Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black... what?

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Now that Black Friday is--thankfully--over, how many of you got out there and pushed, shoved, and trampled to get that bargain?

For curiosity's sake, I looked up the origin of the term.  Here's what Wikipedia says: The first mention of Black Friday referring to shopping the day after Thanksgiving occurred in Philadelphia in 1961. "For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday."

But did you know that it was not until 2005 that the day after Thanksgiving actually became the biggest retail sales day of the year?

Okay, so I have a confession. I don't think I have ever shopped for anything on Black Friday. I usually try not to go out of the house, because I don't want to get stuck in a traffic jam, or be run into by one of those shoppers still fueled by adrenaline and shopping rage. I wonder how much money people actually end up saving, and how much of the shopping is actually for gifts? Honestly, I suspect that in many cases, it's not about the money at all, but about competitiveness. I'm still horrified by the case of the Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death in 2008 in Valley Stream, New York.  The mob refused to let other employees render aid to their stricken colleague, because they didn't want to miss a bargain...

How did this day that is supposed to be associated with Christmas gift giving become an outlet for the worst side of human nature?

So, fellow REDS, do you venture out on Black Friday?  AND how much of your Christmas shopping have you done? And where and how will you do it?

(I'm dying to know who is the organized shop-throughout-the-year RED, and who is the last-minute-panic RED!)  Fess up!  I'll go first.

DEBS: How much shopping have I done?  None. Zero. Zilch. I have, however, looked at some catalogs, and started to think about it.  I'll order some things online.  I'll buy some books, I'm sure.  And I'll try to do at least a little shopping at my local stores on the town square.  We've never been a family to go in for high-dollar gifts at Christmas (do you actually know anyone who buys a new car as a gift? Or diamonds? Or any of those things the TV ads would convince you EVERYONE buys??) Even as a child my favorite gifts were books and records. Now I try to find little things that the recipients will enjoy.  My daughter and I are both into foodie stuff, and always have a great time shopping for each other.  Neither of us can keep a secret, however, so we always know what we're getting! The hubby always want socks, and very thoughtfully puts up a wish list on Amazon:-)

HALLIE EPHRON: I hate shopping and I hate crowds. So no. If Black Friday depended on me, it would very rapidly go extinct.

This year, our Christmas present to ourselves is a week in a condo on Sanibel Island in Florida with our kids. I'm GETTING as well as giving, because nothing is more precious to me than time I can spend with my girls, my son in law, and my grandbaby.

I've pretty much abandoned other gift giving, other than Christmas morning stocking stuffers. Some of it I make (candy), some I buy (bottles of weird colored nail polish and sparkly eye shadow), and always a magazine to read Christmas morning. None of us needs more "stuff."

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I thought they called it Black Friday because it's the day that puts the stores' books in the black, financially. Right?

I would no more go shopping on Black Friday than..well, I can't even think of a reason I'd do it. Never, no way, no how. (I am doing the second-to-final edits of TRUTH BE TOLD, and very happy about that. Shopping for better words.)

Gifts? I stink. My problem is, I buy things whenever I see them--oh, that'd be perfect for my agent! Then I forget where I put them.

Conversation in early December:
Hank: What present do you want, honey?
Jonathan: Nothing.
Hank: Me, either. We have everything.
Jonathan: Yeah.

Conversation on Dec 25:
Hank: No presents! Rats!
Jonathan: Yeah, what happened??

It's all very complicated.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I hate shopping and I hate crowds, so the idea of Black Friday fills me with horror and dread. I don't think anyone could pay me to go out and face those sales.

However, I have no issue doing holiday shopping via the internet, because it eliminates the crowd issue. Also, I'm really only shopping for the kiddo, so it's pretty fun — and he still believes in Santa, bless him! 

Noel and I are in savings mode, so we usually give each other funny socks. It's nice because it's not a huge amount of money or hard to do, and you still have a package to open on Christmas Day. Socks I've bought for Noel in the past have had maps of the NYC Subway system, the Tower of London, and Oscar the Grouch.

And Miss Edna will be getting some nice PJs, a new robe, and slippers.

I remember one year the kiddo asked me, "Mommy, what do you want most for Christmas?"
And I replied, "Peace of mind."
And then he said, "OK, I'll give you back a piece of your mind."
If only!

RHYS BOWEN: Hank, I can relate to that dialog so much. John and I go through the same thing. And he's especially bad. If he wants something, he goes out and buys it instantly. Even if it's three days before his birthday. I do like to open presents, but it can be something really small and simple. It's the thought that counts... unless it's a surprise gift of diamonds. Then it's the diamond that counts.

There is nothing in the universe I want or need badly enough to make me fight crowds and stand in line on Black Friday. We spent the morning at the Musical Instrument Museum where the kids played on every kind of instrument for hours, then we are going to a Cowboy place to eat barbecue under the stars--far from the Madding crowds.

LUCY BURDETTE: Ohhhh, barbecue, my favorite! I buy things all along as the year goes by. My mother was a huge believer in fat stockings and I can't quite shake the habit. I find it fun to try to think about what special things people would like. Of course, the closer their taste is to mine, the easier it is! And always books, lots of books. But not on Black Friday...

DEBS:  Hank, you crack me up.  We had a similar conversation one year.

Rick: Let's agree we won't do anything for Christmas this year. We don't need to spend the money.
Me: (Reluctantly.) Well, okay.

Skip to Christmas morning.  Not a single present for me under the tree. Not a single one. I had, of course, bought and wrapped little gifts. Nothing EXPENSIVE, that being the point, right?

Me: (in tears) You didn't get me anything! Not a book or a CD or even a movie!
Rick: (irate) But you said we weren't going to do Christmas!

Translation: A big failure of communication here.  In my view, there should always be something to unwrap or put in a stocking, even if it is a $5 gift from Big Lots (right down the street!)

Conclusion: Now I make a list. (This year it's The Hobbit, extended edition, on Blu-ray. No misunderstanding allowed.)

And I have to confess I fibbed about the "no big gift" thing. Last year Rick surprised me with a Galaxy tablet. I LOVE it. It's sitting right next to me now and I don't know how I ever did without it.  I guess that makes up for the no-gift Christmas...

Susan, do I have SOCKS for you!  A friend gave me these a few years ago, and now I give them to everyone, and buy a couple of new pairs for myself.  They are the best socks in the world, and they are incredibly fun and hold up through countless washings and dryings.  It's Solmate Mismatched Socks.

READERS, what about you?  Did you brave Black Friday?  Is your shopping done or not even contemplated?

Friday, November 29, 2013

What I'm Writing by Susan Elia MacNeal (and Why I'm Late with This Post)

As it turns out, I'm not writing right now, but editing — Maggie Hope book #4, titled The Prime Minister's Secret Agent. It's scheduled to be published in June 2014.

Here's the official description from Random House:

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is a gripping new mystery featuring intrepid spy and code breaker Maggie Hope. And this time, the fallout of a deadly plot comes straight to her own front door.

World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.

But as of now it's still in manuscript form and there's a lot of work to do…. I thought it would be fun to describe some of the ups and downs of the editing/copy editing experience, from an author's point of view. Here we go!

First, I turned in the manuscript of The Prime Minister's Secret Agent to my editor, the great Kate Miciak at Random House (who also edits Lee Childs, Alan Bradley, and Melanie Benjamin, to name just a few — NO PRESSURE THERE!) on October 1. It had already been read and commented on by my agent, Victoria Skurnick at the Levine Greenberg Agency, two novel-writing friends, and the hubby. Still, it's terrifying to send in your manuscript to your editor. What if she hates it? What if she rejects it? What if they cancel my contract and I have to give the money back? (Ah, what you think of at three in the morning…) So I'm waiting with white knuckles for the manuscript to come back, with both her comments and also the copy edits.

For anyone following the story of my crazy life, my recovering mother-in-law has just moved in with us after a hospital stay. The family is my husband, me, our eight-year-old son, and "Grandmama" as well as two insane cats — in a "cozy" New York City apartment. So I booked a week at a time share (using eBay!) and cashed in some points for a plane ticket. For one week, I would have peace, I would have quiet, I would have privacy!

However, when I was ensconced in the hotel room, one thing was clear — I didn't have the right manuscript.

No, I'd been sent Sunshine on Scotland Street (which I can sort of understand, because The Prime Minister's Secret Agent also takes place in Scotland). And my computer died. Yes, it was the universe saying, hey, you need a day off. Even Kate told me to go to the pool! (I did and took Sunshine on Scotland Street with me — excellent book!)

The next day, I received the right manuscript via overnight delivery and opened it.

It's (sort of) a book! A baby book! Here's the first page — Kate's notes are in red and the copy editor's in green.

And here are some typical comments:

Those are from my editor. Here are some from the copy editor:

Of course, these are the ones I like to see!

And then, thank goodness, at the end:

It was a long week, reading, writing, considering, rewriting. A lot of it it accepting (or not (the editor and copy editor's changes. But it's also looking things up, making sure the date line checks out, making sure the time changes (Edinburgh, London, Washington D.C., and Pearl Harbor) all work. Tightening the mystery. And, alas, I couldn't post about it on Jungle Reds because of the broken computer.

That week, I worked with Kate and the copy editor's marks. Now I'm back home and incorporating the notes from several experts. For this book it's a World War II historian, a Londoner and Blitz survivor, a retired Scottish police officer, and a medical doctor.

And the irony? For someone who's constantly complaining about not having an office, or even a desk, I didn't work at the desk, but on the hotel's bed…. (That's Diet Coke on the desk — I know, Not Healthy….)

On December 9, I'll send back the manuscript with all my comments added. They will (somehow? with magic?) decipher and enter all the changes. That's the version the galley, or the Advanced Readers Copy (ARC), will be made from. (Again, NO PRESSURE!)

And all I can say is I hope that, when it comes out, you like The Prime Minister's Secret Agent! It's been an adventure!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five SMALL Thanksgivings

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Jungle Red to all of you! We hope you are all eating a bit too much, and that someone other than you gets to do the washing up!

But if you have a minute to celebrate with us, we have a Thanksgiving Challenge for you.

Once again, there are exclusions: We are all (we hope) thankful for our families and our friends, our pets, food on the table, our health, our homes, and BOOKS. So tell us FIVE other little things that make this day, or any other day, a little brighter.

I'll go first:

DEBS: 1) I'm thankful that my daughter convinced me to try Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. It sounded really weird, but it turned out to be delicious.
2)I just discovered that I like persimmons.  That proves that there are always interesting new things to look forward to.
3)And speaking of interesting new things, I came home from a week's writing retreat to find that my husband had grown a beard. This is the first time in the forty years I've known him that I've ever seen him with a beard. I think I like it.
4)I just have to get in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special.
With this week's frigid North Texas temps, I am more thankful than ever that we installed a gas jet in our fireplace when we had to rebuild the chimney a few years ago. No more Girl Scout fire-building skills needed.  Just put in some logs and turn on the gas.  Bliss.  Just add hot chocolate and a boo--opps, sorry. I almost threw in the B word.

Now, your turn, REDS. No cheating.

RHYS BOWEN:I have an awful lot to be thankful for this week with my whole family assembled around me as we celebrate a milestone birthday for my husband. But I'll try to come up with little things
1. I'm thankful that I've never grown up, that I can still enjoy silly play and being a kid with my grandkids. I was told I was the only grandmother someone had ever seen chasing her granddaughters over the play structure and up the rock wall.2.I'm thankful I love to sing. When I'm with a choir singing great music I get chills
3.I'm thankful we import tea from England for our daily cuppe and that we still have that civilized four o'clock ritual.
4. I'm thankful for PBS. Otherwise the TV would never get turned on.
5. I'm thankful we have a Fresh and Easy store near us in Phoenix that stocks Crunchie bars. Absolutely my favorite candy.

HALLIE EPHRON: First off, I'm grateful to Debs that I don't have to come up with a seee-rious list of things I"m grateful for. I'm thankful for:
1.Hot smoked paprika, a spice which I only recently discovered and which I now use in my rub for chicken before roasting (or barbecuing). So delicious!
2. My immersion blender, which makes all kinds of wintery soups easy and no blender to clean up after.
3. My UGGS. I bought a pair 4 years ago and live in them through the winter. I cannot function if my feet are cold.
4. My daily newspaper. Hard copy. So grateful it's still being printed so I can have comics and the bridge column with my morning coffee.
5. And echoing Rhys on this, public television. Scott & Bailey. George Gently. Doc Martin. Downton. Antiques Roadshow. And so much more.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, little things. Let's see...

1. Wine. What can I say. My mom died a few years ago, and one of her legacies to me was part of her wine cellar. We have been having DELICIOUS wine, and we toast to her every time. (I'm embarrassed to put this first, but I did think of it first..)
2. Yeah, the things my mother left me. Including gorgeous scarves, which I wear all the time. You'd think it might make me sad, but it doesn't.
3. My iphone. I LOVE it. When I can't find it, I begin to freak out, which is scary. But it's a fabulous invention. And ON Demand TV. (This is the technology choice. So I can choose both things.)
4. Yes, Daily newspaper, at the breakfast table, with coffee. Starbucks Christmas blend! 
5.  Our ducks that come every spring. And our garden.

LUCY BURDETTE: Okay I'm thinking...
1. thankful for my morning walk with John and Tonka, which ends up with a cafe con leche at The Cuban Coffee Queen
2. thankful for the TV show Nashville on NBC. I'm crazy for this show--the music, the stars, the soap opera plot!
3. thankful for cheese, especially sharp cheddar--for toasted cheese

sandwiches, mac and cheese, and cheese on anything
4. Eyesight. What in the world would I do if I couldn't read??
5. fur and the animals who wear it. Nothing more soothing than ruffling the fur of one of my guys. While watching Nashville. and eating cheese (just kidding there:)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: One of my favorite quotes is: Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.? ? A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

OK, now for five things:

1) I'm grateful that even though we live in the city, our windows face into the middle of a block, so we have a beautiful view of trees and can hear the birds sing.
2) I'm grateful for Frank's Hot Sauce, a Buffalo staple and what's used on real wings. I put it on almost everything. My husband jokes I'd put it on ice cream?
3) I'm thankful for our "nurse cat" Xander ? he's a bit of a grumpy old man-cat, but if anyone's sick or sad, he's right there, snuggling and purring.
4) I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but thankful for the new CW show, Reign. Even though it's historically inaccurate, it's jolly good fun ? and has distracted me through a lot of dark moments this fall.
5) Sick today and thankful to work from home, in my PJs, with tea and cats.

DEBS: Rhys, congrats to John!  Your celebration sounds fabulous.  And you are indeed the "games mistress" :-) If I ever want to organize a big bash, I'm calling you.

Susan, writing in PJs with tea and cats is always the best, but here's hoping you're feeling more festive on the day.

Hank, if I'd inherited anyone's wine, it would be first on my list!

Hallie, how does anyone live without an immersion blender?

And Lucy, I haven't seen Nashville. Nor Reign, Susan.  But I do have On-Demand TV...

What about you, readers?  What five SMALL things are you thankful for today?

(And we here at Jungle Red are very thankful for YOU, which is no small thing at all!)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving in Paradise

Hi, this is Hayley Snow, the food critic from Lucy Burdette's Key West mysteries. One of my favorite writers, Deborah Crombie, asked me to talk about Thanksgiving in Paradise--that's Key West for those of you who don't know me. 

To be completely honest, sometimes I do miss the way we used to celebrate the holiday in New Jersey
--it was all about tradition. And we rarely broke from it. But I can remember one year when Mom felt sorry for a family who'd recently moved to the neighborhood from South Carolina. They knew no one and so they invited us. My father and grandmother and I grumbled like mad, but Mom held firm and we carted our side dishes and pies and relish trays up the street to their house. Oh horror of horrors, there were no mashed potatoes on the menu--only white rice!Well, Thanksgiving doesn't have to be traditional in Paradise. If you're unhappy about your meal or sad about your family, heck, you can ride your bike to the beach and have a picnic. Or pop down to Louie's Backyard for a cocktail on the deck overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And if you don't feel like cooking at all while in Paradise, plenty of local restaurants will do the work for you

But we're definitely cooking at Miss Gloria's houseboat. Eric and Bill will be there, and Miss Gloria of course, and Danielle and Wally. Even Officer Torrence said he might stop by. And when we're done eating, I'll take some leftovers to the guys at Mallory Square. Because what good is a fabulous spread if you don't share it? 

Here's what's on our menu: Guacamole, pimento cheese, and bloody Marys to start, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and turnips, brussel sprouts sautéed with shallots and bacon, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce out of a can--because that's the only kind Miss Gloria will eat. Oh, and two kinds of chocolate...

When my guests first arrive, I like to ply them with the best ever bloody Mary. For hors d'oeuvres, I've decided on pimento cheese dip and guacamole. 

 And to go with the turkey:Pumpkins stuffed with cornbread, leeks, cheese, and bacon

Cornmeal-sausage stuffing

For dessert, I love to bake, but it's awfully tempting to order pies from the Old Town Bakery. 


Then I'll save my baking for two chocolate treats, Scarlet O'Hara Cupcakes and a really easy chocolate cake that came directly from my grandmother's recipe box.

And finally, here's what I'll do with any leftover turkey.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lisa Black--What Do You Do When...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the great things about being part of
Jungle Red is getting to have your favorite authors as guests.  Lisa Black is one of mine. She's also an author you can depend on to get things right in her series about forensic scientist Theresa Maclean--Lisa is a forensic scientist, and swears she spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue, working for the Cleveland coroner's office.   Although she sets her novels in Cleveland, Lisa is now a latent print examiner and CSI in Florida for the Cape Coral Police Department.

Here's a little set-up about Lisa's new book:

The Price of Innocence begins with Theresa and Frank (Theresa's cop cousin) caught in an explosion possibly aimed at a local inventor/entrepreneur, the northeast version of Bill Gates. Ignoring her bruises and forced to relinquish the investigation to the feds, Theresa tries to dive back into normalcy at work only to have a cop assassinated nearly at her feet. These two apparently unrelated cases begin to move closer and closer together as Theresa encounters the unpredictable world of methamphetamine production, an attractive and mysterious man, a circle of new  money and power and a conspiracy of silence going back twenty years—the reach of which she could never have imagined. 

Sounds great, yes?  And here's what the reviewers have had to say:

Publisher’s Weekly said: "With only her gut to go on, she—and the reader—scud through a series of devilishly clever blind alleys and red herrings." Booklist reported: "Quick pacing, a keep-’em-guessing plot, plenty of dark humor, and a spunky, outspoken, whip-smart heroine make this a must-read for fans of Cornwall and Grafton." Kirkus wrote, "Once again, Black constructs a puzzle that weaves olds crimes with new, always leaving room for one more twist."

Fabulous, right?  How could anyone not love this book? I certainly did!

But here's what happened to Lisa.        

LISA BLACKWe’ve all been there--at least I hope we’ve all been
there, I hope it wasn’t just me--when, after we’ve spent five or six or nine months writing a book, and our critique partners like it, and our family and friends love it, and we send it to our agent waiting to hear how much she loves it too… she hates it.
      Not just “this character doesn’t seem realistic” or “this part of the story drags” or “this subplot isn’t sufficiently compelling” (how I’ve grown to hate that word!).  No, flat-out, unequivocal, don’t-even-bother -rewriting-this. Throw it out and start over. Nearly a year of your life, tossed aside in one delicately worded phone call or, worse, e-mail.
      Please tell me it’s not just me.
      But one of the most saving and yet most difficult things about writing is how “different strokes for different folks” is not just an adage, it’s a truth. One person’s literary genius is another’s boring claptrap. A friend found Meet the Parents hilarious while I found it barely watchable. Another can’t stomach any sort of fantasy or science fiction no matter how well done. And books--I’ve had books I’ve been completely gaga over, from Gone Girl to Brian Freeman’s Immoral to the idiosyncratic but priceless Ranchero by Rick Gavin…then I gave them to my trusted siblings only to have the reactions range from ‘meh’ to ‘ick.’
      And so it should not be surprising that while my first (brilliant) agent caused me to throw The Price of Innocence into a drawer, my second (equally brilliant) agent encouraged me to bring it out again when new publisher Severn was already asking for a follow-up before Blunt Impact even hit the stands. She tried it and, lo and behold, she liked it.
      Joy. Not because the months I spent writing it would not have been in vain (though that is a huge consideration--life is short after all) but because she confirmed for me that I am not crazy. The Price of Innocence is perhaps the most freeform of my poetry, the most boldly colored of my artwork. I let my character go out on limbs I couldn’t have stomached ten years ago. This book is like your smallest child, the one whose quirks and inconsistencies mean he will never play on the football team or be elected to office but who throws himself at every situation with such boundless enthusiasm that even while bandaging his knee for the forty-leventh time, you love him most of all.
      Point being, though we all know how people’s opinions can vary, it still comes as a shock when books we love aren’t unequivocally loved by others. Why is that? 

DEBS: I keep thinking about JK Rowling, and all the agents and editors who hated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone... Do they still wonder how they could have made such a mistake?

What about you, fellow REDS, have you had an experience like Lisa's?

And readers, have you loved a book and had a trusted reading friend hate it? How do you deal with that?