Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Take the "Did You Know" Quiz!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   Did we ever figure out yesterday who we thought should play Lady Georgie in the movies? I know in TRUST ME, my Mercer Hennessey is Tea Leoni and in fact, have a photo of her on my bulletin board to inspire me.

But the role of Caitlin Strong, the iconic, smart, savvy and intrepid heroine of Jon Land’s novels—who should play her?  You know Jon Land right? He’s a Jungle Red hero himself, a dear pal and a brilliant writer and an unstoppable force. And such an imagination! (If you ever have the chance to take a class from him—do it! He’s life-changingly wonderful.)

Anyway, he’s been thinking about who ‘d be a good screen Caitlin—since his tenth (!) Strong novel is about to grace bookstore shelves everywhere. But you know Jon—he’s not only thinking about casting--he has some wonderful stories about it. And—a quiz!


         So who do you think should play Caitlin Strong in my dreamed-of television series or film? Chances are whoever producers really want for the role either won’t take it or end up eing replaced before shooting actually begins. Why do I feel that way? Look no further than some of the examples detailed below and presented here to commemorate the publication of the tenth book in the Caitlin Strong series, STRONG AS STEEL, on April 23.       

         DID YOU KNOW, for example, that the original choice to play Harry Callahan in the modern cop classic Dirty Harry wasn’t Clint Eastwood; it was Frank Sinatra! Upon reading the script, though, Old Blue Eyes wanted no part of such a violent film. The studio turned to Eastwood who ordered a major rewrite by the era’s top screenwriter John Milius. And Milius’ polish added virtually all of the film’s signature lines including, “Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” And a star was born.

         Speaking of Frank Sinatra, DID YOU KNOW that he was also offered the role of John McClane in Die Hard. Not because the studio actually wanted him, but because they had no choice. See, Sinatra had purchased the rights to The Detective, a Roderick Thorpe novel which he produced as a film and played the hero Joe Leland. Well, as it turns out Die Hard was actually written by Thorpe under the title Nothing Lasts Forever as a sequel to The Detective. Because it also featured Joe Leland and Sinatra technically owned the rights to the character, he had to be offered the role. Sinatra, of course, declined, setting the stage for another star to be born in Bruce Willis.

         But DID YOU KNOW that Willis wasn’t the first choice for John McClane? Far from it, in fact. Kurt Russell was reportedly the studio’s pick, but he passed. So did Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burt Reynolds and Richard Gere—all stars at the time who couldn’t imagine how an action movie set entirely inside a building could possibly succeed. Well, not only did it succeed, it redefined the action film forever and established an entirely new form in the process. How many times, after all, have you heard a film described as “Die Hard in a blank?”

         DID YOU KNOW that Paramount wanted no part of Al Pacino as Michael in The Godfather? Not only that, execs were so determined to fire him that director Francis Ford Coppola shot the famed restaurant scene out of sequence to prove Pacino was a star in the making. Case closed! Who was the studio’s original first choice to play Michael? In a 2004 interview with Movieline, Jack Nicholson said he turned down the role. “Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians,” Nicholson said in the interview. “There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay him.”

         DID YOU KNOW Paramount wanted no part of Marlon Brando either. The first name they raised to play Vito Corleone was John Marley who was coming off Love Story which had been the #1 movie of 1970. Marley, of course, went on to play film producer Jack Woltz and became famous for finding a horse’s head in his bed.

         Speaking of hit films, there are few with more tumultuous shooting timelines than Jaws. During all that downtime brought on by lousy weather and a broken mechanical shark, Steven Spielberg pondered why the shark hunter played by Robert Shaw hates sharks so much. It wasn’t in the book and neither author Peter Benchley or screenwriter Carl Gottlieb had a clue. So Spielberg called back the great John Milius (just as Clint Eastwood had for Dirty Harry) who’d already written the famed fingernails on the blackboard Quint intro. But DID YOU KNOW that when Milius couldn’t nail the scene, none other than Robert Shaw stepped forward and asked for a chance? The scene was scheduled to shoot on the Orca set the next day and Shaw promised to come in with pages. Only he showed up drunk instead, having memorized the lines. Knowing he couldn’t use the footage, Spielberg only pretended to roll the cameras as Shaw launched into the now famous Indianapolis monologue. The crew listened, utterly mesmerized, and then the next day Shaw came in sober enough to nail the scene in one take! All without ever putting the words on paper.

         And, speaking of Jaws, DID YOU KNOW that to the day he died Roy Scheider claimed he ad-libbed the signature line, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” Although no one else has ever definitively corroborated that, watching the scene today it does appear the line caught Robert Shaw by surprise. But plenty of his fellow actors have corroborated John Belushi’s assertion that was indeed a real bottle of Jack Daniels he chugged for a scene in Animal House.

         Similarly, Matthew McConaughey became famous for the first line he ever uttered on film: “All right, all right, all right,” in Richard Linkletter’s Dazed and Confused. But DID YOU KNOW he almost never got to deliver it? Reading for his first film role ever, McConaughey killed his audition, but Linkletter told him he was too good looking to play Wooderson, the town’s perpetually adolescent Lothario. So he came in to his callback with a white t-shirt and a comb over. McConaughey got the role but his father died just before filming was scheduled to start and Linkletter hated the notion of recasting the role. So he held it open as long as he could and, lo and behold, McConaughey returned to the set just in time. Linkletter was shooting the drive-in scene at the time and was so happy to see McConaughey back, he added him to the scene with instructions to ad-lib his lines, including “Love them redheads,” another of his most iconic ones.

         Since I’ve recently taken over the MURDER, SHE WROTE series, though, let me finish with the fact that did you know the great Angela Lansbury wasn’t the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher? It was Jean Stapleton, who famously played Edith Bunker in All in the Family. Imagine that!

         Hey, I can only hope to be able to share a comparable story about the actress ultimately chosen to play Caitlin Strong sometime down the road.  In the meantime, though, we’ll have to settle for picturing Caitlin as she’s presented in STRONG AS STEEL and the other nine books in the series. Happy reading and do you have any DID YOU KNOWs you’d like to share?  

HANK: SO fascinating, as always! (And did you know my name was supposed to be Alexandra? But at the last minute, my mother decided I didn't look like an Alexandra. So  they decided on Harriet. Hmmm.) How about you, Reds and readers? Any did you knows in your life? And did you know about the Hollywood secrets John revealed?  (Wasn't there something about Elizabeth Taylor and Scarlett O'Hara?)

Jon Land is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of 50 books, including ten titles in the critically acclaimed Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong series, the last of which, STRONG TO THE BONE, won both the 2017 American Book Fest and 2018 International Book Award for Best Mystery Thriller. Suspense Magazine called the latest title in the series, STRONG AS STEEL, "what just might be the best novel of 2019." MURDER IN RED, meanwhile, will mark his third effort writing as Jessica Fletcher for the MURDER, SHE WROTE series when it’s published on May 28. He has also teamed with Heather Graham for a new sci-fi series starting with THE RISING. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University, lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be reached at www.jonlandbookscom and on Twitter @jonland

1994:  Texas Ranger Jim Strong investigates a mass murder on a dusty freight train linked to a mysterious, missing cargo for which no record exists.

The Present:  His daughter, fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, finds herself on the trail of that very same cargo when skeletal bones are found in the Texas desert near an excavation site where something else was clearly removed.  She’s also dealing  a mass murder of her own after a massacre claims the lives of all the workers at a private intelligence company on her watch.

What Caitlin doesn’t know, can’t know, is that these two cases are connected by a long-hidden secret with the potential to rewrite history. For centuries, men have died trying to protect that secret, but it’s left to Caitlin to uncover the shocking truth that something far more dangerous is at stake here as well: a weapon of epic proportions with the potential to kill millions.

To stop the world from descending into chaos, Caitlin and her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters must prove themselves to be as strong as steel to overcome a bloody tide that has been rising for centuries.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Are we Like Our Characters? A Jungle Red Survey

>> AND THE WINNERS of BLUFF  from Saturday are: Lynn from TX, and Mary C. email your address to Hryan@whdh.com ! YAY! <<

RHYS BOWEN: Whenever I am interviewed I'm always asked if my protagonists are based on anyone--especially me. I'm sure the rest of the Reds have experienced the same thing. And I always answer that I wanted Molly Murphy to have my strong sense of justice, inability to shut up when she should stay silent. She's not always wise when she barges forward. A little like me, I have to confess. For example: I was in a supermarket parking lot before Christmas when a man came toward me. He was skinny with long stringy hair and he was holding a Big Gulp in one hand. "Can you give me some money for food?" he asked.  "No, I'm sorry. I can't," I replied. "Then I'll just take your purse," he said. I was holding my keys in my right hand. I stepped up, in his face, and pointed my keys at him. "I'd like to see you try," I said in my menacing voice.
He backed away. "I could," he said. "I could take your purse." And then he ran.  I was so pleased with myself. I knew now that if I was in real danger I could go for a man's eyes.  But was I wise?  It was daylight. And it was a store parking lot.  Molly Murphy is a lot like that.

This was the first sketch of Lady Georgie, by the artist who does all my covers. She looks a lot more poised and glamorous than me, doesn't she? And other thing. She's a twenty-something royal. When I started the series I just wanted a naive, innocent character who is trying to  survive on her own in a difficult world. She is royal, but penniless, with nowhere really to call home. Then I discovered that she has a tendency to become clumsy when she's under stress. And embarrassing things happen to her. Who could that be like? Uh--me? Remember that scene in the first book when she is modeling an outfit for a rich client and she puts two legs into one half of a culotte? Yes. That happened to me. It ended my very brief modeling career.
So since then poor Georgie has had to suffer more and more with embarrassing incidents that her creator has actually endured. She's terrified of knocking something over at Buckingham Palace. When I did a tour of the palace a few years ago I kept looking at priceless antiques and thinking, "Do not go anywhere near that!"

You'd think that confident, successful older woman would never have embarrassing moments, wouldn't you? Well, I was writing at my desk when I looked at the time and realized I was running late for an ortho appointment on my knee. And I was wearing jeans. I rushed upstairs, grabbed a dress from the closet and put it on. Then I drove to the ortho office. I was standing in line, in a crowded office, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. "I don't know if I should mention this," the woman behind me whispered, "but you have your dress on inside out."
Oh, the mortification!
The trouble is that things like this happen to me on a regular basis. In a hotel room, washing my hair before a car comes for me to take me to a signing, AND I put the body lotion on my hair instead of the conditioner. Do you know how long it takes to get body lotion out of your hair?
So poor Georgie. Any time one of these things happens to me I think, AHA. Now she's going to suffer too.
But at least it makes her real and identifiable. One of the nicest things ever said to me was a fan who wrote, "I've just seen your picture and until then I thought you were the same age as Georgie!"
Of course I wanted to write back saying, "What do you mean? We're almost the same age. I've just been out in the sun more than she has."
But all the same, I was pleased.

So dear Reds: have your characters acquired any of your traits? Did you model any of them on you? Confession time.

LUCY BURDETTE: I've had three main protagonists, Cassie the golfer, Rebecca the psychologist, and Hayley Snow, food critic. Cassie, of course, had the athletic talent that I yearned for. The psychologist and I had lots in common--our therapy practices in New Haven, good girlfriends, love of good food, interest in what makes people tick. Hayley and I both adore Key West, though I'm not inclined to live on a houseboat (I get easily seasick!) She loves to eat as I do, and has surrounded herself with good friends and pets. However, two ways in which I'm different from all three--if I stumbled over a clue or a body, I'd turn it over to the police instantly. I'm a chicken. (And wow, kudos to you Rhys for scaring that guy off!) And I have a much happier relationship/marriage--though hopefully Hayley is headed that way too...

JENN MCKINLAY: Yikes! If I'm ever in another bar fight, I want you to have my back, Rhys! As to your question, with seven series in various genres, I can honestly say I don't think any of my characters are much like me. They may have bits and pieces. My temper crops up in my sidekicks, my love of  pastries pops up in most every book, and the book lover in me oozes out in several of the series but overall my characters walk fully formed into my head, their own unique beings. Rather like my children, actually, I'm just the birth giver.

HALLIE EPHRON: I DO think most of my characters are like me. From the 90-year-old woman in THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN to the pregnant 30-something in NEVER TELL A LIE. Just at different points in my life, and imagining different circumstances. My new book CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR is about a professional organizer--something which I could never be. Never never never in a million years. I organized my sock drawer and then gave up. But I SO get why someone would.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yikes, Rhys! Superhero. (How did you feel afterward?) Anyway, I've spent years denying that Charlotte McNally is me--of course she is. Kind of.  But she's not only a better driver--because she's younger, and grew up at a different time than I did, she's more confident.  Jane Ryland--no,  She's a reporter like I am, but she's 33 now, and I was 33 long ago, and that's a different 33. Mercer Hennessey? Not me at all, except for the analytical thinking.  Ashlyn Bryant? Sure--the part that can see a different side of every story. And Rachel North in the upcoming The Murder List? I'll adore to hear what you all think.
But bottom line I think there's got to be some of each of us in every character. Because  they come from us.

RHYS: That is such an astute comment, Hank. Of course our characters often react as we would because they come from our heads.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys! You are always so poised! I never would think of you as clumsy or awkward, but I love hearing how Georgie has evolved. Isn't it interesting how our protagonists--and our perception of our protagonists--changes over time? I know in the very beginning I thought that Duncan was like me in many ways. He's a little introspective but has good people skills. He likes to think before he acts,  he's not quick to form opinions or pass judgement. Gemma, on the other hand, I set out to make very different from me in personality. She's more confident, has no trouble speaking up for herself. She's very outgoing, less analytical, and is very quick to connect with people but also to pass judgement, perhaps prematurely. Over the series, however, I think they both have just become themselves, with their own very distinct histories and backgrounds that help form who they are. I certainly never think about either Melody or Doug being anything like me, although I'm sure they are in some ways. As Hank so wisely says, all of our characters (even the bad ones) have something of us in them or we couldn't write them.

So, fellow writers out there: are your characters like you? Have they taken on your traits as you write? And readers--as you read our books do you find yourself thinking, "Yes, I can see Hank saying that."

Sunday, April 28, 2019

In the form of a Question...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   I have a newfound respect for that guy who's winning billions of dollars on Jeopardy. (Are you watching that? I am fascinated by his strategy.)
Hank and Jeff Kiney

Anyway, I have new respect for anyone who wins anything on Jeopardy! Friday night I played a special game of Jeopardy in a tournament of An Unlikely Story Bookstore in Plainville Massachusetts--one of my fave bookstores on the planet. 

It's owned by Jeff Kinney, who wrote the Wimpy Kids books, and he is the best person in the world. 

He organized this truly authentically amazing Jeopardy tournament this Independent Bookstore Appreciation Day weekend to benefit the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit that helps booksellers in need.

SO--I was on the author team with New York Times bestselling authors Cassandra Clare (Darkhunters!), Holly Black (Spiderwick Chronicles)!, and Raul The Third (Low Riders in Space! Sponge Bob!). We were SO ready, and when we saw the categories, I knew we had it nailed. I knew every answer to the crime fiction category and first lines, and Cassie and Holly had  horror and music down pat, and Raul had illustrators and children's lit.. 

SADLY we could not make the buzzers work.  

See how crazed I am?

We really tried, and we were way too competitive, but, apparently, we just did not have good buzzer skills. So bottom, line were were, um, skunked. It was TRAGIC! But off-the-charts fun. Amazing. And Jeff Kinney was a terrific and  charming and witty Alex Trebeck.

We won the consolation round, which is little consolation, but you know authors. We'll take every win we can get.

And here we are afterward, with our score posted. (That's Raul the fourth in the photo, too. 

And we demand--I mean, we'd be delighted--to come back next year and regain the crown.  

A million years ago, I did a series on "How to get on a game show" for Channel 7, and took the Jeopardy test and passed! (It was very difficult, but my head is full of unnecessary stuff.)  I could have been on the show! (But conflict of interest kept me off, of course.) But Meg Gardiner won Jeopardy, did you know that? And Brendan DuBois? And Laura Di Silverio was a contestant. 

Do you watch Jeopardy? Do you love it? 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Secrets to BLUFFing

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my gosh. Poker. I am TERRIBLE at poker.  Don't get me wrong, I am very enthusiastic, and go into every game so optimistic, and cannot wait to play, and swoop up all those lovely chips (pennies?) after I slam down my straight flush (or whatever.) 

But that never happens. Fold fold fold. I vacillate between being a chicken and being a huge bluffer, which rarely works.

That's just one of the reasons I am in awe of the amazing New York Times best-selling author  Jane Stanton Hitchcock.  

Her first novel was nominated for the Edgar and the Hammett prize. Her newest, BLUFF--with its cleverly wonderful poker structure and bitingly wonderful wit--is fast-paced, smart, clever and oh-so-knowing. (And look at that amazing cover!)

HANK:  BLUFF grew out of your own mastery of poker. How did that work?

JANE: First of all, I would never say I had “mastered” poker. If anything, the game is my master. It’s taught me a lot about life and how to deal with adversity – namely, there’s no point in dwelling on bad luck or one’s mistakes. 

 Hard as it is, you sometimes have to say “Next Hand” and get on with it. I also realized that at the poker table I was being underestimated just as I had been in life. Players never expect an older woman to play anything but Old Lady Poker—just as the guy who swindled my mother out of millions of dollars never expected me to find out about his larceny and ultimately help put him in jail.

When I made this connection I found a way into the book: Combine being underestimated in life as well as in poker and then write a twisty tale of murder, revenge, and bluffing. Hopefully the reader will be intrigued by the characters and swept up in the twists and turns of the story. The book is one long poker hand with a Flop, a Turn, and the River. As readers play the hand with me, I want them to be thinking: “How the hell does she get out of this?” Only one way: Bluff!

HANK:  “Mad Maud” Warner--amazing-- is a complex character. And a timely one. Do you see Maud as an everywoman? How?

JANE: As I say in the book, “Older women are invisible and we don’t even have to disappear.” Power derived from supposed weakness is the primary theme of BLUFF. In the very first scene, Maud is able to escape because no one can fathom that a woman like her – an older, well-dressed socialite – could have had the balls to commit such a shocking crime in a posh and crowded restaurant.

The book is told in two voices: Maud’s own, as she recounts what lead her to commit murder; and the third person, which details the crime and its aftermath on all the people involved. My hope is that the reader will be rooting for Maud as she explains what has led her to such violence and why she thinks she can possibly get away with it if she literally plays her cards right! I guess she’s a #MeToo murderer!

Hank: High society certainly takes a hit in BLUFF. Do you view humor as a tool for enlightenment?

JANE: I like what Abba Eban said: “The upper crust is a bunch of crumbs held together by dough.” I grew up in so-called “High Society” and, as I say in the book “money is a matter of luck and class is a matter of character.” Maud knows she can trust some of her dicey poker playing pals much more than the “social” friends she’s known her entire life. I also say: “Money exaggerates who people are. If you’re good you’ll be better, if you’re bad you’ll jump right down on the devil’s trampoline.” A lot of people think having money makes them better than other people. I like to aim my pen at such pretension and there’s no better way to do it than with humor.

I’d have to be Dostoevsky to write my own family’s story without humor. As the book shows, money doesn’t save anyone from addiction, swindling, and death. In fact, money often makes things worse. But there’s nothing more exasperating than self-pity. So telling my family’s story was a challenge. It took me nineteen drafts! But the poker theme eventually helped me harness the humor in all the darkness.

HANK: You have a wonderful article in this month's Mystery Scene blog--and you mention your mother taught you the joy of reading out loud--and about Shakespeare. 

JANE: My mother was a wonderful actress. She is chiefly remembered as the voice of the very first Lois Lane on the radio, but she had an amazing stage and television career as well. She was a famous beauty and she had a lovely, melodic voice. She was always quoting Shakespeare to me from the time I was little. I was too young to understand it at the age of four, but the way she read it made me love it.

She kept a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets by her bed. Near the end of her life, she found out she had been swindled out of most of her money by her accountant, whom she had adored and trusted above anyone in the world for over 30 years. The betrayal nearly killed her. 

When she got over the initial shock, I asked her if Shakespeare had ever written about an accountant who swindled a trusting old woman out of millions. It was a cheeky question, meant to elicit a laugh. Without hesitation, she opened the sonnets and told me to read the one she pointed at aloud.

The last lines of that Sonnet are: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

HANK: Oh, that brings tears to my eyes.  So--In addition to being a novelist, you're also a playwright and screenwriter. Does one teach you about the other?

JANE: Movies are really a directors’ medium so a writer is blessed if he/she has a good director. Enough said. 

 Playwriting taught me about creating scenes and developing characters through dialogue. In the theatre time on the stage grows more expensive with each minute. You have to engage the audience. Therefore, you always have to ask yourself: What’s at stake? Why should people care about these characters, this situation? You have a captive audience sitting there waiting for things to develop in a finite amount of time. 

 The novel has no such constraints. But I confess, I love a good, twisty plot. I like every scene to further the story but I also think it’s important for the reader not to be one jump ahead of me. It’s when surprise meets inevitability that I feel I’ve done my job. I want my readers to say: Wow I didn’t see that coming, but now it all makes sense!

HANK: You're so terrific at dialogue--

JANE: Thank you! I try to give the reader a sense of place without overloading the description. Action is character and I really like writing dialogue, putting myself into all the characters – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s fun to create a good villain and more fun to see the villain get his/her comeuppance. But in my books, there is usually an anti-heroine who is, herself, operating in an amoral sphere. In Bluff, I want my audience to be complicit in Maud’s revenge and root for her to earn it.

HANK: Gotta ask about your influences --whose books most influenced you at the time you decided to enter the field yourself?

JANE: To be honest, I didn’t know I was entering the field when I wrote Trick of the Eye. I thought of the book as literally a trompe l’oeil canvas for the readers who are led to believe they are looking at a simple whodunit when, in fact, the real picture is about a dark acquisition. I was thrilled when mystery lovers liked it and it was nominated for both the Edgar and the Hammett Prize. I think those fans made me realize I had a mind for murder!

The writers who most influenced me at that time were Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier.

HANK Great list! You were on hiatus for nineyears--are things..different in the crimefiction world now?

JANE: A writer never really stops writing. During this nine-year hiatus, I was working on three three books while trying to sort out a difficult family situation. As a writer, I was always used to being an observer of social life. Writing took me away from my problems.

However, with Bluff, I’m not only an observer but a real participant in the story, which is what made it so difficult for me to write. It was painful to look back on the ruins of our family. So I would work on it, then put it away and work on the other books. I knew if I ever published Bluff I’d have to get the tone just right because I hate self-pity.

In writing Bluff, I came to realize how blessed I’ve been. I remembered the words of my stepfather who always said: “Anything you can buy with money is cheap.” That lightened things up for me and made me think: Okay—humor and murder is the only way to go!

I often wish I did have a “technique” because then I might have a road map of some sort. As it is, I write until my characters take over the story. Of the three books I was working on, Maud in Bluff took over the story in a singular way. It took me nineteen drafts to get her story just right. I just hope I succeeded. 

HANK: And I have one bet I know I will win--I'll bet two of you lucky commenters are gonig to be very happy--because you will WIN a copy of BLUFF! 
So tell us, Reds and readers--are you good at poker?
Jane's on book tour now, but she'll still be here to answer all your questions---like: how do you make sure you win at poker? What's the best way to bluff? And is it true that everyone has a "tell"?

Barbara Peters, Jane, and Linda Fairstein at The Poisoned Pen 

Jane Stanton Hitchcock was born and raised in New York City, where she led a seemingly privileged life. Early on, she learned the trappings of wealth and fame are not nearly all they are cracked up to be, themes she has since explored in screenplays, stage plays, and novels dealing with murder and mayhem in high places. She is married to Jim Hoagland, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist  ed note: who Hank had a huge crush on in 1972 in Washington,DC, just saying. They live in Washington, DC, and New York City.

BLUFF is a stunning social noir that begins with an audacious murder in broad daylight which sets off the biggest scandal to hit New York society in years. The unlikely shooter uses her knowledge of poker to play the game of her life with no cards. A bluff to frame her nemesis and exact revenge. Inspired by real-life events, the novel takes the structure of poker at which the author has become adept.

Jane Stanton Hitchcock pulls off another stunning tour de force in her newest crime novel. Nobody writes high society and its down-low denizens better than Hitchcock – and this book is her best yet. It’s all in the cards – and it’s masterful.”
— Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author
With the heart-pounding suspense of a high-stakes poker game, Bluff is a vivid, compelling novel about deceit, seduction, and delicious revenge that will have you spellbound and cheering as you turn the last page.
— Susan Cheever, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author

For more information:

Jane Stanton Hitchcock


Friday, April 26, 2019

Happy Book Birthday!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Is there anything more fabulously rite-of-passage than the publication of a FIRST BOOK? Happiest of book birthday days—well, next Tuesday but who’s counting and always good to be prepared—to our dear and beloved Grace Topping, a loyal Sister in Crime (and VP of the Chessie chapter!)  and a great pal and wonderful person.

Her terrific new STAGING IS MURDER will soon be coming to bookstores near you—and look at that great cover.

Standing ovation!

And Grace, ever thoughtful and analytical, has been thinking about how she got to today. She’s an overnight success—if overnight is ten years. And now she’s generously revealing what she learned along the way.

Things I Had to Learn on the Way to Publication
            by Grace Topping

Sitting in the audience at a Malice Domestic conference, I heard members of a mystery panel agree that it took them about ten years to be published. Ten years! Fortunately, I was hearing that years after I started writing; otherwise, I might have given up then and there. But here I am with my first book coming out April 30—ten years after I started it.

What took me so long? Like the members of that panel, I had things to learn.

I had to learn how to write a mystery. Working in IT, I spent years writing lean, boring material like procedures for operating banking systems. Ho hum. Good skills to have, but hardly the stuff mysteries are made of—unless you count the time I wanted to murder the person who changed a system I’d worked overtime to document. Good to learn early about motives.

To learn how, I took an online class through my community college on how to write a mystery. I wouldn’t have gotten far without it. It gave me a solid foundation for the mystery I wrote. Unfortunately, my first draft was only 45,000 words. Remember what I said about writing lean?

I had to learn not to go it alone. I heard about Sisters in Crime and the online chapter, the Guppies, and joined. The Guppies gave me an uncritical support group that cheered me on. It also linked me with some beta readers who let me know what worked in my manuscript and what didn’t. The Guppies also enabled me to take more classes and learn about the benefits of attending conferences like Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest, and Crime Bake, where I made supportive friends who helped me on the path to publication.

I had to learn not to give up and revise, revise, revise. I continued to take classes and read every book I could get my hands on about writing fiction. Every time I learned something new, I revised my manuscript and created a new version. As I got closer to publication, I stopped counting at version 38. Did I neglect to say that I was too stubborn to give up?

I had to learn it’s not a race. That was a hard one to learn as I watched writers who started out when I did go on to write a number of books, while I still flogged the same one. In my mystery, Staging is Murder, I had created Laura Bishop, a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. After bringing her to life, I refused to bury her in a bottom drawer.

I had to learn to celebrate small accomplishments—my accomplishments and those of others, and how much pleasure can be gained from helping other writers succeed.

I had to learn not to become demoralized by rejections. That was a really hard one.

I had to learn that getting an agent isn’t a guaranteed path to publication and that sometimes no agent is better than one who let’s you languish for five years—half of my ten-year journey to publication. But I never said I was a fast learner—just a slow and steady one.

I had to learn to take chances, like leaving that agent and signing with a very small agency. That move paid off, and my new agent sold my book in two months to one of my dream publishers. Sometimes dreams do come true.

So please celebrate with me, on my tenth anniversary of writing fiction, the publication of my mystery, STAGING IS MURDER.

What have you learned on the way to meeting a goal?

HANK: Grace, I think your suggestions are perfect!  And hurray! Grace will give away a signed copy of STAGING IS MURDER to one lucky commenter!

Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, removing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties. To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure. Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.

Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet. She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The first book in the series, STAGING IS MURDER, is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. Grace is the current vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.

To learn more about Grace, visit her at