Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kate White Dishes on the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook #giveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: We are thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to host Kate White today--she's here to chat about her latest herding-cats project--editing the Mystery Writers of America cookbook. Kate, welcome! Please tell us about the book!

KATE WHITE: Because I was both a mystery author and have had experience as an editor—I ran Cosmopolitan magazine for 14 years, and four other magazines before that—MWA asked me to edit the cookbook for them. I loved doing it. True, at moments it was a bit like herding cats to get some of those successful authors to send me their recipes, but I enjoyed having contact with famous writers I’d never met and I also got a kick out of seeing what recipes they submitted. There are also some fun sidebars in the book, which I enjoyed researching and writing, like: What Exactly Is a Red Herring? And “Pretty Poisons Right in Your Garden.” The latter got me thinking about using poison again in a mystery. Only a few toxins are routinely tested for in autopsies, so poison can be a good way to kill someone and never be caught.

: Were you surprised at which writers chose what recipes? (Was there a pattern, like hard-boiled=appetizers, cozy=dessert?) What were some of your favorites?

KATE WHITE: Oh, that’s a great question about patterns. I didn’t see any. For instance, Joseph Finder, the author of such strong, gritty suspense novels, offered a yummy apple crumble recipe. And James Patterson gave me a delicious chocolate cake recipe. (Conclusion: many male suspense writers are real sweeties!)

      There were some wonderful surprises. Gillian Flynn writes such fabulously dark stuff so it took me aback to see her recipe for the very All American-seeming “Beef Skillet Fiesta.” And Nelson DeMille’s funny “Male Chauvinist Pigs in the Blanket” almost made me fall off my chair laughing. 

     Other recipes were like little gifts. For instance, I still remember reading my first J.A.Jance novel year ago (Edge of Evil) and practically smelling the Sugarloaf Café sweet rolls she describes, and lo and behold, she sent in the recipe for them. And thanks to Lorenzo Carcaterra, I finally have my go-to marinara sauce.

     I’ve actually added a few of the wonderful recipes to my regular repertoire, like Kathy Reich’s “Shrimp Scampi” and Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “Worth-the-Effort Turkey Tetrazzini” (I always wanted to know how to use leftover turkey!).

LUCY BURDETTE: Do you like to cook? What menu might you serve at a dinner party?

KATE WHITE: I do love to cook and I do it a lot for friends and family. I’m not imaginative but I’m a cookbook addict, and I’m decent at following recipes. I have all the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, for instance, as well as those by Nigella Lawson and Giada De Laurentiis. We live in Uruguay part of each winter, and my favorite chef is Francis Mallmann, who has a restaurant not far from us. His cookbooks—Seven Fires and On Fire—are fantastic. He believes that charring both meats and vegetables brings out unusual flavors. And he’s right! What I’ve also learned from him is that simple is so often best. Don’t overthink things, use just a handful of ingredients (but be sure they are the best you can find), and don’t fuss with food that’s grilling (let it char!!!). One of my favorite Mallmann dishes is a salad with thinly sliced raw zucchini, almonds, fresh mint, and parmesan cheese, dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. For a summer dinner party, I might serve that first and then do a main course of grilled chicken, which I’ve marinated to death in lemon and oregano for two days, fresh sliced tomatoes, and Tuscan beans.

LUCY BURDETTE: Your suspense novel, THE WRONG MAN, will hit bookshelves in June. Tell us a little about that. And is it true that part of the book is set in the Florida Keys? 

KATE WHITE: The Wrong Man comes out in June, and yes it’s about Islamorada, which I discovered after being invited to a wedding there. In the book, a woman named Kit Finn takes her vacation in Islamorada and ends up having a very brief but thrilling fling with a man who is staying at the same hotel. He’s from New York City, as she is, and he asks her to dinner at his apartment in the city the week they both get back. But when she arrives, the man who opens the door has the same name as the man she met in Florida, but it isn’t him. That begins a nightmare that doesn’t want to quit.

LUCY: Kate thanks so much for visiting. Reds, we have a giveaway today--a copy of the MWA cookbook! To be entered in the drawing, leave a comment with your email.

KateWhite, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, is the New York Times bestselling author of six Bailey Weggins mysteries and four stand-alone suspense novels, including Eyes on You, and the upcoming The Wrong Man (June). She is also the editor of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connect with Kate at katewhite.com

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sandwich Hall of Fame

WARNING: Don't go any further if you're on a diet!

LUCY BURDETTE: Gosh there’s been so much bad and scary news in the world, that I’ve had trouble thinking of something we might blog about. The one thing that kept sticking in my head is a sandwich I ate last week—as research, of course. I hadn’t intended to order a mango-jalapeno hot dog at Garbo’s Grill. We went for the shrimp burrito and the fish tacos. But while we were waiting to order, I saw a dog getting carried off—wrapped in bacon, layered with ripe yellow mango, and green peppers, and zig-zagged with the food truck’s special Caribbean sauce. “Hayley Snow would insist on trying that,” I told John, and he agreed. And so we ordered it too.

I’ve had a lot of good sandwiches in my life—Cuban mix in Key West, North Carolina barbecue with Molly Weston, meatball hoagies from my home town deli in New Jersey, to name a few—but this dog went right into the sandwich Hall of Fame. So Reds, if you could nominate one sandwich for that honor, what would it be? and do you remember where and when you ate it? 

RHYS BOWEN: I'm not a fan of the huge, thick, multi-item sandwich that won't fit in my mouth and usually ends up down my front. But I do love bruschetta. And Barbara Peters introduced me to the best bruschetta I have ever tasted at Postino's in Phoenix. You choose your toppings from a long list: mine always include the hot artichoke spread, the smoked salmon, the brie, apple and fig jam and the sheep's cheese with tomato jam. The bread is fabulous (and so is the gluten free bread they serve) and the plate is just right for sharing. My perfect mid-day meal with a friend.

HALLIE EPHRON: OMG Rhys that sounds fabulous. I'll BE in Phoenix April 14 and I'm going to have to get over there.

I confess to quotidian sandwich favorites: a really good hot dog slathered in mustard and loaded down with sauerkraut; multigrain toast with Peter Pan peanut butter and real (seeded) raspberry jam; a BLT (fresh tomatoes, lots of mayo, Oscar Mayer bacon crisp crisp crisp) on white toast. I often eat an open-faced breakfast sandwich: multigrain toast, whipped cream cheese, and smoked trout. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm going to represent Maine with the best sandwich of all, the lobster roll. It may also be the simplest: chunks o' boiled lobster meat, a little mayo, and a fluffy white hot dog bun. The thing that makes a lobster roll great, though, isn't just the ingredients. Sure, anytime you can eat a quarter or half pound of lobster without having to deal with claw crackers and drippy salt water is great. But the fourth secret ingredient is the Maine coast. You should always eat a lobster roll in summer, preferably on a sunny day, in sight of the gray rocks and blue water of the Atlantic. Weathered docks leading to boats moored along the Androscoggin or Kennebec rivers can be substituted for the coast, if necessary.

Red's in Wiscasset is widely acclaimed to have the best lobster rolls in Maine, but my favorite is The Lobster Shack at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. Bundle up, because the wind blowing across the picnic tables comes straight off the Gulf of Maine. Admire the light house that inspired Edward Hopper and the great tumbled rocks that inspired Winslow Homer, while eating one-handed (the other hand is to fend off the gulls.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm a BLT girl, through and through.  Basic BLT, B, L, T, and mayo, on white toast. Now, add avocado. YUM. Add turkey. Yum. Wait, that makes me a club sandwich girl. Another special treat (i'm easy to please) is turkey and cheddar and l/t with honey mustard on whole grain. That is perfect. OH! Tuna salad! With tomatoes, on pumpernickel toast. Ah. Sandwiches. A very sweet way to count blessings when the world is so sad right now. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm not much of a sandwich girl. In fact, I'm famous (on infamous) in my family for picking sandwiches apart--tearing off chunks of bread to get to the good stuff. But, like Rhys, I adore bruschetta, especially made on very holey ciabatta. Yum. And I do like a really good BLT. I'll add avocado, but, Hank, leave off the turkey! It spoils the whole crispy bacon/juicy tomato thing. And Julia, I've never had a lobster roll, but I don't think it would take much to win me over! 

Reds, would you like to nominate a sandwich in your life to the sandwich Hall of Fame?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pearls, pearls, pearls! An ETSY success... and SEEING REDS

Today we're adding a new feature: Seeing Reds: At the bottom of our Sunday post a list of events where you can find your favorite Reds...
HALLIEEPHRON: When I saw the cover of my new book, I knew what I needed for my book events. Pearls. PINK pearls, to be precise. I imagined a long, double-strand, lustrous and glowing against the little black dress which, of course, I had to buy to go with it.

My search took me to ETSY where I spotted these pearls at WhitePearlGem. They looked gorgeous and were priced at WELL under $100.

The shop said they specialized in custom orders, so
I sent a copy of the book cover and wrote a note that began:

I'm a mystery author going on tour with a new book that has pink pearls on the cover...

Back came an answer from Sharon Knowles in Tennessee:

“Those are 10mm South Sea Shell Pearls in pink with cotton knotting (you can tell because the knots are too big).”

Sharon made me this knockout hand-knotted (so if I break it I won’t lose the pearls) necklace of said South Sea Shell Pearls -- man-made from the dust of real pearls, seven layers painted on top of a real sea shell bead.

Here’s me wearing them at my book launch.

Sharon designs and makes all WhitePearlGem’s 
jewelry. When she says she takes “customer service” seriously, she is not kidding. And aside from her wonderful pearl jewelry, she’s a fan of mystery novels.

And, because turnabout is fair play, here's Sharon with her copy of

my book and wearing a gorgeous necklace of her own design.

I cut my I teeth on Erle Stanley Gardner, then Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe, I fell in love with Archie in my 20's, but I moved on because he wasn't getting any older!

I thought when I retired, I would sew and make quilts. My machine collects dust and I don't even hem pants. I play with beads and its wonderful. I started a hobby to occupy me while I take care of my 85-year-old mother, and my hobby turned into a profitable business. Who would have thought?

I talk to loads of women on Etsy looking for help with events and weddings. I solve problems. It's a big change from caring for the dying.

I know custom orders are your speciality. What’s your most challenging custom order?

That's easy. Had a Lady send me photos of a "mauve dress" and wanted a match for her sons wedding. Every time, photos of the dress, a different color! Mauve is very hard to photograph. She also, sent me a photo of a $650 necklace she had seen in a dress shop.

She said the end result, was better than the original. Total cost $110.00 for the set.

How did you get into the pearl business?

I have been a stock broker, a private trader, and when my daughter was born I wanted to stay home so I traded on-line from home. When she was four I opened a small day care.

Then I took a break for 2 years, till boredom set in and a friend convinced me to go to work with her cleaning houses. I ended up starting my own company and stayed with that for 5-6 years. Then I went to work as a private-duty nurse for about 6 years.

I started a shop on Etsy in 2008 and opened the Pearl shop in 2012 -- I wanted to focus on Pearls. Etsy had almost no Pearls then, and nothing hand knotted.

HALLIE: Why pearls?

SHARON: I wanted to own Pearls. Good pearls are expensive or can be.

I have always been good at research from my days of trading stocks for a living. So I studied and researched and learned about Pearls. I learned how to hand knot and how to buy good pearls, instead of junk. I figured out how to go directly to the source. I have a regular supplier in China for quality pearls whom I have used for almost 15 years.

HALLIE: Thank you Sharon. Your story is so inspiring! And did I mention: I LOVE MY PEARLS!

So Reds... How about you? Do you love pearls, or are diamonds your best friends? Dreaming here, of course... 

SEEING REDS: Where you can find us

Tuesday 3/31 @7:30 Melrose MA Public Library
Thursday 4/2 @7 PM BookEnds in Winchester MA
Saturday 4/4 @2 PM Brookline MA Public Library with Roseanne Montillo
Monday 4/6 @7 PM Weymouth MA Public Library
Tuesday 4/7 @6:30 PM Buttonwood Books Cohasset MA with Holly Robinson
Wednesday 4/8 @7:30 PM Sweetser Lecture Series Wakefield MA
Thursday 4/9 @7 PM RJ Julia Madison CT
Friday 4/10 @12:15 PM Bank Square Books in Mystic CT

Monday, 4/6 @7 PM Brookline Booksmith interviewing Michael Sears, Brookline MA
Tuesday 4/ 7 @7 PM Newton Free Library Newton MA
Thursday 4/9 @7:30 AM Habitat for Humanity North Central MA "Women Build" Breakfast, Keynote Speaker Sterling MA
Saturday 4/11 Maynard Library Book Festival with Archer Mayor and Norton Juster
Sunday 4/12 @9:30  AM, Lyceum at First Parish Church, Bedford MA  Keynote Speaker

Wednesday 4/8, Belmont Library, Belmont, CA

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Welcome Spring! Say Hello to Flowers and Medicinal Plants that You Can Grow and Use!

Today we welcome Chrystle Fiedler who's a gardener and an expert on herbs and flowers and their medicinal properties. She writes the Natural Remedies series, and today she welcomes spring with a fun blog on, what else, natural remedies. She's giving away a book to one lucky commenter.
CHRYSTLE FIEDLER: I don’t know about you but after a very cold and very white winter in the Northeast, I’m ready for Spring with its warm weather and beautiful blooming flowers! My passion for flowers comes from my mother, who was always outside tending her garden when the weather got warmer.

In 2008, I was fortunate to visit England and my mission was to visit as many gardens as possible. I started with the Hampton Court Flower Show, and was wowed by the amazing displays and uses of flowers. The show takes place on the parklands surrounding  Henry VIII’s castle right next to the River Thames. 

Here’s one of my favorites. Amazing right?

My other favorite garden in the UK is the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. Established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for its apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants, it’s mission is to demonstrate the importance of medicinal and herbal plants to health and well-being. Over 50,000 visitors pass through the gates each year.

I was especially intrigued by the section that featured different plants for different health conditions. Years later, I was able to put my inspiration to good use, in the latest book in my natural remedies mystery series, the Garden of Death, both in terms of plot and the information about medicinal plants at the beginning of each chapter.

Many medicinal plants are really effective when it comes to common complaints. So, I thought I’d tell you more about some of the plants mentioned in the Garden of Death that you may want to consider growing and using. 

Usually, natural remedies like these are perfectly safe, but it’s best to discuss their use with your doctor first. I hope that you enjoy learning more about beneficial plants!    

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway for a copy of the Garden of Death: A Natural Remedies Mystery!

Aloe Vera
Botanica Name: Aloe barbadensis

Medicinal Uses: Aloe is a handy plant that no household should be without. This juicy, succulent plant features spiky leaves that contain a thick gel that you can use topically to soothe and heal minor burns, sunburns and blisters and prevents scarring. You can also use it for insect bites, rashes, acne and other skin conditions like eczema, poison ivy and poison oak. Place this hardy plant on your kitchen window sill or plant in your garden. Just make sure your aloe plant has sunshine, well-drained soil, and moderate water and then, watch it grow and reap the many benefits it provides!

Botanical Name: Chamaemelum nobile (Roman chamomile; syn. Anthemis nobilis), Matricaria recutita (German chamomile; formerly Chamomilla recutita; syn. M. chamomilla)

Medicinal Uses: Since the times of ancient Greece, both types of chamomile have been used medicinally in the same ways. Tiny but mighty, chamomile is rich in nerve and muscle relaxing nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins that help promote relaxation, easing stress and anxiety, encouraging the movement of chi or good energy, and promoting sleep. It is has also been approved for use by the pharmacopoeias in many countries to treat inflammation, indigestion, muscle spasms, and infection. Chamomile is a useful herb those that are "bothered by almost everything."

Botanical Name: Allium sativum

Medicinal Uses: Garlic is an edible bulb from a plant in the lily family, and one of the superstars of medicinal plants. It has been used as both a medicine and a spice for thousands of years. Antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial, garlic stimulates the production of white blood cells, improving immunity and helping to speed healing from colds and flu. There is a reason Grandma’s Chicken soup makes you feel better! Garlic also is effective at lowering high cholesterol and lowers blood sugar levels. You can eat garlic cloves raw if you’re feeling brave or add them to your next soup or stir fry.

Botanical Name: Borago officinalis

Medicinal Uses: Borage leaves, flowers, and seed oil can help you feel happier and can even, inspire courage. That’s why in medieval times these flowers were embroidered on the mantles of knights and jousters, Borage was even sneaked into the drinks of prospective husbands to give them the courage to propose!

Borage leaves and flowers have long been used in treatments for anxiety, mild depression, grief, heartbreak and worry. As a flower essence, borage is used to lighten mild depression and ease discouragement. Borage helps bring joy, optimism, enthusiasm, and good cheer, improves confidence, and dispels sadness.

Botanical Name: Calendula officinalis

Medicinal Uses: Calendula is a hardy, long blooming plant with radiant yellow flowers that will brighten your garden. But there’s more.  Calendula also has amazing healing properties.  Antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, this flower helps to promote cell repair and growth. You’ll find calendula in many items at your health food store such as lotions, salves and creams that treat everything from cuts and scrapes, to insect bites, varicose veins and Athlete’s foot. Calendula also is a nourishing and cleansing tonic for the lymphatic system, which helps to improve immunity. It also aids digestion, helps to ease throat infections, and is used in children’s ear drops. Inside and out, this is a helpful herb that speeds healing and improves health.


Suspicion is unearthed when an outspoken surgeon turns up dead in Willow McQuade’s medicinal herb garden.

A bitter battle has sprouted in the village of Greenport on the eve of the annual maritime festival: Willow McQuade has transformed a vacant lot alongside Nature’s Way Market & Café into a beautiful garden of healing plants—as much a tribute to her late aunt Claire, the shop’s beloved founder, as an enlightening educational center. The town board awarded Willow the plot fair and square, but that’s not how some folks see it—including Dr. Charles White, who invested in plans to develop a high-end hotel on the property. When the belligerent surgeon publicly threatens Willow during the festival, Willow’s boyfriend, Jackson Spade, ratchets up the hostile confrontation to defend the woman he loves, sowing seeds of guilt that take root by the time Dr. White’s corpse turns up amongst Willow’s chamomile and ashwaganda plants. To prove Jackson’s innocence, she must dig deep to bring a killer to light.

CHRYSTLE FIEDLER is the author of the previous Natural Remedies mysteries, Scent to Kill, and Death Drops, as well as six nonfiction books on natural healing and herbal remedies. Also a freelance journalist specializing in alternative health topics, her work has appeared in Natural Health, Spirituality & Health, Mother Earth Living, Green Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Prevention, Vegetarian Times, and Remedy. She lives in Greenport, New York with her 3 dachshunds and 2 cats, three of which are rescues. Visit www.chrystlefiedler.com, or follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.

HALLIE: I confess, the only natural remedy I have is aloe, and I dug up all my foxglove (digitalis poison) when we had little kids crawling around in the garden. 

Did your mother swear by chicken soup? What natural remedies do the rest of you swear by?

Friday, March 27, 2015

From columnist to comedienne in one night

HALLIE EPHRON: One of my writing buddies, Suzette Standring, is one of the bubbliest, most fun people ever to hang out with. She's a talented, well published columnist who writes profound and funny at the same time. 

Recently she "put herself out there" by stepping up to the podium for a Moth-like story slam -- as in  impromptu telling a personal story. Sounds terrifying to me. But she's one of those people always up for a challenge and... well, I'll let her tell it.

SUZETTE STANDRING: I often ask, “Now what was the purpose of that?”  Frankly, I’ve long wondered why I was carjacked in 1995, and now I know.  It was to catapult me onto the comedy stage. (The Lord works in hilarious ways).

So here’s the deal. I’m an author. I teach writing workshops. I’m a syndicated columnist. Standup comedy was never part of the repertoire. I’m not that gal.

Or am I?

Well, there was a Story Slam at the Milton Public Library.  A Story Slam is where participants have five minutes to share a personal story, similar to NPR’s The Moth. That night’s theme was “Believe It Or Not.”  So on a lark, I told my carjacking story and won second place.  (Can you believe getting carjacked was one-upped by somebody else? Brutal. I have to try harder.)

After the Story Slam, the host Andrea Lovett said I was a natural comedian.  “You need to meet Robin Maxfield, the founder of Boston Comedy Chicks.  I’m going to send her an email about you,” she said. 

It took four email “howdy do’s” and boom! On April 19 I’ll be part of the comedy lineup with Boston Comedy Chicks at Doyle’s Pub in Jamaica Plain.

This proves that going off the beaten path can send you in a whole new direction, and I’m open to driving down the road to see where it goes.  (I’ll be sure to keep my car doors locked.)

HALLIE: Honestly, though I am addicted to THE MOTH, participating in a story slam would make me so nervous, right up there with my nightmares about taking an exam for a course when I've never been to class. Suzette has such pluck and nerve.

But IF I DID, maybe I'd write tell about the time my husband lost our car; or the time I chased down a pickpocket; or the time I ... 

What about you? Is there a funny/poignant/surprising/interesting story you've lived to tell about? Have you go the nerve to participate in a story slam?

SUZETTE MARTINEZ STANDRING is a syndicated columnist with GateHouse Media. She authored The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists, an Amazon bestseller and a  First Place winner in the 2014 New England Book Festival. She also wrote The Art of Column Writing and both books are used in national journalism courses such as Johns Hopkins University. Her former blog took First Place for on-line blogs in the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition. Suzette is a past president of The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the host and producer of It’s All Write With Suzette, a cable TV show about writing. Visit www.readsuzette.com

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cure for a Headache?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ever had a migraine? I wish I could see your hands going up. I did, years ago, had them all the time and they are awful. They aren’t just headaches. They’re—brutal. (Happily, knock on wood, mine went away.) So I was sad to hear that the brilliant and adorable Kendel Lynn had migraines. Not as sad as she was, of course. But now she’s discovered…well, let her tell you.

Why didn’t someone tell me sooner?
                                by Kendel Lynn

I recently received the cure to my migraines. Maybe not a cure, but an 80% reduction. For someone with migraines occurring 25-27 days per month for the last 2 years, an 80% reduction is a cure. As I marveled over this miracle, I thought, why didn’t someone tell me sooner! Good Lord in heaven, why aren’t people shouting from the rooftops and splashing it all over social media? As a writer, a researcher, and a human with an internet connection, I’ve spent many an hour/day/desperate 2 a.m. effort to find such a cure.

Then I realized, I’m not spreading the word, either. So here I am, sharing it with you. Yes, in my world, a single Jungle Reds post is rooftop shouting.

My headaches started two years and quickly flipped from two or three days with a headache to two or three days per month without. Over the course of 18 months (using my acute detective skills and the help of a handful of doctors), I/we ruled out sinus headaches, tension headaches, stress headaches. Eye strain? (New prescription, I now need 3 different glasses to get through 1 day, but nope.) Teeth grinding? (New mouth guard, I sleep better, but nope.) Then a neurologist promptly and precisely handed down his diagnosis, including the ailment and the origin.
Migraines and perimenopause. Migraines? Really? Wait, what the? I’d never heard of perimenopause. My fingers did their keyboard tapping and there’s so much good news! Frequent fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, hot flashes and warm flushes. (As a matter of fact, I do spend half my day asking if it’s warm in the office.) The best part? It lasts up to ten years! Hallelujah, PTL!

Firstly and foremostly, I tested and eliminated triggers: chocolate (oh how I wish it weren’t so), high doses of sugar (goodbye cupcakes for breakfast), and even went gluten-free (not entirely sure this helps, so I’m gluten-free-adjacent).

 But it was a suggestion from a friend of a friend who suggested the cure: 250 mg of magnesium daily. That’s it. It took about 2 to 3 weeks to replenish my system, and my migraines now only occur about 3 or 4 times per month, and only last a couple days each.

I’m not going to lie. The last 2 years have been a struggle. Along with writing (my latest book came out last week!) and all that goes with it, I also run the editorial department at Henery Press, a publishing house I co-own. Which means all kinds of entrepreneurial and business items must be handled daily. And because a simple 65-hour work week wasn’t enough,

 I started a new chapter of Sisters in Crime (North Dallas), and currently serve as its president. (The 1.5 hour drive to Ft. Worth was way too long, so starting a new chapter from scratch seemed the obvious answer.) I always get my work done (I am a Capricorn), but sometimes it takes a little longer. Some days are 12 hour days instead of 8, some days I just have to go home.

I’ve learned to cut myself slack, let myself off the hook, give myself a break. I can only do so much and I can’t feel guilty or stressed because I don’t feel well and things slip by. Oh yeah, there’s mild forgetfulness and depression wrapped up in perimenopause, too (the hallelujahs just keep on coming).

I find this experience isolating, but I know I'm not alone. I’m surrounded by a village. My partner who often does so much more than his fair share, a bff at the ready to talk me off the ledge, a caring staff to make me feel special when I'm having a particularly bad day (like for my birthday at my favorite PF Chang’s!).

Magnesium may not work for everyone, but it’ll help someone. It helped me and I’m forever grateful and I’m passing it on. So tell me, my peri/post/full-blown menopausal sisters, any miracle cures you'd like to pass on? Advice, tips, tricks? Something to boost my sagging metabolism so I can finally lose these extra 5 lbs I've been dragging around? (Full disclosure: it's closer to 15 lbs.) Fine. (Actual full disclosure: it's damn near north of 20 now.)

Thank you, Reds, for hosting me, and thanks to you and your readers for listening and advising and letting me rooftop shout. Today one commenter wins double: Two (SIGNED!) Board Stiffs for the price of one (free)! The first Board Stiff (an Elliott Lisbon Mystery) is by me, and the second Board Stiff (a Dead-End Job Mystery) is by one of the nicest and most genuinely funny people, Elaine Viets.

HANK: So, Reds. It may be a first ever—but it’s headache day at Jungle Red. Anyone? 

(And my tips? Ah. No "white" food. Bread, pasta,  rice, potatoes. And for me, that meant even no white wine. And water water water. I could tell my migraines were coming because my shoulder would start to hurt. So weird!)  

Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, was an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. It features Elliott Lisbon, a mostly amateur sleuth who has a slight aversion to all things germy and is only five thousand hours away from getting her South Carolina PI license. The latest, Swan Dive, released last week! Along with writing, Kendel spends her days as Managing Editor of Henery Press editing, designing, and reading subs from the slush pile.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Louis Bayard: Dishing on Downton for the NY Times

HALLIE EPHRON: Okay, I admit it. I want Louis Bayard’s gig.

No I cannot write anything like his riveting literary historical
thrillers (The Pale Blue Eye, Roosevelt’s Beast). But oh would I love to take a crack at dishing on Downton Abbey, as Lou does writing the recaps for the New York Times Artsbeat section.  

For me, the fun of watching a new episode of Downton continues the next morning when I settle at my computer and pull up Lou’s often hilarious, cheeky take on it. (I also read Tom and Lorenzo and move on to the Wall Street Journal’s Sarene Leeds.) Bliss.

So when I met Lou at a writing conference, I was already a huge fan. I told him I was an avid reader of his Downton columns and he gave me a brief deer-in-the-headlights look. He said it was one of the hardest things he’d ever taken on because of the fans.

The fans?

They are… he searched for the word… enthusiastic. As in really paying attention and eager to zing his missteps.

So today I welcome Lou to Jungle Red and ask him to share: What made you realize how seriously fans were taking Downton?

LOUIS BAYARD: I think the big epiphany for me was what I now
like to call the Great Buttock Controversy of ’15.

In Episode 6, the evil Barrow revealed that, thanks to a quack cure he’d been ingesting, he now had an abscess on his hindquarters. We got the briefest flash of the thing, which I later recalled as being on his left cheek.

Within minutes of the blog going live, a swarm of commenters had risen up to flag my error—which, in turn, produced one of the more amusing corrections in the Times’ recent history.

I remember thinking that if “Downton” fans were scrutinizing Barrow’s tuchis this intensely, I’d really have to watch my step.

HALLIE: A new version of turning the other cheek? What else surprised you about fan reactions?

I was initially concerned because, while I’m very fond of the show, I also have a lot of fun with it. And I learned very quickly that “Downton” fans are pretty much on the same page.

They’re not at all pious. They know this is a show with gorgeous production values and superb actors, but they also know it’s very much a soap opera, which means it’s silly and excessive and sometimes kind of dull, and they watch it anyway and not in spite of its flaws but almost because.

So from the start, I abandoned any pretense that this was a plausible
show, and I just got down to brass tacks. What ridiculous thing happened? What hilarious line came out of Maggie Smith’s mouth? What do you think of Mary’s dress?

And the viewers—the Abbots, as I like to call them—were ready to answer in kind. So it’s been great fun.

HALLIE: I love that you address us as Abbots. As in your last column that begins: "
Oh, Abbots. It can’t be over, can it?"

I confess, this season has made me a little crabby. I’m thoroughly sick of drippy Lady Edith (am I the only one who thinks Marigold is scary looking?) and if Mrs. Bates hangs for killing Mr. Green, it won’t be  soon enough. Do you agree?

LOU: Well, Edith, she needs to get her ass back to London and stay there for the duration. No more Sunday suppers with the folks. I’m counting on her to build Gregson’s business into a publishing empire and have affairs with Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

Marigold? I can only believe she’s on some kind of Prozac precursor. Nothing else explains her weird serenity as she’s lateraled from parent to parent.

As for the Mr. Green storyline, there was a general consensus that it was both ridiculously protracted and innately absurd: a massive, two-year-long manhunt waged on behalf of somebody’s valet. I think even Julian Fellowes recognized it because, in that final episode, he did a lot of quickstepping to spring Anna from the slammer and open the door to Bates’ return.

The weird part is that I’m still not sure, after all this time, how Mr. Green died. Are you, Hallie? Do you even care?

Oh my. You know, I do care. Maybe it’s because I write mystery novels.

I hope it’s O’Brien. I’d love to see her come back.

Who was your favorite character this season and which of the ones who’ve gone away do you miss?

LOU: I was quite enchanted with Mabel Lane Fox, the jilted girlfriend of Lord Gillingham who managed to reclaim his affections over the course of the season. She was smart and fun and edgy and brought some needed spark to things.

I also had a soft spot for Lady Sinderby, who deserves a better husband.

Other than Mabel, I don’t miss any of the characters who’ve gone away. Tom Branson had outlived his narrative usefulness by one or two seasons. Lady Rose (I presume she’s going) was just pretty and sweet and flawlessly complected. I do hope her in-laws stick around, though.

HALLIE: Do you think Maggie Smith writes any of her own lines?

LOU: I think she’s such a great actress she gives that impression. But since I credit Baron Fellowes for the bad stuff, I’ve got to credit him for the good, too.

HALLIE: Have you spotted any historical inaccuracies in the series? Historical storytelling is, after all, your forte.

LOU: Oh, I leave that stuff to the commenters. There’s always somebody, isn’t there? “She would never have used that expression! They would never have had those lights on the Christmas tree!”

Personally, I think the production team does a great job of conveying the period, and that’s all I ever try to do in my work. Verisimilitude is important, but to me, the story takes precedence over everything.

I remember getting a letter from a lady who’d read MR. TIMOTHY. She very much wanted me to know that poinsettias would not have been present in English drawing rooms by 1842. My response was some polite version of “Yeah, I knew that, but it didn’t really bother me.” I just wanted those poinsettias there—they were dead, by the way—and I didn’t think they would be disruptive for 99.9
percent of readers.

My mantra in these cases is: It’s fiction.

HALLIE: So, gentle readers, what do you want to know about Downton and its fandom? Which new characters do you love and who won't you miss.

And most of all, who killed Mr. Green?

Louis Bayard
has been praised as a master of the historical thriller. Kirkus called his THE PALE BLUE EYE a “literary tour de force” – in it he turns Edgar Allen Poe into a literary character and the book was nominated for the Edgar Award – how meta is that? In his latest, ROOSEVELT’S BEAST, he reimagines an ill-fated Amazon expedition that Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT mixes memoir, fact, fiction

HALLIE EPHRON: Today’s the day! Night Night, Sleep Tight goes on sale. Officially.

This is the book I feel as if I’ve spent the last 20 years gearing up to write. It’s intensely personal, because as much as it’s a murder mystery and a suspense novel, it’s also a story about growing up in Beverly Hills.

In the book, Deirdre Unger is me. Sort of. Born when I was. Like me, she’s the daughter of a pair of married screenwriters, though she has a brother and I had three sisters. As a teenager, Deirdre was tall and gawky, flat-chested, painfully self conscious, and a lot smarter than she was savvy. All me. She moved to San Diego; I moved to the east coast.

Parts of this book began life as a memoir that I never finished. About three years ago, I dug out that old manuscript. It began: “Living in Beverly Hills was all about shoes.” Not a bad opening line, but what followed were a series of episodes about me and my best friend when we were about fifteen. Nicely written episodes. But unfortunately there was no story arc. No stakes. No point, really, other than a bunch of reminiscences.

What it needed, I realized now, was a murder.

Inspiration came from the 1958 murder of movie star Lana Turner’s mafia-connected boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. I was ten, four years younger than Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, who confessed to stabbing Stompanato to death. The house where the murder took place was two blocks away from where I grew up.

Maybe that proximity is the reason I remember the news stories about that murder so vividly. The photographs of the pink bedroom and Johnny Stompanato lying dead on the plush carpeting. Of Cheryl Crane being led away by the police, her scarf-wrapped head bent.

I imagined what it must have been like that night for Cheryl, growing more and more frightened as Stompanato beat and threatened her mother. I could visualize myself in her place, formulating a plan, going into the kitchen, pulling open a drawer and selecting the longest knife, then climbing the stairs to her mother’s bedroom, and screwing up her courage to act. She told the police that when she entered the bedroom, Stompanato rushed her and ran into the knife. It severed his aorta. It was an amazing story. A miracle, really.

After school I’d ride my bike over to that corner house and stare up at the second-floor windows where I imagined the murder had taken place. Later, I imagined what it must have been like for Cheryl to live with the burden of what she’d been through. Even though the killing was ruled justifiable homicide, for the rest of her life she’d be dodging paparazzi. Stared at by strangers. She’d never sought fame but she was forever saddled with it.

I took the broad outlines of the murder and the theme of fame festering into notoriety, and bent them into a fictional tale of two girls who are best friends. One is the daughter of a glamorous movie star, the other the daughter of screenwriters. A murder happens after a party at the movie star’s house when the best friend is sleeping over. Both girls’ lives are forever changed

Twenty years later they are reunited in the aftermath of a new murder. This time it’s someone in Deirdre’s life.

To find out more, find me! My schedule of events is on my web site. I'll be around and about in New England and in Southern California, where the story is set. Book launch at Brookline Booksmith TONIGHT!

Today's question: What were the sensational news stories that captured your imagination when you were growing up?

Monday, March 23, 2015

What, me worry? Pre-launch jitters

HALLIE EPHRON: So my book comes out tomorrow and my stomach is doing flip flops and I can't sleep I am so anxious. I tell myself: Hey, there are people who will love it and people who won't. It's all about personal taste. And besides that, getting reviewed at all is a gift.

But still I read reviews with my eyes squinched, half-closed so I can shut it down if there's a snarky (and probably valid, sadly) remark about me or my lovely characters or my clever plot. You'd think with this being my 9th novel I'd have gotten over it.

And because misery loves company, I was telling Jacqueline Winspear (whose 11th Maisie Dobbs mystery, "A Dangerous Place," debuted last week; USA Today ran a glowing review), how nervous I was, expecting her to be all lah-dee-dah and tell me that yes, it does get better.

But no. She said she dreads these before-launch days as much if not more than me. I found this oddly reassuring.

So, dear Reds, does pre-launch give you the jitters? Or is it just an exciting version of "anything can happen days?" And while we're at it, what's your cure for nausea and insomnia?

LUCY BURDETTE: First of all, we can't wait for pub day so everyone can read this great book!

I kind of like the pre-launch days because anything is possible. To me the more stressful time is launch week itself--waiting for those reviews to hit and watching the silly numbers--which truly don't mean much because we don't have access to the whole picture.

But I can't imagine that any writer has a thick enough skin so that they aren't nervous...wouldn't that mean you hadn't put everything you had into it?

RHYS BOWEN: Having had a book out three weeks ago and having returned home from an exhausting three days in Southern Cal last night I'm still in full launch jitters mode. Really manic, swinging between elation and despair.

I saw who had a new book out on the same day and resigned myselt to not making the New York Times list with this book. Then I found that the Huffington Post had done a feature on the seven most suspenseful new books and I was one of them!

So ups and downs. Knowing I shouldn't read reviews, especially Amazon, but doing it anyway. The thrill of seeing my new book on the shelf in one store and the agony of defeat when a Barnes and Noble has never heard of it.

I'm trying to learn never to expect too much and being pleasantly surprised by the good things. But I haven't learned it yet. Probably never will.

So Hallie, enjoy every moment.
Tell yourself that you are luckier than several zillion writers who are dying to have a book published or who have self-published it but nobody will ever know about it. You're in the top tier, the tip of the pyramid. It will be a brilliant success!

HALLIE: As a wise woman once said... well, what you just said, Rhys. And congratulations on the Huff Post call out! Wow!!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, I'm excited about your book launch for you!! And I have no doubt that reviewers AND readers will love it. It's a great book.

That said, however, I sympathize with you. I try not to look at numbers (although for the first few days it's impossible not to...) I wish I had never heard of Amazon ranking. I dread reviews, even though over the course of sixteen books the good have certainly outnumbered the bad.

Still, there's always a first time, and THIS one could be the book that is a total flop, right? I try (and mostly succeed) not to read any reviews on Amazon. And I tell myself repeatedly that all I can do is write the best book I can, and then go on to the next one.

Cure for nausea and insomnia?  Read a good book:-)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Oh, I was a mess at first — a total mess. But with each book, more things seemed to happen, both good and bad in so-called real life.

For my last book launch for THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT,  I was in the hospital with Miss Edna — and, honestly, I really didn't care about reviews or really anything much at all besides her and my family. My book tour that summer was plagued with worries I'd have to fly home at a moment's notice for an emergency or worse.

Which all sounds pretty depressing — except that it give great perspective on the vicissitudes of this business. And I'm grateful for that.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Here's what I think.  The only thing worse than prelaunch--is NO pre-launch. Right? AmIright?

So--easier said than done, I know--count your blessings, this is wonderful, your book is wonderful, this is it it IT, and the hard part is over (sort of, except the air travel and smiling)(but that can be wonderful), you've written it, it has a gorgeous cover and a gorgeous inside and everyone is going to clamor for it.

My cure for insomnia and nausea is ..um, well, nothing. I'd say shopping, but you don't do that and it doesn't work anyway, or wine, but that way lies madness and you can't drink during the day.


Really--how about simply TRY to be happy. Your stomach is hurting and you can't sleep because you are EXCITED! Yay.

(And you can do the same for me in October.)​

HALLIE: I AM happy, because while I'm posting this I get a link to a review of my book in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It's a rave, and ends with:  
"So hooray for Hollywood, hooray for homicide, and hooray for Hallie Ephron, who begins with a seed of truth and grows it into a bumper crop of crime and cynicism."

That helps. In fact, it's probably the best antidote for this version of anxiety.

What do you do to keep quiet butterflies in your stomach and lull yourself into tranquility. I'm listening!