Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Secret Diary

HANK: Ooooh. Hey. C'mere.

Alex Sokoloff is letting us look into her secret diary for THE UNSEEN. Of course it's scaaaaarrrry....and of course it's hilarious.

It starts in...

December 2008

Dear Diary: You will be thrilled to know I’ve made an actual decision. No, I mean it, stop laughing. Really.I’m just not going to kill myself promoting THE UNSEEN when it comes out. No more of this stress. I love this book. I know people want to read it. Who wouldn’t want to read it?

John Lescroart says the only viable thing you can do to sell your books is to write another book. So that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to write another book. In fact, I’m going to write two books.

And the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors book, too – I can do an hour of that every other day. It all stops now. No more traveling, no more craziness, just workshops close to home. That people pay me for. I’m going to write. That’s it. Write. And have a personal life, remember that? And then maybe Michael won’t leave me for alienation of affection? That would be good.

PS. You won’t be hearing from me for a while. I have writing to do. And affection.

------------------------Five months later------------------------

May 1, 2009.

Well, Diary, I am thrilled to report I have finished Book of Shadows and Scott loves it and SO DO I. I got that paranormal proposal in to HQ Nocturne and I will easily be finished with Ghost Ship by the end of the month and get that in to St. Martin’s ON TIME. I have an entire first draft of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, and am psyched to launch into revisions. I am so golden.

Lescroart is so right. We need to be writing.

May 2

Woke up to panic attack. OH MY GOD, THE UNSEEN is coming out in twenty-four days. How did that happen? Who scheduled this?

I haven’t done anything. Nothing. I haven’t even thought about doing anything. I forgot about promotion. Who do I think I am, a screenwriter? I’m an author now, I have to promote.

What’s promotion again? How did I do it before? OH MY GOD.

May 3

Woke up thinking about Konrath. OH MY GOD. Konrath is doing a 100-stop blog book tour for AFRAID. I should be doing a 100-stop blog book tour. Wait. I can barely write one blog a week. I’d have to have started 100 weeks ago to do a 100-stop blog book tour. 100 weeks ago is – um, years, I think.I can do ten. No, twelve. No, eight. In two months. No, one. No, six weeks.

Is it worth it to do that? Does that even count as a blog book tour?

Note to self: check Blog Book Tour site for… specifics. Wait. Wouldn’t I rather just write more Screenwriting Tricks blogs? Won’t everyone hate me if I stop those for a month to do blogs on… whatever I would be doing blogs on? On somebody else’s blog site? Didn’t I start Screenwriting Tricks because I had nothing left to say about myself? Do blog tours really work? Konrath says it’s working.

Well, of course it’s working for Konrath, I’m talking about for REAL people, do they work for REAL people?Note to self: You are NOT under any circumstances going to try to pull a Konrath here. Just get a grip.

May 4

OH MY GOD. “The Edge of Seventeen” got nominated for a Thriller Award for Best Short Story. I can’t believe it. I mean, I love that story, maybe more than anything I’ve ever written, but… it’s supernatural. It’s got a teenage GIRL protagonist. I’m so overwhelmed it got noticed.

Lescroart is right. I need to be writing. Nothing matters but writing. And affection.

May 5

OH MY GOD. Thrillerfest is the same weekend as ALA. HOW DO THESE THINGS HAPPEN?How can I not go to ALA? How can I not go to Thrillerfest? I’m going to be just out with THE UNSEEN in hardcover, I have to go to ALA.

But I’m nominated for a Thriller award, how can I not go to Thrillerfest? How can I be in New York and Chicago at the same time?

May 6

Woke up thinking about social networking.OH MY GOD. I haven’t posted on Facebook in weeks. I haven’t Twittered in longer. And I can’t remember the last time I even signed on to MySpace. I need to update my sites. If I can remember them. Amazon blog, Red Room blog, MySpace blog, Haunt blog, Backspace, MWA something or other - Margery said we all had pages somewhere and that I haven’t done anything on mine; Pretty Scary, Authors Round the South, Indie Bound something or other, Library Thing?

Am I on that? Or was I supposed to do it and forgot? And what about that Facebook page thing? Did anyone ever figure out how to find my page as opposed to whatever the regular Facebook thing is? Is that page thing just going to open up a whole new spate of old boyfriends?

May 7

Woke up thinking about…. I can’t… think…

May 8

OH MY GOD. Romantic Times is in two days. Did I book a flight? What state is it in? Do I have bookmarks? Oh my God, I never ordered bookmarks for THE UNSEEN. I have to e mail Kelley at Iconix and order more NOW TODAY so they’ll come in time. Will they get here or do I have them delivered to – whatever state RT is in? Kelley will handle it. IF YOU REMEMBER TO TELL HER.

Where are my business cards? OH MY GOD. I have to learn all the songs for the Vampire show. Shut up. Slow down. What you need to do at RT is WRITE. Go rehearse the Vampire show and then go back to the room and write, write, write. Five pages a day, minimum.

(Pages done at RT: 7 total, done on the plane en route. Hours spent rehearsing Vampire Show: 20. Hours on the dance floor: 3 per night. Hours in hot tub after dance=2. Parties… a lot.).

May 9

Woke up thinking about website. Hmm, worrisome. Most Awesome Webmistress is not returning e mail on website update. Starting to panic. Better call.

OH MY GOD. Most Awesome Webmistress has been sending e mails on website update that have disappeared into the ether. Website needs complete overhaul.

OH MY GOD.Must send in all updates by tomorrow and decide on design.


May 10
Have to get announcements of THE UNSEEN in to all the organizations I belong to for their newsletters. What organizations do I belong to again? Who do I send this stuff to?

Have to send updated list of all reviewers I know to new publicist so she can send reading copies.

Have to send updated list of all media contacts I have to new publicist to she can send reading copies.

Have to send updated bookseller/librarian list to new publicist.

Have to do author questionnaire for Little, Brown for UK releases.

Have to do new author questionnaire for St. Martin’s.

Have to do AT LEAST FIVE PAGES on Ghost Ship today. I have to. I have to.

(Pages written: 0)

May 11
Woke up thinking about bookstore mailings. Elaine Viets does bookstore mailings. Elaine swears by bookstore mailings, and everyone loves her. Does that mean I should do bookstore mailings? What is a bookstore mailing?

Books? Still don’t have them. Bookmarks? Bookmarks are great if you march them into the store and set them on the counter yourself, but if I were a CRM and got bookmarks in the mail I would just toss them in the trash. I don’t even open my own mail, how can I expect anyone else to?

May 12

Woke up thinking about book club mailings. Jenna Black swears by book club mailings. Do I need to do a book club mailing? What is a book club mailing?

May 13
There’s a book club coordinator at St. Martin’s. Who knew? I give her my targeted list of rabid book clubs and she will send books with my letter that I send to her. I love St. Martin’s.

Lesson learned: Ask, Ask, Ask.

May 14
Going through old promotional files and discovered Sisters in Crime has a bookclub database with specific contact info for mystery book clubs nationwide. Most want e mail contact first. I can do that. I can do that in a night and pretend to be watching whatever movie Michael wants to watch.

I love Sisters in Crime.

May 15
OH MY GOD. I haven’t worked out in two weeks. Have you somehow for gotten that you have the personality of a rabid armadillo when you don’t work out for TWO DAYS?

Has it somehow slipped your mind that a BOOK TOUR means you will be dealing with THE PUBLIC for all your waking hours? Has it not occurred to you that if you don’t get an injection of endorphins, not to mention muscle tone, then too soon to contemplate you will not be fit for viewing?

May 16, 2009
OH MY GOD. I haven’t updated my mailing list in six months. And I need to do a newsletter. How does Vertical Response work again? What’s my password? Why can’t I log in? Oh, right, I have to use Firefox to get into that one. Um, I think. But do I have any news?

Did I for sure take that guy off the list who wrote me that horrible letter about how he didn’t know me and how did I get his e mail and why am I spamming him? Does he know how many nights of sleep I lost lying awake wondering the same thing?

May 17
OH MY GOD. I have to be at BEA next week. What state is BEA in this year? I need a pass. I need books. Did I book a flight?…. Frantic e mailing ensues ....HAH! St. Martin’s has sent books and is sending me a pass.

I will do my Quail Ridge launch then drive up to NY with Natasha and stop at bookstores along the way to sign stock.

A Garmin would be good, though. Konrath swears by his Garmin. Note to self: need to get a Garmin. More to the point, need to figure out how to use it before I hit the road. Can I realistically do that? I mean, really?

May 18
OH MY GOD. Right after BEA I’m due in L.A. for the HWA Stoker weekend and So Cal MWA conference and Dark Delicacies signing and Mysterious Galaxy signing. Did I book a flight? OH MY GOD - must do bookstore drop-ins. Must do TONS of bookstore drop-ins. I can do 200 easily in two weeks before I have to be back for my Southern tour stops. Even without a Garmin. No Garmin required here at all. Konrath may be Konrath, but I know California freeways.

I wish I could say that’s as bad as it gets but it’s not even close. Multiply the chaos above by twelve thousand and you have a rough idea of my mental state at the moment. There is no order to anything.

The funny thing is, I just did an interview in which the eminently sane interviewer posed the question: “You’re a great business networker. What’s your strategy?”Which I guess is encouraging because no matter what is happening inside me I have the APPEARANCE of control and organization. So that must count for something.

But you know what? I was so fine while I was just writing. I really did get – almost - two books, a proposal, and a rough draft of another (non-fiction) book done in five months. This last month I’ve managed to do some editing, but that’s about it. And I am miserable about it. I could so easily have had my new book done by now.

So I really, really want to know. Are we really doing ourselves any favors doing this kind of insane promotion?Or is John Lescroart right, and we should just always be writing the next book, period?

What do you think, Reds? The Unseen did come out Tuesday, May 26, with or without me.

(HANK: I think we're going to post this blog EVERY YEAR on this date. I think it's an instant classic.)

As a screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff has sold original mystery and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios. Her debut ghost story, THE HARROWING, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award and Anthony award for Best First Novel. Her second supernatural thriller, THE PRICE, was called “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre” by the New York Times Book Review, and her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen” is currently nominated for a Thriller award for best short story. Her third spooky thriller, THE UNSEEN, is out now, and is based on real-life ESP experiments and poltergeist investigations conducted at the parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus. She is currently working on a fourth supernatural thriller for St. Martin’s Press and a paranormal thriller for Harlequin Nocturne, and is writing a book on SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS, based on her popular workshop and blog at:

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Neighbors

HANK: You know how it usually happens. The moving van pulls up across the street. You peer through the slats of the window blinds. You don't want them to see you checking out the new neighbors. Who are they? In goes a fancy stove--Will you be friends and share gourment dinners? In goes a child-size bike--Will they have a weird kid who will set traps for your cat?

New neighbors are always fascinating. And there are new ones in blog world, too. And since we already know they'll be pals, we invited the Pens Fatales for tea!

Their new Blog launches June 1, and we're delighted to welcome them to town.

Who are the Pens Fatales? Check 'em out--and you dont have to look through the slats. They tell tales of mystery, romance, and supernatural suspense: Left to right in the above photo, meet L.G.C. Smith, Adrienne Miller, Martha Flynn, Juliet Blackwell (aka Hailey Lind), Sophie Littlefield, Lisa Hughey, Gigi Pandian, and Rachael Herron.

And read on below to get to know a bit about them. And if that's not enough? The Pens Fatales will be giving away a free book on Monday to someone who posts a comment below. (Check out their site on Monday to see if you won!)

And because we always want Jungle Red to be educational and informative:

Here are the Top 10 things you didn’t know about the Pens Fatales. And yes, see below. There will be a Quiz!

Adrienne Miller has never had to worry about what to name the heroines of her novels. So far, she has named them all after ice cream parlors she loves.

In elementary school, Gigi Pandian wrote a cartoon series chronicling the adventures of Minnesota Smith, a female Indiana Jones.

Getting an equally early start on her life of murder and mayhem, Juliet Blackwell received her first .22 rifle on her eighth birthday and her first motorcycle (a Honda 70) on her tenth. Both were gifts from her father. And yet her mother never asked for a divorce.

In middle school, Lisa Hughey and friends wrote an anonymous gossip column for their school paper based on the TV show Charlie's Angels, calling themselves Cooper's Angels.

L.G.C. Smith knows all the words to "The Battle of New Orleans" and "Sink the Bismarck." When she was four, she used to don her pearl snap shirt, cowgirl boots and hat, mount up on the ol' spring horse, and sing along with an old Johnny Horton record for hours at a time.

One Pen Fatale strictly bides by the Die Hard Rule--If while surfing channels she comes upon any of the franchise's movies, Martha Flynn stops what she's doing to watch.

Rachael Herron can knit backwards, and sometimes does. When asked if she can do so while playing the ukulele, she replied: "Only while knitting forwards."

During college, Sophie Littlefield entered and won a school writing contest. She used prize money to buy a bikini, and hasn't taken first place for any writing awards since.

Two Pens Fatales led parallel lives before they met: They went to the same University, dated guys in the same fraternity, lived in the same town in Illinois, then moved to the same town in California, all before ever meeting each other.

One Pen Fatale performed as Wonder Woman on stage at the Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland.

HANK: We think they're all wonder women--but wonder who fits the description of those bonus facts… can you guess? (I'm off to BEA today..catch you later! Play nice, now....And tomorrow--one of the funniest funniest blogs you've ever read.) But now--I'm thinkin' the Wonder Woman was--Gigi. Think I'm right?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Genre Generosity: Cross Training Critiques

“The Other Half of Life is a wonderful introduction for young readers to contemporary history and its traumatic and moral challenges.”--Elie Wiesel

HANK: Yesterday was something completely different, right? Today--something Completely Different! Turns out, Kim Ablon Whitney is my neighbor! But we met at a book event..and her book just sounded so great...I just had to invite her to meet you all.

KIM: The Other Half of Life is based on the true story of the motor ship, the St. Louis. The St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany in May of 1939 carrying 900 Jewish refugees escaping Hitler, bound for Cuba. The book follows two fictional teenage characters and imagines the lives they may have lived until events and immigration laws conspired to change their fates.

I was actually doing research for another book when I came across the story of the St. Louis. I was shocked that I had never heard of it--especially since I'm very interested in World War II history and the Holocaust. I started talking to friends and family about the St. Louis and I found that most people under the age of 45 hadn't heard of it either. I felt I wanted to try to bring this forgotten chapter of the Holocaust to life for younger generations.

HANK: This story is so sad....what were the challenges of writing it? And especially for young adults?

KIM: Yes, it's absolutely heartbreaking and that led to a big challenge--making the book an enjoyable read and at the same time not shying away from the tragedy. I tried to concentrate on developing the characters and their relationships and layering happy moments with the tough ones. As much as the passengers on the St. Louis were dealing with very painful issues, they were also living their lives--laughing, loving, arguing--doing all the normal things we do every day.

HANK: Did writing this change your life? How?

KIM: I interviewed a passenger on the St. Louis and spoke with several other people who lived in Germany during that time period. At a recent bookstore reading I did, I noticed an older woman sitting the back row. I just had this feeling she had a personal connection to the Holocaust. She came up and introduced herself afterwards and shared her story--both she and her husband survived the camps.

It's one thing to read about the Holocaust but to get to meet and listen to people who actually lived through the events.... if I hadn't written this book I would have never gotten these chances.

HANK:. What do you wish someone had told you before you started this whole book thing?

KIM: I wish someone had told me how much luck is involved in the success of a book. I used to think that if you wrote a good book it would get published and be successful. I've since learned that the formula for success isn't so simple. While the quality of the book and the marketing budget of the publisher help to determine the commercial success of a book, it also has a lot to do with luck.

Word of mouth is huge when it comes to books and certain books also just happen to capture the zeitgeist. Sometimes a current event that mirrors an issue in a book catapults it to the top of reading lists. I know now how many great books there are out there that don't get the attention or readership they deserve. As a writer this can be somewhat disheartening but on the positive side it makes you re-evaluate why you write. If you write for commercial success or monetary reward, you're bound to be disapointed. If you write because you love to and because you feel you have a story that's worth telling, the reward will be in the process of the writing.

HANK: And you have a writer's group--a rather unusual one!

KIM: Generally writers come together based on the fact that they all write the same type of books—thrillers, sci-fi, children’s books etc. Since the works I’ve had published to date are all young adult novels, one would assume that my writers group would consist of other young adult authors.

In fact, my writers group consists of two published authors of adult thrillers, Lynne Heitman and Mike Wiecek, and Samantha Cameron, an unpublished writer who is working on a literary historical novel. Lynne, our unofficial group leader, brought us together five years ago and we have morphed into a tight-knit, supportive group.

Instead of our respective genres distancing us, the variety in what we write has brought us closer together. We open up each other’s insular genre-specific worlds—each of us benefits from "cross-training" writer-style.

We marvel at Samantha’s beautiful language as she evokes 1900’s New Orleans in all its sights, smells and sounds and find ourselves trying to add lyrical descriptions to our own prose. We are captivated by Lynne’s fire-cracker dialogue and Mike’s knack for setting scenes with exquisite details, and check our own stories to make sure they are never dull or vague. I like to think I add perspective on teen characters and distinct voice, which is crucial to successful YA novels.

As a result of the mix of genres, I’m less tolerant of a slow narrative pace and more adept at weaving crucial information into dialogue. In my latest novel, The Other Half of Life, I’ve even incorporated a mystery into the other plot lines. Before my writing group I never would have thought I was capable of doing this, but working with my group showed me how it was done and also gave me the confidence to try it myself.

I would encourage everyone to try to work with and learn from writers outside of your genre. It’s easy to "stay with our own kind" but by expanding our worlds and tapping the talents of others, our work can only get better.

HANK: Thanks, Kim!
Kim lives in Newton, Mass. with her husband, two young sons, and greyhound. She is a graduate of Tufts University, and has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. She is a member of the PEN New England Children’s Book Caucus and is the coordinator of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

HANK: Leave it to Jeff Cohen to have A Modest Proposal. A modest--mystery proposal. And leave it to Jeff Cohen, as leave us laughing. And then leave us doing a double take. Which leaves us thinking--hey, underneath that humor and elbow nudging and wink wink--there's a gorgeous big heart. And--well, let him tell you....

JEFF: I've come to the conclusion that the world would be a better place if everyone was always on a book tour.

Hang on; I hear you. I know that if everyone was on a book tour at the same time, there wouldn't be anyone left to read or buy the books, or show up at the events. I understand the logistics of the situation would make the whole thing impossible. I'm not suggesting we all leave tomorrow.

But. Wouldn't the world be better off if we all behaved as if we were on a book tour? If we were all acting as if we had a new title all ready to go, and wanted the rest of the population of Earth to know about it?

Earlier this month, I embarked on the Jeff Cohen version of a "book tour" to help promote my latest, A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION (only $7.99 or less at a bookstore near you). That is to say, I attended Malice Domestic in Arlington, VA (a four-hour drive from my New Jersey compound), then hopped in the Prius and ventured to Oakmont, PA (a four-hour drive from the Malice hotel) to attend the Festival of Mystery at the Mystery Lovers Bookstore, and then across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, where I teach screenwriting to unsuspecting college students twice a week, then home.

In all, five days, three-ish cities, about 1000 miles on the hybrid. Not what anybody would call a major scouring of the country, but entirely what I could afford to do. And it was a lovely trip.

But boy, was I tired of being nice to people by the time I got home!
Persuading people that you're an affable, likable and best of all, $7.99-or-less-worthy human being takes a lot of energy. But it's completely worth it. I smiled at everyone I saw (almost always sincerely, as well). I spoke to anyone who would approach (try THAT on the streets of Manhattan!), I'd laugh at jokes that were, let's face it, lame (and a few good ones), and most of all, I thanked virtually everyone who passed through my line of sight just for acknowledging me. For five days.
Now, imagine if everyone did that all the time. Sure, it'd be exhausting, but then, who'd have the energy to start a holy war? Maybe our mothers were right, and after all that smiling, our faces really WOULD freeze in that position! Eventually, it would become second nature, and after even more time, maybe even FIRST nature.

Of course, the downside would be that if everyone was nice to each other all the time, there would be no more crime, and we mystery authors would have to look for another line of work. So maybe I should rethink this whole theory.

Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

Can't let Jeff get away without a couple of questions. Nice ones, of course:
HANK: . How did you decide to put movies in your mysteries? I mean--what was your first glimmer of a thought about it?

JEFF: Like everything else in writing, it starts with the character. When I made up Elliot Freed, it was to unleash the insane comedy fanatic in me--he was going to do what I'd love to do if money were (guffaw, guffaw) no object. Elliot was going to own a movie theatre and show only comedies, specifically the classics I love. That especially meant the Marx Brothers, because they are my religion. But others as well--Buster Keaton, Peter Sellers, Walter Matthau.

Because I want people to agree with me that they are as important to life as breathing. I'd always had that fantasy; Elliot can do it because he has enough money to try. I never will.

Writers write to improve lives, mostly their own.

HANK: You're so funny in real it easier to be "funny" in print or in person? I guess they both have their pluses and minuses...

JEFF: Easy? I honestly don't know. I have this talent for saying things people think are funny. Half the time, I'm not working at it; I think I just listen differently than most. I was at a party once with the incredibly wonderful Julia Spencer-Fleming and her equally fantastic husband, Ross Hugo-Vidal. And the conversation drifted around to their mutually hyphenated names. And Ross turned to me and asked, quite innocently, "if you and your wife were hyphenated, what would you be?"So I answered, "Presbyterians."

I don't know where the answer came from. But that's how my mind works. The difference is that in print, I can take two hours to think of the quip Elliot comes up with on the spot. In real life, I get one chance, and if I blow it, there's no going back.

HANK: And are you guys still friends? Anyway. Lots of talk about whether in-person book tours are--"worth it." What do you think?

JEFF: Well, I've never done a REAL book tour, because I can't afford the travel (I absolutely fail to understand how authors manage it). I've gone hit-and-miss to places, attended conferences and visited as many bookstores as I could drive to. I don't think the "two-hours-and-a-card-table" signings are helpful, to anyone. But when a bookstore and an author collaborate on an event and make it something special, I think those are great.

They help the author because the bookstoreowners (managers, personnel of all kinds) get to know the author and hopefully like you enough to handsell the books after you leave. When it's a seat next to the children's section and an inaudible announcement over the store PA system, I don't think it helps.

But then, not having been seen within miles of the New York Times Bestseller list, perhaps I'm not the person to ask what's "worth it"to help book sales.

HANK: I'm still back on the Presbyterian crack. And trying to think of what Jeff's next movie-title book could be. Anyway. Authors? Readers? Book tours--yes or no?

And what's your favorite Marx Brothers Movie?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Straddling the Centuries

"Pintoff's debut...will remind many of Caleb Carr at his best... The period detail, characterizations and plotting are all top-notch..."

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

HANK: I love Caleb Carr's mysteries. The Alienist and The Angel of Death. And E.L. Doctorow's The Waterworks. And Ragtime, of course.

From the first moments of Stefanie Pintoff's debut mystery, I was transported to the same places and time. We met at Malice (introduced by the inimitable Vinny O'Neil). I got her book. And I was hooked.

And we're so happy she's visiting Jungle Red.

(Especially since she's often got part of her brain in another century.)

HANK: Tell us a little about your book – what's it about? Where did the idea come from?

STEPHANIE: IN THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM is about Detective Simon Ziele, who leaves NewYork City to rebuild his life in a small Westchester town following the loss of his fiancée in the Slocum steamship disaster (the worst disaster to strike the city prior to 9/11).

But the brutal murder of a young woman draws him right back in – and his investigation isfurther complicated when noted criminologist Alistair Sinclair becomes involved. Alistair is convinced the killer is someone he interviewedin the course of his experimental research into the criminal mind.They make an unlikely pair: Alistair is a high-brow society figure with a consuming passion for understanding criminal violence, and Ziele is a pragmatic investigator with Lower East Side roots and a remarkable affinity for each victim he encounters. Though he remains suspicious that the solution may not be as simple as Alistair thinks, Ziele proves himself more than up to the task of adapting tried-and-true detective methods to the sometimes unorthodox innovations of a new age in forensics.

My idea for the book started with Alistair – who is loosely based on one of my former law professors with a larger-than-life personality! Then I thought: What if … there had been a terrible crime?

And what if … there was a criminologist who believed he knew the killer responsible because he had interviewed him?

And what if … that criminologist had been more involved than he initially let on? Those questions kept coming until I had conceived not only of my dedicated but self-absorbed criminologist, Alistair Sinclair – but also the detective who would more than be his match.

HANK: Lots more questions for Stephanie--but she has such an interesting method of research..and her thought processes are so fascinating. Let's just let her talk...

STEFANIE: I’ve always loved newspapers, and as a historical mystery writer, I read them a lot – but I’m usually a hundred years behind the times. That’s because my new mystery series is set in New York at the turn-of-the-last-century. Today I’d like to give you a glimpse into that world by sharing with you some New York Times front-page stories from this past week – in 1905.

- A ten-foot snake caused a stampede on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street.

- Carbonic acid was thrown into the face of a twenty-five year old Brooklyn girl (the newspaper’s language, not mine) by an unknown assailant.

- A bomb, presumed to be the work of the Black Hand, was thrown into the window of a building in the heart of Little Italy – destroying that building as well as its nearest neighbor.

- John D. Rockefeller just bought his first car – a touring vehicle – for $5,000

- Two ferryboats collided: the New York of the Fulton Line and the Maryland of the New Haven line.

- A man was found dead of opium poisoning in a hansom cab.

- President Teddy Roosevelt garnered high praise for the way he handled a worker’s strike.

Also in 1905, the following advertisements appeared in numerous papers.
One for a toothache remedy:

Another for Bayer’s Heroin, used to treat strong coughs:

Research like the above may never make it to the pages of my novel, but it’s essential – and fun! All historical fiction creates a world that’s part-real and part-invented. In fact, I think that blend –of the true and the imagined – is a huge part of its appeal. I’m often asked how important historical accuracy is to my work.

Of course it’s important, but my primary goal isn’t just to incorporate much that’s true from 1905 into my novel. It’s to capture the spirit of the times in everything I invent. If I do it well, then my readers will always feel grounded in my story’s era – even when what carries them is the flight of my own imagination.

To capture that spirit of the times, I look at many resources, but I find nothing to be more helpful than a contemporary newspaper; it’s a virtual snapshot of the interests and concerns of a particular community. What were the headlines? What made the police blotter? Who was in the society column? What shows were reviewed in the arts column? And what products were advertised regularly? As the headlines from only one week in 1905 suggest, this was a time period full of danger as well as exciting changes. When I read what my characters would have, I can better understand their world-view.

My own research centers on turn-of-the-century New York, but the world-building that results is what all writers do. We each have our favorite resources – maybe a friend at the NYPD who helps us check current police procedure, or a new contact at a hair salon who helps us with our next book involving a stylist, or simply our local coffee shop, where we can observe the mix of personalities on a given day.

As a writer, how do you negotiate the tension of balancing the real and the invented? And as a reader, what do you think is most important in grounding a story and giving it texture and life?
Stefanie Pintoff became the inaugural winner of the St. Martin's Minotaur/MWA Best First Crime Novel Competition with her novel, In the Shadow of Gotham. A graduate of Columbia Law School, she also has a Ph.D. in literature from New York University. Her second novel, The Darkest Verse, is forthcoming in 2010.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sumer is Icumen In

HANK: Lhude sing--its driving me cuccoo! Flo and Eddy, the ducks that arrive every spring in out backyard pool are here. So that's a delightful herald of the new season. (It's their sixth or seventh year with us. It brings tears of happiness to my eyes to see them return.)

And yes, it's wonderful that it's nice and sunny--the sun feels so comforting and lulling after the harsh winter. It's a treat to go outside and not have to battle the weather. And it's too early in the season to be complaining about the heat.

But there's that pre-summer to-do list. Do you have one? Of course being on the list doesn't mean it's going to get accomplished. But the list is haunting me, following me around, shooting its evil and relentless little reminders at me as I try to ignore it.

Change my closet from winter clothes to summer clothes. Figure out what has to go to the dry cleaners, and figure out how it's even possible to afford to buy my cleaned clothes back from them. (If it prevents those skeevy disgusting moths, so be it. Worth it.)

Look at my bathing suit. Ignore it.

The windows in our house need washing. So do the screens. Now that the sun is shining, all the smeary leftover gunk from the shadowy winter is in full back-lit relief. Can I just ignore that, too?

Clean the patio furniture. Get sunscreen. Bug spray. Yank out the grill. Make sure there's tonic water for gin and tonics. (Wait, this is sounding better.) Scout for fresh corn. (not yet, not yet...) Fill the house with peonies (not yet, not yet.) And it's just one month until PRIME TIME comes out!

Hey. This began as a list of annoying to-dos. But now I'm getting excited. I'm not wishing the time away. But this'll be fun.

As soon as I change the closet.

How about you? What's on your summer to-do list? (Will you actually do it?)

JAN: What I want to know is WHY changing the closets and drawers takes an entire day?? Are my closets and drawers telling me I buy too many clothes, and wear too few of them??

I've washed the windows (YAY!) done some planting (I hate gardening, but love fresh herbs), and did a half-baked job of changing the closets. For me the most important pre-summer ritual, is switching to summer tennis, which means signing up for the USTA teams and getting in shape for some singles (HAH!)

I also have to start researching for my trip to France. How can a reporter who LOVES research, hate it and procrastinate when the research involves something fun like travel? I'm not sure but I think a good shrink would have field day with it.

HALLIE: As I'm just back from a 3-week vacation, my to-do list is endless... beginning with mow the lawn, weed the garden (already!), refill the bird bath, put flower pots on the patio, and yes, wash windows. Honestly, I haven't bought an item of clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned in years, so never mind all that, and I never reorganize the closet...there's too little in there and I know it all well. Just bought myself a new bathing suit and a decent pair of sandals and I'm ready to welcome summer!

HANK: Oh, Hallie—welcome home! And we want photos. And only you could say “just bought myself a new bathing suit” without a trace of irony or terror. But that’s a blog for another day.

Happy Memorial Day. Or--thoughtful Memorial Day, I guess is more appropriate.

Summer to-dos? What are we forgetting?

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Show Time

RO: This week the 2009 Indianapolis Bouchercon committee announced the nominees for the 2009 Anthony Awards, recognizing excellence in the mystery genre in 2008. I was thrilled to be among the nominees. Check out the entire list - and how many of these great writers have been guests on Jungle Red?? Very cool. Anyone you'd like to see guesting on JR? (No fair picking Stieg Larsson.)

Best Novel

Trigger City by Sean Chercover [William Morrow]
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly [Little, Brown and Company]
Red Knife by William Kent Krueger [Atria]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny [Minotaur]
Best First Novel
Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris [Minotaur]
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer [Doubleday]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]
Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet [Midnight Ink]
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith [Grand Central]

Best Paperback Original
The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins [Hard Case Crime]
Money Shot by Christa Faust [Hard Case Crime]
State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy [Berkley]
In a Dark Season by Vicki Lane [Dell]
South of Hell by P.J. Parrish [Pocket Star]

Best Short Story
"The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron from Wolfsbane and Mistletoe [Ace]
"A Sleep Not Unlike Death" by Sean Chercover from Hardcore Hardboiled [Kensington]
"Killing Time" by Jane K. Cleland from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (November)
"Skull and Cross Examination" by Toni L. P. Kelner from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (February)
"Scratch a Woman" by Laura Lippman from Hardly Knew Her [William Morrow]
"The Secret Lives of Cats" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (July)

Best Critical Nonfiction Work African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey [McFarland]
How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson [Perseverance Press]
Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography by Jeffrey Marks [McFarland]
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale [Walker & Company]

Best Children's/Young Adult Novel
The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein [Random House]
Paper Towns by John Green [Dutton Juvenile]
Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson [Delacorte]The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart [Little, Brown]
Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash by Wendelin Van Draanen [Knopf]

Best Cover Art
Death Was the Other Woman designed by David Rotstein and written by Linda L. Richards [Minotaur]
Death Will Get You Sober designed by David Rotstein and written by Elizabeth Zelvin [Minotaur]
The Fault Tree designed by David Rotstein and written by Louise Ure [Minotaur]
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo designed by Peter Mendelsund and written by Stieg Larsson [Knopf]

Money Shot designed by Steve Cooley and written by Christa Faust [Hard Case Crime]

Special Service Award
Jon and Ruth Jordan
Ali Karim
David Montgomery
Gary Warren Niebuhr
Sarah Weinman

Final voting will take place during Bouchercon 2009, the 40th Annual World Mystery Convention, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on Saturday, October 17, at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.Please visit for more information.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ro: Next month I’ll be going to my first Deadly Ink conference, June 27-28 in Parsippany, NJ. This year the guest of honor will be Lincoln Child, award-winning author of Utopia, and Death Match, and co-author with Douglas Preston of Relic, Reliquary, Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life with Crows and many others.

Toastmaster is the suave, debonair and incredibly funny Jeff Cohen, author of It Happened One Knife, Some Like It Hot Buttered and A Night at the Operation. I’ll be joining panelists Jack Getze, Cheryl Solimini, Robin Hathaway, Ilene Schneider, Dennis Tafoya, Liz Zelvin, Renee Gardner, Elena Santangelo, Maggie Barbieri, Jane Cleland, Sandra Cody, Evelyn David, Rosemary Goodwin, Chris Grabenstein, Ken Isaacson, Jeff Markowitz, and others in Parsippany NJ.
We had a chance to ask Deadly Ink diva Debby Buchanan a few questions about the conference.

JR: Running a mystery event is a ton of work and not for the faint of heart. So why do you do it? And why in New Jersey?

DB: Chris Abbott (my daughter) and I took over Deadly Ink after Pattie Biringer, DI's founder, announced at DI 2005 that she was no longer going to run the conference. We had enjoyed DI so much over the years, we couldn't just let it end, so we bought the name, logo and mailing list from Patti and forged ahead. We've kept it in NJ because there are so many talented authors in the NY/NJ/CT/PA area.

JR: Who is Deadly Ink for?

DB: Mystery writers and fans. There are panels geared to the craft of writing a mystery and panels chosen with fans in mind.

JR: How can a new writer get the most out of Deadly Ink?

DB: Volunteer to be on a panel, attend how-to panels, get to know the other authors. Deadly Ink is a small conference, usually 100 or so attendees. There is plenty of opportunity to network with other writers and fans.

JR: We know you'll be making great memories this June, but what's your favorite memory from Deadly Ink so far?

DB: It's hard to pick just one. In 2006, an extremely talented 12 year old author entered our annual contest. I was amazed at the depth and maturity of his writing. That same year, we presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Robin Hathaway and I loved how surprised she was. In 2007, I was truly touched by the kindness and support of the authors, after a particularly difficult year for my family. And one more memory from Patti's reign...Chris, my granddaughter Amanda and I attended DI the year Lisa Scottoline was the Guest of Honor. We wore matching Deadly Ink t-shirts and were quite a sight! Lisa Scottoline took the time to write something special to Amanda, who at that time aspired to be the next J. K. Rowling.

RO: I know I’m looking forward to the show – I’ll go anywhere Jeff, Jack and Chris go..those guys are hysterical! For more info, please visit or email or just ask Debby right here..

Sunday, May 17, 2009


RO: G.U. used to refer to that guy who was cute but was "geographically undesirable" because he lived too far away for a relationship to work.

I'm looking at the phrase in a whole new way. Last week I was at a bookstore event (with Jane Cleland) and a gentleman in the crowd announced that he didn't read books set in New York. Or L.A. Undoubtedly if we had gone through any of the other so-called major markets he would have felt the same way. Chicago, nope, Boston, fuggedaboudit.

Not wanting to alienate someone who was presumably a mystery fan, Jane and I chatted on about Deb Baker - who writes books set in the man's home state and William Kent Krueger, who is from the same general neck of the woods (sort of..) I told him how much I was loving Blue Heaven, a book set in Idaho, a place I've been exactly once on my way to Montana, as I recall. Nothing moved the man.

I've heard of people reading books set in various places because they love the feel and the flavor - Cara Black's Paris, Tony Hillerman's southwest, Indridasen's Iceland - but I don't think I'd ever heard of anyone avoiding a book because of its zip code.
Have I led a sheltered life? Are people now making their reading choices by looking at the author's residence?

JAN: Author's residence or protagonist's residence? I actually think setting is important to a lot of mystery fans. They hope to escape to somewhere pleasant, while the explore the evil minds behind the murder.

HANK: I would have thought it would go the other way--people seeking out books that take place in a certain area. I mean, doesn't the fabulous (and FOJRW) Janet Rudolph at Mystery Readers Journal do whole issues surrounding geography? I know she's done LA. and San Francisco, and many more. So I can't imagine her saying hey--let's do an issue about stuff peple hate to read about. (Although, okay, hey, it might be kind of interesting.)
Plus, thinking about how quickly readers (and writers) glom onto mistakes in descriptions of places, you've gotta believe geography is important.

RO: That I totally understand, I don't understand staying away from a book because of it's setting.

RHYS: I've had people tell me they won't read a book with a male protagonist or presumably with a female protagonist) or they won't read anything historical--all of which rule me out entirely--but never avoiding a setting. Maybe the man just didn't like the feel of a big city. Personally I love books with a strong sense of place and stay away from those that are set in anytown USA. Sense of place is paramount to me when I write as well.BTW I also had one woman who stopped reading my books when I killed a sheep.
HANK: Sheep? Did she read the whole thing, and then decide not to read any more of your books. Or did she stop reading, blam, right as the sheep got killed?

RO: I think the speaker was assuming author's residence and protag's were the same. I agree that a sense of place is tantamount to another character in many books, that's why I'd say getting a taste of another location, whether you've been there or not is part of any book. I guess I was just surprised that he had ruled out such a big part of the mystery world.
I've heard the male/female thing too. Never the sheep thing. She must have hated Silence of the Lambs. Just curious, did many humans die in your book, or was it just the sheep?

ROBERTA: I agree with Jan, setting is important to lots of readers. They know they'll get to see Chinatown in New York through SJ Rozan's eyes or LA with Michael Connelly or cool islands off Sarasota if they read something by Randy Wayne White. I remember when I was discussing my advice column mysteries with my agent before I'd started writing. She wanted to know if I'd come up with a sexy setting--apparently Connecticut wasn't what she had in mind.

RO: Okay, those Moroccan mysteries? Hate those Hungarian horror stories? Which books do you read for the setting and are there any that you stay away from because of where they're set?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another guest hunk, Simon Wood

Jungle Red: We are happy to introduce Friday's guest hunk, Simon Wood. He's an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and five cats. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His stories have been included in "Best of" anthologies and he's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and the forthcoming, Road Rash. His latest book is a self-help called, Will Marry for Food, Sex and Laundry, written under the pen name, Simon Oaks. We asked him if he could try to explain the zigzags his path has taken and he agreed! Take it away Simon...

Simon: My latest book is WILL MARRY FOR FOOD, SEX AND LAUNDRY. It’s a love and relationship book which makes it a departure from my usual fare as a thriller and horror writer. Seeing as relationships can be a thrill ride and more than a little scary, it may not be that big a departure.

When it comes to writing, I’m quite gregarious (wrong word). I don’t write what I know. I write what I love and because of that, my writing taste is all over the place. I love writing mysteries, thrillers, horror, supernatural, humor and essays. It was my essays that led to me writing FOOD, SEX AND LAUNDRY. An editor Adam’s Media had been reading my weekly columns over at and contacted me. They'd been looking for someone to write a relationship book but they wanted a different perspective. They wanted someone with a quirky and down to earth viewpoint. I think these traits were supposed to be complementary. Together, we thrashed out an outline for the book and it was off to the races.

The book was a little daunting to write because unlike fiction, I couldn’t make stuff up. But I’m a very empirical person. I blame my engineering background. I needed to collect raw data to make an opinion, so I held a couple of parties for friends and interviewed them on their relationship experiences on various topics. One thing people have no problem discussing is their dating train wrecks. I also looked up a number of studies and surveys on various issues. This gave me everything I needed for the book. Naturally, the book gave me the opportunity to inject my brand of humor into it, something I don’t get to do in my fiction.

I wrote the book under the pen name Simon Oaks, because it doesn’t have a correlation to my novel career or my current readers. This isn’t the first time I’ve written under a pen name. My thrillers and mysteries have been written under my name Simon Wood and I now write horror and fantasy as Simon Janus. The reason for the pen names my writing taste is so far and wide, my readers tend to fall into distinct pockets where there isn’t much in the way of crossover. I don’t make a secret of my identities, but it’s very clear that if someone picks up a Simon Wood book or a Simon Oaks book, they know exactly what they're getting.

Because I love to write and love exploring different types of genres, I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick up a couple other identities along the way. My big hope is that FOOD, SEX AND LAUNDRY will be the platform that will allow me to write some quirky romantic comedies that have been bouncing around in my head.

Yours ever changing,
Simon Wood/Janus/Oaks (delete where applicable)

Jungle Red: Thank you Simon! And since all three of you are here:), we now welcome all kinds of questions--questions about writing mysteries or horror, and of course, marrying for laundry!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday's guest hunks

While we're in between our author guest hunks, we thought you'd enjoy a visit from our private fellas. These are the guys who bring us coffee in the morning, attend book events, laugh at our jokes, and generally Make Life Worth Living! In order of appearance, here are Roberta's John, Jan's Bill, Rhys's John, and Hank's Jonathan. (Missing but not forgotten are Hallie and Ro's guys.) Aren't they adorable?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guest Hunk Barry Eisler

ROBERTA: Today's special guest on Jungle Red has been a CIA operative, a lawyer, and the bestselling author of seven novels. Welcome Barry! Would you start by telling us about your new thriller, Fault Line, and why you decided to depart from John Rain.

BARRY: Thanks, Roberta, it's a pleasure to be here today with the lovely ladies of Jungle Red.

I feel a little foolish admitting this today, but when I wrote Rain Fall, the first in what became (to date) a six-book series, I thought it was a standalone. I should have known better -- Rain is so conflicted about what he does, indeed, about what he is, that it's embarrassing now to realize I didn't spot the character's great serial potential at the time. But I didn't, and before the novel sold, I had started playing around with a new story: two estranged brothers, one a lawyer, one an undercover soldier, who can't stand each other but are forced to work together to survive a conspiracy. The new story wasn't much past the idea stage when Rain Fall sold in the States and nine other territories. Everyone wanted a sequel, and then more sequels, so I shelved the new standalone and have been having a blast writing Rain ever since.

But at the end of the sixth and most recent Rain book, Requiem for an Assassin, I felt Rain would be busy for a while and I could leave him alone while I did something else. I don't want to give away too much about Requiem, but I'll say that Rain gets pretty messed up psychologically in that story, and that at the end, he's got a lot of work to do to put the pieces back together. While he's been working on all that, I felt free to do something else, and in this case "something else" meant that story about the two brothers. The idea has never stopped exciting me, I think in part because of my odd career path, which took me from being a covert employee with the CIA; to an international lawyer in DC, Silicon Valley, Tokyo, and Osaka; to a high-tech, venture-financed start-up executive in Silicon Valley. Any one of those worlds is a potentially interesting milieu in which to base a story; having insider knowledge of all three is just too rich a story opportunity to pass up.

But maybe all of that is more about the story’s foundation—necessary, but not sufficient; the body, but not the spark of life. What really catalyzed the story was my sense of the two brothers. What would happen if one of them, the lawyer, got in trouble, and called on his big brother, the covert military operator, for help? The younger brother would hate to make that call, maybe even more than the older brother would hate to receive it. What would the older brother do at that point? Would they be able to work together despite their mutual bitterness? Or would distrust and recriminations and spite overwhelm them? What if, even as they were struggling in the face of grave danger with all this mutual hostility, their deep-seated animosity and resentment were brought to a boil by the presence of another lawyer, say, a beautiful Iranian-American woman who both brothers desire but can’t really trust?

The more I thought about these characters and the worlds they came from, the more questions I asked about who they were and what was forcing them together, the more excited I got. I guess that feeling of excitement is the best kind of inspiration a story can ever have.

HANK: Hey, Barry! Congratulations on your wild success. (Rhys told us all the secrets you revealed at Left Coast Crime, but that doesn't scare us.) At a conference recently, someone took me aside and said -- almost sneering, I'm afraid -- "Well, you're in TV so all you have to do is write about what you've done. It's much more difficult to make stuff up." What should I have said?

BARRY: Yes, sometimes people say things so breathtakingly ignorant and stupid that momentary awe can prevent us from immediately responding. To cope with the paralyzingly thoughtless comments people sometimes leave on my blog, I find it's useful to inquire about the basis for the person's opinion. So here, I think it would have been just fine to respond, "Really? What TV shows have you written?" If the answer were, "None," that might be time for a sigh and a, "I wish I could have opinions without any factual basis, too... it must save so much time." If the answer were, "Many," that might be time for a, "That's great that they came so easily to you. I'm sure they were very good."

Of course, that's all with the benefit of hindsight and the calm of the keyboard. But having some general approaches in mind does help me cope with fact-free assertions because over time you'll notice there are categories of stupidity. The one you encountered was the evidence-free opinion (depressingly common). There's also the false binary, often combined with a straw man. For example, recently, there have been quite a few comments on my blog along the lines of, "What are we supposed to do with terrorists if we don't torture them? Offer them tea and crumpets?" For this one, I typically ask, "Really? If we don't torture people, we have to offer them tea? Bob, can you really imagine no other possibilities?"

You know, I've been meaning to do a whole post on critical thinking and how to argue. You are inspiring me!

RHYS: Welcome Barry. I think you and I have probably asked each other every possible question in that session of interviewing each other at Left Coast, which I have to say went remarkably smoothly for something so unrehearsed. Even if the photos do look a little like Sonny and Cher. By the way, I asked Barry if he'd ever had to kill anybody, but he fudged around that and said, "Not had to...." so I want to know how strongly you identify with Rain, or with either of the characters Alex or Ben, in your new thriller.

BARRY: Rhys, I miss you! That LCC crime session was so much fun (and for anyone who's missed it, you can catch the video on my website here.

I identify in some way with all my characters, no matter how different they might be from me, no matter how different they might be from each other. I think anytime you create a character, you’re identifying certain elements in your own personality, distilling them out, and then culturing them in someone else, where they manifest themselves in a different way. So while I’m overall a pretty optimistic guy, for example, there are cynical streaks within me, streaks that present themselves more fully, and differently, in a guy like Rain, who doesn’t have my native optimism to balance and contain them. And I have my ruthless, amoral elements, so I can certainly understand Ben's world view. But I've got an idealistic streak, too (otherwise I wouldn't waste my time blogging about politics), so I completely get Sarah. And then there's a part of me that's sometimes tempted to just say, "The hell with it," ignore the world, and worry only about advancing myself.

RHYS: And one last question: do you now carry a mirror in your pocket, just in case you fall through another floor?

ROBERTA: Inside joke alert--inquiring minds want to know what this is all about!

BARRY: Okay, you asked...

In April 2001, while in Tokyo doing some final research for the manuscript that became Rain Fall, I fell nearly 18 feet (17 feet, 7 inches, to be precise; went back a month later with a tape measure) onto bare cement at an unmarked construction site. After about a minute of rolling around on the ground, groaning and swearing (and, incidentally, enormously comforted by the sound of my own voice, I think because I sensed that if I could talk I must still be alive), I managed to get to my feet. By this time I understood what had happened—I’d had a hell of a fall and might be badly hurt. I did a quick systems check: my name is Barry Eisler, my phone number is, my address is... Everything seemed to be working mentally. Still, there was blood on my hands and arms (as it turned out, from just superficial cuts), and I was concerned I might have a concussion or something. I wanted to find a mirror so I could check whether there was blood coming out of my ears, were my pupils dilated, whatever. I looked up and saw two hard-hatted Japanese construction guys staring at me. Their mouths were slightly open; I realize now that, seeing what had just happened, they were in a mild state of shock. But in my own shock and agitation, I naturally enough was completely focused on what was going on in my world and was paying zero attention to how things might look to them. I walked over to them and said in polite Japanese, "Excuse me, where's the restroom?" They didn’t say a word; the only change was that their mouths dropped open a little further. I started to get pissed, thinking, "Good God, can’t you guys give me a hand? Didn’t you see what just happened?" But of course now I realize how it all looked to them: a white guy plunges through a temporary ceiling, burns into the deck in a cloud of dust, then gets up and asks them in Japanese where's the bathroom. I’ll bet they’re still telling the story today, which makes me smile.

Little epilogue to the story: miraculously, no broken bones, but the bruises on my ass, elbows, and heels were unlike anything I’ve ever seen: not purple, but black. Also, I had whiplash consistent with what you’d get if you got hit by another car on the driver’s side of your own. I think what happened was that, in the half-second during which I was falling, my body unconsciously assumed a breakfall position (thank God for all those judo ukemi). All my injuries were consistent with that: my head didn’t even graze the ground (although, again, it did have an uncomfortable meeting with my shoulder, which caused the whiplash).

Couple interesting physics lessons: a piece of 8x11 paper, folded in quarters, was blown out of the inside breast pocket of my jacket, I assume by the air being compressed violently around it. My Palm handheld, which was in my front pocket (I landed on my back), was crushed by the impact. I didn’t understand how that could be, until an engineer friend of mine pointed out, "Look, you strapped your Palm to a leg for cushioning and threw it over an 18-foot ledge. What did you think would happen?" That I understood.

Physiology follow-up: no bad pain until about twenty minutes afterward, but I felt hugely stunned, for want of a better word, like I’d been hit in the gut all over my body, and hard. As I mentioned, I was interested to note how comforting was the sound of my own voice. Also, as soon as I was able, I got to my feet, which I recognize now was probably not smart (I might have had a spinal injury, although I wasn’t thinking so clearly at the moment). I think this is another thing that makes you feel better—that is, I can’t be hurt that badly; I just stood up! Also, when the temporary ceiling that I mistook for a floor opened up as I stepped on it, I was so surprised that I was not surprised. I perceived what was happening but it was so totally unexpected and incongruous that I couldn’t process it. Because I couldn’t process it, I couldn’t react to it emotionally. I wasn’t scared, or alarmed, or anything. I think this kept me relaxed and might have saved me from much worse. From this I surmised that there is a slight lag between perception and processing, at least when the unexpected occurs.

Oh, and a language follow up: as I lay on my stomach in the emergency room of Jikei University hospital a couple hours later, clutching the bedsheets in agony, a cute young nurse (in the whole fetishistic outfit, done to perfection as only the Japanese can do 'em) came over. She asked me if I though I needed "itamidome." At the time, I didn’t know the word, but reasoned it out: "itami" is pain; "dome" sounded like the vocalized root of "tomeru," to stop. Ah, she’s talking about painkillers... yes, I said, please, bring me some of those. A minute later she was back, with, as she said, "zayaku." Great, I’m thinking through the waves of pain, another new word... "Kusuri no yaku?" I asked—"yaku, as in medicine?" She nodded encouragingly. Now what about that "za"... "Ginza no za?" I asked, in sudden, inspired dread. "Sou desu! Sou desu!" she responded, nodding vigorously and confirming my worst fears: the "za" in Ginza means "seat." She wanted to give me a suppository! And as bad as the pain was, the indignity of being suppositoried by this cute fetishized nurse would have been much worse, and I declined.

I wonder from time to time why she would want to give me a suppository. I asked a doctor friend once; he said, "Were you having trouble holding down liquids?" I answered no. He shrugged and said, "Maybe she like you." Hooo-boy...

Took me almost a year to heal completely, but no permanent damage. I feel exceptionally lucky. I think in a hundred alternative universes where this happened, I was crippled or killed every time. This was the only one where I could have walked away. In addition to the physics, physiology, and linguistics lessons, and the inherent humor value (given that I emerged okay from the whole thing), this was one of those near-death experiences that helps create perspective on the things that matter. I’m probably better off for having gone through it—but wouldn’t recommend trying it at home.

RO: Hi, Barry. My Jungle Red sisters usually ask the serious questions and I'm here for comic relief... I was lucky enough to be at Love is Murder two years ago when you were on the um, Hair panel (or was it the Stud Muffin panel?) moderated by Barb D'Amato. I won't repeat some of the rowdy questions that Barb allowed but... do you and Marcus Sakey really have a hair rivalry, and when you're at the same show do you share styling products?

BARRY: Marcus and I did have a rivalry, but then we realized we could never beat Jason Starr and just gave up. And have you seen Joe Konrath's flowing locks lately? Just posted lots of photos of that and more from April's Romantic Times in Orlando...

Thanks again, everyone, what a pleasure to be a guest here at Jungle Red!

ROBERTA: Thanks for stopping by Barry! And now the floor is open for your comments and questions...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Our bucket lists, our bodies

ROBERTA: Last week we had great fun chatting about our bucket lists. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm a little worried about keeping my mind and body chugging along so I can keep checking items off my list. To that end (and because my dad suffers from the disease,) I've become a fan of Vincent Fortanasce's THE ANTI-ALZHEIMER'S PRESCRIPTION. He maintains that while you can't control your genetics, there is much you can control--diet, exercise, stress, sleep, social support, brain boosters... Doesn't this all sound familiar? Anyway, I'm chipping away at my bad habits and adding these: pilates or yoga three times a week, walking as often as I can make myself do it, blueberries and flax seed on my cereal, a mostly Mediterranean diet. And my hub and I have been trying to work on our faded memories--practicing phone numbers from memory rather than hitting redial and so on.

HALLIE: (who didn't have much time to ponder as she's off on one of her dream trips!)Eat well but not too much. Exercise. Spend lots of time with friends and loved ones (nourishment for the soul). And have extraordinarily good luck.

JAN: Roberta, I'm a big fan of both Pilates and Yoga - which work on brain and importantly, posture. I also meditate every day, eat well, walk a lot, weight train, and play way too much tennis. But I lost a friend this week to a massive heart attack, and he did all the right things, so I can't help but think that the real benefit of any of this stuff is to calm yourself by THINKING you have control. The lesson I've learned is: have fun NOW.

RO: I try to exercise - hiking and kayaking when weather permits and weight training, rowing machine and boxing when it doesn't. Just as important I try to sing, dance, laugh, see friends, play with my dog, work in my garden, and not take it all so seriously.

More specifically...calcium, flaxseed, lots of fruits and veggies, not much red meat (except for pepperoni pizza which I indulged in at Mystery Lovers Bookshop!)

ROBERTA: Okay, Ro you've hit upon a real weakness for me: Pepperoni pizza. My stepdaughter now lives in Wooster Square (New Haven, CT), home of Peppi's Pizza, home of the most amazing pepperoni pie ever. Irresistible!

HANK: What was the question again? There was a hilarious button some people were wearing at the Malice Domestic convention--it said something like: "Don't worry, I don't remember your name, either." I wish I could wear that every day. I can NEVER remember names, and no matter what tricks I try, they don't work. SO, so much for that.
But as for self-preservation: I try to keep moving. I don't eat white food. And I try not to agonize over things--most things we worry about don't actually happen, right? SO I try not to worry in the first place.
Sometimes it works.

ROBERTA: Now it's your turn to dish special secrets about keeping mind and body in top form! Or as Jan put it more succinctly, how to have fun now... And then, don't forget to check back in on Wednesday and Friday, because it's guest "hunk" week on Jungle Red! (And thanks to diamondmountain and the pizza review for the photos)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Small pleasures in time of Recession

RHYS: I've just been traveling around the country, attending two big mystery celebrations--the first, Malice Domestic, honors the traditional mystery as written by Agatha Christie (hence the Agatha awards for which both Rosemary and I were nominated, but unfortunately didn't win this time). The second was the festival of mystery in Oakmont, PA. This wonderful event brings together readers and writers and it's so good for a writer's ego. One sits surrounded by large stacks of books and signs copies all evening as the stacks get lower and lower. I was interested to see that the number of attendees was not down this year, however I sold fewer hardcovers than usual. Readers told me they are getting their hardcovers from the library this year and only buying paperbacks. So it's hard to know how much the recession will affect our sales. In past recessions book buying was up because it was an affordable escape. But now, with Netflix and all the things one can do with a computer, we have stiff competition.

It's interesting that one of my series (the Royal Spyness books) is set in the Great Depression, and shows people making similar economies in hard times. My heroine's sister-in-law, the duchess, has been reduced to toast at tea time instead of crumpets but still has to have her Fortnum's jam on it. Of course there is no comparison between the level of hardship during those years and what we are going through now--unless we are the unlucky ones who have lost our jobs or homes, of course. Then this time is every bit as bleak. My own daughter has been unemployed for over a year, and a large chunk of her unemployment money goes on Cobra, trying to keep up her health insurance. Let's hope that health reform comes quickly as this is ridiculous.

I've been lucky enough that my books are still selling well, but I believe I could live very simply if I had to. We eat healthily but my husband loves to shop for weekly specials so we have a freezer full of things that were on sale. I don't buy many clothes. I could actually live for many years with the clothes I already have (but I wouldn't want to do that, of course). I don't use many cosmetics. We have Netflix and rarely go to the movies. However we do love to travel. That would be the one thing I'd hate to give up--and of course there are fabulous travel bargains at the moment.

So what have you cut back on, or given up? What are you unwilling to give up? What small pleasures do you still allow yourself? Are you still buying books or getting them from the library? Have you invested in a Kindle yet?

ROBERTA: We don't have a vacation planned for this summer--we'll see if that holds! And we've bandied about the idea of a new car--that's been put on ice, too. I know plenty of people run their car's mileage up over 100,000--I just don't like the idea of having to rely on a guardian angel in case the thing breaks down. In general, we're thinking more and buying less. Trouble is, my husband is convinced this is exactly the kind of behavior that will keep the country's economy from really picking up. What do you all think of that? (And by the way, one thing I refuse to cut out is shopping at our local farmer's market. I've been waiting all winter for that to open back up!)

HANK: So interesting! Well, okay, confession. I still buy lattes. I still buy my perfume (Hermes 24 Faubourg). However: Our car is from 2001! And I'm not really interested in a new one. I, too, am shopping in my closet. I'm hoarding my Jo Malone bath gel. And every grocery shopping trip, I pick up the 4.99 a pint blueberries...think about them longingly...and put them back. And then I get so annoyed. I miss the blueberries.Hmm. Does that make any sense? Perfume yes, blueberries no?

JAN: I'm not sure how we economize ever makes a lot of sense. I'm really big on shutting off lights, and sometimes if you heard me talking to my kids, you'd think this WAS the great depression. But I'll spring for a totally unnecessary cashmere cardigan - I mean, I had to... it was just exactly the right coral color....

So how about it, dear blog visitors--are you cutting back or doing without?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Katherine Neville chats about The Fire

RHYS: I am thrilled today to welcome my dear friend Katherine Neville to Jungle Red Writers. Katherine is best known for her wonderful sweeping historical thriller THE EIGHT. It's one of those books that can't be categorized but is completely compelling. Finally, after years of pleading, she has written the sequel, THE FIRE.

RHYS: Katherine, you are known world-wide for your blockbuster, The Eight. When you wrote it did you ever think it would take off in the way it has?
KATHERINE: THE EIGHT never really "took off" in the way we usually think of bestsellers. The phenomenal thing about the book is that it has sold consistently for more than 20 years--and in nearly 40 languages--without ever appearing atop any major bestseller lists.
The other unique phenomenon I ought to mention, is that I have never met a person of any age--in any country--who has read THE EIGHT only once. It's the kind of book that people go back to over and over and get more from with each visit, and that they pass along to their relatives, friends and loved ones. I'm very fortunate to have written a book that has been cherished, more than it has ever been "marketed."

RHYS: What drove you to write a sequel--your fans or unfinished business with your characters?

KATHERINE: Well, given what I've just said above, it's a miracle that I was ever able to bring myself to do a sequel at all! My husband keeps telling people it's the bravest thing I've ever done--and in hindsight I'd have to concur. I had discovered how to do the sequel in 1992, and I tried to write it several times--but "Life just kept on happening" and events threw many detours in my way. Once I actually got going on THE FIRE, I immediately that it was the kind of challenge I really needed. I'm not the kind of writer who can just "recline on her backlist," as we say. And I always recognized that I couldn't "just" do a sequel. I never thought in terms of the book being "as good as" or "better" than THE EIGHT. But I realized that whatever might follow the story of THE EIGHT, despite being a continuation, at the same time had to be completely new, fresh, and different. The thing that readers have always loved most about THE EIGHT was that it was unique. It is still unique. I knew that I had to be unique again.

RHYS: Tell us a little about The Fire.

KATHERINE: We step onto the page thirty years after the events that we lived throughout THE EIGHT--both in the historic and modern plots. Right off the bat, we learn that an important piece of the chess set that was buried at the end of THE EIGHT has just--impossibly--surfaced (in Albania and Russia, respectively.) The children of the earlier characters have no idea what happened in the "Game" that had provided the previous plot. Alexandra Solarin arrives at her mother Cat's retreat in Colorado to learn that her mother has vanished and has left scattered clues for her, as to the underlying mystery. So far, we are in familiar territory: puzzles, encryption, chess, improbable characters, exotic locales...

RHYS: How would you describe the genre you seem to have created?

KATHERINE: Well, it's true that everyone like Publishers Weekly is now giving me the credit for creating the genre or "paving the way" for books like Da Vinci Code and other "esoteric thrillers" as they are calling them. But when THE EIGHT was first published no one could describe it--it was reviewed as history, modern, mystery, thriller, romance--even as sci-fi/fantasy by Locus magazine, and I was dubbed the female Umberto Eco, the female Alexandre Dumas, CHarles Dickens--even the female Stephen Spielberg!
However, I myself have never been confused about what I'm writing. It's the oldest genre of literature that we have in print: the Quest Novel. Just think of how familiar the quest is: Jason seeking the Golden Fleece, Parsifal's quest for the Holy Grail, Odysseus and Dorothy of Oz seeking "home" in their own ways. And the grandfather of them all: Gilgamesh, king of Sumeria in Mesopotamia--seeking the elixir of life! I'm very proud that my publisher put on the inside of THE FIRE, as the book category: "Quests-Adventures." It's time this wonderful kind of story made a comeback.

RHYS: How did your background prepare you to write this kind of epic novel. I know you were a computer whiz and you'd worked in North Africa, but do you also have a background in world history?

KATHERINE: I actually got terrible marks in history--and world geography too. And I never liked traveling very much--I still hate timetables and living out of a suitcase. The only way I ever learned about places was by going to live and work there. Luckily, (though it didn't always feel so lucky at the time) I had to work at a lot of jobs to support myself, which took me to live in a lot of places. I always tell young writers that the two bset ways to gather material for research: get a job and get a Eurail pass. "Being there" gives you a real sense of verisimilitude--like what you first smell when you enter a city--each city and quarter has its own unique aroma--tobacco or jasmine or hashish or diesel fuel or baking bread--and of what ingredients are in the foods, what the music is like, the clothes on the streets, the trees and plants.

RHYS: As a person who writes two books a year, it must be lovely to bring out one book every few years and have time to relax in between. Tell us how you divide that time (oh and mention the adorable Karl)

KATHERINE: Relax? What's that? Actually, it's been more like every TEN years per book, for me--though that absurd self-indulgence really must stop. (Ask my publisher.) My excuse: Life just keeps on happening. For instance, I live with the world's most famous brain scientist--Karl Pribram--who is an extremely distracting fellow. Karl is always taking off for some remote scientific conference in the inaccessible regions of "you-name-it." That's how we just happened to be living in northern Germany when the Berlin Wall came down, and in Moscow when the "oligarchs" were running things and the Chechen mafia did a "mob hit" at the table next to ours in a restaurant, and other unique episodes that I've managed to toss into my books over the years.
But the only way to write a book, as we quickly learn, is to stop running around, and to sit on your bottom at a desk all day--and WRITE.

RHYS: What is next for you?

KATHERINE: This incredible thing happened: just before THE FIRE was published (October 14, 2008) I was asked by my publisher to pull all my press clippings from THE EIGHT to use for publicity--so I did, and I read a few of them. And I thereby learned that I had told Publishers Weekly--in my first interview as an author, more than 20 years before--that this would be the next book I would be writing! (Which perhaps goes to show that it really takes me TWENTY years to write a book instead of ten. Luckily, I have lots of partly-finished books in my drawer.)
It's about painters in the early 1600s, a time of great ferment in the art world, because the Dutch had recently invented oil paints, a revolution in technology that obviated the politics of vying for large commissions on the walls of buildings--and which soon permitted artists to travel, to view each other's works, and also opened the door to women painters on an international scale. An extremely interesting era for someone, like me, who used to be a painter.

RHYS: and a couple of silly questions that we always inflict on our guests:
Which Hepburn are you Katherine or Audrey?
(Actually it's Katharine, not Katherine!) That's a good question! Both were feisty but glamorous when young, and productive yet elegant when old. I wish I could be BOTH.

Make Dinner or Make Reservations?
Again, it's both. I make reservations--then I go back in the restaurant kitchen and find out how the chef did it! Then I go home and do it too!

RHYS: Katherine, thank you for stopping by. I always enjoy our chats and I love the little gifts that arrive from you, out of the blue. I have the owl with the sapphire eyes staring at me on my desk as I write!
(Photo Credit for Katherine's photo: Kelley Campbell Photography)