.

HANK: You seem like such a lovely person on the outside. And yet, your books...are so sinister. Hauntingly creepy. Do you have to change, when you sit down in front of the computer? What goes on in your head?

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF: I am a lovely person, thanks very much for noticing! But honestly that's a lot because nothing really bad has ever happened to me, even though I've had some near-misses. A lot of my writing comes from a real rage at what happens to other people in this world. It just doesn't seem to take much to fall out of the light, or to be snatched out of the light against your will. I've had that ALMOST happen to me, and I have worked with abused kids, and I have friends like we all have friends who have had horrific things happen to them.

So I make that real life evil metaphorical, and give the good guys a chance of winning, and there you have it.

Do I have to change when I sit down at the computer? No, it doesn't take much to channel all that. It's not like it ever goes away, if you go through life with your eyes open at all.
I'm not sure what goes on in my head, actually. Yoga helps.

HANK: The tension, though. There's so much in your writing. I wondered where that comes from. (The opposite of yoga.)

You have good people make wrong choices, or almost make them. There's--love. And regret. And incremental steps--where you wind up some place you never planned. Are you confident, when set your characters out into the world, that the ones you care about will make the right decisions? (I promise fun questions are coming.)

ALEX: Oh, the tension. Well, part of that is just delivering on the genre. My favorite books are the ones with excruciating suspense - not action, not gore, but psychological suspense. And that's what I'm writing, myself. You wouldn't be too pleased if you went on a rafting trip and never got that adrenaline rush, would you? Same with a suspense book - that's just part of my job. It's not like I'm that tightly wound myself - certainly not all the time! But I have to get it onto the page. It's a bit like acting - I feel it while I'm writing it, but I'm also manufacturing it.Yes, I have good people making bad choices. They also often redeem themselves. I think that's life.

We all make terrible choices sometimes - and some of those choices have far more severe consequences than others, even when we really didn't mean anyone any harm. You're asking about THE PRICE, obviously - where consequences truly are horrific. But I think when you're writing about the devil, or someone who might be the devil, you're pretty much obligated to show the extremes of good and evil, and also the really tragic gray areas. I didn't want to go there, believe me! But the story mandated it.

No one would believe Salk as a character if he weren't capable of forcing the worst choices imaginable, and forcing them from good people. Otherwise he just wouldn't be the - you know.But that's probably my darkest story ever. I don't want to put my characters or myself through that every single time!

HANK: And what a fantastic name he has. The main character, too. "Will." Like: free will. Will to live. Will he or won't he. Perfect.

Do you do a lot of revision? Is the whole story in your head from moment one, or do you surprise yourself?

ALEX: Oh my God, it's ALL revision. I do tons of drafts. I think that comes from theater, which is where I started - I did a lot of acting and directing and choreography, for years, and the first thing you do with a play is block it - just get the actors up on their feet and moving through the set, so that you see the shape of the whole play. And then you can start to dig in and experiment.

So I always think of the first draft of a book or script as the "blocking draft" - it's just getting the bare bones of everything out there, seeing how the story looks and moves in a very sketchy sense. And that's after I've done a huge outline, 40 pages at the very least.

HANK: Oh, that's good to hear, actually. My synopsis for Drive Time was 70 pages. It was wonderfully educational to write it. Even though, as it turned out, an important chunk of the book was not in it. But it did give me some reassurance that I would come out the other end. Anyway.
So then?

ALEX: After an extensive rewrite of the first draft I will do subsequent drafts with specific purposes in mind - like a suspense draft, a draft just thinking about what kind of emotional effect I want to be creating in the reader, a sensory draft - like that.

I'd probably never stop if it weren't for deadlines!

But even though I outline like a fiend I do surprise myself. In THE UNSEEN, which I just finished, I almost had a heart attack when I got to the second act climax of the book and the heroine discovered what was really going on. I mean, of course I knew, I'd set it all up myself from the very beginning, but I had been writing the first draft from her POV and I'd forgotten all about that big reveal.

Writing is a little weird that way.

If we're lucky! (I didn't realize, in PRIME TIME, that I had chosen the wrong bad guy. The book had chosen another person as the villain. Surprised and thrilled, I went with what the book decided.)

ALEX: I love it when the book takes over. You realize you're not doing this alone, after all.

HANK: So, what's the scoop on THE UNSEEN?

Well, I've always been obsessed with the story of the Rhine Parapsychology Lab - that for nearly 40 years there was a dedicated parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus where Dr. J.B. Rhine tested thousands of students for ESP and telekinesis abilities, using Zener cards (you know, those cards with the five bold black symbols - circle, square, cross, star, wavy lines?) and dice-throwing machines. I love the idea that psychic abilities might be proved real with strict scientific and statistical methodology. Now, most people have heard at least vaguely of Rhine's ESP experiments. What most people don't know is that in the sixties the lab also did field studies of poltergeist infestations.

And then when I was doing some research on the Duke campus recently (which is a wonderfully Gothic school, TOTALLY spooky and atmospheric), I discovered that the parapsychology lab closed down completely in the sixties and seven hundred boxes of lab files were sealed in the basement of Duke's Perkins Library, and were only made available for public viewing a few years ago.

I mean, is that a book or what? It hits all my story pleasure centers - Gothic school, paranormal investigation, poltergeists, fact or fiction, a dual time track with one time track being the sixties... secrets, intrigue, puzzles, libraries... basements. You just live to be handed a story seed like that.

So THE UNSEEN, a couple of psychology researchers become obsessed with the files and discover a long-buried poltergeist experiment that they become convinced shut down the lab in the sixties. And they take two psychically gifted students into the same house to try to replicated the experiment - unaware that the entire original research team ended up insane... or dead.

It comes out from St. Martin's in May, and believe it or not it's a lot lighter in tone than THE PRICE, though still very creepy and suspenseful. I thought my readers might need a break. I know I did!

HANK: Yeah, sounds like a laugh a minute. But it sounds fantastic. Can't wait to read it. In the daylight.

Come back when it comes out!

And now--you cannot escape the Jungle Red Quiz:

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Miss Marple, love her.

Sex or violence?
Sex, absolutely, but in the hands of an expert the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Pizza or chocolate?Pizza.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?Sean Connery.

Facebook or MySpace?
You know, I just prefer message boards. But I think Facebook might be the road to hell.

Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Kate, but that's a hell of a question.

Your favorite non-mystery book?
I was going to say HAMLET, but that's a play and a mystery. I'll go with THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Favorite book as a kid?

Making dinner or making reservations?
Oh God, everyone knows to keep me out of the kitchen.

And finally, the Jungle Red Big Lie. Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

I'm a licensed minister.
I spent a year in the hospital in a body cast.
I had an older brother who died when I was very young.
I'm really, really good at tying people up.

HANK: Three are true? Hmmm...what do you think, gang?
Perhaps there are clues on Alex's website..

AND STAY TUNED: TOMORROW, a special holiday gift from us to you!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Janet Rudolph, Mistress of Mystery

Janet Rudolph is an ebullient presence in the mystery community. She edits Mystery Readers Journal, teaches and writes about crime fiction, and writes and produces mysteries for California’s #1 mystery event company Murder on the Menu. She blogs at Mystery Fanfare. But most of all, she loves, loves, loves mystery fiction and has figured out how to make a living from that passion.

Welcome to Jungle Red Writers!

JRW: How did you become such a crime fiction expert and enthusiast?

I’m hardly an expert, but I’m definitely an enthusiast. My interest began when as a child I read my mother’s old Nancy Drew books and my Dad’s Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. I soon jumped to more adult mysteries, making the local librarian wonder about my tastes and proclivities.

I’m an eclectic reader, but I’d say mysteries make up 75% of my reading. As far as knowing a lot about mysteries besides reading them, my love of research sent me in many directi
ons to find out more about specific subgenres and the history of mystery. My PhD thesis started out as Jewish women in fiction but morphed into something closer to my interest, religious mystery fiction. Lucky for me there weren’t all that many religious mysteries around at the time, so they didn’t need to be included.

As far as being an enthusiast, in addition to teaching mystery fiction for over 30 years, I’ve been a mystery convention organizer and participant, columnist and reviewer. I guess over time I’ve picked up a thing or t

JRW: How did you start the Mystery Readers Journal, and can you give us a peek at what's coming in future issues?
JR: The Mystery Readers Journal grew out of the publicity newsletters I did for the 1982 Bouchercon. It was quite fun to put together a newsletter in that time of cut and paste.

The first one was more of a newsy flyer. The mystery classes I taught through UC Extension and other local colleges tended to be thematic in content, so when I began the Journal in earnest, I decided to give it a thematic twist. MRJ has covered such topics as Art Mysteries, Music Mysteries, New York Mysteries, Italian Mysteries and so many year. We’re quarterly, and we’re in our 25th year. That’s a lot of themes.

Upcoming issues will focus on San Francisco Mysteries II (too much material for just one issue), Crime for the Holidays, Los Angeles Mysteries, Sports Mysteries, African Mysteries and Theatrical Mysteries. We’re revisiting a few themes, but there’s never a dearth of material.

I always find the Author! Author! section fascinating. Authors are invited to write articles about themselves, their books and the connection to the theme of the issue. This section is like a convention in the pages.

JRW: You just announced the Macavity Awards for '08. As someone with a birds-eye view, what trends are you seeing?

JR: Darker, lots of children in jeopardy, but also great writing and some new daring attempts to break the mold.

JRW: How do you make a living from mysteries?

I found a unique way to make a living from mysteries: Murder on the Menu. I’ve been writing and producing mystery events for over 25 years. Most of my clients are corporate, and I write every mystery event customized to include the theme of the meeting/event, agenda, goals and objectives, jargon and buzzwords and specific guests.

I remember talking to Bruce Taylor, former owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, about the fact that there was no way to make a living from mysteries, unless you hit it big with a blockbuster mystery novel. I had no desire to write a mystery and bookstores are more a labor of love than present a living wage. So Bruce and I commiserated. I wanted to quit my day job, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. As much as I loved Mystery Readers Journal, it certainly was never going to provide me with a living wage. I really see it as a service to mystery readers, lots of articles, no ads.

Anyway a few months later, Bruce called and asked me to join him on a local talk show radio station that needed someone to talk about mysteries on air. There was an L.A. producer of interactive mystery events who was starting a company in San Francisco, and he needed a few others to field calls about mysteries.

Bruce and I answered questions about Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Raymond Chandler and others. When we walked out of the studio, the producer asked me if I knew anyone who could write a mystery event. He already had three big events scheduled. How L.A., putting the cart before the horse! Well, I was certainly Johnny on the Spot –or Janet on the Spot. I wrote all of his mystery events for two years.

Although a great theatre person, his company folded in two years. I started my own company, Murder on the Menu, and the rest is history. So you might say that with Murder on the Menu, my mystery group, At Homes, mystery conventions, and the Mystery Readers Journal my whole life is a mystery!

JRW: What are your ten favorite mystery novels of all time?

JR: Oh my, a question I’ve been asked before and one I always find hard to answer since I tend to put the book I just read on the list. Here goes, in no particular order:

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James

Dead Heads by Reginald Hill

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Pew Group by Anthony Oliver

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Anything by Ken Bruen

And here's the Jungle Red Writers Quiz:

Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?

Miss Marple. So many crimes take place at home and in the village, and it’s through comparisons to similar situations and people’s actions that the solution can be deduced.

Sex or Chocolate?

Chocolate. Did I mention that my company, Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited, does chocolate tastings? My husband was in the Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast for three years, and he experienced chocolate growing and harvesting first hand. Cote d’Ivoire is the number one country for chocolate. Frank is my chocolatier, and I must say that sex and chocolate go hand in hand. Lucky me.

Daniel Craig of Pierce Brosnan?

Daniel Craig, but Roger Moore will always be the real James Bond.

Katharine or Audrey Hepburn?

Hard choice, but being from Philadelphia, it must be Katherine for her performance in The Philadelphia Story. And Stagedoor. Always think of Katharine Hepburn when the “calla lilies are in bloom.” I even planted some in my garden in her honor.

Of course, I always wanted to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so I’m torn. Audrey Hepburn’s Two for the Road and Roman Holiday were the models for my first trip to Europe. Sadly, I didn’t meet Albert Finney, but I had lots of adventures along the way.

First person or third?

Third. Although I appreciate first person, I feel there are so many other ‘places’ to go when a writer uses third person.

Prologue or no prologue?

Tie. Doesn’t matter as long as the book is written well.

Making dinner or making reservations?

Making reservations. I’m a Queen at this. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are so many choices.

Three true things about you and one lie; we'll guess which.

1. I had a cat named Dashiell Hammett who after having a hip replacement at 17 and radiation therapy at 18 lived to be 21. Dash was a very special “guy”.
2. I’m a television addict. In our family when you turned ten, you received a ‘big’ present of your choice for your birthday. My sister wanted the World Book Encyclopedia. I wanted a TV for my room. When I passed my doctoral orals, the first thing I did was buy a color TV. I don’t think I was ‘damaged’ by my addiction. I was and still am a great reader. I love my 42 inch plasma TV.
3. I have a second home in Bodega Bay, site of the Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which is what attracted me to Bodega Bay, in the first place.
4. I wrote a mystery novel in 1979 under the pseudonym Janet Berenson entitled Murder on the Menu. It got passing reviews and a star in PW. The premise of the book was death by food, a subject close to my heart.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to grow an author platform: Christina Katz

Christina Katz's reputation precedes her. I first heard about her from Writers Digest Books editor extraordinaire Jane Friedman who was raving about this hot-shot writer who was absolutely amazing at promoting her work and creating community, and this was before her first book WRITER MAMA had even come out. In promoting WM into one of Writers Digest's bestsellers, Christina turned what she was--a mother--into that elusive gold we writers search for, "platform."

Now she's written GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL, a guide for other writers who want to turn their personal strength into a winning, book-selling platform.

Welcome, Christina!

JR: What exactly is a platform and why do writers need one...before the deal?
CK: A platform is a promise, which says you will not only create something to sell (a book), but also promote it to the specific readers who will want to purchase it. Agents and editors have known this for years and they look for platform-strong writers and getting them book deals. If you want to land the book deal today, then you need to be a platform-strong writer.

Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you d
on’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform. A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. When you sign a book contract, you promise to use your platform to sell your book. But you can’t deliver on that promise unless you start in advance—long before you even pitch a book.

JR: Most of us don't realize we need a platform until our book is about to come out. How did you know you needed to create one for yourself when you wrote WRITER MAMA, and how did you go about it?
CK: I was fortunate by the time WM came out that I’d been cultivating my platform for three and a half years. For me, platform-development is not only instinctive; it’s fun. My platform-in-progress was instrumental in landing the deal for WM. I say platform-in-progress because writers often forget that platform is active, it’s what you do, not what you’ve done. When I pitched WM, I was already a freelance writer and a writing teacher, and that was good because my publisher likes to work with writing teachers.

But I needed speaking experience, so as soon as I signed my book contract I started looking for speaking opportunities to beef up my credentials. Whereas I used to have to pitch myself to get a speaking gig, now about half the time I am invited by people who have heard about me. That’s two years of practice starting to pay off and that’s the way we all need to think. “How can ramp up my platform to increase my reach when my book comes out?” The way to do that is by identifying your expertise, clarifying what you offer, and putting it to work.

JR: Is there a single most important thing authors need to do to build a platform?

CK: When you think about the fact that about 500 books are published each day in this country, you realize that having a book is NOT going to set you apart from anybody.

So, the first thing you need to know is what makes you and your expertise unique and communicate that. If you don’t know who you are and what you uniquely offer, how is anyone else going to know? I call this your identity, not branding, because that word is so grossly overused these days.

JR: What I love about your book is that there are so many suggestions for exactly how to do this. What's the biggest mistake to-be-published authors make?

CK: Not taking 100% responsibility for their writing careers.
My mission is to try to get every writer who aspires to book publication to realize this in advance of the book deal. Thinking that anyone else is ever going to care as much as you do. Trust me, they won’t. And then you’ll be disappointed and looking for someone to blame. It’s been fashionable for a long time to blame the publicist at your publisher.

I remember before my first book came out, I read the line, “No one cares is you’ve written a book,” and I didn’t believe it. Then I wrote a book and I found out it’s true.You have to know why others should care and be able to communicate the reasons concisely. If you don’t know what your expertise is—and even more specifically what your niche topic is within that larger body of expertise—then you are just going to be a writer lost in a crowd of writers, an author lost in a crowd of authors.

JR: What social- and/or book-oriented on-line communities do you recommend most for authors?

Facebook and Twitter are really interesting right now but the list for social networks for authors is long.
And, of course, you never know how folks will hear about you, so you may as well get your face and your expertise out there as much as possible.

It’s fine to spend most of your time on Facebook, if that’s your favorite social network, but don’t neglect MySpace, Squidoo, Twitter, Red Room, Shelfari, Goodreads, Linkedin, etc. Because of the clickable nature of the Internet, you never know how someone will find you. It only takes about a half hour to get set up on any site, just be sure to visit occasionally to touch base and keep your info up to date.

JR: What are the special challenges for fiction writers building a platform?
fiction/memoir/children’s writer will often spin off a series of topics they can explore to help promote themes they’ve already written about and hope to sell in book form. For example, novelist Marc Acito wrote "How I Paid For College, A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater. Afterwards," it made sense for him to write and teach and speak on how to write humorous fiction or how to write a page-turner. Note how specific his topics were. He spun them off after mastering them in his process.

Other things fiction writers often learn about involve: place, a topic from their research, a time period, a truth or phenomenon, universal human themes, a particular time or phase every person experiences (like coming of age), or the creative process itself. These can become promotional opportunities (sometimes even paying ones) that spark book sales.

JR: Are there any types of writers who don’t need a platform?

CK: Yes. Only writers who want to establish themselves as professional writers, who aspire to publish a book or a self-published book need to concern themselves with platform development, in my opinion. If you are writing for other reasons, such as to heal, to connect with friends and family, or just for pleasure, then probably you don’t need a platform.

JR: When you're done platform building, how do you find time to write?

CK: My career goes in cycles. I have periods that focus on writing followed by periods that focus on self-promotion. I’m in a promo cycle right now and it’s fun! And I’m still writing plenty. I have noticed that these supposed “non-writing times,” often yield the next book idea and that has been the case again this time. I can’t wait to pitch it!

If a writer allows platform development to be an integrated aspect of her writing career, I’m sure she will find that the two efforts really do feed into each other and help her career to grow naturally and authentically. What writer wouldn’t want that?

Now for our Jungle Red Quiz:

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

Miss Marple. I’m a feminist.

Sex or violence?

Definitely sex.

Pizza or chocolate?

Chocolate all the way. Preferably dark.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

Neither. Robert Downey Jr.

Facebook or MySpace?

Love my Facebook friends!

Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

Oh, Katherine. Admire her Yankee spunk.

Your favorite non-mystery book?

Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. She should have won the National Book Award that year.

Making dinner or making reservations?

Reservations for three, though we usually just show up.

And now tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

I have a tattoo on my right hip.

My cats names are Mercury, Buddha, Devo, and Mama.

My degree is in fiction, though I write primarily nonfiction.

My true hair color is increasingly silver.

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN -- Post your questions about platform building today and tomorrow and Christina will be on JRW to answer them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's your Red Ryder BB gun?

Remember what Ralphie Parker lusts after in Jean Shepherd's wonderful "A Christmas Story": "An official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle (BB Gun) with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time"?

My Red Ryder BB Gun was what I called a high-heel doll. This was in the days of yore, before Barbie, guys, and the doll I wanted was about a foot tall and she had an, ahem, woman's figure and she wore high-heeled shoes. My mother, bless her, bought me one, but the one she picked was blonde. I hid my disappointment and kept the doll, but I mean, look at me, am I blonde?

It seems so silly now, but those feelings came back to me awhile back when I bought my daughter (she's now in her 30s) her lusted-after doll: Kid Sister. She opened it and I recognized that dismayed look. Turned out I'd purchased a knock-off (in this case brunette instead of blonde). I returned it the next day, but she still trots this story out every Christmas to demonstrate how cheap I am.

So, what was your Red Ryder BB Gun, the present you lusted after, and did you get it?

RHYS: My best story of Christmas longing came when I was eighteen. Transistor radios had just been invented. (Okay, I'm giving away my age here, I admit) They were really expensive. I really wanted one but a dear friend was getting married in Germany over Christmas and had invited me to be bridesmaid. So my parents were paying for my fare as
my Christmas present.

So I didn't even mention the transistor radio. My parents weren't overflowing with cash. Then on Christmas morning I opened my stocking (yes, I still had a stocking at 18) and the first thing I found was a battery. I stared at it wondering why on earth anybody should think I might want a battery for Christmas. Then the thought gradually crystallized... it couldn't be... they couldn't possibly know... I dug through the stocking and there, at the very bottom, was my transistor radio. I still get weepy when I think about it. It was my father, of course. He was such a kind and perceptive and generous man.

HANK: OH, Rhys, even I get weepy when I hear that story. Transistor radios were such a big deal. I was glued to mine, listening to the top 40. And the battery! No wonder you write suspense!

Anyway, this is probably some deep psychological thing, and Roberta will want to come right over and talk or something. But I must confess, I don't remember wanting--or getting--anything in particular. Oh, I did want stuff. And our Christmas mornings under the tree were an embarrassing array of presents for my parents and for all us kids. I think it was even Christmas when I got my first pony. But I don't remember, exactly.

It must be some sort of object lesson: I do remember, perfectly, the Christmas when my parents decided we weren't going to have a tree, and on Christmas Eve, my sister Nina and I sneaked out and got one, and put it up in the middle of the night, surprising everyone. And I remember we always got chocolate oranges in our stockings, the kind you whap on a table and the sections come apart? I can't even look at those now without welling up.

HALLIE: Hold on, Hank. You got a PONY?

RO: Ah yes, I remember getting my first PONY...I think mine was a handbag...

HANK: Okay, yes, I'm laughing. We lived in what was then pretty rural Indiana. We had a big barn, and there were four
-going-on-five kids, and yeah, we got a pony. A Welsh pony named Sable. And from then on, we all had to muck out stalls before we went to school. Happy New Year!

ROBERTA: No, no Hank, I'm not rushing over to chat. You sound just fine:).

HANK: Oh, whew. (I mean, not that I wouldn't love to have you come chat.)

ROBERTA: My sister and I got a transistor radio too--we're 11 months apart so we often ended up sharing (and that's another story for a different day!) I was a huge doll fan--distinctly remember the year I asked for and received Patty Play Pal. (Isn't that an awful-sounding name?) But I really, really loved Barbies. There were four of us kids, and we got plenty of loot, but never as much as my only-child cousin. We'd head over to her house for Christmas dinner and I'd disappear into her room for hours to play with her stuff. Barbie's Dream House, Barbie and Ken and Barbie's sister and Ken's convertible, and racks and racks and racks of outfits. No wonder I like spending time with my characters...

JAN: Hard to choose from among all the toys I so desperately wanted for Christmas, ...I had three older brothers, so I was always longing for girl stuff. Easy Bake oven, (never got it), the light up vanity (got it), but most of all Tressy. Tressy was supposed to be competition for Barbie, but with a button in her stomach that made her hair grow to any length. I wanted her, I got her, and then I took her to my best friend Karen MacVicker's. Karen had two older sisters and every possible Barbie outfit. As it turned out, the outfits didn't fit Tressy, who immediately seemed second rate.

RO: I don't remember lusting after anything in particular. I was not a Barbie gal, or any dolls really. Calling Dr. Roberta...

do know that I NEVER wanted whatever it was that Aunt Mary got me. Nice woman but not only did the woman choose the worst presents for kids - umbrellas, rubber boots, goofy hats, stuff no kid wants - she got all twelve of us the same thing in different colors. And of course we'd each have to open them and PRETEND that we didn't know what it was. (Sorry Aunt Mare.)

I did get the EasyBake oven one year which cooked with a light bulb. Very strange. After you used the box of (I'm sure it was all chemicals) cake mix, I don't remember what you were supposed to do.

HALLIE: That Easy Bake oven ended up on the "dangerous toys" list some year or other because it could burn you...duh.

I had one and I have to say it was one of the best toys ever. It had tiny little boxes of cake mix that you could actually whip up and cook in tiny little pans. And I did it all wear my Mom's frilly apron. (I DON'T THINK SO! My mother who wore high heels just about 24-hours a day would not have been caught dead in a frilly apron.)

So, gang, what was your Red Ryder BB Gun?

And tune in later in the week--Wednesday WRITER MAMA Christina Katz will be visiting JRW, and she'll be talking about that mysterious entity, a writer's platform, and how to "Get Known Before the Book Deal." Friday we'll be welcoming mistress of all things mysterious Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What I Learned

Everybody should have an Aunt Clare.

I was lucky to grow up with her living right next door. She had four kids all younger than me, but she always seemed to have plenty of time to teach me something new or listen to my problems.

The only reason I can make pie crust and home-made candies is because of her. She also taught me how to knit and crochet. And along the way, I also learned some interesting card games.

She'd been an elementary school teacher, and when I first started school, my mother would show her my book report. Between them, they decided I would be a writer. This was first grade. Their support never wavered. Aunt Clare has read every one of my books before it was published.

Both my parents are gone, as well as my uncle, so Aunt Clare is who I call on Mother's Day and holidays now. I dedicated Teaser to her. That was my gift to her. Here is her gift to you:

Aunt Clare's English Toffee recipe (easy and delicious)


24 unsalted saltines

1 cup butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

6 ounces chocolate chips

preheat oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 13 by 9 inch pan

array saltines right side up in a single layer in bottom of the pan

melt butter and sugar in pan over medium heat on stovetop and bring to a boil.

Boil three minutes, stirring repeatedly.

Remove the pan from the heat stir in the vanilla

Pour over the crackers, spreading carefully with a spatula.

Bake five minutes.

Pull out of oven and cool one minute.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips and spread with spatula as they melt.

Let cool another ten minutes.

Cut them into pieces and remove.

If mixture gets hardened in pan, place pan in a larger pan of very hot water and candies will come out.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Her name is Maddy Van Hertbruggen. And she's addicted to mysteries. And she spends many an hour making sure all of us are addicted, too. Her incredibly popular listserv,

4 Mystery Addicts (4 MA) has hundreds and hundreds of participants. She and her colleagues oversee one of the most fascinating, thoughtful and literate on-going on-line conversations about mysteries.

We can't believe she had time to chat. But then again, we're addicted to mysteries, too.
HANK: So, Maddy. When did you realize you loved mysteries? Was there a book that just changed your life?

MADDY: Unlike many fans of crime fiction, I have not been a lifelong aficionado of the genre. I've always been a reader, mostly of general fiction; but it wasn't until approximately 1993 that I stepped over to the dark side. I was on a business trip and finished all the books that I had brought with me.

There was no way I was going to get on an airplane with nothing to read, so I stopped at an airport bookshop and picked up a book almost at random. That book was "G is for Gumshoe" by Sue Grafton, of whom I'd never heard! Well, that was the beginning of the end.

I could not put the book down. I was thoroughly impressed by the fact that it had everything going for it--an interesting protagonist, a well-executed plot, good writing style. And so after that, it was off to the local bookstore to investigate the mystery section, an endeavor that nearly bankrupted me.

I was totally naïve and figured that if someone had 12 different books on the racks, they must be a good writer. That led to the acquisition of many books that I later found were not to my taste at all, but I didn't know any better then. On the positive side, I found many authors who remain my favorites to this day. And now the ONLY kind of books that I read are crime fiction.

HANK: Does the fabulous Sue know she was your inspiration?

MADDY: Sue Grafton doesn't have a CLUE that I exist!!! Well, that's not entirely true, as we did manage to share an elevator at Left Coast Crime in Tucson in the late 90s. She was utterly charming and without ego.
HANK: Yes, she's incredible. (And she's going to be the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake next year--maybe we can convince you to come!)And did you go back and start with A?

MADDY: I did go back and start with A. I'm currently at P.

HANK: So where did 4MA come from?
MADDY: 4 Mystery Addicts was co-founded by Leslie Hagar ("Loon") and me. We "met" in the fall of 1999 on a very moribund online list which had something like 17 members. The owner/moderator was invisible. We took it upon ourselves to try to discuss books, but there were only one or two other people who ever said a word.

(Here's Maddy and Loon. Notice they're reading
fershlugginger MAD.)

We decided to form our own list (December 29, 1999) which we could control and focus on discussing books. Most of the other lists at that time did a very poor job of that. If they did choose a book to discuss, it was more along the lines of "I liked/did not like this" and that was it. So I had the brilliant(what an ego!) idea of creating discussion questions and posting them over a period of time.

Our first discussion was of The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker. I would post a question, and Loon would answer.I don't know how people found us, but we added several new members in January of 2000. Loon and I would be on the computer for hours everyday and celebrate every new membership. We thought we were hot stuff when we reached 25 members.

Look at us now with over 1100! Over time,we also added additional moderators to help with all the work (and you can't imagine how much work!) that goes on behind the scenes - Sherry Sharp, Nicole Leclerc, Judith Anderson and Barbara Fister. We have several retired moderators, Karen Bevers, Paul Richmond and Loon.

HANK: Well, you're right. I can't imagine how much work. All of us who just hang out and chat and think it's all happening by itself...what's going on behind the scenes?

MADDY: We have an active group of moderators. Our main responsibility is to monitor the messages that are posted to 4MA and ensure that all is well, that people are treating each other with respect and that there are no storms brewing. If we sense someone becoming belligerent or emotional, we place them on moderation so we can look at their messages before they go to the list.

New members are also placed under moderation, and each message they post has to be approved by a moderator. That lets us look out for trolls who are just joining to cause trouble, people who are having issues with Netiquette, and authors who are joining purely to promote themselves and have no interest in the list itself. It is important to us that we maintain the integrity of the list and ensure that we keep our focus as a group of mystery readers. When there are situations that need to be dealt with, we generally handle those behind the scenes so that we do not embarrass or humiliate anyone.

HANK: Ohh. Without mentioning any names--unless you really really want to and we would never tell--like what?

MADDY: Well, at times, someone will fire off a snarky remark without thinking, and we have to tactfully call to their attention that they aren't playing nice. Or you can tell that someone is starting to become angry, and that needs to be nipped in the bud. We actually have very little drama these days, which is great. List members treat each other with civility, and differing opinions are encouraged and respected.That's pretty amazing given the size of the list.

HANK: There's also a lot of behind the scenes organizing, I bet.

MADDY: Oh, yes, we also have a lot of administrative tasks. The whole nomination/supporting/voting process for picking discussion books takes quite a bit of effort. We do a lot of work to come up with the candidates for series reads. On an ongoing basis, there are polls to be created and databases to be updated.

HANK: So. Maddy--where are you? What do you do in you non-4MA life?Pets? Hobbies?

MADDY: In real life, I am an Associate Director of Consumer Sales Training(wireless) for AT&T and lead a group of 20 people. I have a cat named Cleo. My main hobby is reading, but I also enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and knitting. And traveling, when time permits.

(Here's Maddy in Aruba. There's something about cabana boys, which we don't understand.)

HANK: And wow--you're the fan guest of honor at Bouchercon 2010? Tell me about that!

MADDY: 2010 - I am still completely gobsmacked about that!!! I still can't fathom that a reader whose obsession maybe went a little further than most would be honored in this way. I am hoping that many 4MAers will attend the convention - it is really their honor more than mine.

HANK: What are they talking about at 4MA today? What are Maddy's secret faves of the year? Edgar predictions? Maybe...she'll tell us. If we ask...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On TEASER, the murder mystery

JRW: We can't resist. We want to interview our own Jan! (Here's a special photo of her.)

Teaser is out officially--today! (And here's the cover!) Congratulations. It's so scary, and such a cautionary tale. Just tell us a bit about it.

JAN: Thanks Hank! Teaser is about social networking going horribly wrong. Hallie (the fictional Hallie, my main character. Not our Hallie.) comes across a provocative video clip when she's trolling a chatroom and realizes the young teens are local. She convinces her editors that she's got a great story, a story parents need to hear. Her investigation leads her to some very dark places, and when girls start dying, it becomes a personal crusade -- especially when she loses the newspaper's support.

JRW: How did you decide to write about teenagers on-line?

JAN: Well first of all, I was a difficult teenager who did a lot of stupid things. I actually used to hitch hike just to meet guys and had to bolt from the car more than once. So I feel like I relate to teenagers and understand how easily it is for them to lie and to ignore their parent's warnings. In raising my own teenagers, I began to view the Internet as a sewer pipe, something that could pump really bad stuff into my own home.

JRW: Your four-star review from Romantic Times said TEASER could be ripped from the it based on reality?

JAN: It was definitely inspired by two headlines. The first was in Rhode Island, when two young teenage girls posted naked pictures of themselves on MySpace. The attorney general's office did not consider this a teenage whim. These girls were prosecuted for child pornography. Also the Justin Berry series in The New York Times alerted me to how kids could get in really big trouble with a webcam.

JRW: As a parent....does it give you chills? What do you think parents don't know?

JAN: Although I know the Internet is incredibly useful, much of its traffic and revenues are driven by pornography and I think parents should understand that. There is an overwhelming U.S. demand for pornography that contributes to the internationl sex slave trade. And I think exposure all our kids are getting to pornography is changing the culture.

I think parents don't know how vulnerable teenagers are, especially around 13 and 14 years old. Or how lonely for attention or acceptance they can be.

And it was an eye opener for me to learn how adept and patient sexual predators can be at grooming kids on line. They take very small steps, the process is so incremental, it can seem non-threatening to a kid. I really don't think parents should allow teens, especially young teens, laptops behind closed doors.

JRW: This is the third Hallie Ahern mystery--was this one different to write?

JAN: It was a little different in that the teenage characters came easily to me. I didn't fuss quite as much with this book. The odd thing was I didn't think I dwelled as much on Hallie's gambling addiction in this book, but every reviewer seemed to note it more here than in earlier titles.

JRW: Your video is so...edgy. Here's the link, for anyone who hasn't seen it.
What did you think when you met the "real" Hallie? And the "real" girls?
And hmmm....didn't we see a secret actress in one scene?

JAN: It was such a thrill to have my characters come to life. I walked around in a cloud for days afterward. And I felt strangely maternal about the actresses. I was oddly proud that Hallie was so pretty -- as if she were my daughter. They were so much my characters that I had the hardest time calling them by their real names. Jaime, Gillian and Alma. They were all terrific actresses. And about that secret actress -- I have no idea where she came from!

JRW: And now-- The BIG LIE! Tell us four things about yourself--only three can be true! And we'll try to guess which one is a lie...

JAN: Wow, I FINALLY get to play the Jungle Red game!! And you know what?? it's a lot harder than I'd imagined.

I tapped dance before an audience on stage when I was nine-months pregnant
George Harrison was my favorite Beatle
My great, great, great grandfather was a guard in the Tower of England
I'm part Native American