Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rhys on Florida and Fragile Egos

Rhys in Florida, finding a hasty minute to create Friday's blog. I'm teaching at the Anhinga Writer's Conference in Gainesville and after that I'm going to be touring Florida with Mary Anna Evans, speaking in Orlando, Vero Beach, Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Sarasota. So far, as on most of my travels these days, I've only seen the inside of a hotel and a bookstore. But at some stage I'm hoping to encounter a beach. I'm definitely a beach person. I love to swim, I love the feel of warm water splashing over me. I am a passionate snorkeler and I love just walking along the beahc, feeling tension melt away. So I'm hoping for a few moments to escape during the next week. And maybe some chance to be with nature too. I've never seen a Matatee in the wild. Or a pink ibis.

But this wasn't what I wanted to blog about today. I was thinking of a non-fan letter I got this morning, telling me I'd got something wrong in my book. You'd think by now that I had become thick skinned about criticism. I haven't. I uuspect most writers have fragile egos like mine. Any hint of a bad review can send me into depression for days. If someone doesn't like the book,or even isn't glowing with praise about it, I walk around muttering to myself that the end is nigh and I'll probably never write another decent book again as long as I live. I know I should have a big banner over my desk saying, "It's just one person's opinion. It's just one person's opinion and she might have frightful taste in clothes and men as well." But I can't. It does matter. My book, after all, is like my child. It's like someone coming up to the stroller and peering and saying, "My God, but your kid is ugly."

I suppose I've always had a fragile ego. Okay, I confess that I clean my house before the house cleaner comes, just in case the cobweb in the corner is too unacceptable for a normal human being. I rush around tidying up even when one of my daughters is coming over. Oh, and I wash my hair before I go to the hairdresser.
So Jungle Reds--are you immune to criticism. Do you clean your house before the cleaning lady comes? Am I the only neurotic among us?

And just think positive thoughts for me that there will be no hurricanes!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mary Anna Evans on Post Katrina New Orleans

RHYS; At the moment you read this I'll be on a plane heading to the Anhinga Writer's Conference in Gainesville, Florida. One of the organizers is Mary Anna Evans, my good friend and fellow writer. So I nailed her for a few seconds as she rushed around with last minute preparations to answer some questions for JRR fans.

RHYSz; Mary Anna, your books are wonderful peeks into American archeology, a subject that nobody else tackles. And you have a unique biracial heroine called Faye Longchamp. How did you come up with Faye. Tell us about her. Is she like you?

MARY ANNA: My books always start from their settings. Faye came out of her place. She is the owner of a ramshackle Southern plantation house that has passed through her family for generations. When I pictured that house and asked myself who would live there, a question popped into my mind.

"Wouldn't it be interesting if the owner was a descendant of the slaves who built it?"

That seemed like an interesting viewpoint through which to view the history of this house. It was only a short hop to the next question.

"Wouldn't it also be interesting if she were also a descendant of the masters who lived in it?

This ancestry gives Faye an inner conflict that will never go away, and it gives her a viewpoint on American history that isn't like anybody else's. And that's a very interesting thing for an archaeologist to have.

RHYS; What created your interest in archeology?

MARY ANNA; Well...first and foremost, I love history. Archaeology is particularly interesting, because you get to encounter *actual things* from history. The hoe used by a slave. Andrew Jackson's spyglass. A child's handmade toy. This gives archaeology a very tactile feel.

Archaeology is tailor-made for mystery stories, because you never know what you're going to dig up, nor what story that object will have to tell. It's a treasure hunt, really.

RHYS: Tell us about Floodgates and how emotional was it to write about post Katrina New Orleans? What were some of your own reactions to doing research

MARY ANNA: I love New Orleans. I grew up 100 miles away. I have family there. I've done short-term work there. And I've also traveled there as a tourist. It's beautiful, historic, evocative, and unique. It's an American treasure.

I spent a week in New Orleans, doing research. (Sometimes my work isn't work...) Some parts of town look almost as they always did, but I was heartsick to see areas where destruction is still evident for miles around as far as you can see. I think we, as a country, should have done better for our citizens and for an American city.

RHYS: What's next for Faye, or any other books on the horizon?

MARY ANNA: I'm working on Faye's next adventure now. It will be set in St. Augustine, the site of the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. (It has still spent more time under the Spanish flag than it has under the Stars and Stripes.) St. Augustine has been a tourist town for so long that they didn't really use the word "tourist" in the old days for their visitors. They called them "strangers." I learned this and thought to myself, "And weren't the Europeans the ultimate strangers?" There's an awful lot of history in St. Augustine for Faye to dig up. And she usually digs up some trouble, while she's at it.

RHYS: Thank you, Mary Anna. Good luck with the conference, and with Floodgates. Mary Anna and I will be setting out on a tour of Florida this weekend. Details on my website, so we look forward to seeing some friendly faces along the way, even it if is hot!

Mary Anna Evans's new book is Floodgates, from Poisoned Pen Press.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My Worst Summer Job Ever

RHYS: I was at a marine mammal sanctuary today watching highschool kids hose out sealion pens. They actually looked as if they were enjoying themselves so it got me wondering what was my best and worst summer job ever?

I can't actually think of a best, but I can think of several worst. The reeeely worst was not a summer job but a winter and spring vacation job. I worked in a big plant nursery and my task was to scrape any moss growing on the top of the plant pots. There were zillions of pots. It was a never-ending job working my way down endless greenhouses. And it was winter and the greenhouses were not heated. They grew heathers, which are used to the Scottish highlands and therefore tough. So my fingers grew red and raw and my back very sore. And there was something else. My co-worker was an old woman who was a spiritualist. In England it got dark by 4 p.m. in winter and the greenhouses were not lit so we worked for another hour in gloom and then dark.
"They are all around us," she would moan. "We don't see them but they see us." and every now and then she would cry out, "Who is there today? Do you wish to contact someone?" Then she would go home an hour before me, leaving me alone in a dark greenhouse, surrounded by God knows what. Spooky hardly described it.

RO: OMG, that's hysterical! I hope she's made it into one of your books.

The funny thing was that I had another high school friend working at the same nursery with me. The work was so boring and the conditions so hard that we amused ourselves by creating a murder mystery. We cast all our fellow employees in the story, including our murderer and victim and every day we added to it. My first attempt at the genre.

My other really awful job was after I graduated from college. My real job with the BBC did not start until October so I had to fill in. I got a job with IBM as their tea lady. This involved steering a monster tea trolley up and down the hallways. The trolley was impossible to control and I'd go flying down halls and crash through doors. I only lasted a week.

So how about you, fellow Jungle Reds. Did you have any really fun summer jobs or any really awful ones?

HANK: I can't type--I'm laughing too hard. That's the funniest story--and I can completely envision both of them..

Worst job? Well, it might sound "worst" but I actually loved it--I was a proofreader at a publishing company. I had to read the entire Indiana Code of Laws OUT LOUD, with punctuation, while another 19-year old, Joanne, followed along in the galleys. Then we'd trade. Can you imagine? "Capital-S--section" "capital O--One". Indent. "Capital S--Steam" "Capital B--Boiler."' Capital R--Regulations."

I had a fantastic job, two summer's worth, working at the Lyric Record Store in downtown Indianapolis. (Anyone? Remember records?) I got to choose what songs were played on the store's loudspeaker system. Harry Nilssen has no idea how many of his album "Pandemonium Shadow Show" I placed into fellow teengers' hands. (Handselling! I does work..)

HALLIE: I had a million summer jobs and loved them all. Sold Encyclopedias...or actually didn't. Worked the main desk at a hotel. Gave out potato chip samples at a Ralph's Supermarket.

My first summer job was teaching folk dancing at a day camp in the Pacific Palisades. The only problem is I knew nothing about folks dancing, and had to take the records…yes I remember records…home at night and teach myself by following those shoe and arrow diagrams.

The next year I wanted a “real” job, but found that the jobs I wanted required typing. So I taught myself touch typing on my parents’ behemoth Remington typewriter. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and great practice for the slow but steady work of becoming a writer.

The next summer I went job hunting and all the jobs I wanted required shorthand. So I went to summer school and learned it. Anyone remember Gregg? Loops and lines and circles and dots? I don’t know what I was thinking. Even then my regular handwriting was unreadable. So though I ended up being able to TAKE shorthand I couldn’t read any of it back. Fortunately it turned out that only occasionally would a boss require me to take dictation, and most often it was from a machine (remember Dictaphones?) and I could transcribe on the typewriter.

RHYS: I'd forgotten. I too sold encyclopedias once--or didn't. During training I was the best student. I learned the spiel. I learned the psychology of making them hand over large amounts of money, but when it came to reality i couldn't do it. I realized it was the people who could least afford it whom i could persuade to hand over their money. So I quit.

ROBERTA: Great stories Jungle Reds! My very worst summer job lasted exactly 2.5 days. And then I begged my mother to go get the check because I couldn't bear to go back. I'd spent spring semester junior year abroad so I was late to the job market. The only thing I could find was sewing in a handbag factory. I knew how to sew, right? No prob...only this was a FACTORY with lots of women paid minimum wage who barely spoke English and a mean foreman who didn't like having a Princeton student under his supervision. And we were using gigantic industrial machines and sewing think leather pieces (Handbags, remember?), so my needle kept breaking and the thread got tangled which made the foreman very, very angry. The two days went on FOREVER! One Hispanic woman asked me how I like it after the first day. I said I didn't and she got quite defensive--rightly so. This was their livelihood, not optional spending money. It was a very humbling experience. And it made waitressing in a nice enough restaurant (my next job) feel like a walk in the park.

Ro: When I was 18, I lasted as a waitress exactly 1.5 days. I was on the 10pm to whenever shift at a diner. The guys were nice but the women were horrible. (Duh!)Then I delivered mail in Cambridge one summer. That was kind of fun, until I went to lunch one day and took the mailbag with me into a place that sold spirits. Okay, it was a bar. But they had food. Apparently that was a big no-no. At least they didn't handcuff me.

RHYS: I think we all needed jobs like this to make us the writers we are--women who have experienced Life! Also who have worked with all strata of society and seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course my first real job was in BBC drama and then I saw the good, the bad, the glamorous and the extremely bitchy.

So who has got a great worst summer job to share with us?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Treasure in Grunt Work

"This is not just a murder mystery - it is also a poignant story about the complexity of family relationships, the search for closure and the importance of forgiveness . . . Once you start this book, it will be hard to put down. Not only will you be surprised at the ending, you will be filled with admiration at how every piece has fallen into its perfect spot.”-
Bonnie Adams, freelance reporter, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and the Town Crier Publications

JAN: We are pleased to welcome to Jungle Red, Stacy Juba, the author of the mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. (Mainly Murder Press)

A freelance writer and former daily newspaper reporter with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit, including three New England Press Association awards, she'll be discussing what might be considered a grunt task for a young reporter can lead to some great storytelling.

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is Stacy's first adult mystery, but her young adult novel Face-Off was published under her maiden name, Stacy Drumtra, when she was 18 years old.

STACY: I don’t know how many afternoons I once spent scouring the microfilm, combing old newspaper headlines for something, anything, to rehash in my “25 and 50 Years Ago Today” column. As the newsroom editorial assistant, my first job out of college, I must’ve slaved over that task 200 times. My eyes glazed over as I read about class reunions, anniversary parties and spelling bees.

My assignment? To compile short snippets recalling local newsworthy events. This wasn’t easy, since the scrolling of the typeface across the brightly lit viewing screen made me dizzy. I confess – once in awhile I fudged the exact date. A slow news day is a slow news day. Eventually, I got promoted to reporter and passed the historical column to my replacement, but my time slaving over these issues left a deeper impression than I’d anticipated.

Over the next couple years, questions kept popping into my mind. What if an editorial assistant discovered an unsolved murder on the microfilm? What if she obsessed over it and conducted an investigation? All that speculation inspired my first mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, which chronicles Kris Langley, a rookie obit writer and editorial assistant for a small town daily newspaper.

While researching her “25 Years Ago Today” column, Kris grows fascinated with the cold case of a young cocktail waitress. Driven by a tragedy from her own past, Kris immerses herself in the investigation of what happened to Diana Ferguson, a talented artist who expressed herself through haunting paintings of Greek mythology.

While I was writing the novel, I pored over my published “25 Years Ago Today” clips, which inspired me to open each chapter with a similar news note. I even figured out a way to insert clues into a couple of blurbs. As I created these fictional historical snippets, a wave of nostalgia rolled over me.

I remembered how neat it was to read wire reports about U.S. presidents long gone and wars long over, and how it once awed me that the babies in those birth announcements twenty-five years ago were now out of college, and the newlyweds in those black and white society page photos fifty years ago were now grandparents in their seventies.

Someday, perhaps a young editorial assistant will write a one-line sentence about how fifty years ago, a former local newspaper reporter published her first mystery novel.

Time is fleeting. Maybe we should all enjoy the present moment … and snuggle up with a good book.

To download an excerpt of Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, visit Stacy's web site at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Andrea Sisco

JAN: I met Andrea Sisco via email when she was co-founding her website founder of, a book review and author interview website. Since then its been named one of the top 101 writer's websites by Writer's Digest every year.

Andrea, a mother of six children and grandmother of 19, has an eclectic career as a probation officer, television host, flight attendant, book reviewer, and adoption activist. But now she's written her first mystery novel, A Deadly Habit, a laugh-out-loud romp just out from Five Star. Kirkus gave it a thumbs up, recommending it to Janet Evanovich fans who may have "found their fix."

Andrea, who is currently coauthoring a Young Adult Fantasy series with romantic comedy author, Kathleen Baldwin, agreed to talk about the revelations from crossing the line from reviewer to reviewed.

Andrea: As a former television host and the co-owner of I have interviewed authors and reviewed their books for years. It's a great job. I get free books, meet fascinating people and get to do what I love most; talk, read and write. Reviews are posted in a timely manner (I have my reputation to uphold) and the author's needs are kept in mind when scheduling an interview. But I never consider how it might impact an author if their review/interview submission was lost or wasn't picked up for assignment. If it's lost I don't know about it and if it doesn't get picked up, I send a note indicating that fact and then dip into the box of chocolates sitting on my desk and go on to the next submission. No big deal.


My first book, A Deadly Habit: A Penelope Santucci Mystery, will be released in July and I'm impatiently waiting for the reviews to come in. In fact, I'm bleary-eyed from watching the email inbox. My anxiety quotient is at level orange because I may not have followed the submission requirements and the reviewer hit the delete button (I'm learning to intensely dislike the delete button). I've experienced the high of sending out a requested ARC for review and then when it isn't reviewed and they don't respond to a polite email asking for a status report(sent months later) I crash (after satisfying myself that I haven't been stalking the reviewer).

Note to self: Every time an author's email hits the in basket, handle it with the care and respect it deserves. It's not that that isn't done, but now there is a greater understanding of what it means to an author to have someone care enough to read/review/post the results and notify them of the posting. A submission will NEVER, EVER be taken for granted in the future. And that's a good thing. Lesson learned. Class dismissed. Oh, and I really haven't been stalking anyone. Really.

If you want to learn more about Andrea, check out her website at

On Secret Languages

Letter from Aix-en-Provence

JAN: When I was a kid, I loved secret languages. My friend Karen had older sisters who taught them to us. There was one language that involved adding "ub" or "ubba" between the syllables. As in Jungubbalububba Redubba writubbaters. Or something like that. All that mattered was it sounded incredibly exotic and your best friend could understand you in the playground. Better yet, you could talk about boys when they were right there, and they never got it. Boys didn’t go in much for secret languages.

That quickly gave way to Pig Latin, which was a more highly respected and widely understood secret language. You had to be more careful in your usuage, but there was the possibility of an older junior high school student actually picking up on something you said and responding to you in your oh-so-in-crowd special code.

When I got to high school, I quickly fell in love with first year French, which was so pretty and way more exotic than Pig Latin. Had Cinderella originally been from France and spoken to her fairy godmother in French? I was pretty sure she had.

But French was a hell of a lot harder to speak and understand. And the challenge was on. I wound up taking eight years of French, minoring in it in college and did a semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence. Although I work hard to try to keep up on my French via Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, I’m still pretty much a piker. But God knows, I try.

Which is why I’m back in Aix-En-Provence for a month, living in a condo, and shopping at the Monoprix and the market, which requires more use of French than staying at a hotel where the concierge can step in and help. Last week, my daughter and I went to the market to buy ingredients we were making for a special dinner that night. We bought cheeses, which I promptly put down when I went to another vendor and searched through my wallet for five euros to buy sunflowers.

By the time I got home, realized I didn’t have the cheeses and ran back to the square, the market stalls were down, the garbage trucks had rolled in, and everyone was cleaning up. I raced back to the cheese guy to see if I could buy more cheese. To get him to reopen his stall and sell me some, I had to explain what I’d done.

J’ai perdu mon sac du fromage quand j’ai achete des fleurs, I told him. This also included a lot of hand gesturing to both indicate where the sunflower vendor had been and that I was clearly a space shot (finger pointed to head with roll of the eyes and shrug).

Not only did he open to sell me the cheese, he gave me a one Euro discount because he felt sorry for me.

And I thought, my God, the SECRET LANGUAGE WORKS.

I realize that on some level, I think that every time I say anything to anyone in French and they understand and respond. There is always this rush of both surprise and excitement that these exotic words I’ve strung together form a sentence that can be decoded.

It's why I spent all that money on airfare. And well worth every penny.

So I think, that the thrills in life haven’t changed much for me since I was a kid in the playground, only in France, I’ve noticed that the crowd "in" on the decoding is pretty signficant. And you have to watch what you say -- and not just to the junior high schoolers. All the boys are in on the secret language, too.

(Do you remember any secret languages from elementary and junior high school? Apparently, it's a regional thing with Ubba Dubba in the Northeast and Gibberish in the South. Gungi was spoken in Waltham, MA and Opish in New York City.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Urge to be Ornamental

JAN: When I was about eleven years old, I discovered makeup. Probably because she had three boys first and was worried about me being a tomboy, my mother never tried to stop me from wearing the white lipstick and blue eye shadow I favored. In fact, one of her friends worked for Cheseborough Ponds company and she started bringing me free samples.

Ever since then, I've worn makeup -- even to sit alone at the computer in my home office. And I won't even go into the many different and crazy things I've done to my hair. I also pay a lot of attention to clothes and work out with an unusual amount of discipline. What drives me? I call it the urge to be ornamental.

I realize this is not unique to me. The fashion and cosmetics industries prove that most women are driven, pershaps biologically, by this same urge. But I'm still amazed by the power of it. I'm wondering, as writers and career women, do any of you ever wrestle with and/or see the conflict in the need to be meaningful and this urge to be ornamental?

ROBERTA: I guess I'd disagree with the notion that our urge to be ornamental is biological--I think it's very much culture-driven. In my teens and college years, I wore make-up religiously, but then I ran into some feminist thinking in grad school and quit. It doesn't seem fair that men are taken as they are while women have to dress up what they've got to be considered beautiful. So anyway, I'm a little schizophrenic now. I will put on mascara and blush to go out to something special, but make-up while writing? Never!

: Very interesting. Like Roberta I’ve gone back to wearing makeup…when I think of it. But when I’m writing? Egads no. I do, however, draw the line at sitting at the computer in my bathrobe and slippies. I need to at least look like I’m seriously at work.

Still, I like the concept of “being ornamental.” Closest I came to this was in about fourth grade when I was obsessed with being a model. I practiced walking around the house with a book balanced on my head. I struck a pose with one arm bent, the hand in front of me with the fingers delicately arranged, then moved hip is first like I was gliding down the runway. Pause. Pivot. My eyes trained on some ethereal spot beyond the horizon.

When I sprained my pinky finger for the third time, ramming it as I passed through a doorway, my mother suggested that I consider another career. What did I want to grow up to do, anyway, she asked. My nails? She said models were like actresses--boring, self-obsessed, and vapid. I loved that word. Like there were wispy vapors swirling around inside their heads where there should have been brains.

RHYS: I've never been much of a make-up person. Maybe I'm still scarred from a party I gave when I was sixteen and my mother informed me that any girl wearing lipstick would be marched to the bathroom and have her face scrubbed!Like my heroine I did have a briefly disatrous career as a model during the sixties--with Vidal Sasoon haircut and huge Twiggy eyes.

These days I make an attempt to look good in public because the face now needs a little help, but it's usually limited to moisturizer, eyes and lips. I always have that healthy California and Arizona tan. But I can tell that I'm not designed to be oramental by comparing myself with one of my good friends. Whenever I see her she is the complete package--clothes, shoes, purse all coordinate. She wears matching jewelry. At this point I realize that I haven't changed my earrings for six months or my purse for over a year. I once won a facial at an expensive spa and lay there thinking of all the other things I could have been doing.

JAN: I don't think you have to be perfect to be ornamental -- that's just the OCD version. And Rhys, I like the way you just breeze past your brief career as a model! Pretty impressive -- from an ornamental standpoint, anyway!

HANK: Puh-leeze. I'm on TV. I don't wrestle with the decision.. I'm already pinned. Using makeup is like using--shaking head here to come up with something unlivewithoutable--toothpaste. I can put on eyeliner jouncing in the back seat of a speeding cab. I can apply lipstick perfectly in total darkness. When I'm at home, writing, I have my hair on top of my head like Pebbles and would never wear a stitch of makeup. Outside? The full McEvoy.

JAN: I think the Pebbles look can be very flattering....

RO: Ancient peoples adorned themselves with henna, kohl and tattoos...I'm not bloody likely to blame magazines, pop culture, television or Angelina Jolie for the fact that I can happily while away an hour at Sephora and leave with a little shiny shopping bag of war paint that I may never use. It's the fantasy, and I buy into it.

Where else can you spend $100 and convince yourself that you look like a million bucks? (Makeup alert for those who care? Guerlain spray bronzer. Me, but without the deathly pallor or risk of skin cancer. And I just bought something at Monoprix that claims to be "as good as 10 hours of sleep." Who could resist?)
(HANK: Ro, did it work? I want to see... )
JAN: I'm with you Ro. I think there's some sort of female/biological thing going that crosses all cultures. I don't think its been foisted on us by men or any industry -- (although certainly they exploit it) but linked to the whole mating ritual.

I can have a field day in Sephora, too. But I do step outside myself sometimes and laugh at the process, especially when I'm curling my hair with Caruso steam rollers (the very best, by the way.) And I'll be checking out that Monoprix coverup product, especially now that there is a Monoprix down the street (I'm in Aix-en-Provence). Off to shop!

Friday, July 17, 2009

What Happens on Jungle Red, Stays on Jungle Red

It's good news Friday!

HANK: We love it when good things happen to wonderful people. Dear dear FO JRW Karen Olson's just got some terrific news...
NAL has just picked up two more books in Karen's tattoo shop mysteries. The third will be DRIVEN TO INK, with a possible pub date of late 2010 or early 2011. The fourth is tentatively titled INK FLAMINGOS.

And now, journalist Karen has forsaken the chic Connecticut life..and sets her new mysteries in VEGAS. Have you been there? I haven't...but Karen has!

KAREN: Vegas. Everyone knows it. Even if you haven’t visited, you’ve seen it on TV, in movies. It’s got an allure that was born of mobsters and celebrities and scandals and gambling. Bugsy and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and showgirls and casinos like the Sands and the Frontier and the Four Queens and the Sahara.
When my editor and I were discussing the setting for my new tattoo shop mysteries, she originally suggested Miami or southern California. Those are the places where those TV tattoo shows are located. But as I reminded her, those are also settings for great crime novels, too, and those novels are written by writers who actually live there. I was concerned I’d be exposed as a fraud, since I haven’t strayed too far from my native Connecticut. My editor said they were just looking for palm trees and heat.
So I suggested Vegas.

No, I don’t live there, either. And I’d only visited Vegas once, for a total of two days, 12 years earlier. But Vegas seemed easier to fake somehow. Since so much of Vegas really is fake. Like the canal and gondolas at the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, where the tattoo shop in my books is located. And the Eiffel Tower at the Paris resort. And the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York. And the Roman statues at Caesar’s.

Halfway through writing the book, I realized I needed to actually visit Sin City. So my husband and I took our daughter out of school (yes, bad parents that we are) and flew to the desert in June, where it was a scorching 105 degrees every day. But it’s a dry heat. Ha.

There’s something about the desert that I’ve always loved. It was too hot to hike, but we took a drive up to Red Rock Canyon, just outside the city. It’s spectacular; the red rocks rising high into the clear blue sky, the brown desert floor speckled with the green of Joshua trees and banana yuccas.

Yes, I’m a New Englander, but I feel so comfortable in the desert.
We also spent a lot of time at the Venetian, where I took myriad photos so I could remind myself of the ambiance. We ate at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s French bistro. We wandered through the MGM, where we stayed, and I took in the gamblers at the slots and the table games. We saw the Bellagio fountains.

When I started writing my books, I loved setting them in New Haven, the city I was born in. When my editor wanted me to move out of my hometown, I was a little nervous. Could I do it?

It was a lot easier than I thought. And I got to go to Vegas.

If you were to pick a completely different setting for your next book, where would it be?

Karen E. Olson
SHOT GIRL, NAL/Obsidian, now available

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers' name means a gripping story you won't be able to put down. Now, with The Mist, she brings readers into a world where few can be trusted and appearances often deceive...

More than 50 titles and 10 million copies of her books are in print! Carla Neggers is known for writing action-packed suspense blended with romance--and in real life, she's absolutely a treasure. Generous, intelligent and hilarious. And check out this amazing list of books!

Continuing our suspense theme--JRW welcomes this international sensation. (Carla's laughing now, I bet. But hey, its all true.)

HANK: The first time one of your books made the New York Times bestseller list--how did you find out? What happened and what did you think?

CARLA: THE HARBOR tied for #15. My editor and agent called me at my signing at the Brentano's in Boston. It's since gone out of business, but I was chatting with the store manager, who just loves books, about what we'd read lately (which is one of my favorite things to do!). My mind wasn't at all on bestseller lists. It was a cold, cold, cold January night in Boston. I definitely remember that! My daughter and her then-fiance and I went out to dinner to celebrate. I love that it was's "my" city. THE MIST, my latest novel, is set there, with a dash of Ireland and Maine.

HANK: The MIST is your newest...tell us about it.

CARLA: THE MIST is about a woman who sets out to stop a dangerous billionaire from exacting revenge on the FBI and Boston Police Department. Lizzie Rush isn't in law enforcement herself -- she's a hotelier and the daughter of a spy who taught her everything he knows. She's such a fun character! I "saw" the opening scene early on -- I love it when that happens. Lizzie had just given the slip to a *real* spy -- a Brit, aristocratic Will Davenport, who appears briefly in THE ANGEL -- and confronts a killer in an ancient Irish stone circle. Then it's on to Boston...

HANK: Your heroines are so--brave. Are you brave? What's it like to write about them?

CARLA: There's an old Eleanor Roosevelt quote that I just love: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water." That's true for Lizzie Rush in THE MIST and probably for a lot of us. We're not always faced with a good option and a bad option -- then it's easy. Take the good one! To me bravery is more about doing what we have to do in spite of our fears vs. not having fears. I think that's more compelling in a character, too. Lizzie has her fears -- but she's also strong, resilient and capable. And she loves lavender bath salts. After kicking butt in an Irish stone circle, it's nice to take a hot bath in lavender bath salts, don't you think? ;-)

HANK: Do your books start with a character? Or a plot twist? Or a setting? What’s the nugget that you know will make it work?

CARLA: My creative process tends not to be regimented, routine or predictable -- every story's different. With THE MIST, I knew Will Davenport, a mysterious British lord who appears briefly in THE ANGEL and takes center stage in Lizzie Rush's quest to stop a billionaire from exacting violent revenge. I also knew the billionaire: Norman Estabrook plays a minor role in THE ANGEL. I didn't "know" Lizzie yet. I first "saw" her when I imagined a woman in an isolated village pub on the southwest Irish coast as Will walks in, and she gives him the slip and ends up taking on a knife-wielding thug in an ancient Irish stone circle. Who would such a woman be? She emerged as a member of an eccentric family that owns boutique hotels around the world, the daughter of a spy who taught her everything he knows and a woman who never knew her mother. I think of her as always being there. I just had to get to know her.

HANK: Promotion—you’re always on the go! How’s life on the road? Can you remember that it’s glamorous and wonderful?

CARLA: Yikes, I have been on the road a lot these past few months. I love meeting readers and booksellers and seeing new places. I always try to take time out for myself. On this July trip, I had an afternoon off in New Haven and took myself to the British Museum at Yale. At Thrillerfest in New York and the Romance Writers of America convention in Washington, DC, I have the plus of getting to see writer friends and so many wonderful people in publishing. Being on the road reminds me how many people work so hard to get our books into readers' hands, and just how much fun we all have reading books we love. The glamor -- well, I have to say, the Harlequin party celebrating their 60th anniversary at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington should be a glam night! What to wear, what to wear... ;-)

HANK: Well, we'll certainly be taking photos! But we just came back from Thrillerfest.. and we're both now at the Romance Writers of America Convention in Washington, DC. That is a bit--of culture shock? What's on your mind, comparing the two?

CARLA: What Thrillerfest and Romance Writers of America have in common: dedicated, wonderful volunteers who make it possible for us all to get together and talk writing and books. We are incredibly fortunate to be part of two organizations that offer so much to their members. I've been a proud member of RWA for a long, long time, and I'm a vice president of International Thriller Writers. They're different but share a love of books and writers who are passionate about their work. The best conversations I have at both events center on my favorite question...'what have you read lately?' ;-)

HANK: And also: "How are you going to carry home all the books?" But finally, are you different now, then when you started? How? What advice would you give to not only new authors, but those who are just beginning the writing life?

CARLA: I love to write now as much as I did when I first grabbed a pad and pen and climbed a tree at 11 and spun stories. My advice to writers at any stage of their careers -- to myself -- is to be mindful of the yin-yang of writing as "work" and writing as "play." Find or create a synergy that's exciting and productive for you. I highly recommend Ken Atchity's book A WRITER'S TIME -- read his take on the continent and the islands. It's brilliant.

HANK: Thanks, Carla! You are inspiration. Questions on writing? Promotion? Kayaking? (Yeah, she kayaks.) Carla (and I) are in Washington, DC at the Romance Writers of America Convention (photos to come) but she graciously agreed to stop by JRW whenever she can.

A magna cum laude journalism graduate of Boston University, New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers is the daughter of a Dutch immigrant and a southern mother. After growing up in western Massachusetts, often climbing a tree with pad and pen to compose stories, Carla enjoyed a brief stint as an arts and entertainment writer before she turned to writing fiction full-time. Her latest bestselling novel, The Mist, a July MIRA Books hardcover, takes readers to settings Carla loves to visit: Boston, Maine and the Beara Peninsula of Ireland. Her 2008 hardcover, The Angel, is a RITA® finalist

For more information on her latest books and to contact Carla, please visit:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I’ve learned from the Masters of Suspense

'Duns's terrific debut will draw inevitable comparisons to early John le Carré, though the lead character, turncoat British Secret Service agent Paul Dark, is a complete original... Seldom has a thriller plot taken more unseen turns as Paul searches for the truth about his past and the reality of his present. Readers will eagerly await the sequel.'
***- Publishers Weekly, starred review of FREE AGENT

HANK: Just back from the sensational (in a good way!) Thrillerfest, (photos to come) where we learned about suspense and villains and plotting and tension. Where I gave a seminar on the secret scoop on TV techniques, and Hallie's panel gave the inside scoop on bad guys. We all got too many new books--can there be such a thing? And met some wonderful people.

So it's perfect to have a master of the thriller genre visiting JRW today. His Free Agent is the first in a trilogy set in the Cold War.(How much fun would it be to be compared to John LeCarre?) Jeremy's here to give the scoop about the authors he sees as the masters. (The UK cover is below.) Afterward--we want to know your favorite thrillers!

JEREMY: For a lot of people, the phrase ‘master of suspense’ immediately brings to mind the film director Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps more than anyone else, Hitchcock has brought suspense into the cultural and critical fold. Many people instantly grasp the idea that he was not simply in the business of creating entertaining films, but was exploring the human condition: that he used suspense to tap into our greatest fears, and to comment on societal taboos, questions of identity and so on.

However, as soon as this argument is applied to books, other rules – or perceptions – often seem to come into play. Many people who understand and appreciate Hitchcock’s use of suspense view suspense novels as incapable of saying anything interesting or significant about life, at best providing a quick thrill.

Is it simply that Hitchcock handled suspense better than any novelist? I don’t believe so. Don’t get me wrong – I love Hitch. But today I’d like to look at three writers who have inspired me, and who I think are just as worthy of the description ‘masters of suspense’.

The Austrian writer Johannes-Mario Simmel was hugely popular in his day – it is thought that 70 million copies of his books were sold worldwide. In the 1970s, several novels he had written in the ’50s and ’60s were published in English translation, with covers that usually featured a spool of barbed wire and a swastika, and titles that recalled the work of Robert Ludlum: The Caesar Code, The Berlin Connection, The Cain Conspiracy...

But ignore the unpromising packaging: these are gripping thrillers coupled with profound psychological insight. There are a few commonalities: there is often a public figure trying to protect a horrifying secret, and a character who commits a crime for love. Many are set in Fifties Vienna or Berlin, and the Cold War atmosphere is palpable: Double Agent-Triple Cross opens with an attempt to smuggle people out of East Berlin via a tunnel.

But above all, these are great suspense novels. My favourites are The Cain Conspiracy, which opens with a man overhearing his brother hiring someone to assassinate him, and The Berlin Connection, which starts with the line: ‘I can remember the moment even now when I died for the first time.’ The narrator of the latter novel is a former Hollywood child star in his mid-thirties making his comeback in a film called Comeback, which is of course about a former Hollywood child star in his mid-thirties making his comeback in a film called Comeback. He has to finish the film because he desperately needs the financial security to divorce his rich wife. And he has to divorce her soon, because she’s on the verge of discovering that he’s having an affair with her daughter, which is illegal in some states (and would ruin his film career). He’s also an alcoholic with a heart condition who can’t act, so the picture’s under threat. Oh, and he’s hiding a secret from the war. You won’t be able to sit still.

My second ‘master of suspense’ is someone whose name I’m not even sure about. The two novels of his I own are credited to ‘Julyan Semyonov’ and ‘Julian Semenov’, but it appears his real name was ‘Yulian Landres’ (or the equivalent in Cyrillic). Most Western readers have never heard of Landres, but he was a giant in the Soviet Union: his 1968 novel Seventeen Moments of Spring (also translated under the title The Himmler Ploy) was a massive best-seller. The TV adaptation was even more successful, making the protagonist an icon in the Soviet Union. Jokes are still told about him to this day, and repeat runs of the series reportedly see a significant drop in crime rates in Moscow, as everyone is indoors watching it.

Set in the final weeks of World War Two, our hero is Nazi officer Max Otto von Stirlitz – who is soon revealed to be a deep-cover Soviet agent, Colonel Maksim Maksimovich Isaev. Both the novel and TV series build the suspense very slowly, with Stirlitz/Isaev looking to uncover which leading Nazi is involved in trying to broker a separate peace deal with the United States while avoiding exposure from the same men. It’s one of the tautest spy thrillers I’ve read.

My final master of suspense is a British writer, Elleston Trevor. Perhaps best known for his novel Flight Of The Phoenix - filmed in 1965 with James Stewart - he also wrote 19 superb suspense thrillers under the name Adam Hall. Featuring a neurotic and battle-scarred British secret agent called Quiller (the first was filmed as The Quiller Memorandum in the Sixties), the series combined an esoteric knowledge of everything from sleep deprivation to martial arts with sweat-soaked action. Like Simmel and to a lesser degree Landres, Trevor was very fond of cliff-hangers, which he built up with successive chapters until it's almost unbearable. Told in the first person, we follow Quiller as he is chased by dogs, grips the underside of trains and enters darkened hotel rooms. But unlike in a film, here we are inside Quiller’s head, and so we experience every last moment of anxiety. My favourites in the series are The Ninth Directive, which revolves around an assassination plot in Bangkok, and The Tango Briefing, in which Quiller must reach a crashed cargo plane in the Sahara before anyone else.

All three of these writers understood the power of suspense, and used it to explore themes close to their hearts: Simmel the post-war environment of Austria and Germany; Landres duty and patriotism; and Trevor the survival instinct. Each of them had his work filmed, and often to great effect. I suspect if Hitchcock had tackled them the results might have been even more impressive – and that their work would be seen in a somewhat different light.

HANK: Thanks, Jeremy! Of course, now my TBR pile is destined to get even higher. So, JRWs, what's your favorite thriller? In books and even movies? Mine is absolutely Day of the Jackal. (And also the movie,the real one, with Edward Fox.)

Oh, and Eye of the Needle. (Book and movie!)

How about you?

*(Oh, PS, Congratulations to FO JRW Alexandra Sokoloff for winning the Thrillerfest award for best short story! And the incomparable Jeffrey Deaver and Tom Rob Smith for book honors.)

Jeremy Duns lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife and children. His debut spy novel Free Agent is out now from Viking in the United States, and Simon and Schuster in the UK and Canada. See for more. (Photo credit Jose Figueroa)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

Twittter? Really? Are you guys...sure?

"We wanted to capture that in the name -- we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word "twitch," because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But "twitch" is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word "twitter," and it was just perfect. The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was."
Jack Dorsey, Twitter creator (quoted on Wikipedia)

HANK: Twitter. What a weird, weird thing. But then someone told me--you can't live without it. Gotta have it.

I thought--you're kidding me,right? Why would I want to do that? But, just like I wouldn't try to make a souffle without a recipe, or go to another country without at least trying to know the language, I found a Twitter expert.
Yes, there is such a person, and Patrick O'Malley is quite a twitter genius. And he taught me all about it! (You can't believe all the cool stuff he knows. All kinds of short cuts and info and messages and searches.) And we'll hear from him in a minute. But JR's--do you tweet? Why or why not? And any questions for the fabulous Patrick? He knows ALL.

HALLIE: You know, Hank, you really can't make a souffle’ without a recipe... No, I do not Twitter. It's on my to-do list. #36.

ROSEMARY: I know ...never say never..but I can't imagine anyone that I'd want to hear from that frequently. Or who would want to hear from me that often. What are we talking about? Maybe some people think it's cool to know when Demi Moore is getting a cavity filled but I'm not all that interested. And anyone who wants to know what I'm doing ten times a day is a little scary. Then I'd be like all of these weirdos walking around New York looking at their phones instead of watching where they're going. (That may be another blog.)

I've had a few people send me emails asking if I wanted to follow them on Twitter. Not even Russell Crowe. Okay, maybe Russell Crowe.

HANK: Two resounding thumbs down from JRW. Hmmm. But certainly it's a hugely popular site. So, you get 140 characters per message, and that's all. Patrick, you think Twitter is here to stay?

PATRICK: Twitter may not be here to stay, but there is certainly a place for something like it. Twitter has problems, like the fact that you can waste a lot of time reading about nonsense before you find some tweets that are useful. They’ll have to solve this soon or some people will never invest time in it.

HANK: Why do you think it’s so effective?

PATRICK: It has a few essential elements that are critical for our fast paced society, including

- It’s quick to setup an account
- It’s quick to post a message, since you’re limited to 140 characters
- It is quick to read an individual message. (However, reading hundreds can be daunting)
- It can be updated and read from mobile phones

HANK: See how organized he is? So--what can it do for people? How can it help them? Who's a good candidate?

PATRICK: Twitter can be good for

• learning cutting edge information in your field of interest
• finding out entertaining information from celebrities
• getting the most current news

It can also be used by a group of friends, neighbors or family members to just see what others in their group are doing at any moment. One great example of this is that impromptu meetings, parties, et cetera, can be done with a single message if everyone knows how to look for it on Twitter.

You can find the thought leaders in your field by going to the Twitter yellow pages at and searching for “mystery author” if that is the type of person that you would like to follow.

You could also follow celebrities and entertainers like ashton kutcher (@aplusk), Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow), or Britney Spears (@britneyspears), who all have over 2 million followers. The Twitter-ers that have the most followers can be found at

You could follow CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk), Barack Obama (@BarackObama), or The New York Times (@nytimes) to get current news.

Or, you could just follow friends, colleagues, et cetera, on Twitter. You can then see their “tweets” and if they follow you, they would see your tweets.

Of course, most people probably do some combination of all of the above.
HANK: Some people turn up their noses...and say, this is such a waste of time. What do you think about that?

PATRICK: That can be true. One of the biggest problems with Twitter is that the same people who may give you a pointer to a valuable blog entry or news article may also send out tweets about having coffee, going to the gym, or going to catch a plane. These are a waste of time for most people, so I encourage clients to always think about whether their “tweets” will be valuable to others. If more people followed that guideline, Twitter would be a more productive way to spend their time.

HANK: I know this is your job--but just for Jungle Red--tell us one Twitter secret. Okay?

PATRICK: I’ll give you two.

One is to realize that your tweets don’t just go to your followers. They can be seen by anyone on Twitter, possibly for eternity, so be careful what you write. To see a great example of this, Google “Cisco fatty paycheck”, and see the story of a woman who lost a job offer because she broadcast a message on Twitter saying she had to “weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Cisco saw the tweet and rescinded the job offer.

The second one is to tweet information about great articles that you might find on the web. If you find a good article, create a small description about why you think it’s useful, and then put in the URL (i.e. the web address). If the URL is too long, a free site called can make a smaller URL that will go to the same location.

HANK: Well, Twitter suspended my account for no reason, bizarrely enough (what 's up with THAT?)…but I persevere. Not exactly sure why, thought Patrick is so enthusiastic and he does know his stuff! So now I have a new address
(Thanks, Patrick! )

Twitterers—or is it tweeters?—come find me there!

Do you tweet? What do you think about it? And feel free to use more than 140 characters.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nancy Drew and...?

HALLIE: There it is on the best seller list: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." It begins: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Brilliant blasphemy! If only I'd thought of it. Listening to author Seth Grahame-Smith on the radio, I was not surprised to learn that the book was his editor's brain child– he’d been noodling around with lists of classic book titles and, I assume, creatures, until BINGO: P&P and Zombies.

Trying to recreate his process, here's my list of titles (and some main characters) and creatures, and I started tyring to pair them up and realized this is not as easy as it looks. Nancy Drew and...Oompaloompas? How would you pair these up--or come up with your own title/creature pairing...(look down...can't seem to get rid of this big fat space below here)

Cherry Ames
David Copperfield
Don Quixote
Ellery Queen
Hercule Poirot
Gone with the Wind
The Great Gatsby
The Hardy Boys
Huckleberry Finn
Sherlock Holmes
Jane Eyre
Little Women
Nancy Drew
Madame Bovary
The Maltese Falcon
Miss Marple
Moby Dick
Moll Flanders
Nero Wolfe
The Odyssey
Oliver Twist
Robinson Crusoe
The Scarlet Letter
The Three Musketeers
To Kill a Mockingbird
Wuthering Heights
The Valley of the Dolls
War and Peace
(Your choice)

Death eaters
The Jabberwock
Shape shifters
Space aliens
(Your choice)

Do you love it? Hate it? What would you pair up? Best pairing wins a prize!

On Silence... Anne LeClaire listens below the noise

HALLIE: My father used to say that my sisters and I were all vaccinated with phonograph needles and that explained why we never shut up. So I was fascinated when novelist Anne LeClaire (Entering Normal and The Lavender Hour) shared with me her practice of choosing 24 hours of silence every other Monday for the last 17 years. (photo by Christopher LeClaire)

The Cape Cod author’s new book, “Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence” (HarperCollins) is a memoir and a meditation on her experiences and on the power of silence.

Jungle Red is pleased to welcome Anne LeClaire to Jungle Red. Anne, what happened 17 years ago that set you on this path?

ANNE LECLAIRE: It was a gorgeous January day and I was walking on the beach. I do that every day, but that day my best friend’s mother was dying and I was in a tender place. I watched some eider ducks dive for food and noticed how long they stayed under water. I thought, how amazing that these little creatures with lungs about the size of my thumb could stay submerged for longer than I could hold my breath.

I think there’s something about when we’re tenderhearted we open to the universe, which is one of the roles grief plays in our life, and I thought about the many things I was grateful for. I thought, I love my husband, friends, and I have enormous privilege of doing what I do for a living. It’s not as if I haven’t known loss and grief but even that I’m grateful for because of what it’s taught me.

As I was thinking about this I teared up. I didn’t know what do. A man behind me on the beach said, “Sit in silence.” I turned around and there was no one there.

Nothing like that has ever happened before or since. It was so profound and real it called me to attention. What could that mean? And I thought maybe it just means: Be quiet.

HALLIE: So you did?

ANNE LECLAIRE: I went home and told my husband, “I’m not going to talk tomorrow.” I spent the next day in silence. That experience was so profound in so many ways, just stopping cold in this mad roller coaster of life and spending a day alone with myself in my normal world. It was life changing, and I don’t use that term casually. My writing that day was very smooth and focused. I heard things in myself that normally there’s too much chatter to hear. The day slowed down in a delicious way. I felt so restored and rested at the end of the day.

I liked it so much that I decided, two weeks later, that I’d do it again. I began to see what happens when we make space for creative thoughts to rise up without the noise we usually have. I began to read about sounds and how artists and musicians talk about need of resilience in the creative process. I knew I wanted to do it again.

But the next Monday came and it was awful. I was very anxious, I wanted to stop. At lunch time I took a walk and I realized a very old sorrow had risen up. I thought, now I see what happens when the noise stops. All the things I’ve been running from will catch up. Silence is not always a place of peace. I sat with it and didn’t push it to the place that we cover with noise and action. I began to think a lot about why we have a life so filled with noise, why silence can be so uncomfortable.

Since then, I do this twice a month, every first and third Monday. Silence has taught me to listen to myself and to the people around me and to my characters.

HALLIE: How did the book come about?

ANNE LECLAIRE: A friend who was writing a book told her editor about my silent practice, and she asked me to write about it. At first I said no. I didn’t have the time. Then I put down some ideas, a 17-chapter breakdown. I wanted to write about the correlation between silence and creativity, how silence teaches us to listen. What it does for us physiologically and psychologically.

Then the editor left that publishing house and I put the project on the back burner. My agent said one day, “It’s time for the silence book.” I sent her a few chapters and an outline. HarperCollins was enthusiastic.

HALLIE: When it was published, did you feel as if you’d struck a nerve

ANNE LECLAIRE: It’s been so generously received. Every day there’s a letter or phone call from someone. What it speaks to is the understanding we have on some level that we do need silence. Now I present workshops and seminars- as well as longer three day retreats – exploring not only silence but also listening and why it is so difficult to both listen and hear. Why we’re afraid of being open to what people say without our own agenda, and why we are afraid of silence and need it.

HALLIE: You were open to the possibility of silence.

ANNE LECLAIRE: I often think that day on the beach, what if I’d had ear buds and an Ipod playing. How many moments do we miss because we’re not in a place of silence.

HALLIE: Anne will be visiting Jungle Red today, so belay the silence for the moment at least and please share questions, comments, or what happens to you when you turn off the noise.

Labels: Anne LeClaire, Living Below the Noise, Silence

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Rhy's Royal Flush!

HALLIE: Sound the trumpets! Cue cornets! Lady Georgiana -- great granddaughter of Queen Victoria and 34th in line to the English thrown -- is back!

Join us in welcoming "Royal Flush," the third in Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series. In which Georgiana fails to grasp the difference between Escort Service and High Class Girls." Banished to a drafty Scottish castle, what ensues is a romp. As our Royal Rhysness told "Hollywood Today," “Picture Georgie at a royal wedding in Transylvania in a castle like Dracula’s where there may or may not be vampires! Plenty of dead bodies, anyway."

So, Rhys, I know you're signing books all over California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona, Florida and beyond.

What's up today with the big launch?

Today is one of those big days in any writer's life--the birthday of a new book. It doesn't matter how many books we have written or how successful they have been, each new one feels rather like the birth of a new child (a little less uncomfortable, I have to admit). Will readers like it? Will reviewers like it? Will anyone come to my signings? So I'm pacing and worrying when I should be packing sensibly for my book tour that starts on Thursday. Summer book tours are hard. I can't wear my staple black pants and different jackets when the temperature in Houston was 101 yesterday and in Scottsdale was 108. But cotton and linen crease so badly on the plane.

I have an event tonight and a big launch party tomorrow, with champagne, strawberries and chocolate--what more could I add to bribe people to come? Waiters who are also body builders?

ROYAL FLUSH is my third Lady Georgiana mystery and it takes place in 1930s Britain. As usual it is full of madcap adventures as it takes Georgie back to her ancestral castle in Scotland, complete with ghosts, haggis and a monster in the loch.

signing schedule is up on my website, and click on Rhys on the Road. I'd love to see friendly faces!

HANK: Rhys! We're all so proud of you--you are truly the royalty in our little group. And it's very comforting, actually, to see that even you still have qualms and worries...! But of course, it will all be marvelous!
Send photos!

Monday, July 6, 2009

On picnics, fireworks, and fire trucks...

Another July 4. Usually it's the sizzle of barbecues and sun. This year in New England we’ve had the wettest, darkest, dankest June and early July ever. But still we pack up our swim suits and towels and head down to Long Pond in Plymouth where friends own a slice of an old Girl Scout camp situated on Long Pond. They sleep in what was once the camp’s infirmary (there's still a red cross on the door).

Get there early enough (we don't) and you’d be in time to attend the annual flag raising and a reading of the Declaration of Independence, an event that has taken place in a little grassy clearing every July 4 for more than 50 years. It’s an informal affair with maybe thirty people. We walk back after and our friend Joe turns down his outdoor smoker where he's been smoking brisket and ribs for the last 12 hours. Patty-Joe Bakes the world’s best blueberry pie. Lots of grandkids arrive.

This year we were afraid we be getting another kind of fireworks--thunder and lightning. Turned out to be a spectacularly beautiful night. On the drive home, we enjoyed the splashes of fireworks that erupted from the sides of the road.

What are your July 4 traditions?

JAN: I have a confession to make. I hate fireworks. Mostly because my kids were terrified when they were small and it was always a problem. But also because they just seem like the same loud thing over and over. My poor husband, who loves fireworks, thinks the rest of us are killjoys. Which we are.

We don't have a single tradition, but we either go the (Martha's) Vineyard to barbeque with friends and check out the Edgartown Parade, or go to my sister-in-law's house here, outside Boston, to swim. This year I'll be packing all weekend to leave for France on Monday. That's not very patriotic, is it?

HALLIE: Fireworks scare me, too. If only they didn't go boom. And hanging out on the Esplanade there are always a few idiots who think it's cool to toss cherry bombs into the crowd. But watching a great fireworks display is truly breathtaking. If only you could hit the mute button.

LATE BREAKING BULLETIN - Jan broke down and braved the Esplanade Fourth of July Fireworks, and had a great time. "They were terrific!" Here's her photo.

ROBERTA: Oh I'm so jealous of your trip to France Jan!

As for the holiday, I love living in our small shoreline town where the Fourth is thoroughly celebrated. I started with the farmer's market yesterday (crammed with summer tourists who can sniff out a good thing,) then the fireworks, which we watch from some rocks on the beach nearby. It doesn't provide quite the same oomph as close up, but you can't beat the spot for no traffic and crowds. The mosquitoes were wicked this year because of all the rain. And finally this morning, our town parade. We get everything from Jazzercize to the town selectmen, to the Shriners, to fife and drum bands, to our very own fire engine. We hoot and holler at everyone we know as they go by.

HANK: As a reporter ,there are no holidays. So for years, I worked on the Fourth--but sometime was lucky enough to cover the fireworks (I love them!) on Boston's Esplanade. It's a truly different experience to go as reporter. Instead of waiting on the incredibly crowded lawn for hours and sitting with--what, half a million people? You just zoom up in the news van, park right behind the Hatch Shell (where the performance is) and stand in the front row. Of course, you have to be on the air five or six times, so there's no relaxation! And when the fireworks are over, you're still at work. But I loved it.

But now, we sit with friends in our back yard, listening to the Boston Pops on the radio, and have lobsters and corn and rose wine and ginger ice cream with raspberries. And--if you look in just the right spot between the branches of the sugar maple--you can see the tops of the Newton town fireworks.

HALLIE: Ooooh, that sounds (and looks) delicious.

RO: I was more of a sparkler kid than a firecracker kid. I just didn't get what was so great about something that sounded like a car backfiring and left little bits of paper all over the sidewalk. (I was a tidy child.)

Serious fireworks on the other hand are pretty nice. I don't go out of my way to see them but I usually watch from my terrace in NY on New Year's Eve. And last week I saw some pretty cool ones when I was on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Nothing but noise this year in Connecticut. And my husband forced me to sit through the movie 1776, which is one of the worst musicals I've ever seen - and over three hours long. That's what I get for making him watch Easter Parade every year.

HALLIE: Ah, yes, sparklers. I loved them, too. And we used to get these little things we called a teensy weensy, miniature hockey pucks that you lit and coils of ash erupted from them. Mesmerizing.

On the side, is anyone watching the new Miss Marple on PBS? Last night it was "A Pocket Full of Rye" -- such a clever, intricate plot. The actress playing The Marvelous Miss M (Julia McKenzie) doesn't quite match the standard set by Joan Hickson--but who could?

Independence Day traditions? Any baton twirlers out there? Miss Marple? Where are you this Monday after?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sweet Fifteen!

RO: Fifteen grand slams. What a match! I hated to see Andy Roddick lose after he had such a great tournament, and played an almost perfect match today. And 16-14 in the fifth.? I can't believe I sat still for 5 hours, but I do it every year...and I don't even play.
And now back to the book stuff......

Saturday, July 4, 2009


RO: Whatever else you're eating or doing these two recipes will turn your Fourth into a party.

It comes from the divine Martha and is deceptively easy. Your friends - especially the ones who bring Costco cakes to bbq's and picnics, not that there's anything wrong with that ;-) - will think you are a domestic goddess.
Strawberry Cream Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk

1 pound strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan, and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour paper and sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.

3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; place bottom half, cut side up, on a serving plate.

4. Make topping: In a large bowl, combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside. Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften 5 minutes. Place saucepan over very low heat, and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat; let cool.

5. Using an electric mixer, beat cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl until very soft peaks form. Continue to beat, and gradually add gelatin mixture; beat until soft peaks form. 6. Arrange half of strawberries over bottom cake layer; top with half of whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover with top half of cake, cut side down. Top cake with remaining whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Refrigerate cake and remaining strawberries separately, at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). Just before serving, spoon strawberries over cake.

7. My addition to Martha's recipe..sprinkle a handful of blueberries on top for a red, white and blue treat.

But man cannot live by cake alone (more's the pity.) This is from my pal Dan's wife, Linda..

White wine sangria

2 (750ml) bottles of dry white wine

6 ox Triple sec or Cointreau

6 oz fresh orange juice

3 oz fresh lemon or lime juice

3 oz brandy, optional

about 1/2 c sugar (superfine is best)

16 oz cold club soda or citrus flavored mineral water

1 orange, sliced

1 lemon, sliced

Pour first 4 ingredients into a punch bowl. Sweeten to taste with sugar, stirring well to dissolve. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Just before serving stir in club soda or mineral water. Add a block of ice and fruit slices. Enjoy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Fourth!

I'm hoping that the rain will stop long enough for me to get some work done in the garden and I'm hoping there will be enough hours in the day for me to watch Wimbledon, bake and, oh yeah, work on my revisions.

Something else I'm doing this weekend.. I'm heading for Groton CT, for an event called Subfest. No, it's not an all-you-eat contest hosted by a major fastfood chain, it's a big old all-American celebration at the naval base. I've never been before but CAPA,Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association, is organizing a booth for local authors and it sounds like great fun.

And I have a personal connection to the US Nautilus. Family legend says that my parents went to see the Nautilus when it was parked (is that what they call it?) in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when I was just an infant. One of us, and here's where the story gets fuzzy, was wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers t-shirt.

Reporters from The Daily News were there and wanted to take a picture of a baby on board but apparently I wouldn't stop crying and some other kid got the honor.
Maybe I'll get to go on board this time. (Slim chance I'll be crying.)
So what are you guys doing for the fourth?
PS Tmw, my favorite Fourth of July recipes, Berry cream cake and white wine sangria.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is this news?

It may not be up there with Headless Body in Topless Bar, the infamous New York City headline, but this one has got to get honorable mention. It was either a slow news day or the grownups at the Trentonian started their holiday weekend early and left some kids in charge.

Having gotten the inspiration for all three of my books from items in the newspaper, I had to buy the paper. Who knows..maybe I can use it for book four.

Apart from dead celebs and the really serious stuff (war, the economy, the Yankees and the Red Sox), what's catching your eye in the papers these days?

Is it Roger Federer's quest for number 15, some politician's non-trip to the Appalachian trail? Take your gun to church day?

Is there anything you'd like to turn into your next mystery?

More on the NEW PRIME TIME!

Breaking news: On Thursday, July 2: Come say hello to Hank and get your new PRIME TIME at Borders Books on School Street in Downtown Crossing, Boston--at noon!

Today, Wednesday July 1, Hank's signing PRIME TIME at Boston's South Station Grand Concourse from 2-5 pm!

But for now:

Here's a wonderful interview in the Hartford Books Examiner...the fab John Valeri asked Hank some brand new questions to celebrate the re-issue of PRIME TIME!

Here's just a taste...and then the link to the rest of the interview.


Today, I am delighted to host bestselling and award-winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan on the re-release of her first Charlotte McNally mystery, Prime Time (Mira, $7.99), which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Ryan is an investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boston. With twenty-six EMMYs to her name, along with dozens of other regional, national, and international honors for her reporting and writing, she is truly distinguished within her field. She has personally wired herself with hidden cameras, exposed corrupt politicians, and chased down crooks in the street. And she takes that insider knowledge and uses it to color the fictitious world that Charlotte (“Charlie”) McNally inhabits.

Much like Ryan, McNally is an investigative reporter. In Prime Time, she finds herself desperately seeking a story that will win both ratings and the kudos of the studio brass (who may just be looking to replace Charlie with a younger face). The answer comes in the form of what at first appears to be an innocuous piece of Spam email but ultimately turns out to hold the key to a lethal multi-million dollar fraud ring. With her life on the line, Charlie races to report the news before she becomes it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be the one doing the interrogating. And while I didn’t go digging through Hank’s trash in preparation for our little chat, I think you’ll find my questions to be quite probing...

1) Your protagonist, Charlotte "Charlie" McNally, is a TV reporter who finds herself aging in an industry that often values beauty and youth over journalistic ideals. How much of yourself will readers find in your character? And do you ever worry that they might have trouble separating the artist from the art (or the writer from the written, as the case may be)?
HANK: Ah. Ha. Well, you get right to the heart of it, don't you? When my husband talks about Charlie McNally to me, he calls her "you". As in--"when you catch the bad guys" or "when you solve the mystery." I say--honey, it's fiction. And he just laughs.
Of course Charlie McNally is me--in some ways. She's--younger. She's braver. And although we've both wired ourselves with hidden camera, chased down criminals and confronted corrupt politicians, scarier things happen to her. (So far.) But we're both very committed journalists of a certain age. If people confuse us? Well, I guess that's okay. Happy to be Charlie.

2) As an investigative reporter, you well know the importance of getting the "sexiest" story--the one that will sweep the ratings and put you ahead of the competition. As an author, do you ever feel that same sense of urgency when formulating plot ideas?

HANK: Well, hmm.....

And here's a real deal--Free first class shipping of PRIME TIME from Mystery Lovers Bookshop!