Thursday, March 31, 2016

What I was #Writing that You Can Read Next Week! @LucyBurdette #giveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: I can't really concentrate on anything except for the fact that KILLER TAKEOUT will be out next Tuesday. So I'm sharing a few snippets from that book, the 7th Key West mystery. (The quotes are all in Hayley Snow's voice, of course.)

Lucy with the cast of Wizard of Oz, FF style
Me? I'd rather eat canned sardines from China than march down Key West’s Duval Street wearing not much more than body paint. But 100,000 out-of-town revelers didn’t agree. They were arriving on the island this week to do just that—or watch it happen—during Fantasy Fest, the celebration taking place during the ten days leading up to Halloween, including a slew of adult-themed costume parties culminating in a massive and rowdy parade.

Food is a major deal in my family—life-sustaining, of course. But it also provides clues to the cook’s inner life, like a psychologist’s inkblot test. According to my mother, and her mother before her, the menu that the hostess selects always, always sends a message to the guests.

 I’d added the mango dog to our order at the last minute, thinking it would be more Sam's speed than mine. But the combination of the fragrant grilled all beef hot dog, wrapped in crispy bacon and slathered with slices of bright yellow mango, red onion, and jalapeno pepper, and topped with some kind of pink sauce looked irresistible. (Mango hot dog recipe.)


I retrieved my bike and peddled over to the Atlantic side of the island, and then up the bike path toward Fort East Martello, next to the Key West airport. As I rode, more zombies on bikes filled in the empty spaces ahead and behind me. There were Santa zombies and retiree zombies and wicked witch zombies, and zombies of uncertain lineage heavy on dripping blood.

I DID ask his permission

Robert, a life-sized stuffed doll with a creepy face who was dressed in a sailor suit, had been enclosed in a big glass case. On the wall, letters were displayed from visitors who had not taken the proper precautions of asking his permission before taking his photo. Or worse still, made fun of his evil powers. He was famous for cursing tourists who didn’t treat him with respect.

Bransford managed a pained smile. “None of Hayley’s friends are capable of murder—she tells me that every time we have an incident.”

“Not funny,” I said, and took the glass of white wine from Sam’s steady hands, my own fingers shaking.

Shortly after I’d moved down, Key West seeped into my system like a sweet poison, and now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. And I probably bragged about how lucky I was to be on this island more than I should.

The tropical depression that forecasters had worried about for the last several days was still hanging heavy east of Cuba. The longer it stalled, the more organized grew its internal rotation, said the hurricane specialist. Which spelled more concern for Florida, especially our fragile keys, tossed across the ocean like a string of antique pearls.

People were like that, full of psychological wrinkles and shadowy corners—even the ones you’d known forever harbored secrets.

KILLER TAKEOUT will be out on Tuesday, available wherever books are sold! But I'd love to give a copy away to one of our wonderful Jungle Red Readers! Leave your email with your name to be entered in the drawing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What We're Writing--Rhys goes to the palace.

RHYS BOWEN: I'm in the early stages of a new Royal Spyness book, this one with the working title ON HER MAJESTY'S FRIGHTFULLY SECRET SERVICE.  What do you think about the title? Like it?

As in several of the books Georgie is sent on an assignment by Queen Mary. And this usually involves going to Buckingham Palace--always worrying for Georgie as she tends to be clumsy and hates to find herself surrounded by priceless antiques, or having to eat in the queen's presence.

When I did a tour of Buckingham Palace a few years ago I enjoyed myself thinking "Georgie might have knocked over this statue!" But her concerns about having tea with the queen come from personal experience. When I was a young woman I had tea with the present queen. Oh-- the worry about knocking over a tea cup on the pristine white cloth! Or of biting into an eclair and squirting cream onto the queen's silk dress! Luckily that never happened as we were instructed before the meal that one only eats what the queen eats. And the queen ate one piece of brown bread. So the rest of us stared at the table, laden with every type of delicious cake, scone, tart, and each of us chewed brown bread one hundred times.

Poor Georgie: She is frequently made to suffer with embarrassments that happened to me! Here's a snippet of the scene before she arrives at the palace:

From Georgie's Diary: Off to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the queen in a few minutes. How grand that sounds and how easy it is to write it!  But golly, I’m always a bundle of nerves, even if she is a relative. Please don’t let me knock over any statues or Ming vases!

At three o’clock it was still raining hard and a fierce wind was driving the rain almost horizontally, making me reject the fur coat with regret.  Not wanting to arrive at the palace looking too much like a drowned hedgehog, I decided to throw caution to the winds and hail a taxi cab.
                “Where to, love?” he asked as I climbed into the back seat.
                “Buckingham Palace, please,” I said.
                He chuckled, a deep throaty chuckle that turned into a cough the way it did with many Londoners who had lived with years of smoky fog. “Cor blimey. You going to have tea with the queen, are yer?”
                “Actually I am,” I said.
                There was a silence then he burst out laughing. “Go on, pull the other one! You nearly had me for a moment there.”
                “No, honestly,” I said. “I am going to tea there.”
                “What—are you going to be presented with a medal or something?”
                “No,” I replied. “The king is my cousin.”
                “Blimey!” he said, turning to look at me as if he expected me to have grown a crown on my head. “Begging your pardon, your royal ‘ighness. You don’t expect a toff like you to be riding in a cab driven by the likes of me, do you? I thought your lot went around in Daimlers and Bentleys and  coach and ‘orses.”
                “Not all of us live that way,” I said. “I’m rather a poor relation, I’m afraid. Even taxi cabs are a luxury for me.”
                We drove around Hyde Park Corner and down Constitution Hill.
                “So where do you want to be dropped off, yer highness?” he asked.
                “Outside the front gates, please. I’m afraid they won’t let you drive up to the doors and I’m going to get rather wet.”
                “What, one of their own family? We’ll see about that,” he said and turned into the front entrance, between those imposing gilded gates. Guards stood on either side, with rain streaming down their faces and running down their bearskins while they looked stoically straight ahead. Until we pulled up, that was. One of them stepped out, gun at the ready.
           “I’ve got a member of the royal family ‘ere.” The cabby leaned across. “And we don’t want ‘er getting wet when she comes to see the queen, do we?”
                The guard bent to peer at me. “And you are, miss?” he asked.
                “Lady Georgiana, the king’s cousin and of course I understand that you can’t let a cabby drive into the courtyard.”
                “Who says we can’t?” he said, giving me an un-guardlike grin. “Go on then, cabby, but make sure you come straight out again.”
                “Thank you!” I beamed at the guard. He stood back at attention, but allowed himself the glimmer of a grin.
                So we swept into the central courtyard and a footman came out to open the door for me. He looked surprised at the cab.
                “Lady Georgiana to see her majesty,” I said.
                He opened the door for me and I went to give the cabby a large tip. He pushed it back at me. “That’s all right love,” he said, forgetting the royal highness this time. “I’ll be able to boast about this in the pub all year.”

I'm not one of those writers who outline so I have only the vaguest idea of what this assignment will bring Georgie. I know where she is going-- to the Italian lakes. I know who is going to be killed and why, but not sure yet whodunit. Or what Georgie's role will be. I just turn her loose and follow along and things usually start to happen. Let's hope they will this time!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What We're Writing--Hank's adventures in the past

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Everything old is new again? Well, kind of.

When my publisher asked me to take a fresh-eyed look at my Charlotte McNally books in preparation for their re-issue—my first series in all new editions with gorgeous new covers!—I knew that could be a…shall we say, fascinating experience. I could change things if I wanted. Yay. 

But I would also see—in unassailable black and white--what needed to be changed. Would that be the good news or the bad news?

So with much delight and little trepidation, I opened the pages of the four books in my first series, and read all the way through.  PRIME TIME came out in February, and I am so happy Charlotte McNally is making friends with lots of new readers.

 FACE TIME is coming next week.  So today my “what we’re writing”
today is about “what we’ve written.”  

And then written again.

First, the fabulous news. Were you hooked on Serial, or Making A Murderer, as I was? It turns out that the Serial and Making A Murder theme is what FACE TIME is all about! So that was a treat to discover.

However. It was quite the education to see what needed to be changed in the books. It’s like watching a movie from 9 years ago. Things that seemed so timely and hip become…well, not so relevant. 

Or just—wrong.

First, in AIR TIME (coming in June) I had to change the announcement flight attendants make before takeoff. You don’t have to completely turn off your phones any more, right? You can keep them in airplane mode.  That almost ruined a plot point—it was very nice to be able to have the flight attendant yell at Charlotte to power down.

I also almost hit plot-disaster with beepers. You remember beepers, right? Those little gizmos everyone had? Especially reporters, who were not allowed to leave the station without them. Now, almost no one has a beeper. But um, rut-roh. I really needed them in the plot of one of the books.  I finessed.  Instead of Charlotte reassuring herself: “Everyone gets beeped!”  She now thinks: “It’s okay, people still get beeped.”

n PRIME TIME, someone’s computer proclaims “You’ve got mail!” Uh, hmm.  When was the last time you heard that once-constant refrain? So now I made their email ping. But a person still says “You’ve got mail.” The “you’ve got mail” reference is critical later in the book, so I couldn’t ignore it altogether.

There’s a reference, sigh, to Puff Daddy.  Charlie’s producer Franklin, corrects the speaker, reminding him it’s now P. Diddy. (Are you with me here? Of course not. And if you are, I love you madly.)

But because a suspect wears an item from his Sean John clothing line and that leads to his identification, it was a real key to the story. (You’ll understand when you read AIR TIME. It works.)   So I had to keep it—but how?

“How do you even know about P. Diddy?” someone now asks.

 “Oh, Franklin’s big on fashion history,” Charlie now says. “He knows all that vintage stuff.”

Another oops?  Someone bought a home “a few years ago in 2005.”  Now it’s simply “a few years ago.”

The crazy-crowded Cape Cod rotary is now gone. Luckily Charlie doesn’t have to use another route to be caught in the traffic jam. The toll booth on the Mass Pike are now mostly unstaffed E-Z pass automatic machines—happily for me, not ALL of them.

My editor back then yanked out all the current cultural references, much to my chagrin at the time. I remember telling her: “Jane Pauley will ALWAYS be on the Today Show!”  Okay, the editor was right. Big lesson learned.

Some things I just left the way they were—I mean, Charlie is 46, and her mental rolodex would be that of a person that age.  So she refers to the Beatles, and Ed Sullivan, and having had a collection of VHS tapes twenty years ago.

And from the “need I say more” department, here are two more snippets from the “change” list I sent for AIR TIME :

p 217  2nd line from bottom
“Josh is getting cable,” I say.
“Josh is upgrading his cable,” I say.

P 226  Line 12-13
Time to hit the pay phone.
Happily, Logan still has one pay phone.

And now, here’s a bit from the about to be re-issued FACE TIME, a BookSense Notable Book (see? They’re called Indie Next Picks now!), about which Sara Paretsky (hurray!) said: “A gripping fast-paced thriller with an important story line and an engaging and unusual heroine.”

In this scene: our heroine, reporter Charlotte McNally, is not only facing a last-minute TV live shot about a new political candidate, but a disaster only possible to people of a certain age.


 “Just read the news release,” Franklin instructs. “It’s got the whole drill, law and order, convictions out the wazoo, death to infidels, all that. Y’all know the lowdown on this guy, right?”

I do, in fact. Oscar “Oz” Ortega: recruitment poster for the
prosecution—cool, hot, and politically connected. Known for his
outrageous neckties and outrageous legal talent. Scholarship to
Boston College. Scholarship to Yale Law. Could cross-examine
blood out of a turnip. And, some predict, he’ll step out of the attorney
general’s office, percolate for a term or two on Beacon Hill,
then head for the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Thanks, Franko,” I say, taking the release. Less than a minute
to go. I’ll read it through quickly, then use it to sum up when Oz is
finished. Done it a million times. Like riding a bike. “No problem.”


I can’t see the words. I mean, I can see that there are words, but
they’re a complete blur. I glance over at Franklin, ready to ask if
there’s a problem with the copy he’s offered. I can easily see the
crease in his predictably impeccable jeans, the tiny polo pony on
his pink knit shirt, even how the ten- o’clock stubble on his face
darkens his coffee skin to espresso.
Clearly, what’s wrong is me. Without my reading glasses, this is
going to be impossible. And even if I could get to my glasses,
tucked in my red leather tote bag and back in the van, I couldn’t
go on the air wearing them.

“Thirty seconds,” I hear in my ear.

I can’t read this news release, but I have to. Tucking the paper
under one arm, I use a finger to pull back my left eyelid and pop
out my contact lens. With a brief wince of regret and one flip of a
finger, I discard the contact onto the parking lot pavement, and try
again to read Oz’s formal announcement.

 “Four. Three.” I hear the countdown in my ear. “Two. Go.”

HANK: SO excited about this! And soon I will have fabulous other news. And—soon--there’ll be the brand new SAY NO MORE, about which you will hear, um, relentlessly. I'm working on the updates to DRIVE TIME nowand I will keep you posted.

But let’s talk about change. If  you had a do-over—about anything—would you?  Or how about this: Would you mind if I’d mentioned the Cape Cod rotary or Jane Pauley?

 And—a copy of the all new PRIME TIME to one lucky commenter!

Monday, March 28, 2016

What We're Writing: Hallie in the final lap

HALLIE EPHRON: I’m writing the final fifty pages of a new suspense novel currently titled You’ll Never Know, Dear. At last all the pieces are coming together and the final shoes are dropping. I know who did it (I think), and I know how, and I know why. I just have to write it. 

It’s been a long haul. In the fall of 2013, a friend told me a story about her mother, an aging Southern belle who made porcelain portrait dolls. That became the inspiration for my book’s Miss Sorrel. 

It's the story of a little girl who, along with her favorite doll -- a porcelain portrait doll that her mother made for her -- went missing forty years ago. The book opens with the doll coming back.
Here’s a bit from the middle of the opening chapter. Miss Sorrel is the seventy-something-year-old mother and Lis is her forty-something daughter (the sister of the little girl who disappeared). In this opening, Lis and Miss Sorrel are having lunch out on the front porch of their home in South Carolina when a car pulled up in front.


           -- Hallie Ephron, from You'll Never Know, Dear

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Susan on What We're Writing: "Once More With Feeling"

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: There's good news and there's bad news.

The good news is that I've finished the first round of copyedits on THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE (Maggie Hope #6) and sent everything back to the Powers That Be at Penguin Random House. Also, there's also a gorgeous cover to reveal — but they won't let me show you just yet!

And the bad news — you know all that research I was doing on yet-unnamed Maggie Hope #7? The one set in Paris? And how I'd started writing?

Well, as it turns out, it was a good story. But it wasn't my story. It just didn't work for me.

I have a lot of insomnia and usually curse it — but there, one night in the dark, at about 2 a.m., I realized, "This book is just not working."

And, so, with a heavy heart, I scrapped endless notes and about 30K worth of words.

It hurts, people — it hurts. I mean, yes, it's a so-called first-world problem, of course. But still.... ouch.

However, there's a bright side.

Initially, yes, I was upset. Angry, even. But then, after some time passed, I realized that what I was feeling was ...  relief! Like, my subconscious had known this for a while and it took that long for the message to get through.

At any rate, the news isn't all bad and is in fact (ultimately) good: I've found the right plot now, with the right characters, and have found fantastic first-person research books to read. And so, I'm starting again!

I don't want to give away too much; but, as always, I'm using some real people as inspiration for fictional characters, including Maurice Buckmaster of Special Operations Execute (SOE, Churchill's secret army); Vera Atkins, also of SOE; and then a Frenchman named Henri Déricourt. Déricourt is a polarizing figure — he may have been a double, or maybe even a triple agent — working for SOE, the Gestapo in Paris, and, allegedly also for MI-6. No one agrees.

Questions about Henri Déricourt's loyalty's persist to this day, with historians on different sides of the fence. (Which makes him a fascinating, but difficult, figure to research).

It's important to note that the files that would have shed light on Déricourt and his (allegedly) being a double or even triple agent — burned in a fire at SOE in 1946, the day before they were supposed to be moved to storage.

That fire and all those records it consumed — it's like the burning of the Library at Alexandra for those of us consumed with curiosity about what happened to the SOE agents in France and their betrayal to the Gestapo. Something happened, something horrific. 

But whether it was SOE's incompetence, an SOE double agent working with the Gestapo, or even a triple agent, betraying both SOE and the Gestapo to MI-6 — no one knows. The facts are so obscured now that Anthony Cave Brown reported a historian saying in BODYGUARD OF LIES: "[the disaster that happened to the agents of the SOE Prosper network] is a skein so tangled, so convoluted, attitudes of mind so Byzantine, as ... to defy rational analysis."

And so — unless something turns up, a diary, perhaps or something that was misfiled and thus survived the fire — it will remain a mystery.

Which, Reds and lovely readers, makes a great premise for a novel.

Have you ever put a lot of thought and work and energy into a project, only to realize it's just not working? What happened? How did you work through it? Tell us in the comments!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tammy Kaehler: What Dolly Parton Taught Me About Being A Feminist

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Happy Friday, everyone! Today I'm thrilled to introduce novelist Tammy Kaehler, the author of the Kate Reilly Racing Mystery Series. I was lucky enough to meet Tammy in person at the Literary Guild of Orange County at Long Beach's Festival of Women authors last year, and we've been buddies every since.

I love Tammy's series, because her protagonist, Kate Reilly, is such a strong and brave heroine — and also because I know absolutely nothing about the world of car racing. It's such a fun glimpse into this specialized world.

Welcome, Tammy!

Tammy Kaehler: Let me start by saying that Dolly Parton was a fixture in my childhood, in that sort of “odd celebrity who’s always there” kind of way—not to mention as the woman with the biggest chest and the most fringe and rhinestones. I was a child of the 80s, so I watched the movie 9 to 5 over and over, knew all the words to Islands in the Stream, and knew her song “I Will Always Love You” long before Whitney Houston recorded it. I just didn’t know how much common sense lurked behind all of that big hair.

From a combination of factors, not the least of which was being raised (mostly) by a single mother who attended UC Berkeley in the 1960s, I grew up believing women should reach for anything they want and not be satisfied with the constraints of traditional female occupations. I attended a liberal arts college, and that’s when I became more aware of language use and gender roles, and all the stuff that “political correctness” (which I think is unfairly maligned) teaches you to recognize.

That’s when I excised the word “girl” from my vocabulary for any female over the age of 16. I learned to say “first-year student” instead of “freshman.” And I developed my habit of always carrying a whistle and never walking alone at night. (Yes, the awakening was the good with the bad.) By then, to me, feminism meant no stereotyping, eschewing historical societal expectations, and doing everything men could. I’d never been a particularly girly girl, and at that point in my life, you wouldn’t have caught me dead in ruffles, bows, pink, or hearts. Somehow, those were marks against feminism or symbols of a need to be protected that would then diminish my strength or power.

Ironically, it was when I went to work for a women’s college that I became more flexible in my idea of what women could be. As I think back, that’s when I started to realize—as I looked around every day at hundreds of women leading or following, excelling or goofing off, and generally filling every role, traditional or otherwise—that just being a woman and doing what I wanted to do was a form of feminism. It’s a sentiment that took a while to gel, and one that I finally articulated in Red Flags when Kate, the racecar driver, is questioned by the media about not doing enough as a role model: “I make a case for women every day I’m behind the wheel,” she says.

A large part of my interest in the racing world stems from meeting women in it who aren’t the beauty-queen trophy girls. The women who don’t trade on their looks for exposure or success. And then someone like Danica Patrick comes along. Whether or not you think she belongs in NASCAR’s highest tier or in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, she’s in both (or has been). She’s talked about the technical craft of racing, she’s led and won races, and she’s used her sexuality to promote her brand. For a long time I was really conflicted about my opinions of her actions.

And then I started writing Red Flags, creating a character who’s your typical Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, but with a twist: there’s a smart, strategic brain behind the glitz, glam, and pocket dogs. I came to understand that the best thing we as women can do today is be who the hell we want and own it. And who’s the patron saint of that? Dolly Parton.

Because, let me tell you, the woman is no dummy. The first quote of hers I heard and loved was about being called a “dumb blonde.” Her answer: “I’m not offended at all by dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb, and I also know I’m not blonde.” Another that stuck with me—talk about owning it—is one I let my character quote: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” You be you, Dolly.

So while there’s still a part of me that’s still conflicted, I’ve embraced hearts, polka dots, full skirts, and pink. Even pink on a racecar, if it’s driven by a woman and is supporting the fight against breast cancer. (That, by the way, is true of Kate Reilly in my books and Pippa Mann in real life.)

And I’m going to embrace being who I am, on purpose. With kudos to Dolly.

What I want to know is am I the only one with this kind of confusion about what feminism means? Worried, like me, that you’re not doing it right? And be honest, who else out there is a secret Dolly fan?

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Love, love, love Dolly. But it wasn't until the film The Bodyguard and the Whiney Houson version of "I Will Always Love You" that I realized she was also a songwriter and producer. Talk about your triple threat!

Confusion about being a feminist? Reds and lovely readers, what do you think? Do you ever feel like you're "not doing it right"? What about this "lean in" stuff? (And why so much judgment, both from others and our own inner critics?) Please tell us (and meet Tammy) in the comments. 

(And now I can't get "I Will Always Love You" out of my head. THANKS, TAMMY!)

Tammy Kaehler discovered the racing world via a stint in corporate marketing, and she was hooked by the contrast between its top-dollar, high-drama competition and friendly, family atmosphere. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike have praised her award-winning Kate Reilly Racing Mystery Series (Dead Man’s Switch, Braking Points, and Avoidable Contact), and Tammy takes readers back behind the wheel in her fourth entry, Red Flags. She works as a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.