Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Accidental Expert

RHYS: Remember the Robert Frost poem, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... and I tood the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference?That could be the theme-song for my life. Opting out of the chosen path for me, leaving the BBC instead of rising through the ranks, going to Australia, meeting my husband and moving to California. All my writing career has been one long serendipity too. And along the way I have picked up all kinds of knowledge I never thought I'd want or need.It started when my husband became sales manager of Air India. We had to entertain Indian dignitaries in a city where there was no consul. We became experts in Indian food, were on the board of an Indian dance school and traveled to India numerous times. We ended up with close Indian friends. So we are accidental experts on India.
My kids became swimmers. I found myself president of a swim club. I became a stroke and turn official. Never a competitive swimmer myself, I was judging big meets
.I started writing books about Wales. Although I knew the place well, I learned all kinds of interesting facts--the contents of the National Gallery stored during WWII in a Welsh slate mine, for example. Every book I write involves research into a field I never thought I'd want or need.
When I started to write my Molly Murphy books, my aim was to set a book on Ellis Island. I did all the background reading I could find on the immigrant experience before I wrote the book. Then Molly steps ashore in Manhattan and I realized how little I knew about New York City in the early 1900s. Lots of tramping around the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village followed, hours in the NY library and historical society, a large library of my own and now I know my way pretty well around 1903 New York. I know about the formation of the Ladies Garment Workers Union, and about the rise of spiritualism, and the birth of Coney Island and pharmaceutical recipes of the time. All knowledge I never thought I'd want or need. But sometimes I astound native born New Yorkers by pointing out something about their city that they didn't know. Accidental expert on New York history.
My latest research has been on Houdini and illusionists--and what fascinating reading it made. Actually many of his illusions or stunts have not been improved upon over the years. He was a brilliant escapologist and an equally brilliant illusionist. But when I read that he had probably been used by the secret service as a spy while he was on his European tours, then I knew I had a good story. So I'm now an accidental expert on Houdini too. But I'm not going to tell you about any of his amazing illusions. You'll have to read my book, The Last Illusion, if you want to know more!
And Jungle Red Sisters--in which areas have you become accidental experts?
ROBERTA: Wow Rhys, you have had some interesting twists and turns! We'll be looking forward to the dinner invitation with all that Indian food expertise!(Rhys: If you come to SF for Bouchercon this year, we can definitely cook Indian food for you!)In 1990, I was minding my own business running a therapy private practice with an interest in good tennis. I was considering embarking on advanced training in psychoanalysis (which takes years and years of training and a training analysis) when I met my husband-to-be, John. He got me hooked on golf and because I was such a mental basket case, I began to write about it. Next came the Cassie Burdette golf mysteries and the rest is unfolding. I have to shake my head at how life has changed--mostly for the good.
JANS: As a journalist, I'm used to becoming a 24-hour expert on something, which was brutal on my family when I was health reporter because I could take the fun out of almost everything. (When I told my brother he really should wash the melon before he sliced it because of the bacteria, he told me I had to get another job.) Now because of all the research I've been doing on my non-fiction project, I'm an expert on Boston and its racial and urban crime problems in the mid to late 1970s. I never had a burning need to know these things before I started this project.
RO: All things Indian are in the air for me today..I was accidentally cc'ed by a pal at BBC on a lengthy string of emails about a get-together at an Indian restaurant. It was pretty funny reading someone else's there a story in this?
I am an accidental expert on Tanzania. My husband and I went there on a Habitat for Humanity build and have since been back a dozen times because we decided to build a library there. It's frightening that I know the bus schedules from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma and I don't know which subway will take me from 59th St. to the east village.(RHYS: The 6 is the closest you'll get. Stops at Astor Place. You see I know my modern NY pretty well too!

RHYS: I think the great thing about writing is that we have the chance to learn new things all the time. And it's the closest to time travel that I'll probably ever experience. Now I've got to get back to Chinatown, which is where the next Molly book is set!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Today I'm delighted to welcome my frequent signing partner Cara Black, creator of the justifiably acclaimed Aimee LeDuc mysteries, set in Paris.

So welcome Cara. What inspired you to write about Paris?

CARA: I grew up in Francophile family in California and attended a French Catholic school. My uncle went to France and studied with artist George Braques, so talk at our dinner table was a lot about France. In 1984, after living in Basel, I returned to Europe and visited my French friend Sarah. One beautiful day, she showed me the Marais, a district of narrow streets and 17th-century mansions. When we encountered a square, the Place de Vosges, I felt like I was home. On Rue de Rosiers, she stopped, pointed to a window, and told me that her mother had lived there during the German occupation of Paris. Sarah’s mother, then 14, had come home from school one day in 1943 to find an empty apartment. All of the family’s bags—one packed for each member—were gone. She lived by herself for a year, with the help of the concierge, a Christian woman. After Liberation in 1944, she met a woman who had seen her sister get off the train at Auschwitz. She knew then that her family had saved her by taking her backpack when they were picked up, so police would think they’d left no one behind. So here I was, at this apartment with so much history, and it touched my heart deeply. I never forgot Sarah’s story.

Ten years later, in 1993, my husband and I did a house exchange in Provence. We had one night in Paris before our flight home. We stayed in the Marais, near the Place de Vosges, and it was moonlight, and that shiver hit me again. I thought about Sarah’s mother. If only the cobblestones could talk…When I began writing I never thought I’d finish a book much less set it in Paris or write a series. Now I’m on my tenth book Murder in the Palais Royal but it’s taken awhile to get there. I was a mom, a preschool teacher and had old friends in Paris. The total sum of my qualifications apart from reading and loving mysteries. Yet friends have friends, and their introductions in Paris opened doors. In my case doors to private detectives, retired police, and local cafe owners.

RHYS: And what about Aimee LeDuc--is she an alter ego?

CARA:Well she’s taller, thinner and much better with computers than I am.
(from Rhys--and she wears higher heels and knows how to tie her scarf!!)
RHYS: tell us about this latest book.

CARA: In Murder in the Palais Royal, just as Aimee is about to leave for New York City to follow up on a lead about a possible younger brother, her partner in Leduc Detective, Rene Friant, is wounded by a near fatal gun shot. Eyewitnesses identify Aimee as the culprit. At the same time, a large mysterious sum of money appears on their firm's bank account and the tax authorities descend on Aimee. The police suspect her but it appears someone is impersonating her. Someone who wants revenge. But for what?

Murder in the Palais Royal takes place in October 1997 two months after Princess Diana’s death in Paris. The event’s still in the headlines and Papon, a wartime Vichy collaborator is on trial for war crimes in Bordeaux. That’s the backdrop. This story is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time, touching on family, loss and secrets from the past. Aimée’s journey in this book takes her back to her first investigation, Murder in the Marais, and parallels aspects of her life. And what better location than in the Palais Royal with it’s decayed aristocratic arcades?
RHYS: You go to Paris regularly to do research( and we feel for you, suffering for your art at those outdoor cafes and boutiques)--tell us how you decide where to set the next book and what interesting things have happened to you.

CARA: Ok so many writers kill people on the page, often for a living, but in my case it supports my habit of going to Paris for research. In Paris walking on the cobblestoned street, or in the Metro I get a spark of a story, a detail, overhear a conversation I’d never hear otherwise. Research takes me to the darker side of the city of light into the world of my detective Aimée Leduc. I interview tired police after a stakeout, chain smoking PI’s in dank clubs, Ministry officials with aching bunions. Climbing into the rat infested sewers, old quarries under Montmartre, the holding cells in police stations, even shooting a Sig Sauer at the police firing range. But my research took a more pleasant turn when I met Didier Ludot, a boutique owner who specializes in vintage little black dresses. I needed an education to clothe Aimée as a fashionista with a fondness for couture found in flea markets. Didier tutored me in his boutique under the Palais Royal arcades one autumn afternoon. His bulldog, Winston, hunched at his feet in the nineteenth century shop lit by chandeliers.In his boutique with red velvet upholstered chairs, the white walls showcased the vintage couture of Givenchy, Dior, Schiaparelli and Chanel. I felt content to drink in the atmosphere. I needed a dress Aimee would wear to a cocktail party. And then I saw it, the perfect little black dress by Chanel on the rack. Albeit one Aimée would wear with a leather jacket and boots.

But then there’s other kinds of research that sparks a story. Over the years I’ve built up connections, nourished relationships over dinner and run possible scenarios by these experts, some of whom have become friends. ‘I want you to get it right,’ a female private detective once told me. True. Writing a book set in Paris, a real city I need to get the details correct.
But it depends on asking the right questions. Even after all this time, I still miss things. Little did I realize, three years ago, that my big scoop sat next to me at a cafe. Retired Police Commissaire Mulés who I met every time I go to Paris over a bottle of wine. This happened in 2007 one afternoon at an outdoor cafe. He looked at me with tired eyes. “I’m so tired of speaking English,” he said, ‘five hours today in London. Today we only speak French.” I groaned. “You were in London?” He nodded. “Just got off the Eurostar.” “But why?” “Eh ten years and it’s over...the investigation finally.” “But what investigation?” I asked wishing he’d get to the point. “Those funny British judges with their wigs,” he sighed again, “they ask so many questions.’ “What do you mean?” “After ten years and now I gave my final testimony in Princess Diana’s case.” My ears perked up. “But why you?” “Me? but, I was in charge of the investigation. Ten long years.’ (This was in 2007 ten years after Princess Diana’s death in the car crash in the Paris tunnel). I spilled my wine. “You never told me.” He grinned. “You never asked.’ A story gold mine, a Commissaire in charge of Princess Diana’s investigation and I didn’t know? But now I knew I had to write a story against the backdrop of that time. Could furnish the details from Commissaire Mulés a primary source.. So that became the background for Murder in the Latin Quarter.

RHYS: Cara, as always fascinating stuff. You seem to run into incredible stories around every corner in Paris. And bonne chance for the new book, in stores this week, I believe. I look forward to signing with you next week. Check out our websites for details.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What's in a Name

RHYS: Ever since early people realized the need to choose grunts to differentiate between a sabre toothed tiger and a squirrel what we name things is of vital importance. Studies have been done on our initial perception of people with popular names versus those with nerdy names. Until recently we'd always choose an Ashley over a Hermione (not any more, however which shows that our perceptions can be influenced by popular culture).
The same is true of the names we pick for characters in our books. The name has to be just right for the person. I have had problems with a character when I am writing. His scenes are just not going well. I don't have a real grasp on his motivation. And then suddenly in the middle of the book he'll look at me and say, "I know you keep calling me Anthony but actually my name is Ron." And as soon as I change his name, everything flows perfectly. I'm sure other writers have experienced this.

For this reason it is always with some trepidation that I auction off characters in an upcoming novel in the big charity auction at conventions. What if the name is hopelessly out of place for my historical period? What if it's just a difficult name and carries negative overtones? So far I'm always managed to do it, but I'm always apprehensive--especially since I've just volunteered to do so again at Malice Domestic and even promised to make the person royal or noble.

I'm writing about names today because on March 2 my new Molly Murphy mystery, THE LAST ILLUSION, comes out. It is the ninth in this series and the first in which I have deviated from a theme in the titles. The first books (Murphy's Law, For the Love of Mike etc) were all Irish sayings. With O Danny Boy the titles moved to Irish songs, then to popular songs of the early Twentieth Century. But this book is more thriller than mystery in many ways--Molly is hired to find who is trying to kill Houdini and finds herself caught up in the world of international espionage. So I wanted to make the title crisper and more thriller-like. The Last Illusion really describes the pivotal scene in the book and I think it captures the flavor well.

It is really important that the book title fit the tone of the story. If you see a catchy pun, you expect light hearted cozy. I made the mistake with the Constable Evans series of using puns for all my titles. As the series became meatier and darker they weren't really cozy any longer and I think I put off many people from trying my books. When one was nominated for the Edgar, I know quite a few people were surprised at the content.
So now I try to get the titles exactly right. And I'm wondering--how much are you influenced by a book title? Are you attracted to a thriller that has 'bone' or 'blood' in the title? Would you have found The Da Vinci Code as compelling if it was called A Murder at the Louvre? Look how many thrillers now have those buzz words: secrets, chamber, Templars etc in their titles.

If the publisher is not going to spend half a million on publicity and marketing for a book, our title and cover are the only things that can attract new readers. I've been lucky in that I've loved all my Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness covers (especially this one!) but I have writer friends who have felt that their covers were wrong and could do nothing about it. Also I've been lucky in being able to keep my titles. I know of writers who hated the titles their publishers came up with. The only title I have ever really, really hated was back in the days when I wrote YA books. A German translation of one of my books (which was about mountaineering) was calle "First Love Tastes like Strawberry ice Cream." Now if that's not misleading, I don't know what is!

If you go to my website,, you will find a trailer for The Last Illusion as well as the opening chapter to read. It's a fascinating glimpse into the life of Houdini, Illusionists and early espionage.

HALLIE: Love your title, Rhys! And I'm completely fascinated by Houdini etc. I've read just about every book there is about him. Can't wait to read your new one.
I do think titles are so important, but I confess to being less than brilliant about recognizing a good title when I see it. I wanted to call my last book "Baby, Baby" (it's about two very pregnant women) but the publisher felt it wouldn't convey the creepy suspensey-ness of the the book. So we went with "Never Tell a Lie" - which turned out to be a wonderful title though I was fairly lukewarm at first.

RO: It is a good title. I feel like I wasted almost two years of my life because my publisher changed the title of my second book..and of course had to change the cool image on the cover. It really broke my heart. The few reviews I got were better than they were for Pushing Up Daisies...but the title didn't roll off the tongue the way Daisies did, and the cover...well, you know what a camel is? A horse designed by a committee. That's what I got...a camel. Not the designer's fault..just happened. So, the book didn't get out there much. I never should have let them change it, but I was so new, I figured they knew best.What was it supposed to be called instead of The Big Dirt Nap? Corpse Flower. And the cover would have been gorgeous, we already had images. Maybe when I'm famous someone will reissue with the original title.
Now, I LOVE this year's title and cover. Fingers crossed other people will too!
I have a hard time with character names. I usually go through 3-4 names for each character before I settle on the right one. I've even taken to saving Playbills because of all the donor names in the back.
The auction name that I got at Bouchercon 2008 was fabulous. I may make her a recurring character. Her name is Nina Mazzo and it's absolutely perfect. Nina's a P.I. who specializes in philandering husbands. Uh...Nina's in Dead Head.

ROBERTA: Corpse Flower was a good name Ro:). But there's no telling really why one book takes off and another doesn't. I suspect the first in a series always has a better chance of hitting the big time. I've had several titles changed by the publisher, almost always for the better. And as my agent has said, the cover fairies have been good to me too!
I'm afraid I'm not too imaginative with names. Lots of times I catch myself using the same names over and over. "Michael" for example, shows up a lot. The folks who've bought names for my books in auctions have almost always turned into recurring characters. They get their money's worth. My favorite story was a man in town who was bidding in a silent auction at our library. He was very worried that the cost would shoot up out of his price range. But then his bidding rival had to leave the party early, so he won the prize--a character in DEADLY ADVICE. He was so pleased with the result. Sadly, he died of cancer not too long after the book came out, but his character lived on in the series. I'm so glad it worked out that way!

HANK: My favorite name I got in an auction: Urszula Mazny-Latos. I must say, I freaked for a moment. Then voila, she became Zuzu Mazny-Latos, a chic European fashion designer. Merci, Urszula! And at the next auction, by chance, I got Luca Chartiers! Perfect. (I thnk auction names are a real gift. And I love using them.)Titles? I'm haunted by titles. I'm always thinking of them. Always writing them down. And I'm always astonished that there's always another good one! Sending good vidbes for THE LAST ILLUSION, Rhys! Love it. And Dead Head, RO, is brilliant. And you have both truly scored with those covers! Go Jungle Red.

RHYS: So is it the title or the cover art that makes you pick up a book and ry and new author?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Everyone needs a bad guy!

JAN: I admit that I was lured in at first. Even though I wasn't a fan of Donald Trump, I gave the first couple of seasons of The Apprentice a shot and liked it. Not only did I gain respect for the Donald, I also learned some interesting marketing lessons.

It might have been my third season of The Apprentice when I realized that Omarosa, the villain, was being coached to say nasty things. And that the director had to be encouraging all the other contestants to hate her. And after that, I saw it in every reality show, from America's Top Model (viewed with my daughter against my will) to Joe Millionaire to Project Runway. It didn't matter what contestants were competing for, the whole point was to see them break bad. They became catty. And underhanded. And there was always someone, like Omarosa, who was the worst.

According to Psyblog, a blog that collects research about how our minds work, ( reality shows make good use of narcissists in the cast. Apparently, we just can't help being drawn to a narcissist's self-absorbed and arrogant behavior. They tend to be confidant, fashionable and witty We are fascinated by their entitled behavior.

At first.

Quickly we come to despise them. Contestants and TV viewers alike. And we want to see them "knocked down," and get whats coming to them. It all makes for great TV.

So do you think bad behavior is the appeal of Reality Shows? And if so, why? Are these people just strangely charming, or do they somehow make us feel better about ourselves??

RHYS: An insider told me that they are scripted just like any TV drama. Lines are cut and used out of context to hint at fights that never happened. Look at The Bachelor or Bachelorette when the most likely candidate for his heart suddenly has to go away or lose her job. Yeah, right. The only difference between TV drama and reality shows is that the latter are playing with pe
ople's lives and psyches. I suppose if they pick narcissists and unpleasant people then they deserve what happens to them. Actually I'm a fan of The Amazing Race, which is often won by nice and genuine people, and, I have to confess, Project Runway which is a fascinating insight into the creative process.

I think we watch, hoping that the unpleasant people get what they deserve. What I find fascinati
ng is that The Truman Show foreshadowed exactly what is happening in real life.

RO: I really do need to see The Truman Show again..this is the third time it's come up in a week. I was on St. John last week and stayed at a resort which had kayaks for guests, but only if they stayed in the small bay right near the hotel. We'd just come back from 5 days of kayaking all over the BVI and thought it was ridiculous to have to stay in one small area as if it was the kiddie pool. We watched one guy take a kayak out and was like the The Truman was as if there was an invisible screen making him return to shore. Too funny. But I digress.

About a million years ago there was something called The Louds: An American Family on public television. I barely remember it..will have to google, but it followed this middle class family and I think the daughter wanted to be a dancer..and it turned out that the son
was gay, and that was a big thing in the 70's, and then the couple split up. I have not felt the need to watch another reality show since then.

HANK: Oh, I rmember the Louds. Here's the thing about reality TV. It's NOT live. So some producer has taken hours and hours of video, and edited it into one hour. Do you know how easy it is to make that one hour into anything you wnat? And also--the producers know the end result. So they put the puzzle pieces of the show together to make the most interesting or conflict-ridden 45 minutes leading up to the end. The end that they KNOW will happen. See? So we're being completely manipulated along the way.

That said (anyone see that episode of ..was it Curb?) that's the reason I think its fun to watch s
ome of these shows. Rhys, yes, I love Amazing Race (it's almost--inspirational, and you can pretend it's educational) and I love Project Runway (so creative! and I love fashion, and I'm hyper-competitive anyway).

But what makes it the most fun is that the editors know how the shows turn out.

ROBERTA: Hank, that's such an interesting description of how the shows are made. Doesn't it sound something like what we do as we're writing novels? (I mean the most conflict we can imagine...)

I watch NO reality TV. I may be the only one in America. We were watching the Olympics last night and kept seeing the ad for Jerry Seinfeld's upcoming show, in which TV stars intervene in couples' fights. How bizarre is that?? At least Dr. Phil has a little bit of training in the field:)

HALLIE: Oh, I remember the Louds. That was before they figured out how to pare down to the conflict. And of course there were Andy Warhol movies like "Sleep" where his camera watches
some poet sleep for 6 hours.

Like Rhys, I watch is Project Runway and I am completely addicted to it. And my daughter got me hooked on So You Think You Can Dance.

JAN: Lannie and I watched So you "Think you Can Dance," which was "Vous croyez vous pouvez danser" in Aix en Provence last summer because it was the only thing we could follow in French. (They dubbed over the English but competition is the same in any language). My French skills weren't strong enough to pick up any inter-contestant sniping. But I also couldn't always figure out why one contestant was so much better than the other.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aspiring crime writer making crime

JAN: There are a lot of scary things about Amy Bishop, the Harvard-educated neurobiologist who opened fire at the University of Alabama and killed three of her colleagues.

The first, of course, is her motive. Innocent people died because this woman didn't get her tenure.

Second, is that she "accidentally" shot her brother in her home in Braintree when she was 21-years old, and was let off after the most cursory of investigations.

But what I find personally frightening? ? She was an aspiring writer (a second cousin of John Irving it turns out), who once belonged to a writers group, and that three of her unpublished novels, all thrillers, sound sort of interesting.

As crime writers we answer a lot of questions about "where we get our ideas." We go to seminars on blood spatter and DNA testing. I've been to the shooting range so I could get the feel of a gun. Often, we often make frequent jokes all the people we "kill off."

But it wasn't so imaginary for Amy. Has anyone else thought about this: And will it cross your mind the next time you're asked how you choose your story lines or whether you'd consider allowing your protagonist to shoot a gun?

HANK: I've thought about it a lot. And it just shows you how fragile everything is. And how law enforcement can--apparently--make some huge mistakes. (No further comment here..) Will it change how I think? About people and motives and fear and, um, cover ups--maybe. Sure. About how people can conflate reality and fiction? Perhaps. Although--that's kind of classic. Whether a main character can use a gun? No.

HALLIE: True crime is just awful awful awful. Real victims. Real hatred and malice. Our books don't come close to telling it like it can be.

JAN: Actually in the Guardian, crime writer David Peace, author of the Red Riding quartet, said he thinks we should all turn to non-fiction because there is no reason to make up crime. There's so much real stuff.

I agree Hallie, our books don't come close to telling it like it is. But I think that may come as a welcome relief to our readers.

So has anyone else out there been wondering what Amy Bishop might have been like in a writers group? ( Especially after someone criticized her chapter?)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kate Carlisle

Please welcome Kate Carlisle, author of the New York Times bestselling Bibliophile Mysteries, featuring book expert Brooklyn Wainwright. She's the winner of the Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier awards, and she spent twenty years in television production as an assistant director in game and variety shows, including The Gong Show and Solid Gold. She also has sung, acted and spent a year in law school. Today she blogs for us today about Scotland and her roots.

Finding Family

From early childhood, I’ve had a deep fascination for Scotland. I think it started in elementary school when I worked on a genealogy project. Like most Americans, my DNA comes from many countries, but I chose my Scottish ancestors as the ones with whom I most identified. My mother’s last name was Campbell, and you can’t turn a corner in Scotland without running into a Campbell or two. (Especially true when you’re not used to driving on the left side of the road!)

What allure did Scotland hold for me? I grew up in California, where “new” was synonymous with “improved,” and the only castle I’d ever seen in real life was at Disneyland. In California, a fifty-year-old building was considered old. But my people live in a place where history has visceral meaning. The past is the present, as they walk the ground where our forebears fought fierce battles, raised children, fell in love, and cursed their enemies. Traditions are clung to fiercely in a land carved out of the rocky countryside with bare and bloodied hands.

I was in my mid-twenties the first time I visited Scotland, and my love for the country was cemented immedi

ately and forever. In my heart, Scotland is my homeland. With its brooding beauty, Scotland spoke to something inside of me right from the start.

The people spoke to me, too…not that I could understand what they said! They are the warmest and friendliest people ever, but I think they’re also a little suspicious. (And who wouldn’t be, after the wars they’ve been through?) I’m convinced they exaggerate their accents when meeting tourists, as a test of our fortitude. Scots are a hearty lot, and they have no patience for namby-pambies who aren’t even resourceful enough to figure out what the hell they’re saying. No, if you ever travel to Scotland, just know that you must face the lingual challenge with determination.

When I began to write the Bibliophile Mysteries series, I knew that at least one of the books would have to be set in Edinburgh, my favorite city in the world. In If Books Could Kill, which was released this month, antique book expert Brooklyn Wainwright is a guest of honor at the Edinburgh Book Fair. A former lover asks her to protect what could well be a never before seen book of poems by Robert Burns. If authentic, the secrets revealed in this book will ignite a scandal of international proportions, a scandal that someone is willing to stop at any cost, even murder.

Edinburgh is the best mix of old and new. (And by “old,” I don’t mean fifty years old!) The modern city is built right on top of the ancient city. I was able to walk down dark and narrow steps and touch the very walls that my ancestors built.

After my travels, I feel even more connected to my Scottish heritage. It’s no wonder, really. My maiden name is Beaver, so you can imagine the teasing I got all through school. My dad (who was a regular laugh riot, let me tell you) always claimed we were Native American, named after Chief Shooting Beaver – hence the appeal of my mother’s side of the family!

Carlisle is a Scottish name. (Some say English, but I’m sticking with Scottish. Carlisle, England is right on the border of Scotland, and I think the town fathers named it such in an effort to be annexed.) You can see my coat of arms at The Carlisle motto is “with humility.” What they don’t tell you is that humility is a necessity for a clan who keeps tripping over our own feet!

What nationality is your last name? What does it mean? What do you wish it meant? (Go ahead, make up some fun alternate meanings for your name.) What do you think your family motto should be? Rather than “with humility,” I sometimes think mine should’ve been "with fries."

Jan: Thanks Kate!! And everyone please come back tomorrow when I take on the heavy topic of euthanasia. Poinsetta-euthanasia, that is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

JAN: So I have confession to make. Every year since I can remember I celebrate Lent, which starts tomorrow.

That's right. I give up something for 40 days. But it's not a religious thing. Although I once was what they call a cafeteria-Catholic, after the priest-pedophile controversy, I became a seriously disaffected Catholic.

Still, I always give something up at Lent. Something I really like a lot. So does my husband, both my brothers, and my 20-year old son. What's weirder is that we actually look forward to it.

I've given up: chocolate, cookies, wine, all alcohol (twice), all sweets (numerous times) and saying anything remotely negative about anyone (the hardest of all). My son gave up butter once. And television - an incredible challenge when he was 12-years old.

One of my very best friends, (an atheist) questions my sanity almost every year: Why, she always asks, when life is so short, would you give up something you like for 40 days??

Because its oddly satisfying. I don't think it makes me feel "holier" or closer to God. But I do think it must makes me a little more pleased with myself.

In real life, I'm weak on self-discipline. I've never been able to stick to any diet for more than twenty minutes. I routinely violate my writing schedule. And once I start on email, I can't stay away from it.

But no matter what I give up for Lent, I manage to stick to it. And its not because I'm doing a lot of "self-examination," or going to church. On some days, (okay, I admit, Good Friday) I revert to cultural training and think about being a better person. . But is completely separate from the deprivation.

In some ways, I think I might like Lent for the same reason I like camping or taking vacations on a sailboat. I enjoy the challenge of a restricted space.

This year, I'm giving up sweets, (this includes Cosmos, but not fruit, ) and checking email no more than three times a day. I don't think this gets me into heaven or "prepares me" for Easter. But I do wonder if it provides a teeny-weeny rebirth. A passage into spring.

So am I just totally Catholic no matter what I say? Or is this some sort of human need? All sorts of cultures include a fast. Can anyone out there understand the appeal of 40 days of abandoning your Valentine's chocolate?

And, tomorrow when I'm on my first day of drinking my latte with no sugar, come back for New York Times bestselling author Kate Carlisle, who will be blogging about her Scottish roots.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On apologies

JAN: I guess I've never really understood apologies before. I was under the misguided notion that when you wanted an apology from someone, you wanted it to be sincere. From the heart. As if the person felt that he or she did you wrong and was truly sorry about it.

I never got the whole "apology" as marketing thing. But now I see the apology is an incredibly useful tool. For example, if your name is fading from the headlines, say like Jaimee Grubbs, one of Tiger Wood's mistresses, all you do is demand an apology. Not a real one that he may mean. But one he might be forced to make for public relations reasons.

Jaimee wants Tiger Woods to apologize to her because he made her feel like she was "the only girl." We won't go into Jaimee's cognitive skills, we'll stick to her marketing skills. Bravo, Jaimee!

You can also use the apology to keep you in the papers by doing really stupid things and apologizing for them John Mayer may or may not have done this deliberately when he dissed his old girlfriends, Jessica SImpson and Jennifer Aniston, in Playboy Magazine.

But you must ask: did he think the Playboy reporter wasn't taking notes when he was talking?? After all this time in the celebrity limelight, did he not notice that reporters glom onto the first hint of controversy??

We all make mistakes. It's just that we all don't get huge amounts of press for them. So I've been putting on my thinking cap, trying to come up with an idea: I could either confess to having an affair with someone famous and then apologize afterward (sorry, I was delusional) Or better yet, maybe I could plagiarize a Pulitizer-prize winning author, and apologize afterward. (sorry, I just didn't notice i was copying word for word.)

Okay, so what are YOUR thoughts on apologies. And do you have any inventive ideas on how
to get press for them??

HANK: I think it's the "Just spell my name right" syndrome. If they're using your name, that's good, no matter what. And there's nothing like demanding something to get a story about how you're demanding it. I'm still shaking my head over the Rielle Hunter sex tape.

Okay, so first you get a camera and tape yourself having sex with your illicit adulterer politico lover. Right there, no way. Then someone else somehow has the tape? Are you kidding me? Let me ju
st say this--*I'm* demanding an apology from everyone involv
ed in that debacle. I used up valuable brain room on it, and someone ought to pay.

JAN: Yes, that one has had me amazed, too. Let's see, you're a politician running for NATIONAL office, and all your enemies are looking for ways to bring you down -- so you video tape your adulterous affair. Then you lose track of it? And with that stellar sense of judgment, you want to make policy for the rest of us?

HALLIE: Apologies are oh so useful... especially when someone is screaming at you. I once apologized to a guy who rear-ended me in traffic. Shut him right up.

Did you know that you have a better chance of getting your message across if you speak in someone's RIGHT ear. That's according to a study in the UK reported in The Telegraph. But those folks drive on the wrong side or the road so maybe American left ears are more receptive? We could duplicate their experiment. We'd need to work 30 young men up into a fury. I'll drive.

RHYS: What sickens me is that the apology seems to be enough. Some sleazy public figure stands tearfully at the mike and sobs "I have sinned" and then everything is supposed to be all right again.

It seems that so many people relish fame and the spotlight so much that they'd rather be pitied or despised than back out of the public eye. On the other hand the sincere apology is one of the hardest things to do, and one of the most healing.

RO: Ditto, ditto and ditto. The guy who spends a lifetime saying that gays are going to hell, and shouldn't be teachers and shouldn't be in the military..then deals with the inevitable sex tape of him with his massage therapist, by saying "Ooops. I'm sorry. I have sinned"? That makes me want to scream. The guys who are unfaithful? I don't care, that's between them and their wives. I fail to see why anyone cares. Maybe if it were Russell Crowe and Michelle Obama I'd be mildly interested, otherwise - so what?

Saying you're sorry is a great way to get the other person to shut up. Unless you're my husband, in which case it will only unleash another stream of "I don't want you to be sorry, I want you to know why -fill in the blank - bothers me."
I think we should take out an ad in an upcoming show program announcing that the writers of Jungle Red are profoundly sorry for their actions and words appearing on We understand that a number of people were shocked, appalled, and horrified while bemused, engaged and entertained by our words and although we understand and are deeply concerned we believe it is our dut
y, nay, our sacred trust with the blogosphere to continue to write as we have for the past four years without regard to ratings, hits, tweets or the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because we are six brave women who will stand together to fight this thing and emerge victorious in the name of women everywhere.

Maybe people will wonder what the $%*& we're apologizing for.

HANK: Oh, definitely! All kinds of new people would come read our blog to see what they missed! Uh, once, maybe.

ROBERTA: Ro, you have the same evil mind that I do. let's apologize! Maybe we should start saying s
ome things that are worth apologizing for! What perplexes me more than the fake apologies are the folks who DON'T apologize, when "I'm sorry" might make a huge difference in the outcome of their mess. But I think part of it has to do with Rhys's point, an apology is not easy, especially done with humbl
eness and sincerity.

JAN: Ro, I think that's a brilliant idea!! And next, we can all apologize for sleeping with Tiger Woods!

Come back tomorrow, when I reveal why not doing something you want to do is oddly appealing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Night to Remember!

Psst. What are you doing next Tuesday?

How'd you like to hang out with Lee Child?

Maybe swap stories wth Tess Gerritsen?

Have a beer with Joe Finder and William Martin?

Get Lisa Gardner to make you a character in her next book?

Get some writing tips from Gary Braver?

(And be one of the first to get me to sign my new DRIVE TIME?)

Well, sure, Hank, I hear you saying. That would be fantastic! But how do I get to do one of those?
Listen. To. This. You can do all of them.

And much, much more.

You can win Red Sox paraphernalia

Enjoy the best in blues and rock n' roll

Sample the best desserts in Boston
And support a wonderful cause at the same time.

What's more, the brains behind the whole glorious event belong to the force of nature and best-selling author you know as Michael Palmer.

Well, here. Let him tell you about it.

Michael Palmer here.

I’m pleased to announce that my fifteenth medical thriller, The Last Surgeon, is ready for its publish date this coming Tuesday, February 16th, 2010.

HANK: Well, congratulations! Most of us just have lovely launch parties at bookstores. But you are going all out!

MICHAEL: Definitely. To celebrate the book’s launch, we’re having the Home Base Books & Bands Event, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Fundraiser at the Paradise Rock Club. The Home Base Project is an effort of the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General Hospital to support the thousands and thousands of vets and active servicemen suffering from PTSD. And everyone is invited!
HANK: What a terrific idea. So it's your launch day..and you're making it into a real extravaganza! All your pals will be there, which is pretty amazing. And it's a wonderful and important cause. When?

MICHAEL: It's also on February 16th, starting with a VIP reception at 6pm and then...well, check this site for all the particulars. It's really going to be fun, with famous authors, great bands, lots of books to have personalized, contests, drawings for Red Sox Gear and tickets, and the best desserts in Boston... You can even bid to have your name be a character in a bestselling novel by authors including Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, William Martin, Gary Braver, the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan, and me.

HANK: Aw, thanks. But why the PTSD fundraiser? What's the story behind it?

MICHAEL: Two years ago, I met a Marine veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a brief flight from Boston to D.C. Although we did not stay in touch, I was very moved by our conversation, and not long after returning home I began thinking about weaving a story around this sad, frightening condition.

The result is The Last Surgeon—a terrifying tale of Army trauma surgeon Captain Nick Garrity, working on a mobile medical van caring for vets and the homeless in D.C. while he tries to conquer the fallout from the suicide bomber who killed everyone in Nick’s field hospital in Afghanistan except Nick and his best friend, Umberto. When Umberto, whose PTSD is even more virulent than Nick’s, disappears, Nick is brought into the crosshairs of brilliant psychopath Franz Koller, the remorseless master of the non kill—murder that does not look like murder.

I’m really excited for the book (I'm sure it's my best one yet)
HANK: :-)
MICHAEL: and the fundraiser event at the Paradise Rock Club. I encourage Boston folks to get tickets and attend the event and everyone else to check out The Last Surgeon, to be officially released on February 16th, 2010. And one more great thing--we'll be auctioning off character names! So you could be in my next book. Or Lee's. Or Lisa's. Or William Martin's. (Or Hank's!)
HANK: So here's the scoop. Click on the party website for all the details, and you can also
find out more by visiting Michael's website, which is a fun place to go no matter what the occasion. Will we see you at the party?
Questions? Who knows who will be here to answer this space for a special guest!
And we're giving two free tickets to the bash--courtesy of Jungle Red!--to a lucky commenter.
So just say--hi. Or hurray. Or just tell Michael you think he's a good guy.
MICHAEL: Thanks all for your time, and thank you Hank, for letting me contribute to your blog.
HANK: Hey! You're always welcome at Jungle Red. And see you Tuesday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blithe Spirit

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

Mayhem is on the rise at the Witt’s End Resort, especially Cabin 14, where no guest ever leaves alive.

Okay, is that a great hook or what? And the book is about--a death coach. Who solves murders.

To add to it, the reason the guests never leave Cabin 14 is not that they're murdered. It's that--well, that would give it away.

But let me just ask: have you ever heard a strange noise--when you know there's nothing there? A kitchen cabinet is open--and you now you didn't open it? A voice seems to whisper to you..but you know you're alone?

Or are you? (Cue scary music.)

Beth Solheim does not seem someone who believes in...well, whatever. Let her tell it.

HANK: When you first started At Witt's End, how did you describe it to yourself? Or did you?

BETH: I started with an idea I thought was unique and fun and ran with it. I simply called it a mystery. Unfortunately, that was before I knew what true writing entailed. That was also about the time I joined MWA and Sisters in Crime and a few of the subgroups. I slanted my writing style toward cozies after participating in the loops and after taking several writing classes. At last I had a niche! I can’t express enough how valuable these groups are to emerging writers.

HANK: In the writing process, were there ideas you had that you had to eliminate because they weren't "cozy" enough?

BETH: Yes. A bit too much cussing. A friend who reviews for Cozy Library said that At Witt’s End was a great mystery concept, but not quite a cozy. She recommended removing a few words. I did. Now it adheres to cozy norms of no blatant violence, sex, or cussing—and of course, features a pet, Belly LaGossa, a dog of questionable heritage.

HANK: Some authors are trying to escape the "c-word," preferring to call themselves "traditional." What do you choose for a label? Or do you have to choose?

I like that, the ‘c-word’. One thing that still amazes me is when friends or new acquaintances ask what I write and I reply cozies, I get a blank stare. I’ve learned to say I write mysteries. It makes everyone happy. I think the writing/publishing community uses that word more than the public, but I often add ‘gentle’ mysteries.

I also learned to drop cozies from my queries to agents and publishers. When I secured an agent, she recommended we use the word mystery and let the publisher decide the genre category. Alas, that agent decided to close her agency and released her clients. When I queried Echelon Press, I used the term cozy.

HANK: At Witt's End has such a wonderful quirky premise. Tell us the set up.

BETH: Witt’s End is a typical resort in northern Minnesota where vacationers vie for available cabins, but there’s one thing they don’t know. Any guest who checks into Cabin 14 never leaves alive. There’s also an occasional ghost who wanders over from the mortuary next door and insists that Sadie Witt, a death coach, help them solve their murder. Shenanigans unfold as Sadie tries to untangle a murderous web and prevent an unscrupulous sheriff’s deputy from shutting down her lakeside resort.

HANK: Now really, Beth, how did you think of this? Is there a part of you that believes this is how it works? It's actually kind of a comforting thought.

BETH: Have I seen a ghost? No. The plot idea came from a comment on television about a deceased woman who didn’t cross over. This could be quite a predicament, especially if she didn’t understand why she was held back. Who would guide her? What would she have to accomplish to cross over? Thus, a plot idea developed!

Do I think ghosts exist? Possibly. I have experienced a few episodes that defy the norm. One with my car door slamming shut suddenly with such force it could not have been the wind. I wasn’t parked on a slant, either. I was moving boxes into a house we had built on an old vacated homestead. Was it an angry being who didn’t want us living there? Maybe.

The other event involved my precious cat, Ranger. Ranger passed away in my arms after sixteen years of celebrating life in our household. He had been rescued from a food cage in Korea as a scrawny white kitten. A few days after his death, as I began to slip into sleep, the weight of tiny footsteps crossed my bed and I received six thank-you licks on my cheek.

HANK: Ah. I see. And--that's lovely. So do you look at people differently now? Wondering if maybe....?

BETH: I’m fairly grounded in tradition, but let’s say I’m open to possibilities.

HANK: And we are, too, of course. Anyone? Ghosts? Any unexplained encounters?


Like the main character in her Sadie Witt mystery series, Beth Solheim was born with a healthy dose of imagination and a hankering to solve a puzzle. She learned her reverence for reading from her mother, who was never without a book in her hand.

By day, Beth works in Human Resources. By night she morphs into a writer who frequents lake resorts and mortuaries and hosts a ghost or two in her humorous paranormal mysteries

Raised and still living in Northern Minnesota, she resides in lake country with her husband and a menagerie of wildlife critters. She and her husband are blessed with two grown children and two grandsons.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Have Book--Will Travel? Or..not?

On the Road Again
By Kelli Stanley

I am absolutely tickled pink—wait, maybe that should be red?—to be here as a guest on one of my favorite blogs with some favorite writers!! Huge thank yous to Hank and the gang for having me over!

By the time this post reaches that glorious red ink splash, I’ll be hotfooting it on the road again, heading to Los Angeles, San Diego and Scottsdale by car to promote the launch of CITY OF DRAGONS, which just came out from Thomas Dunne/Minotaur on February 2nd.

Now, even though there are times I feel like a battle-scarred veteran (and I am, at least of the Macmillan/Amazon war, which erupted the week of my release!), this is sort of my debut all over again, as NOX DORMIENDA, my debut novel, was originally published by a small press. To move from virtually no bookstore distribution to national distribution is a dream come true, and to me, there was no question about doing a tour—in fact, if time and money permitted me to, I’d be a vagabond for a good two months, and just make it a cross-country event.

At the same time I’m often asked by authors with even less experience than I have whether or not a book tour is “effective.” I’ve spoken with people who assure me that the tour is a dying form—rather like vaudeville, I think—and that the entire future rests on the even more congested roads of the internet.

OK, so I’m still a neophyte—this is my second book, after all—but here are my thoughts on why authors should tour:

It’s fun.
You meet people.
You visit interesting places.
You learn cool stuff.
You find fun places to eat and shop.

Have I mentioned it’s fun?

Honestly, why wouldn’t you want to meet readers and booksellers and (if you can) local journalists? Traveling out of town could even lead to inspiration for an upcoming book … and I always try to fit in a little time to play tourist if I can.

For example, on my trip to Seattle and Portland last week, we managed to squeeze in twenty minutes at the Brown and Haley factory (makers of Almond Roca) in Tacoma, WA, and visited the very same cool round factory outlet as a child. And I found out something cool—the building was actually built for the Seattle World’s Fair in ’62, and they transported it to Tacoma the year after. I love knowing stuff like that (and of course love Almond Roca and their newest, Macadamia Roca … yum!!) J

My point is that I think travel always enriches you. As a writer, a person, in every way. I’ve heard concerns (again, like vaudeville) that it’s just not “mass” enough to reach consumers. It’s true that George Burns and Gracie Allen sold much more soap via radio than they did on the vaudeville circuit … but books are a personal relationship between author and reader, and that takes time and effort to develop, and I, at least, think in person signings are a wonderful way to do it.

Whether one person or fifty show up to see you, you are still reaping so many rewards from visiting one of our wonderful booksellers and seeing a new city that it’s not just a good investment for your book—it’s a good investment for your life.
Those are my thoughts, anyway … what say you? To tour or not to tour? If you’re a reader, do you like to attend readings and signings and events? If you’re a writer, any stories from the road?

Kelli Stanley’s second novel, City of Dragons, introduces Miranda Corbie—PI and ex-escort in 1940 San Francisco.
City of Dragons (released February 2, 2010) is the first of a series, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, is an RT Book Reviews Top Pick, and an Indie Next Book for February. “Children’s Day”, a prequel to City of Dragons, will be published in First Thrills: High Octane Stories by the Hottest Thriller Writers, coming June 22nd from Tor/Forge.
Kelli’s debut novel, Nox Dormienda, won the Bruce Alexander Award and was nominated for a Macavity. She lives in San Francisco, and frequents old movie palaces, speakeasies and bookstores. You can find out more about her and her books at her website:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Call her the Church Lady?

The lighthearted first Hope Street Church mystery introduces 32-year-old Cooper Lee as she grapples with the end of a five-year romance. Stanley's faith-based crime detection has plenty of charming appeal.

**Publishers Weekly on Stirring Up Strife

Talk about charming appeal! PW might have been talking about Jennifer (JB) Stanley herself.

Next time you're at a mystery party or convention or gathering--stop and listen and figure out where the laughter is. And there, right in the center of it all, is where you will find Jennifer Stanley. You probably know her from the Supper Club mysteries, but now Jen is venturing into new territory with her Hope Street Church series. We wish her all the best--and hope she has good luck with it!

Good luck, huh? Jen is wondering about that today..and wants to know how you whether you've given your car or desk or purse a special "charm" of its own.

(And at the end--she's got a contest!Two little words: free book.)

Lucky Charms For the Road

JENNIFER: Though we’ve been snowed in for days, I’ve been making my spring travel plans. I’ll do some flying, but most of treks will be road trips. Lately, I’ve been noticing the variety of objects folks hang from their rearview mirrors. I’ve got a little toy (Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter, to be exact) hanging from mine because my little brother gave it to me for my Honda back in the early 90s. I’d always considered it a good luck charm because I haven’t had an accident while that little gizmo was in the car.

In Greece, most of the drivers have an evil eye protector in their vehicle and if you’ve ever seen their treacherously narrow, winding, and steep country roads (flanked on both sides by memorial altars with photographs of those who did not safely make the turn) you’d understand why.

I did a little research on good luck charms. Celebrities certainly carry them. For example, Geoffrey Rush of “Shine” fame carried a plastic Daffy Duck to the Oscars, Cameron Diaz wears a special “Anti-aging” luck necklace given to her by a girlfriend, and singer Meat Loaf won’t travel anywhere without his plush bears, Mandy and Marietta.

After the Miracle on the Hudson, people became vocal about the items they need to have boarding an airplane. Whether a rabbit’s foot, a four-leaf cover, or lucky coin, people like to have their lucky objects close at hand. Or they just use their hands as a lucky charm. For example, the hunky host of Extreme Home Makeover, Ty Pennington crosses the fingers of his right hand during take-off and remains stock still until the plane reaches cruising altitude.

In addition to portable charms, some folks have lucky clothing. My husband won’t spend the night in the hospital on call without wearing a specific black t-shirt. He wears it because none of his patients have died while he was on an overnight call wearing that shirt. It’s a good reason to keep it in circulation despite its holes and bleach stains.

Then, we’ve got our number hang-ups. Me, I have no problem with the number 13. As far as dates go, my luckiest day is Monday. It’s the day when my agent has always phoned to tell me about selling one of my series and it’s also the day of the week when my son was born. The Chinese love the number nine and I do as well as STIRRING UP STRIFE is my 9th book.

Do you carry a charm in your car? Do you wear one? Have a lucky color, article of clothing, number, or ritual? I will send a signed copy of STIRRING UP STRIFE to a lucky commenter.
J.B. Stanley has a BA in English from Franklin & Marshall College, an MA in English Literature from West Chester University, and an MLIS from North Carolina Central University. She taught sixth grade language arts in Cary, North Carolina for the majority of her eight-year teaching career. Raised an antique-lover by her grandparents and parents, Stanley also worked part-time in an auction gallery. An eBay junkie and food-lover, Stanley now lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, two young children, and three cats.

Monday, February 8, 2010

O! U R A Q T Pi We Heart U!

HANK: Counting down til Valentine's Day. Remember in grade school? When we'd get those huge packages of valentines (some you could punch out and some had glitter) and there was a special one for the teacher? And there was such competition about who got the most, and it was SUCH a big deal.

(OH! I just had such a memory flash. A big shout out to Ronnie Murphy, wherever you are. I just remembered, when we were in 7th grade, you send me a homemade, lacy valentine. Made from construction paper and a doily, if I remember correctly, which I probably don't. But I honestly didn't know you "liked" me.)

As I grew up, it was all about getting roses. And who had roses on their desk in the office. And sometimes, that was me, and that was important and wonderful.

But now, I do stories about how florists double the price of roses, and fly the cheap ones in from Chile, and Valentine's Day sometimes seems--high-pressure and commerical. Am I getting unromantic in my old age? How about you? Valentine plans? Memories? I do heart you guys, no question about that. But don't expect roses. (Or maybe, do!)

JAN: I think when you are young, Valentine's Day is about proving to yourself (and maybe your classmates and coworkers) that someone loves you. As you get older, and a little more confident, you don't need so much proof. The diamond jewelry commercials on TV (Jared?) make me embarrassed for womenkind. A nice dinner somewhere. And yes, I'm still a sucker for flowers. But really, just having a good guy around after all these years is the actual gift.

ROBERTA: I loved those little valentines Hank! My dad used to send one to each of us with his name in secret code, that is "Dad" was "4-1-4". It's sad not to get those anymore!

And I do have a sweet spot for valentine's day because John proposed at dinner on that night eighteen years ago. He wrote a sweet, silly poem that I have framed over the bathtub:). but I totally agree--hate being taken advantage of with the valentine dinner specials--it's like New Year's Eve. Let's celebrate the night before or have a great dinner at home.
Hearts to all of you JRW and readers!

RHYS: Absolute envy of those like Roberta who have romantic husbands. Mine is generous, doesn't mind how much he spends on a present, but doesn't have a romantic bone in his body. Occasionally he will produce flowers and/or a card for Valentine's day, but usually with a complaint that the price of flowers has doubled. (and on this theme, my daughter got married on Mother's Day weekend and our budget for flowers went out of the window!)I guess I'd really love to have a goofy, romantic guy who writes me poems, but I have to remind myself that this one is great with money, trustworthy, hardworking so that goofy romantic type would hever have paid off the mortgage before he retired.Oh, now I remember--in college I did have a boyfriend who send me sweet little notes almost every day, in the days before email. He wasn't a keeper! Happy heart day to all. I'm taking my daughter's family to see Mary Poppins as my romantic outing!

HALLIE: Oh, Roberta - I love that the poem hangs over your bathtub. How perfect.
One memorable Valentine's day in my sophomore year of college, I got roses from two different guys. Neither of them were destined to last much longer than the flowers.
My husband does give me flowers on V Day (I prefer tulips because they ALWAYS open and look gorgeous and last last last) but what he really does great is cards. He's an artist and each card is a hilarious hand-drawn cartoon starring us. I also get hand drawn cards on my birthday, Christmas, Ground Hog Day, and I used to get one each Bastille Day.

RO: Holy on Bastille Day? Totally jealous. I have to be reminded that it's Valentine's day. I like to go out for a nice dinner and I have a physical need for champagne but since I was one of those unfortunate little (loser) girls who was never showered with the red construction paper and doily cards in grade school :-( I never got used to them.My husband is wonderful and buys me flowers and cards. Thanks for reminding me, Hank..I should get him something this year! But presents...cheesh...that's a whole other blog isn't it?

HANK: Plenty of time, RO. How about you, JRWs? Do you heart Valentine's day? And Roberta, 10-18-23 12-15-22-5-19 25-17-21