Sunday, November 30, 2008

Her Royal Newness

"There is a reason Rhys Bowen gets nominated for so many awards. She's just damn good."
—Crimespree Magazine

You've noticed the new photo at the top, of course. (Here's a nice big one.)
Please join us in welcoming a brilliant (we're brushing up our Brit-speak) addition to Jungle Red Writers: Rhys Bowen.

She's the author of the Molly Murphy mysteries featuring an Irish immigrant woman in 1900s New York City, also the Constable Evans mysteries set in North Wales.

Her mysteries have been nominated for every major mystery award, including the Edgar for best novel, and she has won eight of them.

Not one who sits on her laurels, in 2007 she stunned readers and reviewers with HER ROYAL SPYNESS, the first of a new series about the British royal family in the 1930s. Called Bridget Jones meets Maisie Dobbs with a touch of royal flair, it's great fun. It became an Independent Mystery Bookseller's #1 bestseller and was nominated for the Dilys, Agatha, Romantic Times and Macavity awards. Then in 2008 she followed that up with a sequel, A ROYAL PAIN.

She lives in San Francisco...arrived there by way of Wales and Australia and lots of wonderful places. She's worked for the BBC and Australian Broadcasting. We're eager to hear all about her life and adventures and writing and not-writing. But there's plenty of time for that here at the blog.
Welcome to Jungle Red!

RHYS: I was thrilled to be invited. Jungle Red sounds sexy and dangerous and I've had enough of being labeled cozy and safe! So thank you all for your warm welcome.

HANK: Well, dangerous or not, you may be the only one of us who knows how to give an actual tea party. Where did you learn that? And what are the secrets?

RHYS: The teatime ritual is part of British tradition, even though everyone has less time for tea these days. I have always thought it is the perfect meal--delectable little nibbles, warm scones, clotted cream and jam, tiny sandwiches and soothing tea. Also it was always a time to step back from the chaos of the day and relax. I still love to give tea parties and talk about tea parties. And I have to confess that my heroine's tea with Queen Mary is based on my own tea party experience with the current queen!

HANK: Oh, wait. I'm interrupting. Can you tell us more?

RHYS: I should probably explain that I'm not in the habit of dining with royalty. I'm not 34th in line to the throne, nor even 35th! The Queen Mother was patron of my college and was supposed to be coming to open a new science wing. She wasn't feeling well so the queen came instead. Six of us (i was the vice president of student council) were invited to tea. A lovely tea table, the queen and six girls. She was so nice, warm, funny and made us at ease. The food looked fabulous--BUT--we were instructed that protocol demanded we only eat what Her Maj eats... and she ate one piece of brown bread. We had to stare at all those tiny eclairs, strawberry tarts etc with longing in our eyes.

ROBERTA: Oh drat, leave it to Hank to steal the tea party question before the rest of us could get to it! I'd like to know how you have the energy to write two books a year, plus short stories, plus tour like crazy. How do you manage all that?

RHYS: Put it down to insanity and a masochistic temperament.
I ask myself the same question quite frequently. I'm just the original girl who can't say no. When someone asks me to come and speak, to write a short story, I hear myself saying yes, because I'm scared if I say no they'll never ask me again.
And as for the two books a year. I keep coming up with new ideas and want to tackle them right away. I also enjoy the short stories because they let me tackle stories with more diversity and darkness than my books.

JAN: I recently read your short story, DO HAVE A CUP OF TEA, in Strand Magazine, a delightful tale about reviewer revenge. Was that inspired by any real event, a culmination of the years, or was that just to entertain all the writers in the audience? (Because I, for one, got a HUGE kick out it.)
(Here's a photo of Rhys with Andrew Gulli, the editor of Strand Magazine.)

RHYS: I've only ever had one bad review and that was from a small North Wales newspaper. The reviewer said that I didn't know what I was talking about and the book was so bad that he couldn't put it down. Of course I used that quote whenever I could: "Couldn't put it down!" North Wales Daily Post. But he annoyed me so much that I wrote this story and dedicated it to him. It felt great!

HALLIE: I do think your invention of Lady Georgina, Her Royal Spyness, is a stroke of genius. Did you "feel" like that book was going to be the big success that it was? Where did Georgie come from??

RHYS: Lady Georgie was either an act of defiance or desperation. My publisher kept telling me they could only break me out if I wrote a big dark stand-alone. I kept thinking of serial killers, child molesters and decided that I didn't want to spend six months with these people.
So I thought of the most unlikely sleuth and came up with Georgie--she's royal with all the expectations of royalty but she's flat broke. And of course

I love the Thirties, such a great era of contrasts and Noel Coward and really interesting people.

I didn't know how anyone would take it but when my agent called to say she loved it, and one of the publishers it went to wrote "I loved this. Loved it. loved it loved it" I thought I might be onto something.

It has been so gratifying to see it doing well and appealing to a wide variety of people.

HANK: So does part of you live in the present, and part of you in the Thirties? Are you in constant time travel mode? Or when you're writing, do you just--stay there?

RHYS: When I'm actually writing I'm very much in the moment and inside Molly's or Georgie's head. But as to being in the Thirties--one really doesn't have to go back in time to experience Georgie's life. I have relatives who still live in manor houses and hold sherry parties and talk as if the world hasn't changed since 1930. But I adore the Thirties clothes and style. I found a fabulous art deco bracelet at a stall on the Portobello Road in London this summer. I literally wrestled it away from another woman.

HANK: So, you're going to Hawaii as Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime. Lovely. Tell all. (And will you bring us presents?)

RHYS: I was so excited when the Gottfrieds asked me to be guest of honor at Left Coast Crime next year. That in itself was amazing, but when I found out that the convention is going to be in Hawaii, in March, AND that my co-guest of honor is the cute and adorable and macho Barry Eisler. I mean, what more could one want. By the way, fares are coming down rapidly so it may be affordable, even from the East Coast.

JRW: Hallie's going. The rest of us are still lusting, at this point. But you never know. When's the next book? And what is it? And what should we know about it? And we should give away a couple when the time comes, right?

Tomorrow: Rhys' debut column! Come chat...and make her feel welcome. (Her JRW sisters know what she's going to say...and we bet you'll be surprised!) And hey--we have two lovely copies of Her Royal Spyness to give away! Leave a comment...and we'll draw a winner at random. Right after a spot of tea....

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Yes, we're trying to keep a secret until Monday.

Yes, we're very excited about it.

We're very happy about it. You can tell from the smiles on our faces.

And it's better than chocolate.

Come back Monday and see.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Food, glorious food

I would venture to say that not too many members of the Jungle Red community are feeling food insecurity this morning. I personally had two dinners yesterday, and seemed to think it was perfectly normal (that's going to translate into one solid hour on the rowing machine today.) Food insecurity is a term I just recently learned and it is, of course, a euphemism for hunger

When I was a kid, I saw a documentary called Harvest of Shame. It’s a classic Edward R. Murrow piece (accompanied by music from Aaron Copland) mostly about migrant workers in the US, but really about hunger. It used to be broadcast every year on the day after Thanksgiving, so I'm always reminded of it on Black Friday when I know I'm supposed to be out shopping. An old friend at CBS sent me a copy when I was in the video business and it’s just as powerful today as it was years ago. Because it’s still a reality for so many people.
Here are a couple of links that you might check out in between shopping and football games today..
This one is fun and absolutely addictive It’s word game (we are wordsmiths, after all) where words you can define translate into rice donations.
FreeRice is a sister site of Our partners are the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program.

And more traditionally..
Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Each year, the Feeding America network provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.
Our network of more than 200 food banks serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Feeding America network secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually. The Feeding America network supports approximately 63,000 local charitable agencies that distribute food directly to Americans in need. Those agencies operate more than 70,000 programs including food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after-school programs,
Kids Cafes, Community Kitchens and BackPack Programs.
For every dollar donated, Feeding America helps provide 20 pounds of food and grocery products to men, women and children facing hunger in our country.
Learn more about your local Feeding America network member food bank.

My husband and I went to our local food bank yesterday, bringing items that we rarely buy for ourselves, but had been requested by the food bank – mac and cheese, white rice, canned pasta. We rushed to make it before closing, and one of the workers there said, “Don’t worry. We'll still be here next week.”
Now get out there and burn some calories!
Rosemary and the Jungle Red Writers

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Martha's (and Ro's) Cranberry Nut Tart

By popular demand...the cranberry tart recipe that I've been raving about on a couple of lists and right here on Jungle Red. It's from Martha Stewart's Entertaining - a terrific book, btw, with lots of her best recipes. People will think you're a domestic goddess and it's not even that hard to make.
Perfect Nut Crust
10 oz. finely chopped walnuts or almonds
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar3 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix together all the ingredients until well-blended, using an electric mixer or wooden spoon. This will make crusts for two tarts. (You can freeze the other.)
Divide in half. Press one half into 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom (or springform.)
Chill for 30 minutes before baking for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cranberry filling (for one tart)
1 envelope softened gelatin
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup red currant jelly
Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.
In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar and jelly. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat. (Don't overcook or the cranberries will get mushy. Better to slightly undercook than overcook otherwise you'll have cranberry sauce.) Cool slightly and stir in the gelatin. Cool thoroughly; pour into crust. (I keep a few toothpicks handy to help arrange the cranberries. It looks best if you push any squished cranberries to the bottom or the middle and keep the most perfect ones around the edges.) Chill. Eat.
This tart is great for dessert but is pretty darn good for breakfast, too. Assuming there's any left.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!
PS And come back soon (as in very soon) for a major announcement of regal proportions from the women of Jungle Red!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Chris Grabenstein

Our guest today is Chris Grabenstein (shown here with his dog Fred) soon to be president of Mystery Writers of America's New York Chapter and the author of two mystery series, one for adults and the other for middle graders (that's Chris, not Fred.)
JRW: Welcome Chris. Tell us a little bit about your journey to publication.

CG: Well, I guess it started back in 1984 when I was hired by James Patterson to write advertising copy at the J. Walter Thompson agency. Seventeen years later, when I was an Executive Vice President and Group Creative Director at Young & Rubicam but getting bored with selling beer and toothpaste, I wondered if I could have a decent second career like Patterson did. Okay, his has been more than decent. Dangerously close to indecent (every tenth book sold in America is one of his!) So, I quit advertising in 2001 and went to work in the second bedroom of our apartment. I spent the first year writing screenplays, winning contests, chasing agents, going to seminars, studying the screen writing craft. Sometime in 2002, I decided I was a) too old and b) on the wrong side of the continent to seriously consider a career as a screenwriter. So, inspired by Stephen King's ON WRITING, I set out to try to write a novel. Six months later, I had a book! I sent out hundreds of letters (with return post cards) to agents, finally found one, and came THIS close to selling that first book to Time Warner. I think we tried to sell that first book for over a year. I have some very lovely rejection letters to go with it. At this point, I read a very good (if, at the time, disheartening) article by an agent in Writer's Digest. The gist was: do you want to be a writer or write one book?
So, I started the second manuscript. When it didn't sell, I started another. When it didn't sell, I did the fourth. It was called TILT A WHIRL and, after four years, I was an overnight success.

JRW: So persistence played a role in your success.

CG: Major. Four years with nothing to show for your efforts but encouraging rejection letters? All alone in that room typing up stories that no one might ever read? I'm feeling vaguely suicidal just remembering it now. But, it was the "butt-in-seat, fingers-on-keyboard" work ethic that kept me going until I threw something against the wall that finally stuck. Not that you should toss my books against the wall. Come on. That TILT A WHIRL won an award and everything. Take it easy.

JRW: Was there a time you felt like giving up?

CG: Yep. And, there still are times. Usually when I'm 3/4s of the way through my first draft and I have just jogged past the statue of Shakespeare in Central Park I ask myself: who do I think I'm kidding? I am convinced I am the worst writer to ever sit down and try to tell a story. This depression bout is usually followed by a manic phase or a breakthrough. Hmmm. Maybe I should see a therapist. But, if I did, I might become mentally stable, quit writing, and get a job at Kinkos making sure all the copy machines were fed their toner.

JRW: I'm sure that would make Kinko's a less stressful place for the rest of us, but you'd leave a lot of disappointed fans! What advice can you give to aspiring authors?

CG: Keep going! If you love the writing, the craft, that's really all that matters. I learned this years ago in advertising when the client would constantly kill our favorite scripts or, sometimes, fun commercials that we actually filmed never made it to TV for some reason. I had to love the actual writing. It was the only thing I had total control over.

JRW: New Jersey is such a character in the Ceepak books...what's Joisey really like?

CG: It's like Canada. The humbler neighbor to this big hulking egomaniac. For Jersey, you've got Philadelphia to be envious of on one end, New York at the other. When I lived there, we were the bridge and tunnel people -- daring to enter the Emerald City, escaping to our humble homes in suburbia. NJ is also the most densely populated state in the nation. No elbow room. Leads to a lot of edge and attitude.

JRW: John Ceepak is the protagonist in your adult series. Is he based on anyone you know?
CG: Ceepak is modeled on several people. My nephew who fought in the first gulf war. An FDNY captain who is a close friend of mine. Some former MPs I met at a wedding. I wanted to create the polar opposite of the bitter, divorced, cynical, I-have-my-own-code sleuth since the world already seemed to have enough of those.

JRW: You also write middle grade books. How did that happen? And how does that feel - switching gears?

CG: I think of myself as someone who writes fast paced stories – in all sorts of genres. It’s why I liked advertising. One day, you’d write a funny spot for a beer or soft drink, the next day a tear jerker for heartwarming greetings cards or soup. I also wanted to write a book without dirty words so all the kids I knew could read something I wrote.
I am loving writing for a younger audience. They come to readings and signings hugging the book close to their hearts!

JRW (RO): I can vouch for that, I was at The Crossroads book party and Chris had a packed house! And the cupcakes were phenomenal. I understand Crossroads has been optioned to Hollywood. Do you wake up in the morning and pinch yourself about what's happened? And who do you see starring?

CG: Well, let's remember: many books are optioned, few actually become movies. That said, this particular producer is known for actually making movies out of books he options. In fact, he is very close to filming one of Ken Bruen's novels. It's hard to think about who might star in the movie...since Zack is an eleven year old boy...the lead will probably be some kid who is in the fourth grade right now. I'd love for Tina Fey to play Judy Magruder, the step-mom. And Glenn Close would make an eery and creepy Gerda Spratling, the villainess in the book.

JRW (RO): She was pretty creepy. I got scared at some of the things in that book! What's your next book? And when can we expect it?

CG: MIND SCRAMBLER, where Ceepak and Danny go to Atlantic City and end up investigating the murder of a friend we met in an earlier book, will come out from St. Martin’s Minotaur in June, 2009. The sequel to THE CROSSROADS is called THE HANGING HILL and will be published by Random House in August, 2009.

JRW: Thanks, Chris. Any JR readers who have a question for Chris can reach him here or at his website

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grazie, merci, arigato...woof

So what are you thankful for?

RO: I've got a lot to be thankful for this year. My first book finally came out (yay!)People actually bought it and some were kind enough to say that they liked it. I lost the three pounds I'd gained at the beginning of my book tour. My husband, my dog and my colorist are all happy, healthy and not going anywhere for a while (unlike my trainer, who, gasp, has decided he wants to have a life and not devote himself to lowering my bodyfat percentage.)
My wonderful husband has agreed to go on three, count 'em, booksigning trips with me (two with the dog) next year, where we'll be staying in glam places like this hotel room in Dedham, MA.

People have stopped saying that I look like that woman from Alaska. And more importantly, that woman from Alaska isn't moving any time soon. At least not to Washington.
I don't have many family members left (insert violins here)so the friends that I've made in my short time in this business have been very important to me. Even though many of them are "show" friends and we're not likely to see each other outside of Baltimore, Birmingham or Oakmont. So I'm thankful to all of them for helping me figure out what to do! (End of sappy bit.)

Jan: Since I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 16, at the moment, I'm really happy for online recipes.
But like Ro, I've lost a lot of family members, and my daughter (now healthy) was seriously ill a few years back. I know that sh*t happens and it happens fast. So what I'm truly grateful for at this particular moment in time, is that everyone I love is healthy and thriving.
And at the risk of being a super-smarm, I have to add, that I'm grateful for you guys, and Jungle Red. I think its a terrific blog!

HALLIE: Honest to goodness, these days I am grateful for every moment and every person in my life. Blog sisters, real sisters, friends, and that amazing, vast community of writers and readers. My beautiful daughters who make me laugh so hard I wet my pants. My husband who eats whatever I cook for him and likes it. Really. My cozy house where I write. The upcoming excitement of my new book. Right now there's aged port in my half-full glass, and I'm trying to sip it as slowly as I can.

ROBERTA: My husband, who is absolutely there for me through thick and thin, and very, very funny besides. My family--and his. Friends and neighbors. My sweet dog, Tonka, and the cat next next door. The adventure that my life has become over the past ten years: I would never have believed the horde of good friends I'd make while working harder than ever. And yes, the chance to see eight books make it into print--what a ride!

HANK: Well, how can I write this without crying? Jumping happily onto the sappy wagon, at this brief moment, everything seems beautiful. My little darling books are out and loved. The fourth one sits 3000 words from completion. As a result,I know and adore dozens, hundreds of people I never would have met without them. (There is no frigate like a book, isn't that what we memorized before we knew how true it was?)
Actual quote from Jonathan last week: "Why don't I just take over making dinner until Drive Time is done?"
Actual quote from step-son Paul last week: "Your grandson Eli is going to have a baby brother."
The last of the leaves falling means spring is around the corner..and makes me want to hold on to every last red maple and bare branch at the same time I embrace the changes to come.
RO: That is so Hank! "the last of the leaves falling means spring is around the corner.."
Hank: I have a comic on my refrigerator that has two guys on a raft.One of them, is saying: "You mean there a whole universe out there, and we're in the middle of it, and we have no idea what's going to happen next?"
And the other guy, bleak, says Yeah, I'm afraid that's right.
And the first guys says: "Cool!"
Happy Thanksgiving, you Jungle Reds.
JRGang: So what are you thankful for?
PS: Stop back on Wednesday for a JR chat with Chris Grabenstein (Tilt a Whirl, The Crossroads, HellHole)

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Thanksgiving dinner

ROBERTA: It's hard to concentrate on writing right now because Thanksgiving dinner will be at my place next week. We'll be eleven. And so as hard as I try to focus on my new novel's synopsis, my mind wanders off to the menu. My husband's siblings will all contribute (the sweet potato casserole, the mashed potatoes and turnips, the brussel sprouts), leaving me with the turkey, the gravy, the stuffing, and the pies. Pies are easy--I'll bake a delicious pumpkin-maple pie and a chocolate cream pie, which is nontraditional but universally adored. But I agonize over the stuffing. It has to be homemade--no Pepperidge Farm bread cubes for me. One year when I lived in the South, I produced an oyster stuffing, which was expensive and labor-intensive. And no one has ever requested a repeat. Last year I tried a cornbread and sausage affair that horrified the vegetarians. I'll be happy to take suggestions from the floor. And what's your Thanksgiving dinner routine? Does the earth shake if you don't stick to the traditional menu?

Ro: Every Thanksgiving is different for me...from what we eat, to where we eat, who is there, and what day it is. (For years we had Thanksgiving on the Friday after T'day.) With three stepsons, assorted partners, ex-wives, new husbands and children from previous alliances...I just go where I'm told or ask for a head count (if I'm cooking.) I love everything on Roberta's menu so she doesn't know it, but I will be showing up at her place on Thursday.

When I have some say in the matter - aside from the turkey - I always make a cranberry tart. It's an old Martha Stewart recipe from the book Entertaining, which my husband published 26 years ago. It's foolproof, looks gorgeous and I could eat it everyday. If I'm cooking I like to watch videos in the kitchen while I'm preparing...Love, Actually, Miracle on 34th Street, and um...sometimes...Gladiator. ;-)

HANK: Ro, I just burst out laughing. (I have that cookbook. I'm going to look up that recipe this instant.)
Anyway. My little brother Chip, who is an environmental attorney in Colorado, was the one who always needed to have Thanksgiving be just the same every year. Long long ago, like, 35 years ago? My mother would make a jello mold (yup) black cherry jello with black cherries suspended in it. Decades later, when Jello-anything was far from our consciousness but we still all had Thanksgiving together, Chip was bummed because there was no cherry jello. It just meant Thanksgiving to him.

In other Thanksgiving news---when we were growing up, we had huge Thanksgiving dinners. So big, Mom would make two turkeys. Each year, she carefully made oyster dressing AND plain dressing. That way, one turkey could be delicious and pristine for us kids, and the other, filled with yucky disgusting slimy oyster dressing, could be reserved for the adults.

Fast forward again. I'm maybe 25. And in the kitchen watching Mom make the two turkeys. Without hesitation, she put oysters in the bowl of stuffing. And then proceeded to put oyster stuffing in BOTH turkeys. Mom Mom, I cried. Wait! You're putting oyster stuffing in both turkeys!

She gave me that Mom look. Of course I am, she said. I've been doing it every year of your life. I just told you kids there was plain stuffing so you would eat it.

ROBERTA: So do you make the oyster stuffing these days Hank? And Ro, we'd love to have you. Dinner's at 3. Bring the hubby and the dog--and the tart! What about the rest of you, Thanksgiving specialties anyone?
(Photo credits: dinner by orphanjones, cranberry pecan tart by bucklave, oyster by adactio)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Kate Flora

Today, Jungle Red is delighted to welcome writing veteran, recovering attorney, and New England mystery scene regular, Kate Flora. Welcome Kate!

ROBERTA: Let's start with the newest book, The Angel of Knowlton Park, which garnered a starred review from Library Journal in September. Tell us about Joe Burgess in this latest adventure. How do you get the police procedure right? And what about writing in a male voice?

KATE: I'm going to start with the last part of that first—writing in a male voice. My initial interest in writing police procedurals arose from all the time I was spending with cops asking questions for my Thea Kozak series, trying to get things right. Thea's significant other, Andre, is a cop, and I wanted to make him credible. Along the way, I took a police self-defense course, a citizen's police academy, and did a lot of ride alongs. And decided I wanted to see if I could write a police procedural.

Writing a 30-something strong female character came naturally; writing a 50-something male cop with a dark soul was something else. But I believe in challenges; I believe that it is through writing what is hard or what seems impossible that we become better writers, so I created Joe Burgess. To create good male characters, I have to do a lot of listening. I also have to keep querying what I've written to decide if it is credibly male. And then my readers also get a chance to comment, and I've got a cop among my readers.

Then after I sweated blood and bullets (and shot a few bullets) to get it right, I couldn't sell the book. When Five Star took Playing God, the first Joe Burgess, I was elated that readers would finally get a chance to meet Joe B. And I was rewarded with starred PW and Library Journal reviews. This year, Library Journal said, of The Angel of Knowlton Park, "Flora excels at portraying the police as real people with strengths and weaknesses who unite to bring some measure of justice to the dead and living alike. Flora's thought-provoking second police procedural marks her as one of the best in the genre."

I keep thinking I should print that out and stick it on the wall over my desk. Now I'm in chapter 28 of the next Joe Burgess, Redemption, and boy do I feel the pressure to get it right.

A cop once wrote and told me he was reading The Angel and having a hard time remembering that it wasn't real. That's a compliment.

ROBERTA: You had quite an adventure getting Stalking Death published (the seventh in the Thea Kozak series.) Tell us about what you learned.

KATE: Well, I learned a lot of things, actually. After my New York editor sat on the book for a year before dropping the series, I was so discouraged that I briefly considered giving up this crazy writing business. It was a deeply painful time. Obviously, I learned that you can never rest on your laurels, and even when you think, in the words of Bull Durham, that you've gone to the show, you can be out on your ass tomorrow. I also learned that the determination and resilience I developed during my eight years in the unpublished writer's corner were going to be useful again. I strengthened my conviction that no one but me gets to decide I'm a writer. Indeed, as Thea Kozak likes to say, if suffering strengthens your character, than I'm a moral colossus.

The most important thing I learned is that if you've got nothing to lose you can take chances. That led me to writing Finding Amy, my Edgar-nominated true crime and to Level Best Books, the short story publishing project. And I'm ever so grateful to Jim Huang of The Mystery Company for believing in the book.

Stalking Death, by the way, was my 10th published book, and I celebrated with The Journey of a Thousand Books on my website at, collecting pictures of people all around the country reading my book. It's been great fun and pictures are still arriving. And the good news is that the book is practically sold out!

ROBERTA: And speaking of the short story book, tell us about Level Best, how it came to be and why.

KATE: Wish I could claim the credit, as it's a wonderful project. The impetus came from sister writer Susan Oleksiw, founder of The Larcom Review and the Larcom Press. Susan and I had always wanted to do a crime story collection as a "snapshot" of the New England writer's mind. When she decided to move ahead with the project, she invited me to be an editor. We put out a call for stories, chose the ones we wanted to publish, and then the press that was going to publish the collection folded. Susan and I and Skye Alexander were so committed to the project we went ahead and found a printer and became publishers as well as editors. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but here we are celebrating the publication of our sixth anthology, Deadfall.

It's a tremendous amount of work and we don't make any money, but giving back to the mystery community and creating publication opportunities for short story writers is very rewarding. And last year, when one of our first time writers won the Robert L. Fish Award for best crime story by a new writer, and was nominated for an Edgar, it seemed very worthwhile indeed.

ROBERTA: As some of you know, Kate served as president of Sisters in Crime, both in New England and nationally, well before I took that role. How do you feel about the progress women have made--or not made--in the publishing business?

KATE: At the risk of sounding like a feminist—a term that sometimes seems to be becoming a dirty word—I think we've made a lot of progress but that we can never relax and assume things have changed. When the male voice is the dominant paradigm, and when the default mode will always be to favor men's work over women's, we can't assume the battle is won. When Sisters in Crime was started, women probably published 30% of the mysteries, and publishers didn't even bother to send out review copies of women's mysteries because they thought only women would read them and they'd buy them with their "pin money." Today, some of the biggest names in mystery are women. But Roberta, as you know, there are still disparities in that women's books are more likely to be published in paperback, and it is hardcover books that get reviews and are bought by libraries, and there are still many venues that don't review men's and women's books equally.

So yes, we've made progress. There is still some ground to be covered. On the other hand, being a part of Sisters in Crime has always been a wonderful thing to me. There is always someone available to answer a question. Our experienced writers show our new writers the ropes. In New England, we've got a fabulous speakers bureau with a whole slate of programs. And doing events together with other writers, I always leave inspired by their ideas and their process. And there are always others to celebrate triumphs with or to offer the consolation that's often necessary in this brutal business.

Thank you for coming by today Kate! Doesn't it look like she's having fun? Now the floor is open for comments and questions...And read more about Kate and her adventures at her website.

On Jeri Westerson

JR: Today Jungle Red Writers welcome debut novelist Jeri Westerson. VEIL OF LIES was published this month by St. Martin's Minotaur, which Publisher's Weekly called a "promising entertaining read that makes the prospect of sequels welcome." Welcome Jeri, that's certainly a great start! What made you decide to write medieval mysteries?

JERI: I was writing historical fiction with no thought of writing mysteries at all. But the historical fiction market is a tight one, and after about a decade of no takers, a former agent suggested I write a medieval mystery as opposed to a straight historical, as mystery was a far better market. I had no idea how to write a mystery and I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of trying it. But after more years of rejection I decided I'd better give it a go!

JR: You call this novel a medieval noir. Tell us what the heck that is!

JERI: I loved the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. She created the medieval mystery genre with her medieval monk sleuth. But when I sat down to think about the kind of medieval mystery I wanted to write, I knew it wasn't going to be the Brother Cadfael type. Besides history, I also had a love for the hard-boiled detective fiction of the '30s and '40s; Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe, Ross MacDonald and Lew Archer. And I began to wonder if I couldn't create a hard-boiled detective in a medieval setting. And then take it down a notch into noir territory; make it grittier and edgier. That's when "Medieval Noir" was born. This was something I was dying to write!

JR: So fill us in on your detective.

JERI: He's a disgraced knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London. He's down on his luck. Exiled from court and from the life he's known, left with nothing but his wits, he was forced to find his way and reinvent himself as the Tracker—the medieval equivalent of a private eye. He hates that he must live with the lowly of society and though it isn't likely, he lives for the chance to get his own back. In the meantime, he feels that continuing to follow his knightly code—righting wrongs and bringing criminals to justice—will somehow be recompense for his many sins.

JR: As a writer of historical mystery, how do you approach research?

JERI: Very carefully. I have a lot of research in my back pocket after years of writing historical fiction, but I still must rely on text books and archives. I spend a lot of time at my local university library, and what I can't find there I scour the internet, making connections with folks who run archives in England. They have been most generous to me, copying papers and maps and sending them to me free of charge. They have truly been the best resource. I'm also planning a research trip to England next year. Though the London I write about doesn't exist anymore, there are still some places I need to see again up close and personal—like Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey as well as Canterbury Cathedral.

JR: We love nothing better than a debut novelist! Tell us a little about your path to publication.

JERI: That's a fourteen year-long story! I am the poster child for persistence. After I retired from a career in graphic design, I decided to turn a long-time hobby of writing fiction into a new career. I researched the industry and learned a lot of what I needed to know to get started and get published. What I didn't realize was how long it was going to take. There were many times when I wanted to hang it up, but my husband kept encouraging me, telling me that this is what I was meant to do. So while I worked for that contract, I became a freelance reporter for my local newspapers—a daily and a few weeklies—and at least got a little vindication that someone was willing to pay me for my writing. When I switched gears from straight historical fiction to historical mystery, a vast world of opportunity opened up. For one, there are numerous small presses who specialize in mystery. Likewise, there are independent bookstores all over the world that only carry mysteries. There are fan conventions, panels—all sorts of opportunities not given to other authors. I was hooked! Organizations like Sisters in Crime really helped me get a leg up. I wasn't always able to make it to my chapter in L.A. as I live quite far away, but I found a great home online with both the Guppies chapter (the Great UnPublished) and the Sisters yahoo list. Not just encouragement, which is sorely needed after so many years of rejection, but also good information you can take to the bank. If you want to write mysteries, join Sisters in Crime!

Anyway, after I had the first Crispin Guest novel written, I shopped it to a few agents. But once I finish one novel, I just dive into the next. It was particularly important for me to do that with the mystery because I had never written series fiction before and I wanted to see that I could do it. I found I could, and I discovered the added benefit of really enjoying revisiting these characters in new situations.

The first Crispin novel went the rounds. I also went through three agents and I was now on my fourth. After it was rejected everywhere—including St. Martin's—my agent and I concluded that this one had to be put to bed. From conversations on the SinC list, I knew that other authors didn't always get the first in the series published, so I wrote the second one with the thought that it might become the first. And then, eighteen months after St. Martin's rejected that first one, that same editor called my agent and asked if I hadn't written another novel in the series since he "couldn't get those characters out of his head." I had only just sent VEIL OF LIES to my agent. He whisked it into an envelope, and in two weeks, we had a contract. And it only took fourteen years and two weeks!

And now the drum roll for some Jungle Red questions:

Pizza or chocolate? Chocolate.
Prologue or no prologue? Definitely no prologue.

Favorite book as a child? My Father's Dragon

And the JR Big Lie. Tell us four things about you, but only one of them is true...

  1. I trained to be a Ninja.
  2. I was fired from the Boy Scouts of America.
  3. I won the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cup when I was twelve for eating the most peanut butter cups at a fair.
  4. I buried my Barbies in the backyard when I was a kid and created an archaeological dig to exhume them.
Oh Jeri, it's got to be the Barbies! But now the floor is open for comments and questions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hidden in Plain Sight

"Why not be oneself? That is the whole secret of a successful appearance. If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?" Dame Edith Sitwell

ROBERTA: Those of you who know me would probably describe me as a small person, right? Maybe, if you were being brutally honest, you'd even say short. But I don't feel small. A couple of years ago, I joined the board of directors at our golf club and eventually assumed the position of green department chair, which made me responsible for supervising the golf course superintendent. He and I were a funny contrast in many ways, but the most striking might have been physical. He's 6'6 and I'm 5'2 (just about.) At a golf tournament for board members and superintendents, this photo was taken. Suddenly I had to face facts in a new way. Yes, Mike is tall. But I'm also short. This might explain why my back has started to bother me. (Chairs and couches are not built for small people, and therefore our feet don't sit flat on the floor, which causes our backs to arch unnaturally.) it also explains why I can't see over people at the movies! Duh...

So tell all Jungle Red: have you had the odd experience of suddenly recognizing something about yourself (can be physical, can be internal) that others knew all along?

HANK: Roberta, you're funny. Remember that nursery rhyme that says: I'm just as big for me, as you are big for you? Here's a picture of me at Bouchercon with authors Andrew Grant and Gayle Lynds. Now, you'd call me tallish, right? I'm 5'8", and I have on very very high boots. And look at this. Who's the small one?

Someone asked me once if I was a organization freak. Of course not, I said. Not even close. My husband started laughing. What? I said. I was truly perplexed. He pointed out that the clothes in my closet are hanging by color. Black jackets on the top row. Colored jackets on the bottom--white, then gray, then navy, then red, you get the idea. And that on the day before the cleaning people come, I clean up. And then, after they leave, I insist they've moved all the furniture out of place. Like, half an inch.

JAN: Oh Roberta, this is a topic I could go on and on about. I'm almost 5'10 and when other kids were worrying about getting weighed in middle school, I was getting nauseous about having to be measured. When they told us not to smoke cigarettes because it would stunt our growth, I bought my first pack. (At age 13) Yes, and I'm happy to report that it worked! My brothers were 6'6", 6'4" and 6'2".

Once, when I was living in Aix-en-Provence, I was walking home early one Sunday morning, up a hill, just as a French family of four was walking down the hill to church. I had maybe 2-inch high boots on. The combination of the heels and the hill made me tower even more over them. I happened to turn back and saw that the whole family had stopped, turned, to stare at me and my height in absolute awe. One of the asked, "Vous etes Allemande?" which means, "You are German?" Clearly, they thought I was a female Attila the Hun. (Jan says the caption to the photo at the right is: "Here's Jan with her childhood friend Eva, who got to be petite (far right), and Eva's friend Michelle, who got to be even more petite. See how freaking tall Jan is?"

RO: First off, they DO move all of the furniture half an inch. Not enough to notice until you walk into something and get a nice little black-and-blue mark because your sense memory tells you the chair was where it was the day before. Question...if we don't move everything back will THEY do it the following week, or will all of our furniture eventually be moved out the front door?

I caught a glimpse of Roberta walking next to Harlan Coben at Crimebake this past weekend and ..yup, darlin' you are a tad on the short side! Me? I have no idea. Half the time I walk through life feeling invisible..I'm constantly surprised - and flattered - when someone remembers me. Other than that, people have told me that I walk fast. I don't really think about it unless I'm walking behind someone and start to think "what is wrong with this person?!"

HALLIE: Anyone remember the Dr.Seuss book about finding the right hat? One after the other, the guy tries them on... Too beady, too bumpy, too leafy, too lumpy, too twisty, twirly, too wrinkly, too curly. For me, when I was a kid I thought I was too skinny, too pimply, too bossy, too surly. I've turned out to be none of the above...well, maybe I did get a large helping of the Lucy Van Pelt gene. But doens't everyone WANT to take orders from me??

ROBERTA: Yes, Hallie, we do! But Hank, if Hallie or I were in that picture, you'd only see us from the waist up! And since Ro did have to mention Harlan Coben (who was our fabulous and gracious guest of honor at the New England Crime Bake this year), here's a photo that captures the long and the short of it. That's Katherine Hall Page in the middle--she's even smaller than I am. But I bet she doesn't know it!

Okay, time for you Jungle Red Readers to tell about yourselves! And don't forget to stop back on Wednesday, when we'll host debut author Jeri Westerson, and then on Thursday when we'll host mystery pro Kate Flora, and on Friday...when anything can happen....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Straight from the Crime Bake

Four out of five Jungle Red Writers spent this past weekend at the New England Crime Bake in Dedham, MA. It was a smashing success! Consider penciling it in for next year, same weekend--great writers, great friends, agents and editors, and featuring guest of honor Sue!

Meanwhile, here are some snapshots to enjoy. Above was the first panel of the day, including funny guys and gals Vinnie O'Neil, Steve Anable, Hank Ryan, Harlan Coben, and Kate Flora. To the right are Peter Abrahams, Katherine Hall Page, and Linda Barnes, 3 of the 4 members of the Hall of Famers, which Roberta Isleib had the pleasure of moderating. And seen at the cocktail party, Sheila Connolly, Susan Conant, and her daughter, Jessica Conant-Park.

And here are Roberta and Hallie, posing for a moment in the hallway:

Actually, the place was crawling with authors! Here are Alex Carr, Toni Kelner, and Lynne Heitman. Hank did a marvelous job of organizing the entertainment at the banquet, a hilarious panel of authors and publishing dignitaries telling big lies. Agent Janet Reid and Bleak House editor Ben LeRoy were among the rowdiest...
Next year, come to Crime Bake!

Friday, November 14, 2008

What I've Learned


JAN: I've had a terrific week, working with an old friend and a terrific cast of actors to put together a video trailer for my new novel, Teaser. It was an all consuming, exhausting project that left me elated. Now, in the afterglow, I sit in the hot tub at my brother's house in Annapolis and reflect on what I've learned this week.

I could bore you with the many lessons gleaned from from the fascinating new skills I've attempted: scene scouting, casting, propmastering, and assistant directing. I could go on and on with practical tips and philosophical insights.

Instead, I'm going to limit myself to the really, really, important stuff.

This from Vera, the professional make-up artist.

1. Use an eyelash crimper instead of a curler because no one's eyes are really the shape of an eyelash curler.

2. Buy the roll of cotton in the First Aid aisle to remove makeup. Pull off cotton balls from the roll. It's purer cotton and it's cheaper than premade cotton balls.

3. Avoid using tissue or toilet paper to remove makeup because its made of wood pulp. Eeeww. Harsh.

4. The deal with using pure mineral powder for powder is this: the cheap versions are cut with talc and talc is what clogs pores and creates irritation.

5. Unscented Lubriderm makes the best eye makeup remover

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The REAL Karen Olson


Okay, so here's the "lie."
I have never danced with George Michael.

Although I have been to London.But my sister is the one did the dancing, and it was back in his WHAMdays.

As for the "truths," I dated a guy whose brother was a Hell's Angel, which is how I ended up at the pig roast, and it was the same guy who was theUPS delivery guy.
And another boyfriend, a few years later, whom I was moving out on after two years, took my cat and locked her in the bathroom and wouldn't let her out unless I gave him half the rent for a month Iwasn't even going to live there. I paid him. And got my cat back.

She was no worse for the wear and probably didn't realize she was being held for ransom.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Karen E. Olson

"Olson brings a journalist's eye for detail and immediacy to this series. You'll want to give yourself an early deadline to read her latest story."
- Richmond Times-Dispatch

JAN: Karen and I met via Internet, just shortly after my first book came out. Since both of us were working at New England newspapers, we immediately had a lot in common. We had even more in common when she sold her first book and we wound up at the same publisher and editor.

Her first book was Sacred Cows, which won the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award. Now, the fourth in the Annie Seymour series, SHOT GIRL, is in bookstores, and the first in her brand new tattoo shop mystery, THE MISSING INK, will be out in July.

It seems to me that there are a lot of former reporters who become mystery writers. The first thing I wanted to know was about Karen was her particular transition from newspapers to murder: what it was that prompted her to write her first mystery.

KAREN: I only spent six years as a reporter, and then 16 as an editor. I was a nighttime copy editor for 10 of those years, and I would get home from work at 2 a.m. all wired up with nothing to do. So I started seriously writing fiction (I’d been writing for years but never finished anything). I loved mysteries and figured I’d try my hand at one.

JAN: Personally, I think a lot of the lessons you learn in news reporting come in handy when you write a mystery. Are there any special skills you found that translated well or were especially helpful?

KAREN: Meeting deadlines and being able to write on command. I don’t have to wait for a muse to come and tap me on the shoulder. I grab an hour to write and I just sit down and write. I know that comes from the discipline of working for a newspaper. I’m also a pretty good self-editor, although I prefer the creating rather than the editing when it comes to my own work.

JAN: In Shot Girl, Annie’s ex husband, turns up dead at a bachelorette party. How did you come up with the idea for this scenario – and the question everyone wants to ask --any former boyfriends or exes who inspired you?

KAREN: I do have an ex-husband, but he’s nothing like Annie’s ex. I like to put Annie in uncomfortable situations, and what could be more uncomfortable than having your ex-husband dead on the sidewalk and a gun that matches the bullets in your car?

JAN: Tell us about New Haven and why it makes a great setting for a mystery series?

KAREN: New Haven is more than Yale, but I don’t know that many people realize that. It’s got a very rich history, interesting neighborhoods, great restaurants. It’s also got crime, which is key for a mystery series! I’ve shown a different neighborhood in each book, to show the city’s diversity and history. It truly is another main character in the books.

JAN: Is there anything you learned about Annie Seymour that you didn’t know before?

KAREN: I didn’t know why she’d left her ex-husband until I started writing SHOT GIRL. And once I did, it explained so much!

JAN: Tell us what you are working on now?

KAREN: I’ve got a new series starting next summer. The first book, THE MISSING INK, will be out in July. The protagonist is Brett Kavanaugh, a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas. It’s been great fun, and while at first it was out of my comfort zone, it was incredibly liberating and my first readers think it’s the best thing I’ve done! The second book will be PRETTY IN INK.

JAN: Besides her mystery series, Karen also edits a medical journal for Yale part time. She lives outside New Haven with her husband, daughter and two cats.

And now finally, the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

Neither. I’m not an Agatha Christie fan (yes, everyone can gasp now…and no, I don’t like The Maltese Falcon, either)

Sex or violence?

Pizza or chocolate?
Oh, yes, certainly.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Daniel Craig, hands down. Although I loved Pierce Brosnan best in “Matador.”

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine, of course.

First person or Third Person?
I don’t discriminate.

Prologue or no prologue?
Absolutely no prologue.

Your favorite non-mystery book?
Non-fiction: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived (about Henry VIII’s wives)
Fiction: Wuthering Heights

Making dinner or making reservations?
Definitely reservations.

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

I partied with bikers at a Hell’s Angels pig roast.

I danced with George Michael at a club in London.

I dated a UPS delivery guy and we had sex in the UPS truck.

My cat was held hostage for ransom.
Make your guesses on the comments page and come back tomorrow when we reveal just what's true about Karen Olson, and what's complete fiction!

Monday, November 10, 2008

On scrimping

"We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs." --Gloria Steinem

JAN: My mother, were she still alive, would have an awesome carbon footprint.
Although she had a dishwasher, she preferred to handwash dishes because it used less energy. She was okay with the washing machine, because it was gas fueled, but spurned the dryer, because it was electric. She hung clothes to dry outside in good weather, and in the basement otherwise.

She also recycled religiously because she couldn't stand the idea of anything being wasted. Once she yelled at me for pouring a leftover pot of boiling water down the drain. "You could let that cool and it could go on the plants, you know."
But my mother wasn't green. And God knows she wasn't politically correct. What she was, was a child of the depression. She was forever telling stories of having to wash the floor in her father's bar with a scrub brush, and the economies of sewing her own clothes.
So each night as I hear some new dire economic prediction on Kudlow and Company or Charlie Rose, I wonder, will we all learn to scrimp and save? I've already cut out the gym and lowered my thermostat. But more importantly, could that scrimping and saving be a good thing for us all, benefiting the culture and the planet in ways we couldn't predict?

HALLIE: Learn? I've always been green. AKA cheap.
Call me what you will, I have rarely buy paper towels or plastic wrap. Dish towels work. I mortified my kids by wrapping their peanut butter sandwiches in wax paper (not made of petroleum). Store leftovers in bowls with plates for lids. Compost organic waste. And of course nowadays I bring my own cloth bags to the grocery store.
We also eat a lot of beans--white, kidney, black.... Still a great bargain and very healthy.
And...tah dah...I used cloth diapers for both kids!
HANK: Yes, I remember asking you, Hallie, for a paper towel. And got a nice cloth instead.
Today I took back a container of fruit to the grocery store. The berries had gone bad, gray and fuzzy, in two days, and that meant the fruit was old when it was sold. In the past, I would have just tossed them, angrily.
Now. I saved $3.00 by taking back the fruit. I spent--how much? by driving there. But--here's what I'm learning. I only buy EXACTLY as much as I think we'll need. No more random handfuls of green beans. I think: One bunch for me, one for Jonathan, done. I'm not throwing away any more food.
RO:This is hard to answer..because in some ways I'm thrifty and green and in other ways not. I don't bring my own bag to the market but when I remember I ask for paper (when I have plastic ones I use them for dog poop, which I'm sure will horrify some people.) I've changed most of the light bulbs to the squiggly ones, don't use chemicals in my garden, and I'm very happy shopping at tag sales and thrift shops. I rarely eat meat which makes me feel good about both my health and the fact that I'm not a part of the ginormous beef industry. And we only have one car for the two of us. But I don't compost. That's my dirty little secret. I've tried it a few times and the raccoons drive me nuts.
Right now my refrigerator in CT isn't working. Bruce and I went food shopping and spent $34. Maybe we shouldn't bother getting a new one.
(BTW that gray fuzzy stuff on the berries is botrytis. If there's even a speck of it, your berries are goners.)
ROBERTA: I love seeing all those cloth bags at the supermarket! It's just a matter of getting the old brain cells to remember to put them back in the car.
Maybe some of you read the article in the NY Times this weekend about the couple who decided to try eating on a dollar a day for a month. They ate tons of beans and homemade tortillas and had to cut out almost all vegetables and fruits. The woman said she almost wept when the month was up and she allowed herself to have strawberries. But she also noted how time-consuming it is to cook from scratch. Bottom line, I worry less about the conserving my family has to do--I think it is a useful exercise for us and good for the world. But what about the folks who are already living on the edge? these times are going to be hard, hard, hard.if

JAN: Roberta's right, it's a lot easier to take satisfaction in scrimping when it's not a matter of survival. But I think all of us are going to find ourselves scrimping more and in all this gloom, there might be an upside. (Researchers are already predicting a decline in obesity because of fewer restaurant meals.)

I'd like to hear from everyone out there who may be viewing the world with new or even old-fashioned frugality.

Friday, November 7, 2008


"The book sweeps from the steamy bazaars of Egypt to proper English drawing rooms as Ursula battles international intrigue and her own sensuous nature. Dorothy Sayers would be proud of her Oxford sister."

**Rhys Bowen, Award winning author or the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries

HANK: I met Clare Langley-Hawthorne in the one of the world's most high-tension white-knuckled situations--Malice Go Round. That's the feared and beloved event where new authors get like 10 seconds to convince a group of experienced, savvy and educated mystery readers that their new novel is the greatest thing since..well, the last greatest thing they've ever read.

Clare hit Malice Go Round out of the ballpark. Talking about her debut Consequences of Sin, she was calm and direct, articulate, passionate and intelligent. And funny. (And of course, 'historicals' are hot in the publishing world these days.) I told her afterward--I was running right out to buy her book. She absolutely won me over.

Now she's on book two--more about that in a minute. But while millions of voters in the US woke up this week to find they had participated in an historic election, Clare didn't get to vote. Why? And how does she feel? She tell us in one word:


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

After the election this week I confess to feeling particularly disenfranchised. As I am not a US citizen I was not able to vote (and neither was my husband which actually may be a good thing as we traditionally cancel out each other’s vote as we hold opposing political views!) nor am I able to vote in Australian elections as we have been abroad so long.

In Australia voting is compulsory – a fact that many American’s find incredible – and we are fined if we fail to vote in an election. For the last couple of elections my husband and I missed getting postal votes and had to send in a letter ‘excusing us’ from voting to avoid a fine – we were then unceremoniously dropped from the Australian electoral roll. So now we are truly disenfranchised!

This gives me particular empathy for my character, Ursula Marlow, who is a suffragette in Edwardian England desperately trying to secure votes for women at a time when voting in England was restricted to men who owned or rented property. My first book, Consequences of Sin, is set in 1910 and includes the infamous ‘Black Friday’ protest which occurred after the failure of the Conciliation Bill which would have extended voting to some women.

On that day women faced unwarranted police brutality and realized just how entrenched the ‘establishment’ that opposed female suffrage was in Britain. Many of these women had already spent time in Holloway Prison and had endured forcible feeding (they went on hunger strike to protest the government’s refusal to treat them as political prisoners).

By 1912, the year in which my second Ursula Marlow book, The Serpent and The Scorpion is set, members of the militant suffragette movement (the Women’s Social and Political Union) had become thoroughly disenchanted (as well as disenfranchised!) and had begun to mount a window smashing and arson campaign. The fight for votes was reaching a level of desperate militancy that would only cease with the outbreak of the First World War when the WSPU agreed to suspend their fight for votes for women to focus on their patriotic war duty.

By the time the war was over a whole generation of men would be wiped out, women over 30 would finally be granted the vote and the nearly 2 million so called ‘surplus’ women became a political force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could have happened if women had received the vote before the war?!

It’s hard for me to believe that Australia –a land settled by convicts and squatters - granted votes to women nearly twenty years before Britain (although Aboriginal women were still excluded).

I have to confess, as an unabashed feminist, I fully support my character’s political quest (and hey, my husband is convinced Ursula is actually me anyway!) though I have to admit to a sneaking jealousy (maybe even covetousness) for Ursula’s upper class Edwardian lifestyle. She gets to have a maid, a chauffeur, a butler, a housekeeper and a cook. At my house I have to play all those roles!

She also has the luxury of time and wealth. The kind of wealth that allows you to have custom designed French clothing (where’s my dress by Poiret?!), travel by elegant ocean liner (rather than being a sardine in coach class) and flout conventions (though I live just near Berkeley where there are no conventions to flout anyway!). But was all of this lifestyle worth having no say in the way your country was governed? When I try to absorb the sensibilities of the Edwardian period, to think and feel as Ursula would have, the answer is clearly no.

So my character and I have something in common – neither of us have the vote but we both recognize just how powerful and important that right can be.

HANK: Thanks, Clare! And there's more--

A contest! Clare has generously offered to give away a signed edition of her first book--and that's something we can all vote for. So just leave her a comment...and she'll pick a winner at random!

Clare Langley-Hawthorne was raised in England and Australia. She was an attorney in Melbourne before moving to the United States, where she began her career as a writer. Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, was nominated for the 2008 Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Macavity award. The second in the Ursula Marlow series, The Serpent and The Scorpion, was published in October 2008. Clare lives in Oakland, California with her family.