Thursday, March 31, 2022

RHYS on Impulse Buys

 RHYS BOWEN: Ask anyone and they will tell you I am usually a sensible, frugal person. I never buy anything unless I really need it. I see a lovely pair of black slacks, but... I already have a good pair of black slacks so I don't need two, right? And I always check the sales racks. My daughter Jane despairs of me. When I show her a new item of clothing that I’ve just bought she asks “Did you find that on the sale rack?” and usually I answer yes. She rolls her eyes. “Mom. You don’t need the sales rack.”

I can only think of two occasions when I have made true impulse buys:

This is one of them. John and I were on vacation in Mexico when we spotted him in a gallery and both instantly fell in love with him. He is from Oaxaca and is made of their famous black clay. We went in and bought him, packing him carefully amid our clothing to bring home safely.  When we got him home we noticed that he should have been holding something—a spear? A fishing rod? Still not sure. He has sat on my coffee table in Arizona ever since, guarding the house when we are gone for six months.

And in his arms—another impulse buy. At a native American art fair I met a man who makes Navajo flutes. So I had to have one. It sounds wonderful—haunting, mystical. And I was able to choose the talisman that went with it to control the air flow. I chose an eagle, symbol of creativity.

I realize now that I do have a third impulse buy: I was walking around the small mission town of St. Juan Bautista when I saw a painting of a seascape in an art gallery. It was simple and beautiful and although I did not need another painting in my life I bought it. And still adore it.

I can think of a couple of occasions when I didn’t buy and still regret. 

I was touring with Cara Black and we went into a boutique in Malibu. Cara made me try on a white leather jacket. It was soooo gorgeous. Get it, Cara kept saying, but it was $1500 and in those days that was way too much to pay for a jacket (It still is, even though I could now afford it). But I have to confess that I've regretted it. I haven't seen another one like it since. And Cara keeps reminding me: "You should have bought that jacket. I told you!"

Another occasion was an art fair in Central Park New York. There was a three dimensional painting of a ballerina leaping off the canvas. It was huge—probably six feet by four and there was no way I could get it home, and it was seven or eight hundred dollars—money I certainly didn’t have in those days. And I really didn’t have a wall to put something that size on either. But I still regret it. Now I have a huge wall in our Arizona house—twenty five foot ceiling where that painting would have looked spectacular. So maybe next time I’m in New York I might just check…. Just in case…

So, dear Reds, confess: are you an impulse buyer? What true impulse items have you bought?

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Celebrating a New Aimee Leduc with Cara Black

 RHYS BOWEN: It is always a great joy to welcome back to Jungle Reds my dear friend and long-time travel companion Cara Black. This time it's with a new Aimee book.: MURDER AT THE PORTE DE VERSAILLES. Those of you who don't know Aimee should! Chic, edgy, impossibly high heels, designer fashions bought at the flea market and rides a pink Vespa...and with a penchant for bad boys and danger. 

So Cara and I are going to have a little chat to find out what's going on with Aimee and with Cara.

RHYS: So welcome, Cara. Let's start with a little about Aimee herself. Where is she now in her life --professional and personal - in the 20th book? 

CARA BLACK: We met her in the first book Murder in the Marais set in 1993 I know 20 books later it’s now about 8 years later in her life and she now has a toddler whose name is Chloé and she is still running her detective agency with her partner. She has a difficult relationship with Chloe's biological father who wants her to leave Paris and come to live in Brittany because it will be better for Chloe. He has a farm with horses and goats, close to the sea and the air is wonderful and Aimée is very conflicted. She wants the best for Chloé and is feeling guilty that she doesn't want to go to Brittany because her business is in Paris. She likes having a café at the corner of the street and she doesn't think in Brittany there are cafés at the end of the farm field. Also she is juggling as a single mother with her business, raising her daughter, and doubts if she is doing a good job. She feels a gnawing guilt and wondering if she’s being selfish not to leave Paris. But for once, her detective agency is doing really well, she and René have more computer security business than they can handle and she’s got to put the ‘baguette’ on the table as the sole breadwinner.

RHYS: What inspired you to write this? What's this book about briefly?

CARA: My book came from a story I heard in Paris from my friend -w hen he was a young boy he lived directly across the street from the police laboratory in the 15th arrondissement. In the middle of the he fell out his bed and found himself on the floor. There had been a bomb explosion in the police laboratory across the street his window looked right on it. In the morning his parents told him it was a Basque separatist bombing ‘only’ a political statement. No one was hurt and that was very much what the Basques did at this time you know doing this as political statements. At the time I was also going to explore what Paris and France were like after 9/11 which very much time wise followed with Aimée’s previous investigation and so the book is set shortly after 9/11 in November. In Paris it’s the anniversary of Aimée’s fathers death and she has brought Chloe her three-year-old to honor her father whose remains are at the Pere Lachaise cemetery and it is very bittersweet because it is also Chloe's birthday she is turning three years old. 

At Chloe's birthday in Aimée’s apartment on Ile Saint-Louis everyone in Aimée’s life is there: her partner in the business, Chloe's biological father, her godfather, and Boris and Michou close friends who babysit Chloe. But mon Dieu Boris has forgotten Chloe's present on his desk at his office in the police laboratory and jumps in a taxi to get it. When he doesn't return they receive a phone call that there has been a bomb explosion at the police laboratory. Boris is found in the rubble barely alive but with traces of explosive under his fingernails and he is a suspect in the bombing.

RHYS: I'm currently writing a book partly set in Paris. How come we're never there at the same time!  So....What if we were  in Paris at the same time researching - first thing we’d do would be….?

CARA: I think it would be so fun to meet you in Paris while we are both researching. The first place I suggest is we meet for Champagne and oysters is at the belle époque Café de la Paix right in front of the opera and I think it would be amazing and so much fun. and bien sûr, any Reds who are in town are invited :)

RHYS: Tell the Reds what your research in Paris is like. (I already hear moans of envy.

CARA: My research takes place at the archives for primary source material, consulting digitised newspapers and hanging with les flics, the police and going to the shooting ranges with them - at least before 9/11 I did. I'm talking with cafe owners, bus drivers, basically anyone who will talk to me. I like walking the streets and really feel that walking the ground of the place I am writing about gives my work some weight. I’ve joined several historical associations in the different arrondissements of Paris and I find out historical details and get to meet people who were born and grew up in the arrondissement and talk about their childhood; what it's like to live there. I love going to the market and discovering a new cheese shop or patisserie that’s new to me. Of course, I need to sample, right?  It's really important getting to know that arrondissement I'm writing about even going back in time to its origins and history. For me it's always about finding that special characteristic of this place in Paris, the flavour and ambience and capture that village like feeling. I think it's important to walk on the street; smell the smells, hear the noises, how the light falls as Aimée, my detective would. And of course, stop off at a patisserie - did I mention I like patisseries? 

RHYS: Oh oui, patisseries! My favorite occupation in Paris is window shopping in Patisseries and trying not to drool.

Now we're at book 20. Aren't there 20 arrondissements? You’ve pretty much exhausted the arrondissements. So what’s next. Will she move to Brittany?(can’t see her there)

CARA: Actually I have one more arrondissement left because I goofed and put two books in one arrondissement so I am working on that story and you'll have to guess which is the last arrondissement:)

What's next is really the follow up to Three Hours in Paris, my WW2 historical standalone thriller and Kate Rees will be back in the next follow up set in 1942. The title is Night Flight to Paris which is your suggestion Rhys! I not only thank you but want you always to come up with my titles.

RHYS: Three Hours in Paris was amazing! Such a great thriller.  And happy to help with titles. Many of mine are a collaboration of good minds.  

Nearly all of Aimee’s cases are intensely personal for her. Was this something you planned when you started or has she just taken over and decided what she’ll investigate?

CARA: That's a great question and it makes me think about when I started writing a series and the books that I like to read and stories that captured me. They always came from a personal tie in from the protagonist. A police person in law enforcement that’s their job but a challenge to make it personal. Aimée grew up with a father, a former French policeman. So many police would sit at their kitchen table so she has absorbed that world, is familiar with the boys network and watching your partner’s back. She’s got that skill set to investigate, her father taught her and he was a single father and she learned from helping her father in the detective agency. She became a licensed detective and will only help and take a case when it's important to someone or she feels the person is a victim and they are voiceless and she wants to give a voice to them. Give them some form of justice.

RHYS:Some of her cases are really harrowing. How much do they affect you or can you keep yourself detached?

CARA: Yes, I love the fact that Aimée is in danger and she looks stylish at the same time! In Murder at the port of Versailles she's climbing on a roof wearing a black leather cat suit and that was really fun to write. I wish I could do that and look good at the same time but I’m not French. She needs to be in danger, the stakes need to be high to make the story compelling in her world. Our genre has many threads - cozy, suspense, domestic thrillers etc and I like to write what what I like to read. I think it's very important she's not a plastic stereotype, but human she's vulnerable and makes mistakes, too.

RHYS:Did you manage to get to Paris during the pandemic? If so how was it there?

CARA: After two years I was lucky to go in September 2021 because I was teaching a writing class weeklong at a Château outside of Bordeaux. It was amazing and I am so thrilled that it we actually got to do that and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Bordeaux was an area that I had never had been to. I want to go back and explore. Yes in Paris everyone was very conscious of Covid and wearing masks and we had to show our vaccination card constantly which I really appreciated. In the museums even the free ones you had to make a reservation to limit the number of people. It’s always changing so I'm going in April and  need to find out the new regulations.

RHYS: And of course: is Aimee an alter ego? Do you want her life with the Vespa and the high heels? ( I notice she is giving up smoking!)

CARA: Maybe an alter ego but I am afraid of heights I don’t wear high heels and I know that I do want to live in her apartment. The Vespa would be great but it's very temperamental. Yes I have given up smoking but Aimée is always struggling with that and she's much better on the computer than I am.

RHYS: Thank you for taking the time to talk today, CARA. I've just finished the book and it is a nail-biter! Oh my goodness--so many twists and turns, plus a little surprise at the end....

MURDER AT THE PORT DE VERSAILLES is the 20th in the series, and one of the best, in my opinion. Do ask Cara questions today!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Tenth Anniversary Post by Cathy Ace

 RHYS BOWEN: Cathy Ace is one of the most huggable people you'll ever meet. Of course as a fellow Welshwoman I have to think she's special but a lot of other people do too. So today I'm happy to host her on a momentous occasion:  I'll let her tell you about it.


Hello folks! Thanks for inviting me along today to invite all your lovely followers – and the Reds too, of course – to help me celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first Cait Morgan Mystery being published…just days before the 12th book in the series finds its way into the world. I’m feeling very grateful at the moment.

I truly cannot believe that an entire decade has whizzed by since I was launching my debut novel. Back then, I couldn’t have foreseen how the world would react to a small Canadian publisher putting out the first in a “planned” series of books featuring an older, definitely overweight, absolutely bossy, Welsh Canadian, globe-trotting professor of criminal psychology…so I’m delighted that it’s all gone so well in so many ways…though it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride at times. However, they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so here I still am – and I’m a LOT stronger!

During ten years of ups and downs, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to various conventions, where I believe I’m correct in saying I’ve met all the Reds. I’ll never forget the warmth shown to me by Rhys when we sat beside each other for a signing session at my very first convention (Bouchercon, in Albany): I signed none, because there weren’t any of my books there (long story, no need to whine here!) whereas she had a queue…and she was LOVELY. As was Hallie at the Surrey International Writers Conference, where we first shared a signing table (same thing as above, though maybe I signed one book?) and she was so kind to this new author. Hank, Rhys, and Hallie have all very kindly blurbed books for me over the years, too – thank you, ladies. (I don’t mean to leave out the other Reds, but will focus on what’s happened “so far”, LOL!)

I’ll be celebrating this week with pink champagne and chocolate cake (baked by my Paul Hollywood-inspired husband – thank you Mr. Hollywood!). If you fancy raising a glass, or a forkful of something indulgent, let me provide you with this excuse! Oh, and the other thing I’m celebrating? The script for the pilot of the Cait Morgan TV series has turned out brilliantly! Originally planned as a 90-minute format, it’s been bumped up to two hours, which is fantastic. I’m not allowed to say much more, but can tell you it’s fascinating to see how a seasoned screenwriter is able to distill the essence of a novel’s story into a much shorter format – and they’ve done so without losing any of Cait’s personality, for which I’m most grateful. The casting is “in hand” (but I’m absolutely sworn to secrecy on that front) and I can confirm the settings will be authentic (Nice, France and Vancouver, Canada). It’s all so thrilling…and I’m making the most of every new experience.

When my debut novel was published, I didn’t realize it would be just as nerve-wracking every time a new book comes out, but it turns out it is…and I’m currently in knots about The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes. I plan to continue writing about Cait’s adventures; I really think there’s a place in the world for true closed circle mysteries being untangled by a not-so-amateur sleuth, and hope folks continue to enjoy reading them…and watching them, when they finally reach the screen.

Thanks for having me drop by today. I’m off to pop a cork now, and will invite you all to join me in a virtual toast: here’s to communities like JRW where – in a world that sometimes defies comprehension – we’re all able to celebrate the fact we know there are people out there like us…who enjoy a good murder mystery with clues, red herrings, denouements, and appropriate comeuppances! Cheers, Folks!

What will you be celebrating this week? And how will you do it?


About the book:


Guests of honor at the opening of a swish new restaurant in Arizona, Welsh Canadian criminal psychologist sleuth Cait Morgan, and her retired-cop husband Bud Anderson, are looking forward to living in the lap of luxury for a week.

But an unexpected death at the desert retreat puts more than a wrinkle in their plans. Is the Faceting for Life movement, of which their host is a devotee, just a harmless framework for life-affirming activities, or a façade for a cult where no one is quite who they appear to be?

In the twelfth Cait Morgan Mystery, Cait and Bud arrive at their remote destination keen to relax and indulge, only to discover that Cait might have – for the first time in her life – truly met her match. And her adversary’s agenda? Well, it’s anything but restful…indeed, it’s both wicked, and deadly.


About Cathy Ace: Cathy Ace’s Cait Morgan Mysteries feature a criminal psychologist sleuth encountering traditional whodunits around the world; her WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries feature a quartet of soft-boiled female PIs solving cozy cases from a Welsh stately home. Her Welsh suspense novel, The Wrong Boy, has also been optioned for TV. Shortlisted for Canada’s Bony Blithe Award three times, winning once, she’s also won IPPY and IBA Awards; her work’s also been shortlisted for a Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence, and the Crime Fiction Lover Best Indie Novel. She migrated from Wales aged 40, and now lives in Canada.


RHYS: We are raising a glass, dear Cathy. Long may you and Cait Morgan thrive!

Monday, March 28, 2022

Thirty Five Ways to Insult an Author


I got an email this week from someone who began: Congratulations, we understand you’re a published author! I wanted to connect with you to find out if you are interested in increasing your book sales by producing an audiobook edition.

Okay, Mister who shall be nameless…. If you checked me out on my website or on Amazon or even on Audible, you would find that not only are ALL my books available in audio version, but they sit atop the bestseller list.  I wrote a civil letter back telling him he should do his homework before he contacts an author.

But really!!!!

I regularly get letters like this. Or ones that say “We can increase your visibility by putting your book cover on our social media.” Right. Let me think. You have ten thousand followers and I have 138,000 on Bookbub. And how can you help me again?

 I don’t ever reply “I wouldn’t give my book to you if you were the last human being on Earth” but it’s one more small annoyance that authors have to deal with. Why don’t people just do their homework first. I’m reminded of a Steven King tweet about the pandemic, mentioning his book The Stand, and someone replied “And what would you know about it?” Duh.

Here are some others:  I get blurb requests almost every day. Authors I don’t know, have never heard of, most self-published. Do they not realize that authors have work? That we get blurb request from our publishers, friends and agents and have no more time, even if we wanted to take the risk of being sued, which has happened to me before. Now I never blurb a self-published. Too risky.

Bad reviews on Amazon. I try not to read reviews any more and of course not every reader will enjoy my book. But getting a review for In Farleigh Field once that said I knew nothing about the British aristocracy or how they speak (when I am married to one and spent a good portion of my life with his family in large country houses) did get my dander up. John was so incensed he wanted to hunt the person down and give them a piece of his mind!

And reviews that complain my books take place in WW2 but have no battle scenes and explosions.

Hank mentioned this a few weeks ago and it also happens to me (and I expect the rest of us too!) Patronizing people: you meet at an event or party and they say “Oh, you’re a writer. Should I have heard of you?”  or “I’ve been meaning to write a book someday, when I get the time.”  Or “You write mysteries. Do you ever intend to write a real novel?” Or…”Mysteries? I only read literary novels.”

I do have an answer to the first of these. “Should I have heard of you?”  ME: Only if you read books.

Equally patronizing reviews:  The prolific Bowen. Yes. I write a lot of books but prolific seems to imply that I churn them out, production line style, doesn’t it? Again I’d like the right to rebuttal.

ME: At least one of those books I churn out is nominated for an award every year. This year it’s the Edgar. Does that tell you something?

I don’t know of other professions where people seem to think they have the right to put-down, make comments. Can you imagine me at a cocktail party. “Oh, you’re a brain surgeon. I’ve always thought I might like to try a bit of brain surgery one day, if I get the time.”

So Reds it’s your turn. What are the things that have annoyed you the most?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am laughing so hard! The reviewer who said “Ryan clearly has no idea what a reporter does.” Um, yes, I kind of do, after being one for 43 years. But really? It’s the people who say: “Wow, you’re really churning/banging/pumping them out.”    Ah. That is NOT what is happening, not in ANY way. I could only wish.

I just read a quote from Francine Prose who said, when asked “what’s your process?” says she feels like saying “My process is allowing my soul to leave my body and enter into the body of another human being. So try that!”’

HALLIE EPHRON: I’m still annoyed at the reviewer who complained that my book had chickadees in New England in the fall… which we do. And cardinals and robins and blue jays and all too many Canada geese. That’s when I decided to stop reading reviews. Because seriously, you can poison your mood and output by perseverating on that kind of idiocy.

I have had the great good fortune of working with *so many* aspiring writers, people who’ve reached retirement, giving that book they’ve always want to write a shot, and quickly realizing what a steep climb it is from adequate to excellent. I know all too well how good I have it with my own modest success. 

JENN McKINLAY: When my first mystery came out and someone said they gave it to their seven-year-old to read (a murder mystery, mind you) because it was “so cute with cupcakes and all”, I decided never to read any reviews again since it felt like my own IQ got lower after that. My agent sends me the professional trade ones of note and that’s enough. 

I can’t really think of any slights I’ve suffered as a writer in person, but I’m also fairly obtuse with a hide like a rhinoceros, so it’s rather difficult to hurt my feelings. I’m always just grateful to be in the game - for the good, the bad, and the weird. LOL.

LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, those social media/review site requests for $$ I completely ignore. I can’t believe they’ve taken the time to research who they are contacting, so why give them one minute of thought?

But my more recent beef on Net Galley and other advance review sites goes something like this: I don’t read cozy mysteries, but I liked the cover so I requested the book. And then detail all the things the person doesn’t like that are landmarks of cozies. Or, I didn’t realize this was #12 in a series and I don’t like series or I don’t understand the character or, or, or… Please please do a little bit of research before you ask for a book you know in advance you won’t like!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Rhys, you're too diligent. I give those emails about as much attention as I give to the phone callers trying to sell me a warranty for my fourteen-year-old car. 

As for the insults, I know there are people who are not going to like my books. I have had some readers tell me, in very personal terms, just how much they didn't like my books or my characters! Ouch. As if I'd rewrite an already published book, or–well, I'm never quite sure what the point is of the nasty letters and the mean social media reviews. So, like, Jenn, I read the trade reviews my agent and my editor send me, and try to avoid the rest of them. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Because I write about an Episcopal priest in a small town, I'll occasionally get readers who think my books are cozies, and then are shocked and upset because they do, in fact, have graphic violence, swearing, and sex. One lady sent me a hand-typed letter that began, "I thought you were a Christian!" Ma'am, I am, but lots of my characters aren't. (Also, I'm probably not what she thinks of as Christian...)

When I was starting out, I used to feel stung at the sometimes obvious condescension from LITERARY writers. At the Brattleboro Literary Festival one year, I mentioned what I write at the pre-festival author reception, and you would have thought I smelled like a wet dog with gas by the way people edged away from me. Then I went to my panel with the marvelous Archer Mayor, and realized 1) we were in the largest venue and 2) we had the biggest audience by far of any other presenter that year. That cured me of literary inferiority complex.

RHYS: Oh, and don't you just love the letters that say "I noticed a typo on page 147. Can you have them go back and reprint?"

I think it’s not just writers any more who have to put up with insults and criticism. Social media has made people feel powerful and anonymous. Look at Yelp reviews. Some are so stupid:  one star because the restaurant had run out of a particular item. One star because I haven’t tried this yet but I don’t think I’d like it. 

So who reads reviews? And fellow writers, have you had to deal with any of the above?

Sunday, March 27, 2022

How Do YOU Say GIF?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Two things today.

First, GIFS. The inventor of the GIF, Stephen Wilhite, has died. And he certainly left a legacy. Not only the thing (a tiny clip of video that repeats and repeats), but, according to the New York Times, how to say the name of the thing. Here's a clip from the article.

Welp, I put it on social yesterday, and you'da thought the world was ending. (No comment about reality, that's supposed to be hyperbole in this case.) Some people were grateful for the information. Some people already said it like the peanut butter, JIF, (which Wilhite has said in a speech was an intentional reference), and were gratified to be reassured they were correct. 

But other people said that his pronunciation was...wrong. And that they would not say it that way. The theory seems to be that since the "G "stands for "graphic" in "graphics interchange format" it had to be GIF, with the G like in graphics. And, by golly, that's how they were going to say it. And, moreover, that if everyone pronounced it that way, then THAT was right. 

And it kind of escalated to: once it was "public," Wilhite didn't have the right to choose how it was pronounced. (I'm sorry, and it's social media, and I have to say I'm not quite sure whether that person was kidding, and I am afraid to ask.)

So. That's...interesting. And reminds me of a story. When I first met my husband's mother, she said to me: what’s your name again? And I said Hank Phillippi Ryan. And she said--FILL-uh-pea? And I said yes. And she paused for a moment, and then said: That’s not how it's pronounced. It's FILL-uh-pie. 

I was--is this when you use the word nonplussed? 

And since at that time we had just become engaged, I really didn’t want to fight with my future mother-in-law about that, (or anything), but you know, it was my name, and I actually do know how to pronounce it correctly.  I felt like saying "Well, if you don’t like it, your call, and I'll certainly answer to it, but it would be, dare I say it, wrong." 

Instead I just laughed. 

So how do you pronounce GIF? If you've been saying it the non-Wilhite way, will you change? 

Are we allowed to call something by a name WE prefer rather than what the inventor calls it? I can think of lots of examples of why that's perplexing, and even more than potentially confusing, but okay, Reds and readers. Up to you.

Okay, second topic.

It’s national "Joe" Day! Somehow that is so funny to me. Apparently, you are supposed to share a cup of Joe with a friend, or pay homage to someone named Joe or Joey or Josephine or a name like that. Joanne, Joan, does that count? Yay for ‘Joan Emerson’!

Years ago at channel 7 we had a brilliant and beloved political reporter whose name was Joe Day. So we used to call his birthday Joe Day Day. So today would be Joe Day Joe Day?

Anyway. I am a huge fan of coffee, passionately and devotedly. Some days, the only thing that gets me out of bed is the idea of coffee. So every day is Joe day.

 Sometimes, my husband has actually brought me coffee in bed, and I get to read in bed with coffee, and I am almost in tears at how lovely that is. I should’ve done that today, on Joe Day!

I always put skim milk, and real sugar, yes, real sugar, and it is absolutely ambrosial. Iced coffee, too, if it’s well made. And cold brew iced coffee, also ambrosial.

Are you a coffee person? Who would you like to share a cup of Joe with? Or who is your favorite Joe?

And again, thank you to Stephen Wilhite for the GIF gift. We are toasting your memory and legacy with our coffees this morning. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

What You WISH You Had Known...

HANK: When you were in college, who was the person who told you anything about anything? About how to behave on your own, and what to do on a “date,” and what was expected and what was cool and what was not cool and how to say no and what that even meant? Back in the day (cough cough) nobody told me anything. I have to say. And I remember at some point–when was it?-- when we all immersed ourselves in Our Bodies, Our Selves, the absolute saving grace book that is probably in its millionth printing right now.

But times have changed, and so have a lot of things, and if you have a friend or a child or grandchild or an acquaintance or anyone in college, isn’t it amazing to think how much they all need to navigate?

So. Tiny bit of backstory. A million years ago, and I mean maybe… 15? When my first book came out.A brilliant savvy powerful public relations person here in Boston asked if I wanted to do a signing at Macy’s. Well yes, absolutely unquestionably yes, I did! And we became pals.

And time went by. And now her daughter has written a terrific, timely, contemporary (and also useful) guide to college – nothing to do with classes, but a lot to do with life. Here's the official (and exciting!) announcement.

 So of course, it was my turn! So I invited her here to meet you all.

Do you know anyone who might need this? And after you read it, I have a question for you.

By Ali Drucker

When my proposal for my first book, DO AS I SAY, NOT WHO I DID, was finally sold and the real writing could begin, I knew I wanted to include as many funny moments from my own dating history as possible. The book is part memoir, part expert interviews, and features tons of sex and relationship advice for young women in college. So I knew the more funny and embarrassing anecdotes I shared from my past, the more relatable I could make myself to readers.

No one wants advice from someone who’s never made a mistake before, right? If you’re too much of a perfect paragon, you risk coming off as preachy rather than personable. But I was surprised to learn along the way that the stories I thought were the most outlandish, most guaranteed to get a laugh, were among the ones I didn’t see fit to include when all was said and done.

Here’s one of those stories. Toward the end of my college years at the start of the semester, I met both an upperclassman I was interested in and a new peer in one of my seminars within a day or two of each other. I put their numbers in my phone.

The following Saturday night, after a drink or two, I began to text the cute guy and invited him over. I flirted via text, getting more and more excited as he alerted me he was on his way over. I heard a knock at the door and when it slowly creaked open, the cute guy with the floppy brown hair and dark eyes who I thought I was texting wasn’t the person staring back at me. 

Instead I saw a poor, confused Freshman who was in one of my classes. I was mini dress-clad and gobsmacked as I gushed profuse apologies, explaining I hadn’t meant to invite him over after all. When I added both gentlemen’s numbers to my phone, I hadn’t properly assigned a contact name, and you can easily put together the rest. This story never failed to get a giggle with my friends, but you won’t see it in the book.

Nor will you read about the time I accidentally mixed up a bottle of personal lubricant with hand sanitizer, to near disastrous ends. Fear not, the mistake was noticed before any sensitive skin was dragged into the unfortunate mix up. Let’s just say I never thought I’d be grateful for the pungent, antiseptic smell of sanitizer. I told an old coworker about it one day and she laughed so hard she nearly cried.

You would think stories like those which elicit a big reaction would be no-brainers for a book, but ultimately I had to face the fact that they didn’t serve a tangible purpose. What’s the real takeaway there? Be more diligent about assigning names in your address book? Read labels more closely, no matter the circumstances? In the end, I found that the antics that taught a real lesson were a lot more worthwhile, even if they were a bit less over-the-top and funny. Still, I love getting to share the “rejects” whenever I get a chance. There’s always a home for them somewhere.

Are you ever surprised by what you cut from your stories? What’s your strategy for finding new homes for your favorite, funny rejected moments?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So as I asked in the beginning--do you know anyone who might need to read this? Seems like a perfect graduation gift...

Now I'm trying to remember something that happened to me in college that I wish hadn’t happened–happily, nothing springs to mind. I do remember the time I tripped on something, and slid all the way across the highly polished wooden floor of the Sigma Chi dining room. Luckily it was not revealingly indecorous, just ridiculously awkward. 

The rules of who can be where were much stricter back then than they are now, that’s for sure. I also wish I had realized that the fact that I had no dates whatsoever, (well, very rarely,) did not matter in the long run. Or probably even in the short run. 

 Treading carefully here, of course, because it’s Jungle Red, anything you wish you had known in college?


Of Maggie Smith’s TRUTH AND OTHER LIES: Vicki
Of Jess Montgomery’s THE ECHOES:  Deana Dale
Of Charles Salzburg’s CANARY IN A COAL MINE: Sheri
Message me your addresses at

Ali Drucker is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who covers sexual health and pop culture. She lives with her husband, temperamental cat, and moderately well-behaved dog. You can find her work in The New York Times, New York magazine, HuffPost, Refinery29, and more. She previously served as the sex and relationships senior editor at Maxim and Cosmo. When she’s not interviewing people about their sex lives, Ali enjoys loading up on SPF and going to the beach, taking easy hikes, and snuggling with her pets while watching old episodes of shows she’s seen a million times on Netflix.

It’s hard to overstate how much we put pressure on early sexual encounters— and how little real advice is out there. How do I deal when I keep running into my one-night stand? How can I tell if I’m too drunk to have sex? How do I say stop when I’m not really into it? In this unflinchingly honest guide to hookups and relationships in the twenty-first century, Ali Drucker answers these questions and more—with “been there, done that” confessional advice, plus input from experts on sexuality and from students in college today.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Monday Night Zoom Boys

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The crazed promo person in my brain is insisting I call this Guy-Day Friday! But that’s so silly. So I won’t do it.

But what a wonderful guest we have today: The truly brilliant Charles Salzberg not only brings us the power of his positive thinking, but a positively wonderful event that emerged and bloomed from the pandemic – – yes, a good thing!

Here’s how, with a little help from his friends, Charles found a silver lining in the pandemic. And the friends did too. And as the pandemic wanes (we hope)-- these fab “five guys“ are only beginning their adventures.

(And he has a new book! Keep reading. Because there's a giveaway! )

How the Pandemic Saved My Life (Kind of…)

by Charles Salzberg

When the pandemic hit two years ago and we were ordered to shelter at home, most people became anxious, wondering how they could, in this new world order, shelter in place, day after day, night after night.

Not me.

As a writer, staying home not only wasn’t a problem, it was a gift from the gods. And so, when friends asked, “how are you doing?” My guilt-ridden answer was, “fine.” But in truth, it was way better than fine. It was giving me permission to do something I’d been rehearsing for all my life.

When I was in my 20s, knowing I wanted to be a writer but struggling to decide how I was going to make a living, I scored a job at New York magazine, working in the mailroom. I loved magazines and despite not knowing what editors actually did all day, I thought I could put the only marketable skill I had to good use by becoming a magazine editor. And this, I was told, was a good to start from. But after a week or so of stamping, sorting and delivering mail, I didn’t see my future sitting in an office all day. And so, after a mere three months, I did something that in hindsight was not only downright foolish, but irresponsible. Without having any idea how I would pay the rent, and put food on the table, I quit, and declared myself, without having sold a word, a “freelance writer.”

Fortunately, the dumb luck of the stupid kicked in. Almost immediately after quitting, I sold two articles. One to New York magazine, the other to The Daily News Sunday Magazine. It wasn’t much, totaling a little more than $1,000, but it was enough to make me think I could make it living the life of a freelance writer which, as the winter weather became worse and worse, became more and more appealing. I’d never have to wear a tie and jacket. I wouldn’t have to go out in bad weather unless I wanted to. I could rise whenever I wanted. I could sleep whenever I wanted. No longer would I suffer the “Sunday night blues,” anticipating I’d have to go to work the next day. No nine to five for me, baby. That was for suckers. Instead, I could work whenever I wanted, morning, afternoon, or night.

Then, because of the pandemic, I was ordered to stay home. Was I bored? Absolutely not. Almost forty years of practice gave me a pretty good head start on the rest of you.

There was plenty to keep me busy. Netflix, HBO-Max, Prime, Hulu, Apple-TV, and a host of other streaming services. I discovered true crime podcasts. I read at least a couple books a week. I took long walks with friends. I even Zoomed my weekly lunches with my good friend, Ross Klavan. Instead of having to travel to where I taught writing classes, I Zoomed my classes from my dining room table, revealing other perks: I didn’t have to wear pants. Or shoes. The travel time to work was cut from 20 minutes to as long as it took me to get from my living room to my dining area. And when class was over, no problem. I was already home.

Let’s face it, I was living la bella vita.

As if that wasn’t good enough, there was one other unanticipated bonus that came from those many months of social isolation.
Every Monday night I Zoomed (a noun became a verb) with four other crime writers: Reed Farrel Coleman (center of photo), Tom Straw, Matt Goldman (left) and Michael Wiley. And even though we were spread out across the country—I’m in New York City, Reed in the outer reaches of Long Island, Mike in Florida, Tom in Connecticut, and Matt in Minneapolis. But for an hour and a half every Monday night, we were in the same room.

Every Monday night, a few minutes before 7 p.m., I’d set up shop in front of my dining table and for the next hour and a half, I had the time of my life. After all, these guys weren’t just crime writers. They’d all lived very interesting lives. Tom and Matt are also very successful sitcom writers. Matt worked on Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine and a bunch of other hit shows; Tom worked on Night Court, the Craig Ferguson Show, Grace Under Fire, and Nurse Jackie, and others. Reed has held a number of interesting jobs, while my background as a magazine journalist and nonfiction book writer, dovetailed very nicely with this diverse group.

The conversation ranged all over the map. What we were reading. What we were writing. What we were watching. Anecdotes from our past lives. Whatever happened to be in the news, other than the pandemic and politics. After all, we were there to have fun, to make human connections in troubled times, not deal with the news which seemed to get worse and worse.

And fun we had. In fact, we got along so well that we promised ourselves that when we’d all been vaccinated, we’d take a trip together.

So, last May, after we’d all had our second dose of the vaccine, the Monday Night Zoom Boys rented a villa down in Hilton Head a
nd four of us (Tom preferred to stay home because he didn’t want to put his elderly mother-in-law in jeopardy) spent five days (and nights) together. We got along swimmingly and that ranks as one of the best vacations I’ve ever had.

(Here's Tom, gallantly at home.)

Last summer, as the pandemic waned, and the vaccine freed us from captivity, we all mourned the inevitable passing of our Monday night ritual. But wait. Not so fast. Instead of totally abandoning our Monday night meetups, we decided instead to cut back to every other Monday night. And so, our Zoom calls continue to this day.

It’s a close bond that wouldn’t have been possible before Covid hit. In fact, our close relationship has only grown, as evidenced by the fact that four of us are attending Left Coast Crime, where we’ll be able to hang out together in person. And in September, there’ll be Bouchercon in Minneapolis, Matt’s home turf.

So, now that we seem to be approaching a return to “normal” pre-pandemic life, I can’t help but be grateful to a deadly virus for bringing us together.

HANK: Isn’t this great?

And oh, see below for more of Charles' brand new book, CANARY IN THE COAL MINE. Doesn’t it sound amazing? I’m giving a copy to one lucky commenter!

Funnily, my fellow Career Authors bloggers (Dana Isaacson Dana Isaacson, Jessica Strawser, Paula Munier, Brian Andrews and I) meet every Monday morning at 10, on zoom, with coffee and Monday brains, and we’ve been doing it from the very beginning. It is such a joy and reassurance. And ooh, we are doing something together in real life, too – – the first ever in person MIT Endicott House Career Authors Weekend Writers retreat! (Click here for more info. Space is limited.)

How about you, Reds and Readers? Dare I ask…did you discover anything good in the pandemic? (I can tell you, also, I swore I would put the books on my bookshelves in alphabetical order. But nope. Didn’t happen.)

And remember, comment to be entered to win!  (This week's winners will all be announced Saturday!)


Pete Fortunato, a New York City PI who suffers from anger management issues and insomnia, wakes up one day with a bad taste in his mouth, which is usually a sign of trouble. When he arrives at his "office," a desk in back of a friend's real estate office, he's hired by a beautiful woman to find her husband, "dead or alive." He successfully completes his job in a couple days--he finds her husband shot dead in the apartment of her young, stud boyfriend--only to find that his client's check bounces. This is only the beginning of a nightmare that gets him half-way across the country in an attempt to find money which can save his life.

Charles Salzberg is a former magazine journalist and nonfiction book writer (From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an Oral History of the NBA and Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times). He’s twice nominated for the Shamus Award for Swann’s Last Song, the first in the series, and Second Story Man (also winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award). Devil in the Hole was named one of the Best Crime Novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine. 
He lives in New York City and teaches writing for New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

An Accidental Theme? An Echo!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my golly, we have a THEME! Sometimes the world works in mysterious ways…well, actually, all the time.

 Before we get to the fab Jess Montgomery and today’s mysterious ways---shout out to our own Lucy Burdette, whose chilling thriller UNSAFE HAVEN is featured on First Chapter Fun today!


At 12:30 PM ET, I’ll be talking about Lucy and the book, and then reading the first chapter out loud on Facebook live on First Chapter Fun. Click this link to join us! (It’s a private group, so you have to join.) Then be there at 12:30 ET to join in the fun. It’s always terrific, and Lucy is episode 249. Whoa. AND she is doing a giveaway!


And now, I am so honored and delighted to bring back one of the true stalwart fabulous wonderful friends of JRW—the amazing and incredibly talented Jess Montgomery. Her newest book THE ECHOES is out right now (it is gorgeous and evocative and beautiful) –and one of the main characters is the mother of the series star, Sheriff Lily Ross.


Just as we discussed yesterday (coincidence!) (and ooh--you might call it--an ECHO!) today we’re talking about mothers. But today, how Jess handled a fictional mom in the 1920s, and gave her a very special role.


Moms and Daughters


Jess Montgomery


The heart of my Kinship Historical Mystery series is Lily Ross, the sheriff of Bronwyn County in the 1920s, in the Appalachian region of Ohio. Lily is inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff, Maude Collins.


Each novel is co-narrated by Lily and another woman from her community. (In the first three novels, Lily’s co-narrators have been a woman who eventually becomes a new friend, a life-long friend, and a frenemy!)


In the background of each novel has also been Beulah McArthur, Lily’s mother (who Lily calls Mama.) Mama has been there for each story, helping Lily by watching Lily’s children when Lily is out on cases, even though Mama has another child, a change-of-life baby, 7-year-old Caleb Jr., who is the same age as Lily’s youngest child. (Mama is only 48, young by today’s standards, but rather long in the tooth to have a young son back in the 1920s!) Mama has also fussed at Lily about remaining safe and being mindful of the expectations of women. For example, Lily may be breaking convention by serving as sheriff, but Mama reminds her that she is still expected to go to Woman’s Club and church meetings, and to enter her pies in the county fair baking contest. Of course, Mama has also been not-so-secretly proud of Lily’s achievements.


For the fourth novel in my series, THE ECHOES, I decided it was time for Mama to have her own voice—and not just as a mother and grandmother and widow. But fully as herself. As Beulah McArthur.


This fits the plot of THE ECHOES, set in 1928. The plot is driven by what really happened to Roger—Lily’s older brother and Beulah’s first-born child—during The Great War. From the previous three novels, we know that Roger died in France during the war, but not much more than that. In THE ECHOES, Roger’s friend, who is also a veteran, creates a memorial park dedicated to veterans, and specifically to Roger, set to open on July 4. But of course, murder and other mayhem ensues—partly because both Roger and Beulah have kept secrets from Lily that must now come to the surface.


I relished writing from Beulah’s point of view and developing her as a character who fully embraces her role of mother, but who has so many more aspects to her than that. And it was both challenging and fun to have mother-daughter co-narrators, and consider how they might have similar viewpoints on some topics, but very different viewpoints on others. All along, I’ve seen parts of myself in Lily, but also in Beulah.


I am also the mother of two adult daughters. Like Beulah, I’m very proud of my daughters. Unlike Beulah, I don’t worry about whether they’re doing what society “expects” of young women. But, again, like Beulah I sometimes do worry about the safety of my daughters.

I’ve learned that parental worry never fully subsides, no matter how competent one’s adult children are. Some of Beulah’s fussiness, therefore, comes from interactions I’ve had with my adult daughters! And yet, in addition to being proud of them, I’m also inspired by them, particularly their courage and confidence. In THE ECHOES, Lily comes to a greater understand of her Mama’s worries and concerns, but Beulah also comes to a greater appreciation of her daughter’s courage, skills, and accomplishments.

How about you? Did your mom—or a mom figure—have a strong influence on you?


Leave a comment, and one Jungle Red reader’s name will be drawn at random to receive a copy of THE ECHOES.


HANK: Again—we have an accidental THEME! So since we discussed mothers yesterday (what’re the odds?), let’s flip the question a bit and keep going:


Have you ever done something your mother would have been surprised about?

If you have daughters, have they ever done anything that surprised you?  

What’s one thing you learned from your mother?


What I learned from my mother: Don’t keep tomatoes in the fridge. (Though I do anyway.) It’s just as easy to comb your hair. And her clarion call: The world is not about YOU.


And remember,  one Jungle Red reader’s name will be drawn at random to receive a copy of THE ECHOES. (And if you haven't read the first three books--that's fine! You can start with this one. And then, I promise you will read the others!)




Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries, set in 1920s Appalachian Ohio and inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff. Under her given name, she writes the “Level Up Your Writing (Life)” column for Writer’s Digest. She was formerly a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News. She is a three-time recipient of the Individual Excellence Award in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council, a two-time recipient of the Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant, and has been a John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio). Jess lives in her native state of Ohio, where she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, swimming, baking, crocheting, and occasionally fishing and hiking. Learn more at