Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Rejection

ROSEMARY: The following is an excerpt from's Helthland website.

Lab participants who watch as photos of them are rejected — even if they know the rejection is being done by a computer — experience not just emotional but physical distress. Your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, fluctuate when you think you're being rejected. It turns out that all of us are the nerdy kids on Glee: pathetic and weak when Sue Sylvester comes around, even if we know she's a robot dressed in a sweatsuit.
This week a new study shows that these physical effects go further: rejection actually stops your heart. Thus the clever title of the new Psychological Science paper: "The Heartbrake of Social Rejection." The authors of the study — a three-member group led by a University of Amsterdam psychologist named Bregtje Gunther Moor — measured beat-by-beat heart rate changes in 22 students as they received either rejection or acceptance of portrait photos they had submitted. When hooked up to electrocardiogram monitors, the students reliably showed a skip in their hearts when they thought they had been rejected by someone shown their photos.

Read more:

ROSEMARY: I hope they didn't spend too much on this study.

I was fortunate and only got a few rejections before my current book deal, so I don't know how I'd have handled the 36 or so "no-thank-yous" James Patterson supposedly got before his first book was accepted for publication. But the reality is, as writers, most of us experience rejection on a regular basis - agents, editors and readers make their choices every day and frequently - gasp - they may reject us. There's not much I can do about it if an editor is looking for the next PEN or Booker Prize winner (I write genre fiction.) Or a reader is in the mood for a vampire book (I write traditional mysteries.)

There are plenty of best-selling books or enormously popular movies and television shows that I don't particularly love. And that's what I tell myself every time I'm on the receiving end of a rejection. Hey, not everyone is going to love you. Chaque a son gout. Jan, did I get that right?

What do you tell yourself?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Travels with Charley or staying home with Charley?

ROSEMARY: This year marks the fiftieth anniversay of John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. Fifty years ago Steinbeck embarked on a road trip with his standard poodle, Charley and set off to see America, perhaps for the last time. I remembered loving the book when I was young and reread it five or six years back, just before I embarked on my own road trip with doggie. My pooch was a golden named Patrick and I was convinced the only way I'd ever finish my first book was to load up the car and take off, just the two of us.

I drove a Jeep, not a refitted "Rocinante" and I schlepped a computer and a printer (six years ago printers were big!) My plan was to visit famous gardens on the east coast and derive inspiration from them, as well as from Steinbeck.

Despite the fact that I had to change my route numerous times(the DC sniper was targeting people at gas stations)I had an amazing trip and did manage to finish the book.

More recently I sequestered myself in my NY apartment to put the finishing touches on book four. It worked. I can't say I ate healthy, exercised or was very sociable but it was total immersion and I loved it. And i felt great when it was over!

Do you have any rituals or favorite ways to get yourself across the finish line when you're finishing a book?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

True Crime Tuesday - How well do we really know our neighbors?

How well do we really know our neighbors?

ROSEMARY: How well do we really know our neighbors is the tagline for my latest book.
DEAD HEAD tells the story of a woman who learns that one of her friends is actually a fugitive from the law. Recently I had my own How well...moment when I learned something frightening about one of my neighbors.

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I read a horrific story in our local paper. Before the day was out, the news had spread all over the country and within a week the world.
While visiting a friend at her Stamford, Connecticut home, a woman was viciously attacked by the friend's pet, a 200+ pound chimp named Travis.

Our first thoughts? OMG, that's the chimp we met.

As far as we know, none of our other neighbors owns exotic pets, although how would we know unless something awful happened? This one we knew about. A few years earlier Bruce, who is a runner, was followed home by a medium-sized black dog. A friendly pooch, no amount of shooing impressed the animal that he wasn't already home as he sat on our back deck waiting to be fed. We called the number written with a Sharpie on the dog's collar.

"Can you bring him home?" the woman said.

Now...if my dog had run off, I'd have been there in a shot to scold, forgive, and rescue the doggie. But this woman sounded a little odd and we thought perhaps she was an invalid, so we hustled the dog into our Jeep and drove to her home. Home is a bit of a euphemism. Unless stately Wayne Manor was somewhere out of sight (entirely possible) home consisted of a few trailers circled like wagons around a campfire. With lawn chairs in the middle. It reminded me of pictures I'd seen of travellers camps in Ireland or the gypsies in old werewolf movies.

The dog leapt out of the car and we were greeted by a short, dark-haired woman - trailed by a short, dark-haired chimp. I think we sat for a few minutes as she thanked us for returning her pooch, but I have to say, I was freaked out by the chimp. I've been on safari when lions paced around our Land Rover, I've seen rattlesnakes and bears on hikes and I've heard hyenas while sleeping in a tent on the Masai Mara. I don't scare easy, but the idea of a chimp walking around a suburban backyard, albeit a strange one, was weird. We left in a hurry.

To read that this same creature had - forgive me - gone batshit as a result of drugs, illness or god knows what, and horribly mutilated and nearly killed someone it had met many times was absolutely chilling. (The chimp was later killed by police in a wooded area less than a mile from our home.)

Many people feel that someone should be accountable. But who? The chimp's owner has recently died. I understand the victim's family is suing the state.

Bruce thinks I should write about it, that it would be a "big" subject, but I'm not sure. Certainly people are killed in our books all the time, but this feels different. Perhaps because the victim miraculously survived the attack. (Yes, I have seen her on Oprah and her spirit is amazing.)Perhaps because - thus far - I have had a lot of humor in my books and I can't see how I can have anyone cracking wise in a book where something like this happens. Although they occasionally do when someone gets bumped off.

What do you JRs think?

RHYS: I think people who keep exotic pets are asking for trouble. Suing the state? Because she was clueless? To me this smacks of the burglar who fell through a skylight and then (successfully) sued the family who lived in the house, or the boys who set fire to someone's car in their driveway and then were burned and sued the car's owners. We have gone litigation crazy and it has to be stopped.

This is probably why I write crime novels. The crimes we write about make sense. They are true cases of good versus evil, not the random violence of the real world.

HALLIE: Boy, that's the kind of experience that gives one the creepy-crawlies. Not sure I'd have the stomach for writing about it. Though channeling that feeling that you got when you read about the tragedy...that it could have been you... THAT you can put into a novel. Also the trailer park, wandering dog, etc. -- absolutely

HANK: Yes, I agree. The experience you had, the connection with someone who is so much not like you--that's valuable. But the chimp story, specifically, is so desperately sad. And given what we all know now, might only seem like a rip-off. (You know?)

That's what I think is so intriguing about True Crime Tuesday. It's very different, writing about crime, no matter how grisly, when it's not real. But should it be? And I think we DO write about the random violence of the real world. As I reporter,I do it every day. As a novelist, I try to keep that reality--that "real" people are involved. Our fictional extra power is to make sure there's justice in the end. In some way.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Are You a Closet Fashionista?

ROSEMARY: I have a confession to make - I'm a closet fashionista. Chalk it up to all those summers of waiting for the September issue of Seventeen Magazine to arrive on the newstands. (I'm showing my age here, but what the heck.)

Thick as a brick, inside its covers all my schoolgirl fantasies came alive, in living color - coordinated, of course. The cute outfit I'd wear as I climbed the stage in the school auditorium to receive an award (in the daydream it was never clear what my particular area of expertise was.) The fetching ensemble my football hero boyfriend would see from the field as he carried the ball into the endzone, me cheering in the stands like Ali McGraw.

Needless to say, that's not what happened. By the time I got to high school I didn't care what I wore as long as I looked thin and my hair was straight. (Mercifully I had good skin.)
That it "the memories" or the ancient rituals of primitive tribes, but, every fall I'm once again drawn to the fat,glossy magazines filled with pictures of gaunt young girls wearing clothing I will probably never wear. Why do I do it?

The editors breathlessly announce leather,tweed and boots will be in fashion this fall and winter. And animal prints. What concepts! Brilliant! Camel hair coats! Who knew? So why do I keep plunking down cash for these things every year? Is it the promise that maybe this time I'll be one of the cool kids? Not really. I'll resurrect the few things I already own that are temporarily in fashion, and then either forget to wear them or feel stupid for trying to be "in fashion."

As anyone who's ever seen me knows, nine times out of ten I'll be wearing a black jacket with jeans or black pants. A friend called last week to ask what I was wearing to the funeral of another friend's mother - I thought about it.."Oh, I'll probably wear black pants." We both burst out laughing. Last year there was a flood in my apartment and I had to take everything out of one closet. The stuff just kept clowns out of a tiny car. I had forty-seven black jackets (that's not counting the ones I bought this year.) And nothing noticably fashionable. Almost everything could have been bought twenty years ago and much of it was. So what's up with the fashion magazines? Is there a name and a support group for this? Please tell me I'm not alone.

HANK: Oh, me, me. The big fall VOGUE? Irresistible. (I read it for the articles, of course.) It's so glossy and gorgeous. INSTYLE, too, now that Rosemary is getting me to confess.

ROSEMARY: I can top that - LUCKY MAGAZINE? I can't miss an issue. Love it.

HANK: VOGUE is essentially incomprehensible, clothes-wise, because there is NOTHING in it a real person could ever wear. But you know, my mother taught me about it, yes, sitting at her knee. I remember saying--but Mom, this stuff is so weird! She said honey, you're not supposed to wear what's in VOGUE, you're just supposed to get ideas. (She'd be so embarrassed if she heard that's what I remember of her advice...sigh.)

RO: What IS Audrey wearing on her head? She should have listened to your mother.

HANK: And this time of year is so wonderful for clothes, sweaters and scarves and, yes, boots. Talk about confessions. I just got grey suede ankle booties with really high heels and a ruffle around the ankle. Will I EVER wear them? Well, actually, they go with everything...
(And oh-oh. I bet this is gonna illustrate how we JRW's do not all think alike... :-) )

ROSEMARY: I don't think so...I just bought black suede booties with a ruffle on the top. For the grey ones I kept it simple, just a side zip. Your mother was (is)brilliant.

JAN: Rosemary, I am definitely guilty as charged as a fashionista. New clothes and especially boots are my vulnerability I used to love Fashion Dos and Don'ts in Glamour magazine. I loved the part where they had to put a black stamp over the person's face to protect their identity because they had committed such a fashion faux pas.

But I'm afraid that as soon as I had my daughter to raise, I started to view all fashion magazines, and pretty much all fashion designers as the enemy. After I once saw a Prada ad in In Style, that featured an anorexic teenager in a bra and a FREAKING diaper (I kid you not) under a trench coat - I threw the magazine across the room. I still hiss at it whenever I see it at the hairdressers and won't buy anything from Prada - not even a knockoff - to this day.

HALLIE: I truly detest clothes that look like 'fashion.' As long as it comes in black, is machine washable, fits, doesn't make me look like a blimp, and is at least 30 percent off, I'm good to go.
So why am I addicted to Project Runway? It's so not the clothes. I guess it's my version of Vogue.

RHYS: Okay, confession--I'm another Project Runway addict. What I do is go for a look I like and about every ten years what I like is fashionable. I just watched the fall collections from Europe and they said neutral colors, beiges, flowing, soft... and I thought hey, that's me. And last year I found an incredible camel coat on sale so I will be so fashionable this winter. But I refuse to wear dresses with a waist at my boobs and a hemline at mid thigh. I think one reaches an age at which knees should not be shown, however cute they are. As long as Ralph Lauren stays alive, I'll be okay.

ROSEMARY: Yes, black and on sale. I've never watched Project Runway but I did have a brief flirtation with What Not To Wear. I was flying from San Francisco to NYC one and the guy from WNTW got on the plane..I swear I th0ught he was coming for me..I had a friend who was threatening to stage an intervention because she said I wore too much black. Rhys..there's always opaque pantyhose for those knees.

So we can be serious writers and still want gray suede booties...I feel so much better!

Stop by tomorrow for True Crime Tuesday when I recall the time I met the chimp responsible for the horrific attack on a Connecticut woman last year.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It!

I’ve just come back from a hectic book tour, events every night for 2 weeks, including 9 cities in 9 days. I’m a pretty seasoned traveler, as are my fellow Jungle Red Babes, so I thought I'd learned what to take and what not to take with me.

I made several mistakes this time: I left my tiny backup hairdryer at home, thinking I’d be staying in top of the line hotels. Well, the hotels were top of the line, but I came out of the shower, hair dripping, in one sumptuous bathroom to find no hairdryer.
“It’ s with the towels, madam,” they said when I called the front desk.
“No it’s not,” I replied.
They promised to send one up. I waited and waited while my hair dried going in directions I didn’t want it to go. I called down again and told them that I had a car coming for me in ten minutes and I needed that hairdryer NOW. If I’d had my tiny backup all would have been well.

Mistake two: I did not bring my own tea bags. I presumed that luxury hotels might actually have tea bags. Several had no coffee or tea making equipment. We were supposed to order eight dollar a pot room service. One had a very fancy kettle and a variety of herb teas, but no black tea, which I’m sure you realize all English people must have at four o’clock on the dot. And when I ordered a pot of tea—it came with no milk. What were they thinking?

Oh, and there was another thing I forgot this time—Bandaids. I had one hotel with a platform bed, bigger than the mattress on top of it. In the darkness of the middle of the night I hit my leg on the corner of the platform and it started to bleed like crazy. I thought of calling down to reception, but I was in my skimpy nightgown and I felt like a fool. So I sat with a wet towel pressed to it until the bleeding stopped.

So there are lessons learned for the next trip. Never assume that because the hotel is fancy, it will have what you need.

When I travel I carry certain items I consider indispensable.
1. My pocket pillow. Round inflatable pillow that goes in my back on long plane and car trips. The difference between arriving in pain or not.
2. Miniature flashlight. You never know when a hotel may lose power and it’s not good to be in the dark in a strange place.
3. Ear plugs and eye mask for those too bright and too loud rooms.
4. iPod with soothing music for annoying airport delays, also containing photos of loved ones to remind me what’s really important in life.
5. At least one book to read (to be replaced by Kindle within the next week. Or maybe Nook. I’m still debating.
6. A scarf or pashmina. Planes can be freezing.
7. Flash drive with back ups of all current work.
And if you add the three I left behind this time, that makes ten.

So which items can’t you leave home without?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrating Banned Books

RHYS: If I asked you what Animal Farm,The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, The Diary of Anne Frank, Farenheit 451, Gone with the Wind and the Catcher in the Rye all have in common I doubt if you could come up with the right answer--unless you look at the heading of today's post.

THEY ARE, OR HAVE BEEN, BANNED BOOKS. Books removed from school or local libraries because someone objected to them. And since Banned Books Week starts next Monday I thought it was time to bring to the attention of the readers of our blog that books are still being banned all around this nation.

I was once told by a librarian that in her school system it just takes two parents to complain for a book to be pulled from the shelves. I have even heard tales of Goldilocks and the Three Bears being banned from a school library--because she wasn't punished for breaking and entering.

The reasons the books cited above were banned range from the obvious: the N word in Huckleberry Finn, even though Mark Twain was most sympathetic to the black cause, to the dubious--Anne Frank mentions menstruation, Harry Potter's wizard behavior is deemed anti-Christian, as is the world of Lord of the Rings. The most ironic, of course is Farenheit 451--a book about banned books, about the destruction of all books because the powers that be fear knowledge in the population. And isn't that exactly what school or library boards demonstrate when they give in to extemism and remove books from their shelves?

I read on another post this week an example of how short sighted some of the school boards are, acting out of fear without doing the research. A book called "Making it with Mary" was pulled from the shelves, when it was actually all about sewing.

In my opinion there is no reason to ban a book. If it is considered too mature for a child, then it is up to the teachers to advise and the parents to intervene. If it portrays things that civilized humans would find objectionable it can surely be seen as a good teaching tool, helping young people to make their own decisions about what is acceptable and what is not. In a world in which no book is as graphic as the material seen every night on TV, removing them from shelves is surely a waste of time.

So let all civilized and intelligent readers keep tabs on their school and library boards and speak up when needed. My new book, Royal Blood, is about vampires. even if they are of the comic variety--does that mean that it is being pulled from library shelves at this minute?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nancy Pickard stops by to chat.

Today we welcome Nancy Pickard, a writer who has managed to stay at the top of our profession for a remarkable twenty years after winning her first Agatha, and who just gets better and better. If we divide mysteries between cozy and hardboiled, I suppose she belongs more on the cozier side but actually she writes good literature that just happens to involve a crime.

RHYS: Welcome to Jungle Red, Nancy, and congratulations on your new novel, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, which has garnered a whole slew of starred reviews. Tell us a little about the story and the inspiration for it.

NANCY: Thanks, Rhys. I'm delighted to be here.
There are two big "what ifs" in my story. One is, 'What if a man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder is released from prison and comes back to the same small town that may have rushed him to "justice"? The second is, "What if his son and the daughter of his alleged victim fall in love?"

I was inspired by several things. One was the landscape, which is quite dramatic and unexpected and called to me to write a story set there. Another was my knowledge that when a person goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit and then is released, the family of the victim may not be able to forgive him even if he didn't do the crime, because they have spent years, maybe decades, hating him, and they can't let go of it. (This is not to imply that my character is or is not innocent. No spoilers here.) Another was the thought that the children of murderers and their victims may have more in common with one another than they do with most other people. They are both innocent victims of the same crime. They may understand what the other has endured, in ways that nobody else can. And last was the idea that decent people can do bad things.

RHYS:I love the title, by the way. Can you tell us a little about the significance of it?

NANCY: Just as there's always a change in the air before a storm, I think there are signs before human storms, too. Sometimes they're subtle, like a slight scent of rain, and sometimes they're as blatant as thunder or lightning in the distance. In my book, there are warning signs for the characters, but unfortunately for them, they miss those signs. Good thing they did, though, or I wouldn't have a novel.

I "almost" thought up the title all by myself, btw. I had another title on it--can't remember what that was--but an editor read my manuscript, saw a phrase that was something like "a scent of rain and lightning," and said to me, "There's your title." So do I get credit, or not? I think. . .not.

RHYS: It's another stand-alone novel, following the huge success of the Virgin of the Small Plains. Are you done with series? Do you like the freedom of different casts of characters in the stand alone?

NANCY: I'm *probably* done with series. Never say never, right? But it would be hard to give up that freedom you mentioned and to go back to a series. The thought of it makes me feel a little panicky, as if the fence lines around my pasture had just pulled in a lot closer to me, pinning me in a smaller space. So to speak. Apparently, writing these two books that are set (partly) on ranches has infected me with a cow-metaphor virus.

RHYS: You choose to write about your home state of Kansas, making it almost a character in your novels. Your deep feeling and appreciation for your native territory is so obvious when one reads. What is it that attracts you so much to your own environment?

NANCY: I was married for a long time to a cattle rancher, and the area where he (still) ranches is beautiful. I love rolling ranch land, I love plains and prairies, and I love small towns.
Kansas, is all of that, plus some surprises in the landscape, too. One of those surprises is in "Scent," which features a monumental landscape of high rocks similar to "Monument Rocks" in western Kansas.

RHYS: You have won numerous awards and achieved pretty much everything that can be achieved in the mystery world (apart from James Patterson's income, maybe). What would you still like to accomplish in your career?

NANCY: Is it too late to be James' ex-wife? Okay, seriously. Well, I haven't met a book deadline in years. That would be nice. (If my editor sees this she will heave a sign so big it will push all the water out of New York Harbor.) I guess I'd like to win an Edgar, and so be a bride instead of always a bridesmaid (a finalist four times), but it's okay if I never do. Sometimes it really is enough to be nominated. Really. No, really.

I think all I really want for my future is a goodly supply of ideas and enough time and skill to do them justice. I want to make a lot of readers very happy that they read my books. I want more days when I love my work and fewer days when it makes me crazy. Or I make myself crazy. These desires may not sound that ambitious, but they sound like a huge world of goodness to me.

RHYS: Is there anything very different you'd like to try?

NANCY: Nope. I think I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and writing what I'm meant to write. Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to try to write a big fat fantasy/adventure/magical novel, but then I think no, because that might take the pleasure out of reading them. What I really want is to just keep improving as a novelist. That could mean trying new things--large or small-- in any given book. That would be satisfying.

RHYS: So what's next for Nancy Pickard?

NANCY: Finish this blankety-blank book that I'm (hahahah) writing. Right now I have six different first beginnings, three endings, seven titles, and no middle. It's due at the end of November. ::clutches throat with both hands, makes desperate gagging sounds::
Thanks so much, Rhys. Y'all have a wonderful blog, and I'm proud to be a guest here.

RHYS: Thank you, Nancy. And great success with The Scent of Rain and Lightning.
What a fun guest. And if you haven't read her books yet, rush to the bookstore today!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It was the coffee made me do it!

RHYS: It’s True Crime Tuesday again and I was going to feature two crimes stemming from seemingly the most trivial of domestic incidents. Then on today's news I heard that a man who strangled his wife claimed that caffeine made him so hyper that he didn't know what he was doing. Yeah, right.

And the crimes I’m featuring this week (thanks to Hank who supplied them for me) reveal the difference between real life and the crimes we create for our books. Take a look at the following:

JACKSON, Ky. - For months, Stanley Neace had shown increasing hostility to his neighbors in rural eastern Kentucky, to the point his landlord started eviction proceedings. Then he snapped over how his wife cooked his eggs, and killed her and four others with a shotgun before shooting himself.
Neighbors in the roadside mobile home park said Neace stormed across several lawns in his pajamas on Saturday and fired dozens of shots from a 12-gauge pump shotgun. When the rampage ended, Neace and his wife lay dead, along with the gunman’s stepdaughter and three neighbors.
Trooper Jody Sims of the Kentucky State Police said Neace, 47, killed the five people in two mobile homes, then went to his home and turned the gun on himself. Investigators were still working Sunday to piece together exactly what happened during the rampage, Breathitt County Sheriff Ray Clemons said.
The state medical examiner’s office in Frankfort was expected to perform autopsies on all six who died.
Neighbor Steve Smith saw the shootings from the window of his mobile home. When he walked outside, Smith said Neace took a shot at him but missed.
"He chased his wife around that Jeep shooting at her," Smith said, pointing to a SUV parked outside his mobile home. "I heard her screaming and running."
Sims said that when state police arrived about an hour after the gunfire began, they heard a single gunshot and found Neace’s body on the porch in the unincorporated community of Mount Carmel in Breathitt County, which is home to about 16,000 people.
Sherri Anne Robinson, a relative of two of the victims, said witnesses to the shootings told her that Neace became enraged when his wife did not cook his breakfast to his liking.
"She tried to run to tell my family and he shot them too because they found out about it," she said.
The victims were identified as the gunman’s wife, Sandra Neace, 54; her daughter Sandra R. Strong, 28; and neighbors Dennis Turner, 31; Teresa Fugate, 30; and Tammy Kilborn, 40.
The names of the victims were provided by Kentucky State Police, while Robinson described their relationships. Fugate is Robinson’s sister, Turner is her cousin and Kilborn was a witness who happened to step onto the porch of another mobile home when she heard the commotion.
Robinson said Fugate was shot in front of her 7-year-old daughter.
"Her daughter said, ’Please, please don’t shoot me,’ and he said, ’All right, you can leave,’ and she ran out," said Robinson, who spoke to her niece after the shootings. "She went and told her neighbors, and the neighbors called the law."
Robinson said Neace had never appeared threatening to her, but that he was known to have a violent history. Sims could not confirm that Neace had a criminal record.
County prosecutor Brendon Miller said his dealings with Neace came on nonviolent issues involving child support and he was in Miller’s office a month ago regarding a traffic ticket.
Sims said when police arrived at the mobile home park about 90 miles southeast of Lexington, they heard a single gunshot, then found Neace’s body on his porch. They found victims in two other mobile homes.

And continuing with this theme!! From maybe ten years ago:
Rosenthal found guilty of murder
Jury rejects argument for insanity
By The Associated Press
CAMBRIDGE -- Financial analyst Richard Rosenthal was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder in the slaying of his wife, whose heart and lungs were impaled on a stake after she complained that he had burned their ziti dinner.
The jury found that Mr. Rosenthal, 40, had fatally beaten his wife, 34-year-old Laura Jane Rosenthal, with a rock in the back yard of their Framingham home on Aug. 28, 1995, and then eviscerated her.
He was immediately sentenced under state law to life imprisonment without parole.

Mr. Rosenthal stood impassively when the verdict and sentence were read. His lawyer, Norman Zalkind, said that he remained emotionless when he was taken from the courtroom.
"How can he react?" said Mr. Zalkind. "He's mentally ill. He doesn't get it."

RHYS: So what’s the message we get from this—watch your cooking skills?
For me it’s that in our books we strive to create a just motive for killing, revealing character under stress that would lead the reader to suspect a certain person. But it’s quite obvious that in real life murder is often random and petty. Obviously a badly cooked egg or ziti don’t turn someone into a murderer. They were the last domino in a long line waiting to fall. But it does show us that domestic violence is the most frequent sort of crime and it’s petty and nasty and more common than we suspect and perhaps we don’t write about it enough.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Of Cats and Dogs

RHYS: We at Jungle Red are having an ongoing debate about what attracts readers to a blog--whether they like to be informed, entertained, learn about us,or.....

One fact that stuck with me was that whenever we post a picture of a cat, we draw lots of people to our site. Clearly cats and books go together. How many bookstores have a store cat? I suppose it's the cozy image of an armchair, a fire, a good book and a cat curled up at our feet that signifies contentment. (Oh, and maybe some chocolate to finish the picture)

But on this book tour I've had time to think and I've decided that all humans can be divided into cat people and dog people. I don't just mean which animal they prefer in their lives, I mean in temperament.

Cat people are essentially independent loners. They make their own decisions. They see themselves as at the center of their universe and turn to others when they want love, help, information etc. (As our cats do). When they don't have urgent needs, they choose to be alone. They don't need others to make their lives complete.

Dog people are the pack animals. They are not happy unless they're with people. They like to bounce ideas off others before making up their minds. Their ideal happiness is a big table with all the family around it. They need praise to reassure them.

So--are more cat people than dog people necessarily book readers? Mystery readers? I realize as I write this that I'm an absolute dog person--need people, love noisy gatherings, certainly need praise and reassurance.

So which are you?

HANK: Oh, cat. I fear. We had lovely dogs growning up--Rusty, Penny and Roderick St. John, all Irish Setters. (Were we clever namers, or what?) A Puli named Maggie. And two English cockers, Bailey and Barkley. (We also had a white cat, Rosemary, and her babies, F. Scott and Zelda. We were older then, and thought of cooler names.)

But as an adult, I have never had a dog--oh, wait, yes, in the 80's when I lived in Atlanta, I had an adorable beagle named McGee. (Arooo!) When I broke up with Jim, I got the house and Jim got McGee.

When I lived by myself, I had my wonderful cats Lola (who died at age 20) and Leon (at 14). They lived together for 14 years, and never acknowledged each others' existence. Proving Rhys' point. They were dear dear pets, and I still think about Lola, who talks to me in my dreams. Yes, she does.

Put me down for cats. Why does that feel un-cool?

ROBERTA: Hank, you are not capable of being uncool! I think I have a split pet personality. We had both cats and dogs growing up. Completely untrained German shepherds named Schatzie (sweetheart in German) and Wolf. Not not not a good idea to have an animal that large who answers to no one. I could tell you a million stories that were not funny at the time but are now hysterical. Just one involved a neighbor trying to break up a dog fight with a two by four and hitting my sister's arm instead--she was getting married later that day. Oh, then there was the time my father and I had to go to court (another neighbor) because Wolfie grabbed a little yapper by the throat and shook him until he was dizzy for weeks. In fairness, the little dog was annoying him to death.

Our cats never caused much trouble. Oh wait, what about the time Tigger fell into a vat of oil and showed up outside my parents' window howling. They tried to chase him away, thinking he was a black stray. We also had Puddy Tat (I know, save me), and then later Gabriel, Jack, Suitcase the Terrible, Chuck, and Tipper.

We have both a dog and a cat now, but you are right Rhys--the dog is completely social (ask Hallie)--he wants to be with me every minute. The cat appears at mealtimes, though I do insist he watch the news with the family. I have a little bit of both in me....

(this is a picture of Tonka and Yoda--Roberta's pets)

JAN: The thing about dogs is the unconditional love. More people should be like dogs. But I'm afraid I'm not one of them., I don't achieve the selflessness of a dog. Blind devotion isn't my thing. But since I'm allergic to cats I'm afraid I don't know them very well. I know I'm not a bird though. I had a bird for nine years and it was a spiteful animal. And loud. Very, very loud.

HALLIE: I'm not a pet person, though I feel some fond aunt-ship of Roberta's wonderful dog and cat. Never had a pet myself, unless you count short-lived turtles and goldfish and a memorable baby duck -- except for 2 years when my husband and I lived in Manhattan and acquired one, then two, and finally up to four cats. It's easy to acquire them in Manhattan when you do your laundry in the basement. Then I ended up hospitalized with bronchial pneumonia and the cats were sadly give away.

If I WERE a pet person, I'd definitely be a cat person. They purr in your ear and are otherwise low maintenance. I would hope that's how my husband would describe me.

ROSEMARY: Well...who knew that Rosemary was a cool name. Continuing the feeling that Hank and I are kindred spirits, I also had a cat named Leon. And another that my mother named Tommy because he was deaf and also pretty dumb. Mercifully he wasn't blind.
I cat-sat for a friend's cat for two years when she went away to school...then she came home and wanted her cat back. I couldn't believe it. That was the unfortunately named Running Fox (which I shortened to Foxy, since I was not an Indian princess and couldn't say the name with a straight face.) He went back to her as if I didn't even exist. He was my last cat.
Once I stopped working full-time I thought, yippee, I can get a dog. My current pooch is named Max and no child could be more adored in the Harris household. BTW...we got him from Yankee Golden Retriever rescue in Hudson, MA and they do a wonderful job finding homes for their charges. We even had an in-home interview.

RHYS: We are (alas) petless now as we travel so much, but I get my dog fix with Sonny and Oscar, my daughters' dogs. We had a fabulous cat called Marmalade while the kids were growing up. Plus a completely hopeless English setter called St. John (pronounced Sinjun) I called the dog that to preemp my husband from naming one of our kids that--yes, I know, awful.
But as to people, I rather suspect that most writers are cat-people--loners, observers.
What do you think? More cat people than dog people out there?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writer's Challenge Winners

JAN: Well, it's officially over, the Jungle Red Writers' Write First Challenge.

But writers, it's never really over is it???

First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated. It was terrific for me to meet you all (via blog of course) and to realize how many of us needed a way to corral our Internet use. This was more fun than I could ever have imagined when I threw out the idea.

Truly, this challenge was one of the high points of the summer. Writing is just so incredibly emotional, and this challenge energized me on a level that went beyond page count. Writing first was somehow symbolic. It reminded me that no matter how I sometimes try to avoid it, I am not happy unless I am a writer first.

But enough about me. Now it's time to talk about you.

I can only hope it was as valuable for you as it was for me. If it was, we are all winners. But here are winners chosen at random from the comments pages: First, second and third prize winners.


First: Annoxford
Second: Lora96
Third: Lynn (of the alpha smart)

Here are the winners chosen by category. This was really tough because so many people said so many inspired, insightful and helpful things.

Fourth: Most insightful: Pat Marinelli - for her line posted over my computer: I control the Internet, it doesn't control me.
Fifth: Most inspired: JM Reinbold - who managed to stay with the Writers' Challenge while dealing with family illness and hospital visits.
Sixth: Most helpful: James Montgomery Jackson - for how to strike a deal with Internet research while staying true to the challenge.

And a special new category I just added:

Honesty in cheating: Colleen Collins - who admitted to a FULL HOUR of prewriting Twitter (slapping wrists), but the part I loved, likened it to gorging on chocolates.

Winners must contact me at with email and snailmail address. First place winner gets to choose which book he/she wants. After that, I issue them according to what's left.

If I don't hear from you by Friday: I pick new winners.

Prizes (listed alphabetically, so egalitarian, don't you think?)

Royal Blood (Rhys Bowen)
Teaser (Jan Brogan)
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (Hallie Ephron)
Dead Head (Rosemary Harris),
Asking for Murder (Roberta Isleib)
Air Time, (Hank Phillippi Ryan)

To make you smile, whether you get a book or not, I'm leaving you with this gift:

A really funny bit about dating writers. Hysterical. And true:

And thanks again for making my summer!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Melody is Familiar

ROBERTA: I doubt that today's guest needs much of an introduction other than: We're thrilled to have her here! Laura Lippman has just published her 18th novel, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. Her books and stories have won Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards. Wow!
We posted this essay a couple of weeks ago and we're afraid it got lost in the shuffle. We wanted to be sure every one of the JRW readers got a chance to see take it away Laura!

LAURA: Even before the iPod era began, several novelists started creating playlists for their books, even offering them in CD format. I've not been one of them. It feels almost like sacrilege to say this, but -- music is not really that important to what I write. Don't get me wrong, I like music, although I also rather enjoy being free, at middle age, from the tyranny of keeping up. (That said, I had to explain to my oh-so-hip husband just who this Lady Gaga was.) On the rare occasions that I have music playing while I write, I end up blocking it out. Sometimes, I make a private playlist for the work-in-progress and use those songs in workout sessions to keep the characters with me. For Every Secret Thing, for example, that song was “Cherish,” because it's a song that a young girl in 1975 would have considered romantic. (Yes, it's an oldie by '75, but did you know it was re-recorded by David Cassidy in 1971?) For The Power of Three, I listened a lot to a Barenaked Ladies song “Call and Answer.” Again, I could imagine a character being enamored of that song, finding many layers of meaning. Ditto, Jason Mraz's “You and Me Both.” These aren't songs I necessarily adore, although “Call and Answer” is pretty haunting. But they are the songs of my characters' lives.

In my own life, I have noticed that certain songs are virtual time machines. All I have to do is hear them and I am transported back to a certain time and place. Again, they don't tend to be songs I love, quite the opposite. I've been listening to Elvis Costello for - damn - thirty-some years now, so his songs run through my life. No, I am thrust back into the past by songs that were on the radio back in the day when you listened to what the radio played and liked it. I was in the middle of a break-up when Stevie Wonder released “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and, to this day, I can see myself lying beneath my Laura Ashley bedspread and yearning to shoot the clock radio that had just awakened me with this chirpy ballad, when my on love life was on the rocks. “Don't You Want Me, Baby,” by contrast, is a wonderful memory: It was always on the radio the summer I began a long-distance romance. I would hear it on Interstate 35 as I drove south toward San Antonio. Heading home, I always seemed to hear the cover of “So In Love” and I can almost pinpoint the spot on the highway - outside Temple, Texas, near that barbecue restaurant with a giant cow on top - where I first heard it and thought, “Oh, this is so how I feel!”

But I lived a relatively mundane life, with ordinary highs and lows. While I was writing
I'd Know You Anywhere, I began to think about what would happen if popular songs catapulted a person back to much more difficult memories. In this novel, the main character was kidnapped at the age of 15 and held hostage for six weeks. The bulk of the time was spent in her captor's pick-up truck and although he insisted on listening to country music, she was allowed to pick the radio station at fifteen-minute intervals. What would she have had heard? I went to and began watching videos from the era. I researched the Billboard charts. I was often surprised by the lyrics, the messages I had missed when I first heard those songs back in 1985. I used them as headings in the book, providing their chart history, but no other information. I'm not even sure I should be giving this explanation now, but so it goes.

Careless Whisper

In My House

Who's Zoomin' Who?


Crazy For You

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Voices Carry


Of those songs, every one but the last one, James Taylor's cover of the Buddy Holly ditty, made the Billboard Hot 100. A couple are simplistic dance tunes - Who's Zoomin' Who? Holiday - but the others strike me as creepy on different levels. “In My House” is a teasing, taunting song, or perhaps it seems that way to me because I still remember the Mary Jane Girls video that accompanied it. “Crazy for You” could be the name of a thousand pop songs, some of which are sweet, but some of which are downright stalker-ish. And, finally, “Voices Carry,” which is clearly about an abusive relationship. It has always seemed implicit to me that people do hear what's going on in that downtown apartment, but have chosen not to interfere. And then there's the end: “He said shut up” - well, there's another essay entirely in how I react when anyone tells me to be quiet.

As noted, the final song didn't track, but it was a hit in the so-called “Adult Contemporary” category. It might have been on the radio stations that my character chose, but it would have seemed mocking, even cruel, given her circumstances. Yet hearing it thirty years later - well, that's the journey of the book in some ways. As much as anything, this novel celebrates the quotidian, the most ordinary moments in a family's life, including what I call the “scarlet promise” of the neon sign at Rita's custard stands: ICE*CUSTARD*HAPPINESS. Is happiness ever that simple? I'd like to think that it can be.

Meanwhile, I'm now spending a lot of time back in the late 70s and early 80s, looking for a new soundtrack.

ROBERTA: Thanks Laura, and your new book is amazing! And just think, when the movie is made, you have the soundtrack all worked out... Now, questions? Comments? Playlists that bring back memories?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Success of an Ambitious Woman: Barbara Ross

ROBERTA: We at Jungle Red get SO excited when one of our writing friends publishes her first book! And today we're delighted to introduce Barbara Ross to talk about DEATH OF AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN. Welcome Barbara and congratulations on your book! It's a thrill isn't it? I love your protagonist, Acting Police Chief Ruth Murphy. Tell us about how you came up with this character. (And how does this relate to the line in your bio: "She knows something about the stresses of being the boss.")
BARBARA: Thanks, Roberta! I knew I wanted to write a professional sleuth. You write what you love, and if I were marooned on a desert island, the books I would want would be P. D. James’ and, most of all, Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. So the question I had to deal with was—what perspective could I bring to that world? I decided it was the experience I had as someone who’d known the responsibility and occasional isolation of being the boss. Of course, I’ve never made life and death decisions, but I have made decisions where people’s money, employment and careers were potentially at stake, so I know how that feels and I decided that was one of the things I could bring to the character.
ROBERTA: We talked yesterday about where our cop details come from--this must be especially important in a police procedural. How did you manage to get it right?
BARBARA: I didn’t aim for “right,” I aimed for “believable.” I wanted to create a fictional world people would accept. I took a community policing course, did a ride-along with a female police officer, interviewed prosecutors and defense attorneys and a state accident reconstruction specialist. There’s a lot of literature around about women in policing, much of it written for college criminal justice courses, and that supplied a larger context. One of the reasons I didn’t go for “right,” was I’m not sure it’s achievable. One of the incidents in the book is something the accident reconstruction specialist swore he’d seen with his own eyes, yet a police officer I interviewed was sure “it would never, ever happen like that.” So “right” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
ROBERTA: And for readers who are as yet unpublished, please tell us a little about your path to publication. Any good advice for future published writers?
BARBARA: This book had a really long path to publication, but now I’m having a blast and can easily say it was all worth it.
What have I learned? Hmm—they sound like such platitudes—be persistent, write the best book you can, don’t let the rejection wear you down, but they’re all so true.
I wondered why, in my day job, I could pitch a company to venture capitalists and if they weren’t interested, it hardly affected me emotionally. Their loss, I would think. But rejections for my book from agents and publishers were devastating. More upsetting than someone saying your baby is ugly. Because you know darn well your baby isn’t ugly. But new writers often don’t have the same confidence as new mothers or entrepreneurs. The rejection can undermine you.
So I guess that’s what I learned. If you’re confident what you’ve written is the best book it can possibly be, you can keep going through the inevitable setbacks. And if you’re not sure, go back and keep writing until you are, because that chink in your confidence can make it really hard.
ROBERTA: As if your writing and your day job and your volunteer work with Sisters in Crime aren’t enough, you've also gotten involved with Level Best Books. Tell us about that project.
BARBARA: Mark Ammons, Kat Fast, Leslie Wheeler and I have been a part of a writers group for close to fifteen years. We are huge fans of the Level Best anthologies. Two of us had our first fiction publication with Level Best. When the previous editors, Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty and Susan Oleksiw, announced they were done, we understood, but like many in the New England mystery writing community, we were also sad. We started talking about taking it on. Kate, Ruth and Susan were so supportive and helpful that the little “what if” became a reality, and now we’ll have an edition—titled Thin Ice—this year in time for the New England Crime Bake. It’s exciting and fun—and we haven’t killed each other yet!

ROBERTA: Thank you for stopping in today and we wish you much success with this book and all that comes later!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's No Cure for the Writer's Life

ROBERTA: A while back we welcomed former screenwriter and psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo to Jungle Red Writers to talk about the psychology of writing, writing blocks, and getting creative. When I realized his first novel, MIRROR IMAGE, had just been published, I had to know whether he'd faced some of the same issues he helps his clients--and how he handled them of course. And he graciously agreed to spill everything....I mean, er, join us for a discussion!

DENNIS: Okay, here's the good news, at least from my perspective: my first crime novel, Mirror Image, has just been published by Poisoned Pen Press. Moreover, a number of well-respected mystery writers have been gracious enough to say nice things about it.

So much for the good stuff.

But there's another side to the book's publication. As some of you may know, after a career as a screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), I became a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues. For over twenty years now

I've counseled writers through the turmoil of early drafts, the terrors of manuscript submission, the perils of publication. I've helped them struggle with writer's block, procrastination and fear. I've consoled them in the face of an agent's neglect, a publisher's rejection, an editor's disrespect and an industry's indifference.

I mean, let's face it: I know the drill.

So how has it been for me, now just another author with a product hitting the marketplace? If anyone should be able to handle the expected pragmatic and emotional challenges, it's me. Right?

Guess again. In the months leading up to Mirror Image's release, I have obsessed about the book's title; fantasized one minute about getting on the best-seller's list and then in the next was absolutely convinced that no one would buy it at all; yearned for my agent to be completely devoted to my personal and professional well-being to the exclusion of all else in his life; already mentally answered potential bad reviews with pithy, scathing rejoinders; and felt unloved and unappreciated when a friend even looked like he was anything less than totally thrilled or profoundly moved at the thought of my novel coming out.

Believe me, I could go on, but space doesn't permit. The point is, despite the knowledge and insight gained from long-time careers as both a writer and a therapist, I found myself wrestling with the same dilemmas as every other author.

Why? Because, like it or not, if you're a writer, there's no escaping the writer's life.

As I've learned with the publication of this new novel, when it comes to the feelings, obsessions and just plain worries that accompany any writer's efforts, there's no "Get out of jail free" card. Even when, like me, you've already published a novel previously, as well as a collection of mystery short stories, and even a nonfiction book about---what else?---how to deal with the up's and down's of the writer's life!

Which means that regardless of career experience, advancing age and sizeable amounts of therapy, there's no "cure" for the writer's life. As soon as a writer commits to the writing of a thing, he or she embarks on a journey through both an external world of crises and triumphs, and an internal world of feelings and belief systems.

And this is true for all writers, no matter their level of success, no matter how large and loyal their readership. After many years in the literary trenches, on both sides of the battlefield, I can posit with great assurance two simple facts: first, that all successful writers used to be struggling writers; and, second, that the successful ones still struggle.

This is not merely philosophical ruminating on my part. As my recent experience with Mirror Image attests, this is the straight dope. One of those hard truths of the creative life. Bedrock.

On the other hand, I've negotiated the psychological rigors of publication about as well as can be expected. As both writer and therapist, I've learned---and changed---a lot over the years, and it's definitely made a difference.

The biggest change? Probably this: In many ways, I'm as neurotic and insecure as I ever was. I just don't hassle myself about it anymore. And although that might not be a cure, it's the next best thing.

(Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out (John Wiley). His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand, Written By and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His latest book, Mirror Image (Poisoned Pen Press), is the first in a new mystery series featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.)

ROBERTA: Thanks for coming to talk to us Dennis! Can't wait to read the book. Now the floor is open to questions and comments...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

True Crime, Jungle Red Style

ROBERTA: As you heard from Hank last week, we're experimenting with a new feature called "True Crime Tuesday". Since we all write crime fiction, I thought it would be fun to hear how much and often the Jungle Red Writers have contact with real crime fighters.

I've never been tempted to write a police procedural because I haven't had much personal experience with cops. In fact, I've always been a little afraid of the police. Besides, getting all those details nailed down looked like an awful lot of work. (Although my very good friend SW Hubbard, who wrote a wonderful police procedural series, claims she made every bit of hers up.)

With my amateur sleuth mysteries, I assumed I could finesse most of the police work details and concentrate on things I was more interested in, like psychology and golf. But as I wrote my first book, SIX STROKES UNDER, I realized I needed some specific local facts. In particular, if a murder occurred on the golf course just before a tournament began, would they cancel or postpone the event? A cancellation would ruin my story, so I had to know. Not seeing any way around it, I ferreted out who had jurisdiction of the area covering the Plantation Golf and Country Club and drove to the Sheriff's office.

"I'm a writer," I told the heavyset fellow who manned the front desk, "and I have a question." I explained the scenario. Golf course. Dead body. Tournament. He looked at me blankly. A crackpot, I could imagine him thinking, but is she dangerous?

"There's a law enforcement library in Orlando," he finally said (3 hours away). "I'm sure you could find the answer there." I left in a quiet huff and promptly wrote him into the book as Sheriff Tate, a "short, very sweaty man whose uniform barely stretched over the expansive girth of his stomach."

HANK: Oh, what a great question—this is happening to me right now! The other day in a cab, the driver told me he was an ex-cop. Hurray, I thought, exactly what I need. (Although why an ex-cop is a cab driver might be a better story.) But I said—okay, listen, question for you. You’re going up to a house to ask the resident for information. You don’t who or what is behind the door. What do you say? How do you stand? What are you thinking about? If they say—‘who is it,’ how do you answer?

Huh? He said.

Sigh. Never mind, I replied.

Then the other day, I was walking down the street and walked by a police officer in uniform. Hurray! I thought. Just what I need.

So I said, “Hey, I’m..”

And he said, “ I know who you are, and I can’t talk to you. I can’t say a word to you. You’re press. In fact, I’ve already said too much, and if anyone saw us, I’m already in trouble.”

SO! Two strike outs? Not at all! I got great info—not what I was looking for, but still great—from both!

ROSEMARY: I've interviewed cops for each of my books, not because I have a lot of procedural detail in them but, I just didn't want to write anything flat-out ridiculous. The most detail I went into was for The Big Dirt Nap in which some crimes took place on a reservation. I spent days researching tribal law. Maybe a page wound up in the book, but ask me anything about tribal law.

HALLIE: My favorite research was back when I was writing about a group of neuroscientists and I needed to know how brains are handled for research. I visited the amazing brain bank at Harvard's McLean Hospital. Can you believe, (donated) brains arrive in Fedex boxes marked PERISHABLE! you'd ship a bowling ball. And on the floor, in transluscent buckets filled with some kind of preservative, floated brains looking like heads of cauliflower. I went right home and signed an organ donor card.

JAN: All through my Hallie Ahern series I met for lunch on a monthly or bimonthly basis with the head of the criminal division in the RHode Island AG's office. He kept me up on crime and law enforcement trends and told great anecdotes that often made it into my manuscript. I also was also lucky to meet with Providence Police as well as an undercover detective in Portsmouth NH who was an expert in online predators (for TEASER). I meet with retired cops and investigators, too. I find that not only do you get the "facts" right when you meet with law enforcement, but you also get away from law enforcement stereotypes and write real characters.

I actually think that meeting with cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys is my favorite part of mystery writing. Next week I get to meet with prosectors in the Suffolk County office (Boston) but that's for my true crime book.

RHYS: I'm relieved that my books take place in the past. That way I don't have police departments to deal with any longer. When I was writing the Constable Evans mysteries I had a friendly police officer in Wales who answered all my questions, including complicated ones on the procedure for a child kidnapped by a Russian national father. I've found every expert I have queried to be extremely helpful.

ROBERTA: Great stories, you guys! Hank is right--again--whatever you get, you can use. What's your favorite police story--have you seen it translated into a book? And if not, can we have it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Homebody or Rolling Stone?

ROBERTA: Confession: Ever since reading a review on Tripadvisor that announced the Los Angeles hotel where I had a reservation was infested with bed bugs, I've been obsessed with the darn things. If you read the recent feature in the New York Times Science section, you would have seen that the scientists who study them are obsessed with them too. One of them leaves his luggage in the bathroom when he's traveling--the other only on hard surfaces. Both of them strip beds and inspect the seams of the mattresses in the rooms where they're staying, looking for evidence of infestation. Here's a link to an interview on Fresh Air about how to look for them in your hotel room.

And what does this have to do with anything? It's this kind of obsession that makes a trip seem like a lousy idea the closer I get to the date. Oh I can do the same thing thinking about air travel or leaving the pets, etc. I think at the core, I'm a homebody. How about you guys, does upcoming travel make you quiver with dread or excitement?

HALLIE: I didn't think they allowed bed bugs in Los Angeles... A dear friend had bed bugs in her Brooklyn apartment awhile back. It was awful. Which, with the start of school again, reminds me of lice. Any of us with kids have been through the awfulness of lice. My head itches just thinking about it. We had to cut my daughters long luxurious hair when she got was like something about of a 19th-century novel. (My husband, who my daughter once described to a friend as having a "very big forehead" (he's bald) was the only one who didn't get it.)

The bed bug paranoia comes just in time - we'd almost forgotten about obsessively washing our hands so we don't catch flu. On the horizon: the everything-resistant bacteria that's being brought back from India and Japan where folks go for elective cosmetic surgery. It always seems like these things can be interpreted as some deity's revenge for people indulging themselves.

ROBERTA: Oh no no Hallie, I haven't forgotten about the hand sanitizer, just adding this latest neurotic concern on to that older one!

JAN: Because I had a plane phobia for so long, I trained myself to never think of travel before I go. That eliminates a lot of the excitement and pleasure most people have in anticipating travel. But it also eliminates the anxiety.

That bed bug thing is pretty compelling Roberta, I understand your obsession and I AM NOT going to follow that link because I'm going to say in a NYC hotel next weekend and I don't want to be likewise obsessed. Which I will be if I read it.

HANK: Oh, the bedbug story. I SAW that! Think about what it's like to be a reporter and have to say: Fires, crimes, violence, car accidents, drama, fine, all in a day's work...but I am NOT going anywhere that there might be bedbugs. I get itchy even thinking about it. And didn't the article say that the bedbugs--which were once thought to be eradicated--came back because DDT was banned?

We were in a hotel in New Jersey this weekend--Thanks so much, Liberty States Fiction Writers!--and I'm not scratching. So, hurray. But trust me, we looked. And then we washed our hands. But yeah, remember when there was Purell EVERYWHERE? And now there isn't. Just don't eat any eggs. Or is that over, too?Is spinach okay yet?

ROSEMARY: I'm flying, staying in a hotel AND going to India next month. Should I just shoot myself now? I do think the media has to come up with something to scare us every once in a while and this is a particularly creepy one. I live (most of the time) in Connecticut, where every little itch is a tick bite and every time you're tired it's Lyme disease. Makes you want to pour a few fingers of scotch and light a Camel.

RHYS: Did we have to post on this subject when I'm in the middle of a book tour? I have to confess that I saw a segment on bed bugs on TV and they suggested we leave luggage on the stand, away from the walls. Well, I'm doing that. I'm staying in very fancy-schmanzy hotels but I gather they are not imune so I may just strip my bed and examine the mattress tonight. Oh dear!

ROBERTA: Oh you Jungle Reds are so sensible! I agree with you Jan, don't look at the link. But do like Rhys and put your luggage on something hard! And Ro, India sounds fantastic. Can't wait to hear about that adventure. How about you guys? does the latest news make you want to stay home or throw caution to the wind and launch yourself into the world?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Writers Challenge VI

JAN: Well, I'm finally back home and oddly thrilled at the cooler weather and to be working at my own desk again.

I'm deeply immersed in my non-fiction book proposal, which has meant fewer new pages and many more rewritten pages, so I'm not sure how to keep count anymore. But what's important to me is my attitude. The new energy I've gotten from writing every day.

What I'm taking away from the Write First challenge is this: I'm going to keep writing every day, even the weekends. At least a page a day. I've also learned that Internet isn't really a problem for me, After next Sunday, I'm going to go back to allowing work interruptions for online research if I need to. (Is this a relief, Jim? )

But I'm going to stick with no email -- for me until 1 p.m. I'm really a hardcore addict. Once I start, I can't stop. And I'm going to be blogging about research into email addiction the week of October 4th on Jungle Red.

I will be announcing the official winners of the Write First Challenge next Sunday, September 19th - which I think might be a day earlier than I promised. I say "official winners" because I think a lot of us are winners, especially me. Aside from the new lease on my writing life, I've thoroughly enjoyed hearing from all of you - your struggles, your successes and your cheating.

I feel like I have all these new writing friends, and I hope to meet as many of you in person as I can. If not the New England Crime Bake this November, surely at another writers conference or at one of your book signings.

In the meantime, tell me: What parts of the challenge will you keep, if any?? What's the first thing you'd like to ditch?