Thursday, January 31, 2013

Welcome Guest Paulette Alden

 LUCY BURDETTE: One of things I love about the writing community is how I keep making new friends. Last winter in Key West, a friend had a little cocktail party and he introduced me to someone who was teaching the memoir writing class he was taking. He knew we'd enjoy each other's company. Paulette Alden was delightful and funny and sweet and I immediately ordered her memoir, CROSSING THE MOON. And happily loved it. So when I learned that she, an accomplished writer and teacher, was self-publishing her new novel, I knew that you would want to meet her too.

PAULETTE ALDEN: Thank you, Lucy, for inviting me to Jungle Red Writers.  

In thinking about what to say to the readers and writers of JRW, it occurred to me that I ought to say upfront that the title of my novel, The Answer to Your Question, is deceptive, suggesting as it does that the book will actually provide answers.  In fact, it raises a lot more questions than it answers.  I think in this way it differs from mystery or crime novels, which satisfy readers in the end by providing such answers as who-done-it and why. 

I can’t say that I started out to deny readers the answers. Rather, the lack of answers resulted from my own take on the world, my own sense of human nature.  This I discovered as I was writing the novel. One fascinating aspect of writing is that you find out things about yourself that you didn’t know until they come out in a story.  I found out I think that some questions are unanswerable.  

The novel started with a question: what would it be like to be the mother of someone like Ted Bundy?  I was living in Tacoma, Washington, when Bundy was first accused of the murder of young women in the area.  No one who knew him could believe that handsome, bright, personable Ted could be a killer.  The unfolding of his story was riveting, involving jail escapes, more murders, legal defense by Ted himself, constant denials by him and his family, and eventually, his execution.

I had heard that Ted’s mother worked as a librarian near where I was living.  I never met her, but I would often think about her, wondering what it would to have this bright, promising son accused out of the blue of murder.  That became one genesis of the novel.  I would create a character whose son was accused of murder.  This despite the fact that not only had I never been the mother of anyone accused of murder, I had never been the mother of anyone.

Another character came into my head.  Jean is seventeen, pregnant, Southern, on her own in Tacoma while her husband is serving in Viet Nam.  A simple-wise naïf.  She “imprints” on Inga at the library where they work, drawing her into an unusual friendship.  The plot element is Ben, the son, who abducts Jean during the novel.  

Though Ben started out based on Bundy, at some point I decided I didn’t want to write about a psychopath.  Too boring, too one-dimensional, really.  I thought of my Ben as a more complex person, with factors which we (or at least I) might not be able to fathom.  Here my view of human nature made itself known.  We can’t always know why people-- even ourselves—do the things we do.  This is true of all the characters in the book.  To me the greatest mystery is the human heart, and it can’t be completely understood.  

I read a piece in The New York Times recently by Andrew Solomon, reflecting on Adam Lanza and the New Town tragedy.  He spent hundreds of hours over eight years interviewing the parents of Dylan Klebold, convinced if he dug deeply enough into their character, he would understand why Columbine happened.  He came to view them as not only inculpable, but as “admirable, moral, intelligent and kind people” whom he would gladly have had as parents himself.  Knowing Tom and Sue Klebold only made Columbine “far more bewildering” and forced Solomon to acknowledge that “people are unknowable.”

When I read that, I understood all the better what was behind my novel, even if I hadn’t always known it when I was writing it. We want answers because they make us feel we’re in control, when so often in life we’re not.  

Do you feel that “people are unknowable”?  Are you looking for questions or answers in the novels you read?  Have you had the experience when reading or writing something in which you understand or discover something about yourself that you hadn’t realized before? 

Lucy: thank you for visiting us Paulette. JR readers--Paulette will be stopping in today to chat with us. Her new book THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION can be found here. And visit her blog on writing, books, and the unexpected journey to self-publishing here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hemingway's Cats

Hemingway with his sons and cats in Cuba
Hemingway's writing studio
"One cat just leads to another. . . . The place is so damned big it doesn’t really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . ." Ernest Hemingway

LUCY BURDETTE: So last week Deb talked about her new love affair with Hemingway's words. Me being me, I am crazy about his Key West home and--his cats! 

 We also talked last week about the scary kinds of research we've done for the sake of our books. But sometimes I take on "research" without having any idea how, or even if, I might use it. I go hoping the story will make itself known.

If you've visited Key West, you may have toured the home where Ernest Hemingway lived from 1931-1939. It's a gorgeous, private piece of land with a swimming pool and a wonderful old home, including the little attached studio that housed Hemingway's office. No wonder he wrote so well here!

Hemingway's bed
This was Hemingway's bed. Usually one of the cats can be seen napping on it...but not the day I visited:

Rudy Valentino
One of the most-beloved features of the property is the colony of 50+ polydactyl cats who live on the premises, allegedly descendants of Hemingway's felines. (Although family sources have said that he did not own cats while he lived in Key West, though he owned many in Cuba.)

Late last year, I made a new Facebook friend who happens to work as one of the cat caretakers at the Hemingway House in Key West. Naturally, I was dying to meet Donna Vanderveen and get an inside look at the cats who live on the grounds.

Kitty condos
She introduced me to a number of the residents and explained their routines--in spite of the lawsuit filed against the Hemingway House and Museum by the USDA, believe me, these cats are treated like royalty.  

This little replica of the main house is a place to keep kittens at night or various other fellows who might need a "time out."

The cats are named after
historical figures...

Captain Tony--notice the extra toes

Duke Ellington

Tennessee Williams

Okay, so I still don't know how all or any of this will get worked into the fourth Hayley Snow mystery, though her good friend and former roommate Connie is getting married. And there is a lovely place for a ceremony on the grounds of the Hemingway House. And perhaps a character named Donna may have noticed a crime in progress earlier in the week. She has to get to work at an ungodly hour to take care of those cats....and so she might see things she isn't meant to see...

I very much doubt that Hemingway went around soliciting plot ideas, but for me, suggestions are always welcome:). And meanwhile, I feel another visit coming on...maybe the cats will whisper the story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short

 LUCY BURDETTE: I find it hard to forget Sharon Short. Why? Because I have a magnetized set of cleaning tips from her Josie Toadfern mystery series stuck to my washing machine! But now she has a new book, just out today--a lovely story about a sister and brother and their dreams and hopes... How she came to write it is a wonderful story, too. She'll tell it much better than I can!
SHARON SHORT: After my cozy mystery series wrapped up, I wasn’t really planning the literary equivalent of a fashion makeover for my writing career.

Of course, that was before a Tim Gunn Bobblehead entered my life.

More on that in a moment…

Back to the days (weeks, months) after my cozy mystery series was, shall we say, all sewn up. Because I enjoy reading mysteries (and enjoyed writing them), the logical next project seemed to be another mystery. But… I couldn’t find an idea that clicked with my imagination.
Then, at a book club gathering, one of the women asked if anyone remembered the deeds to one square inch of Alaska that used to come in cereal boxes in the 1950s. (The question wasn’t related to the book we were discussing.) The 1950s were before I was born, but I was immediately taken with this compelling concept… the desire for a deed to one tiny bit of land in a vast frontier, and what that could symbolize. Almost immediately, the shadowy image of a young woman and her little brother, standing together and holding hands, appeared in my imagination. I couldn’t ‘see’ them yet in sharp detail, but I could ‘feel’ them saying, “tell our story.”

I had no idea what their story would or should be, but by the time I returned home, I’d written in my head one of the final scenes, which narrated itself in what would become the first person voice of my main character, Donna Lane. I went home, wrote down the scene in a journal, and then realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to discover the rest of her story.

I also realized fairly quickly that Donna’s story wasn’t a mystery. Frankly, this was unsettling at first. How could I plot without a mystery backbone?

But then I started thinking about all the novels I’ve loved reading that aren’t mysteries as well as the ones that are, and realized that in both cases, the best stories (and plots) emerge from character. And sure, mysteries focus on a protagonist solving a particular crime, but in a broader sense of the definition, don’t we all have a bit of mystery in our lives that we need to unravel? Pasts and relationships we need to understand, in order to come to an epiphany of some sort so that we can move on to stronger, wiser, healthier futures?

This is certainly the case for my characters Donna and Will, who leaved behind the strictures of their 1950s small Ohio town to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and in the process come to understand the power of embracing and following dreams.

Realizing this helped me make the transition from writing mysteries to writing my debut mainstream novel.

Well, that and my Tim Gunn Bobblehead.
You see, I’m a huge fan of Project Runway and Tim Gunn, and as it turns out my character Donna’s dream is to become a fashion designer. (This is because one of my childhood fantasies was to become a fashion designer.) During the Christmas after I’d started my novel, my family gave me a Tim Gunn Bobblehead, which quickly found a home on my desk. When I need a little writing encouragement, all I have to do is press the button to hear a recording of his voice saying his trademark lines, “Carry on!” “Make it Work!” “I can’t want you to succeed more than you do!” and “Fab-u-lous!”

And as for how I feel now about reading mysteries? “Fab-u-lous!”
Of course, I hope that’s how you feel if you get a chance to read MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA. In any case, I’d love to hear from you!

LUCY: I loved this book and hope it takes off for you Sharon! JRW, Sharon will be stopping in all day to answer questions and comments. You can find out everything else you always wanted to know about Sharon, including how to buy her book, right here.

Monday, January 28, 2013


LUCY BURDETTE: I've had a very stressful month with my identification papers. First I had to get a new drivers license photo. Which came out passable. I do understand that the last one was taken seven years ago and changes have ensued. I could live with that.

But then my passport was due to expire. Aside from waiting in the line at the Post Office endlessly, the worst part of this process was, again, a new photo. I trotted down to a nearby CVS and asked the clerk if they took passport photos. She giggled with delight and pulled out an instant camera. This would be her very first time taking a passport photo. (I should also mention that it was the second day after I had a haircut with a new hair stylist. If you're like me, you know that your hair almost always looks amazing coming right out of the salon. The second day, not so much.) 

So back to the story. The woman took the picture and was very excited about the result. To my practiced eye, it looked more like a Most Wanted mug shot than the photo of a nice lady you'd enjoy having visiting your country.

Lucy: I can't send this picture in.

Lucy's husband: It's cute. It looks like you.

Lucy: I'd rather never travel again than use that photo.

Lucy's husband: It's fine. Don't be vain.

He struck a nerve. So I waited for a week to see if time would heal all wounds. Nope. Then I peddled my bike across town to the other CVS and started over again. The result is not the most gorgeous shot ever taken, but it looks more like me.

How about you Reds? Any photo horror stories?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Me? You're asking ME? The princess of particular?

I had a passport photo taken once in the CVS, big mistake.  I started griping that the clerk had me stand directly under a light, which is a disaster. (Look up before you get a photo taken, sisters, and make sure there's not a only downlight on you.) Plus, it was green. So *that* passport photo is in the pocket of the backseat of our car, which is where it will stay.

I got a better one taken. Not a glam or even flattering one, that's impossible, I guess. But not hideous.
But it's so hilarious--when I travel, sometimes I wear my glasses, not contacts. And not always make-up. So I love it when the  TSA guy looks at my passport photo, then at me, then at the photo, then shrugs and hands it back. Like--if you say so, ma'am.

Here's a photo of me at age 6 or so.
Things have gotten better since then, I guess.

LUCY: Ha, ha Hank. I knew you'd have something to say on this topic! Are you sure you won't dig that photo out of the backseat pocket and let us have a look?? The six-year-old photo is adorable!

HALLIE EPHRON: I look at those passport pictures taken decades ago that I HATED back then and now I think: pretty cute!
Youth is so wasted on the youthful. This passport picture was taken just before I graduated college.

In my last passport photo I look just like Whitey Bulger -- not Catherine Greig, Whitey. And I'm not sharing it. I know, I know, people say he looks pretty good for his age.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Well, my passport pic was taken seven years ago so compared to what it would look like if taken this morning, it's not so bad. My driver's license, on the other hand - grotesque. And the lighting at CT MVB made me look like Morticia Addams. The worst are the quickie shots for visas. I took one once that was so bad the photographer actually said "let's take another, dear." Most annoying is that husband Bruce has never taken a bad photo.
RHYS BOWEN: If you think the US passport pix are bad, then you should see the English ones. You are not allowed to smile. It has to be full face, square on, hair back from forehead. I truly expected to have my prison inmate number directly beneath it. Drivers license for some reason always looks pretty good.

LUCY: my gosh, Rhys, why on earth won't they let you smile?? You are so much more beautiful than that photo...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My worst passport photo is a group shot from my childhood, back in the day when kids traveled on their parents' passport. I was six or seven, with a wild thicket of hair, an eye patch (there to correct my amblyopia) and my two front teeth missing. My younger sister's blond curls for some reason exploded to mad scientist height, and she's wearing overalls which, in the black and white picture, look like garb issued by the Soviet Toddler's Collectivist. My usually composed and chic mother has the strained look often seen in POW videos, probably due to the efforts of getting two overactive girls through the passport process. The overall effect is that of a family of Moldovian refugees fleeing the destruction of their village.

I also want to know why you can't smile in the UK passports. Still trying to convince the rest of the world it's all stiff upper lip?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, still chuckling. I have to have my driver's license renewed this year, and am not looking forward to it. And what about our Costco or Sam's cards ID photos? I am not posting my Costco ID!
My current passport picture is surprisingly not bad, so I went digging in the file for the old passports. OMG, the 1989 photo, when I had the really short hair with the really curly perm???? What was I thinking? And no, I'm not posting that one, either. But I found my first passport. It's certainly not flattering (again, what was with the hair?) and I don't know why I'm doing the "covering up bad teeth" smile, but there is a certain nostalgic charm to it. And then, on the second page, I found the stamp from my first ever trip to England. That I have to include, and a photocopy is going in my Iona journal.
But it just goes to show that I, at least, can't depend on memory. I've told the story for years about flying into Gatwick that first time and seeing the Surrey countryside. The passport is stamped Heathrow.

LUCY: There you go reds, aren't we some good sports? How about you, any photo horror stories to start the week off with a good laugh?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Is everybody ready for NEXT Sunday? Got your chips and dips all planned for the big game? It's well, honestly, I have to admit I don't even know who's playing. It's the 49ers, right? Against somebody?  I guess you can tell we don't watch a lot of football at our house, but we do usually manage to watch the Superbowl, at least for the commercials.

HOWEVER, I do have a great Superbowl recipe to share. Courtesy of my friend (and regular Jungle Red commenter) Diane Hale, it's JUNGLE RED HOMEMADE SUPERBOWL BUFFALO WINGS. (Although it doesn't have to be for the Superbowl. You can eat them anytime.) 

I haven't been able to eat buffalo wings in a restaurant for years, because I don't tolerate MSG well and restaurant wing sauces and blue cheese dips are usually loaded with MSG, so I was thrilled when Diane gave me her recipe.  We made the wings on New Year's Eve, and they were so good we've already made them again.

I should add that these are NOT FRIED, but baked, so are as healthy as you are likely to get on Superbowl Sunday.

Here goes, according to Diane:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Cut the drummies and flappers apart, discard the tips. (If you buy Smart Chicken wings, they are already separated and trimmed.) This recipe makes enough sauce for two packages. Dry the wings well. (Diane brines hers, but I didn't get the instructions. Hopefully she will add in the comments.)

½ C catsup
¼ C beer, preferably dark
1 tbsp. of Tiger Sauce (or equivalent hot sauce)
same amount of Tabasco
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp each Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.  

Heat until bubbling, check for taste.
You may need to add a tbsp. or so of brown sugar.  As always, adjust for taste.  If using Tiger Sauce, you may want to start with a tsp., then work your way up.  

Line a roasting pan with foil. Coat the wings with the sauce, then place them on a rack in the roasting pan.  Cook for 30-40 minutes, until they're crispy, then toss once more in a large bowl with the sauce.  

Then put the wings back on the baking rack for another 10-15 minutes until they've darkened and started crisping again.

Reheat any remaining sauce to the boiling point, then serve the wings with a dipping bowl of sauce and a dipping bowl of blue cheese dressing (DEB: I use Marie's because it's MSG-free,) and plenty of really fresh carrot and celery sticks.

Enjoy, and may the... er.. best team win:-)

REDS and readers, tell us what you make for the Superbowl!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: In one of the those weird synchronous things, the Boston Globe ran a piece yesterday on The Joy of Rereading. 

And yesterday we had G.M. Malliet here on Jungle Red, talking about (at least in part) the importance of language to writers.

Which brings me to my very belated love affair (only on paper, which is probably a good thing, considering his amorous history) with Ernest Hemingway. My introduction to Hemingway was The Old Man and the Sea, given as an assignment in ninth or tenth grade English class.  I don't remember being told anything much about Hemingway--my faint impression was of a crotchety old guy who had committed suicide. Although now I don't think he was old, there was certainly nothing to appeal to the romantic instincts of a fourteen or fifteen-year-old.

And the story? I hated it. Really hated it. (Nobel prizes meant nothing to me, either, callow as I was.)  It made no sense to me. And the teacher only wanted to talk about symbolism, and we were graded on whether or not we interpreted the symbolism "correctly." It sucked. Really. (You may be getting an idea why I didn't major in English... You may also guess that you don't want to get me started on deconstructionism...

I went on in the next few years to read most of the Hemingway novels and some of the short stories (by choice) but I still didn't particularly like them. Keep in mind that at the same time I was first introduced to Hemingway, I was also reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and there, I was completely hooked. (Am I a plot sort of girl, I wonder?) I developed an intense infatuation with Tolkein and C.S. Lewis and their coterie of tweedy, middle-aged academics, and you'd have to try hard to find less romantic writers.

I can't believe that I knew absolutely nothing about Hemingway and PARIS. I didn't understand what he had gone through in the first world war. I didn't understand the impact of that on his entire generation. (How hard would it have been to have spliced in a little history and biography with the symbolism?)

And for heaven's sake, why did that long-ago English teacher never show us a picture of Ernest Hemingway when he was twenty-two?

So we fast-forward to a couple of years ago. I was staying in London in a charming mews house. There was a fabulous library of first editions, and among them was a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.  I picked it up (carefully) and took it to bed with me on a cold night. Hours later I was still reading.

The words jumped off the page. Paris in the twenties was as real as if I were there. I could see it and smell it and taste it. And I knew this young man who couldn't contain the words swarming in his mind, who had to put them on paper as if his life depended on it. 

I finished A Moveable Feast and wondered how I could possibly have missed all this.  A year or so later, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris came out, and Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, which is about Hemingway's time in Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, so there was definitely something going on in the ether.  

As for me, I have gone back to The Sun Also Rises. (Why did they not give us The Sun Also Rises in that long-ago class? Because it had sex in it? Nothing could appeal to a teenager more...) 

It makes me remember why I love writing. And maybe someday I'll be brave enough to pick up The Old Man and Sea again, and even like it.

What about you, REDs and readers? Is there a writer you disliked but have come to see in a different light? 

(And don't you love the cover of the first edition of The Sun Also Rises? What were they thinking!)

P.S. News flash! The winners of the three G.M Malliet books are Marni, Karen in Ohio, and Reine. If you three would email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com with your addresses, I'll forward them to Gin.

AND be sure to come back tomorrow to get ready for the Superbowl with our recipe for Jungle Red Homemade Buffalo Wings!

P.S.S. One more little bit of synchronicity: Lucy is writing about Hemingway's house and cats on Key West next week. One day I'm going to go there.

Friday, January 25, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm so pleased to have our Jungle Red friend G.M. Malliet here today. Her first Max Tudor book, Wicked Autumn, was a 2011 Dilys and Agatha nominee for Best Novel, a Shelf Awareness Reviewer's Choice: Top 10 Books of 2011, and an NBC TODAY show Summer Reads Pick by Charlaine Harris. A Fatal Winter, the second Max Tudor mystery, appeared in October 2012. Both Max Tudor books were listed by Library Journal as best mysteries of 2011 & 2012.

And I LOVE these books. I mean, who could resist stories set in the perfect English village of Nether Monkslip, or former MI5 spy turned Anglican priest Max Tudor? (Not to mention that Max is very good-looking, and I'd be willing to bet he was a rower... right, Gin?)

But one of the things I like most about Gin's books is her beautiful use of language, which is not, as she will explain, highbrow.
G.M MALLIET:  I long ago realized that my taste is not very highbrow. I go to plays but I don’t go to the opera, and while I enjoy classical music, I tend to divide it into categories: 1) Nice dinner music, and 2) Loud dinner music. It’s rare that I recognize a classical song or composer unless it’s something popular, like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. I have, however, without meaning to, memorized the lyrics to almost every rock and roll song recorded in the seventies or eighties. And a lot of country-western songs, as well. 

When it comes to poetry, it is pretty much the same story. I tried to improve my mind by reading the classics, because I knew this was good for me, like broccoli, but very few of them stuck. In college, I did acquire an irrational attachment to Ernest Christopher Dowson’s gloomy poem with its long Latin title, a poem most people would simply call Cynara:  
Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;

Heavy stuff, eh? Love that exclamation point, which appears every time Cynara!’s name is mentioned. To this day I can recite much of this poem, but I suspect it is pretty lowbrow. It does have this one famous line:
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

So I gather Margaret Mitchell liked it, too.

And by the way, when Kate and Wills are choosing royal baby names, I think Cynara! should definitely be in the running.

Still, I’ve often thought anyone who strings together words for a living should have more than a nodding acquaintance with poetry. I figure someone like Ruth Rendell, a prolific crime writer whose style I admire to distraction, must somehow be finding the time to read poetry. 

One day on vacation, I picked up a book in a gift shop called Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again by Roger Housden. That title must have come from one of the publisher’s more feverish marketing meetings—a poem to change your life? really?—but I did feel compelled to pick up the book and buy it. It turns out it is one of a series of books Housden has written, which is a good thing, because I quickly was hooked and will soon own the entire collection. These are actually compilations of ten short poems with Housden’s commentary on each one. Of the Again and Again book, Housden says, “Every one of the poems in this book has struck me a blow, a direct hit, each of them, into the heart of hearts.” I must say most of them struck me the same way. I don’t think anyone, for example, can read Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do,” a poem about her brother, without feeling the tears well up.
I am living, I remember you.
So after all these years, this one little book actually did change my life.

Because I have come to realize how important it is as a writer to be submerged not just in plots and prose, but in poetry as well.
Also to realize that if a song or a poem or a novel speaks to the reader for any reason, definitions like low- and highbrow just don’t apply.

I have to say that as an added bonus, one of the poems in this collection inspired the plot for the fourth Max Tudor mystery, the one I’m working on now.

Do you have a treasured poem, new or old?

And while we’re here, any thoughts on what Kate and Wills should name that baby?

 ~ Photo of Ernest Christopher Dowson from
~ Photo of Ruth Rendell from Fantastic Fiction
         ~ Photo of G.M. Malliet by Joe Henson

DEBS:  Gin, I've ordered the first Housden book and hope to get it today. Thanks for the inspiration! I think I would buy them just for the wonderful covers.

And to inspire all our readers to come up with favorite poems AND royal baby names that top Cynara!, Gin is going to randomly pick 3 of our commenters to receive signed 1st editions of her books!

You can learn more about G.M. Malliet and Max Tudor at

P.S. And our winner of NO MARK UPON HER is Lisa Alber! Lisa, if you'll email me at deb at with your address, I'll send you a book.