Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hallopalooza Time!

This weekend Jungle Red Writers is delighted to participate in a Hallopalooza, sponsored by The Stiletto Gang. If you're starting here, please go back to the Gang's blogsite to read the beginning of the Halloween mini-mystery. Then you will follow the clues on each of the blogs to solve the mystery at the end for a grand prize. You may also enter comments along the way to win other great prizes! (Right here, win signed books from the Jungle Red Writers!) Good luck and have a spooky good time...

Clue #2: "I was hoping to speak with Mr. Howard before conducting any other interviews." Milla frowned at the petite man wearing a court jester costume. He'd just informed her that G. Winston Howard was otherwise occupied.

She glanced at her notes. He was Walter Jester, possibly the victim's last dance partner. "How well did you know Miss Jordan?"

He shrugged, the tiny bells sewn on his costume tinkling. "Very well. I facilitated her work for Mr. Howard."

"Facilitated?" Milla's pen hovered over the lined page. "You mean your job was to run her errands?"

"Yes." Walter blinked several times. "I didn't mind. It paid well."

She could tell from his tone he was lying; that he had minded. He'd minded very much. "What will you do now?"

He smiled. The bells tinkled again as he answered, "Her job."

Next Clue Location:

Don't forget to comment on this post to enter your name in our drawing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Evil for Evil: James R. Benn

ROBERTA: Here's an embarrassing story about today's guest. Several years ago, he approached me wondering if I would read and blurb his first book before publication. I decided I had to be honest: I just don't enjoy historical mysteries that much, especially war stories. Jim was most gracious about my refusal and we've gone on to become friends. And his World War II mysteries featuring the appealing protagonist Billy Boyle have become a huge success. Welcome Jim!

JIM: Thanks, Roberta. Embarrassing perhaps, but that story also illuminates a problem inherent in writing a mystery set within the Allied high command during World War II. Many readers start off with same comment as yours; that “war stories” are not their cup of tea. The first thing that often occurs to people is that it must be a “shot-‘em-up” series. But what I am trying to explore is the overall emotional effect on my character of going to war; everything from being uprooted from his family to confronting death. In all four books, there is only one actual battle scene—in BLOOD ALONE, where Billy is swept up in defense of a Sicilian beachhead—otherwise, the gunplay involves the other enemy, those villains who seek to profit from war’s misery.

Why World War II?

JIM: I’m part of the generation that grew up with a father who had been to that war. It’s been ever present in my life, all mixed up with father-son relationships, so it’s no surprise that Billy’s father plays a role. He’s at a remembered distance, but his influence is still felt. Every time Billy gets into a fix, he tries to recall the advice and training his dad gave him. As with many sons, he didn’t pay attention at the time, and later on wishes he had. The Second World War in Europe also offers a tremendous tapestry of stories, ranging from the heroic to the desperately foolish. I try to find an interesting historical situation and wrap a fictional mystery around it, in order to bring it to light and look at it in what I hope is a fresh way.

ROBERTA: Tell us about Billy Boyle and where you see his career heading?

JIM: Billy is part of an extended Irish-American family in Boston. The men are cops and watch out for each other. Family loyalty is key to the Boyles, as is loyalty to the cause of Irish nationalism. They are no friends of the British Empire, and after one of the brothers was killed in the First World War, the surviving brothers vowed no Boyle would ever again die in any cause joined with the English. So when the Second World War comes around, they finagle their political connections to get Billy appointed to the staff of a distant relative in Washington DC; an obscure general named Dwight David something. But instead of a safe sinecure, Billy is sent off with “Uncle Ike” to be his personal investigator. Not what the Boyles bargained for. Right now, I’m focusing on his career leading up to D-Day. Not much beyond that. People do ask about going home to Boston, but I can’t see that far ahead. Although it might be interesting to keep him in post-war Berlin for a while….

How did Billy end up in Ireland in the current book?

JIM: In EVIL FOR EVIL, I had the British ask Eisenhower to loan them Billy to investigate links between the IRA and the Germans in Northern Ireland (which actually occurred). This presented Billy with his greatest challenge, to investigate the heroes of his youth, as a (reluctant) agent of the British. He uncovered more than he (or I) wanted to know about the brutalities carried out by both sides in that conflict. At one point he says “I wish God hadn’t given me the sense to see both sides of a thing.” That pretty well sums it up.

ROBERTA: What's been the most interesting part of being a published author?

JIM: The readers. The way people get swept up in this universe of characters that you’ve created. They are real enough in my mind, but to see them through the vision of the readers is a real gift. I’ve had a number of people thank me recently for something very specific; “hours and hours of pleasure”. It’s not often you can give that to a perfect stranger!

As a psychologist, I'm interested in your comment on the website about how your psychotherapist wife helps you puzzle out character motivation. Can you give us some examples?

JIM: She helps with the male-female dynamic and crafting dialog when it has emotional content. Specifically, she helped me understand the effects of a particular kind of amnesia (in BLOOD ALONE). She works a lot with trauma survivors, and for the recently completed RAG AND BONE (2010) she gave feedback on appropriate behaviors for a character with PTSD (shell shock back then). For the book I’m working on now (for 2011 release) she has helped me with an understanding of the psychopathic personality. It’s an interesting process, to talk with a current practitioner, but to then consult texts (such as THE MASK OF SANITY) and revert to 1940’s language and understanding..

ROBERTA: Wow, she's a real resource. Maybe we'll have her on as a guest:). What's up next?

JIM: A research trip in December to Rome and Anzio. The 2011 book, tentatively titled THE KILLING GAME, takes place within the Anzio beachhead south of Rome. A psychopathic killer on the loose in the midst of a deadly battle. Not that there were any restaurants open in the Anzio area back then, but we will research Italian food and wine as well. Billy does like a good meal when he can get it.

Don't we all! Thanks for stopping in today and best of luck with Evil for Evil!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Libby Hellmann on DoubleBack

ROBERTA: Today JRW welcomes Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of six novels including her latest, DOUBLEBACK, featuring PI Georgia Davis. Libby also edited a collection of short stories called CHICAGO BLUES, has written many short stories, and served as the president of Sisters in Crime. Welcome Libby! Please start by telling us where the idea for DB came from.

LIBBY: People who know me well know I’m a little neurotic. (Stop laughing, Roberta). Some of my primal fears are flying, bees, and being trapped in a stalled elevator. So I imagined 6 people in an office building elevator that lurches to a stop. The lights go out, the car sways, and panic ensues – people cry, curse, pray and yell. They think they’re going to die. Suddenly the elevator resumes operating and descends to the lobby as if nothing has happened. The people spill out, and the last man out looks at his watch and says, “Right on schedule.”

That’s the first chapter of DOUBLEBACK. Now all I needed was the rest of the book.

At the time I started writing, Blackwater was all over the news. Eric Prince was saying his mercenaries weren’t exactly military, so they shouldn’t be accountable to military law. Then he said they weren’t really civilians either, so they shouldn’t be accountable to civilian law. It was a Catch-22 and it infuriated me. So I decided to incorporate that into the story. What if mercenaries, who are up to the highest bidder anyway, changed sides? What would happen? How would you detect it? How would you fight it? Those are some of the questions I explore in DOUBLEBACK.

ROBERTA: I'm not laughing, Libby! We love nutty here at JRW:). Why did you mix first person with third person… what’s been the reaction?

LIBBY: I knew from the start that I would be pairing my series protagonists in DOUBLEBACK. My first series features Ellie Foreman, a single mother, video producer, and amateur sleuth. I have always written her in first person, mostly because Ellie wants you to know who she is and how she feels. Georgia, who made her debut in one of the Ellie books, but came into her own in EASY INNOCENCE, has always come to me in third person. That’s because she’s cautious, guarded, and prefers to keep people at a distance. I did try to write Ellie in third person, for consistency’s sake, but it didn’t work. She lost some of her fire. So I bit the bullet and wrote them the way they wanted to be written. I think their voices are distinct enough that readers won’t be confused. At least I hope so.

ROBERTA: Are you going to continue with the dual protagonists?

LIBBY: I don’t know. The next Georgia book looks like it will feature her as the protagonist. However, Ellie will make an appearance. I haven’t started it yet, but in my third Ellie book, AN IMAGE OF DEATH, which, coincidentally, was the book that introduced Georgia, one of the bad guys gets away, and I’m thinking of bringing him back in number 7. So we’ll see how heavily Ellie is involved.

ROBERTA: Will Georgia ever find true love?

LIBBY: Georgia has had a hard time in her relationships, and she’s due for a break. And yes, I know who I’m bringing in to be her love interest. Once again, he’s a character from an Ellie book, but I can’t tell you who or which book-- I’d have to kill you. Or maybe Georgia would.

ROBERTA: Where did your love of suspense come from?

LIBBY: Before I ever thought about writing books, I read thrillers. These were in the salad days of Ludlum, LeCarre, Deighton, Follett, etc.(They were all men back then…) I loved the the sheer inability to put a book down until it’s finished, even though you’re up half the night. Once I started writing, I knew suspense would be a hallmark of my work, and at this point I can’t imagine not building in suspense. I’m just grateful that so many women have broken into the subgenre. More, more!

Libby's on tour with Doubleback right now. You can read more about her books and her tour stops at her website.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Eternal Student

ROBERTA: I have to admit I'm a writing book junkie. I have dozens of them and I'm always looking for tips that will catch my imagination and improve my writing. Just before the mystery convention Bouchercon began, I was fortunate to attend Donald Maass's seminar on writing the breakout novel, sponsored by Sisters in Crime. Who wouldn't want to write the breakout novel, if you're going to all the trouble of writing one anyway? I was quite relieved when he talked mostly about developing complicated characters, rather than outlandish plots. Now I'm going through my novel draft, looking for ways to make the readers care more about my protagonist, to make her human, to make her multidimensional, to bring forth more drama, more conflict, more contradictions. A lot of what he discussed can be found in his excellent new book, THE FIRE IN FICTION. Though sometimes it takes hearing the ideas out loud for them to sink in. Have you heard any tips on writing lately that have caught your imagination and maybe made a difference in what you're writing? Or maybe an oldie but goodie that you tend to fall back on?

HALLIE: When I was at Bouchercon I was on a panel with James Scott Bell who wrote the excellent book, PLOT AND STRUCTURE. He talked about the "doorways of no return." At the end of Act 1 of a novel, for instance, there's a point when the protagonist must have no alternative but to move forward (and do something that character is profoundly uncomfortable doing) -- and once through cannot turn back. Moving through that doorway of no return propels the character into Act 2. It's a much more useful notion than "plot twist."

JAN: I took an online class in screenwritng last fall that was amazingly helpful. I needed it to remind myself how to write a screenplay, but it's also a way to look at novel writing from the point of pure structure. Along the novel writing way, I've developed a system I use for revision -- after the first draft. I was thrilled to find that it worked equally well in revising a screenplay.

On the other hand, I just wrote an essay for an essay collection thats coming out on how crazy parents make themselves over college admissions. And I can tell you, after all these years, an essay is hard every time.

HANK: Writing tips. Yeah. Why are they so provocative? It always seems like there's the perfect one, just the one you need, just around the corner. I'm so bummed I didn't get to hear Donald Maass, and Hallie's class was wonderful and inspirational, as usual. I'm starting a new project and of course, now in my head I'm going through all the "tips" I've ever heard.

And I guess the one I'm stickin' with is: Sit down at the desk. Write the book.

RO: I like Hank's tip. I've taken two classes that I thought were enormously helpful - Hallie's workshop at Crimebake three years ago, and Nancy Pickard's class for SINCNew England a couple of years back.
I bought a lot of books when I first started writing and I leaf through them every time I start a new book. Time to start leafing again.

ROBERTA: Jan, do spill the name of your screenwriter teacher when you get a chance. And please chime in with your favorite writing tips. And come back often this week--tomorrow we'll feature suspense writer Libby Hellmann, then James Benn on Wednesday, and on Friday--stay tuned for the Hallopolooza!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Colors of our Life

RHYS:I went shopping yesterday, having been seriously store-deprived while I was in Australia. When I hung the new skirt and sweater in my closet I realized that everything I've bought this fall is either beige or brown. I also realized that over the years I have been attracted to very different colors. There, hanging in my closet, is my turqoise year, my navy year, my buttery yellow year, my pink year and yes, there was even a mauve year, I fear, although God knows when that was and God knows what made me think that mauve was a pleasant color.

So now I'm intrigued: why am I attracted to beige and brown this year? What made me go for navy at one time and buttery yellow at another? Was I in need of cheering and sunshine when I chose that yellow? Or was I feeling radiant and on top of the world? Was I feeling sophisticated when I went for the navy suit? With me it's certainly not conscious, neither is it the fashionable color of the year. I don't even realize that I'm in a beige or blue phase until I look in the closet and there are several pieces hanging side by side. I sure Roberta and other psychologists reading this could tell me why we are attracted to certain colors at certain times. I think I'll keep a color diary from now on, and then at the end of the year, I'll compare it with my achievements and personal life diary.

Rhys in her mauve mistake period with my friend Lyn Hamilton who sadly left us last month.
I know some people stick to one basic color scheme. My daughter Anne wears black, light blue, red. She clearly a winter type. I look awful in black, although I have the obligatory black suit for formal occasions. But as for the little black dress--I look like something out of a vampire movie.

So how about you, Jungle Red Sisters? Do you stick to favorite colors as the basis for your wardrobe or do you change from year to year like me?

HANK: AH, Rhys. I started with a "black" year. Then year. The next year, I And I liked it so much that the next year, I went for black. This year, I'm thinkin'--black.

We had our house appraised a few years ago, and the appraiser briefly had the run of the place. He came downstairs with a funny look on his face. Well, he said, I looked in your closet, Hank. Oh, I replied, sheepish. Lots of shoes, huh?

Shoes? he said. Nope. Everyone has shoes. I was just wondering how many black suits one person really needs.

Yellow doesn't work with my hair. Nor does purple. Or gray. Or pink. Or tan/beige/taupe. Navy's fine, but it's not as nice as black. Red, yes, love it. And white, well, hmmm. Suddenly there's lots of white in my closet. And I wonder what that means. But basically--yeah. Black.

I would love to see your color diary, though, Rhys. And I'm with ya on the mauve thing. Mistake.

JAN: Once, long ago, I a did a story about a woman starting some sort of consulting business on "Colors." Later, I went in for a color consultation, and I'm sad to say, it's become the religion to which I'm most faithful. I'm as BEIGE as Hank is BLACK. Fall colors no matter what season it is -- although sometimes I veer into heresy and tell myself I can wear pale pink -- but ONLY if it's got PEACH TONES. Otherwise, I'm afraid, I'm doomed to eternity in fashion HELL.

So if you look in my closet, you see beige, beige, a little brown and gold, and then a lot more beige. Some might call it BORING. Others might call it INCREDIBLY BORING, but others may see the LIGHT.

RHYS: I've had my share of color mistakes--and my mother insisted on sending me the flowery patterns I loved during my San Francisco during the 70s phase. I wish I could wear black--it makes life so much simpler and it always looks professional.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A visit with Barbara Peters

RHYS: Today our guest is a true icon in the mystery world. She's not a writer, publisher nor agent. Yet she has won the universal respect of our community and is considered a real power lady. She is Barbara Peters and she owns the Poisoned Pen Bookstores in Scottsdale, AZ. With husband Rob Rosenwald she also owns and runs Poisoned Pen Press. I've been proud to call her a friend for some time.

So welcome to Jungle Red Writers, Barbara. Usually you're known as the interviewer so today it's my turn:

RHYS: You're universally known as an icon in the world of mystery, but you didn't start out as writer, publisher or bookseller. Tell us how you came to be involved in the genre.

BARBARA: As a reader. I had "retired" from libraries and law and grew bored. One day Rob, my husband, said, "now that you can do whatever you want, what do you want to do?" I said, "go back to books" and he said "how?" and I said, with rare acumen, "I am not a Civil Service sort of person, ruling out libraries again" (my library career was at the Library of Congress), and he said, "so then what, a store? what kind?" and I said, having shopped in mystery stores for years, "mystery is what I know. How hard can it be?" Those last are the fatal words that propelled us first into founding The Poisoned Pen and then, ten years later, Poisoned Pen Press. It's a lot harder than it looks.

RHYS: When did you and husband Rob Rosenwald decide to start your own press. What made you decide to do this? Has it been as successful as you hoped?

BARBARA: We held a very successful mystery conference in Scottsdale in 1996, the first of nearly annual Poisoned Pen conferences where authors speak by invitation only and fans are limited to roughly 200. The first group of authors produced spectacular talks on classic crime writers (Connelly on Chandler, Gores on Hammett, King on Doyle, Keating on Sayers, Saylor on Palmer, etc) and when it was over, said "All that...what about our papers?" So I said to Rob, "how hard can it be to publish the papers in a kind of festschrift (thinking academically) and he, a computer junkie admiring new print technology, said, "why not?" So we organized a book and it was nominated for an Edgar (how hard can that be? hmmm, plenty hard). And we were hooked. Rob abandoned other computer projects to organized a publishing company. I agreed to do the editorial work.

We are now up to 36 original novels a year (it is hard to do this volume of editing as a second job), have had amazing critical support, developed wonderful talent, are hugely proud of our list, all of which is still in print either coventionally or in POD and is also mostly on audio books and Large Print and moving into ebooks. Last February we moved from doing our own distribution to Ingram Publisher Services which will make a big difference in time to sales volume. So we're not yet to a level of sales we'd like to see for the authors (that is, their revenues), but in all other ways it's turned out better than we imagined when we first thought of publishing.

RHYS: Which do you enjoy more, the store or the press?

BARBARA: That's an apples and oranges question. The bookstore has moved by necessity given the size of its staff, its expensive location, and probably the nature of its employees including me who all are comfortable with chaos, into theater. We do constant and often enormous events which are tremendous fun whether small for a new writer, middle sized for most authors, or big for celebrity or local interest writers, we organize conferences for our customers. And we remain over 75% mail order with a global reach that is connected to us mostly by our electronic publications (thousands subscribe to our Enews which takes a ton of time to write but seems to be enjoyed and is just just about books but about the publishing world, news, even stuff like travelogues and random medical information (I am aging and so are many of our customers so I tell them about stuff like cataracts surgery). So on the bookstore it's a cross beween show biz and literary issues and behind the scenes, how to run a business.

Editing for the press is, by contrast, since the press has its own, separate staff under Rob, just fun for me if often immensely hard work getting into the skin of a book, characters, landscapes, concepts...even the author. It's sort of a mom thing, or maybe a mid-wife thing, helping give birth. I'm sure our authors don't always agree with, or even like, how it goes sometimes but the results speak for themselves. We've had very little author turnover and much of it has been about personal issues rather than professional. Our original design was to discover and nurture new talent and see it move away to Big Publishing, but this marketplace quashed most of that so now we're figuring out how to run an on-going quality small publishing company. Our greatest fear, truly, is that we might produce a runaway bestseller which we are not equipped to handle financially (or emotionally) and which would end up being unfair to the other authors on our list. Here we've already figured out how hard it would be. Meanwhile we stick to our game plan of paying the same small advance to everyone, leaving it to the books to earn out, and treating everyone we publish as even handedly as we can.

I'd like to add that our submission guidelines etc are available at and that I do not respond to any email about the press or publishing, which should instead be directed to

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in the blog. -- Barbara Peters

RHYS: Thank you, Barbara. And you are not getting old. You are the female version of Peter Pan and still a hunk magnet, as displayed in the photograph with hunks Brent Ghelfi, John Lescroat, Steven Martini and Brett Battles.


I should add that this Saturday Barbara and Rob are trying another ground breaking feat--the first ever web-con--an online convention for mystery lovers, writers, fans. It will have great panels and author interviews like real mystery conventions but you can take part from the convenience of your own computer. What's more it only costs $25 to register and take part in discussions, and you will receive a $20 coupon to be spent at the bookstore. So it's virtually free. Go to the Poisoned Pen Press website to check it out and register.

RO: Hello, Barbara! Even though I'm not a Poisoned Pen author, I feel like one of the new writers lucky enough to have been nurtured by you. When my first book was about to be released I asked my publicist if he thought I might have an event at Poisoned Pen. I fully expected him to laugh and say "only if you can get Michael Connelly to go with you." But I did have an event, and in fact you chose Pushing Up Daisies for your new writer program. When I got to the store there were stacks and stacks of books to sign - I thought I had died and gone to heaven! It was my first event after my launch and nothing else has ever come close to that feeling - it's still heaven and I hope I get to go back next spring for book three.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Return from Oz

RHYS: I know I've been invisible and silent for a while, but I've had a good excuse. John and I have been in the Australian Outback. This was one of those trips that we've put off, until we realized that we can't count on good health forever and we should do it while we're both fit.

It was not by any means a first trip to Australia. In fact Australia has played a big part in my life. I went to work for Australian Broadcasting in my twenties, met John in Sydney and reluctantly moved to California with him. My brother followed me to Australia, married and settled there. My parents also settled there when they retired. So for a while my whole family was in New South Wales.

I visited many times. I was there when my parents died. So the place carries powerful memories and emotions for me from weddings to funerals. But my experience of the Land Down Under has all been of the Eastern coast--green, fertile, lots of lakes and rivers. I realized I should never really know Australia until I had visited the Red Center.

So this trip took us to Alice Springs, to Uluru, to various bright red mountains and gorges with secret waterfalls and refreshing cold pools. We went to Darwin and Kakadu National Park and saw more crocodiles than we wanted to, and water buffalo and camels and kangaroos, frilled lizards, goanas and zillions of birds. We have come home sated with nature--and with a greater appreciation for the real outback; lonely cattle stations bigger than Belgium, supporting one cow per acre, red dust that clings to everything, amazing sunsets. It's an impressive country and there is nowhere else on Earth that I have been that has given me the impression of being truly far away and different. I've taken pages of notes and hope to write a book some day.

And speaking of books, this trip has meant that I missed Bouchercon--the World Mystery Convention--for the first time in many years. Of course now I'm regretting this and hope that my Jungle Red Sisters will chime in with reports on the convention and any juicy gossip that's fit to print.

HALLIE: Well, the #1 bit of gossip from Bouchercon is that Rhys Bowen (yes OUR Rhys Bowen) won the Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery for A ROYAL PAIN. Congratulations, Rhys! To add to your formidable collection.

I came back early after teaching at the wonderful Sisters in Crime before-conference writing workshop. Donald Maas's session was fantastic--gave me a slew of ideas for revision my WIP (work-in-progress). And Nancy Picard's talk left me laughing and inspired, a great combo.

Indianapolis was great -- and I especially loved meeting all those librarians! There were about 80 of them at the Sisters in Crime Librarian's Tea...another brilliant moment.

ROBERTA: Yes, big Rhys congrats to you! Jim Huang and his committee did a wonderful job with the convention--an amazing and backbreaking job if ever there was one. I was very proud of the presence of Sisters in Crime in Indianapolis--organizing a few of the events was my swan song on the board. Not sure how I'll fill up my time--maybe a trip to Australia??

In fact my hub and I are discussing where to take vacation next year. We've never been to Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, South America, India--a long list of possibilities. Would be happy to hear suggestions!

RO: So jealous! I've had the Aussie fantasy ever since The Thorn Birds and all of those great Australian movies/series from the 80's - A Town Like Alice, Breaker Morant, The Last Wave, Gallipoli. I did get to meet Bryan Brown once (and practically fainted) but that was as close as I've gotten.

RHYS: Thanks for the congrats. I was really surprised to win this time, given the serious historical writers who were my fellow nominees.
A Town Like Alice has always been one of my favorite books, which was one of the reasons I was so anxious to see the real town. It doesn't have much going for it apart from its location, actually. Right in the middle of the continent and fabulous mountain ranges around it. (Oh and I loved the movie, speaking of Bryan Brown....very sexy guy.)

So the Australian Outback is crossed off my bucket list. I still have to see the pyramids in Egypt and go on an African safari, but I'm less and less inclined to subject my body to those long flights and all that airport annoyance. One thing that came across about Australia was how pleasant the people are. Even the airport security guys could joke and speak in pleasant tones. And everyone in stores has time to talk. If it weren't so far away, I'd get rid of the condo in Phoenix and spend my winters Down Under.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On smudged up recipes

JAN: Recently I took on a herculean task: I sorted through all the zillions of recipes in my file folders, armored them in plastic protectors, and organized them in a loose leaf binder.

I hate organizational tasks, so this was really a tedious sacrifice of time for me, but while I was doing it, I noticed that I’d linger over the icky, butter or gravy smudged recipes the longest.

And what was that about?? Fond feelings for my sloppy cooking?

Or maybe it’s because the spotless recipes signify a good concept that doesn’t apply to me. Messy means tried and true. Messy means real life.

So here are two of my messiest, most loved winter recipes.

Chicken Artichoke Stew:
3 lbs. broiler fryer cut in pieces, or three pounds skinless breasts cut into bite size pieces.
1 med-sized onion chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2 to three cloves of fresh garlic minced or pressed
1 large can (16 ounces) crushed tomatoes.
1 8-ounce can diced tomatoes.
small can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 package frozen articholes thawed and chopped or a large can of articoke hearts quartered.
2 to three carrots peeled and chopped into small slices
1/2 lemon squeezed.
Sautee onions and garlic in a Dutch Oven or Stewpot in olive oi. Add childen and brown on both sides. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the squeezed lemon and artichokes and cook for forty five minutes to an hour on medium or medium low. Add artichokes and cook ten minutes more. Add lemon and take off the heat. Serve over pasta or rice or serve as a stew with a loaf of French bread.
Hot Ham in a crockpot
I'm not a big ham fan. I buy it once or twice a year because I need the ham bone for pea soup and I can never find one. So I buy the smallest but-end fully cooked ham I can find and take three quarters of the meat off of it. Probably a pound or two.
Then I take a crockpot (or you can use a dutch oven) and sprinkle olive oil on the bottom.
I peel and slice four to six potatoes, and slice three carrots. I slice a bulb of fennel (you can use celery instead) and chop half an onion (1/2 cup). For fun, I like to add two jalapeno peppers (optional) I layer this on the bottom of the crockpot, sprinking with salt, peppper and a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter.
I cut the ham into medium sized hunks and put that on top. I mix two tsp. of brown sugar into ten ounces of low fat chicken broth and add to the concoction. In a crockpot, I cook it on high for four to five hours. In a Dutch Oven, I'd cook it on medium low for an hour or so. Ten minutes before serving, I add a half cup of light sour cream and I serve with sour dough bread. It's amazingly delicious -- even if you don't like ham!
Anyone else have an messy, winter recipes to share ?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On bibliophiles

The one thing everyone knows about Hallie is that she loves books.

Her latest, “The Bibliophile’s Devotional,” out in book stores now, offers the reader an inspiration from literature for every day of the year.

Each day we get an engaging plot summary, great opening lines, and more important the real DIRT – the facts and gossip -- behind the books we’ve always loved.

JAN: Hallie tell us about the book.

HALLIE: I love your description – plot summary, opening lines, and some interesting behind-the-book tidbits. I was limited to just one page per book, so for some books it was particularly challenging. Try summarizing War and Peace in three paragraphs!

JAN: And the process for collecting the many choices and making the selections. Is there any correlation between the book chosen and time of year? Holiday??

HALLIE: Sometimes. Just for example…

January 1, WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith (It opens on New Year’s Day, 1975 with hapless Archibald Jones trying to gas himself; it New Years Eve, 1992, when Archie “accidentally” releases a mutant mouse programmed to do away with the randomness of creation.)

July 4, INDEPENDENCE DAY by Richard Ford (On July 4 Frank Bascombe takes his troubled son on a trip to a sports hall of fame; at a baseball field he’s struck by a lightning bolt.)

September 2, GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell (On September 2, 1864, the Union troops occupied Atlanta. In the ovel that’s where Scarlett, one of literature’s most greedy and self-centered creatures, finds redemption.)

JAN: How long did it take you to research these books and how did you find the gossip and fact behind the stories.

HALLIE: It took the better part of a year. It was a little easier than it might have been because I was just coming off writing 1001 BOOKS FOR EVERY MOOD so I had a tiny head start in the research department.

I found the gossip and facts in newspaper archives, in biographies and memoirs, in the introductions and prefaces of modern editions of old books.

JAN: What’s are some of your favorites?

HALLIE: I had the most fun with this part. Here’s a few –

- Some of Margaret Mitchell 1,000-plus page manuscript of GONE WITH THE WIND was typewritten, some handwritten, some of it scribbled on the backs of laundry lists when she showed it to H. L. Latham, editor at the MacMillan copmany.

- After the publication of Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE with its expose of the meatpacking industry, foreign sales of American meat plummeted. To allay the public’s fears, the meatpacking industry itself lobbied for passage of the landmark federal food safety law which took effect in 1907.

- When Eli Wiesel completed NIGHT--his account of four years in Buchenwald concentration camp, his family’s only survivor--the only holocaust literature published to date was “The Diary of Anne Frank.” More than 15 publishers turned “Night” down before it found a small press willing to take the gamble. It went on to spend 80 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list and started a new genre of holocaust survivor literature.

- Dashiell Hammett loosely based THE MALTESE FALCON on the Sonoma Gold Specie case to which he was assigned as a Pinkerton detective before he became a writer. Within a decade the book had been made into three films.

Today we're talking about books, tomorrow come back to talk about food. It's already cold and dark in New England and Jan will be talking about her favorite winter recipes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mark Arsenault

JAN: Our guest blogger today is Mark Arsenault, a terrific writer I met through the Providence Journal, where we both worked as reporters, but at different times.

I knew he was a Shamus-nominated mystery writer. I might have guessed that he is a runner, hiker, and political junkie. But it came as a surprise that he's also an eBay fanatic who collects memorabilia from the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

His new novel is LOOT THE MOON, the second book in the Billy Povich series that began with GRAVEWRITER, a noir thriller that intrigued me with rich characters and kept me on the edge of my seat It's also been praised for a fusion of suspense, humor and human tenderness.

He used to write a terrific column on writing for the ProJo and we are lucky to get some of his insight here.

Writing on Faith

Writing is one of the hardest things in the world to start, especially if nobody cares if you finish.

When I began my first mystery, I had no idea if I could even write a novel, much less get it published. But we have to find the faith to write, even if there’s no guarantee the project will ever sell.

After four books and 20 years working for newspapers, now I write mainly to meet deadline, but it wasn’t always that way. I used to write on faith. And recently, I’ve been doing it again.

My wife, Jennifer, has an estranged brother she hasn’t seen or heard from in nearly 20 years. For many of those years, the family didn’t know where he was, or even if he was alive.
But the Internet makes it hard to hide, and several years ago we bird-dogged his on-line footprint and tracked him down to a city on the West coast.

We found where he had posted condolences on a memorial page for a friend who had died. He had made a few political donations, bought some real estate, and had apparently gotten married. We couldn’t manage to make contact, but we were cheered that he was alive and living what seemed a normal and healthy life, which we followed from 3,000 miles away through the tiny impressions he left in a living, growing Web that sees all and never forgets.

Then a few months ago, seemingly from nowhere, the wife of the brother-in-law I have never met reached out to the rest of the family by email.

This shocking, generous gesture, and the possibility of reconciliation, left my mother-in-law in tears. More emails, with pictures attached, zipped back and forth across the country for several days. My mother-in-law saw a digital photo of a grandson she never knew she had.

But this story is not a Hallmark card.

After a few days, my brother-in-law’s wife confessed she had contacted us in secret. The brother who had vanished nearly two decades ago didn’t know. She promised to get some advice from her clergy, and then break the news to her husband.

We never got another email from her.

This is where writing on faith is important. She doesn’t email us, but we still email her.

Every few weeks, I dash off a personal note to share with her the exciting things in our lives and to bore her with the mundane parts, as you’re supposed to do with family. I never mention the estrangement, the lack of contact—none of that. My emails read like Facebook notes between old friends, even though the notes only go one way.

I sent our Las Vegas wedding picture and a funny story about the pastor we hired sight-unseen off the Internet. A few weeks ago, I sent a full report on my brother’s nuptials in Ireland this summer, including pictures of pubs and green fields dotted with sheep. Most recently, I sent a copy of the cover art for my new novel. (A 20-year estrangement is no excuse not to support your family and buy a copy.)

I don’t expect a reply. I just fire these notes into the ether. The emails don’t bounce back, so maybe they’re reading them. Maybe they’re keeping tabs on us over the Internet, as we did with them.

When you write even when you can’t be sure anything good will come of it, you’re writing for love. That’s the second-best reason to write, just behind writing for deadline.
So has anybody else tried something unique to reach somebody who didn’t want to be reached?

With 20 years of experience as a print reporter, Arsenault is one of those weird cranks who still prefers to read the news on paper. His Web site is:

JAN: Come back tomorrow when I get Hallie to tell us how she put together her new book, THE BIBLIOPHILE'S DEVOTIONAL.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Talk about a literary tell-all!

I can't believe how brave she is.

First, let me say, you know, sometimes you just meet someone who’s the real deal. The genuine article. A stalwart pal. But I’m realizing now, I’ve never met Janet Koch in person. Which is odd, because I really feel as if I know her. Miracle of internet technology.

She’s hilarious. Clever. Talented. Makes fantastic book videos. And is soon to be multiply-published! But today, she comes to Jungle Red as the bravest blogger this side of –ah, maybe she’s actually the bravest.

And this was all her idea.

Favorite Books I’ve Never Read

JANET: As my husband can attest, I read a lot. (“Turn off that light. It’s time to go to sleep.”) Once he asked me how many books I’d read in my life. Um, no clue. Since I’m the kind of person who alphabetizes her spices and keeps the clothes in her closet organized by color, in 2004 I started keeping a spreadsheet of the books I’ve read. On average, I read 138 books per year, or just over two and a half books a week. At that rate you’d think I’d have read everything I wanted to read, right? Not quite.

Yep, there are still an awful lot of books out there that I want to read. The list would be shorter if I’d chosen English for my college major instead of geology, but back in 19-whatever my wishes and desires were different than today.

So. I’ve never read The Old Curiosity Shop. I’ve also never read Anna Karenina or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Never read On the Road or Jude the Obscure and I’ve never once managed to make it all the way through Gravity’s Rainbow.

Sad, isn’t it? But it gets worse.

On the mystery side of things I’ve never read The Big Sleep, The Woman in White, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Maltese Falcon, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Pathetic situation for someone who claims to be writing mysteries.

Then there are the children’s books I’ve never read. Children’s literature fascinates me, but I’ve still never read Wind in the Willows. Or Where the Red Fern Grows. I’ve also never read The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Wheel on the School, or The Cricket in Times Square.

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

And that’s just the fiction. If I tallied my unread non-fiction (Silent Spring, The Guns of August, The Double Helix, Up From Slavery, etc.) we’d be here all day.

But in spite of my haven’t-read-this-yet list, I don’t quite feel like gum on the bottom of a shoe. Every year I make sure to read some classics, some non-fiction, and a number of new authors. Examples? From my 2009 list: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, Symphony of Spirits by Deborah Forrest, and In the Woods by Tana French. Not so bad, eh?

And I feel sure that eventually I’ll get around to finishing Gravity’s Rainbow. Right after I read Wind in the Willows. Which comes right after The Big Sleep and The Old Curiosity Shop and…

HANK: Fine. I’ll play. I’ve never read The Woman in White, either. (Hallie is going to kill us. But I have the book RIGHT HERE. Does that count?) Or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Rosemary, yeah, I know. My bad.)
(And Janet—a list? You are so wonderfully organized. But you have to read Ackroyd and Ripley. Really. You’ll be glad.)

How about you guys? Fess up! What books have you never read? You’ll feel better if you tell. And we will, too.

After 11 years and 6 1/3 unpublished manuscripts, Janet Koch (writing as Laura Alden) recently signed a three-book contract with NAL for a cozy series.

(JRW: Who hoo! We’re so delighted.)

The series features a divorced mother of two who was goaded by her so-called best friend into becoming the new secretary of the local Parent Teacher Organization. With a little bit of luck (Janet says this—JRW knows she’s already worked harder than anyone and she’s made her own luck), the first in the series will be published in late Janet lives in northern Michigan with her husband and two cats. When she’s not working on her cozy manuscript, she’s freelance writing for the local newspaper, studying for her nurse’s aide exam, reading, or doing some variety of skiing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another TV Type Turns to Fiction

Ah, another television reporter takes a step
into the world of fiction. (Now hey, I don't want to hear one catty word from you all.)
Writing for TV can make you--tough. Tense. Cynical. It can also show you the world, which is often wonderful, and often terrifying. And always complicated. After years of writing for TV, (and winning tons of awards), Michael Cogdill decided he'd take the step into fiction. And, he'll tell you, he fell in love.
And here's here now to give you his own breaking news.

Let's call it: The Affair of Writing

I anchor the late news on WYFF4 television – NBC in the Western Carolinas and Georgia. A newscast – so often fraught with helicopter live pictures and word of the worst of times for often innocent souls – leaves the people who bring it to you wired at the nerves and longing in the heart by a work day’s end. Coming home at midnight with all that energy, I vented the power of it on fiction. She-Rain, over a span of a decade, emerged as the result.

And, thus, came my love affair with such hours as 4:30 am. It grew out of lust for an utterly different world, and a love for the sway of language. Countless mornings I drew myself away from She-Rain and came to bed at the breakage of dawn to my extraordinary wife, Jill, who not only tolerated this tryst. She knew and embraced its beginnings. Thankfully, she still does so, as a muse, an editor, and my great love.

Great television writing calls for sentences of no more than 22 syllables or so. It must spark with active voice, and it dies without action. Powerful storytelling lives in lines that open with a sense of wonder. They should never merely end. They should land with power aimed for the human heart. The trouble is, we in television keep writing about the same things. Over and over, we tell of common trauma resurrecting itself in differing lives. Along with my work as an anchor, I tell long-form stories that have won me a few awards over my career.
When colleagues ask me how to win Emmys writing about the same terrible human events, I always say – spray the events with active, high-caliber words to create that sense of wonder, then get deep down into the humanness of it all. Down where those events find their making. Find the heart, then let the viewer hear it.

This will seem the oxymoron of a media hound’s lifetime, but I believe all writing – even hard-news journalism – ought to aim for some brush with beauty. A few days ago, I read a critic chiding Pat Conroy for his “purpled prose.” I doubt Mr. Conroy troubles himself much at this, given the legion of fans adoring his way of calling deeply human events to life in fine lines of storytelling. And yes, it’s easy to go way too far. Yet when Scott Fitzgerald in a magazine piece described an ocean as the color of blue silk stockings or the irises of children’s eyes, he taught us all how efficiently a line of beauty can find its way into a reader’s heart.

One of the great storytellers in the history of television, Bob Dotson of NBC News, gave me some advice that will serve any writer well – when you think of that beautiful little line that rings with music and clarifies the whole story, write it down. Put it on a scrap of paper, scrawl it on your hand, write it anywhere that’s legal. Never rely on your memory. Seed the future of your story with the scribbling of your present time. Even if you write on your leg while steering a riding lawn mower, get that thought some permanence. Reader, please, if you get ideas that way, let me know. Let’s share in the bizarre comfort of odd places where our writing suddenly arrives.

In just such a peculiar way, She-Rain whispered to me, even on the news set in a commercial break. Many a night, the novel would slip me her number again. I’ve often come home with a scrap off a news script, scribbled full of lines and ideas that would rise to full life at 4:30 the following morning. She-Rain became a solace from the world of news, yet she drew from what that world taught me about the telling of a deeply human story. The terror and beauty common to us all.

So here’s to writing that grows out of that longing for an utterly different world. Here’s our affair with language and the rising of a tale. May those we love understand that we who write simply can not help but stray there. Thankfully they know us, and love us anyway.
HANK: And that's a wrap. (I've scribbled on many a script myself!)

She-Rain will be published in early March, 2010. Read the opening pages here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Her Wake---A Memoir and A Mystery

“A fearless memoir of loss and grief….veering between ‘being a detective and... a realist.
Publishers Weekly Starred Review

HANK: A delivery announcement on elegant paper stamped with the date of a daughter's birth; a tarnished silver baby cup, dented at the rim; a lovingly hand-knitted sweater; a school committee flyer; hurried grocery lists. This is all Nancy Rappaport had left to remember her mother--a woman defined by her absence.

In 1963, Nancy Rappaport's mother took a fatal overdose after a bitter public divorce and custody battle. Nancy was just four years old and the youngest of six children. Growing up in a blended family of eleven children after her father remarried, Nancy was bewildered about why her mother took her own life and left her behind.

Years later, encouraged by her own children's curiosity about their grandmother, and fortified by her training as a child psychiatrist, Nancy began to investigate her mother's life and the mysteries surrounding her death.

Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of School Programs at Cambridge Health Alliance. Her new book is In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide. She says about her memoir, "Like any good mystery, this was a story that needed to be told. It was larger than me. It had a momentum to it . It's the most meticulous, painstaking, most important thing I've done."

Nancy and I met at a booksigning..and after I heard her story, I instantly wanted you all to hear it, too. Although its non-fiction, it's about as mysterious as life (and death) can get. Turns out: she had a haunting mystery in her own life--and as it turned out, it was one she was brave enough to try to solve. And where did the clues come from? That's what she'll reveal today.

NANCY: One morning during breakfast Phyllis, my father’s wife, phoned me. She told me that she was taking on a difficult initiative of her own making, which was to do the right thing, and she wanted to distribute some of my mother’s things to me and my siblings. She suggested that I might be too busy to come over on such short notice. But I had never even seen my mother’s handwriting before.

When I arrived, Phyllis had a blue trunk with brass hinges open and was meticulously organizing its contents into different boxes for each of my siblings—photographs, drawings, letters, all kinds of materials that my mother had saved. Seeing these objects stunned me.

“Where did the trunk come from?” I asked. Phyllis could see how momentous this was for me, but she focused on the task at hand. She explained that my mother’s friend Peggy Melgard had dropped it off at my father’s office several years ago when she moved from Boston to Florida.

I learned later from Peggy that for almost forty years Peggy herself had guarded the trunk. Alex, my mother’s new husband at the time of her death, had asked Peggy to keep some of their possessions. But Peggy never heard from Alex again, and she began to have the nagging feeling that my mother’s children would want the trunk. Peggy had known my parents before they were married and they saw each other socially as a couple for many years. After my father and mother divorced, she became an even closer friend of my mother.

Here was evidence of a life I did not know—small calendars with handscrawled appointments, a high-school yearbook, report cards, school awards, newspaper clippings, and chatty letters from her friends.

A photo of my mother cradling me as a baby in her arms. A photo of my mother and father, their eyes filled with laughter. Her handwriting—big and full. I sat down on the floor and picked up a letter that Phyllis had placed to the side of the trunk. It was from Peggy.

To the Rappaport Children:
Your mother cherished these photos, cards, notes, and drawings. I thought you would like to have them. Also, in the trunk, is a novel Nancy was in the process of writing at the time of her death.
The notes from those of you old enough to write at the time of her death show how much you loved her. I hope you still hold happy memories of her in your hearts as I certainly do.


I looked up at Phyllis. “Where is the novel?” I asked, worried. She burst into tears and confided that she was reading the novel. She wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it, but she thought she would give it to my sister Judy, whom she considered the family historian. Finally, she sighed heavily and trudged up the staircase. A few minutes later, Phyllis came down not only with the novel, which she explained was over 400 typewritten pages on legal paper with my mother’s handwritten corrections in the margins, but also with a few of my mother’s thin journals.

As she handed me four bulky black folders stuffed with legal-sized paper, I sensed that she was relieved. She told me that she had a deep and abiding relationship with my father, and she wanted me never to use the material in any way that would hurt Dad. Not knowing what I was promising, quietly resenting that I was being asked to be honorable, and worried that the novel might be destroyed, I quickly agreed. It was an irresistible chance to know my mother’s mind. At that moment, I would have agreed to almost anything.

(Nancy's website--with some of the photos--is )

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In your Jammies?

"Lisa Black wows us with another tense and unputdownable thriller. She is, quite simply, one of the best storytellers around."
-- Tess Gerritsen

Lisa Black spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue.
HANK: Lisa wrote that. And it's just about the best pick-up line I've ever heard. I met Lisa at--where, Thrillerfest? The Guppies? Someplace wonderful. But the impending release of her newest book Evidence of Murder sent the intrepid Lisa off into new territories, places unknown, uncharted waters.

Look--just ahead: The blog tour zone.

How'd it go? How'd she do it? And what happened in the blog tour zone? And what--did she wear?

I am not a computer guru. I am not a junkie or a hacker…well, I may qualify as a junkie but only because I spend about 70% of my waking hours in front a computer, but that’s not by choice. My day job is a latent print analyst, so I sit in front of a monitor looking at fingerprints and writing reports. My other day job is a writer, so I sit in front of a monitor with a blank page on it while beads of blood slowly gather on my forehead. I have a website which I haphazardly maintain, but no blog. The rest of the time is spent on email, research and searching for the lowest airfare.

I truly do not read all the MSN reports on Kate & Jon, Michael Jackson, and the Octomom. (I might indulge in the latest sure-fire diet or Ten Things Never to Say on a First Date. I’ve never even Twittered.

So I am not the most likely candidate to sign up for a virtual tour. That is, until I figured out that a virtual tour can be done largely by guest-blogging on other people’s sites. A surprising amount of your writer friends will have blogs that they will be only too happy to let you guest on. It gives them a day off, and a new reason to tell their friends to check out their blog that day, and gives them exposure to new readers since—one hopes—you will tell your friends to also check out the blog that day. Provided you write something passably likeable, everyone wins.

Best of all, these blogs can be written days or weeks in advance, with plenty of time to ponder and revise, so that when your pub date arrives you will be available for more in-the-flesh type events and not at home frantically scribbling out blogs.

And so it worked for me. Following the advice of fantasy author Sandy Lender, I set a time frame (two weeks after pub date—maybe I’ll go for a month next time), printed myself a calendar for the month, and set about trying to fill in each date. About 5 weeks in advance, I contacted writer acquaintances of mine and asked if I could guest blog. I have actually met most of them at one convention or another, but some I know only through cyberspace. One I didn’t know from Adam (or, more appropriately, Eve).

But I sent straightforward and only slightly pleading emails to friend and stranger alike. The worst thing they can say is no, and since they’re writers, they’ll be polite about it (unlike people who post comments to online news stories—don’t even get me started!). The only thing I would do differently next time is start sooner. For some sites, five weeks isn’t enough. Some will post only once or twice a week, so their schedule fills up fast. It wouldn’t hurt to put your feelers out a good three months in advance.

I am lucky in my choice of day job—forensic specialist—so that most mystery writer blogs wanted to hear about that. Some sites asked me specific questions, some gave suggestions, and some said to write about whatever I wanted. The former were the easiest blogs to write, the latter the hardest, which is why I don’t have a blog in the first place. The point of your tour is to highlight your book first and yourself second, so find something unusual about both those things to discuss. An occupation—of either you or your character—is a great topic.

People always want to hear behind-the-scenes tidbits of any job, whether you’re a cop, a teacher or the guy who paints stripes on the asphalt. Just flick on the Discovery channel for proof of this.

The catch is to make every blog different. You might begin to run short of stories after two or three weeks of daily blogging, but each essay must be distinct.

Podcasts and phone-in radio interviews are also great venues which do not require you to be physically present, but be careful. These cannot be done in advance. You have to actually answer the phone at the agreed-upon time, which can be treacherous for me. They’re usually early in the morning, and I came home from work the night before having completely forgotten about them and didn’t check my datebook.

Warning: your publicist gets really irritated with you when she’s gone through the trouble to set something up and her client is a no-show. Any other event, when I actually have to be somewhere at a certain time, I have no trouble remembering. But radio interviews, which I can roll out of bed ten minutes before air time and do them in my pjs…what can I say? I have a mind like a sieve. My advice: even if you have to do it two days in advance, leave yourself a note to set the alarm. Then leave yourself a note by the alarm to remind yourself why you set it.

But, just like blogs, you can do them in your pajamas.

In her job as a forensic scientist Lisa analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s as a latent print examiner and CSI working with fingerprints and crime scenes. (And see how nicely her book cover mirrors that?) She has been published in Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. Her website is
and she has promised to help any of you Reds out there with your blog tour, no problem.

HANK: Just seeing if you're actually reading this, She didn't really say that.

But--any questoins on blog touring? I have one! And it's right to the point, although my mother and Miss Manners might shush me from asking. Lisa, do you think it helped your sales?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Last Rose of Summer

"And a time for every purpose..."

HANK: I had to wear a coat today.

How does that happen? Is the time just in some new realm of physics where it's somehow speeding up? I remember I just set out the pool lounge chairs. Seems like I just planted the white geraniums. I just changed the family room slipcovers to from taupe suede to white canvas. I just saw the first crocuses.

Isn't that right?

And now: I have to wear a coat. (Okay, not the one in the photo, but she looks pretty long as she doesnt have to do anything. Or see. Mine was just a khaki trench coat.) That means soon: I have to put away the flowered plastic glasses we use by the pool. Harvest all the basil and pick the last of the roses and dahlias so I won't lose them to frost. Have the moment of truth with the put-away sweaters where I see who's won the battle this year: me?Or the moths? And the cooking magazines are showing TURKEYS. It can't be time for that.

And yet--when I put that coat on, it felt cozy and right. I tried on a new fall blazer, and it didn't feel out of season. We've been though a lot together, you all. Haven't we? And now we're in our autumn rituals together again. Happy to be with you. What are you doing for fall?

ROBERTA: I already said this in my own (little) blog, but we received the most amazing fall surprise this year--pumpkins sprang up out of our compost heap of their own accord. I saw a patch of orange up in the briars behind the garden--two gorgeous full-sized pumpkins were hanging there!

And it's certainly better sleeping weather in the fall. My hub's a madman about not turning heat on too early, so it gets darn chilly around here. Even the cat was curled up next to me this morning, purring and purring and purring.

I have to be honest though, part of the reason I can enjoy the fall is that we'll be spending the worst of winter in Key West. (Go ahead, pelt me with leftover green tomatoes from the garden...I know how lucky I am!)

HALLIE: I know it’s fall because I’m sneezing. And cooking soup (leek and potato -- yum). And because the last tomato is ripening on the counter. And because three very fat squirrels are racing around the garden gathering fallen acorns. What a year it is for acorns! Gotta wear a hard hat. They'll be good for pelting Roberta with.

RO: I know it's fall because I've finally stopped feeling guilty about not spending enough time in the garden. The leaves are turning, the ornamental grasses look beautiful and I didn't have to do any of it!
It always happens too fast. Seems like I just changed the curtains in my bedroom and have now had to change them back (ivory crinkly to tan velvety... they could go in Hank's family room)because I knew I'd be freezing the other night if i didn't.

I love this time of year. Scarves and gloves. And fires in the fireplace. I guess it reminds me of back to school and seeing old friends after the summer. Jealous of Roberta's pumpkins!

JAN: We have a sun porch, that oddly, we don't use in the summer because it gets insanely hot with the sun. But I know it's fall because last night, my husband and I lit up the gas stove there and caught up on the week with a glass of wine.
With the cold rainy June, I think summer was actually shorter this year, it isn't just time speeding up. By very early September I already had to dig my boots out of the winter closet -- but that's what I love about New England, wearing boots and long wool jackets.

HANK: Hey Hallie, hand me summa those acorns to throw at Roberta. Key West, huh? Anyway, yes, sweaters! Much more friendly than bathing suits. (I guess that's an autumn of life thing.) And I love mufflers and scarves. SO, Joanthan took the air conditioners out of the windows and stowed them wherever he stows them. The lawn furniture is in the garage. What are you all doing to welcome the fall?

Friday, October 2, 2009

On Mentors, Muses & Monsters

We all remember that special person who encouraged our writing and, of course, the one who shut us down. Then there was the individual whose work inspired us to reach higher. Author Elizabeth Benedict (photo by Emma Dodge Hanson) would call these our “mentors, muses, and monsters”

Who influenced the amazing Joyce Carole Oates? Or Mary Gordon? Or Michael Cunningham? Or Jane Smiley? Readers can find out in Elizabeth’s new collection of essays, “Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives.” The collection also contains Elizabeth’s own essay, “Why Not Say What Happened?” in which she writes about her college tutorial teacher, esteemed woman of letters, Elizabeth Hardwick.

JRW: Elizabeth, what inspired you to write this book?

EB: I was asked to write a remembrance of Hardwick after she died (December 2008) for Tin House magazine. The night I sent it in, I was floating around my apartment, feeling particularly good, not just that I'd finished it but that I got to express my appreciation for what she'd meant to me when I was a college kid with nothing but a crazy ambition.

In that dreamy mood, I idly wondered if there was a book of essays about fiction writers and their mentors and went to Amazon to look - and there wasn't. An hour later, I'd cooked up the title -the 3 M's, as I call it - and the next day I invited Mary Gordon. She said yes right away. So did most of the other people I invited. I was stunned by how many people said yes, sometimes even before they knew whom they'd write about.

JRW: What were some of the revelations in these essays that surprised you?

EB: First of all, I expected everyone to write about a person, but many people wanted to write about a book or an author, dead or alive, and some wanted to write about a place or a transformative period. When Jane Smiley went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the 1970s, she was more inspired by her classmates than her teachers. Her piece, about them and the mood in 1974, is a lovely piece of personal and social history. Joyce Carol Oates wrote about what "Alice in Wonderland" means to her. In the 1970s, Sigrid Nunez was the girlfriend of Susan Sontag's son and lived in an apartment with both mother and son, and has a particularly intimate view of Sontag. I was surprised by the incredible variety of influences, from "Mrs. Dalloway" to "Harriet the Spy."

But mostly I was surprised by how seriously writers took the assignment. I knew the essays would be good, with this group of writers, but had no idea they would all give so much to these pieces. As you read, you can feel the engagement, the writers' determination to get every nuance right; it's exhilarating and very moving.

I came to understand that the relationship you have with a mentor is among the most powerful there is. That person noticed you when you were young and lost and said, "I think you've got talent, and here's what to do with it." We're lucky if that happens to us once! Falling in love and giving birth (so I've heard) are pretty powerful experiences. I think the mentor/influence connections - in their power to changes lives - are up there with those.

JRW: Were there any common threads?

EB: Writers are a cranky bunch who are prone to worry and complaining, but this subject seems to have opened the spigots of gratitude. For the most part, the writers were obsessed with their mentors.

Alexander Chee's piece about studying with Annie Dillard at Wesleyan is so full of detail and dialogue - from twenty years ago! - that it's like taking a course with Dillard, and a course in obsession: "By the time I was done studying with Annie," he writes, "I wanted to be her."

Cheryl Strayed is obsessed from afar with Alice Munro, in part because they both had mothers who died young. I've read this line in her essay a dozen times and it still breaks my heart with its vulnerability and longing: "I love Alice Munro, I took to saying, the way I did about any number of people I didn't know whose writing I admired, meaning, of course, that I loved her books.... But I loved her too, in a way that felt slightly ridiculous even to me."

JRW: Sounds like you've got more mentors than monsters.

EB: That surprised me too. The only full-blown one is in Edmund White's portrait of Harold Brodkey. There are a few other people whose behavior has monstrous moments, including a wicked step-mother. I expected there'd be someone who said, "Writing well is the best revenge for having been treated badly," but even Edmund White felt that Brodkey had been helpful to him as a writer. These writers clearly wanted to accentuate the positive - because they feel immense gratitude to the person who showed them the way.

JRW: Will you be out and about, promoting the book?

EB: I'll be on the pavement and on-line. If you're in New York City, Cambridge, MA, or DC, there'll be an event near you in November or early December. For details, visit the blog at where there'll also be some on-line chatting once the book comes out, and a few books to give away.

JRW: So, Jungle Red readers, tell us about your muses, mentors and monsters? Elizabeth will be responding to comments and questions. Please, join in the discussion.