Sunday, March 31, 2013

Writing Epiphanies

HALLIE EPHRON: As I bear down on the pub date for my new novel, I'm feeling philosophical. 

Remembering back to 2001 when my first book was about to launch and how much I was flying by the seat of my pants. Twelve years later, eleven books... I often still feel just as clueless.

But here are some of the things I've learned.

I’ve learned that... 

  • My first instinct isn’t always my best idea. 
  • I hate to write, I love having written.
  • Readers don’t have to be spoon fed; write the badda-bing but let the reader discover the badda-boom.
  • There’s no one way to get the book written.
  • No one (except other writers) wants to hear writers complain.
  • Suspense and surprise can be mutually exclusive; sometimes you have to pick.
  • There are two kinds of days: the "everything’s great" day and "it’s all a piece of sh-t" day, and neither one is accurate
  • Conflict makes dialogue more interesting, but a character who’s constantly arguing gets old fast.
  • Complexity can grow out of clashing cliches 
  • You can triangulate from your own experience to find emotion in a situation you've never experienced.
And finally:
  • The book won't write itself.

       What are your epiphanies from writing and reading?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How do you say HOORAY??

HALLIE EPHRON: I have three bottles of champagne in the fridge. Two containers of caviar. I'm waiting for a reason to celebrate, even though I routinely tell aspiring writers DON'T WAIT. Celebrate every milestone along the way!!

Because you don't want your next of kin (much as you may adore them) drinking a toast to your memory with the champagne you never broke out.

My favorite foods for celebrating are champagne or prosecco (which seems less likely to give me a headache.) Shrimp cocktail. Lobster. Caviar. Fresh mango. Grilled lamb, served rare with egg-lemon sauce. Or a steak that someone else cooks. Rare. With bernaise sauce.

What are you go-to foods to celebrate and what does it take to get you to pop the cork? Eat out or eat in? And do you get dressed up??

RHYS BOWEN: We always used to go out to celebrate but we are finding it harder and harder to get a meal as good as the one we cook ourselves. Too often we spend a lot of money and are disappointed.

Champagne and oysters are always top of the list. Also I love lobster (but won't cook that myself and actually feel guilty eating it.) Scallops, jumbo prawns when they have flavor. Lamb--rack, leg, tiny chops all fabulous. For dessert--if I'm eating out it's creme brulee. At home something that someone else has cooked, or strawberries flambe over ice cream.

I've had plenty to celebrate this week--apart from leg of lamb on Easter Sunday. I finished the first draft of the next Molly book, City of Darkness and Light, AND my Amazon rank went to #8 in mystery and thrilled and #26 overall. Of course it didn't stay there, but it was good while it lasted.

And Hallie, you'll be celebrating all next week with your fabulous new book!

HALLIE: So fantastic, Rhys! Sounds like it's time to unpack the tiaras! I'll wear one, too!!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm always looking for excuses to celebrate! I do keep champagne in the fridge, or proseco (like you, Hallie, it's less likely to give me a headache.) And like Rhys, I love champagne and oysters, but there's nowhere very convenient at home to get good fresh oysters.

Also, like Rhys, we don't do fancy restaurants much these days, as it's usually both really expensive and disappointing. Maybe I should start stocking caviar...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yup, I'm a prosecco girl, too! I don't usually think about celebrating with food, for some reason. (Although all your lists sound delicious and I will happily join you.)

I think about this from time to time, because I'm a saver. Oh, we'll save that champagne for...something. But if you save, the line always moves, and nothing is ever important or special enough. So for instance, we got a lot of wonderful wine from my mother's estate. My first thought was to save it for  "special occasions." But then I decided--no. We're drinking it NOW--and we do, and we toast my mother every time. 

Yes, there's a lot to celebrate. More to come!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Hallie and Debs, I love champagne now even more than I did when young, because it doesn't give me a headache. That's worth celebrating right there! When I got onto The List for the first time, Ross pulled out a beautiful chilled bottle of Dom Perignon, which we matched with take-out Greek pizza. For me, the essence of celebrating is a delightful treat you wouldn't otherwise get, which, in my case, is take-out pizza. 

The other thing we like to do as a family? Watch movies. The celebratory feeling comes from knowing you've already accomplished X, and therefore can kick back with a film and kill an evening absolutely guilt-free.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: We're a Be Here Now kind of household - and not just because my hubby was instrumental in the publication of that book. The snow has melted! Yippee! We're not sick!! Woo-hoo!! And we tend to celebrate these landmark occasions with champagne or prosecco.

There's something about that pop.. the bubbles and flutes...
On the food front...not so much. All the food I used to think of as celebratory - creme brulee, pate - I don't eat anymore. These days a big bowl of buttered popcorn could do the trick.

But I digress... to go with the bubbly, caviar or smoked salmon with capers on tiny pumpernickel bread works nicely for me.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hooray for you Rhys! such great news...and can't wait for Hallie's book to pop! I'll come to dinner at any of your places, except when you're serving lamb....

For me, it's all about the cake:). Chocolate cake, yellow cake with whipped cream and strawberries, those are the top contenders for a celebration at our house.

HALLIE: This is reminding me that guilty pleasures are another way to celebrate. Bring on the hot dogs and sauerkraut, Cheetohs and barbecued potato chips! And while we're at it, how about a chocolate malted milkshake. Once in a while, why not?

When you're celebratory, what do you do, what do you wear, and most of all, how do you toast your own good fortune?

Friday, March 29, 2013

On the Magic of Fairy Tales...

HALLIE EPHRON: One of the  pleasures of my life is getting to work with talented aspiring writers. In the fall, Lucy and Hank and I offer a weekend writing retreat, Seascape Writers, and there's no greater thrill than seeing one of OUR writers go on to enjoy success.

So I was delighted when email came last week from Pinny Bugaeff telling us her writing won first place (!) in the Connecticut Authors Authors and Publishers Association essay contest.

Pinny's essay, "Tell Me A Story," is about reaching female felons through fairy tales. When I read it, it moved me to tears. No wonder she won!

Pinny, can you tell us just a little about the work you did with female felons?

PINNY BUGAEFF: After working for over twenty years as a therapist with delinquent girls, I thought I’d seen and heard everything. Boy, was I wrong.

The biggest challenge of my career was the five years I spent working as a Clinical Social Worker providing therapy for female offenders who were living in a pre-release half way house. Almost all of the women in the house came from abusive backgrounds. And virtually all of them followed the two rules for living on the street and in prison - “Don’t talk, Don’t tell.” 

My goal was to help the women heal by sharing their stories of struggle and pain. Talk about frustration.

HALLIE: Whatever inspired you to try reading fairy tales?

I’d like to say it was a brilliant gambit drawn from my years of clinical experience, but that wasn’t how it happened. 

One hot night in July, just before group was supposed to start, I was standing on the porch, dreading another hour of sitting under glaring lights and waiting for the women to offer up a few dry crumbs from their lives. My clinical skills bank account was overdrawn.

What could I do to help them feel safe enough to break the old rules, rules that were holding them captive in prisons of  silence?

I thought about going into my office, closing the door and doing what I’ve done since I was little - hide in a book. Since childhood, books have been to me what Notre Dame was to Quasimodo.
I had a new book in my office -- The Ugly Duckling. I’d bought it that day for my four year old granddaughter.

Since storytelling is an age old practice used by all cultures for teaching and healing, I thought maybe a fairy tale could reach the child trapped inside each of those wounded women.  I decided I’d read it to them. 

HALLIE: What was your first clue that it was working?

As soon as I began to read the story- “Once upon A time…” I felt the tension level in the room go down 20 points. Then I heard a collective sigh of relief. When someone’s reading to you, you don’t have to talk or tell, just listen.

As the women settled back, listening to the story of the Ugly Duckling, they grew quiet and I began to feel more peaceful.  When the story ended I closed the book and waited.

Sharone broke the silence. She began to talk about the pain she’d felt because her skin was so much darker than her siblings and they’d bullied her for that.

The women began asking me, ”Are you going to read to us tonight?” They became more eager to tell their own stories. That’s when I knew that fairy tales were working.

One week, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs inspired Charlene
to share a graphic story about a week-end she’d spent in Las Vegas with two guys who were… dwarf. I learned waaaay more about how to “get busy” in the boudoir than I’d ever imagined. (I know Hallie-TMI) But she had a story to tell and, for once, a chance to belong.Janeese, the toughest woman I’d ever treated, finally met her match when The Velveteen Rabbit quietly hopped through her defenses.

I discovered that most of the women had never been read to as children, never had the chance to hear or learn from the stories that inform the lives of so many of us.  My hope was that they’d carry this new tradition back home to their children.

Well, from all of us, Pinny, CONGRATULATIONS!

Which reminds me, next week Hank and I will be at a fundraiser for an organization that has one simple goal: to encourage parents to read to their children. Raising and Reader. They have programs all across the country.

When I was little, I powered through all of the Grimm's Brothers, the grimmer the better. Donkey Skin. The Tinder Box. Thumbelina.

What is it about fairy tales that strike a chord in all of us, and what are your favorites??

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Margaret McLean on IT'S A CRIME radio...

HALLIE EPHRON: Margaret Mclean shares her fascination with crime, courtrooms, and law enforcement by hosting radio's "It's a Crime" on KCAA NBC NEWS RADIO 1050 AM. Listeners can stream the show live from her web site Saturdays, 3-5 (ET) -- or listen to programs that have aired.

Margaret interviews attorneys, cops, investigators, forensic experts, and writers on her two hour show. The best part is how much fun she seems to having doing it.

Margaret, you've argued cases in courtrooms and written two terrific legal thrillers (UNDER OATH and UNDER FIRE). How did that prepare you to host your own radio show?

  As an attorney, I became skilled at interviewing witnesses in preparation for trial.  I had to meet with them, listen to their stories, and build trust.  I would explain courtroom procedure and how to best present their version of events on the witness stand. 

The strongest cases are built on the testimony of witnesses.  My novels draw strength from the same skill set.  For example, to build solid characters, I had to interview seasoned investigators, a Senegalese Muslim woman, and parents whose children were killed in the Charlestown code of silence murders.  In order to get them to open up, I had to build trust and make them feel comfortable.  I learned to be a good listener.

Hosting a vibrant radio show boils down to telling a story through an interviewee.  Preparation is key.  I’ll also ask if they’ve collected any evidence throughout their research.  One guest shared his exclusive Ted Bundy murder kit as it was laid out on his dining room table—ice pick and all.

HALLIE: Yikes. Bundy was a truly scary guy.

You've had some fascinating guests talking about some of the most controversial crimes and criminals. Could you share with us something surprising that you learned about...


I never knew much about the notorious 1947 Black Dahlia murder until I interviewed former L.A.P.D. Homicide Detective Steve Hodel.   Elizabeth Short’s body had been surgically bisected and displayed at the crime scene and her murder inspired the largest manhunt in Los Angeles history. 

In 1999, Steve’s father, Dr. George Hodel, died.  As Steve sifted through his father’s papers, he discovered old photographs of the Black Dahlia in sensual poses which were taken while she was alive.  Steve was chilled as if the dead Elizabeth Short had reached out to him from beyond the grave. 

He immersed himself in an intense investigation, and uncovered extensive evidence that his father was the Black Dahlia killer.  Steve also discovered that Dr. George Hodel had been a prime suspect for some time.  

In my interview with Steve, he reveals how he felt upon uncovering evidence that his father was a psychopathic killer.  He provided exclusive crime scene and personal photos and compared the artwork of Man Ray (Les Amoureaux and Minotaur) with the way the killer had posed Elizabeth Short at the crime scene.  Dr. George Hodel and Man Ray were close friends.  Steve believes his father had attempted to imitate art through murder.

Fascinating. And it segues nicely to...


MARGARET:  I hosted Anthony Amore live in my studio to discuss the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum heist and his book, STEALING REMBRANDTS: THE UNTOLD STORIES OF NOTORIOUS ART THEFTS. 

In preparation for the show, Anthony gave me a private tour of the Gardner museum and explained how in 1990, thieves disguised as Boston police officers stole thirteen pieces of art including works by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet.  When Mrs. Gardner opened the museum in 1903, she donated her priceless collection to the public because Boston needed a great museum. 

The empty frames hanging on the walls haunted me as I walked through Mrs. Gardner’s rooms.  I am now following the most recent developments on the FBI investigation into the Gardner heist and hope they will be returned soon. 

Before the show, I barely knew Anthony and now he has become a great friend.  In fact, Anthony recently introduced me to Jon Leiberman, who is now my co-author for an upcoming book about the trial of Whitey Bulger. 

Whitey certainly is a fascinating character. Can't wait to hear your take on him. On to...


Another guest, Karen Scioscia, author of KIDNAPPED BY THE CARTEL, shared a personal story about how her close family member, a twenty-two year old American woman, was yanked right out of her car, kidnapped, and held hostage by a cartel for eleven days.  Cartel members drugged the young woman and were about to sell her into the thriving sex trafficking trade when Karen’s family hired private security to conduct a daring rescue with guns.

HALLIE: I see you enjoy covering history and crime.

MARGARET: I often view my show as a personal history book.

Certain chapters of American history have always fascinated me. The radio show enables me to call on leading experts in various time periods.  It’s like having my own private professor. 

For example, Veteran journalist Don Fulsom, author of NIXON'S DARKEST SECRETS discussed his career covering Richard Nixon. He shared recently declassified documents and recordings revealing an even more troubling side of our 37th President, and how he deceived the American public. 

enlightened listeners about President Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and civil war Washington. 

Sherry Fiester, a senior crime scene investigator and blood spatter analyst, delved into a forensics analysis of the JFK assassination by providing trajectory diagrams for the website and explaining her theory of the assassination. 

Boston College History Professor and author, Alan Rogers, discussed the historical impact that the Boston Strangler murders had on Boston and Cambridge, the uncoordinated investigative techniques, and theories that Albert DeSalvo may not have been the real killer.

HALLIE: Finally, tell us who you've got coming up as guests in weeks to come on It's a Crime?

MARGARET:  This Saturday, I’ll be joined by Rick Baker, to discuss the McStay family disappearance, and Jenice Malecki, a New York based attorney and Today Show contributor, will inform us about consumer fraud and identity theft. 

On April 6th, Hallie Ephron will talk about her new novel of suspense, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN
, and Scott Raab, writer for Esquire Magazine, will discuss the upcoming HBO documentary on the controversial Phil Spector trial

Later in the month, I’ll be featuring a panel discussion on the latest developments in the Amanda Knox case, which will include Paul Ciolino, the leading private investigator for the Knox family, and Dan Hale, attorney and author.  Casey Sherman will be joining me again to discuss his latest book, ANIMAL: THE BLOODY RISE AND FALL OF THE MOB'S MOST FEARED ASSASSIN.

Utterly fascinating. Thanks for joining us, Margaret.

For more information on upcoming shows, check itsacrimeradio.com and follow Margaret on twitter @margaretmclean_

Margaret will be checking in today, so if you have any questions about crimes she may have covered on her show, now's your chance to ask!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yoga pants with that extra... nothing

HALLIE EPHRON: To show you how clueless I am about designer yoga wear, when I first read the brand name Lululemon I thought it was pronounced Lu-LU-luh-mon and most likely was a reggae group. Still the news article about their see-through Yoga pants caught my attention.

I thought: Wow, niche market.

I posted something about it on Facebook and before you can say Bob's your uncle, got a call from Amy Mackinnon, editor at our regional Patriot Ledger, asking if I wanted to write an op ed piece about it.

And here, dear Reds, is the result.

At a time when we have far weightier matters to consider -- such as when Twinkies will be back on store shelves -- comes the news of a major product recall. Lululemon has discovered that some of its yoga pants are experiencing a "sheerness issue."

They look just fine in the store. But put them on and do the downward facing dog, and anyone standing behind you can see all the way to Florida (to quote Carrie Fisher on a similarly problematic though not transparent metal bikini).

Looking on the bright side, maybe this will lead to a new yoga pose -- the one you have to assume in order to tell if your wardrobe is malfunctioning.

Who says Canadians don't have a sense of humor? To a customer who wondered whether the defective pants were still in stores, the Vancouver-based company's tweet offered this: "Anything potentially affected has been removed until we asses [sic] them and are confident they are to our standard." One could almost hear the keyboard snickering.

Even Reuters got in on the act with the headline: "Lululemon stock drops as yoga pants expose problem."

No, this is not in the same league with the 1.5 million Ford Pintos recalled in 1978 because their fuel tanks had a tendency to burst into flames on impact. Or the 730,000 packages of Pop-Tarts recalled in 2002 because they contained undeclared egg.

But it's no joke for Lululemon Athletica, Inc. With the recall affecting 17% of their women’s pants and crop pants (according to the Los Angles Times), the company lowered sales expectations. They warned customers that their basic black luon yoga pant, the little black designer dress of the yoga world, will be in short supply for a while at least.

If you're like me you are probably wondering what's luon? What's the deal with yoga pants? And don't these people wear underwear?

Yoga pants -- stretchy pants that don't get in the way when you're trying to perform the Lotus or Heron or Dolphin pose -- have been around for years. Just as there were bikes long before there were pedal pushers, people have been doing yoga a whole lot longer than there have been special pants to do it in.

Lots of companies make them, but the ones from Lululemon are considered the creme de la creme for suburban fashionistas. They retail for almost a hundred dollars and can be found in their own special stores like the one at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, four doors down from Whole Foods.

Look up LUON and all roads lead to Lululemon. It's their trademark fabric. Approximately seven parts nylon to one part LYCRA, business articles call it the company's "secret sauce." And no, it's not supposed to be transparent when stretched.

The whole flap took me back to a day in junior high when I wore a pair of white capri pants to school. After the third person said something to me about Lollipop underwear, I realized I was experiencing a "sheerness issue." If there had been someone I could have sued for sheer humiliation, I would have.

But I don't think Lululemon needs to worry about lawsuits. They are making super it easy to return the see-through goods. As they tweeted to one customer: "We're happy to return anything that is sheer. We don't require our guests to be in the garment to make the return." That news must have come as a relief.

So I'm wondering, how many customers are hanging onto their pair of defective yoga pants, hoping it turns into a rare, hard to find must-have like the 1965 Beatles For Sale album with a printing error on the cover?

When my daughter posted on Facebook, "Darn it! I totally wanted transparent yoga pants!" a dozen of her friends piled on. Still, when I went to eBay, looking to score a pair of semi-transparent (when you bend over) Lulemon yoga pants, none turned up. 

I'll check back In a few months when snow will be gone, Twinkies and Lululemon black luan yoga pants will be back on store shelves, and we'll be ready for our next disaster of comparably epic proportions.

 Anyone willing to share their wardrobe malfunctions of the past? Here's your chance!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dana Haynes's Strong Women CRASH the Party

HALLIE EPHRON: We're so happy to welcome Dana Haynes. He writes thrillers, the kind that make you hang onto the seat of your chair.

Today is the launch date for his brand new thriller, ICE COLD KILL. Dana's first thriller, CRASHERS, introduced an unusual cast of leading characters -- unusual, that is, for a male writer. I'll let him tell you about it --

DANA HAYNES: When I came up with the idea for CRASHERS, my first thriller about the people who investigate air disasters, I knew I wanted a large ensemble cast. And one of my earliest decisions was about the female characters.

I’d read thrillers, and like many people, I hadn’t found a lot of female protagonists. The women tend to get saved in thrillers. I’m less interested in reading about the savee than I am in the saver.

So I decided CRASHERS would be populated with strong female characters. Not one or two, but four of them.

The next challenge: How to make them unique individuals. I’m not just a mystery/thriller fan, I’m a journalist by training. So that part was easy: In my day job, I see strong women in leadership roles all the time!  So I had a wonderfully bright spectrum to choose from.

For CRASHERS, I got the honor of writing dialog for:

Kiki, the former Navy officer and expert in the cockpit voice recorder, who has a funky, California vibe and a born gift for hearing audio clues.

Susan, the Beltway insider and intergovernmental liaison who clears the bureaucratic bramble out of the way of her Crashers.

Daria, the former Israeli soldier and spy who gets involved in the story not because she’s heroic, but because she’s bored. She goes on to be one of the heroes, but her motivation is questionable. It’s noteworthy that Daria is the breakout star of CRASHERS, with her own debut novel, ICE COLD KILL, hitting the stands this month. Daria is grand fun to write because she’s unpredictable and more than a little crazy.

• And Meghan, the pilot of the doomed airliner. She was the toughest to write because (not giving away much here), she doesn’t survive the first chapter. And yet, Meghan’s heroic effort to save her plane, her passengers and her crew had to be the mortal heart of the story. If the audience didn’t care about Meghan, they wouldn’t care about clearing her name. That was a tough writing nut to crack.

Deciding to open up my story to strong women gave me the luxury of a diverse host of characters to choose from.

It’s a good lesson for all writers. The more we confine our definitions of “hero” and “villain” – be it through the lens of gender, race, age choices or whatever – the more we confine our storytelling and the more we exclude readers from seeing themselves reflected in our stories.

HALLIE: After CRASHERS, Dana came out with BREAKING POINT, and his new novel ICE COLD KILL is out today from St. Martin's.

Daria steps into the lead in this one -- here she is in the novel's opening chapter:

Ray Calabrese looked up from his BlackBerry to see Daria Gibron stride into the Rodeo Drive wine bar in Lycra exercise togs and sneak­ers, her hair slicked back, sans makeup.

It wasn’t the part of Los Angeles that many people tried to carry off, the I’m-just-back-from-kickboxing look. She used her fingertips to brush still-damp black hair behind her ears. Her togs were two-piece, skintight, abdomen-baring, and black with red piping. She either had been working out or had joined the Justice League of America;Ray couldn’t tell at a glance.

 I'm guessing that's her on the cover, too, taking aim at the reader.

Welcome Dane to Jungle Red. His comments have me thinking about strong women in crime fiction, and whether I've ever read a book with four of them.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gettin' Older... Movin' Faster??

HALLIE EPHRON: In my new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, one of the two main characters is a 91-year-old woman. When I tell people this, they ask how can you write a character who is so old?

She's based loosely on my mother-in-law, Freda Touger. Freda died when she was 91, a few days after taking one of her routine subway rides from Brooklyn to Manhattan and walking from Lincoln Center to the Donnell Library where there were free events for seniors. She missed the friends who used to go with her and who had mostly faded from her life.

Did she feel old? Sure she had aches and pains and had less patience for foolishness, but she said she felt basically like the same person she was when she was 8, or 28, or 58. What had changed, she said, was that time seemed to pass much more quickly.

I know just what she meant by feeling like I'm the same person (that's me at 8), and that surprise of looking in the mirror and finding that I'm not.

So here's my question. Do you feel you're changing or are you, too, the same person you were when you were eight?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: First off, bless Freda for still taking the subway and wanting to go out at her age. We all should be so active and engaged.

Two answers ( I always hate it when my husband does this, so either I've picked it up from him or there really are at least two answers to every question.) In many way I'm still the same person I was at sixteen. Scary, since most sixteen year olds aren't known for their common sense. Wisdom, good judgment, etc. I will still talk to strangers, dance around the house and start singing in elevators when properly motivated.

I'm probably most like me at thirty. Wise, dignified.
Aren't I?

LUCY BURDETTE: Where's the second answer Ro, did I miss it?

Time definitely flies by at this age, that much is certain. But in many ways, I too feel like the person I was at thirty. (Let's not even talk about those teenage years--such agony!)

You know what's changed the most? My time schedule. I chose my classes in college according to how late they allowed me to sleep in--because I was up until one or two in the morning. (Until I reached organic chemistry, where 8 am was the only option.) Now the only reason I'd be up at 2 am would be a trip to bathroom:).

Ah yes, the second answer. No. Every day and every way I'm learning more and hopefully turning into a better person.

RHYS BOWEN: I got an email from one of my fans saying"I just saw your photo and until then I thought you were 21 like Lady Georgie." I was flattered that I'd created a twenty one year old so convincingly, but when I thought about it, I still do feel that I'm twenty one.

I have to remind myself not to jump over that chain across the track. But I still swing on swings, slide down the slide and generally behave as if I'm still five. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who put my grandmother's photo there. But time has speeded up. It was Christmas, and now it's Easter and the year is rushing toward next year. And I don't know how to slow it down....

One of the many reasons I so loved Hallie's new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, was her portrayal of Mina, the title character. Mina is ninety-one, but she doesn't feel old. 

Well, neither do I, although I have a bit to go before I reach ninety-one. Since I was a child I've wondered if there was a certain point when you began to feel "old." In some ways, I think I feel younger than I did in my thirties. Those were the "mum" years, but once your children are grown there's a sense of liberation. I still feel a tremendous sense of enthusiasm about learning new things, and doing new things.

But there is also that sense of time speeding up, of knowing there are going to be limits to your experience. That's bittersweet.

P.S., Lucy, my body clock hasn't changed. Maybe I have being an "early bird" to look forward to!

Why do we have the sensation that time speeds by as you grow older? Is it because once you're settled into your adult life, the year-to-year touchstones are the same? I mean, my family has had basically the same Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving every year for the past decade. We do many of the same things each summer, year after year.

Or is it because there are so many more memories to access? When you're twenty, you have maybe fifteen springs you can recall. When you're sixty... Perhaps whenn we say, "It's spring again? So soon?" it's because we can so readily envision last spring, and the spring before, and the spring before.

Or maybe, you know, time really DOES speed up. We need a physicist to look into this!

So, Hallie's question: I've changed for the better as I've grown older (my knees excepted.) I feel much more confident, much more comfortable with stating my mind and setting my own needs front and center. That sounds kind of selfish, but all of you know that when you're a young woman, being unequivocally opinionated and putting yourself first is almost unthinkable!

I look forward to becoming a "I-can't-believe-she-just-said-that" old broad. At the same time, in my head? I'm somewhere in my thirties. The weather warms up and I get the urge to strap on the shoes and go running, and I have to remind myself, no, I can't do that anymore.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Time clearly speeds up. Summer used to be forever. A kid could be--"bored." When was the last time you were "bored"? I can't even imagine.

In college, we had forever. (And that t-shirt says "Sigma Chi. THAT was a long time ago.)

I'm in the second half of my life, my husband too. I honestly can't think about it. There used to be "all the time in the world." Now--that feels short. So I dont think about it. Much.

How I'm different? I'm careful with people. I think--five years from now, a week from now--will that matter? If not.. then, so what.

I got hit with the physical part when I decided to take a ballet class several years ago. After all, it's like riding a bike, right? (Another thing I cannot do.) Anyway, ballet. My body simply would not do it. I could envision it, I could imagine it, but I could not do it. Game over.

The good news--I'm a little more confident. A little. But time is FLYING by.
HALLIE: So how about the rest of you? Do you feel as if time is ganging up on you or flying past? 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today's guest bloggers are the co-authors of a fascinating new book, Murder at the Supreme Court.  Not justices, landmark cases.
TIM O'BRIEN: Martin Clancy and I are veteran ABC News reporters who very much enjoy sidling up to a good novel whenever the opportunity arises.  We have a special appreciation for you novelists who write with such skill and grace as to leave the reader yearning, “wish I had said that.” Strictly bound by given facts as news reporters are, we felt we might at times be at a disadvantage from our fiction weaving friends.

One of the most important aspects of writing a good story, however, is having a good story to tell. And in writing a book about the most important death penalty cases to reach the Supreme Court along with some of the arcane legal issues they presented, we were surprised to come across characters and situations that would make even Hollywood producers green with envy.

Perhaps one of the most important death penalty cases in the last forty years is Gregg v. Georgia. Greg is the 1976 case in which the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment after a four year hiatus. The Justices laid out a roadmap for the states on what is permissible in a death penalty statute and what is forbidden. Their decision set the stage for more than 13-hundred executions in the years that have followed. Troy Gregg himself was a hitchhiker who had robbed and murdered a couple of motorists who had given him a ride.  The case had set Gregg up to be the first person to be executed in many years and in a way, he was.  Only his execution wasn’t for murder and it wasn’t carried out by the state.

While in prison, Gregg got mixed up with four other Georgia death row residents said to be among the most notorious killers in Georgia history. Together they plotted and succeeded in a daring escape from the state correctional facility at Reidsville, Georgia. It all happened on the eve of Gregg’s scheduled execution. And Gregg himself was so pleased with his accomplishment that within a few hours, he called the news media to boast about it.   Charlie Postell, an editor of the Albany Herald, phoned the prison to inquire about the break and was reassured by officials that Gregg and the others were still in their beds. When they found out later that Postell had it right, they were so infuriated they charged him as an accomplice. The charges were later dropped.

Gregg’s freedom turned out to be short-lived.  He and his accomplices made it to North Carolina where they reassembled at a local saloon with some long lost girlfriends. Gregg made the unfortunate mistake of insulting one of them. One of the other escapees, Tim McCorquodale, convicted of the rape-torture-murder of a 20-year old woman, took exception even though it wasn’t even his girlfriend who had been slighted. Six feet tall and over three hundred pounds, McCorquodale picked up the somewhat frail Gregg, threw him to the ground and began stomping on him, his chest, his throat, his head. Gregg’s body was found floating in a lake outside Charlotte a few days later. Gregg’s fellow-escapees were apprehended. McCorquodale was charged, but never tried for Gregg’s murder. Reidsville’s electric chair got him first for the murder of the young woman.

Gregg v. Georgia will live on forever in the annals of U.S. criminal jurisprudence. Every student of U.S. law knows about it. But for these two non-fiction writers, this truly landmark case conjures up a few old familiar adages. Truth really is stranger than fiction and as Paul Harvey, one of our old ABC colleagues might have put it, “Now you know the rest of the story.”  

Post by Tim O’Brien and Martin Clancy. The authors, long-time journalists at ABC News, have just released Murder at the Supreme Court—Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases.   Prometheus Books, 2013.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do Ya Like Good Music..??

According to Wikipedia - The National Recording Registry is a list of sound recordings that "are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States." The registry was established by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000,[1] which created the National Recording Preservation Board, whose members are appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The recordings preserved in the United States National Recording Registry form a registry of recordings selected yearly by the National Recording Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress.[2]

Can I have this job in my next life? What a fun gig deciding which music has "cultural significance."
Below is this year's list, but you might be surprised at some of the previous inductees - they range from Fanny Brice's My Man to (Janis Joplin and) Big Brother's Cheap Thrills to Aboott and Costello's Who's On First. You can't say the registry isn't eclectic.

Here's a listing of the 2012 inductees to the National Recording Registry in chronological order:
1."After You've Gone," Marion Harris (1918)
2."Bacon, Beans and Limousines," Will Rogers (Oct. 18, 1931)
3."Begin the Beguine," Artie Shaw (1938)
4. "You Are My Sunshine," Jimmie Davis (1940)
5.D-Day Radio Broadcast, George Hicks (June 5-6, 1944)
6."Just Because," Frank Yankovic & His Yanks (1947)
7."South Pacific," Original Cast Album (1949)
8."Descargas: Cuban Jam Session in Miniature," Cachao Y Su Ritmo Caliente (1957)
9.Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, Van Cliburn (April 11, 1958)
10.President's Message Relayed from Atlas Satellite, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Dec. 19, 1958)
11."A Program of Song," Leontyne Price (1959)
12."The Shape of Jazz to Come," Ornette Coleman (1959)
13."Crossing Chilly Jordan," The Blackwood Brothers (1960)
14."The Twist," Chubby Checker (1960)
15."Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's," Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, et al. (1960-1962)
16."Hoodoo Man Blues," Junior Wells (1965)
17."Sounds of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel (1966)
18."Cheap Thrills," Big Brother and the Holding Company (1968)
19."The Dark Side of the Moon," Pink Floyd (1973)
20."Music Time in Africa," Leo Sarkisian, host (July 29, 1973)
21."Wild Tchoupitoulas," The Wild Tchoupitoulas (1976)
22."Ramones," The Ramones (1976)
23."Saturday Night Fever," The Bee Gees, et al (1977)
24."Einstein on the Beach," Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (1979)
25."The Audience with Betty Carter," Betty Carter (1980)
I'm not familiar with all the selections but Bacon, Beans and Limousines gets my vote for weirdest title.
Favorite on the list is Artie Shaw's Begin The Beguine.
That one gets a lot of play on my Ipod.
Here's the complete list in alphabetical order -
Name a title you'd propose for next year's list....

Friday, March 22, 2013

Grateful Heart

Rosemary Harris: I first met today's guest blogger at the Edgars banquet a few years back. Against some very stiff competition Naomi Hirahara walked away with the Edgar for best PBO and in the process created a warm and memorable character, Mas Arai. Here's how it started.

Naomi Hirahara:  “I wouldn’t be that interested in reading about an old Japanese gardener,” declared a woman in my writing group, who happened to be Japanese American.

            At that time, I had been working on my novel off and on for several years.  The main character?  A man named Mas Arai, an aging gardener and Hiroshima survivor.

            Her comment didn’t faze me much (well, on second thought, it must have, because years later, it’s still implanted in my mind).  Her comment, at least, didn’t persuade me from abandoning my protagonist.  So year after year, I wrote in early mornings before work and during my vacations.  My husband still hasn’t forgiven me for bringing my manuscript on our honeymoon.  I had forgotten it on the outdoor conveyer belt after going through security check at the Kona airport in Hawaii.  I didn’t realize what I had done until we were on the plane.  Luckily, due to their aloha spirit, Kona airport security called me when I got home to report that they were going mail me my found work-in-progress.  (It was sent cash-on-delivery, but still, what hospitality!)

            Mas Arai officially came into the world in spring 2004.  The third Mas Arai mystery, Snakeskin Shamisen, won the Edgar Award for best paperback original in 2007.

            I do believe that a writer’s experiences and true point-of-view are woven into his or her work.  In my Mas Arai books, especially so, because Mas is modeled after my late father, whose nickname was Sam.  (Spell the name in reverse and what do you get?  It wasn’t intentional, by the way.) 

(JR note : This is Sam Hirahara in front of the house in Watsonville that inspired the fifth Mas Arai mystery, STRAWBERRY YELLOW.)

I’ve always rooted for the underdog. For years, I observed my father toiling out in the hot Southern California sun without getting much respect (especially from his teenage daughter).  As a result, I had to make him the one man who could solve certain crimes that law enforcement could not.

            Of course, although inspired by him, Mas is not my father.  Mas is much more of a curmudgeon and nonconformist.  There is a large communication gap between him and his daughter, Mari, whereas my own father and I could sit and “talk story” for hours.  (Yes, there was still a lot of silence in between the talking, but we still were communicating.)   Imagine my personal distress when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010 and finally passed away in 2012.  In addition to dealing with everything involved with this kind of loss, would I be able to complete the fifth Mas Arai mystery, which was already in the works?

            Surprisingly, the writing process turned into a healing salve.  I could continue infusing my series with the essence of my father and other men and women like him.  And, let’s face it, whether we are writing thrillers or traditional mysteries like mine, we are engaged in fantasy building.  So while mixing truth with fiction, I was concocting something that I hoped would provide some pleasure for readers both inside and outside of Mas’s world.

            The resulting book is Strawberry Yellow, released this month and set in the strawberries fields of Watsonville, California.  While the writing and publishing community continues buzzing (and I’m part of that buzz, too) about the future of our industry, I can’t help but to exhale deeply.  The mystery genre enabled me to create a sleuth who represents “the least of these.”  And for that I will be forever grateful.

ROSEMARY: If this isn't one of the loveliest guest posts we've ever had, I'll eat my garden hat. Naomi is on her way to left Coast Crime today but she will be checking in when she can - AND she's offering a signed copy of Strawberry Yellow to one lucky commenter.