Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's About Time

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN?  Do you recognize this woman? She’s Emmeline Pankhurst. leader of the British suffragette movement. I hear Meryl Streep is playing her in an upcoming film! And I had to think--mightn't she make a great character in an historical mystery?  

I love when Jungle Red weeks take on themes–themes that weren’t planned. (I once heard David McCullough speak, and someone asked him—do you have themes in your books? And he said yes, and I write the books to discover what they are.)

This week is turning out to be about imagination, and history, and time. About turning characters from one place onto characters from another. You’ll see as this week’s blogs unfold.

So as I was reading D. E. Ireland’s new book (more about “her” in a minute), I was not only humming “I could have read all night” and loving the brilliant idea of having Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as sleuths (whoa) I also thought about the imaginations of the two friends (Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta) who make up the moniker DE Ireland.

How did their brains work? And it turns out they get inspiration—from the past—the real past, and the fictional past.   They’re making history come alive. (Kind of like—Pygmalion.)

Which, of course, is loverly.


SHARON: It was the era as much as the characters that intrigued us in our series based on Shaw’s Pygmalion. The years between the official end of the Edwardian era in 1910 and the outbreak of WWI, served as a bridge to our modern world.

Violent protests by suffragettes, the popularity of the cinema and motorcar, and the growing emergence of middle-class women in the workplace helped usher in the 20th century.

Eliza Doolittle might not have had such an easy time of it had she tried to transform herself from a Cockney flower seller to an elocution teacher during the reign of Queen Victoria.

MEG:  So for Jungle Red, we challenged each other to think of a stand-out historical mystery book or series that also prompted us to write our own.

I chose Kate Ross’s series set in Regency England. All are marvelously complex mysteries that mesmerized me and whetted my dream of writing my own mystery one day.

 Even though I’m not a true fan of the Regency period, I was intrigued by Ross’s unusual amateur sleuth, Julian Kestrel--a new style Sherlock Holmes.

He has a keen intelligence, an uncanny ability to assess others, and varied skills in weapons and stealth that served him well in investigations.  His valet is a former cutpurse, loyal unto death, and the dandified Kestrel wears his clothing and manners like a cloak to hide his real persona.

In Ross’s books, all the lush period details I loved in historical fiction came in spades; the witty dialogue, the cultural and class distinctions between ladies and gentlemen versus servants.

SHARON:     I love historical mysteries that shed new light on an old era. My favorite example is Margaret Lawrence’s superb Hannah Trevor mystery series set in the aftermath of America’s Revolutionary War. Her rendering is historically accurate and all the more eye-opening because of it. Lawrence’s books don’t feature any cheery fife and drum corps, or stirring patriotic speeches by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Instead we are introduced to a burgeoning nation mired in debt, and struggling to recover from the Loyalist and Patriot divisions that tore communities and families apart.  

In Hearts and Bones, one of the best-written debut books in the genre, midwife Hannah Trevor is abandoned in 1786 Maine after her Loyalist husband flees to Canada. When a townswoman is murdered, Hannah learns the victim had also been raped by men in the Rufford Patriot Division.  Lawrence’s post-American Revolution world is filled with despair, uncertainty and poverty. In such a time, fear and suspicion run high which often lead to events spiraling out of control. In other words, a perfect setting for a mystery series.

MEG: Like Hannah in 1786 Maine, Kestrel in 1820 and Eliza Doolittle in 1913 London, historical characters need to find themselves in the era best suited for them.

SHARON: Twenty – or even ten – years earlier or later can make an enormous difference to both the novel’s characters and storyline. As in life, so it is in literature. Timing is everything.

HANK: Of course, My Fair Lady is based on Pygmalion, but it’s impossible not to envision Audrey Hepburn, right?  Let’s think of other musicals that might contain good amateur sleuths. Oliver? Annie?  (Oh, I am laughing now…)

What do you think, Reds?

And Meg and Sharon have a copy of their new book to give away to TWO lucky commenters!

D.E. Ireland is a team of award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Long time friends, they decided to collaborate on this unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s wonderfully witty play, Pygmalion, and flesh out their own version of events post-Pygmalion.

WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY   -Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. Eliza realizes the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Killed the Corn Flakes?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  When was the last time you had cereal? I was thinking about it the other day when Jonathan lugged his super-size box of Cheerios to the office.  How long had it been since I had cereal? I can’t even remember…

I used to LOVE Rice Krispies, I remember how they get all nice and soggy,  especially with bananas, and how the nice sugar I sprinkled on top melted into the milk, Raisin Bran, too, with the nice chewy raisins and the soggy flakes (I was never big on crunchy) and the, um, sugar melting into the milk.

I was more a Shredded Wheat girl (bananas and sugar) than Lucky Charms, and I never, even as a kid, liked the chocolate or marshmallows or fruity stuff.  

I did go through a Frosted Flake phase, but that was in college, and we would eat them dry, like sweet potato chips. (Not sweet-potato chips, that’s a different blog.) And of course oatmeal, but that’s not the same. (Is it?)

And then—because I guess there’s a zeitgeist-- I started  seeing articles about some study  that said cereal manufacturers were panicking, because people were not eating cereal any more!

(I mean, it’s not a disaster. But a 13 Billion dollar industry is down to 10 Billion. It’s a slippery slope.)

And  being a mystery author, I thought: Cereal Killers.

According to the articles, the mystery of the cereal killer is solved. Apparently it’s gluten-free diets, low carb diets, paleo diets, high-sugar content and our busy schedules.  The people who eat breakfast  are chomping on granola bars  or yogurt. Or fast food. And millennials, says the study, don’t eat a traditional breakfast because they “snack all day.”


So reds, do you eat cereal? Do you miss it? What are your faves?

HALLIE EPHRON: I do eat cereal. I buy healthy tasteless brands which grow bugs and I throw away; I eat Raisin Bran and homemade granola, Lucy's recipe. Delicious. And I'm a big one for banana with cereal, too. Also oatmeal and browns sugar. Yum. Nothing better on a frosty morning.

RHYS BOWEN: You pipped me to this topic, Hank!

HANK: What's pipped?

RHYS: It's a bloody English expression!  Pipped at the post--from horse racing, I believe, meaning just got there first. I was planning to do a post on rediscovering Cheerios! We're obviously on the same wavelength.

HANK: SO funny! Yeah, there's a zeitgeist. Proof! Anyway, you were saying, Rhys?

RHYS: I had grandkids to stay this summer and found a box of Cheerios in the pantry the other day. There was no other cereal so I ate a bowl--and really enjoyed it. How long since I've eaten Cheerios? Well, never, except for the odd one when I was feeding infants. I'm not a huge cereal fan. Sometimes Special K, sometimes Shredded wheat, but I do like hot Wheetabix on a winter morning (English cereal biscuit thingie) 

Weetabix. Ah, yeah.

HANK: I just have to say. I wondered--what's a Weetabix? And here are two, above. Don't they look totally yummy? Yeesh. Sorry, Rhys. You were saying?

RHYS: ...and I do like oatmeal. Did you know that Starbucks makes oatmeal with nuts and raisins. It's my go-to breakfast when I have an early morning flight.  Oh, and I must have banana and berries when I eat cereal.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I don't like cold cereal. I just don't get it, really. But I don't really love breakfast in general.

However, like Rhys, I think oatmeal can be pretty amazing on a cold morning. We buy the packaged stuff, and Miss Edna likes the cinnamon and spice and apples and cinnamon flavors, and I like the brown sugar and maple flavor. (You can tell we buy the instant packet stuff, huh?)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: For years I had a soft-boiled egg and whole wheat toast for breakfast every morning. How British! I never ate cereal, not as a child, not even as an adult in Britain where cereal is merely the first course in a B&B proper breakfast. But the last couple of years I never seem to have time for the five-minute egg (three minutes only works if the eggs are room temp, so beware) and toast, so I've become a granola eater. Healthy granola, mind you, half a cup with plain yogurt and a splash of milk. Bird seed...

Frosted MIni-Wheats!
Hubby eats Frosted Mini Wheats, and packaged oatmeal. I like my oatmeal steel cut, still slightly chewy, with a sprinkle of brown sugar. That sounds fabulous--it must be fall!

LUCY BURDETTE: Every morning Hank! I've become addicted to Barbara's Morning Oat Crunch, with blueberries or peaches added if they are in season. I get upset if I don't have 3 or 4 extra boxes lined up in the cupboard in case the supermarket runs out or doesn't carry it. Although for special occasions, as Hallie mentioned, I do make darned good granola. http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2012/06/lucy-burdettes-good-for-anything.html
Barbara's Oat Crunch
Oh and I am not averse to eating that same cereal for dinner if it's late and I'm too tired to cook--and if John's away. He absolutely refuses to consider cereal for supper...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I've spent years forcing oatmeal down my children's throats (so healthy and nutritious) but my secret is out - I can't stand it myself. Yes, I've tried steel-cut and fine cut and rough cut and finally I just had to cut it out. Ugh. If you're not introduced to it by age two, it will never taste like anything except podgy pale wallpaper paste (sweetened with brown sugar.)

I do like cereal, though. I went for several years as a child where ALL I would eat for breakfast was Cap'n Crunch. (Confession: I tried a handfull dried a couple years back and it was fabulous. It's like golden, wheat-based crack.) Ross and I get Raison Bran with Granola, and I love other chewy, granola-y cereals, so I'm, going to try Lucy's recipe! 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So how about you, Reds? Has your relationship with cereal...changed?   

Oh, and PS: Click here 
http://hankphillippiryan.com/newsletters/newsletter-9-14.html to win some fabulous prizes! (A Kindle, a Nook, or a big-bucks gift certificate.)

And also for your invitation to the launch party for TRUTH BE TOLD!


 And then come back and comment--a hardcover of the gorgeous and inspirational WRITES OF PASSAGE to one lucky commenter! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Counting our can'ts

Yesterday's winner of an eBook from the LUCKY series by Deborah Coonts is Kathy Reel! Kathy, email me at hallie "at" hallieepron dot come and I'll put you and Deborah in touch.
HALLIE EPHRON: When I was in grade school, I hated maps because it was always about being printing neatly and coloring within the lines, two skills which I am constitutionally incapable of.

I also cannot make pie crust without leaving the kitchen and myself covered with flour. And I cannot fold. My daughter (who was briefly a salesperson at The Gap where she aced Folding 101) has tried to teach me, but my folded items always come out crooked.

There. Confession is good for the soul.

And because misery loves company, I'm asking you to confess: what simple skill would you love to be good at but you just don't have it in you?

RHYS BOWEN: I don't know that I've ever yearned to be good at it, but I'm hopeless at ironing. My mother used to iron my father's underwear and all the sheets. I always manage to put in as many creases as I take out. Especially shirts. Can't do sleeves.

And like you, Hallie, I'd love to have a linen closet with beautifully folded sheets and towels. I once had a cleaning lady who made it look like Martha Stewart lived in the house. But alas she went to nursing school.

LUCY BURDETTE: What a disappointment Rhys! :) I am a disaster with remote controls. John has at least six of them with which to run the TV, DVR, Roku, sound surround, and who knows what else. I cannot keep in my head which to turn what on, which to move to what setting, and on and on. Besides, I'm impatient about it and can't understand why it has to be so complicated.

He says if something bad happens to him, I won't ever again be able to watch a TV program. And that could be true--all the more reason to keep him around.

Oh, I've just thought of something I'm not good at and would love to improve, and that's wrapping packages. I've never learned to do those perfectly folded corners and impressive bows. Thank heavens there are boxes and bags these days so I don't have to display my deficiency so often.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I am a great present wrapper, and a great ironer, and love to do both.

HOWEVER! There have been times when I have gone upstairs to where Jonathan is reading, and had to ask him to come down and turn on the television. NO idea. Roku, Amazon Fire, NO IDEA. When he's not home I barely can watch TV. Sometimes I can't even get the set to go on.

And Hallie, that is hilarious. I cannot fold at all. I can't even figure out how to hang towels on towel racks. In thirds, then flap them over? But then they are too long. In thirds, and then in half, then flap them over? But then they are too puffy.

I think I'll go watch TV. Oh. No.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I am pleased to say I have mastered the feminine arts of ironing, folding and present-wrapping (though I don't enjoy the latter. In fact, I own the worlds largest collection of gift bags, and on Christmas morning, I make everyone hand me their bags as soon as the present is out and then I refold them and put them away that afternoon.)

What I'm inept at: the TV/blu-ray/VCR-DVD set up and their controls. If I want to watch a movie, I have to call one of the kids over to set it up for me. Pie crust, which is an embarrassment, as my grandmother and mother were expert crust-makers. Candy. My mom used to make the best fudge in the world. Every time I've tried it, it comes out a hopeless blackened gludge. Or a rock.

I also can't play chess to save my life. Ross loves it, and taught all the kids when they were young. He runs the school chess team for third-to-fifth graders! But me? I'm as hopeless as I am with poker ( I can never remember the hands or trumps or whatever they're called,)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hallie, I also worked at the Gap, so I too can fold like a professional!

And I'm with Hank on the remotes and technology. We have gaming systems and all kinds of crazy things (I don't even know what they are) and I have to say the Kiddo is very patient at trying to explain it all to me. Again. And again.....

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am so happy to see that we share the some of the same disabilities!  I cannot fold to save my life. I am so covetous of perfectly folded sheets that I even bought a big thick book on housekeeping  hints that had diagrams showing how to fold a fitted sheet. It didn't help. I'm hopeless. I end up with a big lump. T-shirts, forget it. I have friend who worked for Gap in college--I used to get her to pack my suitcase for me. It was heaven.

Nor can I iron. Are the two related? 
I can, however, wrap a very nice package. And do nice things with ribbon.

As for the TV, I can't watch the one in the living room unless Rick is home and can tell me which buttons to push on the universal remote control. There are at least sixteen steps to actually get to TV, and I can never remember them.

But, Hallie, don't hit me--I can actually make a fairly decent pie crust. Heaven knows why.

HALLIE: I won't hit you, Debs. I make a good pie crust, too. I just end up looking the Pillsbury dough boy when I'm done.

What about the rest of you out there? What do you really wish you could do?