Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Marian McMahon Stanley shares 5 lessons on publishing her first novel

HALLIE EPHRON:  Several years ago I read the opening of Marian McMahon Stanley's then unpublished novel, THE IMMACULATE. Ever since then, the nun who haunts those opening pages like Poe's raven has stuck with me. 

The book is just out, and I'm here cheering for Marian. It's a terrific heartfelt read with a fierce courageous nun whose death sets the story in motion. 

I asked her to tell us what she's learned from writing and launching her first mystery novel.

MARIAN MCMAHON STANLEY: Two years ago, I wasn’t sure where this journey of writing THE IMMACULATE would take me. I am happy to say that it’s taken me to three wonderful places - to getting published, to becoming part of a spirited writing community and to meeting a great group of readers. Here, I share five lessons I learned along the way. Probably not new to you, but were for me.

1. How hard could it be? I’ve read mysteries all my life. I’m a pretty good writer. I think I’ll write a mystery story. I mean, how hard could it be?

Oof. . . it’s hard. Pulling a tight plot together, developing a compelling storyline, creating believable characters, researching, polishing prose. The writing itself, classes, workshops, manuscript critiques, revisions, revisions, revisions. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that writing a readable mystery novel is hard work.

2. I’ll fit it in somehow. Well, hmmm. Not a great plan. Maybe
because I hadn’t published a book yet, I first tried to fit my writing into the corners, the small spaces of my life that weren’t taken up with other responsibilities. Then, I evolved into an early morning writing schedule, scribbling on a yellow legal pad in the pre-dawn darkness before anyone else was awake. In the green chair in the living room, a small white dog asleep on my lap.

Now, I still start writing in the green chair, but I move to the parlor where I can close French doors against household activity as the
morning progresses. I put up a WORKING sign with the Parlor Dragon on guard. The doors to my now office/parlor stay closed till I’m done. The dog still sits on my lap. Simple. Why didn’t I think of that before?

3. We live in the story. We’d better choose a story and a set of characters we can live with. I was not prepared for living in two worlds – this world and the one I was creating. I forgot my characters were not real and I worried about them. “They’re even tougher than you are, Aurelius,” I’d whisper. Or “Be wise, Rosaria. Listen.” or “For crying out loud, Leo, just let it go!” This can be disorienting, but it’s also kind of fun and enriching.

4. Even I get tired of hearing about me, but you have to do it. As a reader, I often feel inundated by author promotions. But if we don’t promote, then the book that we worked so hard on will get lost in the marsh. I’m still in the process of learning that delicate balance.

5. A bonus – the writing community! What a bessing. Sisters in Crime, the Guppies (Great Unpublished etc.), Grub Street Writing
Workshop – all communities of hardworking, talented and enthusiastic authors ready to embrace and support new, unpublished writers. Generous with advice and experience – and maybe even showing up at some small bookstore where you are doing a reading on a rainy night. An unexpected and sweet benefit.

A question for you, dear reader. Which of these lessons resonate with you as a writer and/or a reader?

HALLIE: They all do for me, especially finding the time and place to write. The green chair and the white dog asleep in your lap - I love the image - and the dragon guarding your gate.

THE IMMACULATE, set in Boston, opens with the brutal murder of Sister Mary Aurelius, a tough old nun at the Immaculate Conception School. A former student, Rosaria O’Reilly, is distraught and outraged by her mentor’s death and returns to the neighborhood to find that nothing about this crime is as straightforward as it appears.

Like her protagonist, Rosaria O’Reilly, author Marian McMahon Stanley enjoyed a long corporate career with a Fortune 500 company and, more recently, a senior position at a large urban university in Boston. She is the mother of four adult children and a small pack of adorable grandchildren. She writes in Concord, where she lives with her husband Bill and – just as in the story – a Westie named Archie.

Marian’s next Rosaria O’Reilly book, BURIED TROUBLES, is set in Boston and Ireland. A young Irish journalism student visiting Boston on his independent study project pays a deadly price for his initiative as the long shadows of old grievances and crimes in Ireland reach across the Atlantic.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Parading, picnicking, remembering

HALLIE EPHRON: Memorial Day. The day we honor those who died in the military and, on a lighter note, a day off from work that gives us a good excuse to parade and picnic.

In my town there's a parade. My daughter played the flute in her high school band, and every year she was mortified at having to get dressed in her red band jacket
and bow tie and march. It was either beastly hot or raining. There'd be a flag raising (including the POW/MIA from the Vietnam War flag), pauses in front of our World War I and Civil War memorials, and a parade to the cemetery where the little ceremony was always heartfelt and moving.
Our town cemetery (photo by Bill Ilott) is beautiful. It has a  pond and winding paths, and the oldest part dates back to the early 1700s. On Memorial Day the dogwoods and cherry blossoms and tulips are blooming and the pond is teeming with geese and their goslings, and turtles jockey for position, sunning themselves on the rocks.

What happens on Memorial Day in your neck of the woods?
LUCY BURDETTE: We have a beautiful old cemetery in our town
too, with stones as old as the 1700's. There's a small parade from downtown Madison to the cemetery and a lovely service.

This year John's and my wedding anniversary falls on Monday and we'll celebrating that, at least by eating something good:). Later on in June, we'll go to New York for the real celebration. We're already tussling about whether I can hit the same two places I like to go every time (the Strand Bookstore and Eataly), or whether I have to try something new:).

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I always cry at the parades. So
emotional. We have no idea.  Boston Common is filled with American flags, one for each person from Massachusetts who's died in a war. It is a SEA of flags.

We'll be home, and I think one must have grilled-out hamburgers. I'll also be working, gotta do my words.  On that lighter note, we can now wear white pants, and have gins and tonics.

Happy Anniversary, Roberta and John!  What number?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Yes, happy anniversary, Roberta and
John! Love your description of the "sea of flags", Hank. It made me think of the time I went to the American Cemetery outside Cambridge (UK, not Boston!) It is a sea of white crosses on a curving sweep of green lawn. So beautiful, so moving.

The big Memorial Day thing in our town is a charity fund-raiser bike race on Friday. It's called Bike the Bricks and goes through our historic town square. There are food vendors and music and lots of fun activities, but unfortunately it was canceled this year due to our horrible weather. 

Today, I'm hoping for weather nice enough to cook hotdogs, and I'm thinking a big watermelon and some of Lucy's potato salad would make it perfect. And other than that, I, like everyone else, apparently, will be working...

RHYS BOWEN: I'll be missing Memorial Day this year. I'm in Tuscany, leading a writers' workshop. Back home my church choir is always asked to sing at a special service at a local cemetery, but I always find it superficial, somehow. What does move me is to walk through military cemeteries and see those names and the ages, 18, 19... Not much older than my grandson.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Happy anniversary, Roberta and John!
I'll be working on my novel, THE PARIS SPY — but I'll be thinking especially of the men and women of the SOE, of the French Resistance. In particular, I'll be remembering Lieutenant Henri Karcher—his memorial was right outside my hotel in Paris and was the first thing I saw when I started my research. I took it as a good omen.

HALLIE: Let us know what Memorial Day is like in your neck of the woods, while we remember the soldiers who didn't come back and are grateful for the ones who did.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sally Bell's Potato Salad for Memorial Day Picnics

LUCY BURDETTE:  Memorial Day is a day to honor those who died serving our country in times of war. Here's one of our favorite posts, in which the Reds talk about how war touched each of us personally.

But it's also become the weekend to celebrate the beginning of summer--and we do that so often by eating! When John and I drive to Florida in the fall, and back north in the spring, we have developed one must-stop lunch place. Sally Bell’s Kitchen is in downtown Richmond and when you walk in, you feel like you’ve fallen back to
an earlier time, with grandmothers in aprons and hairnets making you a Southern lunch. You choose your preferred sandwich and cupcake (strawberry in this case, though the caramel icing is killer,) and then potato salad, a deviled egg, and a Parmesan wafer are added. And the packaging is adorable—each lunch comes in a little white cardboard box, tied up with string.

We love everything about the lunch, but especially the potato salad. This is what I'll serve at a Memorial Day picnic. It's a little sweet, and lower-sodium, and we like it a lot.

Servings: 6-8

    2 1/2 pounds medium red-skinned potatoes, washed, with bad spots cut out (about 7-8)
    1  teaspoon BENTON’S TABLE TASTY (or 1/2 tsp salt if you don’t need low sodium)
    1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used Woodstock organic)
    3 tablespoons Rick’s pickle relish with juice (or other sweet, high-quality)
    1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or Kozlik's Amazing Maple)
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
    5 large hard-boiled eggs, just the yolks folks
    2 tablespoons chopped red onion
    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

    Cut the potatoes into quarters, cover with water and simmer until tender when pierced with a knife, 20–30 minutes. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl and let cool slightly.

    Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, pickle relish, Dijon mustard, sugar, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. Table Tasty in a small bowl for dressing.  Add onion and parsley.

Using a large wooden spoon or potato masher, coarsely smash potatoes.
    Add egg yolks to potatoes and coarsely smash them together. Then gently mix in the dressing. Cover and chill.

 Dust the top of the bowl with paprika.


What will you remember over this Memorial Day weekend? And what will you be eating?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Julia on What We're (Thinking About) Writing Week

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hallie's post earlier this week about "ruby slippers," ie, the Maltese Falcon, ie, the Macguffin got me thinking about the different types of mysteries I'd someday like to try. I don't mean hardboiled versus cozy - I'm talking about the gimmick, the particular plot device that fuels the story.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time working on the structure of my books. I've produced a book written along two opposing timelines, one going past, one heading to the future. I wrote a book with framing scenes bracketing past and present episodes. The one I'm working on now, with three interlinked storylines in three different eras, is giving me the devil of a hard time.

But I don't tend to think in terms of the plot device, which is a shame, because just like writing haiku or sestinas instead of free verse poetry, adhering to a form can spur a writer on to greater heights. The mystery genre itself is a type of restricted style, with its requirements of crime and solution. But except for those two items, there really isn't anything that can't be shoehorned into A Mystery. Cozy, caper, romantic suspense, genre blending, hardboiled, noir...the list goes on and on.

I've used a couple of classic devices in my series so far. I've written The Detective Becomes The Suspect (All Mortal Flesh) and The Ticking Clock (Through the Evil Days). But like many crime fiction authors today, I start with characters, and where I want them to go, rather than the plot, which has led to (I humbly think) a rich, detailed tapestry of life in the imaginary town of Millers Kill, NY. Now, however, nine books in - okay, eight and a half - I'm beginning to feel the urge to challenge myself with a stricter form. Readers already know the characters in my books pretty well, right? So why not see if they work as well in a canon or fugue, instead of a symphony?

I'd love to do a Locked Room Mystery, which I think could translate very well in the modern age. With wifi, apps, and executable software around, as well as slightly futuristic - but already here - nanobots and genetically tailored medicine, there must be more ways to kill someone in an inaccessible room than ever.

I've also long loved the Country House Mystery exemplified by And Then There Were None and The Mousetrap. Updating the concept of a group of strangers trapped together without any means of communicating with the outside world would be a challenge in our always-connected present. Could I fit the form into Millers Kill? I don't know, but I'd love to try.

Dear Readers, what are some of the classic mystery devices you'd like to see updated into the modern world?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reds on Writing: Debs on the Tortoise and the Hare

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Seventeen (almost, more on that in a minute) novels, and I'm still looking for the Magic Bullet. I know, of course, that there is no such thing, and when I speak to writers' groups I always emphasize that. But... Here's where it gets sticky.

I am admittedly slow. But this book has been a bear. On the first of July, it will be two years since I turned in the manuscript for TO DWELL IN DARKNESS. TWO. Now, that's bad. Even for me. Although there has been a book that took longer. (I'm looking at it, stacked on my desk, and the one that came after, which was half the length and took half the time.)

Dear hubby says that I lack project management skills. And that I procrastinate. Both are probably true. I SAY that multiple view point, multiple story line, and sometimes multiple time line novels are HARD. And I am a plotter and a planner, a writer who has to work out who all these characters are and how everything fits together in the intimate history of the setting... At least those are my excuses, and I'm the first to admit they probably are excuses.

BUT, I say. Surely there is a way to do it better, and faster, and that I'll get the next book finished in LESS than a year. My agent, after twenty-three years (Yikes!) just laughs.

And I'm now in what I think of as the Chute. The book--GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS-- is in the publisher's schedule. (February, 2017!) It has a cover. It's up on my website, and doesn't it look gorgeous?  

A big chunk of the manuscript has gone to the illustrator, wonderful Laura Maestro, so that she can start on the accompanying map.  And I have to finish the last...(mumble, mumble) pages in the next two weeks. (This is my new downstairs library table/desk that was pristine two weeks ago. It's now a mess of multiple outlines and notes and books--and cat. Imagine what it will look like two weeks from now...)

I think this makes me the Hare.

The good news is that I know how it all fits together now. (Chapter/scene outline done all the way the way to the end!) I have to get to a certain point before I can do this, but once I do, it rocks.

REDS and writer friends, I want to know. Do you write a regular, set amount, from beginning to end? Or do you find that books reach a tipping point where it all comes together and you blast through to the last page? 

And what about other big, long term projects, everyone? Are you tortoises or hares?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reds on Writing: Trunk Novels @LucyBurdette

When the subject of trunk novels (finished or unfinished manuscripts that have been stashed away before publication) comes up, I have plenty to say. The first book I ever wrote, FINAL ROUND, lives in a trunk. As it was told, Cassie Burdette, a lady golfer whose personal baggage limited her professional success, had the bad luck to get involved with the murder of a superstar golfer. 

Recognize anyone?

On the basis of that manuscript, I landed an agent and she sold a 3-book golf lovers mystery series to Berkley Prime Crime. But FINAL ROUND was rejected because Cassie was serving as a caddie, carrying the bag for a man on the PGA tour. They wanted her to be shown as a golfer, not a caddie, in the first book of the series. 

    "But she has issues," I explained, "that prevent her from playing at that level."

    The publisher didn't care. 

    So FINAL ROUND went in the trunk.

    During the time I was waiting and hoping to hear news of a sale, I wrote a second installment in the series in which Cassie falls for a gorgeous professional golfer in the Dominican Republic. Tropical setting, voodoo, a dangerous romance: What was not to like? But my new editor determined that foreign settings weren't selling. Into the trunk it went.

photo by Daniel Johnson

After eight mysteries published, I attempted a non-mystery "breakout" book, featuring a jilted real estate agent and the detective from my advice column mysteries. My agent felt it wasn't representative of my strongest work. Thunk, went the manuscript, into the trunk.

photo by Greg Wagoner

Next I started a book about a psychologist who was tricked into co-leading a happiness group and finally found happiness herself. I got involved in writing something else and didn't finish it. Thud: on the pile, in the trunk. 

    And then came the book I fondly call "the homeless baby thriller." But three-quarters of the way through, I got distracted by writing a proposal for the Key West food critic mystery series. And that led to a gallop through seven published novels. So the thriller went to gather dust with the other trunk inhabitants. (Help, help, it's getting very crowded in here!)

Poco, the original zany Aussie

Oh, and don't let me forget the children's book about a zany Australian shepherd who gets in trouble with all the neighbors. Trunkward bound after a clumsy first draft.


So though I recently celebrated the publication of my fifteenth book in fourteen years (KILLER TAKEOUT), I've actually written parts or all of 21 books. But there's very good news in this: I've learned more about writing well with each book. And all but the first two are still interesting ideas that I'd love to go back to one day, if life ever slows down. (In truth, I’m working on three things that I feel a little superstitious about, so I’ll wait to tell.)

    Someone told me once that he'd pitched a golf mystery to an editor who told him that writing about golf would kill his career. But I’ve survived. And honestly, I don't have a moment of regret. And here I give you the opening of my first ever novel-fresh from the trunk:

FINAL ROUND by Roberta Isleib, circa 2000

    The first streaks of sun lit up the golf course like a carpet of emeralds.  I rolled my neck in slow circles, easing out kinks left over from a long drive and a series of lumpy mattresses.  A palpable hum of excitement and hopefulness hung over the practice range, which teemed with golfers grooming their swings for today's tournament.

    Despite the pastoral backdrop, I knew the tension that permeated these early minutes would surge over the next few days.  For professional golfers, competition was more than just a game.  Take the first tee, where a crowd of fans narrowed the hole to a chute with living, breathing walls.  And suppose the only image that flashed through your mind was shanking the ball off the toe onto some spectator's bald head.  Or worse yet, making no contact at all.  Or maybe the guy you needed to take apart that day was your best buddy off the course.  Even so, you had to grind away without a thought about how he felt.  No question about it, competition could be murder.   

    I'd worked hard to get here.  Except I never imagined I'd make my appearance carrying someone's bag, not using the clubs myself.  And there were things I missed about playing.  Like the feeling of striking a shot so pure, so perfect, you knew it was your best.  Or say you were playing an opponent who had the game to kill you, but you'd clawed a path to two holes up anyway.  Or maybe you were coming down the home stretch all square and your hands felt like concrete blocks, but you needed to chip close to give yourself a chance for bird.  And you knocked it stiff.

    Yeah, I missed it.  Gods knows, I grew up in a family that could make eating mashed potatoes into a contest.  Even our dog was competitive:  you had to fight him for a place in the front seat of the car.  But right now, my job as Mike's caddie was to stay in the background.  Kind of a Hillary Clinton to her Bill, only without the humiliating Monica Lewinsky part.

Well, now that I look it, there was a lot of golf in them there pages! I think I improved as I went along:). 

Cassie's first published adventure on the LPGA tour, Six Strokes Under, is still available as an ebook.

Jungle Reds, anything in your trunks? Doesn't have to be writing--could be any project you started and didn't quite finish...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What We Wrote... Long Ago

RHYS BOWEN: As you read this I will be doing something quite different and amazing. I will be attending the opening of a play at the Unicorn Theater in London. And the play is based on a children's book I wrote many years ago called SEPTIMUS BEAN AND HIS AMAZING MACHINE.
How cool is that? I've never seen my work performed before on stage. I've seen a few things on TV but by the time they came to the screen they weren't really mine.

So I thought I'd share a snippet of Septimus Bean as I wrote it.  It begins:

Back in the days of King Albert the Third
There arrived at the palace, as maybe you've heard
A strange looking man who was both long and lean.
He went by the name of Septimus Bean--
and he came with a strange and amazing machine.

It was terribly long and incredibly high
And it seemed (from the ground) to reach up to the sky.
It had wheels, it had bells, it was painted bright blue.
But the king asked "Septimus, what does it do?"

Septimus doesn't know, so the royal family has various suggestions, none of which work, all of which are disasters. Then the king suggests the thing has wheels. It must be a new fangled carriage. Septimus tries it out. it gathers speed, goes up the drawbridge and takes off.
He has invented a flying machine... only
They go to greet him and find the machine, crashed into hundreds of pieces. AND

The king stood and looked at the torn-up machine
And sighed "What an ending to Septimus Bean."
Then there came a faint voice (it was too dark to see)
"I'm not ended, King Al. I'm up here in this tree."

Next morning they went sadly back to the green,
Where in twenty two parts lay the broken machine.
Septimus Bean looked it over, and sighed.
"It's hopeless," he said. And the princesses cried.
"You'll soon build another, I'm sure," said the Queen.
"You'll fly through the air once more, Septimus Bean."
But Septium shook his head sadly and said,
"The world must wait. I'm going to bed.
I'll never more try to invent a machine.
You can all just forget about Septium Bean."

But as Septimus turned and walked sadly away
from behind came the laughter of children at play
And there were the princesses out on the green
climbing all over the bits of machine.

"Look mother, look father," the princesses cried.
"We can swing, we can climb, we can seasaw and slide."

So Septimus has invented a playground and is a hero.

And the theater has told me that they want to end with a real playground on stage that the audience can climb over. Isn't that fun?  I'll report on my Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/rhysbowenauthor)

Did any of you read this book when you were young?

Artwork credit Art Cummings.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reds on Writing - Hallie finds the ruby slippers

HALLIE EPHRON: In this Reds on Writing Week, my thoughts turn to ruby slippers. You know, the ones that Dorothy clicked three times and they whisked her home.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needs the ruby slippers to get home. The witch is desperate to get her hands on them, too, for their magic powers. But she has to kill Dorothy to get them. 

In the original L. Frank Baum novel, they're not ruby slippers. They're silver shoes (not as photogenic, I'm sure the folks at MGM said). This W. W. Denslow illustration from the book's first edition (1900)  shows the moment when the witch has already stolen one of the silver shoes, so Dorothy fights back, chucking a bucket of water over her.
Here's how the novel ends:

      Dorothy now took Toto up solemnly in her arms, and having said one last good-bye she clapped the heels of her shoes together three times, saying:
   "Take me home to Aunt Em!"
   Instantly she was whirling through the air, so swiftly that all she could see or feel was the wind whistling past her ears.
   The Silver Shoes took but three steps, and then she stopped so suddenly that she rolled over upon the grass several times before she knew where she was.
   At length, however, she sat up and looked about her.
   "Good gracious!" she cried.
   For she was sitting on the broad Kansas prairie, and just before her was the new farmhouse Uncle Henry built after the cyclone had carried away the old one. Uncle Henry was milking the cows in the barnyard, and Toto had jumped out of her arms and was running toward the barn, barking furiously.
   Dorothy stood up and found she was in her stocking-feet. For the Silver Shoes had fallen off in her flight through the air, and were lost forever in the desert.

Chapter 24 - Home Again

  Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running toward her.

  "My darling child!" she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. "Where in the world did you come from?"

  "From the Land of Oz," said Dorothy gravely. "And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I'm so glad to be at home again!"
So what do ruby slippers have to do with writing a crime novel? 
For me, they're a plot device, like Hitchcock's MacGuffin, a tangible object of desire that competing characters will do  anything to obtain or protect or hide or destroy.

Single object; competing goals. Like the statuette in The Maltese Falcon. Or the Degas painting in The Art Forger.  Or Tara in Gone with the Wind. Or the postage stamp in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Or Katniss Everdeen's pin and the freedom that it represents in Mockingjay.
Not every novel has ruby slippers, but each time I develop a plot, I try to find my story's "ruby slippers" -- a single object that either embodies (like Dorothy's ruby slippers) or represents (like Katniss's pin) what the protagonist and villain are competing for.

In my novel Never Tell a Lie the ruby slippers is an unborn baby, and also an inherited necklace that goes missing at the start of the book. In the novel I just turned in, You'll Never Know, Dear, it's a porcelain portrait doll and the little girl who disappeared with it.

Thinking about the plot devices in books you've read or written, are there any examples of "Ruby Slippers?"

Monday, May 23, 2016

AIR TIME and TWO fabulous giveaways!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's "What We're Writing" week--as you could see from Susan's wonderful post about Paris yesterday. And we'll be talking about, well, what we're writing, and what we're thinking, and what's happening in writing world.  First, four things.

One: Hurray! WHAT YOU SEE is nominated for the Anthony for Best Novel! I am so thrilled!

Two:  Tell us--if you're writing--what YOU're writing! Published, not published, we'd love to hear.

Three: at the bottom of this post is a wonderful giveaway from my dear and talented pal Andrew Gross. This is--amazing.  Readers, you MUST enter--all you have to do is click.

And four--my dear AIR TIME is coming out on June 14. The level with which I love AIR TIME beyond description  Here's the beginning of the book. (Is this completely fiction? What do you think?)  

Do you have to read the TIME books in order? Nope. As Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing! This is first-class entertainment!}

 (And make sure you scroll down to the big giveaway!)

And--have you had any travel trouble recently? Are you traveling this summer?  A copy of AIR TIME to one lucky commenter!


 Chapter 1

It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying. Franklin, strapped into the seat beside me, his seat back and tray table in the full upright position, headphones on and deep into Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t notice her tears. But I do.

She’s wearing a nametag that says Tracy, a navy blue pencil skirt, a bow-tied striped scarf, flat-heeled pumps and dripping mascara. We’re sitting on the Baltimore airport tarmac, still attached to the jetway, a full fifteen minutes past our scheduled takeoff for Boston and home. And Tracy’s crying.

I nudge Franklin with my elbow and tilt my head toward her. “Franko, check it out.”

Only Franklin’s eyes move as, with a sigh, he glances up from under his new wire-rimmed glasses. Then, without a word, he slowly closes his CJR and finally looks at me. I can see he’s as unnerved as I am. His eyes question, and I have the only answer a television reporter can give. 

“Get your cell,” I whisper. “Turn it on.”

“But, Charlotte—” he begins.

He’s undoubtedly going to tell me some Federal Aviation Administration rule about not using cell phones in flight. Like any successful television producer, Franklin always knows all the rules. Like any successful television reporter, I’m more often about breaking them. If it could mean a good story.

“We’re not in flight,” I whisper. “We haven’t budged on this runway. But one of us—you—is going to get video of what ever it is that’s going on here. The other—me—is going to call the assignment desk back at Channel 3 and see if they know what the heck is happening at this airport.”

I look out my window. Nothing. I look back up at Tracy, who’s now huddling with her colleagues in the galley a few rows in front of us. Their coiffed heads are bent close together and one has a comforting arm around another’s shoulders. The faces I can see look concerned. One looks up and catches me staring. She swipes a tapestry curtain across the aisle, blocking my view.

Part of me is, absurdly, relieved that our takeoff is delayed. I hate takeoffs. I hate landings. I hate flying. And if something terrible has happened, all I can say is, I’m not surprised.

But I have to find out if there’s a story here. Maybe Tracy just has some sort of a personal problem and I’m making breaking news out of a broken heart. I yank my bag from under the seat in front of me and slide out my own cell phone. Bending double so my phone is buried in my lap, I pretend to sneeze to cover the tim-tee-tum sound of it powering up, then sneeze again to make it more convincing. As I’m contemplating sneeze three, I hear my call to the assignment desk connect.

“It’s me. Charlie,” I whisper. I pause, closing my eyes in annoyance at the response. “Charlie McNally. The reporter? Is this an intern?” I pause again, picturing a newbie twenty-something in over her head. Me, twenty-two years ago. Twenty-three, maybe. I start again, calm. Taking the snark out of my voice. “It’s Charlotte McNally, the investigative reporter? Give me Roger, please.” I glance at the curtain to the galley. Still closed. “Right now.”

Franklin’s up and in the aisle, holding his cell phone as if it’s off as he pretends to take a casual stroll toward the galley curtains. I know he’s got video rolling. I know his phone has a ten-minute photo capacity, and he’s done this so many times he can click it off and on without looking. Talk about a hidden camera. Our fellow passengers will only see an attractive thirty-something black guy in a preppy pink oxford shirt checking out the flight attendants. I see Franklin Brooks Parrish, my faithful producer, getting the shots we need. Whatever is happening—all caught on camera. Exclusive.

“Roger Zelinsky.” The night assignment editor’s Boston accent makes it Rah- jah. “What’s up, C?”

“We’re in Baltimore, on the way home from the National Journalism Convention,” I say, still doubled over into my lap and whispering. Luckily Franklin and I had an empty seat between us. A hidden camera is one thing— a hidden forbidden conversation on a cell phone is another. “We’re at the airport. In a plane. On the tarmac.”

“So?” Roger replies.

“Exactly,” I say. “That’s what I’m trying to fi nd out.” I give him the short-version scoop on the tears, the delay, the closed curtain. 

Franklin’s now made it to the galley, his phone camera nonchalantly pointed at the spot where the curtain would open. But it hasn’t opened. Maybe Tracy broke up with the pilot. Maybe they don’t have enough packages of peanuts. Maybe someone decided to smoke in the bathroom.

Then, even through the fuzzy phone connection, I hear all hell break loose at Channel 3. Strapped in and surrounded by passengers and pillows and carry-on bags, on Flight 632 there’s only the muted sounds of passengers muttering, speculating. But about five hundred miles away, in a Boston television newsroom, bells are ringing and alarms are going off . I know it’s the breaking news signal. The Associated Press is banging out a hot story. I bet it’s centered right here. And any second, I’m gonna know the scoop in Baltimore.

 “Runway collision. Two planes. A 737 and some commuter jet. Cessna. I’m reading from the wires, hang on.” Roger’s voice is now urgent.

 I can picture him, eyes narrowed, racing through the information coming through on his computer. Bulletins appear one or two sentences at a time and with every new addition more alert bells ping. “No casualty count yet. One plane taxiing toward takeoff, one on the ground.”

“The little plane,” I begin. “How many— was it— which—”

“Don’t know,” Roger replies. Terse. The bell pings again and our connection breaks up a bit. “Fire engines,” he says.

I’ve got to get off this plane. I’ve got to get into the terminal. This story is big, it’s breaking, and I’m ready to handle it.

“Call you asap,” I whisper, interrupting. “I’m getting out of here.”

HANK: So--tell us what you're writing. Tell us about your travel troubles--and I'll pick a winner.

And don't forget--here's Andrew Gross's giveaway! (Click on Andrew's name) Can you believe how great it is?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Susan's April in Paris

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Bonjour, Reds and lovely readers! Er, hello... Still walking on air after the Paris trip, to research Maggie Hope #7, THE PARIS SPY. 

But meanwhile, no rest for the wicked. The ARC (Advance Readers Copy) of THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is out! Huzzah! (And if you're a book blogger and would like to request a NetGalley copy, please contact publicist Alex Coumbis at acoumbis@penguirandomhouse.com.)

Meanwhile, it's my job to go over the ARC, to make the last corrections. As you see, I have Lola, trusty editrix extraordinnaire, at my side during the process....

But back to Paris!  I went solo, for ten days, with a primitive grasp of French and a long list of sites I wanted to visit for my research. I'm happy to report that I made it through the whole trip speaking only French — with just a bit of Spanish thrown in. (Studied Spanish for eight years, so comes out sometimes when I try other Romance languages.)

For this trip, I wasn't doing "tourist Paris" — it really was all about researching the Nazi occupation during the spring of 1942, a few months before the infamous July 16 Vel' d'Hiv roundup of the Jews.

To that end, one of my first stops was the Musée de la Armée — the Army Museum. Where most people beeline to the tomb of Napoleon, I spent my day in the World War I and World War II sections, as well as the Charles DeGaulle exhibit.

I took photos of the parts I found most interesting:


But it was this graffito, part of a preserved wall — V for Victory plus the symbol of the Résistance — that really was a game changer for me. With every book, I've found a place or a thing that's the catalyst to making it all come alive for me. This was it. Whoever wrote this symbol risked certain death if caught. And still, she or he did it, as part of the fight, no matter how small. 

I found it powerful.

Of course, not everything was quite so serious. Here's a gorgeous Elsa Schiaparelli dress from 1942, which I saw at the Louvre Mode and Textile Museum. (It was probably made for and worn by the wife of a high-ranking collaborator or the mistress of a Nazi officer.)

It was part of an exhibit of French fashion throughout history:

And here are some chic chien:

And hey, isn't that Aimee Leduc's detective agency's sign, from Cara Black's fantastic series? (If only Maggie and Aimee could meet....)

On the darker end of the spectrum, I did visit Avenue Fochs, home of Gestapo Headquarters in Paris:

The fifth floor, what used to be the servants quarters, is where the Gestapo kept Résistance workers and captured British agents, while "interrogation" took place in the cellar. 

However, I found this early-blooming iris, the "fleur de lis" and symbol of France, growing opposite.

SUSAN: I hope you enjoyed the photos! Is Paris the setting of any of your favorite books? I recently reread Dickens' A TALE OF TWO CITIES and remembered why I loved it so much in high school. And, of course, I'm a huge fan of Cara Black's Aimee Leduc novels. 

What are your favorite novels set in Paris or France? Please tell us in the comments!