Monday, June 30, 2008

Digging Bones and Dishing Flicks

"Starts scary and only gets better."
...John Lescroart on Michelle Gagnon's "Boneyard"
Our guest today is Michelle Gagnon, a fresh voice in crime fiction. She mines our darkest fears, and a critic called "The Tunnels," her bestselling first novel: "'Silence of the Lambs' meets 'Wicker Man.'" It tells a tale of ritualized murder set in an abandoned network of tunnels underneath a university. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

In her new novel, "Boneyard," a mass gravesite is unearthed on the bucolic Appalachian Trail, and FBI Agent Kelly Jones finds herself trying to track down dueling serial killers.

This former dogwalker and modern dancer comes to us from San Francisco where she's in the middle of a slam-bang book tour for "Boneyard."

(Tune in tomorrow for Roberta Isleib and our take on the names that burden (and unburden) us; then guest blogger the talented and smart writer and editor Elizabeth Lyon on Wednesday.)

Michelle Gagnon

Sure, writing crime fiction is a gas, but what I really want to do is direct.

Kidding. Actually, my dream job would be film critic. I would love to take over Ebert's seat for a day. I guest blogged on First Offender's last week about what I consider to be the biggest blockbuster flops I've ever seen (if you missed it, the comments were hilarious). Today, we turn to happier things: films I've recently enjoyed.

This is a much shorter list, partly due to the fact that sadly, I don't get out much these days, and partly due to my glass-half-full world view. I'm a vicious critic when it comes to film just ask M. Night Shyamalan), so for a movie to pass my muster is rare. But these lucky few made the cut:

This film officially kicked off the summer blockbuster season and man, it did not disappoint. Great special effects, a decent (if somewhat predictable) comic book storyline, directed with a light touch by Jon Favreau. There were some real gems in here. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. was a master stroke--who ever would have figured him for an action hero?--but the success of Ironman should salvage him from a lifetime of roles as a junkie (if he can stay sober, that is). He was brilliant here: witty, charming, likeable and completely believable. I absolutely loved the little touches, like the scene in his workroom with the robot and the fire extinguisher. In my opinion, the best superhero flick to hit the screens in years. (note: stay through the credits, they're long but there's a brief bonus scene at the end).

Sex in the City:
I loved the show, and went to see this warily, especially since the trailer appeared to give away most of the storyline. But whoa, Nelly--not in the least. The movie version manages to recapture the sleek look of the series, set in a largely idealized version of New York City.

I lived in Manhattan for four years, but for some odd reason never possessed fabulous clothes and accessories, or went to any bars or nightclubs like the ones these four ladies treat as their personal playground. In fact, my memory of New York City bars at night elicits the odor of stale vomit, cigarette smoke, and the close press of bodies (not in a good way). And none of ladies, not even the struggling writer, lived in a fifth floor walkup with a loft bed, which is odd to say the least. Ah well, I bought into the fantasy regardless.

But I digress. What I really enjoyed about the film is that it presented Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha all grappling with the issues women face in the forties (and earlier), namely: Is this really it, in terms of what life has to offer? Who can you trust? And how much of yourself do you sacrifice to share a life with another person? Interesting questions all, especially the last one. And for three of the women, I found the portrayal realistic and satisfying. But the grand finale really let me down. It felt contrived, hokey, and contrary to how any sane person would behave. But then, they were never all that sane, were they? I still had a lot of fun watching.

The Incredible Hulk:
It wasn't as good as "Ironman," but compared to the Ang Lee film of a few years ago, this was Citizen Kane. Again, brilliant casting of Edward Norton. He's not as hunky as Eric Bana, but in some ways that's a good thing (who among us believed that Bana could ever be considered an unlucky-in-love nerd?) Liv Tyler is no Jennifer Connelly, but she was sufficient in her role as love interest. Honestly, if this was the only Hulk film ever made, I would probably have been disappointed by it. But after viewing the first one (and I'm generally a huge Ang Lee fan, Ice Storm was one of my absolute favorites) it was great to see the story handled onscreen the way it was meant to be. Comic book heroes do not lend themselves to arty drama. The trick is to have some fun with the story, not try to turn it into Shakespeare, and director Louis Leterrier succeeded in that.

On the horizon I'm eagerly anticipating the next Batman film (especially since it will be Katie Holmes-free; she almost managed to sink the last one, in my opinion). Hancock also looks like a lot of fun, I always find Will Smith entertaining even when the rest of the movie disappoints. I'm also feeling cautiously optimistic about the new X files and the Mummy (but then, I'm admittedly biased, being a member of "The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to David Duchovny.")

Ah, the promise of early summer. All of those appealing trailers, whose final product so frequently disappoints. So what have you seen lately that you enjoyed? Let's hear it, the good, the bad, and the ugly--best comment garners a signed first edition of "The Tunnels" (not yet a film, sadly). And if you don't win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at, which will get you entered in a drawing for fabulous prizes such as an Amazon Kindle, iPod shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates.many wonderful things.

JRW: Thanks, Michelle! Now, just a few questions from us at JRW, because curious minds need to know… How did you learn about Quantico--parts of the novel take place there?

MG: Honestly, mostly online via the FBI website, and also by reading some non-fiction by former agents. I also double-checked the descriptions with an FBI agent who once worked in that building.

JRW: Your books deal with dark subject matter, but you seem pretty upbeat. How do you "go there" in order to write?

MG: I have no idea. My mother insists that when I'm asked this question I seize the opportunity to state that I had a happy, relatively uneventful childhood. But I've always been one of those worst case scenario people-my husband knows better than to book a romantic weekend at a cabin in the woods, because I'll spend the whole night wide awake wondering if there's an ax murderer outside the window.

JRW: You were a modern dancer, bartender, model, and Russian supper club performer? Come on, tell more, especially about the Russian supper club.

MG: Ah, Club Versailles. The funny thing is, in the end that turned out to be the most fun I ever had onstage. Up until that point I'd worked with a lot of very dramatic modern dance companies, and most of my performances involved rolling around the stage in a black leotard in what was supposed to be a portrayal of the situation in Rwanda. But the Russian supper club was pure fun. There was a spaceship coming out of the ceiling, lots of fake smoke, foot-high powdered wigs, and at the end we gathered up mobsters from the audience to do the Macarena with us. Someday I'm going to have to write up the full story.

JRW: When people as you now what you do for a living, what do you say?

MG: I say writer, and if I'm feeling particularly cheeky I tell them I lie for a living.

JRW: How does this second book feel different from your first?

MG: I feel like in many ways writing The Tunnels was a learning process for me, especially since I had never written any crime fiction before and initially had no idea what I was doing. With Boneyard, I'm hoping I managed to take a leap forward as a writer. In my opinion that's all any of us can hope for, really, to improve with each book.

JRW: And finally our JRW quiz... Stephanie Plum or Kay Scarpetta?

MG: Stephanie, definitely.

JRW: Sex or violence?

MG: What, not both? Ok, if I must, I choose sex.

JRW. Pizza or chocolate?

MG: Oh god, chocolate, no question.

JRW: Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

MG: If Sean's not an option, then Daniel (when is the next Bond film coming out? I loved Casino Royale).

JRW: First person or Third Person?

MG: I prefer third, personally. I don't enjoy getting too bogged down in the mind of a single character. JRW: Prologue or no prologue? MG: That's a good one. I have prologues in both of my books, but not intentionally. My editor changed my first chapter to "prologue" in each, I still have no idea why.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On babymaking pacts

By now, everyone in America knows about the sixteen-year-old girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts who intentionally got pregnant.

JAN: After the town was overwhelmed by media attention -- calls from Oprah, the whole nine yards, the high school principal began to back away from a notion that there might have been a "pact." But whatever you want to call it, there are an unusual number of young girls (18 by last count) carrying babies in high school.

The problem, I think, isn't that the controversy is stirring debate. But that its stirring the wrong debate. Birth control education versus abstinence education. Neither is relevant if the girls set out with the goal of getting pregnant.
These girls don't need education about contraception. They need education about reality. They need to learn that no one is going to make a film out of their noble decision to give up their baby to Jennifer Garner (JUNO.) And that paparazzi isn't going to even try to get a telephoto shoot of their expanding waistlines (Jamie Spears) And that Gisele Bundchen (spelling) is not going to send them designer baby gifts to enhance her media image.
Yes, just like Queen Victoria got the credit for influencing generations of sexual repression, I think the glamorization of unwed mothering by celebrities is to blame for the resurgence of the teenage pregnancy rate, after being on the wane for fifteen years.

But no one really wants to call out celebrities and suggest any sense of societal responsibility that might be too inhibiting to their lifestyles. And the media really isn't going to blame the media. So we talk about contraception.
That's my take anyway. What do you think?
ROBERTA: Honestly, I think it's a very sad story. I completely agree that talk about contraception is off the mark here. What seems to me more on target is the self-esteem and future dreams of this group of girls.

If the girls set out with the goal of getting pregnant, they couldn't have been thinking too hard about college and careers. That seems sad to me. They have no idea how limited their lives may end up as teenage mothers. Yes it's possible to go on to school but it sure is going to be a lot harder. (And that's not even getting into the lives of the babies, starting out with young mothers and non intact families...)
HANK: Can you imagine telling your mother, at age 16, that you were pregnant? We hardly said the P word.

The possibility that the "pact" story is completely untrue aside, it's indisputable that more than a dozen teen aged girls in one lovely town have unalterably changed their lives--and their children's lives!--and could not possibly know by how much. I mean--remember, there are going to be babies.

Maybe it's--the unreality of their lives? Movies, TV, glitzy magazines, video games, advertisements, maternity clothes, Demi Moore on Vanity Fair,--all making an unreal reality. Jamie Spears? Is pregnant at 16, and it's a one day wonder. And it's always more about the "mother" than the baby. It's so sad.

First, it was those little dogs. Now it's babies. The latest fashion accessory. But these items, you can't return to the store.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On family stories

General Bourgoyne at Saratoga

JAN: One of the reasons I wanted to go to Burgundy in France, is because allegedly my last name was changed to Brogan from Bourgoyne, which would mean a long, long, time ago, my family emigrated from Burgandy France to Ireland. I say allegedly because I have a firm policy of never believing any family story. Maybe it was the way my father rolled his eyes everytime my aunt (his sister) told me one.

SUPPOSEDLY, my great grandfather changed his name to Brogan so it would sound more Irish. But he was taking a job in Liverpool at the time, so don't you think he'd want to sound LESS Irish? To blend, all he had to do was go with the existing name - the one that sounds like you could be related to the famous British Revolutionary War general. (Another eye roll from my father about this possibility)

But recently, a very distant relative who was doing Brogan family research, contacted me through my website, and apparently his great grandmother Brogan, a sister of my great-grandfather, told him the same Bourgoyne thing, so...I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't doubt everything on reflex. Especially since I didn't really believe that my husband's last name was changed from Saint Onge or that he was part Indian, only to find the whole thing confirmed on the web by a professor who was doing a study on the Metis Culture (the interrmarriage of French and Fox Indians in Wisconsin).

Not only did I find exactly which relative changed the name (his great grandfather) I was actually able to get the likely percentage of his Fox Indian blood! (And all that time I was eyerolling when his father collected Indian art.)

We all have family stories that bring us pride or make us roll our eyes. I want to hear the ones that are most controversial, or hardest to believe. Anybody?

HALLIE: My family's 'myth' has to do with my mother's mother who once lived near Minsk (or Pinsk) in the early 1900s. The story goes that came over to this country on the ticket and passport of another woman who had died. She claimed that the name we all knew her by (Kate) was that woman's name, not hers. Even after thirty years in this country, she was sure that one day the police would come looking for her and send her back to Russia. The other myth is that is that my grandfather knocked her up before he emigrated from Russia to the US, and that her cousin brought her to the US and made him marry her. What is indisputably true is that theirs was an exceedingly unhappy marriage, and that my grandmother made the best, thinnest, crispest cinnamon cookies on the planet--I've never been able to duplicate them. Recipe, anyone?

ROBERTA: We're supposed to have been related to Kit Carson on my mother's side. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Kit, I'm not sure that's a claim to fame. On my dad's side, the biggest name is John Brerton who was a graduate of West Point and served in the xxx war. Then he shot himself...hmmmm....

Kit Carson
My favorite family story is my husband's translation from German of Isleib: Large lunch followed by a restful nap (and then some of those cinnamon cookies.)

HANK: My Grampa Dave insisted that we were from Russia, that his parents were from a town called Tzablodovska (or something along those lines). And so his family took the name Sablosky. Gramma Minnie insisted the family was from Poland, and the original name was Szablowdowska (or something along those lines.) Aunt Portia (who was blonde, I could never at age 6 figure out how, and whose husband was cool and had an MG) insisted the family was Austrian, and that the real name was Sable. Everyone argued about it. Gramma made fantastic coffee-chocolate flavored coffee cake, with cinnamon. When we all aasked how to make it, she said coffee, chocolate, flour, butter and cinnamon. No one could EVER duplicate hers either. Maybe it was a Russian/Polish/Austrian thing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On vacations

No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one. ~Elbert Hubbard

JAN: It's true, I just came home from a fabulous vacation in France, biking through vineyards, meeting up with old friends, and going to a great lecture on why the French are so obsessed with Sarkozy. But there's really nothing all that funny or interesting about someone else's fabulous vacation. Much more interesting is someone's really bad vacation.

The worst was a trip to Nova Scotia I took almost thirty years ago with my now husband, then boyfriend, Bill. We took a boat from Portland that had a casino on it, except we weren't allowed to go into the casino because I wasn't 21 years old yet. Unable to afford a berth, we tried to sleep outside on the deck, only the casino was really loud and went all night. But that wasn't the worst part. Or even that Bill got pickpocketed a few days later on the bus to Digby. The worst part was the bed and breakfast we stayed in while we waited for his father to wire us money.

It was a Victorian house, run by two old women, neither of which was very welcoming.(Maybe because I wasn't wearing a wedding band?) The disapproval we felt, combined with the creakiness of the old house and perhaps the trauma of having been pickpocketed, worked some pretty bad magic. I woke up at four o'clock in the morning by voices I was sure were in our room. I didn't actually see ghosts, but I was convinced I could feel them. I swear, it was the only time in my life I ever alleged a supernatural experience, and perhaps the only time in our entire relationship, Bill didn't make fun of me. He didn't even ask me if I was delirous. He got up and started packing. We wandered around the town until our Western Union wire came through and we returned to the bed and breakfast only to pay our bill. We'd been planning to go to Halifax, but instead, cut our vacation short and went straight home.
I still get the creeps thinking about it. So I want to know, what was your absolute worst vacation?

RO: I took that same ferry one year and it was the only time I ever got seasick - not fun. But the rest of the trip was wonderful so that doesn't count. I've had trips where things went wrong, but they've turned into some of my best memories so this is harder than it sounds. My husband and I went on a Habitat trip to Yunnan Province in China. We treated ourselves to a few days in Hong Kong before the rest of the team arrived, and because a good friend of ours is a travel writer we had a fabulous suite overlooking the harbor - the bathroom had a telescope in it, you get the picture. I kept referring to it as the Michael Douglas suite for some reason.

Then we left for a small village in Yunnan and a two story guest house with one pit toilet, and our own solar showers (plastic bags you fill with water and hope that the sun warms.) The first three days were fine, then there was a freak snowstorm and we had no power and no way out. We ate noodles for 4 days. People were so cold they duct-taped their (cracked) windows shut. I didn't take my Knicks stocking cap off the entire time - of course only one guy showered (showoff.)Camera batteries and Ipods died, and there was nothing to do except stroll up and down the strip that was the town. But it wasn't all bad, the street was lined with snowmen (apparently it wasn't such a freak occurence, just for the time of year that we were there.) And we dramatically altered the town's economy by buying pencils, erasers, matches, playing cards and pin cushions, the few items stocked in the village.

ROBERTA: I was newly married with two new stepchildren when my husband suggested we join his parents and other relatives on a fishing trip to Quebec. Somehow my father got roped in too. Jan, the only French involved was when we stopped for groceries and couldn't figure out what to do with the plastic bag of milk.

"Mais le lait, c'est dans un sac!" my husband exclaimed. But the milk, it's in a bag...The store owners must have thought it took very little to entertain us!

All told we drove 18 hours with a minivan full of squabbling children, then got in a motorboat to be taken out to our island and dropped off. There was nothing there except a couple of cabins and some boats for fishing. But the fishing was good only at dusk and dawn. The rest of the days stretched endlessly...endlessly. My stepdaughter famously told my husband how she hated me because she was in charge before I came along. My father woke up one morning and famously asked:

"What day is it?"'

"Wednesday," I replied glumly.

"I was afraid of that," he said.

All said and done, we've probably told those stories more often than any others. And my stepdaughter is a lovely young lady who no longer hates me (nor I her) and I adore my in-laws, so all's well!

HALLIE: I thought I didn’t have any awful vacations, but Roberta’s island getaway reminded me of the trip my husband and I and our then 1-year-old daughter Naomi and 6-year-old Molly took to Cuttyhunk Island.

Cuttyhunk is a tiny island between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard that you can get to only by ferry (as in small boat, not car ferry). There was one little market where everything costs a fortune since it has to be boated out there. Which meant you had to bring EVERYTHING with you. For a week-long stay with two kids, that was a lot of stuff. When we packed up our yellow Ford Pinto wagon for the trip, we were astonished that everything fit. Between the boxes of Pampers, food for the week, beach toys, toilet paper, stroller, backpack baby carrier, and so on, we looked like a family of émigrés.

The crossing was rough. When Naomi wasn’t eating or throwing up, she cried. At Cuttyhunk, we got off the boat and paid a guy with a wheelbarrow to schlep our boxes and paraphernalia up the hill to the house. Finally we arrived, exhausted triumphant. Counted kids. All present. Counted boxes and equipment. All present. Counted suitcases. Zero.

All week we argued over whose fault it was. Had we left the suitcases in the car in the garage? On the ground outside the car in the garage? In the driveway? It never occurred to either of us that we’d (note my use of the term “we”) left the suitcase open on our bed at home. No wonder the car had packed so easily.

Turned out the only thing we really needed that we didn’t have were toothbrushes, and those we bought at the store. That week, we wore sheets and dish towels while the clothes we’d worn over were being washed or dried on the clothesline. The baby fared the best. After all, we’d brought diapers. But Molly still remembers how humiliated she felt swimming in the ocean in her underwear—fortunately they were Wonder Woman Under-OOs.

HANK: Wonder Woman underoos! I did a story about them once. (They used to be flammable. Stories like that,that's why I went to journalism school. Oh wait, I didn't go to journalism school. Anyway, I bought the biggest size possible, and kept them. I loved the camisole with the big star on it.)

Vacations.You know when you're dating someone you want to impress with how flexible and cool you are, you'll do stuff that you would never consider in real life? Well, one long-gone boyfriend (Jim D., you out there?) Convinced me to go CAMPING on the APPALACHIAN TRAIL.

Actually OUTSIDE where there would be NO ELECTRICITY. Sure, I said. La dee dah.

So the night before the camping started, we stayed in a motel called something like the Fishermans Lodge in someplace in North Carolina. Me, Jim, and Bear, Jim's yellow lab. (Jim was very very cute, and a writer. Is, I mean.) In the middle of the night we heard sirens. We leaped up, and went outside. There was the hugest forest fire in the mountains. Huge huge huge. People were gathered around, watching firefighters and etc. up in the hills. Just about where we were going camping the next morning.

"Wow," I said to one man. "What happened?"

He paused. "We guess, Baby did it.

"Baby did it?" I didn't like the sound of it.

"Yup," the man said. (Remember he's very very southern.) "He sets fires (like 'fars') everytime he gets out."

"He's still 'out'?" I asked.


The next morning, we headed for the um, hills. But, in the good news bad news dept, the fire danger got more and more remote, since it, TORRENTIALLY, RAINED THE ENTIRE TIME.
JAN: I forgot to mention that we'd be camping BEFORE the haunted bed and breakfast, and that by contrast -- and constrast only -- the camping seemed ideal! But while great vacations might be terrific rest and all that, let's face it, horrible ones make for much better storytelling!
Come on share yours!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


"Patricia Smiley is a wonderful, charming and funny lady and it comes through on every page of COOL CACHE...Smiley's style is easygoing and draws the reader in effortlessly and then proceeds to entertain and engage for a totally satisfying read."
Crimespree Magazine

We have to put this in--when there's a guest blogger, showing their formal bio is de rigueur.

So, fine, here's what Patty Smiley's bio says:

Patricia Smiley earned a BA in Sociology from the University of Washington in Seattle. She also holds an MBA with honors from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Her debut novel FALSE PROFITS about Los Angeles management consultant Tucker Sinclair received a starred review from Booklist and was a Book Sense recommendation. Her follow-up novel COVER YOUR ASSETS was a RomanticTimes Top Pick. Both novels were Los Angeles Times Bestsellers. SHORT CHANGE is the third in the series. Patty is Vice President of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and a member of Sisters in Crime. She is also a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. She lives in Los Angeles. The fourth next book in the Tucker Sinclair series, COOL CACHE is now on the shelves.

And that's very lovely, and she's quite successful and even studied with Elizabeth George, which is off the charts cool.

But Hank says: I met Patty at the Romantic Times convention is Pittsburgh. We were on-line pals first, because we're both in the Mystery Chix and Private Dix (don't ask) a coalition of mystery authors who banded together at RT and a great time was had by all. Here are some of us:

Lori Andrews, PATTY SMILEY, Lori Avocato, Hank, Shane Gericke, Lois Greiman, CJ Lyons

Anyway, Patty and Hank sat together on the bus to Mystery Lovers Bookstore Festival of Mystery and Romance in Oakmont, a real treat and a true adventure, and Hank can tell you--she's amazing. They went out for wine, had dinner, shared panels. Patty's funny, wise, thoughtful and authentic. (Hank's note: I'm trying not to gush here, but I'm failing.) Patty also revealed that sometimes people congratulate her on her wonderful novel, A Thousand Acres. Which, of course, is by JANE Smiley. No relation. Hank told her they probably congratulate Jane on the Tucker mysteries. Anyway, we're very proud that she agreed to hang out at Jungle Red today. And even answer our questions.

JRW: Tucker Sinclair, your main character, is a management consultant. You have an MBA. With honors. Can you do math? How does the arithmetic part of your brain—where there’s only one way for everything to work perfectly—balance with the mystery writing part, where there are endless answers?

PATTY: I have a Masters degree in Business, so I can do math. In fact, I find great many similarities between math and mystery. In both cases, there is only one solution. In math, it’s a number. In mystery, it’s the identity of the killer. In both cases, you look at all the possibilities, organize and analyze the data, and, hopefully, come up with the correct solution.

JRW: You’re funny. And Tucker is funny, wry and charming. Oh yeah, and tough. But do you think about “making it funny”? Or does funny-ness just emerge?

PATTY: My mother got to you. Right? Trying to be funny doesn’t work. Humor is subjective. It has to be organic and it has to come from the characters or the situation. I don’t worry about humor, especially in my first draft. If it happens, it happens. In the first draft, I work out the plot. Later, I sharpen the dialogue and Tucker’s attitude. If I can make myself smile, I know I’m on the right track.

JRW: What’s your outlook now on your “writing life” compared to what it was say, when you started?

PATTY: When I first started writing, I was a member of a 10-member critique group. I met with them once a week for nine years, and over time, we became close friends. Back then, the writing life was full of wonder and expectation. I had no agent, no editor, no book contract, and no deadline. Everything seemed possible. Once I sold my first novel, life changed. There was still wonder and expectation, but I also understood I had a new career that needed tending and that responsibility was mine.

JRW: Anything you wish you had known, or wish someone had told you, or wish you had believed when they did?

PATTY: A very successful author once told me this about writing books, “It’s your job; stop waiting for it to be fun.” I hate to admit it, but I think that’s good advice.
JRW: When people ask what you do for a living, do you say “author” “mystery author” “writer”—or what? Do you remember the first time you said “writer”?
PATTY: We’re supposed to be making a living at this? Jeez! The pressure. I never tell people what I do unless they ask. If they ask, I usually say, “I write mystery novels.” I use writer and author sparingly because, I’m not sure a mere four books qualifies me as a real writer. Short fiction seems much more difficult. When I had my first short story published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I began to understand what it felt like to be a real writer.

JRW: Can you image not writing the Tucker books? Or let’s put it this way—is there anything else you’d like to try?
PATTY: When you write a series, you become invested in the lives of your characters and you want to see what will happen to them. In fact, I think it would be impossible to write a series if you didn’t love your characters. On the other hand, my short stories don’t feature Tucker, and I’ve enjoyed writing those. I’ve also explored the possibility of writing a true crime book. Luckily, one asset of fiction writers is a vivid imagination. Everything seems possible.

Here's a picture of Patty's Westie, PJ. Because we can't resist a cute dog. If you've read the Tucker books, you'll know her dog Muldoon bears a certain resemblance:

And, of course, now Patty will make the Jungle Red choices:

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Hercule, because I love eccentric people and he’s the prototype.

Sex or violence?
Pizza or chocolate?
I’ve never been addicted to chocolate, but my fourth book is set in a high-end chocolate shop in Beverly Hills so, of course, I had to do a little research…okay, so I had to do a lot of research. (Tough job, this writing game.) I’ve gained a greater appreciation for chocolate, but still, I’d choose pizza (bell pepper and black olive—yum).

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won’t even include Sean Connery because we know the answer, don’t we?)
I haven’t seen Daniel Craig as the new 007, but he’s a good actor and a tougher version Bond, which I find appealing.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Kate. She reminds me of Tucker: smart, funny, and a bit of a challenge.

First person or Third Person?
Either or. I enjoy reading and writing both. My novels are in first person, which seems like an intimate way of telling a story. However, my short stories have all been in third person.

Prologue or no prologue?
I am not a fan of prologues but they seem to be a common convention in many thrillers. Most seem unnecessary.
Making dinner or making reservations?
I used to enjoy cooking before I started writing. Now I just “forage for food.” What do I call a can of peaches with an expiration date within the last decade? Dinner.

And finally: STUMP THE READERS in The Jungle Red Quiz:Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We’ll guess.

Patty says she:
1. Worked as an Easter bunny at a children’s party
2. Was a group supervisor in juvenile detention
3. Went with a date to the city dump to shoot rats
4. Responsible for sending several people to state prison
JRW: From yesterday, we're still waiting to see Neil Plakcy as Mr. Flag. Now, we have another must-see: Patty as the Easter Bunny. We hope that's one of the true ones. What do you all think? (And hey--have you ever dressed up as a character?)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On Mahu Fire

"I love the contrast between light and shadow, metaphorically, good and evil. . . . Graham Greene wrote that there was something about shady characters in sunny places. You're isolated down here, and there's a certain type of person who gravitates to these edge communities. You find the same thing in Hawaii. And I love the cultural mixing we have here, the multicultural melting pot."
Neil Plakcy quoted in the Miami Herald

We're all going to Left Coast Crime in Hawaii, right? Right? Here's the guy who knows all about it.

And we've always wanted to say Book'em, Dano. But we can say it to Neil, because his books are set in Hawaii. (And he's probably really tired of hearing it.)

Neil Plakcy is the author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, and Mahu Fire, mystery novels which take place in Hawaii. He is co-editor of Paws & Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog (Alyson Books, 2006) and editor of the gay construction worker erotica anthology, Hard Hats. A journalist, book reviewer and college professor, he is also a frequent contributor to gay anthologies.

On Neils website, we found this fascinating and useful stuff.

Lolo means crazy in Hawai'ian. Mahu means gay.

As you might know, every syllable in a Hawai'ian word must end in a vowel. Neil says he's sure that this, plus the fact that there are only fourteen letters in the Hawai'ian alphabet, was a real challenge to the first missionaries, who sought to translate the Bible into the native language. And here's what you really need toknow: By using the next available letter, and adding vowels to the ends of syllables, "Merry Christmas" became "Mele Kalikimaka." Now you can go to Hawaii at Christmas.

How intimately do you know your characters? Neil's been thinking about this...and wants us to, too. Welcome, Neil!

Recently, my friend Nancy Cohen sent me some character development tools she’d built to help her with her Bad Hair Day mysteries. The tools asked a lot of questions about your characters, things like their favorite speech phrase, ruling passion, and dominant trait.

It was all interesting, especially thinking about the dominant trait, which Nancy defines as a non-physical adjective + decision-making noun–i.e. protective guardian, charming nuisance, compassionate caretaker, restless homemaker. I feel that if you’re going to write about a character, at least a main character such as the protagonist or antagonist, you should know this stuff.

When I was discussing this with Christine Kling, who has written four mysteries about tugboat operator Seychelle Sullivan, she sent me an even more detailed list of questions to ask, including things like the character’s body language and mannerisms, birth order, diet, grooming, and romantic history.

It’s all great—but it didn’t help me when I got my favorite (so far, at least) question from a reader. He’d read my first two mysteries (Mahu and Mahu Surfer) and wanted to know if my protagonist, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, had a hairy body.
I’ll bet the big names in literature and mystery don’t get that kind of question. (Well, maybe Janet Evanovich does.)

It made me stop and think. You can fill out all the character questionnaires you want—but how intimately do we really know our characters? And how intimately do we need to? Should we know everything about them before we start to write? Or is writing about someone the same as starting to date someone—a process of getting to know them?

Of course, no matter how long you and your character (or your significant other) are together, there’s always something new to learn. In my case, I sat down to consider my fan’s questions. Kimo is part Hawai’ian, part Japanese, and part haole, or white. Since neither the Hawai’ians nor the Japanese are known for much body hair, there was my answer. Kimo’s pretty smooth. I didn’t want to totally alienate that fan, though, so I assumed he’d have a little hair here and there.

Since I’m writing about Kimo’s coming out process as well as his investigation of the cases, sex does play a part in the books. In describing his first experiences, Kimo says that denying his attraction to other men was like standing outside a candy store with his nose pressed against the glass. Once he accepted himself for who he was, he was able to open the door to that candy store and start sampling the wares.

So I guess I do need to get more intimate with him, and I’m glad that my fan raised that question for me to consider. The results may never show up on the page, but at asking and answering those questions helps me get to know Kimo better. Going back to those character questions that Chris and Nancy gave me, I’m still working on figuring out what his most treasured object is. Maybe that will show up in the next book.

Not so fast, Neil. Before we say aloha, Time to take: the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Miss Marple

Sex or violence?

Pizza or chocolate?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Pierce Brosnan

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
That's a tough one. Audrey, I guess.

First person or Third Person?
First person

Prologue or no prologue?
Prologue. Sometimes you have to set the scene before the story starts.

Making dinner or making reservations?
Making dinner (and dessert.)

And Finally: The Jungle Red Stump Your Readers Quiz:
Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

My "nom de porn" is Dirk Strong
I am a very distant descendant of the Russian royal family
Only as an adult did I discover that my father's nickname for me, Noodnik, meant 'pest' in Yiddish.
I was "Mr. Flag" in my second-grade class play and sang "You're A Grand Old Flag" to thunderous applause.

JRW: Oh, Neil, we hope you were really Mr. Flag....and we demand to see the photos.

And by the way, Aloha nui oe.
Tomorrow: Another wonderful author! And this one: hunted rats on a first date! Some fun.
And she'll--oops! a clue--will be giving away a free book or two!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Death of a Cozy Writer

"Wicked, witty and full of treats, G.M. Malliet's debut novel has the sure touch of a classy crime writer. More, please!"

***Peter Lovesey

G.M. Malliet is a former journalist and copywriter. Winner of the Malice Domestic Grant for Death of a Cozy Writer, Malliet attended Oxford University and holds a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge. The second book in the St. Just mystery series is Death and the Lit Chick (April 2009). The third book is being carefully assembled from scribblings on cocktail napkins and store receipts, although irreplaceable notes for the seventh chapter, which she had penned on her wrist, did not survive the morning’s shower.

She lives in Virginia with her husband but spends as much time as possible in England, the setting for the St. Just mysteries.

(And, if you took the Jungle Red quiz, it was Gin who was a knobby-kneed cheerleader in 2nd grade. She also fell down the stairs Christmas morning in her haste to get to the tree. The cut on her chin required several stitches. "I was 4 and greedy," she admits. )

She loves James Thurber and the Beatles, Peter Lovesey and Paul Simon. A writer after our own heart.


I was recently asked by an interviewer: What is it like to read, review, or even edit another person's story?

I have to admit, the question took me aback. It’s not just because I’m a new author—I mean, who am I to review or edit anyone? It’s that I know full well I have no talent for editing, particularly fiction. What if I hated the story, thought it puerile and badly written? I could never say so, even if it might be doing the author and the world a kindness. I’m not entirely sure I could offer constructive criticism on how to fix what was wrong, either. I have enough problems fixing my own work. Editing is a job calling either for endless diplomacy or a ruthless streak. I guess I have neither.

For the same reason I’ve never joined a mystery writers critique group, although many authors seem to thrive in this cut-and-parry atmosphere. But critique groups cut both ways: Not only would my desire not to offend anyone render me useless, but would I ever be able to forgive the person who thought my Character X needed more development? The one who didn’t understand the carefully crafted transitions in Chapter 7? (No.)

As for reviewing: Reviewers take a lot of abuse from authors but a well-written review takes talent as well as that ever-handy ruthless streak. Look at any review that appears in the New Yorker for an example of clever, insightful writing. Even if you don’t agree with them (they pretty much panned Sex and the City, making me feel guilty for liking it) you have to admire their style.

If I really love something I might post a notice on Amazon, but if I can’t honestly give it five stars I don’t bother, and I can seldom think of anything clever or insightful to say.

By comparison with editing or reviewing, novel writing is easy.


JRW: Okay, Ms. Malliet, don't think you;re escaping without answering the Jungle Red Preference Test. Kind of like the Kuder, but without the little ovals you have to fill in. And we already know what your career will be. And a very successful one, too.

G.M. Malliet: Sort of a Rorshchach test for writers, right?

JRW: Only much more revealing.

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
I’d take Miss Marple any day over Hercule, and I think that puts me in the minority. But even Agatha Christie got tired of Poirot and wanted to finish him off several times. The problem with Poirot is that he’s so fantastical, he couldn’t possibly exist. Miss Marple, on the other hand, lives on in every English village, at least in the minds of most Americans.

Sex or violence?
OK, this is a trick question, right? Wouldn’t any sane person choose sex over violence? If we’re talking books, I’d guess I’d choose something trashy, something with absolutely no social redeeming value, something like Peyton Place, over even the best-written but gruesome thriller.

Pizza or chocolate?
Is this related to the sex question?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Neither, really. My heart belongs to Hugh Grant. Pierce Brosnan called so often he just became a pest.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Audrey. Not only was she the epitome of style and fashion, it’s a wonder she hasn’t been elevated to sainthood. Audrey was one class act.

First person or Third person?
Is this the sex question again?

Prologue or no prologue?
I actually like prologues, and I know that according to every agent and editor in New York, I’m not supposed to. That theory will change in five minutes, as does everything in the publishing world, so stay tuned.

Making dinner or making reservations? Actually, I am so lazy when it comes to things culinary I try to get someone else to make the reservations.

And now the readers’ turn: Three of these things are true about Gin. Which one is false?
My name is pronounced Mallet, as in "If I Had a Mallet."
My favorite sport is rowing.
I'm a descendant of Ulysses S. Grant.
I'm a baroness.

JRW: Oh, we hope you're really a baroness. That would make Jungle Red so cool. How 'bout the rest of you out there?
Note: I am trying, truly trying, to add a picture of the cover of Gin's book, Death of A Cozy Writer. Blogger simply will not let me do it. Please go to the website of your choice, and look at the very lovely cover. I will keep trying.
Note 2: We still want to hear about your summer jobs. See Below.
Note 3: If we were on TV, this would be the tease: Come back tomorrow to meet another wonderful writer. Hint: He has a dog named after a character in Lord of the Rings. Okay, we'll bite. Frodo? Sam? Bilbo? Ringy?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On First Jobs

"Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count, everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."

Albert Einstein

HANK: There was no way around it. At this time of year, every summer from the time I turned 16, I had to get a summer job. We all did, as soon as we passed into no-longer-child-labor territory. In fact, there may not have been child labor laws back then (after all there wasn't even color TV, for heaven's sake) but anyway. My step-father insisted. No summer job? Forget about it. That also meant no pool privileges, no car privileges, probably no food privileges.

So my first summer, after complaining about it for awhile, and failing at trying to prove to Mom and Boo (as we called him) that no one would hire a teenager with no experience, I went to the Avon Shopping center, I think it was, in suburban Indianapolis. I inquired at the A and P--do you need anyone? No. At Shaeffer's Drugs. No. At Adore Beauty Salon. Pronounced A-dor-ay, of course. No.
Next on the strip mall was the dry cleaners, can't remember the name. Oh, yes, Tuchman's.
And they needed a clerk. Great! Cush job,I thought. Take people's clothes, give them back. Though it did smell a little funny in there. So done deal, I was hired, and then they handed me an employee information paper to fill out.

I picked up the pen, and began to write.
"Waitaminit," the clerk said. "You're left-handed?"
"Yes," I said.
He took the paper back. "We can't train a left-handed person," he said, shaking his head. "The machines--"
Machines? I remember thinking? Why will I need a machine?
"--the cleaning machines are designed for right-handed people only. No way, sorry, but we need someone right-handed."
And with that, adios job.
I was crushed, defeated, and went to the Dairy Queen to drown my sorrows in a double chocolate softserv in a cup with pineapple topping and coconut flakes. The Dairy Queen. Where, as it turned out, they needed a person to be a counter girl.
And I got the job. I adored it. I learned to make an ice cream cone with a curl on top, and dip it in chocolate keepng the curl in place. (Bet I could still do it.) I learned customer service, how to be nice even if you didn't feel like it, how much fun it was to make someone happy, how fulfilling it was to give people something delicious, how fantastic it was to get a paycheck, what a good feeling it was to go home tired after a real day's work.
And, because you can make ice cream cones left-handed, but not do dry cleaning, I did NOT spend my summer breathing tetrachlorethylene, "perc," the solvent they now know causes cancer and all kinds of other horrible things.
Somehow, to me, that's all just--chillingly revealing about the universe. Or maybe it's just a nice story.
Summer jobs anyone? How did the universe work for you?
JAN: From about seventh grade on, I worked in my father's law office, both afterschool and summers, but I don't think that really counted because my father was the most patient man in America and I didn't really have to learn the real rules of a workplace.

At sixteen, I figured I needed to deal with a real boss, so I got a job at Shoprite, which was the purest form of torture I've ever endured. I was hired as a cashier, with about twenty other young women. The store kept a camera on us and if we made an an error ringing something up, we weren't allowed to make our own correction, we had to call the manager over, so he could humiliate us in front of the customers.
If you made too many mistakes, or if you didn't flirt enough with the manager, you got demoted to bagging. I refused to flirt and did A LOT OF BAGGING. So much that from time to time, I still feel the sharp knife pain in my shoulderblade.
I quit, and went back to the cocoon of my father's law office. I learned no lessons in workplace politics, but I did learn how to type the right way, without looking at the keyboard. And hey, that came in handy!

ROBERTA: oh my gosh, I could write pages about the crazy jobs I had. But probably the first was snack hut girl at the historic village in Allaire State Park in Southern New Jersey. I was still in high school and my parents got the zany idea that four kids, three of them teenagers, would enjoy camping for the entire summer while holding down their first jobs. My older sister and I shared a tent, while the rest of the family, German shepherd included, enjoyed a pop-up trailer.

Women's liberation hadn't yet crested in NJ, so my YOUNGER brother got the plum position assisting the blacksmith--at a higher rate of pay. My older sister and I rotated between flipping burgers and standing watch in the historical buildings. If you cooked the meat, you left the day drenched in grease.

If you stood guard, you suffered death from boredom. And you were required to be in costume--long, ugly dresses that showed neither waist nor cleavage. I sewed my own--something flowered with a scoop neck and a cinched waist. I had to fight for the right to wear it--definitely not appropriate to the period!
The next summer I gladly accepted employment cleaning motel rooms in Hatteras, NC, not living under a canvas roof and far from my family!
RO: I don't think I ever had a summer job per se. Not the Marjorie Morningstar, summer camp-type job. I've worked after school since I was fifteen - toy store, hardware, discount drugstore. Nothing glamorous - no fun memories..ah yes there was that time I was pricing tube socks...

HALLIE: Not counting an unpaid job teaching dance (HA!) at a summer camp, I was 15 the first summer I tried to get a "real" job. Every office where I applied asked if I took shorthand. I did not. So instead of working, I learned shorthand--Gregg shorthand, which is really the coolest thing. It's a bunch of little strokes that represent consonant sounds (the sound "t" is a little upward slanted line; "d' is a longer upward slanted line), Different-sized circles and semi-circles are vowel sounds. More than you ever needed to know, huh?
The next summer I worked for a temp agency. They placed me at an import/export company where I typed invoices and no one spoke English and I had to ride 3 busses to get there in downtown LA. Then I worked at a company that sold pipe fittings, also downtown LA--I broke some kind of record there typing hundreds of connected blank invoices that fed in a continuous roll through my typewriter. I worked from indecipherable handwritten invoices full of abbreviations, and I've often wondered what havoc my invoicing wreaked on that company. The next job was out in the Inglewood oil fields (3 different busses, this time) where I worked in a trailer, filling in for the receptionist. I had a wonderful time. I dated one of the engineers who lived in an apartment over a garage of a house right on Manhattan Beach. Looking back, I realize my parents were truly out to lunch that they did nothing to stop this. (Ed Maciula, are you still out there?) It was, ahem, memorable.

Of course, you guessed it, I never once used shorthand. It's another useless appendage, along with the doctorate I thought I'd need for my academic career

HANK: Oh, ahem! Now THAT'S gotta be a blog for another day. Ed??? You out there?
Summer jobs. You never know what you're going to learn.

**NOTE: A sorrowful goodbye to Tim Russert. He was the genuine article. **

Friday, June 13, 2008

Change is good: Share the pain

Okay, how seriously are you taking it? Is the rising cost of food and gas and just about everything else making you cut back? Is guilt over global warming making you behave more environmentally sane?

The other day I drove the highway up to New Hampshire and, as I often do to amuse myself as I travel, counted cars. There are definitely (proportionately) fewer SUVs on the road, confirming all the news articles I've been reading about car dealers who can't give them away. Have you stopped driving yours? We own two aging (8- and 15-year-old) Honda Civics, so what are we going to trade down to? Still, it costs more than $40 to fill. On the up side, isn't the air cleaner and traffic lighter these days?

And the cost of food! It's not that I've changed what we eat, but it takes me twice as long to shop. I stand there, staring longingly at produce that I refuse to pay that kind of price for. $1.99 a pound for green beans *on sale*?? Seens like the only bargains any longer are cabbage and beans (pinto, white, kidney, black-eyed peas...). That Home Depot caged tomato in a patio pot at $14.99 suddenly seems like a bargain.

Are you growing vegetables to compensate?

In the name of cost cutting and environmental sanity, these days I--
- Bring my own bags to the market
- Rarely water my garden; if it doesn't survive, it wasn't meant to be
- Belong to an organic farm cooperative
- Take the T whenever I can and meet more by phone
- Rarely throw out leftovers, cooking creatively what's in the fridge instead (soy sauce is my new best friend)
- Agonize over whether to do 'virtual' book tour for the February release of "Never Tell a Lie" or bite the bullet and travel
- Spend longer in the discomfort zone before turning on the a/c or heat

When my car's air conditioning gave out, I had this fantasy that I'd forgo it. I'm driving less, after all. What's a little perspiration? Then the thermometer hit 98 on the day when I drove Portsmouth. Next day, I got that sucker fixed.

Are your habits changing, too? Where do you draw the line?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sometimes you don't want to know what went into it...

HALLIE: Not long ago I watched Donnie Darko, the movie starring a very young Jake Gylenhaal about a sleepwalking youth and a jet engine that crashes into his bedroom from a sky in which it turns out no airplane was flying. The film was a modest success when first released more than three years ago, and has gone on to rake in the $$ in DVD as a cult hit.

I loved the movie which could have been taken literally as a story about time travel, or (I thought) as a portrait of a deeply disturbed teenaged boy's inner world. Then I read an article explaining the story in gory the annotated Alice. Turns out the director intended DD to be a sci-fi tale of time travel with a malignant rabbit and the "Manipulated Dead" who wander around trying to get our hero to sacrifice himself so that the time/space continuum can unwrinkle itself. Well, that was a bummer. I liked the movie so much more when I could ponder its ambiguities.

It felt like those moments in an art gallery when you read some explanation (by the artist or the curator) of a piece of art that, up until that moment, you'd rather liked and suddenly it seems pretentious or overwrought. Or that time I loved-loved-loved a pot roast someone made until I asked for the recipe and discovered it had an entire bottle of Heinz chili sauce and a jar of marmalade in it. Sometimes you just don't what to know.

Should books (and art) need Cliffs Notes? Does knowing too much ever spoil your appreciation?

HANK: I was just reading about (and trying to understand) The Intentional Fallacy--a professor W.K. Wimsatt wrote 'the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art'.

So that's not exactly what you're asking, because you're talking about how *you* feel about what you read or saw, not whether the work is a "success" in general.

But I do think it can mean, on some level at least, who cares what the author meant? And if Donnie Darko makes you think, entertains you, enlightens you, based on what you saw and what you thought--then doesn't that make it a success for you?

But I must say, I always love to know more. What the author thought, what the artist was trying to convey. What I missed, what might make it a richer experience. I devoured The Annotated Alice. I read the explanatory notes in the symphony programs--it always makes the music better.(Okay, I'm with you, though, on the food ingredient thing. The yuck factor is better hidden.)

And it's certainly happened to me that a theme or motif emerges from my writing when I absolutely never--purposely--put it there. Readers will describe, with much certainty, how they understood what I was trying to convey in Prime Time. An I'm sometimes baffled--when it's something I did not, consciously, attempt to do. And yet, no question, something was revealed to them, something made sense in their own brain. And I embrace and accept that.

(Now I'm going to go Netflix Donnie Darko. So many of my pals love it.)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Simply Inspirational

"Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president' s spouse. I wish him well!"

Who said it? Answer at the end of this blog.

HALLIE: I'm starting this blog at 1:27 PM on Saturday, just after watching Hillary Clinton's speech suspending her campaign for President. I was completely blindsided by how emotional I felt, listening to her speak in the National Building Museum.

A woman came THIS close to garnering getting nominated for President! That welling up inside me turned to tears when the camera shift to her radiant daughter Chelsea. And yes, in ten or twenty years from now, hopefully it will no longer be so remarkable. But today I felt enormously proud of them both, and of the country--a welcome feeling after a lousy week of rising oil prices, Israel's saber rattling, the endless war in Iraq, and job losses, not to mention that guy that got hit by a car in Hartford and all the pedestrians just stood by and watched. And don't get me started on the book business (did anyone read the NY Times op ed piece about how writers will have to figure out how to make money by GIVING AWAY their work?)

"Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward. Life is too short, time is too precious and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been."

I don't want this blog to get political, but for her or not, one couldn't help but be moved. It felt like a truly historic moment.

Did you watch? Were you moved, or just relieved that the election could move on to the next phase?

ROBERTA: I didn't get a chance to watch--all caught up in a big family wedding. Looking forward to seeing her on Youtube. I have complicated feelings about the whole election--glad we are moving on. But she held up in an amazing way in my opinion. I just couldn't picture grinding along day after day, looking good, sounding strong, handling whatever was handed her with grace. I hope she has a long and productive career from here.

HANK: Other moments: Remember when it might have been Geraldine Ferraro? I once saw a Mondale/Ferraro bumper sticker on a car--and someone had cut off the "Mondale" top half so the car was sporting just "Ferraro." Yes.

When I was in my early twenties, I applied for my first job in radio. I think it must have been--1971? I had my interview with new news director, who asked me about my journalism education. Zero. My reporting experience. Zero. But, I told him, I had just left a job as a press secretaty for a gubernatorial candidate. So I knew all about the city and all about politics and how reporters worked and what they needed.

Besides, I said, all earnest, this station's license is up for renewal at the FCC and you don't have any women working here.

I got the job. And have been a reporter ever since.

It wouldn't happen that way now, and that's good thing. But how many girls--Hallie and I were talking about this just today--realize what a struggle it was for all of us now-geezers, and the ones before us and the ones before them, to get to the moment when Hillary came close? It as the real thing, and US politics will never be the same.

I loved when she referred to the "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," referring to the number of votes she got. A ceiling with that many cracks can't stay in place very long. And we were here when it happened.

RO: I didn't see it, but will look for it on Youtube. I do remember quite vividly listening to Obama's convention speech while driving through Bel Air. I ran into my room and switched on the tv, thinking...who IS this guy? Maybe eight years from now, he'll be the candidate.

This year the democrats had an embarassment of riches - two strong, worthy choices - and it's a shame that either of them had to bow out. But I'm glad we will no longer be treated to hourly updates on which candidate or which candidate's former fill-in-the-blank (ital.)accidentally said something which could be miscontrued. It's scary to think about how politician's need to behave and speak. Why anyone would even want the job is beyond me.

HALLIE: Election fatigue, indeed there's some of that. At last we're moving on to the next phase where the candidates will discuss real issues. Or is that too much to hope for? But I can't say it hasn't been *interesting*--and how long since anyone could say that about an election?

WHO SAID IT: Wouldja believe, Barbara Bush!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Six Word Memoir

RO: This is tougher than it least it has been for me. I was visiting the blog of a lovely gardener from New Zealand who had been tagged with the Six Word Memoir. Now, I'm not that interested in going through the whole "I'm tagged, you're tagged" thing, but the notion of being able to describe oneself in just six words is pretty intriguing.I loved HERS....Still growing after all these years, but I can't very well use that, can I?

My husband suggested "I've got a lot of work." And it's a pretty good one. I've always had a lot of work...ever since I was a kid. Granted, most of it is of my own making - everything from "I must make the doll clothes now!" (age eight) to "I will go to El Salvador in the middle of my book tour - I can do it, it will only be a week" (last March.) I seem to pack a lot in to every day.

What would your six word memoir be?

JAN: "Wondering where she left her purse?" or more optimistically, "Trusting she will find her purse."

RO: Too funny!!

HANK: Ever since I first heard about this 6 word thing, I've been fascinated. The book with many of them "Not Exactly What I Had Planned" (a great one) explains the legend. Hemingway was once asked to write a short story in six words. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Legend or not, wow. My favorite favorite favorite so far, which I do wish I had thought of, and lust after for myself, isEnglish major. You do the math.
Mine might be: Working, hoping, trusting. And, gratefully, happy.or: Are the black ones size nine? or: Wishing for latte, will accept coffee.or: Trying once more. It could happen.
Yeah, I especially like that one.

ROBERTA: how about "too much pressure, brain might explode"?

RO: Well, if we're going to be funny..."where are my black cowboy boots?" and the classic... "Does this make me look fat?"

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Why Can't a Woman Be More Like A Man?"

RO: I'm not sure I could write a main character from a male point of view. My pal Jon McGoran writes his Madison Cross series from a female POV. Let's see how he does it.

Jon: When I first started writing Body Trace, the first book in the Madison Cross series, I was somewhat intimidated at the idea of writing from the point of view of a female protagonist. I had written parts of novels from the points of view of female character’s, but the idea of an entire novel, or even a series, was something different. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I’d be able to pull it off (so to speak).

Certain aspects of Madison’s character made it easier, like the fact that she is not the type of woman to obsess over shoes or make-up – not that she doesn’t consider those things or take pride in her appearance, but she’s not always thinking about those details, and thus, neither am I. Madison has tragedy in her background, and she has built barriers to protect herself. That sense of reserve may have helped as well. Writing in the first person – or even too close of a third person – would have violated Madison’s sense of personal space, but it also might have made establishing her voice more difficult.

Another thing that helped me to a surprising degree was the extent to which I outline. Yes, I wrote plenty of notes on character, and I gave Madison and the other characters plenty of thought, but the plot outline helped a lot as well.

I have always been an outliner. I think when writing something with a mystery at its core, it is particularly important, because you’re not just concerned with the structure of the plot, you also have to think about how you reveal information, both to the characters and to the readers. When writing a forensic mystery, an outline is even more important, because much of the time you are not just gleaning information from witnesses or informants, you are diriving it from forensic techniques. Evidence has to be discovered, then interpreted, and often reinterpreted. The revelation of that information is part of the pacing of the story, and I think it’s almost impossible to do it well without a solid outline.

So what does all this time spent outlining have to do with being a man writing from a woman’s point of view? Well, by the time I started writing the first draft, I had already been so immersed in the outline, and so immersed in Madison, that her point of view was already second nature for me. I was no longer worried about, “Is this how a woman would think or act,” I was thinking “Is this how Madison would think or act.” And by outlining so extensively, I had already answered many of those questions for myself, which helped define Madison in my mind.

At one point about halfway through the first draft, I remembered my earlier concerns, but by then I felt like I knew Madison so well, it wasn’t really an issue for me. A little later in the book, toward the end, there’s a scene where Tommy Parker is about to put a wire on Madison, and she realizes that for one reason or another she is wearing a particularly skimpy, sexy bra, as opposed to the sturdier, more utilitarian one she might have chosen if she had known how her day would turn out. That’s not really a thought process that a guy ever really has to go through, but by the time I was writing that scene, I knew exactly how Madison would think and speak and act, not because I knew how a woman would react in that situation, but because I knew how Madison would react in that situation.

Writing a detailed outline helped me in the ways that a detailed outline always helps, but I addition, that added time spent living in Madison’s world before I starting the first draft helped me to become completely comfortable with Madison’s point of view, and her voice. By the time I started writing the first draft, I had a fully-formed character to occupy – a character for whom being a woman is just one of many defining characteristics.

Writing as D. H. Dublin, Jonathan McGoran is the author of a series of forensic crime thrillers from Penguin Books that includes Body Trace and Blood Poison.

Freezer Burn, the third book in the series, hits stores Tuesday, June 3.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

*"C" is for Countertops

(*apologies to Sue Grafton)

Ro: The plan was to give myself a few weeks off. To reconnect with friends and family that I had alienated in the last six self-absorbed months. It lasted about three days. Then I got the bright idea to do a mini-renovation in my kitchen. Nothing major. Nothing structural - not a facelift, just a little botox. Dream on.

In the same way that I haven't quite taken the kool-aid on HDTV, the world of Sub-Zero fridges, pro-style ovens and trendy countertops escapes me. I've done more research on countertops recently than I've done on book three. I don't even know what half of this stuff is, but I'm beginning to feel countertop envy. I have (shudder) a tile countertop. When I revealed that to a prospective contractor over the phone yesterday - there was a little pause - as if I'd said something so pitiful he didn't quite know how to respond. Oh, I'm so sorry - I know a support group.

Anyone who's been to my home knows I'm just as likely to have a $5 lamp from Goodwill as a $15,000 oriental carpet (which my dog routinely barfs on.) I'm an equal opportunity shopper. But do I really need a $20,000 countertop? Does anyone? Is it honed by Vestals?

Two fresh-faced guys in khaki pants and Polo shirts showed up today (at different times) to explain it to me. Now I have a headache. I'm supposed to pick out my own stone, too. Who am I? Michelangelo? Can't I just say, give me the gray stuff?Apparently not. This reminds me of my wedding. When the caterer asked me if I wanted sprigs of rosemary to tie around the napkins.

HALLIE: For a very short while, I was watching that show where people shop for houses and talk about how they're going to make them over, and it was making me crazy about the kitchen which we redid when we bought our house in the early '80s. My countertop is Formica, the color of those green highway signs... I still love it, but suddenly I'm thinking (provide scary music) **MARBLE**. Which of course leads to thoughts of light pine cabinets. Which leads to lots of money and lots of stuff I simply CAN live without. When we bought our house it had no kitchen counters at all--really, none. And a cast-iron sink that hung over a radiator. And a few WW II-era pink metal Sears cabinets. We loved the house because no one had spent a gazillion dollars on fixtures that weren't our taste.

I'm just back from BEA and heard Thomas Friedman give the keynote speech on his new book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" Tough messages for tough times. I wish "fixing" the world were as easy as fixing the kitchen with new countertops.

HANK: Did you use the rosemary? We should blog about weddings someday.Anyway. Kitchens. (Although we should probably talk about Thomas Friedman.) We got Corian a few years ago. I decided (scary music) that granite was, cold. I mean, it would feel cold to the touch.
So the Corian person came with samples. A thousand million samples. White, I said, gimme white. White with specks. (At the same time I was thinking, hmm, maybe black with specks. But we were trying to lighten up the place so I figured black wasn't the best answer.) It looks great. And years later, perfectly new.
But the countertop came with a VIDEO. A VIDEO. I'm supposed to watch a video about countertops?? I didn't. (But I always, in those cases, worry there might be something in the video that says, about halfway through, congratulations! You watched this and now you get a million dollars. Still, probably not, so it's not worth it.)

Digression: we got a GPS. And it came with a DVD that you're supposed to watch to find out how to work it. Hey. Note to sellers: I'm NOT going to watch a dvd instruction book. I'd rather not read an instruction BOOK, if I'm going to not do something.
Anyway. Me? I just want kitchen cabinet doors with glass. But then someone will have to come over and clean the inside of the cabinets. And rearrange the stuff inside.(I do have this idea though: what if I got photos of lovely, you know, pasta and cookies and interestingly gourmet things, and pasted them behind the glass. You know, faux food. It could work!)
Let us know what you decide, Ro!

RO: That's a inside the cabinets of neatly stacked things to camo the messy stuff.
I did not go with the sprigs of rosemary..I thought she was insane. My husband's assistant at the time did my whole wedding ..all I did was buy the dress and show up. I didn't even get my hair done, I went to a basketball game that day. My maid of honor was waiting for me at the Plaza. She was freaking because the game went into overtime. (That was back in the day when the Knicks were still good and actually got into the playoffs.)

I do realize kitchen makeovers are not the hot issue in many parts of the world, and I could build an annex to my library in Tanzania with what it will cost me for this "touch-up." Maybe I'm being influenced by all of these house shows on television...

BTW You will LOVE the GPS. Have you named her yet? (Mine's Tomasina)

ROBERTA: Part of my counter is refinished chestnut, recovered from a barn, then varnished with six coats of marine varnish. Absolutely stunning. Except I won't let anyone chop anywhere near it lest it be marred. So that's a lesson--if it's too nice, it's a little hard to enjoy:).
I was going to suggest weddings last week as I celebrated my 16th anniversary. We'll do it soon...after we straighten out the world...

RO: Can we start with my kitchen?