Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The First Day of The First to Lie!

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  How lucky am I to be hosting our dear Hank and Rhys with their book launches this week?? And I can tell you, THE FIRST TO LIE is a terrific book! But watch out--it may give you whiplash, trying to decide what's true and what's not, and you will love it right up to the very last page! 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Launch day jitters! Yes, dear Reds and readers, we are in the full throes of them around here. (And at Rhys’ house, too! And she will tell us all about that tomorrow!)

Yes, I know, THE FIRST TO LIE has gotten amazing astonishing buzz and fabulous reviews--it’s PopSugar’s number one pick for August, and CrimeReads picked it, too, and Publishers Weekly starred review calls it “stellar.“ Booklist says “page turning twists and mind-bending drama.” So that’s excellent. And reassuring. 

Oh, and this just in as I am typing: It’s a Publishers Weekly top pick of the week!  And more about the book below.

I have a full calendar of events – – including two appearances on Canadian television and A Mighty Blaze and BookTrib live interviews  (whoa!) and visits to so many wonderful bookstores! Here are the events—please find one that you love!

Tonight is the big launch at my local dear Brookline Booksmith, and it is quite a wave of nostalgia. For the past eight years, I have had an exciting overwhelming joyful celebration at the Booksmith, friends and family and readers and a wall-to-wall filled to the rafters room. It is hard even to imagine that now.

But I am trying to look at the bright side. Any other launch day, I would be full of worry, because it is supposed to rain like crazy here in Boston, and that would keep people away from the event. No problem with that now, right?

And people who can’t get a babysitter--well, they don’t need one!

And no one has to put on shoes. So all good, right?

So here, by the numbers, is The First to Lie.

1. The first line: “Lies have a complicated half-life.”

2.  The first two main characters: Ellie Berensen— A determined reporter on the trail of an expose of a pharmaceutical company. And Nora Quinn, a determined pharmaceutical sales person. Who may not be quite what she seems.  

3.  Three? This is my third psychological standalone!

4. There’s a fun thing on social media where you have to describe your book in four words. So THE FIRST TO LIE is: Betrayal. Motherhood. Obsession. Revenge.

5. Another fun thing is to reveal your book’s five crucial elements. For THE FIRST TO LIE  it’s:
1. A devastating childhood betrayal
2. An undercover reporter, in too deep
3. A beautiful sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay
4. A rich and powerful family
5. An ice pick that is not used for ice

What it all adds up to:  THE FIRST TO LIE is two strong women, facing off in a high stakes psychological cat and mouse game to get revenge for a terrible childhood betrayal. But which one is the cat, and which one is the mouse? And for one to succeed, the other must fail.

The idea for THE FIRST TO LIE  came after all of my experiences as an undercover reporter. I thought:  what if someone decided that being their undercover persona was more desirable than being who they really were? What if being someone else could get you what you want?

So, my darling Reds and Readers--here we go! Thank you thank you for buying this book, and for your reviews. Posting  them is so crucial for the book’s success. 

I am endlessly grateful for any help you can give--but you know that. Speaking of which: here’s a link.  

Oh, I know you will buy it, so I have one advance review copy for one lucky commenter! Just tell me--something GOOD in your life that was a first!

Love you all so much. Wish me luck! 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Home Movies--What We're Watching

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It is just the beginning of August and it already seems like it has been a LONG summer, with no going out for many of us, no sports (until just this last week or so), nothing but repeats on broadcast TV, and the streaming options beginning to feel exhausted. Or maybe it's just me that feels exhausted by the thought of tackling another thirty or forty or fifty episodes of a streaming drama!

The hubby and I battled (I typed "battered", which might be more accurate) through all three seasons of FORTITUDE, which I now wish I could un-see. Or at least get that twenty-four hours of my life back! Ugh. I liked the first season (Stanley Tucci was fabulous), but it went way downhill from there. Last weekend we started ABSENTIA, with Stana Katic, and after two episodes I thought meh. And wondered how they could possibly stretch that premise into three seasons…

PBS has given me GRANTCHESTER, with ENDEAVOUR to come, and I watch the weekly episodes of MIDSOMER and ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (yes, I know both series are available streaming, but it's nice to have something to look forward to on the days when they air.)  But I cannot drum up any enthusiasm for the next multi-episode drama. The highlight of my past month has been a little delight of a movie called SING STREET, about four boys in 1980s Dublin who form a band. This is from the same team that did ONCE, if you liked that, and it is absolutely delicious. AND you'll want to go out and buy the soundtrack!

So, HELP, dear REDS! What have you watched lately that's been gripping, or different, or utterly charming? I need a cure for my curmudgeonly-ness! 

JENN McKINLAY: I’ve been horrible with television this summer. No time, less interest. Finally, finished BOSCH and OZARK, but really couldn’t get jazzed to watch anything else. Although, I did watch Martha Stewart’s new show, MARTHA KNOWS BEST, last night and I actually learned some gardening tips and she’s delightfully snarky. I’ve never watched her before so that was rather charming. The fam has been watching a lot of new and old movies together. KING OF STATEN ISLAND (new) was great. SIXTEEN CANDLES (old) was a hoot and horrible. As the Hooligans observed, we were awful people in the eighties and, yet, we had a lot of freedom, which I miss. Also, Jake Ryan, the hot guy in that movie, turns 60 this year. Now I need to go lie down and process my high school crush being an old man.

HALLIE EPHRON: I find myself starting to watch something and then losing interest and never going back. I’m fresh out of Great British Baking Shows. I think I need Britbox. What I have enjoyed are the two Hannah Gadsby comedy specials on Netflix: “Nanette” and “Douglas.” And I love documentaries about art. There’s a series on Amazon called “Great Artists with Tim Marlow” (2 seasons) that’s quite good. If you like art history.

LUCY BURDETTE: I am so boring. The only thing I’m watching is the PBS newshour and a second runthough of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I’m waiting eagerly for the next season of LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX to be released. And that’s all I’ve got!

RHYS BOWEN : I’ve been escaping to my roots all summer. We got Britbox and I’ve binged old comedies like FAWLTY TOWERS. Also all the Miss Marples with Joan Hickson. I’ve found a channel called Dabl and every afternoon a have my cup of tea and watch ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY, in which Brits choose lovely cottages in Devon or Wales. Heavy sigh. Apart from that no tense dramas. MASTERCHEF. Oh, and Broadway HD is a brilliant channel with THE SHOW THAT GOES WRONG. Hilarious

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Rhys,we saw that in the theater. I thought it was hilarious--SUCH difficult stagecraft! Jonathan thought it was ridiculous. I said--do you know how difficult it is to be that bad? He didn't, I guess.  

Anyway. I absolutely adored THE MORNING SHOW on Apple TV. I was never a fan of Jennifer Anniston--but now I am. Loved it. We got Apple TV to watch DEFENDING JACOB (pretty good--book better) and THE GOOD FIGHTt because Christine Baranski is amazing. It was such fun to watch, and I’m glad we did, but… 

Now. I have a confession.  We are watching a show that I know is--what's the word--let’s just say not my usual choice.  It’s called HOME BEFORE DARK, and it’s a ten part series about a boy who goes missing years ago, and the 9 year old reporter (long story) who is obsessed with solving it with her writer-reporter-dad and lawyer-mom and includes every stock character you can imagine.


After ten minutes, I said to Jonathan--no no, let’s not watch. That little girl is too annoying. And the writing is awful.  Then we kept watching. She’s still annoying, but she’s just so darn determined to play this role that you have to applaud her. It’s kind of--a cozy. But not really. And it’s well done, I have to reluctantly admit, See what you think.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We’re skipping streaming series entirely, as my ability to focus is down to → ← . Instead, we’ve been having themed movie weeks (which often run over a single week, since we don’t watch a movie every night.) Right now, we’re on Space/Astronaut week, which coincided wonderfully with the Space X Dragon return to earth yesterday - first American space mission to splash down in 45 years! We’ve seen SPACE COWBOYS and APOLLO 13, with THE RIGHT STUFF, THE MARTIAN and FIRST MAN on deck. We’ll probably also do HIDDEN FIGURES for it’s brilliant insight into the unsung lives of NASA’s African American “computers.”

One of the benefits of themed movie week has been including older films in with the more current stuff; we saw AIRPORT (1974) for Plane week and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (also 1974) for Train week. We may include MAROONED (1969) for Space week - can you believe my kids have never seen Gregory Peck?!?

DEBS: Julia, I absolutely love your theme weeks! I would so do this. Alas, I don't think Rick would ever agree...

I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who can't focus... Although I think part of my problem is that I really sort of miss episodic TV. Remember when there was a continuing story or character arc, but each episode was solved--or resolved--in some way? It seems to me that in a lot of the current streaming stuff, the writers are trying so hard to stretch one idea over DOZENS of episodes that it just becomes unsustainable.

But to un-curmudgeon a bit, we finally got around to watching the first couple of episodes of LINE OF DUTY this weekend, and I was totally hooked!!! So YAY for series TV!! (At least the Brit versions.)

READERS, are you bingeing? Can you focus? What is un-missable, before I totally turn into the GRINCH!

(Rhys, I would absolutely LOVE your ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY, but fear I can't get it as we don't have cable or satellite. Boo.)

Susan Cerulean's Single Bird

LUCY BURDETTE: I know I mentioned to you all a while back that my fabulous older sister, my Irish twin (11 months difference), would be launching a book in 2020. Well, yay! It's here and we get to host her. I HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED THE SINGLE BIRD is a memoir based on the years she spent caring for our father when he had dementia, and based on her devotion to caring for the natural world. It's a beautiful, thoughtful must-read book and I'm thrilled to welcome her...

SUSAN CERULEAN: One of the things that kept me going as a caregiver for my father during the years that he battled dementia were moments of unexpected kindness. A favorite encounter I remember was with a young nurse’s aide in my father’s assisted living facility, and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

Afterward, I’d love to hear what kindnesses—expected and unexpected--have made the unbearable, bearable, in your own life.

Toward the end of my Dad's life, he became an unreliable narrator of his own life, and less able physically, than ever before. I had hired extra caregivers to be with him all day, every day of the week, whenever I couldn’t be with him myself. 

Still, I worried about the long stretch of hours, from 8 o’clock when our paid caregivers helped him to bed, until 8 in morning, when another returned. Other residents’ families whispered rumors of rough treatment at night; how was I to know if he was truly safe?
At 4 a.m. one morning, I was awakened by a nightmare in which my father was calling me and pleading for help. I slipped out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and drove the two miles to his residence. The facility’s massive front door was locked, so I sneaked through a low hedge of boxwood shrubbery, and let myself in through the kitchen. I hoped I wouldn't startle the staff. 

No one moved about the silent facility, but through Dad’s open door a triangle of light lit the hall. A young woman was making up his bed. She heard the door creak, and turned to face me. Her name tag read “Iclene.” She smiled at me, somehow unsurprised. 

“Your father’s bed was soaking wet so I got him up and changed him,” she said. “We check on them all night long.”

Dad was dressed in daytime clothes, resting in the recliner, awake and calm. Iclene bundled up the soiled sheets, and left the room. I crouched beside Dad’s chair, took his hand. “Iclene seems very kind,” I said. “How are you doing?” 

“Sue, ask her if there’s some food we could eat together for breakfast,” he said. 

I'd been wanting to meet Iclene. I’d been told she sang to Dad by the gas log fire in the living room, in the middle of the night sometimes, when he couldn’t sleep. I found her in the kitchen. She wore black plastic glasses, was very tall, and kept eye contact as we talked. 

While I unwrapped wheat bread to make toast, I asked her about herself. Iclene was 24 years old, a student of nursing at Tallahassee Community College, an employee at Dad’s facility, and a member of Bethel AME Missionary Church on Tennessee Street. “You'll find me there every Wednesday and Sunday night,” she said. 

The young woman stood very still, like a graceful forest animal, her hands folded together in front of her diaphragm, as if she were at that moment—perhaps in all moments--in prayer. And it was true.
“I pray for strength all the time,” she said. “I ask Him for strength. He gives me what I need.” 

The bread popped up in the toaster. Iclene reached in the industrial refrigerator for butter. 

“He got me this job,” she said, referring up to the ceiling, to God. So I know he'll give me the strength to do it.” I’d heard Iclene worked the 11-7 shift four nights a week. 

When I returned to Dad with his toast, he was dozing. I set the plate of food on a bedside table and slipped out the door. In the parking lot, a rim of light in the east caught me by surprise.

“Wheep,” called a great crested flycatcher from high in the pines.

As I drove home, I felt myself drop into peace. Confronted by overwhelming kindness, my fear for my father fell away.

Question: What kindnesses—expected and unexpected--have made the unbearable, bearable, in your own life?

--This essay is excerpted from I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter's Memoir by Susan Cerulean, published by the University of Georgia press and now available from your favorite independent bookseller.

Lucy again: We would love to have you attend our joint sisters event on August 9 at 5 pm, moderated by our own Red Hallie Ephron and sponsored by RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison CT. You will need to register here, but the event is free!

SUSAN CERULEAN is a writer, naturalist, and advocate who divides her time between Indian Pass and Tallahassee, Florida.  Her latest book, I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir (Georgia, 2020) will be released on August 1.  Sign up for her monthly newsletter at https://comingtopass.com/

You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram   

Saturday, August 1, 2020

One Human Family--Masked! by Liz Acar

LUCY BURDETTE: The pandemic has certainly spawned a certain amount of creativity, from sewing masks to writing about the lockdown to taking photographs. I noticed that a friend from our Key West church, Liz Acar, was doing a photography project involving masked residents. I thought you all would be interested to see some of her lovely photos and hear how her project evolved. Welcome Liz! Tell us a little about why you turned to photography as a creative outlet. 

LIZ ACAR: When the pandemic hit, it was unprecedented and very unsettling. So many unknowns were out there. People were anxious, fearful, worried. I wanted to do my part to help provide a moment of peace, hope, and connection. So I turned to photography. Mallory Square’s Sunset Celebration was closed down on March 17th. I decided I wanted to help keep it alive virtually by doing FB Live Sunset Celebrations until they reopened. My desire was to provide a space for others from around the world to connect and to share a moment of peace and hope. I did 28 straight days of FB Live Sunset Celebrations before being shut down by the Key West Police. I was told photography was not allowed under our “safer at home” orders. We could only be out to exercise or walk a dog. 

photo by Liz Acar

Photography and creative expression helps me to stay grounded and also provides a way from me to help support others. Since we were allowed to be outside to exercise, once my FB Lives were shut down, I decided to take pictures while out biking. When I would see a good photo opp, I would take a quick ’rest’ break and capture the shot. During sunset, I would occasionally get chased off by the police. Each day I did my best to capture shots and share them on social media. My desire was to continue to help bring about a moment of peace, connection, and hope to others. 

Lucy: Tell us how you came to this idea of the mask photography project.

Liz: One day while I was out biking and taking pictures of our city during the lockdown, I caught an interesting shot of someone on a bike with a mask on. It felt like a powerful photo capturing the essence of the times. About a week later, my mask project idea got sparked based on that photo. The vision wasn’t clear at that moment, but a seed was planted. 

photo by Liz Acar

Lucy: How did you decide to use the black-and-white photographs with only the masks in color, and how were you envisioning the project?

Liz: On April 28th I took the bike rider image and converted it to black and white and colorized the mask just to see what it would look like. It really highlighted the mask and created some interesting contrast. And then the idea came to mind. What would it be like to capture a moment in history in a unique way. I could take photos of people with masks on, convert them to black and white and colorize the mask. I thought it might be cool to go for a vintage feel. Like looking back on history. I decided it might make for an interesting art project. So I posted a call on FB that day. 

photo by Liz Acar

I honestly didn’t know what the response would be and what the end result would be. I just felt nudged to do it. I got a lot of positive responses from my post. For my pictures, I scheduled appointments and I also headed out on my bike rides looking for interesting shots. If I saw an interesting shot, I would let the person know about my project and ask if I could take their picture.

During this time, I would talk on the phone daily with my dad about the project. He was always so excited to hear how it was progressing. As I kept moving forward with taking pictures, my mask project vision was gaining more clarity. My dad and I talked about how cool it would be if it became an art exhibit at a gallery showing one day. It was nice to have something to dream about during such a challenging time, even though I still didn’t know what the end result was going to be. 

 I was also having fun with converting the pictures to black and white and colorizing the masks. I would send the copy to the person as a thank you for allowing me to take the pic. I would typically get a response of “I love it” and I started seeing several people post their picture as their profile picture. It felt good to see people enjoying their pictures. 

I finally decided I wanted to create a collage out of the pictures I had taken and then take a photo of the collage. I could make prints or canvasses out of the collage photo. Now that I had a plan, I had almost completed my project when my dad fell ill suddenly and was hospitalized on May 10th. His health went downhill quickly. He went from independent living to looking like he have to be discharged into hospice. Stress from his illness impacted my creative focus and I took a break from the project. But on the morning of the 25th, something inside nudged me to pick it back up and finish the project. It become important for me to finish it while he was still alive. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but I felt driven to finish it that day. Amazingly, somehow even amidst all the stress, I was able to pull it all together and get the file off to a printer. I picked up my first printed canvas that evening. It looked great! That first canvass became even more special to me because dad unexpectedly passed away that night. I’m so grateful that I completed it before he passed. It feels like a part of his energy is in that first canvas.

Lucy: tell us a bit more about the final project now that it’s completed.

Liz: Each picture in the collage is a photo I took, turned into black and white and added the mask color back in. Then I printed each photo on regular printer paper, hand tore the edges, and interwove them together on a poster board. It captures an unprecedented moment in our history. My goal was for it to look vintage, as if you were looking back on history. Hence the black and white choice and the torn edges. The canvas is a picture of the collage I laid out on a poster board. I did my best to capture a collection of the diversity of people and activities on our island. I laid it out in a way that highlights the interdependence and interconnectedness of all of us during this time. I call the finished project, ‘Namaske; One Human Family, Masked’.

Mayor Teri Johnston with Liz's collage
Thank you Liz for sharing your photos and project with us. Reds, Liz will be stopping in to answer any questions today!

About Liz: In 2016 Liz moved to Key West, Florida for a healing sabbatical from a significant illness. She has recovered and is still living in Key West. Over the past three years, Liz has conducted over 500 training and speaking engagements on mind/body/spirit wellness. She is also the author and photographer for the International Bestseller, In Joy; A Guide to Designing a Joy-Filled Life, and the co-author and photographer for the Bestseller, You Are Loved; An Inspired, Meditative Visual Journey. 

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Multi-Certified International Coach, Inspirational Speaker, Photographer, and Author, Liz’s work over the past 25 years has focused on supporting others in living a healthier, more peaceful, and joy-filled life. Liz loves combining her passion for photography, coaching, speaking, and writing to help inspire and support others on their journey. 

Visit FB @Liz Acar, Instagram @liz.acar, or www.LizAcar.com to check out her services, photography, and positive vibes.