Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do you want to know a secret?

Okay...it's not really a secret.

We were planning to post something else today..an interview that will happen, we promise, sometime next month, but we can't let another day go by without a big shout out here to Hank. Her Agatha Award-winning debut novel, Prime Time is finally FINALLY available again - and everywhere - from Mira Books.

PRIME TIME introduces forty-something investigative reporter Charlotte (Charlie) McNally. Charlie's smart, savvy and successful—but she's worried her news director is about to replace her with a younger model. Now—she's on the hunt for the story that will save her job. Is it hiding in her email? Charlie begins to suspect some of that annoying Spam clogging her computer is more than cyber junk. She discovers it actually carries big-money secret messages to the big-shot insiders who know how to decode it. Problem is, the last outsider who deciphered the system now resides in the local morgue. It's either the biggest story of Charlie's career—or the one that may end her life. Charlie's also facing another dilemma: what happens when a top-notch TV reporter is married to her job—but the camera doesn't love her anymore?

It's an action-filled page-turner, with humor, romance and a scheme so timely and innovative you'll wonder why someone hasn't tried it. A twist of an ending will have readers going back to the beginning to check for all the clues they missed.

I was lucky enough to have read it when it was first available (that's the old cover below but check out the slick new look on the right)and I'll join the chorus of raves.

New York Times bestselling author Mary Jane Clark's kudos: "Current, clever, and chock full of cliffhangers. Readers are in for a treat."
Award winning author Harley Jane Kozak says it's "a great read" written with "quick wit, crackling pace and been-there-done-that credentials."
Page Traynor of RT Book Reviews gave Prime Time the highest possible rating—four and a half stars, awarding it the coveted TOP PICK. She says: "This book has humor, snappy language, danger and a wonderful mystery that will keep you guessing. Prime Time has the perfect combination of mystery and romance."
Way to go, Hank!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

On thinking..

In 2001 I credited my dog, Patrick for keeping me sane during the days right after 9/11. He did a great job. Whatever else was going on in the world Patrick had to be walked, fed and played with. I suppose a child could have fit the bill but I didn't have one handy.

The incumbent, Max, (pictured here) has a much easier job description. He helps me think - sometimes about life, sometimes about a story, sometimes about why people with small dogs don't think they need to pick up the poop. But I digress.

Walking Max, grooming him or just canoodling on the bed - no surface is off-limits for our little prince, and public displays of affection are frequent and spontaneous - slows down time for me.
It's not unusual for me to go out for a stroll with Max and find a character, or a trait, or a motive.
Gardening does it for me, too. I rarely spend time in the hammock swinging back and forth and musing about a storyline but I have been known to end a particularly rigorous pruning session with an aha moment about how to dispatch one of my characters. (No worries, I haven't really chopped anyone up yet, although my next door neighbor doesn't know just how close I came last year on Norwegian Independance Day which is a very big deal to him.)

ROBERTA: Definitely walking Tonka is a help. Besides the canine simplicity that Ro describes so nicely, I think moving in general is good for stimulating thinking. I believe Jan said this a couple of weeks ago, but getting out in the field to the actual scene where a book is set can be wonderfully helpful too. I did this last week when I visited the police department in my town. I gleaned some fabulous details that my imagination was not going to discover.

HALLIE: For me it's cooking. Conjuring dishes from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. If the fridge is bare, haul out the pasta maker -- there's nothing more zen-like than mixing up a batch of noodle dough, kneading it until it's elastic, letting it rest, and then running it, over and over through the machine's rollers so that a little 2-inch ball turns into a six-foot-long sheet of paper-thin pasta. (I find my best ideas come to me when I can't possibly write them down.) Fry up some sage leaves from the garden.

Boil the pasta for barely a minute or two and serve it piping hot and buttered, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and the fried sage leaves. Enjoy with a glass of robust Italian wine.

The perfect way to relax.

RO: I'll be right over..sounds yummy. I don't know anyone else who makes their own pasta. I remember an aunt making her own raviolis. Quite a production. Lots of time for wool gathering.

HANK: Sleeping? Well, not really sleeping, but the time just before going to sleep.

RO: I refuse to believe that you actually sleep. I've been convinced you are superhuman and don't need sleep like the rest of us mortals.

HANK: My brain just works like crazy then, in a very unstressed and openminded (!) way. I can do interviews in my head--taking roles as both me and the interviewee. And that's been incredibly helpful in my job as reporter--when I do ine interview for real, it's almost as if I've practiced. As for the books, whole scenes unfold--and it's as if I'm just watching them.
Tonight, though, I'll be thinking about PRIME TIME--the new MIRA version goes on sale Tuesday! (Look for it,okay?)

RO: Yippee!! Run, don't walk to your local bookstore for Prime Time, Hank's Agatha-winning First Novel. Come back for more PT news later on this week.

Janny, what about you?

JAN: Taking a shower. I've decided that first thing in the morning is a complete waste of a shower. It's much more productive after two or three difficult hours of writing. Then right in the middle of the shampoo -- or maybe it's the conditioner -- I have a Eureka moment.

Also driving. I've had my very best ideas on Route 95.

RO: My showers are strictly for singing. I put the ipod speakers on full tilt - impossible to think about anything but where in my brain all the song lyrics are stored. I'm totally with you on driving though, it's a great source of inspiration.

Other drivers...strange vanity plates, mismatched couples in other cars..all grist for the mill.

So what non-writing activity gets your creative juices flowing?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Paige Wheeler on What's Happening in Publishing

ROBERTA: Today Jungle Red Writers is delighted to welcome literary agent Paige Wheeler, a partner in Folio Literary Management. I was lucky to sign on with Paige almost ten years ago, and since then she’s sold eight of my mysteries, five in the golf lover’s mystery series and three advice column mysteries.

Paige, if you don’t mind, let’s start with the big question on all of our minds. What do you see happening in the publishing business right now?

PAIGE: It's been a crazy year. Due to the economy, we saw a number of publishers tighten their belts in October and December of 08 and again in the early part of 09. The belt tightening included some layoffs, book cancellations, decreased advances, as well as a few publishers going out of business--Arcade being the most recent. That said, I can say after so many years in the business that the only constant seems to be change. So, it's imperative to be able to adapt to the shifting publishing landscape. Editors are still buying, but I have seen promotion budgets shrink tremendously and some editors have been avoiding making risky buying decisions.

ROBERTA: What tips do you have for authors to adjust to changes in the climate, both newcomers and writers who’ve been around the block a few times?

PAIGE: I'd say you have to be adaptable to change. Even long term, it's vital that an author be able to roll with the punches. Ultimately, it's about perseverence and patience, for both newcomers and established writers. Thinking out of the box in terms of marketing is also helpful. With the shrinking promotional budgets, authors are more and more responsible for getting the word out about their upcoming book. For newcomers, I think the ability to write a terrific, commercially viable novel is still key. That hasn't changed at all.

ROBERTA: You moved from being a solo agent in New York City to a multi-agent business. Tell us a little about Folio and what you do differently from other agencies?

PAIGE: I formed FOLIO with the intention of really being a full service agency. Although our core business is selling books, we really try to manage and author's intellectual property-and grow his/her career. To that end, we've had Kate Travers on board--she's our marketing director. She provides guidance to our authors about marketing their upcoming titles. We've had a speakers bureau that we've been trying to build, but that's on hold for the moment as we reconfigure the structure of the department. We also have a terrific foreign rights department, headed up by Celeste Fine, as well as an association with a major licensing company. And, of course, we have ties to major Hollywood film agents. Ultimately, I think we are really trying to be proactive in building an author's career.

ROBERTA: Before we open the floor to questions, what kind of book or proposal might come across your desk today that would really excite you?

PAIGE: I'm looking for fresh ideas driven by a powerful voice. It's that simple. As most of you know, I handle commercial and upscale fiction as well as narrative and prescriptive nonfiction. The writing should be strong and vibrant, I like to be transported by the story and unable to put it down. If I read well into the night, it's a good sign. I'm often surprised at how I respond to material. I recently read a gripping submission of historical fiction (1700s) that I couldn't put down. Another project was a contemporary piece that was lively and fun. Since I read so much, I really want the story to stick with me days and even weeks later.

ROBERTA: Thanks so much for your visit! Questions anyone?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

JRW: Today, Jungle Red welcomes Chester Campbell who writes two mystery series featuring private investigators. The Surest Poison, first book in the Sid Chance series, deals with a chemical pollution case. He is working on the fifth Greg McKenzie novel, featuring a retired Air Force investigator and his wife. Chester is here to tell us about his recent experience with a blog book tour. Welcome Chester!

CHESTER: Thanks! Jen Forbus recently featured my six-word memoir on her blog: “Took the plunge; never looked back.” At Hank’s suggestion, however, I’ll ignore it and take a look back at the blog book tour I did for my new Sid Chance mystery, The Surest Poison.

I visited 15 blogs between April 15 and May 1. I had viewed bits of tours and read author tales before setting off on mine. Tours for hire were available, but I ran across a site (http://blogbooktours.blogspot.com) run by Dani Greer that offered free instruction.

Under Dani’s tutelage, I set up my own blog (Mystery Mania) and wrote daily during January to get a feel for regular posting. She had us sign up for Facebook and Twitter to make our presence known around the social networks. I researched subjects other touring authors had dealt with and drew up a list of topics. The final step involved contacting potential hosts. I fished about for popular blogs that should have good readership.

One of the lists mentioned Book Roast, and I set my first stop there. It’s a popular site and brought the most comments of any blog. I did three interviews during the tour. One involved an interview with me, another with my protagonist, Sid Chance, the third with his associate, Jaz LeMieux. Some days I covered writing topics such as setting, style, dialogue, subplots, and POV. At other stops I discussed promotion, electronic rights, and keeping mysteries free of sermons.

You can read the full schedule with links to the blogs and the subjects covered at http://bit.ly/KJnO.

The tour turned out to be a lot of fun but a lot more work than I had anticipated. With everything else I was doing to promote the new book, which came out five days before the tour started, I felt like a one-armed driver with a stick shift in heavy traffic. Some of the posts were written only a few days before they appeared on-line.

I conducted two drawings for people who posted comments. At the mid-point of the tour, I gave away two copies of The Surest Poison. On the last day, I awarded one copy of the new book and a set of all five of my books, which included four Greg McKenzie mysteries. I had to check each site the day after my visit to harvest all the comment writers’ names. There were about 180 in all. I tried to get total visitors for each day, but several hosts didn’t have stat counters. Needless to say, it would have numbered a lot more than the comments.

The question everyone asks is was it worthwhile? I believe it was, particularly from the standpoint of getting my name and the name of my book spread around. Did it sell a lot of books? I can’t say, at least not until I get my sales figures. My Amazon ranking went down early in the tour, then gradually climbed back up. And who knows what that means?

I learned a few things you might consider if you do one of these tours. Number one is start your planning early. I began four months out with Dani’s on-line blogbooktour course. You should begin planning at least six months before the tour begins. And start writing those posts two months out. It’ll save a few strands of gray hair. Although each had a contingent of readers, the blogs that hosted me directed their articles primarily at writers. Writers are readers, too, but try to find some blogs compatible with the subject of your novel aimed toward non-writers. You’ll sell more books that way.

JRW: Thanks for all those tips Chester--we're exhausted just listening! Now Chester is standing by to answer your questions...And don't forget to come back Friday to visit with literary agent Paige Wheeler.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jungle Red Writers welcomes Chris Knopf

ROBERTA: Today JRW is happy to introduce Chris Knopf, author of the Sam Acquillo mystery series, most recently Hard Stop. Welcome Chris! For those readers not familiar with your series, please give us a heads-up on Sam Acquillo. And tell us what life is like in the Hamptons...

CHRIS: Sam is a middle-aged corporate burn-out, who has settled into his late parents' cottage on the edge of the Little Peconic Bay in Southampton, Long Island. He was once a professional boxer, in addition to his career as a trouble-shooter for a big engineering company. So he's not only a good problem solver, he's tough, and unafraid to tackle unsolvable crimes. Sam is also sarcastic, mordant, angry and more than slightly alcoholic, but somehow manages to nurture meaningful relationships with various colorful characters on the East End of Long Island. Sam's world, like mine, is more focused on the regular day-to-day life of the Hamptons than on the showy glitterati featured in the media. The world out here is much more complex and nuanced than our press would suggest, and this is where Sam lives and solves his various mysteries. Still, the Hamptons are an exceptional place, filled with interesting people from all social strata, and wildly beautiful, if you take the time to look around.

ROBERTA: Your series is published by a small press. Can you talk some about the pros and cons of that experience?

CHRIS: Marty and Judy Shepard of the Permanent Press have been very kind and supportive of me. Though a small press, they are nationally known as a quality publisher of exceptional literary fiction. The few mystery writers they've published have all won significant awards and gone on to meaningful careers (Reed Farrel Coleman is a good example.) As one of their authors, I've received a lot of attention from reviewers, which has been helpful in getting the series established. We don't have the distribution of a big publisher, but we're well received by the independents, who still sell a lot of books.

Meanwhile, I've been signed up by St. Martin's to do a spin off series starring a popular character in the Sam books, Jackie Swaitkowski. So I'll get to learn what it's like to be with both a big and small publisher.

ROBERTA: Congratulations on the new series! I don't know how you possibly have time to do all this, but your bio says that in addition to writing, you work full time as partner in a PR firm. First of all, how do you juggle all that? And second, have you used lessons learned in your job to promote your own books?

CHRIS: Our company, Mintz & Hoke, is a marketing communications agency, which means we do advertising, PR, design, branding and all manner of digital communications. I love my job as much as I love writing books, so it's not a big conflict for me to do both, though I do get tired sometimes. I've been able to apply some of what I know from my business to marketing my books, though publishing is so weirdly different from other industries that I usually feel like I have to unlearn my experience more than apply it.

That said, I think being an advertising and PR copywriter for all these years is a distinct advantage, since I have the discipline to write every day, a fluidity of discourse and a gift for bullshit useful when writing fiction.

ROBERTA: We're delighted to have you here today--and the floor is open for comments and questions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Choosing a Point of View

ROBERTA: So far all of my published books have been written in the first person. This made my job pretty straightforward. As long as I stuck to my character's point of view, stayed in her head, I couldn't write a word unless she heard, saw, or thought it. It was like writing with blinders on.

I'm trying something different in my new book. The book has two POV protagonists who alternate chapters. This of course widens the possibilities of where I can take the action, but it also raises lots of questions. For example, does it work if the chapters are not balanced between the two characters? Will it work to tell the story as one character sees it, and then back up and tell again from the other's POV? And when I reach points in the story where both characters will be present, whose head I should be in?

So I'd love to hear your opinions about point of view--how do you prefer to write and what do you prefer to read?

JAN: It really depends on the story and the author. I think if the author has a great voice the narration is often stronger in the first person. I loved Scott Turow in first person, like him less whenever he writes in third.

Like you Roberta, I'm trying to escape the prison of first person -- sort of. The story is told by an unseen narrator who writes in the first person, but can see everything. So the effect is ominiscient -- almost. I tried allowing my narrator to go into everybody's head whenever I felt like it, but my writers's group got confused. Now I allow the narrator into only one viewpoint at a time and shift it by section - much like you are doing. I'm making mistakes, but I feel there's no point writing if I'm not going to try to experiment and grow!

HALLIE: I confess I love a single narrator. But it does mean when your character gets stuck in a dungeon the reader's stuck there with him. Writing Never Tell a Lie, I started to feel claustrophobic when I got myself locked in an attic with my character Ivy.

The book I'm writing has occasional scenes narrated by different characters, so the reader knows more than my protagonist - it feels like a good way to build suspense. But I'm not sure those scenes will survive.

In the last Dr. Peter Zak book, Guilt, I alternated between two characters' viewpoints -- and then in the final crescendo short scenes snapped back and forth between them. It was hard, when both of those characters were in a scene, to decide who gets the viewpoint. How do you decide??

ROBERTA: Oh Hallie, I was hoping you'd answer that!

RHYS: When I conduct workshops I teach that every book has a point of view that works better than others. If the story is stalled or not going well, I tell them to try writing it in the first person to see where the characters themselves want to go. I have written in first and third and multiple points of view and I have to say that both Molly and Georgie's voices came so easily to me. I almost sit back and let them write. My only pet peeve in books is a story written in the present tense. It annoys me.

ROBERTA: Watch out Rhys--Hank's series is in the present tense:).

HANK: Oh, sorry Rhys. It's because of writing for TV news, I think. I love first person present, because it allows the reader to make mistakes along with the main character. To misjudge and misread and then make decisions based on those wrong perceptions. Because of course, as the author, I know what's correct and what's really happening. But I don't have to tell Charlie McNally.

But I wondered if I could do it another way--not sound like Charlie McNally, not be in present tense. SO I wrote a short story in third person, just to see, you know? And it was a completely different experience. And so--empowering.
I think--the story decides how it's written.

RO: As it happens, the manuscript I just delivered has two POVs. The second POV only occurs in a few chapters, but I felt I had to do it to tell the story I was telling. I think it works..we'll see what my editor says. It's challenging to write in the first person, and I like the idea that my character knows things just a few moments before the reader does, but it can be exhausting to keep coming up with new ways for her to get information she needs to solve the crime!

ROBERTA: Ok JR readers, please pitch in with your opinions. And then come back often this week--we have a great line-up. On Tuesday, visit with Chris Knopf, author of the Sam Acquillo mysteries, who will talk about setting books in the Hamptons and writing for a small press. On Wednesday, visit with Chester Campbell to learn everything you need to know about blog book tours. And on Friday, listen in as literary agent Paige Wheeler talks about the book biz right now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Most Distinguished Guest

Rhys: Today I'm honored to be in the presence of royalty as I interview Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie. Welcome your ladyship, it's so good of you to take time off from your busy schedule to talk with me.

Lady Georgie: Actually, Rhys, I'm not royalty. I'm only second cousin to King George V and only thirty fourth in line to the throne which makes me a royal also-ran.

Rhys: But you must live a fascinating life among the glitter of palaces and balls and royal tours.

Lady Georgie: LOL. You see I have picked up some of your current speech. The fact is that my branch of the family has no money at all. We are flat broke. It's alright for my brother because he has all that land in Scotland to grow things, but I'm alone in London and I'm not doing too well.

Rhys: Surely someone young and attractive and well educated like you can find a job.

Lady Georgie: In case you haven't noticed there is a Great Depression crippling world economy. Every street corner has poor men standing on it, begging for work. But don't think I haven't tried to find a job. I did work in Harrods once for all of four hours before my mother got me sacked. I even tried cleaning houses. And I recently came up with a spiffing idea for making money that turned out to be horribly embarrassing. How was I to know that the words Escort Service and High Class Girls had a different connotation?

Rhys: (trying not to laugh) Oh dear. So what happened?

Lady Georgie: I got whisked home to Scotland before the press could learn of my little gaffe. And I was given a job of a kind, I suppose, although nobody has offered to pay me for it. You see it was suspected that someone was trying to kill off the heirs to the throne and a certain branch of the government wanted me, as an insider, to find out who was doing this.

Rhys: And did you manage to succeed?

Lady Georgie: Yes, but only just. I was lucky to come away with my life. I owe a lot to someone called Darcy O'Mara. Essentially he saved me.

Rhys: I've heard that name before, mentioned in the same breath as yours, I believe.

Lady Georgie (blushes) Oh golly. Well yes, we are ,I mean I am rather keen on him, and I think he's keen on me too. Could we change the subject please. I'm finding it rather hot in here.

Rhys: I heard that a certain American woman called Mrs. Simpson was staying at your Scottish castle to be near the Prince of Wales at Balmoral.

Lady Georgie: She brought a whole houseparty of Americans with her too. My sister-in-law the current duchess was livid. They wanted baths and showers all the time and were eating us out of house and home.

Rhys: How long did they stay

Lady Georgie: Not as long as they planned. We did sort of exaggerate the hardships of living in a centuries old castle--the howling gales, the ghosts, the bagpipes at dawn, and haggis for dinner.

Rhys: Did that drive them away..

Lady Georgie: No, it was actually the flying lavatory that did it.
Rhys: Do we understand that this story is about to be told in a new book?

Lady Georgie: Quite right. It's called Royal Flush and it comes out on July 7th

Rhys: Thank you, Lady Georgie. We look forward to reading about your latest exploits. Can you give us a hint of what you'll be doing next?

Lady Georgie: Well, actually I've been asked to represent the royal family at a royal wedding in Transylvania at a castle on the Borgo Pass. I don't think any of those silly rumors about vampires are true, do you?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Louise Penny Visits Jungle Reds

RHYS: Today I'm delighted to bring as my guest to Jungle Red Writers a writer I admire and a friend I cherish, Louise Penny. Louise burst onto the mystery scene only a two or three years ago with her mysteries set in small town Quebec. She won the debut Dagger in UK and the Dilys, Anthony and Macavity in the States. She has won the Agatha two years in a row. Her books have become instant bestsellers. Louise and I were together over the weekend at the Bloody Words conference in Ottawa, Canada and had a few minutes to chat.
So welcome Louise. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. You made an instant impact on the mystery scene with a series that is neither sensational nor violent, but instead portrays the gentle and safe world of rural Canada. How do you explain your success?

LOUISE: You're right, Rhys. My books are about decency and kindness. I wanted to create a village that felt like home, where weary readers could escape from a world not always kind, not always as caring and gentle as we'd like. John Milton wrote that sometimes we have to sift through evil to find good. That's what the books do. They find, at their core, good.

RHYS: Your hero, Inspector Gamache, is a far cry from the angst-ridden heroes of hardboiled novels. He is decent human being, at peace with himself. Where did he come from?

LOUISE: I think you've hit it bang on. A decent hero, with integrety and goodness and a secure environment. Peace. Internal and external. I know that's what I long for. And when I read I don't want to go to a place worse than my real world. I want to escape. Three Pines and Gamache gives people that.
But this isn't a fairy tale. The reason I think I can conjure Three Pines so convincingly - and Armand Gamache - is because I know both exist. Goodness exists. Decency, love, friendship exist. This is, in fact, a lovely world we live in. There's reason for hope.
In creating CI Gamache I made a very selfish decision. I wanted someone I wouldn't tire of in a year or two. He needed to have qualities not just quirks. And the only way I felt I could be assured of enjoying his company was to make him someone I would marry. So I make him a happy man, at peace with himself and his world. A man who loves and is loved. I had to make him French because it was unlikely an Anglo would hold that rank in the Surete, and I wanted to firmly establish the French face and voice of Quebec.

RHYS: He is French Canadian and you are not. How did you manage to get into the mind-set of a French-speaking man?

LOUISE: I'm not sure how well I've captured the mind of a francophone man. I pretty much just wrote my husband Michael - and made him French.

RHYS: So what is next for Gamache and Three Pines?

LOUISE: Well, the fifth Gamache book is coming out in October. It's called The Brutal Telling.

RHYS: What little tidbit can you share with us--something that people might not know about you? What are your dreams and your fears?

LOUISE: Well, you might not know that I'm a saint! Though I'd have hoped you could tell without my having to actually say anything, Rhys! I sent 50 dollars to the Universal Life Church back in the mid-80's and they declared me a saint. My miracle is getting published.
I have two great fears - heights and losing Michael.
Not perhaps surprisingly the things I love most are solid ground, and Michael.
My childhood fantasy was for my real mother - the Queen - to come and get me from my suburban hell. Apparently if she had I'd have met my sister Rhys, also raised by commoners! (comment by Rhys--Louise and I discovered during an interview once that we had both had childhood fantasies about being royal. Obviously sisters separated at birth!)
I think perhaps the only other thing that informs my life is astonishment and gratitude. How lucky I am!
Thank you for this, Rhys!

RHYS: We thank YOU, Louise. We hope that Gamache will continue to provide us with that safe haven for many years to come.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Acting on Impulse

Rhys: I've decided that I've been too sensible for most of my life. I was a good child (except for sneaking out of church to raid the cookie jar at my friend's aunt's house) and even a good teenager and college student. I can't really think of too many wild and crazy things I've done in my life, but last week I almost remedied this.

We were driving through New York State on the way back from a conference in Canada. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant in Albany. I confess that I had lobster and didn't give it a second thought. Then on the way out I was waiting by the lobster tank as my husband went to the rest room when I saw one lobster. All the other lobsters in the tank were lying passively, accepting their fate. This one was not prepared to go gentle into that good night. He was swimming anxiously around his portion of the tank, checking every side, coming up to the surface and then going down again to see if there was any way out.
The tank was divided into three portions, for the various weights of lobsters. He found that he could put a claw under a glass partition. Then he wedged it higher and higher until he oculd get both claws and then part of his head under it. But he couldn't hold it up while he slipped under it. But he didn't give up. He kept on trying and swimming while his fellows lay there.

When John returned from the restroom he was met with the words, "Where is the nearest ocean to here?"
He thought for a moment. "Long Island, perhaps?"
"Could a lobster survive in a plastic bag that long, do you think?" I asked.
Okay, so I had this wild and crazy impulse to buy that lobster and set him free. I felt so strongly about it that I was prepared to drive miles out of our way to bring this about. Eventually John made me see sense--I was due to fly out to Chicago the next morning, with no time to drive to any seashore, and it was highly unlikely that the lobster would survive if he was dumped off Coney Island. So I left my lobster, swimming desperately around,trying to squeeze through to another section of the tank, not knowing that it was hopeless.And I'm still feeling bad. I could have done it. I could have driven an extra hundred miles or so.

So I'm asking my fellow JRRs--have you ever done something crazy on impulse?

JAN: Almost doing something on impulse? Yes. Actually following through on impulse? Not so much.
But I was impressively impulsive and stupid during my teenage years. Must have used up all that wild, insane, energy.

HALLIE: After torturing my daughters by singing along with the radio in the car, dancing to the muzak in the supermarket, skipping in the mall, and wearing my draw-string pajama bottoms outside to go pick up the newspaper off the lawn, I toned down my crazy impulsiveness, such as it was. Now that they’re grownups, it’s nearly impossible to embarrass them. I do miss it.

RO: That's a great story...it's like the kid in E.T. who frees the frogs in biology class. I don't think I've really been impulsive for a long time. I do have this "hey kids, let's put on a show" chip. I think in a previous lifetime I was in an old Mickey Rooney movie. That sometimes strikes people as impulsive.

HANK: I know my mother isn't reading this, so I'll now admit that in college, a group of us from my school in Ohio (all women) had spent the weekend at a men's college (in Indiana). We were driving us back--and decided to go to New York City instead. We told my parents the "truth" when we stopped off to get provisions: "Where are you headed next?" "New York! ha ha."
So they thought it was a joke. But we drove for hours, stayed in a hotel (couches and floor) saw a Broadway show and came back. Very very wild. And very very innocent. (Sam Creigh? Are you out here?)
These days? Well, once I had a whole dessert. And once? I stayed up past midnight.

RHYS: I remember climbing in through someone's window in college because the door was looked at 10 p.m. I also remember sharing a flat in London and getting wild urges to go out for fish and chips at 3 a.m--wandering all over London looking for a fish shop that was still open (and one was) And now I'm about to write a vampire book,which is wild and crazy for me...

So how about it, blog-visitors: any wild and crazy things to report? I'm sure you have more to report than our comparatively tame adventures.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On old abandoned farms

Jan: One day, I was driving to the gym a new way and I came across this farm. It's a small New England farm that's overgrown. Rumors are that it's caught in a resolution of an estate dispute.

Something about the chipping paint and overgrown fields caught me by surprise. This plain old every day farm took my breath away. I felt transported.

I know other people have felt this way standing in front of great art. But as I think I've mentioned here several times, I'm not normally a visual person. Unless I buy the audio set at the art museum to give me the story behind the paintings, I'm bored out of my mind.

But this, this was different. The beauty affected my mood. And ever since -- about a two years now, I've been driving out of my way to pass this farm whenever I can. (Even risking getting caught behind the school buses in the morning). Every time, I experience this same feeling of contentment and peace.

I still don't really understand it. It's not like I was ever a 4-H club girl, or ever lived on or anywhere near a farm. And yet, the feeling is so strong, I almost believe in deja vu.

Am I getting loony in my advanced years? A little soft? Or has anyone else ever felt this way?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

cynthia riggs

Cynthia Riggs is a 13th generation Vineyarder -- that's Martha's Vineyard - the setting for her terrific mysteries. Cynthia also runs a charming B&B on the island, in West Tisbury, which I got to visit once when I was lucky enough to be invited to one of her summer writers group sessions. If you've never visited the Island in real life, here's your chance to visit in your imagination. Cynthia's 8th in the series, Death and Honesty, is just out from St. Martin's.

JAN: Victoria Trumbull, your 92-year old protagonist is described as "indomitable."
And I've read that she is modeled after your mother. Tell us the joys and challenges of having a "senior sleuth" dig up the dirt on Martha's Vineyard.

CYNTHIA: One of my aims in writing about a 92-year-old sleuth is to attack rampant ageism. It's as bad as sexism, maybe worse. After a certain age one is considered half-witted and is consistently called "dear." Even Malice Domestic, which should know better, lumps its senior sleuth writers on cutesy panels. Victoria Trumbull, modeled after my mother, who lived to be almost 99 (for credibility, I had to make Victoria much younger), has some physical frailties, but mentally she's all there. She's had years of experience to draw on. She's no longer afraid to say what she thinks.

JAN: How does Victoria get involved in solving so many murders?

CYNTHIA: The police chief has come to depend on her because Victoria is related to most of the people on the Island, knows who's not speaking to whom, knows where they live, which is useful on an Island that prides itself on few or no street signs, and knows where the bodies are buried.

JAN: I love the plot line of your new book, Death and Honesty - a corrupt assessors office skimming off the top of wealthy landowners taxes. (Especially since I used to pay real estate taxes in West Tisbury) Tell us how you came up with the idea and how you developed or researched it.

CYNTHIA: A friend of mine, a wealthy landowner, ran afoul of the town's assessors, who treated him shabbily. I promised him I'd get even. I changed him into a former hooker to hide his identity, and changed the three male assessors into three elderly and venal Harpies -- they're named for the three Harpies of Greek mythology. Whenever the Harpies appeared in mythology, there was a dreadful stench, so one of my assessors wears too much perfume.

JAN: The critics rave about your evocative descriptions of Martha's Vineyard. What are the advantages and limitations (if any) of the island setting.

CYNTHIA: I was born on the Vineyard and have deep roots here. So it was natural to use the Island for my setting. Because I'm writing fiction, I take some liberties with places, but for the most part a reader visiting the Vineyard can follow Victoria's trail. I use real places, like Bert's Barber Shop, where Victoria gets her hair cut. The real Bert's displays the Victoria Trumbull books in a prominant place on top of an ancient console radio. I'm careful to avoid insulting real people and places. Knowing a setting intimately makes it easy to write about it. I'm not apt to get roads and topography mixed up.

By the way, we capitalize the word "Island" when referring to Martha's Vineyard (see both Island newspapers). We do not capitalize the word when referring to Nantucket or Manhattan.

JAN: Living on the Island, are you ever worried about stepping on anyone's toes with your fiction - say the local assessor's office, or is everyone a good sport about it?

CYNTHIA: I've reached the stage where I'm not afraid of stepping on toes. I think the assessors, as a matter of principal, don't read my books. After a book comes out, three or four people will come up to me and ask shyly if it's possible I patterned so-and-so (a sympathetic character) after them. No one claims credit for my villains. However, a lot of readers claim to recognize most of my characters, even ones entirely made up.

JAN: You also run a B&B in your family home, The Cleaveland House. Tell us about your writing schedule and how you can get any writing done in the summer months.

CYNTHIA: My writing and the Cleaveland House B&B work together just beautifully. I cater to poets and writers, who understand when I tell them I'm going upstairs to write. (And they buy my books.) I have only three guest rooms, so it's easy for me to deal with bedmaking and laundry, and I serve a simple continental breakfast. I start writing at 10 am and continue until about 5 pm, taking time out to pick up the mail, make beds, weed the garden, and think of what comes next in the story. Some guests read my manuscripts for me and make suggestions. Some end up in the books. All my guests are interesting.

Monday, June 8, 2009

On Luck

JAN: When I was in what was then called Junior High, my best friend Karen had the most incredible social luck in the world. We’d be bored out of our minds on a hot summer day, and she’d turn and say, wouldn’t’ it be great if Jimmy came by and asked us all to go swimming in his pool? Within ten minutes, Jimmy would swing by with the invitation. Or if she wanted it to be Billy inviting us to a barbeque, Billy would appear. Okay, she was good looking and the boys loved her. Still, the specific nature in which her desires were met was uncanny.

My friend Bob has the same kind of parking luck. If he’s driving and we're headed to Fenway park, a completely legal parking spot will suddenly appear before him in Kenmore Square. This happens no matter where we are and how crowded it is.

Personally, I have good luck at cards and have been unusually (even for a baby boomer) lucky at real estate.

In his bestselling book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell attributes this kind of thing to some sort of intuitive form of intelligence. But I think it’s more fun to think of it as luck. So do you have any special kind of luck? (And be specific, no running on about how wonderful life is in general). And do you really think it's luck? Or is there another explanation?

HANK: Oh, I think this is one on the most interesting topics ever. Luck. I wonder about it all the time. Let's see. Is it--coincidence? All the things in the universe that can happen, and the one that helps you (we're talkin' good luck here) just occurs. Or the person you need. Or the thing you wished for.

I think Malcolm Gladwell was getting at--perception. Even subconscious perception. Which I think is brilliant.

But luck. I'm kind of partial to the: if you really open your mind, the thing will happen. On a practical and quotidian level, there WILL be a parking place. If you really need it. The size skirt you need but can't find is there, but mixed in with the other sizes. You just have to look. On a larger scale: The idea will come to you--but only when it's time.

I think three fast things about luck: You have to be open to it. You have to deserve it. And sometimes, you get what you need.

RO: Oh dear...if I really thought I had any special luck, I doubt that I would say so for fear of losing it.

JAN: Yes, but if it's card-playing luck, (and you aren't a gambler in the old west or a a poker star competiting in Las Vegas) the loss isn't all that great...

HALLIE: Here's the thing -- you have to be LOOKING for **a parking space** (or fill in the blank with anything else you might be looking for) in order to get lucky about finding one. Conversely, if you're looking for a reason to be miserable, you won't have too hard a time finding it, either.

JAN: Yes, I agree. In principle. But I'm often earnestly looking for a parking space, and I never find one. I always end up in the garage paying a fortune.

ROBERTA: I like two of Hank's 3 things about luck--being open to it, and getting what you need rather than what you might have believed you wanted. Not so sure about the deserving it part. Because there's a corollary I don't like--do folks who are unlucky deserve that? Maybe sometimes they've cultivated it, but most often not. I just try to be very grateful when it appears some luck has swung my way.

As for lucky me, I'm not in real estate. Most times when you sell a house, you get paid. Not me, having bought at the peak and selling in desperation in a trough, I had to bring a check to the closing:). So I will rely on my husband's luck in that arena!

JAN: I like Hank's philosophy on luck, it's so optimistic, but I also think in some instances, there's something unsual going on -- whether it's magic or heightened perception, I'm not entirely sure. But I'm leaning toward magic.
How about you?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On traveling and writing and living in Canada...

Time for something a little different... Welcome Carolyn Heller, travel writer and author of "Living Abroad in Canada". . .

HALLIE: I first met Carolyn Heller when I was just getting serious about writing fiction and she was getting serious about fulfilling her dream to become a travel writer. A fearless traveler, since then she's contributed to multiple editions of Lonely Planet's China guidebook, guides to New England and Vancouver for Fodor's and Moon, not to mention taking on the Zagat Survey's guide to eating in Boston for several years running. She's also written about travel for the Boston Globe, SmarterTravel.com, FamilyFun, Real Weddings, and many other publications.

A few years ago, Carolyn relocated to Vancouver, Canada with her
husband and twin daughters. Her newest venture is a guide, "Living Abroad in Canada," and a web site www.livingabroadincanada.com where she blogs and provides great advice, from the 10 top places to live in Canada, to the basics of planning a trip, to getting a job, to becoming a permanent resident. I asked her to give us some insight to some of the surprising things she didn't know – positive and negative – before she moved to Canada.

CAROLYN: When we first came to Canada, many little things surprised us. We didn't have to learn a new language, but we came across plenty of unfamiliar words and phrases. Instead of “sneakers” or “tennis shoes,” Canadians wear “runners.” Canadian students don't take exams; they write them. And everyone in Canada needs to know the word “toque,” which is a knit ski hat.

We also knew embarrassingly little about Canadian history and government. While I knew that Canada was historically part of the British commonwealth, I was surprised to learn that the Queen of England is still officially the ruling monarch in Canada.

HALLIE: Were there bigger things that surprised you, too?

CAROLYN: Yes, I think that most important were the social differences. Canadian society prides itself on being very multicultural, but unlike the “melting pot” ideal in the U.S. that emphasizes assimilation, there's a greater focus on preserving diverse cultures. Quebec and its francophone culture may be the obvious example, but in many parts of the country, there are large Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Ukrainian, Italian, and other distinct communities that are encouraged to retain their traditions. Canada is also pretty tolerant, so issues like gay marriage (legal) and abortion (also legal) aren't a big deal here – unlike the situation in the U.S.

We've also had some interesting experiences with the health care system. Everyone has health insurance here, so people don't worry about paying for the care that they need. The downside, though, can be waiting for that care. If your condition isn't an emergency, you need to wait behind the people whose situation is more urgent. Fair? Sure. Frustrating? Definitely.

Overall, though, Canada can feel like a kinder, gentler place than the U.S. The pace of life here seems slightly calmer, and people are a little more laid-back. Of course, my experience may be skewed, since I live in the city that's nicknamed “Lotusland!”

HALLIE: What kind of reputation precedes us, as Americans, when we travel to Canada?

Canadians know far more about Americans than most Americans know about Canada. Canadians watch U.S. TV shows and movies, listen to American music, and avidly follow American national politics. Many Canadians feel that Americans are less tolerant and more politically conservative than the average Canadian is. Before President Obama was elected, I don't know how many times I had to answer the question, “How could someone like George W. Bush be elected president?” Americans also have a reputation for being kind of pushy and loud compared with Canadians, who think of themselves as patient and nice.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to break into the travel writing business?

CAROLYN: One thing I didn't know when I first started in travel writing is how much easier it is to get work writing about where you live. A glossy magazine is unlikely to send a newbie on assignment to the other side of the world, but a local publication might accept a short piece about a new restaurant or a community event, or a guidebook publisher might hire relatively inexperienced resident writers to help update a guidebook to their hometown. Good travel writers can discover interesting places wherever they are.

HALLIE: How about blogging? Are there more opportunities for new travel writers to blog or write online?

CAROLYN: Plenty of writers these days start by creating their own blog or website. While it's unlikely to pay the grocery bill, a blog can give you a place to polish your writing and gradually build an audience.

Unfortunately, blogging seems to encourage budding travel writers to blather on about every mundane thing that happens from the moment they left home. No one – except your mother – cares how long your plane was delayed or where your dog is staying while you're away. Find the story, which may not start sequentially in time, and shape the details of your trip into a narrative that gives your readers a real experience of the place.

HALLIE: If you were setting a murder mystery in Canada, where would you set it and who would be the murder victim?

CAROLYN: Hmm, I'd probably set my mystery somewhere in British Columbia, since that's the part of Canada I know best. Maybe I'd base it in the Okanagan Valley, which is the region's increasingly popular wine country. The victim might be a long-time farmer or perhaps a know-it-all newcomer from Vancouver who's plunked down some serious cash to open a new winery. I'm a foodie, so the Okanagan's growing restaurant and wine scene – it's not Napa yet, but it's trying – would definitely be part of the story.

On the other hand, there are so many parts of Canada that I haven't yet had a chance to explore. Perhaps I should craft a mystery that required research in all the far-flung parts of my adopted country – that would be my sort of adventure!

HALLIE: Join the conversation! Please, share your experiences, comments, and questions on traveling/living in Canada and travel writing... and where would you set a mystery in Canada?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What's hot and what's not: Bookscan's 20-20 hindsight

HALLIE: Trying to figure out what’s happening in the book business? There’s a fascinating slide presentation from the Nielson Company on the retail perspective.

The data is from BookScan which has been collecting sales numbers on book sales since '01 from 12,000 locations nationwide, including bricks-and-mortar and on-line booksellers like B. Dalton, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Costco, Powells, and others, but apparently not including small independents.

Trends over the last 5 years:
* Adult “general fiction” sales -- UP more than 23%
* Adult “mystery/detective” fiction sales -- DOWN almost 13%

And 2009 doesn’t look as if it’s going to improve the picture. SO FAR:
* Adult “general fiction” -- DOWN over 3% compared to 2008
* Adult “mystery/detective” fiction sales -- DOWN almost 20% compared to 2008


Here’s an interesting breakdown showing 5-year sales trends for mystery/detective fiction:
* Women Sleuths -- UP 9.44%
* General -- DOWN 17.80%
* Espionage -- DOWN 20.68%
* Series -- DOWN a whopping 65.16%

Of course, it’s hard to interpret these numbers. They reflect as much what’s selling as what’s available, and the latter is a function of the decisions publishers are making about what to publish.

So what’s hot over the last 5 years in this cold market?
* Comic/Graphic Novels -- UP 52.68%
* Juvenile -- UP 36.22%

Where are books selling over the last 5 years?
* Atlanta -- UP 20.57%
* Seattle/Tacoma -- UP 15.19%
* Washington, DC -- UP 9.20%
As compared to
* Denver -- DOWN 5.04%

So kids, reading the tea leaves…we should all run right out and write a graphic novel for kids, set in Seattle with a female sleuth. Right?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beth Groundwater offers a bushel basket of book promo tips

We’re tickled to welcome Beth Groundwater to Jungle Red Writers and congratulate her on TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, the second Claire Hanover gift basket designer series novel which comes out this month.

It opens with a death on a Colorado ski slope and, as the Kirkus reviewer opined, offers up “black diamond thrills.”

When we asked Beth if she'd share what she’s learned about book promo, she launched into song and then explained.

BETH: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

As that line from the Bob Dylan song, "My Back Pages," so eloquently states, the more experienced you become at something, the more you realize that what you thought you knew about it is all wrong. This can be true for many things, but in my case, I’ll apply it to book promotion.

In 2007, as a brand-new author with my first release, A Real Basket Case, I plunged into the book promotion pool feet-first, arms-flailing, trying to do it all, and taking every promotion opportunity I heard about. And since I was such a networker and in so many writing organizations, I heard about a lot!

I made 51 personal appearances in 2007, and eight of those were weekend conferences. I drove over 6500 miles for my writing business. I launched a website, blog and e-mail newsletter and became active in over three dozen e-mail lists. I ordered business cards, buttons, “autographed by author” stickers, bookplates, and trifold fliers. My release was in March. By the end of June I was totally worn out, but I’d already booked summer and fall appearances, so I had to soldier on.

I’ve learned with my second release, To Hell in a Handbasket, to pace myself. And that’s my advice to new authors embarking on the adventure of promoting your first book: Pace Yourself!

I will make fifteen personal appearances in June, but after that, they will taper off to a few a month. I’m attending only four conferences this year: Mayhem in the Midlands, Bouchercon, and two Colorado writing conferences. I hope to return to writing fiction (versus blog posts and magazine articles) by August. Two types of personal appearances I’ve cut are library visits and multi-author panels. Both were good ways to gain exposure when I was a new, unknown author, but neither resulted in many book sales.

One thing I did for the release of To Hell in a Handbasket that I didn’t for A Real Basket Case is my May blog book tour. Two years ago, author blog tours were rare, but now there’s even a Yahoo! group class for authors planning their own tours. I set a goal of visiting ten blogs during May, and even though I declined or delayed some guest appearances, I wound up guesting at sixteen blogs, being interviewed twice on Internet radio shows, and visiting the Barnes & Noble on-line mystery book club. That was too much. I recommend authors limit their virtual tours to a maximum of ten stops in two weeks.

What kept me sane this month was that I wrote all of my articles except this one in April before my blog book tour started. I probably won’t have a good idea whether the blog tour was worth the effort until October--after I get my royalty statement and attend Bouchercon. I've heard a person needs to hear about an item five to seven times before making the "buy" decision. My hope is that the blog tour gave people some of those exposures to my books, so when I come to their location on my actual tour or to Bouchercon or they see my books later on-line or in a bookstore, they're ready to buy.

Another recommendation to new authors is to do as much as you can of your on-line work before your first book release. Set up your website and e-mail newsletter mailing service, join the e-mail lists for fans of your genre, and join the social networks you’ll have time to participate in. (I recommend Facebook and one of the book-reading sites such as Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing.) It takes a lot less time to maintain a presence on-line after you’ve set these all up and learned how to use them.

I’m constantly being asked what kinds of promotion work best and what authors should focus on. No one really knows the answer to this question. Magic can happen from any of your promotion efforts. I've gotten radio interviews from Facebook connections, blog site visit requests from Goodreads friends, book club invitations from library visits, you name it. It all feeds on itself. You do what fits your personality and what you have time for.

Remember my advice: Pace Yourself!

Contest alert!
Comment on this article or comment on Beth's blog anytime during her blog book tour and you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!

Monday, June 1, 2009

On weeding other people's gardens

HALLIE: The other day I walked by the local branch of my public library and there, growing under a yew bush by the sidewalk, was a seedling of an ailanthus tree, aka ‘weed tree.’ Never mind that this was not my garden, not my problem, I had to stop and yank its little roots out. It was all I could do to keep myself from going after the nearby dandelion and burgeoning milkweed, too.

I know, I know, life’s too short to be weeding other people’s gardens. But I can’t help myself. I can’t let a grammatical error go by during a newscast, either. Oh, no, I have to correct the anchor person right then and there. Never mind that they can’t hear me.

More things that are none of my business but that I am constitutionally unable to ignore: corn kernels stuck to my husband’s chin (no, I cannot wait until after dinner for you to wipe it away), sleep grungies in my daughter’s eye (never mind that she’s a grownup), an open drawer or cabinet in someone else’s house (closed is so much tidier)…and and and.

“Meddling” or “helping”? Do I think I'm making the world a better place? Are there things that you, too, simply cannot keep yourself from "correcting"? Any hints on how to stop myself?

JAN: I can honestly say I've never in my life had to resist the urge to weed someone else's garden. My problem is more having to force myself to weed my own garden. Other people's grammatical mistakes do make me crazy, but it's just to rude to correct them. I think I am probably the worst in this area, with my poor daughter. I am pretty relentless about stopping her overuse and misuse of the term "literally," and before she took up Pilates I constantly pulled back her shoulders and told her to stand up straight. I also lecture about money. She's amazingly good-natured about this, god bless her.

HALLIE: Did I say I weed my OWN garden? I am a haphazard gardener, at best--but that doesn't stop me from weeding someone else's.

RHYS: I have never tried to weed someone else's garden either. If you saw what was growing on my hillside, you'd know that I don't often get to mine. I think I'm only guilty of meddling/helping when it comes to my children, especially the two that are now out of work. It's so easy to say, "Have you thought of... why don't you..." and they remind me that they are adults and don't need my advice. We can't stamp out that mothering instinct, even when they reach their thirties.

But one last thing, Hallie, grammatical errors drive me mad too. How many newscasters these days get lay and lie mixed up? Or use words like irregardless.
Ugghhh. That's because grammar is no longer drummed into kids in school. It worked much better when nuns walked around with a ruler in their hands.

RO: OMG, rulers on hands...I'm having flashbacks and I only went to Catholic school for two months in the first grade. Hallie, please feel free to come and weed my garden. This year I've been in "throw mulch over it and maybe it will die" mode. Faster than handweeding.

I'm a terrible meddler/commenter - particularly when no one can hear me. From "why did the director spend so much time on that scene" to "fine, you're one car length ahead of me, jerk, now where are you going to go?" to "lose the flip-flops, honey, you're not at the beach." Mercifully, these comments are generally spoken at a safe distance from anyone's ears except my husband's, and he wisely ignores me, although we sometimes joke about how wonderful things will be when I assume my rightful place as Queen and can control these miscreants.

Bad behavior and grammatical errors will also be duly noted, but I'm most likely to want to smack someone around for the flagrant and repetitive usage of "I was like.." spoken into a cell phone by someone walking in front of me too slowly for my liking. (Wearing flip-flops makes it worse.)

Perhaps I should carry a ruler until the crown and sceptre thing comes through?

HALLIE: Crown and sceptre--great idea! Order up six sets. Oops make that 5. I think Her Royal Rhysness is already equipped.

ROBERTA: I totally, actually, thoroughly relate to the pulling-the-shoulders-back thing, only I torture my husband. And he's taking pilates so he should know better! And he does this thing where he picks his nails too--he doesn't shred them, he just makes a little clicking noise that drives me bonkers. Luckily, he's otherwise a gem and he's gracious about my nagging.

I also have a thing for noticing bad manners in kids--fortunately I mutter about this to myself. When did it stop being right to say please and thank you, and call parents Mr. and Mrs. instead of their first names? And about being the queen, we used to tell our kids that all these manners were important for the day they got invited to lunch with the queen or at the White House. My stepson did get to have lunch at the WH, and got a big kick out of reporting how well he behaved.

HANK: Meddle? Okay, how about this. Today we were at the Botanical gardens in Brooklyn, (roses galore, photos to come), and it's pouring down sun. Ninety degrees, maybe. Pouring down sun. And there are MOTHERS with BABIES in STROLLERS with NO HATS. (Babies with no hats, not strollers with no hats, I know,I know Hallie, don't wince at me.) I was all I could do, I tell you, all I could do, not to go up to them and say--hey sister, You are RUINING your kid's life and skin.

I didn't, but should I have?

And did you see that photo of Tom Brady on a bicycle, with his son in a back carrier? The son had a helmet, but not Tom. Stupid! He gets over his knee thing, and now is inviting a head injury. Maybe I'll just give him a quick call...

HALLIE: Please, someone, save us from ourselves! What do you think? And please, do NOT point out any spelling and grammatical errors in this column...