Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making History

What a big day at Jungle Red! First, ta dah, the long-awaited photo of Red Hallie at age--6? --at Camp Tocoloma. Wearing, as revealed by sister Delia, a straw bowl on her head!

We will pause, for a moment, while you look at this classic moment in Ephron history.

And now, just when you think nothing could possibly be any more wonderful--I kind of feel like standing up and cheering for today's guest. Carolyn Hart! Is there any mystery lover who doesn't know and adore her? (Yes, I'm the sappy one, but please.)

And listen, she's got a new book out. Which for all authors is a joyous occasion. But for Carolyn, it's also downright remarkable. Guess how many published books she's written? Nope. It's more than that. (And she;s giving a copy of the new one away to one lucky commenter!)

HANK: Fifty! Fifty books! We are in awe. Tell me about that. When you got to thirty? Forty? Did you think—huh. Wonder if this mystery thing is gonna work? What does it mean to get to fifty—is number fifty still as wonderful to you as number one? (Hmmm. What was book number one? Did you write that on a typewriter? Do you still use it? Do you still have it?)

CAROLYN HART: Fifty - it's amazing to me and rather daunting. I remember the first book, The Secret of the Cellars, a children's mystery, and how excited I was to have a book in print. I was 27. Over the next few years, I sold several books, then had a run where I wrote seven books in seven years and didn't sell one. (They later sold to a small house in England and since have been reprinted in the U.S. ) My 'career' seemed at a dead end.

HANK: Looking at you now, with all your success, that's so hard to believe...! So then what?

CAROLYN: I decided to try one more time. I wrote the kind of book I love to read, a traditional mystery. When Death on Demand sold, I was again astonished, and very grateful, to be published. Since then I haven't thought in terms of numbers so reaching the 50th book to be written (Dance with Death, Spring 2013 which was written after Hijacked Ghost Fall 2013, if that makes sense)) makes me incredibly grateful for the good luck, good health, and wonderful readers who have made this possible. I wrote my first 14 books on an Olivetti Lettera 22 and I still have it, though it no longer works.

HANK: Oh, that's so...lovely. That typewriter has a lot of memories, huh? So, the traditional mystery. What books were those you loved so much?

CAROLYN: Anything by Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patricia Wentworth, Selwyn Jepson, Mary Collins.

HANK: And do you remember the first moment you had the first nugget of the idea for Death on Demand?

CAROLYN: I definitely do. This was during my doldrum period. I couldn't sell any books, but I was invited to join the professional writing faculty in the journalism school at the University of Oklahoma. Trying to be a good academic, I knew I was supposed to attend professional meetings. For a mystery writer, this translated to Mystery Writers of America, which had (and has) a wonderful Houston chapter. I attended a meeting in the spring of 1985. At a cocktail party, I met Bill Crider, who had just sold his first mystery. He asked if I'd visited Murder by the Book. I said no, what was it. He said it was a wonderful mystery bookstore. I had never heard of a mystery bookstore.

I took a cab from the hotel and walked in and fell in love with MBTB. I was enchanted. I was too shy to introduce myself and besides I felt that despite eight or nine published books I was a failure. Instead, I drifted around the store, loving everything about it. I came home. I had just started a new book which was to be set in a bookstore. I changed it to a mystery bookstore and that was Death on Demand which was published by Bantam in 1987. I was only on the faculty for three years but that trip in the spring of 1985 changed my life.

HANK: And you have persevered with your distinct voice and style. People have been trying too hard to do un-traditional...or many I should say, un-do traditional. Have you battled any efforts to try to get you to change? Or do something--"new"?

CAROLYN: I have written both traditional mysteries , suspense novels, and several WWII novels. Although the earlier books differ from traditional mysteries in their objective and scope, all of the books are a product of my interests, my past, and my convictions.

Once an editor suggested that the deaths in an Annie and Max ms. would alienate my readership. I replied that I have a clear sense of what readers expect. I never underestimate mystery readers. They are highly intelligent and they will know if a book is honest.

HANK: So! When I ask—what’s new? The answer is: a lot! And April 3—today! is a big day—the release of DEATH COMES SILENTLY! Tell us all….

Carolyn: In DEATH COMES SILENTLY, Annie Darling drops by a local charity to check on the woman who took her shift, then peppered Annie with calls hinting at scandal. Annie finds her dead of multiple wounds and the handyman's axe nearby. Convinced the police are seeking the wrong man, Annie and her husband Max follow the trail of an overturned kayak, a stolen motorboat, a troubled love affair, a reckless teenager, and a missing friend. Annie believes she is close to an answer when she sets out in the fog, but Death is waiting in the swirling mist.

This is my first Death on Demand novel for Berkley Prime Crime. I am excited and honored to join Berkley's amazing and wonderful list of mystery authors. Everyone has been kind and welcoming and I feel I have reached safe harbor.

HANK: Ebooks. Love? Hate? Why?

Carolyn: It is always exciting to have books reach readers whether on papyrus or flying (somehow) through ether. My personal preference is to hold a paper book in hand, but I am thrilled to have readers who read the books as e-titles. Moreover, because of the publication of my backlist as e-books, some of those titles are now reappearing in print editions. Out now from Oconee Spirit Press is ESCAPE FROM PARIS, which is the first full publication of the book. (A shortened version came out in 1982.)

Escape from Paris tells the story of two American sisters caught in Paris after it fell to the Germans in 1940. They help British airmen escape capture, but the Gestapo is only a step behind. (Also out from Oconee is RENDEZVOUS IN VERACRUZ , a suspense novel set in Mexico, and coming soon is BRAVE HEARTS, a WWII suspense novel set in the Philippines. Seventh Street Books will reprint SKULDUGGERY and THE DEVEREAUX LEGACY next winter.) None of these publications would have occurred except for the reappearance of the books as e-titles so I am very grateful and excited.

HANK: And dare I ask—what’s on your to-do list? (I hope some of it includes time for receiving all of our applause, acclaim..and gratitude for your inspiration and wonderful books.)

CAROLYN: The gratitude is mine for all the kindness and encouragement I have received from my fellow writers through the years and from the wonderful readers who make it possible for me to be a writer.

On my to-do list: Complete the current ms. DANCE WITH DEATH, which will be the 23rd Death on Demand title. Respond to the CE of WHAT THE CAT SAW, a Berkley suspense novel set for October 2012, and revise an old-new-never-before-published standalone suspense novel set in Mexico City in 1982. (I found the ms. box in my office closet.) Berkley will publish CRY IN THE NIGHT as an e-title only. And then I intend to take a holiday . .

HANK: I guess so! Yikes. Your list is…daunting!

So—a bookstore changed Carolyn’s life! This week we’ve been talking about life-changing moments—what bookstore changed your life? Or what amazing thing has happened to you in a bookstore? An author you met? A book you found? A friend you made? (I’ll never forget the first time I saw my actual book in an actual bookstore—PRIME TIME in Brookline Booksmith—right next to Dennis Lehane. Whoa.)

And I have a lovely copy of ESCAPE FROM PARIS for a lucky commenter!


Carolyn Hart is the author of 47 mysteries. DEATH COMES SILENTLY is the 22nd in the Death on Demand series. Hart’s books have won Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband, Phil. She loves mysteries, cats, happy ghosts, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.


  1. First... the basket hat photo of Hallie and Delia - hah! Fabulous! Thanks for posting!

    Now... have to say it, Carolyn. I love you, love you love you! Amazing and brilliant and awesomely classic! Thank you, thank you, thank you for so many wonderful hours of reading!

  2. Wow 50! Wonderful. I hope to win Escape From Paris, but if not it surely be on my t-b-r list. Thank you for writing all those boods for us to read. The pleasure is all ours. Dee

  3. Actually, that's me and my sister Amy. (Delia is older than me, aren't you, Delia??) Amy, who, by the way has a wonderful new book book of essays out LOOSE DIAMONDS.

    Hi, Carolyn! So lovely to see you here in Jungle Red. The new book looks wonderful. Why do we all love that story about 7 books, 7 years, no sell? And congratulations on the balls-y move to a new publisher.

    I was in academia for 7 years and I can't say I EVER emerged from a meeting with an original idea. And I found our wonderful, sadly deceased now, Kate's Mystery Books after I'd sold my first. KMB created community, and I met everyone there from Sue Grafton to Robert B. Parker to Katherine Hall Page... And one of the great things about being a mystery writers is the folks you get to hang out with.

  4. Amen, to your final comment, Hallie!

    Carolyn--Thanks for your books and for inspiring us all. Just seeing your face on the post makes me happy.

  5. OH, I wondered who the other Ephron was in the photo! But it was Delia who outed you yesterday...and we are grateful!

    Yup, Reine, it's a real classic...and I so enjoyed your comments yesterday..

    Laura! I know just what you mean..there's something about Carolyn. (And Laura will be here Saturday gang! With big news...)

  6. Fetching, Hallie. Truly. ;-)

    Carolyn, I've loved all of your books that I've read, beginning with the Henrie O series, and now am thoroughly charmed by the adorable Darlings. Thank you for creating such memorable characters and engaging stories.

    But I have to confess that the mystery paintings always leave me feeling so inadequate as a lifelong mystery reader! From all the many described in the Death on Demand books, I've maybe been able to identify five. Pitiful. I was so glad someone other than Henny won the contest in Dead Days of Summer.

  7. I absolutely love the hat picture!

    I am mere pages from the end of "Dare To Die," which was a Free Friday offering this past week on the Barnes and Noble nook blog. What a wonderful book! While I love e-books [especially when I am traveling --- so much lighter to carry than a slew of paper books!], I have to agree with Carolyn that there is nothing like holding a “real” book in your hands. I'm looking forward to reading the new book; thanks for a great interview.

  8. Hallie--priceless!!

    Carolyn, welcome back to Jungle Red. We're honored to have you here--Hank does such a good job of showing how excited we are!

    I can't think of one particular moment in a bookstore--I'm always in heaven in that setting. For the past 20 years I've been lucky to call RJ Julia booksellers my hometown bookstore and have launched 8 of my 9 books there. So interesting to hear that Carolyn felt like a failure after 8 books. I guess I better keep on writing:)

  9. Great interview with Carolyn. And a reminder of how important it keep writing no matter what.
    As for my sister Hallie, I had forgotten the stuffed animal on top of the bowl, and what does that sign around your neck say? I assume it explains it all. And that's little sister Amy next to you wearing a deck of cards.

  10. Yeah, Hallie, what does the sign say? You look so adorably pleased with yourself, too... What was your motivation for the hat? We'll have to call Amy and see what's up with the cards..

  11. I guess we could try to figure out what the sign says..since it's a basket hat. Hmm.. Something about "basket case" is too easy...

  12. Oooh, I wish I could read that sign. VERY old faded picture. Amy's hat has dice on the rim, too. What did that say about us? Her hat is cards and dice, and Delia's from another year was a replica of Hollywood Park racetrack.

  13. Hallie, love it love it love it! The Gambling Girls?

    And Carolyn, you are one of my favorite writers and people in the mystery community. AND you were so kind to me when I was just starting out, a few years after you. But I, sadly, have not been nearly as prolific...

    Can't wait to read the new book and congrats on the new publisher!

    Oh, bookstores. Sadly again, The Mystery Bookstore in Dallas closed many years ago. But I have made so many wonderful friends and connections at MBTB in Houston over the years that it feels like home. I love that it was the inspiration for Max and Annie's bookshop. I never knew that!

  14. I remember Carolyn Hart well--in book form that is! I used to work as an editorial assistant to Judith Kern, hardcover mystery editor at Doubleday. My memory is correct, right? You were published by Doubleday before Kate Miciak took over for the paperback version a year later? I'm sure I'm remembering this correctly, because I used to snitch freebie in-house copies to read! Those were fun days!

    Now I'm on the other side of the wall, writing, and I, too, love your seven-books-in-seven-years story.

    My favorite book store moment was in 2008...I wish I could say I have a novel out, but no (not yet!). However, I was with a few girlfriends, and we decided to see if Elizabeth George's anthology of short stories called TWO OF THE DEADLIEST was in stock. (She was the editor of the collection.) And it was! The book store folks were nice enough to let me sign the copies because I had a short story in the collection. They slapped on "Signed Copy" stickers and placed the books up front! I felt a glimmer of what it must be like for "real" authors! My friends were so excited they took a bunch of pictures. That was a hoot.

  15. Carolyn--one of my favorite people and a terrific writer!
    I remember the first time I saw Evans Above in a bookstore. It was Crown books and I couldn't see a copy on the shelf so I asked if they had it in stock. She pointed up to a display and there it was next to Mary Higgins Clark and Patricia Cornwall. What a heady moment!
    But after 28 mysteries I still get a thrill when I spot them on shelves.

  16. I adore my electronic reader, but there are certain things I will always buy in paper form, and those are mysteries by my favorite writers such as Deborah Crombie and Carolyn Hart. Can't wait for the newest Annie Darling book!

  17. Life changing bookstore? Believe it or not, Murder By the Book! Didn't discover it until after living in Houston for awhile, but when I did....In fact, it is because of a rec from MBTB that I discovered Deb!

    It's an awesome place - but also a very very dangerous place for me. I always want to buy everything in sight. I missed Deb's signing in February, but called so they would have her sign a book for me. I ran in just to pick it up - with racing blinders on - was given the book, turned to leave and just stood like an idiot for minutes...part of me heading out the door, part of me being drawn to what I saw despite the blinders. Visits there always recharge me for my own writing.

    And, I love the photo Hallie - thanks for posting!

  18. Love hearing that the success of an ebook is prompting a reissuance of the print version!

    The bookstore that changed my life: In September 1975, my mother saw a note in the paper that Waldenbooks would be opening a store in Rimrock Mall in Billings, the first real mall in Montana, and suggested I might like to work there. I was 16. I had no idea how to apply for the job, or if there were any jobs available, so I wrote the manager a letter describing why I wanted to work there, and slipped it to her through the sliding front door as she and a crew were unpacking boxes of books. Magic -- still!

  19. Love the basket hat photo of Hallie and sister! And Hallie looks so serious in it.

    Carolyn, I have read and loved your books for many, many years. The first book we used in the book dissection group that Nancy Pickard began for Border Crimes, our local Sisters in Crime branch, was Death on Demand. I learned a lot taking that book, which I'd read years earlier, apart!

    As far as bookstore moments go, I'm just back from a literary festival in Iowa City, where I gave a poetry reading at Prairie Lights, one of the great indie bookstores in America. A few years back, I visited Prairie Lights with my family right after my last poetry book, HEART'S MIGRATION, was published. Now, you never find poetry books in bookstores because most of them don't carry any, except maybe Emily Dickinson, etc. But Prairie Lights is one of the few that actually have a poetry section, but it's filled with big-name poets. So I told my husband and son, "One of these days one of my books of poetry will be right," pointing to the R section--where, miraculously, HEART'S MIGRATION, sat!

  20. Congratulations, Carolyn! A new book by you is always something to look forward to, but even more special that it's your fiftieth!

  21. Hank, I've been thinking about the questions since last night. I had to write something then to say hello to Carolyn, but I needed time to think about the questions.

    Now I see I messed up on Hallie's photo! Hallie... great photo, lovely little sister Amy! How could I make such a mistake? Talented family ever and always - from adorable childhood, on.

    So at the risk of great embarrassment, I will tell you all about the bookstore that changed my life. The first time I went to a real bookstore I was an adult. I had been in stores that sold books. I had seen bookstores from the outside looking in, but I'd never been in a real bookstore until I was in my early twenties.

    I was visiting my mother in Pasadena, California. We were sitting at the kitchen table when she said, "Let's go to Vroman's!" I had no idea where we were going, but I was pretty sure it was shopping or out to eat - both good, right?

    Vroman's bookstore. Walls and walls of books. Beautiful books. Lovely people. Helpful people. All the books you could buy and take home. My mother bought me a book. It was a children's book, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams. My mother wrote in it for me. She signed it "Mummy" with lots of hugs and kisses... hearts.

    It's on my bookshelf here. Now and then I touch it. Sometimes I open it and feel the texture of the beautiful old Vroman's sticker. I don't do that very often, because it makes me cry.

  22. YOU know, just an aside here, I am so frustrated at the font size! I moved the whole blog to rtf--but it still didn't work. Is the font , um, random on your computers, too?

    And oh, yes, Nancy--bookstores are so irresistible! But that's a good thing, right? Leslie, what a nice story!

  23. Hallie, you look fetching.

    Like Leslie, I'm encouraged to hear about an ebook leading to a print version of the book. And I'm in awe of the idea of writing fifty books. Carolyn, you're inspiring.

  24. Linda, you are so right about poetry books... why, I wonder, is that... but good to know about the Prairie Lights bookstore! Now I'm looking forward to your novel!

  25. Hey, Darlene! SO great to see you..and Reds, we'll be hearing a lot more from Darlene this Friday!

    And from CAROLYN HART: She's battling the air conditioner guy and the sewer guy! Sigh. But she'll be here soon...


    Hallie, love the foto. Making me smile on a chilly rainy day in Oklahoma.

    My thanks to everyone for the friendly welcome and klnd comments.

    I should clarrify that DEATH COMES SILENTLY is the 47th book to be published. #48 - WHAT THE CAT SAW - will be out in October 2012. #50 is the one I hope to finish by the end of May, tentative title: DANCE WITH DEATH. #49 - HIJACKED GHOST (already turned in) will be pub in Fall 2013 so it comes out before the 50th to be written and if everyone gets that, they excelled in geometry and I didn't..

    Thanks to all. Love - Carolyn

  27. Linda, you're a poet, too? How marvelous! Prairie Lights sounds wonderful. Fact & Fiction in Missoula has an entire section of poetry, and another on short stories! Amazing for a small, general indie. The owner knows her customers (no doubt influenced by UM with its MFA program.) And two sections for mystery!

  28. What's Fact & Fiction, Leslie? Not sure I know about this one! (Maybe they'd like an ARC of THE OTHER WOMAN, when the time comes...?)

  29. Carolyn - always a joy to see you, even if it's only online ;-)
    Carolyn has a special place in my heart, not only because she's such a terrific writer, but because she was one of my first friends in the mystery community. Virtual champagne being consumed for your 50th!!

  30. OH, FANFARE!! The winner of Delia Ephron's THE LION IS IN-- is...

  31. Hank, have you moved JRW to the new Blogger interface? I found that really helped with the random typeface changing. The other thing I've found is that, in the new interface, one of the buttons on the toolbar above where you're typing or pasting the blog strips all formatting. Hover your mouse over the buttons till you find it. I block the part I want to fix and hit that button. It cleans up extra line spaces (which we know Blogger sometime likes to add to screw with us) and the fonts. Then, I fix the font. If there are a lot of problems, I select the whole blog and hit that button. It will at least make the font uniform. I then go in by hand and add italics, etc., where needed.

    If you've got more questions, email me

  32. -chosen at random by Hank's husband..is TFJ!

    Contact me at h ryan at whdh dot com
    and give me your address!

  33. Oh, thank you so much, Linda!As a result of your suggestions before, yes, I think I've done that..and you see Monday, it worked. It likes YOU, obviously. It hates ME.

  34. Reine, the reason most bookstores don't carry poetry by living poets (with the possible exception of Billy Collins) is that for too long poetry's been taken over by academics. So most people don't buy poetry books, and sales of even successful poets' books are so low that normal bookstores and publishers would find them laughable.

    A big print run for poetry is anything over 1500. Even a first novel from a small house will have a much larger print run because it will probably have equally larger sales.

    There are many wonderful poets today who are not deliberately esoteric and writing for a closed academic audience, but the term "accessible" is considered an insult. I know. It's more than once been applied to my work.

    So don't blame the bookstores. Prairie Lights is located by the U of Iowa Writers Workshop, the best in the country, and thus has a built-in market for poetry books, much like Leslie's Fact and Fiction.

  35. Hah, Hank! You've obviously never seen my Facebook posts where I compare Blogger to an abusive husband! Blogger loves no one! I'm just stubborn. Try the Remove Format button, and see if it won't work.

  36. Leslie, yes, but don't say it too loudly. I wouldn't want the lovely mystery writers to kick me out. ;-)

    Prairie Lights is one of a handful of independent bookstores that all the publishers know and try to route book tours through. It has an incredible selection, but as I said earlier, it's located in the same town as the Iowa Writers Workshop. Most college town bookstores are good and those with creative writing programs, esp. MFA, tend to be fabulous.

  37. Remove format. Trying it. (You won't believe tomorrow's post. Font city. Sigh.) I'm having a t-shirt made. xoox thank you!

  38. Loved the interview - maybe the best part (for me) is that you proved there is a publishing future even after dry spells, obstacles, submissions that no one will publish. If that is not the perfect example of "Carry on!" I don't know one. Thanks Hank. Thank you, Carolyn. P.S. Love the cover shown for Escape from Paris. That and the synopsis makes me want to read it.

  39. Carry on! Exactly. Becuase ou never knwo what wonderful thing is aroudn the next corner. Right? Thanks, Rusty.

    Tomorrow, a beautiful beautiful story from Lori Roy. If you dont know who she is? You will soon. And the Reds are happy to introduce you.

    Carolyn Hart today has battled the air conditioner guy ,the sewer guy, and a brand new book launch. Yay, Carolyn! Because who really wants a dull moment?

  40. That's okay, Hank. After all my suggestions to you, as if I knew how to handle Blogger, I'm trying to upload a post, and Blogger keeps throwing a giant white bar into the middle of it--and I can't figure out why or how to stop it! Every time I think I've finally figured out how to work around one of his nasty tricks, he tosses a new one my way. Forgetting spell-check is nothing compared to a honking white bar in the middle of your post.

  41. Linda, you always make me feel better. xoxoo See you all tomorrow!
    And Thursday, for our Jungle Red chat--on a topic that's one for the books.

  42. Linda, thank you for explaining about poetry sales. I think I understand. I just don't want to say I do in case that sounds like I think it's okay!

    An acquaintance of mine from school, Susan Power, went to the Iowa Writers Workshop. She had wonderful things to say about it.

  43. Linda, she wrote GRASS DANCER, the book I was telling you about.

  44. Late here, but just wanted to chime in again and say how much I LOVE Prairie Lights and Iowa City. I was sent there on book tour a couple of years ago. One of my favorite book stores and cities ever!!!

  45. impressive accomplishments!


  46. And the winner of Carolyn's book is: Desert Songbird!! Desert, contact me at h ryan @ whdh dot com and I will ship it instantly!

    xoxo Hank