Friday, July 31, 2020

Are you reading??

LUCY BURDETTE: As you can see from my partial TBR pile, I have plenty of good books ahead of me. And it’s a fabulous season for Jungle Red books, by the way...Jenn’s PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA is out now, and next week we have Hank’s THE FIRST TO LIE, and Rhys’s THE LAST MRS. SUMMERS, and the following week, the paperback edition of Hallie’s CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, and my own THE KEY LIME CRIME. 

I’m definitely buying books, but my reading is slow as molasses. How about you all? Is the pandemic-that-will-not-end changing how you read? What can you recommend?

HALLIE EPHRON: I just finished Susan Cerulean’s (she’s Lucy’s sister) I HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED THE SINGLE BIRD, a beautiful, elegiac work which still haunts me. I’m in the middle of Jenn’s PARIS and loving it. Next up Hank’s FIRST TO LIE (did you see her Facebook post of boxes and boxes and boxes of books to be signed??) In my TBR pile, Carol Goodman’s THE SEA OF LOST GIRLS and Tara Westover’s EDUCATED and THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hallie, I read THE GLASS HOTEL last month and loved it. I’m still not sure I could tell you what it was about, but I couldn’t put it down. I got an early crack at Hank’s THE FIRST TO LIE (loved it!) and am re-reading Rhys’s Royal Spyness series before THE LAST MRS SUMMERS comes out. I love escaping to Lady Georgie’s world, and even her brother Binky’s dank castle sounds good right now, with the temps here in Maine at 90 degrees.

On my TBR pile: One of the big domestic suspense books of the summer, THE SAFE PLACE by Anna Downes. Also a political satire by Christopher Buckley (love his work) titled MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN - I’ll let you guess what that one’s about. The SF novel waiting in the wings is FINDER by Suzanne Palmer, about an interstellar repo man. The second book in the series, DRIVING THE DEEP, came out in June, and it looked very intriguing, but I’m one of those people who has to start at the beginning, so...

Definitely can recommend: THE CHILL by Scott Carson, a mystery/horror/supernatural thriller with great characters and a brilliant sense of place. As I was reading it, I thought, “This reminds me of Michael Koryta’s supernatural books.” The reason why, as I discovered after finishing? Carson is Koryta. He’s decided on a nom de plume to separate his ghost stories from his decidedly-grounded-in-real-life thrillers.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Here’s the photo..amazing, right? These are all for the Brenda Novak Book Club. Let’s see. Reading. I have my favorite Andrew Wilson’s I SAW HIM DIE, with Agatha Christie as the sleuth. I just adore his books--so clever!  The new Shari Lapena arrived, hurray, called THE END OF HER. I hope it’s as good as her others. Elly Griffiths’ THE LANTERN MEN is waiting for me too. Whoo hoo.  I adored CATHERINE HOUSE by Elisabeth Thomas--so weird and twisty! And truly, Rachel Howzell Hall is a rock star--her PI novel AND NOW SHE’S GONE is gripping and terrific.  Oh and my sister in First Chapter Fun--do you know it?--Hannah Mary McKinnon’s SISTER DEAR  is a fantastic book--so surprising! And more I cannot say. Rhys, Lucy, Jenn! SO excited about your books! 
(And aw, thank you all. I am freaking out in pre-launch crazies, and it’s wonderful to have you here.)
AND! THE FIRST TO LIE is in a Goodreads giveaway! Sign up now!

JENN MCKINLAY: I’ve discovered a new author Mhairi (pronounced Vah-Ree) McFarlane and I just devoured IF I NEVER MET YOU. A women’s fiction novel set in Manchester that was charming and witty and smart. I loved it. Also, I read Farrah Rochon’s THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT which was delightful. Truly, wonderful romcom about women supporting women. Fabulous. As for mysteries, I have Hank’s THE FIRST TO LIE lined up, having just finished DEATH AT HIGH TIDE by Hannah Dennison, which was perfection! It comes out next month and it’s a traditional mystery featuring two sisters as amateur sleuths who inherit an old hotel on the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall. So fun!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are having a Reds bonanza!! Last week I read Jenn's PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA, and I barely put it down from start to finish! I loved it SO much!!! This week I'm reading Hank's fabulous THE FIRST TO LIE, and loving that, too. Next week is--yay--Rhys's latest Georgie, THE LAST MRS. SUMMERS. I've just finished Jim Butcher's latest and long-awaited Harry Dresden novel, PEACE TALKS. And up on my TBR pile, Kim Powers' RULES FOR BEING DEAD, S.C. Perkins' LINEAGE MOST LETHAL, Andrew Wilson's A TALENT FOR DEATH, his first book featuring Agatha Christie. I managed to snag a used paperback copy, so excited! I've also got Karen Odden's A TRACE OF DECEIT, which I would have bought just for the cover. It is so gorgeous. 

Then looking forward to Lucy's THE KEY LIME CRIME (I really need some Key West and Haley Snow in my life right now…) and coming in September, the new Robert Galbraith Cormoron Strike novel, TROUBLED BLOOD. I absolutely cannot wait for this one--I LOVE this series. And isn't there a new Vera coming from Ann Cleeves? Oooh, and Jenn's ONE FOR THE BOOKS, coming in September, too!

Oh, and adding one more. I really want to read Maggie O'Farrell's HAMNET, a novel about Will Shakespeare that's getting amazing reviews. Has anyone else read this one?

RHYS BOWEN : I am currently in one of my blurbing overloads, with three books currently waiting for my endorsements. All enjoyable, I’m glad to say, but it certainly puts a damper on my reading for pleasure. Which means I’m only part way through Jenn’s PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA and next week I have to find time for Hank and Lucy’s new books. Oh, and next week I just happen to have a new book out myself, which means Zoom events and blog interviews and lots of social media.

I wish someone would give permission for me to just sit and read. Every other summer I’m sitting by a lovely beach, or in an Italian garden or by the River Seine and I can read without being interrupted.

Now it seems I should have all the time in the world at home but as well as book promotion I have writing to do, copy edits coming in, proposal for next novel etc etc.  I am dreaming of my vacation!

Lucy: Rhys, I just said that exact thing to my writing group pals: I need to take the month of September and read, read, read... Reds, are you reading? What must we add to our piles?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Samantha Downing on Writing

Lucy Burdette: Today the JRW team welcomes Samantha Downing with a story about persistence that will blow your mind... Welcome Samantha!

SAMANTHA: Hi everyone! Thank you to the Jungle Red writers for having me here today, I’m really looking forward to all of your questions and comments. 

Last week, my new book He Started It was released. This is my second published book and the first one I wrote under contract. And it was

quite a challenge.

First, I had to write a synopsis for the book. My first question: What’s a synopsis? 

I’ve been writing as a hobby for twenty years. My first published novel, My Lovely Wife, was actually the 12th novel I’ve written. I had never created a synopsis and never outlined my books. But I created a synopsis because that’s what I had to do. After some fine-tuning with my editor, I finally sat down the write the book.

It was terrible.

When I say terrible, I mean it was predictable. For a thriller, that’s a bad thing. It turns out that when I know all the twists in advance, I telegraph them in my writing. So what did we do? 

We threw the book out. Yes, the whole book, the whole idea of the book. Everything.

At that point, my editor and I both agreed that writing a synopsis was not the way to go. I’m a pantser, meaning I write without an outline or any advance knowledge about the book. That’s how I’ve always written and it’s what works for me. 

The good news: We were on the same page about this.

The bad news: I had three months to write a new book. Three!

Basically, this was me:

But I had to write the book, so I did. After some serious editing, He Started It is now a real book and it’s out in the world! If you have any questions about the book, or about the writing process, I’d love to answer them! I’d love to know what you think about thrillers that revolve around siblings. What do you like or not like about them? Do you prefer a different kind of thriller? I’d love to hear what you all think!

Book synopsis:

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven't all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we'll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.
But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.
It's even harder when you're all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory—a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won't stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there's a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.
But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sherry Harris on Creating a New Series #giveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: We love Sherry Harris and her writing and are delighted to help her introduce a new mystery series! And I'm a little'll see why...welcome and congrats Sherry! (Her alternate title could be: What Lucy Burdette Had To Do With My New Series Without Even Knowing It) 

SHERRY HARRIS: Thanks, Lucy and the Reds for having me back to talk about From Beer to Eternity the first book in my new Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mystery series. Lucy had something to do with this series even though she didn’t know it. 

My editor at Kensington and I had been tossing ideas around for a second series for a while, never settling on something we both loved. In February 2018 he wrote suggesting a series in a beach bar in Key West. 

My first, second, and third thoughts when I saw his message were: Lucy writes the wonderful Key West series and I don’t know anything about Key West. When I read one of Lucy’s books I feel like I’m there. I don’t think I can do that. (In an interesting twist of fate my husband and I were going to visit Key West for the first time a few days after he wrote. We were staying with Barbara Ross and her husband and were getting together with Lucy and her husband too. What a strange coincidence!)

So I wrote him back: Interestingly enough my husband and I are going on our first trip to Key West on February 8th. However a friend of mine, Lucy Burdette, writes a food critic mystery series set in Key West and I feel like she's covered almost everything you've mentioned. Her series is up to seven books and I think there are more coming. (Her tenth book in the series, Key Lime Crime comes out on August 11, 2020!!!) 

And then I added: But I have a suggestion. My mom lives in a resort town in the panhandle of Florida -- Destin. It's a spit of land between the gulf and a huge bay. It's also called the Emerald Coast, the Redneck Riviera, and LA -- lower Alabama. We were stationed there for almost three years. It has three distinct seasons -- snowbirds, spring breakers, and summer people. There's a pirate festival -- Billy Bowlegs. There's a place called Crab Island which is really a shallow area of the bay. Boaters gather there all of the time. There's a couple of floating restaurants. The last time I was there the local government was trying to pass a law to have more control over Crab Island and the restaurants. There's snooty rich locals. There's kids brought over from Europe in the summer to work at all the resorts and water parks. There's suspect land deals and overbuilding.

A friend and I were at a restaurant/bar in Grayton Beach a several years ago. The tables were about an inch apart from each other so we were more or less sitting with seven Harley riding doctors and having a good time. A man with a big belly wearing a Speedo walks in and the place almost goes silent until one of the doctors pipes up. "Guess he's not from around these parts."

At my daughter's elementary school she had to say "yes ma'am or no sir" to all of her teachers. We started picking up drawls in the time we lived there. 

He wrote back: Till then, Key West is out, Destin is in. (Been there actually). So, knock me out a page or two with the overall premise and a paragraph or two on the first three in the series. Just so I have something in hand. 
And thus, the Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon series was born—in part thanks to Lucy! 

Reds, Do you follow authors to a new series? Also I'd be happy to give away a copy of From Beer to Eternity to one commenter. Thanks again for having me!

Here’s a bit about the book: 

A whip smart librarian’s fresh start comes with a tart twist in this perfect cocktail of murder and mystery—with a romance chaser.


With Chicago winters in the rearview mirror, Chloe Jackson is making good on a promise: help her late friend’s grandmother run the Sea Glass Saloon in the Florida Panhandle. To Chloe’s surprise, feisty Vivi Slidell isn’t the frail retiree Chloe expects. Nor is Emerald Cove. It’s less a sleepy fishing village than a panhandle hotspot overrun with land developers and tourists. But it’s a Sea Glass regular who’s mysteriously crossed the cranky Vivi. When their bitter argument comes to a head and he’s found dead behind the bar, guess who’s the number one suspect?

In trying to clear Vivi’s name, Chloe discovers the old woman isn’t the only one in Emerald Cove with secrets. Under the laidback attitude, sparkling white beaches, and small town ways something terrible is brewing. And the sure way a killer can keep those secrets bottled up is to finish off one murder with a double shot: aimed at Chloe and Vivi.

Bio: Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mystery series set in the panhandle of Florida. She is the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America. Sherry loves books, beaches, bars, and Westies — not necessarily in that order. In her spare time Sherry loves reading and is a patent holding inventor. Sherry, her husband, and guard dog Lily are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Celebrating Harry Truman and Death on the Menu #bookgiveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: Key West is famous for being the home of the Harry S. Truman Little White House. The president spent a lot of working vacations on our island, and this modest place where he worked and relaxed (playing poker with members of his cabinet and members of the press) couldn't be more appealing. I have a good friend, Bill Averyt who is one of the tour guides at the Little White House and he was immensely helpful. Not only did he give me extra private tours of the backstage areas of the building, he was loaded with plot ideas.
Since the new mass market paperback edition of DEATH ON THE MENU hits bookshelves today, and since a lot of us are focused on the next presidential election, I thought it might be fun to have Bill visit with some interesting facts about Harry Truman, with a book as prize for leaving a comment of course!

LUCY:  Harry Truman spent a lot of time in Key West at the Little White House, often with other government figures and the press in attendance. But Bess Truman did not love it, so she often didn't come. (And that didn't seem to bother anyone.) Tell us something about what life was like when Harry was in residence?

Bill: Truman brought down to Key West the officials and the staff members whom he wanted to work with at that time.  It all depended of course on what the problems and the crises of that moment were, but typically the top officials would include people like the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, military officials, the Secretary of Defense (the Defense Department was created in the late 1940s; before that time we had a Secretary of War), admirals and generals, plus experts like Clark Clifford.

Truman alternated work and relaxation--usually a brisk walk in the morning and a swim later in the day on "Truman Beach"--this no longer exists, the area is now part of the Fort Zachary Taylor state park.  Truman also frequently held press conferences.  He liked to play tricks on the reporters, grilling them sometimes with trivial questions like the ones he often had to answer, like "what did you have for breakfast" and "have you called your wife today".

Truman wasn't really a fisherman.  Bess was, and he would go out deep sea fishing with her when she visited.

LUCY: One of things I admire about Harry Truman is how he stepped up after becoming president following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. Maybe no incoming president can really understand what the job will be like until he or she gets there, but some handle it with more grace and wisdom than others. Tell us a little about what he faced and how he handled that after assuming the job?

BILL: Truman had had no substantial foreign policy experience before his assuming the presidency and this was cause for a lot of apprehension when he was sworn in.  After he was sworn in the evening of April 12, 1945, he received his first national security briefing the morning of Friday, April 13--yes, Friday the Thirteenth.  Then, that morning, his security advisors told him of the existence of the atom bomb.  He had no previous knowledge of this.

Truman had to deal quickly with immense questions:  Nazi Germany collapsed in May; Truman met with Stalin and Churchill in Potsdam from mid-July to early August to decide on the occupation policy for Germany and the establishment of governments in the liberated countries of Eastern Europe.  

Just at this moment, scientists in New Mexico successfully tested the first atom bomb.  Truman had to make the momentous decision to use it against Japan, which quickly surrendered after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  

In the following months, it became clear that the USSR would install Communist governments in Eastern Europe.  The Cold War was on.  Truman was instrumental in creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with our allies.  He obtained Congressional approval for the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe.

Truman had to handle many major crises and challenges.  His performance was not flawless.  There were a lot of stumbles in early months and minor embarrassments throughout his administration, such as petty corruption among some of his advisors.  But in retrospect, most historians consider him one of our most capable presidents.

LUCY: And there is a cat on the premises of the Little White House named Barkley. Tell us about that?

Bill: Barkley is the LWH official cat; the guides feed Barkley every day at the back door.  Barkley is named after Truman's vice president (after the 1948 election-there was no Vice President from April 1945 to Jan 1949).  But ... Barkley is a girl cat.  Never mind, this is Key West!

Lucy again: if you have other questions about Truman and the Little White House, we'll try to answer them. But here are a couple of questions I have about this bit of history...Is anyone really prepared to take on the job of president of the US? What characteristics do you think are most important for this job? Can you imagine learning of the atom bomb in your first security briefing???

About the book: Lucy Burdette, Death on the Menu from Crooked Lane Books

Food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to be working at a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. But things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom. Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu. 

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”—Suspense Magazine

"Fascinating details about the Truman Little White House, Cuban American history and relations, Cuban food, and Hemingway’s years in Key West are woven through this atmospheric cozy."—Booklist

“Burdette’s loving descriptions of food and the appended recipes are an added fillip for readers who enjoy some history and romance with their mysteries.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Tightly plotted, with plenty of island-style red herrings and mouth-watering food-prep descriptions, DEATH ON THE MENU is also full of friends helping friends, and the sweetness of love.” –Kingdom Books 

Not only is the mass market edition for this book available now, ebook editions of both DEATH ON THE MENU and A DEADLY FEAST are on sale for $1.99 and 2.99 for a limited time only

Monday, July 27, 2020

Do You Have the Pet Gene?

LUCY BURDETTE: I am starting the week overloading you with puppy pictures, but I can’t help myself as this little girl is only 9 1/2 weeks old. Here Lottie (Carlotta) is meeting Snuggle Puppy, who has a beating heart that is supposed to remind her of her mom so SHE CAN SLEEP. Possibly even one day THROUGH THE NIGHT...

T-bone and John are a little grumpy about having a puppy in the house. (I am trying to do most of the puppy duty until they come around). 

T-bone's thinking about it

Twice in the span of our 28 year marriage, we’ve had a set of animals die close together. First it was Poco the Aussie followed by two undistinguished cats. And then two years ago, Tonka, the wonderful amazing Aussie, love of my life, and the marvelous and popular gray cat Yoda both died within the span of a month.

John adored both of those animals in the end, and enjoyed the antics of the others. But he would be perfectly content not to have a pet in the house. He acquiesced about a cat after I moaned and groaned for five animal-empty months, and I went with a friend to pick out my wonderful T-bone. This spring, I began to agitate about getting a dog. 

“I thought I might be able to extinguish the pet gene if I waited long enough,” he said with chagrin. “But it’s too strong in your family.”

Lucy's mom with Schatzie
And that’s totally true. My mother was mad for animals and we always had two or three around, often more. German Shepherds, cats, guinea pigs and other assorted rodents all took up residence. My father could’ve done without, but he caved because my mother adored them. So that’s the question for today, do you have a family history of a pet gene? Even if you don’t have an animal right now?

RHYS BOWEN : my family absolutely had the pet gene. Growing up we had Sooty followed by Brownie followed by Patch ( who was a champion bull terrier. Looked terrifying but was a big old softie) and lastly Waldi the dachshund the love of my life. When the kids were small we had a disaster of an English Setter but a lovely cat called Marmalade. Since then no animals. Why? Because John absolutely does not have the pet gene. He claims it’s because we live in two places and travel so much. But I’ve worked out what it is with men!  Any attention given to a cute furry thing is attention not given to them!
At least I have adorable grand-dogs who love me.

HALLIE EPHRON: I don’t know it’s genetic (my mother was decidedly not an animal person) but if it weren’t for asthma and allergies, I’d have cats. Jerry and I had one, then two, then four in a two-bedroom apartment in NY. The basement of our NY UPPER West Side apartment building seemed to breed them. 

Gradually we gave them away as I got sicker. My favorite was a black and white male we named Eloise before it became obvious that she was a he. I still miss him/her. 

JENN McKINLAY: Oh, yeah, I have that gene BIG TIME. In my defense, I grew up with dogs,  rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, chickens, ducks, geese, a horse, fish, and on and on. My dad rescued a lot of birds and rehabbed them - my favorite was a sparrow hawk that lived in his art studio for an entire winter while he trained it (with raw liver) to hunt and thrive with one foot -- Dad found him on a farm caught in a bird leg trap and had to amputate the mangled leg. Naturally, my own very small house is overrun with pets. Presently, we are at three cats, two dogs, and a fish who won’t die (seriously, we’ve had him for 13 years -- he’s going in the will).

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Not much of a pet gene here. My dad liked dogs, and they had several in the years before I was born, but they were outside dogs who all came to bad ends and my mom never wanted an animal of any kind in the house. She especially disliked cats! When I was nine, my parents gave into my pleading and adopted a middle-aged  miniature poodle that was being given away by relatives who were moving out of the country. Poor Jolie, she was such a disappointment. Certainly not the dog of my dreams! In my teens I had fish and gerbils and finches, much to my mom's dismay, then eventually a nearly feral kitten. My mom was horrified, but the cat stayed. My maternal grandmother did like cats, however, and in the last years of her life adopted a blue Persian, which had to be re-homed when she died.

These days we have two dogs, three cats, and four koi in the pond.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, dear, well, that’s a good question. Growing up, we had SO many pets! Endless cats--Mrs. Purdy, who gave birth to her kittens in my closet on my first day in eighth grade, Picnic, Rosemary, and Rosemary’s babies, who were named F. Scott and Zelda.
We had a whole string of Irish Setters--Rusty (who chased cars and lived most of his life with three legs as a result) and Penny (who saved my sister Liz from being hit by a car while riding her pony and in order to protect our parents, Liz and I buried Penny back in the fields by ourselves) (Liz got in trouble.) And Roderick St. John. We had a Hungarian Sheepdog (a Puli) named Maggie, and two English Spaniels, Bailey and Barkely. Oh, and at one point, a massive Great Dane, Milton. And the ponies and horses. And two gerbils, named Chet and David, which Mrs. Purdy, um, ate.
AND a stupid stupid STUPID Mynah bird (named Yurza, get it?) who learned to imitate the phone, which was beyond annoying.

You all know about my darling cat Lola, who died at age 20 and loved only me --ONLY me--until she met Jonathan, who is deathly allergic to cats, and as soon as she figured that out, she sat on him every moment she could. And the hilarious and unique Leon, who would wake me up in the morning by batting me in the face with a paw.

So, bottom line, Jonathan is allergic to dogs and cats, (probably a good thing, since I’d adore to have a cat), we have our ducks!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I very rarely had pets when growing up, as we moved a lot in the military. My sister and I begged and pleaded for a dog, and we adopted one... and three months later were were posted to Germany. The dog went to Grandma's, and by the time we returned from Europe four years later it wasn't our dog anymore, but Grandma's beloved companion.

Perhaps as a result, my brother, my sister and I have always had pets as adults. Patrick specializes in one very well trained dog at a time. Barb has packs of dogs. No exaggeration - she's down to three since one recently passed away. As the only one in the family without cat allergies, I've had one or two kitties since I was twenty-five, with one or two dogs mixed in (not counting the foster dogs and long-term sitting for friends.) Just adding them up in my head, I realize right now we all have the same number of pets as we do children! 

In my household, the Maine Millennial is the owner of the current dog and one cat, and I have the other (for values of the words "owner" and "have." I keep saying when Neko passes away, I'm done with kitties, because of family allergies (see above.) I'm sure you'll all get to see if I keep that pledge or not. I suspect I'm a lot more like Lucy in this regard!

Reds, does the pet gene run in your family? Or are you just as happy to watch from the sidelines?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Rhys Bowen Pandemic Olympics


Those of you who know me realize that I am a sports nut. I watch any kind of sport—I attend spring training for the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, I watch my granddaughters play water polo, live or on TV, I watch football, baseball, golf, swimming, gymnastics. To show you how desperate I have become I watched an hour’s program on competitive stone lifting in Scotland. Apparently big hairy men try to lift 300 pound rocks they find lying around in fields. Not my favorite sport.

You probably can guess how disappointed I am that the Olympics are not taking place at this moment in Japan. There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Giants and As played a pre-season game last night. With fake crowd noise and cardboard cutouts of fans in the stadium seats. Plus two giant teddy bears (one of whom had fallen asleep).

So I decided to hold my own Olympics. I am proud to say that I now own several international records.

Speed events:
Cup and pee: Put cup of tea in microwave, press start, run to bathroom to pee, return before microwave beeps (having washed hands correctly) I have achieved this remarkable feat not once but several times. (NO PIX SUPPLIED FOR OBVIOUS REASONS)

Unload cutlery from dishwasher. 38 seconds. (And we only run dishwasher every 3 days so an impressive feat of speed and dexterity with every knife, fork and spoon in correct slot)

Twenty yard uphill dash (should be considered a sport for next Olympics):  Sprint up stairs from office when I think I hear Amazon Prime dropping a package into box outside front door.) 7 seconds is current record.

Dexterity and Strength events:
I assembled a new patio umbrella for our upstairs balcony, with only minimal help from spouse. (actually minus help. No, you’re holding it backwards. It needs to go the other way around. THE OTHER WAY AROUND…)

Strength events:
Sand carry.  Carry 110 pounds of sand up to said balcony to fill the weighted stand for umbrella. An impressive feat on a hot day.

Endurance events:
Three Zoom sessions in one day. That is a lot of smiling and looking relaxed and competent. Cheek massage needed afterward.

Dexterity Events:
Put polish on own toenails without going over the edges.
Cut own hair.
Cut spouse’s hair.
(these definitely demonstrate more skill than the balance beam or target shooting)

So let’s hear your Pandemic Olympic feats! Which sport do you miss most?

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Confessions in the Time of Plague


It’s confession time, people. I’m admitting my own failures. How many can you check off.

During the pandemic I have:

1.Stayed in pajamas all day

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath.

3. Given myself a pedicure

4. Cut my own hair

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one) And definitely no picture!

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one)

7. Started strange craft projects.

8. Cleaned out my closets.

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom.

10. Experimented with new meals.


1.Stayed in pajamas all day
   Ahh..I don’t have pajamas. But the key is: would I have happily answered the door in what I was wearing? Nope. I am trying harder now,  but still very low key. Is there anything lower than low key?

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath.
   Daily. I am still doing stories for Channel 7, so there’s some level of presentable--but a TV blazer and shorts and flip flops? Yeah, that’s happened.

3. Given myself a pedicure
   Absolutely. Ask me about the cool manicure stuff I found on line. If you care. Revolutionary.

4. Cut my own hair
  Just my bangs. Very very carefully. Terrifying, the first time. Now I have gone to the dark side.

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one)
   Daily. Yay, structured camisoles! Like high heels, I worry there’s no going back.

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one)
 I don’t have pierced ears. But I have a basket of earrings on my desk for zoom emergencies.

7. Started strange craft projects.
  Does cleaning out the freezer count? Well, I didn’t do that, either.  Planting tomatoes, does that count?  Very low on projects.  But I am cleaning cleaning cleaning. 

8. Cleaned out my closets.
    Like I said. Moved EVERYTHING. My closets are unrecognizable. I only wear black t-shirts on Zoom, because it’s the only thing that looks classic. SIgh. I miss my shoes. And leather jackets. I bought some wonderful new things for my book tour in August. HA. Not gonna happen. 

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom.
  You know-- initially, yes. Now--I have a new makeup routine. Simple, not glam, but  I'm thinking--self respect. 

10. Experimented with new meals.
   Oh yes. That’s a good thing.  There are moments of happiness, for which I am grateful.


1.Stayed in pajamas all day
   Half the day? And nightshirt, not PJs. Gone without shoes for days on end.

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath.
   I have! But then I have to remember not to stand up while on the call.

3. Given myself a pedicure
   Happy to discover I can find my toes.

4. Cut my own hair
  Not yet… I’d wanted to try growing it out and guess I got my wish.

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one)
   Absolutely. And just ordered tank tops from THE GAP to wear under my Ts.

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one)
Earrings? Remind me what those are??

7. Started strange craft projects.
  Does jigsaw puzzling count? Doing one from the 1950s right now, a water color of a ship. Otherwise I’m not a crafter. Oh wait, does making bread count? 

8. Cleaned out my closets.
    I rarely go in there, so no.

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom.
  Or when we have friends come to share a drink outside. 

10. Experimented with new meals.
   Often guided by *what’s left in the refrigerator*


1.Stayed in pajamas all day

Nope. Not ever, unless I'm too ill to get out of bed. I have to take the dogs out first thing in the morning and am not doing that in my nightshirt, pandemic or not.

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath.

Oh, yes!! Had to keep reminding myself not to get up!!

3. Given myself a pedicure

Nope. I decided that since I'm not going anywhere, my toenails needed a polish break. And I'm lousy at pedicures.

4. Cut my own hair

Only my bangs, very carefully. It has been kind of unexpected fun to let my hair grow out--it hasn't been this long since I was in my twenties. But it is getting to be a mop.

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one)
Yep, unless you count bra-cammies. I have worn a real bra ONCE since March 12th, and that was only because I had a doctor's appointment.  And if anyone has a recommendation for bra-cammies, please share. I used to buy them at Express but they've changed the fabric and I don't like the new ones.

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one)

Earrings, seriously? I've worn them twice, on Zoom. Same ones. I'm afraid my ear piercings will close up…

7. Started strange craft projects.

I tested all my fountain pens and fountain pen inks. I even made a chart of the inks.

8. Cleaned out my closets.

Yep. We cleaned out our stair closet the first couple of weeks, because no housekeeper, we had to sort the cleaning supplies. But, clothes, no. I haven't even transferred my nice summer clothes into my bedroom closet from the off-season storage, because...why?

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom.

Make-up? What is that? Only a couple of times for Zoom. And no lipstick, which I used to put on even if just running to the convenience store. But now there's no point--and lipstick and masks do not mix!

10. Experimented with new meals.

Yes, a few, but nothing too crazy.


1.Stayed in pajamas all day

Not yet. Instead, I wear sundresses everyday. This is my version of the housecoats I remember my grandmother wearing. I get it now. For some reason (hot flashes) I can’t stand to have any clothing too close to  my skin. Tank top dresses with pockets for the win!

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath.

No. I’m usually in a sundress and sneakers (broken toe, long story), so what you see is what you get.

3. Given myself a pedicure

I quit pedicures and manicures. I usually do them myself but who cares?

4. Cut my own hair

I went the other way and am letting my bangs grow out! This has never happened before. Now I think I need Botox but that’s not happening either. Hello, very large forehead with a very deep WTF line, which is getting deeper by the minute in the year of our Lord 2020.

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one)

Sadly, no. Teenage boys roaming through the house. Don’t want to scar them.

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one)

I quit wearing earrings, too! I’m a rebel!

7. Started strange craft projects.

Think about them but don’t actually do them.

8. Cleaned out my closets.

Yes! And my kitchen cupboards. Goodwill made out!

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom.

Same and now I hate the feel of it on my skin. Mascara and lip gloss are okay, though.

10. Experimented with new meals.

I quit cooking! Hub has taken it over and I hate to break it to him, but there is NO going back!


During the pandemic I have:

1.Stayed in pajamas all day: Yoga pants and tshirts all day every day

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath. Yes. 

3. Given myself a pedicure: not a big deal, but I don’t bother with polish

4. Cut my own hair: No, but I finally got a haircut on my hairdresser’s porch. I’m afraid the gray is her to stay...

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one): Of course! Hate those things

6.Not changed my earrings once: Hmm, I think I put on a pair for a zoom meeting. Maybe again when the Reds zoom with Poisoned Pen next month!

7. Started strange craft projects. Does acquiring a puppy count??

8. Cleaned out my closets. Does a couple of bookshelves count?

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom. Ha!

10. Experimented with new meals. I am kind of over this and would like to get on Jenn’s hub’s list please...


1.Stayed in pajamas all day: Nope! It just makes me feel icky. I’m dressing in my usual stay-at-home way, in clothing that’s comfortable, but that I wouldn’t be ashamed to run to the store in. Not that I’m running to the store without serious advance planning.

2.Done a zoom meeting with a good top on but bare feet and shorts beneath. : Oh, yes. That’s the best thing about this pandemic. I seriously wonder how many professional women, after working at home for 4, 6, 8 months, will EVER put in heels again.

3. Given myself a pedicure: Youngest did it for me!

4. Cut my own hair: I’m growing it out. It’s now long enough to put in a ponytail, which is great for hot days. Also, I have an infinite supply of headbands, which really help.

5. Gone without a bra (unless you are male. You can skip this one): Best part of the day, baby!

6.Not changed my earrings once. (guilty until I lost one) : I still mostly wear earrings and I do change them. However, I haven’t worn lipstick since I got sick at the beginning of February!

7. Started strange craft projects.: Saved seeds from green peppers and squash. Grew carrot fronds a la Hank in a dish. Realized at the end of June I was NEVER going to plant any of them.

8. Cleaned out my closets. Yes, and I’m working on getting rid of stuff in the attic we’ve been hanging on to for twenty-some years. Seriously, there are boxes of baby clothes upstairs. In my case, however, this is less about finding something to do and more about desperately needing space to fit one apartment and two dorm rooms’ worth of stuff into my formerly orderly home. Do you know what the closet situation is like in a 200 year old house? It ain’t pretty.

9. Only put on make-up when I zoom: Professionally. I don’t even bother for friends, family, church or community college meetings. However, I have been more attentive to my skin care.

10. Experimented with new meals: Totally! Having the Guest Son join our household has meant seeking out vegetarian or meat-optional recipes instead of falling back on my old reliables. It’s definitely upped my kitchen game.

RHYS: YOUR TURN! Time to share.