Monday, January 31, 2022

Who Are you? Reds on real people

 RHYS BOWEN: The other day on Jungle Reds I wrote a piece about the new book I am writing and how I am trying to get to know the characters. Creating a character is a mysterious process. For me, once they open their mouths and speak I seem to know who they are. I get a visual image. Something to build on. But how does one ‘create’ a character? I wish I knew. It’s like a good recipe: we take a brief encounter with a woman at the bank, add a touch of Aunt Alice, something we saw on TV, stir together and hopefully a new character is born.

It's interesting to wonder how often we use real people in our books. I hear Sue Grafton started to write mysteries so she could kill her ex-husband on paper. Ian Rankin tells a funny story about his father, who was convinced that every character Ian writes is based on him.

“Is that one me?” he’d say.

Ian would answer, “No, dad. That’s a nun.”

But I suspect we do delve into our personal experience and base our characters on real people. I deliberately modeled Georgie’s grandfather in the Royal Spyness books on my own father: a kind, gentle man from a humble background. Someone you could run to and feel safe with. Exactly what I wanted in Georgie’s life. But unlike Georgie’s grandfather , my father would not have been ill-at-ease among his social betters. He chatted several times with the old Queen Mother. In fact he chatted with anyone he met.

Mrs. Williams in the Constable Evans books was modeled on my Welsh great aunt. A fabulous cook who constantly wanted to feed us up. Several other members of that cast were people I’d met in Wales.

I’m trying to think whether I’ve ever killed off someone in my books I would have liked to get rid of in real life? I know my old headmistress from school features in several books—any cold, spiteful, bossy teacher you see in my stories—that’s her. But I don’t think I’ve actually killed her.

I have noticed that a couple of leading males in my stories are good-looking men with Irish backgrounds and dark hair. Interesting that. My husband, with one Irish grandfather, definitely has the black Irish look. It wasn’t intentional, merely subconscious.

And I realize now that my books are peopled with real historical characters: the royal family, Noel Coward, Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria... but I was thinking more about people from our own lives. 

So Reds, where did your characters come from? Have you deliberately used real people? Killed off real people?

JENN McKINLAY: In my very first mystery I killed off the Hub’s boss. It was delightfully therapeutic for the both of us. My victims do tend to be real people who annoy me even though I may not know them personally. A certain celebrity that I find grating, a cousin that is trying, or a fellow PTO member who won’t shut up so the meeting can blessedly end, that sort of thing. 

But my protagonists are mashups of the favorite people in my life, so it will be a friend’s delightful humor added to another friend’s amazing head of hair, grounded by my mom’s intelligence. Probably, that’s why I’m so fond of them all. None of it is planned out but rather the character grows into these attributes organically or as needed. LOL.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I have definitely used real people in my books, usually in small roles and with great affection. Clare’s snappy secretary Lois? My mom, Lois. Investigative reporter Ben Beagle? Was an editor for the Livingston County News when I met him, and is now an editor at The Daily News  serving three western NY counties. His name really is Ben Beagle and he really does always wear Snoopy ties. My sister Barbara and brother-in-law Daniel are recurring characters (and have gotten to the point where they’re dating in the books!)

My rules, as it were, for including real people is that they have minor roles. Ben Beagle comes on stage, annoys Russ, who hates reporters just a little less than he hates lawyers, asks some pointed questions that move the plot along, and then exits. Trying to make a reality-based character grow and change within a novel is a recipe for disaster, I believe. You’ll wind up trying to stuff your organically-grown person into a real-person suit, to the detriment of both.

HALLIE EPHRON: I do not, for the most part, base my characters on real people. Though the old woman in THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is how I imagine myself if I persist into my 90’s. And I did kill my father off in the opening scene of NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. I like to think he’d have gotten a kick out of it. And, now that I think about it, my mother inspired characters in several books as well. My next door neighbor’s dog Phoebe, an ornery ederly pooch with a grizzled muzzle who grunt-snorted about, is in NEVER TELL A LIE. In the book, Phoebe saves the main character’s life. But when they made that book into a movie, Phoebe turned into a little white french poodle. And they killed her. Which infuriated me. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, now it can be told. Charlotte McNally’s mother is precisely my mother, gorgeous and hilarious and brilliant, and whose favorite admonition to me was “I’m not criticizing, I’m just observing.”

But she was, frankly, not too happy about her portrayal at first, putting it mildly, until I convinced her to read the whole book (Face Time) after which she called me, crying, to thank me for having written “a mother-daughter love story.” So all’s well that ended well.

SInce then, however, I have to say no one is anyone. Ever. Ever.  There are a few, if I may quietly divulge, unpleasant judges who are portrayed with tiny bits of insider knowledge just to make my lawyer-husband Jonathan happy.  (And by unpleasant, I mean judges who have ruled against him.)  But they will never recognize themselves.

LUCY BURDETTE: I guess I’m an outlier here, because my Key West books are chock full of real people. Some of them play smaller parts, like the cat man, and others have bigger roles such as Lorenzo, the tarot card reader, and Martha, the chef. Martha burst out in A DEADLY FEAST and plays a big part in A DISH TO DIE FOR, coming in August. She’s also in the book I’m writing (slowly) now. The only time I made an egregious error was when someone bid on a character name and I turned him into a possible child molester. That was not kind, as our daughter says to her daughter…

DEBORAH CROMBIE: In my very first novel I modeled a character I really like after my grandmother, but of course in the writing she became her own person, as characters tend to do.  Since then, I don't think I've ever used a specific person, but I'm sure that people I know creep into all of my characters because that's where we draw our experience from. I think it would be fun to use real people the way Lucy does, but my books don't seem to lend themselves to it.

Rhys: Okay, writer friends. Who has killed a real person on the page?  Used a family member? Did they recognize themselves?

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Celebrate! With Mia Manansala

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We are doing some celebrating around here today:  We are so honored to host a newly anointed award nominee!

The fabulous Mia Manansala’s first novel, Arsenic and Adobo just received a coveted Agatha Award nomination! And that is the best possible beginning to any mystery writer’s career.

Click here to see all the nominees, including our own Jan Brogan for Best Non-fiction for The Combat Zone: Murder, Race, and Boston's Struggle for Justice…and me for HER PERFECT LIFE for Best Contemporary Novel! I have to say I am still floating and I bet Jan and Mia are too—along with the other nominees. And we say hurray. And congratulations to all.

And now Mia, like any good writer, is on to her next book! And she's shares some secrets... and an incredibly prophetic Tarot card.

Embracing Side Character Energy
   by Mia Manansala

For the last few years, I’ve pulled a tarot card to represent my year. I don’t choose the card I want to symbolize my year, as some do, I shuffle my cards and leave it up to them to tell me what the year will bring.

In the past, I separated the major arcana from the stack and would choose my card from among the twenty-two cards of the major arcana only. But you know what? Not every year needs to bring huge, life-changing experiences (which is what the major arcana often symbolizes). Sometimes you’ll have a quieter, minor arcana year and that’s absolutely fine. In fact, considering the tumultuous last few years (who knew The Hermit card I pulled at the beginning of 2020 would’ve been so prophetic!) I am absolutely craving a minor arcana year.

Which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I pulled the Three of Cups, a card symbolizing community, teamwork, and celebration.

I always tell new writers that building a good, supportive community is one of the best things you can do as an author. And I also tell them to celebrate their wins, big or small, because this industry is tough and we all experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows–sometimes on the same day. So you need to enjoy each moment while you can.

I give that advice, but to be honest, it’s often hard to follow it. As writers, particularly if you’re a series writer, you’re always looking ahead and working on the next thing.

2021 was my debut year and it was wonderful in so many ways, but I spent so much of the time overwhelmed by everything and always looking ahead to the next book I had to write that I know I didn’t properly enjoy it. So this year, I aim to slow down, ground myself in the present as much as possible, and CELEBRATE.

Along with embracing the minor arcana vibes of this year, I also decided that this is the year of side character energy. I came across this idea in this hilarious tweet by Delia Cai:

Alt text: “no more main character energy for 2022... i would like to be the side character....let me show up in a fun outfit and drop a devastating zinger and enjoy my low-stakes b plot.......let someone else do the self-reflection and growth part thank you”

In my second book, Homicide and Halo-Halo (Feb 8), my protagonist Lila Macapagal is going through a really difficult time dealing with the aftermath of the events from the first book, as well as the pressure of opening her own cafe with her best friends Adeena and Elena. While Lila is dealing with a murder at the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she’s judging and is connected to some uncomfortable memories from her past, Adeena and Elena are just vibing, enjoying their newfound relationship and full of plans for their burgeoning business.

Illustration credit: pandesaii (art commission)

I’ve decided that for 2022, I’m sidestepping that protagonist life and embracing my inner Adeena Awan, where I get to be the sassy barista best bud with fabulous hair and a drama-free love life.

If you could channel the energy of any fictional side character, who would it be and why? Drop your comments below for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Homicide and Halo-Halo! U.S. entries only.

HANK: YAY, Mia! And I am off to try that. And hmmmm.. one of the cards you pulled was…celebration! Your decision was to CELEBRATE! Guess that's working! Gotta love that.

And I would choose the energy of Rowen Atwood in Her Perfect Life. (What an experience to be a smart confident mischievous 7 year old, right?)

How about you, Red and Readers?

Mia P. Manansala is a writer from Chicago who loves books, baking,
Jamila Yip Photography
and badass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.

She is the winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy scholarship. She's also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2019 mentor.

Homicide and Halo Halo

Death at a beauty pageant turns Tita Rosie's Kitchen upside down in the latest entry of this witty and humorous cozy mystery series by Mia P. Manansala.

Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can't bring herself to open her new café after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt's Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie's Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.

To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila's little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago—a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case—because it looks like one of them might be next.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

In Her Defense--Breaking Up Is Hard to Do!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Right now, I am doing two things at once. One, I am worrying about the snow. (Are you all okay?)

Two, I am singing “come-a come-a down, doobie doo down down,” over and over, in my head. Thank you, Amy Impellizzeri.

(If you don’t know that song, lucky you, because the people who do have the ear worm now. Sorry, Reds and readers. (Look up Breaking Up Hard to Do by Neil Sedaka. Described in 1962 by AllMusic as “Two minutes and sixteen seconds of pure pop magic.”) Anyway.)

Amy Impellizzeri? Is one of the most amazingly innovative and energetic and talented people I know. She moves at a non-stop pace, writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction, being a leader at the Tall Poppies, doing TV book reviews on network TV, and generally being a fabulous person. You can see more in her bio, below.

Question for you: if you have a job that identifies who you are, what happens when you leave it? The fabulous Amy has been there, done that…and succeeded wildly. And she’s here to tell us how.

AND: a copy of her brand new IN HER DEFENSE (notice the shoes!) to one lucky commenter!

Breaking Up
    by Amy Impellizzeri

“I took a one year sabbatical from my New York City law career over a decade ago. And I’m still on it.”

I often start conversations with new friends this way. It’s my way of making light of a big transition, the after-effects of which continue to flare up on me even now.

I started out my professional life with only one goal: to be a lawyer. And then I continued my professional life with one more goal: make it to the top. When I got an offer to join the Mass Torts Litigation Department at Skadden Arps - one of the biggest law firms in the country, working on some of the most high-profile litigation at that time, well, I felt pretty good. 

I marched into the partner’s office at the smaller firm where I was cutting my litigation teeth at the time to give him the news. That partner looked at me sadly and said, “You’ll never be happy there.”

I was sort of shocked and very indignant. Of course I would be happy. It was more money. More prestige. I would be a Skadden lawyer. Just saying the words out loud gave me a kind of clout I felt certain would make up for any negatives. 

Ten years later, however, I was burned out from regularly working 80-90 hours a week, sleeping on the office floor, and evading the advances of, and sexual harrassment by, male counsel and partners. It wasn’t any fun to be a Skadden lawyer anymore. It wasn’t even fun to say I was one.

Just as my former mentor had predicted, I was not, it turns out, happy there.

But still, it wasn’t easy to leave. I didn’t run out the door. Instead, I applied for a one-year sabbatical and made plans for a temporary leave only. I didn’t pack up my office or take my degrees off the wall. I just turned off the lights and said: See you in a year. 

Leaving the law was, for me, in many ways, like leaving a relationship (albeit an abusive one). There was sadness, poignancy, emotional trauma, financial implications, and other practical considerations. I wasn’t prepared to break up with the law completely at that time.

I took the year to re-group. I was intentional, taking on projects that would help me decide what to do next. I did some pro bono work, some advocacy work. I worked with a start-up company that helped female entrepreneurs tell their stories and I attended Board meetings for a local non-profit. In a decision that would have some lasting effects, I reclaimed my voice and started writing again.

At the end of the year, I had started writing what would become my first novel and I had an offer to join the executive team of that start-up company. I was, in a word, happy. But still, I couldn’t quite cut ties with my lawyer identity and I asked Skadden if I could extend my sabbatical with a leave of absence. We decided a 3 year leave made sense.

By the time my three years was up, I had 2 book contracts, a new lease on life, and a new opening line when I’d meet new friends: “I’m still on my one-year sabbatical from Skadden. That I took 4 years ago.”

Each year, I’d change the line slightly, but not the message.

The message was and is: It’s a lot for me to admit I gave up my identity. My ability to say I’m a Skadden lawyer. Please be gentle with this information. Please be gentle with me. I’m not quite ready to break up with the law entirely yet.

This year, I have two books coming out with Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing that will make that message even more clear. Or confusing. Depending on how you look at it.

How To Leave The Law, is a non-fiction book co-authored with a friend of mine, Liz Brown, a Harvard Law grad-turned-Law-Partner-turned-Professor and will help aspiring and current lawyers learn how to turn their law degrees into tools for good.

In Her Defense, releasing May 3, 2022, is my first legal drama - residing at the intersection of courtroom drama and psychological suspense. It’s the first of a new series called the Riversedge Law Club Series, in which each book will have an unlikely heroine exposing the corruption and back door politics of her small town outside Manhattan (and Manhattan law culture itself).

It seems that more than a decade after I left the law, I’m not quite ready to break up with the law entirely. And maybe I never will be. But the law and my slow going transition from the law have both provided inspiration for storytelling and from that place, I finally can say to my earliest mentors: Don’t worry. I’m happy here.

What about you, Jungle Red Writers? Do you have a story of breaking up - with a job, a lover, or a best friend - that ended up inspiring you creatively in some way? Please share!

HANK: Oh, what a good question! (And I have certainly done that. Several long and eventually wonderful stories. But we’d rather hear yours!) And remember--a copy of IN HER DEFENSE to one lucky commenter!

Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator, former start-up executive, and award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction. Amy’s upcoming novel, IN HER DEFENSE ("a brilliantly crafted and fascinatingly insightful morality tale" - Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today Bestselling Author) releases May 3, 2022. She is a Tall Poppy Writer, past President of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association, a faculty member in Drexel University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, and a frequently invited speaker at legal conferences and writing workshops. Connect with Amy at


Ingrid DiLaurio lives in Riversedge, New York, four express train stops from Manhattan. Don't be fooled: With its tree-lined Main Street, and quaint ambiance, Riversedge is only impersonating a small town. While it's a place small enough for everyone to know each other's secrets, few do. The town revolves around the prestigious Riversedge Law Club, where deals are made and cases are resolved and where Ingrid DiLaurio -- a former lawyer turned nationally recognized podcast host - has never once been made to feel welcome.

When Ingrid's husband, Peter, is found dead, and Ingrid's former friend, Opal, is arrested as the prime suspect, the press quickly seizes on Opal's past as a single mom and stripper. Ingrid's first priority is protecting herself and her son, Drake, along with her business, from salacious gossip. But when Opal finds herself in desperate need of a defense lawyer, she tells Ingrid she wants to call in a "favor," and Ingrid reluctantly returns to the law for one last case.

As the trial unfolds, Ingrid realizes quickly that she has taken on more than she bargained for, including Opal's dark past, a corrupt judge, a blackmailing prosecutor, another dead body, and a black tinted car that follows her everywhere. In the end, it's clear that both women know more than they are letting on about Peter's death, but who will tell the truth first?

And is the truth what anyone really wants to hear?



Friday, January 28, 2022

Virginia is for...

Virginia is for...what? Below. But first:
Breaking news! The winner of Gabriel Valjan’s HUSH HUSH is Kathy Boone Reel. 
The winner of Heather Webb’s THE LAST SHIP HOME is Joan Emerson.
And the three winners of THE MIRROR MAN are Coralee Hicks, Karen in Ohio, and Andrew Ball. Message or email me your addresses!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What a great idea for a short story anthology—to have authors choose a famous landmark (is that redundant?) and set a mystery there.

The fab Teresa Inge set that question to fifteen authors in Virginia—and the result it a wow. In historic hotels, oceanfront estates and boozy bars, you’ll discover blackmail, revenge, sinister conspiracies--and landmarks made for murder.

But hey—why let me tell you? Here’s the editor herself to give you the scoop.

Virginia is For….

by Teresa Inge

Thanks for inviting me to be a guest on the Jungle Red blog! I am excited to be here.

My latest book, Virginia is for Mysteries III will be released in February. Virginia may be for lovers, but to fifteen authors, Virginia is for Mysteries. Each short story transports readers across a diverse backdrop to a unique and deadly landscape, filled with Virginia landmarks, crime, and murder.

I have two stories in the book. “Kiss, Makeup & Murder” is set at the Cavalier on the Hill in Virginia Beach. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and built-in 1927, the hotel hosted 9 U.S. Presidents, icons Jean Harlow, Judy Garland, Pharrell Williams, and Kim Kardashian to name a few. I love the hotel’s grandeur. From the chandelier suspended above the vintage lobby and original checkerboard floor to the grand salon, and ocean view backdrop. It was fun creating a third-generation owner, an aging cosmetics queen, a kiss with a wealthy playboy, a suspicious family member, and murder. My own family and I have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries at the hotel and lodged there to research my books.

My second story, “Chalk it Up to Murder” is based on The Raven, a once-notorious, 50-year-old boozy bar and restaurant in Virginia Beach. I have also celebrated special occasions there. The story features a chalkboard artist who creates daily specials on a large, standing board in the restaurant. The artist becomes a prime suspect when a customer is murdered.

Some of the other landmarks in the book include:

· Virginia’s oldest church. St. Luke’s Church and Museum, established in the 17th century in Smithfield

· Chincoteague Island. Home to the Chincoteague Island Pony Swim attended by thousands of spectators each year and the setting of Marguerite Henry’s 1947 classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague

· The Francis Land House, circa 1805, one of Virginia Beach’s plantations

· Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton. A key defense site at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay

· Historic Fairview Cemetery in Culpeper

Using Real Names of Places in Fiction

Virginia is for Mysteries series allows the writers to showcase real locations in their crime fiction. Virginia is such a diverse part of the country this collection affords readers the opportunity to travel across the Commonwealth from the comfort of their homes.

By adding fictional characters to real places, authors create a fun element. Even with crime-ridden stories, we make the charm of each location favorable and apparent to readers. And we had the fantastic opportunity to sign books for a Poe descendant at The Poe Museum in Richmond.

The series is inspired by the state motto, Virginia is for Lovers. Before the first book’s publication, I received approval from Virginia Tourism to use Virginia is for Mysteries since “Virginia is for” is trademarked. 
his collection provides readers a chance to combine mystery fiction with real places. Check out the maps in the front of each anthology to see the variety of sites highlighted! 

Thanks for letting me visit with Jungle Red readers!

HANK: You are so welcome—as always! And congratulations to you and your contributors for a terrific anthology.

So how about you, reds and readers? If you were going to write a short story, what landmark in your state or province would you choose?

About Virginia is for Mysteries

Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume III is an anthology of diverse short stories for mystery lovers, and it appeals to visitors to the Commonwealth who want to read tales about interesting locations and historical sites.

Contributing Authors:

Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Kristin Kisska, Yvonne Saxon, Frances Aylor, Jayne Ormerod, Michael Rigg, Maggie King, Smita Harish Jain, Sheryl Jordan, Vivian Lawry, Maria Hudgins, Rosemary Shomaker, Max Jason Peterson, Judith Fowler

Teresa Inge is an author in the Mutt Mysteries series, Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Coastal Crimes: Mysteries by the Sea, and Murder by the Glass.

She is president of the Sisters in Crime, Mystery by the Sea chapter, a member of the Guppies chapter, and Short Mystery Fiction Society.

For more information about her and my books, check out

Thursday, January 27, 2022

An EXCLUSIVE excerpt from a NEW international Bestseller!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: True story. “Lars Kepler” is the pen name for Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril, a husband and wife writing duo who live in Stockholm.  Listen to this:  Both Alexandra and Alexander were established writers in their own right before they adopted the Kepler pen name together.

At first, they kept their real identities secret—no one knew who Lars Kepler was when they published their debut Kepler novel, The Hypnotist. Their debut was so popular in Scandinavia that there was an actual manhunt to uncover their identities! 


The Swedish media hired a profiler to build a profile of Kepler, and even had a tip line running to try to identify who was behind the pen name. And eventually they were discovered.


But with their identities revealed–their success has continued.  They are #1 international bestsellers and their books have sold more than 15 million copies in 40 languages. Their newest bestseller is


And listen to this, Reds and readers.

Lars Kepler has—have?—arranged for you not only to read an exclusive excerpt of their brand new sure-to-be blockbuster bestseller (and this is not available anywhere else!)

>but they are also giving away THREE copies of the book!


Read the excerpt, then see how to enter to win below.

In this exclusive excerpt from The Mirror Man, detective Joona Linna is called to the scene of a crime in Stockholm, Sweden. A young woman’s body has just been found in a city park, and Joona quickly recognizes her as the very same woman whose unsolved disappearance five years prior sparked national attention. Where has she been all these years? And who could have committed such a heinous crime?

Answering these questions will bring Joona Linna face to face with the most terrifying villain he’s ever encountered.



    by Lars Kepler


“So . . . we’ve followed the people who were in the area before and after the murder. Some of them appear on several cameras before disappearing.”

Johan picks up a pack of Pop Rocks, tears off one corner, and tips the contents into his mouth. They crackle between his teeth, popping and hissing as he brings up the footage.

“What time frame are we looking at?” asks Joona.

“I’ve been checking from nine o’clock the evening before and onward. There are a lot of people milling around then—several hundred pass the playground during the first hour And I stopped at four-thirty the next morning, when the place is crawling with cops.”


“I’ve cut together the relevant clips, person by person, to make it a bit more manageable.”


“Let’s start with the victim,” says Johan, hitting “play.”

The dark CCTV footage fills the screen, a time stamp in the top corner. From the far side of Svea Road, the camera captures the entrance to the Rådmans Street subway station. At the edge of the screen, a section of the park and the rounded façade of the university building are visible. The resolution is fairly sharp, despite the darkness.

“She’s coming soon,” Johan whispers.

The time stamp shows three in the morning, and in the glow of the streetlamp, the heavy rain looks like a series of sloping scratches.

Outside a shuttered convenience store and the steel door of the public restrooms, the pavement is glistening.

A man in a thick coat and a pair of yellow rubber gloves searches the trash can and then shuffles off along the wall of torn posters and pressure-washed graffiti.

Otherwise, the city is almost deserted. A white van drives by. Three men drunkenly stagger toward McDonald’s.

The city seems to darken as the rain becomes heavier.

A paper cup trembles on the low wall surrounding a pond. The water surges

through a grate.

A person enters the shot from the left, rounds the entrance to the subway station, and pauses beneath the overhanging roof, her back to the glass doors.


A taxi passes by on Svea Road. Its headlights sweep over her face and her blond hair. Jenny Lind.

In just ten minutes’ time, she will be dead. Her face is in shadow again.

Joona thinks about her brief struggle, legs kicking so hard that her shoes come off.

When the blood supply to the brain is cut off, the feeling of suffocation is nowhere near as gradual as it is when you hold your breath. Before the darkness finally overtakes you, the feeling is explosive and panicked.

Jenny hesitates and then steps out into the rain, turning her back to the camera, and walks past the convenience store, down the path at the end of the pond. Then she disappears from view.

One of the security cameras from the Public Library has captured her from a distance. The resolution is poor, but her hair and face catch the light from a streetlamp before she enters the blind spot around the playground.

“That’s all we have of her,” says Johan Jönson.


As Joona plays the footage back in his head, he realizes that Jenny knew exactly where she was going, only she hesitated—perhaps because of the rain, or because she was early.

What was she doing in the playground in the middle of the night?

Had she agreed to meet someone?

He can’t escape the feeling that it was a trap.



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: SO good, right? Incredibly atmospheric and sinister. And cinematic. Thank you, Lars Kepler!

And to enter to win?  Reds and readers, just tell us in the comments who you might imagine playing the role of Joona Linna in an (imaginary) movie.  (I imagine Harrison Ford. But then, I always do.)

And an extra entry if you tell us something about Sweden—have you been there?

(When I went, so long ago, I took a tour of..someplace, and there was one bus with a placard in the window that read: Special bus for Camerafans. I thought—where is Camerafans?)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Stuff of Story and Legends: Ellis Island

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If you say the words Ellis Island, a picture instantly comes to mind, doesn’t it? And every person who stepped into that place carried a story – – hopes and fears and dreams and beliefs. We could never tell all of the stories, right? And the fabulous Heather Webb has discovered that there’s more to Ellis Island than we even imagined.

Because as Heather discovered, some stories are true, some are created to be “true,” and some stories are so grand--that they become legend.

Legends. There’s not a bone in my body that does not believe Camelot was real. I could be convinced about Atlantis. The room of gold in the Czar’s place. That Anastasia lives. Totally true.

Come with Heather Webb today, to find out about her intriguing new book
THE NEXT SHIP HOME.  (LOOK at that COVER!)  And more about the story below, but here's a hint: An unlikely friendship, a terrible secret, and a system that is out to destroy them

And at the end, a question for you. (And a giveaway!)

The Draw of Legends in Fiction

by Heather Webb

Ever since I was old enough to drag stacks of books around, I lost myself in stories about legendary people and places and events. Mythology, too, and worlds that swept me away to a very different time and place from the four walls of my bedroom. Not much has changed. In fact, not only do I read books about legendary characters and places, now I write them!

 Fiction and the almighty Story with a capital “s” is such a pliant and magical medium all on its own, but stories still somehow become grander—sometimes even withstanding the test of time—when a legend is woven into its tapestry.

What is a legend anyway? A legend is a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true. And yet, as J. R. R. Tolkien said, “Legends and myths are largely made of 'truth'." If there weren’t some truth to the story, would it be worth passing down over decades and centuries?

Another great quote about legends comes from Sarah Bernhardt, a legend in and of herself, "Legend remains victorious in spite of history." I agree with her—it’s true that legends need time to develop. After the initial event, word of mouth must take over followed by embellishments, thoughtful and also careless chatter, and finally, having the legend immortalized in some way with each generation. These days, that means through some sort of art form or entertainment medium.

What is it about legends that makes them so fascinating? Why are we so drawn to them? Perhaps it is the truth hidden within them, as Tolkien believed. Maybe it’s because they strike upon universal truths that we can all identify with on some level. Or perhaps it’s really because we love a good mystery. Isn’t every legend shrouded in delicious secrecy and mystery? (I know here at Jungle Red Writers, you all love a good mystery!)

Many novels use legends as a basis for their plot and they ripple across all genres. A few that come to mind include:

· Sci-fi based on UFO lore

· Fantasy and alternative histories based on Arthurian legends and all sorts of mythologies

· Historical fiction based on legendary people, events, or places

· Horror is particularly rich in legends with its haunted houses/buildings/locations and fetishizing religious beliefs or practices

· Crime fiction can also see legends incorporated in a myriad of ways. The legends surrounding serial killers for example, or in the Da Vinci Code, the religious legends associated with relics..

The legends surrounding Ellis Island are what drew me in when I first started thinking about writing my new novel that’s set there. The island was a place where captured and convicted pirates took their last breaths on the scaffold before being hung for their crimes.

The island changed names three times and grew from a few acres to 27+ over the course of its prominence. At one time, its waters served as some of the finest oyster beds in the world.

Most recently, the buildings there have served as an immigration center and a detainees’ ward for prisoners of war. Over twelve million people passed through Ellis Island’s storied halls in the six and a half decades it was open. Their essence still permeates every corridor.

Its history is rich, fascinating, hopeful—and far darker than you might first imagine. People, history, and the many, many legends that are a part of Ellis Island. THIS is what brought me to its shores with a notebook in hand, my cellphone poised at the ready for as many photos as the phone would hold, and a head full of ideas ready to be put into words.

The Next Ship Home releases in just two weeks, and I hope I have captured some of those elements of legend in its pages, and also shed light on the truth…or some version of the many truths that exist there.

What kinds of legends hook you? What’s the name of a novel based on a legend?

HANK: Ooh, such a good question! Eager to hear what you have to say. But wait, wait, Heather. We are waiting in the comments--tell an  Ellis Island legend! (Or two!)

(And a copy of THE NEXT SHIP HOME to one lucky commenter!)

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of seven historical novels. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. Meet Me in Monaco, was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro RNA award in the UK, as well as the 2019 Digital Book World’s Fiction prize.

Heather’s new solo novel, The Next Ship Home (Sourcebooks/Feb.8), is inspired by true events and reveals the dark secrets of Ellis Island as two unlikely friends challenge a corrupt system, altering their fate and the lives of the immigrants that come after them.

To date, Heather’s books have been translated to sixteen languages. She lives in New England with her family, a mischievous kitten, and one feisty rabbit.


Inspired by true events and for fans of Kristina McMorris and Hazel Gaynor, The Next Ship Home holds up a mirror to our own times, deftly questioning America’s history of prejudice and exclusion while also reminding us of our citizens’ singular determination. This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to “the land of the free” promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days.


A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young German American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn’t a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures to ensure she will make it off the island, Alma fights for her dreams of becoming a translator even as women are denied the chance.


As the two women face the misdeeds of a system known to manipulate and abuse immigrants searching for new hope in America, they form an unlikely friendship—and share a terrible secret—altering their fates and the lives of the immigrants who come after them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Brilliant Gabriel Valjan

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Like gravity, or quantum physics, Gabriel Valjan is a force of nature. If you know him, you are cheering right now to see him here on Jungle Red. He's the most generous, most thoughtful, most outrageously supportive author in our writing-reading world. With no reason other than his true and honest passion, he constantly promotes and shares and publicists other authors' events and books and successes.

Most authors secretly whine a bit about how much promotion is necessary and expected for their books--but Gabriel, the amazing Gabriel, not only does it without being asked, but does it spectacularly!

Follow him here on Twitter, and be amazed. And awed.

So now,  Reds and readers, the person whose face in in the dictionary when you look up "generous"--has a new book of his own.    

"Wrung their bread from stocks and stones"
    by Gabriel Valjan

The line above is from one of Robert Lowell’s lesser known poems, “Children of Light.” Ephesians 5:8 inspired his poem. I plucked the phrase for two reasons. 

One, Lowell confronted the violence that is the history of New England. Two, I admire the metaphor of finding sustenance from common but difficult materials. Boston is a city haunted by history, most of it unpleasant, but rich for an author of crime fiction, such as myself.

I write about Boston in the 1970s, a time of systemic corruption and institutional racism. A murder in Boston’s Red Light District inspired my third Shane Cleary novel, HUSH HUSH, but I take the details in a different direction.  (If you’re interested in both historical context and the crime, consult Jan Brogan’s Combat Zone.)

Like the poet, the mundane fed my imagination. Located on Columbus Ave. in Shane Cleary’s South End, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has been serving customers since 1927. The young Sammy Davis, Jr. used to dance for change outside its doors. For decades, Charlie’s was the only place in Boston where black and white diners could sit and eat together.

To give you a sense of how bad race relations were in Boston, a riot broke out at Carson Beach in 1975 when black protestors tried to use the beach, and the desegregation of Boston schools and public housing was not completed until 1988.

Shane’s South End was a hotspot for traveling African-American and Latino performers who worked the club circuit in town and the burlesque houses in Scollay Square. Charlie’s was a safe space according to The Negro Motorist Green Book. If you know Charlie’s location, then you’re aware that Back Bay Station is nearby.

On the second floor, above Charlie’s, was the office of the first black union in the nation, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This union, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, organized strikes and campaigned for labor laws and racial equity, despite threats of violence. It is from Randolph that his protégé, a theology student at Boston University named Martin Luther King, Jr., had the dream of a March on Washington.

In HUSH HUSH, this history is folded into exposition without becoming didactic. The scene in Chapter 2 that unfolds becomes tense and relevant for readers. You can read it online in the Look Inside feature at Amazon for HUSH HUSH. A man double-parks his Cadillac in front of Charlie’s, two police officers stop, and the Q &A that ensues sounds procedural but it’s all subtext. Shane witnesses it and feels compelled to examine the facts of a case.

Bread wrung from stocks and stones.

History is all around us if we look for it. We should examine both the heights and depths, the dark and the light.

It doesn’t have to be as monumental as the Boston Massacre. It’s often forgotten history that fuels the imagination of writers, like how the Boston Common is the resting place of the colonial American and British dead, or that there’s a small plaque honoring an elm tree in the middle of the Common.

The tree is gone, and a memorial states that the Sons of Liberty assembled there, but it omits one sinister detail. The tree was where criminals, Quakers, and Native Americans were executed.

Has a page from forgotten history or an important public place inspired your writing?

HANK:  That is such a thought-provoking question. And every time I walk on the Common, or in the Public Garden, I think about the people in history who have walked in the same place. It's either inspirational--or chilling.  In The Murder List, the Boston Common bandstand provides  a pivotal moment...for the very reason you suggest, dear Gabriel! 

How about you, Reds and readers?  Or is there a place you think about in a different way because of a book? Or a place you wish you could visit because of a book?

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series, The Company Files, and the Shane Cleary Mysteries. He has been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and Silver Falchion Awards, and received the 2021 Macavity Award for Best Short Story. He lives in Boston.