Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A tribute.

:  I’m still in a state of shock after learning of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’ve been crying when I’m normally quite stoic. But I suppose this is fear and despair mixed with grief.

What a giant of influence this tiny woman was. I can’t think of anyone who embodies the word justice more completely. And yet she was not always stuffy, earnest and serious. She had a dry wit, as she confessed getting advice on her marriage that it is sometimes wise to be deaf, and she has continued this into her professional life. Also that she was allowed on stage, in costume in many DC operas as she is such a huge opera fan

I realize I’ve been writing IS not was, as if I can’t believe she’s gone  All we can do is take up the fight for justice and decency in her honor.

LUCY BURDETTE: Totally agree Rhys, she was a whirling dervish--so dedicated to her fight against gender discrimination, and then for all Americans, once she was appointed to the supreme court. I fell in love with her after watching the documentary RBG. (ON THE BASIS OF SEX is another film about her life.) Who could not love a mid-eighties woman holding a plank for 60 seconds while on camera? She had astonishing work habits and a brilliant mind, and I simply can’t fathom working through 3 bouts of cancer as she did over the recent years. I can only imagine that she was heartbroken knowing her fight was over. I know that I am…

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Think of the lives she changed! With her brilliance, and authentic love of justice, and unstoppable humor, and genuine delight in who she’d become. Her laser logic. She understood power, and her power, and understood the power of right. And got to love how she was so incredibly confident. Her late-in-life attendance at law school.

And she not only changed women’s lives for the better, but men's, too, right? SInce it’s all dominoes.

(Not to mention the politics of it, which she deeply understood. Her last wish to her granddaughter, which will most certainly not be granted.)

She would have wanted us to persevere, too. Her death must inspire us not to give up.

HALLIE EPHRON: She was amazing. For her intellect. Her tenacity. Her convictions. She did it all and in her own way and in her own good time. Losing her, and losing her now makes me weep for her and her loved ones... and for us.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: She will be remembered as a giant of jurisprudence, not necessarily for her opinions, well-thought-out and well-written as they were, but for the example she set for women in the law and the inspiration she’s been to countless young women everywhere. Her work as an attorney helped ensure women and men equal opportunity under the law, without regard for gender or orientation.  

Also, having read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, I have to say she and her beloved Marty set an example of equality and mutual support that’s hard to find in many marriages today, let alone back in the 50’s and 60’s when she was going to law school and starting her career. 

I think of that lovely phrase used when people die: May her name be a blessing. We don’t need to wish that for Ruth Bader Ginsburg; her name is already a blessing.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have to admit I've been putting off adding to this thread because I knew I couldn't do it without tears. Her name will be a blessing indeed, Julia, and a touchstone for future generations. What an amazing light in the world she was. Brave, honest, decent, compassionate, funny. And while we are all grieving for ourselves in OUR loss, I keep think how incredibly hard it must have been for her to let go, knowing the consequences. But I know she had faith that we would continue her legacy. RIP, RBG.

JENN MCKINLAY: There are so many things I admired about Justice Ginsburg and you've all covered it quite well. I don't want to be repetitive. I do, however, have a bookmark of Notorious RBG. I've had it for years. I think of our mighty warrior every night when I read, and she keeps my place for another day. It seems fitting. She kept our place at the table when no one else would. Now we need to keep hers.

RHYS: I must have been psychic because I bought my daughter this mask for her birthday, also one for me

I lIke to think of her shooting into the heavens like a giant rocket, exploding into a million stars that fall to Earth igniting a flame in all of us for justice and decency and equality
RBG rest in power!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Do have a spot of tea!

 RHYS BOWEN: i was about to post this when I learned of the death of RBG. Obviously I can’t do her credit at this time of night but we will be saluting her as she deserves tomorrow

I apologize if this post seems trite against such stunning news

It seems most of my posts recently have been rather serious. Not surprising as we live in a time of doom and gloom with one catastrophe following the next. However, in a year of pandemic, murder hornets, a giant volcano under Massachusetts, devastating wildfires and an election that may be questioned and corrupted there is one constant in my life: (as well as my husband John, I mean) and that is my cup of tea.

We Brits got through WWII with our cups of tea.

When you have a baby in England the first thing they give you afterward is a cup of tea. When you are suffering from shock after an accident--a cup of tea. When I was growing up you could call unexpectedly upon any person knowing that a kettle would be hot and ready and a cup of tea only moments away.

It pains me now to know that the younger generation has switched to coffee. I think the reason behind this is that there are now no housewives at home all day, waiting for a friendly caller. And also people are at work so that tea time, in all its luxurious splendor, is a thing of the past. No more taking a table out to the lawn on fine summer afternoons, passing the cucumber sandwiches and the shortbread while the birds chirp overhead and the smell of newly mown grass lingers in the air.

But it's not a thing of the past for me. When I invite friends over it's often for tea. I make scones, cucumber sandwiches, little cakes and get out the good china. It is the most civilized of occasions with plenty of time to talk without the hostess having to leap up and serve food. I have to confess that tea is my favorite meal. A favorite splurge when I'm in England is to go to tea at one of the London hotels. Equally favorite is a real cream tea in Cornwall with the local Cornish clotted cream. (By the Way none of these is a high tea. That is a meal instead of dinner and includes a poached egg, piece of pork pie or other protein designed to carry one through the night.) Quite a big meal. And in contrast, look at the size of this tea set!!! I want it.

It also pains me that Britain has sunk to tea bags. But not me. Tea is one of the things we still hold sacred. John imports Darjeeling, Kee Mun, a fine leaf black Indian or Ceylon tea and blends them into our own mix. When we're in England we stock up at a tea importer for the real thing. We also have a variety of tea pots to serve it in, ranging from antique silver (usually hidden in a green bag) to traditional British stoneware. 

So let's hope tea will carry me through the pandemic and the election. You should try it (although I have to confess that a little Prosecco doesn't hurt either).

How about you? Are you a fan of tea and tea-time?

Friday, September 18, 2020

White Masks after Labor Day? Never!

RHYS BOWEN: I saw this week that someone on Facebook asked, “Are we wearing white masks after Labor Day? I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”


While I had a good chuckle this made me think of all the silly rules and conventions we humans invent for ourselves. Who made the rule about not wearing white after Labor Day?  It must have been some socialite at her cottage in Newport RI who proclaimed those cutting words, “Nobody who is anybody would be seen dead wearing white after Labor Day.” Maybe that was because her maid had forgotten to pack her white gloves! Thus everyone made sure they were not seen in white or they wouldn’t be invited to the right places.


This is amusing, superficial, but it all goes down to basic survival. I suppose it has a lot to do with wanting to be part of the in-group, wanting to conform, to be accepted by the tribe. I think it’s built into human survival that we want to make sure the tribe does not reject us, because for our ancestors that would mean starvation and death.


From childhood on we yearn to be accepted, even more to be popular, and so we do everything we can. God forbid if we wear what’s not fashionable at the moment, or even the wrong brand of clothes. Mortification. Being rejected, or being laughed at, are worse than death. One of my daughters told me that “everyone else in my class” was wearing Calvin Klein jeans. She implied she couldn’t show her face again until she too had Calvin Klein jeans. I sat outside in my car one afternoon and reported that night. Survey on the behinds of sixth graders: it turned out only seven girls wore Calvin Klein. Some even wore the dreaded Sears. Case disproved, I said. I hate you, she said. But obviously it was the seven girls who mattered. It was case of wanting to be accepted by the in-crowd.  (That particular daughter now has the most sophisticated and classic fashion sense. She worked in Germany and learned that in Europe women only a few items of clothing but they are very good quality.)


I was always the good child who wanted to look right. There was one very rich girl at my ballet school and I wanted to look just like her. The good thing about living in England was that we wore uniform for most of our lives. No differentiating who was rich and who was poor, except on weekends and at parties.


In my kid’s school there were always one or two kids who didn’t care a fig for what was in fashion or the norm. They marched triumphantly to their own drummer, wearing tie-died and flowing or black and scary and not caring that other kids mocked them. I often think that those were the kids who succeeded as adults. I bet Mark Zuckerberg had a button down shirt and pocket protector.


 Most of us, however, are desperate to conform: My grandmother would never go out without her hat and gloves. When I was a child men still wore hats and tipped them to ladies as they passed. Remember that? And took them off in church, while ladies covered their heads. And women were slaves to fashion: the new look after WWII with its long skirts, then the A line, Mary Quant and hot pants, flowing hippie flowery garb. It’s that conforming to the tribe so we’re not rejected again, isn’t it?


I confess that I still want to be the good child: I peek out of my door at conventions to make sure that what I am wearing to the banquet is neither too dull or too flashy.  I learned the hard way. When I was writing YA books, years ago, a cocktail party was given in my honor at the Frankfurt book fair. I bought fabulous emerald green silk pantsuit. AND… every single other woman in the room was wearing a black cocktail dress. I wished the floor would open and swallow me up, even though I kept telling myself that these people had come to meet me.

So now, even if I’m guest of honor, I still want to look right. I agonize far more about what I’m going to wear than what I’m going to say in my speech (at least I don’t have the fear of speaking in public, like so many people).


Yes, I guess I’m still insecure. How about you? Are you comfortable just the way you are, have you always been the confident rebel who wears what she likes, when she likes? Or are you more like me, wanting to look right? Are you going to keep wearing that white mask after Labor Day?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Rhys Thoughts on Brits and the Pandemic.



RHYS BOWEN: I don’t know about you but I’ve been really stressed since this pandemic started.  We only go out to do our weekly shopping, during senior hour once a week. If I have to mail something and stand in the post office with one other person and the clerk behind a Perspex panel I can feel my heart pounding. We are told that older people are more likely to become really ill with the virus. I skirt around people on our walks, even though most are wearing masks. 

But you know the one person who is not fazed by this at all? My husband, John, who is in his eighties. If I allowed him to he’d be at Costco and Home Depot and Target merrily shopping away with hordes of other people. This one of the few times in our marriage when I have really put my foot down and said, “NO!!!!”

His answer is: I LIVED THROUGH THE WAR! That was the same answer he gave after the panic following 9/11. We were bombed every night for over two years and we never panicked then! He’d be out riding his bike all over the city. Once he heard a popping noise and wondered what it was and found that a German plane had dived low and was machine-gunning people on the next street. I’m amazed his mother let him loose at such a time. 

But I suppose having lived through a war you feel you can handle almost anything. And there is something in the British character—sang froid? A basic stoicism? A sense of communal duty? That pulls us through tough times. Look at how people fought over toilet paper this year. The Brits calmly queued up with their ration books and made do with impossibly little.

A quarter of a pound of meat per week per person? One egg? They survived somehow.

We are a nation of eccentrics, of individuals with a strong feeling for the right of the individual and yet at the same time a spirit that comes together at times of adversity. Maybe it’s because America has only been attacked once on home soil, and that attack was limited to four planes, that Americans can’t picture what it’s like to be under siege by an enemy. Which is probably why a certain number of people want to call this a hoax, demand that they are free not to wear a mask and can go to bars, convinced that nothing will ever happen to them. 

I think if you go back to WWII you’ll find that most people did their part willingly. They put on a uniform, flew a plane, worked in a shipyard, grew vegetables all without complaining. But then they had just come through the great Depression and had to make do, to survive. I find myself wondering what would happen if we ever found ourselves at war now. Would half the country declare it a hoax? Would people refuse to join the forces, saying it was their right not to wear a uniform? I pray that never comes to pass, just as I pray that sanity and a spirit of selflessness returns to our country.

I have to say that the Brits have not been doing so brilliantly recently. I think of football hooligans trashing cities and Britain has not fared so well during the pandemic (but way, way better than the US. Schools are now back, business is pretty much as usual with few cases).
So does it take something as big as a war to unite people? Have we become too entitled and pampered that "nobody is going to make me do anything I don't want to?"  We've had it too easy for too long. I'm just wondering what it will take to wake us up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Daniella Bernett has A MIND TO MURDER!

RHYS BOWEN: I don't know about the rest of you but I am fed up with being stuck at home. I'm itching to travel, especially to get back to my roots and the British Isles. With all the smoke and heat in California I was sighing when I saw Daniella's pictures of Scotland and the Lake District. Oh, to be there now.

So thank you, Daniella, for this brief escape:

 Daniella Bernett:


I would like to thank Rhys Bowen for inviting me back to Jungle Reds. It’s so pleasant to stop by for a chat about mysteries in their various guises. The Reds have always been warm and welcoming. I only wish we could linger over a pot of tea and a plate of scones. Oh, the stories we could tell.


Perhaps one day we will have the time, but for now I’m delighted to let everyone know that OLD SINS NEVER DIE, the sixth book in my mystery series featuring journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon, will be released on September 19 by Black Opal Books. It’s a contemporary story that will take readers on a journey of deception and treason from London to the Lake District and up to picturesque Scotland.

Before I go any further, I think it is only fair to make a confession. I’m guilty. My crime? I have a mind to murder. My life of crime was launched when I was at a tender age. It started with a love affair with reading, which blossomed into a passion for the written word. This literary seduction led me to become a mystery author. Why this genre in particular? I was enchanted with the idea of creating a puzzle that teases a reader’s intellect and provides an escape. I wonder if Agatha Christie (my hero) felt the same way, when she was spinning her delicious webs of deadly intrigue.


It’s human nature to yearn for an escape from the humdrum pattern that our everyday lives can fall into at some stage. A change of scene does wonders for the soul. One can always travel to new places within the pages of a novel. Setting plays a prominent role in this story, as it does in all my books. I consider it an important character all its own. However, while one part of my mind is captivated with the beauty of an area, the other half is seized by a malicious glee because I have discovered the perfect backdrop for a murder. I’m of the opinion that danger lurks in beauty.


This is precisely what I found when I visited Grasmere in England’s beguiling Lake District. I never wanted to leave this serene and verdant haven of streams, woods and hills. So, I returned with Emmeline and Gregory. In theory, a sightseeing tour of Lake Windermere is supposed to be an enjoyable way to soak up the scenery. But Emmeline and Gregory overhear a man attempting to hire an international assassin. (I did warn you my mind has lethal tendencies.) They race back to London to warn the authorities. There’s a bit of a problem, though. They have no idea who the wretched victim will be. If that weren’t bad enough, Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder. As Emmeline digs into his illicit business dealings, she learns that he is involved with Lord Desmond Starrett in an unholy scheme called Poseidon. It’s never good when blackmail forms the basis of a relationship. Revenge also leads to all sorts of unpleasantness. Prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova, Rallis’s spurned lover, threatens to reveal his dirty secrets, as well as the identity of a mole in MI5. Sadly, she forfeits her life before a whisper passes her lips.


The chase for the ugly truth drags Emmeline and Gregory up to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. The town, built as a fishing port in the late 18th century, utterly bewitched me. Wooded hills fold the bay into its embrace and brightly painted buildings with shops line the main street. It took only one glimpse of the sleepy harbor for the adrenaline to sluice through my veins. For in my mind, it was no longer a sparkling summer day but gloomy November. An inconsolable midnight sky drenched Emmeline and Gregory with its chilly tears, as a biting wind carried their Zodiac toward the perils awaiting on shore and the lifeless body of a man lay at their feet.


Meanwhile, I have always loved the sea. There is something hypnotic and soothing about the velvet hiss of the undulating waves. That’s why I was mesmerized when I laid eyes on the nearby uninhabited Isle of Staffa. The island’s hexagonal columns of basalt rock stand sentinel over a watery underworld that remains an enigma to mere mortals. My writer’s insatiable curiosity was aroused, as our boat passed the yawning mouth of Fingal’s Cave. I heeded its siren call and featured Staffa because instinct told me that if one dared to trespass the cave’s hushed and murky blackness, fatal consequences were sure to follow.


In a sane and ordered world, murder is an egregious transgression. But in a mystery, murder takes pride of place. And as I’ve explained, dear reader, you can be certain that I will always find a place for murder.


Add caption

If Old Sins Never Die piques your interest, don’t miss Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past and When Blood Runs Cold, the other books in my series, where Emmeline and Gregory put their lives at risk when they’re thrust into imbroglios involving government intrigue, stolen diamonds, looted art and blackmail.  



Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter and the International Thriller Writers. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past and When Blood Runs Cold are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit or follow her on Facebook at or on Goodreads




Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Who Can Hate Halloween?! by Ellen Byron

Jenn McKinlay: Welcome, autumn! Falling leaves, pumpkins, crisp air, 

cooler days and a fun seasonal post by our dear friend the super talented and ever entertaining Ellen Byron!

Ellen Byron: Ah, Halloween. Was there ever a child whose heart didn’t thump with anticipation as the universally beloved holiday of costumes and candy approached?


*Raises hand.*


Yup, that’s right. When I was a kid, I hated Halloween. Hated it. I know, I know, it’s shocking. Who wouldn’t want to dress up and troll the streets for a literal bucket of free candy? Uh, that would have been me. As the witching hour approached, when families let their kids loose on the neighborhood – yes, we roamed free back then - my heart pumped with dread instead of excitement. From my perspective, Halloween was the night bullies were given free reign to pursue their dark agenda of egging younger kids, yelling nasty nicknames, and squirting them with cans of shaving cream. While many adults wax nostalgic about their childhood Halloweens, my memories consist of being terrified that some kid would jump out from behind a bush in the dark of night and scream “BOO!” at me, or chase me down the street laughing maniacally – both of which happened on several occasions. I only remember ever seeing one photo of me in a Halloween costume. In the picture, I’m dressed in a gorgeous pink satin princess outfit that my mother made for me. But instead of a smile, there’s a grimace on my face. To lock down my princess tiara, my mother pulled my hair into such a tight bun that I still wince recalling how much it hurt. 


I carried my aversion to the holiday into adulthood, brazenly showing up to costume parties in jeans and tee shirts. When asked what my costume was, I’d answer, “I’m dressed as someone who hates Halloween.”


Then I had a child. And talk about doing a one-eighty.


Every year, I decorated our front yard with pumpkins and ghosts and one of those joke witches that looks like it crashed into your front yard.  I made goofy, Halloween-themed cupcakes for school events and parties. And I dressed up our daughter. Oh, how I dressed her up. A clown…


A pumpkin.


A cheerleader and a soccer player. (Notice the prescient logo.)


A cat. A cheetah. A spider witch. 

A bride. A red princess during the year she refused to wear any color but red. (I did a lot of shopping at Christmas and Valentine’s Day that year.) 

I costumed my darling girl until she hit her tweens and insisted on picking out her own Halloween costumes.


I stopped decorating the front yard a couple of years ago, when Eliza went off to college. But I wasn’t done with Halloween. I gave my journey to my protagonist Maggie in MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD. Maggie has the same attitude to the holiday that I did, but when she experiences Halloween through the eyes of her fiancé’s young son, her aversion melts away. 


While Maggie and I may not have glorious recollections from our own childhood Halloweens, we have something even better – memories of the joy the holiday brings to the children that we love.


Readers, what do you love – or hate! – about Halloween? Comment to be entered in a giveaway for a copy of MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD!


BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Her new Catering Hall Mystery series, written as Maria DiRico, launched with Here Comes the Body, and was inspired by her real life. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. Visit her at


 SYNOPSIS: Maggie Crozat has the Halloween heebie-jeebies in USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Ellen Byron's howlingly funny sixth Cajun Country mystery. Five local plantation B&Bs host "Pelican's Spooky Past" packages, featuring regional crafts, unique menus, and a pet costume parade. Topping it off, the derelict Dupois cemetery is the suitably sepulchral setting for a spine-chilling play that ends in death. As murders stack up, Maggie fears Pelican's spooky past has nothing on its scary present.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Just Stuff

 RHYS BOWEN: For the last weeks we have had wildfires on all sides of us. Not close enough to have been in danger but making the air quality dangerously bad on some days so that we’ve been confined to the house. TV news showed harrowing pictures of people having to flee through walls of flame. So it occurred to me that I should make a list of things to take in case I ever had to flee in a hurry.  I sat staring at a blank page. What would I take if I was told I had ten minutes to get out of the house?

 Obvious things: passports, birth certificates etc. (Maybe I should move them to the safe deposit box  in advance)

Then laptop, iPad, iPhone, Kindle and all the chargers to go with them. Flash drives with old pictures on them.

Good jewelry that is not in the safe deposit box.

Then it becomes less clear:

Photo albums from when the kids were little. The girls’ wedding albums.

 Practical: change of clothes, underwear, nightshirt, robe, toothbrush, hairbrush. Medications. Make up.

But what about moisturizers? Shampoo? Hairdryer? 

And warm clothes in case it gets cold

And cool clothes in case it gets hot


You see how quickly this becomes complicated.

And we have a house full of quite valuable antiques from John’s family. Chinese plates on the walls, a crusader’s sword, a Queen Anne writing desk. Obviously that won’t fit in the car.

And I have a shelf of awards. Can I take my Agatha tea pots? My Anthony, Macavity etc?


What about my books? I have a copy of each of my books in two book cases. I would hate those to go up in smoke.

And my harp? Is there room for my harp? Obviously not.


Then I have to tell myself it’s all just stuff. Most things can be replaced. But an exercise like this reminds me what is important. Family memories. When my daughter had to flee from a fire a couple of years ago she arrived at my house at 2 in the morning with her daughters, the dog and her wedding album. Not even a toothbrush.

 Already this year I’ve come to the conclusion that I have too much STUFF. I threw away four shopping bags full of loose photographs. I have weeded out box after box of books. I cleaned out the pantry and discarded twenty year old spices. I went through my bathroom vanity and threw out things I didn’t use, like moisturizers and serums that I thought would make me look ten years younger but didn’t.

 And I notice that throwing out stuff has become a symbol of the pandemic. When I drive through the streets there are always free items put out, some of them quite valuable. There was a new-looking treadmill the other day. I was tempted, but no. I’d rather walk in nature.

 So I think we are all examining what is really important to us, what brings us joy (as Marie Kondo would say). One thing the pandemic is teaching us is what is important, what is precious. And that, to me, is people.  When asked what is the first thing I’ll do when the pandemic ends it is not get a haircut or go to a restaurant or even travel to a favorite place. It is hug my dear ones. That’s what matters.

So the big question today is: what would you take when escaping from a fire?

HALLIE EPHRON: For various personal reasons, I’ve recently put together an IF I GET HIT BY A BUS folder. It has a spreadsheet that lists all our accounts and passwords, information about where’s the will and the key to our safe deposit box. Basically it’s information that’s strewn about our house in file folders, drawers, on the computer, and in our heads, all in a few printed pages.

It’s very calming, knowing that I have it all written down in one place. 

If we had a fire (the west coast fires are so devastating - hard to even wrap my head around the scope of the destruction), I might once have said I’d grab family photos. But over the years my husband has digitized them and, thanks to the Cloud, they’re safe. I’d scoop up a few pieces of jewelry that belonged to my mother. A painting by my uncle. And my husband. 

JENN McKINLAY: Well, this does put a fine point on things, doesn’t it? I’m not a stuff person. My parents accumulated a lot of “stuff” so it gave me an aversion to accumulating “things”. I like nothing better than decluttering, truly, it makes me positively giddy. Naturally, I married a hoarder of books and guitars. If there was a fire, I am quite certain guitars would be strapped to every person and animal in this house as they fled for their life and, quite probably, they’d be forced to carry a bag of books (not mine), too. LOL! 

Honestly, I’d take the contents of the safe (documents) and my purse, maybe a snack, because the mom in me feels like you can’t go anywhere without snacks and that’s it.

LUCY BURDETTE: We hate watching those fires on the news--so terrifying and devastating. So far our family is okay, but that can change.

As for what to take...lockbox with important papers, bill file box, 2 pets in pet carriers, litter box and food, my grandmother’s paintings, computers, phones, chargers, some clothes and meds, and photos. Unfortunately my photos are a disaster. Scattered in boxes everywhere. Maybe I’ll organize and be ready if I ever retire…

This is a heartbreaking exercise. 

RHYS: Lucy, I just did this. Went through all my loose photos, threw away four shopping bags full and put the rest into albums. At least that was one achievement of the pandemic. And I found looking through them was so comforting--reliving good times and good people.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Our fear here is always tornadoes, where you have to be prepared to take shelter very quickly, then possibly evacuate if the house is badly damaged or the power is out for too long. But if we knew evacuation was imminent from a fire, the most important thing would be getting the two big dogs and the three cats, and the cats would be a challenge. And we only have two carriers! Maybe time to pick up a third one…  Other than that, passport, important papers (which should be better organized) meds, LAPTOP! The photos are too much of a mess to worry about. Like Lucy's, those go in the "one of these days" category!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I have thought about this too much, and it gets impossible. 

At some point, it’s all about paperwork, i guess. Passport, insurance stuff. But isn't that all somewhere? Phone, laptop, chargers--because you have to communicate. I’d grab Jonathan, and meds, and oh, I don’t know. What would matter? Someone must have a rule. Can you scan birth certificates and marriage certificates? Oh, it's impossible, and impossibly sad. I am going to start throwing more things away, articles and papers and memorabilia. Because--what am I saving them FOR?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It’s funny, because if you come to my house, you’ll think I save everything, because I’m something of a maximalist and we’ve lived here since 1994. But when it comes to what to grab in a fire, I’m pretty basic - a small bag of clothes. My toiletry bag is always stocked for travel, so that. All the important documents are in one folder, and you know what? If you don't get them, they can be replaced. It’s a pain, but it’s possible. Laptop in case, cats in crates, dog on lease, heave the bags of food in the back of the car - I figure I could be out of the house and headed down the road within 20 minutes of getting a warning. 

The art, the heirloom furniture, the china, the photos - not going to worry about those. I suspect I have this attitude from my mother, the military wife. We moved a lot, and everything outgrown or not used was tossed or given away. She had one 15”x15” box per child, and she kept our precious mementoes in there. When the box got too full, she edited things out. 

We lived in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 70s, two and a half hours from the Fulda Gap. My mother had go bags packed at all times for herself and her children. Bags, boxes, one favorite toy each - I’m pretty sure she would have been ready to evacuate in twenty minutes as well. Maybe less.

RHYS: Julia, I think it's very freeing when one realizes that if objects were lost it wouldn't be the end of the world. We have lots of antiques, but I don't think I'd weep much over any of them!

So the big question today is: what would you take when escaping from a fire?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

A Real Life Adventure

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Last night the fabulous Joe Finder and I did a conversation for the Salem Literary Festival…and all in all, it was wonderful. Because I really think we forgot there was an audience. Forgot it was being taped. We are both, as it turns out, slogging through the middle of a new book. Lots of talk, as a result, about perseverance, and  “the Muse only appears when you are writing” and self-doubt, and every book is a new challenge, and the glories of editing.


And also, as Debra Bokur reveals, there comes a time…when real life becomes as thrilling as a novel. When something shifts, and something changes.  And you are on your way.


Take five minutes. Here is a wonderful story.


(And, whoo hoo,  a giveaway below.)



Assignment in Germany

Debra Bokur


Plenty of creative people (plenty of people, for that matter) struggle with self-doubt. For a long time, I wasn’t any different. All the salient questions—is my plot clever enough, my characters compelling enough, my villain human enough?—were generally compounded by a recurring crisis of faith that I’d actually write long enough to get to those two magical words: The End.


Learning to trust my writing self came unexpectedly during an-almost missed deadline moment about ten years ago, while I was working as the managing editor at a holistic health magazine. At the time, I was deep into a binge of Helen MacInnes spy novels; a reading spree that had resulted in the purchase of a tweed pencil skirt (one that I wore at every possible opportunity, including grocery shopping in June). I had been sent back to Germany to produce a cover story on healing practices rooted in Roman settlements at the sites of natural springs that had eventually grown into small, lovely spa towns. The skirt came with me on my journey, along with a grueling travel itinerary that required substantial travel across the country.

 The ensuing drama that marked the beginning of the trip was unexpected, as such events typically are. I’d been to Germany dozens of times before, and was comfortable with traveling there. The route I’d planned began at an old spa hotel in Bad Reichenhall, where the spa park in the middle of town features an inhalation wall fed by salty water that creates a mist for health pilgrims to breath in while resting on nearby benches.I completed my interviews at the hotel’s medical center, then shook off my arrival day jet lag while finishing my worn paperback copy of MacInnes’ Assignment in Brittany on one of the park benches, then stopped in at a nearby café for a cup of tea and a slice of apple cake.


As usual after an international flight, I didn’t sleep well the first night, and woke at three a.m. That was fine, as I needed to leave quite early in order to make a series of train connections that would take over eight hours to reach Badenweiler, where I was scheduled to dine with the medical director at the small wellness hotel where I’d be spending the next night.


Fully prepared for the long day of train connections, I made my way to the front desk at 5:30 to check out and was surprised to find that the hotel’s general manager had arranged for breakfast to be served to me, even though it was far too early for the dining room to be open. I wasn’t hungry, and knew that it was essential that I make my first morning train, but the staff had gone out of their way to pamper me, as they were excited at the property’s first appearance in an American magazine.


It seemed likely someone had been called in early to provide this little treat, and it felt ungracious to refuse. The desk manager took my travel bag from me and assured me she had a private taxi on standby to whisk me to the station, then escorted me to a table laid out with fresh flowers and gleaming silver.


A smiling waiter served me a plate of eggs and fruit, a pot of tea, and a basket of still-warm croissants. Glancing nervously at my watch as I nibbled at the meal, I thanked the waiter and hurried back to the front desk—only to find that my bag, stuffed with my clothing, computer, notebooks, camera and personal items—was gone.


Gone. I approached the manager, completely bewildered. She smiled and glanced beside her desk, where she’d placed my bag. 

The realization hit her as my own panic rose to the surface, and she whirled around, sprinting for the lobby doors. I followed her, watching as she dashed to the street, then turned and ran back to me, questioning the doorman as she reentered the hotel. It seems that in the single moment she’d looked away, the coach driver transporting a group of holiday travelers from the hotel to the airport across the border in Salzburg, Austria, had scooped up my bag, thinking it was part of the luggage meant for his group.


A call to the coach company only added to my panic. The coach was being driven by a gentleman who was apparently the only driver in all of Europe to not have a cell phone, and was simply unreachable. My heart sank. Not only was I absolutely, without doubt going to miss my train—and, by default, all of the connections—there was no guarantee I’d be able to locate or claim my bag from whatever depository it would have been inwith at the airport.


Bad Reichenhall isn’t too awfully far from the Salzburg airport. On a good day with minimal traffic, the trip can be accomplished in about 20 minutes. My taxi driver, who’d come inside to help, stood listening as the hotel manager apologized, then began to cry—no doubt imagining a scathing piece on the hotel’s incompetence (which, for the record, would never have occurred to me to write). The driver spoke to the manager, asking for a description of the coach, then turned toward the door, gesturing that I should hurry. “Es ist gelb,” he told me—the coach was yellow, and should be easy to spot.


The driver’s gleaming black Mercedes Benz S-class was parked at the entrance, and I climbed into the back, barely clicking my seatbelt into place as he raced away along the town’s main road to the motorway. 

I remember the sinking feeling I had, kicking myself for not insisting upon taking the bag into the dining room with me; for not politely declining the offer of breakfast. But at almost the same moment, my anxiety vanished. I was participating in a high-speed chase across a European border in a Mercedes. I was wearing my MacInnes-worthy tweed skirt and an actual trench coat (beige, belted, with tortoiseshell buttons). I was pursing a missing bag (not an attaché, but close enough), and I had missed my train, just like all good spies do on occasion.

What did I care if I had to replace my belongings? My computer was backed up, and my credit cards and passport were in my shoulder bag. This wasn’t a nightmare—it was sort of a dream come true. In another dimension, I might have been behind the wheel of Nancy Drew’s powder blue convertible on my way to a haunted mansion, or racing along the autobahn in an Aston Martin like James Bond intercepting an international villain. This was nothing I couldn’t handle.


The speedometer climbed past 150 kph and edged toward 160. The traffic was still light at this hour, and we sped along, the driver’s hands gripping the wheel as I watched for the yellow coach. We reached the airport without ever catching sight of it. Once there, both the driver and I went inside to see if a piece of unclaimed luggage had been picked up.


None had. As we set off to return to the hotel, my taxi driver’s phone buzzed. After a brief conversation, he laughed, and spoke to me over his shoulder. The driver of the yellow coach had realized his mistake when my bag went unclaimed by his passengers, and had delivered it back to the hotel.


After retrieving it and thanking everyone who’d helped me—and reassuring the hotel manager that all was well—my taxi driver took me to the station, refusing the tip I tried to give him. “We made a movie,” he told me, grinning, and I nodded in agreement.


I arrived in Badenweiler on the last possible train of the day at the small station in Müllheim, the closest option to my destination. I was the only passenger, and had fallen asleep by the time we pulled in. The station was dark except for a single light over the platform. The conductor roused me, asking if I had transportation, as taxis were unlikely to be circulating at this time of the evening.


I didn’t care. I walked along the platform, noting the empty avenue. A single car was approaching—the hotel owner arriving to meet me, having already heard the story of the morning from the hotel manager in Bad Reichenhall, who’d called to explain I’d be late and unable to keep my meeting. “Sounds like you’ve had quite a day,” he said. I smiled in agreement, then headed to my room, where a plate of sandwiches and a bottle of wine had been left waiting for me.


I filed my story with days to spare. I kept the tweed skirt for years, even after it had become a bit tatty and a little too tight in the hips. I don’t know where it is anymore, but Assignment in Brittany is on my shelf, right next to my other ManInnes favorite, The Salzburg Connection. I re-read them every now and then, whenever I want to relive those few hours searching the motorway for the coach that disappeared over the border with my bag, when I felt, just for a little while, like I’d stepped out of the pages of a novel.


HANK: I am swooning simply reading this. Oh, what a fantastic story. Thank you! And I need a tweed skirt like that. Some articles of clothing just have—magic. I have a jacket like that, but I can’t tell you which one or the magic will vanish.


Reds and readers—do you have an article of clothing that makes everything work? (And a copy of THE FIRE THIEF  to one lucky commenter!)



The Fire Thief

By Debra Bokur


Under a promising morning sky, police captain Walter Aakai makes a tragic discovery: the body of a teenage surfer bobbing among the lava rocks of Maui’s southeastern shore. It appears to be an ill-fated accident, but closer inspection reveals something far more sinister than the results of a savage wave gone wrong. Now that Aakai is looking at a homicide, he solicits the help of his niece, Detective Kali Mahoe.


The granddaughter of one of Hawaii’s most respected spiritual leaders, and on the transcendent path to becoming a Kahu herself, Kali sees evidence of a strange ritual murder. The suspicion is reinforced by a rash of sightings of a noppera-bō—a faceless and malicious spirit many believe to be more than superstition. When a grisly sacrifice is left on the doorstep of a local, and another body washes ashore, Kali fears that the deadly secret ceremonies on Maui are just beginning.


To find the killer, and ferret out a motive, Kali leans on her skills at logic and detection. But she must also draw on her own personal history with the uncanny legends of the islands. Now, as the skies above Maui grow darker, and as she balances reason and superstition, Kali can only wonder: who’ll be the next to die? And who—or what—is she even on the trail of?





Debra Bokur is the author of THE FIRE THIEF (Dark Paradise Mysteries, Kensington), and has traveled the world as a writer, filmmaker and journalist for various national media outlets. She’s won multiple awards, including a 2015 Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism. For more than a decade, she served as the poetry editor at a national literary journal, and her poetry and short fiction have been widely published. She continues to travel in her capacity as the Global Researcher and Writer for the Association for Safe International Road Travel, and as a monthly columnist and feature writer for Global Traveler Magazine.