Saturday, September 30, 2017

Small Joys Big Happiness by Jenn McKinlay

One of the things my mother taught me, just like her mother taught her, was to find joy in small things. I remember spending a lot of time outside with my mom when I was kid. She would frequently tell me to be still (honestly, did she even know me?) and listen to the birds sing. It was a struggle. I am now and was then usually a blur of constant motion. But I did it. I listened. I heard the chirps and trills fill the air, and I marveled that so many birds could be chattering at the same time. I still pause to listen to the birds in my yard, because it amuses me to wonder what they’re talking about (probably, the great lummox, standing in her yard eavesdropping on them).

Looking back, I realize it was so much more than just an appreciation of birdsong she was sharing. She was teaching me to be observant of my surroundings, to be present and in the moment, and to find joy in something so small that most people, sadly, miss it.
Arizona Sunset. Pink Clouds!
When my hooligans were little, I would usher them outside every time there was a beautiful sunset. “Pink clouds!” I’d yell. Even now, so many years later, if they see a sunset, they holler, “Pink clouds, Mom!” and we all run out and watch as they deepen to purple and fade into night.

People, I think, spend an awful lot of time chasing happiness like it’s some illusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, instead of appreciating the small joys that pop up in their every day life. Madison Avenue convinces us that happiness is attached to a price tag or a label, but I don’t believe that’s true. I have never bought anything that filled my heart like the grin of one of my hooligans or the music Hub makes when he strums his guitar. And so, with the world being rather negative lately, I’ve been trying to focus on the small joys that make it all worthwhile like birdsongs and sunsets.

So, Reds, what are the small joys that brighten your days?

LUCY BURDETTE: Well, I can think of a lot of big things having to do with family and friends. But small things? Most of them have to do with food. Like our amazing tomato crop, which is just past peak. John said tonight: "Wouldn't we kill for a tomato like this in February?" (Yes, we would.) And the Connecticut peaches from our local grower, Bishops, are so sweet and delicious. I'm eating two of them a day!

Jenn's peach tree, which also brings me joy
and a butt load of peaches every June! LOL.
And I'm also grateful that my Meniere's is under good enough control that I can have a cup of coffee (big!) every morning, and a glass of rose if I feel like it at night without worrying that I'll get instantly dizzy. And I'm grateful to have Jenn's new book to read, which I am taking to bed with me tonight...

JENN: Thank you, Lucy, you're very kind!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I always try to  take a moment every day to look at the stars. Just to remind myself of everything. It really makes a difference.  Little things? My slippers, seriously. Nice soap. That first sip of coffee in the morning. The first sip of wine. When I have a good idea. (One little good idea and I am happy for hours.) When I am home writing and the weather is nice, I take a walk every day, and first, circuit our garden to see what's coming and going. Sometimes I see a bunny! And that is fabulous. (Even though the bunny's favorite thing is our hosta.) And of course, you know, the ducks.

Hank's flowers!
Hanks' bunnies!
HALLIE EPHRON: Top of the list, my grandchildren. I've got two pips. Nature-wise, the birds that hang out in our yard. We have so many bushes to provide cover where our neighbors have mostly grass. And the other day a painted lady butterfly through and paused on a flower. Lovely.

Hallie's butterfly!
RHYS BOWEN: I love the view from my balcony. On warm nights I sit out there watching the stars, the light of a plane crossing the sky and listening to crickets and frogs. I swim every day and relish in the blue sky. And when I'm in Arizona in winter I'm with Jenn--the sunsets are incredible. My cell-phone is full of zillions of sunset pictures! And little things? My afternoon cup of tea. Walking with friends. Dinner with family. So many things to be grateful for!

Rhys's view!
INGRID THOFT: One of the little things that makes me way too happy?  The sight of “People” magazine in my mailbox on Friday.  I love starting the weekend off with a shot of pop culture and human-interest stories, and I especially like reading it in the bathtub.  Warm chocolate chip cookies are always pleasing and seeing the gorgeous displays of fresh flowers, seafood, produce, and handmade wares at Pike Place Market never fails to give me a boost.  I love to watch the amazing variations of color and light that occur on Puget Sound on an hourly basis.  Also, the vessels that make their way range from tiny Boston Whalers to mega container ships with just about every size in between.  It’s like looking at a Richard Scarry book in which all of the different moods of maritime transportation are delineated.  Remember Richard Scarry books?  Those books still make me happy!

JENN: I loved Richard Scarry books! SO fun!

Ingrid's Pike Place Market! 
What about you, Readers? What are your simple joys?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Plot Group by Jenn McKinlay

Plot group, critique group, writing club, house of pain, whatever you want to call the shared writing experience, I have never done it. My entire writing career has been me, alone, staring into the abyss (aka, my computer monitor) snatching the words out of the deep dark and twisting them into some sort of storytelling order. I have always been a solo unit and have never even let anyone glimpse my work(s) in progress. Never. Not once. Until this weekend.

This weekend, I am headed off to the Valley Ho Hotel (it’s actually in my neighborhood) with two mystery writer friends where we are going to hole up and plot murder and mayhem of the fictional kind together, taking a short break for my book signing at the Poisoned Pen on Saturday afternoon and then it’s back to the cave.

Am I nervous? A little bit. I’ve never done a collaborative process before. I did some research and found this fabulous post on Jungle Red (naturally) that Hallie posted a few years ago and the tips in it are excellent: So, thank you for that, Hallie!

Why haven’t I done the writing group thing before? Mostly, because up until now, my life was hemmed in by my chauffeuring hooligan duties. Now that H1 is driving (gulp!), I have more freedom for meetings, clubs, groups, etcetera, so I am taking full advantage. Also, it was so very personal in the beginning. I mean, what if fellow writers thought it was awful or that I was a hack? I couldn’t handle that!

I am curious to see how it goes. The three of us are all traditionally published authors with multiple series in our backlists. We’re each looking for a fresh angle for our fictional chicanery and hope that our hive mind can generate some new twists and turns in our plotting, thus it’s called “plot group” as opposed to “writing group”. I hear there will be snacks involved so either way it's a win-win for me. I will be sure to report back in the coming weeks to let you know how it went. 

Chime in, Reds, do you work completely alone, with a critique group, beta readers, spousal input, or what have you? If you do, how do you like it? If not, why not?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Secrets: The Lethal Whispers by Daniella Bernett

I would like to thank Jenn McKinlay for inviting me to Jungle Reds. They say that the third time is the charm. Indeed, it is a pleasure for me to share this space, even for a little while, with such distinguished writers.

JENN: Welcome, Daniella, we're happy to have you here!

I’m delighted to let everyone know that FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, the third book in my mystery series featuring journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief Gregory Longdon, was released on September 23 by Black Opal Books. It is set in Torquay, a seaside resort along the English Riviera in Devon. A lovely place for a holiday…a perfect place for murder.

Emmeline needs some time away from her home in London to sort out her jumbled feelings for handsome Gregory, her former lover. He once broke her heart—she thought forever. But time is a funny thing. Now that he has resurfaced after vanishing in the dark of night two years earlier, oh my how the blood is thrumming through her veins again. Should she give him a second chance? Can she trust him? No sooner does she let her guard down, than Gregory turns up in Torquay and all his secrets start tumbling out—one more devastating than the next. This includes a woman from his past, who he believed was dead and sorely wishes she had stayed that way.

What I’d like to explore today is secrets. Did I hear a sharp intake of breath? A hushed silence always seems to descend when that word escapes the lips. One tends to lean forward just a smidgen as the ears perk up to hear the juicy nugget. Why is that word so titillating? Is it the sense of foreboding about the truth coming out—as it inevitably does—and the menacing consequences that will surely follow?

At the heart of a mystery or thriller, a secret is often a writer’s weapon of choice. It can be wielded for revenge, to mete out justice for old sins, to add an element of danger, or simply to keep the tale hurtling forward. Secrets usually have a partner in crime: blackmail. Here it can become ugly for this wicked duo relishes its power and thinks nothing of squeezing until its victim has nowhere to turn. When baser instincts take control, the only option left is murder.

Crime begets crime. The secret is still floating upon the ether, perhaps more vulnerable than before because it has already seen the light of day. But now, an even greater deception begins as gossamer strands are spun into an intricate web of lies to cover up the fact that a life has been snuffed out. As the lies build, so too does desperation. For one careless misstep can lead to exposure.

In a safe and ordered world, crime, particularly murder, cannot be permitted. Justice must prevail, otherwise we are plunged into chaos.

For Emmeline, uncovering the truth and seeing that justice is served are part of the core fabric of her being. But the truth can also be a bitter betrayal. Icy tendrils of doubt curl around the heart leaving it shaken. Doubts about the nature of truth itself. Doubts about whether we can ever truly know another person.

So is it better to know the truth or to let the secrets die in the past? It’s a killer of a dilemma that makes for a tantalizing story. 
If From Beyond The Grave intrigues you, don’t miss Lead Me Into Danger and Deadly Legacy, the first two books in my series, where Emmeline and Gregory put their lives at risk when they’re thrust into imbroglios involving Russian spies, stolen diamonds and blackmail. 

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger and Deadly Legacy are the first two books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her other professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. 

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