Thursday, February 28, 2013

Just the Facts!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   It was a huge competition. Which of us--we must have been in fifth grade or so--could read the most books over the summer? Now, that was a contest I could win!  But-I'll never forget--one of the rules was that those little blue biographies did NOT count.

You remember them: Dorothea Dix, Girl of the Streets? (Is that right?)  The Wright Brothers, Boys with Wings.

But our teacher told us those books weren't good enough. For some reason. (I read them anyway! Did you?) But we also had to find other non-fictions..

 And that's how I found Kon-tiki. Which was a life-changing introduction to real-life adventure. (Did you read it?) I still think about it sometimes.

Triss Stein--whose new mystery is fiction!--has been thinking about the non-fiction world--and realized she's

  by Triss Stein

What was your favorite childhood book? Ask any group of writers or avid readers and you are sure to get some lively responses. I bet most of them will be fiction. “Tell me a story” is such a strong need for children, and they (we ) are always looking for a friend (Betsy and Tacy; Charlotte All of a Kind; those March girls), a world that is more interesting (the Big Woods) or beautiful (Narnia) or surprising (Edward Eager’s ). Or the opposite, our own world made special by being in a book (Beverly Cleary, in my day).

How about non-fiction? Did you have any non-fiction books that made the same permanent impression as Nancy Drew or Mary Poppins or Caddie Woodlawn?

I did have a few of those books. I owe it all to Aunt Barbara, my mother’s only sister, who was a children’s librarian and knew what I wanted to read even before I did.

Abraham Lincoln’s World, the first book I read by Genevieve Foster, changed my world. In short segments, with her own charming drawings, she described what was happening all over the world in one iconic person’s lifetime. While Lincoln was learning to read in a log cabin an Indian boy in Mexico named Benito Juarez wanted to go to school, a Frenchman had the idea of building the Suez canal and in Greece, where men wore pleated skirts, there was a war for liberation from Turkey, where men wore turbans. While Lincoln kept a small store, postage stamps were invented, a teen-ager became Queen of England and a painter named Morse sent the first telegraph message.History wasn’t just the story of America. It was happening all around the world, all at the same time. This was a huge revelation to me.

Our Independence and the Constitution is a dry title for a fascinating book. It told in two parts about a little girl who lived in Philadelphia at the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence and years later, the Constitution. By describing how the issues looked to an ordinary family, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a famous author in her day, made it alive and more, made it inspiring. I realized for the first time that it’s only “history” later. At the time, no one knows how the story will turn out and it all could have been different. That was another revelation.

Richard Halliburton was, perhaps, the first adventure travel writer. I cherished my copy of his Complete Book of Marvels, He told about exploring Chichen Itza and the pools where humans were sacrificed, fabled Carcassonne and even more fabled Petra, swimming in both the Panama Canal and the reflecting pool of the Taj Mahal, sneaking into forbidden Mecca. Now, some sections are appalling reflections of outdated attitudes, and some of the history is pure romance, but the fabulous stories and the photographs gave me a sense of the wide, exciting world that was unusual in small town America, 1955. When I went to Petra (!) I thought of Richard Halliburton

There was one more, a book for children about great paintings. It had gorgeous full-color, full–page reproductions and the cover was –I’m pretty sure – Holbein’s portrait of the infant Edward VI of England. That book disappeared along the way, but one of these days I will track it down and buy it and put it on the shelf next to Richard Halliburton and Abraham Lincoln. And I will say thank you to Barbara Dobbis Block.

HANK: Oh, great topic, Triss! Reds, was there a book of fact that changed the way you saw the world?


Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York state’s dairy country who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing adopted home.

Brooklyn Bones

Erica is a youngish single mother and oldish history grad student, keeping it all together with street Brooklyn attitude and grit. As they are working on her unrenovated home at the ungentrified end of trendy Park Slope, her teen-aged daughter uncovers the body of an unknown teenager, a discovery neither of them can ignore.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sweet Smell of Success

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  It's the same every time: when I'm choosing soap or shower gel, I choose grapefruit or lemon. Or sometimes, coconut.

Roses? Melon? Not so much. 

I've worn the same fragrance for years--I still love it every time.

My favorite candles? Vanilla.  And cinnamon.

What's your favorite scent? Why do you choose it? And maybe.. there's more to it...

The Healing Power of Aromatherapy

I’ve been learning, researching and writing about natural remedies for the past decade or so. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Recently when I was researching my newest mystery, I delved into the practice of aromatherapy, which is the practice of using essential oils to improve health and well-being. Aromatherapy can ease stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, aches and pains, and more.

It’s fascinating to discover how aromatherapy works. You see, plants produce essential oils for a variety of reasons to attract pollinators, to protect against bacterial and/or fungal invasion, to deter pests, and to inhibit other plants from growing near them. Through a process of distillation these essential oils are removed from plants.

Essential oils can be extracted from the leaves (eucalyptus), grass (lemongrass), seeds (fennel), fruit/zest (mandarin), flowers (rose), wood/trunk of tree (cedarwood), roots (ginger), resins (frankincense), and herbs (rosemary). Three of my favorite scents are lavender, jasmine and roses, so I thought I’d share a few simple tips on how to use them today.


Not only does Lavender (the Latin verb lavare means “to wash”) smell terrific, it’s calming and soothing and good for cuts and burns, insomnia, diaper rash, tension headache, PMS and cramps (use with clary sage and Roman chamomile). The phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals linalool and linalyl acetate) in lavender are absorbed in the skin and in the membranes inside your nose, slowing nerve impulses, and reducing stress. An easy way to start using lavender is to put five to ten drops of essential oil in your bath. Add the oil after you have filled the tub so you can enjoy the full benefits of this wonderful aroma.


The aroma of jasmine (Jasminum officinale v. grandiflorum) is intoxicatingly sweet, exotic, and floral. It’s also incredibly therapeutic for a variety of conditions. Jasmine essential oil eases mild depression, anxiety, and tension. It also balances energy and helps you feel more optimistic. It calms coughs and laryngitis, soothes sore muscles, stiffness, and sprains. You can apply it topically, use it on a warm or cool compress, put it in the bath, inhale it from your palm, or put it in an electronic diffuser to disperse small aromatic particles into the air.


I love the rich, sweet floral bouquet of roses and the approximately 275 compounds have a myriad of therapeutic uses. For example, if you apply it topically, rose oil can help banish eczema, wrinkles, and acne. If you feel blue, rose essential oil will naturally lift your mood. If you have painful periods, it helps to balance hormones (just put the oil on a warm compress and apply to your lower abdomen). Rose oil also eases nervousness, anxiety, anger, sadness, and grief and can be helpful if you have respiratory problems such as allergies and hay fever. You also use rose oil to help you sleep better and feel happier. For all these conditions, simply put some on your palm and inhale it or put rose essential oil into a diffuser. Your bedroom will smell like an English garden.

To make an aromatic spritzer with any of these scents, just add 10 to 25 drops of essential oil per 4 ounces of water in a squirt bottle. Be sure to shake it each time before you use it.

The effectiveness of aromatherapy depends on the quality and wholeness of the essential oils you use, so it's important to use the very best essential oils possible. You'll want to avoid any synthetics, reconstructions, perfumes, and other adulterated versions. One of my favorite places for essential oils is Floracopia

Start with one essential oil that appeals to you and see how you feel after using it. The wonderful thing about natural remedies like the practice of aromatherapy is that they are usually very safe and easy to use (don’t take internally though, and keep away from children) and the varieties are endless. Enjoy!

HANK: What's your favorite scent?  Is there any one you just can't bear? Tell us...for a chance to win a copy of Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery!

Here’s the scoop on Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery

Willow McQuade, naturopathic doctor, along with her hunky ex-cop boyfriend Jackson Spade, attend a party for a psychic TV show that is filming on Long Island’s idyllic East End. However, Willow is much more interested in visiting the estate’s lavender farm, seeking inspiration for the new aromatherapy workshops she'll be holding at her store, Nature’s Way Market & Café.

Before the party is over, Roger Bixby one of the producers is dead and the police suspect murder. Roger was working on the show, MJ’s Mind, with Carly Bixby, his ex-wife and the new girlfriend of Willow's ex from L.A., TV writer/producer Simon Lewis.

After Willow leaves the party, she gets a frantic text from Simon asking for her help. Since Simon had a fight with Roger earlier in the evening, and because of his death is now the primary shareholder in Galaxy films, Willow's ex becomes the prime suspect. Simon begs her to crack the case and clear him of the murder. MJ McClellan, the psychic and star of the show also asks Willow for help. She hires Willow to provide natural remedies, including aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and yoga to soothe the agitated crew of her show.

To find the killer, Willow has to deal with ghosts in a haunted mansion, a truly dysfunctional family, death threats and “accidents,” while trying to untangle a homicide identical to one committed during prohibition. Thankfully, Jackson has been hired to provide security and is there to watch her back and help Willow solve this spooky mystery.

As a bonus, you’ll find dozens of natural aromatherapy cures throughout the book that can improve your health. I think you’ll be surprised as how much they can help you feel better in mind, body and spirit!

Chrystle Fiedler is the author of SCENT TO KILL, (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster) the second in the NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY series, DEATH DROPS: A Natural Remedies Mystery, the non-fiction title THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO NATURAL REMEDIES (Alpha, 2009), co-author of BEAT SUGAR ADDICTION NOW! (Fairwinds Press, 2010), currently in its fourth printing, the BEAT SUGAR ADDICTION NOW!COOKBOOK (Fairwinds Press, 2012) and THE COUNTRY ALMANAC OF HOME REMEDIES (Fairwinds, 2011). Chrystle’s magazine articles featuring natural remedies have appeared in many national publications including Natural Health, Vegetarian Times, Better Homes & Gardens and Remedy. Visit

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How New Is TOO New?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:    I bought a black leather dress. I WORE it.

Are you surprised? I mean, it's..unpredictable.  You don't think of me in all black leather.  And yet, there I was. We all try new things, right?

But there are some people for whom we will not accept "newness." And those are our beloved characters. You say: "Miss Marple" and I know who she is and what she'll do. And what she won't do. Poirot. Inspector Morse. Kinsey. Reacher.  And Jessica Fletcher.

Ouch. That's exactly the problem the erudite and charming and talented Donald Bain and his fabulous wife (and wriitng partner ) Renee are facing. How do you keep it new--but not--TOO new?

Win Some, Lose Some

By Donald Bain

When writing a long-running series, having a large and devoted fan base is obviously a good thing. Readers eagerly await the publication of the next book, which assures a built-in market. It also encourages the writer to make each succeeding book better than the last one.

But it also carries with it a potential downside. Members of that loyal fan base expect each book to faithfully adhere to the basic elements that mark the series. Running characters mustn’t deviate very far from the characteristics that have endeared them to fans, and each book’s tone must not go far afield from what the readers expect. If the series avoids blood and gore, and romantic interests don’t slip into explicit sexual scenes, to shift gears and include graphic violence and sex is sure to turn off your fan base.

The series with which my wife and collaborator, Renée Paley-Bain, and I’ve been involved, 40 novels in the “Murder, She Wrote” series—and my connection with the 26 Washington-based novels in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series—are good cases in-point.

As fans of the “Murder, She Wrote” series know, Jessica Fletcher goes through life solving murders wherever she goes, and does it with grace, charm, humility, and aplomb. The books, while differing in terms of setting and storylines (many, of course, take place in Jessica’s beloved Cabot Cove) maintain a constant “feel.” They fall into the “cozy” genre—Jessica is now referred to by reviewers as “today’s Miss Marple”—and generally avoid subjects that might be considered too dark.

So when Domestic Malice was published last year, a small but vocal number of faithful followers of the series complained that the topic underlying the story, namely the serious problem of domestic violence, was a little too heavy for their taste.

The book itself didn’t deviate from all the books that preceded it, but wrapped into the Cabot Cove-based story was the reality that spousal abuse takes place in the United States at an alarming rate, and this point is made through the actions of the characters. While a few readers might fall by the wayside, newer ones who’d not read the series before but were attracted to Domestic Malice because of this subject filled the gap.

In the case of the Truman series, the latest, Experiment in Murder, published last November, broke the mold of the previous 25 books. It was written as a thriller, pure and simple. In addition, it cast light on the years of government-sponsored experimentation into mind control and its attempt to program the perfect assassin, a subject I did considerable research on years ago when writing the non-fiction The CIA’s Control of Candy Jones. Like a few fans of “Murder, She Wrote,” loyal Margaret Truman readers, used to quieter books that were more Washington-based murder mysteries than thrillers, have expressed their unhappiness with this change in tone and approach. But also like the Jessica Fletcher novels, while losing a few readers is dismaying, the new fans who prefer the new approach more than make up for it.

Domestic Malice did not deviate dramatically from all the previous books. Jessica Fletcher and her band of loyal, loving friends in Cabot Cove continue to live and function as readers expect them to. In Experiment in Murder politics continues to be at the core of the novel, and the series favorite couple, Mac and Annabel Smith (who’ve become fan favorites as the new Nick & Nora Charles), play a role, although not as major a one as some loyal readers would prefer. I treasure every reader, and wince at the thought of losing even one. Fortunately, these defections are few and far between. And I suspect that even those who are disgruntled will not abandon either series and will be on-hand at the bookstore or online when the next novel is published.

But these two examples point to a problem that every writer of long-standing series faces—how to keep a series fresh and inject new storylines—while not disappointing those diehard fans who resist any change with their favorite books and characters. What we’ve done most often is change locations so we have new settings to explore, different cultures to discover. Or we’ll take a peek into the hobbies, passions and interests of others. We try to weave in issues we confront either in the news or in our lives.

 Books in the “Murder, She Wrote” series have touched on the dangers of diet drugs, art forgery in Italy, a runaway teenager, hunting truffles in France, plus looks behind the scenes in a theater, on a movie set, and in competitive figure skating. The Truman books address public concerns, too, as well as weave American history into each story. If a topic intrigues us, we hope it will engage our readers. But every now and then we’ll hit on something that raises hackles.

My answer? Follow your instincts, have faith in readers’ willingness to experience something slightly new, and forge ahead with the next book. It’s a challenge, but one that keeps writers on their toes.

HANK: So, Reds? Are you flexible with your faves? If Kinsey Millhone suddenly went off on a sex-crazed weekend...if Jack Reacher got a new bespoke suit ...if  Sookie Stackhouse realized she wanted to go get her MBA.  If Lisbeth Salander--well, what would be unpredictable? Would you embrace the new? Or would you think--whoa. I'm done?  How new is too new?
And to a lucky commenter--we'll award Donald's newest--EXPERIMENT IN MURDER!

Monday, February 25, 2013

I Wish I Could UN-See That Movie!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, the Oscars were last night, and (fill in the blank) was awesome, and what a surprise about (fill in the blank) and didn't(fill in the blank) look incredible? (Fill in the blank) was such a disappointment, and (fill in the blank) was so inarticulate. And could you believe the...well, you get the point. You don't need US to talk about the Academy Awards, and all the  movies and stars that were honored.

(We're happy to discuss it, of course!)

But let's do the opposite. Let's talk about movies we hate. Not so-bad-they're good movies, like Plan Nine from Outer Space and Point Break, but ones that were disappointments, or ridiculous, or absurd, or over-hyped, or just--unbearably awful.

My most un-favorite? THE VANISHING.   SPOORLOOS in Dutch, but it had subtitles. That was the creepiest movie I've ever seen, and actually, I wish I could UNsee it. (There's a  American verison, but I'm talking about the original.)  A young couple stops at a highway rest stop. The girl goes inside to the bathroom,and never comes out. And the guy spends the rest of the movie looking for her. Completely and totally obsessed.

(This isn't a spoiler.) So eventually, he gets asked--"You can find out what happened to her, but the same thing will happen to you. Do you wanna know?"  

I can't even write about it. It was SO disturbing. How about you? Any movies you wish you could UNsee?

LUCY BURDETTE: I am getting better at not going to movies I'd like to unsee later. But I did see the live-action shorts. And I wish I could unsee the first one, called DEATH of a SHADOW. A man had to kill 1000 people and then he could be released from his own death. Isn't that a creepy premise? At least we didn't have to slump through all 1000 deaths.

The funny thing is, the film that won this category last year was funny and quirky and upbeat, and yet all the offerings for 2012 were downers, with harsh settings (Somalia and Afghanistan, for example) and grim characters. I guess it's a sign of the times?

RHYS BOWEN: I don't do disturbing movies any more. When I was young I'd go to dark and violent foreign films and sit drinking wine dissecting them afterward. Now I can't handle too much darkness. I like my movies to be well-written and great human dramas (or comedies). My major beef recently with movie theaters is the sound level. Saw the Hobbit in Imax and the sound during the previews was so loud it actually hurt my ears. I haven't seen any movies I hate recently because I only go now on recommendations from friends and good reviewers. Movies like Quartet and Marigold Hotel--that's my speed. The one movie remember absolutely hating after it received so much praise was Raging Bull, every second word was a four letter one. We walked out.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I agree with you, Rhys. I'm fine with the f-bomb once in a while, as necessary, but I've never had much tolerance for being carpet-bombed. You can't convince me that the original 1962 CAPE FEAR with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum was less scary than the more graphically violent and obscenity-laden remake with Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte.

Graphic violence usually turns it into a can't-see flick for me. The only film I can remember walking out of is SAVAGES. I like Don Winslow's books, but I can stomach a lot more on the printed page than I can onscreen. I lasted until the "heroes" are forced to help torture a guy before I couldn't take it anymore. Caught the last half hour of THE AVENGERS instead.

A movie that I just hated? In theaters now. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD stunk like a fish left out in the sun for three days. And I LOVE the DIE HARD series. Plot holes so gaping, Ross, the Boy and I were turning to each other in the theater and asking each other, "But wouldn't he..?" Afterwards, Ross said, "I wish we had seen that in a foreign language. Without subtitles. It would have hung together better."

HALLIE EPHRON: Like Rhys, I stick to movies I've read about and won't make me feel like I stepped in it. So I've got to go back... to A Clockwork Orange. Gleefully torture and maim, tra la. Ick and double ick. Masterpiece schmassterpiece.

The good thing about watching movies at home is FAST FORWARD and the ever handy MUTE button.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: This is a hard one.  I've been disappointed in a lot of movies but UNSEE really raises - or is it lowers - the bar.  There's only one I REALLY wish I'd never seen, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Don't ask me to explain.

For the record I love Plan 9 From Outer Space, 2000 Maniacs, Eeegah!, Valley of Gwangi and a lot of movies many people think are dreadful. I just bought a copy of Frogs! This is a film I've never seen but have mentioned many times in my talk Mischief and Mayhem in the Garden. It stars Oscar winner Ray Milland and carries the memorable taglines "They're not the ones who croak!" and "First the pond - then the world!" I can't wait to watch it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Because at our house, Friday night is At Home Movie Date Night, and Rick often chooses, I watch all sorts of things. He does make an effort to find things I'll like, so the stinkers are more often my choices. Like Syriana. Hated that movie. And very recently, Flight. I won't say I hated it--good performance by Denzel Washington--but it was pretty much a case of suffering through it. Nice ending, but SO depressing getting there. And SO long.
Movies I wish I could unsee? I think I'm with Hallie on Clockwork Orange. I did my best to erase it from my memory files.

But my current "wish I could unsee" is a TV show, the new series called The Following with James Purefoy and Kevin Bacon, two fine actors. I watched ten minutes of the pilot, thought it was awful, turned it off. Then last week, in a hotel room, the second episode came on and I watched the whole thing in a sort of numb state of shock.  It's not only vile, but BAD. As in bad acting, bad dialogue, unbelievable characters... Just dreadful. Do not be tempted to watch this or you'll want to take a memory-erase pill!

HANK: See? And this is why the world goes round. I loved Clockwork Orange. And I LOVED Raging Bull.  And Ro, I am still laughing over "They're not the onlly ones who croak!" Classic. But you'd never want to unsee it. As for The Following, I have to say, I kind of like it. But it is incredibly violent.  And I just don't like to take up room in my head with that. Which reminds me of a scene in the otherwise-fabulous Game of Thrones I wish I hadn't seen.  Eeessh.

So ,Reds--whats the movie that makes your brain crawl? That you wish you could unsee? And to celebrate Debs wonderful new THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS--the oppoite of unsee!--we're giving away a copy to one lucky commenter!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reality Knocks, But Are We Answering?

HALLIE EPHRON: Are we ready for a  reality show?
The email came from "Casting Catrina" so of course I almost didn't open it. I mean, CASTING CATRINA?? (Sexy Russian woman looking for Mr. Right...)

But the subject line was irresistible:

ABC Casting Contestants for New Mystery Competition Show, "Whodunnit?

For reals (go to to see for yourself), apparently ABC is trawling for a cast for a new competition show where contestants solve mysteries. So they're looking for "amateur sleuths." Prize: $250K. Not too shabby.

As if I'd ever be on a reality competition show. I'm a terrible loser -- I can't even play Scrabble without throwing tiles. And when I win I gloat. These are behaviors I'm happy to say have been shared with relatively few and mostly people who are related to me and it's what they get for badgering me into playing.

Would you ever go on a "reality" (I use the term lightly) competition TV show? And what would the competition be about?

RHYS BOWEN: If I were younger and fitter I would have enjoyed The Amazing Race. It's one of the few reality shows I watch. That, and Project Runway, for which I am in no way qualified. But as for any other reality show--from Survivor to The Bachelorette--no way.

My daughter in the industry says they are scripted to make the best TV (and to make contestants look like mean-spirited fools).

LUCY BURDETTE: That casting call has been all the buzz on the lists I frequent--I know at least 3 mystery writers who have applied. They have to send in a little video and answer questions like: "what sets you apart from everyone else who will be applying?"

No, not for me. I cannot be clever under pressure, as you all may have noticed in the JRW edition Family Feud. And I hate to lose too:)

Which reminds me--our kids (correction, young people--they are in their twenties) were visiting us recently. We are currently most enamored of the game Bananagrams, in which you spell out linked words with 15 to 20 tiles. A, the youngest, suddenly began to win every game. Annoying!

My stepdaughter and I got the idea of giving him all the worst tiles when he was out of the room--the Q's, the Z's, the V's, the J's. We waited and waited for him to complain about his bad luck, but instead he bore down--and won again!

HALLIE: Maybe you should submit HIS name to ABC?!

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Got that email too. This is so not for me. I'm competitive in some areas (Hallie, I would LOVE to play Scrabble with you one of these days..) but being on television holds no interest for me. Anyone remember the movie Reality Bites?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Now I feel left out! I didn't get the email! But while I wouldn't turn up my nose at the prize, actually winning it would be a little like playing the lottery. And I can't think of many things I'd less rather do than be on a game show. On TV.

Although I loved JRWs Family Feud.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Yeah, I work for NBC so I'm out. Happily. (Because, really, I'd hate to be on it, and then lose. Yeesh.)  I do know people who have gotten a second call for it. And I wish them all the luck! And it could be wonderful publicity.

Is there ANY reality show I'd be willing to be on? Ah. I'd say no.  Still I'd love to know how they really work.

But be warned--we WILL rock the next Bouchercon with another game! (Right?)
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm game, Hank!(pun intended)

I confess to being pretty snobby about a lot of reality shows. Would I do REAL HOUSEWIVES OF MAINE? No. I doubt America is clamoring to see a group of flannel- and polarplus-clad women discussing the state of their woodpiles and what they scored at Mardens Salvage Warehouse last week.

I'd jump at the chance to participate in one of those ones on The Home channel, or whatever it is, where designers or architects come to your house and redo it. Sign me up! I'll even act dysfunctional and whacky, if required. Also? I confess to a secret love of SAY YES TO THE DRESS. I watch it with my 12-year-old daughter. Don't judge.

HALLIE: The Reds are ready for reality, but is reality ready for us?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Puppy In Winter: Kate George, author of the Bree MacGowan series

HALLIE EPHRON: You know Kate George is a dog person because right there on her web site, under a caricature of Kate, she blames it on the dog.

Kate comes by her love of animals honestly. She grew up on a farm where she made her mother crazy by adopting a feral kitten. She now lives in Central Vermont with a number of rescued critters, mostly dogs - the cats have to live in the barn and a squirrel lives in her bedroom ceiling.

She began the Bree MacGowan Mystery Series based on a swank mystery hotel in the woods near her home. In the series (Moonlighting in Vermont, Califorina Schemin' and Crazy Little Thing Called Dead) Bree shares Kate's weakness for abandoned animals and owns a number of the same animals as Kate. The skunk incident in California Schemin' (the skunk tries to steal the beds out from under Bree's dogs) actually happened on Kate's porch.

I invited Kate to join us and tell us a little bit about her latest animal adventure, taking in another pup.

KATE GEORGE: I was going to wait until spring to get a new puppy. That was the wise and wonderful plan. But the thing is this puppy looks just like Bree MacGowan's Chihuahua, Beans. Bree is the protagonist of my mystery series and when I saw this baby on Petfinders and I could. Not. Resist. How could I not adopt Beans's döppelganger?

Now, I know better. If anyone ever asks me, I’ll tell them not to get a puppy in the dead of winter. Or at least don't get a puppy from the south when you live in Vermont and there’s snow on the ground.

How in the world was I going to housebreak a puppy that can't stop shivering long enough to pee?

My husband got pretty cranky about the little presents the puppy’s leaving us in the house, so I did what I vowed I never would do. I bought the baby a jacket. I swore I'd never be one of those doggy mommies . . . and yet here I am with a pipsqueak of a dog with a pink parka (with a hood) and a blue sweater.

I'm so embarrassed and she’s still not doing her duty outside. Except every so often she’ll get my hopes up by squatting in the snow –only to dash them again when she puddles in the house.

When I first started taking her out I'd put her down in the snow and she'd give me one look of scorn and head into the porch and sit at the kitchen door. The leash works a little better, but only if none of the other dogs is out. (Yes I am a multiple dog family, and the largest dog could just about swallow the smallest dog whole.)

I was hoping that when I took her out with the other dogs she’d noticed what they’re doing and learn by imitation. No such luck.

These are the conditions required for the new puppy to pee outside:
  • There must be patches of ground without snow. (I live in Vermont, people. It ain't happening.)
  • The temperature must be above twenty-five degrees. 
  • She must be on a leash and no other dogs can be out. 
  • The horse next farm down must not neigh. 
  • Coydogs and fox cubs may not yip. No smells, cars or people can waft by on the road.
The list goes on.

Of course in a year she'll be twice the size of Beans. Not that she’ll be big - ten pounds or so of bigness is all -  just bigger, noisier, and a lot less potty trained than Beans. You know I think I'm jealous, Bree never has to house train her dogs. I do that for her.

Too bad I can’t find someone to do the same for me.

HALLIE: I do love the name "Beans" for a Chihuahua. You can see that Kate lives up to her motto -- "Mystery with a side of laughter" -- even when the joke's on her.

My adventures in housebreaking are confined too potty training my kids, and I had one (not sayin' which) who was a challenge. We tried every kind of bribery just to get her to sit, and sit, and sit on her little potty chair which she did (for hours) with a book in her lap. Then she'd announce "All done!" Stand. Wipe her belly button. And pee on the floor.

So let's keep it clean, but anyone out there want to share their housebreaking story?

Friday, February 22, 2013

An Unsuitable Job for a Sleuth? Ask Alicia Stone...

HALLIE EPHRON:  Jeannette de Beauvoir last visited Jungle Red as half of J.A. Squires (Assignment: Nepal and the upcoming Assignment: Robin Hood). Now she's back with series debut, "Murder Most Academic," and a new pseudonym,  Alicia Stone.

Her protagonist this time out is more unconventional than everJeannette, I think you're breaking new ground with this book.
JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR: I could be wrong, but I think that one of the few professions that hasn’t had a mystery series wrapped around it is prostitution. Oh, we all know that Janet Evanovich’s Lula used to be a “ho,” but that’s a stereotypical and limited vision of the profession: high-class escorts and call girls generally dress discreetly, are well-read and cultured, and have a firm grasp of English grammar.

So I hope the world is ready for a series featuring Trinity Pierce, who is definitely a woman with a past. These days she’s a history professor; but until two years ago she was financing her graduate school education (and her mother’s residence in an expensive psychiatric hospital) with regular work as a high-class call girl. She is careful not to share that past with anyone at Boston’s Moreland College, where she hopes to eventually secure tenure.

In the series debut, "Murder Most Academic," Trinity's former madam, Kate Kazanjian, comes to her with a problem: one of her clients is being blackmailed. The client also happens to teach at Moreland, and Kate wants Trinity to figure out what’s going on and save her friend.

HALLIE: This unfamiliar world opens up all sorts of fascinating plot possibilities! Can you give us a few, and any dark corners that you preferred not to explore?

JEANNETTE: Well, being around any illegal activity entails some edginess, doesn't it? But you have to understand, this isn't the world of human trafficking or forced prostitution, so it's actually much more ordinary than most people think.

HALLIE: What kind of research did you do to make this world feel real?

One of my closest friends in the world is, in fact, a madam. I've long been fascinated observing her world, and by the people I've met through her who work in that world.

I didn't have as many prejudices about it as most people, perhaps; I'm half French and grew up in France, where there's a far more relaxed attitude toward such things; but I do recognize that a lot of people make assumptions about the profession. All of the women I met are strong, smart, creative feminists who have chosen to do sex work in order to give themselves time and space to do other things.

HALLIE: Really?! You are so right, that's not what I would have expected.

Like all the best mysteries this one is driven by character. And one thing you take great advantage of is characters who are in some ways opposites: Trinity and Kate. How does that contrast drive your story?

JEANNETTE: Trinity and Kate haven't seen each other since Trinity got the job at Moreland and retired from being a call girl. And I think that was really a mistake, because they're so great together.

Trinity has a dark past, but Kate lives with her *mother*, for heaven's sake, who also mothers all the women who work for her. Kate's used to figuring things out, but within narrow kinds of parameters; Trinity thinks with a little more breadth. They both care a lot about people, though, and that's what unites them. I'm glad that they're back in each other's lives now.

So what do you think? Can readers get on board with a former prostitute as a series sleuth? I'm guessing yes.

Murder Most Academic is published by Mainly Murder Press and is available in paperback and ebook formats. More at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Barbara Corrado Pope, cheeky feminist historian and Oprah pick

HALLIE EPHRON: Historian Barbara Corrado Pope came to mystery writing after a truly illustrious career as a (no, it's not a dirty word) feminist. Founding Director of Women's and Gender Studies at University of Oregon, her wonderful mysteries are steeped in history and twisted by her own uniquely subversive viewpoint.

Her debut novel, "Cezanne's Quarry," asks could Paul Cézanne be a killer, and introduced the world to detective Bernard Martin. Her new novel, "The Missing Italian Girl," is set in Paris in 1897, and Bernard's wife Clarie comes into her own as a sleuth.

Barbara, What was going on in Paris in 1897 that inspired you to set this story there?

I thought Paris would offer me a topic very much up my alley: the women’s movement. I assumed this might be a good way to bring the series (and especially the character of Clarie) to a conclusion. None of this worked out!

The most fascinating characters in the women’s movement didn’t really achieve notoriety until slightly after this period (e.g., Marguerite Durand walking around with her pet lion!). So I fell back on my other historical passion: social classes. Then, things fell into place: anarchism, the labor movement, the plight of poor working class girls, middle class women coming into their own by doing something not fully approved by society.

HALLIE: In all of your books, not so far beneath the surface you are exploring the theme of the role of women within the context of established institutions and expectations. How are you exploring that again -- because the "detective" this time isn't your series sleuth Bernard Martin but his wife Clarie. 

BARBARA:  A number of readers asked, “What happened to Clarie? in ‘The Blood of Lorraine?’” she was grieving the loss of her child and vulnerable to the messages of religious fanaticism. They wanted the young, fierce Clarie of “Cézanne’s Quarry” back. And so did I.

But she’s older now, constrained by the responsibilities of motherhood and profession, so she doesn’t decide all at once to be a detective. It takes her ethnic and maternal identity with a charwoman and her compassion for the poor to give her the courage to go against society and her husband, and pursue the search for Maura Laurenzano, the Missing Italian Girl.

Also, I wanted very much to write a “woman’s book,” in part to see if I could do it. In "The Missing Italian Girl,” Clarie and Maura, who, unlike Clarie, needs to soften some of her harder edges, form a strong identity.

Tell us about the research you did for this book. I hope it involved a trip to Paris.

BARBARA: Are you kidding me? All my friends thought me immensely clever to set a book in Paris. Before going, of course, I did quite a bit of research around the topics that would be explored in my book: women’s and labor history, schooling, and anarchism. But I also knew that the place would inspire me as well.

In contrast to Aix and Nancy (where I researched the previous books), with their historical, relatively unchanged, centers, Paris is ever-changing and big. So, I had to choose a neighborhood for my characters to inhabit.

First, I picked a school for Clarie to teach in. I wanted it to be not the poshest girl’s school in Paris, but a very good one with a “mixed” (Catholic and Jewish, professional and commercial) population. Once I located the school, the Lycée Lamartine, we looked for an apartment near it. We found one two blocks up the street! For those who know Paris, it is the street that divides the 9th from the 10th arrondissement, not very picturesque, but, for Parisians, the “real” Paris.

Then I began to treat the neighborhood like a village, learning the buildings, the slope of the streets and its history. Old photos helped immensely in re-imagining the long-gone aspects of place.

HALLIE: Congratulations on getting picked for Oprah's Book Club as a "Compulsively Readable Mystery." I think I can speak for all the Red when I say we're jealous! Were you sitting down when you found out the book had been picked?

BARBARA: Thanks! Of course I was excited. Since I was at my computer I was already sitting. So I just gave the computer some special cheers! I especially liked the fact that the reviewer, Nathalie Gorman, emphasized the women’s issues that I tried to bring out in the story.

Tell us about what are you working on next?

BARBARA:  Hmmmm. Historical.
HALLIE: Why am I not surprised?

I am drawn to two different topics. The story of Galla Placidia, the last Roman Empress, which I will attempt first to put in play form; and, a semi-autobiographical novel set in my hometown Cleveland, Ohio. My friends who cheered me going to Paris, look at me skeptically and say: “Rome? Cleveland? Is there a choice?”

There’s also the possibility of a fourth Martin book. I might write that women’s movement book after all, carrying it right into the First World War.

HALLIE: So, Reds, are you comfortable being called a feminist? Do you you like to  books that feel as if there's a cheeky (not preachy) broad at the keyboard, not afraid to call it the way she sees it?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Saving Memories with Old New Borrowed Redo

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm sharing what it was like "Growing Up Ephron" in the March issue of The Oprah Magazine.

The theme for this issue is "De-clutter Your Life" -- something I should certainly do. They asked some fun questions for their contributors page (cleverly titled "Trash Talk"). Here's one of my answers:

The one thing I regret tossing is... my wedding dress. It was lace, with an Empire waist and bell sleeves, but it had a stain so I got rid of it. I wish I'd kept it and turned it into a cute little pillow.

Wouldn't you know, no sooner is the magazine on the stands then I get an email, subject line: Your wedding dress WOULD have made a great pillow!!!!

The message came from Lindsey Radoff and Jennifer Manroel, the talented twins behind OLD NEW BORROWED REDO. They make keepsakes out of those garments that you don't wear but can't bear to throw away. So I invited them over to tell us what they're up to.

Which of you came up with the idea for ONBR and did you have to do a lot of strong-arming to get the other to go along?

LINDSEY RADOFF: I had been talking about how I wanted to make throw pillows from my gown and I was always got the same response: “Great idea, but you’ll never do it.”  Then when I was honeymooning in Maui, we were on a hike and this little idea developed into an idea for a business. 

JENNIFER MANROEL: When Lindsey told me about this idea and instantly I was on board

HALLIE: What's the most unique request you've ever had?

JENNIFER: Making a baby blanket out of scraps from a bridesmaid dress.  One of our customers mailed us the scraps in a manila envelope!  We weren’t sure if we even had enough fabric for a baby blanket.  We used fabric as the nameplate to embroider Makayla, the baby’s name and date of birth.

HALLIE: Your biggest, most complicated project?

LINDSEY:  Most of our REDOs are from wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, but we also redo T-shirts into throw blankets.  One of our customers was a huge San Diego Padres and Chargers fan so we took his t-shirts and also made a quilt.  The blankets range in size and can incorporate anywhere from fifteen t-shirts, up to thirty t-shirts. 

JENNIFER: What better way to surprise your husband on a one-year anniversary than repurpose your wedding gown into lingerie!
HALLIE: You are identical twins, which is like siblings squared. How do you divide the work and deal with the inevitable rivalry?

LINDSEY:  We are definitely siblings squared!  We look a lot alike and we do practically EVERYTHING together! 

Jen is better at designing the keepsakes whereas I have a better eye at pairing new fabrics to match well with the dress. Jen is very organized - in fact, she can't leave our office without making sure everything is neatly put away. So she handles a lot of the day-to-day activity for the company.  I am much better with numbers so I handle the financials.

JENNIFER: I love designing pillows and picture frames and Lindsey loves baby blankets and t-shirt quilts.

HALLIE:  Tell us about the “green” in your business.

LINDSEY:  We are very eco-friendly.  We pride ourselves in the fact that we work with existing dresses and clothing, and we reuse them and repurpose them into keepsakes.  These “one-time wear” dresses are no longer just sitting in our closets; rather, we’re giving customers a way to recycle their dresses and redo them into keepsakes that can be displayed in their homes. 

HALLIE: And keep all those good memories alive. We wish you the best! Visit their store and workroom at

Do you have save your favorite garments even if you can't wear them? Or are you like me and toss them out blithely, only to wish you hadn't?

Lucky EDITH! You are the winner of Deborah Crombie's THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS. Email Debs with your  mailing address (deb at deborahcrombie dot com) 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Deborah Crombie: Dreaming Up The Sound of Broken Glass

BREAKING NEWS: We're giving away a copy of the book to one lucky commenter... tune in tomorrow to see who wins it...

HALLIE EPHRON: Today, yes TODAY! Deborah Crombie's fantastic new mystery featuring the much married Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James "The Sound of Broken Glass." 

Full disclosure: I loved this book! I was thrilled to read an early copy, and two of the things that stick with me are the characters and and incredible sense of place. I particularly got attached to Nadine and Andy -- she's a young teacher, he's just thirteen and a brilliant musician, and they're both damaged goods. It seems such an unlikely place to start the novel, and yet it works. How did they come to you?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Andy walked onto the page three books ago, as a very minor character in Where Memories Lie. He was only meant to be a witness to a murder, but he started talking in my head, the way characters sometimes do, and I found I knew just enough about him that I wanted to know more. In the next book I discovered that he had a personal connection with Duncan and Gemma, through Charlotte, and that let me set the stage for telling his story.

Nadine, now, I'm a little reluctant to confess about that, for fear of being thought whacko. I dreamed her. This was certainly my strangest experience as a writer.

When I say dreamed, I'm simplifying. I woke about four in the morning--this was just after I'd finished the previous book, "No Mark Upon Her" --with no recollection of having dreamed, but with a great chunk of what became "The Sound of Broken  Glass" in my head.

I'd known some of Andy's back story, and that I wanted to set the book in Crystal Palace, but suddenly I had Nadine. I got up, got a notebook, and wrote like made for about five hours, knowing that even as I did, some of it was slipping away.

Things changed in the writing of the novel, of course, but the core of the story remained, and more than anything, the atmosphere.

HALLIE: Your series stars DI Gemma James and DS Duncan Kincaid, now married with kids including an adorable three-year-old foster child who's lost her birth parents. Gemma's got a promotion and Duncan stays home with the kids. Gemma's colleague is Melody, a smart female detective. They're investigating the murder of a man found naked, trussed, and strangled in a seedy hotel. Talk about role reversals! Was that deliberate?

DEBS: The previous book, "No Mark Upon Her," was much more Duncan's book, so I certainly meant to give Gemma more focus in Broken Glass. She has a new job, she's working with Melody, and I liked the fact that it was all-female team.  And I had fun with Duncan experiencing the joys and frustrations of the stay-at-home dad.  As for the trussed up barrister, maybe that was my subconscious at work again!

HALLIE: Another character I fell in love with is Poppy -- she's young, dresses like a Betsey Johnson nightmare (fur-lined boots, flower-patterned tights, ruffled skirt, puffy jacket, spiked hair.) She's confident, cheeky, and uber talented with a smoky alto voice. Tell us where she came from?

DEBS: Oh, I love Poppy. She's a vicar's daughter, a musical prodigy. She's smart and funny and confident of her own talent. As well as singing, she plays a fretless bass guitar--no mean feat.

Where did she come from? Hmmm. I wanted Andy to play with a younger female vocalist, a girl with huge potential.

I watched a lot of videos of young British female singers. That helped me work out what kind of voice I wanted her to have, but in the end, Poppy wasn't really like anyone else. The clothes might be her bit of rebellion--or she might just have great marketing instincts...

A funny thing -- I already knew her name was Poppy when I bought a handbag by a designer named Poppie Jones. I still have the tag on my fridge. So Poppy became Poppy Jones.

HALLIE: There is a rich sense of a place, past and a present, that permeates this book. Tell us about Crystal Palace. Is it somewhere those of us who go to London as tourists might have been to?

DEBS: I have a friend who moved a few years ago from the Notting Hill area of London to Crystal Palace, and he kept telling me I had to set a book there. When I went to visit for the first time, I was hooked.

As the highest point in South London, it's somewhat geographically isolated, especially in bad weather (as we see in the book!) That alone gives the area a unique character, but I was also
fascinated by the history of the Crystal Palace and by Crystal Palace Park. There is something so atmospheric about the ruin of something that was so remarkable.

I was also introduced to Antenna Studios, the recording studio where Andy plays with Poppy, and it was just too great not to use.

While Crystal Palace is certainly off the usual tourist path, I'd highly recommend it on a NICE day. (When it's cold, it's colder in Crystal Palace. The winds swirling around the hill can be ferocious.) Have lunch or a drink at the White Hart, which is the White Stag in the book. (I only changed the name because I'd named some of the staff.) Have dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Joanna's. And wander down the steep little alleyways. You might just stumble across Antenna Studios and The Secret Guitar Shop.

HALLIE: Music is everywhere in this book, and I have to ask if you have performed or played? And maybe give us a play list that would go with the book?

DEBS: I am, unfortunately, both completely untalented and musically illiterate. Maybe that's part of why music fascinates me so much. My husband does play the guitar very well, however, and I've given Andy his acoustic guitar, the Gibson Hummingbird.

I read every guitar-player autobiography I could find, and talked to guitarists, song-writers, singers, and producers. Such fun research. I hope readers enjoy it as much as I did.  And I listened to a lot of
music. Here's a fun--if slightly bizarre-- playlist on Spotify.

: Congratulations on a fabulous book. Where can readers catch up with you on tour?

DEBS: Thanks, Hallie!  I'll be in Houston, Phoenix, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas.  Here's a link to the specific events.

And if readers want to know more about Crystal Palace, there are wonderful images on my Facebook page:

Note: In the photo, I'm camping it up in the rehearsal space in Antenna Studios.  You can see a bit of the view down the hill in the background. Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne

HALLIE: Well, all I can say is I want what Debs is eating before she goes to bed so I can have her dreams. I confess, I wake up with a great idea, scribble down the idea, and in the morning have no idea what the heck I was talking about.

Anyone else have the great luck with dreams that Debs does?