Monday, September 30, 2013


ROSEMARY HARRIS: It's a given that not everyone will like everything. "You can't please all of the people....etc." I'm not a contrarian. I don't do a complete 180 on everything that's popular (I liked UGGs, Call Me Maybe...) But there are some things I simply don't get. I am baffled by their continued existence, much less their enormous popularity. Twinkies. Duck Dynasty. Honey Boo Boo.
In no particular order and across a wide variety of subjects from the admittedly minor to the somewhat more important here's a smattering.  I know some will think "She's mad - I love that!" So convince me otherwise! -

Cotton candy. Why does anyone like this stuff? It doesn't taste very good. It's messy. You practically need a shower after pulling bits of it off that paper thing. Powder blue food? I rest my case.

Contest reality shows. I know - I might have had some support for the cotton candy, but I've probably already lost some of you. People embarassing themselves to get on television? Other people judging them, being mean to get laughs? Why would I want to watch that? 

Deep-fried pickles, Oreos, etc. Can you say gilding the lily? Just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should.

Nail art. Anything beyond a french manicure seems over the top to me. Why not buy a bracelet or a ring? And how do those little decals stay on? Are they like Colorforms? Anyone remember those?

Okay, here's another one, people holding their hands over their hearts while Kate Smith sings God Bless America at ball games. Are they pledging allegiance to Irving Berlin? I don't get it.

Of course there are the bigger things I don't get like why does anyone care who sleeps with whom (or marries them) , why politicians can't just zip it and do their jobs in between elections (as opposed to hating and trashing the guy who won), who is buying all those magazines with Kardashians on the covers. Important stuff, like that.

What don't you get, fellow Reds?

LUCY BURDETTE: Ro, I can't defend most of those things, though I did like cotton candy back in the day. I never got the Ugg bug--don't your feet sweat like mad?

Who sleeps with whom? I think that speaks to character flaws or at least some serious issues, don't you? Not throwing stones, just saying when you feel something so intensely that you do what you promised you never would, better stop and take a look at what's really going on. That's advice a very wise therapist once said and it goes for so many situations!

What I really really don't get is people in very public jobs doing dumb things and thinking they won't get caught. Anthony Weiner, need I say more? but it makes for great fiction!

HALLIE EPHRON: I agree, Lucy - those randy pols, feh. And yet so many of them do it... and then do it again. In a novel, they'd be too dumb to live.

Got to say, love my UGGs. 

What don't I get? Of course my mind goes to food:  
Minute rice.
Frozen pizza.
Artisanal salt.
Shake n Bake.
Bottled water.
Turkey bacon.

RHYS BOWEN: Following the food motif--supersizing. How can anyone eat all that stuff?  How can it be sold to kids?
Current trends in singing. Why is shouting at the top of one's voice suddenly a cause for applause when gentle, tuneful singing is not?
Why are we dumbing down everything, playing to the lowest common denominator? As in ripped jeans, gang style clothing, rap music, getting ketchup all over the face when eating a hamburger etc etc.
And going back to those politicians, preachers, celebrities who can behave like animals and then get up in front of a mike and say "I have sinned" and expect everyone to forgive and forget.
And the Bachelor and Bachelorette? Choosing a life partner in a few TV shows during which you smooch with a whole lot of women? Oh yes, that's a basis for stability.

ROSEMARY: Yes...singing at the top of one's lungs. I think Whitney Houston started it - of course she had a real voice, she wasn't just loud. What a waste there. Now every kid thinks having a "big" voice means singing loud.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: What don't I get? Twerking. I know I'm not supposed to get it, because I'm a middle-aged white woman, but still. Also not in my demographic: truck nutz. Debs, do you see these in Texas? Why would you put these on your pickup?  What does a man think it says about him? Other than "The only woman in my life is my mother, and I'm okay with that."

Oh, and here's another thing I don't get: why is it so hard to find a cocktail dress with sleeves or chic shoes with less than a four inch heel? All of my dressy occasions happen in late fall/winter. Usually in Maine. I don't want to accessorize with goosebumps! I had high hopes when Kate Middleton wore a sleeved bridal dress, but it hasn't trended down to Macy's yet. As for the high heels, we've discussed our various discontents with shoes here before. 50-year-old feet + 4 inch heels = bunion surgery waiting to happen. Whenever I look at pictures of women in the fifties wearing those adorable kitten heels, I wonder why we don't have racks of them in the stores right now. Attention shoe manufacturers: at least half your customers are over the age of forty. Give us something fashionable we can wear.

HANK PHILLIPPI. RYAN : What I don't get? Ruching.  Asymmetrical necklines. Both of them look like mistakes.  Kale. Yes, I'm sorry, shun me, but I think kale is disgusting. And pizza with pineapple and ham. That is not pizza.

I have never seen Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars. So, whatever.  I do not think Tom Brady is handsome but who cares, he is a terrific player.

Pumpkin flavored coffee. Yuck. I have never eaten sausage, knowingly, nor a soft boiled egg.  Uggs? Yeah, I love them and no, one's feet do not get sweaty.

And when did it become acceptable to show cleavage on tv news? I still can't even bring myself to wear a sleeveless dress in the air, let alone a frontless one.

ROSEMARY: I agree with everything my blog sisters have said...except the Tom Brady thing...oh my..he's enough to make this New Yorker a Patriots fan...

So what don't YOU get?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Post-Haiku Hangover

LUCY BURDETTEThe poems yesterday were so wonderful! Will Lynn Calhoun and Deb Romano email SJ with your addresses for the prizes: SJRozan at gmail dot com.

And Karen in Ohio, please email me about your copy of AUNTY LEE'S DELIGHT....lucyburdette at gmail dot com

And I couldn't resist taking a stab at Haiku after SJ's post yesterday--and all of yours... 

Here's one inspired by Yoda:

Lazy gray kitty
Lounging in September sun
Call me for supper

And I bought the last available gallon of peaches at the local market, hence:

Shoulder season fruit
Juice runneling down my chin
Soon to be a pie

Though actually, I didn't make a pie, I made Ina Garten's peach cake, which (in spite of all the diet talk earlier this week) when you're ready to splurge, I highly recommend. 

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

On Writing Haiku by SJ Rozan

Gulls sit on pilings 

While starlings sweep, race, land, peck,  

Eating all the moss.

 SJ ROZAN: Every Saturday morning for the last ten years or so I've written three haiku.  If I'm in New York I go to the Hudson, two blocks from my apartment.  If I'm elsewhere, I try to find a body of water, or a park, a yard, someplace quiet, though I've written my Saturday haiku in planes, on trains, and in hotel rooms.

Haiku, as I'm sure you know, is a three-line, 17-syllable poetry form, in the pattern 5-7-5.  Each line is expected to be a phrase; not necessarily a full sentence, but a concept that's understandable without the next line.  If the last line can deliver a small twist, all the better, though that's not required.

Those are the English rules; the Japanese scanning rules are a little different, dealing not in syllables but in on, which are analogous but not the same.  Since I don't speak Japanese, though, and certainly don't write in it, this post will stick to English.

Haiku derives from an older form, called hokku, also of 17 on, which was written as the opening stanza of a specific type of longer work called a renga.  By the 17th C.  hokku were being written to stand alone.  The independent hokku were renamed haiku and voila! -- a form was born.

As the haiku became standardized it was generally accepted that as far as content, each poem should freeze a moment of time in the natural world.

Orange-legged mallard 

Busily grooms her feathers 

While floating backwards.

Because our surroundings are not necessarily the natural world, though, city haiku are also written.

Building skeleton
Engulfed by rising tide of
Gold insulation.

17-syllable, 5-7-5 poems that freeze a moment in human nature, not the world around us, are perfectly permissible, and called senryu.

Standing in the rain
Drinking tea, watching ducks float.
What an idiot.

Abstraction is not welcome in either the haiku or the senryu, nor is generalizing from the particular, at least, not by the poet.  That's left to the readers.

Why do I write them?  The requirement to be specific and of the moment is of endless value to writers.  It's the meaning of "show, don't tell."  Doing haiku every week keeps me on that narrow path of specificity that's so easy to stray from.

The above haiku and senryu were all mine.   Some of them, and many more, appear in my e-book, 211 Haiku.  If you like them, here's the link

That's pretty much all there is to it.  If you want to try it, that's all you need to know.  Enjoy!
SJ Rozan, a native New Yorker, is the author of fourteen novels, under her own name and, with a co-writer, under a new secret identity as Sam Cabot.  She's won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, and many other awards.  Her latest book is Sam Cabot's BLOOD OF THE LAMB. 

And there are two prizes today for folks brave enough to try their hand at a haiku. These will be chosen strictly by random drawing--no judging of merit! Simply post your poem in the comments...

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Big Book Club

Hank and Hallie in front of Michael Jordan's poster
LUCY BURDETTE: Last fall, I received an email from Colleen Doyle LaFrancois inviting me to participate in a BIG BOOK CLUB event at the Mohegan Sun Casino here in Connecticut. I LOVE book club events. And the Mohegan Sun is a blast. But February…when I was in Key West...not going to happen. I was so disappointed! But now the Big Book Club event part two is scheduled for October 27 in Old Saybrook and they have plans for an even bigger event in February 2014.

As it turns out, both Hallie and Hank attended the Mohegan Sun event and had a wonderful time. And Colleen is here today to tell us what's on tap for the event at THE KATE (which by the way, is the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, a totally gorgeous facility).

: Thanks for asking, Lucy ... and better yet, thanks for participating!  We are really excited about our first ever event at The Kate, which provides a beautiful and very intimate setting for this fun program.  Doors will open at 10:00 a.m. and YOU will be first up at 10:30 to discuss The Key West Food Critic Mystery Series.  Can't wait to hear how Hayley Snow came to life as your heroine. 

Then, at 11:15 we will hear from Suzanne Palmieri (aka Hayes), an "up and coming" author from New Haven who has a really amazing personal story that she will tell our guests all about.  Suzanne is the author of the new book, "The Witch of Little Italy," an engrossing tale about love, family and witchcraft, and also "I'll Be Seeing You" which she co-wrote with Loretta Nyhan, although they've never met in person.

At noon, Bliss Gourmet of Westbrook will be serving delicious boxed lunches (included in the ticket price) and the cash bar will open for business! For October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there will be fun interactive art activities by The Drunken Palette (now with studios in downtown New London and in Westbrook at The Shops at Waters Edge) to benefit The Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation.

After lunch, we'll hear from Psychic Medium Angelina Diana who will speak about spirit communications and perform random readings throughout the audience. Buckle your seatbelts for that one!

Next we'll hear more about witches from Brunonia Barry, NY Times bestselling author of "The Lace Reader" and "The Map of True Places." 
By now everyone will be hungry for something sweet, so Bliss will be baking up some of YOUR key lime cupcakes from "Topped Chef" for a quick afternoon coffee break.

Finally, B.A. (Barbara) Shapiro, author of "The Art Forger" will be interviewed by Olwen Logan from The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts about her very popular book which centers around Boston's infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist and the high-stakes world of artists and art collectors.

A portion of all book sales by RJ Julia Bookseller will benefit the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation.  Tickets are $55 for the full day's events and can be purchased at

LUCY: That sounds like a wonderful day! And the Mohegan Sun event this year promises to be even bigger and better than last year--you have a new partnership. Tell us about that.

COLLEEN: YES!  We are thrilled to announce that we are working with The Mark Twain House and Museum (MTHM) to present this fabulous encore event on February 21-22, 2014  The staff at the MTHM are pros at putting on large scale author events, recently hosting Stephen King at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford for over 2,500 ticketholders. We will also be hosting a fun after-hours party called Books and Bars, which will take place in one of the resort's nightclubs.  Last year, Hank was our surprise guest at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain where readers shared their comments about  "The Other Woman."  It was really a blast and we can't wait to do it all over again in an even BIGGER way this coming February.  

LUCY: thanks for stopping by Colleen...Okay, reds, raise your hands if you're coming! And tell the truth, if you went to an author event at a casino, how would you really spend your time?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Elinor Lipman Visits the Reds

LUCY BURDETTE: I am so excited about today’s guest, as I’m a huge fan of everything she writes. She is funny, witty, smart, well, you’ll see...if you haven’t yet read Elinor Lipman’s books, you are in for a big treat. She has written ten novels, including the latest THE VIEW FROM PENTHOUSE B, along with TWEET LAND OF LIBERTY, and a book of personal essays. Welcome to Jungle Red!
Will you tell us a little about the new novel--and if you can stand it, what your writing process is like?

ELINOR LIPMAN:  The new novel is narrated by Gwen-Laura Schmidt, widowed two years previous, now living with her divorced sister, Margot, who was--as I like to say--"Madoffed."  Margot's ex lives in the same building, newly sprung from prison for practicing amorous medicine.  So it's about these two middle-aged women finding their way in the world, with a little forgiveness and reluctant internet dating.  

As for my process:  When I'm working on a novel, I aim for 500 words per day. I don't move forward until I've revised and polished every chapter because I send each one to my two first readers, novelist Mameve Medwed and biographer Stacy Schiff, who was my first editor.  When I'm finished, despite all the polishing along the way, there's still revising for consistency and because I know my characters better at the end than I did when making my way through it, pretty blindly. 

 Also, I never outline, so I have to go back and cut scenes that went nowhere, or amplify ones that proved to be important.   And then revisions that my editor asks for.  I find 90% of those to be good suggestions and very much worth addressing.    

LUCY: The personal essays in I CAN’T COMPLAIN started out not terribly personal. But then wow, the last few about your husband’s death and what it’s like to be single and 60 were so open and touching. How do you figure out what feels okay to write about and when, and what is too personal and private?

ELINOR:  I didn't quite appreciate how personal they all would be in the aggregate.  One section, "Coupling," was made up of essays that appeared in the Boston Globe, so that had been boot camp for marital exposure.   And even more so: The essay about my husband's decline and death was a NY Times "Modern Love" column in 2010.  So what feels the most personal are the new ones in the section "Since Then."  

LUCY: Here’s the way your essay “It Was a Dark and Stormy Nosh” begins: I write novels and I cook dinner, and some days the edges blur. Like me, my characters know their way around a kitchen, and like my family, they are good eaters. Increasingly my plots thicken in restaurants, as waiters hover, and increasingly readers ask, “What’s with the food in your books?”

We are food-crazy here at Jungle Red Writers too! Please tell us about that--how you use food and eating and cooking to show your characters’ style.
photo by Michael Lionstar

ELINOR:  I go on to say in that essay (which originally appeared in Gourmet) that food likes and dislikes can be shorthand characterization:  What does a fussy eater who annoys with her (yes, mostly her) complaints and special requests say about her personality?  A lot, I think.  A man who makes himself  franks and beans is one kind of guy; the one who poaches a fish and whips up his own vinaigrette is another.  It's almost too easy, isn't it?  I love to quote a New Yorker cartoon caption where a woman is saying to her dining companion, "I started my vegetarianism for health reasons, then it became a moral choice, and now it's just to annoy people." 

LUCY: I love that one of the characters in the new novel bakes cupcakes. In fact, I got so inspired by the sound of Scarlet O’Hara cupcakes that I made a batch. (And one of my characters will be making them in the fifth food critic mystery.) After consulting with my Facebook friends, I decided that they must have been red velvet cakes with raspberry cream cheese frosting. But now I’m dying to hear how you imagined this recipe would be constructed.
ELINOR:  I imagined it not at all.  I just thought it was a cupcake Anthony would like to own.  

LUCY: Unbelievable! Well just let me say that they were divine...
Tell us about your book of tweets.  

ELINOR:  In June of 2011, I thought it was time I joined Twitter.  Actually, I didn't want to, but publicists and such want you to do it, all hoping you'll get a zillion followers like Susan Orlean has.  I didn't want to tweet about nonsense or nothingness, so I pledged on impulse to write one rhyming political tweet per day until the 2012 election--without counting how freakin' far away that was.  I put my pledge on Facebook, and the Boston Globe picked up on that promise, so I couldn't back down.  Then at the (wonderful) Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace conference in May of 2012, Helene Atwan of Beacon Press said, "Someone's doing your tweets as a book, right?"  I said, "No, nobody."  She said, "Well, I am."  Three months later it came out:  TWEET LAND OF LIBERTY: Rhyming Tweets from the Political Circus. (You can follow Elinor @elinorlipman.

LUCY: And finally, you have a new blog in

ELINOR: It's called "I Might Complain." It appears every Wednesday and covers life's little annoyances. So I try to strike a balance between amusing and cranky. 
LUCY: thanks so much for visiting! Reds, Elinor will be stopping in to answer comments and questions, so please pile on!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

You Say You Want A Revolution


LUCY BURDETTE: You all know Libby Hellman by now, right?--she's been around as long as I have, LOL. I admire how she's never afraid to stray into new territory, whether it's the subject matter of her books or the way she gets them published. She's got a new novel out that I'm dying to read because I'm insanely curious about Cuba. Libby not only went, she wrote a book about it. So here's Libby with her latest adventure!

LIBBY HELLMANN: Hi, Reds. Thanks for hosting me today. It’s great to be back.
As some of you know, my most recent three thrillers are all set in historical periods of extreme conflict, otherwise known as revolutions, (or in the case of FIRE, as close to a revolution as this country came since the Civil War). So, why did I create a “Revolution Trilogy?”

In fiction, they say, there must be conflict on every page, even if it's only someone wanting a glass of water that he or she can't get. Because I tend to overdo things in general, I asked myself what type of backdrop or setting would provide the most conflict in and of itself. The answer turned out to be  a revolution. Or war. Or strife within a culture. When characters’ lives unfold in an uncertain and potentially violent backdrop, almost anything can—and does—happen.

In fact, I can't imagine a more extreme conflict than a revolution. It affects everything and everyone: from individuals, to families, to neighborhoods, cities, countries, and regions. A revolution can transform a society’s culture and art, its food, education, personal freedoms, literature—the entire Zeitgeist. It affects whether people trust one another. It splits families in two. It makes everyday living dangerous. Essentially, it touches every aspect of life. 

When you superimpose extreme conflict on top of conflicts that already exist in a character’s life, those people become unpredictable. Some become heroes, while others turn into cowards. I love to explore those transformations in a character, and I love when I’m surprised by what happens. Just when I’m convinced a character is about to behave one way, they tak
e a different direction altogether. When that happens, it makes me feel more like an observer than a writer. I’m simply channeling an individual’s inner turmoil and decision-making process.

 Which, hopefully, makes my novels unpredictable as well. In too many crime novels the hero or heroine does the right thing, faultless in their judgement, usually emerging unharmed and victorious at the end. Not so much in my stories. I try to let my characters develop the way they indicate, and they don’t always win their battles. They might not even make it past the first few chapters if that’s the way the revolutionary cookie crumbles.

The ‘revolution trilogy’

My novel An Eye For Murder goes back to World War Two, which, although not technically a revolution, was indeed a period of extreme conflict. An Image of Death deals with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which I’d call a bloodless revolution. Set the Night on Fire took place during the troubled times of the late 1960s in the US. A Bitter Veil explores a family’s life during the Iranian revolution. And Havana Lost, my latest release, is set partially during the Cuban revolution and its aftermath. But there’s also action taking place in Angola – which was and still is an incredibly violent and lawless place— and Chicago, which some people would say is too. In fact, I’m now calling my latest three thrillers a “Revolution Trilogy.”

It doesn’t hurt that I'm a history major and I love research. It’s almost Pavlovian on my part. And I find it curious that although every revolution is different and has been fought for different ideological reasons, many end up being quite similar.

Revolution 101

Take the Russian revolution in 1917 or the French revolution or the Chinese ‘cultural’ revolution. It’s a common theme; people want to be free, but their leaders don't know what to do with that freedom when they get it. So it’s the ordinary people who suffer. Ironically, the only revolution that was different was the American. But that’s another blogpost.

When I put the characters in HAVANA LOST squarely into a revolution, the only thing that is certain is change. The way the characters face up to that change and handle its challenges is what makes writing so much fun. They all have minds of their own, and like the rest of us, they are essentially unpredictable, especially under stress. Also like most of us, their instinct for survival is what drives them to survive desperate circumstances.

So, Reds, that’s why I’m drawn to times of extreme conflict and strife. But what about you?
If you could choose a period of extreme conflict to write about, what would it be and why?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Aunty Lee's Delights

 LUCY BURDETTE: A couple of weeks ago, Hallie said she'd heard of a book I'd want to read--and boy was she right! You know I love mysteries and other novels with lots of food in them. I also love novels that take place in the Far East. Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu has them both.

Ovidia is a Singaporean novelist and playwright. Although she's received several national and international writing and arts awards, when she is recognized at home it is usually because of her stint as a regular celebrity guest on Singapore’s version of the Pyramid Game show. But today she's stopped by to tell us about her personal connection to her new character, Aunty Lee. Welcome Ovidia!

OVIDIA YU: In Singapore, unrelated older women are often called ‘Aunty’ as a term of respect. At least it was when I was growing up. Now women my age are often addressed as ‘Miss’ regardless of marital status. I don’t mind, but someone like my late mother would have been offended because by getting married she had ‘earned’ the right to be addressed as ‘Madam’ by strangers and called ‘Aunty’ by family and friends.

Anyway the real life role model for my Aunty Lee was called ‘Aunty’ by us children because she was a Second Wife. I know having more than one wife is regarded with horror in America. I think in today’s Singapore it's generally regarded with horror too. But when I was  growing up as part of the first generation born after the war, it was a lot more common.

Having more than one wife was officially illegal under colonial law. But during the Japanese Occupation so many men and boys were taken away and killed by the Japanese that men were scarce after the war. Being a Second or Third wife (and I have an aunt who was a Fourth Wife) was not ideal, but it guaranteed a woman a family network as well as shelter, support and education for her children and a home to grow old in. And she would be addressed with the respectful prefix ‘Aunty’ by younger members of the household rather than the suffix ‘-jia’ applied to servant girls and unmarried aunts.
Anyway Aunty X the Second Wife was my favorite adult when I was growing up. My mother disapproved not only because she was a friend of the First Wife but because Aunty X was a fantastic cook. My late mother was proud to be an educated, working woman and felt that someone who actually enjoyed cooking and homemaking was setting women back. But I wasn’t prevented from visiting because although a picky eater, I ate everything I was given at Aunty X’s house. Aunty X had a maid who helped her in the kitchen and I was sometimes allowed to help the maid top and tail bean sprouts or peel chestnuts. But I never learned much more about cooking because of the other big draw of Aunty X’s house: stacks of Readers’ Digest and murder mystery paperbacks.

Aunty X had all the golden age favourites like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh as well as some I haven’t seen much of since then—Margery Allingham, E.C.R. Lorac and Leo Bruce. Once I discovered reading the kitchen was forgotten.

Adjusting to the times, Aunty Lee is a consecutive rather than concurrent second wife but I’ve given her my Aunty X’s talent for cooking and passion for mysteries!

Lucy: Ovidia, I love this story! Do you have a beloved relative, quirky friend or mortal enemy colleague with characteristics you would like to see in a book? And would this person be a sleuth, victim or Murderer? Ovida has a copy of the book to give away to one of the lucky commenters...

 Aunty Lee's Delights: After losing her husband, Rosie “Aunty” Lee could easily have become one of Singapore’s “tai tai”, an idle rich lady devoted to an aimless life of mah-jongg and luxury shopping. Instead she threw herself into building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee’s Delights, where spicy Singaporean home cooking is graciously served by Rosie Lee to locals and tourists alike. And when bodies start showing up Aunty Lee turns to cooking up solutions...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Smart People Don't Diet--or Do They?

LUCY BURDETTE: I like to read through the announcements on Publishers Marketplace to see what books have sold recently. Maybe you won't be surprised to hear that there are as many diet and health books as there are cookbooks. For example, you can expect cookbooks in the next 18 months on artisan ice cream, Recipes from a Roman kitchen, and 100 Things to Do with a Pickle.

On the other side, two books are coming called THINK EAT MOVE, "helping readers create a revolution from within with a lifestyle program that marries the practices of mindfulness, eating with intention, and interval-based movement in order to achieve lasting, optimum wellness" and SMART PEOPLE DON'T DIET, "a science-based, gimmick-free approach to healthy weight management and eating."

Sigh. I hate dieting. And I love eating. The times I've decided to diet, the foods I select to cut back on become irresistible. (Like Hank's suggestion to skip white food?--a movie runs through my brain showing all the white foods I cannot do without.) A decision to diet always boomerangs, and I gain a few pounds instead of losing. So I'm hoping that my strategy of eating reasonably, without depriving myself, and upping the exercise a bit will last me a lifetime.

So Reds, are you experts at dieting? If not, what are your strategies for enjoying food while staying healthy? 

HALLIE EPHRON: I do not diet unless I can't button my pants. But I always watch what I eat. Fortunately for me I don't have a sweet tooth and I love to cook.

Give up white foods? Never! I got a perverse pleasure out of seeing an analysis of rice that showed comparative levels of arsenic -- highest levels were found in brown rice. Least high in instant rice. Go figure. Make mine Basmati.

Lucy: The question is Hallie, which pants? 

Hank Phillippi Ryan:  Oh yes, indeed, I am an expert on dieting!  Television adds 10 pounds, it really does… And people always say to me, you look so much thinner in real life than  you do on TV.

I suppose it's better than the alternative.  

But it makes me very conscious of it. I don't eat sugar, really, or any carbs, very often at least, and I'm kind of conscious of it, when I do. Like last night I had nacho chips. And I think I had five…

But for someone who doesn't have to be so weird about it :-) , here's my true diet tip.

 The best bite of anything is the first bite. The other bites are just to try to recapture that first bite.  Which you can never do.

So just take one bite of whatever you want… And then just don't eat the rest.

Lucy: Oh Hank, you must be one of the most disciplined people on the planet! 

RHYS BOWEN: When I was young I was super-skinny. (108 pounds when I married, hence the brief and disastrous modeling career) I've always had a small appetite and we rarely eat calorie-laden foods so I never actually diet. I am eating homemade veggie soup for lunch all this week so that I'll look as slim as my Red counterparts by next Friday. (I confess to becoming a little poochy around the tummy recently. It never went after a 12 day cruise). 

John and I are great believers in the glycemic index and eat avocado every day. Also nuts as snacks and frequent grilled fish.

And hardly ever dessert, although I do love my two squares of dark chocolate.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I'm a complete chowhound. And sometimes I'm not even that discriminating. One night last week Bruce was out of town, I was grumpy and I ate an entire container of ice cream for dinner. I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT FLAVOR IT WAS.

I feel as if I've been on a diet my whole life, including an embarassingly trendy one last fall (which worked very well.) But most of the time I just, mentally count calories. If I know, as I do re this week, that I'll be going out with friends for dinner, twice, AND I'll be going to the feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy on Saturday night, I'll eat light the other days. It works most of the time. Can't not eat the zeppole in Little Italy.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You are all thin and fabulous. I however, am here to represent the other 85% of American women: those of us who are pleasantly plump. Zaftig. Abbondanza. I eat what I like, and what I like is a lot. 

Admittedly, I was at one time considerably smaller. I used to run, hike, ski cross-country and alpine. Then my knees went all to hell. Now I swim in the pool at the Y at a decorous pace. My children have nicknamed me The Manatee. 

I eat healthfully, I have great cholesterol/blood pressure/blood sugar numbers, and the only reason I'm ever tempted to diet is because most designer clothes don't come in anything larger than 12. I'll think Ooo, that Thom Browne dress is amazing...then I'll bake a plate of brownies and remind myself that Ralph Lauren and Talbots both stock Womens sizes. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm on the "healthy lifestyle" side of the diet spectrum. I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic when I was about fourteen, so have been careful about sugar and refined carbs my entire adult life. Fortunately I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I read labels...very irritatingly, I'm sure. No high-fructose corn syrup. No hydrogenated oil. No msg.

But as long as food is real food, I eat just about everything. If the pounds start accumulating around my middle (which they do... sigh) my idea of a "diet" is to eat smaller portions and exercise more. 

Lucy: Time for you to weigh in Jungle red readers! Do smart women (and men) diet?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bouchercon Roundup

RHYS BOWEN: We've had three action-packed days and I'm writing this before we hear the results of the Anthony Awards, but we're crossing our fingers for our Hank, nominated for best novel.

On Friday morning at the Sisters in Crime breakfast Hank handed over the great seal of office as president to the incoming pres, Laura di Silverio.

Then on Friday afternoon was our famous Jungle Red game show panel. This year it was famous first lines. We gave the audience a book title, then we each wrote our own first line for it and read them out, with the real first line among them. Then the audience had to vote on which was the real first line. (Note the Jungle Red pashminas)

Here are a couple to see how well you'd do:
Ernest Hemmingway. A Farewell to Arms.

a.The midday sun. The heat. The sawdust scattered about the ground. And in the center, the bull.

b.There was no other way but the mountains and the ocean.

c.It was manifestly a day when the fish were rising.

d.In the late summer of that year we lived in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

e.The scent of a woman can carry a man a long way into battle.

So which one was it? And what about Fifty Shades of Grey?

a.I'd never looked at his hands bfore and although I knew I wasn't supposed to be looking, I was drawn, almost irresistibly drawn.

b.Looking in the mirror at my amethyst eyes, glossy hair and porcelain skin I realized the only way I'd lose my virginity was to dump Feminist Theory and switch my major to journalism.

c.I used to think there was something wrong with me.

d.I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror

e. I tighten the laces of my trainers, then tie my golden hair away from my long, slender neck, then loop the bow of my chemise under my chin so as not to show a whisper of cleavage.

The answers are d in both cases. Did you get them right?
For some of the other books our first lines were better than the real ones, proving that we are terrific writers!!!
It's off home for most of us tomorrow, but I'm heading up to Canada and then joining some of the other Reds for some events in the Boston area. It will be fun.



Saturday, September 21, 2013

One Ringy Dingy

RHYS BOWEN: As you know, most of the Jungle Reds are at Bouchercon mystery convention this week. We had our Jungle Red game show today so I'll give you all the details in tomorrow's post. But for now I'm musing about cell phone ring tones.

Recently I became the last person in the civilized world to get an iPhone and one of my challenges in getting it set up was choosing the ring tone. I didn’t really like any of the ring tones that came with the phone so I went searching on iTunes for  music that would mean something special to me.


It turns out there are about three zillion ring tones. I am a lover of classical music so naturally I started there. Some were just too peaceful and quiet to be effective, so I opted for the opening of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.  The first time my phone rang I sat at my desk thinking “Oh, that’s nice music someone’s playing.”  By the time it finally dawned on me that it was my phone ringing, the caller had hung up.


So I started browsing in other categories. I’m a Monty Python fan. How about the theme? That was loud and jolly. But then I decided I’d feel a bit silly if my phone rang in the middle of a serious interview. So I likewise rejected a ring tone saying “We are the knights who say Ni! And we demand a phone call..”


I am also a Star Wars fan and I toyed with Darth Vader telling me my phone was ringing. Then I moved on to the Lord of the Rings. How about Gollum saying “Our phone is ringing, my Precious. We wants to answer it. We needs to answer it… now!”


No, I’d get funny looks if I was sitting in an airport with that voice coming out of my purse.

So I’m no nearer to finding the ring tone that is really ME. My daughter who is a former All-American and now owns a swim center and coaches a swim team has the Olympic Theme for her phone. My other daughter (the music composer) has special songs for her husband and each of her children. But me? I’ve gone back to the sound of an old phone ringing. At least I recognize it for what it is. Any suggestions for something better?


And what ring tones do you have? Have you searched out ones that are meaningful to you?

Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm Calm. I'm calm!

RHYS BOWEN: It's been a bit of a stressful time recently. I had a Royal Spyness book to finish before I left for Bouchercon, then the copy-edits arrived for my next Molly book, and there were contract negotiations for 3 more Molly books and John had cataract surgery last week. So when I saw something called Calm Drops in Whole Foods and saw they were a historical natural remedy, I thought I'd try them.

They tasted fine until I read the label one night. Aconitum , Arsinicum, Nux Vomica, Phosporicum Acidum etc etc.. Holy cow, I thought (of course I used another word but this is a G rated blog) I'm eating arsenic, aconite, phosphoric acid... I didn't know what Nux Vomica was until my friend Bill Fitzhugh told me it was strychnine. Great. I'll probably be dead in half an hour and I am definitely not calm.

Several Facebook friends told me that the doses are incredibly small and can't hurt me, but the drops don't exactly calm me now either. So I'm interested what other Reds do to calm themselves in stressful times. For example Hank is never in the same place two days in a row. How does she handle all those airports? Always looking good for on-air assignments?

I've tried the Rescue Remedy but it doesn't seem to do much for me. I've tried St. John's Wort. But frankly I don't like taking things. I have some meditations on my iPhone. I downloaded sleep inducing noises. It was music with strange little background beeps in it that were supposed to conform to beeps in my brain.  It woke me up completely.

What helps me most on a daily basis is a visit to my health club, sitting in the sauna, swimming and then relaxing in the spa. I come home rejuvenated.  Also when I am at home I love to play my Celtic harp. Very soothing, but it's too big to fit into my suitcase.

And the other thing I've found is a handy-dandy little device called a head massager. It looks like a giant egg whisk and it's brilliant. You move it up and down over your head and say "Ahhhh."

So anyone else want to share a de-stressing secret?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm laughing. (No,that's not it, but that's a good idea!) When you emailed me that the Reds should add to this post, I thought: WHEN? I DONT HAVE TIME! That's why I'm laughing. Guess I should go read it again. Anyway--how I handle all the airports? I sing Nessun Dorma to  myself. Truly. And sometimes, Magical Mystery Tour. I always laugh, and i always feel better.

HALLIE EPHRON: I nap if I possibly can. Just a quick one. Or work in the garden. In an airport? I walk. Then I buy the New York Times and read it, cover to cover.

And I must say I am suspicious of all vitamins and "natural remedies" or "food supplements" or anything that touts its "antioxidants." Snake oil.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I bought one of those head massagers! But it was way bigger and it annoyed the bejesus out of me because it didn't fit under the sink in my bathroom. Stressful. Too funny.

I've had more stress this year - moving, not moving, selling apt, not selling. Federer's failure to capture an 18th major. Whenever possible, I just stop what I'm doing and take a spin around my garden. Even when I decide I need to move boulders, it's relaxing. I take the nippers and exert control over my little bit of the universe.
Hank...Nessun Dorma?? They're going to KILL him if he doesn't guess her name? Stress. Full.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Sex. I find sex very calming. It's difficult in an airport, however.

RHYS: What about the Mile High Club, Julia??Come on. Tell all....

JULIA: Oh, my God, I read a story about some couple that got caught in an airplane head recently. All I could think was that both of them together must have been smaller than I am, because I barely have enough space to shut the door after myself. 

I have to add, in a less racy vein, that I also like to sing to de-stress. And hum. It can be very annoying to the people around me, as I frequently don't realize I'm regaling them with a tune.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  If I sang Nessun Dorma in any public place, someone would murder me and then I wouldn't have to worry about stress.  And weirdly, I actually like airports.  Once I'm through security, it's like an off-limits bubble. No one can ask me to do something, deal with the latest domestic crisis, or gripe at me for anything. I can read, catch up on Facebook, have a cuppa, even WORK without being interrupted. Hmm, maybe I should go live in an airport, like Tom Hanks in that movie...

At home, baths are the best de-stress thing. Walks (at least when it's not 100 degrees.) Watching the birds in the back garden (hummingbirds at the moment.) Throwing the tennis ball for Dax. And when all else fails, I read a good book.

RHYS: I don't think I'll be singing Nessun Dorma either (although I did want to be an opera singer when I was a child). I think I'll stick with my harp and my head massager. Actually I wouldn't object to a shoulder massage by a young muscular but sensitive guy. How about you, dear friends?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

You're Writing About What?

RHYS BOWEN:Last year I had the fun experience of writing a short story for an anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni LP Kelner. It was called AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE and gave me a rare chance to write something deliciously dark and spooky. But these very successful anthologies have really given Toni a taste for the supernatural and the creepy, so much so that she has recently become a shape shifter and has morphed into a new person called Leigh Perry.

I'm delighted to have LEIGH PERRY guest blogging for us today so take it away Toni--I mean Leigh

Let me put this right out on the table. I’ve written a mystery about a skeleton.

You may be thinking So what? There are plenty of mysteries with skeletons. For starters, there’s Aaron Elkins, who’s famed for his wonderful Gideon Oliver mysteries about a forensic anthropologist using his knowledge of skeletal remains to solve crimes. Charlotte McLeod’s The Family Plot starts out with finding a mysterious skeleton in the family tomb. In fact countless books include skeletal versions of the murder victims. But here’s the difference. In A Skeleton in the Family, the skeleton isn’t the victim--he’s a sleuth. You see, he’s a living skeleton. Named Sid.

Sid walks, talks, and makes really bad bone jokes. And in the first Family Skeleton mystery, he helps solve his own murder. 

Needless to say, the first question I’m usually asked about the book is how I came up with the idea.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. Worse still, I don’t even have a funny answer. The fact is, I don’t remember. I do know that I’ve had the bare bones of the book planned since May of 2004, and have gone back to my earliest notes to see if I wrote down anything like, “I got this idea from...” But all I can find is references to noodling over the idea for a year, meaning that I first got the idea in 2003. That’s where the trail on my computer ends.

From the very first, I recognized that it was a weird idea, but I just kept coming back to it. Like most writers, I’ve got tons of ideas I’ll never get around to writing, and most of the time, once I jot down an idea I forget about it until I look through my files. But Sid never left my skull.

Flash forward to 2011. My “Where are the now?” series was ending, and Ginjer Buchanan, my editor at Berkley Prime Crime, asked me to pitch something new. I wrote up nine different ideas of various flavors: dark, light, straight mystery, paranormal mystery, a historical, urban fantasy. And Sid. 

Ginjer went right to Sid.

The ironic part is that I almost didn’t include the Family Skeleton series proposal at all. As much as I liked the premise, I still thought it was kind of weird. But my husband Steve said, “Why not?” so in it went. I never dreamed Ginjer would pick it, and I was flabbergasted when she did, though not so much that I turned down the offer. I didn’t know if anybody other than the two of us and my agent would want to read the finished book, but at the very least, I knew I’d have a great time writing it. And I really did.

Now I could talk about the other characters in the book. Sid doesn’t work alone, after all. He lives with Georgia Thackery, who is technically the protagonist. Well, maybe not “lives” so much as “rattles around in the attic of.” At any rate, he’s been a part of her family since she was six, but the only other people who know about him are her parents and her older sister. Georgia has her own story. She’s an adjunct English professor who can’t seem to make tenure track, and is the single mother of a teenaged daughter. She and her sister have some sibling rivalry going on, and she doesn’t have the best luck with men. I like her a lot, and she’s also fun to write about. I think she’s a strong character.

But I know darned well that it’s Sid who’s going to be remembered.
There are so many mysteries with interesting, strong protagonists. (Including the books written by the Jungle Red authors.) Skeletons? Not so much. In fact, there really aren’t that many ambulatory skeletons in any kind of fiction. A talking skull which houses a demon features in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books; Lord Shinigami in the Soul Eater anime and manga series is a skeletal death figure; and Ghost Rider looks like a skeleton, as do some other comic book characters. The most famous is Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. But none of those are mysteries--I’ve got this particular sub-sub-sub genre all to myself.

Of course, I realize that the whole ambulatory skeleton bit will lose me some readers even before they open the book. Some people aren’t going to be interested in this particular brand of whimsy, no matter how well written it might be. (I’ve already had one Goodreads review to that effect.) My sense of humor may very well turn off other readers. I can’t help that, and I can’t let myself worry about it. After all, there are readers who won’t pick up a cozy, an amateur sleuth, an academic setting, a single mother, and so on. Readers are entitled to their own preferences. I just hope there are enough people who share mine so I can keep the series going.

You see, while I can’t really tell you where I came up with the idea for Sid the Skeleton, I can tell you why I want to keep writing about him:

Because he tickles my funny bone.

Though A Skeleton in the Family is Leigh Perry’s first book, she’s been publishing under her real name--Toni L.P. Kelner--for twenty years. She’s the author of the Laura Fleming Southern mystery novels, the “Where are they now?” mystery series, and a slew of short stories. It was while co-editing paranormal anthologies with Charlaine Harris, including the New York Times Bestselling Many Bloody Returns and Death’s Excellent Vacation, that she got her first taste of writing about the supernatural. Leigh and/or Toni lives north of Boston with her husband, two daughters, and two guinea pigs. Her personal philosophy is that we’re all skeletons under the skin. And meat, and organs, and stuff.
RHYS:Leigh and I are attending Bouchercon, the big mystery convention in Albany NY today but she has promised to check in and answer comments and questions. Also she has generously agreed to give a copy of A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY to her favorite comment of the day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Things that Will Make me Stop Reading--Wed 18th

 I just watched an episode of Dalziel and Pasco and the young woman goes down into the cellar, alone, after 2 murders have been committed. If that was a book, I’d have thrown it across the room by now. Instead I shouted at the TV set.

There are certain things that will make me stop reading and the heroine, wearing only a billowing nightgown, going down to the cellar because she heard a noise when there is a serial killer in the neighborhood and the power is out is one of them.

My heroines are not always sensible but they are not clueless either.

Other things I find hard to swallow in books: reasons for amateur sleuths to solve a murder. If I were at a wedding and someone died in the punch, my first thought would be to get out of there as fast as possible. I’d never say “Oh goodie—a murder. Let’s solve it.” For me an amateur sleuths need a really good reason for solving a murder, even if we do suspend belief in a mystery novel.

I am always incredulous when a person who has murdered several people without blinking finally has the heroine in his power and instead of dispatching her neatly he ties her up.  And even says “Now, my pretty, I am I going to take my time in thinking up a good way to kill you.”  Unless he was a psychopath to begin with, he’d want any hindrance to his escape out of his way as quickly as possible. She'd be gone. The book would be shorter and it wouldn't be a series.

And of course the big one for me is when a writer sets a book in UK and just gets things wrong. When Martha Grimes found a skunk in one of her early Jury novels I swore I’d never read her again. (There are no skunks in UK) It’s amazing how often really bad howlers get past copy editors. But if I know one thing to be wrong in a story, how can I believe anything else that might happen. That’s why I work so hard on research to get all the little details right.

Also have you noticed that if the heroine and a young man meet and instantly loathe each other they are absolutely guaranteed to fight then fall madly in love.

So I’m interested, Reds and Readers—what are you personal trigger points that will make you put down a book and say “too silly/annoying/just plain wrong?”

HALLIE EPHRON: My 'walk-aways' are wonky things like sliding viewpoint and profligate use of adverbs. Also use of dialogue tags like "she averred" or "he pontificated" or "she complained" -- really almost anything but "said" and "asked." Also too many characters too soon, and the author hasn't written artfully enough for me to keep them straight without making a list. I'm out of there...

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I've put down books if I see more than one or two exclamation points on a page. Stop shouting at me! And telegraphing when I'm supposed to be excited, afraid, schocked!!! (Annoying isn't it?)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  My pet peeve - and I run into this from time to time reading romance - are male characters who act like women in a man suit. You know, the character who is a super-macho ex-Navy SEAL tycoon, but who puts aside vital business meetings to spend time walking the heroine's puppy. Or he shares all his feelings with his BFF. Or he talks and talks and TALKS all the time. I mean, all you Reds are married, right? Does that sound realistic to you?

The reverse problem appears in thrillers written by male authors: the woman who thinks/acts/sounds like a guy in a skirt. A LOT of thriller bestsellers are guilty of this. I always want to say, "Guys. You're writers. You can observe the opposite sex. If you can imagine an attack on an Al-Qaeda stronghold, you can imagine what it's like to be a woman.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Julia, MY  husband talks and talks and talks all the time. But he's certainly not guilty of any of the other guy-in-a-skirt things:-)

Hallie, I am with you on the sliding viewpoint. That is probably my biggest pet peeve, although there are writers who use it that I like so much I read them anyway.  Just proves there is always an exception.  Too many adverbs. Tagging dialogue with silly adjectives!!!!! (Did I mention exclamation points?) "She moaned" might have a place in a romance novel but NOT after a line of dialogue.

And I really, really hate heroines (or heroes) who do really, really stupid and unnecessary things. If you are going to go down in that dark cellar, alone, when there is a serial killer lurking, it had better be because there is a child trapped in there and you are the only person that can rescue him in time...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Funny how the sliding viewpoint is so annoying. I'll say wait--the main character CANNOT know what that person is thinking! Or going from head to head in each paragraph. Dizzying.

I'll stop reading when there's gratuitous violence--where its  gruesome and ugly and unnecessary.  You know those books--where it almost seems as if the author is having fun being graphic and grotesque. A little grotesque goes a long way.

Also--being cranky here: too much dialect, dropped g's and attempts at southern or cockney or brogue that get in the way of the dialogue. Tell me the person is southern, have them say y'all or bless her heart, and then be done with the drawl.   Logic--If I say to myself--she would NEVER DO that! Done.

Oh! One more thing. For me, at least. Entire prologues or whole big sections in italics. Seriously. I won't even read it. Talk about the parts people skip! 

JULIA: Oh, prologues. Stab me in the eye and be done with it.

RHYS: So what about you, dear readers? What makes you stop reading?