Monday, February 29, 2016

How's the Weather?

Photo by Mark Reinholt

LUCY BURDETTE: A very fast storm clipped Key West last week. We were out to dinner, on a porch overlooking a dock, when the sky grew intensely dark, and then a waterspout took shape. We barely had time to grab our plates and run inside. (The photo was taken by a friend, an incredible photographer—isn’t it ominous?)

Anyway, this got me thinking about severe weather in general, and how I tried to use it to up the ante for the characters in my upcoming KILLER TAKEOUT. When I meet a long-time resident of the island, one of my first questions is: What do you do about hurricanes? Stay or go? Leaving is no picnic, because there’s only one road off the islands and the congestion can be overwhelming. Besides, how do you know where the storm’s headed next? The hard-bitten native conchs just hunker down and hope for the best. But there are lots of horror stories about staying too—Hurricane Wilma for example, didn’t do a great deal of damage, but the storm surge after was very destructive.

I haven’t lived through a hurricane in Key West and I hope to skip that experience. We have lived through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy while in Connecticut, and that was no picnic. Let’s face it, I’m a weather wienie!

Reds, what’s the worst weather you’ve experienced? Do you enjoy the pageantry of nature or would you rather skip it? How have you used weather in your writing?

HALLIE EPHRON: A waterspout? Yikes. That same night in Boston we had high winds, rain and lightning that went on booming and crashing for hours. I unplugged the computer, stuffed my ears with Kleenex and tried to sleep, because what can you do except survey the damage in the morning? Fortunately all we lost was a tree limb and it didn’t fall on the car.

Outside Hallie's House
Worst weather I’ve been through ever is last winter’s snow. In January/February 2015 we got 110 inches without a thaw. I didn’t leave the house for weeks unless I absolutely had to. Roads were narrowed to one lane and you took your live in your hands just pulling out of the driveway. The car horn got used more than the brakes. It was May before the snow was all melted in the yard, and the silver lining was an absolutely spectacular spring. EVERY spring-blooming thing burst into bloom at the same time.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: My family and I were caught on a bus in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a tornado! Toto, we're in Brooklyn, Not Kansas! Someone recorded it and put it on YouTube—here's the link:  It was surreal — green, murky, insane winds. We saw a hundred-year-old tree ripped right out of the ground from the bus window.

Overwash by Don McCullough

We also weathered Hurricane Sandy in Brooklyn. That was less scary, personally, because we live at a high elevation (so no flooding) and also in a sturdy Victorian brick building. Still we taped up our windows, just like the Brits did during the Blitz, and I prayed for everyone affected—and also that our oversized windows would hold. Which they did. Afterwards, gave blood, took blankets and canned food to a relief center a few blocks from us (the local YMCA). It was a crazy storm and people in the hardest-hit areas are still in recovery.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Massachusetts! Where there's never a dull weather moment. I've covered hurricanes on Cape Cod, certainly, where the winds are more than 90 mph, and the sand hits your face like a million straight pins. And ice storms, where the trees, and everything, are completely coated. Beautiful, and deadly.  And yes, last year the snow was so high it was over the cars--seriously, there were cars parked on the streets and you couldn't see them.  But a few days ago, I woke up to HOWLING winds. And I thought, wow, we're going to have some fallen branches. Woke up the next morning to see Jonathan standing over me. He said, "Sweetheart, we have a situation." Our back fence had blown down! Like--WHAM. Flattened.

RHYS BOWEN: We lived in south Texas for three years where weather was always dramatic. Summer thunderstorms spawning tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning that lit up the whole sky and brought all four kids scurrying into our bed at night. I once flew into Chicago after a blizzard and the snow was taller than me beside the road. Didn't like that much, either. I'm currently in Arizona where we've had perfect temps and sunshine for weeks. My kind of weather! But I have to agree, Lucy, bad weather can enhance the drama and suspense in a novel.

Photo by Paul VanDerWerf

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I love "We have a situation." Such a calm way to introduce major property damage! I'm pretty well known for the bad weather in my books - I maintain there's nothing like nature's fury to elevate the suspense and the stakes. After all, didn't Dame Agatha trap everyone on the island with bad weather in Ten Little Indians?

Spending my teen years in upstate New York's snowbelt and my adult life here in Maine, all my bad weather is snow, ice and cold. There was the Christmas eve when we left midnight mass to discover two feet of snow had fallen and my dad had to wait for a plow to follow to get us all home. There was the time Ross and the kids and I left Hudson Falls, NY with a light scattering of flakes that turned into a blizzard as we we drove through the Green Mountains. Snowpocalype '14 - '15 was unrelievedly awful; we had something like 100 inches of snow and the coldest February since 1895. But for me, personally, the WORST weather was the ice storm of '98. Power lines down everywhere, roads impassible, walking on glare ice outside and we were without power on my street for NINE days. Nine days with no running water, no phone service (we didn't have a cell phone until '02) no electric lights, no heat except the fireplaces and woodstoves, and two kids, four and five, underfoot. The silver lining? I used an ice storm just like it is as the background for my last book, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: On the day after Christmas this year, we had nine tornadoes sighted in the DFW area. NINE! The strongest struck the town of Garland, just a few miles to the east of us, and was rated an EF4--the first EF4 since a tornado struck Lancaster, south of Dallas, in 1994. This was the first EF4 tornado reported in the United States since 2000. There were eleven fatalities and the damage was staggering. Here's a photo of just one of the tornadoes.

We live in tornado country--we know this can happen. We have go-bags and a safe spot and a plan, but, really, you're never prepared. This time, we thought the storms were coming straight for us, but at the last minute they shifted direction. I spent an anxious hour huddled in our hall bathroom with flashlight, phone, radio, and the two German shepherds. Then we spent the rest of the evening watching the terrible damage reports on the news as they came in.

I much prefer my weather in books. I think my favorite use of it was the snowstorm that traps my characters in Crystal Palace in south London in The Sound of Broken Glass.

But I think my personal "scariest weather ever" moment was about twenty years ago, when I drove halfway across England in a hurricane. I hope never, ever, to do anything like that again. 

LUCY: Yes, Julia, you are a master at using the weather to best advantage, starting with the first line of your first book! It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.

Reds, tell about the worst weather you survived--or a book you remember using bad weather to great effect...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Left Coast Crime - An Overview

RHYS BOWEN: For the past three days I've been attending Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, as has fellow Jungle Red Deborah Crombie.. Left Coast is always one of my favorite conventions. It's big enough to attract a good sampling of top writers (718 attended) but not so huge that it feels overwhelming like Bouchercon, the world mystery convention. And thanks to the team of volunteers it feels as if it is running with no effort at all. I also like the hotel--plenty of places to sit. A bar that is large enough (always important) and the weather in Phoenix is just perfect.
(one tiny complaint--why do they always have to turn up the air conditioning so high! Freezing.)

For me it's always like a high school reunion, catching up with old friends. But this time it's a special treat because my agent, Meg Ruley, is here to share it with me. She came a day early and we went on an adventure into the desert and had tea at an English tea room. Not many of the New York publishing crowd attend are here, but Thomas and Mercer treated their writers to a fabulous dinner.

We started with a mercifully brief opening ceremony, thanks to witty toastmaster Catriona McPherson. Guests of honor were introduced (Greg Hurwits, Ann Cleves, Chantelle Aimee Osman) and nominees for awards were presented with plaques. And there was good food (always important)
Here are the nominees for Bruce Alexander and the Lefty award for most humorous.

Panels all day Friday and Saturday. When you've been to as many conventions as I have, they all seem much of the same. I was on the panel of Bruce Alexander nominees, moderated by Bill Gottfried. I had to follow Heather Haven who grew up in a circus with parents who were elephant trainers. How do you follow that act?
 The consensus is that a panel moderated by Simon Wood was the standout on Friday--it was called A funny thing happened (war stories from veteran crime writers) and I don't think the audience stopped writing once for an hour).

On Saturday I moderated the Liar's Panel, with veteran liars Gary Phillips, Parnell Hall, Kelli Stanley and Carolyn Haines. Lots of hilarity. My favorite lie when Parnell claimed he had done voice overs for children's books and he was Peter Pan and Gary Phillips was Tinkerbell. For those who don't know him Gary has the biggest, deepest voice in the universe.

Then Saturday night was the banquet. Food not bad. Catriona did a great job as toastmaster, moving things along, being witty and adorable as always. Lots of money was raised in her live auction for charity. Then came the Lefty awards. Gigi Pandian won for book set in the Western US. Louise Penny for book set outside our geographic region. Donna Andrews for humorous novel AND Rhys Bowen for best historical, Malice at the Palace. Lots of celebrating at my table. It was lovely to have both my agent, Meg Ruley, friend Bob Dugoni and husband John with me.(and you can't really see but the award is a cactus in glass. Stunning.)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Can I Bring my Ostrich?

RHYS: I'm about to set off for some book tour events for my upcoming Molly book, TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. And as I think about airports and security and the whole ordeal of flying I remember the last time I stood in a security line. As I stood there I felt someone nudging my bottom. Not once, but repeatedly. I turned around ready to slap a face, and found a large black dog had been nosing me.  And I mean a LARGE black dog, whose nose was level with my rear end. He was apparently being taken onto the flight as a therapy/emotional support/comfort animal. No jacket identifying him as such. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were in the next seat? He'd take up all your foot room. He'd knock over your coffee every time he tried to stand up and move around. Not to mention slobbering over your black pants.

This whole matter of bringing comfort/therapy animals onto flights has morphed into a joke. It takes one on-line form and the payment of a fee to be certified in need of a therapy animal when you fly. No real doctor visit or assessment by a psychology professional. And now everyone is using as a way to travel with a pet without paying the fee. Not just dogs and cats, but pot-bellied pigs, birds. To me this has become a safety hazard as well as an overwhelming nuisance. For every passenger who is really in need of the comfort of a small dog sitting on her lap there are ten who just want to get away with it.

what about fellow passengers who are highly allergic to pet dander? Are they to have an asthma attack because a large dog, or (even worse) a cat is leaning against them? And what about the risk of biting a small child, a crazed pig blocking the center aisle in the event of an emergency?

I see this attempt to flaunt rules all the time now. The other day I was in a supermarket when I met a woman with a dog on a leash. I told her pets were not allowed in food stores. She glared at me. "This is my therapy animal," she snapped.

"What is your problem? What kind of therapy does he deliver?" (when he's not sniffing around the cold cases) I asked.

"I have low blood pressure," she said indignantly. "if I faint, he barks."

"If you faint in a supermarket, there's a good chance people will notice as they step over you," I pointed out.

"Mind your own business," she replied.

"If he's a therapy dog where is his jacket that designates him as such? Where is his certification?" I went on.

"Just go away!" she shouted and walked off.

I talked with the manager who told me that they really can't do anything about pets in stores now for fear of lawsuits.

 I feel sorry for those who genuinely need a therapy animal. they will feel the backlash from this misuse. what are your feelings? How would you react if a large dog was taking up your floorspace on a flight?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Edward Snowden's Tips On How to Take Back Your Privacy @LibbyHellmann

 LUCY BURDETTE: Our friend Libby Hellmann always brings interesting blogs to the table to celebrate her new books. This time she's launching JUMP CUT, an Ellie Foreman thriller, much concerned about privacy. I'll let her tell you...

 “The typical methods of communication today betray you silently, quietly, invisibly, at every click. At every page that you land on, information is being stolen. It’s being collected, intercepted, analyzed, and stored by governments, foreign and domestic, and by companies.” Edward Snowden

LIBBY HELLMANN: Regardless whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor, he has ignited a firestorm about the lengths and limits that government and corporations do and should have over our privacy. In fact, the issue of privacy is at the heart of my new thriller, Jump Cut, the first Ellie Foreman thriller in ten years. Ellie finds herself under surveillance… not only her phones are tapped, but her computers are hacked, and her car has a tracker on it.

Remember when we learned the average person was caught on video cameras at least 6 times a day? And how our emails were (and continue to be) hijacked by phishers? And how our identities can be stolen off our computers or smart phones in an instant with the right tools? What Snowden did was take the theft of privacy to a higher level, by showing us how easy it is for organizations to capture even more data and information.

Facebook is fully aware of your password security questions, your personal details are stored by Gmail and plenty of other websites. Your internet service provider knows exactly who you are, where you live, your credit card number, when you made your last payment, and how much you spent. Retailers track your every visit online.

No wonder there's a growing movement of ordinary people protesting government and corporate snooping. It's serious business. And if you’re anything like Ellie, you’d want to know what to do to arm yourself against privacy and security “thieves.”.

Fortunately, Edward Snowden was interviewed in a Moscow hotel last October, and, in addition to a broad commentary on privacy, surveillance and encryption, he also offered a detailed look into opsec (operations security) and how to improve your own personal security and privacy.

Here's what he recommends.

  1. Use Tor, the private browser. Snowden says it's the “most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today”, letting you keep your physical location private and look things up without leaving a trace to identify you.

  1. Encrypt all phone calls and text messages. Use a free smartphone app like Signal, by Open Whisper Systems. When you do this, nobody can read or hear your conversations. It's available for iOS and Android, and it's really easy to use. Although I didn’t name it, this is the system Ellie’s boyfriend downloads to her smart phone in JUMP CUT.

  1. Encrypt your hard disk. If your machine gets stolen, nobody can see where you live, look at your files or anything else.

  1. Use a password manager to stop your login details from being exposed. It will let you create a unique password for every site you need to log into. They're unbreakable, and you don't need to remember them. Snowden recommends KeePassX, a free cross-platform manager that never stores information in the cloud.

  1. Use two-factor authentication so if your password gets stolen the provider can send you a secondary way to authenticate your identity, for example in a text message. When you do this, anyone wanting to hack you has to have your password plus an actual device, like your phone, to complete the transaction.

  1. Use ad blocking software to cut the risk of vulnerabilities in code like Javascript and Flash.

Extreme  protection?

What if you want to go even further? Snowden recommends using software called SecureDrop – a system for whistleblowers - over the Tor network, so there's no connection with the computer you're using. You could also use an operating system like Tails, which leaves no forensic trace on the computer you're using. Take things even further and you're looking at using disposable machines, which can't be found in a raid so can't be appropriated and analyzed.

As Snowden says (and he would know):

“This is to be sure that whoever has been engaging in this wrongdoing cannot distract from the controversy by pointing to your physical identity. Instead they have to deal with the facts of the controversy rather than the actors that are involved in it.”

He goes on to say, “We need means of engaging in private connections to the internet. We need ways of engaging in private communications. We need mechanisms affording for private associations. And ultimately, we need ways to engage in private payment and shipping, which are the basis of trade. We need to find a way to protect the rights that we ourselves inherited for the next generation.”

Where does it end?

You can keep going to deeper and deeper levels, and I’m sure some people do. Or you could stay sane and concentrate on the six steps Snowden suggests. They will help thwart the most common and realistic threats to your personal security.

How many of you have implemented even one of Snowden’s suggestions? Unfortunately, I haven’t. But Ellie has, so at least she’s protected. 

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. 

With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Last fall The Incidental Spy,  a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago was released. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.  In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


RHYS BOWEN: As you probably know, I'm going to be writer-in-residence at a workshop in Tuscany this summer (and there is still one place to be filled if you get a sudden urge for the Tuscan sun). I'm starting to prepare my pre-workshop handouts and this includes a reading list. So I thought I'd get imput from the Jungle Reds and readers who between us are the most mystery-literate group on the planet.

These are my categories for books suggestions: (and as you'll see, I need help here. I'm sure there are so many great books I'm missing. I'm brain dead having just finished a book.)

I'd choose Hallie's book on mystery writing,
Stephen King on writing.
Maybe Anne Lamott's Bird on Bird.

I have: Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny as great examples of rich, full-bodied characters.
Mystic River.
In the Bleak Midwinter
On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

All of the above (so maybe I just need a category called GOOD MYSTERY NOVELS)
Michael Connelly's Bloodwork
Hank's books.
Hallie's There Was an Old Woman

Hank's books.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Well, if you need another instructor in Tuscany at the last minute, I'm your gal....
( RHYS.. I wish I could take all my Jungle Red sisters along with me)

The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
On Writing, Stephen King
Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler

Anything by Alan Bradley
Anything by Laurie R. King
Anything by Alice Hoffman (her books aren't usually shelved with mysteries, but usually contain a crime/murder/mystery anyway)

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson (RHYS: oh yes, good one. Perfect.)
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown

Anything by Raymond Chandler
Anything by Harlan Cobern
Anything by Louise Penny

Anything by Rhys Bowen
Anything by Jane Thynne
Anything by Kerry Greenwood
Anything by Charles Todd

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh Rhys, seriously thank you SO MUCH for the vote of confidence on my WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL! And seriously I’d kill to be going with you.

My recommendations:
I'd happily recommend Jane Cleland’s book coming out in April, Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats from Writer’s Digest Books
Also Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene

Lucy’s Key West Food Critic series
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk
Rhys’s Her Royal Spyness

The Town (aka Prince of Thieves) by Chuck Hogan
Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connely
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

Anything by Elmore Leonard of course
Anything by Robert B. Parker
Citizen Vince by Jess Walter
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George HIggins

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series
Any of Susan's Maggie Hope books
Any of William Tapply's books, especially Bitch Creek
Tony Hillerman's books

LUCY BURDETTE: That sounds like such fun Rhys! I won't pile on to the super suggestions that have already been made, but I thought of 3 additional writers who are amazing with both setting and character: CJ BOX'S Joe Pickett series, W KENT KRUEGER'S Cork O'Connell series, and ARNALDUR INDRIDASON for his gloomy detective and the Icelandic setting that feeds his mood.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rhys! I am floating. Thank you. Thank you.  ( I am very proud of my plots and dialogue. Thank you.) And your students are SO lucky!

So just some additions--I agree with the writing books. I cannot live without Stephen King's On Writing.  Hallie's and Paula's and Jane's, too . Stellar.

SKILL IN PLOT: Linwood Barclay's TRUST YOUR EYES  (amazing, truly, a master class)
Peter Abrahams NERVE DAMAGE  (breaks every rule! so original)

CHARACTER: Spencer Quinn's Chet in the Chet and Bernie series...Chet is a DOG! How does he do that?
Sue Grafton's Kinsey--a classic. reliable, but always new
Maggie Hope--start with Susan's Mr Churchill's Secretary
Rachel Howzell Hall's Elouise Norton

Charles and Caroline Todd's  Inspector Rutledge books--start with TEST OF WILLS
Lady Georgie!
Dennis Lehane's Mystic River

Oh, now I'm really thinking about this. There are SO many more. And I'll remember them as soon as I hit send.


Thank you, Rhys, I'm very flattered!

A couple of writing books suggestions:

For creative impetus: Writing Done the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
For the best how-to: Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson
For character: The Art of Character

Skill in Character:

All the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher (not sure if these actually count as mysteries, but one of my favorite characters in fiction, period.)
Peter Grant novels by Ben Aaronovitch
Bryant and May novels, Christopher Fowler

Skill in Plot:

Already mentioned, but one of the most cleverly plotted books I've ever read is On Beaulah Height by Reginald Hill
The Verdict by Nick Stone

Skill in Dialog:

Anything by Julia Spenser-Fleming
Anything by Hank

Setting, Sense of Time and Place:

Rhys's Molly and Georgie books
Susan's Maggie Hope books
Billy Boyle novels by James Benn
Charles Todd
Laurie R. King
Jacqueline Winspear

RHYS: Thank you all so much for these. As I read down the list I kept saying out loud, "Of course. Why didn't I think of him/her?"
So I now have a stellar list but I don't think I can expect my students to bring this many books in their carry-ons. And now it's your turn: who have we left out of this list?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Susan Shea is Mixed up with Murder

RHYS BOWEN: I always particularly enjoy a mystery written by a writer who is an expert in the subject. My good friend Susan Shea has spent many years in the exciting and dangerous world of fine art collections. Here she confesses to her secret fantasy, which I'm sure many of us share.

SUSAN SHEA:  In my Dani O’Rourke mysteries, I write about some of the ways individuals approach visual art and how their desire to possess it can lead to terrible crimes. In the third book, Mixed Up with Murder, just out, the lust isn’t for the beauty of the art but for its financial value in today’s overheated market.

I’m passionate about paintings, sculpture, drawings, decorative objects, photography – all of it. To me, it’s like being in the world’s largest candy store. Did you ever have the experience of having to choose one piece of candy at the store, and finding yourself paralyzed between a Baby Ruth and a Milky Way? I do that with art, although I will never actually own the treat in question. But my challenge is that if I could have one piece from a room or museum filled with them, what would it be? I go to museums and galleries every year, so I get to play the game a lot and would have the most exciting and eclectic collection in the world if my fantasies came true!

At the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, I struggle. Is it the Rembrandt self-portrait in middle age with the eyes that have been following me around “his” gallery since I was a small child? Or the serene, life-sized Buddha statue in the room ringed by the most astonishing Buddhas from many countries? On some visits, I head for the American Wing with its breathtakingly beautiful silver services, although the idea of having to polish them to keep that warm gleam in tiptop condition does give me pause.

At the Oakland Museum, it’s simple: any Diebenkorn painting but preferably one from the Ocean Park series. I can’t figure out how he kept the same planes and selection of colors and yet managed to keep the large abstracts fresh and compelling time after time. I could stand in front of one for a year and never get tired.

Ditto Jackson Pollack’s splatter paintings at MOMA in New York. Oh, but wait, there are the tiny, charming pre-Columbian gold figures in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington, D.C. and Matisse at the d’Orsay in Paris and the glass flowers at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History and … Uh oh, this is getting out of hand!

What about the rest of you? Do you play a similar game when you see art, or is Cartier’s or Chanel your game board of choice?

RHYS: For me it would be all Impressionists, a room full of Monets, Renoirs, Mary Cassatts. 
Susan will be giving away a copy of MIXED UP WITH MURDER to one lucky commenter today. And she'll be stopping by to answer your comments.

SUSAN C. SHEA spent more than two decades as a non-profit executive before beginning her best-selling, “wickedly funny” mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum in San Francisco. MIXED UP WITH MURDER (February 2016) is the latest. Susan is past-president of the northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and secretary of the national SinC board, a member of MWA, and blogs on CriminalMinds. She lives in Marin County, California.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


RHYS BOWEN: As if I don’t have enough to do with writing two books a year, I spend my spare moments inventing and daydreaming up new things. Spelling for one. I’ve always been a bad speller. So
Don’t u think its abowt tIm wE simplEfI inglish so that forinurs can rEd it EzilE?
This is my idea for a phonetic universal spelling in which every word is written as it sounds (ritn as it sowns) with capital letters representing the long form of a vowel EzE and lower case the short form. Litl.
Well, during my research it turned out that my thinking is not new. In a week from today my sixteenth Molly book, TIME OF FOG AND FIRE is published.
It takes place in 1906 so part of my research is to find out what else might have happened that year. And this was one thing that surprised me:
In 1906, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt tried to get the government to simplify the spelling of 300 common English words. However, this didn't go over well with Congress or the public.

Simplified Spelling Was Andrew Carnegie's Idea
In 1906, Andrew Carnegie was convinced that English could be a universal language used around the world, if only English was easier to read and to write. In an attempt to tackle this problem, Carnegie decided to fund a group of intellectuals to discuss this issue. The result was the Simplified Spelling Board.

The Simplified Spelling Board
The Simplified Spelling Board was founded on March 11, 1906 in New York. Included among the Board's original 26 members were such notables as author Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain"), library organizer Melvil Dewey, U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, publisher Henry Holt, and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage. Brander Matthews, professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University, was made chairman of the Board.

Complicated English Words
The Board examined the history of the English language and found that written English had changed over the centuries, sometimes for the better but also sometimes for the worse. The Board wanted to make written English phonetic again, as it was long ago, before silent letters such as "e" (as in "axe"), "h" (as in "ghost"), "w" (as in "answer"), and "b" (as in "debt") crept in. However, silent letters were not the only aspect of spelling that bothered these gentlemen.
There were other commonly used words that were just more complex than they needed to be. For instance, the word "bureau" could much more easily be spelled if it was written as "buro." The word "enough" would be spelled more phonetically as "enuf," just as "though" could be simplified to "tho." And, of course, why have a "ph" combination in "phantasy" when it could much more easily be spelled "fantasy."
Lastly, the Board recognized that there were a number of words for which there already were several options for spelling, usually one simple and the other complicated. Many of these examples are currently known as differences between American and British English, including "honor" instead of "honour," "center" instead of "centre," and "plow" instead of "plough." Additional words also had multiple choices for spelling such as "rime" rather than "rhyme" and "blest" rather than "blessed."

The Plan
So as not to overwhelm the country with an entire new way of spelling at once, the Board recognized that some of these changes should be made over time. To focus their push for adaptation of new spelling rules, the Board created a list of 300 words whose spelling could be changed immediately.
The idea of simplified spelling caught on quickly, with even some schools beginning to implement the 300-word list within months of it being created. As the excitement grew around simplified spelling, one person in particular became a huge fan of the concept - President Teddy Roosevelt.

President Teddy Roosevelt Loves the Idea
Unbeknownst to the Simplified Spelling Board, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a letter to the United States Government Printing Office on August 27, 1906. In this letter, Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to use the new spellings of the 300 words detailed in the Simplified Spelling Board's circular in all documents emanating from the executive department.
President Roosevelt's public acceptance of simplified spelling caused a wave of reaction. Although there was public support in a few quarters, most of it was negative. Many newspapers began to ridicule the movement and lambasted the President in political cartoons. Congress was especially offended at the change, most likely because they had not been consulted. On December 13, 1906, the House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that it would use the spelling found in most dictionaries and not the new, simplified spelling in all official documents. With public sentiment against him, Roosevelt decided to rescind his order to the Government Printing Office.
The efforts of the Simplified Spelling Board continued for several more years, but the popularity of the idea had waned after Roosevelt's failed attempt at government support. However, when browsing the list of 300 words, one cannot help but notice how many of the "new" spellings are in current use today.

RHYS: So what do you think? Now that English is truly the universal language, isn’t it about time we adopted a simple and universal spelling?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fashion Faux Pas

RHYS BOWEN:  I’ve been looking at my closet and planning what to wear for Left Coast Crime that is held this week in Phoenix. It’s going to be downright hot, according to the forecasts so those blazers and tailored slacks I had in mind might not work after all.  So I tried on a Southwestern style turquoise tunic with white pants…. And then I froze. Wait a minute. White pants? Before Memorial Day? What was I thinking.

Then I decided that the rules must be different if one lives in Arizona where it’s been over eighty for a couple of weeks. So am I allowed to break this fashion taboo? And then I started wondering whether other people still obey fashion rules or whether fashion rules have gone out of the window with what used to be fashion. Remember when we used to wait to see what Dior was doing with hemlines this spring? And full skirts? Straight sheaths? All instantly copied by the ready-to-wear houses and bought by the rest of us.
And the rules that went along with this. Handbag and shoes should match.  Certain colors should never be worn together. No black with brown. My mother used to say “Blue and green should never be seen.”  That’s a rule I broke long ago. I’ve always loved the look of certain blues with certain greens: peacock and emerald. Super!
Short boots would never have been worn with skirts until recently. Bare legs with skirts? Never!!!  I must be getting old because nothing that passes for fashion these days is something an ordinary person would wear. Would I ever pay hundreds of dollars for jeans with rips in them? I don’t think so. Most trendsetters look as if they’ve mugged a bag lady for her clothes. If I like something on Project Runway it’s instantly deemed too old and boring and the designer is sent home.
So I’m dying to know your feelings on fashion (or lack of it) Are there still rules that apply? Do you follow them? And most pressingly—can I wear white to Left Coast Crime this week?

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Of course. White to LCC? With pride. It's Arizona.
You can wear anything you want, whenever you want.
Now. Fashion-fashion? Is a different deal. No "beige" panty hose.  If you are covering your legs, tights. Otherwise,  bare legs. Yeesh. But I do it.
No baggy jeans. No sweats out of the house. Flip-flops only at the beach. My skirts and jackets don't ever match any more--no suits. "Matchy" anything is not fashion. There's a too-long  too-dowdy skirt--I know it when I see it. There's a too-short skirt--I know it when I see it.
Short boots with skirts are SO difficult. I have TRIED but I cannot pull it off.
I wear black with brown all the time. And black with navy. But I don't wear gold jewelry with black clothing. Shrugging. Unless it works.
My mother use to say "no colors not found in nature." She was adamantly opposed to cobalt blue and lavender. (I mean--separately. Or together. Whatever.)
And have you seen the "new" fashion-y shoes? Chunky boxy heels--straight out of the sixties. And the "new" "Prairie-boho"  look? Fringe and peasant blouses Been there, hated that.
I am boring when it comes to clothes, I really am. Jacket, skirt, tights, heels, pearls. So, I'm old.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Ditto what Hank said, Rhys. Of course you can wear white. All year round. White jeans with boots even. How do I know these things, you may ask? Because I have a fashionista daughter. I don't know where she got this talent because it wasn't from me... She's always put together, trendy but not TOO trendy. She says it's not innate (I disagree) but that her sense of style is due to using Pinterest and organizing her outfits before work.

She Pins things for me, too, so I sort of know what's in and what's not, but that doesn't mean I can pull it off... And then you have to deal with the whole "age appropriate" thing. Ack!

Hank, I didn't know you weren't supposed to wear gold jewelry with black!!! That's a rule I never learned--not that it would matter much to me because I am allergic to gold.

I do, however, know that this year wearing different denims together (which used to be a huge fashion NO NO) is now IN. Who decides these things??

HALLIE EPHRON: Rhys, you look spectacular in white, a Phoenix is a different planet from where those rules were codified. Different denims are ok? Who knew!

In the old days, I remember the rules. No white or pastels or patent leather after Memorial Day. Now no one wears patent leather, ever, which probably means it's due for a comeback. Remember how we obsessed over having our purses match our shoes? These days I pretty much live in black year round. Even my bathing suit is black. I splurge on the occasional Eileen Fisher dress or jacket or pants when they're half-priced and haven't regretted a single purchase, though her asymmetrical hems (what a terrible idea) put me off last year.

I'm happy to see roomy trousers are back. Though I know perfectly well it's a ruse to get us to abandon our collections of leggings.

LUCY BURDETTE: In general I'm hopeless when it comes to fashion--this is because I value comfort so much more highly than looks. I end up wearing the same things over and over--Key West is casual, yes, but I am right there in yoga pants and t-shirts with the bottom-feeders:). My mother was the same way. She's wearing green checkered shorts, a white shirt, and Hushpuppies with white socks on in 75% of old photos. There is one small clothing store in Connecticut that can often help spiff me up for an appearance:).

Speaking of fringe...I saw a young woman wearing a short sheath-like dress the other day, but there was fringe hanging from mid thigh to mid calf--same fabric as the dress. I was dumbstruck.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I am also the beneficiary of fashion-forward daughters to give me advice (or at least not let me leave the house looking hopeless.) As I get older I find, like many of you, I default to a uniform that I know looks good, feels comfortable and keeps me warm (winter) or cool (summer.) Heavy turtleneck and a pashmina with jeans-style pants in cold weather. Bean boots, of course. Talbots sleeveless shirts, cotton cardies and crops in summer. I have a whole basket of flip-flops that get me from May through September. I still do no white after Labor Day, in part because it just looks WRONG in northern New England.

I was thinking about the way no one seems to wear pantyhose anymore. On one hand, it's a look that clearly only benefits the young, unless I'm the only middle-aged woman with scars, spots and uneven skin tone on her legs. On the other, when I think back to my days working in DC, when I HAD to wear pantyhose no matter the 85 degree-85 per cent humidity...! And always, always running them and having to pop into the drug store for a new pair. Remember when you had extra unopened pantyhose stashed in your desk, or your glove compartment, or your purse? I notice men never "

RHYS: The white jacket I'm wearing in the picture above was in a boutique in Santa Monica where Cara Black and I were browsing between events last spring (before Memorial Day)/ I loved it and was so tempted until I saw the price ($2500). Luckily it was one size too small but you can see my attraction to white, can't you? Perhaps it's my innate purity coming through? Or maybe not.

So, dear Readers, do you have fashion rules or wear what you like, when you like?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Book's Best Friend

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  The phrase used to be “Man’s best friend.”  But when it comes to adorable dogs, DavidBurnsworth has realized they also are  “Book’s best friend.”
     And you’ll be touched to know all these darling pooches’ photos David sent us are from the Spartanburg Humane Society—and they are all available for adoption, he says, right now.

A Book’s Best Friend
  By David Burnsworth
        There are two characters in my Brack Pelton mystery series--above all--that readers ask about and comment on. The first is a local minister by the name of Brother Thomas whose major role is to be Brack’s conscience. The other character, one I probably need to include in more scenes, is Brack’s rescue mixed-breed dog Shelby.
           In general, the readers respect Brother Thomas, but they love Shelby.
As a dog lover, I can relate. I would not have written the series without some form of canine sidekick. Shelby’s magic showed up on the page in his ability to get women in the story to fall head over heels for him. My protagonist Brack is somewhat of a ladies man, but he pales in comparison to Shelby. When the two of them are together, Brack takes second chair while his dog steals the scene.
Because Brack gets himself into dangerous situations, he sometimes has to stay away from obvious places where he might be found, like his home. But he still has the responsibility of taking care of Shelby. This is where Trish, Shelby’s other caretaker, comes into the story. Trish is the wife of Brack’s lawyer. And Trish fell in love with Shelby the moment she met him.
On more that one occasion, Brack felt as if Trish would pack up and leave Charleston, taking Shelby with her. Trish’s husband feels the same way. This extra layer of stress for Brack always comes at a time when he already has a lot to deal with. With much trepidation does Brack make the call to Trish to watch over Shelby while he has to run around Charleston righting wrongs.
Of course Shelby isn’t unique in any four-legged regard. While he is a consistent but secondary character for my books, the first person point of view of one of my favorite series, Chet and Bernie, is the one-hundred-pound mutt Chet the Jet. The story is well written and convincing. Spencer Quinn has a winner and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
John Sanford recently gave Virgil Flowers a dog.  I am anxiously awaiting the next book to see how Virgil, a bachelor with a busy life as an investigator in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, handles the responsibility. CJ Box’s game warden Joe Pickett rides around in his pickup truck with Daisy, his family dog. Daisy gives Joe someone to talk to as he travels the vast expanse of Wyoming. 
And Robert Crais’s thriller, Suspect, focuses on a K-9 unit. The main characters, Scott James and his new German shepherd partner, Maggie, are damaged goods. Both lost their partners and suffer from different forms of PTSD as they bond in their new assignment. I can’t wait for the next book with them, The Promise, where they team up with Crais’s other great characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. What a great book that is going to be.

For those of us who are dog people, why we adore these four-legged sidekicks is a no-brainer. Just as our pets enrich our lives, the fictional ones running across the pages of our favorite books add so much more, both to the story and to the characters who take care of them.
So, which non-human characters are your favorites?

HANK: I agree--LOVE Chet.  And, um, Pooh. Oh,  I could go on. And of course, there are big pitfalls to giving a character a pet, right?  But how about you, Reds? Favorite fictional animals?
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. 

Southern Heat is his first mystery and the sequel, Burning Heat, debuted in January. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.