Thursday, August 28, 2008


When the student is ready, the master appears.

~Buddhist Proverb

HANK: Sigh. With September approaching, and Labor Day, for heaven's sake., I keep thinking I should be out buying new notebooks (after finding out via Linda Katzenberger whether this year the cool ones are spiral bound with three rings, or five rings, or separate folders)

and new penny loafers (after finding out from Sue Marling whether they're supposed to be shiny and with a penny in the slot, or scuffy and with no penny.).

Linda Barnes described this week how she sent her son off to college--another turning point at summer's end.

I remember my first day as a freshman in High School. I was so excited. Here's a picture of me--but this might have the next year. Hard to tell. Post-Vidal Sassoon, obviously, anyway.
I really wanted to wear my new black and white hound's-tooth wool skirt, and my new red crewneck sweater with a white oxford underneath. It was a great outfit.My Momn said I couldn't wear it--with the absurd reason that it was 90 degrees outside. (Indiana in September.)

I insisted. It was my new school outfit, and this was my new school. I was going to wear it, come hell or high water.

What came, was something else. The alarm went off Tuesday morning. But then, I heard another weird sound. My cat, Mrs. Purdy, chose that moment to give birth to kittens. In my closet!

No, that wasn't foreshadowing. It was weird and goopy in there, but my skirt was fine. (The kittens were fine, too. F Scott and Zelda. Another story.)

But I didn't remember to brush my teeth until after I got dressed. And my red sweater soon had
a big slash of white Crest dribbled down the front.

I changed clothes. Mom wins again.

Your first day of high school? College? Can you remember?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ON LINDA BARNES (And Carlotta Carlyle)

"Carlotta and I grew up in the feminist movement of the 60s. She is my mirror held up to nature, my reflection of a changing society. As a teen, I read mystery novels about stalwart men who lived by a code a justice. As a young adult, I looked at my female friends and saw, not only housewives and moms, but lawyers, doctors, and cops, women who not only desired justice, but demanded it. And that's Carlotta's mission, really, to demand, determine, and occasionally, mete out justice on her own. "
*** Linda Barnes

from "Carlotta and Me"

Look gang. Linda Barnes is here. Back in my mystery writing youth (four years ago) I was at some event, and this woman walked into the room. Somehow shy, but commanding the floor at the same time. Every head turned, and the party buzz buzzed right over to her. “Who’s that?” I whispered to a straggler who hadn’t yet joined the admiring throng.

She did a double take. I was an idiot. That’s Linda Barnes, she hissed. Linda. Barnes.

Linda Barnes. Who doesn’t love Carlotta Carlyle? And who doesn’t think the fabulous she and the fabulous Linda are, somehow, channeling each other? Although Linda is quick to say she’s never been—and never wanted to be—a cab driver. Linda’s twelfth Carlotta, Lie Down with the Devil, is just out, and to much acclaim.

(In all so far, Linda;s written sixteen mystery novels, twelve featuring her 6'1" redheaded Boston private eye Carlotta Carlyle, and four featuring actor/detective Michael Spraggue, an amateur sleuth.

She was born and raised in Detroit, but graduated cum laude from Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts, then went on to become a drama teacher and director at Chelmsford and Lexington, Massachusetts schools.

Her bookshelves are not only full of books, but full of her honors. Barnes won the Anthony Award and nominations for both the Shamus Award and the American Mystery Award for Best Short Story for "Lucky Penny" in 1985. In 1987 she received the American Mystery Award for Best Private Eye Novel and nominations for the Edgar, Anthony, and Shamus awards for A Trouble of Fools. The Snake Tattoo was named one of the outstanding books of 1990 by The London Times.

HANK: Thanks for being here! I read in your bio that you were a drama teacher (if that can ever be completely past tense) and then I read your starred review in Publishers Weekly (nice). It says, in part "The story moves unhesitatingly from point to point, and each character encountered holds his or her space on the page with confidence and distinctiveness." That reminded me of what a director (or actor) would think about on stage.... How does your drama brain connect with your author brain?

LINDA: Good question! I was also an actress, a director, and a playwright, and still feel that I’m working as all three because there are so many connections between theater and mystery. Both are immediate; both have certain conventions that must be honored. When I begin to write, I start with voice. Once I hear the character, I visualize the character. Then I physicalize the character: how does he walk; what does she eat for breakfast; when does she smile and why. These are the same things I needed to know as an actress. My director self guides pacing. I still think in terms of exits, entrances, and beats. As a playwright, I got to assign the task of dressing the actors and describing the set to others. I miss them, and often long for a costumer and a set designer.

HANK: PW--can't resist quoting a bit--calls Lie Down with the Devil "utterly compelling." It's your twelfth Carlotta. Is it more difficult to be "compelling" on the 12th go-round? Or was it the toughest on number 1 when you created her in the first place? Or does a person who's "real" in your head--not ever get old?

LINDA: It’s always tough, Hank. It was tough at the beginning, and it’s tough now, but I try not to write about any of the less-than-compelling cases Carlotta accepts. And I guess the fact that I think that Carlotta has a life I don’t write about is a measure of how “real” she is in my head.

HANK: Yes-and on your website you even have an essay written by Carlotta. You had her talk about what she's most proud of? Can we ask you the same thing?

LINDA: I’m proud of Carlotta, my son, and my two nieces, who are like daughters to me. I’m proud that, through hectic days and frantic years, I’ve kept on writing. Too stubborn to quit.

HANK: I just met your son—he was wearing a college t-shirt because he knew everyone at the party would be asking him: Where are you going to college? So—he’s in Missouri now. And you’re in Massachusetts. What’s that like?

Wonderful and devastating. How terrific is it to know he’s ready to fly? I will miss everything about him, from his muddy footprints to the smell of his hair.

HANK: Do you remember your first day at college? Have your dreams changed?

LINDA: I wanted to be a great Shakespearean actress. I wanted to win an Oscar. Oh my God, I still do; I just haven’t finished the screenplay. . .

HANK: Oh, I wanted to be a Shakespearean actress, too. Viola. And Portia. But last question: what do you wish you had known when you started this mystery writing career? Lots of new and emerging authors are reading this...what can you tell us that you wish someone had told you?

LINDA: Someone did tell me. The late great Bill DeAndrea said, “You think your career will be like a staircase, every step going up. Listen: it’s really like a mountain range, highs and lows, highs and lows.” I pass his wisdom on to you.

Thanks, Linda. And we hope you sell piles of Lie Down with the Devil! And if you all missed it somehow, Heart of the World is now out in paperback!

And as always: please take the Jungle Red preference test!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Miss Marple.

Sex or violence?
Sex. A little violence.

Pizza or chocolate?

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

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

First person or Third Person?
Both. Either.

Prologue or no prologue?
No prologue.

Making dinner or making reservations?

And Finally: The Jungle Red Quiz:
Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess which one is fiction!

LINDA: I’m terrified of heights.
I tell my husband everything.
I’m more convincing when I lie than when I tell the truth.
I’m allergic to lobster.

HANK: "I’m more convincing when I lie than when I tell the truth?" Is this one of those riddles about foxes and people on an island? So that means, if this is the one that’s not true, then it is the one that is true?

PS! Come chat with Linda in person—she’s in the Hall of Famers panel (of course) at the always fantastic New England Crime Bake

Monday, August 25, 2008

On Bananas

“…so it's easier for me to cut the stupid banana."

Woody Allen

HANK: Did you read the article in Newsweek? It’s haunting me. Woody Allen (and we can pick cinema favorites later) says he cuts his banana into exactly seven slices each morning. According to Newsweek:

‘Six slices, or eight, and something bad might happen. "I know it would be total coincidence if I didn't slice it into seven pieces, and my family were killed in a fire," he says. "I understand that there could be no correlation, but, you know, the guilt would be too much for me to bear, so it's easier for me to cut the stupid banana." ‘

Here’s Woody Allen, okay, notoriously neurotic and sometimes a little creepy but certainly talented and inarguably successful, who relies on banana-cutting to make himself feel in control.
Silly stuff first. This means there has to be a banana every morning, which in our house would be problematic. Did you get the bananas yesterday, honey? Either of us might say it. And it’s just as likely that the answer would be “no.’

But banana requirement aside. Let’s talk about superstitions.

Oh, yes, I have them. But (and I’ll somewhat afraid to bring this up because it might jinx everything) it trying to catalogue them today, I’m discovering that I have fewer than I used to. What does that mean? Would I walk under a ladder? Huh. Probably. It would cross my mind, I admit. Put shoes on a table? Yeah, if there was a reason to. Step on a crack? Do it all the time. And I have a beautiful glazed black papier-mâché raven in my living room.

My darling step-father, gruff and hard-nosed, corporate lawyer and all that entailed, would have told you he was absolutely not superstitious, that such things were idiotic. But try putting a hat on a bed. He’d whisk it off, appalled. “I thought you weren’t superstitious,” I remember, so clearly, how perplexed I was. “I’m not,” he insisted. You just don’t put hats on beds.”

Okay. I do throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it. And I have two little carved rocks on my desk, one says ‘patience’ and one says ‘imagine’. And I recognize them every morning before I start writing. But is that superstition? I don’t think something bad will happen if I don’t look at them. But why find out? I could write if they weren’t there. And I sure don’t have to cut my banana, if I had one, in exactly seven slices.

Do you have superstitions? And why?

(And oh, my faves are Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Bananas? Hmm, now that one has hidden meaning.)

JAN: The worst superstition I had -- and I'm told this is an Irish thing -- is that I used to believe that worrying about something prevented it from happening. Conversely, if I didn't worry about something, and it happened, it was my fault for not worrying. This superstition is not good for cortisol levels -- especially when you have children. Not to mention when your husband has a small plane (gone now, thank god) Luckily, I went to see a cognitive behavioral therapist about five years ago in my ongoing battle with my plane phobia. He was Jewish, not Irish, and had an effective way of poking fun at my thinking. He didn't completely cure the plane phobia (that came later, another therapy, another story) but he did an amazing job of getting under the hood of my car/brain and fixing the faulty wiring. The biggest wiring problem was this particular superstition.

I also have a pair of tiny gold guardian angel earrings that the kids bought me for Mother's Day when they were still little. I believe these are good luck and still wear these whenever I fly or play a tennis match.

HALLIE: Can you even imagine living with a man who has to cut his banana into exactly seven slices each morning? Two-year-olds have fixations like that (Mommy...cut the bread in TRIangles). No wonder he and Mia never shared an apartment.

The one thing I do is knock wood whenever I take pride in my beautiful (knock) smart (knock) daughters' accomplishments...or my own (knock, knock). It's like the Jewish expression that my grandmother used, Kineahora, and then she'd spit to distract the evil eye.

I also imagine the worst most terrible scenario (baby born dead...with two heads...) that could possible happen. That way I can't be disappointed. Is that being superstitious? I think psychologists would say it's being "well defended." Fer sher.

HANK: But it's universal, isn't it maybe, the search for control?

Hallie, you knock wood (and I do, too, okay, I admit) almost as a motion of gratitude, you know? A recognition that something, whatever, has more power than we do and tht anything could change at any momoent. (Rosemary is off at Glacier National park, one of my favorite spots, a place where the sense of something like that is incredible and immense.)

Jan, did the therapist call worry a superstition? Interesting.

We wouldn't think Woody was weird if he couldn't go to work in in the morning without meditating. If he said: every Monday, I simply have to meditate for fifteen minutes. That would be--a coping strategy for an unpredictable world.

And yet, if he said the reason he did that was to prevent his house from burning down, then we'd think: whacked.

Why do we feel that if the universe is keeping score on us somehow? Oops, Hank didn't throw salt. That's a minus. But she said rabbit-rabbit on the first of the month? A plus.
How about you all? Step on a crack, anyone? Cross fingers, it won't matter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Meet us at New England Crime Bake 2008, Nov 14-16

Last year, Jungle Red writers were at the New England Crime Bake, and we’ll be there again at the Dedham Hilton, (11/14-11/16) . This year’s guest of honor is the amazing, handsome, and hilarious Harlan Coben.

Remember last year we roasted good sport Lee Child when we tried Jack Reacher for murder at the banquet? This year’s banquet entertainment promises to be a hoot—mystery bingo, hosted by Harlan and with prizes to die for, all put together by our own Hank Phillippi Ryan.

At Crimbake 2008, JRW will be there--on panels, hanging out in the bar with everyone, schoozing with our favorite agents (old faves and some new faces). It would be great to put some faces with the names we've gotten know from the blog.

If you haven’t signed up yet, please do! And be sure to book a room at the conference rate, a bargain. They’re going fast.

In case you need convincing, the “10 reasons” to TREAT YOURSELF to Crime Bake 2008.

Top Ten Other Reasons To Register For Crime Bake Today

10. Early bird members who sign up soon (before October 1st) get a $30.00 discount. Put that in your gas tank for the drive to the commodious Dedham Hilton where Crime Bake will be held November 14-16.

9. After arriving at the Dedham Hilton, feast on pizza and conversation at the Free pizza party where you can meet and greet mystery readers, writers, agents and editors.

8. Following the Free pizza party, you get to choose to attend one of two fabulous and Free Friday night workshops: Practicing Your Pitch with Lynne Heitman, a huge hit at previous Crime Bake conferences or Creating Your Wave with publicist Susan Schwartzman about how to effectively market your mystery in today’s tough market.

7. Yes, another Freebie! Pitch Sessions! Crime Bake conference attendees are entitled to sign up for a Free 5-minute one-on-one session to pitch their work to a literary agent. This year, attendees will have the opportunity to list their top three agent choices. Don’t wait to take advantage of this fabulous opportunity.

6. The agents are coming, the agents are coming and they include some of the finest, including Janet Reid, Donna Bagdasarian, Susan Gleason, Christine Witthohn, Ann Collette, Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank and Gina Panettieri.

5. Great Master Classes are offered again. Choose two from Planning The Plays: Painless Research with Kathy Lynn Emerson; Who's On First: Point of View with Hallie Ephron; Hitting It Out Of The Park: Ten Key Ingredients For a Successful Thriller with Gary Braver; and Peewee League: Writing for Young Audience with Peter Abrahams.

4. Manuscript Critiques are available. Attendees may submit a 15-page writing sample (novel or short story) in advance and receive a one-on-one critique with a published mystery author during the conference.

3. A fountain of forensic experts, including the popular Poison Lady, will hold panels where you can fill your writing well with ideas on how to commit those dastardly deeds.

2. You can dine elbow to elbow with agents, authors, editors and forensic experts at the Saturday Night Banquet where the menu includes delicious food and maybe even a book deal. Your fabulous Saturday night will be topped by “Mystery Bingo” hosted by our own prime-time Hank Phillippi Ryan.

1. The number one reason to register for Crime Bake today is the Number One New York Times, Los Angeles Times and London Times author and our Guest of Honor, Harlan Coben.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Amy MacKinnon

Many of us first heard about Amy MacKinnon when the Boston Globe ran a huge piece about her and her writing group, women on Boston’s South Shore (visit The Writers' Groups blog) who were all working on getting their first novels published. Amy had left her career as a political aide 13 years earlier to be at home with her first child. Then about eight years ago she started to write. At first it was essays for newspapers. She took classes at Grub Street. She wrote 15 pages of her first novel the day she heard Jonathan Franzen, author of “The Corrections,” say in a radio interview that fiction writing was fun. That first novel remains unpublished, but #2 was the charm—she sold “Tethered,” to Random House and it’s just out this month.

Amy, welcome to Jungle Red!

JR: I was so taken with Clara Marsh in "Tethered," so convinced that she really was an undertaker from the way you rendered her, preparing the dead for burial. and you're not an underaker, right? So how did you pull that off?

AM: My uncle is an undertaker in Whitman, MA where the story is set -- and he's a born storyteller. I simply sat at his knee and listened to his stories. It helps that I'm endlessly curious about death.

JR: Under the riveting story line, there's a lot of though about faith and loneliness. Did you consciously write about that?

AM: The main theme of this novel, and every other one I intend to write, is the exploration of faith: in one's self, in another, in a higher power. We write our deepest yearnings, don't we?

JR: Yes, our deepest yearnings, and I’d add our deepest fears. The novel takes on a sort of fugue-like progression, and yet it's a page turner. Seems like a contradiction in terms. How did you achieve that?

AM: Clara is a deliberate, broken woman who hovers in a netherworld between life and death, believing in neither. I tried to create a sense of surrealness, of otherness with her observations, while allowing the action to move the story forward. Thanks for noticing.

JR: How on earth did you find the time to write this?

AM: Though I have three children and was working part-time (plus pets, household chores -- yeah, we have the traditional roles here too-- and family obligations), I wanted something of my very own. Crafting my obituary clarified exactly how I want to live out my remaining years. So I stopped waiting for my turn to come, set my alarm for four o'clock, and started writing. It's important to dream and then to move forward with it.

JR: Love that: “I stopped waiting…set my alarm…and started writing.” We should all put that on our computer monitors. Was this your first novel, and can you talk a little about how it changed as you continued writing and rewriting.

AM: My first manuscript was rejected by 73 agents and was recently deleted from my hard drive. With “Tethered,” I ignored Hemingway's advice to write you know and decided to write what I want to know. Having that curiousity propelled me to explore the subject and characters more deeply, making it a far more interesting read.

As far as revisions went, ugh! When I first submitted it to agents, it was written from three points-of-view. After I signed with the brilliant Emma Sweeney, she said it's really Clara's story and suggested I write it from her perspective only. It took months for me to wrap my head around that, but I'm glad I did. Nine months later, she submitted it to editors and ten days later she held an auction.

JR: At auction! Wow. That’s a writers’ dream. Can you tell us a little about your amazing writing group?

AM: I am blessed to have these three women in my life: Lynne Griffin, Lisa Marnell, and Hannah Roveto. Each is extraordinary in terms of their craft and feedback. We usually meet every two weeks, where two people submit twenty pages for constructive critique. The feedback is professional quality, given with kindness and unfailing support. I owe each of them a great debt. Lynne recently sold her debut novel Life Without Summer (St. Martin's, April 2009), and Lisa and Hannah will soon follow with sales of their own.

JR: What advice do you have for emerging writer?

AM: Believe.

JR: Okay, now for the Jungle Red quiz...
Miss Marple of Hercule Poirot?

AM: Hercule Poirot

JR: Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

AM: Katherine Hepburn

JR: Sex or violence?

AM: Violence

JR: Pizza or chocolate?

AM: Chocolate

JR: Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

AM: Mmm, Judi Dench

JR: First person or third?

AM: Depends

JR: Prologue or no prologue?

AM: No prologue

JR: Making dinner or making reservations?

AM: Definitely reservations

JR: Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll search for the fraud.

1) After the birth of my first child, I died, was revived, put on life support, and was comatose for a day.
2) I have an uncanny ability to look inside of people and know their dark sides.
3) I thrive on confrontations and conflict.
4) I'm the most adventurous eater I know. Eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain.

JR: Oooh, I think I know I think I know... Thanks, Amy! And BTW, just read your August 19 blog on The Writers Group about running into Richard Russo at the downtown Borders, also signing books. You titled the blog, "I am a dork" -- and boy can we all relate!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

On Post Feminist Angst: WWBD

HALLIE: Never mind What Would Betty Do, what would she think? We may be marching in a post-feminist age, but when my husband was packing up for a two-week trip and I realized I’d have to put out the garbage and mow the lawn, I found myself complaining, “But that’s men’s work.”

We have pretty strict divisions of labor. I shop for food and cook. Jerry loves eating (oh yeah, he does the dishes, too). I throw things away when they’re broken; Jerry retrieves them from the garbage and fixes them. Jerry navigates. I drive and yell, "Wasn't I supposed to turn there?"

Clearly, in this household at any rate, there’s men’s work and there’s ladies’ work.

From about the age of three, my daughter Molly had gender differences nailed. My husband was shaving in the bathroom, and Molly was there by his side, standing on a stool so she could herself in the mirror, her face slathered with soap bubbles. As she scraped off the suds with tongue depressor, she said dreamily, “Men shave. Ladies chew gum.”

At the time, it seemed like quite the epiphany.

How do you divvy up the work in your household, and how post-feminist is it?

JAN: We're not especially post-feminist here. I grew up with three older brothers, so its hard for me to even consider taking out the trash. Also because I like to cook, I cook. And because Bill likes to clean, he cleans.
I do all the paperwork -- paying bills, getting taxes organized, handing health insurance -- and he does all the heavy lifting. The cars, the garage, the basement, and the yard, are all his domain.

He also does his own laundry and my daughter and I have actually had to put signs on the hampers and machines forbidding him do do our laundry. (he turns everything pink or shrinks it.) The man has so much energy, he's tough to stop.

HANK: We're so post feminist, I almost feel guilty. Jonathan does too much. Which is maybe, post post feminist.

And I think writing my books started it all. Time I used to spend doing house things (minus dusting, which gets done on Fridays by the wonderful Susan) is now spent in front of the computer. As a result, Jonathan has a choice: either he can do the laundry, or no one will do the laundry. I do fold it, though, usually at 11 pm while I'm multi-tasking and watching the news.

Trash? Is funny, isn't it? When I lived by myself all those years, I was fine taking it out. Now, married, like Jan, it wouldn't cross my mind to do it. Cooking? I cook dinners (or, during book writing, figure out dinner, which may mean Paddy's Grill or Whole Foods actually cooks it.) Jonathan's in charge of dnner on Thursdays. Which is such a wonderful treat.

There was a bat in our house last week. I cowered, Jonathan got rid of it. He handles bugs and broken things. I handle birthday presents and family-occasion remembering. Social engagements. Grocery shopping in about four different stores. (A topic for anoother day!) Interior decorating. Home organization. Medical things.
Jonathan drives. I'm the designated heckler of other drivers. ("Hey, moron, don't even think of turning in front of us!")

How do we decide how to divvy it up? We never decided. It just was. That's nice.

ROBERTA: This is an interesting topic, though it makes me feel guilty too. Didn't we come of age during the time when we women were told we could do anything? then why am I willing to turn the finances over to John, also majority of the driving, and calling unpleasant home repair people. As you might remember, we're having major work done on our house this summer (yes they're STILL here.) The head man is very sweet and willing to talk with me about procedural questions, but he won't act on anything until he's talked to John.

John was worried that if something happened to him, I'd be lost with money matters. But now that I'm handling my father's affairs--plenty complicated--we both feel a little better: I could do it all if I had to, I just prefer not. And though I do most of the cooking, John manages to cook while I'm away, so I guess he'd be ok too:)

RO: I'm tempted to say that Bruce makes the money and I spend it, but that would make me sound like a princess and we know that's not true. But I AM the one to say that the oven doesn't work and we need a new one. Or the fence is falling get the picture. So in that respect I am the spender. He could - happily - live in a house that was crumbling all around him and as long as he had his New Yorker and a glass of scotch he wouldn't notice.

From March through October, I don't cook. Bruce grills or makes salads while I work in the garden (or these days on the computer) until he yells "are you thinking about food?" If he's out of town, it's not unusual for me to hang on the refrigerator door and stare until something reveals itself to me. In the winter I cook and bake.
I pay the bills, deal with lawn boy, pool man, tree guy, contractor, tile man, etc. I am also the official pillow arranger and furniture mover - two roles that are are neverending chez Harris. There was an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry raged on about all the pillows in his home and a hush fell over our living room. I have a lot of pillows.

Bruce is The Cleaner, as in he removes any creature in the house - living or dead - that is not our dog. He gets a LOT of extra points for doing this.

When pressed, Bruce will clean the garage or his office. It generally goes something like this "next weekend I'm going to clean the garage." Then he mentions it about a dozen times before doing it, while doing it and after doing it, to extend the experience. In the words of Colin Powell "tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you told 'em." Bruce travelled a bit with CP on his book tour and took this lesson to heart.
Everything else we do together. That way I can correct him.

HALLIE: Jan, in our house I'm banned from doing my husband's laundry as penance for turning it pink...again. And Hank, wish I could've witnessed the bat--sounds like the escaped lobster in "Annie Hall." Roberta, yes, isn't it amazing how we can all do "men's work" when we have to. And I'm with you, Ro. Correcting 'em is definitely "ladies' work" for this crew, though we *may* be a slightly skewed sample.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Five weirdest things in my pantry

I went food shopping with my husband the other day and - even at this advanced stage of our relationship - he found out something new about me. I love Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids. I know. What the hell is it? And why doesn't it have another, less goofy name?

Can't answer those questions. A friend turned me on to this stuff (and I keep calling it that because I don't know what else to call it...sauce, dressing?) a few years back and I love it. Kind of a cross between soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, but it's really the name that I love. I feel as if I'm doing something good for my body when I drizzle it over my veggies or salads. Like an elite athlete. I bet Dara Torres knows about Bragg's It's got amino acids. Do I need more amino acids? I don't care, I'm loving them.

What other strange things are in my pantry? Marmite - the salty brown stuff the Brits eat. Dragees (dra-zhees)..those little silver balls you put on cakes and candies. Spelt. God knows what I was thing here. I'm sure it's supposed to be "good" for you, but since I've never made it I have no idea. And beignet mix. And I always have beignet mix and chicory coffee. Souvenirs, of course. But why do I keep buying them year after year? I made the beignets once, but how many of those babies can you eat? One a year? Two?
And as for the chicory coffee - if you're not at Cafe du Monde it's just brown water. Don't bother.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cure for a Crush

Continuing with our musical theme this week, our guest blogger is Peggy Ehrhart. Peggy's a pal and fellow board member of MWA/NY. She's also a former English professor who now writes mysteries and plays blues guitar. Sweet Man Is Gone, featuring sexy blues-singer sleuth Maxx Maxwell, is just out from Five Star/Gale/Cengage.

Visit her at .
She was a trophy wife, in a way. He was a classics professor in his seventies, with stern eyes behind rimless glasses and a heavy German accent. She was a graceful dark-haired woman in her early thirties. They were fixtures on the University of Illinois campus when I was in grad school--and they were the focus of considerable mirth. She had been his student and was now a professor in her own right. “She vass damn smart,” he would say of the days she was in his seminars, and she would glow at the compliment. How did they get together? It started with a crush, I’m sure. A Humbert Humbert figure pursuing the little nymphet who conjugated Greek verbs so appealingly? I doubt it. I’m convinced the crush was on her part, an irresistible attraction to the brilliant man who cut such a dashing, if chunky, figure at the head of the seminar table. Women get crushes on men who are teachers. My first crush on a teacher developed when I was in high school. Mr. Poirion was the only male we saw all day--the other teachers were nuns, so in a sense he had the field to himself. He wasn’t especially good looking, but I remember experiencing the classic symptoms of love sickness as we waited for his arrival: pounding heart, breathlessness, trembling hands. I had crushes on professors all through college and graduate school too. There was more choice here--lots of choice in fact, because this was back before it became common for a woman to teach at the college level. The human heart can only accommodate so much longing and despair, so I couldn’t have crushes on them all.

Generally I selected the more attractive ones, the dark, thin, sensitive ones who taught literature and talked about books as if they had personally experienced every possible literary sorrow. But they didn’t have to be attractive. I remember trembling in the presence of a pot-bellied drama teacher with a gray crewcut who was never without a cigarette in his hand. As his mind darted from one brilliant insight to another, the ash on the cigarette would grow so long that it fell off of its own accord, landing, often, on his lapel. Why do we get these crushes? Here’s my theory. Nature predisposes women to seek out men who seem tender and caring, men who will stick around long after the excitement of romance has given way to child-rearing. I read somewhere that men first check out a woman’s body, particularly the ratio between waist and hips, because it provides a good index of childbearing capability. But women look first at a man’s face, seeking clues to his sensitivity. Lots of men hide their emotions in a one-to-one situation. Maybe they fear the outpouring of affection that they’ll elicit if they let women know they have feelings. And certainly many men believe it’s not manly to be sensitive. But standing in front of a classroom is a different story. It’s a chance to show off, to exercise power, to mesmerize by using every tool at one’s disposal--even one’s ability to empathize. And I fell for it every time. And maybe too I was longing to possess some of that power. Maybe we believe (wrongly) that if we can win the heart of this magical being, we’ll have sensitivity at our beck and call forever after. More likely we’ll be making beds and washing dishes while he woos another batch of impressionable young ladies. I managed to exorcise this demon though, and I did it by becoming a professor myself. As soon as I got my own Ph.D., I stopped getting crushes on professors. I was their colleague now. It was as if the lights had come up in the theater and the magic was gone. I was still getting crushes though. They just weren’t on professors. Now they were on guitar players. I’d rediscovered my love for the blues in mid-life and started making regular pilgrimages to the blues clubs of Manhattan. I’d stare at the guitar players, glamorous beings whose arched backs and furrowed foreheads revealed their ability to feel deeply, to empathize and care. It was bad enough when they merely played their guitars. But when they sang the blues too. . .oh my God. As I said, the human heart can only accommodate so much longing and despair.

There was only one thing to do. . . This picture tells it all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

You Can Leave Your Hat On.... Randy Newman

Anyone who remembers the movie Nine and a Half Weeks will have one recollection of that line, but...get your mind out of the gutter! This blog is really about hats. Long ones, tall ones, short ones...crazy Eric Burdon might say (I guess I'm in a musical mood.) What is it about hats? Who wears them and why? Is it a genetic predisposition like blue eyes or lefthandedness? And what's the difference between those of us who buy hats and those of us who actually wear them?
Maybe I'm inspired by the wonderfully inventive Cha-Poe created by Liz Zelvin for last spring's Malice hat contest. (She won, of course!)

Or our recent pic of Jan in her saucy Norma Shearer-like wedding chapeau.
Or maybe it was my dentist. I may have the coolest dentist on the planet. Not only does she keep my pearly whites, um, pearly, but she is a photographer, a diver, and an adventuress. She's been everywhere, keeps exotic pets and everything in her apartment is from some far flung destination. If this was the thirties, she'd be Jean Harlow singing for her supper on a Chinese junk and engaging in drinking contests with Mongolian warlords. And the winner would get the big furry hat. Because she also has a worldclass hat collection.

This is one she just gave me -

btw...Caroline if you're reading this the butterfly fell off..I didn't take it off! After a few glasses of wine we agreed it looked fabulous. (I thought it was Italian movie star from the 50's ...she thought Lara in Dr. Zhivago. In my dreams...) But will I ever leave the house with this thing on my head? Or will it stay in the box like the $600 Tracey Tooker number that I bought for a wedding and wore only once because I felt like I couldn't move my head all afternoon?

ROBERTA: I'm also in the camp that buys hats and very seldom wears them--except for baseball caps for the sun. Reason why? I look at pix taken after the fact and I look darned silly. Take for instance the straw boater that I bought after much agonizing and wore to my first-ever member-guest golf tournament with my mother-in-law as my guest. The picture is priceless because it marked the beginning of our relationship, but that hat perched on my head like a dying possum. My tennis friends made fun of me for years for wearing a white cap with a big sunflower in front. When the flower fell off, I still wore it with the glob of glue that used to hold it. I did find success with a headdress I created for a toga party during grad school days--it had fake ivy and large plastic dangling fruit. That one was a winner!

RO: We want pix!!

JAN: This is the deal with hats: They are a commitment. You put one on, it flattens the hair underneath, and you are stuck wearing it the entire day or until the next hair wash and dry.
The only time I actually wear hats is when I'm playing tennis in the sun, when I'm on the Vineyard and waiting until AFTER the beach to wash my hair, and on really bad hair days.
My cousin has a terrific boutique in New Jersey. I've bought any number of hats there. Really cool Eric Javits hats.
But after purchase, I generally don't wear them. Why? This is the first time I've really thought about it, but it's probably because cool hats call a lot of attention to themselves. And they tend to be just the tinest bit pretentious-looking when you wear them on your way to, say, the supermarket.

RO: Is that why people were looking at me when I was at the deli counter with this thing on?

HALLIE: Like Jan, I love principle. But the fact that I had nothing to put on my head at my own wedding (I'd forgotten about it) tells you something. I have an old battered straw hat and some baseball caps but they're just to keep the sun out of my face.
One of my favorite books of all time is "The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" in which our hero, when commanded to take off his hat by the King, tries to comply, but another hat even more glorious than the last appears in its place.

HANK: Hats. Bikinis. Not a chance. Up in my off-season closet there's a beauty. A straw sun hat, with a lovely Libery of London fabric band. The front flips up, the back goes down. I wore it in 1972 to my sister's wedding. It still looks good, but the moment I clamped it on my head, as Jan so correctly says, that was it for the hair. (Even when it was long and brown, which it was at the time.) What more, turns out my head is huge. There was the time I was doing an investigative report on fish inspection. Or--how they're not inspected. One day, we were allowed to shoot inside a fish processing plant down by the water front. Pungent, and waterlogged, and fish guts all over. And they demanded we wear hats. Paper baseball caps, you know? Health rules. So they tried to find one that would fit me, and even the largest was too small. Apparently the health rules don't care about fit, so they parked one, precariously, on my head, and called it a hat. I called it ridiculous. The good news: we won a big award for the story. The bad news: guess what they showed in the video clip at the awards ceremony?

RO: What's on your head?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On Beaches

Jan: I grew up with a house on the Jersey shore - a great house with a waterview and only a block from the beach. I also spent an entire summer working at an ocean front beach club -- checking badges (a Jersey thing) by day and serving seaside cocktails (also maybe a Jersey thing) by night.
So I think I know beaches. And while I I love the white sand and great body surfing of the Jersey shore, my favorite beach is on Martha's Vineyard. The one above. It's called Long Point and its in West Tisbury. I like it because it has both a terrific ocean beach (that you can see) and a fresh water pond (not pictured) and when you go from the ocean to the pond, the pond feels incredibly warm. At the same time, it's refreshing, because it's washing the salt off.

You go to the Jersey beach for action, you go to Long Point for peace. At sundown, the view across the pond and marshes is incredibly tranquil. I used to picture it in my head during plane takeoffs to try to get me to stop hyperventilating. Sometimes it even worked.

There are downsides to the beach, the first being, you have to be a member of the Trustees For Reservation -- which is actually a terrific environmental organization -- or pay the day fee. And you have to get there before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. because its very limited parking. But that also means, the beaches are NEVER crowded. And although I don't think there's an actual rule about it -- no one ever brings a boom box. All you ever hear are children laughing (okay, sometimes crying) and the waves.

Anyway, EVERYONE has a favorite beach. Come tell us about yours.

dave white

He was just nominated for a Shamus award for this first book, When One Man Dies (2007) and we were able get Dave to come to Jungle Red to talk about his new book, The Evil That Men Do. He is among the youngest winners of the Derringer Award, and has contributed to many anthologies and collections, including The Adventure of the Missing Detective and Damn Near Dead. Dave lives in my hometown in New Jersey, and has the courage to teach middle-school English.

JAN: Tell us about your protagonist, Jackson Donne, how you dreamt him up and how he has evolved through your two books? He seems to be a reluctant investigator, which for me makes him more interesting. Why did you develop him that way?

DAVE: Jackson Donne was born when I was in college. I was trying to do things a little different, show that Jackson was younger. So--thinking I was REALLY clever--I had him have a dead fianceé instead of dead wife.

I liked writing stories about him in a college setting and, since I went to Rutgers, it was easy to research. That's how he started, at least.

Donne's evolved since then, through the short stories, and then through the two novels. By the end of When One Man Dies, he's been stripped of his PI license, so he can't really work. Something has to draw him into a case.

So, yes, he's very reluctant in The Evil That men Do--even more so than he is in my first book. And there are lots of reasons for that. My guess is that if you're a PI, and you've been involved in as many deaths and shootings that Donne had been in the short stories, you're going to get some press. And not good press. The people that knock on your door are going to be looking for someone to help with the dirty and violent stuff. Not something you want to be involved in on a regular basis.

And since the last case he gets into before The Evil That Men Do basically destroys whatever shreds of life he has left, I don't think he'd be willing to do that sort of thing again. He's learning from his cases. He's learning that they only screw him up.There are three things I'm looking to explore with Jackson Donne. His family's past, his relationship to the cops he put away, and his mental state. The first two novels do both of those things. Fortunately, I feel there are still more of those aspects I can explore. So, Donne will keep evolving.

JAN: Dave and I are almost related, in that his uncle was one of my brother’s best friends and helped me clean up after wild parties when my parents went away. When I read Dave’s first novel, I was transported back home. Tell us how you exploit New Jersey as a backdrop.

DAVE: New Jersey is a GREAT place to set a crime novel. First of you have everything -- big cities (Philly and NYC) nearby, farms and forests to the south, (we are the Garden state) and bustling suburbia --which is what I like to write about. You can almost set anything in this state. And NJ is wonderfully corrupt in certain areas, so a crime novel is not a stretch of the imagination. That said, I'd love to be able to push some images about NJ across that show it's better than what people say about it. Which I believe it is. I love NJ and wouldn't want my stories to take place anywhere else.

JAN: Since you are an English teacher, did you toy around with Shakespearean plays or other writing first? Or did you always know you wanted to write mysteries? Also, since you started with short stories, tell us the pluses and minuses of the two forms of storytelling.

DAVE: Ha! I never tried my hand any plays or poems or anything of that nature. Every once in a while I'd sit down and say "Okay, this is going to be my coming of age love story. Not a crime story." And then ten pages later, I have a dead body. It just keeps happening. I love the crime genre. The first story I ever had published was a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote in fourth grade. It got published in the school literary magazine, and I dug it up 3 years ago and published it on my blog. If you want to read it, get ready to cringe, but here's the link (

The plusses of short stories are two fold. I wrote them first and to be honest, they got me some attention. It was a way to attract readers, build somewhat of a buzz. (Not a huge buzz, but hey every little bit helps.) Plus, when you do one well, you get some nearly instant feedback. But novels, man, novels are so much more fun to me right now. I love following characters along for a year or so. And I love getting to that point where the novel climaxes and you can put some wacky twists in there, really try to surprise the readers.

Both short stories and novels are difficult, and rewarding, but in their own ways.

JAN: Do you write during the summer months when you’ve got a break from middle schoolers or do you write all year long? How do you produce a novel a year?

DAVE: I write whenever I can. It's a yearlong process. I try to get a lot done in the summer, but it's still the 1,000 words a day thing. I just don't feel as much pressure in the summer. During the school year I have to treat it as a second job. Get out of school at 3:30, go running, sit at home and write for two hours. I'm trying to write fast, but I would much rather write well. Having both would be key.

JAN: Well, I think all the awards and nominations you’ve been receiving would attest to the writing well part. I’m wondering, what do your students think about having a teacher who writes mysteries. Are they impressed? Do you include it in the curriculum? Or use mystery to help their writing??

DAVE: It's tough to tell. My students are a sarcastic, fun bunch (8th graders? Sarcastic?), but they don't really give a lot away about what they think about the writing stuff. I hope they think it's cool. I know a few of them went out and bought it. I do use mystery to help their writing and reading. We compare short stories in the genre. I use it to show the form of writing a story. There are lots of things I use it for.

JAN: Your blog ( is hysterical, and if I remember correctly, you had a blog long before you had a novel. Did it help you develop an audience or find a publisher? Any advice for writers trying to break in?

DAVE: To be honest, I don't know how much the blog helped. It must have helped somewhat. It was definitely a way to get my name out there. I mean, I've had my share of blog stalkers. Two people impersonating Abe Vigoda (including on who started a blog "100 Reasons I Hate Dave White") and PlotBabyPlot ( who apparently are out to get me. I have no idea who they are, but I find it hilarious. I love that sort of stuff.

It also helps me because it puts the real me out there. The books are dark and at parts very humorless.That's not me. I'm a total goofball, and I want a way to put that out there too. And what's interesting is, publishers, agents, fans see that sort of thing, that people are reading and I'm sure that helps.

But my advice for up and coming writers is to forget the blog. Don't make that your first thing. The first thing to do is write. Write and finish some short stores, get them out there. Publish them where ever you can. Webzines, Magazines, anthologies. Whatever you can do. Then blog The writing is the most important part. You can attract agents and publishers with the quality of your writing. The rest is fun.The rest is hoopdedoodle. The hoopdedoodle comes last. Being a writer means sitting down, doing it, and most importantly FINISHING IT. You'll never get half a novel published. So, the key--obviously--is to write it.

JAN: Thanks Dave, for visiting Jungle Red and more importantly, for teaching me the word hoopdedoodle. (it's a great word)

And to show what a good sport, he is, Dave agreed to take the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
It’s always been Poirot for me. Pretty much because he’s the French version of the Penguin. Instead of “awk awk”-ing, he say “haw haw.” And he’s smart.

Sex or violence?

Heh. In books or in real life? I mean… the answer’s kind of obvious isn’t it? In terms of real life. However, in books, since I write noir-ish/hardboiled crime fiction, I like me some violence.

Pizza or chocolate?

Thin crust pizza from any Jersey thin crust pizza place. (The Emerson Hotel gets my nod.)

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

As Bond? Daniel Craig. As a sex symbol… er… I don’t really have a choice, though in the later Bond movies, Pierce was starting to get a martini gut.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

Considering the only movie with either of them I’ve seen all the way through is Charade, I’m going with Audrey. Plus she’s hotter… and when she talks, she doesn’t sound like a car struggling to start.

First person or Third Person?

Originally first, lately third.

Prologue or no prologue?

No prologue. Unless you’re a writer who can pull it off. AKA, Dave hedges his bets. Your favorite non-mystery book?Well my two favorite novels are THE GREAT GATSBY and THE SUN ALSO RISES—both of which you can probably argue are some sort of hardboiled story in a way.

Making dinner or making reservations?

I like to grill… bratwurst, burgers, steak, chicken, turkey burgers. But I also like to go out. Man at this point, I’m just really bad at picking one thing, aren’t I? I’ll go summer time—make dinner—winter time, go out to eat.

And now, the part everyone was waiting for:

Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll search for the fraud.
1. I’ve been banned from entering Canada
2. I really stink at beer pong.
3. I like the movie You’ve Got Mail.
4. I spent the night in jail for breaking a business shop’s window.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On scars

There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.” Harry Crews

JAN: I'm not one to cherish the wrinkles on my face or laugh lines around my eyes, but I have to say that I'm terribly fond of my non-facial scars. The one in the photo is not mine, but I've got a terrific caesarian section scar, so small that I can still wear a bikini, and yet the avenue of birth for two healthy kids -- one weighing in at ten pounds four ounces.

There's also an impressive scar on my ankle that reminds me how tough I can be with a little vodka. My sister-in-law and I were on Round Island in New York with small kids to watch when I cut my ankle deeply with glass. Rather than go to a hospital and get the stitches I needed, the oral surgeon in the vacation house next door cleaned it by pouring dish detergent into it. (apparently the best household disinfectant). On his advice, my sister-in-law braced me with a shot of vodka -- which believe me, I needed because it was excruciating. But I survived.

But my favorite scar is a little half moon barely visible on my right wrist. I was about eight years old and I walked to the candy store during the school lunch break. Someone told me the popcorn machine was broken and there was change inside. I plunged my hand into the machine, not once, but twice, to get about fifty cents in change (a lot of money then). The second time I went in too far, and came out with my wrist bleeding. I think I got a Bandaid from the school nurse, but I still have the scar -- a lifelong lesson about greed.

Do you guys have any scars you cherish?
HALLIE: Yes, well, I prefer thinking of them as laugh lines, not wrinkles; and as my daughter once told me, that's not gray in your hair, it's sparkles.

Yes, I have a Caesarean scar, too, but mine's big and ugly. Long story. And you know what, I never think twice about it. Because I got it giving birth to two fabulous daughters who've kept me in stitches ever since (sorry, lame joke).

RO: Well there's the one on the knuckle of my left index finger which taught me not to have a few beers and then try to chop firewood. Then there are the chicken pox scars on my forehead which sentenced me to a lifetime of bangs. I recently learned to love those because there's a tribe in Tanzania, the Wagogo, who mark themselves on the forehead with little circles, and when I travelled there the women noticed and called me sister.

But my favorite scar is almost faded now. I got it the day before school started. I was going into the fifth grade and I was riding on the back of my sister's bicycle. She got too close to a brick wall and I overreacted and pulled my foot in and it got caught in the spokes of the wheel. I got a lot of mileage out of that in school the next day. The other kids thought I was pretty brave,..or adventurous..or something. Now it reminds me of how much fun I used to have with my sister.

ROBERTA: I guess I've been lucky with mishaps--I really can only think of one scar: a small curve at the base of my right pointer finger, sort of like a Nike swish. No dramatic story, but I can remember exactly how I got it. I was washing a glass during my senior year at college and it broke with my hand in it. Off to the campus health center for three stitches. Internal scars--those I could list! But wouldn't this be an interesting discussion to have about our characters? And the photo you posted Jan is very eerie. Each of us could write a story about that one...
HANK: Jan, you can wear a bikini? Hooray for you! Anyway. I have a scar on my knee--from running down the driveway, in a panic, to catch the school bus, when I was about--8? And completely wiping out on gravel. To the hooting and hollering of the kids on the bus. Went to school with a bleeding knee and a bruised ego.
I have a slash on my leg from when a horse decided it would be more fun for him if I got off--so he tried to scrape me off by rubbing me gainst the fence.
I have a scar on one finger from when I was playing with one of Mom's purses when I was little. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I really got in trouble.
But my favorite is a tiny round burn scar (okay, that sounds weird but go with me here) on my right little finger--which I got pouring tea at Katherine Graham's house. (late of the Washington Post.) It was in the 70's, I was working at Rolling Stone, and I was there for an interview (a fun story but too long for now.) It hurt LIKE CRAZY but I pretended nothing happened.
Lessons? Hmm. Do scars result when you--really want something?
JAN: That photo is eerie, A major wound that looks like it has violence behind it. Perfect for a murder mystery. And I agree, a good way to understand your characters is to delve into their scars -- external and internal!
Please come share your tales of injuries endured and lessons learned.

Friday, August 1, 2008

On birthday cake

ROBERTA: One of the traditions we had in my family growing up was that the birthday person got to choose their cake. I went with angel food cake with whipped cream frosting, tinted pink with food coloring.

My own John (yes the young groom you met on Monday) is turning sixty next week! With him (and my stepdaughter,) it's always chocolate. The recipe that I use for feathery fudge cake with chocolate sour cream frosting comes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. My birthday falls in early January--not only are there no other bakers in my family, most of the good bakeries in the area are closed, exhausted from the holidays. I've managed to persuade my stepson (birthday in July) to prefer the cake I would choose: yellow cake spread with whipped cream and crammed with strawberries. I found this on a Softasilk cake flour box one year--it's a winner.

1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 C Softasilk cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
whipped cream

grease and flour 2 round pans, heat oven to 35o. eat sugar and shortening until fluffy. beat in vanilla, eggs and egg yolks, one at a time. mix flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in alternately with the milk, beating after each addition just until blended, beginning and ending with flour mixture. pour into pans. Bake 25 min or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. cool 10 min, remove from pans. cool completely.

frost with fresh whipped cream sweetened with a tbsp of sugar and a dash of vanilla. I put chopped strawberries in the middle layer and decorate the top with halved strawberries, maybe a few blueberries too.

So that's it guys and gals--it's anything can happen Friday and I've got birthday cake on the brain. Let's hear about your birthday traditions!