Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"I'm walkin' to New Orleans..."

ROSEMARY: Not really walking, but I love that song. Fats Domino.
Once again I've been asked to put together Mystery Day at ALA. ALA is the American Library Association and twice a year they hold conferences which get anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 attendees (depending on location.) It is a lot of work, but I love it and it lets me hang out with some really cool writers.

On Saturday June 25, we'll hold panel discussions and one on one interviews all day and we have a stellar lineup which includes Amy Alessio, Frankie Bailey, Rhys Bowen, Jane Cleland, Barbara Fister, Steve Hamilton, Carolyn Hart, Libby Fischer Hellmann, JA Jance, Ken Kuhlken, Nancy Martin, Cathy Pickens, Karin Slaughter, Julie Smith, Elaine Viets, Michael Wiley...and me. And what better city to party in than New Orleans?

I confess I was not always a big fan of The Big Easy (actually I'm a big fan of Ellen Barkin so I love the movie of the same name) but it's hard to stay on a diet there, the streets are frequently crowded with rowdy college students and then there's the whole boobs and beads thing which I just don't get. It didn't help that when I was in the video business I had to go there once a year for a television programming conference and one year we had the misfortune of booking a party space right next to a place where Howard Stern was having a party. It was a disaster.

But one thing changed my mind - Preservation Hall.
A friend in the music business took me there years ago and now no trip to NOLA is complete without at least one and usually two trips to Preservation Hall where the musicians change but the music never does. And I always request the same song, Petit Fleur by Sidney Bechet. They don't serve food or alcohol - that's okay there's no shortage of either in Nawlins - and they shoo you out after one set, but for me it's the quintessential New Orleans experience and I can't wait to go back. Anyone else know what it means to miss New Orleans?

HANK: I covered the Super Bowl there! When the Patriots played the Bears. It was hilarious..and because I was the feature reporter, I went everywhere and saw everything. That was pre-Katrina, of course, so I know it's all different now. SO sorry to miss ALA this year..sigh. Have chicory coffee and a beignet for me.

HALLIE: New Orleans is always about the food for me. YES, chicory coffee and beignets. Crawfish. Oysters oysters oysters. Po-boy sandwiches eaten on the street while listening to jazz. Are they eating local seafood again? Bread pudding so many wonderful ways. Bananas Foster. (Hank, I think we were there that year - I remember the hotel was crawling with football players.)

ROSEMARY: Hank, you covered the Super Bowl..that's so cool. Bananas Foster...does anyone know who Foster was? Acme Oyster House, Jacques Imo and Mother's. Actually saw Dr. John having lunch at Mother's once, peek experience. And zydeco at MidCity Bowling Alley.

HANK: Yes, it was wonderful..although we stayed on a river boat that was under construction--what I remember most about it: the towels were the size of--dish towels. But when you cover a story like that, there's zero time for sleeping--I remember being up literally all night editing in room we had rigged. But I saw Richard Gere in Jackson Square, and at Galatoires's, Jimmy Buffet!

ROBERTA: Funnily enough, just saw Ellen Barkin in THE NORMAL HEART, which we talked about here a couple weeks ago. About as far from the big easy as she could get!

I love NOLA and am very sorry to miss the ALA mystery event you arranged Ro! When I was in graduate school, the powers that be let us students borrow the "research Winnebago." We loaded it with beer and other refreshing drinks and drove ten hours. About half the crowd slept in the trailer in the parking lot downtown. Such Fun! The administration curtailed further excursions when the next driver sheered the top of the vehicle off by driving under something too low for its height. Tee hee, those were good times.

Oysters, beignets, and don't forget the muffalottas! Julia Reed's THE HOUSE ON FIRST STREET is an interesting foodie memoir about rebuilding a home after Katrina.

DEB: Oh, I'm hungry just thinking about it. Oyster po'boys! Beignets. Crawfish anything. Haven't been to NOLA in way too long. So sorry I'm missing ALA this year. Sniff. Ya'll have fun without me . . . The Big Easy, by the way, is one of my favorite movies ever, and I LOVE the soundtrack. Any votes on who's aged better, Dennis Quaid or Ellen Barkin? Mine goes to Ellen.

Oh, and Roberta, thanks for the book recommendation. That's just the kind of read I love.

ROSEMARY: Ellen! No contest!! Okay, since we're talking about Ellen Barkin, I saw her once at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. Gorgeous. When they called my name for my treatment, she said "good name." I was so excited I didn't relax during the massage. I've always thought she would make a great Babe Chinnery. Ellen, are you out there..I know where you can get the rights ;-)!!

What should we not miss in New Orleans?? Best recommendation gets a container of chicory coffee and a box of Cafe du Monde beignet mix.

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Book Touring

ROSEMARY: "Nobody goes there anymore...it's too crowded"
If you're a New Yorker you grow up with Yogi Berra-isms. They're delivered in utero like collective memories, and this one's been coming back to me lately as I hear over and over again that authors "aren't touring" because "it never pays for itself" and the publishers are only touring "bestselling authors who don't need it." I say hogwash. People are touring, they're just defining it differently.

It's become fashionable to say that blog tours make so much more sense "and I can do it in my jammies!" You won't hear me say I don't engage in the kind of social media we've been yakking about recently. I've got two pages on facebook, a fan and a personal, and I've recently crossed the Rubicon into Twitterland where I have an embarrassingly low number of followers - please follow me @rosemaryharris1. Still, I guess I'm old-school. I want to meet booksellers, librarians and readers in the flesh, particularly if I've met them already online. Few things match a face-to-face meeting for generating that all-important word-of-mouth.

A recent survey conducted for Sisters in Crime revealed that word-of-mouth and personal recommendations were still the biggest motivations to purchase books and although I can Meet, Friend and Like as many people as I want to online, it's the ones I've met in person who have been the strongest advocates for my work.

And where do I meet most of them? At shows and conferences. If the book tour used to mean the red carpet treatment and jetting from one glamorous destination to another with cases of perfectly chilled Perrier at your disposal, (sadly before my time) for some, it now means Columbus, Ohio for RT Booklovers Convention, New Orleans for American Library Association, Oakmont, Pennsylvania for the Festival of Mystery and other stops which might not have previously been on anyone's whistle-stop campaign but are increasingly important as up-and-coming and midlist authors work to get the word out about their books. If the people don't know you well enough to come out for you then you've got to go where the people are.

In the past three years, I've been to all of these events plus the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, the Collingswood, Decatur, Empire State and Philadelphia Book Festivals, The Big E (a five state fair in MA.) I've even gone to something called the Submarine Festival in Groton, CT. Okay, that one didn't work - but all the others have, and I've sold more books at these venues than I ever have at a chain store or most indies with the exceptions of Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, MI and Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, but those retailers are exceptional - and they are few and far between. Which is not to say other retailers aren't good at what they do, they're just not in the business of making me famous. That's my job.

I've also met a number of influential bloggers at these events, Jen Forbus, Molly Weston and Kaye Barley to name a few and while their stock in trade is the internet, meeting and getting to know them in person has been invaluable (as well as oodles of fun!)

The logistics may take some time but I'll also go to virtually any library that invites me. If a librarian is interested enough to ask for me that's the same as having a friend in town who will chat up my book and I will do my best to go and provide an entertaining program - for 3 people or 300. Is it working - ask me in five years.

How do you feel about touring?

HANK: I love it. Something wonderful happens at every stop. It is however, expensive. And time consuming. For the past--five years?--I've essentially used ALL my vacation days from work to do book events. With no regrets! It's a privilege, really.

HALLIE: What's happened for me is that 'touring' is no longer just about a book launch. It's like social media, and can be any time (and sometimes all the time). I so agree with you, Ro, about events. I've just come off doing a string of them, and I'll be at the Willamette Writers conference in Oregon and the Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver and and and... I just spoke for the Sturbridge Library and will be in Malden in a few weeks. I guess 'touring' has become part of my writing life -- fortunately like Ro and Hank, for me it's a sheer pleasure and frankly (shhh, don't tell anyone) a nice break from the hard work of writing.

ROBERTA: Touring is exhausting and expensive, but nothing beats meeting readers! And I love doing events with other writers--share the pain and the gain! I've been laying low writing and getting ready to launch the first Key West food critic mystery--I won't do a blog tour this time. I think the repetition wears people out and ends up being a turnoff, don't you think?

DEB: Yes to all of the above! I think we've all agreed that the social networking is pretty much a necessity. But nothing replaces actually getting out and meeting people. Over the years I've been to most of the best independent bookstores in the country, and making those personal connections with booksellers is priceless. The same holds true of meeting bloggers and reviewers and readers in person. No substitute. It does take it's toll, however, both personally and financially. I've been having a quiet, catch-up year so far, but starting with Bouchercon I'll be ramping up for the new book out next February. Interesting--this quiet year has made me realize how much I've missed seeing all my friends in the writing community, because community it is.

JULIA: That's an important point, Deb. One of the things I've come to realize about publishing in general and the mystery community in particular is that it's all about relationships. The relationship between the author and the folks at her publishing house, between the booksellers and their customers, between the readers and the book itself. Book tours, conferences and conventions create and reinforce these relationships. And although you do "meet" many people over the internet, I agree with Ro - there's nothing like talking face-to-face with someone.

As you all know, I'm just coming off of an exhausting month-plus of touring for ONE WAS A SOLDIER. You know the one question I've been asked at virtually every book store and library I've spoken at? "What are you reading now? What are some books you like?" So long as readers rely on other readers recommending their favorite reads, so long as book lovers depend on a bookseller saying, "Try this, you'll love it," there will be book tours. And tired, broke authors who wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

You are you!

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..." Dr. Seuss

ROBERTA: Having sat through two family graduations in the past week, I've got aspirations on the brain. My sister and I were talking about what we remember wanting to become back when we were kids. She has very distinct memories of wanting to be a park ranger, and later on, a veterinarian. (Instead, she's a nature writer and environmental activist.) I can't recall having a clear passion as a kid--other than doing really well in school. (Nerd City, I know.) Never in a million years would I have predicted becoming either a psychologist or a writer--though they both kind of make sense looking back.

How about you all--how early did you "know what you know?"

ROSEMARY: I still don't know what I want to be.

HALLIE: I always knew what I wanted to be. A torch singer. Slinky black dress, dark eyes, deep soulful alto. I was under-endowed in more ways than one.

JULIA: I can recall donning my turtleneck and pleated plaid miniskirt to play stewardess when I was ten years old. That was my first career ambition, fueled by Pan Am flights and sneaking my mom's copy of COFFEE, TEA, OR ME? Then when I was twelve, I read the first few James Herriot novels, and was determined to be a vet. That lasted until I cracked open F. Lee Bailey's FOR THE DEFENSE. That made me want to be a lawyer (which I eventually did after side trips into acting, museum curatorship, and fund-raising.) The only careers I wanted to pursue were things I read about in books. That was probably a tip-off right there.

ROBERTA: Well, okay, torch singer, me too Hallie. In fact my father always hoped one of his daughters would end up singing on a piano, like Edith Piaf. Zero for three:).

ROSEMARY: That's it...I want to be a torch singer, too. I want to do everything Hallie and Roberta do. Do you all know that Donald Bain, the author of 37 Murder She Wrote books also wrote COFFEE, TEA or ME?

JAN: This is how boring I am. I decided I wanted to be writer in first grade -- which, when you think of it, is when you learn to write. So I picked pretty much the first thing that came up and stuck with it. Having been in my junior high school musicals, and I later toyed with the idea of being a an actress and singer - but -- even before People Magazine, knew I didn't want to lead that kind of exciting life. (That's how boring I am.)

HANK: Oh, gosh. Me, too. I used to practice singing "WHy dont you Come along with me, down the Mississippi...". Oh, and Stormy Weather. Very big on Stormy Weather. (Very small on singing talent.)
I wanted to be a stewardess, too! What cool job.
My goals, after stewardess: disc jockey, geneticist,Shakespeare teacher, actress, lawyer for the mine workers, political activist. Reporter. Ooh, reporter was good. Very good. That seemed to take. At age---25? And now...

DEB: Oh, gosh, what did I want to be, other than English? Just about everything imaginable except a writer . . . I always loved reading but only discovered I liked writing as a teenager. Julia, I wanted to be a vet, too--I was SO smitten with James Herriott (actually got to meet him and get books signed!) And I wanted to be an Oxford don, like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Then a female jockey (influenced by Dick Francis, anyone?) And an historian. Um, and a geologist. And an archeologist. And an oceanologist. Just about anything with an "ist." No surprise that my undergrad degree was in biology and I wanted to be a field biologist. I later thought about writing a mystery series about a female park ranger, but someone beat me to it :-)

ROSEMARY: I love that you wanted to be English.

HALLIE: Oooh, great question - what would you want to be other than American? French. Definitely French. Can those women knot scarves or what?

ROBERTA: Me too, French! Deb, you are almost English, aren't you? How about you, JR readers? Who did you want to be?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sarah Weinman on Twitter

ROBERTA: Today JRW welcomes Sarah Weinman, currently News Editor for Publishers Marketplace, but well known in the business of crime fiction for her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. She also writes fiction, with stories EQMM, AHMM, and anthologies such as Baltimore Noir, A Hell of a Woman and Damn Near Dead and is a devotee of Twitter.

Speaking of Twitter, last time I checked you had over 90,000 followers. 90 thousand. Good god, woman, how did this happen and what do you do with them?

SARAH: How did it happen? Beats me. I swear most of them are spambots I'm too lazy to kill, but if I lose the flippancy, I think it's that I treat my Twitter feed much the same way I blogged when I first started Confessions in 2003: find interesting stories and links and share them. And on Twitter I don't limit myself to crime fiction, and only crime fiction, the way I did most of the time with the blog. Publishing and bookish stories still dominate, but I'll talk about world events, crime, media, science and other things that strike my fancy. And break news every now and then.

ROBERTA: Better late than never, I stumbled across your article in Poets and Writers about writers using Twitter. You said: "Just as setting up a page on other major networking sites does not guarantee success, joining Twitter doesn't mean automatic recognition. It helps to have a game plan in advance: a specific reason to follow specific users' updates and an incentive for them to follow yours."

What constitutes a good game plan, in your opinion?

SARAH: Well first and foremost every author should ask: will I enjoy this, or will it be a timesuck? Because believe me, it shows when an author's heart is not into social media. And if all he or she does is promote the book, well, we're going to turn off, fast. A little BSP every now and then is prudent, but being wall-to-wall is frankly, annoying. Instead, be human. If being 100% yourself makes you nervous, then be a considered version of yourself. And listen. Follow people you think you'll find interesting and see what they say and how they say it. Engage people in conversation (but do not, under any circumstances, at-reply to promote your book. Or direct message. Those are strictly verboten and will cause me to block you.) Be on Twitter as much or as little as you like, but if you're stressing out, the writing still must come first. Twitter isn't for everyone, and if it isn't for you, that's okay. I love it, but I'm not on Facebook. Some people work that way or they are the opposite. Mostly I advocate doing one thing very well instead of a bunch of things in a tepid fashion.
ROBERTA: Do you have examples of writers you think have used Twitter to seriously support their work and their careers?

SARAH: Off the top of my head: in crime fiction, Ian Rankin is on because he enjoys it and it shows. Gregg Hurwitz, Joe Finder, Harlan Coben, Christopher Rice and Alafair Burke all mix work and personal tweets pretty well to my mind. For general fiction, authors I think navigate Twitter outstandingly well include Jennifer Weiner, Neil Gaiman, Emma Straub, Robin Black, Julie Klam and Joe Wallace, whose personalities and real-ness shine through. And there are lots of authors whom I haven't mentioned. But more and more, it seems to suit authors so long as they find a way to make Twitter fit.

ROBERTA: In 2009, you weren't sure that Twitter was a necessary promotional tool. Has your opinion changed on that?

SARAH: It's only more necessary as more of the world joins Twitter: at last count there were 200 million accounts, of which 70% were outside the US. My feeling is that Twitter still works better for industry types and those who are in the media and news business -- the death of Osama bin Laden and all the major world events of 2011 proves that over and over again - but so long as it's done well with one's heart in it, Twitter is a valuable tool that does work. But it's not everything, and it's not the only thing.

ROBERTA: Thanks so much Sarah! Sarah is tweeting this week from BEA, but has promised to try to stop over to answer your comments and questions. You can find her at www.sarahweinman.com or on Twitter: @sarahw

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twitter 101

ROBERTA: As promised, our two good pals Krista Davis and Julie Hennrikus are here today to help us master Twitter. Let's start with basics, ladies. What should we be saying in our tweets?

Krista: Tweeting is a terrific way to brand yourself. For me, it's often about food, which suits my domestic diva brand. I share recipes and tips that I see. Here's the great thing, especially for those of us who are lazy -- you can tweet other people's information, and, even better, they'll love you for it. If Roberta posts a recipe on a blog, I can tweet to share the blog site and her recipe. I'm helping my own domestic diva brand, and Roberta is getting more traffic on the blog. It's a win-win situation.

Julie: I agree that Twitter is a great way to brand yourself with a broad brush. Though I started to tweet to build a "following" in the hopes of publishing a book (or series) some day, I now tweet about much more than mysteries, or writing. Twitter is a great way to build your community around your brand, and around your interests.

You should tweet about all of your interests, and follow people with like interests. Are you a sports fan? Tweet about it. Did you see a play you liked? Send out a tweet and call out the company. Are you passionate about a subject? Use twitter as a platform.

A couple of rules of thumb I use--be positive in your tweets about other people. Don't say anything that you wouldn't say over a loud speaker. Also, pay it forward. Use 80% of your tweets to talk about other people, or their work. Don't just be a one note marketing tweeter--that is a sure way to get unfollowed very quickly.

Krista: Julie, your examples demonstrate so well that Twitter is for everyone. No matter what you write, or what your passions are, you'll find it on Twitter. I often recommend that beginners tweet about their favorite sports teams or their alma maters. It's a great way to get the hang of Twitter.

I agree about being positive, too. Unless you tweet a private direct message to someone, everything you tweet is 100% public. Be careful what you say!

It's okay to spread the word about your blog, or a new book, or a wonderful review, but tweeting about yourself all the time is a guaranteed way to bore people. Forget the hard sale because it's an instant turnoff. Give people something in your tweets like a link to a great blog or article.

ROBERTA: How about your best tips for getting people to follow?

Krista: I guess it's obvious that tweeting useful information is one way. There's good news, though, the more you tweet, the more you'll be followed. There's software that tracks this kind of thing and is used to recommend followers to other people.

Julie: RT (or retweet) often. Try to add a comment when you can. Send "congrats" tweets. Make sure to use people or company's handles in your tweet, because that increases the chances of your tweet getting read and the other person following you. Follow hashtags that interest you (one example from my day job is #2amT, which is a twitter hashtag for people discussing the ideas about theater that wake them up at 2am. Wonderful conversations.) Chime into conversations and use hashtags. Participate. You will get followers, and they do grow incrementally.

Krista: Don't be afraid to follow people. If you follow a few people each day, you'll be surprised how fast they add up.

ROBERTA: how do we keep track of all this?

Krista: Oh, I was so glad when I discovered TweetDeck. Up until then, I just didn't understand how anyone could read all the messages flashing by faster than a speeding bullet. With TweetDeck (and no, they don't pay me), I can choose what I want to see. I can follow discussions and people I like. It's also a dynamite way to find out if a certain word works well as a hashtag (#). If you type in a word and boring posts come up, you know it's a dud.

Julie: Krista is a TweetDeck fan. I love Hootsuite. It is the same thing in many ways, but I find that it works on all of my computers and my smartphone, which makes things very easy.

Once you decide to use either one of these programs you can set up a stream to follow lists (that you have set up in Twitter), #hashtags, key words or specific people. Also make sure you set up a search for yourself. That way you can respond when someone mentions you or retweets.

This is a really helpful way to make sure you have a continuous presence without spending hours on Twitter. Because I (as @JulieHennrikus) am fairly active people assume I spend hours a day. Instead I spend fifteen minutes twice a day.

Another great thing about these programs is that you can schedule tweets.

ROBERTA: What about these lists?

Krista: Lists are a terrific way to meet a lot of other people who are interested in the things that interest you. For instance, I have a list of writers. If you want to be friends with writers, have a look at the people on my list. I bet you know some of them already! (It's super easy to follow people from a list. All you have to do is click on FOLLOW.) You can also get more followers by having a great list. I've had people ask to be included on my food list. And, believe it or not, there are even people who track lists and rate them.

Julie: First of all, anyone new to Twitter should go to Krista's lists and subscribe to them. They are great for writers. I also have lists for my different areas of interest, though I will admit I am behind in keeping up with them. Lists are another great way to clear out some of the Twitter noise and focus. That said, just read your stream once in a while. You will always find something new.

ROBERTA: Any final thoughts on Twitter?

Julie: First, Twitter is an incredibly useful, FREE tool. Use it.
Second, Twitter is more than marketing, it is community building. Some of the conversations I have followed, or blogs I have been linked to, have been inspiring, informational or moving. So don't just use it to sell your book. Use it to engage with people.
Third, chose your Twitter handle carefully. After much thought a recent job change had me change my handle from @cozytwitt to @JulieHennrikus. I thought that the ED of a service organization should have a more serious name in case of retweeting.
Fourth, tweets last, so be careful about how you use those 140 (or 120 so that you can be retweeted) characters.
Fifth: Twitter can be fun. Follow a few pithy people (@SteveMartinToGo and @BadBanana both make me laugh) and see how it is done. Or use TweetChat during an event (#projectrunway was always a good time) and meet like minded folks.

Krista: 1. Twitter is probably the easiest, least time-consuming marketing tool available. All the more reason to use it.

2. Twitter will prevent you from adding more followers if your follower/followee ratio is skewed. (Don't worry, it doesn't start happening until you follow about 1,000 people.) It's good Twitter etiquette to follow people who follow you. If you don't follow other people, they will dump you. It's not an insult. It's how it works. Use Twitter Karma to get rid of people who don't follow you, so you can even out your ratio. http://dossy.org/twitter/karma/

3. If you use Twitter for marketing, or even to interact with agents, your Twitter name should be short (you don't want to waste characters!) and recognizable. You're tweeting to be seen.

4. The shorter your tweets are, the more likely they will be retweeted.

5. Some people consider it poor form to link your tweets to your Facebook page because you're likely to bombard some people by sending the message to them at both locations. Besides, you can say so much more at Facebook. Keep them separate.

ROBERTA: Thanks a million Julie and Krista! Now these mavens of tweetology are standing by for your questions...

J.A. (Julie) Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource, an arts service organization for theater artists and organizations in the Boston area. Her short story "Tag, You're Dead" was published in Level Best Books anthology THIN ICE last fall. She tweets under @JulieHennrikus

Krista Davis is the National Bestselling Author of The Domestic Diva Mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime. Her first mystery, THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME, was nominated for an Agatha award. The fifth book in the series, THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE, will be in stores on September 6th and is now available for pre-order. Krista is proud to have a short story, DEAD EYE GRAVY, in the Guppy Anthology FISH TALES. Visit Krista at her website and her blog where mystery writers cook up crime . . . and recipes! If you follow Krista (@KristaDavis), she promises to follow you back.

and please follow your Jungle Reds on twitter too: @lucyburdette, @hank_phillippi, @jspencerfleming, @rhysbowen, @deborahcrombie, @janbrogan, @rosemaryharris1, and someday, maybe, Hallie....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


"He threaded his horse up through gnarled bell-shaped stands of juniper. The trees were heavy with clusters of green buds, and the scent within the stand was sweet and heavy and it reminded him of a gin martini. His horse spooked rabbits that shot out from bunches of tall grass like squeezed grapefruit seeds, and he pushed a small herd of mule deer out ahead of him. It had warmed to the mid-seventies, and as the temperature raised so did the insect hum from the ankle-high grass." From COLD WIND by CJ Box

ROBERTA: I'm so happy to introduce one of my favorite writers to Jungle Red readers: CJ Box. CJ is the author of eleven books in the Joe Pickett game warden series, along with two standalones. He won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (BLUE HEAVEN, 2009) as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and the 2010 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award for fiction. He's an amazing storyteller, but the plot is not what I read for because his character and setting are so outstanding. (And don't let the black hat put you off--he's also a really nice guy.)

Thanks for coming over to the blog today, CJ. One of the absolute best part of your series is your main character, Joe Pickett. He's a man of firm principles--so firm that he backs himself into corners because he isn't willing to compromise. And he has complex and believable relationships with his wife, his daughters, his friends, and his dreaded mother-in-law. You've written eleven books in this series and yet Joe springs to life in each book and you push the boundaries of his character and relationships a little further. Can you talk about how you manage to do that?

CJ: Thank you for the very kind words. I never set out with a strategic plan, I have to say. Joe Pickett was to be the protagonist in one stand-alone novel about the Endangered Species Act called OPEN SEASON. Not until the publisher Putnam acquired the manuscript and asked for two more with the game warden and his family did I give it much thought.

I'm a reader, too, and I know that these kinds of series can suspend disbelief. Realistically, no hero or family could be expected to put up with so much year after year and not implode. So, in an effort to make every OTHER aspect of the series as natural and real as possible, I age the characters a year with each book and draw on their experiences from past events to shape their lives. Because they age in real time, they change. Joe, for example, is still no superhero, but he has put on some bark from the many scrapes and betrayals. And his children have aged from pre-schoolers to high school and college students. It keeps things lively and, I hope, true to life.

ROBERTA: Setting is another aspect of writing in which CJ excels, as you can tell by the opening quote from COLD WIND. CJ, please tell us about your connection to Wyoming. And talk about how you weave important environmental issues into your books without killing the pace?

CJ: I start with the issue or topic the book will address, such as wind energy, environmental terrorism, property rights, etc. and do the research. Then, when I think I have a fairly good -- and balanced -- understanding of the issue I try to figure out how to pull a reader through that topic in what I hope will be an interesting, page-turning way. I don't write agenda books and my goal isn't to persuade readers that my view of the controversy is absolutely correct. I try to present both sides as best I can and let the reader come down where they wish. My hope, though, is that some readers may entertain the other side of issues as they haven't before they picked up the novel.

ROBERTA: What's coming next?

CJ: I have a third stand-alone novel called BACK OF BEYOND out the first of August. The protagonist is sort of an anti-Joe Pickett type: a sheriff's department investigator who is an alcoholic who has driven his family away and screwed up his life. He's a loose cannon. His name is Cody Hoyt and he was introduced in THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE. In the novel, he's investigating an apparent suicide in a mountain cabin in Montana when he becomes convinced it was a murder and the bad guy is currently on a multi-day horsepack trip in the ultimate wilderness of Yellowstone Park. And on that same trip is Cody's estranged son. It's a good one, I think, and similar in structure and style to BLUE HEAVEN with multiple points of view told over a tight timeline in real time.

ROBERTA: And last but not least, since it's twitter week on Jungle Red, do you tweet? Do you see a future for writers in Twitter or are there better ways to connect with readers and get the word out about new books?

CJ: I'll confess that I don't tweet but I do have the privilege of working with some fans who do so on my behalf. I do have a very extensive website which is updated daily (if necessary) and a facebook page with quite a few fans. I think there is probably a way a fiction writer can do tweets that are interesting to followers, but I'm not sure I'm capable of it and I need to spend more time writing. I do interact with readers on the website and on facebook.

ROBERTA: You can find lots more about CJ at his website. Thanks so very much for agreeing to be our guest!

CJ: My pleasure, Roberta.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's a Crime...To Lose a Friend

ROBERTA: It truly is criminal to lose a good friend, so here's something a little different for true crime Tuesday: My friend Dr. Andrea Bonior, talking about how to fix your friendships.

ANDREA: Research for my new book "The Friendship Fix" was illuminating, inspiring, and at times downright terrifying. As many lovely stories as I found of friendships that went the distance, there also were some horror stories worthy of an NC-17 rating. Of course, not all friendships are meant to last forever, and some toxic ones deserve to get the boot (the sooner the better). But many otherwise solid friendships can be ruined by common friendship crimes, whether they be misdemeanors or felonies. Here's how to make sure you're not the assailant.

Top 10 Friendship Crimes Never to Commit:

--Forgetting Reciprocity: Yes, she might have a bigger house or be a much better cook than you (those fajitas are amazing!). But that doesn't mean that she's comfortable doing 99 percent of the hosting, or that you can't do something in return once in a while.

--Ganging Up: Love triangles aren't just for Movies of the Week-- they happen in platonic relationships all the time. And while being part of a friend group of three, four, and even thirteen can be an amazing experience, sometimes it collapses under the weight of them-against-me.

--Breaking Confidentiality: People like to talk about other people: it's interesting, it's understandable, and it's inevitable. But when it's something that's particularly sensitive or that you don't have permission to share, think again. The payoff isn't worth the betrayal.

--Holding It In: Sometimes what kills the best of friendships begins as the tiniest of issues, and simply simmers until it explodes later on. Perhaps there's something bothering you about your friendship dynamic, but the awkwardness or guilt you'd feel at bringing it up makes you zip your lip. But bringing it up subtly and gently in the early stages is infinitely easier than risking an all-out meltdown later on.

--Succumbing to the Green-Eyed Monster: Pangs of envy are common and natural in friendships, even though you might feel terrible for having them. But allowing yourself to have mixed feelings when your friend scores that awesome corner office as you're still living paycheck to paycheck will actually help you move on. The more you try to stuff it, the more power you give it to take over.

--Being Scared to Apologize: Sometimes the best of friendships die because of a single slight that hardened into a polar freeze. Perhaps you faded on plans, or dropped the ball on something your friend was counting on you for. But rarely is it the initial mistake that ends the friendship: far more often it's inadequate damage control. The more quickly you can take action with a meaningful apology, the less likely your friendship will wither away in the aftermath.

--Dragging Down your Health: More and more research shows that it's our circle of friends that matters most in our health habits, regarding everything from our eating and exercise, smoking and drinking, to negativity and pessimism. At their best, friendships raise the bar and make us each want to take better care of ourselves. At their worst, though, they're an actual health hazard. When you think that it doesn't matter to anybody but yourself that you're going down a dangerous path, think again.

--Pulling A Disappearing Act: We all know "that girl," who vanishes from the planet as soon as she has a new man, a new promotion, or even a new line-up of Must-See TV. Interestingly enough, though, no one seems to ever admit that they're the guilty one. It's natural to pull back a bit when you get busy or preoccupied, but don't treat your friendship like it has an on-off switch.

--Forcing Business Into Pleasure: Of course you're excited about your new skin-care business, or you have so much fun throwing jewelry parties. It's reasonable to expect a bit of support from your friends. But engaging in high-pressure tactics or talking about nothing but your new business is bound to leave you without friends-- or customers.

--Forgetting to Prioritize: For some of us, the problem is not how we treat our friends as much as how we treat ourselves. We often deny ourselves that much-needed get-together or trip, because we feel guilty for taking the time to prioritize our relationships when there are so many other duties beckoning. But nourishing your friendships-- and allowing yourself to make time for them-- also makes us a better spouse, parent, and all-around human being.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and author who specializes in relationship issues. She is best known for "Baggage Check," her mental health advice column in the Washington Post Express, and recently released "The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends" (St. Martin's Press). Frequently cited in other media, she makes regular appearances on Washington, DC NewsChannel8's "Let's Talk Live," writes Psychology Today's Friendship 2.0 blog, and is a featured expert on Brooke Burke's Modern Mom blog. Follow her on Twitter @drandreabonior or find her at www.drandreabonior.com.

ROBERTA: Thanks for stopping by Andrea! We'd love to hear your stories about friendship--or feel free to ask questions for Andrea--she'll be here all day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

All A-Twitter

@JUNGLEREDS: Much as some of us might like to, it's hard to ignore Twitter. After all, it's fueled more than a few middle eastern revolutions, brought politicians to their knees, and exposed Hollywood luminaries.

So, using 140 characters or less, and using your Twitter handles (if you've got 'em), do you tweet? Do you see a point? And is it a love-hate relationship? Or nothing but #fun?

@LUCYBURDETTE: (AKA ROBERTA) I'm new at this and I can tell I don't have the hang yet--following too many people and not enough of my own tweethearts

@Janbrogan Def. love-hate. Sometimes fun, but value is ? Is entire world a social media expert? Think so. #amwriting They'll clog your box.

@hank_phillippi Agree, love-hate. But seems like a one-way street. Kind of fun to do, but impossible to respond. Because--how?

@hank_phillippi And, scary, too, b/c 140 used to seem short. Now, it's plenty of room. Above love-hate "tweet" is only 110.

@jspencerfleming I'll step out and boldly declare I love Twitter. I'm a short 'n snappy kind of gal. What I want to know: @hank_phillippi - 15,000 followers?

@rosemaryharris1 tweethearts...I love it! It's fun..I post about movies, sports, moi but never check twitter on my phone and haven't sent from phone.

@deborahcrombie Just getting feet wet. Need tweet-torial.

@lucyburdette--(Roberta) Julia, tell us what you love! (Deb, tweet-torial coming later this week:)

HALLIE: Tweetless. Says me today. Tomorrow? Not sayin yes, not sayin no. Livin in the present. Have I exceeded 140 yet?

@deborahcrombie Said the same as Hallie. Have now joined #darkside.

@jspencerfleming Despite the 140-character limit, I feel Twitter is more authentically "my voice" than FB, where I'm in professional mode.

@jspencerfleming In other words, Twitter is like hanging out with friends old and new at a conference. Our blog is #writing - which makes it more like work!

@jspencerfleming And remember: SocMed expert Paul Hochman, who was our guest http://bit.ly/dOK2fV, said the Holy Trinity was Twitter, FB and Youtube.

@rhysbowen Julia is cheating. Doing multiple tweets. So I'll cheat too.

@rhysbowen: I tweet. Still haven't discover full power of being a tweet-magnate.
Want 90,000 followers like Sarah Weinman

HALLIE: If I tweeted when would I have time for Farmville?

@LucyBurdette Too funny, Hallie! tips and picks Jungle Red Readers?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Most Embarrassing Moment

RHYS: One thing I've learned about writing books is that my own most embarrassing moments make great stories, especially in my Royal Spyness series when I want my heroine to do stupidly embarrassing things. My readers chuckle because they can identify with Lady Georgie and know that similar things have happened to them. Isn't that the essence of comedy--that we appreciate the situation because we can see ourselves in it?

Anyway, as we all know, the embarrassing incident wasn't funny at the time. In the first Royal Spyness book, I describe Georgie modeling an outfit for her friend the fashion designer, only to find she has put both legs into half a pair of culottes. This actually happened to me and I wanted to die at the time. So it counts as one of my most embarrassing moments. Another that springs to mind from a whole lifetime of mini-disasters was when I thought I saw my friend out jogging, early morning. I was driving. I screeched my car to a halt in front of her,leaped out and did my best monster imitation. Only it wasn't my friend. It was a guy with long hair. A look of terror came over his face. He turned and sprinted away in the other direction as fast as he could.

So... confession time, dear Jungle Reds. Inquiring minds want to know your most embarrassing moment--at least your most embarrassing moment that can be put on a blog.

HALLIE: Mine was recent. I'd gotten up really really early to catch the subway to the airport for an 8 AM flight out of Logan, schlepping my rolling suitcase. When I get into the subway station, I hear the announcement: "The next train to Alewife is now arriving." My train. I can hear it rumbling into the station, squealing to a stop.

I find my subway pass, race through the gate, pick up my suitcase and hold it in front of me like a shield as I charge up the escalator. The train is there, doors open, I can see it... Just a few more feet.

Then my foot catches on the top of the escalator, I fall and go sliding, like I'm tobogganing ON the suitcase, across the platform. My glasses and purse (which is of course unzipped) go flying.

Fortunately the doors of the train are closing and the platform is empty. And I lie there, unhurt, wondering what in the world I was thinking? Later, when I get to the airport I'm still 2 hours early.

RHYS: Oh no, that's more scary than embarrassing. Did you get close to the railway line? I felt really stupid when I tripped over a concrete berm in the parking lot and broke my wrist. But then it hurt so much that I forgot about feeling stupid.

HANK: Ah, horrible, Hallie. And I agree, Rhys. Scary. And yours is just--hilarious.

Do I have to tell this? Sigh.

Short version: Someone asked me if I knew a certain guy. Instead of just saying "Yes," and stopping (like a normal, reasonable, smart person), I said, "Oh, yes of course I do. Are you his mother?"

And of course, it was his wife.

HALLIE: Reminds me of when I asked someone when she was due, and turned out she'd had the baby six weeks ago.

DEB: Oh, God, Hank, I'm cringing for you!!!! But it is pretty funny. I'm sure I've done too many embarrassing things to count over the years, but one of the most recent happened in London last year. I occasionally have severe rotational vertigo related to an ear condition. What "severe rotational vertigo" actually means is that you have a sudden drastic fluid shift in your inner ear, and your brain translates this along the lines of the world flipping upside down. Meaning you go down like a felled tree.

The day after I arrived in London last spring, I went, as I usually do, to Saturday Market at Portobello. I visited with my photographer friend who has a Saturday stall, went to get something to eat, and as I was walking back to the stall the vertigo struck. I just managed to get both hands out in front of me as I fell, quite literally, flat on my face. On the cobbles. I suppose it was better that it was in front of someone I knew, as strangers might have called an ambulance, but oh, ow, so HUMILIATING.

ROSEMARY: I had to think long and hard about this - perhaps because I've buried the memory of the truly embarassing moments in my life. (Why remember the bad stuff?) I do remember complimenting a man on his book at a dinner party once and I was actually referring to a book written by someone with a similar name. He was very gracious about it. I felt like a total idiot.

JAN: TOP THIS GUYS. When I was a cocktail waitress working at The Eliot Lounge, during college, we had to wear black Danskin skirts. Or maybe they just had to be black and the only one I owned was a Danskin skirt. Anyway, it was nylon, and it tied around your waist. As I was walking through the crowd with my tray full of drinks over my head, the skirt untied and fell off. The only saving factor was that the floor was SO crowded, very few people could see. Also, I was only twenty, that helped.

I also went through a plate glass window at The Heidelburg Lounge in Passaic, trying to sneak in when I was only fourteen and the drinking age had just lowered to eighteen years old two weeks before. Yes, I was an adventurous teenager all right. It was on a Friday the thirteenth. Luckily I didn't get hurt or arrested.

HALLIE: Oh Jan! I was hoping that 'the only saving factor' was that you had on a slip... or were wearing underwear... or...

RHYS: I notice that Julia and Roberta are not coming forth to share embarrassing moments. Perhaps we can persuade them to confess in the comments.
Can anyone else top our embarrassments? I actually do have some that could not be put on a blog without serious damage to my reputation...

ROBERTA: Okay, it took me a while to dig this out of the recesses of my repressed memories. I was a freshman in college and desperate to be cool. So when a guy I liked suggested attending a porn flick, I borrowed an ID and we went. They questioned me at the ticket office and wanted a drivers license too, but finally we got in. The movie was DEEP THROAT. Utterly, utterly humiliating to sit through that next to this boy I barely knew--other people got up and left but I was too embarrassed to say a word. Sigh...now your turn Jungle Reds...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hooked on Facebook

RHYS: Okay, confession time. I admit it. I've become a Facebook addict. I started using it tentatively. Now I'm a huge Facebook fan. I post at least once a day. I get new friends all the time and I find it a wonderfully immediate way to connect with my readers, fellow writers and fans. If I post about something, I get zillions of responses within a minute or so. What other medium can do that? When I broke my wrist I got hundreds of sympathetic replies including TEN people volunteering to type my manuscripts for me. I was overwhelmed by how kind people are.

Having said how wonderful Facebook is, I have had my share of creepy guys wanting to know me better, come from Africa to live in my house etc etc. They are rapidly unfriended. I also, on the advice of my friend ex cop Robin Burcell, removed anything personal from my page--no telephone, nothing about my kids, no hint of where I am.

I know Hank is a big Facebook fan. I read her posts every day and often answer them. I enjoy Deborah's photos from England. But how about the rest of you Jungle Reds? What are your feelings on Facebook? Is it your favorite social medium? Any suggestions on others?

JAN: Facebook can be fun at times, but it's basically a distraction. Like hanging out at the water cooler. I have connected with long lost friends - but you know, the reconnection is pretty superficial. Also, I am not really comfortable with the notion that you are supposed to be selling yourself all the time. So I go on Facebook a few days and then won't go on for weeks. Which I think defeats the purpose.

ROSEMARY: I have both a personal and a Fan page although dang if I can remember how I let someone talk me into the Fan page. I know I can do outbound marketing to Fans but that's what my rarely-sent newsletter is for. It's fun and I do appreciate it when readers connect. I just hate to have to have five places to write "And tomorrow I'll be at the CT Book Festival!!" And I always seem to see posts from the same ten people...what's that about?

HANK: Yes, I do like it. YOu know why, I think? I'm actually pretty shy, talking to people in person. Yes, hush, it's true. So Face book lets me chat without that worry.

It is a HUGE time suck, though, and that's sometimes annoying. And it's a lit-tle scary, privacy-wise. But I enjoy seeing what everyone is doing.

(Am I supposed to have a fan page? Someone? Anyone?)

DEB: I have a personal page and a fan page, my idea being that the fan page should be strictly for promotion (news about the books, signings, etc.) and that anyone could look at it. Of course, as it turns out, I have five times as many friends as fans, and many of them overlap. And I do enjoy Facebook, although I try to limit my time on it. I like keeping up with what other people are doing, and sharing things I think are interesting or fun.

I think it was Nathan Bransford who said that the point of social media is being "social." It doesn't work if you only use it when you want to promote your own work, and I will pretty quickly block someone who does that.

RHYS: I tried having a personal page and a fan page and found I just coudln't keep up with both. So now the message on my fan page directs everyone to my personal page.Actually it's only fellow writers and fans who are my FB friends anyway. I keep my personal life out of it.

JULIA: I only got on this past winter, and on the advice of my web guy, I started a fan page. No limit to the number of fans (isn't that optimistic of me?) and I don't have to always be approving people's friend requests. Anyone can join and anyone can view/post.

My favorite thing about FB is that I can dash off a one-line answer to a reader's question or a simple "Thanks" if someone compliments my work. I always felt email had to be more meaty and well-written, and as a result I let them pile up... and up...and up. FB helps me respond so much more promptly.

HALLIE: I do love Facebook. Love that it feels like...friends talking? I can unobtrusively follow my kids, though I'm careful about what I post since both my fan and friends page are so public. The other day I posted a photo of the screech owl that took up residence for months in the tree across from our house. Got a huge response. And then the owl disappeared. I wonder if it's something I said?

ROBERTA: Yep I like facebook--it's the water cooler thing, definitely. Drop in and catch a slice of life--although a thin slice. Hank, shy? Not a chance. You are very good at asking the right leading question. Lucy Burdette has a fan page but she doesn't have the hang of that at all. So any tips welcome...

RHYS: So join in, please--who loves Facebook, who hates it? Any creepy experiences (worse than my African friend who wanted to live at my house?)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rhys Muses On Stuff

Since our theme this week seems to be stuff, stuff taking over our lives, or the organization thereof, I started to think about the importance of material things in our present world and how disquieting it is.

We all have too much stuff. Yesterday I spoke to a class of eight year olds. I asked them who had an iPod and nearly all the hands shot up. The kids across the street from us all had their own TVs, computers, cameras, and anything else you could name by the time they were ten. They had nothing to yearn for or work for.

Advertisements on TV lead us to expect everything material that we want. All those Christmas ads that urge us to put a Lexus under the tree and then our spouse will love us forever. I find it worrying that our economy is based on consumers buying things. When we get scared and cautious and don't buy, the country falters. Is this any way to run a planet?

Yesterday also I was in Michael's craft store and was pleasantly surprised by the long line. That store is always busy. In spite of the fact that one can buy anything ready made, people still want the satisfaction of making things. I've just taught my two little granddaughters to knit. They love it(even though I have to pick up a lot of dropped stitches for them) I believe we are programmed to work, to create, to grow our own food and we only get real satisfaction by doing that.

When I was a child we were not poor but we expected so much less. Christmas for me meant a new sweater, or at the most a new LP. We only ate turkey at Christmas, only saw tangerines and nuts around that time. Which made them all very special. I saved up for a couple of years to buy my own bike and I was so proud of it when I finally bought it. So another thing I believe is that humans are programmed to strive for something. We need goals. It's good for the hunan character to have to work and wait and dream.

I look around our house and I see a TV in almost every room and four computers and iPods and stereo systems and I realize I've become as bad as everyone else. I'm surrounded by stuff. My husband loves to buy the latest electronic gadgets. And yet in my imagination I picture a cottage in England, walking down the lane with my basket over my arm to buy eggs from the farmer, growing my own veggies, maybe spinning my own yarn, baking bread...it's an ultimate fantasy. Won't ever happen because I'm tied to all this stuff. I can't live without my computer (it's coming to Europe with me tomorrow).

So I don't know what the answer is. There is no way I can get the world to give up money, to trade services instead, to stop buying rubbish and to become craftspeople instead. But I may rent that cottage in England one summer and see how I really like it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting Organized with Mary Jane Maffini.

RHYS: What is not to like about Mary Jane Maffini--she's a little bundle of positive energy, she keeps dachshunds (my favorite dogs),she's a well-known, well-respected figure in Canadian crime circles (not on the most wanted list),winner of Arthur Ellis awards, former president of Canadian Crime Writers and now Agatha winner. And in addition she's my good friend and roomie at conventions.

First of all, welcome MJ, congratulations on winning the Agatha teapot for best short story!
Malice must have been a bitter-sweet occasion for you. You and I had a chance to do a presentation on the life of our dear friend Lyn Hamilton. This was the hard part. But then the good part was that you won the Agatha teapot. Tell us about your feelings, looking back on this Malice.
Do you have a special Lyn story?

Mary Jane:Lyn was usually my roomie at Malice and I had so much fun with her that it is always bitter-sweet, as you say. I wish she’d been there to hear our presentation and to see the room full of her friends, readers and admirers. Of course, she was there in spirit and must have seen that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Lyn and I had a lot of fun at Malice and, over the years, every time I had a panel, I would look into the audience and see Lyn smiling encouragement. We would fit in a shopping jaunt too and the game was to see who could find the best jacket or the best shoes. We spent a lot of time hooting with laughter and we both came back refreshed and ready to roll again.

RHYS: You write about a person I desperately need in my life--a professional organizer,who would probably die of shock if she saw my office.
Is this character close to you? Do you have experience in organizing peoples lives? Has writing about her helped you to become more organized or were you already super neat and tidy?

Mary Jane: I wish! For most of my life, I suppose you could have described me as ‘a professional disorganizer’. When I first discovered the type of help that professional organizers offer, it made a big difference. I now own a towering stack of organizing books and magazines (all tax-deductible, thank you very much) and they’ve helped immensely. The writing and promoting life is hectic and irregular, with tons of paper, travel, as well as research material. I would have drowned in debris without organizing tips. I came to realize that organizers have a lot of power. They also have access to their clients’ homes and lives and can draw insights from the way people handle their ‘stuff’. I decided that an organizer could make an excellent sleuth and Charlotte Adams was born. I often still ask myself, “What would Charlotte do?”

RHYS: Tell us about the latest book in your series.

Mary Jane: The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder is the fifth Charlotte Adams mystery. Charlotte is stunned to get a call for help from her ‘regular’ 911 operator, Mona Pringle. Mona is hysterical over the return of Serena Redding, the beautiful, clever, popular bully who, along with three followers, had terrorized her in high school. Mona threatens to run her old enemy down with her car. Charlotte offers soothing words until the first of several fatal hit and run accidents. As bullies begin to bite the dust and Mona goes into hiding, Charlotte needs to find Mona, stop to killing and, just maybe, deal with her own guilt at not stopping the bullying when it might have made a difference. As usual issues with the police mean she’s often on her own. Small naughty dogs and organizing tips included!

RHYS: I gather you have a new project underway--a new name, writing jointly with your daughter? Tell us about that and what it is like writing with a partner, especially a daughter.

Mary Jane: I am very excited about the new series written with my daughter, Victoria. As Victoria Abbott, we’re enjoying watching the book collectors mysteries unfold. We get a kick out of the crotchety collector, Vera Van Alst, and Jordan Bingham, the young assistant with the smart mouth and the shady relatives, of course, Jordan would do well to avoid the police. We are feeling our way around the process. It’s great to work with someone who is younger and funnier. We do some of our work together, some scenes are written separately and often we create a scene together on the phone. I like the high energy of those meetings and the laughter. They never feel like work. The first book is tentatively entitled The Christie Curse, but time will tell if that lasts.

RHYS: You've been touring around to promote this book. Any particular experiences you'd like to share?

Mary Jane: What a great trip! Vicki Delaney, Elizabeth Duncan and I spent a week in North Carolina with the amazing mystery woman Molly Weston. Molly had arranged events at a dizzying rate in bookstores, libraries and even the Carolina Club where an expat Canadian showed up with a giant flag! We loved meeting the readers and librarians. Then we were off to Malice where the tribute to Lyn was a special to me. Festival of Mystery is run by the amazing folks at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA was next. This is an experience that is a dream for every writer and no reader should miss it! After a fifteen day road trip having fun, it’s always great to be home, surrounded by real dogs and family. Time to get back to writing.

Thanks for interviewing me, Rhys. It’s always fun to spend time with you and Molly and Lady Georgie!

RHYS: An organizational tip please?

Mary Jane: Here's a tip to make life better: never go anywhere without a book
(print or e-reader) in your pocket or handbag. Other people may be bothered by lineups and slowdowns, but you'll get to enjoy the found reading time!

RHYS: Amen to that! I'm off with my Kindle full of books tomorrow!

Thank you for visiting, MJ. Good luck with your new ventures.

RHYS: And thank you, MJ. Now please come and rescue my office from clutter!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Fanciful Than Fiction

RHYS on True Crime Tuesday. We mystery writers are sometimes accused of writing things that are hard to believe when we try to create clever, complicated murders. We are told that in real life crimes are simple and brutal and lack the cleverness that has made every mystery novel since Sherlock Holmes such fun to read and figure out.

Then low and behold comes a crime on the news that rivals anything we can dream up--a serial killer who targets women with the same first and last initials. Now to me that belongs in the realm of fiction. What man would take the trouble to search out females with the same initials? What a lot of work to find a woman of suitable age, easy to kill and with the same first and last initials.
But apparently it's true. Here is the report on the case:

A Nevada man's arrest in a string of cold-case deaths in California has authorities investigating whether he's connected to other unsolved killings across the country, including the "Double Initial Murders" of three girls in upstate New York in the early 1970s.

Joseph Naso of Reno, Nev., was being held on suspicion of murder Tuesday in the deaths of four women whose bodies were found across Northern California from 1977 to 1994

Like the victims in the "Double Initial" case, all four California women had matching initials for their first and last names: Carmen Colon, Roxene Roggasch, Pamela Parsons and Tracy Tafoya.

In another startling similarity, one of the New York victims also was named Carmen Colon.

Those revelations prompted New York state police to investigate whether more than just coincidence connects Naso, 77, to the "Double Initial Murders," in which one 10-year-old and two 11-year-old girls were abducted, raped and strangled in the Rochester area, in one of the region's most baffling unsolved crimes.

Meanwhile, a separate task force is looking into whether any other cold cases in the U.S. can be linked to Naso, a professional photographer who often traveled the country for work and may have killed in other states, Nevada law enforcement officials said at a news conference Tuesday.

Naso was arrested in South Lake Tahoe late Monday after being released from El Dorado County Jail, where he was serving time on an unrelated probation violation. Authorities said he was on probation for a 2009 grocery store theft in California when a random search of his Reno, Nev., home in April 2010 turned up guns and ammunition.

The search also uncovered evidence that helped link him to the Northern California killings, said Nevada authorities, who soon after launched a task force to look into cold cases possibly connected to Naso.

"We think there are others out there we haven't discovered yet," Chris Perry, acting director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, told reporters Tuesday. "Typically when you are talking about a person who has killed more than once, this doesn't stop."

You'll note that this man was only discovered by accident, after an arrest for a parole violation. Our detectives would have found him more swiftly. And don't accuse us again of creating fanciful crimes!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are You a Hoarder?

RHYS: Later this week I'll be interviewing Mary Jane Maffini, who writes about a professional organizer, so I'm painfully aware of the clutter in my own life. My office looks--well--lived in. Our house looks equally well lived-in. Our children have made threats along the lines of "don't you dare die and leave us with all this stuff."

The problem is that we're both hoarders. I'm not as bad as John, who keeps every letter he wrote to the local water board and even the programs from a track meet during his prep school days. But I do keep a copy of everything I've ever written, boxes of my kids' art work from kindergarten on, my college thesis, German and French literature I'll never read again, plus boxes of photos that never found their way into albums, even old vinyl LPs.

I come from a family who never saved anything. My mother threw away anything that was no longer useful. I still lament my lovely doll house she gave away one Christmas (It was to a family who had just lost their father, so I couldn't say anything,but she didn't ask me first). My parents would change their furniture when the whim took them. They even changed houses more frequently than most sane people. So things meant nothing to them.

But they do to me. When I've been lying awake at night, I worry over what items to save first in a fire. I have a big project to put all of my favorite family photos onto DVDs and to store them somewhere safe. But I confess I do feel overwhelmed by a plethora of possessions. One of the reasons I like going to our condo in Arizona is that it's simple and contains no unnecessary stuff. Other folk our age are downsizing. I know we should be thinking of it too, but I can't see it happening in the near future. And my linen closet actually looked like this after my new cleaning lady got at it!

So which of our Jungle Reds are fellow hoarders? Who are our neat freaks?

I'm hoping Mary Jane will give me some tips on how to throw stuff away.

JULIA: I'm not neat - far from it! - but I'm ruthless about tossing unused items. I suspect it's the legacy of growing up as an army brat, always moving. If it hadn't been played with/worn/looked at in the past year, out it went. Ross, on the other hand--don't get me started. If not for me, he'd be living like those eccentrics you read about, barricaded in with towers of newspapers.

DEB: One of the problems is that everyone's idea of too much stuff is relative. I think Rick has too much stuff--he wonders why on earth anyone needs four sets of china and all those BOOKS . . . But I find that too much clutter (at least by my standards) drives me crazy, and as I work at home, I find it distracting. I'm having a stay-at-home year, and one of my goals is to purge some of the junk and organize those closets!!!!!! It just makes me feel better and function better if I can find things, and if I can keep things clean and neat.

I'm very interested in hearing how a professional organizer deals with the emotional issues involved in helping people downsize.

JAN: I'm a binge and purge girl. I have a hard time throwing stuff away, and it collects, but then I go on a tear and will throw it all away whether it needs to go or not. But Deb, you are so right, It's much easier to throw my husband's useless junk away then my own junk which never seems quite as useless.

HANK: Oh, heavens, yes. Deb, can you please come over? I have...clothes. Yeesh. I've given away lots, but I could use someone tough. And my press clippings, of course, must have. And books. Got to go. GOT TO! We called in a person to go into our basement..he had a big big dumpster and everything just went into that. It was terrific. Nothing better than getting rid of stuff--it's so empowering.

When Jonathan and I merged households, I got rid of LOTS of his clothes. That was easy. I called it his "southwestern collection." You don't wanna know.

I have a rule that I can't buy any new clothes unless I get rid of three things I have. That kind of works.

ROBERTA: His southwestern collection--that totally cracks me up Hank!

JULIA: Pictures! Pictures!

ROBERTA: John had a dreadful polyester warm-up suit that he wore to play tennis a couple of times a week. I overlooked it while we dated, but then it got the heave-ho. Of course then he tried to throw out my aqua sweatpants--not so fast Mister!

RHYS: And my John still has bush jackets that he wore in Indonesia. He used to show up at the kids' swim meets and embarrass the heck out of them!

HALLIE: My husband has clothes he wore in junior high. Really. I have a particularly effective hissy fit where I declare that I will not will not will not end up married to the male equivalent of a bag lady. Sometimes I cry. If I get het up enough it usually works and a few things go out. Or moved around so I'll think they went.

I am so not a hoarder. One set of china... er, stoneware. All I collect are feathers found on hikes and Chinese fortunes.

RHYS: I'm afraid I collect things too: rocks, shells, antique paperweights, dolls from around the world, and John inherited his parents lovely antique things--Chinese plates, English swords..you name it,we've got it. And they are lovely but I've no idea what will happen to them when we die.

ROSEMARY: Husband's stuff is much more annoying than mine. And this from a woman who probably owns 100 tablecloths, 40 vases, 5 sets of china, gardening magazines from 10 years ago and more cookie cutters and tartlet pans than Martha Stewart. And bowls of shells and coral. But I'm not a hoarder. I love them all.
And I do try to donate or throw away something every time I bring something new into the house.

Jonathan as a cowboy? I don't see it. But then Bruce had a jacket he referred to as his Italian jacket - I thought it made him look like a sportcaster from the 70s. I was so happy when we said ciao to that one.

JULIA: Ross had a disco outfit when we met in the early eighties. He had also saved all his wide-collared shirts. Sadly, they somehow got lost when we moved him from Washington, DC to Maine. These things do happen.

ROSEMARY: Let me ask a question ...uh...how many sets of sheets do people have?

HANK: Ro, I love you, I really do. And I ain't answering that one. Although I,too, would be interested to hear from others.

JULIA: Two per bed. Our house is almost 200 years old, and closet space is very limited. We can store a ton up in the attic our out in the barn, but that doesn't help when it comes to bedding, does it?

RHYS: No, not into sheets. Just enough to change every bed. How about shoes, Hank dearest? Or black suits? How many black suits does one person need?
And now let's hear from you? What is essential in your life that would be called hoarding to others? Come on fess up now!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Late Great American Road Trip

Because Blogger problems interrupted Thursday's terrific post by Ellen Byerrum, I've reposted it today.

JAN: I met Ellen Byerrum at the wonderful Festival of Mystery (MysteryLovers Bookshop) in Oakmont, PA, where I think the seating was alphabetical. On another "road trip" we had dinner in the LAX airport. (at least I think that was the airport.) She is as a former Washington, D.C., news reporter, and a playwright, and she also holds a Virginia private investigator's registration. Her Crime of Fashion mysteries star Lacey Smithsonian, is a reluctant fashion reporter in Washington D.C., "The City Fashion Forgot." The latest in the series, Shot Through Velvet, won a starred review by Publisher's Weekly.

Today, Ellen has agreed to talk a little about road trips -- and the one that brought her inspiration in her new book.

The Late Great American Road Trip
by Ellen Byerrum

With the price of gasoline soaring out of sight, I fear that the Great American Road Trip may be endangered. It makes me nostalgic, even as I hit the highway to Pittsburgh for a mystery gig. I have no guilt, but I wonder how many more road trips lie ahead, or are even possible in the future. But the summer is close at hand and the road calls to me.

The road trip has long been celebrated by writers. Walt Whitman was one of the earliest Americans to wax glowingly of the open road. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer took their version of a road trip—on a raft. Jack Kerouac kept journals from his road trips which were compressed into On the Road, that valentine to the Beat Generation and the open highway. Simon and Garfunkel sang about hitting the road by bus in “America.”

Now, a road trip is not the hateful daily commute on streets designed by a committee of deranged monkeys. A road trip must be taken beyond the Beltway, out of the city, far from the overwhelming traffic. And I-95, the Devil’s Highway, doesn’t even count in this equation.
On one road trip I discovered a town I’ll call “Black Martin,” where I toured the last velvet factory in Virginia during its last week in operation. Black Martin, Virginia, was the kind of small town, far off the main drag, that you might never notice. The town had an air of past glory that mirrored the past-its-prime factory where a hundred workers had just lost their jobs. It was there that I learned how velvet was woven and cut and dyed. No other fabric is so luxurious, or compels you to touch it and sink your fingers into its deep soft nap the way velvet does. Velvet is the fabric of royalty, of wealth, of Christmas dresses, of evening gowns, of tufted sofas, and even of theater curtains. Velvet lines jewelry boxes, earring cards, and also—coffins. The dying factory and the town inspired me to write my most recent Crime of Fashion mystery, Shot Through Velvet, in which my reporter heroine Lacey Smithsonian witnesses the demise of a velvet factory and the discovery of a dead body in a dye vat. All she wanted was an interview and a road trip. She got much more. But road trips are like that. They bring you surprises that often linger long after you’ve parked the car back in your own driveway,

The desire for a road trip can strike at any time, most often when you’re working. On deadline. You just want to jump out of your office and into a car and drive. I remember clearly that itchy feeling grabbing me one day when I was working as a reporter, covering hearings in Washington, D.C., at the Labor Department on an OSHA ergonomics regulation. I was risking a hind-end sprain from sitting on their non-ergonomic chairs and a mind sprain from listening to business attorneys who were turning intellectual cartwheels trying to prove there were no such things as work-related musculoskeletal disorders. At lunchtime, I escaped a few blocks away to the National Building Museum, where there was a mesmerizing exhibit on the American Road Trip.

The exhibit began with an old commercial (from the era when Dinah Shore roamed the earth) exhorting you to “see the USA in a Chevrolet.” There were maps and photos and the full-size interior of a funky old motel room. My mind was pumping the words, Road Trip, Road Trip, Road Trip. Needless to say, I was fantasizing about hotwiring the nearest car and hitting the highway, getting as far away as I could get from the OSHA hearings. Sadly, my skill set does not extend to hotwiring cars. I returned to the hearing with only one thing on my mind, and it wasn’t ergonomics. I dreamed of escape! In a car! The open road, my foot on the accelerator, my troubles squashed flat beneath the wheels, and the wind in my hair. When the opportunity for travel comes, I don’t take it for granted. I seize the moment, and the wheel.

The miles go by with the radio on. I sing along to the music; my husband doesn’t mind.

The miles go by, and my thoughts are quiet, story ideas rumbling around in the back of my mind, complete with plots, characters, action and new settings, perhaps near the hot springs I just passed.

The miles go by and I wonder what people do in these small towns. Who lives in that house? What do they do out here? What about that abandoned house? Where does that side road go?

The miles go by, and with each green mile I feel a deeper satisfaction, a deeper sense of quiet, a deeper exhale.

The miles go by. If you see me on the road, be sure to wave.

To learn more about Ellen or check out her books, go to her Website at http://www.ellenbyerrum.com.