Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A World of Pure Imagination - Saying Goodbye to Gene Wilder

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Some people just seem to make the world brighter for everyone. Gene Wilder, who died Monday at the age of 83, was one of those gifted folks. He brought a unique combination of intelligence, vulnerability, and insanity to his comedic performances, creating characters that were utterly human - no matter how unbelievable the situation.

His collaborations with Mel Brooks yielded some of the greatest movie comedies ever; The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein. In the late seventies and early eighties, he teamed up with Richard Pryor in a series of close-to-perfect buddy movies - if you haven't seen Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, now is the time.

He made some clunkers (The Haunted Honeymoon) and some odd choices (starring in an attempt to make Eugene Ionescu's Rhinoceros a wacky comedy) but even in mediocre films he had the ability to draw out better performances from the rest of the cast. He was a romantic lead in many of his later movies, which seems odd for a curly-haired fifty-something until you see him on screen and realize why he managed to capture the hearts of so many women.

Or...sheep, as you can see in this clip from Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.

So, Reds, what are your favorite Gene Wilder performances?

HALLIE EPHRON: So hard to choose. I so loved him in Young Frankenstein. With Richard Pryor in Silver Streak. But if I have to choose one: Blazing Saddles. He was the Waco Kid, the perfect straight man/foil for Cleavon Little. Droll. Brilliant. He tries to explain racism. One of my favorite bits was him explaining how he stopped being a gunslinger: "Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word "draw" in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, "Reach for it, mister!" I spun around... and there I was, face to face with a six-year old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle... and I've been there ever since." When I read the lines I hear his voice.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: "Churchill! Vit his cigars and his brandy and his rotten paintings, rotten!" From The Producers, of course. Also, and of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In our house we call that version the "real" one. It really is superior to the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake. What a remarkable man and artist. Not sure if I believe in an afterlife, but the idea of him and Gilda together again makes me happy to contemplate.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Just thinking about it makes me laugh. There are so many others I want to watch again, and some I haven't seen, like The Frisco Kid with Harrison Ford. Two of my favorite actors. How did I miss that? What a lovely, funny, completely charming man.

JULIA: Debs, THE FRISCO KID is so charming. Young Harrison Ford doing a kind of Han-Solo-in-the-Old-West and Gene Wilder as the sweet Polish rabbi trying to make it to San Francisco.

RHYS BOWEN: Oh Young Frankenstein, definitely. Think how many catch-phrases have come from that movie. Frau Bluecher. Ignore. Putting on the Ritz. I'm chuckling as I write. And Willy Wonka--he was the essence of illusion and mystery in that movie. And he always came across as such a sweet, gentle man.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am endlessly astonished by The Producers. I have seen it ten  million times-and every time, I am blown away by Gene Wilder's quirky, fey, off-center performance. Remember when he goes crazy when he and Zero Mostel realize the play is a crazy success, and they have to pay back the investors like, ten thousand percent? He's hysterical. "I'm hysterical!" he yells.  Then Zero Mostel throws a glass of water on him, and he says "I'm wet, and I'm hysterical!"  It is too perfect.

And yes, Susan, I completely agree, his Willie Wonka is the REAL movie. I so love it when he says,  dead pan, "Oh, don't, stop." it's hard to explain, which is what makes it so wonderful.   You have to see it.

And did you see what he said about the portrayal of Willie Wonka? He told the director that he wanted his first appearance to indicate that he had to walk out, very feebly, with a cane, all wobbly and old. . Then--after that,  he'd do a huge somersault, and come up with a fabulous flourish.
If I do that, he said. for the rest of the movie, no one will ever know if I'm telling the truth.
Is that brilliant, or what?

JULIA: How about you, dear Readers? Share your Gene Wilder love with us in the comments.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Fleet's in Town

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's been a while since my last week at the helm of JRW, so I know you're all wondering, "What's going on with Julia's kids?" Friends, I'll tell you. The Smithie (with strong encouragement from her loving mom and dad) is making plans to join her girlfriend down in Austin, TX, with an eye towards the far better job opportunities available in a city that has almost as many people as the entire state of Maine. If anyone knows of a career-level opening in a library, contact me! Otherwise, we'll keep an eye on her to see if 1) she buys herself cute cowgirl boots once she's in Texas and 2) if she succumbs to Austin's vibe and becomes a vegan, dulcimer-strumming hipster.

Youngest has 1) successfully completed drivers' ed and now has a permit 2) transferred to a new high school that we think will be the perfect fit for her and 3) converted to Islam.

Yeah, it was a surprise to Ross and me, too.

Our exciting family trip, however, was going to Chicago to see the Sailor graduate from Basic Training! He was an honors graduate - in the top three percent of his class - so we got to see him before most of the other parents could see their sons and daughters. He was standing as an honor guard at the division markings and he hardly cracked a smile as his Dad and Youngest and I waved frantically. Alas, no picture, since there were stern-faced NCOs watching the guards. I guess we know know qui custodiet exo custodes.

Graduation was not dissimilar to a lot of high school ceremonies, if your kid happened to march into a room the size of three airplane hangars. It was all very crisp and exciting, and the Sailor's division gave performances as a drill team (aka rifle twirling), a color guard marching in complex patterns that would have impressed Busby Berkley, a chorus, and of course, a band, featuring My Son the Drummer. You'll all be pleased to know I restrained myself from reenacting the final scene in The Music Man where the proud mother yells, "Play for me, son!"

Here's what I observed from the graduation of the most recent group of young Americans tasked with defending our shores:

1. A large group of people marching in step and standing in straight lines looks incredibly impressive.

2. A large group of people in white sailor suits and "Dixie cup" covers looks, even when standing stock still, as if they're about to bust out a tap dance number at any moment.

3. Up close, they are all so young. God bless them.

We cheered and clapped and finally got a chance to meet our boy face to face with lots of hugging and some happy tears. We were fortunate: his A School (technical training) and C School (advanced technical training) are in Great Lakes, so we got to spend time with him the whole weekend. (Some sailors were shipping out that same night for their A Schools, so their family reunions were brief.)

We stayed in Lake Forest, only eleven miles away from the naval station, at a wonderful hotel called the Deer Path Inn, which I can unreservedly recommend to all of you. I picked it for the location and because it looked super comfortable and had three restaurants; I figured the Sailor might want to spend some of his liberty catching up on sleep and that none of us would want to spend time sussing out places to eat.

As it turned out, he had to remain in uniform at all times and return to base each night by 2200 (ten o'clock), but it was still a very good choice - we were able to relax in the room and linger over our meals, talking and laughing and catching up. At the end of our first dinner together, we were surprised with a dessert buffet we hadn't ordered. "From the lady who had been seated over there," our waiter explained. "She said to tell you congratulations and thank you for your service." Unknown patron of the Deer Path Inn Garden Room, if you read this blog, thank you very much. My son was touched and humbled. He also really loved the chocolate mousse.

He has his computer and phone back now he's out of basic, so we get to hear from him more often. Ross and I are considering going back out for Thanksgiving, partly to see the Sailor and partly because the food at the Inn was really good. No, we find we long to see him, now he's a thousand miles away. Proving the old song is true: "How can I miss you if you won't go away?"

I'm glad he seems so happy and that this choice was clearly the right one for him. And I'm so grateful he's setting me up for a lifetime of sailor jokes. I'm working on one now: A lesbian, a sailor and a Muslim all walk into a bar together...

Monday, August 29, 2016


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: When I first heard the word Zika earlier this summer, I thought it was another attempt at a terrible malt beverage. Of course, as we've all learned since then, it's something WORSE than Zima (which means it's really bad.)

As often happens, the disease had a long history behind it before coming to the attention of the American press. Discovered in 1947 in the Ziika forest preserve in Uganda, the virus waited five years to jump from monkeys and mosquitoes to humans. It wasn't until 1964 that the virus was proven to cause illness in humans - by David Simpson, a Zika researcher in Uganda who fell sick himself. Simpson and others drew the conclusion that the virus was similar to dengue fever and chikungunya - both spread by mosquitoes - but was far milder.

For some forty years, the virus remained a blank on the world health stage. Aedes africanus mosquitoes carrying the virus spread throughout Africa and into Asia and the Indian subcontinent, but reports of humans being infected were vanishingly rare. Then, in 2007, the first widespread outbreak showed up in the Micronesian island of Yap, a culturally fascinating state well worth a visit, which may be why and Aedes africanus mosquito hitched a plane ride there. There were only 49 confirmed cases of "Zika fever" (which sounds like a song by the Bee Gees), but that was three and a half times as many cases as had been reported in the previous 43 years. Zika was on its way to the cover of TIME magazine.

The next outbreak was in 2013-2014, as the virus spread from Asia into the Oceania states of French Polynesia, Cooks Island, Easter Island and New Caldonia. 8,723 cases were reported, and alarmed researchers began to seriously study the disease, which led to the first identification of the virus with microcephaly, autoimmune problems, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

21st century humans travel widely, and the virus traveled with us, from the Pacific to the Americas. Epidemiologists think the Zika virus was spreading throughout Brazil for a full year while doctors struggled to identify over 7,000 cases of a mystery illness that caused fever, aching joints, and a rash. Once discovered to be Zika fever, Brazilian and WHO scientists began wide-spread blood testing, revealing the alarming fact that only some 20% of Zika-infected patients have any symptoms at all. Since 2013, the virus has spread throughout South America, with Brazil as its centerpoint.

What's scary, as an American, is the realization that we still probably wouldn't have heard much about Zika fever is it weren't for the publicity surrounding the Rio Olympics. Even having the warning from South America, it's been startling how quickly Zika has appeared on the United State's radar - and how the news about it keeps going from bad to worse. In the past month alone, researchers have discovered the first case of Zika transmitted sexually by a man with no symptoms. The FDA has recommended testing for all blood donated in the US. Brazilian doctors have shown the virus can live on in many more areas of the infant brain that suspected, and may continue to eventually affect children born without any symptoms. The first case of an adult suffering from a Zika-induced neurological condition has been confirmed, and scientists experimenting with mice have found ominous suggestions that Zika may target stem cells in adult brains vital to learning and memory. And the CDC has issued its first ever travel alert within the United States, warning pregnant women to avoid certain areas in Miami-Dade county.

Reds, what is your take on this rapidly developing outbreak? Are you scared? And what if anything do you do about it?

LUCY BURDETTE: This is a devastating disease--heartbreaking for so many families. We read about it in the New York Times the day before our pregnant daughter told us she and her husband were going to South America for a last pre-baby hurrah. Luckily, they changed their plans after recovering from the disappointment. I'm afraid we'll be facing lots more cases of this in Florida this year too...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Zika is terrifying. We're in big mosquito territory. I can't imagine the heartbreak of the mothers with Zika babies, and I suspect it will be years before we know the effects on adults.

We have discovered something helpful for mosquitoes on a small scale (your own yard/garden) basis. It's called Terminix All Clear Mosquito Bait and Kill. It's a garlic oil and sugar spray that you put on non-porous surface and the underside of foliage. The sugar attracts the female mosquitoes and the garlic oil kills them.  It's not harmful to insects or pets, and it's cheap. The directions say it works for a month--we've found it closer to two weeks, but still... The downside is that it's NOT fun to spray. Oh, and you can order it on Amazon, and some Lowe's stores carry it.

HALLIE EPHRON: Zika sounds devastating. Insidious, really. Those poor families and the little ones that are affected. Heartbreaking. I think we'll be getting a lot more illnesses like it, courtesy of global warming.

We've had a blessedly mosquito-free season here. Courtesy of the drought in Massachusetts. No standing water for them to breed in. Not much of a silver lining when you look at the dried up brooks and streams. Also courtesy of global warming.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's so disturbing that real life science is such fodder for science fiction. I mean--if aliens wanted to decimate our population, what better way? And yes, I was talking to a doctor about this, and he was intrigued about how long it's been around, but how, semi-suddenly it's so virulent.  I was shocked at how many young women athletes went to the Olympics--and what a tough decision that might have been. Our reporter who was assigned, even, is in her late 20's. I wonder what I would have done at that age with that assignment.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Are you concerned? Unworried? Are you taking anti-mosquito measures in your own backyard?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

End of Summer Pasta Salad

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My wine club (Winc, which used to be called Club W) selections come with a card that describes the wine on one side and has a paired recipe on the other. I look forward to the recipes almost as much as the wine, and have made quite a few delicious things.

The wine is usually good, too, and sometimes amazing. In this case, however, (a vegan chenin blanc) most of it ended up down the sink. Not the best choice! But the recipe was terrific, so good, in fact, that I think it's going to be one of my staples.

I had to tweak considerably, of course, so here's my version:

Vegan Pesto Pasta (a la Debs)

2 cups favorite pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)
1 container Cherub tomatoes (to which I am ADDICTED)
1 box Portobello mushrooms, sliced
olive oil
1 package arugula
8 Tbs pesto 
3 tsps garlic, minced
2 lemons
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Bring water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Wash veggies. Halve tomatoes lengthwise, and thinly slice mushrooms. Zest and slice lemons. Heat drizzle of olive oil on medium low heat. Cook tomatoes and mushrooms, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. 

Drain pasta, and add it to pan used for veggies. Add arugula, pesto, garlic, and a splash of lemon juice. Toss on medium low heat until pasta is covered. 

Serve with mushrooms and tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with lemon zest.

This was so good that I ate it for lunch several days in a row. I think the lemon zest is the kicker. So if you have an overload of cherry tomatoes, bon appetit!

REDS and readers, do you have any special "end of summer" recipes?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Ultimate Armchair Adventure

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, enough about Paris. (Well, really, there's no such thing as enough about Paris...) But I want to talk about the places you would NEVER actually go, the thing you would NEVER do,  the adventure that weirdly and inexplicable fascinates you.

Mine is Everest.

I'm not even a hiker, much less a climber. And I'm not that crazy about mountains, as far as scenery goes. (Give me rolling English countryside, or Scottish moors, or beaches and tropical islands.) I can remember reading about Edmund Hillary's expedition when I was child and trying to imagine what it would have been like to climb the world's highest mountain. But the bug really bit me when I read Jon Krakauer's 1999 account of the 1996 ill-fated Everest expedition, INTO THIN AIR.  It is still my favorite non-fiction book. (In 1999, Krakauer received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which honors writers of exceptional accomplishment.) Readers, if you haven't read this book, put it on your list!


I've since read other books about Everest (Will North's THE GHOSTS OF EVEREST, about Hillary's expedition, is waiting on my bedside table) and seen most of the movies about Everest climbs. I was disappointed with EVEREST (2015) the dramatized account of the 1996 expedition. I think they were trying to be more realistic, but there are a lot of climbers in climbing suits (I couldn't keep up with who was wearing which color) and goggles and face masks, which made them indistinguishable, and the only dialog (mumble mumble) I could understand was at base camp. It's hard to identify with the characters when you can't tell who they are! However, the scenery is spectacular, but I'd read Krakauer's book first.

How about you, REDS?  What's your ultimate armchair adventure?

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Oh my goodness! Miss Edna was obsessed, OBSESSED, with Everest. I watched so many documentaries and read so many books about it with her, it's not even funny. And, Debs, we both loved INTO THIN AIR, too.

I was disappointed with the movie, Everest, as well -- I wish they had picked one character and stuck with him or her — it felt a bit all over the place and I also had issues understanding the dialogue.

So basically for armchair travel, for me it's also mountains, plus anywhere in the jungle—too hot, too humid, too many bugs. And, really, anywhere without indoor plumbing I'd just as well rather read about than experience. Which includes much historical fiction. People are always saying, "Oh, it would be so romantic to live in fill-in-the-blank era," and I always think about the lack of sanitary facilities and modern medicine...

HALLIE EPHRON: I am so sad that it looks as if I won't get to Egypt or Turkey, not with so much unrest in the world. I'll have to travel by book. Like Susan, mountains and jungles will have to be via armchair. A magical place we were at a magical time was Prague just a few months before the Velvet Revolution. It was so beautiful and so alien at the same time. Restaurants where nothing on the menu was actually served; stores where all the merchandise was in locked cabinets; where buying anything (things like bananas from a street vendor, waffles from a window that mysteriously opened onto a sidewalk...) involved waiting in a long line.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I want to live in Oxford, and hang around with Morse. And Lord Wimsey. That would be an adventure, right?  But I'd have loved to be on a glamorous first-class high-society cruise across the Atlantic, or the New York night club scene in the 20s or 30s. But--you know. Briefly.
Usually when I read about "adventures," I think, whew. SO glad I can read about this and not have to do it.

DEBS: Oh, Hallie, yes, Egypt. Me, too. My grandmother and I read everything about Egypt. She was fascinated by it, like Miss Edna with Everest. Then I discovered Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody and I don't even want to admit how many times I've read all those books. My mom loved them, too. I always thought I'd go to Egypt, but now, not so much. So I guess that falls into the "under different circumstances" category, rather than in the "never in a million years" group. Kenya, too, was always a dream, but maybe someday...
READERS, what fascinates you that you would never in a million years actually do?

PS The winner of Mark Pryor's The Paris Librarian is Ann in Rochester! Ann, you do know the drill:-) And congrats!

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Special Place in Paris--Oooh, la la!

HANK  PHILLIPPI  RYAN:  Gosh, how many manuscripts from other authors have I read? For blurbs, or for contests, or whatever.  And some of them are great, and some are meh. And some are pretty awful.

But from time to lucky time, there’s a manuscript that’s enthralling. Captivating. Fabulous. A manuscript that makes me pick up the phone or open my email to tell the author—I absolutely LOVE this.

That is exactly what happened when I read Lark Brennan’s earlier version of what was then called Deyrolle. (Isn’t that what it was called, Lark?) And I might be mis-remembering this, but I don’t think the contest even revealed who the author was, so I told the contest admin to let her/him know I was instantly their biggest fan.

That was a while ago, and many things have changed. But not how much I adore this book! Its different, it’s quirky, you would not predict it to be my cup of—anything.

But look at these photos! Look at this story!  Oooh, la la! I know we’re having kind of a Paris theme this week, and talking about traveling solo--unplanned, but that’s the Jungle Red magic.

A Special Place in Paris
              By Lark Brennan

Thank you so much for inviting me to Jungle Red, Hank! I’m honored to be with such talented authors!

The first time I visited Paris I wasn’t yet 30 and was traveling on my own. My college French had already become a bit rusty but something about the city and its people made me feel that I belonged there. Since then I’ve visited the City of Lights so many times I’ve lost count. 

Still, I love Paris in all its moods and seasons, especially a neighborhood that’s begun to feel like home. This is where the most obscure famous place (or is that famous obscure place) in ParisDeyrolle—inspired me to write IRRESISTIBLY YOURS.

Deyrolle isn’t much from the street, just a quaint garden shop. But when you climb the stairs to the second floor you discover an elegant townhouse filled with the most amazing collection of taxidermy animals—everything from elephants and lions to horses, llamas, chickens and mice--that looked like they froze mid-party. I was so charmed, I imagined the owner of the collection could bring them to life when no one was there. Et voilà! That man became Adrien Durand, a powerful telepath who had inherited the establishment and unusual responsibilities, not to mention a vast international business empire which is in deep trouble.

In spite of the animals, IRRESISTIBLY YOURS is anything but Night at the Museum meets Doctor Dolittle. Rather it’s the story of deceit, betrayal, international intrigue and a man with dangerous enemies determined to destroy him--including a mysterious woman from Adrien’s past. And if external forces aren’t enough, Adrien is also dealing with tricky Durand family dynamics and an unwanted connection to Tate, a beautiful American with psychic abilities of her own.

While I was working on the book, my husband and I had the chance to rent an apartment a few doors down from Deyrolle. I found myself weaving the fabric of the neighborhood into the story and using some of my favorite places for key scenes. For example, Tate’s future is sealed—unbeknownst to her and Adrien—as they stroll past the cafés on Boulevard Saint Germain to the Bel Ami Hotel where she’s staying. After luring kidnappers into Adrien’s trap, the Durand cousins meet up Chez Papa Jazz Club with its graffiti walls and live music. To make up for behaving rudely earlier, Adrien would, naturally, take Tate to dinner at Le Jules Verne on the second floor of Eiffel Tower to apologize and the course of their relationship changes there (the private elevator to the top is fictional as far as I know).

 And where else in the Louvre would Tate fall into a trance but the exotic Egyptian wing with all its ancient artifacts?

I also ventured outside the city for inspiration. A few years before I started IRRESISTIBLY YOURS, I’d visited the Parc Zoologique et Château de Thoiry about 20 miles west of Paris and loved seeing all the animals roaming free. So when Adrien and Tate use animal telepathy to rescue a pair of white lions from explosions during a concert, they take them to Valtois, the Durand family’s estate and animal sanctuary for wild and exotic animals.

I never intended the book to be a Paris travelogue, and it only touches on a very small part of the city. But it does share my love of the streets and places in a neighborhood of the old section of the Left Bank. I can only hope that readers will feel a little of the magic of my special corner of Paris.

HANK: Wait—Susan, are you going to Paris soon? Or someone? How can you resist a visit here?

Did you all even know this existed? What do you think of it—fabulous? Or bizarre? Or both?

And the amazing Lark is giving away a copy of her book to one lucky commenter!


Adrien Durand, one of the most powerful telepaths in the world, was born for a life of action and intrigue. But his father’s sudden death forces him to return to Paris to take over his family’s business empire and control the source of the Durand family’s psychic abilities. When American empath Tate Fulbright walks into his world, he suspects she's a spy for the Durands’ enemies. Even more disturbing, however, is the mysterious energy that flows between them, forming a psychic link he’s powerless to break.
Adrien’s life begins to unravel when an unknown enemy tries to abduct Tate, and threatens his family and his freedom. Just as it seems Adrien and Tate might have a chance for a future together, the danger gets up close and personal—and deadly.


Lark Brennan's love of reading, writing and travel has led her to a string of colorful jobs and a well-worn passport – as well as a few years spent sailing and diving in the Virgin Islands. Her travels have inspired the Durand Chronicles, a romantic suspense series with a psychic twist, which take place in some of her favorite places--the British Virgin Islands, Paris, New Orleans and Scotland. Dangerously Yours and Irresistibly Yours, are the first two books of the Durand series. Recklessly Yours will release in early 2017. When not traveling, she lives in Texas with her brilliant husband and her two adorable canine children.

You can find her at:
Twitter: @larkh

IRRESISTIBLY YOURS is available at:

Barnes & Noble:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Traveling Solo

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Traveling alone for pleasure has come up several times recently in conversations with friends. A few friends have ventured on solo trips with trepidation; some enjoyed them, some did not. More friends have said that not only could they not imagine planning a trip alone, they couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do that.

And, then, there are a few weirdos like me (at least I hope there are) who actually enjoy it. It's not that I don't like traveling with family and friends--I do! But traveling alone is very different experience. My first solo trip was my second trip to England, the year after I graduated from college. I had been for the first time the previous September with my parents. I knew, after one week in England, that I absolutely had to go back. So I moved back home and worked in the family business for the next nine months, saving money and planning. In June of that year, I took off for England, alone. I'd bought a bus pass rather than a rail pass, because I didn't want to see Britain only from the backside, so to speak. I spent the next cold, rainy six weeks crisscrossing the country, staying in cheap (and often horrible) B&Bs. But there were some gems, too, and I saw wonderful places. And I looked and listened and made notes, taking it all in.

That, for me, is the big appeal of traveling alone. You have the opportunity to observe and process in a way that isn't possible if you're socializing. There is also, of course, the fact that you do only the things YOU want to do.

What about you, fellow REDS? Do you like to travel alone? And if so, what have you done that's most memorable?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I used to enjoy traveling alone when I was a young woman, but I think so many years of solo business travel has made me appreciate having a companion (or companions) along.

When I was in college, I spent a summer at an archeological dig in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. I had a week or so before my semester started in London, so I went to Rome and Nice on my own. I did the topless sunbathing thing and felt very daring! Then, when we had the end-of-term holiday, none of my friends wanted to go to Germany and Austria, so I went by myself, to revisit some scenes of my childhood and see my dream city, Vienna. 

The things I loved then about going it alone? I talked with and met more people - there were several times I wound up having dinner with someone I had just met that day. Speaking of dinner, it was great not having to adjust to anyone else's stomach. (I swear, half the time we spend traveling as a family is consumed with finding food for one of the kids or Ross.) And, as an art/archaological/history museum fiend, it was bliss not having to cut a visit short because my companion was tired or bored. (My perfect art museum companion is my mother, who would stay until the doors close.)

And of course, you all know how much I value my solo visits to my agent's house in Nantucket in February. Is it a state peculiar to writers, or does everyone crave more time alone as they get older?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Okay, just between us? I adore traveling alone. I mean--I thrive on it. I get to make all the decisions. I can eat whatever I want. I can get to the airport really early, ridiculously early, because it's much more relaxing for me, without having to explain that to anyone. I can have hamburgers and salad and wine and diet coke and tea in my hotel room every night, and hot have someone wonder whether I am in a rut. I AM in a rut, and I like it there. I can work on my book for hours without feeling guilty.  I can sneak down to breakfast in a jersey nightgown and a levi jacket and scarf, snag my food and two cups of coffee and take it back to my room and watch the news. Oh. It is completely great.

Now let me say.  My mom used to say a "vacation" was not fully realized unless there was something to have a vacation from . So I am infinitely grateful to be able to travel with Jonathan at the times I do. ANd I love our vacations together--he is a perfect travel companion.   I'm just saying: when it's book tour and I am on my own? I really like it.
Julia, that is a good question.

RHYS BOWEN: I've always traveled alone, ever since my parents put me as a young teenager on a train in London and I made my way to Vienna unescorted. A year later I went to France by myself, finding the way to get around Paris from one station to another. I suppose I had been up to London on my own from the age of about ten, so nothing phased me much.

And I still love finding myself alone in a strange city. Sometimes when I come to New York on business I take a day to just wander around, discovering little treasures: a garden between tall buildings, new Subway murals, old Jewish delis. And I find myself thinking "Nobody knows I'm here but me" and it's a heady thought. Like Debs and Hank I love the freedom to stop to eat when when I feel hungry, suddenly decide to fan a museum and go shopping or just sit in the park and people watch. 

And I love getting room service when I'm on book tour and come back late to my hotel, then curling up in pjs and eating a sinful helping of fries. However..... I only like being alone for a finite amount of time. After three or four days alone in a city I find myself chatting to grocery clerks and the person next to me on the bus. And I do enjoy traveling with husband and family too. Just not all the time!

HALLIE EPHRON: I can't imagine traveling alone for pleasure. It's like an oxymoron. Because the fun of travel for fun is doing it with someone. YOu've got to be compatible because within five seconds you'll know if you're not. My druthers: food (YES, all kinds), walking (YES), museums (YES), shopping (NO NO NO!!!), wildlife (BIG YES). 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Love, love, love traveling solo. Of course, I love traveling with my family, too. And, come to think of it, when I travel alone—for research trips—I'm really traveling "with" my characters. Having someone else along would impede all the ideas, the scribbled note-taking, the feeling of overhearing snippets of their conversations....

That said, I went to Scotland to research Maggie Hope #4, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT, and I'm going to be returning to Edinburgh, with Noel and Kiddo, next summer for a proper holiday with all of us. I loved it so much I have to share.

But first I'll be traveling solo for work to ... Shetland! Yes, the very northern tip of the UK! The 8th Maggie Hope novel will be set in Shetland and revolve around the so-called Shetland bus—the secret boat service that ran between the UK and Norway, ferrying British SOE secret agents in and out of Nazi-occupied territory. So, solo research trip for me and THEN a meet up with the family. Sounds like a good compromise!

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm with Hallie--would rather travel with good company than alone. Definitely book research days are more productive alone, but for fun--I like someone to share the road with. Unlike Hallie, I don't at all mind a little shopping...

DEBS: Everybody's hitting my fantasies! Room service (adore it when I'm book tour.) Vienna. New York. Birding. And Shetland!! Susan, that sound fabulous. Ever since I read Ann Cleeves I've wanted to go to Shetland. Plus, the research time alone, and then the family time, is the perfect mix.

And that's a good question, Hank. I've always liked that time alone, but I think these days, because I'm so frazzled all the time, I appreciate it more.

READERS, solo, companions, or both? And what about the time alone?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mark Pryor--The Paris Librarian

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You have to love Jungle Red. We get to go to Paris two days in a row! Yesterday it was Paris in WWI, today it's Paris in the present. Ever wonder about the story behind the story? Here's a great one from another of my favorite writers, the terrific MARK PRYOR

First, a little background on his newest Hugo Marston book, THE PARIS LIBRARIAN:

Hugo Marston’s friend Paul Rogers dies unexpectedly in a locked room at the American Library in Paris. The police conclude that Rogers died of natural causes, but Hugo is certain mischief is afoot.

As he pokes around the library, Hugo discovers that rumors are swirling around some recently donated letters from American actress Isabelle Severin. The reason: they may indicate that the actress had aided the Resistance in frequent trips to France toward the end of World War II. Even more dramatic is the legend that the Severin collection also contains a dagger, one she used to kill an SS officer in 1944.

Hugo delves deeper into the stacks at the American library and finally realizes that the history of this case isn’t what anyone suspected. But to prove he’s right, Hugo must return to the scene of a decades-old crime.

Here's Mark to tell us how it all came about.
There are two stories that lie between the pages of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN. One makes me cry, the other makes me laugh.
Shall we start with the tears? Good, so let me present a nice photo of a gentleman called Michael Harmuth. He’s with his daughter Sarah, who happens to be a book seller in Wisconsin, and her daughter, Scout.

Well, early last year Sarah wrote to me and said that her dad, Michael, was a fan of the Hugo series. But she said Michael had cancer and was unlikely to live until the next book in the series was released (THE RELUCTANT MATADOR) in June.
Was there any way I could get an advanced copy to him? she wondered.
Now, my own father was taken by the pestilence that is cancer so, obviously, my answer was heck yes. I asked my publisher to send me an ARC, and I wrote a wee note in it, signed it, and sent it to Michael.
That started a wee conversation between the two of us, and he kept me informed as to his progress with the book. He said he was reading it slowly, so as not to get to the end too fast. As you might imagine, that email had me reaching for the tissues.
Turns out Michael enjoyed the book, which I’d been hoping for desperately. And I didn’t want the last page to be the end of Michael’s association with Hugo so I wrote to him and asked, “How would you like to be a character in the next book?”
He loved the idea and, even though I’ve put the names of other people I know in books, he’s the only one I’ve let choose his role. Good guy, bad, guy, red herring, eye-witness… whatever he so desired.
And now, of course, I must remain tight-lipped for fear of giving anything away. Suffice to say, even though Michael is no longer with us, he lives on in Hugo’s world, and in Paris no less!
Now for the laugh, which comes in the form of a “truth is stranger than fiction” guffaw. As you might be able to tell from the title, Hugo’s latest adventure takes place in and around the American Library in Paris.

Now, back in 2015, once I formulate the idea for the story, I email the good people there and ask rather boldly: “Hello, do you mind if I kill someone in your library?”
Not even hours later I receive a resounding “Yes!!” and an invitation to tour the place. Now, I’m not one to turn down a visit to Paris, so my wife and I hop on a plane to spend a week in our favorite city. And this is where the story gets somewhat amusing.
When we show up to the library, librarians Audrey and Abigail are there to show us around. They start with the front, the circulation area, then lead us through the stacks. At the back of the building, they both stop and when I look past them I see a set of stairs leading down, roped off.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Err, the basement. We store books down there.”
“Can I see?”
Nervous glances between them, and a hesitant response. “Well, I guess that’d be OK.”
“Oh, is there a problem?”
“Umm, no real problem. It’s just... a little creepy down there.”
Which, as you know, is precisely what a mystery author wants to hear.
So we head down and it is creepy, slightly dim and musty. I tell them about the book in progress, and explain that I’ll have a character who dies early in a locked room. Audrey says, “Oh, that’s funny, we have a small room down here. We call it the atelier, you can see it.”
Sure enough, there’s the tiny little room for my poor, unsuspecting victim to die in. 

We poke around downstairs a little more and I disappear down a short hallway near the foot of the stairs. To my right is a small boiler room, but to my left is a door. In the wall. It blends in and you could walk right by it.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Oh.” That hesitation again. “It’s our secret door.”
Are you kidding me?? I thought that, didn’t say it. Not like that, anyway. Instead I ask mildly, “Oh, do tell.”
Turns out it’s their door into the American University, which takes up the majority of that block. A door they’re not allowed to use because, well, it’s kind of their secret.
“Do you happen to have a key?” I ask.
They side-eye each other. “We do but we’re not allowed to....”
My raised eyebrow stops them, and one of the women heads upstairs for the key.
Now, you know what I’m thinking. It’s a possible escape avenue for my killer, right? But that requires lots of people to have access to the key, and what are the odds of that given that it’s to a secret door? But I ask anyway.
“Only the library staff and volunteers can access the key,” they assure me.
“And how many...?”
“Maybe ten staff and, in the course of a year,” Abigail thinks for a second, “maybe a hundred volunteers.”
I grin like a chimpanzee. “Perfect.”
Later, as I wrapped the book up, it struck me that these coincidences might appear too good to be true, too contrived. So I actually put an author’s note in the front of the book pointing out that the library does have a secret door!
And this made me wonder if my fellow writers ever came across situations like this, when their research came up with something almost too perfect... or if readers ever stumbled over something in a novel, not believing it at first but then finding out it was true?
Oh, and you’re probably wondering if I went through the secret door that afternoon. I will tell you that had I done so and admitted it in writing, my librarian friends might have got in trouble.
So here I am, admitting nothing in writing...

DEBS: That is heartbreaking but wonderful. I'm so glad Michael Harmuth got to be in your book, and I love the locked room mystery. And the American Library is now on my must-see list next time I go to Paris.   

REDS and readers, Mark will check in to chat, and is giving a copy of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN to one of our commenters. (Last time Mark was a guest, his kids got to choose the winner.)

Mark grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children. He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA's office.

PS: The winner of Charles Todd's THE SHATTERED TREE is Bev Fontaine! Bev, email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com and we'll get the book out to you!