Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Getting Disconnected

JAN: There were a lot of terrific things about spending a month in southern France. The food, the language, the art museums, the friends, the clothing sales.

But surprisingly, the biggest benefit was this: There was no Internet connection in the condo I was staying. To check my email, I had to walk to the school where I'd studied in college and use its library.

At first, I hated it. The streets were hot and it was all uphill. But soon, I realized it was a bonus. I was no longer spending my day responding to electronic information, but was out in city talking to real people. If I wanted to find a boulangerie open on Sunday, I didn't google it. I walked over to the little market where I bought roast chicken and asked the owner to help me.

So, I made an important decision while I was over there. That I don't care what the stakes are: I'd actually rather not be a successful writer if it means I have to spend my limited time on earth twittering. I'm also reassessing Facebook and all those strangers who friend me from California so they can sell me their novel or their winery.

So is this too radical? OR does anyone else think that all this social-media connection is disconnecting? And that possibly, the only way to reconnect is to disconnect?

ROBERTA: Right now I may be too sick with jealousy about your month in France to answer, but I'll try! If you read the interview from the publicist that Hank brought to us last week, you'd hear that Facebook is the most important social networking tool, Twitter maybe not so much.
But that aside, I definitely think there's a cost to the constant online connections. Maybe even more so with the next generation. I sound like an old fart, but it bugs me to see kids text-messaging while they're at the dinner table with other folks. If you're with people, you should be with them, right?

I think the question is definitely worth asking, Jan. Though I'm not convinced that Twittering can make a bestseller. Nor am I ready to renounce that possibility:). The secret is balance...if someone could only tell us how to find it!

RHYS: I can't believe how naked and lost I feel if I can't check the internet all the time. I even have to check my Google updates every day to see what people are blogging about me. It's a sickness, isn't it? And all those people from my past who friend me--they weren't ever my real friends. If we had little in common then, why would we now? I'm actually going to be experiencing total cut-off from electronic communication in September when John and I will be in the Australian Outback, visiting Uluru and Kakadu National Park and other such remote places. Will I suffer withdrawal symptoms? Probably. But it may be a good thing.

JAN: You might be surprised how good it feels.

RO: I was looking forward to being disconnected in Africa. And I was..for the most part. I didn't rush to the internet cafe when I was in or near a hotel. There were more than a few e-conversations going on among people I know that I would have gladly left the country to avoid, if I hadn't been gone already. Then one night in a mud brick building in central Tanzania, I heard some buzzing. A giant mosquito? Nope. My Blackberry (which is all of three weeks old so I didn't recognize the sound.) I was able to pick up emails from underneath a mosquito net in Mvumi Makula. On one hand, I thought, you gotta love technology. Then I was reminded of the time that Bruce's boss found him on Lake McDonald just to tell him someone was leaving the company. Or the time we were in Granada and he got a fax that the company had been sold and he had to return home.I turned off the phone and went outside to look for the Southern cross.

HANK: Guilty guilty guilty. Rhys, I'm with you. I can literally *feel* when I haven't checked my email. I mean, that's--bad! I have to say I'm not a devoted Facebooker--I like it, it's fun, I learn intersting things. I love to read what my pals are doing. But I'm not addicted. And it is SUCH a time-waster. You feel as if you're doing something---you're typing, right? So it feels like working. But most often it's nothing. But not always. Wait--just gotta check one thing over there... Twitter..gosh. I'm just not sure it matters. But what if it does? Ah...back in a moment.

JAN: I think that's why we writers are so vulnerable. We THINK we're working.

HALLIE: Anyone take Psych 101? Pigeons who received INTERMITTENT reinforcement (they didn't get a food pellet every time they hit the button, but every so often) became much more addicted to hitting that button than the ones who were fed every time. That's what the Internet does. You don't get a nice new message every time you check, but often enough that you become addicted to checking. I've gotten to the point where I have to disconnect my cable modem in order to buckle down and write. And even then... Hope I never break down and get a Blackberry or an iPhone.

Friday, August 28, 2009


“JACK WAKES UP rocks! It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map!”
Michael Connelly

You should have heard Seth Harwood at Newtonville Books (my local bookstore) when he started reading out loud from JACK WAKES UP. The roomful of people was silent. Listening. Riveted. It was so--cinematic--it was like watching a film.

Turns out, Seth is all about how his books sound. Out loud. And is making a national name for himself not only for his incredibly well-received first novel, JACK WAKES UP, but for his innovative and wildly successful methods of promotion.

Here's the scoop.

HANK: So, Seth. Most people write a book on paper or type it on a computer. Then they SELL it. That's not exactly how you decided the world should work. What's the Harwood method?

SETH: Well, the Harwood method is basically that when things aren't working you have to innovate and try different things. I wasn't getting the responses from agents that I wanted (How about at least a simple "No"? In some cases I couldn't even get that.) so I had to find another way of working the publishing game.

I wanted to put my novel on the internet and didn't know how, or if people would read it, but I'd always listened to books on CD in the car, so when I found authors who were reading books and distributing them as free audio podcasts--and that thousands were listening!--I bought a mic and jumped in!

By working with those authors, I saw how they did it, had a chance to promote to their existing audience, and got folks hooked on my book. I was up over 1,000 downloads of my chapters a week before I was half-way through the first ten episodes of JACK WAKES UP. Eventually I used that audience to storm with a small publisher, hit #1 in crime/mystery, and convinced New York that I could sell books!

What it comes down to is the selling method: I wasn't getting anything from stuffing envelopes with agent submissions, so I had to find something else to do with my work. I knew my novel was done and wanted to keep writing new material, not caught in an endless loop of revision and slush piles.

I should mention I still type my work on a computer.

HANK: Wait—so you read you book out loud? And recorded it? How did that work? I mean, I know how it WORKS, but did you use a studio? Did you have to edit? How long did it take?

SETH: Yep. I read my work out loud and release it for free on the web as serialized audiobooks. It’s been a great way to create a fan base online!

I use what you might call a “studio” in my apartment. It’s actually a glorified closet with blankets tacked up on the walls. And I edit out my flubs and flibs on my MacBook using Garageband. Very easy to do. I actually explain it all in this three minute video:

And Scott Sigler and I have been teaching others to do it through our Author Boot Camp series

HANK: ANd did it work? What was the reaction?

SETH: it worked. Like I said, I sold JACK WAKES UP to #1 in crime/mystery on Amazon, got an agent by doing it, and the book was in editors' hands the next week. When they finally saw it, a few of them loved it. I think JACK WAKES UP is a great book, that always had to be the core of the approach--I put my time in first on the hard, careful writing--so when it got to an editor I could be confident in the result.

From there I landed a contract with Three Rivers Press and the book just came out in a major nationwide release this spring.

HANK: Then what? And now what? (You're giving away 3 chapters free?)

SETH: Now I'm doing a lot of touring--on my own dime. I believe in what I've done on the web, but also in the great bookstores and mystery booksellers out there. So I'm getting out and meeting them, reading the book in stores and meeting a lot of the folks who've been following me online. They're an awesome bunch!

HANK: So you're actually seeing people in person now. How's that?

SETH: It’s great! I love meeting people who’ve listened to my podcasts and now getting to talk with people who’ve read my book. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been able to announce my events and get some good crowds out to the stores. Then I usually grab a bite or a beer with some of the online “Palms Daddies and Mommas!”

But in some ways, I feel like I already know a lot of these people. They’ve been writing me emails and participating in the forums on my site for a while now. Enough that we’ve built a relationship. They’re awesome fans!

HANK: Tell us about Jack. And tell us about the books!

SETH: Jack Palms is an ex-Hollywood action movie star—kind of a one-hit wonder who pissed his career away with a series of bad media relations and a drug addiction. JACK WAKES UP picks up about three years after that: when Jack’s cleaned himself up and needs to find out what he’s going to do next with his life. He needs money and when an old friend from LA calls to bring him in on a drug deal, he says “Yes” out of curiosity and simple desperation. From there, he finds himself walking the line between acting and action and becoming unsure which side he’s really on.

It all takes place in San Francisco with a cast of mobsters, outlaws and drug dealers that rival anything you’ve seen in the best action movies. As Michael Connelly says, “It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map!”

I've put out a total of three Jack Palms novels as audio podcasts now and finished a fourth crime novel this spring. They’re all free. I'm giving away the first three chapters of JACK WAKES UP as a free pdf via my site and still going strong with my CrimeWAV podcast, which is where I produce a weekly short story series by other crime writers to introduce their work to my listeners. We've done 40 episodes so far and have had on some greats!

HANK: Aren't you from Boston? How'd Jack end up in California?

SETH: You bet I'm from Boston! All the way. I grew up in the South End and Cambridge, Newton a little, and was living in Boston again after getting my MFA from Iowa in 2002. I took writing classes at Harvard Extension before that, from 1998 to 2000. I lived in the area until my wife got accepted to grad school here in Berkeley. We moved out in 2005 and kind of love it out here, I have to admit. Though I'll always be a native East-coaster, I'm really enjoying California right now. For a city with great crime/noir roots, San Francisco is pretty damn hard to beat. But I still come back for the Celtics and the Red Sox!

Yeah, good luck with that Red Sox thing. (But really, this could be the year!) So, questions for Seth? Like: should we all get in on that podcast thing?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do NOT ask "Jane Who"?

Jane had been my constant companion, my most secret friend for years. She spoke only in the silence of my mind, but she knew me as no one else could...or wanted to.....

She'd begun ranting with fervor since Sam appeared on the scene, scarcely paused for a breath between words. How insupportable! What an insufferable creature! The nerve of him to cross your path again after what he did!

I let her continue her tirade of antiquated English insults a while longer as I gulped the rest of my drink. I pushed the smoky air out of my lungs, scanned for a good spot to squeeze in at the bar and edged up to the corner of it...
***from According to Jane

In the mystery world—you’d know who we meant by Sara or Sue or Janet. No last names needed. In the romance world, Nora. (In Hollywood: Marilyn. Or Cher.) You see where I’m going. And in literary fiction, there’s a first-name-only-needed author who’s as big as they come. Jane.

Contemporary novelist Marilyn Brant knew a brilliant idea when she had it. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn’s debut novel is ACCORDING TO JANE. It’s the story of a modern woman who gets dating advice from the spirit of Jane Austen.

I will pause now while we all say: Drat. Brilliant. We should have thought of that. But, as it turns out, we didn’t. Marilyn did. Brant, not Monroe.

As it happens, ACCORDING TO JANE is not a mystery. But we’re equal opportunity readers around her, right? And as it turns out, Marilyn (Brant, not Monroe) has been thinking about mystery authors.

MARILYN: Mystery writers were my childhood heroes and, even now, I’m more than a little in awe of them. The year I was in 4th grade, I read no fewer than 48 Nancy Drews. I later moved on to gothic romances by Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, both of whom had their novels shelved in the “Mystery” section of our tiny library, and then onto Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, Jack Finney and countless others. I watched Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie and Colombo with rapt attention alongside my dad (a chemist who’s a huge mystery fan) and, for fun, I tried to solve those math puzzles where there were seven houses on seven streets and seven cars of seven colors, all belonging to seven owners, and you had to figure out which went with which…

However, much as I loved mysteries in all forms, I never succeeded in writing a publishable one. I tried once. I drafted this novel about a school teacher (I’d been a teacher for eight years) who lived in Wisconsin (I grew up in Wisconsin) and who, coincidentally, loved ice cream (I’m an unfaltering Ben & Jerry’s devotee). This ice-cream-loving teacher (who bore no resemblance to me whatsoever) resided in a community where the town’s biggest crime was that someone was pinching school-district funds, and the local chemist-turned-ice-cream-maker (who bore no resemblance to my dad) was oddly entangled in the caper.

Yeah. Hard-hitting stuff, I know.

Writing it was great fun, however, even though it never won the heart of an acquiring editor. It gave me an excuse to dream up some wildly implausible but kind of goofy love scenes involving whipped toppings and hot-fudge sauce. And, despite a number of extensive revisions, the honest feedback from my CPs was that it was a “funny” story, but hardly a “gripping” one, and maybe I should just concentrate on my romantic comedies and light women’s fiction...

Still, I persist in trying to slip a few mystery elements into each book I write. I believe novelists in every genre should employ some of the tactics seasoned mystery writers use to such great effect in their books, from the cozies to the serious thrillers and suspense novels.

When I think back on what made the mysteries I read as a kid so appealing to me, it was that the writers in question had succeeded in keeping me guessing about what would happen to my protagonist next. They made me wonder what the motives of the antagonist were. They cleverly left real clues and tantalizing red herrings, managing to get me to hold my breath until the conclusion and making me marvel all the while at the surprising resolution of the plot.

In that way, mystery writers are *still* my heroes. I look to them to teach me how to be a more effective novelist as well as to enthrall and entertain me when I’m not writing women’s fiction…or eating ice cream. And for that alone I’m indebted to them.

Which mystery writers left the biggest impression on you as a kid?

HANK: Whoever wrote the Perry (Mason, of course, need I say it?) mysteries for TV. My father would not let us say one word when they were on. And then, in books, Agatha. There’s only one of her, too.

But Marilyn, let me ask you about Jane. And your book. How did you ever think of it? And how does the story work?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ever wonder how a publicist thinks?

Megan Kelley Hall, her sister, Jocelyn Kelley and their mother, Gloria Kelley, started Kelley & Hall. (Now, imagine a photo of Megan here. Because blogger won't let me post it. Grr.)Megan says it’s because Maeve had been working in publishing and became aware of the number of books that were garnering virtually no attention in the media.


Anyway, the company—went through the roof. In a good way. They handled the campaigns for the self-published first novel of Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader). (And you know how much THAT sold for!) Also self-published author Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, as well as New York Times best-selling authors Jacquelyn Mitchard (Deep End of the Ocean), Michael Palmer (The First Patient and Extreme Measures), Brenda Janowitz and Susan Mallery. And that’s just a few. K & H are soon starting author seminars.

But guess where you’ll get the scoop first? Here on Jungle Red.

Megan—tell us everything.

MEGAN: Well, not everything. But here are a few tips we think work.

When I write a book, I consciously tie in a journalistic hook to the story. It doesn’t have to be the main theme of the book but one that will be newsworthy and universally intriguing. As a publicist, I know that it’s much easier to get press if there is something newsworthy – a news angle – about your novel.

For example, THE LOST SISTER and SISTERS OF MISERY are about mean girls, bullying and hazing.

HANK: Wait, sorry, pause. Megan is the also the author of two young adult suspense novels, Sisters of Misery and The Lost Sister. Her work has been described as "chilling," "shivery" and "gothic," "nail-biting thrillers." (Just like book promotion.)

(Of course, imagine book covers here. But blogger won't let me post them. Grr.)

Okay, Megan. Back to you.

MEGAN: Through research, I found that almost 6,000,000 kids, nearly 30% of all children, are either bullied or are doing the bullying in this country. The American Academy of Pediatrics is stepping in with recommendations. There are several current news stories about the subject: the alleged hazing at Miss Porter’s, cyberbullying and a recent study out of the University of Maine saying 50% of college students admit to enduring some form of hazing in high school.

I would then take this news angle and approach editors with this “hook.” It may not lead to story, but it will certainly garner attention and make an editor pick up my book.

HANK: How about balancing writing and promoting? The muse versus the marketplace?

MEGAN: There is a great debate regarding the artistic process of writing and the business end. You don’t want to think about the business side when you are creating your art, but you can bet that the minute the time comes to start promoting your work, you are going to be sifting through your manuscript looking for angles and hooks that will get readers to pounce.

When we worked with Michael Palmer on The Second Opinion, he already had a strong fan base but was working on widening his readership. His latest novel dealt with a doctor and her brother who both live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Leading up to the release of The Second Opinion, John Travolta’s son tragically died and the questions surrounding his death were whether or not he had not been treated correctly for autism. This question is at the center of The Second Opinion and one that Palmer, a doctor himself, researched thoroughly.

We pitched his expertise to various news outlets and secured him an interview in the Metro papers nationwide. Millions of readers were able to learn about Michael Palmer. It is this tactic of reaching out to new audiences that can help build your fan base and give you a wider reaching audience.

HANK: How about trends. Follow—or run away?

MEGAN: My debut YA novel, Sisters of Misery (Kensington, July 2008), explores the disappearance of a young girl in Hawthorne, a small New England town just a stone’s throw from Salem, Massachusetts. At the same time, there were a number of other books being released that were highlighting witchcraft, the town of Salem and New England history. By focusing on this “trend” (remember trends come in threes or more) Kelley & Hall was able to secure coverage in Publisher’s Weekly, features in USA Today and Boston magazine, as well as wide-reaching national reviews.

Writers often fear that books with similar themes or subjects will be released at the same time as theirs, instead of fearing it, Kelley & Hall says: embrace it! We suggest authors pay attention to trends in publishing and stay on top of what is coming out or has been purchased by editors. Visiting sites like Publishers Marketplace and Media Bistro are great ways to stay in the “know.”

HANK: SO what's next for you all?

MEGAN: Kelley & Hall will be bringing our book marketing advice to writers in upcoming seminars! Just a few of the topics--
· How to be pleasantly persistent.
· Finding the news peg in your own back story
· How to deal with the shrinking book coverage in the media and where to turn to help increase your visibility.
· The power of the blog and social networking.

HANK: Thanks, Megan. Questions, anyone? Wait. I have one. What do you mean, trends come in threes?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book three in the Charlotte McNally Mysteries

Hank is hijacking Jungle Red today.

To say thank you.

We've done almost 400 posts at Jungle Red. Which just takes my breath away.

When we started, several years ago! I was a new new author, stepping my toe into uncharted waters and one hundred per cent clueless.

Lots of good things happened. Lots of not-so-good, too, but by far-the wonderful outweighed the weird.
And now, today, my third book hits the bookstores.

Here's what's important:
Thank you thank you thank you.
And now, it's time for

"Sassy, fast-paced, and appealing. This is first-class entertainment."
—Sue Grafton

"Loved it! Smart, funny, fresh, intriguing and thoroughly
entertaining—I highly recommend this series."
—Suzanne Brockmann

It's never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.

That's the first line of AIR TIME! And this newest adventure takes reporter Charlotte McNally undercover and carrying a hidden camera to investigate the high-stakes world of high fashion and counterfeit couture—and the secret back rooms of big-city airports. Someone is ripping off the valuable original designs of one of the industry's most prestigious lines and selling counterfeit merchandise as the real thing. Turns out "faking it" is the pathway to multi-million dollar profits. Charlie goes undercover to uncover who's trading secrets about trade secrets, and soon discovers when the purses are fake—the danger is real.

But going undercover is not her only dilemma—how about under the covers? Charlie's long been married to her career, but now, at 47, there's a man in her life. Is he—finally—"the one?" Personally as well as professionally: how can she tell the real thing?

Wait a minute, I hear you saying. You're a reporter, Hank. And you've gone undercover a million times. And you're probably carrying a hidden camera right now.

Fine. I admit it. It's been there, done that. After 30 years in TV—I've had some real life adventures of my own.

But as a mystery author, I'm always wondering—what if. And I began to imagine the fascinating possibilities in designer duplicates. One of the things I love to do in my novels is take something that's familiar and give it a twist or two that turns it into something unexpected and unpredictable. Because I already knew the inside scoop—that helped me create a truly workable scheme for my fictional crooks. (I can tell you, when I revealed it to law enforcement sources, they sheepishly admitted my plan was completely plausible!).

"Hank had me from the first line. In her latest addictive page-turner AIR TIME, real-life TV reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan once again thrills us with her terrific counterpart, investigative reporter Charlotte McNally. AIR TIME isn't only exciting and sexy and even funny—it's also damned well written."
—David Morrell, Founding co-president International Thriller Writers

AIR TIME is on the cover of the all-new RT BookReviews Magazine! So look for that at your local bookstore... or hey, subscribe!

And watch for an article on my real life adventures undercover in the next issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. (Or hey, subscribe!)

"The most fun I've had reading in a long time. Hank Phillippi Ryan has given us one of the best heroines to emerge in a long while, and her stories zip along as fast as news bulletins. AIR TIME is a fun, fast read with a heroine who's sexy, stylish, and smart. I loved it."
—Nancy Pickard

"AIR TIME is a thrill ride from the first page to the last. This story will tickle your funnybone and touch your heart. Hank Phillippi Ryan is a fabulous new talent."
—Susan Wiggs

"Excellent! Hank Phillippi Ryan knows how to create characters that come to life and capture your heart. Don't miss this engrossing story."
—Brenda Novak


I do hope you'll join me at one—or all!—of the
AIR TIME events we have planned. There'll be goodies, discount coupons, and lots of surprises!

First—I'll be debuting the new
AIR TIME at Borders at Boston's Downtown Crossing on Tuesday, August 25, 12-2.

Thursday, August 27, I'll be at Boston's Logan Airport Borders Books—in Terminal A from 2:30-5:30. (Get it? AIR TIME?)

Friday, August 28, starting at noon I'll be at Barnes & Noble at the Boston's famed Prudential Center.

And from 5-7 pm at BORDERS Boston/Back Bay.

Saturday, August 29 from 10-12 (so you can stop by, pick up your books, and then head off to the beach!) I'll be at the amazing
Tatnuck Books in Westboro, Massachusetts.

Check the
EVENTS page on my website for all the appearances I'll be making around Boston and New England (I hope there's one in your neighborhood!), and at your favorite mystery bookstores across the country—more are posted every week!

There's a special event (with lots of special treats!) at
The Mystery Company in Carmel, Indiana on September 11 at 7pm, and lots more that weekend in INDY! Check my schedule for details.

And want an autographed
AIR TIME with free first-class shipping? No problem. The mavens at Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA have specially arranged to provide that for you! Just click here. (And check out their ultra-special offer! All three of the TIME opening trilogy—with a special limited edition bookbag!)

Finally, my deepest appreciation for all your enthusiasm. I'm still on the job at Channel 7 in Boston—and loving it. That's a fact. But this new step into fiction is so exciting and rewarding—I'm delighted to be able to share it with you.

With much gratitude


Oh wait!


Though the Charlotte McNally novels are a series, each can stand on its own. The Agatha-winning
PRIME TIME (in bookstores now) is your introduction! Here, Charlie suspects some of that spam clogging her computer is really hiding secret messages! It's a chock full of cliffhangers—with such a workable scheme you'll wonder why someone hasn't tired it.

"...a wonderful mystery...The author juggles plot and character
very deftly with Charlie emerging as one of the
wittiest and brightest protagonists in current crime fiction."
—Joe Meyers, Connecticut News

FACE TIME, book two, (also in bookstores now!) Charlie learns she must get beneath the exterior—of a face, of a relationship, of a photograph—to discover what she really values: justice, her journalistic reputation, the extraordinary bond between mothers and daughters, and true love. Sara Paretsky calls it "a gripping thriller, with a important story line and a heroine we can root for."

But wait, there's more! Did you make it this far in the blog? Then yay, you may be rewarded. Just leave a comment. (Because we're talking about AIR TIME, tell us about how often your luggage gets lost. Or whether you've ever purchased a knock-off purse. Or, hey, just say hello.)

And we'll choose three random winners! To each, I'll send a signed copy of PRIME TIME, FACE TIME or AIR TIME. (Or if you choose--a signed copy of any of the Jungle Red Writers' mysteries!)

Thanks, everyone. (Tomorrow, we return to our usual programming with book promotion genius Megan Kelley Hall.)

Monday, August 24, 2009


Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
**********Twelfth Night. Act ii. Sc. 3.

HANK: This vacation time of year, my thoughts turn to love and travel. Why? Because just this time of year, 14 years ago, I met Jonathan.

I had been invited to share a house with a group of friends in Nantucket. I was six months (or more?) out of a deadend reationship (another story) and said--no thanks. And then I reconsidered. Of course, why not go? So I packed up my books and my bike and my tennis racket, and headed to Nantucket on the ferry.I was so--unready to meet someone, I didn't even bring any makeup. (I will pause while you howl with laughter.)

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, another person sharing the house had invited Jonathan. And the other person didn't know I was coming.

I arrived from Boston. Jonathan arrived from Boston. I took one look and thought--yikes, get me to drug store make-up counter. (I didn't go, by the way. I thought--this is me. Take it or leave it.)

We haven't been apart since then.

But we don't celebrate the anniversary of the day we met. Every year, we celebrate the anniversary of the day BEFORE we met. We call it "You Never Know Day." Because you never know what wonderful thing is just around the corner.

How did you meet your true love? By chance, by choice, by fix-up, by proximity? And how do you know it was the real thing?

JAN: Although my older brother and I hung around a lot together, when I followed him up to Boston University he told me not to expect to hang out with his college friends. I had to make my own friends.

A year later, he decided that he really didn't like my friends, especially not my boyfriend, who he claimed spoke in "monologues." So he fixed me up with one of his friends, Bill. He didn't tell me he was fixing me up, he just brought Bill back to his apartment one night when I was there cooking him dinner, and we went to a party afterward, Then he pressured Bill until he called and asked for a date. And yes, I knew immediately it was the real thing.

My brother passed away young - at 26-years old. Ironically, since I stayed in Boston, I've spent my entire life hanging out with his college friends.

HALLIE: Mine was a fix-up too. I was a junior at Barnard when I ran into an ex-boyfriend on the corner of Broadway and 116th Street. He asked how I was and I said "fine." In truth I was between men but this ex was an extremely odd duck and I didn't want to give him any ideas. He must have been far more perceptive than I gave him credit for, because a few hours later I got a call from his roommate inviting me to a college hockey game. I went and had a great time. Took me a lot longer than my husband to realize it was "the real thing." But 40+ years later I'm utterly convinced.

ROBERTA: Sorry to hear you lost your brother so young Jan--sounds like he was the best kind of friend! I met John at a singles tennis night at the racquet club in the next town. We got matched up for mixed doubles and had a good time. But when he called to ask for a movie date, I couldn't remember who he was. (I attribute that to being blinded by my infatuation with an inappropriate guy who was quite enamored of himself.) After about six months of playing doubles with John (as friends), I began to realize just how special he was. So I invited him to dinner one night. "Who's coming?" he asked. "You," I said. And we've been together ever since.

HANK: Aw, Roberta, that's so sweet.

RO: Well, I knew right away Bruce was the one. He took a little convincing though. To the tune of 13 years before we actually got married. He was the boss when we first met, and um, otherwise engaged. I left the company and got on with my life and then we hooked up again in - of all places - Las Vegas, where we were both attending a video convention. At a show filled with fading B actors, wrestlers and adult movie stars, we were two of the more normal people there. It was fate. Then we dated for 10 years. (Why rush into anything?)

HANK: I was at a signing the other night--talking about AIR TIME (on sale tomorrow, whoo hoo, stop by here then to hear more and WIN BOOKS!).

Anyway, in AIR TIME Charlotte McNally has to decide if she's found the real thing--both in her reporter life (tracking down the source of phony designer purses), and in love. (And in the dedication: flight attendants.)

A woman came up to me afterwards, and told the story of how she'd always always always known she wanted to be a flight attendant. She got the job, passed the tests, and boarded for her first flight. And sitting in seat whatever--turned out to be the man she later married. And they just celebrated their twenty-fifth.

You never know.
How about you all?

(A big week coming on Jungle Red: Tuesday, big contest! Wednesday, Megan Kelley Hall with the secrets of promotion. Thursday, Marilyn Brant on seeing mystery authors as others see us. And Friday, coolest of the cool Seth Harwood!)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sad goodbyes

HALLIE: August has been a cruel month for New England mystery writers and their fans.

We are all reeling from the death of an extraordinarily talented writer and generous teacher, William G. Tapply. Bill wrote over dozens of New England-based mystery novels featuring attorney Brady Coyne, several more featuring outdoorsman Stoney Calhoun (a hunk who bore much more than a passing resemblance to Bill), and several more in partnership with his buddy Phillip R. Craig (they brought together their protagonists). He also wrote one of the smartest books on mystery writing around, “The Elements of Mystery Fiction..”

Bill was tall, handsome, kind, and anyone who hasn’t read his work is in for a treat. The third Stony Calhoun novel, “Dark Tiger,” comes out next month, and in October a book of outdoor essays “Upland Autumn: Birds, Dogs, and Shotgun Shells.”

Our thoughts are with his wife, mystery author Vicki Stiefel, and his five children.

Then, Kate’s Mystery Books closed its doors after more than 20 years as New England’s premier mystery bookstore. Scores of authors (see just a few in this photo with me: Sarah Smith (with her son Justus Perry, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Paula Munier, and Sheila Connolly) and readers showed up to help Kate pack up, as in true Kate’s style she threw a packing party. It was as hard to get to an empty packing box as it was to get to the wine at one of her famous Xmas parties. I scored a cat at the yard sale.

Every New England mystery author I know launches his or her books at Kate’s, and looking at the table of signed books (which we were specifically told NOT to pack), it was clear how Kate’s has been a stopping point for the crème de la crème of crime fiction writers. Just a few of the megastar I’ve met at Kate’s: Sue Grafton, Sarah Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane, Katherine Hall Page, Jane Langton....

Kate intends to keep a virtual bookstore open on the Internet and continue to host events in the Boston area, as she has been doing with Dick Haley of Haley Booksellers. Look for news updates at

In the meantime, we’ll continue to cherish and support independent mystery bookstores that keep our community flourishing. And every time I look at my cat in its new home, I'll be reminded of Kate's Mystery Books.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Girls Like Us" -- Carole, Joni, and Carly

Sheila Weller is an unabashed feminist and her book, “Girls Like Us”, tells the stories of three singer/songwriters who shaped and shaded a generation of women and beyond. Sheila wrote for MS magazine when it was in its infancy, and has since authored six books including two New York Times bestsellers, won of numerous awards for journalism, and is a writer for Vanity Fair, Senior Contributing Editor at Glamour, and she blogs for the Huffington Post.

Welcome to Jungle Red, Sheila! I loved your really sings to my generation of women who stormed the bastions of academe, frolicked at Woodstock, and wore flowers in the Haight. Joni and Carole and Carly...and Joan Baez and Judy Collins and Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near and Buffy Sainte Marie...were our role models. We could not have made it through college without those women, and most of us can still sing every lyric of every song.

JRW: How did you pick Joni, Carole, and Carly?

SHEILA WELLER: For years I had been wanting to write a history of the women of my generation -- those of us middle class girls who were born in the 1940s and came of age in the late 1960s. It's almost worth getting older to have lived through such exciting times -- we were little girls when the image of American women was more stultifying and repressive and corny than it had been in decades (I mean: women in petticoated shirtwaists kissing refrigerators in TV commercials; the song "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" as a hit??) and we had no choice but to break the mold and transform the very idea of what a young American woman was.

We made young women into adventurers. In our childhood we acquired the first tools -- rock 'n' roll and r&b music; the civil rights movement. Then, coming into adolescence, the next tool -- the birth control pill. And finally, when we were becoming college-aged, the psychedelic movement, radical politics,the antiwar movement, and all the rest.

Then, as the '60s turned to the '70s, as both an extension and a corrective of all the exquisite madness, we came up with feminism, which changed everything. I could never think of that journey of ours without thinking of three singer-songwriters who wrote the soundtrack and lived it with us -- Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.

Carole's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" was the first pop song in which a young woman contemplates sex, risks and all; her "Up On The Roof," "Natural Woman" and others were part of the love affair with urban life and soulfulness that was a pop-music ride-along to the Civil Rights Movement; and "Tapestry" defined a whole era -- the early '70s -- in which young adults lived in families-of-friends and prized authenticity, loyalty, a new kind of hominess.

Joni's long-thrift-shop-gowned bohemian artiste embodied the new kind of single woman of the (gentle) psychedelic era -- a mysterious, winsome, independent spirit who made a magical home ("Chelsea Morning") and took lovers at will but kept the upper hand with them ("Cactus Tree") and who had a "deep," wistful belief in the power of life experience ("Both Sides Now," "Circle Game") and who had a charismatic earthiness and spirituality ("Ladies of The Canyon"). She was who we were -- or desperately wanted to be -- from 1966 to 1969. And Carly?

Carly was the New Woman of the Early '70s: witty, urban, intellectual, Seven Sisters-educated (like fellow influential women Erica Jong, Jane Fonda, Ali MacGraw, etc.), analytic, and so "classy" she could be wildly sexy without feeling it brought her down a peg or compromised her or gave her "a reputation." She was the embodiment of early-Ms.-era, "sell-it-to-America" feminism. Her "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" was the first ballad in which a woman thought marriage would hem in her adventures; and "You're So Vain" was a jubilant feminist kick-ass rock song -- full of self-confident wit and mockery. We wanted to be her -- and many were indeed very close to that archetype she embodied.

JRW: Were they really "girls like us"?

SHEILA WELLER: Yes. They went through what we went through -- Carole, as a pregnant teenager in love at the cusp of the '60s, had a panicked shotgun wedding. Joni, in a fiercely proprietary place (central Canada) in the proprietary early-mid-'60 (where birth control was not widely used and abortion, illegal) was afraid to tell her proper parents that she was pregnant and unmarried -- she hid her pregnancy from them and was treated to contempt by moralistic nurses and nuns at the hospital where she gave birth, before giving up her baby for adoption. Carly fell in love with a sexy, brooding, soulful, educated drug addict (James Taylor) and struggled to try to get him off drugs through the ten years of their marriage during a time (the '70s) just before the concepts of "co-dependency" and "enabling" -- and a whole repertoire of family help -- taught families and loved ones how to deal with drug abuse.

In these and dozens of other ways, they were "like us": leaving marriages and love affairs that were unsatisfying and risking falling into subsequent ones which, while solving one interpersonal or romantic problem, only presented another. We were the first generation of serial-relationship-having women, and the risks and joys and conundrums of that life are written all over their songs, from Joni's "River" and "All I Want" to Carole's "Only Love Is Real" to Carly's "Coming Around Again" and "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of."

I chose middle-class women to write about because the identifiability was so strong. Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were too edgy and out there, each in her own different way. Carole, Joni and Carly were women you could run into in a department store fitting room.

JRW: How much harder did rock 'n' rolling women have it in the liberated ‘60s ‘70s?

SHEILA WELLER: Harder than their counterpart men? Or harder than now? I'll answer both. Harder than their counterpart men in every way.

Joni example: While Bob Dylan was forgiven for being much less interesting and edgy and "romantic" than he pretended to be (he was a middle-class fraternity boy who got his -- wonderful - folk songs from sitting in the NY Public Library and looking at old newspapers), Joni so had to hide her secret dramatic, heroically brave past (being a pregnant, unmarried, penniless fledgling folk singer in a rooming house), she was virtually blackmailed over it.

Carole example: There was no day care, there were no lightweight strollers, there were no "working mothers" -- no maternity leave, no work-life balance, no ANY of that -- in the very early '60s; so Carole shlepped her newborn baby (in a heavy, made-to-not-go-up-stairs pram) on the subway to the hit-factory where she cranked out # 1 songs. Carole's best friend and fellow songwriter, with whom she competed for hits, was delighted when Carole gave birth to her second child because during labor and delivery -- and ONLY then -- Carole COULDN'T sit down at the piano.

Carly example: After desultory years of being scoffed at as a "rich little girl" (male songwriters from wealthy homes didn't get that disdain), Carly finally got a break: Bob Dylan's manager had Dylan write a song for her and she recorded with the (just under the radar) new Dylan-championed group The Band. But the album was never mixed and released because the sound engineer told Carly: "I won't mix your album unless you sleep with me," and she refused to. None of these things would or could happen to guy rockers.

And harder than young women singer-songwriters today? Much harder. Today these women are businesswomen -- Alicia, Beyonce, Alannis, et al -- they have assistants, they have support teams, they have manages and publicists and stylists (Carole, Joni and Carly dressed themselves -- and each of them pioneered a distinct fashion look, with no outside help), they know how to produce and hold onto the rights to their music and parlay their careers. The natural, innocent, funky, anti-commercial '60s and '70s had an innocence and anti-careerism that could hurt both male and female artists, but, especially, females.

JRW: Were these women happy? Did they love their lives at the time? Did they know how much we all listened to their music and loved it, how pivotal it was?

SHEILA WELLER: Good questions. I happen to think they lived (and are still living such rich, big lives, why wouldn't they look back on those years and happily think, No regrets! But an amazing amount of people who read the book thought they were unhappy because, for one thing, they had so many different relationships. Well, stable monogamy does not a great rock-love-song-writer; and, at the risk of being '60s-babe-centric, I think to err on the side of "more" life experience than less is a happy choice.

Still, I don't want to be too rosy-glasses about it. They did feel pain in their time. Joni's masterpiece BLUE is all about pain. And though Carole -- the most tuneful (and gospel-y) but the least self-revealing writer of the three -- always wrote optimistic songs with sometimes slightly sappy lyrics (her early '70s collaborator-lyricist Toni Stern -- their masterpiece was "It's Too Late" -- beautifully de-sap'd her, she did suffer pain. She was married four times and her third husband, whom she deeply loved at the time, died of a heroin overdose; she spent a winter living ascetically and reflectively in the snowbound deep wilderness, mourning him. And Carly's emotions were all over her skin, and her music. She loved very deeply -- James and others. And she never made a secret of her bouts of melancholy and depression.

Finally, did they know much we loved them? All three but Joni know. Joni seems to be bitter that some of her fans abandoned her when she -- courageously, in a very Joni way -- switched from her very winning confessionalism to inaccessible, risky jazz in the mid '70s and she seems to feel she has been underappreciated. Tragically, this couldn't be further from the truth. Joni is widely regarded as one of THE best songwriters and musical artists of the era, right up there with Dylan.

Hopefully, in their heart of hearts, all three of them know not only how much their music is beloved, but how HEALING and resonant it has been for so many women and men of many generations.

JRW: Find Sheila Weller's "Girls Like Us" at your local bookstore or library and take it to the beach one of these last fine summer days.

Please, join our conversation -- what does their music mean to you?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Julie and Julia and Jungle Red

HALLIE: Last week I went to see "Julie and Julia," which I would have gone to see even if it weren’t my sister Nora’s movie. It was lovely and sweet—and Meryl Streep IS Julia Child.

Which led me to drag out my copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”--my copy is a 1967 edition, 15th printing, and is inscribed from friends of my parents on May 11, 1969. A wedding present.

My husband and I used to meet every few months with friends and, in advance, come up with a menu that involved each guest making a single dish that took as long as a normal single meal to prepare. Needless to say, lots of our recipes came from Julia. It's easy to see which, because those pages are warped and stained and the margins are scribbled in.

All in all, I made it through about 34 recipes--nowhere near Julie Powell's record setting mastery of all 524. But still.

Standouts were Onion soup (start by roasting bones for broth). Soup au Pistou (an incredible concoction made with zucchini and fresh peas, cooked with lots of garlic and run through a hand mill). Duck a l'Orange and Creme Caramel. And the extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive Tournedos Rossini (filet mignon, home cooked artichoke hearts, truffles, a slab of foie gras, and a Madeira sauce--Oh, baby!) Every recipe had a meltdown moment…as when the duck flew off teh platter on the way to the table or when I renverséd the crème caramel all over the kitchen counter.

Still, I can’t remember a single dish that failed, though Lobster Thermidor did not seem worth the trouble when compared to how delicious a plain old boiled lobster with drawn butter can be.

Have you cooked Julia or are your culinary triumphs more of the Galloping Gourmet variety…or are we talking green been casserole with mushroom soup and canned onion rings?

RHYS: I too used to belong to a supper club for which we had to prepare one dish. And Tournedos Rossini was the first reeeely expensive dish I ordered as an adult. And it was worth it! We used to entertain a lot and I was always trying out new recipes for guests (much to John's horror when I hadn't tested them first) My only spectacular failure was a turbon of sole, stuffed with shrimp and crab. When I turned it out, it collapsed into a nasty pink mess. I had to make a hasty sauce to cover it!

I believe that Julia herself once threw a duck across the kitchen on the way to the table, didn't she? That was why she was so popular--she was so human and really enjoyed every part of the cooking and the eating. I once had an important meeting with the head of my publishing house and the head of marketing back in the days when I wrote YA books. Julia Child and husband were at the next table and I sat almost touching her. All my table-mates wanted to know was what she was eating next. I remember she started with a dozen oysters. And she never shrank from using the butter. My kind of lady!

HALLIE: Oh, gosh, elbow to elbow! I'm jealous. My friend, chef Lora Brody, actually COOKED for Julia once. I can only imagine how nerve wracking that would have been.

JAN: I remember making a stuffed roast after watching a Julia Child episode. It was very complicated, delicious, but very rich. Although I love to cook, I usually avoid recipes that involve too many steps or too many ingredients I have to go to special stores to find.

Tonight I'm throwing a dinner party and all the recipes center around the herbs in my garden, starting with a melon sald with cilantro and fresh mint.

I spotted Julia Childs once, though, at a WGBH Wine tasting fundraiser. It was very exciting. I think she waved.

HALLIE: I also have a garden full of fresh herbs like now, and in honor of same have become an expert at making mojitos.

HANK: Oh, I've made that onion soup. Fantastic. But you know what I learned from her? Very important. Before you start a recipe, read the whole thing, and sort of--imagine how it's going to work and what you need to do in advance. There's nothing like making, say, lasagne, and then getting to the part of the recipe where it says: "add marinara sauce, see p. 233." Ahhh....

And my copy is newer, the 23rd printing from March, 1973. (The onion soup page is a crinkly mess! So is the page for souffle a la vanille.) And I just reread the first line of the foreward: "This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets ,waitlines, time schedules..."


HALLIE: Culinary triumphs?!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jambo means hello!

Chalula Community Library, Mvumi, TANZANIA

By the time I post this, I will be in central Tanzania. My husband and I will have flown New York to Dubai,and Dubai to Dar es Salaam. Then we'll board a luxury bus (luxury means it has windows that open) for a 9 hour ride to Dodoma where a man with a pickup will take us on a dirt road for about 2 hours to the mission of a New Zealand minister - who won't be there, but has instructed his cook to feed and shelter us.

We'll stay for about a week as we visit the Chalula Community Library. This is a library that we helped to build with the assistance of some very generous friends - and have tried to fill with books including some donated by Barnes & Noble, and The Random House Children's Group.

We try to go at least once a check up on things, to bring or order books in Dar. This time it'll be meet with African publishers who mwill be attedning the Pan African Reading Conference and to figure out how to help our (part-time) library coordinator who just lost his full-time job.
Woody Allen said that "90% of life is showing up" and someone paraphrased that statement recently on one of the mystery lists. I would add, showing up is nice. Participating is even better. Making something out of nothing is pretty terrific.

So whatever you're doing this weekend, show up. Participate. And if you make something out of nothing -whether it's pasta or prose - that's pretty terrific.

Have a great weekend!!

Rosemary (If anyone would like to learn more about the Chalula Library, please visit my website,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We're back with RJ Ellory

...and we've flash forwarded to the present.

RJ: Now, here we are, seven years on. My seventh book is due out in England. My fifth book, A Quiet Belief in Angels, the one that is being published first in the USA, has already been translated into twenty-two languages. I have been contracted to write the screenplay for this book by the Oscar-winning director of ‘La Vie En Rose’, Olivier Dahan, and I am now answering another question, and that is ‘Why the South? Why write a book set in Georgia of all places? What is the appeal of this as a setting for a crime novel?’

Well, that question has a very simple answer as well.

I went to visit a friend of mine in Austria, and while I was there I came across a copy of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. Though I had read ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ I had not read Capote’s non-fiction novel masterpiece. I devoured it. I read it a second time, and then became very, very interested in Capote, how the book came about, who he was etc etc. I read his published works again, some articles about him, saw the film ‘Capote’ starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I came to the conclusion that here was a writer who gave his life for a book. The book 'In Cold Blood' made him very rich, very respected, the most famous author in America for many, many years, but ultimately it killed him. Afterwards he never really published another word, and certainly never completed another novel, and he drank himself to death. So there was the thing: A book could save someone's life, but it could also kill them. The other aspect of it was the fact that Capote left Monroeville, Alabama as a child and went to New York.

The 'In Cold Blood' research (which he undertook with his childhood friend and neighbor Harper Lee) took him from New York back to smalltown, mid-west America, namely Holcomb, Kansas. So there was the other interesting idea: the juxtaposition of two worlds - smalltown mid-west America and bigtown New York. Those were the basic threads of inspiration that started me thinking about writing the book. And I wanted to write something that would (hopefully!) make people feel the way I had felt when I read such things as To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter etc etc. A Southern drama. A sweaty, sticky, intense, almost claustrophobic drama that dealt with the seeming indomitability of the human spirit against all odds. I didn't want to write a book where a Police investigation resulted in the apprehension of a killer, the three pages of psychological revelation about why the killer did what he did, the jealousy, the mother complex, the desperate attempts to kill someone who represented some other significant figure in the killer's earlier life etc. I didn't want the story to be about the killer, but the effect that the killer's actions had - not on those he killed - but on the people whose lives he touched, both directly and indirectly.

There is yet another question about fiction, and that is how much of a writer’s work is autobiographical. Yes, I did lose my parents very early in my life, as did my central character. Yes, I did go to prison (though I went for poaching, not for murder!), and yes, I suppose I always did want to be a writer. But that’s where the similarity ends.

A Quiet Belief In Angels was written out of a love for the south, a love of great literature, a passion for language and prose and perplexing mysteries! It was not written to exorcise personal demons, though I can say something about this book that makes it special to me. I think it was Hemingway who talked about losing things. He said that if you lost something bad, then the hole it left behind just filled up naturally with the good experiences of life. However, if you lost something or someone good, then the hole it left behind…well, you had to work hard to fill it up. With every other book I have written I came away feeling that I had added something to myself, that I now knew something more about a subject, that my perspective and experience was somehow enhanced. With ‘A Quiet Belief In Angels’ it was quite different. When I finished the book I really felt like I’d left something of myself behind. And that – whatever it might be – is what I hope you find when you read it.

Thanks for guest blogging Roger - see you in Indy!
Visit RJ Ellory's website

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Quiet Belief in Roger

I confess, I am smitten. Anyone who knows me knows I have a thang for Roger Federer, but a new Roger may have quietly supplanted him this summer. No not on the tennis court. my bedroom, where I have not been able to put down A Quiet Belief in Angels, the first book by RJ (Roger) Ellory to be published in the US. (Note: for some reason the cover of this book..which is a gorgeous warm orange and brown..wants to be blue on my computer. Fingers crossed it will appear in the right color on the blog.)

Already an internationally bestselling author, Ellory hits the US with a novel that's already been called "a beautiful and haunting book.."... Michael Connelly, " a mesmerizing tale.."...Clive Cussler, and "a riveting mystery as compelling as it is moving" ...Ken Bruen.
I call him a terrific guy who is kind enough to visit with us today and tomorrow.

1939. In the small Georgia community, a 12 yr-old boy learns of the death of a young classmate, a girl he quietly loved. The murder is the first in a series of killings that will plague the community for the next decade. The boy and a group of friends vow to watch over the girls..but the murderer evades them and fifty years later he confronts the nightmare that has overshadowed his entire life...

But I'll let him tell you about it.

RJ: Last year I did more than one hundred and fifty public events in England and abroad, and the question I am forever asked is, ‘Why, as an Englishman, are you writing books set in the United States?’

For me, the answer couldn’t be easier. Paul Auster, a wonderful New York novelist, said that becoming a writer was not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You didn’t so much choose it as get chosen, and once you accepted the fact that you were not fit for anything else, you had to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.
And that was the case for me when it came to choosing the subject matter I wanted to write about.

I was orphaned at seven and spent the next nine years living at various schools. I read voraciously. That’s what I did to fill my time. Cross-country running, table tennis and reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. Through Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to Algernon Blackwood and HP Lovecraft, I read and read and read. And then I came across American literature – Steinbeck, Hemingway, McCullers, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. It was like coming home. There was a rhythm and a timbre and a poetry to this literature that I had never experienced before, and I fell in love.

When I was thirteen I contracted chicken pox. I was quarantined and left to my own devices for a good week or so. It was during this time – sequestered in a twelve-bed dormitory by myself, the locked door giving on to a black-and-white checkerboard-tiled corridor – that I read a book called ‘The Shining’. Half of it I didn’t understand, and the half that I did understand scared the hell out of me. It was then that I really grasped the power of a great novel, the fact that whereas non-fiction had – as its primary purpose – the conveyance of information, fiction had as its primary purpose the evocation of an emotion.

It was – coincidentally – another Stephen King book that propelled me to write. It was November of 1987. I was studying in the south of England, and a fellow student spent all his meal times and breaks reading a book. I happened to ask him what it was. ‘It’, he said, ‘by Stephen King’. And then he went on to detail how transfixed and captivated he was by this novel. It was then – in that moment – that a lightbulb went on in my head and I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write stories that would captivate and transfix readers to the same degree.

I started that night, and here we have too little time to discuss the twenty-two novels I wrote in the subsequent six years, most of them in longhand. Here we have too little space to detail the more than five hundred rejection letters I received from more than one hundred publishers, both in England and the United States, but what we will say is that in 2002, fifteen years after first putting pen to paper, my twenty-third novel was accepted for publication.

And that was just the start of the work!

Come back tomorrow for the story of how that persistence paid off in the second part of our visit with RJ Ellory, author of A Quiet Belief in Angels (Overlook Press, September 2009)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't you forget...

RO: John Hughes died a few days ago. Ordinarily I don't pay too much attention when someone famous dies other than the occasional "who cares" or "wow, too bad." I confess I did watch the Diana funeral and when I caught a few minutes of the Michael Jackson tribute, I stuck around and watched the rest,blubbering a few times. And there's a spot in my garden that always reminds me of JFK Jr., because that's where I was pulling weeds when I learned that his plane was missing and presumed crashed. I didn't cry when I found out about John Hughes and there will be no memorial flower bed since I was not in the garden, I was on the computer..where I am most of the time these days.
What I did do was click on a number of links to clips from his movies. What an incredible collection. I wouldn't have called myself a John Hughes fan, but seeing the filmography (is that a word?)reminded me of all of those films..which I seem to quote more often than I realize. Bueller? Bueller?, the Flintstones (from Planes, Trains..)..those aren't pillows!

Now, none of his films is on my all-time ten best list (The Godfather, Godfather2, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa, It's a Wonderful Life, and four that change frequently but this week I'd answer...High Noon, Double Indemnity, Pride and Prejudice and Walkabout) but they were so fun and so evocative of the 80's. That hair, that make-up...those shoulder pads!
I wasn't even a teenager (and that particular form of angst was over) but they still spoke to me. I'm sure they'd be seen as terribly naive by young people today but I remember them very fondly. They were funny and smart..Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Mr. Mom and I'm sure I've forgotten a bunch. They're not exactly guilty pleasures (e.g., Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality or Kingpin which I can watch once a month and still find funny.) They're something else..a piece of my history I guess.

So which movies fit that bill for you? And which are your guilty pleasures? Top ten?

HALLIE: I loved Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller. Couldn't stand Home Alone.

Here's my Top Ten guilty pleasures -- movies I cannot resist:

1. Earth Girls Are Easy - Geena Davis as the EG, Jeff Goldblum and Jim Carey soooo young as two of the three aliens. Set in the Valley, where else? Here we sing along with "'Cause I'm a blond...yay yay yeah!"
2. Arsenic and Old Lace - Cary Grant and slapstick at its finest. Hold the elderberry wine.
3. The Philadelphia Story - Grant and Hepburn! Eat your heart out, Brangelina.
4. Some Like It Hot - "Nobody's perfect!"
5. Ninotchka - Garbo smiles

6. Bull Durham - Toenail painting was never the same
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit - Jessica Rabbit: "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."
8. Witness for the Prosecution - One of the all time best mysteries ever filmed, and was Marlene Dietrich extraordinary? Did you know it was from an Agatha Christie short story?

9. Tootsie - "I have a name it's Dorothy. It's not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll." 10. When Harry Met Sally - I wanted what she was eating.
RO: LOVE Witness for the Prosecution..wanna kiss me, duckie??...I never faint, because I'm not sure I'll fall gracefully and I don't use smelling salts because they puff up the eyes. I'm Christine Vole! And Bull Durham..dancing to Sixty Minute Man? Oh, my. But Earth Girls are Easy? Hallie, this is a side of you I've never witnessed before.

ROBERTA: I did enjoy Home Alone! That's an amazing list of are some of my faves, lots of romances


5. I'm blocking the name of the one starring Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in which she's a waitress and he's a rich and crazy author (RO: As Good As it Gets)



10. TOOTSIE and yes I agree with this one Hallie. I still remember tons of great lines from this one--when Dustin Hoffman comes down the stairs dressed as a woman on the soap--how explains who he really is. hysterical!
JAN: Roberta and Hallie, I share some of your list, as you'll see. I also don't think there should be any guilt whatsoever in the pleasure of Tootsie. In studying screenplay writing, it's used as an example of excellent structure, character development and reversals.
2. LONESOME DOVE (the original television mini series but none of the sequels)


7. Not so Surprisingly, THE WOMEN
9. SPACE BALLS (Mel Brooks)
10. GYPSY (with Natalie Wood)
I will watch any version of any Jane Austen novel, and especially Pride and Prejudice, even if I've just watched it the night before, but don't feel guilty about it.

HANK: I'm typing my top ten guilty pleasures without looking at yours, just to see. Not in order, though..
2. PHILADEPHIA STORY ( I could watch this a million times..)

5.WORKING GIRL (love love love this..cry every time!)
8. DESK SET (endlessly clever)
10. THE THIN MAN (all of them..)Oh, must add --what's the one that has time travel, and Sean Connery as Agamemmnon? You know... oh! Time Bandits. And Lars and the Real Girl. Love it!
Okay--checking yours now....Oh, of course! When Harry Met Sally. And Sleepless. And Annie Hall. And Tootsie. But I don't feel guilty about those.

RO: Some of these are legitimate classics...but Bring It On?Is that the cheerleading movie with Kirsten Dunst? Earth Girls? Spaceballs? I love that you gals are secure enough to admit to loving some pretty goofy movies!
Now I don't feel so bad about Kingpin, the totally tasteless movie with Bill Murray, Woody Harrelson (one-handed bowler) and Randy Quaid as an Amish bowling wiz (I've been Munsoned!!)
And don't forget to come back on Wednesday for our guest blogger, RJ Ellory!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer Gold

ROBERTA: It's been such a weird summer in New England, cool and wet. Doesn't it seem like we haven't hit the summer food season with the same gusto as usual, even here on the blog? I did make a killer blueberry pie and we've had a terrific lettuce and asparagus season, but everything else in the garden is slow, slow, and slow. And then today, I read a horrible article in the New York Times food section about a late tomato blight that's expected to wipe out a large percentage of the tomato crop in the northeast. Yikes! I ran right out to inspect my crop: no sign of fissures and sores so far!
So let's hear it from you Jungle Reds: what's your favorite summer treat so far or what are you looking forward to for the rest of the season?

And p.s., one of the food-related treats I'm anticipating is the new movie directed by Hallie's sister Nora, based on the book Julie and Julia, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Cannot wait to see Meryl Streep as Julia Child!

HALLIE: As I look out my window, it's raining again. Sigh.

Cherries. Have they been incredible this season or what? And last week we had some amazing peaches. Barbecued chicken! We never drag out the charcoal grill until summer. And my friend Maggie just brought me three vine ripened tomatoes and I remembered what they're supposed to taste like...essence of summer. The tomato blight is very scary and, I gather, widespread.

RO: Are we talking food or something else? Summer means white wine sangria and bbqs with friends, big kitchen sink salads and lots of grilled chicken. A good friend just turned me on to something called Sekt. Never heard of it before but it's a German sparkling wine like cava or asti spumante(in these tough economic times, I save the bubbly for special occasions.) Nice and summer-y.

Non-food treat? I can't wait for my month in Wellfleet. No phone, no cable, no obsessive checking of emails.

HANK: Oh, summer. Are we having that this year? It's so rainy around here, people are just--defeated. Walking around in the rain, no umbrellas. Just--getting wet. Forget about it. Fuzzy hair and damp clothes and flip flops. And usually during the summer we have dinner outside on the patio every night--not this year. But we are saving a LOT on irrigation.

Anyway--food. Peaches! I found some wonderful ones, and when they're good, they're so terrific. And blueberries. And oh, we've had lobster, and I do love it. And proseco with elderflower liqueur. Like a kir. And rose wine from Provence...cold cold cold.

And how about iced coffee? And iced lattes? Got to love them. And right his very minute--we're grilling fish and asparagus outside. Not raining! Yay! Gotta go..

RHYS: I've experienced enough heat to share with everyone who has had a rotten summer. Book tour in Houston, Scottsdale, LA and now over a week in Florida. My biggest treat so far--swimming in the ocean twice this week as we drove around Florida and abandoned drive by signings for an hour or two on the beach. The water was incredible--warm, gentle waves, just right. We did pay for it a little with sunburn as we stayed in for an hour and the sunscreen was gradually washed away.

We've also had some amazing food on this tour--cold seafood platter on a dock, and dinner in a very trendy South Florida restaurant with decor right out of a movie (speaking of which I also can't wait to see Julia and Julie. I love movies about food, and I love everything Nora has done.
Incidentally, cherries have also been fantastic in California this summer. One of my favorite fruits, along with peaches, mangoes, papaya.

ROBERTA: Tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, lobster, cherries...what summer treats are you enjoying?