Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Good-bye feet!

HALLIE EPHRON: Bidding farewell to 2016. Some would say good riddance to bad rubbish. On the Chinese calendar it was the year of the monkey, not the most auspicious of the Chinese zodiac's 12 signs. As Alice said, "Curiouser and curiouser... now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!"

Pantone’s colors of the year were Rose Quartz and Serenity. We needed a little of the latter, that's for sure. Next year its color of the year is the equivalent of slime green. Good luck to us.

For me it was the year of "the upside down." I was totally hooked on the Netflix show STRANGER THINGS which introduced us to this underground netherworld just beneath our feet. And somehow it does seem appropriate that I'm mad about a show that channels X-files-style paranoia.

This year, if you asked my son-in-law what big events happened, he'd say the Cubs finally won the world series and virtual reality is kicking in. Maybe I'll get to watch next season's STRANGER THINGS with a virtual-reality headset.

And then things got even stranger with the discovery of a possible 9th planet. Massive and far beyond Pluto, it's the only thing that explains otherwise inexplicable gravitational pull.

More down to earth (and not), how about the US Women’s gymnastics team? The fabulous Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. They had us glued to the TV. And  Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to take home a gold medal in an individual swimming event.

So maybe it was, as Marie Claire magazine trumpets, The Year of the Woman. Hillary Clinton ran for president, won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and put pantsuits back in our closets. 

It was also the year of HAMILTON, which will probably still be around in a few years when I manage to get tickets. I'll be following the career of Lin-Manuel Miranda to see what magic he spins next.

So join us in bidding 2016 Adieu (or Enough already!) What were the bright spots of 2016 for you?  

AND tune in tomorrow for the JUNGLE REDS' FIRST BIG SURPRISE OF 2016. Shhhh....

Friday, December 30, 2016

INNOVATION: Just how much assisted living do we need?

HALLIE EPHRON: I recently visited a friend who had Amazon Echo, a black cylinder that lives in her living room. It’s about 10 inches high, perforated, basically a wireless speaker with a name, Alexa, and it’s always listening (like Siri).

If my friend says “Alexa, where is Dave’s pizza in Boston” Alexa will look it up and announce the answer. “Alexa, what are the film times at the Dedham cinema?” Or “Alexa, what’s the weather?” Oh yeah, it also streams music though the speakers are not the world’s best.

It got me wondering whether this is something I need? As a late adopter (I got a microwave YEARS after the rest of the world, ditto a cell phone; finally THIS Christmas I got a Kindle) I’m sure I don’t. And I shudder at the notion of driverless car and drones delivering packages to in my neighborhood. But maybe, in time... who knows.

So, are you eager to get yourself an Echo so you don’t have to get up off the couch to find your smartphone? Do you say driverless cars and drones, bring’em on? Or feh, who needs 'em. Or NO NO NO!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh, I am in love with Siri. I keep "her" by my desk when I write, and I'll say: "Hey, Siri, what's the temperature in Dayton in October?" And while she looks it up, I keep writing. Seriously, it's like having a research assistant.  The other day at the bank machine, my phone was in my purse, and as I was doing  a deposit, I remembered something I had to do later that I would surely forget.

Hey Siri! I called out. (Luckily no one else was around, since I was talking to my purse, after all.)
Yes? she said.  I answered: "Remind me to (do whatever it was.)"
"Okay, I'll remind you," she said.
And she did!
Love love love.

I use Siri ALL the time.  If I have to cook a 4.6 pound roast:  Hey Siri! How much is 4 point 6 times 18 (minutes?)

Hey Siri! What time does the Patriots game start?

Don't even get me started.
Driverless car, no. Drivers are bad enough.
But an Echo or a Dot? Yes, indeedy.  I would get one this instant, but I think they are sold out.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We were early adopters of Echo, on the waiting list for the very first release, what, a couple of years ago now. Alexa lives in our kitchen, and I have a Dot (the little satellite) on my desk in the sunporch and one upstairs in our bedroom.

What did we do before Alexa??? She runs our sprinkler system and our thermostats, plays a huge selection of music, gives us news and weather and all sorts of information, and, for me, the very best thing is that she plays Audible books. I'd never listened much to audio books--because I'm deaf in one ear, earbuds are never comfortable.  But now I am hooked!! And Alexa lets me switch between books! (Alexa also reads Kindle books, by the way. It's a little weird, but you get used to it.)

My daughter has Alexa too, and Alexa plays nature sleep sounds for Wren at bedtime. It occurred to us on Christmas that Wren is going to wonder how Alexa lives in both houses...  And of course we talk to Alexa as if she were a real person.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh you scared me with that title Hallie! Siri and I don't get along, I'm sorry to say. And she criticizes me if I say so! Although Debs makes the Echo sound very very good, I'm not sure we have the technical expertise to set it up. We can barely manage our TV remote. What do you think Debs, if we don't have an in-home computer expert, could we do this?

DEBS: Roberta, you can do it. The Echo is not hard to set up, and if you have any problems we can walk you through it. I just got my first Whispersync book--you can switch back and forth between reading on Kindle and listening on Audible (on my Echo and Dots)-- and it is SO cool!!!!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We kids got the Echo for our parents two Christmases ago, and they seem to love Alexa. My mom primarily uses it to play Pandora, and my dad has found apps that make fart noises and sounds that freak the cat out. I'm not sure that's what the engineers intended for their miracle device, but whatever makes them happy.

My sister and brother-in-law had one first; in our family, Barb and Dan are the early adapters. They were the first to have wifi, first to use GPS, first to wear Fitbits, etc. It doesn't hurt that Dan is a website guy.

Up here in Maine we are LATE adapters: I just got my first smartphone this August. I am bemuse by ads for smart lights and thermostats and refrigerators: besides the complexity of setting up space-age tech in a 200 year old house, why can't you just walk over to the thermostat and turn it up yourself?

One aspect of assisted living I could use, however, is the ability to remember things. I may have to get an Echo just so I can say, "Alexa, I'm putting my glasses on the counter." If she can tell me where they are when I wander into the kitchen again, I'm sold!

HALLIE: What about the rest of you... Digital lackey? Driverless cars?? Drones??? are you reveling in wondrous wireless assistants or would you rather just do it yourself?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Can You Guess Whodunnit?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  The scene: The couch, in front of the TV

The TV movie: a thriller

The characters: Hank and Jonathan

The actual dialogue:

HANK: Ooh. Someone’s gonna drown.

JONATHAN: How do you know that?

HANK: They have a swimming pool, for gosh sake.

JONATHAN: Is that the sister?

HANK:  Yeah. She’s bad.

JONATHAN:  How do you know?

HANK: Her fingernails are too long, and her skirt is too short.

JONATHAN:  Who’s that guy?

HANK: Nobody. Red herring.

JONATHAN: How do you know?

HANK: He looks too guilty.

JONATHAN: Can’t you just watch the movie? And not keep guessing?

HANK: What’s the fun of that?

Oh, Reds, you get the picture.  We are a species unto ourselves—as the wonderful Elizabeth Heiter explains.

(And here’s my prediction for the brand new Elizabeth Heiter novel STALKED: yet ANOTHER wonderful bestselling and buzzable novel of suspense!)

Following the Clues 
By Elizabeth Heiter
I’ve always loved puzzles.  Figuring out exactly how each piece fits to form the full picture.  Being the first one to announce, “It was Mrs. Peacock in the Study with the Candlestick!”  

When I was younger, my mom (a math teacher) would give her high school students extra credit in the form of mind teasers – you’d have to use the clues to put Xs in a grid until you figured out the answers.  To her students, they were a series of challenges throughout the year to help push them from an A- to an A.  For me, they were just fun.  I read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys by the hundreds (if only I still had those huge rows of books, because now my niece is reading the chapter-book versions…).  

So, it probably came as no surprise to anyone in my family when I began writing mysteries.  Because I love to create the puzzle as much as I love to solve it.

In my latest book, STALKED, there is no Study and no Candlestick.  Instead, popular high school student Haley Cooke disappears from inside her high school.  No one knows if she’s dead or alive, but she’s left a note behind foretelling her own death.  And when FBI profiler Evelyn Baine gets involved, there’s no shortage of suspects:

Linda Varner: Haley’s mom appears to be the devastated parent of a missing child.  She’s quit her job and spends every waking hour searching for ways to get attention on Haley’s case.  But her ex-husband claims Haley ran away, and Evelyn has seen cases before where a supposedly grieving family member wanted to extend their fifteen minutes of fame…

Bill Cooke: Haley’s father seems completely unconcerned that his daughter is missing.  Does he have proof of claims that she ran away from an abusive home that he won’t share because he really thinks she’s safer on her own?  Or is he calm because he knows exactly where Haley is for a much darker reason?

Pete Varner: Haley’s friends claim she didn’t like her new step-father.  Could the feeling be mutual?

Jordan Biltmore: Haley’s older, college-age boyfriend was the last one to see her.  Other students at Haley’s school watched him drop Haley off and drive away, but could he have snuck back around and grabbed her?

Marissa Anderson: Haley’s best friend seems frantic for the police to find Haley.  But a closer look shows she’s jealous of Haley’s life – and her boyfriend.  Could she have been involved in Haley’s disappearance?
The deeper Evelyn digs into Haley’s life, the more possibilities arise, including a connection to fellow agent – and her new boyfriend – Kyle McKenzie’s case.  The only thing certain is that if Evelyn doesn’t find out what happened to Haley fast, she may follow Haley’s fate.

So, readers, how do you feel about puzzles?  Do you like them complicated and twisty; do you like to guess “whodunit” before the end?  Or do you prefer to sit back and enjoy the journey and the surprise?

HANK: Cannot wait to hear! You know I'm firmly in the figure-it-out camp!

If you’re reading this, I’m already dead…

That’s the note seventeen-year-old Haley Cooke leaves behind when she disappears from inside her high school. FBI profiler Evelyn Baine is called in to figure out who had reason to hurt her. On the surface, the popular cheerleader has no enemies, but as Evelyn digs deeper, she discovers that everyone close to Haley has something to hide. Everyone from estranged parents to an older boyfriend with questionable connections to a best friend who envies Haley’s life.

Secrets can be deadly…

One of those secrets may have gotten Haley killed. If she’s still alive, Evelyn knows that the more the investigation ramps up, the more pressure they could be putting on her kidnapper to make her disappear for good. It’s also possible that Haley isn’t in danger at all, but has skillfully manipulated everyone and staged her own disappearance. Only one thing is certain: uncovering Haley’s fate could be dangerous—even deadly—to Evelyn herself.

About Elizabeth Heiter:

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author ELIZABETH HEITER  likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range. Her novels have been published in more than a dozen countries and translated into eight languages; they've also been shortlisted for the Daphne Du Maurier award, the National Readers' Choice award and the Booksellers' Best award and won the RT Reviewers' Choice award.

The Profiler Series: Hunted | Vanished | Avenged | Seized Stalked

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Who are You Today?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  When I was, oh, eight, I used to read Photoplay (anyone, anyone?) and look at photos of movie stars. Back then (imagine old woman voice) you could send in for eight-by-tens glossies of the stars, and they would send them to you. Free, if you sent a stamped self-addressed manila envelope.

That was irresistible to star-struck me, but I thought my own name, Harriet Ann, was not cool enough to entice a movie star to send me their photo. So I made up a name. A cooler name.  And my secret identity is the one who sent in my request to Photoplay.

Time went by. Some weeks later, my mom came into my room holding a manila mailing envelope. With our number, street and city. Strangely, in my handwriting. But to someone she did not realized lived with us at 4102 North Ritter. 

“Who,” she inquired in a bewildered but amused voice, “is Rita Capri?”

Erica O’Rourke totally understands. She's the award-winning author of young adult fiction, and she needed a new name too. But not to snag movie star photos. 

Here’s the scoop on how she handles her secret identity…and then we want to know: what would you do?.

The (Kinda) Secret Life of Lucy

In publishing, “debut” is a big word. So big, it should be surrounded by lights, perhaps posted on a marquee. Many of the (very nice) reviews I’ve received for my new book, TIME OF DEATH, mention that it’s a debut.

And technically, it is. TIME OF DEATH is Lucy Kerr’s debut novel.

But it’s not my first book. It’s my first adult novel, my first mystery. But I’ve published two entire series of books already. How do I put this gently? I am the publishing equivalent of “a woman of a certain age.”

And yet, that word keeps cropping up. “Debut.”

The trick, of course, is that I’m Lucy Kerr – but I’m also Erica O’Rourke. Like Clark Kent and Superman, Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, and countless other superheroes, I have a secret identity now. (Technically it’s a pen name. A nom de plume. A pseudonym. But I have a superhero-obsessed eight-year-old, so secret identity it is.)

What prompts a mild-mannered suburban mom to take on a secret identity?

The first reason is practical: Lucy and Erica write different books. Erica writes young adult books with a strong element of magic or science fiction, and an equally strong romantic bent. Lucy’s books are traditional adult mysteries. My teen readers know what to expect when they pick up a book with my name on it—and it’s not a thirty-two-year-old emergency room nurse who solves mysteries. The same applies to my adult readers: picking up paranormal romance when they’re expecting an amateur sleuth mystery might be an unwelcome surprise. Using different names for such different genres means my readers can easily find the types of books they’re interested in.

The second is psychological. When I sit down to write a Lucy book, my writing process is different, my authorial voice is different, my entire attitude changes. If you’re a crafter, maybe this will make sense: imagine knitting a sweater, and then crocheting one. Both times, you start with yarn and end up with clothing. But the stitches, the tools, and the directions are distinct. Even the way you hold the yarn changes. (Admittedly, I don’t enjoy crochet. This metaphor only works so far.) Using a pen name actually helps me shift my thinking as I write—it’s an outward symbol, but it still seems to reset my brain.

The other question my friends had, of course, was how I’d make the switch, particularly in cyberspace. Would Erica and Lucy have separate webpages? Twitter accounts? Facebook pages?

The answer was no, no, and definitely no. (I have three children, an elderly cat, and I’m a full-time author. Simple is the watchword at my house, whether we’re talking about author profiles or meal planning. We can talk about meal planning in the comments, if you like.)
Instead, I made four small changes:
  • I had a new author picture taken—one that was considerably sunnier than my very dramatic young adult picture.  
  • I added Lucy to my social media profiles, so they all say “Erica O’Rourke/Lucy Kerr.”
  • I made sure connected to
  • I had my graphic designer come up with a cute header for my newsletter incorporating both names. (and those author pics!) 

The result: Lucy Kerr and Erica O’Rourke peacefully coexist on the Internet and in my office. Unlike Batman and Bruce Wayne, you’ll often see us in the same room. And in the end, it doesn’t feel odd to have two writing names, because the stories I write and my connection to my readers doesn’t change, no matter what they call me.

The last question I get is a simple one: How’d I land on Lucy Kerr? I wish I had some sort of fancy story, but in fact, I went with old family names—and my grandfather’s love of Lucille Ball, which my children seem to have inherited, made Lucy the obvious choice.

If you could create a secret identity for yourself, who or what would you turn to for inspiration? 

HANK: And what name would you choose?
 Share it in the comments! (We promise not to tell.)

 Lucy Kerr is the pen name of Erica O'Rourke, an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her debut adult mystery, TIME OF DEATH, launched with Crooked Lane Books on December 13, 2016. Lucy lives outside Chicago with her family, her cat, and many, many piles of books. She likes strong coffee, rainy days, old buildings, and fresh-baked cookies -- but she likes telling stories best of all.

 It’s been twelve years since ER nurse Frankie Stapleton fled her hometown, but with her sister’s pregnancy taking a dangerous turn and a string of failed relationships in Chicago hanging over her, Frankie is back–and hoping to put the past behind her. Within minutes of arriving at Stillwater General Hospital however, she ends up saving a man’s life, only to have him turn up dead hours later—and the hospital blames Frankie. With her career–and future–on life support, Frankie must catch a killer, clear her name, and heal the wounds of her past.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Wonderful Reds!

LUCY BURDETTE: Two of our favorite friends and authors are sharing a book tour this week to celebrate ICED UNDER (Barbara Ross) and CUSTOM BAKED MURDER (Liz Mugavero.) They asked if they could visit the blog and we are delighted to have them. Please note that there were no dollars or other favors exchanged for this post! Welcome Barb and Liz!

Barbara Ross and Liz Mugavero are doing their blog tour together for their fifth books in their respective series: Iced Under, a Maine Clambake Mystery, for Barb and Custom Baked Murder, for Liz. Recently, they got together to have a conversation about a favorite topic—the Jungle Reds.

Liz, Barb, and Lucy in Key West
Barb: Hi Liz. It’s so great to be back with the Jungle Reds. Not just because we love the blog, but also because the Reds have had such profound effects on our writing lives. On our personal lives as well. So many writers talk about the Reds’ generosity, but today we thought we’d get into specifics. Let’s start with Lucy. Liz, you and Lucy share a home state, Connecticut. Tell me about one interaction with Lucy and what it meant.

The marvelous Seascape class of 2009
Liz: I’m so happy to be back here! I have to go back to the first time I met Lucy, at the Seascape Writers Retreat. A wonderful weekend on the water in Madison where I met fabulous people, worked at my craft, and learned a ton (from Hallie as well!). I think that weekend was the first time, after the encouragement I received, that I realized if I just kept working hard at my writing that I’d be published. It happened, and so much credit goes to these ladies. What about you? Who was the first Red you interacted with and what happened?

Liz, Hank, Barb, and Julia
Barb: The first Red I met was Hank, but we didn’t even realize we were meeting. Years ago (like 20) we were in a class for beginning mystery writers at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Neither of us were published or even had a finished a manuscript. In the last class (I think there were four) we each read our opening scene. Cut to years later. I’m embarrassed to admit how many, but more than a decade. Hank is well published and we re-meet through Sisters in Crime New England. I ask her to blurb my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman. Hank recognizes my opening scene! She says, “Were you ever in a class at the Boston Center for Adult Education?” So funny. You mentioned Hallie. Can you recall a piece of advice Hallie gave you that was meaningful?

Lucy, Hallie, and Barb
Liz: You know, it wasn’t so much a piece of advice as it was…confidence. She had confidence in me and my writing that I wasn’t sure I had myself yet. I remember her saying to me at Seascape that I’d do it - I’d get published. Because I had the talent but more importantly, the drive. And that always stuck with me. That someone like Hallie Ephron had that much faith in me!

I do remember her also having no patience for weak characters, be it men or women. She would be the first to point out any displays of wussiness. I definitely carried that reminder with me as I created Stan. I wanted her to be able to stand on her own two feet, be financially stable, and most of all, smart. Do you know any other Reds personally?

Barb: Yes! Julia Spencer-Fleming. Since I spend the summer in Maine, and Julia lives in Maine, I get to see her on the Maine writers’ circuit. In fact, we both read at a pub in Portland a few weeks ago. Both Julia and her husband, Ross, have been wonderfully supportive of me as a newcomer. And I am a huge, huge (like buy it in hardcover the first day level) fan. Julia, Hank and I (along with Gin Malliet) all had our books nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary novel in 2014.

I don’t really “know” any of the non-New England Reds, except what I read here. I have long been a huge fan of Deb Crombie’s. I think she and I shared an agent years ago and I called her for a reference. (Or maybe I dreamed it. It was that long ago, back with the book that Hank…) I’ve met Rhys at conferences and am always a little tongue-tied. She’s such an amazing writer. But now that I’ve made the muffin tin-sized mince pies she wrote about on the blog a few weeks ago, I’ll have something to say to her. What about you Liz? Non-New England Reds?

Liz: But I don’t “know” any either, I’m afraid - we’re going to have to do something about that!

Thanks so much to all you ladies for having us. It’s always a blast!

Readers: Do you have a story about an interaction with a Red, either virtual or in the real world that you’d like to share?

(PS, note from Lucy, we love these ladies and their books, so add them to your piles please!)

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries, including the Agatha-nominated Best Contemporary Novel Clammed Up, as well as Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn, and Iced Under. Her story “Nogged Off” appears in the holiday novella collection Eggnog Murder along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis. Barbara blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors and Maine Crime Writers. In the summer, she writes on her big front porch overlooking the water in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. You can visit her website at

Liz Mugavero is the author of the Agatha Award-nominated Pawsitively Organic Mysteries Kneading to Die, A Biscuit, A Casket, The Icing on the Corpse and Murder Most Finicky. Custom-Baked Murder, the fifth in the series, will be released in December 2016. As you can imagine, her canine and feline rescues demand the best organic food and treats around. She is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Sisters in Crime New England, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. She currently lives in Connecticut.