Monday, September 30, 2019

Frozened out?

HALLIE EPHRON: "I want a show that has a boy inside it." That was the plaintive cry of my adorable (just ask me) three-year-old grandson. He shares an iPad with his six-year-old sister, she of the generation of toddler girls who wear Elsa dresses and can belt out Frozen's "Let it go, let it go!" from start to finish.

Watching her, I'm transported back to the 1970s we were roaring, "I am woman!" Back then Disney hits featured girls who had to clean the kitchen and pass out in order to get her prince. In Frozen the prince is a jerk.

But I can't help wondering if my grandson has a point. He carries around action figures -- Batman (his favorite) and Robin and Superman and Spiderman. But they're creatures invented in another era, and all the Disney princes of late have been duds, cast as the villain not the hero of their tale.

Dare I ask, has kid-culture become overly girl-oriented and is it time for boys to get a boost? Or is it jut that my granddaughter is bigger and controls the iPad?

JENN McKINLAY: No, and I say this as the mom of two hooligans who had PLENTY of boy based movies/shows all over the place - Disney, Pixar, and regular TV. The thing is boys don't want to be princes like girls seem to want to be princesses (I'm still not convinced that this isn't shoved down our throats from birth). Boys want to be heroes, adventurers, musicians, and dragon tamers and they get to be -- in Big Hero 6, Toy Story, Coco, and How to Train Your Dragon, not to mention that all boys want to be superheroes and Into the Spider-Verse was all kinds of awesome!

I think the bigger question is why girls don't get the same diversity of movies that boys get? As a very non-princess girl (shocker, I know), I'd have much rather had movies about girls taming dragons or having super powers when I was growing up. And for Pete's Dragon's Sake (Ha!) can a girl's value not be centered around a stupid boy? Thank you, Moana! Talk about a breath of fresh air. Sorry, Hallie, I think you plucked a nerve. LOL!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I think it can seem like it's all-princesses, all the time, but that's because Disney is such a colossus, bestriding the entertainment landscape. Once you get out of their shadow, there's a lot of variety. My now-six-year-old nephew loved Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and reruns of Thomas the Tank Engine, both with male protagonists. When the Sailor was a preschooler, he loved Caillou and Bob the Builder and, of course, Barney. Preschoolers seem to respond strongly to books and shows with animal protaganists - it kind of takes the girl-boy edge off a bit.

Hallie, another thing to try for your little guy - nonfiction! Little Sailor adored simple real-life videos about trucks, construction equipment and monster trucks. Both he and Tiny Smithie loved shows about sharks and dinosaurs and wild animals. This did NOT work for Youngest, who got so upset at the beginning of MARCH OF THE PENGUINS when - spoiler alert - an egg escapes from its father to freeze on the ice, we had to turn the TV off. I never have seen the rest of the documentary!

RHYS BOWEN: Hallie, I'm so glad there are finally movies with strong heroines. My kids still had to watch Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, both waiting to be rescued by a Prince. And how many movies and TV shows actually had female lead roles in which the females were pro-active? Now we've had Mulan, and Pocahontas and even a kingdom governed by Elsa, and Belle is a great example of how a girl can be compassionate, smart and stick up for herself.

Your little guy gets Toy Story, Cars, Ice Age, all the dinosaur movies, all the dragon movies.

By the way, I hate Frozen. What sort of message does it give? If you are cursed, you run away? Isn't that female as victim again?

LUCY BURDETTE: We had a good window into our grandkids' and nephews' heroes this summer (don't get to see them enough--wah!) Thea is definitely absorbed with Frozen. They live in LA so have been to Disney many times. The princesses are the biggest hit. Last we face-timed, her father was taking her on a date to see Rapunzel. That's not a feminist movie unless they've changed the story...

Our nephew on the other hand, wanted nothing but Thomas the Tank Engine. He knew all the names of the engines and watched and read the stories over and over. Here's an interesting article from the New Yorker, saying the Thomas show has a repressive, authoritarian soul.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I wonder if boys identifying with inanimate things like trains (authoritarian or otherwise) and diggers is a biologically wired thing? Female infants respond more strongly to faces, male infants to objects. 

At any rate, I think boys have plenty to watch and that girls are still catching up. And, like Jenn, I want to see more diverse roles for
girls. More diverse roles for boys, too! Our three-and-a-half year old granddaughter loves Frozen, but not so much for the princesses. When I asked her last night who her favorite character was, she said, "Sven!" Reindeer rule! She also loves Miguel in Coco, and Johnny the Gorilla in Sing (which I adore.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my grandsons both loved Thomas the Tank Engine. I was...baffled. I thought Thomas and his pals were creepy and super-authoritarian. It was disturbing, and even scary, and I thought it was like a cult. They both grew out of it,  though, and at some point, it was completely discarded. If I'd mention it, it was like a forgotten language. Good riddance, I say, although it did mean something to them, so maybe it's all about age and timing. 

They're all into Magic cards now, and those "heroes" are essentially genderless creatures I can't even describe. (I mean, Eli is studying law and social justice now, so bye bye Thomas) I have not felt that boys were ignored when it came to heroes--in my early days, Supergirl and BatGirl and was there an Aquagirl? And even Catwoman. Seemed like--no, WERE--secondary and lip service. 

Still,  Hallie, if your grandson feels that way, that's fascinating, And superly wonderful that he can articulate it.  

HALLIE: So how does it look from where you sit? Are boys being Frozened out, or is it a welcome correction, or is it still a boys' world?

Red hot news from the Jungle Reds

JENN: My publisher is having a sweet Mutt and Mistletoe giveaway with THE CHRISTMAS KEEPER included! Enter here:

HALLIE: There's a fantastic interview, me talking to Lori Rader-Day about CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR at the Chicago Review of Books.

HANK: This is the LAST DAY for the e-book SALE of TRUST ME! Just $2.99!  Reds, and readers--please--if you don't have this, now's the time! (No pressure, just my career. :-) Maybe buy it for a friend?)

JULIA: Today is also the last day to get A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD, the second Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne mystery, for only $2.99. Starting tomorrow, October 1 (where did the month go?) the Edgar Award nominated third book in the series, OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY, goes on sale, also for $2.99. Bookmark these links for tomorrow: 

DEBS: THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS, Kincaid/James #15, is available on Kindle Unlimited for $0.00!

It's not too late to order signed copies of A BITTER FEAST  from The Poisoned Pen and Barnes and Noble.

My book tour for A BITTER FEAST starts next Monday! Here's the schedule!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

What We’re Writing by Jenn McKinlay

First, last week’s winners from our guest bloggers are…

The winner of Ellen Byron’s FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL is – Ramona Long!
The winner of Nancy Coco’s FUDGE BITES is – Jamie Gillespie!

CONGRATS, Readers, the authors will be in touch!

JENN McKINLAY: Revisions! Revisions! I have no idea why but I can’t speak these words. Oh, no, they must be sung out loud to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler’s Roof. Why? Because I’ve been on a writing bender for the past two months that would have turned a demure church lady into a drunk, like, pirate Jack Sparrow drunk. Seriously, pass the rum! 

Normally, I love revisions. It’s usually a tweak, a twist, a tightening of the screws. Not this time. This was like shearing a sheep in possession of a donkey kick with only a rusty pair of toenail clippers. And no, I am not overdramatizing the situation! 

In two weeks, I removed ninety pages (90!!!), jigsaw puzzled the remaining chunks that were left, and then wrote a brand spanking new sixty-five (65!!!) pages to stitch it all together. And now we’re gearing up for round two. 

The book in question is PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA, coming out in July 2020. It is my first stand alone, a rom-com that I love as intensely as only a mother could. 

In short, it’s a story of self-discovery as our protagonist Chelsea Martin is forced to confront the reality that she has become a raging workaholic with no life when her widowed father announces he’s getting remarried. At her sister’s suggestion, Chelsea decides that in order to find herself again she must go back to the year she spent abroad and find the three men she once loved – Colin in Ireland, Jean Claude in France, and Marcelino in Italy – and try to reconnect with open hearted, happy young woman she once was. Basically, she's looking for a life do-over. 

Here’s an early look at the opening of PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA:

Chapter One
     “I’m getting married.”
     “We’ve already picked our colors, pink and gray.”
     “ and what?”
     “Gray. What do you think, Chelsea? I want your honest opinion. Is that too retro?”
     I stared at my middle-aged widowed father. We were standing in a bridal store in central Boston on the corner of Boylston and Berkeley streets and he was talking to me about wedding colors. His wedding colors.
     “I’m sorry, I need a sec,” I said. I held up my hand and blinked hard, while trying to figure out just what the hell was happening.
     I had raced here from my apartment in Cambridge after receiving a text from my dad, asking me to meet him at this address because it was an emergency. I was prepared for heart surgery not wedding colors! 
     Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I wrestled the constricting wool scarf from around my neck, yanked the beanie off my head, and stuffed them in my pockets. I scrubbed my scalp with my fingers in an attempt to make the blood flow to my brain. It didn’t help. Come on, Martin, I coached myself, pull it together. I unzipped my puffy winter jacket to let some air in, then I focused on my father. 
     “What did you say?” I asked.
     “Pink and gray, too retro?” Glen Martin, aka Dad, asked. He pushed his wire frame glasses up on his nose and looked at me as if he was asking a perfectly reasonable question. 
     “No, before that.” I waved my hand in a circular motion to indicate he needed to back it all the way up.
     “I’m getting married!” His voice went up when he said it and I decided my normally staid fifty-five-year-old dad was somehow currently possessed by a twenty-something bridezilla.
     “You okay, Dad?” I asked gently not wanting to set him off. “Have you recently slipped on some ice and whacked your head? I ask because you don’t seem to be yourself.”
     “Sorry,” he said. He reached out and wrapped me in an impulsive hug, another indicator that he was not his usual buttoned down mathematician self. “I’m just…I’m just so happy. What do you think about being a flower girl?”
     “Um…I’m almost thirty.” I tipped my head to the side and squinted at him.
     “Yes, but we already have a full wedding party, and you and your sister would be really cute in matching dresses, maybe something sparkly.”
     “Matching dresses? Sparkly?” I repeated. I struggled for air. It was clear. My father had lost his ever lovin’ mind. I should probably call my sister. Dad needed medical attention, possibly an intervention. Oh, man, would we have to have him committed?
     I studied his face, trying to determine just how crazy he was. The same brown-green hazel eyes I saw in my own mirror every morning held mine, but where my eyes frequently looked flat with a matte finish, his positively glowed. He really looked happy.
     “You’re serious,” I gasped. I glanced around the bridal store that was stuffed to the rafters with big, white fluffy dresses. None of this made any sense and yet here I was. “You’re not pranking me?”
     “Nope.” He grinned again. “Congratulate me, peanut, I’m getting married.”
     I felt as if my chest was collapsing into itself. Never, not once, in the past seven years had I ever considered the possibility that my father would remarry.
     “To who?” I asked. It couldn’t be...nah. That would be insane.
     “Really, Chels?” Dad straightened up. The smile slid from his face and he cocked his head to the side which was his go-to disappointed parent look. 
     I had not been on the receiving end of this look very often in life. Not like my younger sister, Annabelle, who seemed to thrive on “the look”. Usually, it made me fall right in line but not today.
     “Sheri. You’re marrying Sheri.” I tried to keep my voice neutral. Major failure as I stepped backwards, tripped on the trailing end of my scarf and gracelessly sprawled onto one of the cream colored velvet chairs that were scattered around the ultra feminine store. I thought it was a good thing I was sitting because if he answered in the affirmative I might faint. 
     “Yes, I asked her to marry me and to my delight she accepted,” he said. Another happy stupid grin spread across his lips as if he just couldn’t help it.
     “But…but…she won you in a bachelor auction two weeks ago!” I cried. “This is completely mental!”

So, how about you Reds and Readers, have you ever had a time in your life when you wanted a do-over?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What We're Writing Week: Pen in Hand

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm happy to say the copyedits on HID FROM OUR EYES are done, the final book design is proceeding apace, and the advance reader copies (ARCs) are starting to get mailed!

Which means right now, much of my writing is pen on paper. Over the course of writing a novel, I fill up about half a composition book on notes, ideas, branching decision trees, outlines, etc. etc. I draw little arrows between characters to see who links with whom. I make lists of what each character wants, fears, is willing to do. It's very messy and very necessary to my process. This is a page from the early part of planning HID FROM OUR EYES:

Over the years, I've tried doing this work on sheets of large paper, on index cards and on fancy plotting software programs. (Not judging - I was finally forced to upgrade from Word 97, so just about any program from the 21st century is fancy to me.) I've enjoyed bits and pieces of brainstorming on these different platforms, but I always come back to the old composition book. 

I'm also doing some old fashioned pen-and-paper work for book store owners. My publisher is sending out ARCs to certain  booksellers, in the hopes of getting quotes for their sales catalog.* Up until a few years ago, Minotaur still had physical catalogs; now it's all moved onto a combined sales presentation and ordering site, enabling them to link to cool things authors are doing or to insert rave reviews from other booksellers. I'm writing personal notes for each of the ARCs to be sent out. The beautiful cards are from my friend, Maine artist Shari Goddard Shambaugh.

If you're a reader, you're used to the idea that authors and publishers are trying to market to you, but publishers spend as much time flogging books to the book shops and libraries you'll be getting them from. (Please consider pre-ordering from your local independent book store!) 

This What We're Writing Week has been one of the most interesting ever, because you can see so many different types of writing that makes up a career, and so many stages of the process - Hallie is freelancing and Hank is writing reviews. Rhys is finishing a first draft and Lucy is revising one. I'm sending mail off to book stores and Debs is getting ready to visit them. And, I'm assuming, Jenn is doing ALL of the above! Writing a book is one (great!) thing, but making a living as a professional writer is another.

So my question, dear readers, is what part of the writing life surprises you? And what sorts of things are you writing this week?

*If you're a bookseller reading this, don't worry - there will be LOTS of ARCs going out. The first batch is just for quotes. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Deborah Crombie and Book Launch Madness

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The release of my 18th Kincaid/James novel, A BITTER FEAST, is just a little over a week away and I am in prep countdown! (Cue music from Jaws here!)

I will be on book tour from the 8th of October, ending with Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas. But there is so much to do before I take off! Written interviews, blog posts, podcast interviews, social media, scheduling! It's all fun, though, and here are a couple of my favorite things from this week:

Last Sunday's mention in Parade Magazine (which was completely unexpected!)

And the release of the teaser from the audio version of A BITTER FEAST, read by my wonderful narrator, Gerard Doyle. This made me swoony with excitement! It is such a weird and wonderful experience to listen to your own work read by someone else. The book takes on a life of its own.

I also, I have to admit, have been shopping. New book, new tour, new conference--all call for a new travel wardrobe. Here's the result of a one-day blitz!

So I am all coordinated, and with the help of a white blouse and couple of scarves (not worn with the animal prints!) hopefully I can do a week at a time without looking like I'm wearing exactly the same thing at every event.

But what about WRITING,  you ask. Well, here's my big news-- 

There is another book in the works--in fact, I've just signed a contract with my publisher, William Morrow, for two more books. 

I have a smidgen of the first book rattling around in my brain. A title, a setting, a germ of a plot, some chapters outlined and bits of scenes written. I just have to clear the decks, focus, and do some necessary research so that I can really dive in. Next time we roll around to What We're Writing I'll have a snippet to share and will tell you more about it.

Next stop after Bouchercon, three weeks in London!

So, dear REDs and readers, how do you keep your cool when life is pulling you in a multitude of directions?? If you have calming mantras, please share. I could use them.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lucy is Revising THE KEY LIME CRIME

cover draft, final to come

LUCY BURDETTE: As you heard last week, most of us don't mind revising with a good editor, and some of us love it. Crooked Lane does things a little differently from what I've experienced with previous publishers--they use freelance editors. When I got my edited manuscript back two weeks ago, I was thrilled to recognize the editor as my previous NAL editor for this series, Sandy Harding. 

Sandy has a talent for putting her finger right on problems (plot and character)--I have a tendency to be vague about details in early drafts because I'm busy nailing the story down. And she also points out where good moments in the book could be expanded for better effect. Here's an example. On the side you can see her comment, and underlined sentences are my fixes.

In the olden days, all this didn't happen online. I'd send the printed manuscript in the mail, and get it back pocked with yellow sticky notes that had suggestions scribbled on them. When I taught mystery writing to 5th graders, I loved showing them that stack of pages--they were horrified at the amount of work writing a book involves!

Okay, I have to get back to fixing my problems, but I'll leave you with a little snippet from THE KEY LIME CRIME. I chose it  since everyone loves Miss Gloria. Helen is Hayley's mother-in-law and the three of them are investigating a murder of course...

We zipped up to Houseboat Row where Miss Gloria was waiting in the driver’s seat of her big Buick with the engine running. She had the windows open and some kind of rock music pumping out from the radio. 

“Want me to drive?” I asked.

“No thanks,” she said cheerfully. “I don’t want to get rusty. And we don’t have far to go, so how much damage can I do?” She cackled as we got in, then craned around to grin at Helen in the back seat, gunned the engine, and lurched out onto Palm Avenue. I gripped my door handle and gritted my teeth, waiting for the sound of blaring horns and the crash of metal. Mercifully none of that came.

“We’ve got a lot on the schedule today, don’t we?” Miss Gloria asked. “I figure we’ll park in the garage on Caroline Street and then walk to the Pie Company, right?”

“Right,” I said. “And Helen and I have agreed, we aren’t investigating. On the other hand, if some tidbit related to Claudette falls in our laps, we’ll gather it up and pass it on to Nathan.”

“Remember to think about the person behind the crime,” Helen a.k.a. my mother-in-law said, leaning forward and grabbing the driver side headrest. “We’re not only collecting recipes, we’re understanding a murderer. And his victim.”

“Oh, Hayley is unbelievable at that,” said Miss Gloria, glancing in the rear view mirror. “She has more friends than anyone I know—and that’s because she knows what makes people tick. And even if she doesn’t care for somebody, she works at understanding why they’re crabby. And the next thing you know, they’re friends. I’m certain Nathan’s told you how she solved a couple of crimes. Not that he appreciates that one bit.” 

She chuckled, and I squeezed her arm to thank her for sticking up for me, but then let go fast so she would concentrate on swinging around the curve that led into Eaton Street without taking out cars in the oncoming traffic. She found an open space in the Caroline Street garage, avoided nicking anyone’s paint job, and we wended our way through a mob of visitors to the shop on Greene Street.

“Please,” I whispered to Miss Gloria, “let me ask the questions?” I didn’t dare say the same to Helen, but I hoped I’d made my point clear.

We signed in at the cash register and Sigrid led us to the back room of the shop with three other students—Lori, Judy, and Louise—friends visiting from New Jersey to celebrate the New Year and escape a week of bitter cold temperatures. Sigrid gestured for us to stop next to two large sinks. 

“No one starts the class without washing up and dressing in our chef’s costume,” she said, grinning. She described how we should scrub our hands and then don plastic gloves and aprons and finally a hairnet.

“All you ladies look so cute,” said Miss Gloria. “You are rocking those hairnets. We need pictures of this.”

“Give me your phones,” Sigrid said, “and I’ll take some pix.”

I hardly wanted this outfit broadcast on social media. The net flattened our hair against our heads, and the clear plastic on our hands and torso made us resemble packaged meat. Not a good look for any of us. On the other hand, Palamina would love it if I posted these photos on Instagram and Facebook. Pictures of pie after pie after pie could be broken up with some comic relief. And it might relax the instructor if we behaved like normal students rather than murder inquisitionists. I took off one of the gloves, dug in my back pocket, and handed over my phone.

Miss Gloria clapped her plastic-covered hands together. “I feel like we’re Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate shop, remember that episode in I love Lucy? I watch it once a week, along with the video about the cat who sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with his owner. With the world such a mess, it pays to find things that make you laugh. I’ll find it for you when we finish the class,” she told the ladies from New Jersey.

Mrs. Bransford looked a little googly-eyed. My roommate could have that effect on people until they got used to her chirpy nature.

And here's what I did to research the scene--with the real Lori, Judy, and Louise...Can't you picture Miss Gloria and Hayley right here too? Now, a question for writers and non-writers alike: How do you do at handling feedback on a project you've worked hard on?

PS the pre-order link with the new cover is not up yet, but I will alert you when it is. Meanwhile, A DEADLY FEAST will be out in Mass market paperback on June 9 and you can order that now: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound...

Lucy Burdette writes the Key West food critic mystery series, which can be bought wherever books are sold. Please follow her on Bookbub, Instagram, and Facebook!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Rhys on Cottages she has Known

RHYS BOWEN: I am nearing the first draft of my 14th Royal Spyness book, this one a spoof on REBECCA and set in Cornwall, a place I know well since we visit John's sister there every summer.
In this excerpt Georgie's friend Belinda has just inherited a property in Cornwall. They go to inspect and it turns out to be a cottage perched above the rocks. A rather primitive cottage.

As with all my books, I make my characters suffer my own experiences. In this case their suffering mirrors the time John and I were lent a farmhouse in France. We arrived and couldn't find a loo. We knew there must be a bathroom somewhere as the instructions told us how to work the shower. Eventually I went down to the cellar, across a dirt floor and down another flight of steps into...well, a cavern. Vaulted ceiling with ferns and mushrooms growing out of it. In one corner was a loo and in the middle a shower coming from the ceiling directly onto the stone floor. Needless to say neither of us went down there at night! Will Belinda and Georgie?  Read on:

Below was a stone basement with another large sink. The smell of fish still lingered. In one corner was a rusted tin bathtub, and in another a lavatory. Goodness knows where that drained to!
            “Not exactly much privacy,” I pointed out.
            “Can you imagine coming down here in the night?” Belinda sounded horrified. “Forget what I said about furniture being the number one priority. The first task is a proper bathroom.”
            “Are you sure this place is worth all the effort?” I asked. “it’s terribly remote. Would you really want to be here alone?”
            “I’m not sure,” she said. “I like the idea, but… Let’s sleep on it. I always say things look better in the morning.”
            “Do you think we should lock the front door, just in case?” I asked.
            “Who is possibly going to bother us out here?” Belinda said. “But maybe you’re right. We are far from any help, aren’t we?”
            She turned the big iron key in the latch. “Satisfied?” she asked.  I was.
After we had taken turns to use the facilities while the other stood guard at the top of the stairs we got undressed for bed. 
            “I don’t feel like turning off that oil lamp, if you don’t mind,” Belinda said. 
            “I agree. And wake me up if you need to go down to the loo.”
            “I rather wish I hadn’t had that pint of cider now,” Belinda said. 
            “Me too.”
            We climbed into the bed. The mattress was lumpy and the springs squeaked every time one of us moved.
            “I wouldn’t recommend this for a romantic hideaway,” I said, making Belinda laugh.
            “Oh crikey, can you imagine.”
            We both lay there laughing, as one does when very nervous.
            “I’m freezing. How about you?” Belinda asked.
            “I certainly am. The blankets feel damp, don’t they?”
            “I could put my cape over us. And your overcoat.”  She got up and started to drape them over the bedding.
            “Remind me whose mad idea this was,” I said.
            “At least you are not having to give tea parties and feel lonely and bored,” she said.
            “You’re quite right. It is an adventure. I must remind myself of that—especially if I have to get up in the night.”
            “Wake me and I’ll hold a candle for you,” Belinda said.
The extra layers started to warm us up. The wind had died down and all one could hear was the distant thump of waves on the rocks below. Gradually I drifted off to sleep. I awoke to pitch darkness. The oil in the lamp must have finally given out. I lay staring at nothing, wondering what might have woken me. Then I heard it again… the slightest sound. Was it the creak of a door? 
            Only the wind, I told myself. I knew from experience with Castle Rannoch that old houses were full of noises as they creaked and sighed and shifted. I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. I had almost drifted off when I felt the covers being peeled back and someone climbed into the bed beside me. The bedsprings creaked ominously. Silly Belinda, I thought. She’s been to the loo by herself. How considerate of her not to have woken me up.
Then I realized this person was getting into the bed on my left side. Belinda had been lying on my right. I reached out a hand and felt the warmth of her body. Then who on earth? 

Who on earth indeed? The plot thickens after this! It's called THE LAST MRS. SUMMERS (Those of you who know Rebecca might appreciate the names) and it comes out next August.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

What Hank's Writing: Book Reviews?!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Do you write book reviews? As an author, I will admit, I tiptoe toward the review section of every website, knowing I might be poking a landmine, but unable to resist. And every author will tell you how important it is to have a good review, how the dashed off and spoiler-filled and mean-spirited reviews are not only knives to the heart, but ratings wrecking. 

But I have been writing a different kind of review. The fabulous Criminal Element is doing a wonderful experiment, are asking authors to review the past Edgar winners for best novel. There was a mad dash among the authors they asked to pick which books to review, and I must say that I was not among the first, so I did not get Day of the Jackal or Eye of the Needle, two faves.   And turns out,  two of the three I was assigned were books I had never read.  (I might say that I had never heard of them, actually. They won the Edgar, and they were not even in my bandwidth! Whoa. )

However! That was the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

The first book I reviewed is A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine – the pseudonym for Ruth Rendell.  It was the winner in 1987, and  difficult to judge it from the standpoint of someone reading it then, as well as someone reading it now.

As I wrote: 

"I  will admit, I fear, if I had read this book in 1986—when, after all, the best sellers of the year were Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, and Stephen King—I might have given up on this book after a couple of chapters, asking out loud, is anything going to happen soon?
And had I done that, I would not have been treated to the glorious, masterful, innovative structure that Vine uses to devise this disturbing puzzle. Gradually, in her own brilliantly created order, Vine lets us in on the whole story, puzzle piece by puzzle piece, without letting us know where the puzzle pieces fit."
In the review, I said: 

"But if a new writer pitched this book today, the agent would toss it on the reject pile after the first several pages. Backstory backstory backstory. Family tree family tree family tree, family tree--to the point of excruciating frustration. Get to the story! The agent would cry.

Too bad for the agent. Turns out, the family is the story."  

  It was fun to imagine the discussion of the Edgar committee, you know? Why didn’t they choose P.D. James for A Taste of Death? Or  Joe Gores for Come Morning, Brian Freemantle for The Blind Run, and Roger L. Simon for The Straight Man?  What was it about this particular book that made it the most special of the special books? When I wrote near the end was:

"I wish I had been there for the final Edgar vote. “It’s fine, I guess,” someone would have said.
“I think it’s risky,” someone else might have warned.
“This one will become a classic,” said the sage one in the back. And that person was correct. "
 And now I'm working on another review which will come out in a month or so. The book--The Red Scream-- is by Mary Willis Walker,  and it won in 1995. It was a perfect book for me to read, because it's about a reporter, Molly Cates, whose true crime book is about to be published. (Lots of parallels to my TRUST ME and to my own real life.)
 Again-- reading it in 1995 would be a lot different from reading it in 2019, right? What was fresh and innovative back then isn’t, frankly, now. And though chronologically that it wasn’t so long ago, in some senses, it was. We didn’t know about #MeToo,  or cell phones, and the Internet was newish.  By the time Mary Willis Walker wrote this book, Sue Grafton was already on L. 

But then, reading, I saw what made it more than a savvy-tough-intrepid-working-woman story. I’m still drafting, but I can share an early bit:

"Here’s the clincher: only Molly herself has the opportunity to tell the truth about this crime, the crime that made her career.

But if her  true crime book is based on her own misunderstanding of the crime--if it's not true--how good a reporter is she?

If Molly diligently follows the clues that may lead to the convicted killer’s innocence, doesn’t that make her guilty?

That’s what makes the story so special--Walker’s focus on the choice devoted reporter Molly must make. Can she be true to her "stand up for the little guy" philosophy? If she does, the discovering the pivotal clues might lead to her own personal humiliation and defeat." 
And, parenthetically, my researching to write this review revealed another mystery: Where is Mary Willis Walker? 

She only wrote four books, that I can find, all of which were incredibly well reviewed, and awarded, and lauded, and then, she vanished!  I found an essay she had written in the New York Times about dropping the Walker from her name after getting divorced. I queried the Facebook hive mind, and no one seems to be able to come up with any more than that. How can a successful writer just vanish? Maybe just… Stop writing. But I would love to know. 

(The review won’t be published for a month or so, so make sure you find it on the fab Criminal Element!)

One more thing I’m writing, (actually have written, even better), is the introduction to another book you may not know about: The Bellamy Trial. 

American Mystery Classics asked me to write the introduction for their brand new edition of this 1927 classic, and I leapt at the chance with delight. Turns out, it is such a terrific book, (lookit that cover!) and again, right up my legal thriller alley. In fact, some say, with The Bellamy Trial, Frances Noyes Hart wrote the first legal thriller.

There is a tiny part of that introduction.

"Hart is such a clever writer, and this charming novel –which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post --is hardly just a legal transcript. With Whartonesque overtones and trenchant social commentary, the world of the scandalous crime emerges:  silver dancing shoes, silver flasks, country clubs, cocktail parties, maids, nannies, and families with day and night nurseries. The reader understands the milieu Hart is allowing us to grasp: the attendant wealth and lack of it, the undercurrent (usually under) of class struggles, and the battle for acceptance in tightly-contained social circles. Passionate love and broken promises, parental manipulation, deceit and gaslighting—results that can only come from the lust for money and greed and control."

This book was absolutely a joy to read, and I cannot wait to share it with you. These new editions will be out in a month or so, but I have one here to give away! 

Tell me how you feel about writing reviews, reds and readers, and one lucky commenter will get an early copy.

(Oh, PS, the third book I am reviewing for Criminal Element is Citizen Vince! Love that book!)