Friday, April 30, 2021

Confessions of Failure

 RHYS: It’s been a tough week with copy edits and tax coming at the same time so I thought I’d end with one of our silly quizzes.

It’s called Confessions of Failure!

Name the biggest blooper in one of your books.

What was your worst fashion faux pas?

The worst meal you ever cooked?

Your most embarrassing moment in high school?

Or as an adult?  (only embarrassments you can tell us about)


Name the biggest blooper in one of your books.

In IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, I have a sentence where Clare is feeling bad and “curls up under her grandmother’s guilt.” No, it’s not metaphorical, it’s supposed to be Quilt. I sent an email about correcting it to my publishers, but despite that, the book is STILL in print and the blooper is STILL there. 

What was your worst fashion faux pas?

Honestly, all I can think of is everything I wore in middle school in the 1970s. Mustard-colored platform sneakers? Yep. Scarlet and purple bell bottoms (with each leg a different color, front and back, harlequin style?) Yep. Shirts with enormous collars and weird, art deco prints made from a completely unnatural material never seen before or since? Yep.

The worst meal you ever cooked?

When I was first learning to cook, I was making Irish Boiled Dinner for St. Pat’s Day. I read the instructions “keep at a low boil for X hours” and interpreted that to mean keep it BELOW boiling. So all the ingredients floated in a pot of very hot water for several hours. I leave the unspeakable results to your imaginations. 

Your most embarrassing moment in high school?

I had just discovered swearing as a sophomore (it was a kinder, gentler age, kids) and was displaying my new-found sophistication backstage during a set build out (I was a total theater kid in high school and college) by f-bombing this, that and the other thing. An older boy I had SUCH a crush on looked at me with a frown and said, “Wow, you swear like a truck driver.” It was at least 30 years before I ever said that word again in public.

Or as an adult?  (only embarrassments you can tell us about)

There are oh, so many, most revolving around my inability to remember people’s names, and stuff I’m genuinely ashamed about, like the many, many times I’ve neglected to bring hostess gifts for a house stay. But one that lingers is the time I was about ¾ through a lengthy book tour - one of those ones where you get up at 5am, fly to a city, do signings, a library appearance and a bookstore gig, go back to the hotel and do it all over again the next day. It was around 10pm, I was tired, and all I wanted to do was get into my room and order my chicken Caesar salad. So I’m standing outside my door, trying the key card over and over, because it won’t let me in. I’m twisting the door handle to see it that helps, and swearing (mildly)... you see where this is going, right?

A man opened the door and said, “Can I help you?” in the most repressive voice ever. Probably thought I was drunk. I looked at the little sleeve my key card came in. Yes, dear readers, you guessed it. I was trying to get into LAST night’s hotel room, which unfortunately was in Denver, not in Santa Barbara.


 Oh,Julia, I think there was another you, trying to get into my hotel room at Bouchercon in Dallas. Scared the begeezes out of me since it was two in the morning.

1.Name the biggest blooper in one of your books.

I changed the middle name of a character between books. Angie Maria DeLaura became Angie Lucia DeLaura in a later book and I got called out hard, so in the next book I put her name in as Angie Maria Lucia DeLaura. Take that!

2. What was your worst fashion faux pas?

High school: In my defense, it was the eighties! Blonde mohawk, combat boots, and a peacoat. I’m six feet tall like I really needed the extra attention. Oy.

3. The worst meal you ever cooked?

First Thanksgiving on my own. My then boyfriend and I roasted a turkey, without taking out the bag of innards. So gross!

4. Your most embarrassing moment in high school?

See above! Kidding, I actually thought I was pretty rad. Most embarrassing was probably when I was convinced the boy I was crushing on was crushing on me, too, because he kept turning around from the front row to look at me. Yeah, turned out he was infatuated with the girl sitting in front of me. Can’t blame him, she was adorable. But when he mentioned how much he loved her to me, I about died (inside).

5. Or as an adult?  (only embarrassments you can tell us about).

At a book signing, I greeted one of the regular readers who was so lovely and showed up at every signing. I’d been inscribing her books to “Jane” for YEARS. Then she came with a friend who called her “June”. Argh! She was so shy she never corrected me. I felt terrible and offered to buy her new copies and sign them all correctly. She politely declined. Whenever I see her now, I say, “Hi, June.” She probably thinks I’m mental.

(Rhys: I've done the same thing, Jenn! )


Name the biggest blooper in one of your books. I believe I changed an entire character name between AN APPETITE FOR MURDER and DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. I’m on the road so don’t have the books with me, but I think Adrienne became Danielle. No one ever complained and the publisher wasn’t about to reprint! So Danielle she has been ever since.

What was your worst fashion faux pas? I think this has to be all those shoulder pads and pussy bows I wore to work in the eighties. Or could it have been the overalls I wore the first two years of graduate school? Or maybe even the completely color-coordinated Villager skirts, sweaters, and flats I wheedled out of my mother in high school?

The worst meal you ever cooked? For some reason that I cannot recall, I was cooking dinner for my father and a business colleague of his. I proudly announced at the table that the fish had been marked down to half price. I don’t think anyone ate a bite.

Your most embarrassing moment in high school? I was so very shy with boys in high school. I remember being asked on a date by the president of my older sister’s class. I was agonizingly tongue-tied and  could not think of a single word to say the entire evening. I thought I would die...and he certainly didn’t repeat the invitation!


Name the biggest blooper in one of your books. There is a lot of name changing going on here, and I'm guilty, too. Melody's mother is Attie when she first appears in the series. By A BITTER FEAST she'd become Addie. I've been called out on it, too, but by that time she had become Addie in my head and I wasn't changing it!

What was your worst fashion faux pas? Oh, my gosh, the perm. That would have been around 1989. A short perm! Never ever ever again.

The worst meal you ever cooked? Can we narrow that down to lately? The corned beef I made on St. Patrick's Day was literally inedible. The seasoning was on it rather than in a packet, so I didn't rinse it. Gah!

Your most embarrassing moment in high school? That has to have been going to visit my ex-boyfriend's sister and finding my ex and my (former) best friend holding court naked in bed, a la John and Yoko. Never mind the humiliation, where on earth do you look?

Or as an adult?  (only embarrassments you can tell us about) Too many to name. I am one big blooper. I get people's names wrong, trip over things, and just generally make an idiot of myself on a regular basis.


Name the biggest blooper in one of your books.

      Oh, SO funny. In one book, which will remain forever nameless, a character goes to the police station in a cab. But when she leaves, she gets into her car and drives away. NO ONE ever noticed this, not me, not my editors, copy editors, proofreaders, NO ONE, not for YEARS, until a reader mentioned it.

What was your worst fashion faux pas?

    In 1972, I wore a lavender hot pants suit to a wedding. With lace stockings and low heels. I LOOKED GREAT. I fear I was the only one who thought so.

(Rhys: pix please?)

The worst meal you ever cooked?

   Yup. The old “left the giblets in the turkey” error. Also, spaghetti squash. We talk about it to this day. It does NOT taste like spaghetti, and I say to hell with it.

Your most embarrassing moment in high school?

     Hmm. I got sent home the day before graduation because they said my skirt was too short. IT WAS NOT. And I mean, too short for what? See hot pants, above. 

Or as an adult?  (only embarrassments you can tell us about)

    Oh, I will tell the short version. I saw a person in a store. She came up to me and said, “You’re Hank, right? The TV reporter?” I said yes. (So far so good.) She said: “Do you know (fill in man’s name)?”   “Yes,” I said. “Are you his mother?”

      She paused. “No,” she said. “I’m his wife.”

RHYS BOWEN: I suppose, after putting my sisters through this I should add my own confession:

Biggest writing blooper: I put Claridges hotel on the wrong street in London. This was not only unforgivable because I know where Claridges is, but because my parents lived next door to the night manager of the hotel and we went to dinner at his house!

Worst fashion faux pas: Oh dear. There were many. Like wearing green tights with a mini-kilt in the 1960s. And in the 80s I bought a jump suit with big shoulders. Very fashionable. Wore it on the flight to England. Went to the loo AND… could not take it down. Small toilet space and big shoulders. Never again!

Worst meal? Again several contenders but when we were first married I tried to impress new husband with a Chinese meal. The ketchup, soy sauce and vinegar over noodles did not impress in fact he stated candidly that it was the worst thing he’d ever tasted.

Most Embarrassing moment in high school? An all girls school so no boys to embarrass me. But I remember my mortification when I went to ask my favorite teacher something and stood outside the teacher’s lounge only to hear her say “Oh God. Not again. What does she want now?”

As an adult?  Several that can’t be printed here, but my favorite was when we lived in Texas. My friend went jogging every morning. I was driving back from school run and saw her ahead of me. I drove around her, screeched to a halt, jumped out and did my best crazed monster impression.  Only it wasn’t my friend. It was a strange man with the same curly hair. He took one look at me, backed away then turned and started to run in the other direction!

So now it’s your turn, friends. Anyone want to confess?

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Tale of Two Rhyses

RHYS BOWENLike many of you I have done a lot of Zooming in the past year. Most recently, with the launch of The Venice Sketchbook, I seem to have been permanently on Zoom or other online media. It’s very important to choose the right background, isn’t it? It can’t be too busy because it’s distracting. It can't look unprofessional, or messy. I Zoom from my office in Arizona and busy is not how I’d describe it. Spare. Uncluttered. Bare—that would be better. 

In contrast to my office at home that is…well, lived in.

It really is a tale of two houses.  We have lived in our California home since 1980. We have inherited most of our furnishings from John’s parents, most of them lovely antiques. So our house looks pretty much like an English home. My office has all the research materials I have accumulated over the years plus a copy of each of my books in four bookcases around the walls. Plus various awards on the walls, plus small things to keep me amused when I am bored or stuck—a bobble head of Edgar Allen Poe, a wind up set of teeth, one of those picture cubes of Monet paintings and an Eleanor Roosevelt doll (that I bought after a bookstore appearance when other people were commenting how ugly she was and I took pity).

I should add that I have a perfectly lovely office in another room, lined with bookcases of my books and with a nice sofa to sit on for interviews, but I prefer to work in the smaller room where I can grab research materials easily.

Contrast this with our house in Arizona. We bought it two years ago when it was completely remodeled. All gray and white and efficient with 25 foot ceiling in the living room and my office upstairs off a little balcony. So I had a chance to furnish starting from scratch and I guess my taste is modern, simple. My office contains the bare minimum for me to write in comfort. A desk, bookcase, sofa, keyboard. No toys to distract me except for Eliot, my elephant who is wonderfully supportive and gives excellent suggestions. 

 But I do have a balcony and a view that would distract anybody.

So it’s interesting to work out which is the real me? Do I work better when surrounded by ‘stuff’, or in my minimalist office? I certainly get lots done in Arizona, but partly because not so many people know I’m here so the phone doesn’t ring as often.   But also , I think, because my office is on a separate floor. I can’t hear John on the phone, or the TV, and the only outside noises when I have the sliding doors open are birdsong and the wind rattling the palm branches. 

How about you? Do you need things around you or can you work best in minimalist surroundings? Music or silence? Toys to distract you?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Where the X#%$@ is this bank?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Here’s how life sometimes works.

Richard O’Rawe is a former IRA operative who was imprisoned first for bank robbery, and later for political activity, in the Long Kesh, Ireland penitentiary during the 1981 hunger strike by prisoners, which resulted in the death of ten prisoners.

O’Rawe was the IRA’s press officer for the prisoners, and years later would write a bestselling book about the grueling experience, BLANKETMEN. He also wrote the biography of Gerry Conlon, IN THE NAME OF THE SON. O’Rawe still lives in Belfast.

Now he has a new book. Fiction. And it is getting raves.

NORTHERN HEIST has been called “Riveting” by Publishers Weekly in its starred review, which deemed it "a heist thriller full of sharp twists and gritty dialogue.” It was also praised by The Wall Street Journal.

The fictional story? James “Ructions” O’Hare puts together a crack team of thieves and money launderers in 2004 to rob the National Bank in Belfast. The take: over 25 million pounds—if Ructions can pull it off. But the Provos—the Provisional IRA—will expect half of the haul if they learn of the heist. And so Ructions decides to simply not tell them... But can it ever be that simple?

The story is based on the actual robbery in 2004 of a Northern Bank in a suburb of Belfast. The thieves got away with 26.5 million pounds. To this day, the case has never been solved.

Want to hear more?

Where the X#%$@ is this bank?

by Rick O’Rawe

In 1976, the British government decided to criminalize the freedom struggle in Ireland by criminalizing the IRA and INLA prisoners. As an IRA volunteer, I had just been sentenced to eight years imprisonment for robbing a Northern Bank on the outskirts of Belfast. It was a risky operation because the bank was twenty miles from our base, which made our run-back very precarious, and escape highly improbable. 

Had I have had the benefit of a dummy-run beforehand, I’d have told my IRA superiors that they were sending us on a suicide mission. Moreover, we must have passed a dozen banks to get to it. In fact, my abiding memories of the trip to the bank was, ‘Where the xxxx is this bank?’, and ‘Why can’t we rob that [closer] bank?’

And so, after I was captured, in 1977 I was sentenced to eight years in Long Kesh/Maze prison. In the end I served six.

I had long been intrigued by the Northern Bank robbery that had taken place in Belfast in December 2004, when £26,500,000 was taken out of its vaults. And the perpetrators got clean away with the dough! Most of it is still unrecovered.

It may not be politic to say this, but at the time, the job struck me, in terms of its professionalism, as, ‘A work of art’. Such was the ingenuity behind the robbery that I believed the only people in Ireland capable of pulling off a job like this was the IRA. Of course, that evaluation has to tempered by the reality that innocent people were traumatized and victimized during this robbery. Meanwhile, the security forces on both sides of the Irish border agreed with my assessment.

So how did I go from believing the IRA had carried out the robbery, to opening up the prospect that an individual like ‘Ructions’ O’Hare —my protagonist in NORTHERN HEIST—could have put it together? 

One evening in early January 2005, I happened to be sitting in a bar in Belfast with my daughter, Berni, and the thought struck me, ‘What if the IRA didn’t do it?’ We discussed a scenario whereby an ordinary decent criminal (ODC), a mastermind, could have put together a special team to pull off the job... and, within an hour, the protagonist for my book, James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare, had drawn breath—although he wouldn’t actually appear in HEIST for another 12 years, due to my nonfiction book writing.

I’ve always believed that the first and last lines of a book are the most important. Unwittingly, Berni gave me the first line when she laughingly recalled telling a nephew that he had ‘lazybonitis’. Thence the first line of the book: ‘They say lazybonitis is in the blood. It’s not in James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare’s blood. Not when it comes to robbing banks’.

But there was very little of my personal experience in the carrying out of the story’s robbery. I did not confer with anyone other than my daughter when researching and writing the book. What I did do was to try to keep the storyline as close to the actual 2004 Northern Bank robbery as possible.

HANK: Well, there’s some interesting research. Questions, anyone?


By the way, the Wall Street Journal says; "Full of double and triple-crosses . . . Northern Heist’s deeds and details seem as real as a smashed kneecap, while its stopwatch tension, heightened by present-tense voice, is reminiscent of such classic caper films as 'Rififi' and 'The Asphalt Jungle."

Friend of Jungle Reds Reed Farrel Coleman says: ”As authentic as a jar of Guinness and as real as an exit wound. A fast-paced, uppercut of a novel.”

And a copy of NORTHERN HEIST to one lucky commenter!

Questions, anyone?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Introducing a new Britbox mystery series!

 RHYS BOWEN:  This is a new and exciting direction for Jungle Red Writers. I was approached by Britbox to review a new Britbox Original mystery series, called GRACE, making its debut today! How cool is that!

As most of you know, I'm a huge fan of Britbox. It has been my rock, my escape, during the past year. When I have been stressed, depressed, feeling isolated, I have gone to Britbox and binged on my favorite silly old comedies: Are you Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, The Vicar of Dibley etc etc, or my favorite mysteries: Miss Marple, Vera, Poirot, Death in Paradise... I could go on and on.   If you like British television this is an absolute must.

What the Brits do so well is to create real, human, flawed but likable detectives. Think of Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, Banks, Vera.  Meet Detective Superintendent Grace, (played by John Simm--Life on Mars).  Some of you may already be familiar with Detective Superintendent Grace, the creation of Peter James. James isn't so well known in the States but he is a mega-star in the rest of the world, and with good reason. He writes taut, edge of seat plots in the manner of Prime Suspect. The books have now been turned into a TV series written by the creator of Endeavor, Russell Lewis.  What more could you want?

Anyway, this first episode introduces us to DS Grace, a man who has fallen from grace, (couldn't resist the pun, sorry) been sidelined and is now suspect because he has used a medium to help him solve a crime. He is stuck with cold cases when he is recruited by a young Detective Sergeant to help him with a very current case--a man is missing after his stag night. His stag buddies were in a van crash. Two are dead and one in a coma. But no sign of the groom.  His background reveals a dodgy company with offshore assets. But then we, the viewers, learn what has happened to the groom and that his fate lies in the hands of a disabled man.  This is when the nail biting begins.   

You know me--I'm a cozy sort of gal. But I could not stop watching. I think I held my breath for an hour. Brilliant acting from John Simm and the sort of jigsaw puzzle cinematography that is the hallmark of British TV. I particularly like the multi-racial cast that feels very natural. Everybody go and watch and tell me what you think!

Here is a link to the trailer to whet your appetites!

So do you like the idea of occasional recommendations for movies or TV on Jungle Reds?

Monday, April 26, 2021

How Competitive Are You?

 RHYS BOWEN: I have a confession to make: I am very competitive. Always have been. Always wanted to be top of the class in school, to win the ballet competition. I entered strange competitions as a child: I won a cash prize for my essay on why I liked a department store.  I was a really keen tennis player in my youth--played for my school, my college, but then later in life did not enjoy league tennis because it was so competitive, so perhaps I'm mellowing.

When I am playing any family game I want to win (this became ridiculous when I played Trivial Pursuit with my kids and they ended up handicapping me by having two of them reading out clues from different categories at the same time. And me: Iceland and 1934. Kids: rats!

And I regret to say that I have created competitive children. Two were elite athletes, playing for college and one for the US. But the others are just as competitive. Daughter Clare came home from school furious because she didn’t get a perfect score on a test in driver’s ed and she thought the instructor’s answer was wrong. It was a pass/fail course. It didn’t matter. But it did to her.

Over the years we have had endless family competitions: volleyball, corn hole, bocce ball as well as the games we play on holidays--Taboo, Reverse Charades and the Name Game--the current favorite. Everyone writes the name of a famous person on  a piece of paper. The reader reads them all out and we try to guess who chose which name. It sounds simple but the names are really creative and funny.

You should have seen the family when we went to a fun park with go-karts, water boats, mini-golf etc. The intensity to win as they drove those go-karts!  (especially the sons-in-law) This summer we’re all going to San Diego for a week on the beach. I imagine there will be plenty of beach games, swimming races etc!

Our strangest competition: when the first grandchildren were babies I bought a wooden puzzle of sea creatures you had to lift out with a magnetic fishing rod. The adults (especially the males) turned this into fierce competition as to who could lift all of them out and then put them all back first.  We had crackers one year with racing wind-up penguins in them. Endless races across the dining table.

But just the other day I saw a picture of a competition I would never want to enter: competitive ironing. That’s right. Room full of ironing boards and women ironing. It was for a Miss America pageant long ago when ironing was a skill of every good housewife.  I would be dead last!

So how about you? Is your family competitive? What is the strangest competition you have ever entered?

LUCY BURDETTE: Yes competitive! But sheesh the first thing I thought when I saw this post was that I better get my answer in before Hank did, LOL. And I know not to play scrabble with this JRW crowd either. My family was pretty competitive, I can remember playing rounds of board games like risk and monopoly, which my older sister almost always won. We also played giant games of kick the can while on vacation with all of the age groups represented. Teams would do anything to get near enough to home base to  kick the can and free their imprisoned teammates. I can remember things like adults driving a car near the can so other team members could drop out of the passenger side and take the guardians of the can by surprise. Or dress up in costume and pretend to be a random passerby, and then burst into a mad dash to the can.

On a more serious note, I was very competitive in school too. I think it was fifth grade when I received a report card that had two B’s on it (the rest A’s.) I went to the teacher, crying. She agreed to change my gym grade from B to A-. (Honestly, it wasn’t because my parents were ogres!) And to be honest, to stay in this writing profession, you have to be willing to compete hard with a million other writers. The great thing about our Jungle Red family is that we’ve figured out how to support each other at the same time!

HALLIE EPHRON: I am not competitive.

Stop laughing.

Seriously, I hate board games. Hate card games. I play Candyland with my grandson only under duress. I will NOT play Scrabble with my husband because he always… gets the good letters. All I get are vowels.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Right, Hallie. It’s the GAME’S fault. :-)  But I don’t play Scrabble with Jonathan because he’s too good. I mean--he is incredible. Words on many levels.  I can beat him at every other game, though, just saying. So he won’t play with me, either. We do compete on the Sunday NYT Spelling Bee word, though. (ANd FYI, I STILL insist Provolone is a proper name, and should not count. Anyway.)

(Have you played Code Words? It is SO much fun! We play it with the kids and grandchildren, and it’s amazing. Very brain-twisting.)

Okay, yes, I am competitive, but I kind of don’t look at it that way. I like to do the best I can possibly do at whatever it is, is more how I see it. I understand, though, that psychologically it’s not always ….the most rewarding thing to do. 

I well remember, word for word, a conversation I had with my mother when I was in high school. She told me: Honey, it’s better if you don’t always win. And I was absolutely baffled. I said: Why?  

And she said: someday you’ll understand.

JENN McKINLAY: I am actually not competitive at all. Weird, right? I have always played games for fun not to win -- much to the chagrin of my volleyball teammates. If I (or anyone else) hit the ball into the parking lot or the duck pond, I thought it was hilarious. The men used to get mad at me, but I wore them down. Finally, one of them admitted that while we were the losingest team in the league we were the most fun and laughed through the whole season. Sometimes we were laughing too hard to play -- you can’t beat that with a trophy.

Also, I love board games but mostly because of the ridiculous antics that come with them. Hooligan 2 came out wearing swim goggles, potholders, and a clothespin on his nose when he had to give his Ti Tia a winner’s foot massage at Monopoly! Hilarious!

As for writing, I am mostly competitive with myself and am constantly trying to write a better story, a tighter mystery, or try on a new genre. I genuinely believe that there is enough room at the table for everyone and if another author enjoys brilliant success, it reminds me that I have that potentiality, too.  

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Posting next to last to prove my point. Not competitive. (So that makes three for and three against, right? Julia can tip the balance! Seriously, having grown up with a brother ten years older that was the BEST at everything, there didn't seem much point. I'm terrible at sports (always picked last) so no fun competing there, either. I do want to write the best possible books, but that's because I don't want to disappoint myself or my readers. But I love love love trivia, so if I ever get to play on a pub team again, you'd better watch out! 

RHYS: So, dear friends--how competitive are you? And what is the weirdest competition in which you've taken part?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Great Beginnings

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How do you choose a book? In the before-times, you’d go to a bookstore, find an intriguing cover or a book you’d reheard about, flop to the back flip to the cover copy, then—read the first line. Right? 

And how many times have you said: nope, nope, not for me. That Blink reflex readers we have is incredible. For better or for worse, we grasp what we predict is about to come—all from that one first line.

 Dick Belsky, an authentically wonderful journalist and oh-so talented writer knows the benefits of a good lede, right? And he’s been thinking about what makes a great first line.

        By R.G. Belsky 

 There’s a lot of people who believe that the first page of a mystery/thriller novel is one of the most important things for an author to get right. Stephen King has said: “I am a real sucker for good first lines. I collect them in a little notebook the way some people collect stamps or coins.” Jeffrey Deaver agrees: “I firmly believe that it’s our job to grab the reader by the lapels in the opening scene and race them kicking and screaming through the book until the very end.” 

 Me, I feel the same way. The first page, the first paragraph, even the first line is crucial to me when I’m starting to write a novel. It is what draws the reader in for the next 300 pages or so of my story. 


My new book is called BEYOND THE HEADLINES. It features my series character, TV journalist Clare Carlson. This story is about a celebrity woman who is famous for being famous (think Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton) that is accused of murdering her billionaire husband. So I spent a lot of time coming up with a beginning that I thought would best set the tone for the reader. But more about me and my book later.

 First, I want to talk about a few examples of great book openings I’ve read over the years that are among my favorites: 

       Michael Connelly, The Poet “Death is my beat.” 

          The book is about a newspaper reporter chasing a serial killer, and it becomes personal when one of the murder victims is the reporter’s twin brother. That opening line is simple, dramatic, perfect for all the twists and thrills that follow. Stephen King - in a foreword written for The Poet - calls it a “blue-ribbon winner” when it comes to first lines.

         Lori Rader-Day, The Day I Died 

         “On the day I died, I took the new oars down to the lake.” That opening line - plus the title - lets the reader know right from the start there’s a great story ahead. How did she die? Did she die? We’re sucked into this woman’s story right from the very beginning of the book, which is - of course - the idea. 

             Sue Grafton, A is for Alibi 
 “My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I’m a nice person...killing someone feels odd to me, and I haven’t quite sorted it through yet.” 
            Wow! That’s not just a great opening for a book, it’s a great opening for the series. Doesn’t that make you really want to follow Kinsey Millhone through this and all the wonderful Sue Grafton “alphabet” books that followed? 

             Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl 
            “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.” 
             Okay, you have no idea what that means - but you’re intrigued from the first line. And it’s perfect for the dark, twisty psychological thriller of a bizarre, troubled and violent marriage that follows. 

              Hank Phillippi Ryan, The First to Lie 

           “Without any sneaky fine print and knowing everything you know, if you could start your adult life over as someone else, would you do it?” 
              Yes, our own Hank Phillippi Ryan has come up with a killer opening for her most recent book. That first line really wants to make you start turning those pages to find out what this is all about and what happens next, right? 

               Okay then, what did I write for a beginning to my book? Well, BEYOND THE HEADLINES is a thriller about celebrity crime and also about journalist Clare Carlson - who won’t stop digging into the story and investigating until she finds out the truth. 

              As a journalist myself who has spent a lot of time in newsrooms covering both celebrities and crime, I wanted to set that tone for the reader from the very first page of the book. 

               So my book opens with Clare speaking: 

                “Death is a funny business sometimes. Especially in big city newsrooms, where I’ve worked for most of my life. 
               “I remember one of them where we all loved to play a game called Somebody Famous Died. The idea was to fantasize about celebrities dying and try to come up with the ones that would be the biggest stories to put on the air or on the front page.
              “Like say Kim Kardashian. In bed. While making a sex tape. With a man who was not Kanye West.  Or Justin Bieber (who had 64 tattoos at last count) dying from an infected needle while getting a tattoo of Selena Gomez removed for a new one of Hailey Baldwin. Or Oprah Winfrey - this was back when she was the biggest thing on TV, both figuratively and literally - choking to death on a ham sandwich. “Just like Mama Cass!” said the guy who came up with that one. 
                "I think he won the game in our newsroom that day. “It’s impossible to work in a newsroom and not hear a lot of gallows humor about death… 
                  “Death remains the biggest mystery for all of us. 
                   “No really understands it. 
                   “And so we do our best to avoid taking it seriously for much of our lives until one day it comes knocking at our own door. 
                  “And then it’s no laughing matter...” 

               Hopefully, that opening page will intrigue the reader enough to keep reading BEYOND THE HEADLINES. What do you think? 

              HANK: Good question! Is the beginning of a mystery/thriller novel important to you? And what are some of your favorite openings?  (And aww....thank you!)

PS: Dru Ann, Karen in Ohio, and Coralee! You won Remembrance! Message me!


           She was a mega-celebrity—he was a billionaire businessman—now he's dead—she's in jail Laurie Bateman was living the American dream. Since her arrival as an infant in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, the pretty Vietnamese girl had gone on to become a supermodel, a successful actress, and, finally, the wife of one of the country's top corporate dealmakers. That dream has now turned into a nightmare when she is arrested for the murder of her wealthy husband. 
        New York City TV journalist Clare Carlson does an emotional jailhouse interview in which Bateman proclaims her innocence—and becomes a cause celebre for women's rights groups around the country. At first sympathetic, then increasingly suspicious of Laurie Bateman and her story, 
          Clare delves into a baffling mystery which has roots extending back nearly fifty years to the height of the Vietnam War. 
          Soon, there are more murders, more victims, and more questions as Clare struggles against dire evil forces to break the biggest story of her life. 

 R.G. Belsky is an award-winning author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His newest mystery, Beyond the Headlines, is being published in May by Oceanview. It is the fourth in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. The first book, Yesterday’s News, was named Best Mystery of 2018 at Deadly Ink. The second, Below the Fold, won the Foreward INDIES award for Best Mystery of 2019. The third Clare Carlson mystery, The Last Scoop, came out in May 2020. Belsky has published 14 novels—all set in the New York city media world where he has had a long career as a top editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News. He also writes thrillers under the name Dana Perry. And he is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill magazine.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Her Three Lives and Her Real Life

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I adore Cate Holahan. She’s a brilliant author, and a wonderful pal, and a fabulously thoughtful person, and and and and... terrific in every way.

And today, I’m just gonna let her talk.

Confronting Stereotypes in My Fiction

             by Cate Holahan

I used to keep extra diapers in my glove compartment. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great place for them. The space is for documents that must be quickly accessed in an emergency. However, as a young mom driving with both a six-month-old and a toddler my most common crisis was a blowout that didn’t involve tires. Hence the nappies next to the vehicle records.

My convenient storage place became anything but one morning as I took the kids to a mommy-and-me music class a mile or so away from my West New York, NJ, apartment. Two blocks from my home, I reached a stop sign, looked both ways and, seeing it was clear, turned left. Admittedly, I did not come to a complete stop.

Police lights flashed within seconds. I pulled over, removed my license from my wallet, and withdrew the packet where I kept my vehicle registration and insurance. Unbeknownst to me, there was another envelope in the glove compartment with the new insurance card which had arrived a couple days ago — hidden behind the diapers.

The officer rapped on my window. I handed over everything while my two-year-old asked questions and the baby wailed in the back. The officer saw the expired insurance card.

“This isn’t up to date,” he said.

I apologized. “It’s probably behind this diaper explosion.” I smiled while pointing at the Pampers in hopes that he might let a frazzled mom off with a warning. “Let me check again.”

“If you don’t have it, you’ll come down to the station, and we’ll take the car and these kids.”

The words rang in my ear: We’ll take these kids.

I don’t know how often moms are threatened with having their babies seized for rolling a stop sign and showing an expired insurance card. Maybe often. Maybe not. But I did find it odd that the officer said “these” rather than “your.”

In a split second, I became aware of a few facts that I knew but, until that morning, hadn’t thought much about. The first was that New Jersey had a significant undocumented population from South America and there had been news reports of local police contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement after catching people for traffic offenses.

The second was that I don’t look like my kids. My girls are blonde, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed like their father and my Irish American dad. I have my Jamaican mother’s brown eyes, black curly hair, and a yellow-brown complexion that deepens to caramel with a little sun exposure, and I’d been incessantly walking with the stroller since spring.

Did this officer think I was an undocumented nanny? Or was he always this aggressive with moms? Would he really take my kids?

I didn’t know the answers. But I knew I wasn’t going to go anywhere without my girls. “We live right there,” I said, pointing to the six-story building out the driver’s side window. “I get that I rolled a stop sign, and I am looking for my documents. I don’t understand why you are threatening to take my children.”

He never gave me a reason. But he left to run my license and insurance, which was up to date. His partner then returned to the window, slipped me a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop at the sign, and said that he hoped I had a nice day.

I can’t be positive that I was profiled that day. But that’s the thing about dealing with damaging stereotypes, people rarely can be certain when they’ve been targeted by one.

As a result, the onus is often unfairly placed upon the person who could be seen as fitting a negative stereotype to do everything in their power to dodge it—even when the hurtful assumption is based on perceived ethnicity and is therefore unavoidable.

It’s a minefield that I explore in my upcoming domestic suspense novel, Her Three Lives. In the book, protagonist Jade is a 32-year-old Jamaican-American blogger and designer, engaged to Greg, a 52-year-old white, well-to-do architect. She’s aware of the often rapped and sang about trope of Black women being gold diggers and is sensitive to how Greg’s adult children from his prior marriage may perceive her. This concern becomes top of mind after Greg suffers a traumatic brain injury during a home invasion and his kids seem to suspect her of being involved.

A good deal of the trouble comes from Jade’s attempt to conceal things that she fears could feed into this damaging stereotype. As a result, her awareness of the trope becomes almost as damaging as the actions of those who would make negative assumptions about her motives based on her age and race.

For days after the incident with the cops, I talked to my husband, wondering aloud if I’d misread what had happened and if there was anything that I might have done differently which would have resulted in a less harrowing experience. The diapers were removed from the glove compartment that evening. But I also began to dress more business casual with the kids in hopes of advertising that I was a working mom. At the playground, I added unnecessary suffixes to my kids’ names like, “darling daughter.” Sometimes, I dressed my kids like me.

I changed my behavior to avoid an unfair stereotype that, to this day, I can’t be sure I suffered. And that’s the pain of negative stereotypes. They become permanent, hovering dark clouds that might rain down at any moment. My darker skinned relatives worry that stereotypes concerning criminality and Black men could lead to unfair imprisonment and even death, even if they personally have not had negative encounters with law enforcement. 

My Asian American friends have expressed fears about people thinking they’re diseased or to blame for coronavirus based on their ethnicity. Early on during the pandemic, one of my Chinese American friends said she was nervous to wear a mask outside because people might assume that she was contagious and not that she, like most of us, was simply trying to be respectful of everyone else’s health.

When I write, my first goal is always to tell an entertaining, twisty story. But I also want to reflect the world we live in and, hopefully, encourage people to empathize with experiences that might be different from their own. I hope Her Three Lives might fuel a discussion of stereotypes that are out there and the constant pressure to circumvent them. 

In the end, I hope the story may encourage some people to think about the negative knee-jerk assumptions that they hold and perhaps work a little harder to remember that we’re all humans seeking to be seen as individuals.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Thank you thank you thank you. I love Jungle Red. I love that we get to be here, together, and talk. Anyone have anything to say?

(And a copy of HER THREE LIVES to one very lucky commenter!)

In USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s new thriller HER THREE LIVES a family must discover who the real enemy is after a violent home invasion breaks their trust in one another.

Jade Thompson is an up-and-coming social media influencer, she has a beautiful new home and a successful architect for a fiancĂ© and seems to have it all. But there’s trouble behind the scenes. To her husband Greg’s children, his divorce from their mother and his new life can only mean a big mid-life crisis. To Jade, her husband’s suburban Connecticut upbringing isn’t an easy match with her Caribbean roots.

A brutal home invasion leaves Greg house-bound with a traumatic brain injury and glued to the live feeds from his ubiquitous security cameras. As the police investigate the crime and Greg’s frustration and rage grow, Jade begins to wonder what he may know about their attackers. And whether they are coming back.

As Greg watches Jade’s comings and goings, he becomes convinced that her behavior is suspicious and that she’s hiding a big secret. The more he sees, the more he wonders whether the break-in was really a random burglary. And whether he’s worth more to Jade if he were dead.

Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author
of domestic suspense novels The Widower’s Wife, One Little Secret, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns, all published by Crooked Lane Books.

Her fifth domestic suspense novel, Her Three Lives, will be published by Hachette Books' Grand Central Publishing in April 2021.

In a former life, she was an award-winning journalist, writing for CNBC, The Record, The Boston Globe, and BusinessWeek, among others. She was also the lead singer of Leaving Kinzley, an original rock band in NYC.

​She lives in NJ with her husband, two daughters, and food-obsessed dog, and spends a disturbing amount of time highly-caffeinated, mining her own anxieties for material.

​She is a member of The Author's Guild, Sisters-in-Crime, and Crime Writers of Color. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.

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Friday, April 23, 2021

Zoom? Or Voodoo?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know how they always talk about “a hook” for a book? Or movie? And for us writers, when we heart a good one, we think: OHHHHHHHHH SUCH a good ideeeea.

(And it sounds just like that that. The writer’s moan of envy. And deep approval.)

Well, prepare to be dazzled. Listen to this:

Remembrance is the story of four women told across three centuries, beginning on the eve of the Haitian Revolution and moving through to the 21st century. All struggling to survive devastating circumstances, the woman share a connection with Mother Abigail, a Voodoo priestess who uses her powers to create a parallel universe that becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad.


I met the amazing Rita Woods on Zoom--I mean, of course, where else these days? And it was all serendipity. We are both authors at the fabulous Forge Books, hurray, and they asked me to moderate a panel of their authors. SO it was Julie Carrick Dalton, Heather Webber, and Rita Woods. Julie and Heather I knew, but not Rita.

What an amazing night! We could have talked for days. Weeks! And so of course, I invited the wonderful Rita to visit us here today.

And awww. She's talking about how we met.

And by that I mean: Zoom. Rita has a very special (and super-appropriate) nickname for Zoom, as you will see below.

(And she’s giving away THREE copies of her book! So three of you are big to have a very good day.)

The Devil’s Hand Mirror
By Rita Woods

I was ever the late bloomer.

Married at thirty. Nearly forty before I started a family. And **mumble** when my debut novel, Remembrance, came out last January.

Becoming a first-time novelist of a certain age was exciting, terrifying, wonderful, surprising and exhausting. In those first few months of 2020, I had a fantastic launch party, got to travel, discovered some amazing independent bookstores, and met the most wonderful readers and writers. And then came Covid, undeniably one of 2020’s absolute worst surprises. Like almost everyone, my publisher tried to pivot, turning as many of the already planned events, into virtual affairs.

Enter, Zoom.

AKA Satan’s hand mirror.

While Zoom has served to keep the world more or less connected, it has also allowed me to see myself in a way that has been as dismaying as it has been edifying. In event after event with other authors, (note: I have bras older than many of them), I found myself gazing in abject horror at my image on the screen. I mean . . is that what I really look like? Holy God!

Despite my best efforts, I was constantly distracted by that poorly lit doppelgänger floating there in the tiny window, my name posted across its chest.

In Remembrance, you have four strong women spread across three centuries, using their will power and their magic to survive in horrific circumstances.

Yeah, I know, but what the heck is going on with my neck? Is it melting? It looks like it’s melting. Should I move the camera? Should I turn off the camera?

The Haitian Revolution, New Orleans in the early 19th century and the 2010 Haitian earthquake all figure prominently in Remembrance and yet in the novel, these events are placed in the milieu of magical realism.

Uh-hunh. How come no one else has bags under their eyes? Is there an app for that? Does Zoom have an anti eye-bag app?

Do you think . . .?

How come she has a background that looks like she’s on a French terrace?

I keep hitting the button for ‘change background’ and mine still looks like a bargain basement version of the Matrix.

And this, dear reader, is the way that I have spent my last two thousand four hundred Zoom meetings.

Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly thankful that Zoom exists. It has given me the opportunity to stay connected with readers and libraries and other writers, but I have to be honest. I am also daily traumatized by the fact that, seventy five percent of the time on camera, I bear a striking resemblance to a re-animated corpse.

Currently, I am finishing book two, The Last Dreamwalker, and like absolutely every living, breathing human being on planet Earth, I am Zoomed out and desperate to return to in-person events.

But I have a sinking feeling that Zoom will not entirely vanish, and so in between researching the types of native birds found on the Gullah Sea Islands, I’ve been binging make-up tutorials and experimenting with camera angles.

So far, low lighting, turtlenecks and large coffee mugs seem most effective in making me look less used up and dried out, but I’m all about any and all suggestions on how to look fabulous in the cursed Zoom-sphere.

Otherwise, The Last Dreamwalker onscreen events may well all end up being done by a hand puppet.

HANK: I love that idea! We will all use puppets! And I know we should be walking about Zoom--do you have special lighting? Are you business jackets and yoga pants, like I am?

But wow, wouldn’t you like to know more about Rita’s book, too? So--and I never thought I would be offering this particular choice: Zoom tips? Or Voodoo?

(And don’t forget to leave a comment here to be one of the three lucky winners!)

Rita Woods is a writer and Board Certified Internal Medicine physician serving as Medical Director of a Wellness Center for one of the nations largest Locals in suburban Chicago.

Her debut novel, Remembrance, received the African American Literary Award for Best Historical fiction, was a SIBA Winter Okra Pick, one of NPR's Best books of 2020. And was included on Essence, Vogue and PopSugar's lists of Best Books of 2020.

She is an elected Trustee of her local library board and is currently a mentor for Cinnamon Girl's Inc, and organization that fosters the love of writing in high school girls of color.

Rita lives outside of Chicago with her husband, children and house full of cats.
Twitter: @RitaWoodsAuthor
IG: ritawoods723

Remembrance is the story of four women told across three centuries, beginning on the eve of the Haitian Revolution and moving through to the 21st century. All struggling to survive devastating circumstances, the woman share a connection with Mother Abigail, a Voodoo priestess who uses her powers to create a parallel universe that becomes a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Limits to Peril

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It’s a difficult juggle.

Thriller writers write books that need to be--thrilling. Scary. Tense. High-stakes. Life and death.


Are there limits to peril? Now, you all are saying, and I can hear you: DON’T KILL A DOG OR CAT. But what about—children? We know bad things happen to children in real life, but there’s clearly a line in books that many authors and readers will not cross.

The wonderful Kris Calvin has thought about this, more closely than most of us ever could. And for her thriller ALL THAT FALL she’s made an interesting--and even innovative--decision about it.

See what you think.

Thrillers Without Harm to Children

by Kris Calvin

Our life experiences influence the books we decide to read and the stories we choose to write. I had a difficult childhood. I did not feel safe in my own home. I know I’m not unique in that, but I was fortunate to live close enough to a public library that I could walk to it from a young age. There, I found adults who were kind, and books that offered a world where children in peril—whether from dragons or monsters or dastardly villains—were safe.

I don’t have photos of me smiling as a child.

As an adult, I'm still drawn to adventure stories, most often in the form of thrillers. But many compelling tales in the genre told by talented writers include explicit and even graphic harm to children. As a survivor of some of the circumstances portrayed, I can't expose myself to that.

I know firsthand what a child’s terror feels like.

Some survivors of trauma find healing in converting their experiences to fiction, through which they share with others what occurred, constrained between the covers of a book.

I’m not there yet and might never be.

So how is it that I came to write a thriller, and in particular, one that centers on the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl?

When I weave a narrative in my head prior to putting pen to paper, it often harkens back to the adventure stories of my youth, containing similar elements: a protagonist in jeopardy, a quest against all odds, bodies piling up (usually off screen), and a positive resolution.

Though losses may be suffered, good ultimately triumphs over evil.

But that narrative is only the start of my writing process.

I don’t outline. I might have a twist or two in mind, a character, and possibly a setting. I see where it takes me, my only demand being that something exciting and important happen right away to signal the start of an adventure!

For All That Fall, the bare bones of the first few scenes were 15-year-old Luke increasingly getting into trouble in minor ways with the law. Enter 32-year-old Emma, Luke’s mother’s best friend, who intervenes and stumbles into a world of hate crimes, corruption and intrigue. But as the tension builds and Emma and Luke are faced with a myriad of dangerous challenges, three-year-old Vivian suddenly shows up, is kidnapped, and takes center stage.

Not something I had planned.

Warning, I’m about to provide a nonspecific, broad spoiler—I will not reveal plot twists or identify “whodunnit.” But if you read on, you will have a general sense of how things turn out.

As the story flowed, though Vivian was unquestionably in danger and I worried for her, she was never left alone with bad people. There was always a protector for her, and while she was sometimes frightened, she was not harmed in any way that could not be healed. 

When I closed the story, I felt that Vivian had showed the kind of resilience and courage, even at age three, that gives hope as to how children in difficult circumstances could not only survive, but might inspire us to have hope in all things, big and small.

When All That Fall was provided to advance readers, I was surprised (I shouldn’t have been) that there was a comment in a post beneath a review from a potential reader (someone who had not yet read it) stating they “would give this one a pass since they couldn’t bear to read about harm to children.”

I thought, “Wait, me, too! Don’t worry!”

So my website, sandwiched between the “buy buttons” and the reviews, contains the following. I hope it will help readers, who might otherwise hesitate, decide to join me on this journey.

I’m smiling now. I’d like them to smile with me.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That is so interesting, isn’t it? To risk an almost-but-not-really spoiler—to ALLOW the reader to read the book with pleasure instead of apprehensiveness. We know bad things happen to children in real life, but there’s clearly a line in books that many authors and readers will not cross.
Huh. What do you think about that, reds and readers?

(author photo credit Andy Wallace Photography)

Kris Calvin is the author of the thriller novel, ALL THAT FALL (April 13, 2021; Crooked Lane Books). She served for more than 20 years as the CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and was honored for her leadership in advocacy for children by the California Legislature and Governor’s office. In addition to writing thrillers and mysteries, she teaches and consults in organizational dynamics, strategic planning and nonpartisan advocacy training. You can visit Kris online at

My three “kids” and me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Spies Who Inspired Me

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: In reading today’s wonderful post, I had a thought. Writers are always looking for the idea that inspires them to write a book, of course. That one snippet or meeting or even a scrap of dialogue.

But the wonderful Jane Healey—a dear and treasured friend, and we have signed together many times—had a double inspiration experience.

Yes, she was looking for her next idea, her next set of characters, her next situation. And, as she tells the story to us today, she found it.

And then—the idea became an obstacle.

And then, the very inspirational characters she found—inspired her to go on.

It seemed to me that the women she discovered just turned around, pointed their fingers at her, and said: Hey, sister. DO this!

Jane tells the story better than I ever could. Listen.

Taking a Risk to Write about Risk Takers

By Jane Healey

I am a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers, and I admire the authors that are part of this group, so I am so happy and honored to be here at Jungle Red Writers today! To introduce myself - I am a historical fiction writer and I live just outside of Boston. My first two novels, The Saturday Evening Girls Club and The Beantown Girls, were both stories that focused on lesser known women in history. The Saturday Evening Girls Club is based on an actual club of Jewish and Italian immigrant women in Boston’s North End at the turn of the twentieth century. The Beantown Girls is based on the true stories of the Red Cross Clubmobile girls of World War Two.

My newly released novel, The Secret Stealers, is also about a lesser known group of women in history. The twist is, it happens to be a spy thriller, and I want to tell you a little about how I came to write the story, almost despite myself. After the Beantown Girls, it took me awhile to figure out what my next novel would be about. I keep a file of possible story ideas – articles that I find, excerpts from books, youtube videos – anything that I think might have that special spark that might evolve into a novel.

One of the articles in this idea file was from the Washington Post. Published in June 2011, it was about two best friends in a retirement community in Virginia. The friends, Elizabeth “Betty” McIntosh and Doris Bohrer, lived on the same street in the Westminster at Lake Ridge Seniors Village in Prince William County.

Upon meeting, they bonded over a highly unusual connection—both women had been spies overseas in WWII in the OSS, and later had long careers with the CIA. McIntosh had served in Asia, and, even at ninety-six, still struggled with the guilt over unwittingly handing off an explosive disguised as a piece of coal to a Chinese operative. The bomb ended up blowing up a train, killing hundreds of Japanese soldiers. Bohrer served in Italy, gathering intelligence on what the Nazis were building by analyzing aerial photographs.

I was aware of the British female spies of the SOE during World War II, but had never really heard much about American female spies. I began asking the questions that I always did before starting a new project—who were these women? What were their stories?

Doris and Betty’s story had that spark of fascination for me, but I knew if I wrote their story, to do justice to their history, it had to be a spy thriller.

And that was where I hit that wall of self-doubt that I think many people can relate to when you’re trying to create or do something that you’ve never done before. Yes, I had always dreamed of writing a thriller, and I loved the idea of writing a historical spy thriller, but what if I didn’t have it in me as a writer? Or, worse, what if I wrote one and it turned out to be rubbish?

For the first couple of months while I was doing research, I was gripped with fear and uncertainty every time I faced that blank page with “Chapter One” at the top. Deep down, my biggest worry was that the novel wouldn’t live up to my expectations for it, and I would disappoint my readers as a result.

However, the more I continued to research these brave, trail blazing women, women who risked everything to work overseas as spies for the Allies, some of whom lost their lives for the cause, the more they inspired me to the point that I couldn’t not try to tell a fictionalized version of their story.

Learning the answer to “Who were these women?” sent me down the most fascinating research rabbit holes. There was the brilliant and unflappable Betty Lussier, who was recruited out of college to become part of the OSS’s counterespionage unit, known as X-2. She helped establish an extensive double agent net in Perpignan, France, tracking down collaborators and Nazi agents.

Another of these fearless women was Elizabeth Deveraux Rochester, an elegant, steely socialite with a British mother and American father, who happened to be in Europe when the Germans occupied France. Rather than flee home, she became a courier in occupied France for the OSS and SOE, bringing messages to the resistance and helping smuggle refugees and downed Allied airmen out of the country.

Virginia Hall is perhaps the most famous of these female spies, finally getting her due as both fiction and non-fiction books have been written about her in recent years. She was trained by the SOE because she originally worked for that organization, as an undercover agent in France before America entered the war. 

Known as the “Limping Lady” because she had lost one leg in a hunting accident, Hall’s accomplishments were extraordinary. An expert wireless radio operator, she helped create agent networks, recruited French civilians to establish safe houses, helped prisoners of war escape and arranged air drops of supplies for the French Resistance. The Gestapo referred to as “one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France” and vowed to find and destroy her. They did not succeed.

Here were these amazing lesser known stories of women in history, but with a level of danger, intrigue and stakes that compelled me to push past my fears and start writing. I was so incredibly inspired by every single one of them, I finally stepped outside of my creative comfort zone, to write the kind of spy thriller that I hope will not only honor their history, but also entertain and enlighten readers. It is the hardest creative project I have ever worked on, but it’s also the one that I am the most proud of.

I’m hoping somewhere Betty McIntosh and Doris Bohrer are reminiscing about their days in the OSS, sharing their old stories, and happy that someone else decided to share them too.

HANK: Of course they are! And they are applauding you, too. Reds and readers, what questions do you have for Jane? Were any of your relatives in the OSS? And what voices do YOU hear from the past?


Jane Healey is the Amazon Charts and
Washington Post bestselling author of The Beantown Girls and The Saturday Evening Girls Club. When her daughters were young, Jane Healey left a career in high tech to fulfill her dream of writing historical fiction about little-known women in history. It was a passion that has turned into something much more. Jane shares a home north of Boston with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, running, cooking, and going to the beach. For more information on the author or upcoming events or to schedule a book club visit, please visit her website,