Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Proper Thank You

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Don’t get me started on thank you notes. Whatever happened to thank you notes? If you send someone a gift, then you MUST send a note. And I’m pretty sure, though I may be a dinosaur, that email notes don’t usually count. Not for a real THING. Not for a big thing.

But how about, as the talented Claire Booth wonders, the little things? And do we all take enough time to realize how kind people can really be?

I’m trying to figure out how to cleverly segue the title of Claire’s newest book A DEADLY TURN into a discussion about GOOD turns. And I can't. So let’s just say—Claire’s thinking about the fun parts of being an author.

How do you measure up?   Has this happened to you? How do you handle it? And see below for a giveaway!
CLAIRE BOOTH:  One of the joys of writing is all the people I cross paths with along the way. Not while I’m chained to my desk agonizing over story structure and word count, of course, but afterward—when my books become reality, and I get to go out into the world and talk about them.

I meet a lot of new people this way. They come to my book signings or to events like crime fiction conventions because they love mysteries, so we find one another by way of our mutual love of books. Many of them have become dear friends.

The other ones there when my books come out are my tried-and-true, the family and friends whose support is rock solid and guaranteed no matter what I’m doing.

But today I want to talk about the people who fall in between.

These are ones I knew—either in passing or at a very different stage in life—who have gotten in touch because they heard through the grapevine that I wrote a book. People who I’d never have renewed contact with if not for their generosity in reaching out.

My elementary school librarian (hi, Mrs. Walter!). A former boss. A neighbor who played with my younger siblings when we were all growing up. Another one whose daughter I walked to the bus stop with every morning.

And none of them had to do this. That’s what blows me away. They don’t live in the same town or share a friendship on social media or have a similar kind of attachment that would make outreach easy. No. Instead, they took time out of their busy lives to track down and communicate with someone they hadn’t seen or thought about in years. To me, that goes beyond nice and enters the realm of spectacularly thoughtful.

They certainly made me feel all warm and happy inside, but guess what else? They made me take a hard look at myself and realize that I wasn’t a very good “in between.” I’ve heard a distant someone’s good news, sure, but then did I reach out with a compliment? Not often enough. So now I try harder. Because I know from being on the receiving end just how much a short note can mean.

Have you ever had an “in between” pop into your life? Have you ever been an “in between” yourself? Tell me about it in the comments!

HANK: SO interesting ! (My home ec teacher came to one of my readings--I almost burst into tears. She's about 90. And she asked me if it's learned to sew yet. )Also. Let’s say someone send you a thank you gift.  Then you kind of have to send them a thank you for the thank you, which then they have to rely to. And then you have to acknowledge that you got the reply, then they have to acknowledge that.
And the whole exchange devolves into:

See you soon!

Then finally dwindles to:

What a can of worms!

What do you think, Reds and readers? How do you feel about thank yous--paper or email? Necessary or not? And a copy of A DEADLY TURN to one lucky commenter!

AND THE WINNER OF AS DIRECTED by Kathy Valenti from yesterday's giveaway is MARY SMITH! Email me at hryan  at whdh dot com with your address!

Sheriff Hank Worth thinks he’s scared a car full of teens straight when he pulls them over for speeding on a Saturday night and lets them off with a stern warning and instructions to go directly home. When he responds to an urgent call minutes later, he realizes he made a fatal error of judgement—every teen is dead. Struggling to come to terms with his role in the crash, Hank begins to suspect foul play. While notifying the parents of the children involved, his suspicions grow when an unidentified body is discovered in one of their homes and a teenage girl is found after apparently attempting to commit suicide. Hank believes the incidents are connected, but those around him disagree. Is Hank right, or is his guilt making him search for answers where there are none?

Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily, or follow her on Twitter @clairebooth10 or on Facebook at
newspaper reporter, spending much of her time covering crimes so strange and convoluted they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mysteries take place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in—yes—strange and convoluted ways. The latest in the series, A DEADLY TURN, comes out March 1. The first two, THE BRANSON BEAUTY and ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND, are available now. Find out more at


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bad Medicine

((AND THE WINNERS Of Annie Ward's BEAUTIFUL BAD are: Charlotte and Cathy Akers-Jordan! YAAAYYY!  email me your addresses to h ryan at whdh dot com! ))

and now:

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: In 1982, a loaf of bread cost 50 cents. The first USA Today was printed. Epcot opened, ET was on the big screen, and the first CD player was sold in Japan. AT &T was ordered to break up. The Dow closed at year end at 1046, and things were not looking good financially.

And something else happened in 1982. Kathy Valenti remembers it, and I bet you do, too.

Bad Medicine

By Kathy Valenti

When I was twelve, my favorite movie was E.T, I pined for a Walkman despite the fact that I still played with my Barbie Townhouse, and Mary Kellerman awoke with a sore throat.

So you know, here's me, circa 1982. 

Kathy, circa 1982

Like me, Mary was twelve. Like me, Mary went to junior high, wore her hair in the era’s round, turned-under style, and probably whispered about boys with her friends.

Unlike me, Mary Kellerman, who lived half a world away in a Chicago suburb, died after parents gave her an Extra-Strength Tylenol to soothe the discomfort of an oncoming cold.

Mary Kellerman was the first victim of the Tylenol murders. She was the proverbial canary in the coal mine whose death heralded not only the demise of six more poisoning victims, but a wholesale change in the way medicine is packaged. And in our faith of what’s on the shelf.

I remember those murders distinctly.

My mom had a bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol in our medicine cabinet. My dad had another one squirreled away in his glove box. When he refused to chuck the pills, proclaiming that surely his bottle was untainted, I remember being filled with a diffuse and undeniable dread.

What if our medication wasn’t safe? What if we weren’t?

It was my earliest memory of the potential of random violence, a disquiet that squatted in the center of my chest like a living thing. I had learned that the world didn’t care if you were twelve and wanted to buy Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. I had learned that bad things happen to good people. Young people. People just like me.

I didn’t intend to write a book inspired by this experience, these recollections, and yet here it is. It was as if As Directed, the third book in my Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, was a slow-acting drug, lying in wait for decades before coursing its way to my heart.

The truth is, Maggie made me do it. My protagonist was the catalyst, the active ingredient, if you will, that brought this story to light.

When Maggie traded the lab for a stint behind the counter as a pharmacy tech, I knew I had to bring the issue of tainted medication to the fore. Not only would this theme enable me to tap into my own adolescent memories, it would allow evil to infiltrate the safe, new world Maggie was trying so desperately to build, cause her to question her role in the patient poisonings, and force her to confront her deepest fears and greatest hopes.

  In As Directed, Maggie’s most difficult job doesn’t just come from her work behind the counter or in helping solve the mystery of these deaths. It’s comes from facing two grim facts:

1. Safety is often an illusion

2. Sometimes the greatest danger comes from the most unexpected places—even from within.

Because she’s recovering from a head injury, Maggie must come to terms with the possibility that she may share responsibility in drugstore deaths.

Had she properly handled the medications?

Had she mated the right label to the correct bottle?

She thinks so, but can’t quite remember. Her injury has left her a little fuzzy, like a television gone to snow.

On its face, As Directed is a story of poison and betrayal, and a nod to chaos and fear of the Tylenol Murders. But beneath these motifs is a question of trust. Can we trust others? Can we trust the world at large? Can we truly trust ourselves?

Writing this book allowed me to delve deeper, explore difficult topics and broader themes, and, in some ways, re-examine these infamous murders of the early 80s. The process may not have comforted my 12 year-old self, but it did give me insight into what makes good people do bad things and, conversely, how the antidote to life’s poisons is so often found in our relationships with others and a belief in ourselves.

HANK: Okay, now I’m terrified. I’m already terrified enough at the drug store, so thanks a lot, pal. And don’t we all remember the Tylenol disaster? SO deeply disturbing, and changed the way we look at everything.

And in case you’re wondering. Wikipedia says: No suspect was ever charged or convicted of the poisonings. New York City resident James William Lewis was considered the prime suspect, and was convicted of extortion for sending a letter to Johnson & Johnson that took credit for the deaths and demanded $1 million to stop them.

(I’m wincing now, remembering Monday’s post about all the medications I took for my cold. Yikes.)

Were there any crimes that haunted you as a kid? Do you remember the first crime you ever heard of, the one that stuck in your brain? I grew up in Indianapolis, and the name Sylvia Likens still gives me chills.

How about you? Do you still buy romaine? Do you watch for food recalls? And what's your theory of the Tylenol case? (And aren't we a fun group?)

And a copy of Kathy’s new AS DIRECTED to one lucky commenter!

About As Directed:
In the shadow of a past fraught with danger and tainted by loss, former pharmaceutical researcher Maggie O’Malley is rebuilding her life, trading test tubes for pill bottles as she embarks on a new career at the corner drugstore. But as she spreads her wings, things begin to go terribly wrong. A customer falls ill in the store. Followed by another. And then more. The specter of poisoning arises, conjuring old grudges, past sins, buried secrets and new suspicions from which no one is immune. As Maggie and her best friend Constantine begin to investigate, they discover that some of the deadliest doses come from the most unexpected places.
“A chilling game of cat and mouse that moves with lightning speed and stunning twists. Lies, secrets and evil spin a deadly web in this gripping tale of malice and deceit.”
Liv Constantine
Bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish

About the Author
Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, which includes her Agatha- and Lefty-nominated debut novel, Protocol, and soon-to-be released As Directed. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Dealing with Deja Vu

Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills while thoughtfully examining trauma's toll on people and their relationships.
                     -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I’m so confused. Have you ever had a book mix with reality so much that you can’t untangle which is which? Yeah. That just happened to me.  But in the case of Annie Ward and her  spectacular new Beautiful Bad, it doesn’t matter.  
Here’s what happened. I got her book, instantly sophisticated and riveting, and became immersed in it--in the exotic locales, and the intense psychological drama, and the fear and the politics and the danger –well, all of it. I could just picture it. The setting, the characters, the food, the attitude and the atmosphere. Beautiful Bad is unlike anything I've ever read, and it is terrific. (And soon to be a super-big major motion picture.)
Then Annie sent me the photos of her real life to go with her blog, and I will admit to you I thought—huh? This is EXACTLY how I pictured it all.  How did she get photographs of fictional people? And I realized that her book had taken me so vividly to a time and place that I thought I had actually been there.
Well, as Annie suggests today, maybe I had.
                     By Annie Ward
          I spend a lot of time feeling nostalgic for the past. There’s a reason for that. I used to live in some fabulous cities like Los Angeles, New York and Sofia, Bulgaria, the Eastern European capital where my new psychological thriller BEAUTIFUL BAD is partially set.
         And now I live in Kansas. It’s actually very nice, but it’s not--shall we say—all that exciting. So, when I had an opportunity last November to travel with my husband and two boys to a big gathering of old friends and family in Sofia, I jumped right on it. “This is going to be fabulous, kids! You’re going to experience another culture. The food is amazing. You’ll be able to hear your mom speaking another language!”
         As it turns out, if you’re hoping to impress nine and ten year-old boys, there are better ways to do it than giving a taxi driver directions in Bulgarian.
    I moved to Sofia when I was twenty-six because of a relationship.  That love story fizzled out quickly but I ended up staying five years because I found interesting work as a travel journalist and screenwriter. Also, it was cheap, fun and intriguing.
As I prepped for the “big return to Bulgaria” I daydreamed about my old friends and adventures and worked myself up into a tizzy of excitement and great expectations.  
I knew better than to think going back to Sofia twenty years later with my kids was going to be all-night parties at discos, running to catch trains to obscure mountain villages and intense discussions about culture, politics and religion. I did, however, think that my kids would be awe-struck by the vast difference between our sleepy green suburb at home and the gray, stark, palatial enormity of an ancient Eastern European capital. 

When I first moved to Sofia, I remember having a visceral reaction to (just to name a few things) the Communist statues, the Russian and Turkish influences on architecture and the vibrant, succulent taste of the fresh produce from the farmers’ markets. It was as if I’d never tasted a real tomato before in my life.

“Boys,” I demanded while out and about the day after our arrival, “Isn’t that church beautiful? Have you ever tasted such delicious lamb? Isn’t the language interesting to hear?” 

Struggling with jet lag and trying not to yawn, they dutifully confirmed that yes the food was good, yes the building was beautiful and yes the language was certainly weird.
Why were they not falling head over heels in love with this mysterious country, exactly as I had? And then I realized. They were not me; a twenty-six-year-old, heartbroken struggling writer who had found a cosmopolitan city where it was possible to rent a decent apartment for two hundred dollars a month. They weren’t fascinated by the aftermath of Communism and rising ethnic tension in the Balkans as I had been and they had not “discovered” this new world on their own. Bulgaria was my love affair, not theirs.
They were young boys on vacation with mom and dad, far away from their Play Station and friends. They had their whole lives before them. They would make their own discoveries, fall in love with their own exotic lands and find a place as uniquely suited to them as Bulgaria had been for me. I hope and trust that will happen.
My husband is from Liverpool, England. Like the British soldier Ian, who is the center of the dark love triangle in BEAUTIFUL BAD, my husband traveled to many of the captivating locations mentioned in the book such as Cyprus, Rwanda, Greece, Macedonia and Croatia during his military years. However, it was not until he visited my hometown in Kansas that he felt like he could say, “this is where I feel at home.”  He loved the nature, the quiet and the seclusion of my parents’ farm. The next year we moved to Kansas to start a family.
Kansas is where I was born and where I live now, but I will never feel so completely “me” as I did eating, drinking and dancing in a rustic tavern on the mountainside with an elevated view of the chaotic sprawl of Sofia.
Have you ever found a place—a town, city, country or maybe even just a cabin somewhere—where you felt unusually happy and at home? Did you stay and for how long? Did you write about it? Do you miss it? And the strangest question of all… did you ever wonder if there was a reason why you loved a certain place and why it brought on a feeling of deja-vu and comfort… almost as if you may have mysteriously been there before?
HANK: And maybe we have, right? Because we’ve been there in books. Is they’re a place you’ve visited that seemed mysteriously familiar? Or—hey. Let’s talk about déjà vu, too. I know there’s a scientific explanation for it. But has it happened to you? Where, or when?
(And just wondering--have you ever been to Bulgaria?)
And listen to this, Reds and readers: Annie is giving away BEAUTIFUL BAD to two lucky commenters!

Maddie and Ian's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living a quiet suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Annie received a BA in English Lit with an emphasis in Creative Writing from UCLA and an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. While studying at AFI, she sold her first short screenplay to MTV/ BFCS Productions. Starring Adam Scott, STRANGE HABIT became a Grand Jury Award Winner at the Aspen Film Festival and a Sundance Festival Official Selection.

After film school, Annie moved to Eastern Europe to work for Fodor Travel Guides, covering regions of Spain and Bulgaria. She remained in Bulgaria for five years spanning a civilian uprising and government overthrow. The novel THE MAKING OF JUNE, which Annie wrote with the Bulgarian revolution and Balkan crisis as its backdrop was sold to Penguin Putnam and published to critical acclaim in 2002.

During Annie’s five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency.
BEAUTIFUL BAD is her debut psychological thriller.
She lives in Kansas with her family.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Sneezing and Sniffling--What Do YOU Do?

UPDATED Monday morning: How GREAT was it to see Olivia Colman win for best actress? (See below for my Broadchurch "discovery." WOW. (Though I feel bad for the amazing Glenn Close.)
And can we talk about that SONG?? What do you think?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's almost over. ALMOST over.  It's almost gone now, but  it started one day last week. At first, I was completely fine. And then, wham. A sniffle. A tiny sniffle. I ignored it. Of course.  I don't have time to be sick! 

This is not me. 
And then, ker-CHOO. Then: ker-CHOO ker-CHOO ker-CHOO. My head hurt, I was sniffing and sneezing and snorking and generally being disgusting. I tried to convince myself that it was an allergy, so I took every allergy medication known to humankind, but they did not work. 

Then I had to admit--it's a cold. Oh. NO. What do I usually do for a cold? I could NOT remember.  It was as if I'd never had one before, I was baffled and confused. Because, of course I had a cold,  SO frustrating, and that makes it impossible to think. 

 I rattled around through the medicine cabinet and pawed though the bathroom drawers and scouted the linen closet to see what there was, and found this array of half-used over the counter stuff. SOMETHING had to work, right? SOMETHING?  You can't just have a thing that you can't cure. 

I didn't really have a cough or a sore throat, so all the cough stuff I rejected. And no fever.  So I took a little of one, then four hours later, a little of the other. It was probably expired, but I don't believe they really expire.  I looked up on Google: can you take Allegra and Tylenol at the same time? (Apparently you can.)

Just sniffles and sneezes, SO annoying, I couldn't even finish a whole sentence without sneezing

(And I read somewhere that if you think you're going to sneeze, you can stop it by quickly saying "pickle." You can imagine how intelligent I sounded during the time I was trying that.)

Plus, I was walking around carrying whole boxes of tissues and leaving little shards in my wake. I took a hot shower. Sinus rinse. Water water water, and sleep. 

I pretended I was fine, to see if that would work, but it usually didn't.  Praise the writing gods I had no book or personal events. (Because nothing worse than having a sick person go out in public, right?)  Soup, and oscillococcinum and nose spray.


(The only good thing was that I found Broadchurch, which I watched, endlessly, blanketed on a big chair with glazed eyes and cups of tea. But how did I miss that? It's fabulous.)

I counted the hours until I could take Nyquil . But after about day three, I felt like my whole body was full of medicine, and I was spacy and goofy and hyper-medicated so I stopped taking everything.

Ahhh. What cold-eradicating hints do you have I can use next time? Have you had this scourge this season?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, God, I had the cold that would not end earlier this winter.I was hacking and horking for THREE WEEKS. It was the worst. 

Honestly, my number-one treatment is the one hardest for adults to do: go to bed! I'm convinced resting your poor, beleaguered  body is the most effective way to shorten your cold. Look at children: when they're sick, they fall like stunned sheep. They sleep, and sleep, and sleep. Every parent knows you can tell your child is getting well when he or she actually starts to move around again. 
 But it's so difficult for grown-ups. We're all convinced the world will end if we don't get to work. (Leaving aside the unfortunate workers who MUST show up, sick or well, or face docking their pay or losing their jobs because we don't have a sane sick policy in this country.) 

So we slog into the office and spread our illnesses around to our grateful coworkers, and the cold lasts a week longer
than it might have.

LUCY BURDETTE: John is now going through this exact sequence – thinking he must have an allergy! Hoping hoping fingers crossed that it isn’t a dreaded cold. I think Julia is right, the smartest thing is going to bed or sitting in front of the TV as Hank did. Otherwise everyone else in the world gets the darned germs. 

Not so sure there’s anything that can be done to avoid this completely, but I am hooked on something my naturopath suggested. It’s a combination of mushrooms called Immune Renew that boosts the immune system. You take them when you’re either around sick people, or when you feel the earliest signs of a cold. I swear I’ve beaten a few back this winter…

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, poor Hank. I had it at Christmas (the worst!) and it lasted for three weeks, then again the first of this month. My not-terribly-effective remedies are to start taking cough syrup right away, the kind that has Mucinex in it, and to use saline nasal spray to flush out the congestion. 

Colds are just miserable, and the fuzzy-headedness makes accomplishing anything almost impossible. I really think the best thing to do is to rest as much as possible, stay home (don't spread it!), drink lots of liquids and watch TV.

 Rick had it too--he swears hot and sour soup got him over the hump. I'll go with that, and try Lucy's remedy, too! And crossing fingers that twice is enough for one winter!

HALLIE EPHRON: I had that cold for two weeks - started and I thought it was an allergy! Then it hung around and hung around, sneezing and clogging my head so I couldn't breathe. Coughing and hacking. I am finally over it now. I'm limited in what over-the-counter drugs I can take because of meds that I take regularly, so I try to make due with plenty of liquids and sleep. Oh, and I try to sleep slightly sitting up -- it helps with breathing.

I was lucky this came at a time when I didn't have any commitments to speak because I sounded like a frog and would have infected the audience. Yes, Debs, ONCE is plenty for one winter. And spring.

RHYS BOWEN: I hardly dare to write this because it will probably jinx things but so far the dreaded cold has escaped us. This must be because moving house has required such physical labor and stress that no self respecting cold would want to hang around. First we carried across box after box of stuff before the move. Then We assembled new furniture, hung pictures on high walls, dug out plants, put up hooks etc etc. And these are things that the parade of contractors, electricians, landscapers etc didn't do!

But my go-to recipe for a cold is to make soup of a whole chicken with lots of onions and garlic. Also drink hot lemon and honey with some rum. The more rum the better you'll feel! And Cold Ease works if you take it soon enough. Also when you tell yourself firmly you have no time to be sick. That works too!

JENN McKINLAY: So far so good here. Of course, Hooligan 1 was felled with a fever this morning and stayed home from school and work. I refuse to go near him unless I am masked and gloved - kidding! - bit I did do a copious amount of hand washing every time I brought him medicine or soup or whatever. I'm pretty sturdy and rarely get sick. *knocks wood* 

When I do, I put myself on a strict schedule of Dayquil/Nyquil until the ick passes. When I was in college I was convinced that shots of whiskey cured the common cold. Not sure it cured it so much as made it bearable.

HANK: Ker-Choo! And how about this photo--supposedly a "woman with a cold." I have NEVER looked anywhere near that good with a cold. I would call this: model with a tissue. 
How about you, Reds and readers? have you been felled by the cold bug this season? What are your tricks for fighting back?