Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Best New Years Gift Ever!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Happy new year’s eve! And can you think of a more celebratory thing than to have your new novel be published on New Year’s Day? Talk about fireworks and champagne! 

 AND it is now Amazon’s NUMBER ONE NEW RELEASE in mystery/romance. Happy New Year!

 So raise a glass with us, Reds and readers, to the amazing Stacy Wise. Who got inspiration from—a trampoline? And no, it’s not about ups and downs, or bouncing back, or whatever tramoliney things you can come up with. 

(And wait til you see what Stacy did before she started writing. Ooh. We’ll have lots of questions for you, Stacy!)

 And wow—congratulations! 

 Thinking about Thinking
   by Stacy Wise 

 Today I dismantled a fifteen-foot beast of a trampoline. Several hot summers in my yard had shriveled the padding around the edges, leaving exposed foam and stringy fibers in their wake. 

And the final blow came a few weeks ago when the plastic caps holding the protective netting in place cracked, causing it to droop like saggy pants after the elastic has snapped. The thing was officially a goner.

 On that sad day, I printed out a bold, yellow and black “No Entry” sign, and strapped it to the entrance with Minion duct tape. Safety first and all. 

After searching for parts online, I discovered it would cost about the same to replace the whole thing as it would to buy pieces and parts, half of which weren’t in stock. 

But alas, the trampoline remained in the yard, a sorry reminder of former fun times with my now weather-worn sign looking all the worse next to those grinning Minions. The thing might’ve stayed there for months.

 I was getting pretty good at pretending not to see it when I walked outside. 

‘What does all of this have to do with writing?’ you might ask. I’ll share a secret with you: Most great ideas flit into my mind when I’m doing something mundane, like manual labor. 

 And even though I absolutely did not want to go outside and touch the trampoline that was now draped in sticky cobwebs created by even creepier, potentially hungry spiders, I marched outside, armed with a socket wrench, a Philips screwdriver, and a hammer. (I sound so handy, don’t I? I have my dad to thank for that.) 

 I soon discovered that in addition to the spiders, there was a fair amount of rust that flecked dusty red grit onto my hands and shirt, which added to my overall discomfort. Sparkling clean hands are a way of life for me. 

But all the while, as I was cranking the socket wrench and avoiding spider-attacks, I let my subconscious wander to that mysterious place that bubbles with ideas. Like random shower thoughts that I hang onto. 

 And those random thoughts are born from tidbits from my day that puzzle or intrigue me. 

 In the case of Lie, Lie Again, the story idea started to brew after an encounter with a woman I didn’t know. We were sitting around a table for a meeting, and as I was attempting to explain my point, the woman exploded, chopping the air with her hand as she reprimanded me. The uproar stunned me. 

I’m a non-confrontational kind of person—more of a quiet, Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday junkie, and I probably trust dogs more than people. So as this irate woman was hammering away at me, I retreated inside myself and wondered why she was so angry. 

 I left the meeting convinced she must be a terrible, unhappy person. And then I started to wonder if something bad had happened right before the meeting. 

Maybe she had just left a sick pet at the vet, or perhaps she’d been in a fender-bender that had left her rattled? 

A friend said, “Maybe she’s just a jerk.”

 Ah . . . That was the idea that stuck. Maybe she’s just a jerk.

 So I started to think about people and actions and their motivations. Why do some people feel justified in doing something that others may consider wrong? Even ruthless. (Because by now, I’d set the meeting incident aside, and I was thinking big.) 

I began wondering about really bad behavior and how a person’s history could foster their future actions. 

 I didn’t have a trampoline to dismantle when I started Lie, Lie Again, but I ran on the treadmill to get my ideas percolating. I ran like a devil was chasing me. I let my mind wander, and Sylvia’s story came to life. 
 Her character began to crystalize in my mind—she was a manipulative woman with a dark past and a deep desire to become a mother. Her manipulation was justified in her mind, because she was simply protecting her own interests. In writing her, I knew she would strike an uncomfortable chord with some readers, and others, as my critique partner said, would find her “deliciously evil.” 

As the story bloomed in my mind, two more characters, Embry and Riki, came to life, both of whom had their own agendas and paths to self-discovery. In essence, Lie, Lie Again is a book about friendships, relationships, and all the hidden secrets that lie beneath the surface. As someone once said to me, “despite your delusions, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.” 

I took the liberty of tugging those doors open in Lie, Lie Again, and I hope you enjoy what you see! 

HANK: OOh. I know some people like that. So, reds and readers, what's the most surprising place or activity that makes you think? (And I said, look at Stacy's bio. Anyone have any questions?  I bet she has stories!)


Stacy Wise is the award-winning author of the novels Beyond the Stars and Maybe Someone Like You. Her next book, Lie, Lie Again will be released on 1/1/21. 
Prior to her writing career, Stacy worked in television casting on shows including The X Files, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Party of Five. 
After a decade in the industry, she returned to school and received her teaching credential and masters from Chapman University. She has taught both kindergarten and third grade. 
A native of California and graduate of UCLA, she lives with her family and three fluffy dogs in Los Angeles. 
 Stop by her website,, or visit her on Instagram @stacywise_author 

 All three women who live at 1054 Mockingbird Lane have secrets…and with a body at the bottom of their apartment building’s staircase, those secrets need to stay buried. 

Sylvia Webb has a plan. And a potential Mr. Right. He’s sweet, simple, and dependably clueless about what she’s up to. The only thing unpredictable about him is his needy ex-girlfriend, who is this close to shattering Sylvia’s dreams. But Sylvia’s not going to let that happen. 
Riki McFarlan has a good career and an amazing boyfriend who wants to settle down. If only she didn’t have feelings for her neighbor—who happens to be her close friend’s husband. With everything going so right, why is Riki flirting with something so wrong, so…dangerous? 

Embry Taylor is as devoted to her children as she is to her husband, who’s a bartender by night, an aspiring actor by day. She is his biggest fan. But with his career not taking off and tensions high, even sweet Embry has something she’s desperate to keep hidden. 

Lies, secrets, and revenge. For three neighbors with stakes so high, someone is headed for a downfall.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Okay, confession. My BIG pandemic project was to alphabetize all my books. I mean, plenty of time. AH, no. Did not do it. Yet. But I am still planning on it. Truly. 

 What I did do? I—finished my book.(Pretty much, you know, it still needs the copy edits but THAT COUNTS, right?) And lots of wonderful book stuff happened, too long to tell. 

Started The Back Room. 

Joined First Chapter Fun as a cohost, and we are on Episode 121! (Tomorrow—our big celebration! Join us on Facebook on Instagram!) 

Claire's accomplishment #2
And today we welcome the 
incredible Claire Booth.  She has been thinking about this, too. And has some intriguing questions for us.

 And she’s making a list. 


What’s on YOUR List?
        by Claire Booth 

 If you’re like me, your list of 2020 achievements looks a lot different than what you’ve done in previous years. If you only managed one—like staying healthy or keeping your sense of humor—then bravo, you’re a success! I succeeded, too. And failed. Which is okay. 

Because really—a set of goals started at the beginning of the lockdown? They deserved to go down in flames. 

 Things I thought I would do when the world shut down, now things I have not accomplished

1. Read important books of great literary merit. 
2. Learn to crochet. 
3. Eat lots of vegetables grown in my own garden.
4. Still fit into all of my work clothes.
5. Learn how to turn on the new speakers my husband hooked up to the TV. 
6. Organize family photos. 
7. Teach my old dogs any new tricks. 
8. Finish my next novel. 

 But enough of that. A new year is a time of optimism, right? 

So here are things I have accomplished this past year: 

 1. Read wonderful books of great entertainment value. 
2. Sewn a mask with hand-me-down material that came out only slightly uneven (either that, or my ears that are crooked). (see photo above!)
3, Eat some vegetables, mostly store-bought. 
4. Still fit into all of my yoga pants. 
5. Learn how to use the X-Box controller to turn on the TV, after the kids finally started refusing to do it for me. 

This is the real lazy Susan!

6. Repair and refinish a sixty-year-old lazy Susan that matches the table I inherited from my grandparents. 

7. Not give in to my children’s pleas for a new puppy by pointing out we already have two dogs (neither children nor dogs were impressed with my reasoning). 

Claire's two dogs

8. Watch all twenty-three Marvel movies in order (of everything on this list, this might be the most embarrassing. (On the other hand, Chris Hemsworth . . .) 

9. Continue work on my next novel, and realize that a healthy family and supportive friends are a lot more important than typing “The End” before an arbitrary December 31st deadline. 

 So as this annus horribilis comes to an close, and my dogs flaunt the fact they still don’t know how to fetch me the newspaper, I wish you a year of renewed hope, health, and happiness. 

And a good book. Always that. 

 Readers, what are some of your favorite accomplishments, or failures, in 2020? 

 HANK: Oh, yes, great questions! And Claire! You also were brilliant as the emcee and MUCH more of the Anthony Awards! HURRAY—and what a wild success. And we want to hear about that, too. 

 Claire Booth is an inveterate list-maker and former newspaper reporter who spent a decade covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. For more about Claire, her books, and her true crime television appearances, please visit

Hank Worth has always been committed to his job as Branson sheriff, so getting him to take a break is difficult. But to everyone's surprise he agrees to take time off after a grueling case and visit a friend in Columbia, Missouri, leaving Chief Deputy Sheila Turley in charge. She quickly launches reforms that create an uproar, and things deteriorate even further when an elderly man is found brutally murdered in his home. As Sheila struggles for control of the investigation and her insubordinate deputies, Hank is not relaxing as promised. His Aunt Fin is worried her husband is responsible for the disappearance of one of his employees, and Hank agrees to investigate. The search for the missing woman leads to a tangle of deceit that Hank is determined to unravel . . . no matter the impact on his family.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Lots of things beginning and ending this time of year. Yesterday we talked about our traditions, and our goals. How we felt like decluttering, and repurposing, and rethinking.  The pandemic hit us all, in similar ways. But it's all about where you are in your life.

But my brilliant and talented and dear dear friend Amy Impellizzeri (you know her books, right? Click here! But after you read this—because what’s next is fascinating) --today introduces us to a different point of view.  Someone still in the process of making traditions. Someone for whom everything is new. And someone who has a lot to teach us! 

 Second Choices/Second Chances
  A Q&A With Writer Amy Impellizzeri 
                  and her Intern, Tierney Banco

 AMY IMPELLIZZERI: In the category of “Pandemic Silver Linings,” some of my entries continue to be a stretch. Invention of a Bolognese sauce recipe sans red meat. Discovery of 23 new online shopping retailers (and counting). A color-coded chart of every wine retailer that ships to my puritanical state. 

 But here’s one that’s no stretch at all: Because of the pandemic, I have a fabulous intern, Tierney Banco, working with me in my rural Pennsylvania town. 

She boasts some impressive writing/research chops and a shiny new degree from Northeastern University. 

It’s no secret Tierney would rather not be my intern. 

I know she’d prefer that 2020 went a little (ok, a lot!) differently, and that she was in New York City breaking into writing or television/film. 

 But in becoming her second choice, we’ve both gotten a second chance to wrap up 2020 with some silver linings and lessons learned. I asked Tierney to fess up about her frustrations and how she’s putting her internship and her writing plans to good use. 


Amy: Tierney, I know because I’ve seen your resume - you’ve had an impressive educational journey that has included some unique real world writing/working experience. Can you give us a glimpse of that journey? 

 Tierney: Sure. I grew up loving movies and stories and I was always making up stuff and letting my imagination run wild. But I didn’t start writing for real until I was in high school. At the beginning of my freshman year I joined Voices, Reading Eagle’s (my hometown paper) teen section, and I wrote for them basically until the day I left for college. I was lucky enough to write, everything from opinion pieces to reviews to news pieces to sarcastic commentary on very specific teenage things. 

 Amy: I remember those pieces! I remember reading them in our shared hometown paper and admiring your writing at such a young age. 

 Tierney: It was the first time I really had a chance to consider what I had to say and how I wanted to say it, which was really important to me as far as figuring out my voice (no pun intended) and even what kind of person I am. And I learned that, no matter what I was writing, people were reading it and reacting to my work. 

 Amy: After high school, I know you headed to Northeastern University. Did you know exactly what your major would be when you started? 

 Tierney: I was undeclared until the end of my freshman year. I had a lot of different interests (theatre, film, writing, etc.) and I wasn’t quite sure which direction to head in. And then one of my advisors asked me, “Have you heard of this weird new major, Media and Screen Studies, which is all about media and film and journalism? You can combine that with Theatre,” and that was it.

 Amy: Kudos to your Advisor for helping channeling your interests into a major, which doesn’t sound all that weird to me! What about your co-op opportunities at Northeastern?

 Tierney: I did two co-ops, both within my Media and Screen major. My first co-op was in the Media Relations department at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which runs Boston’s Logan Airport. 

 And my second was in the Corporate Communications department at the television company AMC Networks in New York City. Looking back now, those jobs were so informative and educational to me because they didn’t just show me how to handle a 9-5 job, but also taught me how to think and what to look for in a professional setting. 

At AMCN, I spent at least six hours a day reading the trades and paying attention to the industry I hoped to join someday. It made me feel like a cog (albeit a small one) in the wheel. But being a “lowly” intern seems a lot more important when your findings are sent to the CEO and flagged as “Must Read Press.” 

Amy: I can validate first-hand that your work as an intern is ALWAYS important. I love that you came to understand that on your own. What would you have been doing this fall if I wasn’t lucky enough to work with you as MY intern? 

 Tierney: I fell in love with New York City when I was working at AMCN. I loved the bustling city, the parks, the restaurants, and Broadway, of course. A big part of the reason I looked to New York for my second co-op was to find out if I could see myself living there, and six months confirmed to me that I could. 

But as far as what I would do when I moved to New York, that was up in the air. When you’re going to be a lawyer or a doctor or something there is a specific step-by-step plan of what you do and what order you do it in to achieve your goal career. But my fields don’t have that.

 Amy: Ah yes, this is a big lesson I learned having left the law for the publishing industry. There’s no straight-line path. It’s stressful, but also liberating in a way. 

 Tierney: Something I really liked about Northeastern’s mentality with the co-op program was that they weren’t focused solely on teaching you “I have this degree so now this is the only career I’ll ever have or look for.” 

Instead, both of my majors taught me skills that I can use to pursue something, whatever that is. Throughout college my mentality became “I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I know I’ll be capable of doing it,” which made me less concerned about the “how” and more focused on “why.”

 My hope for the Fall 2020 was to be in NYC working at a television or media company in some sort of entry-level position. I applied to all sorts of jobs within NBCUniversal, Viacom, CBS, and Buzzfeed, just to name a few. 

But then my senior year was cut short due to the pandemic, leaving me without a graduation, job prospects, or any way to move to my favorite city. 

 Amy: So, would you call the pandemic a short-term detour or has it re-routed you entirely? 

 Tierney: It definitely felt like a massive roadblock had hit me, right when my life was supposed to take off. As the summer went on and nothing changed, I realized that I needed to alter my thought process. I didn’t want to spend the entire pandemic sitting around miserable and twiddling my thumbs hoping something might happen. 

So to answer your question, I feel like it’s rerouted me entirely. And up until September, I probably would’ve told you that was a bad thing.

 But now I feel a lot better about where I am. I’ve started to write again, something I wasn’t doing during the pandemic. Since I wasn’t in a good headspace, I didn’t feel that creative inspiration necessary to put words on a page. But I’ve written more in the past two months than I have in the past few years. 

 Amy: I think your honesty and raw truth is really helpful to so many others who share your frustrations. Thanks for sharing that, Tierney. What positive steps have you taken to forge your new path? 

 Tierney: The pandemic really forced me to reevaluate my thought process regarding my career choices. In September I started taking an online Screenwriting class through the New York Film Academy. As soon as that started, I found that sense of inspiration and motivation I’d been missing since March. So now I’m applying to MFA programs in NYC. 

And I have to say, as someone who was super stressed about applying to college, I feel pretty good about grad school. 

The application for my top choice, New York University, really pushed me to succeed. Where most writing programs ask for a few short pieces to sample your work, NYU wanted a full 90-120 page screenplay. I had never written a project that long before, in any form. But having that goal in my head motivated me and I managed to complete my first draft (coming in at exactly 120 pages) a few days ago. 

 The other thing I did to further my professional path was a lot of “networking.” I say it in quotes because the pandemic doesn’t really allow for true networking in the traditional sense. But over the summer I talked to a lot of people, mostly friends of friends, who have experience in the entertainment or theatre industries. They all gave great advice and told me a little about how they got to their current career. A number of them also offered to put me in touch with some of their contacts, giving me even more people to talk to. I even got to speak to one of the professors at the NYU program I’m applying to. 

 Amy: How have you been able to focus on writing and what advice would you give other new graduates who are trying to find their focus as they navigate this challenging time? 

 Tierney: Having specific goals to work towards is what’s kept me focused. My class at NYFA meets every Tuesday and then we have an assignment, so each week I have at least one piece of writing to work on. The application due dates have also been in the back of my mind.

 My advice is to ask yourself, “What do I need to do today? What do I need to do this week? What do I need to do this month?” It makes you prioritize what to work on first. 

 If you start to feel bogged down, change your approach or thought process. Instead of trying to finish something by a certain date, set a goal (however big or small) and work towards that instead. 

 When I was writing my 120-page screenplay, I was much more motivated to work if I aimed to write one scene a day as opposed to hitting a daily page count. It helped the project feel exciting and something I wanted to continue, as opposed to a chore. 

 Another piece of advice is something I heard in a NYU info session. The director of the program was joking that they ask applicants to submit a screenplay in order to come to NYU and learn how to write a screenplay. But then he said, “We know it won’t be perfect, but we want to see what you can do. So send us what you have, and we’ll see what we’re working with.” That really resonated with me. 

 For whatever it is you are working towards, don’t worry about perfection or meeting expectations. Focus on how it excites you, or why you’re doing this. As long as that’s in the back of your head, it’s really hard to go wrong. 

 Amy: Wait. Hold please. That’s really good. I think I’ll write that down. Tierney, I’m so happy to be your second choice this year. Thanks for sharing your journey with me! 

 HANK: Well, wow. That is incredibly inspirational! Aww. I am in tears.  Reds and readers, what were you doing at Tierney’s age? Were you ever an intern? And what did YOU learn? 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Happy Weird Week--and waiting for V-Day


:  Since we said goodbye to 2020 in a blog here last week--and I understand why that feels so urgent!--that means now we’re in this weird interregnum week.

 I always forget about these days, you know? December 26 through 30.  The five days of between. The weird week. 

On one hand, it’s great. I have to say weird week is when I finish doing holiday cards, and rationalize that this is still the holidays and NOT LATE and it’s only “late” on Jan 2. And there’s a lot of leeway with covid, right? 

Weird week is still holiday enough that the cookies and fudge are still covered by the holiday rules, meaning they have no calories and won’t until January 2.

And also, even though we are all on this bizarre enforced “vacation,” to use the term loosely, it does feel more vacationy. This week especially, since the real date of the holiday is over, and what didn’t get done for that day -well, too late now. There’s a relief in that. 

So maybe weird week is when we start counting toward V-day.
  Vaccination day. I’m calculating about April for me, and maybe even March for Jonathan. Talk about weird.  

When do you think you and your family will get vaccinations? Have they already? There's a chart in the Times that lets you calculate:

(There was an article in the paper today about the polio vaccine--and how people cried with joy when it was finally available, and kids lined up at school to get it.  I have absolutely no memory of that. Do you?)

JENN MCKINLAY: I used to love this week as a gear up for the new and improved me that was going to emerge like a butterfly. I’d declutter, stock up on healthy food, get a new hair style, etc. This year I am chained to my keyboard trying to finish a book for a deadline that’s already been extended, which I’ve never needed before. For me, this is a fitting end to a year of chaos. I am hoping that if i can turn the book in on time-ish, then the new year can start off on the right foot. Wish me luck!

Oh, and I don’t remember the polio vaccine but am very grateful for it! I have a feeling I’m on the bottom of the list for the Covid vaccine and that’s okay. Get the higher risk people to safety first.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know I always love this weird in-between week. It sort of feels like a week out of time, where you might catch up on all the things you meant to do before Christmas and didn't get to, and you might actually manage to reflect a bit on the year past, and make some goals for the coming year. Or at least switch over to a new calendar…

As for the vaccinations, I'm just hoping sometime in the spring, maybe March or April. But the way this last year has gone, who knows? In the meantime, we'll just keep on trying to stay safe.

LUCY BURDETTE: This IS a weird week Hank. I finished the cards yesterday and we are still eating cookies. And I’m working on copyedits and maybe the beginning of another Key West mystery. (More on that later…)

And yes, we are thinking a lot about V-Day. It’s so complicated figuring out who should go ahead of whom. And how are we going to be notified that it’s our turn? And is it possible to get overlooked? Does the squeaky wheel get vaccinated first or should we shut up and wait?

Yay, Molly!

We are so so so thrilled that our daughter Molly (an ER doc) and our nephew David (ditto) both got their first doses last week. They are in LA where the hospitals are overrun and the staff exhausted. Oh I cannot wait for all this to be over...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I always love this week, since I work from home anyway and, back in the day, Ross and the kids had the whole week off from school. It’s always been our Christmas week, when, as Hank says, everything has been done (or not, but you don’t have to think about it anymore) and holiday rules apply - leftovers, movies in the middle of the day, and bad breakfast choices (to paraphrase Jenn!)

As to V Day, I suspect I’m in the back of the pack along with Jenn, since I’m under 60 and have no comorbidities. Maybe I should try to pack on a few more pandemic pounds to change my status?

 I’m hoping the Maine Millennial will get the shot early on, however, as she’s now working at an oncology treatment center, which I think slots her in along with other health care workers. Obviously, she’s not a nurse or a technician, but she’s dealing with cancer patients, in person, every day.

The other people I’m waiting to see vaccinated are friend of the Reds Celia Wakefield and her husband Victor. They've been walled up like medieval anchorites since last February due to Victor’s age (he’s a WWII vet!) and it would be wonderful for them to be able to finally get out and about again.

HALLIE EPHRON: Yes, it’s always a weird week. Betwixt and between. 

V-DAY! I look forward to it. I’m guessing in the spring, too. My husband maybe a bit earlier since he’s a tad older than me. 

I do remember getting the polio vaccine. I was in elementary school, and I remember being lined up and herded through the nurse’s office. I was so humiliated because I’d worn a dress and they had to unbutton it and pull it down off one shoulder to administer the shot. HUMILIATING! I don’t think I had the slightest idea about polio. 

That vaccine came too late from one of my dearest college friends, Linda Laubenstein, who got polio when she was 6. In an iron lung for months. I can’t even imagine it. In a wheelchair until she died in her 40s, as so many who got polio have. She persevered, went to medical school and became a hematologist, widely credited as one of the first doctors to recognize AIDS and raise the alarm with Larry Kramer who wrote a play, The Normal Heart, in which one of the main characters is based on her.

RHYS BOWEN: This is usually the week when I take a deep breath, clean up the wrapping paper left by zillions of presents, strip six beds after family has departed, John makes huge turkey curry. But this year, after a Christmas day a deux and a simple meal for two there is not much to be done.

 We have played with the new espresso machine, learning how much milk to put in the frother before it spills over the top and scalds us. We have Zoomed with family and friends--so great. And I confess to feeling a glimmer of optimism for the first time in months.

My daughter and son in law received their first dose of vaccine. John should be soon in line with me soon after. 

 And I do remember the polio vaccine well. Polio was a big scare when I was about ten. I was forbidden to go to the swimming pool but I went over to my friend’s house and we snuck out to swim from there. Thank God my parents never knew! Anyway a nurse came to our school and we lined up for vaccine. I remember we had a netball match the next day and so many groans from sore arms. Let’s hope this new vaccine makes the same difference that that one did.

HANK: Yes, absolutely! And I have a pal whose uncle, a hospital doctor but not front line, was given the vaccine. He tried to defer, and give it to a younger person, but they said nope: You get it when it's your turn.

What do you think, Reds and readers? Is this a weird week for you? Anyone you know get the vaccine yet? Have you calculated your timing?

Sunday, December 27, 2020

It's the potatoes!

HALLIE EPHRON: Winter brings out the potato lover in me.

Favorite kind: Russets. They’re perfect for mashing and make the best baked potatoes, too. And after that, let me count the ways!

ALL of these recipes start with 4 medium sized, skin-on russet potatoes, scrubbed and black spots and blemishes removed.

Crispy oven baked spears

- Cut potatoes lengthwise into spears
- Soak 10 minutes in hot tap water; rinse and pat dry
- Toss with olive oil and season with plenty of salt (I like Lawry’s Seasoning Salt which has plenty of paprika in it) and pepper
- Place on a cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 400-degree oven
- Turn after 25 minutes and cook for 25 minutes more until brown and crusty
I serve with ketchup

Potatoes “Anna”

- Slice the potatoes thin (I use a mandolin – easy to use but also easy to cut yourself so be careful)
- Immerse slices for 1-2 minutes in boiling water; drain; pat dry
- Grease the bottom of a baking dish or pan that can go in the oven – a cast-iron skillet is ideal
- Overlap the potatoes (like shingles) in layers going around; paint each layer with melted butter and season with salt and pepper
- Bake in a 450-degree oven for about an hour – you want it to be crusty brown on top, not burned or pallid

Potato pancakes (lacy and crisp, not just for Hanukah)
- Grate the potatoes
- Dump the grated potatoes into a clean linen dish towel; over the sink, wring out as much liquid as you can
- Mix the wrung-out potatoes with 2 eggs and a handful of flour
- Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan until a bit of potato sizzles when it hits the oil
- Ladle tablespoon-size pancakes into the hot oil; flatten and cook until golden brown and crisp on both sides
- Drain on paper towel and put them on a cookie rack in a warm oven until ready to serve
- Serve with salt and your choice of apple sauce or sour cream.

Mushroom potatoes
These are scalloped potatoes doused in (undiluted) Campbells mushroom soup. Could not be more delicious.
- Warm the contents of an undiluted can of mushroom soup so it’s spreadable
- Slice potatoes 1/4” thin
- Grease the bottom of a baking dish or pan that can go in the oven – a cast-iron skillet is ideal
- Put a layer of potatoes on the bottom; paint them with some mushroom soup
- REPEAT until you run out of potatoes and…
- Dump the remaining soup over the top and spread it around
- Dot the top with butter
- Bake in a 375-degree oven covered for an hour, then uncovered for another 20 minutes until it gets a crusty (my favorite part)

What’s your favorite kind of potatoes and favorite way to cook them? Someone just told me about caramelized pan roasted potatoes... anyone know how to make that? Or the secret to getting baked potatoes to come out with a crisp skin and fluffy interior?

Saturday, December 26, 2020

'Twas the Day After Christmas...

HALLIE EPHRON: The day after Christmas, if you have any luck, you’re wallowing in leftovers. Hoping you have a bounty of homemade candy and cookies and maybe a box of gourmet pears or Florida grapefruits to be savored. Cold roast beef or ham? If you’re lucky you can curl up with the perfect book that you got from someone who knows you well. Or start putting together a wonderful new jigsaw puzzle. In years past, we might even have gone shopping. I'm hoping we won't be dealing with power outages and wind damage from the storm that's supposed to sweep through New England... so I'm tucking this in a few days early.

How will you be spending what should be a cozy, perfectly indolent day, and what’s in your refrigerator to graze upon?

John and I were alone on Christmas Day. So strange after the usual chaos of 14 people celebrating.

When rain was forecast we opted to visit our daughter’s back yard on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts in the open air. So our Christmas celebration was definitely low key. We had a lovely brunch or rather full English breakfast and for dinner smoked salmon then leg of lamb followed by Christmas pudding. So enough lamb for Shepherd’s pie as well as mince pies and sausage rolls.

Our big treat was we bought ourselves an electric fireplace so we can have a “fire” on spare the air days, which happen often in winter. And we don’t have to haul logs either!

JENN McKINLAY: Surprising no one, I’m sure, I’m on deadline with a book due January 1st which is only half written, so after a frenzy of last minute baking, I’ll be eating cookies for breakfast - #badbreakfastchoices - making a turbo charged pot of coffee, grunting happy new year at my people as I likely won’t see them until then as I burn the midnight oil to finish Killer Research.

Thankfully, all three of my men know how to work a stove and have jobs they need to go to so I doubt they’ll miss me...much.

LUCY BURDETTE: We’ve been feasting all week and have lots of cookies and half a caramel cake leftover. I did get a stack of books from John and my sister, but since I have a couple book ideas creeping out of the darkness, I am trying to write some things down. Plus copyedits, which is less taxing.

So picture me, like Jenn, working and eating cookies!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We have some leftovers, but tonight we're having the take out Chinese we usually have on Fridays.

Otherwise, I am so far behind on my deadline, so I'm thrilled to have nothing to do but write and enjoy my Christmas decorations for another week! Alas, I didn't bake, so have no cookies to go with my tea…

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The final edits of my new book are due to my agent on Dec 29. The final final edits to the editor on Jan 4. GUESS what I’m doing?

We had rack of lamb and champagne last night, and today we’ll have yummy leftovers. I wish we had cookies.

A reader friend sent me a glittery gold star ornament (made of wood, so beautiful) , so I hung it in a place of pride, and wish on it every time I see it. I’ll make some wishes for you all, too!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I, too should be working on my book, but honestly, having all my kids at home for the first time in a YEAR is too much to pass on.

We had a lovely, low-key Christmas Day, and I enjoyed the novelty of cooking for five instead of twenty-five, as I usually do. We were going to go snowshoeing today, but yesterday’s wind and rain storm (54°, for heaven’s sake!) has made that a lot less appealing.

So it will probably be watching Christmas movies in front of the wood stove, picking on leftovers, and getting up a board game. One of these years, the only thing I’m going to ask for is that we play CLUE. I love it, and the kids refuse to play it with me.

Has anyone broken down and gotten HBO Max in order to watch Wonder Woman 84?

HALLIE: I still haven't see the earlier Wonder Woman so maybe that's what I should do... Or Die Hard which I've also never seen.

What about everyone else: How's your day-after going?

Friday, December 25, 2020

Little gifts that spark joy

HALLIE EPHRON: Hoping everyone is snuggled in for a quiet, warm holiday, networking with loved ones, opening presents, indulging in Christmas sweets and savories, and enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.

Usually both of our daughters, along with our 4-year-old grandson and 8-year-old grand daughter and our son-in-law would be here, opening presents Christmas morning and leaving the house awash in wrapping and ribbon.

This year we're snug in our own homes, Zooming the present opening. I am hoping we hit homeruns with our presents.

The thing is, you just never know with gifts, especially for children. I was forever buying not-quite-the-right doll or a knock-off My Little Pony for my ungrateful children, and believe me they let me know. But sometimes it's the littlest most unexpected gift that's an unalloyed home run.

In that spirit, I share with you our grandgirl's delight at one of her presents two year ago when she was six. That year she got dolls and tutus, party dresses and the nightgown she's got on. But watch and you'll see the one gift (from her Aunt) that gave her the most delight. Again... and again... and again.
Her laughter is the gift from that Christmas that keeps giving. Every time I watch this, it cracks me up.

So Happy Holidays to you all, HUGS from all the Jungle Reds! Wishing you a bit of artificial flatulence. And if you take a break from all the capering and cavorting, share a memory of the little gift from Christmas past or present that packed the biggest whoopee!.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Waxing poetic on Christmas Eve

Hallie Ephron: Christmas and poetry go together. When I was growing up, one of my mother's tradtions was reciting poetry after dinner as we lingered at the table. A writer and an English major, she knew so many by heart and over time I learned them too.

Here are some bits from favorite Christmas poems to enjoy on Christmas eve. I know you'll recognize most of them.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
"’Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore

(Drawing by Jerry Touger)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die…
“Ring Out, Wild Bells” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from In Memoriam)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The word repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
"Christmas Bells" – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.
A Chid’s Christmas in Wales – Dylan Thomas (Okay, technically not a poem but worth committing to memory)

And here's Ogden Nash's wonderful "The Boy Show Laughed at Santa Claus" - read by Jean Shepherd

Are there poems that are part of your holiday traditions? Please, share them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"It's the Best Thing You've Ever Written," a guest blog by E.J. Copperman

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I don't really need to introduce friend-of-the-Reds and everyone's fave, E.J. Copperman, do I? His mysteries have been making us laugh and think and root for his often benighted New Jersey residents (living and un-) for years.  He's no novice. He has a track record. He has many, many bibliographic entries in libraries around the country!

So what does a long-term, career author think about on the publication of his 26th book  - the first in a new series, and not set in the Garden State? Well, he's looking at some other dynamite authors. And wondering, how do you know when you've written your best?


Just recently I watched Mank, the movie that is supposedly about the writing of the Citizen Kane screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who you probably know as the grandfather of the nice guy on Turner Classic Movies but who I know as the guy who produced the best three Marx Brothers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. But that, as people who say nonsensical things say, is neither here nor there (it’s someplace but nobody ever seems to look for it). 


Anyway, I’m not offering a movie review here, but one moment (actually, two moments) in the movie struck me in an unexpected way. At one point, Herman’s brother Joe (who would go on to write and direct All About Eve, among other things), in trying to dissuade Mank from going ahead with the Kane script (here called American), says, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever written,” which is fairly poor salesmanship if you’re sincerely trying to get a guy not to submit his screenplay.


Later, when Orson Welles shows up and Mank starts arguing with him over screen credit for the screenplay, our “hero” says to Welles, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever written.” And that’s when my solar plexus felt a little punched.

I’ve been writing a long time, and writing mystery novels for a decent portion of that long time. I’d never considered the question before: What’s the best thing I ever wrote?


How would I know?


I mean, my 26th novel, Inherit the Shoes, was just published, and people seem to like it well. (Very few people other than reviewers will tell an author they hate the book to the author’s face, a societal convention I applaud wholeheartedly.) It starts a new series that I hope will last for a long time, dealing with a New Jersey criminal prosecutor who tires of the whole putting-people-in-jail thing and decides to move to Los Angeles when she’s offered a job as a family attorney, which is a polite way of saying a divorce lawyer. And that’s all I’ll tell you for now because we’re trying to decide what the best thing I’ve ever written might be. Or had you forgotten?


It might be Inherit the Shoes. It might not. Could be it’s a book you haven’t had the chance to see yet. Maybe it’s one of the many (many) screenplays I wrote before turning to the long form, none of which was ever produced. It’s entirely possible it was a newspaper article I wrote back in the day, a journal entry from my college days or a blog post on the late, somewhat lamented Hey, There’s A Dead Guy in the Living Room. For all I know it’s a grocery list I wrote back when we used to go to grocery stores. 


To be fair, it’s also a distinct possibility that I’ll write something better my next time out. That’s what keeps this writer going, the prospect of writing something amazing. Hey, it’s possible. Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane, after all. 


But as of now? The best thing? I honestly can’t say. I know I have favorites for sentimental reasons but I can’t say objectively that one is better than all the others. There are readers who love my Haunted Guesthouse series and have no time for any of the rest. That’s fair; you’re entitled to like what you like. Others believe that the stuff I wrote back when I had another name was the best material I’ve produced. Sure, it could be. 


The writer is too close to the work to know. It’s why Mank has to hear it from his brother before he believes it of the Kane screenplay. We were there the whole time we were writing it and we know we compromised in places for lack of a killer idea in that small passage or that chapter or that plot point. So that can’t be best, can it?


Maybe it can. Maybe everybody gets to decide for themselves. 


As for me, I’m hoping nobody ever asks me what the best thing I’ve ever written might be because I honestly couldn’t give a definitive honest answer. On the other hand, if you want to tell me what the best thing I’ve ever written has been for you, I’ll never not want to hear it. Because that means that something I wrote got to you, and what’s not to like about that?


Wow. This might not be the best thing I’ve ever written, but it certainly the most self-obsessed.


JULIA: Okay, dear readers, can you name "the best thing" any of your favorite authors have written? Can you point to a moment when you can say, "This was my best?"


E.J.Copperman is the author of 26 published mystery novels including INHERIT THE SHOES, the first Jersey Girl Legal Mystery, which as it turns out is available now. The other 25 books are also still available. As far as Copperman knows. On the other hand, Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane, ostensibly with Orson Welles, and that was, in everybody’s opinion, the best thing he ever wrote.