Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

HANK: With apologies and appreciation to Clement Moore...and maybe Dr. Seuss. And here's a little almost-instant replay (although with some tiny updates) from last year..just for Auld Lang Syne.

Twas the week before New Years'
And all through this site
Not a blogger was working
Not even to write.

Our books are all saved on our thumb drives with care
In hopes that bestseller lists soon would be there.
Our new novels were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of royalties danced in our heads.

The Jungle Red sisters, five east and one west
Had just settled our brains for a well-deserved rest.

When in magazine pages--There arose such a clatter
We opened the things to see what was the matter!

To the mags review pages we turned in a flash
To see Hallie and Hank both praised with panache!

The bookstores were loving “A for M’ by our Ro
And Rosemary’s gardener continued to grow!

And what to our wondering eyes should appear
Rhys and Jan doing new ones?—Hope for early next year!

But what makes us the happiest—keeps every day new?
We knew in a moment—it’s our blogging crew!

You listen, you chatter, you join in the game
We cheer you, we love you, we call you by name!

Thanks, Laura! Thanks Edith! Thanks Becky and Lee!
Thanks Karen, Susannah and S. Con-no-lly!

We love Deb, oh, and Rhonda, and Silver and Clare
We hope Brenda and Pat will always be there

To June and to Karen, to Marianne, too
Love to Tiger. And Mo. And to Peter. (He’s new.)

Our guest bloggers were stellar
Mary Jane! La Barnes?!
To the Paulas, and Maddee, and the fab Cathy Cairns.

To Jane, Gin and Charlaine (queen of the LIST!)
To the Femmes and to Lipstick--consider you're kissed.

Christina! Ramona! Julia! Michelle!
Hail “Anonymous” too—your comments are swell.

We had memories, recipes, tales of our youth
We’ve had jokes, and disasters, and telling the truth.
To the top of the lists! To the top of them all!
We’re revising, and writing, and sharing our call!

As dry words before our reviser’s pen fly
When they meet with cliché, and we fix them (we try):

We’re almost at New Years, and our thoughts go to you
May you write perfect books, may your wishes come true!

May you waste not a word, may you write fresh and new
And fill all your stories with mysteries and clues

And remember: on days that things don’t turn out right
And you wonder if this was a fraud and a fright

You have sisters on line—there are six of us here!
And each one is wishing you all-the-year cheer.

And we all say—we love you! ‘Fore you click from our site--
Happy New Year to All
—and long may you Write!


And we do have some fantastic surprises in this space! New Reds on the horizon--and we are thrilled!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jake Piper: Song of an Investigating Puppy Dog

HALLIE: This bit of diversion comes from Susannah Charleson who visited Jungle Red earlier this year when her bestselling "Scent of the Missing" came out. A memoir of love and partnership, in it Susannah writes about training a spunky golden retriever, Puzzle (photo, left), for search and rescue.

Since then, Susannah adopted a stray,
Piper (photo, right), a new brother to SAR dog Puzzle. According to Susannah who knows these things, Piper has an inspired nose.

Reading Susannah's poem on Piper, I have to agree -- does this dog have the makings of a mystery sleuth of what?

I Am the Very Model of an Investigating Puppy Dog

by Jake Piper, Puppy
(With apologies to Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert – Susannah Charleson, 2010)

I am the very model of an investigating puppy dog

I ferret out enigmas where they lurk in fields and muddy bogs

I have a nose superlative and four paws that work constantly

At home and hearth and walks abroad, wherever there’s a mystery.

I’m very well acquainted with the ruses people often use:

The fake mustaches, altered voices, tiptoeing without their shoes

I analyze their motives and then make an educated guess,

With propositions for the reasons of their lack of cleverness.

With propositions for the reasons of their lack of cleverness!

With propositions for the reasons of their lack of cleverness!

With startling propositions for their absolutely absent cleverness!

I’m very good at waiting out a perpetrator where he hides.

I’m not deceived by altered routes or wading creeks, then crossing sides.

In short where there’s perplexity a-lurking in the evening fog,

I am the very model of an investigating puppy dog

In short where there’s perplexity a-lurking in the evening fog,

He is the very model of an investigating puppy dog!

I know that kitty litter pans are so totally out of bounds,

But I’m the dog to seek them out, with my nose low they’re easily found.

Then I can analyze the HAZMAT dangers and their properties,

And reveal the foul and feline in their gritty little mysteries!

I speak to neighbors when they want me to and also when they don’t.

I practice disobedience when trainers hope I really won’t.

But I can draw conclusions from where no one else would ever look,

Then quote entire passages from Puzzle’s Houghton Mifflin book!

Then quote entire passages from Puzzle’s Houghton Mifflin book!

Then quote entire passages from Puzzle’s Houghton Mifflin book!

Then quote entire passages from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Puzzle book!

And I can find your laundry when you think it’s in a well-hid place,

And show its ugly truths in an embarrassingly public space.

In short where there’s perplexity a-lurking in the evening fog,

I am the very model of an investigating puppy dog.

In short where there’s perplexity a-lurking in the evening fog, He is the very model of an investigating puppy dog!

You can follow Jake Piper on Facebook!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mike Wiecek comes roaring out of the pack

You’d think imminent arrest for a forty-million-dollar fraud might slow a guy down, but nope, there he was, wandering out of Bazookas at midnight.
From CLAWBACK by Mike Wiecek.
You saw it here first!

Mike Wiecek has been a fixture in the New England community of mystery writers--his first novel came out in 2005 and he's had a steady stream of short stories published since and plenty of accolades.

So, Mike, I guess Santa came early to the Wiecek's this year! Congratulations on your two-book contract with Viking. Tell us about the book. I love the title.

MIKE WIECEK: The premise of CLAWBACK is that an assassin has begun shooting the country’s worst-performing financiers. A bottom-ranked investment manager; a hedge fund partner down ninety percent; a rotten banker. Someone’s slogan seems to be, "Don’t bail them out, take them out!"

A coalition of banksters hires a fixer, the sort of contractor whose job description opens with "total deniability" and ends with "unlicensed machine guns." As bodies fall and markets plunge, he ranges the Greenwich-Midtown axis with an equalizer and an attitude -- only to realize he's become a target himself.

HALLIE: High stakes, jeopardy -- sounds like a page turner. And I gotta ask, what was it like having publishers fighting over you? How did you get the good news?

MIKE WIECEK: The experience was certainly a first for me :) Thanks to hard work by my agent, Heide Lange, in drumming up interest, the book went to auction. That means that more than one house was interested, and they bid back and forth against each other -- for nearly three days. As you can imagine, I was checking my email about every five minutes during that time. In the end we went with Josh Kendall at Viking, who has a lot of ideas for shaping the manuscript and placing it in what is an already-more-than-crowded marketplace.

HALLIE: THREE DAYS! The mind boggles. So you must be celebrating, big time.

MIKE WIECEK: Celebrating – why, yes! My wife and I hope to have a nice dinner sometime, if we can find a babysitter and a free weekend … both in short supply, this time of year!

HALLIE: Your first novel, Exit Strategy, published by Penguin in 2005, got great reviews, fabulous blurbs (Lee Child: "A fantastic debut"). It was a finalist for ITW's award for Best Paperback. Then, a dry spell, punctuated with some spectacular, multi-award-nominated short stories. Your 2009 story in Ellery Queen, "The Shipbreaker," got picked for "Best American Short Stories of 2010."

Can you give us some words of wisdom about perseverance?

MIKE WIECEK: None that haven’t been said a thousand times already. After EXIT STRATEGY, I worked on several novels, finally finishing one a couple years ago. But it didn’t sell. On the other hand, I was publishing two or three stories a year, and as you mention, several were well-received. Without that encouragement I might not have kept going. You can bang your head on the wall forever if you like, but if the plaster doesn’t at least BEGIN to crack, you might consider trying something different.

Oh, and I don’t see anything wrong with “writing to market.” That doesn’t mean yet another vampire-dog-detective story, perhaps, but ‘gunning down investment bankers’ seemed timely. Perseverance is necessary; so is listening to what readers say, and taking seriously what they like and dislike.

HALLIE: I know you're a stay-at-home dad, have been for ten years. Tell us about your kids, your wife, and how you keep yourself energized and motivated?

MIKE WIECEK: I’ve always been happy in my own company, so the solitary part of the job is not a problem. Of course, I spend an hour or two a day at the playground after school, hanging around with other parents – it might turn out to be harder once the children are in high school, and my social life entirely evaporates. My wife works one of those demanding, more-than-full-time jobs, but fortunately rarely on the weekend, so we get our time together.

As for motivation: far and away the best motivator is a deadline! Which is one reason why breaking in is so difficult – before that first contract, no one’s standing at your shoulder, pointing out how late you are already. Oh, and critique groups can be very helpful. Not just for the critiques, but for the expectations they place on you. Just knowing that I’m supposed to bring something in every couple of weeks is a surprisingly powerful force. Kim, Samantha, Lynne: I couldn’t have done it without you!

HALLIE: And a question I'm very familiar with--what's it like having such a spectacular successful writer for a sister?

MIKE WIECEK: Actually it’s been great! Sophie Littlefield and I have sort of leapfrogged: she was publishing stories years ago, before I ever started writing. Then I got a few in print, followed by EXIT STRATEGY -- but three years later she sold her first book, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, and soon had another dozen under contract.

Sophie used to ask my advice and opinions on the business. Lately it’s been me asking her the questions, because she’s become much more knowledgeable and connected. It’s keen having someone to talk to who understands everything. And also, frankly, someone to gossip with. Triads, mafiya, forget it -- there's no omerta stronger than that among writers. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to ignore that and snark freely.

Sophie is the hardest-working writer I know (seriously; she’s now publishing three major-house hardbacks every YEAR) and I can’t tell you how fantastic it is to see that effort finally rewarded. She is an inspiration in all senses of the word.

HALLIE: I know we'll have to wait until 2012 to get our hands on a copy of CLAWBACK. Would you just share with us the opening line?


“You’d think imminent arrest for a forty-million-dollar fraud might slow a guy down, but nope, there he was, wandering out of Bazookas at midnight.”

Hallie, thanks for taking the time for this. I can’t wait until CLAWBACK is out in the world!

HALLIE: We're all so happy with your success!

Mike will be checking back today so please, chime in with questions or just a pat on the back!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Patricia Highsmith's Biographer Joan Schenkar

HALLIE: It's True Crime Tuesday, we're talking about the real life of Patricia Highsmith who changed the terrain for crime novelists. I've long been a fan of her dark suspense novels ("Strangers on a Train," "The Talented Mr. Ripley"). Her villainous "hero" Ripley, a sociopath and the ultimate user of other people, has become one of literature's (not just crime fiction's) iconic characters.

Welcome Joan Schenkar who has written a fascinating biography, "The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and the Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith," which I just bought for myself for Christmas and am halfway through. It's on the New York Times's list of 100 Best Books of 2010.

Joan, Pat (as you call her) was not a fan of Christmas--you quote her: "Christmas itself is positively the erupting boil of human guilt." Was she really that dark when it came to human sentimentality?

JOAN SCHENKAR: The adjective "dark" doesn't begin to cover the shades of Noir that comprise Pat Highsmith's feelings and writings about humans. But it is always the darkness of someone who had high hopes and saw them fail; a darkness full of rage and disappointment and despair.

If you read her works carefully -- and she hasn't been read very carefully in America -- and if you've been, as I have , lucky enough to go through her personal journals, you'll find that no American writer has been more motivated by love than Pat has. She died for love a thousand times in her life -- and killed for it over and over again in her novels.

Christmas was just an unpleasant detail (she would have hated giving presents, of course), but sentimentality irritated the hell out of her.

HALLIE: You say Pat kept "eight thousand pages of notebooks and diaries in five languages." She wrote them and she held onto them despite moving every few years, bequeathing them to posterity. What did it tell you about her that she kept them, and did she tell the truth in them?

JOAN SCHENKAR: No writer keeps diaries or journals innocently – they are always both a conversation with herself and a down payment on her posterity -- and Pat kept both diaries and journals all her writing life. Pat's journals show that she was an extraordinarily serious artist.

Because her psychology – like the psychological doubling of all her major characters – was so deeply divided, she tried to keep her art in her journals and her life in her diaries. But what I found so interesting is how the diaries and journals leak and seep into each other: how they beg, borrow and steal from each other's materials. She is our most surreptitiously autobiographical writer.

The other interesting thing was how extraordinarily candid Pat was in her private notations; she set down things most people would suppress. But because this is Pat Highsmith we're talking about her journals and diaries are also full of misdirections, forged dates, and the kind of lies that light the way to truth. 

HALLIE: Was it a challenge for you to separate truth from fiction, and how did you do it?

Disengaging the tangled skeins of Pat's life was like performing neurosurgery. It was even more like conducting a major crime-scene investigation.

Aside from spending more than a year in her immense archives in Switzerland and interviewing nearly 300 people and comparing and counter-balancing their stories, I had to put myself bodily and mentally in every place where she'd lived and left emotional, physical and/or artistic deposits. I walked in her footsteps, thought her thoughts, and, most uncomfortably, entertained some of her feelings. She had the mind of a criminal genius – so, naturally, I stalked her with the mind-set of a Sherlock Holmes.

HALLIE: For those of us who write it, Patricia Highsmith changed the terrain of crime fiction by creating the genre of psychological suspense and making her heroes villainous. How do you see the change she wrought, and why was she uniquely able to do it?

JOAN SCHENKAR: To answer that I have to come back to Pat's most resplendent virtues as a writer: she went to the ends of her nerves to get the news and made art out of what disturbed her. I consider her to be less a crime novelist than a punishment novelist: she was obsessed with the effects of plotting and committing crime (murder was the crime at the center of her own imaginings) on the human psyche and her work provides us with the most detailed anatomy of guilt in American literature. She knew that she was her own best model of abnormal psychology – and used herself as mercilessly as she used anything.

HALLIE: Any clues you can give us about her process as a writer? I know she was a compulsive listmaker--was that part of her process? And how was she so productive with all that drinking, not to mention the Strum und Drang of her personal life?

JOAN SCHENKAR: Her process was entirely her own, and its inner, secret, alchemical workings – the ones that transmute life into art -- will always be concealed from us. But her writerly habits – the ones that ensured her enormous production through all the alcohol she consumed and the emotions she burned up -- are absolutely identifiable.

She kept her diaries and journals faithfully (forging and reordering when necessary); she organized her inner chaos with meticulous lists; she wrote every day, usually 5- 8 pages and generally at the same hour; she had her special favorite pens and typewriter and notebooks; she did her little drawings and sketches (always with the left hand; she wrote with her right hand); she liked to intermit her writing with physical work like gardening and making furniture.

Like all committed writers, Pat understood that the art of writing is supported more by habit than by inspiration.

Also, she used her female lovers as Muses –-- but it didn't take long for their presences to irritate her. She could live for love, but not with it.

To sum up: Pat Highsmith was a real writer and behaved like one: i.e. she was compulsive, obsessive, fetishistic, and hell- on-wheels to live with.

HALLIE: Are there any current writers, in particular, whom you feel are mining the vein that Highsmith opened?

JOAN SCHENKAR: Of course there are many writers who say (or whose publicists or book jackets say) that they have been influenced by Pat Highsmith. And often the influence is clear. But, you know, I'd be doing as much a disservice to their writing as I would be doing to Pat's if I pointed them out here. Comparisons with living writers are always invidious.

I'd rather tell you the historical company in which I see her lifting her voice -- in whichever interesting place she's now spending her Afterlife:

Writers like Marcel Proust (the world's greatest crime writer, if only critics would cop to it), Edgar Allan Poe, William Burroughs, Djuna Barnes, Graham Greene, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and J.G. Ballard. With perhaps a soprano accompaniment from the wonderful Muriel Spark, a nice base line from all the great American Classic Comic Book writers, and a little rhythm from the Marquis de Sade and his riding crop.

HALLIE: I'm imagining quite the parade. That's some company!

In an email to me, you said writing the book nearly killed you... in light of the subject matter, what could be more appropriate? Please, elaborate!

JOAN SCHENKAR: Well, murder was Pat's speciality. And I really thought I was going to be her last victim.

Writing a biography -- and I say this because in my other life I'm a playwright and create characters -- offers the most intense relationship a writer can have with her subject. You live with this person for years – you know more about them than their lovers or parents or friends ever did, you know more about them than they ever knew about themselves. And you have to be responsible to all the facts while using those facts creatively. It's a relationship of intolerable intimacy and Miss Highsmith – and that's what I called her when we first began to work together – hated self-revelation and loathed cohabitation. And she made her hatred and loathing VERY EVIDENT to me. I had to drag myself to my desk for years.

Not to mention the fact that , by conservative estimate, I'm a member of at least four of the groups which she spent the last part of her life reviling. And her fully expressed feelings on these subjects – every word of which I had to read – were deeply upsetting to me.

But we worked through it, finally, and actually we're quite matey now.

HALLIE: How did it feel to find your book reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review (especially in the wake of the stink some writers have been raising about the Times biased focus on *male* *literary* icons)?

JOAN SCHENKAR: I was pleasantly and defensively numb, to be honest. I did think I was doing something new with the form, subject, and style of biography -- not to mention the fact that this is the biography of a woman by a woman, of which far fewer are published than biographies of any other kind -- and so it was wonderful to be recognized by the NY Times, which sets the standard in the United States.

But the first thing you learn in show business (and it's also the last) is that if you believe your good reviews, you have to believe your bad ones.

And so, really, I just believed myself.


Joan will be checking in today so if you want to comment or ask a question, please do join us!

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: Jungle Red's Hits and Disses

HALLIE: Here we are at the end of 2010, a year when Twitter took off, Facebook took off again (for the middle-aged and electronically challenged), smartphones were everywhere, the E-reader hit its stride, and it got even harder to reach your kids if you don't text.

Taking a look back at the lighter side of 2010, here's my list of hits:

TV shows...Mad Men, The Good Wife, Castle, Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock, Life on Mars

Movies...Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Winter's Bone
Books... Ro
om (by Emma Donoghue); Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (by Tom Franklin)
Food... fish tacos, bacon and pomegranate juice

Stores...I finally visited Target and Costco: I get it now

Games...Catch Phrase, and still as always bridge

Conveniences...Online restaurant reservations

And misses. I'd like to see a lot less of...
Dancing with Stars

Four-inch heels

Purses the size of dirigibles

Leopard prints

Lady Gaga

Mel Gibson

Oil spills



What are your hits and misses of 2010?

TV show...Friday Night Lights, really you must go back to the beginning and watch this. The drama and characters are top notch.
Movies...I know I must have liked some but I can't remember what they were!

Trip out of the US...Rome

The farmer's market

Food...Yes! all of it!

Oil spills
Squabbling politicians


Snow and ice

Oh definitely squabbling politicians to top my miss column.
And all those samey reality shows-- Biggest Loser, Survivor 29, Endless talent or non-talent shows...

And I could do without Lady Ga Ga.

Hits were:

Olympic games in Canada
Fun and chun
ky bling
Two weeks in Nice

Twenties Girl (loved it!) and I've just seen a fabulous production of the Nutcracker today

I'm sure more will come to me the moment I sign out.

Hits were--
TV: Madmen, The Good Wife, The Sing Off, the conclusion of the Tudors, Empire Boardwalk, Craig Fergus
Movies: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, the The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest.

Books: The Well and The Mine by Gin Philllips, The Creative Brain by Shelley Carson, All Souls by Michael Patrick McDonald, Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

Jersey Boys on Broadway

The fabulous weather this summer

First I-Phone

George, my first experience with a cat


Screaming talk show hosts

Red Sox season of injuries

Sex and the City II

Twilight series

Cape-like cardigans

Return of the oxford shoe

Oh yes, I'd like to pile on for 3 of Jan's--my iphone, Jersey Boys, and a cat in the house!

And I second screaming talk show hosts and their screaming guests

TV: The Good Wife. Masterpiece Sherlock. Brilliant.

Fashion: you can wear anything you want. I love that. Wearing stuff that doesn't match. Wow. (I learned that from my idols Heidi and Tim.) And, Hallie, I like leopard.

HALLIE: I knew you'd say that. That's because you can off pull of leopard print (and 4" heels).

HANK: Books? I judged YA for the Edgars. More I cannot say. I'm fascinated by the growing realization that ebooks are real, and not a work of the devil. This is truly a time of transition. (I do worry for independent bookstores though. We'll see what happens this year.)


Gosh, I just dont get the wii.
Or xbox, or whatever those things do. Sorry, I'
m old.
The vuvuzela, SO annoying. Except that day they put it behind everything on YouTube, whch was so hilarious and so meta.

Bedbugs, puh-leeze. But Roberta taught me how to look.

Food? Well, of course, bacon. And vodka, champagne and elderflower liqueur. (One.)

Movies. Huh. Did we see any good ones?

Annoyances: People who are ALWAYS on their phones, talking, texting, whatever. People are making themselves alone even when they're with you. Worrisome.

Guilty pleasure? Watching the singing flashmobs on You Tube.

So excited for the year to come!

Elderflower liqueur -- Really? With champagne? Sounds like something to try on New Year's Eve. And interesting, isn't it, how much this was a better year for TV than for movies. Go figure.

I agree on flashmobs. I love the one where everyone froze in Grand Central - in fact, I used something like that in my new book (March 22!)

So what are your hits and misses for 2010? Please, dish!!

(And stay tuned! Later this week:
Tuesday: Are you as intrigued as I am by Patricia Highsmith? She invented the villainous hero and the suspense novel. Meet Joan Schenkar who wrote the definitive and fascinating biography, The Talented Miss Highsmith:
The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith. She says writing it nearly killed her, and it's easy to understand why.
Wednesday: Meet Mike Wiecek who just sold (at auction!) his thriller Clawback and a sequel to Viking.
Thursday: I'll be talking about my new writing book, just out.
And we have special treats in store for New Year's Ev en and New Year's Day!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Jungle Red Writers!

And a one
And a two
And a-
All together now!

Follow the little bouncing ball..
**Mitch Miller

HANK: Last year, about this time, I was deep into revisions. In order to prevent myself from actually working, I decided (as any of us would) to write new words to an old song. The revisions were fine, and now just a fond memory. The book will be out next year, if all goes as planned. But the song? Well, it's almost Christmas day so what better time to do a little Jungle Red caroling!

On the first day of revisions, my editor said to me:

A partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the second day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Write a little faster

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the third day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Try to use some humor

Write a little faster

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the fourth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Make your chapters shorter

Try to use some humor

Write a little faster

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the fifth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the sixth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Six weeks til deadline

Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the seventh day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline

Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the eighth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Eight titles vetoed

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline

Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the ninth day of revisions, my editor said to me:
Nine new characters needed

Eight titles vetoed

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the tenth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Ten motivations missing

Nine new characters needed

Eight titles vetoed

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline

Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Eleven conflicts iffy

Ten motivations missing
Nine new characters needed

Eight titles vetoed

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline

Find a better plot!
Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of revisions, my editor said to me:

Twelve months til the sequel

Eleven conflicts iffy

Ten motivations missing

Nine more characters needed

Eight titles vetoed

Seven chapters bore me

Six weeks til deadline
Find a better plot!

Make your chapters shorter

Write a little faster

Try to use some humor

And a partridge wouldn’t like a pear tree.

ROBERTA: Love the song Hank. But I'd still much rather revise than write that dratted first draft!

HANK: Oh, I actually love revisions. Not that you'd know it from the song. But let's see, maybe I should write a first draft song. Or better, a synopsis song.

To the tune of MARIA:


I still have to write my synopsis

But not one useful word

Or sentence has occured

To me....

Okay, sing along! Anyone??? And Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Escape to Sleuthfest

JRW: Maybe you're in a last minute panic about a gift for a mystery writer or reader. Or maybe you're looking for a warm getaway this winter? We invited Julie Compton to come and talk to us about the Sleuthfest mystery conference, coming in March. Welcome Julie!

What is SleuthFest? Is it for writers or readers?

JULIE: SleuthFest is Florida's premier mystery writer's conference, held every year in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The conference is sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is usually held in late February or early March. Our next conference is just a few months away – March 3 to March 6. It's a great time of year to visit Florida, especially for our northern friends who crave some warm, balmy weather.

SleuthFest is for mystery writers and mystery fans alike. Third Degree Thursday is chock full of hands-on workshops that focus on the craft of writing, but the Friday and Saturday schedule is loaded with workshops, panels and other events that will appeal to both writers and fans. We're a smaller conference, so fans have a chance to mingle and meet some of their favorite authors in an intimate setting.

Tell us about the special features of the conference that set your
event apart from some of the other mystery conferences.

Florida in March!

Seriously, although Florida in March may be reason enough for some, SleuthFest offers so much more. Our Third Degree Thursday continues to grow in popularity, so in response, we've expanded the schedule to include more workshops, with beginner, intermediate and advanced tracks to benefit writers at all levels. We also have a full track each day devoted to forensics. We have our SleuthFest 101 Dinner, where first-timers have the opportunity to meet other first-timers and learn how to get the most from their SleuthFest experience. We have Readers Corner, where unpublished writers have a chance to read a ten minute segment of their work and get feedback from listeners (and if there’s time, published writers can read, too). After the end of the regular programming on Friday and Saturday, our guests of honor will participate in a book discussion (poolside!) with attendees. Friday night is movie night. This year we'll show Gone, Baby, Gone, which will be followed by a film discussion with a surprise guest. We have our Author Auction, where guests can bid to win, for example, manuscript critiques by bestselling authors or the chance to name a character in their next books. On Saturday night, we have the Agents and Editors Poolside Cocktail Party. It's a great chance to meet an agent or editor in a casual setting. If you're a fan of more structured meetings, you can sign up for a pitch session.

To see everything SleuthFest offers, including the workshop and panel topics, check out the full schedule at

Oh, and did I mention SleuthFest is held in Florida?

You have two guests of honor this year and a Spotlight Speaker--tell us about those writers.

We are so pleased to have bestselling authors Dennis Lehane and Meg Gardiner join us this March as our guests of honor.

Dennis Lehane is the critically acclaimed author of nine novels, including Mystic River, Gone, Baby Gone, and Shutter Island, and the recently released Moonlight Mile. Mystic River was a finalist for the PEN/Winship Award and won both the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best Novel as well as the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction given by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

Meg Gardiner is an award winning author of eight novels, including China Lake, which won a 2009 Edgar, The Dirty Secrets Club, which won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award in 2008, and her most recent, The Liar's Lullaby.

We’re also happy to welcome S.J. Rozan as our Thursday Spotlight Speaker. S.J. is the author of twelve novels. Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. She's also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award.

How much does it cost to attend SleuthFest?

Our early bird discounted pricing is available until January 15, 2011, and it starts at $235 for MWA members, $255 for non-members. (I say “starts” because some things are extra, such as the SleuthFest 101 dinner.) The hotel, the Hilton Deerfield Beach, has kept our low rate of $139 per night.

As a special incentive to register early, everyone who registers before December 31, 2010 will be entered in a drawing to win signed books by Dennis Lehane and Meg Gardiner, plus a 10 page manuscript critique by one of the agents or editors in attendance.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Just that it’s a great conference and would make a great gift for yourself or for the mystery writer or fan in your family! Personally, SleuthFest was the first mystery conference I ever attended, and I didn’t know a soul. I was welcomed with open arms by the MWA Florida chapter members and immediately made to feel part of the family.

Beyond that, almost anything readers might want to know about the conference can be found on the website at They’ll find a pretty extensive Frequently Asked Questions page. I also invite anyone who has questions to email me at If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.

Roberta, thank you for allowing me to tell your readers about the conference!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Writer's Guide to Psychology

ROBERTA: Lots of times on Jungle Red we introduce our readers to books we wish we'd written ourselves. Today is one of those days for me. Carolyn Kaufman's new book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY, is published this month by Quill Driver Press and it's a winner! Carolyn has had the same cringing reactions I have about the way psychologists and psychology are often depicted in popular fiction. Her answer to that was to write a reference book for writers that dispels myths, explains psychopathology, and demonstrates how psychological treatment is really conducted. And she's agreed to stop by the blog today to answer our questions. Congratulations and welcome Carolyn!

I know my first question is impossible, but here goes anyway. Since all of us on this blog have written murder mysteries and really struggled with how to make our characters believable, I wonder if you
could comment on motives for murder--at least in fiction. Are there stumbling blocks we should avoid when we plan our villains' actions? How can we understand murder from the murderer's perspective?

CAROLYN: I think one of the biggest mistakes writers make is failing to spend enough time coming up with a good motive. Or maybe it’s not a failure to come up with a good motive – maybe it’s just feeling uncomfortable with really trying to understand that motive.

Granted, sometimes we create villains who are psychopaths – cold, remorseless killers who need little motive other than that a killing is convenient, exciting, or makes for an interesting diversion. But for characters who have a better reason than that, I think it’s worthwhile to really spend some time trying to see the conflict from the villain’s point of view. That can help us write more convincing villains.

As I mentioned above, I think many writers are uncomfortable with doing that. They don’t want to delve into a dark character because it requires them to delve into the dark parts of themselves. Being able to do so, however, can make your villain far less of a cardboard cutout and far more of a character. And stronger characters make more compelling stories.

HANK: What do you think are the most powerful motives for wrong-doing? (Greed? Control? Money? Fear? Lust?) And we always talk about how bad guys don't think they're bad--do you think that's true?

CAROLYN: I do think the Seven Deadlies all make for strong motivators. And different psychologists point to similar things as motivators. BF Skinner, for example, believed that the five things people want most are attention, approval, affection, submission of others, and material things. Other psychologists, such as Erich Fromm, agreed that there is a strong human drive to either dominate or submit, particularly when one is somehow overwhelmed by the world.

A couple of motives I’ve been thinking about lately, though, are modern narcissism and Fromm’s theory of how people “escape from freedom.” A little on each:

You’ve probably heard that there’s some compelling research that shows that each generation (starting with the X generation) has become increasingly entitled, self-centered, self-aggrandizing, and insensitive to others’ needs. This has led to increased spending and debt as well as increased interpersonal nastiness, some of which leads to the type of interpersonal violence we see in the news.

The recent Knox county, Ohio case, where Matthew Hoffman abducted a young girl and killed three adults, whose bodies he stuffed in a tree, seems to have strong narcissistic leanings. I was asked by one of the local news stations to review the police report he wrote after committing arson some years back (because I’m a psychologist and they wanted an expert’s take on the report for their evening news). Essentially what happened was Hoffman got a key to a neighbor’s apartment and was living in their house when they weren’t there. Eventually he decided he wanted some of their things in his own house, so he took them. And then to cover the crime, he burned the place down…which led to several other apartments burning. Talk about entitled! It’s not enough that he’s watching their TV and hanging out on their furniture and enjoying their art – he just decides to take some home and commits a much larger crime to try to cover the behavior. Though we don’t have enough information yet, I suspect the more recent murders were motivated by similar thoughts. He wanted the little girl, but there were adults in the way, so he committed the larger crime (of murder) to try to hide that he’d taken what he wanted (and felt entitled to).

Fromm’s theory that people try to “escape from freedom” goes something like this: we have so much existential freedom in modern life, and so much personal responsibility as a result. One way to try to cope with that is to destroy things and people. If I feel overwhelmed and even overpowered by choices and responsibility, destruction is a way to try to eliminate the things that overwhelm me. (Hope that isn’t too esoteric.) So to go back to the original question…yes, I think fear can be a very powerful motivator.

HALLIE: Is it possible to remember something that didn't happen?

CAROLYN: Absolutely. False memories are so easy to create that every quarter that I teach Introduction to Psychology, I create (a benign) one in my students. One mistake I see writers making with false memories, however, is that they assume that a false memory feels somehow different from a “real” one. In fact, false memories are as convincing – and sometimes more convincing – than others.

Here’s how they happen. Memory is not like a DVD you pull out of your mental library and pop into a mental player. Rather, each time we remember something, we re-construct it, pulling pieces of the memory together from all over the brain. Over time, new information seeps in, or we fill in parts we’ve forgotten with assumptions, or a newer perspective on life influences how we remember the past. Therefore, most memories are suspect.

False memories are typically influenced by language. For example, if you show someone a video as if they were driving a car, and afterwards say “Did you see A stop sign?” most people will say no. (And they should – there’s no stop sign in the video.) If, however, the interviewer says “Did you see THE stop sign?” most people will say yes. Even more interesting, if you show them the video again, rather than realize that there was no stop sign, they’ll claim you’re showing them a different video. The false memory has taken hold, and it’s strong.

So pay attention to how people question the witness in your stories, including detectives, friends, and attorneys. Any suggestion that the perpetrator said or did a particular thing or looked a certain way can influence the memory strongly. (There’s a reason lawyers aren’t supposed to “lead the witness”…and a reason they do it anyway…regardless of whether the statement is “struck from the record,” the idea has been implanted in jurors’ memories and can therefore influence a verdict.)

ROSEMARY: I think there's a lot of pressure from some quarters to have a high body count in mysteries. I can understand Greed/Lust and Revenge motivating someone to kill once, but how realistic is it for
the non-serial killer, non-career criminal to kill again?

CAROLYN: One of the most interesting things I’ve ever read about the psychology of killing stated that the body counts were much lower in wars that were fought in much closer quarters than they are today, ie when people could actually see the faces of their enemies well. Over time, however, our killing machines have become so much more impersonal – for most it’s much easier to pull a trigger, for example, than it is to stab someone. More than that, though, we’ve gotten desensitized to body counts because of all the television, movies, books, and video games. So I think it’s becoming easier for people to kill, and kill more than once, because the psychological barriers that made killing so horrifying have broken down for many people in the modern world. (Just as an example: the movie The Lost Boys was rated R in 1987; the modern CW series The Vampire Diaries, which is watched by many tweens and teens, includes just as much violence and gore, if not more, and nobody complains.)

I do think you need strong motivation for a non-serial killer, non-career criminal (ie someone who is less likely to have a psychological “disorder” like antisocial or narcissistic personality that makes them more impervious to others’ feelings) to kill again. However, I also think that once somebody has killed once, for many, the threshold for doing it again is lower.

ROBERTA: Carolyn, thanks so much for your terrific answers. Carolyn will be stopping in today to answer questions about writing and psychology so bring them on! You find Carolyn blogging on Psychology Today.
One of her most popular posts is called "Cardboard Cutouts Make Rotten Villains"

Also check out "Psychotic or Psychopathic? on The Vampire Diaries", talking about how psychopaths are different from people who are psychotic -- they've made that mistake on Vampire Diaries, the old "psychotic killer" when they meant to say "psychopathic killer."

She also blogs for QueryTracker

Carolyn's first book for writers, THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior, is now available at You can visit Carolyn’s WGTP website for more information including the media kit and a detailed table of contents, follow her on Facebook, visit her YouTube channel, or send her your psychology and writing question at Archetype Writing, her website on psychology for writers.