Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Best Diet Book Ever

Nancy 3rd from left, Lucy/Roberta 2nd from right

LUCY BURDETTE:  I'm very excited to host today's guests, Nancy Parent and Dr. Joseph Parent, as they are such good old friends. Nan was my absolute best friend in high school. We spent as much time together as possible, including musical theater (she had talent, me not so much) and the yearbook (see picture above.) We also wrote a book of maudlin love poetry together, with a red construction paper cover covered with cut out hearts. (We are both grateful that this artifact has disappeared.) After 20 years as an editor at Disney, she now works a freelance editor.
Joseph in high school

Joseph was Nancy's older brother, adorable and enigmatic. (He was hoping I'd describe him as athletic instead of adorable, but as a teenager, that's not what I noticed. LOL) 

He went on to become a psychologist and become a master instructor in Buddhist meditation and study.
He is best know as one of the top golf psychology experts in the world, and author of the bestselling Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game.


But today they are here to talk about applying their talents to a different field in their new book: The Best Diet Book Ever: The Zen of Losing Weight. Welcome Nan and Joseph!

First about the dynamics of co-writing. How did you guys divide the work? And how did that go?

Nancy: We both contributed our personal experiences and insights to the work. I had a lot of anecdotal material that related back to my trials and tribulations with dieting over the years.

Joseph: I wrote about the peak performance principles and methods of awareness, self-acceptance, and habit-change that I present in most of my other books. I also introduced the techniques that worked for my own personal weight-loss program, checking with Nancy to be sure they’d click with the people she knew who were involved in groups doing dieting work.

How did it go? She’s a dream to work with – great instincts for how to put things, what to add, and what to leave out. And great insights about what dieters go through, to which I could apply the Zen principles. 

Lucy: Joseph, could you give us a little blurb about the book and explain how Zen Buddhism is related to dieting in a nutshell?

Joseph: It’s a fresh new perspective on the weight-loss journey: the freedom to make positive, rewarding choices instead of the pain and sacrifice of strict diets. Making such choices and setting small, attainable goals makes you feel more empowered to succeed than the usual negative, self-punishing approach to losing weight.

No recipes or menus—just simple, effective methods that help you shed the pounds and keep them off, without restrictions or struggle. Dieters learn how to enjoy food more, and win 'the battle of the bulge' at the same time!

What does Zen have to do with dieting? Zen means “action with awareness,” being completely in the present moment. Zen methods broaden the mind, engendering confidence, focus, and awareness, as well as energy, stamina, and peaceful equanimity. The more you cultivate the Zen qualities of presence and awareness, the easier it will be to achieve your dieting goals. 

Lucy: interesting that you say you have to feel what it would be like to lose weight rather than just hearing about it and thinking about it. Can you give us an example of an exercise you recommend for this?

Joseph: There are exercises that give you true glimpses of the future, experiences of what it will feel like to weigh less and be slimmer. That’s the best way to reinforce your intention to lose weight, and inspire you to overcome inertia and take action.

Here’s an example:

The Weigh-Less Exercise

This is a vivid way to immediately experience how good you'll feel when you are literally lighter on your feet:

Put ten to fifteen pounds of groceries in a shopping bag. [Note: How heavy a bagful you choose depends on your weight. Please be careful not to use more than 10% of what you weigh, and no more than 20 pounds.]

Sit on the front edge of a stable (not rolling) chair and hold the bag against your stomach. Then stand up and feel how hard you have to work. Repeat three times.

Next, put the bag aside and stand up without the extra weight.

Feel how much easier it is, how good it feels with less weight on your legs and knees. Now you know—maybe your legs aren’t so weak and your knees aren’t so bad. Maybe they’re just overworked!

Next, carefully pick up the bag and walk around for a minute or two. (You can climb a few stairs as long as you don’t strain yourself.) That’s what it will feel like if you put on those extra pounds.

So if you’re not sure you’re ready to start losing weight, this might at least inspire you to make the changes that will prevent you from gaining weight.

It’s an important motivator that will inspire you to:

· Start the weight-loss journey without delay,

· Keep going through periods of no-change or discouragement, and

· Maintain your weight once you’ve reached your target.

Lucy: In the book you say "there needs to be time to be aware of what's going on, and space to respond rather than react. Without awareness of a decision point there is no option, you eat. With awareness you have options of eating or saying, "No, thank you."" Tell us about the NINJA system.

Joseph: The NINJA System® stands for Necessary Intention & Non-Judgmental Awareness. To overcome an undesirable habit, it is necessary to establish a strong intention to make a change. You then apply non-judgmental awareness to the targeted habitual behavior.

If your choice is to weigh less, you’ll feel out of sync when your actions don’t match your intention.

Like a flower blossoming naturally, by just noticing, without adding judgments of good or bad, you’ll catch yourself sooner and sooner.

At first you only notice what you did after it happened. Then you realize it while it’s happening. After that you catch it just as it starts. Eventually you become aware of the impulse that drives the habit, and at some point even the impulse no longer appears. The habit is gone. 

Lucy: did writing this book together change the way you two eat?

Nancy: Yes. Definitely for me. I used the NINJA System® to help me deal with a longtime night eating habit. I used the concept of "shrinking the window" (intermittent nighttime fasting) to speed up my weight loss. One of my favorite quotes from a Zen story in the book is "when you're eating, just eat." Don't read or watch TV when you're eating. Focus just on eating. You'll slow down and be much more aware of what you are eating. You will certainly enjoy it more. And it's such a simple concept. Definitely easy to remember!

Joseph: I’ve also taken to heart the “Shrink the Window” technique of intermittent fasting as well. Although I was already practicing mindful eating, I started setting down utensils between bites, and that slowed down momentum eating and helped me enjoy my food more. I’m more aware of how I feel as a meal goes on, so I’m more likely to stop sooner. I really dislike feeling too full. As the teddy bear said when asked if he’d like dessert, “No thanks. I'm stuffed.”

Lucy: Nan has started on a new career adventure this year, her own editing business. We'd love to hear more about that process! ​What kinds of projects are you working on, and how does it compare to working for a big corporation?

Nancy: First thing I did in my new freelance career was a line of books featuring new IKEA characters to be sold in their stores. We created a number of different formats under their LATTJO brand which focuses on all kinds of "play." My favorite was a punch-out theater set complete with scripts, backdrops, props, etc. I'm currently working on several projects for Disney Publishing Worldwide. My heart will always have a soft spot for the Disney characters, so it makes me very happy to write and edit for them.

The hard thing about freelancing is looking and asking for work. The advantages are being able to set your own schedules, do errands during the week instead of every weekend, and having the freedom to take on projects like THE BEST DIET BOOK EVER. Loved being able to do lunch and work with Joseph throughout this process. 

(And projects I'm looking for are anything children's book related writing or editing--especially preschool projects. I can help ready picture books manuscripts for publication. Contact: nancyparent at live dot com)

Lucy: Reds, they'll be stopping in all day today. Questions about dieting or editing or ???

Nancy Parent is a 20-year veteran of Disney Publishing Worldwide, editing and writing hundreds of books for the MouseWorks and Disney Press vertical imprints as well as Disney global publishers. In addition, Nancy has written and edited for DreamWorks, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, Reader’s Digest Children’s Books, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Fox, Suzy’s Zoo, and Lyrick Entertainment. Her picture book, Holly Bloom’s Garden, was co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Flashlight Press. Her humor book, Meditations for Toddlers Who Do Too Much, was also co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Andrews & McMeel. Nancy resides in Burbank, CA. She has practiced the "art" of dieting since she was 10, trying every program in existence and concocting a few of her own. She is now using The Best Diet Book Ever to maintain her most recent weight loss of 25 pounds. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Missing Malice and Eating Pie

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh boy, am I feeling sad about missing Malice Domestic this year! Our Hank is the toastmaster, and Susan and Hank and Rhys are up for Agatha awards, along with so many other friends. It's a giant cozy party all weekend and I hate not being there to schmooze with other authors and readers. Sigh. But it just didn't work out for a variety of reasons, and I know lots of you are sorry to miss it too. So I thought at least we all deserved pie!

This is a new-to-me Irish recipe that I found on Pinterest, adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking by The Baker Upstairs. My lemon-crazy dinner guests loved this little pie cake. I thought it might have needed a dab more sugar, but they disagreed, so I took extra whipped cream:).

Irish Lemon Pudding/Pie/Cake

  2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
2 lemons
1 1/4 cups milk

For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 to 2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch pie pan and set aside. Zest the two lemons, set that aside. Squeeze these lemons for their juice. (I didn’t measure, but they were 2 large lemons.) 

Separate the eggs and whip the whites in a clean bowl until stiff. (I did these first in my Kitchenaid mixer.) Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then add the flour and make sure all is mixed well.


Add the lemon zest and juice, followed by the milk, and mix again.

Now fold the stiff egg whites into the cake mixture. Mine looked a little lumpy at the end, but I didn’t want to mix too hard.

Scrape this into the prepared pan.

While the lemon pudding-cake bakes (40 minutes, until lightly browned and set), whip the cream with the sugar and almond flavoring.

Serve the cake warm or room temperature with whipped cream and any fruit garnish you choose.

 ps. John and I might have liked it even better cold the next day...

Good luck to our nominated Reds and friends--be sure and keep us posted about--everything! We have all our fingers and toes crossed back at home! xoxo

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Travels with Charlie...and John...and Tonka...and Yoda

LUCY BURDETTE: John and I have always been a little smug about traveling light. I have to admit that if we travel with another couple, it's possible that we badger them into only bringing carry-on luggage. If I can fit everything into this suitcase (which we call "the mini") and a backpack, I'm especially pleased.

Which is why some of our friends might get a giggle about our trips between Key West and Connecticut. We jam a Subaru wagon plus the pod strapped on top to the absolute brim. I blame the extra baggage on the animals, John is not so sure. He's not animal crazy the way I am, so the idea of schlepping a big Australian Shepherd and a cat 2000 miles each way seems a bit absurd to him. (So as you can tell, he's a very nice man:).)

the boys in the back seat
Yoda rides in a carrier and is an exemplary traveler--not a peep after his first outraged meow as he's zipped into the box. Tonka is a good companion too. Besides them, we also need an enormous sack of their special senior food and medications, and even a bag of ringer IV fluids to treat Yoda's kidney condition. And the litter box… I prefer the Cedarific brand of litter, which is light and smells better. The disadvantage is that he drags it all over whatever room we're staying in. And you can't find it in Florida so we drag giant bags of that around with us too...

Yoda relaxing in the hotel
We stayed in quite a nice hotel in DC this time to visit our son, and of course the first criterion was pet-friendly. (Not that easy with a cat!) As we were leaving, everyone in the lobby exclaimed over the dog. The distracted bellhop was getting ready to sling Yoda's carrier onto the cart.

"Be careful," I said, "there's a cat in there."

"Of course ma'am," he said, and tucked the kennel in gently next to the litter box and the massive sack of pet supplies. 

Then he picked up the cooler. "What's in here, the rabbit?" 

We all burst out laughing.

Are you a light traveler or do you need a lot of extras just in case?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Debut Author Leslie Karst on Inspiration for a Culinary Mystery: Foodies vs. Old-Schoolers

LUCY BURDETTE: Up today, a woman after my own heart--food, food, food! Plus she's got a debut novel that I loved and I hope you will too. Welcome Leslie!

LESLIE KARST: I think about food a lot. In part, because I seem to be incessantly hungry—the result, no doubt, of having to greatly curb my caloric intake now that I’ve reached what the French so delicately call une certaine age. But also because I’m pretty much obsessed with food, even when not hungry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun discussing and planning a future meal before I’ve even finished the one still on the table. (Doesn’t everyone do this?)

Okay, so what’s for dinner tomorrow night?

Because, truly, let’s face it: Eating is the most important—and, I would argue, the most satisfying—human activity there is. So I contemplate, and write about, the subject quite a bit. This is why Sally Solari, the protagonist of my debut mystery, Dying for a Taste, is involved with two restaurants and, like her creator, has food on her mind pretty much all the time.

the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, location of Solari’s restaurant in the book

As with Sally, I too was also once an attorney who’d spend my days staring out the window fantasizing about food and cooking when I should have been busy churning out those billable hours.

Is it lunch time yet?

But unlike my sleuth, I never changed careers to work in a restaurant. There were two reasons for this. First, unlike the Solaris, my family didn’t own restaurants, so there was no pressure on me to return to the family fold. But I wouldn’t have wanted to make that switch in any case. I’d spent a couple years waiting tables in my youth, and also worked the hot-lines of several restaurants during my stint as a culinary arts student. And from that limited experience, I learned just how exhausting and stressful a career in the food business can be.

line-cooks at Boulevard, in San Francisco (they’re only smiling because it’s the end of the shift)

Yet I did long for a change from the law, and writing was something I knew I enjoyed. Sure, drafting legal memos, motions, and appeals all day long could be mind-numbingly dull and tedious. But writing fiction—especially a story about food—now, that would be fun.

I’d been a fan of mysteries since age sixteen, the day my mom handed me an Agatha Christie she’d just finished. (The book was Nemesis; I remember because I had to ask her the meaning of the word.) After that day, I started gobbling up others of the “Golden Age,” such as Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey, later moving on to more modern authors like Sue Grafton and Sarah Caudwell. So why not, I thought, combine my love of the culinary arts with crime fiction and write a food-themed mystery?

Sure, I can do that!

Around this same time, I was serving as treasurer for the Santa Cruz chapter of Slow Food, an organization dedicated to linking the pleasures of the table with sustainable and humane food practices. (And my oh my, do they host fun and delicious events!) Santa Cruz—once home to Italian fishermen, ranchers, and retirees—had been undergoing profound changes ever since a campus of the University of California had opened there in the late 1960s, and by the turn of the new century the town was teeming with hipsters and hippies and urban professionals. Along with these newcomers, the food movement had descended full-force upon the surprised old-timers.

not your old-school spaghetti joint

As I witnessed (and participated in) the advent of this “foodie” revolution and its effects on our sleepy beach town, it hit me that the juxtaposition of these two cultures would make for a terrific backdrop to a mystery story: What would happen if a local Santa Cruz gal suddenly found herself caught between the world of her family’s traditional, old-fashioned Italian restaurant, and that of the newly-arrived, politically-correct food activists?

This was the inspiration for Dying for a Taste.
Buon appetito!

linguine with clam sauce (recipe included in my book!)

Readers: I’d love to hear if the “food revolution” has descended upon your town and, if so, how folks have reacted. Have the old-timers embraced the movement? Do the foodies appreciate the traditional, old-school cuisines of the region? Are there conflicts between the two groups?

(Leave a comment with your email to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Dying for a Taste!)
BIO: Leslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books). A former research and appellate attorney, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife, Robin, and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her at Leslie Karst Author for more.

SYNOPSIS: After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California, but soon finds that managing the front of the house is far from her dream job of running her own kitchen.

Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally must delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ten Signs That You Might Be an English Professor @cynthiakuhn

 LUCY BURDETTE: Who doesn't love a brainy heroine who solves a mystery using her smarts rather than with weapons and body blows? Me too, that's why we thought you'd love meeting Cynthia Kuhn, and hearing about her debut academic mystery. Congratulations and welcome Cynthia!

CYNTHIA KUHN: Thank you, Jungle Reds, for letting me visit today! A new academic mystery, The Semester of Our Discontent, is out this month: after working in academia for two decades, I was compelled to create a fictional university where amateur sleuth Lila Maclean, a new literature professor, encounters a variety of challenges and mysteries. The following list is a tiny homage to those who persevere in the profession…

“Ten Signs That You Might Be An English Professor”

1.     You love when people quote literature, in any situation.
2.     You have skipped a social function or stayed up all night to finish commenting on student essays.
3.     Your writing hand is often in one of three positions: cramped, clawed, or gnarled.
4.     You have burst out laughing when someone claimed that college teaching is “where the money is.”
5.     You have been involved in passionate conversations about grading rubrics.
6.     You enjoy a good piece of literary criticism, including the footnotes.
7.     Your wardrobe contains more than the usual amount of tweed, features an astonishingly heavy bookbag, and/or is embellished with chalk dust.
8.     You can rarely get through an essay paragraph without using “i.e.,” “e.g.,” “therefore,” “furthermore,” or “moreover.”
9.     You are so overwhelmed by the brilliance of a given text that you find yourself with a lump in your throat during class discussion.
10.  You read for work, you read for pleasure, and if you ever have free time, you read some more.

Reds, what are some of your favorite characteristics (or memories) of your English professors?

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean academic mystery series. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD and other publications. She teaches English at Metropolitan State University of Denver, serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado, and blogs with Mysteristas. For more information, please visit or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

About the book: English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University until she finds one of her colleagues dead.  She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila—or someone she is protecting—may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.

More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol found at each of the crime scenes. Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society. Rather than earning an “A” for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment…and becoming the next victim.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Let's Talk Grandmothers

Lucille and Frank Burdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Back in the days when I was working as a psychologist in private practice, I attended a weekly case conference at the Yale health plan. Students took turns presenting cases of people they were working with. Invariably, if someone had come from the horrific background that should have scarred them, but they appeared to be functioning well, one of the old guard therapists would ask: "is there a grandmother in the picture?" Because even if the parents were completely whacked out, having a loving grandmother made a huge difference in a child's life and normal development.

My mother's mother was a very sweet woman, whom I remember as warm and loving. Sadly, she died of a heart attack when I was around seven. (I use her name now as my pen name.) My dad's mother was a tough little Germanic woman, who had been very strict with her two sons, and her husband! I don't remember her as a warm person like my maternal grandmother, but I enjoyed her especially as I got older. She was spunky and energetic and she lived to the ripe old age of 92. At 91, she asked me to buy her a pair of pink sweatpants that she cut off below the knees to wear to exercise class.

I am thinking of all this now because soon it will be my turn (unbelievably, as young as I am) to be a grandmother! Our first granddaughter is due in August and we can't wait to meet her.

HALLIE EPHRON: My mother’s mother spoke Yiddish and very little English, so though I always wanted to know what life had been like for her in Russia before she came here, I was never able to find out. My best memories of her revolve around food. She was not a great cook. The matzo balls in her soup sank. When I stayed at her house, she’d serve me a can Campbell’s condensed tomato soup on spaghetti, a pat of butter on top giving it the gourmet touch. On the other hand, she made cinnamon cookies that were to die for – thin crisp cookies that you brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before baking. Also sensational was her chopped liver -- I have the big wooden bowl and meat grinder she used.

Hallie's Granddaughter
I cooked with my three-year-old granddaughter for the first time when she was here last a few weeks ago. (She calls me Grommo -- a twist on what my daughters call me which is Mommo.) She wore my apron and stood on a step stool so she could reach the counter. She doesn't like to get her hands dirty which is going to be a problem. When she’s older I’ll tell her about the spaghetti with tomato soup.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I had three grandmothers: two paternal and one maternal. I was lucky that they lived to see me have children. My grandmother Spencer (Maw-maw or Spencie) was a sweet, warm, plump southern lady who showered my with unadulterated approval. I can recall as a child sitting on her lap, leaning against her commodious bosom, while she sang to me. Gramma Fleming was short, shaped like a fireplug, and ran her house (along with her husband and two large sons) like Mussolini ran the trains. She was the queen of cookies - I would walk to her house after school and there was always some sort of delicious treat waiting. 

My Grandma Greuling, my mother's mother, looms largest in my life. We lived with her for a year when we got out of the military, and then moved into a house in her tiny town (which is the basis for some of the fictional Millers Kill and Cossayuharie.) She was skinny and fierce, with a white perm like a tightly-kinked poodle and a tremendous pride of home and family. And opinionated? She would have killed on one of those Sunday morning political talk shows. In my novels, the character of Russ's mother, Margy Van Alstyne, is definitely rooted in Grandma Greuling and Gramma Fleming.

Also? I love hearing the names people use for grandmotherhood. My mom is Grammy (like Debs!) and here in Maine there are lots of Memes. My best friend is her granddaughter's Mimi (very chic!) and I have another friend who has a Nana. When we came back from Germany we called Grandma Greuling Oma for a while, but it didn't stick. Me, I'm thinking of going full Downton Abbey and going by Granny in that far-future day when my kids reproduce. Lucy, what's your grandmother name going to be?

LUCY: I had Grandma and Nana, but I like the sound of Grammy. Of course the kid may find something altogether different!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm Grammy, too. And I do love it--it really touches me when Eli and Josh call me Grammy--because it's...all they know, right? It's not like they think oh, her name is Hank but we call her Grammy. I AM Grammy. And that's very special.

Hank's Gramma Rose
My Gramma Rose, mom's mother, was a little weird. We never quite knew what to make of her. When she died, gosh, I bet I was 10, Mom and I cleaned out her house, and there were, well, multiples of things. It was all very organized, and no piles of newspapers or anything like that, and not crowded. But not like three of a thing. Ten. Twenty.  Or the same dress in several sizes, unworn. I am haunted by it. I took all her little white gloves, though.Gramma Minnie, now, a different story. She was terrific. Smart, and so chic, and she and Grampa Dave lived in a cool downtown apartment. She taught me to knit, and crochet, and type. She made fabulous food, truly fabulous, perfect matzo balls, incredible cakes, yummy little tiny pancakes. But she would NEVER give out a recipe! I have her silver trays and candlesticks, and her Wedgewood shepherdesses, and she specifically bequeathed me her watch.

I once asked Gramma Minnie (her name was Minda)  to type out her history, about the little town she came from in Russia, and what it was like to live there. I was so excited to find out the inside scoop. But when she gave it to me--gosh, I bet I was twenty--I could tell it was all made up. ALL made up. Everyone was lovely, the life was pleasant and peaceful, there was no fear or strife. Hmmm. Russia around, what 1915? I don't think so.  But when I gently pressed her, she insisted it was all correct.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I only knew my mother's mother. Her name was Lillian but she was Nanny to me and my brother and all my cousins. She lived with us from the time I was born and was not only my caretaker when I was a child, but my best friend until she died at 86--far too young, I think now. She taught me to read, and best of all, to be interested in life. One of my great regrets is that she never knew my daughter--she died two years before Kayti was born. I wish I knew more about her life before she came to us, but she didn't much like to talk about it. My grandfather had died while she was trying to raise four kids during the depression. She was a teacher, and had taught for a while in California before she came to live with us. It makes me sad that I don't even know where.

Nanny Lillian in her teaching days

My mom, now, was busy and a little impatient when I was a child. Not a bad mother, by any means, just very involved with my dad and their business and their life. But, oh my goodness, she was a terrific grandmother. She always had time for Kayti and my parents' house was a wonderful second home.

As for BEING a grandmother, it is the most fun ever. Lucy, you will love it!! Will you be close enough to see her often, at least part of the year? You can't imagine how much you will adore this baby.

I've gone back and forth over the name--Grammy or Nana. We decided on Grammy, but I'm still torn. I love Nana because it reminds me of my grandmother--and of all those English books I love. Last night I was holding Wren and talking granny nonsense to her, "Do you love your Nanagrammy, Grammynana?" And Kayti said, "I've got it. Nanagram."

So that's my new name. Nanagram. (We'll see what Wren thinks!)

Rhys's grandmother
RHYS BOWEN: I adored my maternal grandmother. She raised me during my early years as my mother always worked (as a teacher). My mom was always efficient, no-nonsense and did not show emotion. My Nanny hugged me, took me on her knee and sang to me. When my grandfather died she moved in with us, as did my great-aunt and they were a big presence in my life. Nanny lived to see my first three children and wrote me long letters in beautiful copperplate handwriting when she was 90.

I hardly knew my father's mother. We saw her from time to time but we never bonded. My children's grandparents were in England and they had the same problem. When they did see their grandparents they were spoiled and made a tremendous fuss of. I've been so lucky that I've been a big part of my grandchildren's lives. I held Sam when he was two minutes old. Ditto Lizzy. I've taken care of both sets and they are so comfortable running into my house without knocking, finding their toys, helping cook pancakes etc. Now they are teenagers they share laughs and dreams with me. I'm Nana and I love it.

Tell us about a grandmother in your life or the kind of grandmother you've become or hope to be...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Little Comfort Food.

RHYS BOWEN:  It's been rather a stressful couple of weeks for me. Closing up the condo in Arizona and moving back to California for the summer, doing a book tour for TIME OF FOG AND FIRE through Southern California, then the dreaded income tax, to Las Vegas to receive a career achievement award at the RT convention, and off next week to DC for Malice Domestic.

At times like this I find myself turning to comfort foods. And these are usually foods from my childhood. When I was pregnant I craved my mother's lamb stew with dumplings only in those days most supermarkets in America didn't carry lamb. When I go back to England I feast on all my old favorites: fish and chips, bangers and mash, definitely Cornish pasties and cream teas, but also smoked haddock or kippers for breakfast, as well as the full English with bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, sausage etc etc. The good thing about that is that one doesn't need to eat lunch. The bad thing is that it's about a billion calories!

The comfort food I've been indulging in for lunch recently is my trusty grilled cheese and tomato soup. I make the tomato soup with milk, not water, to give added protein. Sometimes I sprinkle grated cheese over the top. And the grilled cheese is really grilled under the broiler, not fried grilled cheese the way it is served here. When I was a college student doing finals my roommate and I lived on grilled cheese, cooked over the gas fire in our room. We became quite good at not dripping cheese over the hearth.

It's ironic that when I'm sent on a book tour I stay at luxury hotels and can order anything I want. This is fun for a couple of days but then my thoughts revert to comfort food. "Could you just poach me one egg with toast?" I ask the breakfast waiter. In Atlanta once the girl looked horrified when I asked for that. "Don't you even want no grits with it?" she asked.

My other big comfort food is soup. Good hearty chicken soup made with the whole chicken and lots of veggies and beans, or my favorite curried parsnip or carrot and ginger in the winter.  And I have to confess to another favorite food that will make most of you shudder. MARMITE ON TOAST. I'm afraid you have to be born with British genes to like Marmite. When I've served it to Americans they always look as if I'm trying to poison them. But spread thinly on hot buttered toast it is the best!  I think I'll go and have some now......

What are your comfort foods?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What Did you Say?

RHYS BOWEN:  The other day I told my granddaughter I'd be finished in two shakes of a lamb's tail.
"What did you say?" she asked, looking as if I'd suddenly switched to speaking Chinese.
"Two shakes of a lamb's tail. That means almost immediately," I replied. "Haven't you ever heard that expression?"
"Never," she said.
And then it hit me. We don't use expressions any longer. The world of the young has become devoid of colorful language, of metaphors, of proverbs.
Two shakes of a lamb's tail was something my grandmother used to say. She and my great aunts had a wealth of such colorful language.
N'ere cast a clout until May is out--which I thought meant you weren't allowed to hit anybody until the end of May but really referred to casting off winter clothing.
Too many cooks spoil the broth and all the similar proverbs, of course.
Once a wish, twice a kiss, three times something better when you sneezed.
Many a slip twixt cup and lip. Pride comes before a fall. All of the above directed at me when I was trying something daring, dangerous or new.

My father also had his share of colorful language.
His favorite to me was "don't count your chickens before they are hatched." or usually abbreviated to "Don't count chickens" when I was excited about planning some future scheme.
Another favorite was "donkey's years."  As in "That place has been going for donkey's years."
And then he threw in some Cockney expressions picked up from his childhood. (Although he wasn't a Cockney he grew up in London, hearing all this colorful language).  "Time to go up the apples and pears." meaning stairs.
Another way of telling a child to go to bed in England during my childhood was "Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire."

And an absolute favorite from rural Britain was that something would be completed "come dungspread."
Having just written this I think I must put Georgie on a farm in a future novel so I can use such expressions.

Do you think these colorful expressions have completely disappeared these days? Do you still use any of them? Which ones do you remember from your childhood? And is the English language permanently reduced to CU LOL and BFF?  I really hope not.

Friday, April 22, 2016


RHYS BOWEN: One of the benefits of being part of Jungle Red Writers, apart from the incredible
sense of community we've established, is learning about new authors. Kwei Quartey is someone I hadn't read before but when I heard that he grew up reading Enid Blyton, I felt an immediate connection. I absolutely lived the Famous Five and the Secret Seven when I was a child.  A perfect grounding for anyone who wanted to be a crime writer in later life. So I'm delighted to introduce him to you now: 
KWEI QUARTEY: When I was a boy of about ten living in Ghana, West Africa, I entered a writing contest with an essay I called "My Ambitions." The list included becoming a teacher, veterinarian, ventriloquist, artist, pop star, and a writer. The latter stayed with me the longest. My childhood home was full of books, and I continually found new ones to read. The genre that attracted me most was crime fiction. I consumed mysteries by British children's author, Enid Blyton, who isn't very well known in the States but is still published widely in the British Commonwealth. Sometimes I was up to two Blyton novels in a day. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was another series in which I immersed myself.

All those books around me at home stimulated me to write, and my black American mother and Ghanaian father—both lecturers at the University of Ghana—encouraged my efforts. I wrote several short stories and three novellas, which I covered with cardboard jackets I illustrated myself. One was called, "Cougar, Hero Of The Jungle." Another was about a group of five kids who went around solving mysteries. I wrote them in longhand (until I learned to type later on) and bound them with jacket covers I illustrated myself. Nowadays, we call that self-publishing.

By the time I was a teenager, I had chosen medicine as my intended profession. When I was nineteen, the death of my father, awful political and economic conditions in Ghana, and my brush with the military government (another story altogether) drove my mother to return to her native New York with my three brothers and me. By then, I was in premed and faced the task of getting into a US medical school. It wasn't easy. Eventually, I succeeded in gaining admission to Howard University College of Medicine, where I got my MD degree.

During medical school and residency training, I did no creative writing at all, but once my boards were out of the way, I rediscovered my love for writing fiction. It was to be a couple of decades before I created Inspector Darko Dawson, the hero of my present murder mystery series. Each novel, including the upcoming April 26 release, GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, is set in Ghana.
I live in the States, but my connections to my birthplace will remain strong, especially since I visit Ghana once or twice a year to conduct research. I pick an outstanding Ghanaian social issue (what country doesn't have them?) and then I work a murder and story into it.

Ghana was called the “Gold Coast” until its independence in 1957. In the fifteenth century, Europeans had known the West African coastal region as the source of the gold that reached North Africa via the trans-Saharan trade roots. Gold had been sold to Europe at least as early as the tenth century. When the Portuguese came to the shores of the Gold Coast in 1471, they called their landing area La Mina, or The Mine, a reference to the gold they discovered. That name became corrupted to the present-day Elmina, a town in the Central Region of Ghana.
The phenomenon of foreigners raiding Ghana's resources hasn't ceased since as far back as the 15th century. To this day, the British still have an ancient gold mask purloined from the Ashanti Region in 1874.

Around 2010, Chinese illegal miners in the tens of thousands began immigrating to that same Ashanti Region in search of gold. A couple of years later, I read an article detailing an exchange of gunfire between Ghanaian police officers and Chinese nationals. Two fatalities resulted, and the story was a diplomatic embarrassment for both Ghana and China. But to me, it spelled murder mystery, igniting my creative energies and setting up my next novel in the Inspector Darko Dawson series.
Before I set off to Ghana to conduct research, I had been aware that digging for gold involved substantial disturbance of farmlands and lush forests, but I had not realized the intensity of destruction the illegal gold miners had inflicted on the landscape. During my expeditions into the remote interior of the Ashanti Region, I was stunned by the vast swathes of land laid waste by excavators and earthmovers.

As I explored, what emerged was a milieu rich with conflict and corruption. Some of the locals battled with the Chinese, who had obliterated cocoa farms and palm groves, but village chiefs—whom the Chinese paid off—welcomed the foreigners. Young Ghanaians, attracted by the quick and easy way to make money from gold, were uninterested in the slow business of farming cocoa, and thus generational resentments arose. Throw in harsh, squalid conditions and jittery mine guards with pump action rifles, and I had a story to tell of the dirty, ugly side of gold.

Of all the human and social conditions I have researched for my detective series, I found this one the most affecting. The environment has always mattered to me wherever I've lived, but what dismayed me about what I found in the Ashanti Region was the enabling role Ghanaians played as the Chinese illegals bulldozed their way across the land. I tried to convey this complicated relationship in GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, and I experienced a torn feeling over a grim reality that was so perfect a setup for a fictional work.   

RHYS: Doesn't this sound absolutely fascinating? I love reading about places and situations I knew nothing about before, how about you?