Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Objection! Objection! True Crime Tuesday

HANK: It's never a dull moment to watch TV with my husband. (I don't have a photo of us watching TV, so I just stuck in this one. You won't notice, right?)

Lawyer shows, cop shows, thrillers, courtroom dramas. Because both of us are sort of--participatory--when it comes to plot and action and dialogue. We want it to be correct. And so often, it isn't.

So, the other night for instance, we were watching The Good Wife. A terrific show, well-written, highly entertaining, and side note, Juliana Margulies, who wasn't my favorite on ER, IS now. And she has the best eyebrows on the planet. Worth watching, just for those. But I, as always, digress.

Anyway, we're watching TGW, and there's a scene where a district attorney is in front of a grand jury, presenting evidence in a case. And then, as the scene progresses, the DA begins to say things about the guilt of the defendant. The evidence is overwhelming that the person committed the crime, the guy says. The forensic evidence clearly shows that he was present at the scene. (This is all paraphrased, since we didn't write it down, but like that.)
So Jonathan is in his easy chair, shaking his head. Are you kidding me? he says. Pathetic.

I hit pause. What? I say.

That would never happen! he says. The prosecutor is only allowed to present evidence through witnesses to the grand jury. He's not allowed to make arguments. It's not like the closing argument of a trial.
So that scene is..? I say.

Wrong, he says.

It's especially entertaining to watch Jonathan when there's a "lawyer" character doing examination of a witness in a courtroom setting. "Objection!," he'll call out. He can't help it.
Why? I say? Leading, he'll say. Assumes facts not in evidence. Calls for a conclusion. Hearsay!

(He can't help it.)

In some episode of some show, the jury was deliberating and some new evidence came to light, and the judge reopened the trial. "Never happen!" Jonathan yelled. "They'd never do that."

So, as a mystery writer and as a reporter, you can see how it's lovely to have in-house counsel. In DRIVE TIME, someone is called in by the police for questioning. Hmm, I thought. What should he say? Does he have to go? What would his lawyer tell him to do? And why? And I'm confident, after my consultation with Jonathan, that I got it right.

In writing fictional crime, there is a real element of true crime, right? Because being accurate is a good thing. And because there's always someone in the legal world or law enforcement who;s gong to email you and say--are you kidding? And then proceed to tell you why the oh-so-perfect scenario you set up would not fly in real life.

And looking stuff up doesn't always work.

So, on this True Crime Tuesday, Jungle Red helps you get it right. With Jonathan, our very own in house counsel, here to answer your questions. (Click on his name for his info. VE-ry interesting. And surprising, I bet!)
JRW's first--anyone?

ROBERTA: Hank you paint such a hysterical story!! And OH MY GOSH, the timing on this is so great! I started to talk to Jonathan at the Crimebake but time was short and we were at the cocktail hour...Jonathan, you're such a good sport!

JONATHAN: Thanks. It's all for the cause. So--ask away!

ROBERTA: I realized that after eight books, I've never had a character hire a lawyer. But Hayley Snow needs one now. The cops have brought her in to the station in Key West for the THIRD time and she finally says she's not talking, she wants to call her father. Her father finds her a lawyer who comes right down to the KWPD. Here the lawyer tells the detective he wants a room without a camera to talk to his client. (I'm sure this must be wrong, but I was hoping you would say that since the cops are skating on thin ice with their evidence, they might agree to it.)

JONATHAN: If she's not under arrest, she's free to go. So if I were her lawyer, I'd say, we're leaving. If they arrest her, they have to advise her of her rights, and her lawyer would advise her not to talk, at all, not a word, until he's had time to talk to her as much as he needs.

She's absolutely entitled to privacy! If they record in any way the communications between her and her lawyer, they're violating attorney-client privilege.

ROBERTA: Then I need to know what kinds of questions he'd ask her? What really happened the morning of the killing? what was her relationship to the dead woman? Does she have an alibi? Anything will help thank you Jonathan!

JONATHAN: The first thing I'd say would be--tell me everything there is to know about what happened. Including whether if she did what she's charged with or suspected of. If she did it, or if she didn't do it, why does she think people suspect her? If she didn't do it, does she have an alibi?

HALLIE: I'm comin' over to watch TV!

My question: What if the defense lawyer knows that his client is guilty (of murder, just for example)? Would a good lawyer ever try to implicate someone else?

JONATHAN: Yes. Of course, the lawyer would not create evidence or testimony that he knows to be false. But if the evidence against his client could reasonably point to someone else, a good lawyer would bring out that evidence, try to elicit whatever evidence exists that might point to another person with a motive, a person other than his client.

RHYS: Since I set my stories in the past and I don't think I've ever had a courtroom scene, I've escaped most of the pitfalls that would make Jonathan leap up and yell at the screen. What's more I set one series in 1900s New York City in which the police and politics were so corrupt that I could get away with almost anything. But I do have a question: if someone was killed while working on a construction project because sub standard concrete was being used, would their attorney sue for wrongful death, negligence or what?

JONATHAN: It's called a wrongful death action, usually brought by the estate of the victim, and would be based on a theory of product liability. A manufacturer of a substandard product could be liable for injury or death caused by the product. Product liability is based on negligence, design, manufacture or production of the product that caused the injury.

HANK: Would the manufacturer have to know the stuff was bad?

JONATHAN: It depends. If the design was substandard at the time the product was created, that's usually sufficient. The manufacturer is charged with manufacturing a product which conforms to the state of the art.

JAN: I watch the Good Wife, too (LOVE JULIANA), with my husband who isn't a renowned defense attorney, but even with his rusty and now very distant experience as a public defender, shouts out all quite a bit of "That would never fly" in a court-room. So I can just imagine Jonathan's reaction.

But what I want know very specific to Massachusetts and the true crime book I'm working on. If, in jury selection, the prosecutor is allowed 18 peremptory challenges - to get rid of potentially unsympathetic jurors. And there are multiple defendants being tried together -- does each defendant get 18 peremptory challenges or do they share and divide up 18 challenges?

JONATHAN: In Massachusetts, multiple defendants share the challenges, and have to agree on the exercise of each challenge. However, the defendants could ask the judge for more individual challenges, and permit them to exercise them individually. But that would be within the discretion of the judge.

Pretty interesting, huh? So--bring it on! Jonathan's here today to answer more...only fictional questions, though, okay?
Tomorrow--Mary Jane Clark! And then--info about book publicity--from an amazing expert. Plus: prizes.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall.

*** Dave Barry

HANK: On the spectrum of organization, with ten being obsessive and zero being chaos, I'm confessin' to being a nine or so. I have lists, lists of lists, I know how many words I'm supposed to write every day, I know (pretty much) what we're having for dinner a week at a time ("Going out" is included.)I have memos I'm supposed to write about news story ideas, and I do that just fine, I make my news deadlines and my writing deadlines and I have three calendars and my dinner party dishes are all done at the same time.

So. Why is it, then, that holiday shopping is just impossible for me? I start thinking about it in, March or so. I'll think, oh, plenty of time, I know exactly who needs presents, this year, I'm going to get AHEAD. Summer comes, summer goes. I have purchased holiday gifts during that time, however I have no idea where they are by the time fall comes around.

So now that Thanksgiving is over, everyone is out there, buying stuff. And I think, plenty of time really, why did I worry. Four whole weeks. But know what's going to happen. It's what happens every year. I wait, I'll procrastinate, I'll have terrific ideas that never pan out, I'll send my holiday cards as New Years cards, and some people won't get presents at all til later. I'm just warning you.

Why do my organizational abilities collapse when it comes to holiday presents? Who of you has a closet full of already wrapped gifts? (Say it ain't so.) Any great ideas for this year?

JAN: One year I actually did start early and I wound up spending almost twice as much. Now, I deliberately leave it for the last two weeks. I start getting a few ideas and jot them down, but don't go to the stores until the bitter end. If I'm really being good -- I leave it all to a couple of days before Christmas.

ROSEMARY: This is going to sound really pathetic but I have almost no one left to buy presents for. I used to love making the lists and tracking down the perfect gifts but the relatives are all but gone, the friends have scattered or changed (no disrespect, but, has anyone else noticed that since getting published they spend much more time with mystery pals than "friends.") And buying presents for "new" friends can be awkward - will they be embarassed if they didn't buy anything for you?, or "OMG, did she think we were really FRIENDS?"

In Nepal, I bought dozens of smallish gifts for people I'd be seeing over the holidays. That's my current strategy. I shop when I'm away. For Bruce - I could get him a boat or a sweater from Barney's and he'd smile and hug me. I've never met another person so disinterested in possessions. For eleventh hour presents, I go to Sephora. There's something there for every woman I know.

HALLIE: I really detest shopping for Christmas presents, but I love HAVING SHOPPED (just like writing, in fact!) And it's a great feeling to ace it and give just the right gift to someone you love. For my husband, though, that usually involves making up a batch of dark-chocolate covered orange rind or a duck pate. And opening gifts is so much fun.

RHYS: Shopping early doesn't work for me. I hide the presents then forget where I put them and what I actually bought. Actually I'm now smart. I check online, order the gifts shipped to my kids' houses for the grandchildren and everyone is happy. Adults usually want money/gift cards which makes it easy too. But I do like to find small stocking stuffers as well. And sometimes get creative. Meghan, aged 8 wants to make clothes for her American Girl doll so I've bought patterns and fabric and am going to buy her a little sewing machine and we'll make them together. I love stuff like that.

My husband is impossible. If he needs something he goes out and buys it--even three days before Christmas. I can never surprise him/delight him and there is no point in adorable little stocking stuffers.They sit IN the stocking until next year. He doesn't want clothes, has all the electronics ever invented.
So... and I hope he's not reading this... I plan to give him coupons for one theatrical performance of some kind once a month. That way we'll both get to see things (that I'd like to see!!!)

HANK: Brilliant, Rhys! Last year, I gave my grandson Eli the Elijah-T-Shapiro book of the month club--every month, I sent him a list of categories, (he was six years old) and each month he'd choose a category, send it to me by mail, and I'd send him a book from that category. It was terrific...and like your coupons, had a lot of togetherness-benefits.

ROBERTA: Chiming in a little late because I was out shopping (no kidding!)

(HANK et al: Oh, sure. :-) )

ROBERTA: I start early--last year I went to some sales the day after Christmas. If I had to wait until the last 2 weeks like Jan, I'd have a heart attack. We have trimmed our list down quite a bit as various relatives agreed it was silly to keep buying and spending. But it still ends up being a big job so if I collect ideas and gifts over the year, it works for me! Love the idea of theatre tickets and the book of the month club and the homemade goodies. I'm thinking jars of granola this year. It's really yummy!

HANK: Someone's always the over-acheiver...Roberta, we salute you. Hallie! May we have the orange rind recipe? I hope you're planning to share..it sounds fantastic. And maybe it would be better if there were some kind of "give a pal or relative a present whenever you want" kind of deal. But hey, don't we have that?

How about you all? Organized? Or not so much? What's your holiday gift hint? We need 'em!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing is about making choices...

HALLIE: So they asked me to write a book: Everything you need to start writing your first novel...

Everything? Really?? Well, maybe not everything. But when the folks at Adams Media asked me, I took the challenge very seriously and right away started trying to sort the essentials from the frills, and thinking across genres rather than just about the mystery and suspense novels that I’ve written.

Three hundred pages and quite a few months later, the book is due out in January.

Then they asked if I'd like to teach a one-hour crash course that I’d deliver live on the web as part of their Cup of Comfort series. Call me nuts, but I said Sure. The class will be December 7, 1:-2:15 EST on the Web.

As I was putting together the course outline, trying to decide what to include, a scene from the movie “Wonder Boys” kept coming back to me. A professor (played by Michael Douglas) is working on a novel, only the more he writes the further away the ending seems to get. Now it’s 2100 pages long and he’s suffering from writer’s block compounded by midlife crisis.

I remember walking out of that movie with a big Aha! -- Writing fiction is about making choices. (Which is why when I get writer’s block the question I can’t seem to answer is: And what happens next?)

It seems so obvious that writing is about making choices -- obvious when someone points it out. Starting with the premise, choosing an idea to run with. Choosing a protagonist and other characters, and deciding what makes them tick. Choosing the words to put in each characters’ mouths, and the thoughts to put in each viewpoint characters’ head.

Moving on to story, deciding what happens first, and what happens next, and how early on you can have you characters do just about anything, but with each choice you make, you narrow the options for what happens next. So writing becomes like walking through an ever-narrowing hallway; to surprise yourself (and the reader) you have to punch through a wall. Metaphorically speaking. But it has to be credible, utterly credible.


I haven’t a clue how you make those choices, only how I do. And I think it better not to put anything quite so ugly and intrinsically unteachable into a one-hour crash course on writing your first novel. People would run away screaming, their heads exploding.

So instead I'll be talking about more teachable stuff, like how to formulate a premise, develop a main character, shape a story arc, plan the book, and write the opening scene. If you’re interested (or know someone who is) in taking the hour-and-a-quarter class, chock full of information guaranteed not make your head explode, ALMOST everything you need to start writing your first novel, then join me! Register here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Taking a historical perspective with Barbara Corrado Pope

Many of us wonder what editors mean when they refer to a "literary mystery." Barbara Corrado Pope's historical mysteries featuring magistrate Bernard Martin are excellent examples. The first novel in the series, "Cezanne’s Quarry," it was one of five finalists for the 2009 Oregon Book Award’s Ken Kesey Award for Fiction.

The second in the series, "The Blood of Lorraine" (Pegasus), set in Northeastern France in the final years of the 19th century, finds magistrate Bernard Martin reluctantly accepting the case of a couple who claim that their infant son was ritually killed by a Jew — a tragedy that ominously echoes the Dreyfus Case, a real-life incident involving the anti-Semitic persecution of a distinguished soldier.

JRW: Barbara, you are a historian the founding director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon, what drew you to writing mysteries?

I always thought I would eventually write and try to publish fiction, but I did not conceive of myself as a mystery writer, even though I love them. Most of my attempts at short stories were along the line of contemporary satire.

Then one day an old friend wrote about the five projects she was going to pursue during her sabbatical, one of which was to write a mystery about "Cezanne, Provence and geology." I thought this was a terrific idea, and I encouraged her to drop everything else and pursue it. We even thought of writing the novel together. But within the year it became obvious that, although she is brilliant and imaginative, she did not have the patience to write fiction.

In the meantime, I had begun to think about that old saw "write about what you know" in a new way. I'm a lover of art and a French historian, and I've lived and taught in Provence. I came to the conclusion that "Cezanne, Provence and geology" is something I know.

I'm glad to report too, that my friend, Roberta, is thrilled that I went with her inspiration. She, incidentally, would have written more of a "cozy" with Cezanne's unhappy mistress as the detective. I went for the more traditional policier approach.

JRW: Roberta sounds like a generous soul. What was the most surprising thing that happened to you after you published your first novel?

Barbara: An email arrived from "ACezanne." At first I thought it was a hoax, or an eerie "blast from the past." Then when I opened it and it said, "I am Aline Cezanne, the great granddaughter of Paul," I thought she was going to sue me. But then she went on to tell me how much she liked my book. We've since met and occasionally correspond (she lives in San Francisco). She's a lovely, warm, thoroughly unpretentious woman. (And now it feels like a wonderful blast from the past.)

JRW: The backdrop is the Dreyfus Affair. Magistrate Bernard Martin has moved from Aix-en-Provence to Nancy, awaiting the birth of his first child, when an infant is found dead, and its mother insists it was killed by a wandering Jew in an act of “ritual sacrifice.” Did you know who the killer was before you started writing?

Yes, I knew who the killer was going to be, but I didn't know much about him. I think that one of the advantages of writing mystery is that you do know the endpoint, and you can sketch out a road to getting there. I'm not a fan of mysteries in which someone unexpectedly confesses all, and I do mean all, tying every loose end together. I like the solution to be built into the novel.

Your novels tell a riveting story, but they also explore issues and questions that concern us today. What issues were you looking at in this new novel?

Barbara: Initially my agent had suggested that I write a series. I hadn't really thought about that when I wrote Cezanne's Quarry. That that book began with a theme: Cezanne, Provence and Geology, and then morphed into other themes: science and religion, the condition of women. So as I began to think about the second novel, I asked myself what theme would be compelling for me as a writer. I decided: racism and prejudice. (After all, I had taught these issues for years.) Anti-Semitism was the racism of 19th-century Europe. What deepens the novel, I think, is how it deals with questions of identity and assimilation.

JRW: How did you make the transition from nonfiction to fiction?

BCP: Good question! As an academic writer I tried to be clear and concise. In writing fiction, I had to learn to elaborate, to make room for ambiguity. The other issue that is salient to me as an historian is how to give the reader enough information (in a graceful way, of course) without giving too much. One of the lessons I learned from reading John LeCarre is that every description should also convey a mood. I strive to do that.

JRW: Do you think there are things you can do more effectively in fiction than in nonfiction?

Barbara: How about getting people to read to the end and not stop a the footnotes! I'm kidding a little here, of course. I think one really succeeds as a fiction writer if people identify with your characters. And if they do, if there is something you are trying to convey, like what it was like to be a secularizing Jew ca. 1894, then they will broaden their understanding of what I will pretentiously call the human condition in other contexts.

JRW: And what are you working on now?

BCP: I'm in Paris at the moment getting to know the sites of novel that will be the third (and I think last) Martin mystery. Clarie will take center stage this time. At first I thought that I'd place her story in the context of the women's movement, since that is something I really do know. Somehow this theme did not fire up any satisfying plot lines. So we'll have strong women (proto-feminists), anarchists, immigrants, and danger. I realize that one of the themes that will always appear in my writing is social class. It will be highlighted in this novel too. We took an apartment in "unfashionable" but very practical Paris because it is three blocks from Clarie's school (which is still functioning). I've fanned out from there to find a residence, parks, entertainment, transportation, and workplaces for the Martins. I plan to bring them to life again very soon.

Thanks, Barbara! A pleasure to have you visit Jungle Red. Barbara will be checking in today, so please, join the conversation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Going supernatural wth Dana Cameron and Toni L. P. Kelner

Werewolves, vampires, and ghosts have become almost as common in mystery novels as PIs and cops. Mystery authors Toni L. P. Kelner and Dana Cameron are dipping their pens in the the supernatural and hitting it big with multi-award nominated short stories.

While Toni writes the delightful “Where Are We Now” series for Berkley Prime Crime, she also is writing short stories and co-editing urban fantasy anthologies, including "Death's Excellent Vacation" which debuted at #8 on the NY Times Bestseller list. Her multi-award nominated short stories feature pirates, werewolves, and vampires.

Dana, who wrote a great series of mysteries featuring archaeologist Emma Fielding, has been having a huge success with short stories, too, including her “urban ‘Fangborn’ fantasy” titled “The Night Things Changed” (in "Wolfsbane and Mistletoe") which won Agatha and Macavity Awards.

JRW: Toni, Dana, are you having fun with the supernatural and urban fantasy?

TONI: I really am, a lot more so than I expected. There seems to be more rip-roaring adventure in the paranormal stuff than I end up with in my mysteries, and maybe a bit more drama and emotion. It's refreshing.

DANA: I'm amazed at how much fun I'm having, and how much I'm learning about writing in general by doing it. I get to play with the conventions of the supernatural story, and it's also a chance to tackle huge issues (morality, justice, prejudice, faith, etc.) on an operatic scale. While my werewolves and vampires are basically folks trying to do the right thing, you can really amp up things by throwing them into conflict with pure evil. Emma Fielding never had to worry about the fate of humanity.

JRW: What do you think is it that makes urban fantasy and supernatural so appealing to mystery readers, and are they actually broadening the audience?

TONI: I think they like the sense of the stories being "larger than life," adding a bit of mythic power. But I'm not sure about broadening the audience, actually. The paranormal crowd will read paranormal romances, mysteries, or whatever, and of course people who are Charlaine Harris fans and Dana Cameron fans will follow them no matter what they write. But then there are plenty of hard-core mystery readers who won't touch anything where the paranormal is involved.

I am, I think, broadening my own audience. The paranormal stuff sells a whole lot better than my straight mysteries, and I think people who read the anthologies Charlaine and I do are sometimes convinced to try out my novels. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.

DANA: Toni's right; some mystery readers wouldn't go near the supernatural, but à chacun son gôut. For those of us who read across subgenres, it's a great opportunity to have a mystery with a new sort of detective. Through the years, sleuths have had all sorts of skills and powers, from inquisitive old ladies and amateur sleuths to PIs and police detectives to superheroes like Batman or Superman. In that context, the introduction of vampires and werewolves doesn't seem so much a stretch. And I think it has the terrific side-effect of introducing supernatural readers to mystery writers they might not already know.

JRW: Vampires, werewolves, fairies... which most suit your fancy?

TONI: I'm a sucker for vampires. (Also for puns, needless to say.) I like werewolves, too, but they don't have the same mystique for me. Maybe it's because I'm a woman--a monthly change is no big deal for me. I've never done anything with fairies, though I do enjoy reading some of the fae books.

Vampires are just so darned useful as metaphors. Bram Stoker used them as a metaphor for sex in Dracula, Joss Whedon used them as a metaphor for the horrors of high school and fear of sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charlaine uses them as a metaphors for gays and other so-called outsiders, romance writers use them as a metaphor for the demon lover... And of course I use them as an excuse to make puns.

DANA: I was waiting to see how long it would take Toni to make a pun.

As far as reading goes, I have no preference, it depends on the writer and the world. As far as writing them myself, I've been basing my supernatural world in science (admittedly, as-yet-unexplained science) and world mythologies (traditions of shape-changers are nearly universal). While there are plenty of mythologies about fairies, fae, and the like, I haven't found them in my Fangborn world, but I never say never, anymore.

JRW: Does it feel completely different from writing a ‘traditional’ mystery, or not so much?

TONI: Actually, it's not that different, at least not for me. A lot of what I do with mysteries, particularly with short stories, is explore different milieus. I've set mysteries in the rural South, in a carnival, on pirate ships, in a circus, at a science fiction convention, and around show business. Those may sound like a wide variety of settings, but what they have in common is the introduction of a new "world," often with unique word usage and slang. With the paranormal, I do the same thing.

It's just that instead of reading about circus lingo or consulting my mother about Southernisms, I'm making up the world and the language. It doesn't matter if the realm is real or imagined, the techniques for explaining them to the reader are pretty much the same.

One other thought. Whether or not I'm writing paranormal mysteries or straight ones, I try to make the story dependent on the setting--a crime that could only be committed and/or solved in that milieu. So the way my carney catches a murderer in "Sleeping With the Plush" would only work in a carnival, and the motive for murder in my forthcoming book Blast from the Past only applies to people in show business. So again, I do the same thing with paranormal mysteries. Only a werewolf could solve the crime in "Pirate Dave's Haunted Amusement Park" and only a vampire could commit the crime in "Taking the Long View."

DANA: I agree: writing supernatural is similar to traditional mysteries is a balance of the characters' skills and shortcomings against the conflicts they find themselves in. If you give them superpowers, you need to give them super conflict, and also, super disadvantages to trip them up. It's fun to figure out really cool ways (unexpected, at the same time, obvious) for them to use their powers to solve a seemingly impenetrable mystery.

So far, I've been lucky to write in a number of subgenres: amateur sleuth, historical, supernatural, noir. I suppose I could add "PI" because Gerry, in addition to being a werewolf, is a PI (though it's not the focus of the stories). In each case, there's a different set of conventions, so the idea of switching conventions is just the challenge of being a writer, not specific to writers of supernatural fiction.

What I have noticed is how much I relate to the characters (no, no, I'm not admitting to being a were or a vamp). Obviously, writing Emma Fielding drew a lot from my academic life. I relate strongly to Gerry and Claudia Steuben, because their background and attitudes are similar to mine. I have more in common with them, on some levels, than Anna Hoyt (from “Femme Sole” in "Boston Noir"), who is about as far from supernatural as you can get. So I guess I really don't see a major difference in the characters among subgenres.

JRW: Thank you so much! Toni and Dana will be checking in today so please welcome them and join the conversation!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks for the simple pleasures...

HALLIE: Thanksgiving always makes me feel a bit sappy and giving thanks, seriously, for being with people I love -- my sweet husband of 40+ years, my daughters who keep me from taking myself too seriously, my tall handsome son-in-law.

And then there are the simple pleasures. Like the bird bath. We bought it years ago and when it's not freezing cold out, it really is a bird magnet. Sparrows (we once counted 8 of them trying to bathe in at one time), robins, blue jays, cardinals, juncos, and the occasional wren or tufted titmouse, jockey for position lining up in the quince bush beside it. There's a definite pecking order, and birds that will share and birds that won't. Then there's the intrepid squirrel that clings to the edge and tries to get a drink without falling in.

I just whoosh the water out occasionally and refill it, and it's the gift that keeps giving. This last spring I inadvertently let it dry out and there, in the middle of it, I found a tiny blue egg. Some bird, unclear on the concept.

What's your simple pleasure, a blessing to be counted in the run up to Thanksgiving??

RHYS: My simple pleasure is being in Arizona with brilliant blue skies and the sun shining on palm trees and the close involvement with my grandchildren here--driving Mary to ballet class, watching TJ give his report on the bison to his class--even being called in emergency to babysit. It is a blessing to feel part of a family, to belong, to know that at Thanksgiving there will be 14 of us sitting around a table, laughing, teasing,sharing.

JAN: We have a three season room, a porch full of windows overlooking the exposed granite in our back yard, with a wood burning stove that is gas-fired. In these colder months, we only open and heat it only on the weekends, and Saturday and Sunday morning my husband makes the most awesome Lattes. We lounge about drinking lattes and reading the paper -- a REAL PAPER -- not like the weekdays when I read it on my I-PHONE. It's my little piece of heaven and I'm thankful for the view and for having married a wonderful barista.

ROBERTA: Definitely my husband and the rest of my family. I appreciate my hub for pretty much supporting whatever I do and finding my quirks endearing rather than annoying. Though he could do without pets, I'm crazy about my animals so he pitches right in. Even lets our (large) adopted cat sleep right in the middle of us--splayed out like he was a third person only purring, purring, purring...

RO: I love Jan's porch. Newspapers and lattes sound wonderful.

I have very few family members left. This year I'll be making dinner for over a dozen friends - some of whom I've known since grade school. I'm grateful that at every stage of my life I've met 2-3 people who are still there. Who weren't just the people I had lunch with because they had the office around the corner or met at a trade show.

I'm also grateful (cue God Bless America) that I live in the good old USA. Not a xenophobe, but my recent trip reminded me how much harder a lot of people in other countries ha
ve it. Yes, I realize not everyone in the US is as lucky as I am, but that's a topic for another post.

HANK: Yes, I spend half the time on Thanksgiving cooking and the other half crying. it seems to just crystallize how lucky we all are. And somehow--that kids don't realize it, its just another day (with turkey and three kinds of pie) to them, and they won't realize it til they're old like I am.

The fragrance of the turkey when it's cooking, that first sip of wine, champagne toasts, the sliver of the moon, the beautiful flowers on the table, how everyone has grown over the year. I heard my grandson read! By himself!

Yes, we watch the birds, too...and the ducks in the spring. When the first crocuses come up. The first sip of coffee in the morning. When I wake up in the morning and realize everything is okay. Oh, gosh. Better stop now.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ghosts, Sarah Smith, & "The Other Side of Dark"

Welcome Sarah Smith, who made fans of many of us with her “Vanished Child” trilogy of novels and followed by the fantastic “Chasing Shakespeares,” and is out with a YA novel “The Other Side of Dark.”

It’s completely riveting from the opening lines--

THE MAN IS HANGING FROM THE STAIRS AGAIN, which means it's going to be another bad day
I slide past him without looking in his direction. He's just a shadow hanging off the stair rail, la la la, he doesn't exist, nothing to worry about.
Instead I'm thinking about Mom.
Immediately intriguing. Can’t put it down.

Sarah, who is Katie? And already wondering: Does she see dead people? Is she crazy?

SARAH: Both of Katie’s parents are dead. Her mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver just a year before the story opens. She was always a talented art student, but now she deals with the stress by—she thinks—having to draw people she read about, people who died violently, like the man hanging from the stairs in the hall of her building.

She’s sure she’s made up her father, who comes to check up on her every night. He died when she was young, and she’s deliberately turned him from the lout he was in life into her imaginary friend. “He even apologized to me. It was a good apology, since I made it up.”

But is she crazy?

As her dead father says to her, “You think you see ghosts, and you do see ghosts, but honey, that don’t make you normal.”
JRW: Tell us about the ghosts in the novel (the “violently dead”).

SARAH: In a Boston park—Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, for those of you who live around Boston—Katie sees a little boy playing outside a derelict old house. (Until recently there was a real derelict house in the Emerald Necklace.) George tells Katie that he’s living in “Pinebank” with his grandfather. Katie starts drawing him and what she draws is Pinebank burning and George about to go back in.

Then she realizes she only draws deaths that have already happened.

But George isn’t the only ghost in Pinebank. George tells her solemnly that there are other people there, “the ones we don’t talk about.” He is too innocent to see these other ghosts, but Katie does—and the ghosts realize that she can see them.

And they want something from her…

JRW: Did your family really live in a haunted house?

And still does. As a child my mother saw a ghost there, a full-bore misty white ghost recognizable as her great-aunt. (During the Second World War she also saw, repeatedly, people on the street who she later found out had been killed.)

I experienced a very strange thing in the house, which I managed to ignore until someone else staying at the house experienced the very same thing.

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but if I do, yup, haunted house.

JRW: This is much more than a ghost story, more than a mystery -- aren’t you really tackling some serious themes here?

SARAH: Ghost stories and mysteries tackle serious themes!

But, yes, The Other Side of Dark is a little unusual. While I was researching Pinebank, I discovered that it was owned by the Perkinses. They were major Boston philanthropists, helped to found the Athenaeum, the Perkins School for the Blind, and the MFA. And they got their money from slave trading.

Katie has a mixed-race potential boyfriend, Law Walker. When Law and Katie go ghost-hunting in Pinebank, they get into the whole history of that family and what they did—which brings them up against the history of slavery.

The mystery beyond the mystery is how we deal with that now, how we live with each other when we see those ghosts.

JRW: If people want to learn more or hear you talk about this wonderful new book, Sarah, where can they go.

SARAH: I’ll be talking about The Other Side of Dark on “The Literati Scene,” airing on these wonderful local stations: http://www.literatiscene.com/stations.htm.

I’m honored to be appearing with Judge Gordon Martin, who as a young trial lawyer prepared the first big voting rights case brought in Mississippi. His book is Count Them One by One: Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote.

JRW: And in honor of Thanksgiving, we resurrect the Jungle Red Quiz... with a few tweaks.

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Sarah: Who could resist that shiny bald alien head? Poirot.

Sweet potatoes with or without marshmallows?
Sarah: You are one sick group of ladies. When I have sweet potatoes in hot chocolate, I’ll have marshmallows in sweet potatoes, thankyouverymuch.

Light meat or dark?
Sarah: Either, as an accompaniment to the true star of the Thanksgiving feast, whole berry cranberry sauce.

Sex or violence?
Sarah: One from Column A and two from Column B.

Werewolves or Vampires?
Sarah: Excess body hair on men is no more attractive than excess body hair on sinks.

On the other hand, sleeping with a man whose feet are colder than yours…
Leave the man, take the cape, give the cape to Severus Snape.

Katharine or Audrey Hepburn?
Sarah: Katharine for conversation. Audrey for clothes. Those cute ballet flats.

First person or Third?


Multiple first or multiple third—The Other Side of Dark turned out multiple first, which should have been gimmicky but felt right. Multiple always.

Prologue or no prologue?
Sarah: No prologue. Never apologize, never explain.

JRW: Thanks, Sarah! On this day before Thanksgiving, Sarah will be checking in to chat, so please, chime in!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turkey terrors on True Crime Tuesday

HALLIE: We’re devoting this True Crime Tuesday before Thanksgiving to wild turkeys.

A rarity just a few years ago, now they seem to crop up everywhere, terrorizing city and suburban dwellers alike. They are brazen and aggressive, a virtual feathered crime spree, helping themselves to everything from birdseed to garbage, raising a racket and pecking at shiny things (like your car bumper or the window to your back porch) thinking they see a rival bird.

I know for a fact that they can’t be be too bright. When I was at an outdoor firing range a year ago, a turkey kept wandering around oblivious among the targets.

Last week my husband took a walk through a nearby cemetery in a suburb south of Boston and ran into a flock of 25 of them (yes, he counted). These beasties grow to 20 pounds and, on their tippy toes which they stand on to make an impression, they reach 4 feet, and police advise residents to stay away from them. Feeding them, just for example, makes them more aggressive.

Our local newspaper reported a woman having to take refuge in a Dunkin’ Donuts when one of them came after her. A mail deliverer skipped houses on her route rather than challenge their territorial nature. And they’ve become the source of a spate of calls to police. In one town, the police chief said a a caller reported hearing a woman screaming behind her house. Police determined the screams were coming from female mating wild turkeys.

Wild turkeys are the official game bird in Massachusetts. Here's some wonderful advice from the Missouri Department of Conservation, for anyone who decides to bag one for the Thanksgiving table.
  • How to retrieve a downed bird
    Wild turkeys don't normally drop over dead and lie still, even when they have received a fatal shot to the head and neck. They flop around on the ground, flapping their wings. As long as his head and neck are down, you've got him. If he's flopping around and his head comes up, get ready to shoot again. Let him finish flopping and lie still before you try to pick him up or tag him. The spurs on an adult gobbler are sometimes more than an inch long. They are sharp and can cut you badly. It's better to put your foot on a flopping turkey's head to restrict his movement than to try to grab a flapping wing or foot.
  • How to get the turkey out of the woods
    Dead turkeys are often mistaken for turkey hunters who for some reason think they have to wear camouflage to find one. Dressed in camouflage clothing, the hunter blends well with the woods. The warm, freshly killed bird is limp; its wings droop down and its tail fans out. This, combined with the fact that a person and a turkey sound much alike when walking through the leaves, adds up to an extremely dangerous situation. So, to be safe, wrap the bird in hunter orange before carrying it out.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Monday, November 22, 2010


HALLIE: After enjoying Charlaine Harris's visit to the New England Crime Bake, I've been thinking about the appeal of the paranormal, and how many otherwise perfectly normal people I've met are convinced that a house they lived in was haunted. A woman I used to work with told me how she could feel the cold air and many times saw the ghost of a woman in an upstairs bedroom. She and her family never used the bedroom, nor did the family that lived in the house before them.

So even though I've never put a vampire or a werewolf or a fairy into a novel, every once in a while I do put in a touch of woo-woo. Like when one my main character drank a glass of wine, imagined he was talking to his dead wife, fell asleep, and when he woke up there were two wine glasses beside him.

Have you toyed with the fantasy or paranormal in your fiction? What about in real life--anyone grow up in a house that felt haunted?

JAN: Well my new novel features an antagonist who may or may not be the devil, so I am definitely experimenting with Woo-woo (although I originally wrote this novel 21 years ago before I ever heard the term woo-woo)

About thirty years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) and I went to a bed and breakfast in Nova Scotia and we both woke up at four in the morning totally freaked out feeling weird energy in the room and convinced it was haunted. We gathered up our things, went out for breakfast and returned to check out by something like 6:30 a.m. We have never before or ever since felt that way or experienced anything like that, so we are not inclined to fantasize in that direction.

Not entirely sure about ghosts -- especially ones called up at seances - we believe what we want to believe -- BUT I'm a true believer in energy -- certainly the energy that we all project while we are alive. So its not that hard for me to believe that some energy lingers.

RHYS: I grew up in a haunted house. It was a big rambling old country house and my brother and I slept alone on the top floor with a long staircase between us and our parents. The mat outside my door used to flap even though no window was open and one night the window opened by itself in the middle of the night, causing me to freak out. I used to have a recurring dream of waking up and seeing a procession of hooded figures coming up the stairs toward me.

When I spoke to my brother about it recently and said I thought the house was haunted, he replied, "Of course it was." And he was only about eight when we moved away. I never saw an actual ghost and I suppose all the creaking and flapping could be attributed to drafts, but why would a little boy sense the presence of something paranormal?

And of course my latest book, Royal Blood, is a complete spoof on the whole vampire genre, but you never quite know in the end whether the vampire might have been real.

ROBERTA: Never lived in a haunted house--as far as I know! I did enjoy hearing about Charlaine's imaginative worlds this past weekend. I'm so stuck on reality! I guess the closest I'm coming is a tarot card reader in my new series. I'm going to have to trot down to the Mallory Square sunset celebration in Key West and get my cards read so I can write it realistically...

ROSEMARY: Uh...no. I'm a gardener. I compost. Nuff said.

HANK: Never lived in a haunted house. (That I know of, at least.) But ESP? yes, indeedy. There's more going on than we understand? Yes, indeedy. So who are we to dismiss things that happen as "coincidence"? I'm open to it.
HALLIE: I like it best in books, as in life, when there's something weird but you don't quite know what to make of it.

Please share with us your tales of ghost, visitations, or simply stuff you just can't explain.

AND COMING ATTRACTIONS: Tomorrow, Sarah Smith visits Jungle Red to talk about her new YA novel, "The Other Side of Dark," with a young girl who talks to ghosts and wonders if she's going crazy. It's a sweet and poignant.

Then, after Thanksgiving, Toni L. P. Kelner and Dana Cameron pay us a visit to talk about how their celebrated short stories are exploring the dark side. On Saturday Barbara Corrado Pope drops by to talk about her wonderful new historical mystery that only sounds like it's got vampires in it, "Blood of the Lorraine."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's Show Time! - On Mystery Conferences

ROSEMARY: The New England Crimebake is arguably the last mystery con of the season. I'm sure somewhere mystery writers are getting together and talking, drinking, sharing info and experience, but most would agree that Cbake ends a very long season of possible events a mystery writer/reader can attend. (Our year is almost as long as the tennis season.) Add that to the library and general book events - and flower shows if you're me - and we could be somewhere every weekend if we didn't have families, lives, jobs and, oh yes, the need to write during all of this activity.

There are still a few shows I haven't attended, either because of bad timing or the unhappy reality that I can't be in two places at once. Magna Cum Murder and Mayhem in the Midlands are two I hope to attend one day. I love the ALA conferences and in six weeks Hank and I will be in San Diego with T. Jefferson Parker, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Naomi Hirahara, Harley Jane Kozak and others at ALA's second official Mystery Day which I'm proud to say I'm helping them coordinate. San Diego, January 8, for all you librarians out there. That leaves time for Thanksgiving, three mystery group holiday parties, and a quick cup of eggnog before I hit the road again on January 7.

I haven't filled in my entire schedule for next year yet (slacker!) but there are always some shows I hope to get to, or remember fondly. I missed the Virginia Festival of the Book last year, so I'll be going back to Charlottesville in March. Haven't been to Love is Murder, Sleuthfest, Murder in the Magic City or Left Coast Crime in a few years since my publisher changed the pub. dates on my books, and that's generally my homestretch writing time. I miss them, too.

Leaving Crimebake out of the mix because so many of the Jungle Red women are involved, do you have any favorites? Which shows are you looking forward to next year?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are you gonna eat that?

Every time I'm in a seafood restaurant and pass a lobster tank I ask myself the same question - who in his right mind looked at that thing and said "Yum, I bet that tastes mighty fine!"? (It's the one thing I don't miss when Crimebake is over...all those damn lobsters.)
Growing up Italian, I also knew that somewhere people were enjoying goat's head soup, but happily not in my home.

Hands down the strangest foods I've ever encountered in my travels were those served up by the street vendors in Beijing.

Their wares started life as things I usually ran away from - scorpions and cicadas, just to name a few. (They also sold fried tarantulas and chocolate-covered locusts if memory serves.) I had the full support of my husband who shivered when we passed the testicle vendor.

In Nairobi at a restaurant called Carnivore I was offered meals made from animals I'd just spent the day taking pictures of so that didn't seem to make sense. (Apparently it's a big tourist thing and my travel mates wanted to go...I'm not much of a carnivore myself. I need to have a few drinks before I can look at an uncooked turkey.)
Last week in Nepal, I passed on the yak steak. I realize they're almost cows but after all of my close encounters with them I couldn't bring myself to dig in. I'd keep hearing those yak bells with every bite.

I did sample the nak cheese (female yaks are called naks) and it was pretty good, but that was as adventurous as I got.

This is not a picture of me, but it could be. I didn't realize just how brave you had to be to milk a yak.

I guess foie gras and caviar are pretty weird, but I don't indulge in them much anymore. Sweetbreads? Ick. Who came up with that name?
Any adventurous eaters here? (I'm betting Rhys is an adventurous eater!) What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is "Funny" the new "F" word?

ROSEMARY: Yesterday Tim Hallinan mentioned that both his agent and a few editors had told him "no one wants to read funny thrillers." And just this past weekend at Crimebake I was on a humor panel (I get put on them a lot) and the moderator asked whether I thought writing funny in any way held me back. It was an interesting question and one that no one else had ever asked me in three years of humor panels. (Way to go, Toni Kelner.)

I think it does. Not writing funny or being funny, saying you write funny mysteries seems to be the kiss of death. Maybe it's like saying "I'm sexy" or "I'm handsome." You may be but it's never cool to say it. It's daring them to say "You're no Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich." Who is? And if you're not already a bestseller saying you write funny can instantly ghetto-ize you into the lightweight category.

No less a literary giant than Howard Jacobson, winner of this year's Booker Prize for his comic novel The Finkler Question has said "There is a fear of comedy in the novel today – when did you last see the word "funny" on the jacket of a serious novel?" He's right. (And when was the last time a funny movie won an Oscar for Best Picture?)

I've found "quirky" a suitable substitute for "funny."
Plus, it doesn't scream "I'm the next Janet E!!" Someone at the show asked about "eccentric" but I thought that skewed older, like "dotty." "Offbeat" could also work in lieu of the dreaded "F" word. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tim Hallinan on E-Books

ROSEMARY: I met Tim Hallinan online through Dorothy L. Although we've yet to meet in person, I've gotten very fond of his posts and have asked him to stop by for a visit today. Timothy's first published book, THE FOUR LAST THINGS, came out in 1990. He's written ten published novels since then, six in the Simeon Grist series and four in his current series of thrillers, set in Bangkok and featuring rough-travel writer Poke Rafferty. (Just one of the reasons I love his writing!) The most recent of the highly-praised Rafferty books is this year's THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. Later this month, CRASHED, the first novel in a third series, will debut as an e-book - Hallinan's first e-book "first edition" and his timing couldn't be better.

TH: In a few short words the New York Times, that Olympian temple of condescension, has just announced that it's expanding its Bestsellers List to include e-books.

Whoa! Stop the car. The Times? The paper that once declined to review Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh because they thought it was “regional writing?” The paper that insists on segregating “genre” books in their own little corner to prevent their infecting – you know, real literature? That paper?

Hoo-hooo-hooo. Taken to its logical extreme, that means there's a chance a self-published book will find itself listed in the Times. I can imagine elitists all over Manhattan spilling their morning cup of Oolong into their laps. And it's about XXXking time.

In my long and spotty career, I've had excellent relationships with publishers. They've paid me for, and published, ten novels I made up all by myself. I've found publishing people to be, on the whole, well-intentioned and sincere in their desire to publish good work. (I exempt from this statement whatever idiot at Simon & Schuster decided a couple of weeks ago to publish an upcoming novel called A Shore Thing by the decade's most depressing celebrity, Snooki.)

Nevertheless, the Times announcement is important to me for two reasons, one sort of national and the other sort of selfish. Nationally, this might ultimately mean the end of New York as the publishing center of America. Whenever I see one of those disaster movies that shows 1000-foot waves breaking over the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building, my first thought is, “There goes the publishing industry.” And not entirely a bad thing, either. New York is fine, but it's not America, and there's no reason for a few blocks of Manhattan to maintain a stranglehold on what we read.

On the selfish level, I'm just about to self-publish for the first time. A few months back I started to put my old Dutton and Morrow books online as e-books. Much to my surprise, they sold (and are selling) pretty well – high three-figures to low four-figures every month, and climbing. In the meantime, I'd written the first two books in a new series and was being told by my agent and, later, two publishers, that no one wants to read funny thrillers these days.

Okay, maybe so. These are not cozies or slapstick – they're hard-edged books that derive most of their humor from character and an inversion of the usual moral standard. Looking around a while back, I realized that we're absolutely surrounded by crooks – crooks in dark suits and power ties and Jimmy Choo heels, and that they're pretty much getting their way no matter who's president.

So I invented a series that's essentially all crooks. Junior Bender, is an unhappily divorced man who still loves his wife and worships his daughter. In his night job, he's a burglar, and he's good at it. In his day job, he's a private eye whose clients are all crooks. So Junior busts crooks on behalf of crooks.

The first in the series is called CRASHED, and it's coming out on Amazon and iBooks right after Thanksgiving. In it, when one crook gets ripped off by another, Junior is the guy who gets hired. In the book, Junior finds himself on the wrong side of his own already paper-thin moral code, being forced to prevent sabotage against a multi-million dollar porn film starring exactly the kind of person he'd normally want to protect. At the age of 23, Thistle Downing is broke, strung-out, hopeless, and on the edge of obscurity. But between the ages of eight and fifteen, she was the biggest television star in the world, a brilliant natural comedian until her talent slowly began to desert her. Now desperate, she's facing the ultimate humiliation . . . and she's so wasted she doesn't even know that someone's been trying to kill her.

So the challenge for Junior is to thread his way between his dangerous clients and their dangerous enemies while at the same time trying to find a way to save Thistle from self-destruction. Oh, and it's funny.

So, thanks to the e-books revolution, I can write Crashed and the rest of this series with or without a publisher's blessing, and make it available globally, let it sink or swim. Capitalism at its most carnivorous. If it sells enough, the Times will have to notice it. And New York has nothing to do with getting it published.

We live in interesting times, don't we?

ROSEMARY: We do, indeed. Good luck with Queen (which I loved) and keep us posted on Crashed. Visit Tim at http://www.timothyhallinan.com/
Tim's mention of humor in mysteries reminded me of the highly entertaining - Wickedly Funny - Crimebake panel that Toni Kelner moderated a few days ago. Stop back later this week for more adventures in book publishing and a look at whether or not Funny is the new "F" bomb which should be dropped carefully.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Into Thin Air? AUBREY SACCO, age 23,is MISSING in NEPAL

Search in Nepal Heats Up for Missing US Hiker Aubrey Sacco
(May 20) -- A massive search has been launched in Nepal for a 23-year-old Colorado woman who disappeared during a remote nature hike late last month.

ROSEMARY: Following is all the information available from news reports and the website set up by Aubrey Sacco's parents.

It's been months and there's still been no further word on the disappearance of Aubrey Sacco, a young American who left some of her things at a hotel, took a bus from Kathmandu to SYABRUBESI on April 19th, and began the 7/8 day LANGTANG trek in the Himalayas on April 20th. She planned to follow the Lonely Planet guide. She should have returned to Kathmandu between April 30th - May 1st.
We have not heard from her since she began the trek. She is trekking ALONE. Nepali agencies are working on this, including the US Embassy.
If you have any contacts or information to help with our search please eMail both:csacco2700@gmail.comfindaubreyglitter@gmail.com

I learned about Aubrey's disappearance while researching my own trip. (We went to different parks, in different directions.) It's my fervent hope that this young woman has gone totally native and is living in a tea house sharing nak cheese with a handsome Sherpa, but I fear that's not the case. Not to blame Sacco, but having just returned from trekking in Nepal, I can't imagine anyone going off on her own, even on a well-traveled trail. One lazy step can send you over the edge - maybe not into thin air or a dramatic crevasse atop Everest - but perhaps down a grassy slope or off one of the swinging bridges where it's possible that unseen, even a minor injury can turn deadly.

I saw one poster about Aubrey at the airport in Katmandu and mentioned her to our contact at the local trekking company. He told me her body had been found, which was NOT confirmed by anything I've read online since I returned. It would not be the only piece of misinformation the man gave us, so I assumed, like many people, he was pretending to know more than he did. Perhaps he said it to make sure my husband and I stayed on the trail and didn't explore on our own.

There are, of course, theories that she's been kidnapped (where's the ransom request?) or sold into slavery (I may be naive, but does this really happen much? And wouldn't be easier to find a young girl at a bar in Manhattan than on a mountainside in Nepal?) I prefer to think she's drinking a Fanta or Everest beer in one of the plywood "guesthouses" sprinkled along the trails. Or perhaps she's joined one of the monasteries and is making butter candles. I hope so.

Namaste, Aubrey.

Come back tomorrow when we feature guest blogger and fellow adventurer Tim Hallinan, author of The Queen of Patpong, a Poke Rafferty thriller.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Into Thin Air

ROSEMARY: Well, I am back from my trip to Everest Base Camp (and went straight to Crimebake where there waas more yakkking than yaks.) More than once over the course of the last few weeks I've sworn my next trip will be to Rome where I can sit in a piazza enjoying a cafe macciato and watching the handsome, long-haired boys go by instead of clinging to a mountainside waiting for the long-haired yaks to go by.

It's all S.J. Rozan's fault. I really wanted to go to Mongolia with her last summer but I flip-flopped so many times it got too late and I whined to my husband that I was never going to have any adventures anymore. (I must be careful what I say to him.) Before I knew it I had signed on for a trip to Nepal.

The gear which had served us so well when we climbed Kilimanjaro a few years back would not be good for 0 degrees and we would be limited to thirty pounds of luggage each which meant investing in some newer lightweight sleeping bags, pads, etc. The salespeople at Paragon and EMS must have salivated when they saw us coming with out three page gear lists. ("You really should go for the down booties, too.")

Like Mark Twain said "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." And as Dorothy Gale says at the end of The Wizard of Oz "some of it wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful."

If I thought I'd be thin and tan by the end of the trip, not a chance. Despite walking uphill for 4-8 hours a day the way you are plied with rice, potatoes and other carbs to keep you going negates any calorie deficit, and the food is so bland I found myself fantasizing about Snickers bars and Lay's potato chips, two foods which are available even in the back of beyond. And can someone please explain the appeal of Fanta to me? It's revolting, yet it too is available everywhere. And the goggles I wore over my glasses, combined with the buff - a neckpiece that most sherpas and trekkers wear - gave me a ridiculous windburn on my face - pink and white horizontal stripes. And as for my trip mates - let's just say a fair number of them will be victims in my next book. But most of it was good and neither Bruce and I were injured nor sufered from altitude sickness. And the pictures are killer.

So what adventures or trips have you embarked on that started with certain expectations and wound up differently?

More exotic posts later this week - Are you going to eat that?, the very exotic Tim Hallinan whose Poke Rafferty series is set in Bangkok, bizarre bazaar shopping, Teamwork: How not to kill your teammates whether you are on a mountain or in a writing group (this is where visits to all those temples and monasteries helped out..) and tomorrow a tragic true ..maybe crime that happened earlier this year in Nepal.

ROBERTA: Well Ro, I just don't have the nerve for a trip like that. But I will love to see your pictures and hear the stories. And we did very much enjoy a trip to Rome this fall--would love to go back there. This is me sampling some local pizza...in a piazza.)

One interesting note though--we had a friend who'd been to Rome last spring and absolutely adored it. I had lunch with her and borrowed all her guidebooks and maps and she totally pumped me up. They're crazy about Paris and this was almost, almost, almost as good. So I think all her enthusiasm set us up for a fabulous experience.

JAN: Probably the most adventurous thing I do -- aside from actually having flown in my husband's old plane - which can best be described as a Volkswagen with wings - is sail. Sailing in the British Virgin islands, with my husband as the captain and me as first and only mate still isn't exactly dangerous. The islands are pretty close together. And that's as dangerous as I get these days. But once we sailed from Cuttyhunk to Newport right after a tornado and it was so rough I threw up seven times -- and I'm immune to seasickness. And once coming into Westport Harbor we hit a sandbar just as an huge wave came up and swamped us -- that means the entire boat tips completely on its side (think Titanic movie right before it drops). The boat righted itself and another wave came and it happened again. Still, I would have been a better sport about if my daughter -- then 15 months old - hadnt been strapped into a car seat on the cockpit (to this day she has nightmares about tidal waves). We survived and I made my husband sell the boat. I think the line I used was "I am not risking my child's life for leisure."

Which, Ro, can be adapted to "Hey Bruce, I'm not risking my life for leisure," if you want to get out of climbing the next mountain.....

RO: See...that's one of my worst nightmares. Ever see The Perfect Storm?

HALLIE: I'm with Roberta, Paris and Rome are much more my speed. But I so admire that you did it, Rosemary! You are the queen of adventure travel.

The most adventurous my travel has gotten is a trip to an eco-lodge in Costa Rica. My husband, who hates small planes, found a driver to take us on the 6-hour drive across the mountains from the west coast to the east and dropped us at the edge of a rickety bridge that said CARS PROHIBITED...for obvious reasons. We carried our luggage (quickly) to the other side where there was an rotting wooden dock where we waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally a white motor boat chugged by, picked us up, took us out the mouth of the river and into the ocean (VERY choppy) and around the other side of a peninsula to the beach where we climbed a steep hill in 90+ degree weather and about 90% humidity to the lodge and our tent platform -- no hot water, plenty of ants, and a wild middle-of-the-night visit from a bat. Check your shoes for scorpions in the morning.

The wildlife was spectacular.

RHYS: The most adventurous thing we ever did was to attempt to be one of the first foreigners allowed into Ladakh( I've even forgotten how to spell it). The jeep ride up the side of a 15,000 foot pass, on a narrow strip of gravel across which small torrents streamed certainly kept me awake and alert--especially as the driver thought he could save gas by switching off the engine every time we went downhil. Not wishing to plunge to my death I sat next to him and slapped his hand every time it went near the keys.

These days our adventures are tamer--although we did do the Australian Outback last fall and hiked among the crocodiles and snakes in Kakadu. But my ideal vacation these days is spending some time somewhere nice--like NICE. I loved my two weeks there this summer, going out for croissants in the morning, shopping the markets, taking local buses. Perfect. Plan to house swap in the Dordogne next summer. Any suggestions?

HANK: My riskiest trip? A blog for another day. Welcome home, Dear RO!