Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Scent of a Lost Time and Place--New Year's Eve Nostalgia

RHYS BOWEN: It’s the last day of the year and a time to get nostalgic for all of us. Actually the entire holiday season is tinged with nostalgia—memories of Christmasses long ago when the world was simple and safe and we were surrounded by the warmth of family and simple pleasures. Some of the memories are not so sweet—every Christmas for me evokes the sharp memories of my mother’s death, fifteen years ago. Being summoned by a telephone call on Christmas Eve telling me to come now or it would be too late. Trying to buy a plane ticket to Australia that didn’t cost an arm and two legs. Traveling through the night and arriving to find I had missed Christmas altogether and was in the middle of scorching summer, beach weather, zinc on noses, surf boards, and in the middle of it, my tiny frail mother dying of pancreatic cancer. I remember feelings of loss, not only for her and the person she was, but for myself on missing Christmas, not being there to watch presents I had bought be unwrapped, mince pies I had baked be eaten and that someone else would now sing my solos at the Christmas Eve mass… and then, of course, feeling guilty that I was even concerned about such trivial things when I was losing my mother.

I arrived to find my mother, shrunk to a stick figure, sitting up and eating a mince pie. I was able to curl up on the bed beside her and watch a carol service. She lasted another two weeks and I was able to brush her hair, read to her, and tell her I loved her. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

It’s funny how much my memories are linked to my sense of smell. Nothing evokes a time and place for me like a particular scent—those baking mince pies and sausage rolls tell me that Christmas is about to be celebrated and I’m back in my grandmother’s kitchen.  Recently I bought a bar of Pear’s soap and when I showered with it I was back in my childhood, being bathed in a very cold bathroom.

 The scent of eucalyptus leaves takes me immediately to the lakeshore where I walked my mom's dog while she lay dying... a magic forest of paperbark trees with the feeling of being very old and forgotten about it. I believe my mom used to call it the enchanted forest.

 And after my mother died I had to decide which items I wanted to bring back to California to remind me of her. Mostly things like photographs, naturally, and her jewelry, but I also had her sewing box shipped back to me. My father had had it made for her—a big contraption with layers that opened out, beautifully crafted in light oak. When it finally reached California I opened it and the special scent of my parents’ house came up to meet me—not their house in Australia but the house where I grew up in England. The smell was that old, musty, damp smell tinged with furniture polish that always lingers in ancient English houses. I thrust my nose in between the layers and breathed deeply, taking in a lost time and place.


The box still sits in our downstairs closet. It contains a wealth of useful things—buttons and hooks and elastic and various color threads. And every time I open it the smell comes up to meet me and I can’t resist lowering my face and breathing deeply, trying to conjure up something that no longer exists anywhere else in the world except here.

For those of you who are fellow writers, here’s my year end tip. If you want to evoke a time or a place, do it with the sense of smell. Nothing can transport us more powerfully.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year,

Happy writing and happy reading,


Monday, December 30, 2013

Big Brother is Watching You!

RHYS BOWEN: On Christmas Day I watched Edward Snowden on TV, saying that a baby born today will have no concept of privacy—that his every move and thought will be tracked. 1984 come to reality. Big Brother really is watching us. What a frightening thought, isn’t it. And it really seems to be true. Amazon knows exactly what I have been searching and immediately shows it to me on my next start screen. The ads that show up around my emails are for sites I’ve recently visited.

And the thing that bugs me most of all—I visit a site and a little box springs up with a live person saying “Do you want to chat?”

No, I don’t want to chat. Actually I don’t want you to know that I’m checking out your site. In fact the more I think about it, the scarier it is. The sites I check are pretty harmless—Chicos and Hotels.com… but what an opportunity for blackmail if someone checks the wrong sites!  A politician visiting a porn site, for example.(—good plot for a future book??)

I suppose that by deciding to blog online I have freely and willingly given up much of my privacy. As a published writer I am a public figure. I have lots of followers on Facebook and Twitter and I share tidbits from my life with them. But what would I do if this magnified and grew into what Charlaine Harris experienced with strange fans with filed teeth showing up on her doorstep?
I wonder if privacy is not a normal human condition—the first humans huddled together in a cave. In China today there is little concept of privacy and the Communist governments around the world want every move of their citizens to be reported. But America was founded on the concept of freedom of the individual and now that is seriously threatened. So I’m interested in what the other Reds think—are we really in danger of giving up the concept of privacy? Is this necessarily a bad thing?
HALLIE EPHRON: I remember when the House Unamerican Activities committee was in full throttle, ferreting out the Communist menace, and my screenwriter father would say those clicks we heard on the phone was them eavesdropping. I thought he was paranoid. I also remember when, in the early 60s, the FBI arrived to investigate our neighbor's oldest daughter who'd gone south as a Freedom Rider. They questioned me. I was all of 13.

Now it creeps me out when I email someone with a note about something mindless like the neat nail polish my daughter gave me for Christmas (metallic lavender)... and right away nail polish ads start popping up on the side. That feels invasive. I mean, they **are** reading my mail.

On the other hand, what do we expect for free? Which is what my gmail account is. As is Google search. As is my web browser. It's their way of extracting payment... information that can be turned into targeted ad revenue.

The NSA mining of all telephone calls? Way beyond reasonable. When will they start opening our mail?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: This is such a tough question, and it's something that Rick and I talk about all the time (although he's much more up on it than I am.) As a culture, we are fascinated by spying--just look at a list of movies in recent years, or TV shows--and yet WE don't want to be spied on. Can you have it both ways?  Data mining has been going on in law enforcement for years, as in tracking regular phone calls to certain suspect numbers, which then allows law enforcement to get warrants to LISTEN to phone calls if it is judged there is probably cause.  And I'm okay with that. I think. But then, I've been doing a lot of research this last year on white phosphorous grenades--is the FBI going to show up at my door?

Now, with everything we do electronically, data mining is inevitable.  Just stay off the Internet, you say?  Your local grocery store tracks your purchases. The only way to stay out of any database would be to make only cash transactions in person, and I'm not even sure about that.

I do think there should be limits on how much access there is to our emails, texts, and phone usage. But on the other hand, I think people are incredibly naive about what they do make public--"I'm going to Belize and my house will be empty for a week! The key is under the mat!" No social media gives anyone a right to privacy!!! My personal motto is, "If you don't want the world to know, don't put it out there!" Come on, folks.

Maybe we should all go back to writing letters... We still trust the US Mail, right?

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I remember, several years ago, people started contacting me in my role as "Help Me Hank" for TV. The emails would say--"Can you believe it??? You can go on line and find out people's NAMES and ADDRESSES and phone numbers. You can find out how much their homes cost, and who they bought them from. They're invading our PRIVACY!"

 Yeah, I would say. That name and address thing, kind of like...the phone book? And the mortgage stuff..kind of like the public info easily available at the registry of deeds?

 But it's scarier, I think, because it's so fast. And what if you're in NYC and don't have the LA phone book? No problem. It's all so accessible. Not to mention the stuff we willingly give on social media: "Went to Las Vegas for the weekend!" "Love my new Uggs!"  Those bits of info are incredibly valuable. And we've given UP our privacy.

 (And there's a bit of it that's--good. I like to see the shoe ads on my page..not so much the "anti-aging" ones, but it could be looked at as a...service.)

 That said: The governent listening to conversations on the phone? Of course that's invasive, and terrifying, and those who say "if you don't have something to hide,you shouldn't care" are missing something--like the constititional protecton against illegal search.

 On the other hand: When the bad guys attack, we all say--why didn't our national security people know about that? 

 But didn't the court just say theres no proof there's ever been an attack stopped as a result of those listeners?

 What would you do, if you were in charge?
Lucy Burdette: this is a hard topic on all sides. Ever since the tragedy that occurred on 9/11, I feel grateful that our security people (whomever they may be) are working to keep a handle on the "bad guys." Remember how terrifying it was to board a plane after 9/11? On the other hand, what sets our country apart from other countries is our ability to maintain private lives. It's a very difficult balancing act.

In the end, I am not a fan of Edward Snowden. I do think his acts have forced us into some critically difficult conversations. But I can't help but think that maybe there was another way to go about it. Oh and one more thing. I had to stop watching the show Homeland, even though I think it was brilliantly done. Because the crazy things that Carrie did, including bugging the Marine's home while his family was out of the house, made me way too anxious. There's a reason I write lighter mysteries:).

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As a former lawyer, I'm a big fan of the constitution. It's not just the penumbral right to privacy being encroached upon. I think the protections the founding fathers wrote into the Bill of Rights - the right to speak and to assemble, the right to be safe from searches except on warrants obtained through reasonable suspicion, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to hold property free from seizure except by due process of law - are all under attack. The problem is, they're under attack from us.

Maybe we, as United States Citizens, have lived so long in the safety of the world's most enduring democracy, we've come to take it for granted. We think we can give away bits and pieces of our freedoms - just a sliver, just under these circumstances, only to protect us from bad people. Forgetting the lessons of so much of history: once you surrender a little piece of freedom, it becomes easier and easier to surrender more. And oh, so very hard to get it back again.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I've put off writing on this because I really haven't made up my mind. While I'm not an admirer of Edward Snowdon's, he may have inadvertently all done us a favor by starting this conversation.

And I say that as someone who's researched anthrax online for THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT. Yes, Winston Churchill and his scientists were developing anthrax, along with mustard gas, during World War II — something not known to the British people then. How many things are going on in our name today? (And how many watch lists am I on for having done this research?)

In terms of censorship, though, both the U.S. and UK governments were upfront about it during World War II — people's letters were assumed to be read and sometimes passages considered sensitive were blacked out by censors. In many ways I think if this censorship had come publicly in the heels on 9/11, people wouldn't have minded. In some ways, I still don't mind. But, still, I keep coming back to that quote of Benjamin Franklin's — those who sacrifice their freedom for safety deserve neither.

RHYS: So much food for thought here and something interesting...when I tried to link our various names to our websites Blogger allowed me to do Hank, Hallie and Lucy but not Deb or me. We're obviously on the wanted list because we write about a foreign country!

So do let us know what you think... is it worth giving up our privacy for national security?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Scoop!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The week between Christmas and New Years! When we think: “Where did the time go?” And “Next year I’ll do my holiday cards on time, with labels.” And “I should join the gym.”

We also look ahead with delight and wonder and anticipation—anything is possible! 

So what are the Reds up to?

I am about to type the two scariest words in the English language: CHAPTER ONE.  (Chapter one of the next Jane and Jake thriller, Forge 2015! which I think will be titled WHAT YOU SEE.) (“Chapter One” is about all I have right now. Hmm.)

TRUTH BE TOLD is on its way to the galley-makers, hurray. It’ll be out in September 2014, hurray. (When it comes to money, it can be hard to recognize the bad guys.) (Or something like that.)  

THE WRONG GIRL is going gangbusters, on several Best of 2013 lists, hurray, a multiple-week Boston Globe bestseller, hurray, and a Reviewer’s nominee for Best Suspense Thriller. Hurray.

And Mary Higgins Clark award winner THE OTHER WOMAN is out in paperback!

And will I see you at SLEUTHFEST? I'm a featured guest, with Ace Atkins and Laura Lippman! (Nice!) How about you, Reds?

RHYS BOWEN: I'm excited about this year as I have two really fun books coming out--CITY OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT, the 13th Molly Murphy book, is published in March with more fanfare than usual... maybe because it takes place in the art world of Paris! I'll be signing around the country and doing events also with Cara Black, whose new Aimee Leduc book comes out at the same time. so we can talk about Paris then and now.

And in August the new Royal Spyness book comes out: it is called QUEEN OF HEARTS and it takes Georgie on a transatlantic liner and finally to 1930s Hollywood. Palm trees, movie stars...and murder.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I have another Molly e-story coming out on January 7th. It's called “Through the Window.”

Have a wonderful holiday!

 HALLIE EPHRON: Rhys, as always I am in awe. I am (really I am!) finishing the book that I'm calling NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. Figuring out the ending. And if all goes well it will (YES!) be out next year. Can I say it's a historical in an exotic setting: 1965 and 1985, Beverly Hills, in the shadow of the movie business.

 In the meanwhile, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is just out in paperback. It's on sale at Hudson News, so if anyone sees it in an airport would you email me a picture? 

 And it just made Sarah Weinman's list of the year's 10 best crime fiction! http://offonatangent.tumblr.com/post/70697707034/favorite-crime-fiction-of-2013.

  LUCY BURDETTE: First, hooray for Hallie on making that top ten list--that was a wonderful book and I can't wait to read about Hollywood. Rhys's books sound delightful too!

I have two books slated for 2014 also, though saying that in print makes my eyes twitch and my neck harden to concrete. (You would twitch too if you knew what page I was on, and when the draft was due, LOL.) That said, SEASON'S GRIEVINGS will be out next December.

But I'm so, so, so excited about my February book, MURDER WITH GANACHE. It's got Hemingway cats, and cupcakes, and wedding drama, and family angst...and a murder of course. But to me it's about finding and embracing family in whatever shape they come...
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Congrats, Hallie!
Next year, the fourth book in the Maggie Hope series will be released in the summer — called The Prime Minister's Secret Agent. It's set in Edinburgh, Arisaig, London, Washington, and Pearl Harbor. 

And I'm thrilled to be researching and writing the fifth in the series — the working title is The First Lady's Confidante.

 DEBORAH CROMBIE: The trade paperback of THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS comes out in late February.  And in late March, Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid #16, TO DWELL IN DARKNESS!
So I can sort of say I have two books out in 2014:-) (Unlike Rhys, who really does!) I'm very excited about the new book. 

 And I think I will have some other very fun news but I'm not announcing it until it's official, sometime after the first of the year.  So that's my teaser!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As usual, the rest of you make me look like a slacker. I'm not sure when the trade paper edition of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS will be released - it probably depends in part on when I finish my work-in-progress, HID FROM OUR EYES. My publisher's goal is for me to finish it by February. My goal is to finish it before 2015. Hopefully, I'll be able to split the difference. 

I've got a couple of very exciting events to look forward to in 2014: in February, I'm going to be the guest of honor, with Robert Dugoni, at MURDER IN THE MAGIC CITY. Then in April, I'll be teaching and speaking at Calvin College's FESTIVAL OF FAITH AND WRITING

In the meantime, I'm going to go crazy wondering what Deb's news is. Deb, can't you let us know? Your sister bloggers? Darn it.  
HANK: Debs!  DETAILS!  And wow, a terrific year for Jungle Red—and we hope, for you, too. Thank you thank you thank you for everything...What are you up to?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Word. Two Syllables. Know What I Mean?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: New Years is coming, and I know we'll talk about resolutions, at some point, but--not today. Today we are talking about New Years Eve traditions. And ours is: Okay, watch me.
 I'm holding up one finger. You say:  One word! Right!
 Holding two fingers against the inside of my lower arm. You say: TWO SYLLABLES!
 I'm looking pensive, thinking thinking.
 Grabbing my earlobe. You say: Sounds like!
 I "hold the steering wheel with two hands", then "steer like crazy." You say: DRIVE!
I stamp my feet and shake my head. I do the "drive" thing again, then gesture to show it's what's AROUND me.
You say: Car! Sounds like CAR.
 I touch my nose. Two fingers on my inner arm.
 You say, second syllable. Right?
   You say, sounds like "car" something?
 Yes! Okay, we got this. Then I look worried. Is this gonna work? I better remind you.
 Two fingers on my inner arm. You say—Geez! We GOT that! Sounds like Car something.
 I'm thinking. I could do "jade," but that's tough. Or "laid," but that's fraught with problems.
 Plus it has to be plural. Maids? Aids? Afraids? Yeeesh.
 Now you know what we all do on New Year’s Eve. Car-maids. Are we geeky and old?
 And pssst. How would you act out that second syllable? 
And while you're thinking, here's another of our New Year's Eve traditions...rack of lamb. One word, two syllables, sounds like--points to tummy. YUMMY!
 Hank's Secret and Amazing Special Occasion Rack of Lamb
 Rack of lamb, you're saying? That's extravagant! And difficult! Yes, it can be extravagant--but it doesn't have to be. And it doesn't have to be difficult, either. In fact, it's an amazingly affordable treat--that's gloriously impressive.
 And pssst: easy.
 First, you should know this is my go-to dish when I want to impress someone. Just saying. And on New Years Eve it's the absolutely perfect romantic dinner for two. Or four.
 Serve with tiny green beans and maybe wild rice. YUM. And easy!
If there are two of you, a rack of lamb serves four, so there are fabulous leftovers for New Year's Day--just add to a Greek salad for a lovely dinner.
Everyone thinks rack of lamb is one of those feasts that's out of reach. This proves "everyone" is wrong. Prepare to wow your friends..and have one of the most delicious dinners ever.
8-rib lamb rack
4 tb. olive oil
 2 tb. dijon mustard
 1 tb. parsley
2 tb. soy sauce
2 grinds black pepper
1 garlic clove or chopped garlic
Preheat oven to broil.
 Whisk all the ingredients (except lamb) together until the mixture forms a mayonnaise consistency.
Place lamb on broiler pan, lined with foil to make it easier to clean. Coat each side of the rack of lamb with the marinade. End with the lamb concave on the pan.
Broil five minutes per side. Turn oven to 400 degrees. Bake (with lamb track convex on the pan) for 10 minutes for rare. (This is chic, but I think this is too rare.) Bake 12 minutes for medium rare (that’s how I do it!) 13 for medium.
Remove from oven, let stand for five minutes.
Secret: after those all important five minutes, make the first cut in the rack in the middle. This will show you instantly if it's not done. If you need to bake it for another minute, no problem. It is far better to undercook, check ,and then put back in the oven than it is to over cook.
Slice into chops, arrange on the plates with rice and green beans, and wow. Let me know how you like it! It's one of our very favorites.
SO Reds, what are your New Year's eve traditions? And how do you feel about, um, Car-Maids?