Friday, January 24, 2014

Vortex, Shmortex

“Pirio Kasparov is an alluring heroine. She’s sharp-witted, hell-bent on finding the truth, and her narrative voice is laced with surly sexiness. Pirio’s baldly honest, slightly melancholic reflections and Elo’s use of extreme natural settings will have strong appeal for Scandinavian crime fans. An impressive debut with surprising literary depth.”
                                                       Booklist (starred) on NORTH OF BOSTON

about Siberia.
  (I’ve never written that sentence before, so that makes 
it four things.)

1. When we were kids, it was the ultimate threat. My mother would say—“Keep doing that, kiddo, and it’s SIBERIA for you.”  We weren’t quite sure what or where that was, 
but it sounded bad.

2. In college, I was big on the game of Risk.  Yakutsk was a very good territory to get, and so was Irkutsk. Apparently, who knew, they are in Siberia.

3. I know this because of Elisabeth Elo, a fellow Bostonian whose astonishing new book NORTH OF BOSTON is brand new and getting fabulous reviews all around.  She has
 been to Siberia! (I guess she must have defied her mother….) and she says all this talk about the polar vortex?  Well, what’s Russian for “pooh-pooh”?    

And we think we’ve got it bad… 
                by Elisabeth Elo, author of North of Boston

Right now it’s 6:08 pm on January 21, and it’s snowing pretty hard here in Boston.  Commuters are driving home on slippery streets, trying to get there before the blizzard that’s roaring up the coast actually hits.  There’s a traffic back-up outside my window, and the temperature is a brisk 10*F.  Ah, Boston, you’re my home! 

So what do Bostonians do on a night like tonight?  They complain.  Most likely, we’ll wake up tomorrow to a winter wonderland of bright white virgin snow -- a soft, sparkling landscape that would be the perfect setting for a beautiful love story (such as Love Story).  But we’ll still complain.  Most of us will have the day off from work or school – and what will we do?  Complain.  Out sledding with our kids, we’ll complain.  With our feet up before a cozy fire, we’ll complain.  Why?  Because we like to. 

It’s sort of fun.  We’re Bostonians after all.  We’re tough, and we want everyone to know it.   So we won’t talk about gorgeous landscapes or sledding with our kids.  We’ll talk about downed tree limbs and blackouts and cars stuck in slushy drifts and huge sheets of snow sliding off slanted roofs onto parked cars below, shattering their windshields and almost killing nearby pedestrians.  Yup.  That’s how we talk up here in Beantown.  

It’s Man against Nature in these parts.

Which brings me to Siberia.

In Yakutsk, a city I visited this summer, the average January temperature is -40*F.  If you throw boiling water out your window, it freezes before it hits the pavement. 
A dull fog (frozen water vapor) often blankets the earth.  If you turn off your car, the fuel freezes within minutes, so cars must be kept running twenty-four hours a day or kept in a heated garage, which hardly anyone has. 

On the good side, the women all have fur coats.  I do not grudge them this as they are probably the only people in the world who actually need them. 

(Our neon-colored synthetic parkas with all the snaps, zippers, and pockets are a just a joke to them.) 

Oh, and the children aren’t kept home from school until the temperature falls to below -50*F.
So one day this past August I happened to find myself in a small village called Cherkeh, which is about a five-hour ride via “taxi” 
(this is a euphemism for a rusted-out van with no shock absorbers in which many people are crammed) from Yakutsk, which is itself quite far away from anything.  

Cherkeh is pretty much inaccessible during the winter months, and because I was feeling some fear and awe imagining what the winter there must be like,   

I asked an approximately 80-year-old Sakha man named Dimitri what it was like to live in Cherkeh in the---  

And before I could even finish the sentence, he looked at me with some disgust and barked, “What do you think we do?  We go the store, we make dinner, we visit friends.  Did you think we stayed in our houses all winter long?” 

That’s when I had an epiphany. 

It came to me that Boston actually isn’t the center of the universe, that a blizzard is just another type of weather, that kids have every right to play outside until their cheeks are pink and their wool mittens are frozen stiff because they’ve been happily sucking snow off them, and that one person’s frigid ten degrees is someone else’s springtime. 

You might be wondering why I went to Siberia.  (I don’t blame you for this.)  It was to do research for the novel I’m writing, so far untitled.  If everything goes as planned, my debut suspense novel, North of Boston, will be published 31 hours from now (now being 7:06 pm on 1/21/2014).  It’s very exciting, of course, to think that North of Boston will soon be on bookstore shelves.  But my attention keeps straying to the new novel that’s on my desk, the one taking place partly in Siberia. 

Luckily, the season isn’t winter.

My tough-talking Boston protagonist isn’t tough enough for that! 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Now I am truly embarrassed that I am typing this with a blanket over my lap and wearing fingerless gloves.Wimp.

Anyway! The fabulous Elisabeth is giving away a copy of NORTH OF BOSTON to one lucky commenter (no PO boxes and US only, please...)  So, Reds, what's the coldest weather you've ever been in?


  Suspense Magazine wrote in their rave review of NORTH OF BOSTON: “There are gritty, hardcore mysteries and then there are gritty, witty mysteries that bring excellent humor, in-depth storytelling, and truly descriptive scenes together in a combination that makes you wish that the novel was playing out on the big screen. This particular debut is the latter; an amazing page-turner that brings Pirio Kasparov, an extremely witty girl from Boston, onto the literary scene… This is non-stop action; a debut read that’s highly recommended to all suspense mavens out there. Enjoy!” 

Elo grew up in Boston and went to Brown University.  She worked as an editor, an advertising copywriter, a high-tech project manager, and a halfway house counselor before getting a PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University.  Since then, she’s taught writing at Harvard, Tufts, and the evening school of Boston College.  She is already hard at work on the second book starring the NORTH OF BOSTON ensemble cast.  Below is more information on the book, and be sure to check out


  1. I don’t suppose I have any room to complain about being cold since the coldest weather I’ve ever had to endure in New Jersey is probably no chillier than Boston. [Of course, at the moment, my thermometer says it is a mere two degrees in the back yard so I don’t feel the least bit guilty about snuggling under the blankets in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace.]
    Elisabeth, I’m definitely hunting up a copy of “North of Boston” and as long as I can read it snuggled under a blanket I plan to watch for your Siberia story . . . .

  2. Elisabeth, you had me at Pirio Kasparov. That has to be one of the coolest character names ever. I want the book (now on my Amazon wish list) just for that reason, although I did read more about it, and it sounds like a thrilling read. The title and the cover are enticing, too. The complete package.

    Coldest weather I've encountered is probably last week when it was around 7 below zero, and I unwisely took my dog out that morning without a face wrap to protect my face skin. (I did have earmuffs and a neck scarf.) My forehead and cheeks hurt so badly after just a few minutes outside that I was actually moaning with pain. I have since learned that the skin on your face can freeze within five minutes in sub-zero temperatures. Lesson learned!

  3. I don't know what the temperature was, but I remember the cold. It was morning. Snow had piled up on the crossbeam around my bed. Each morning light came in through the cracks in the wall and woke me up. That morning my room was dark. Snow filled the spaces where the sunlight belonged. I could hear the white pines cracking. They made the only sounds I could hear until my great-grandmother woke up.

    Her camp was in the woods of Billerica, north of Boston. We were out of kerosene, so there was no heat until later in the day when a man from down the road brought us a can. That morning I was as cold as I have ever been.

  4. "The Perfect Storm" of 1991 introduced this southern California boy to nasty snow storms and rising water. When the National Guard came by in giant trucks to rescue us, I said "I staying to protect my property," packed up the wife and kiddies on the truck, and went back inside my house with no electricity, When my fire logs ran out, I burned cardboard boxes, then a few pieces of old furniture in the garage. By the time the water went day next day, I was out of fuel and doing jumping jacks in three different overcoats. I was getting a little scared. :) Next time, the robbers can have everything.

  5. I grew up in Buffalo, New York. Enough said.

  6. Love the blog Elizabeth! And the intro too--can't wait to hear more about Siberia, but now off to find NORTH OF BOSTON...

  7. This one's in my TBR pile already! Elisabeth, looking forward to meeting you - you're in good company with so many outstanding and generous mystery writers near Boston.

  8. First-can you reformat the post? The right hand margin is cutting off the end of words.
    Second-I went camping with my father. When we got up in the morning the water bucket was frozen. Bracing!

  9. Elisabeth - Congratulations, your book sounds terrific!

    I must confess, I'm a cold wimp. I'm from Seattle, grew up in Eastern Washington (where it would get into the teens but rarely lower) and have lived through snowstorms without electricity for a week. And I hated it. My fingers get SO cold, and there's nothing worse for a writer than frozen fingers :) Finally, I moved to tropical Vietnam and then temperate Los Angeles because I love being warm! So now I read about cold weather from my toasty home base, and when I need a dose of character building, grab my parka and head north!

  10. I'm looking forward to reading this one!

    I'm in Key West where everyone's kvetching because it's in the 60s.

  11. Elisabeth, my husband also went to Brown. He's probably a lot older than you are, though.

    Too funny, about the older man who put you in your weather place. It's all relative, right?

    The worst weather I've ever encountered was here in Cincinnati, in January of 1978. I'd just started a new job, and did not realize that it was -37, or I would certainly not have taken the bus that morning. The bus was at least half an hour late, but when we finally got downtown I fought my way across Fountain Square (middle of a raging blizzard), only to discover I was only one of two people in the entire office to make it there. The office was closed. Luckily, the other guy lived not far from me, because the buses had quit running. He took me home in his Porsche (the only time I've ever ridden in one), on an eerily empty, horribly slippery and snow-covered expressway.

    The only way I could have gotten there without frostbite was my faux fur maxicoat. Remember those? This one was a dandy, with a gorgeous big fur hood.

    The other part of this was the two water main breaks at our intersection, which dips down three ways. It was like a skating rink, until they plowed up all the ice and the more than a foot of snow. Which then encased every car parked along the street in ice up to their windows. My neighbor's car was stuck there on the street for a month, because it stayed very cold until sometime in mid February.

    So it's pretty cold here right now, but nothing like that.

  12. Also: Hank, you are too darned funny.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.


  14. Trying to reformat! I have tried everything, and only some of it works... there are gremlins in the computer today. Sorry..almost all fixed..

    Oh, faux fur coats--I wear mine, still., all the time. It is the WARMEST thing!

    As a reporter, I've been out so many times covering storms--and there was one day in a huge blinding blizzard, I was somewhere terrible, the wind swirling and snow pelting, and I was going live--and as my segment aired, I had a tiny thought of --wow, this is so cold and so difficult, but I am doing a GREAT job! I was made for this, I am so tough.

    When I got off the air, the producer told me in my earpiece: Better check your mascara. It's all running down our face and you look like the guy in KISS.

    (one of my captcha words is polarity! No kidding!)

  15. I don't like cold. Never did. It was one of the reasons I left England--cold, damp winters and inadequate heating.

    I did brave Alaska in February once but they were having a mild winter (for them). We went ice fishing and dog sledding and it was awesome.

  16. I know I'm a cold weather wimp, so the whole Sibera thing would be a real threat. I don't know if there are enough clothes in the world to keep me warm in those kind of temps.

  17. I don't think I could stand Siberia. I live in Kansas & that's tough enough. This winter has been particularly cold, but the drought has created dust storms in western Kansas (where I grew up). I think I'll take the cold & the snow over dust storms.

  18. North of Boston is on my TBR pile, somewhere. I think I need to find it and move it towards the top.

    Sounds like a perfect read for these vortex days.

    Thanks for stopping by Elisabeth

  19. Oh, Susan Elia MacNeal - a fellow Buffalonian! I'm in Pittsburgh now (where it was a brisk -10 last week), but I think the coldest ever was a day I was in high school (1989, 1990?). I walked to school on five-foot drifts. Temperature was -14 with a wind child of -45, and gusts up to 20mph, making it feel like -50 or something. I wore tights under jeans, two pairs of socks, a scarf under my jacket, a scarf over my head and face, leg warmers, a hat, and mittens inside my gloves - and I still didn't thaw completely until around noon.

  20. Oh, Jody, I hear you..I grew up in Indiana, and it felt like...tundra.

    Anyone remember Gorky Park? That had great descriptions of cold.

    And oh--Winter's Tale! (My favorite book, and soon to be a major motion picture...) has brilliant brilliant descriptions of cold.

  21. When I went to work yesterday--yes, it was 5:30 AM--it was minus 2. RIDICULOUS.

  22. I grew up in New Paltz, NY -- my father would go to bed early, and turn off the heat!! In high school, when I had homework to do, I would tiptoe into the hall and move the thermostat, and he would holler, "Don't touch that heat!!"

    I also remember being outdoors, going to and from school and activities, wearing ankle socks and boots, and skirts -- just imagine. I can't even think about how that felt!

    I remember waiting outside once to be picked up from something, and just crying because I was so cold.

    But Reine wins. And what a beautifully worded description!!

  23. One winter when my kids were little the wind chill was something insane like -60 and I hung blankets up on all the walls and doorways and we basically lived in the one room for a week. And we were wrapped in blankets too. My house had little insulation. It was awful. But not quite Siberia thank goodness.

    Pen M

  24. Jukkasjaroi Sweden -- the Ice Hotel

    February 1998 -- I don't remember actual temperature ... but COLD fit somewhere I have pictures of the inside temperature ...

  25. The Ice Hotel? How does that even work???

  26. Susan and Mary, with the two of you having grown up in Buffalo, I'm wondering if you are familiar with Ellicottville. My friend and I stopped there last September on our return trip from our Bouchercon/Niagara Falls adventure, and I fell in love with that town. We ate at a little place called dina's, and I bought a lovely print showing the restaurant and surrounding shops in the snow. I now follow that picturesque town on FB.

  27. They sleep on furs, Hank. And everything is made of ice, that they have to rebuild every year.

    Not for me, I can tell you.

  28. Elizabeth, the book sounds wonderful! And I am fascinated by Siberia, so will be on the lookout for the next one, too. I have a friend, Sharon Hudgins, who wrote a book about traveling across Siberia on the Trans Siberian Railroad. She and her husband taught through the University of Maryland's international program in (I think) Irkutsk and Vladiovostok. Sharon taught film but is also a food and travel writer, and her account is fascination. The book was published Texas A&M Press and is still available. Here's the Amazon link:

  29. I meant "fascinating". Arrgghh. My fingers are cold. See, I'm complaining, and it's only 22 F here in North Texas...

  30. I think 13 degrees was the coldest I have encountered - and boy, did I complain!

  31. I would love to go to an ice hotel! The key is that there's a sauna and you get to sleep on furs. Plus, it's really beautiful!

    I am having a hard time convincing anyone to go, though. My husband just isn't into it. For our honeymoon, I suggested a Jeep safari across Lapland, and he wasn't into that either!

  32. OH, so right now in Boston it's ten degress, and I'm trying to imagine what -50 degrees would feel like i=on an ongoing basis. I did experience -75 degress (windchill added in) once and when I went outside my eyelashes froze together. This is not a time when you want to be wearing contacts. I think i walked a short distance for, say, less than 5 minutes, and there wasa very strong wind blowing. This was back when I lived in Illinois in the country and the mailbox was at the end of a long dirt driveway. I was determined to get the mail. In hindsight, it really wasn't worth it!

  33. Deborah,

    Thanks for the link to Sharon's book. I'll definitely look it up. The Trans-Siberian Railroad might very well figure in this new book. I haven't been on it myself, but apparently it's a pretty interesting ride.

    I love it when people take trips and write about them. Maybe I'm really a frustrated travel writer. And some of them get paid to do it. What could be better than that?

  34. Kathy,

    I'm so glad you like the name Pirio Kasparov.

    I got Pirio from a dear friend of mine who is half Finnish and half Estonian. She's a former ballet dancer who used to live in Manhattan and she used to tell me about the high times she had there with her friend Pirjo, In Finnish, they use the J, which is pronounced like a Y, but I changed it to an I. Makes sense, right?

  35. About the book... I really didn't "intend" for Pirio to be a cold fanatic. It's just that she survived this horrible boating accident and spent a long time in very cold water before she was rescued, and there had to be an explanation for that... So then the Navy got into the act, and the next thing I knew her "unique physiology" was being discussed!

  36. Hi Elisabeth! I just went over to Amazon to check out a few pages. Have to say, I'm eager to read. What a great blog post.

    I lived in Quito, Ecuador, after college. It's quite high -- I have elevation sickness when I first moved there that only drinking coca (yeah, the plant cocaine comes from) would alleviate. One bright, shiny Andean weekend, my new friends and I decided to traipse around the nearest mountain. I say "traipse around" because we were total idiots. We had no particular gear, but we were handling the cold well enough during the day. I still don't know what happened because at that point I wasn't catching everything said in Spanish, but we got stranded overnight. I don't remember that we were worried. Oh we'll just sleep in this little wooden building. (Now I realize it was a station for the serious mountaineers -- they'd leave anything they didn't need for the climb to the next station -- honor system) ...

    Anyhow, so we thought we'd be cozy enough in the bare bone shack. Hah! That was the coldest I have ever been. Scary cold. We huddle together and there was no sleeping. The only sound: our chattering teeth.

    But, makes for a great anecdote, doesn't it? :-)

  37. (Sorry, I clicked Publish too quickly, before copyediting myself -- typos up there.)

  38. Lisa,

    That's an amazing story. I can see how it would have been terrifying. I suppose it does happen very fast, doesn't it? When the cold suddenly becomes a very serious threat.

    I snow camped a few times. Mostly what I remember is the struggle to keep everything dry. It was one of those things that you do when you're young and foolish because you just have to do it...

    Now I have to watch my kids becoming adults and I pray that they are smarter than I was!

  39. Buffalo, huh? Wasn't that once known as the Miami of the North?
    Not for the weather obviously. I'm not sure what the coldest I endured was. Zero degrees and below both in NE Ohio and Minnesota. Elisabeth, maybe we should travel together. My husband cringes at the suggestion of somewhere that might be cold. Maybe it is from his years of snowblowing the driveway before he could leave for work.

  40. BTW, Lisa,
    I see you have a novel coming out. It looks terrific! I wish you luck with it. I can definitely relate about the coach -- I don't have one, but I need one. And I, too, have an Irish side of the family, which I resemble. They're O'Connors and my grandfather apparently was put on a boat by his brothers and told never to return to Ireland because of the trouble he was in with the British constabulary. Do you read Edna O'Brien? She's a glorious genius.

  41. Hank - I LOVE Winter's Tale. It's in my top 5, and yes, it's descriptions of the cold are incredible!!

  42. Hi Elisabeth,

    Thanks! Yes, coming out in eight weeks. It's exciting. I love meeting debut authors on JRW. What a great community!

    The young, foolish thing -- my god, when I think back on some of my adventures. I kinda miss not having a sense of mortality. :-)

    Yay for the Irish blood! Love that anecdote -- I would love to know more about how we came to be here. We're O'Briens from Cork. (Any relation to Edna O'Brien? That would be the bomb!)

    You going to Bouchercon this fall?

    Cheers, Lisa

    P.S. The coach is doing wonders for me. She's holding me accountable -- big time.

  43. OH, right, ice beds are fine if you sleep on fur.

    Raise your hands if you want FUR without the ICE.

  44. Lisa, wow. That is terrifying..and probably even more afterward, as you began to realize what could just as easily have happened..

    SNOW CAMPING. I can't even conceive of it. Camping is bad enough, but add snow? YOu guys are hilarious.

    Elisabeth, I am with your husband on this one. UNLESS there's fur.

  45. I WOULD go on the Trans-siberian Railroad, though, Elisabeth. With fur.

    Maybe you could lead the Jungle Red outing! As long as there's no snow camping.

  46. Elisabeth, Congratulations on NORTH OF BOSTON"s debut! Any story that starts with the heroine surviving four hours in the North Atlantic has got me on the hook. My own encounters with the North Atlantic consist of sitting on Higgins Beach in Scarborough until I'm roasting and then dashing into the surf up to my knees. I know Mainers who swim in that water, but I'm not one of them!

    I also love your tales of Siberia. I'm always fascinated by extreme cold weather. My goal is to vacation in Svalbard with an eye to writing a mystery set there (spoiler: the polar bear did it.)

  47. A Jungle Red outing on the Trans-Siberian Railroad would really be hilarious. It's almost worth doing just for the stories we could tell afterwards.

    As for fur and/or animal skin: it's actually the best insulator. I've read tales of Americans all decked out for in their Patagonia stuff, etc. and in no time they're wearing reindeer boots because they're the only things that really work.

    I'm generally not in favor of using real fur or animal skin, but they're in a VERY different situation, obviously. It's like the native Americans used to be with buffalo -- among the Evenki herders in northeastern Siberia, the reindeer give them everything, including meat, and then they take care of the reindeer.

  48. I need to apologize to everyone for my typos and bad grammar (had some poor pronoun reference in that last post)! I teach this stuff, so I have no excuse. Must remember to proofread before I press "publish"!

  49. I'm a wimp, and I'm not going to apologize for it! I hate winter. I hate not ever being warm enough, even in my own home. I hate having to shovel snow off my deck, I hate it when I need to clear ice and snow off my car, I hate it when I must wear multiple layers of clothing both indoors and outdoors, I hate having to try not to slip and fall on ice or snow. Southern CT is as far north as I ever want to live!

    As much as I like Julia's stories, I cannot read any of the winter ones until July, so Elisabeth, please understand that I'll need to wait until summer to read your book!(And Julia, your latest is on my TBRinJ list:-)

  50. Thank you, Denise. I'm enjoying all the comments about the cold… so much fun to see what people were inspired to recall here.

    As much as that cold-weather experience meant to me, my father's tops mine. Before the US officially entered World War II, his merchant ship was torpedoed twice—once outside of Archangel and again on the way to the Murmansk harbor. The ship made it to Murmansk where local people were very kind to the crew. Two women took my father in for the duration. It seems that vodka was the common recommendation for warming up—that and the other popular indoor recreation.

  51. Wow, Reine. YOu never cease to amaze.

    And Elisabeth, if we cared about every little typo thing around here, I'd be tossed out on my read. I mean--rear.

    Rushing to a dinner thing--stay warm everyone, more later!

  52. Mary Sutton, so glad to meet a fellow Buffalonian! And Kathy Reel, yes I know Ellicottville! Charming town.

  53. Cold would be the house I shared with a friend when teaching in Scotland. Outside the temp was -18C, inside the inch of tea left in the cup by my bed overnight was frozen in the morning ...

  54. Susan, I went to Buffalo in the summer once. It was cold in August. Bowing in your direction...

  55. I've got to go. It was fun to chat with you all. Thanks for supporting my book. Wish me luck! More importantly, stay warm!

  56. I grew up in Duluth, MN - which is about 150 miles north of Mpls/St. Paul, where I live now. It was COLD but we went ice skating almost every day after school and in the evenings. Back then (40s and 50s) no one talked much about the temp (just put on more clothes) and we hadn't heard of the wind chill factor. I'm hibernating this January. Temps in the teens below zero with up to -50 windchill. And next week will be worse with -20s.
    Siberia - I'd love to read about it but not visit. I'm already cold enough!

  57. Karen B, I'm with you! Nix on Siberia!

    See you all tomorrow! An we'll have the winner of NORTH OF BOSTON!

    and thank you Elisabeth! You are fabulous..hope our paths cross soon!

  58. I have to preface this by saying that I have a hard time getting and staying warm. The coldest ever? In the field in mid-December--on a bluff with nothing to block the snow or wind. As the project director of an archaeological dig, I had to be there with my crew until the bitter end. Layers of everything--and still mind-numbing cold. And answering the call of nature was a major dilemma. Hike down off the bluff, cross the stream without falling in, get up the other side without sliding back down just to reach the portajohn. Deal with all those layers. Then be thankful you were out of the wind for even a moment, cry where the crew couldn't see you, suck it up and head back out. And do it again the next day.

    Thank heavens those days are behind me & thank heavens for a good book to read, snuggled indoors with Murphy the cat, and hot chocolate with real whipped cream!

  59. Kathy Reel - sorry I'm late to this. Yes, I know Ellicottville. I student -taught at Ellicottville High School when I was in college (went to St. Bonaventure in Olean, about half an hour's drive further south). We used to go to a pumpkin festival every fall quite near there. It is a charming little resort town.