Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolution: Changes in Attitude

LUCY BURDETTE: First of all, Happy New Year to our wonderful Red family! I'm grateful for each one of you. And now, with a new year beginning tomorrow, I thought I'd share my resolution...

John by our post

In Key West we have been assigned a horrible parking space. (I know, first world problem, but hear me out.) The driver must back in, with only about 6 inches of clearance between the car mirrors and two enormous concrete pillars on either side. I confess that I have avoided driving just because of this parking problem. But a couple of 
weeks ago, I watched John as he swung gracefully out toward the opposite cars, and then glided backwards into our slot. 

“You consider this a challenge, don't you?" I asked in an accusatory voice.

He grinned and agreed that he did. And right then I decided since I have no other options, I might as well try to take that approach too. 

Set that story aside for a minute.

In September, I was diagnosed with a disease called Meniere's. The experts seem to think it involves too much fluid in the inner ear, resulting in vertigo, nausea, and tinnitus along with some deafness, among other symptoms. Though it could be a virus or any number of other possibilities. It's not life-threatening, but it is life changing.
For example, it's important to reduce stress. (As one of my "spin" buddies said, "I actually didn't feel like I was that stressed until I got Meniere's and uncontrollable vertigo!!!!!") 

There's no cure at this point, since no one has a good grip on what actually causes it. But the main treatment is a low sodium diet, a diuretic, and staying away from caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and salt. (Maybe you heard the screams as this was explained to me last fall.) And using a list of drugs to help manage the dizzy episodes when they recur. (Which they do.) 

Lucy in 2013
This has been a hard adjustment, as I’m used to feeling healthy. And I love food. I write about food, I talk about food, I get enormous pleasure from cooking and eating good food. I identify as a foodie. I boast that my maiden name “Isleib” means “is stomach” in German. So while I’m trying to do what I was told would help, I’ve done it with a lot of grumbling.


I'm no Pollyanna. I do have days when I feel lousy and tell my hub that maybe it's time to push me out into the harbor in an old leaky boat.

"But wait," I say, "I'd better take the old cat with me--he'd be too much for you. You guys don't really connect."

"And Tonka will want to go with you, no matter what the circumstances," says John. "And you aren't leaving me behind!"

And then we laugh like crazy imagining the Coast Guard or the Navy Seal divers coming to scoop the four of us out of the harbor. And I start poring over the No-Salt cookbooks again.

This is where the story of the parking space comes in. Somehow this year I am going to try to adjust my attitude about having this bizarre chronic disease, and about eating. No salt? No problem.
And that is my resolution, a change in how I view this condition, from yawping and yammering to acceptance.

How about you Red writers and readers? Are you facing any big challenges this year? Or do you have tips to share about surviving one in your past?

Lucy Burdette writes the Key West food critic mysteries. KILLER TAKEOUT, coming in April, is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To shag or not to shag? In a mystery, that is.

LUCY BURDETTE: I love it when a new book in a favorite series is coming soon, and that's the case with my pal Jenn McKinlay's London-based cozy, COPY CAP MURDER, out January 5. I invited Jenn to visit today, telling her that I especially admire the push-pull between her main character and a love interest. It takes a deft touch to do this well, and Jenn has it...

JENN MCKINLAY: An interesting thing happened on my way to writing mysteries. After much ripping out of hair follicles, gnashing of molars, and pacing holes in my living room carpet, my murderous plotlines became romantic comedies but, you know, with dead bodies. Because nothing says “I’m warm for your form” in the beginning of a relationship like finding a person poisoned, stabbed or strangled, am I right?

Seriously, when I set out to write the traditional mystery six years ago, I really did plan to make them straight up mysteries with no hanky-panky or nonsense. Sadly, this was not a great fit for my writer’s voice as I am the sort of person who loves the absurd and the ridiculous and life without shenanigans really seems dreadfully dull. Thankfully, my characters have proven to be a mischievous lot and they frequently do things that surprise me and make me laugh and aggravate me to no end.

Some characters, such as Scarlett Parker in my London Hat Shop mysteries, invite more absurdity than others. Scarlett is twenty-seven and an incorrigible flirt. After a nasty break-up goes viral (she is filmed heaving cake at the boyfriend she thought was single) she flees the States to take up her half of the millinery shop her grandmother Mim bequeathed to her and her cousin Vivian Tremont. Viv is the hat designer while Scarlett is the people person, charming their customers with her genuine care for their happiness and well-being which includes donning the cap of amateur sleuth when murder comes in to play, natch.

When I began writing the hat shop mysteries, I purposefully made Scarlett’s public humiliation as awful as I could so that she would reject any sort of romance during the series. Yeah, by page seven of CLOCHE AND DAGGER, the first book in the series, all of my grand plans and good intentions were a bust as Harrison Wentworth, the girls’ business manager, entered the scene and caused Scarlett to get all a flutter. Honestly, how could she not fall for a guy who calls her “Ginger”? The attraction between Harry and Scarlett was instantaneous and impossible to ignore. Darn it!

I was so irritated. Why did romance keep happening in my mystery series? I debated killing Harry off, but I liked him so that was a no. Then I debated marrying him to another but my heart wasn’t in it. Finally, Scarlett and I negotiated terms and agreed that she needed to declare a vow of celibacy for one year to prove that she could get by without a man as previously in life, she had never gone more than two weeks without a boyfriend. Yay! Problem solved or so I thought.

With the fourth book COPY CAP MURDER coming out on January 5th, we are eight months into Scarlett’s vow and it has not been easy. Harrison, smitten with “Ginger”, has told her he’ll wait for her. Yes, this does make him the perfect man, I know. Except, in this mystery, Harrison’s long time business rival Winthrop Dashavoy is murdered, strangled at a Guy Fawkes bonfire party, and Harrison who just had a fist fight with Win when he got fresh with Scarlett is the prime suspect. 

Can Scarlett stick to her vow when Harrison might be arrested and go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Could you? In the case of Scarlett and Harrison, falling in love raises the stakes of the story’s outcome, as it makes them vulnerable and causes their actions to be more reckless than if they weren’t emotionally invested.

Now that I have resigned myself to my fate of writing mysteries with romantic comedy subplots, I can’t imagine a mystery without a strong romantic subplot giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s inner life, but that’s just me.

What about you? Does it blur the lines of genre fiction too much to have a strong romance blended into the mystery or does it open up the character’s deepest vulnerability making them more accessible? And how much romance is too much? Do we want to go full frontal or do we prefer a kiss at the door? To shag or not to shag? That is the question.

Thanks for inviting me to visit Jungle Red today. It’s always a pleasure.
Happy Reading!

Bio: Jenn McKinlay is the author of several New York Times bestselling mystery series. She lives in sunny AZ, in a house overrun with kids, pets, and her husband’s guitars.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Laurie Sterbens on Root Beer Pulled Pork

LUCY BURDETTE: The Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America has a mentor program, in which a published writer is matched with an aspiring writer so that words of realistic encouragement can be exchanged. I’ve enjoyed meeting Laurie Sterbens so much that I thought you’d like to meet her too. She’s a former newspaper food editor with an MFA and she has a very funny voice—read on, you’ll see!

Root Beer Pulled Pork the Hard Way by Laurie Sterbens   

photo by Allen

If you cook at home and are inclined to things like pulled pork, you’ve probably heard of root beer pulled pork. Easiest thing in the world: Throw a bottle of root beer in the slow cooker, plop a pork roast in, cook. So I don’t mean to be misleading with that headline. Slow cooker pulled pork is not difficult.

However, it’s not without its issues. For one thing, root beer. Option one is to buy a six-pack of pricey craft-brewed root beer, then figure out what to do with the other five since we don’t normally drink soda, and never with sugar. Hey, we may eat pork and throw chemicals on it, but we have some rules to live by.

The other option is to buy a 2,000-pack of diet root beer, and then we end up drinking diet root beer until it’s gone, which is even worse than drinking five fancy root beers.

I found my solution when I went to a party where a friend was drinking hard root beer. You see where I’m going with this. Huge epiphany. Root beer, pork, alcohol — there’s no going wrong here, and leftover hard root beer is not a problem because alcohol.

photo by Phil Denton
Actually there is one way to go wrong here. The first time I tried this, I used a pork loin roast. This is a lean cut and, of course, healthier. It made pulled pork with a nice root beer flavor, but it was not as tender as it could have been. Use a pork butt or pork shoulder roast instead.

Serve with whole wheat hamburger buns and sweet potato fries to try to maintain some nutritional dignity.

Root Beer Pulled Pork

1 2-pound pork butt or pork shoulder roast
1 bottle hard root beer
Sea salt and and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Barbecue sauce
Hamburger buns
Shredded cabbage if desired

    Place roast in slow cooker. Pour root beer over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
    Drain liquid from pan. Pull meat apart with two forks until all shredded. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir.
    Serve on hamburger buns, topped with barbecue sauce and, if desired, shredded cabbage.

Here’s Laurie's website.  It's subtitled "Good Food with a Side of Killer Fiction." Take note of her name because I think you’re going to see it on a book cover!

Laurie Wood Sterbens is a former newspaper food editor and graduate of the Seton Hill University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. She worked as a reporter, editor, columnist and designer before completing her first novel, Black, White and Dead All Over, a mystery featuring Chrissy Rooke, an overwhelmed food editor at The Daily News and single mom of a first-grader who thinks he's a ninja. Tensions are mounting at the newspaper as employees anticipate layoffs from the cost-slashing new owner and the new managing editor. When the new boss demands that Chrissy abandon her focus on healthier recipes and focus on desserts, Chrissy's attempts to reason with him end in a loud confrontation witnessed by the entire newsroom. 
LUCY: You can imagine what happens next...Laurie will be stopping in today to chat about food, newspaper life, murder, and whatever else comes up!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Agony of Writing

Photo by JE Theriot
LUCY BURDETTE: Since my holiday company has departed, I can turn my thoughts to the new year, wondering what I’ll write and how I’ll get it done. And get your suggestions of course.

First of all, I always have doubts! Every book. KILLER TAKEOUT will be my fifteenth published book and I still get stuck every time in the middle. Where is this book going??? What’s the point? Why is she doing this? Who will ever want to read this?

A few things help keep me sane in this situation. One is to keep writing. Apply butt to chair and write 1000 words a day. It also helps to write out a sentence or two the night before about what I will cover the next day. Another good tool is brainstorming with my writer friends. They are invariably generous, and fresh eyes can see paths out of my plot when I feel hopeless.

I also heard two wise quotes while I was at the New England Crime Bake in November that I plan to keep right beside my computer. The first from Elizabeth George:

“When your story stalls out on you, you’ve played your hand too soon.”

And Peter Abrahams/Spencer Quinn suggested when a writer gets stuck: "Think about the engine that drives the story."

How about you dear Reds? Do you ever have doubts when you are in the middle of the writing, or other non-writing projects? How do you get past them?

Photo by Anokarina
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I have doubts ALL THE TIME. Seriously. But I just keep going. I'm  from the "chip on the shoulder" school of life, so I think of all the people who told me I couldn't do fill-in-the-blank and then say, "Yeah, screw you — I'm going to do it anyway. Watch me." I had this conversation with writer and neighbor, Alice Bradley, the author of LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES ( . And we decided the two keys to writing are red wine and anger. We weren't really joking.

HALLIE EPHRON: I really don't want to talk about this as at this very minute I am in the pit of despond. I go into full panic mode daily. The only cure is writing. And then writing some more. And then fixing what I wrote.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Constant panic, all the time. And when I sometimes get that glimmer of...hey, this could be good! Then I freak, because maybe I am fooling myself. People say to me--how's the book going? I say--I have NO idea. And how can that be?
I think the middle is the most difficult, because it has to be riveting and fast-moving and meaningful, but it has to get seat-of-the-pants writer me to a place I don't know where is. Which is pretty funny!
I say to myself, every day: ADVANCE THE STORY. ADVANCE THE STORY.
I say: what would really happen? What would this character think? How would they feel? How would they react?
Then I say to Jonathan; I can't do this, I stink.
Then I get a good idea.
I hope.

RHYS BOWEN: What a bunch of neurotics we are! I wonder if there are any writers who just churn out book after book without worrying? Nora Roberts, maybe? Danielle Steele and her stable of secretaries? Obviously James Patterson. When I finish a book I always think Ill never have another good idea ever. Then I do... So keep believing, Hallie.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Always middle-of-the-book panic. Why did I ever think this was a good idea? No one will believe this story! And then there is always the underlying panic of "What about the next book? What can I possible write about?" Really, the only time I'm not panicked is when I'm actually writing and I'm in a scene and the characters start talking to me... Sometime around mid-book I have to stop and block out the rest of the book, or I am absolutely paralyzed. I don't know how seat-of-the-pants writers like Rhys do it. Although I guess we all have to figure out the same things, we just do it by different methods.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Pit of despond here as well. I picture me and Hallie slogging together through one of Dante's less pleasant circles of hell - maybe the one with all the cold rain and mud. I complain and complain about not having any time to write because of all the other things going on in my life, and then when I do sit down to the computer with a few hours, I think, "I have nothing to say. This book sucks. Why did I think this plotline was clever? My characters are cardboard." Etc. Etc.

My one consolation is the knowledge that every other time, I've managed to finish the manuscript and it didn't turn out too badly. Insert big-ampitheater rendition of "Don't Stop Thinkin' About Tomorrow" here...

What do you think Reds? Does this sound surprising? Familiar? Suggestions?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What We're Reading--and Watching!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   Happy Sunday! Since you might have a moment to relax, here's what we're reading and watching!

I'm reading The Verdict (still deciding...), and the new Rory Flynn DARK HORSE. (fabulous!) (Here it is with my amaryllis--which bloomed like mad on Christmas Day.)

We're watching Making of a Murderer (incredibly--unbelievable!--documentary on Netflix.) Jessica Jones (We'll let Susan tell about that.) And on Acorn, Black Work. Which was...entertaining.

At the movies? We saw: Star Wars (Daisy Ridley! An honorary Red. And cannot wait to discuss it after spoiler time is over) and The Big Short, which was WONDERFUL. Brilliant. Fabulous. Amazing writing and unique structure .  See it!
And SPOTLIGHT!  Do not miss that one, either.  SO authentic, and terrifying and journalistically inspirational.
Making of a Murderer 
How about you?

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm reading The Goldfinch. Just getting into it and so far so great. I was wondering about Making of a Murderer, Hank, so thanks for the Thumbs-up. Last night I watched Season 1 finale of How To Get Away With Murder. Talk about bait and switch and switch and switch... And everyone with Netflix (or BBC) don't miss Detectorists. It's divine.

LUCY BURDETTE: This is the stack of books I received from various people for Christmas--it's hard to know where to start! Plus I have on order a number of mysteries coming out on the first Tuesday in January, so I'd better get busy. And John just finished THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS, a memoir by poet lauriat  Richard Blanco, which I'm dying to read. We watched CODE BLACK this weekend, a documentary about the Emergency Department at LA County Hospital in California. (Sorry to say that the TV series based on this doesn't show much promise.) It's quite an extraordinary work environment, especially interesting to us as our daughter graduated from their ER residency.

Oh, and I cannot wait to see JOY, and possibly ROOM. Has anyone seen the latter?

RHYS BOWEN: With 14 people in the house I'm not getting much reading done. But in my spare moments of quiet I'm reading Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, and loving it. Waiting to be read is Kate Morton's new one, The Lake House. And I haven't had a chance to see the new Star Wars yet. Probably the only person in the universe who hasn't seen it!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: No, Rhys, we're going today. I wanted to wait until after Christmas Day, because before, it would feel like something else we were trying to squeeze in. By waiting until Sunday, I feel like Star Wars is The Thing for the third day of Christmas! (Speaking of which, have you seen Darth Vader's 12 Days of Christmas?)  Here it is:

The only television show I've been following lately has been THE MUPPETS, which I love. I'm finding it hard to get into any episodic shows - either the writing seems to go downhill, or it builds up a head of steam and then it becomes obvious the writers have no idea where to go with it. I want a resurgence of the miniseries: six or eight hours of drama and then boom! It's done. If any of you have suggestions in the comments, I welcome them!

My book for the holidays is going to be Paul Doiron's THE PRECIPICE. I've had it since this summer, when it came out, but as too often happens, I've fallen way behind in reading my friends. (Truthfully, I'm way behind in all my reading. I'm pretty sure there are several blurb-dates I've missed. I'm sorry, other authors. It's not you. It's me.)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We saw Star War: The Force Awakens on Monday and loved it! Couldn't help but think what a fabulous Maggie Hope Daisy Ridley would make now that she's bought the rights! Been watching Amazon's original series Man in the High Castle — about an alternative universe where the Nazis and Japanese won World war II and the U.S. is both German and Japanese territory... And I'm reading guidebooks on Paris, to prepare for this year's research trip for Maggie Hope #7! Yes, finally getting into the SOE in France and La RĂ©sistance....

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, Susan, that’s exactly what I kept thinking, too! She’ll be a perfect Maggie. And oh, we watched Man in the High Castle, too. Which we LOVED, until the end, which we are still discussing. But apparently they’re having a second season.

And who’s looking forward to Downton? Game of Thrones? And Power!

Reds,  what are your recommendations?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

And for dessert….





And our own dear Karen Maslowski.

What a combination!

When Karen told us about her family favorite, I begged for the recipe—and she says we can share.

Yes, you are probably full of plummy pudding about now. But there’s always new years!

 Karen’s Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

3 eggs
¼ C plus 2 T butter, melted
¾ C light corn syrup
½ C sugar
¼ C firmly packed brown sugar
2 T bourbon
1 T flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 C chopped pecans
1 C semisweet chocolate chips
1 unbaked 9” pie shell

Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl until frothy. Add butter, beating well. Add syrup, sugars, bourbon, flour and vanilla; beat well. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle chocolate chips in pie shell. Pour pecan mixture over chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for one (1) hour, or until set.

HANK:  ((Speechless)).
What’s your favorite holiday dessert? We know you are busy—so no pressure to put the whole recipe—we will just imagine!

I am a big fan of cinnamon bread pudding with lemon curd. YUMMY!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Roll Call!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  We hope you are cozy with loved ones today...happy and merry and surrounded by crumpled-up wrapping paper and guzzling champagne. Or whatever makes you happy!
I am here in Boston, where it feels more like March than December. Jonathan and I are unwrapping gifts (though it’s tough to unwrap two yet-to-be-reupholstered armchairs, but we will imagine), and we'll have a lovely brunch. BACON! Then I'll work on revisions for a while. And then--we are going to Star Wars!
How about you? Hallie, in Milton, Massachusetts? 
HALLIE EPHRON: Merry Christmas! We’re home with a houseful. Two daughters, a son-in-law, and an energetic two-year-old who comes tiptoeing into our bedroom to wake us up so her parents get a morning or two to sleep in. We’re going make jelly donuts for Christmas breakfast. Filled with seedless raspberry jam. I’ll let you know how they turn out.
Debs? In Texas.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Home, happily. Daughter and son-in-law over for prezzies and breakfast (Trader Joe's cinnamon rolls,  yum.) Later, our friend Gigi will come over, too, and we are cooking prime rib and Jamie Oliver's Yorkshire puddings. And it's balmy here--it's feels like Florida! We may have our Christmas cocoa on the patio. And then I'll see who I can talk into watching Love Actually:-)
Rhys, in California.
RHYS BOWEN: It's rainy so no going on our usual Christmas hike! We have everyone descending on us later today, so we'll have 9 for dinner tonight and then the other 5 arrive tomorrow. So we're putting off our big Christmas dinner until they all get here on Boxing Day, as we still call it. Tonight a more sophisticated meal with a variation on coq au vin followed by a light dessert of berries in liqueur.  So only three of us for breakfast and one is gluten free and lactose intolerant, so eggs and smoked salmon will have to do.
Wishing everyone a joyous and peaceful day!
Lucy, in Florida.
LUCY BURDETTE: We are at home in Key West, with the kids and their spouses and one brother visiting. I'm making dinner--stuffed shells in homemade (low-sodium) sauce, nice bread, a salad, Christmas cookies, and homemade ice cream I hope! I believe we are having 12 people--yikes!
It's been quite hot here so it doesn't really feel like Christmas. But it will! Merry Christmas Reds and red readers!
Susan, in Brooklyn— who gave us the scoop last night and will check in later today!)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Right now it's a Christmas battle with Kiddo. "How about four?" he asks, meaning waking us up at four a.m. tomorrow morning.

"How about eight?" we counter. 



"OK, six. My not waking you up until six will be my Christmas present to you guys."

"And we need coffee first."

"If I let you have coffee first tomorrow, can I open one of the presents tonight?"


HANK: Okay, dear Susan. I remember it well. Let us know how that goes… Now to  Julia, in Maine:
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We've seen what Santa's brought and opened out presents from each other, and now we're bustling around before our guests arrive. Youngest is clearing away presents and writing out placecards, The Boy is setting up folding tables and chairs, the Smithie is laying out the good china and sterling and Ross and I are cooking, cooking, cooking! We're having a small-for-us gathering this year - only 18 guests. After a dinner of roast beef and turkey, our more musical friends will break out their instruments and we'll play and sing.
Yes, Ross and I are, in actuality, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. Merry Christmas to you all!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  So how about you, dear Reds? Have you checked the past few days blogs for our winners? And just tell us what you’re up to today—and even simply where you are—and you’ll be entered to win the Hank book of your choice.

We love you all madly!