Sunday, May 22, 2022

What Rhys has been Doing

 RHYS BOWEN: My fellow Reds have suggested I share my recent exploits so here they are:

I've been busy during the last month. After two years of living as a hermit, going out with mask on to Trader Joe's I finally started traveling again--with much trepidation, I confess. I had a new book out, WILD IRISH ROSE, the 18th Molly Murphy novel, now written with my daughter Clare and I thought should introduce her to the writing community.

First we went to Albuquerque to attend Left Coast Crime convention. It was amazing to see friends after so long and Clare was warmly welcomed, given a panel appearance plus a chance to share the stage with me and discuss what it was like to work together. (Of course she had to be polite!)

Almost nobody wore a mask, which was a little intimidating, but we all had to be vaccinated so that should have been okay. I didn't hear about anyone testing positive afterward. We also had some lovely meals with fellow writers, but Albuquerque downtown was scary and dead, the hotel had just changed hands and there was NO FOOD TO BE HAD! All a bit chaotic.

Then our next adventure: we flew to Washington DC to attend Malice Domestic Convention at which I shared being Guest of Honor with fellow Red Julia. Again it was wonderful to be among friends. Louise Penny, one of my dearest friends, flew in from London to interview me. We had a fun dinner together and the interview was such a treat.









Louise even called Clare up onto the stage at the end which I thought was so sweet of her.   I also had to run the charity auction, with another friend, Charlene Harris. I had no idea how tiring this is! I was wiped out by the end, but we did raise a lot of money.

I also had to give a speech at the banquet and it was lovely to share a table with  Louise, Clare, our agent Christina and friends from the writing community including Kathy who had been a member of one of my writing workshops in Tuscany. (I also had to go up to accept my Agatha Award from last year, although there are no teapots yet, the firm having closed during Covid).


Clare announced that she had found her tribe and would be a convention junkie from now on!  She had to fly home from DC but I took the train to New York where I spent four days before the Edgar awards. During those days I toured the areas that Clare and I write about, taking lots of photos for her. I had lunch with an old friend, breakfast with fellow Red Lucy, meetings and meals with my agents and then a very grand dinner with my team from Lake Union. 




It all culminated in the Edgar's banquet. We had to show proof of vaccination and were given masks, but once inside the reception the masks all came off. So it was a little scary, knowing that people had come from all over the world. But I arrived home safely with no sniffles and a sigh of relief. (Oh, and I didn't win the Edgar but it was lovely to see my cover on huge screens around the room and to be photographed with the other nominees).





After that I needed to decompress. I was simply not used to getting dressed up, sharing meals with people, speaking at microphones--all skills I had to relearn.  I survived without getting Covid (although several people did test positive from the Malice convention, including some here). 

But no rest for the wicked, eh? On arriving home I had to clean the whole house, put away garden furniture etc before we drove back to our home in California. Now all I have to do is finish a book, do edits on another and then start the next Molly book with Clare. At least my life isn't boring any more!

How about you, Reds? Have you dared to travel yet? 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Very Different Type of Detective: a Guest Post by Harini Nagendra

 RHYS BOWEN: I was intrigued when Harini contacted me several months ago to read and blurb her new book. This is in a way familiar territory to me as my husband was for a long time sales manager for Air India, I have travelled all over India, including to Bangalore, where this book is set, and have close Indian friends. A book about an upper class Indian woman in the 1920s is fascinating for many reasons. I asked Harini what life was like for a woman in India at that time. How restricted was she? How could she possibly be a detective?

And here is her answer:

HARINI NAGENDRA:

In my day job as an academic and university professor, a great deal of my research is focused on the ecological history of Indian cities. In 2007, when the idea of the main character in my book – a feisty young Indian woman navigating colonial rule and societal expectations in 1920s Bangalore – came into my head, I was in my mother’s home, buried in a pile of digital archives. Old maps, photographs, gazettes, reports, ledger files, diaries, letters, biographies – volumes of good stuff. But all with one catch – almost all of them were written from the view of the British male traveler, missionary or administrator – with a few entertaining accounts from intrepid British women travelers.




Overall though, the voices of women in past times are fleeting, and the voices of Indian women almost completely absent in the colonial Indian archives. How is a writer to populate the characters of her world, in the absence of data? I found this lack of material to work with especially worrying – perhaps because I am so used to writing data-driven papers. Creating an entire book and a series out of thin air without real life information to base this on was intimidating!

I turned to my mother, and other relatives, to learn about the lives of women in earlier times. My husband’s aunt, now 96, went swimming in a sari in the local club’s swimming pool when she was young, in Madras/Chennai, and I know other women who did the same in the 1920s in Bangalore. So it was natural for me to put my protagonist, Kaveri, in a swimming pool in the opening scene. Kaveri swims with other young women during a time of day where the pool was reserved exclusively for the use of women, who could swim without fear of exposing themselves to strange men. This practice of reserving use of the pool and sports arenas for women at specific times is a common practice in India even today, and I knew I was unlikely to be wrong in assuming that such a convention existed in the 1920s.

Kaveri lives in a time when society dictated what women could and could not do, often enforced by other women. Her mother-in-law Bhargavi does not approve of Kaveri’s passion for mathematics, believing that too much studying makes a woman’s brains go soft. Contrast this with Kaveri’s grandmotherly neighbour Uma aunty, who always wanted to learn how to read and write, and is delighted when she learns that Kaveri is educated. Often, all it took was support from one family member, for a woman to flourish.

Ambi, a book by Vimala Murthy, documents the inspiring story of Amba Bai, Vimala’s grandmother. Married at 12 years, Ambi was widowed at the young age of 24, in 1913 – already a mother of three. With the support of her father, Ambi defied the disapproval of her mother to study further, becoming a teacher, and later Head Mistress of a girls’ high school. Sakamma was a well known coffee entrepreneur in Bangalore around the same time. A child bride, widowed early, Sakamma took over her husband’s large coffee estates. Sakamma was also one of the first women to join the Mysore Representative Assembly, in 1928 – until then the exclusive domain of men. In 1921, a woman journalist R. Kalyanamma launched Saraswati, a feminist magazine that tackled women’s issues like suffrage and child marriage. A child widow who never received a college education, Kalyanamma became a member of the Mysore University Senate, and founded a children’s association of learning that thrives even today.

The queens of Mysore State played a major role in women’s empowerment, establishing women’s schools and colleges and creating scholarships for women. But even the queens faced opposition from men in the education department, unable to establish a college of science for women in Bangalore for several years. And of course, education and empowerment was denied to so many women who did not have family support, like Uma aunty – as well as women from poor families, and from oppressed castes. Yet women, as we know, do not take subjugation lightly, or unquestioningly – they often found a way to work around societal challenges, and make things work for them, as best as they could!

From fragments of the stories of real women like Amba Bai, Sakamma and Kalyanamma, a writer must work to erect a scaffold of facts, around which imagination can take shape. If these women had not blazed the paths they did, we would not be able to do so much of what women take for granted today – from swimming in mixed-gender pools, to running industries, and contributing to university education!

 Book summary:

The Bangalore Detectives Club is the first in a charming, joyful crime series set in 1920s Bangalore, featuring sari-wearing detective Kaveri and her husband Ramu.

When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she's resigned herself to a quiet life. But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene.

When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman's mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn't as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband…

And she's going to need them all as the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition, and intrigue in Bangalore's darkest alleyways.

Bonus: A set of recipes for a quick, delicious south Indian meal at the end of the book!

RHYS: Definitely intriguing, isn't it? And a really good read too.

 

About the author:

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology from India, and has written a number of award-winning non-fiction books. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her debut crime fiction novel. Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes.r

Friday, May 20, 2022

Rhys on Traditions.

  RHYS BOWEN: We arrived home to California after the winter in Arizona and immediately started a big clearing out of closets and desks. Do I really need this? How many pens does John actually need? Why does he need to keep a flag from Sri Lanka? He is never going to fly it over our house (I hope).


This process has made me think of all the things we don’t use any longer. Jelly molds in the shape of a rabbit?  Uh no. Birthday candles (no. Buy when needed). Frosting in different colors (ditto). But it has also made me realize that the festive side of life seems to have disappeared. I bought a women’s magazine for the plane ride and it had all these wonderful ideas for Easter decorations–dying eggs, making centerpieces, cakes in the shape of a lamb or a rabbit etc etc.







Who does that any more? I did once dye eggs when the children were small, but I have never made a cake in the shape of a lamb, or made my own chocolate bunnies. Am I a failure as a mother, I wonder? (I did write a series of clues for each child to hunt for their Easter basket, and that went on to the grandchildren until they went away to college)


 On the whole our only celebration is a good meal for a birthday or holiday. The exception is Christmas when I do decorate the whole house. However I limit my baking to the traditional sausage rolls and mince pies. No more cookies or the Stollen I used to make. If I want baked goods, i’ll buy them.


In a way it’s sad that so many traditions are disappearing, simply because we don’t have enough time. Or is this just in America where we have all lost our roots? The Chinese community in San Francisco still has its famous festivals, so has the Latino with its Carnival. But being British we have no real holidays to celebrate:--the only one that comes to mind is Guy Fawkes Day and that's to celebrate the execution of the man who tried to blow up parliament. Hardly the most peaceful or joyous of occasions!

 

When I was a child they put up a maypole at my primary school on May 1 and we danced around it, weaving ribbons in and out. In England they still have village cricket matches, all the pomp and ceremony with the royal family, and village fetes in the summer, with booths selling baked goods and all the carnival games as well as races for children (egg and spoon race? Sack race?) They are a tradition in most villages still.  


I wonder if there will be parades again, this Fourth of July, which is as close to a holiday celebration as we get around here. I always enjoyed the local parades with decorated bicycles and cub scouts marching out of rhythm. We may have a family picnic. I may even buy red, white and blue plates and there might be fireworks. 


So who still celebrates holidays in a big way? Who still has family traditions? Do you think that most of these will be lost forever?


LUCY BURDETTE: I hope they won’t all be lost Rhys! Seems like some have gone to the wayside because our society is less formal than it used to be. Possibly less church-oriented too.  Growing up, we always had fancy meals with the same dishes for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving. Now our holidays are much more relaxed. Probably part of it is because our family isn’t close by, and the kids are grown. They carry on some of the traditions for their kids–Christmas stockings, Easter baskets…

As for me, I’m still baking all kinds of things! (I’ll happily take and use your birthday candles, Rhys.) And I know our town will have a 4th of July parade–it’s very charming and very well attended and we wouldn’t miss it.



 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, it’s such a process, and doesn’t it depend a bit on whether there are children? Here in New England, July 4th is adorable, I have to  say. We love going to the LIncoln town parade, where they have marching moms and veterans, and junior high school bands and dogs and haywagons and old-fashioned firetrucks, and lots of proud veterans.  And lots of happy kids and dripping ice cream cones And the fireworks on the Esplanade, with the 1812 Overture and  booming cannons. Not to be missed. And ooh, I always have birthday candles.  Those things are markers, no matter how we celebrate.


JENN McKINLAY: I bake a bunny cake every year for Easter, and birthday cake upon request. At Christmas I am in a frenzy of baking cookies, usually. But there is a shift when the children get older. 


On the Hooligans’ birthdays, from the time they were little, I would decorate the house with streamers, a huge Happy Birthday sign and balloons, and while they were sleeping I would barricade their bedroom doorway with streamers and balloons so they had to bust their way out. So fun! But now they’ve moved out and we’re empty nesters…*sigh*

I think traditions just shift and change with the family. Although, if the Hooligans have kids, I really hope they barricade their bedroom doors, too, and keep the tradition going! 


HALLIE EPHRON: We did more when the kids were little. There had to be a homemade chocolate cake with chocolate icing decorated with nonpareils for each birthday. We colored easter eggs and ate chocolate bunnies even though we don’t celebrate Easter. My kids and grands troop over to watch the marathon runners when they race through Brooklyn and find a spot to watch July 4 fireworks, from a distance. At Christmas I make chocolate-covered orange rind and chocolate turtles. And we have our special dishes that I’m happy to make to celebrate special occasions.

We’ve all got our own traditions, some more elaborate and public than others. I remember being in London on Remembrance Day and having no idea why people were wearing poppies.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Agreed about things calming way down after the children are grown. And let’s face it - all the baking and decorating and sign making and basket hiding: who is doing that? Women, that’s who. Tired women who just want a break after making holidays magical for 25 years. I love my family tradition of huge dinner parties on Christmas and Easter (and every third Thanksgiving) but honestly, it was nice to not have them during the past two years. 


Like Jenn, I hope and expect my kids will revamp our earlier celebrations when they get around to having their own children. I’ll show up with chocolate in a stocking/basket and enjoy admiring my daughters’ and

daughter in law’s hard work.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never been much for holiday baking, and I think I can safely say I've never made a proper birthday cake. I somehow seem to have missed the gene, much I'm sure to my daughter's disappointment. I'm very fond of some of the traditions we do have, but most of those have really fallen by the wayside in the pandemic. We went out for both Easter and Mother's Day brunch this year, and that's a new tradition I'd be happy to continue–no one having to spend hours in the kitchen!


RHYS: I agree, Debs. Nothing that involves hours in the kitchen for me! But Hank is right about needing to have children around for traditions to be meaningful.

So who does carry on family traditions? Bunny cakes?


Thursday, May 19, 2022

What's In a Name? A Guest Post by Sara Paretsky

RHYS BOWEN:  When Hank asked me if I had room for a post by Sara Paretsky the answer was 
DUH! Who wouldn't make room for the fabulous one? She's been my idol for years, not only for her ground-breaking PI series but also for founding Sisters in Crime and giving us female authors a voice and a presence in what was a male-dominated world. 

So I'm really excited Sara has a new book out and I know you are too. Welcome, Sara:


SARA PARETSKY:
 
It’s not so easy to name a book. If you’re writing domestic fiction, you don’t want to call your novel, Blood Spatter. If you’re writing noirishly, Murder at the Homesick Restaurant misses the mark.
I called my first book, Indemnity Only. I was working in the insurance industry at the time and the plot centered on Workers’ Compensation fraud. In workers comp, “indemnity only” means the worker died on the job and the insurance company pays out a death claim (after suitably fighting with the bereaved family over whether the worker caused her/his/their own death through carelessness and therefore the employer and the insurer aren’t liable – but that’s another novel altogether. In fact, my tenth, Total Recall.)
Deadlock seemed perfect for my second novel, where a Great Lakes freighter is blown up in the Sault Ste. Marie locks.

After that, my editors felt my market presence, fledgling though it was, was marked by two-word titles, preferably with a double meaning. Sometimes I have the title before I even write the first sentence, but often I name my baby long after the final draft is with my editor.

Overboard, my new novel, was originally called Double Dirty.  One of my friends used to drive trucks for a Mob-connected firm when he was in high school. He loved hanging out with the guys, and one of the things the guys did was play a roving crap game underneath Chicago’s bridges. It’s not straight out of Guys and Dolls; Guys and Dolls is straight out of the street life of the American city.

These roving games go back almost two centuries. It’s kind of quaint that in the age of the Net, you can still find action underneath the Chicago Avenue bridge if you know when to look for it.
Around 1900, when immigration into American cities was at its peak, old hands liked to fleece newbies using loaded dice. They called the fixed game “the double dirty.” I thought it was perfect for Overboard, which deals with the way modern corporations put in the fix, so that the ordinary person is always playing against megacorps who use loaded dice.


Unfortunately, a title check turned up 10 books already named Double Dirty. These were all extremely raunchy porn. One even involved horses, at least as far as I could tell from the cover art. On the one hand, I could have grown my market in new directions. On the other, I would have spent months fielding angry letters from readers: I bought your Double Dirty and it had no instances of..…  Well, you fill in the blanks. In the fashion of today’s angry letter writer, many paragraphs of insults would follow, attacking me for not knowing what I was talking about when I wrote the novel.

Overboard sounds genteel, almost Austen-like in contrast. It refers to the overly emotional state many of the characters exhibit and, very literally, to the multiple dunkings characters have in the foul waters of the Chicago river. No horses are involved.
What are some of your favorite book titles? And why?

Short Bio
Sara's first book, INDEMNITY ONLY, was published in 1982. A perennial bestseller, she was named 2011 Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and is the winner of numerous awards, including the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association and the CWA Gold Dagger. Not only has Paretsky's work broken barriers, she has also helped open doors for other women. In 1986 she created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to support women crime writers, which earned her Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. She has received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from several different universities. Sara has also done a great deal of work with and for organizations that advocate for those on society’s margins, and in addition to her novels, Sara has written numerous short stories and three works of nonfiction. OVERBOARD is the 22nd in Sara's beloved V.I. Warshawski series.

Links

OVERBOARD

Legendary detective V.I. Warshawski uncovers a nefarious conspiracy preying on Chicago's weak and vulnerable, in this thrilling novel from New York Times bestseller Sara Paretsky.

On her way home from an all-night surveillance job, V.I. Warshawski is led by her dogs on a mad chase that ends when they discover a badly injured teen hiding in the rocks along Lake Michigan. The girl only regains consciousness long enough to utter one enigmatic word. V.I. helps bring her to a hospital, but not long after, she vanishes before anyone can discover her identity. As V.I. attempts to find her, the detective uncovers an ugly consortium of Chicago powerbrokers and mobsters who are prepared to kill the girl. And now V.I.’s own life is in jeopardy as well.

Told against the backdrop of a city emerging from its pandemic lockdown, Overboard lays bare the dark secrets and corruption buried in Chicago’s neighborhoods in masterly fashion.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Location, Location, Location: A Guest Post by Mary Keliikoa

RHYS BOWEN:  We have a plethora of fabulous guests this week! Today's guest, Mary Keliikoa, is writing about the importance of location in her novels--a subject dear to my heart as location is the driving force behind so many of my own books.  Mary reinforces how important it is to know a place well to bring it to life for the reader. I so completely agree!

MARY KELIIKOA:  They say to write what you know, and when deciding where to place my novels, I’ve taken that to heart. I was born in Portland, Oregon and spent many years living in the suburbs—horses, cows, and sheep were part of my everyday experience. As was bucking hay in the summer or walking quiet country roads to and from my friend’s house after school.


As an adult, I spent early mornings and late nights on buses, in and out of downtown Portland where I worked at a law firm. So, when it came time to pen the first novel in the PI Kelly Pruett series, setting it in Portland and the surrounding area felt like the right choice.

One could say that a city is a city. Highrise buildings, public transportation, the hum of people on every street corner. That’s true to some extent, but I’ve found each city carries the distinctive vibe and pulse of the souls who fill it.

Portland has a laid back, grab a cup of coffee or a microbrew, and let’s hang kind of vibe. Preferably at an outdoor cafĂ© with your dog curled at your feet. The Japanese Gardens are a sight to behold with their cherry blossoms in spring. Council Crest has its twinkling and spectacular view of the city below. The bluish green and sometimes brown Willamette River flows toward the Columbia River, and then to the Pacific Ocean beyond. The park fronting the river is often filled with a mixture of joggers, or women in dresses and tennis shoes out for their lunchtime walk and talk.

Yet what I love most about the city as a crime fiction writer is that it has many facets that are anything but beautiful or chill.

Atmosphere is one of those facets. I know what it feels like to stand and wait for a bus in the pouring rain on Fifth Avenue, lights shimmering off the puddled pavement, and side-eyeing anyone who doesn’t look like they came from a professional office. More than once my pulse quickened at an approaching stranger, and I took a step more fully into the light or out of the confines of the shelter despite the certainty of being drenched. I know what it feels like to have the MAX train whiz past, flicking my bangs, or the screech of the wheels as it came to a stop, conjuring a slew of bad case scenarios in my mind. Or the sound of the bus sighing as it released its air brakes—as if it just dodged a bullet itself.

I know what it feels like to jog down a quiet alley after leaving a bar a little later than recommended. To find my car the only one in a parking garage…on the fourth floor. The echo of my footsteps as I sprint to it, the sound of the car alarm disengaging as I draw closer, its high shrill echoing off the walls, and my heart ricocheting until the engine turns.

I know the smell of a stairway used for more than just traversing from one floor to the next. And to pass a group of homeless camped out on the sidewalk. I also know what it feels like to pass money to someone who needs it more than I do. Or to hand a bagged lunch to a desperate mother and child.

I know all of that from the place where I grew up—Portland. And when it comes time to write those scenes in my novels where paranoia, concern, fear, and empathy are needed, I draw upon that well of emotion to make the scene real.

Write what you know…. I know Portland. It’s dark and shady, and its bright and shiny. Two sides of the same coin.


I write what I know not only in DECEIVED, the most recent installment in my Kelly Pruett mystery series, but also in my upcoming novel HIDDEN PIECES, which is set at the Oregon coast. Now that’s a location that has a beautiful peaceful side, and yet a creepy atmosphere. It’s also where I spent some of my earliest years. Moss hanging off sentinel trees. Breath mixing with the oppressive mist. Long-abandoned World War II structures crumbling with decay. History. A personality all its own—but let’s leave that for another article.

What emotion and memories stir in the location you know well? 


About the author:

Mary Keliikoa is the author of the Shamus finalist and Lefty, Agatha, and Anthony award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, as well as the upcoming Misty Pines mystery series featuring Sheriff Jax Turner slated for release in September 2022. She has had mystery shorts published in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s. She spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates twisting mysteries where justice prevails. At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is. To learn more about Mary’s life and work, please visit: https://marykeliikoa.com/


About the book:

In Mary Keliikoa’s acclaimed Kelly Pruett Mystery series, a grieving single mother inherits her late father’s PI business, and begins tackling mysteries on her own, leading her into dangerous territory. Following the success of series debut, “Derailed” (2020) and sequel “Denied” (2021), Keliikoa is releasing another installment in the compelling mystery series, which has been praised as “satisfying” (Foreword Clarion) and “enjoyably knotty” (Kirkus).


In the third book, “Deceived” (Camel Press, May 10, 2022), Kelly finally feels like she’s coming into her own. With her personal life well on track, a gig uncovering what drove a client’s granddaughter underground could be good for business. But after her undercover operation at the homeless shelter reveals rampant drug dealing, she's suddenly kicked off the case... just as another girl goes missing.


Can Kelly stop a brutal killer in their tracks before the body count rises?


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A HALF-WRITTEN MANUSCRIPT, A JELLYFISH, AND ME. A guest post by Lindsey J. Palmer.

RHYS BOWEN:  Who could not love a post with such an irresistible title? I'm thrilled to welcome Lindsey to Jungle Reds today and to celebrate the pub week of her brilliant new book, RESERVATIONS FOR SIX. 


LINDSEY J. PALMER:  A half-written manuscript, a jellyfish, and me 

It took 800 miles of distance and a jellyfish sting to realize it was time to give up on the novel I'd been toiling over for the past year. Things had been going poorly for a while, as much as I denied it. This was my fourth novel, and I reassured myself that it was expected for me to hit rough patches. I continued dutifully showing up to my Saturday morning writing sessions—although on Fridays, as most people were breathing a sigh of relief for the weekend, my stomach would be in knots, dreading facing that damn document. And the pages kept piling up: 50, 100, 150—halfway to a draft, I tried to encourage myself, even as deep down I knew I'd lost confidence in the story. 

And the longer I kept up the charade, I understood, the harder it would be to abandon. When I gave myself the Mother's Day gift of skipping my writing session for a yoga class, I rationalized that I deserved a break—I don't enjoy writing, I often say, I enjoy having written; but as I lay in savasana alone with my thoughts, I knew this wasn't about a break; it was avoidance. 



All I needed, I thought, was a change of scenery. I've often done my best writing on vacation—no day job to occupy my brain, no alarm clock interrupting that rich soup of early-morning ideas. Luckily, I had a trip planned—a weeklong family reunion with my in-laws on Hilton Head Island. My husband, Damian, was already in the area for work, so I'd be flying down from New York alone with our toddler. When I considered the logistics—one arm to push a stroller, the other to manage our luggage—I knew I could bring only one suitcase. 

So, I streamed a series of flight attendant how-to videos on efficient packing, then set about trying to cram a week's worth of essentials for me and my daughter into a carryon: clothes, toiletries, beach things, and of course, my laptop. Each round of elimination, I eyed the laptop case. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind—because that would be admitting defeat, an acknowledgment that I wouldn't actually spend the coming week in a productive frenzy. So, I removed a few more outfits and a wad of diapers (I could buy some in Hilton Head), topped my brimming suitcase with the laptop case, somehow managed to zip the thing closed, and set off for South Carolina. Upon arrival, I unpacked my laptop into my room’s bottom dresser drawer, and—this will come as a surprise to exactly no one—there it remained for the duration of the trip. 

Meanwhile, I had a grand old time. We were sharing a condo with Damian’s two sisters and their husbands, the so-called “JV team”; there were six kids in their family, and the three older siblings were dubbed “varsity.” We beached, we cooked, we hung out at Damian's brother Pete’s house and watched alligators pass by in the lagoon. Once, in search of my elusive goggles, I cracked that bottom dresser drawer and felt my belly lurch; I quickly closed it again. In the morning hours when I might have been writing, I instead swam laps in the ocean. The turquoise water beckoned—so clear and so temperate compared to the frigid New England waters I was used to. The repetition of strokes was meditative and exhilarating. I’d been a high school swimmer, and during those morning swims I felt connected to my teenage self, when the water had been transportive, making me feel strong and free, long before I began measuring my worth by word count. And then—sting! I was returned in a snap to the present. My hands burned and itched. I didn't register what had happened until I saw the strange translucent bells undulating around me. I fled to shore. Pete, who'd lived on Hilton Head for decades, asked if I really hadn’t known there were jellyfish out there. Well, it looked so idyllic, I answered lamely, gesturing to the winking turquoise surface. Pete laughed goodheartedly. I’d chosen to see what I wanted to see, and of course things were not as they seemed. 

In search of a first-aid kit, I opened that bottom dresser drawer again. It seemed to stare back at me: the abandoned laptop. My skin was on fire, like an alarm sounding off in my body. What was I doing keeping up this pretense of my novel in progress? It wasn’t working, and it was time to accept it. Luckily, the cannonball jellyfish is one of the tamer species. I endured a few days of discomfort, and then I was fine. Shit happens, then you move on. As soon as I realized I wouldn't continue with the novel, I felt lighter, clearer, more attuned to my surroundings. I started paying attention to what was going on in this house: our group of six (plus my daughter), the three siblings and their spouses, the three couples who'd been together a decade or longer, such a close group with so much shared history. 

The next night at dinner, my sister-in-law announced that she and her husband were separating. She opened up about their marriage, and I was struck by how ordinary it sounded: the problems she outlined were similar to the struggles I’d heard about from married friends, similar to ones I’d experienced in my own marriage. It made me consider how maybe a solid relationship was a matter of degree, things being fine until they weren’t, endurable until they weren’t, and how different couples might draw different lines. 

I watched everyone at the table take in the news, perhaps mulling similar thoughts, for sure knowing that this familiar dynamic among the six of us was over. The end of one marriage would have a ripple effect, also spelling the end to our tight-knit group. I didn’t go back in the ocean. The next morning, I woke up, retrieved my neglected laptop, and started typing notes for what would become Reservations for Six: three marriages, six longtime friends, the announcement of a divorce. A year later, I’d written a draft. A year after that, I had a publisher. Six more months, and I held a physical copy of the novel in my hands, which had long ago recovered from the jellyfish incident. But I didn’t forget the shock of the sting, and its reminder to see what was plain in front of my face, to summon the courage to acknowledge what wasn’t working, slough it off, and move on. Like my sister-in-law had done with her marriage. And I did start swimming in the ocean again—in Cape Cod, where I’ve recently moved, where I like to pretend the waters aren’t teeming with great white sharks. 


A little delusion can be a good thing, I tell myself, or maybe I’ve learned nothing. I’ve also started writing a new novel, and honestly, I’m not really sure how it’s going. Have you ever had a sudden realization that shook you out of your denial? Answer in the comments for a chance to win a copy of Reservations for Six.


RHYS: Lindsey, I loved this post. I know the book is going to resonate with so many people Here's to a great launch week.

Lindsey J. Palmer is a writer, editor, and educator. She is the author of four novels, RESERVATIONS FOR SIX, OTHERWISE ENGAGED, IF WE LIVED HERE, and PRETTY IN INK. She worked in the magazine industry for many years, most recently as Features Editor at Self, and previously at Redbook and Glamour. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she earned a Master of Arts in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and taught A.P. Literature and Creative Writing at a Manhattan public school for several years. Nowadays she’s a senior editor at BrainPOP, an animated educational site for kids, which means she spends her days researching topics as diverse as Alan Turing, Juneteenth, and Mindfulness, and then translating what she’s learned into an engaging, narrative format. Lindsey lives on Cape Cod with her husband and daughter. 


Here's the synopsis:
Reservations for Six captures a decade-long tradition among a tight-knit group of friends: On everyone's birthday, the three couples gather to celebrate at their favorite New England restaurant. Nathan is the first to turn 40, and when the cake arrives, he makes a shocking announcement. The birthday ritual, and the relationships, will never be the same again. Confessions follow, and secrets get revealed. One couple's crumbling marriage forces the other couples to reexamine their own marriages, and the fault lines that lurk beneath. Will their bonds be strong enough to survive issues like infidelity, infertility, and waning passion, plus a series of crises that push each relationship to the brink? The answers may prove surprising. A year after Nathan's big declaration, as the group gathers for the year's final birthday celebration, every person and every relationship will be fundamentally changed.

And here are links:
You can find me at lindseyjpalmer.com, www.facebook.com/lindseyjpalmerauthor, and as @lindseyjpalmer on Instagram and Twitter.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Coincidence?

 RHYS BOWEN: Have you noticed that reviewers love to point out that you have coincidences in your books, as if this is some kind of failing? There is a coincidence, or maybe two coincidences in the book I am just finishing: ISLAND OF LOST BOYS. I expect reviewers to point this out. I don’t care. The coincidence had to happen to reward the characters for what they have been through. I couldn’t leave them with a bleak, depressing end to their story.

And real life is full of coincidences, isn’t it? Some of them quite amazing. When I was a teenager, going up to London to drama school, there was a horrific train crash on the line I would have taken. I was stuck in London and ended up walking home, fourteen miles in dense fog. That was the drama, not the coincidence. The latter was the number of people who told me that their father usually took that train, but for some reason was held up at work that night. So many lives saved by the smallest twist of fate.


Since then I have been amazed at chance meetings all over the world. My daughter was standing at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin when she heard a voice behind her she thought she recognized. Turned around and it was my next door neighbor’s mother!.   We were entering a temple in Candy, Sri Lanka, when a group of people came out, including two friends from Marin. We hadn’t know they were in Sri Lanka!  Recently we were in France and I started up a conversation with an English couple and… he went to the same school as John. Knew all the same teachers. 

And the most amazing coincidence of all:  Our first house was up for sale. It was a charming little cottage but suddenly too small for us with the arrival of a third child. A couple was hiking up our hill, saw the For Sale sign and came in to look around. They loved the house and bought it. A year later they had a baby girl–Gracie. I held her in my arms when she was two days old.  Fast forward about thirty years. A woman came up to me at a convention and introduced herself as the head of Thomas and Mercer. Gracie Doyle. Yes, THAT Gracie I had held when she was two days old! And I was just about to be published by Lake Union, a sister Amazon publishing house.  I sit with her at conventions. She came to New York to share in the celebration when I was nominated for the Edgar for THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK.



So I’m not sure of the dividing line between coincidence and fate. Karma. Destiny. If you believe in this, there is no coincidence, only what was destined to happen, so the reviewers have nothing to complain about, right?  So Reds, have there been amazing coincidences in your life? Have you ever used coincidence in a story? Got criticized for it? And readers, does coincidence in a story annoy you?

HANK: Rhys, I just GASPED. That is incredible! Whoa. Well, let’s see. Recently, I was doing a session in The Back Room, and one of the panelists was the fabulous Canadian Bestseller Samantha Bailey. In the 20 questions round, I asked another panelist, the brilliant Nita Prose (!!)  where  she’d grown up, and whether that affected her writing. She said she’d grown up in such a rural part of Canada that her address was only Rural Route 2.

So I laughed, and said that I had grown up in rural Indiana, and that MY address was only Rural Route 2, and so clearly that meant we were  neighbors. Ha ha.

Then Samantha Bailey (who is from Toronto) added that, such a coincidence, she had gone to summer camp in Indiana as a kid at a camp that was on Rural Route 2. 

I said: Union Camp? 

And she said yes! How did you know that?

And I said: Union Camp was right across the street from my house. And moreover, I WENT TO THAT SUMMER CAMP, TOO! 

What are the odds?

(And coincidence in a story? Oh, I guess it depends on whether I notice at the time.)

HALLIE EPHRON: Real life is full of coincidences. So is crime fiction. Isn’t there an Agatha Christie short story about a guy who walks out of a barber shop and passes his doppelganger going in? Turns out…. You guessed it, it’s the twin brother he never knew he had.

In my own writing, I like it best when something that *looks like* a coincidence turns out to have been engineered. Then it packs a double surprise. 

RHYS: Hallie, I don't think I would dare to bring off the unknown twin brother story!

LUCY BURDETTE: The strangest story I ever heard from my family: A commuter train crashed near my grandparents’ home in New Jersey. An official came to the door to tell my grandmother that her husband, Charles Isleib, had been killed. However, my grandfather, another Charles Isleib, was already home!

Oh my, now I’m getting story ideas based on that crazy coincidence…who was that second guy? (Trust me, there aren’t a lot of Isleibs floating around, so this was truly weird.)

And yes, reviewers do love to point out coincidences in books. By then it’s too late to do anything about it anyway:). Hopefully my writers group would point these out as I’m writing along, and also hopefully, I’d figure out a way to make the scenes more believable.

JENN McKINLAY: “I don’t believe in coincidence.” Isn’t that what the detectives alway say? I try to be very careful with coincidences in my stories - Hallie’s twist is genius. I don’t know if I’m just trying too hard but I can’t think of any weird coincidences in my life except for one. 

It was the middle of the night and a man called my apartment (this was pre cell phones), waking me up. He was clearly tipsy and he asked for Jenn. 

I said, “Speaking.” 

He said, “This is Mike.” 

Well, Mike was my college boyfriend, who I went back and forth with for four years - a very overwrought relationship - so I was dumbfounded. 

“It’s the middle of the night,” I said. “And I’m three hours behind you.” 

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You live across town.”

“Where are you calling from?” I asked.

“St Louis,” he said.

Then I started laughing. I had never been to St Louis in my life. This was a different Mike drunk dialing a different Jenn. When I explained it to him, he laughed, too. 

I’ve always thought it would be a great opener to a book…hmmm.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jenn, now I'll be waiting for you to work that into a story! I can't think of any big real life coincidences that have happened to me, but I do believe they happen. There's a fine line in fiction. I've used a small one just for fun in my latest book, but I don't think I'd use coincidence to solve a mystery.

RHYS: Don't you love these amazing stories? So, dear readers--how do you feel about coincidence in a book you are reading? And who has an amazing coincidence to share in their own life?

Sunday, May 15, 2022

It Began With A Song



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Let’s do an experiment. Let’s see how you like the first sentence of this synopsis. Raise your hand if you are swooning with delight, and cannot wait to read it.

What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke remains a mystery, but the women who descended from Eleanor Dare have long known that the truth lies in what she left behind: a message carved onto a large stone and the contents of her treasured commonplace book.

I knew it! I see everyone’s hands!


Wow.  IN THE LOST BOOK OF ELEANOR DARE, The fabulous and brilliant Kimberly Brock has drawn on a story we all know and have all wondered about (right?), and has drawn on the (fictional) story of a young woman at the end of World War Two who gets the deed to an abandoned family home called Evertell.

(How totally hooked are you now? Yup, I see all your raised hands again.)

And today, Kimberly tells us how she has also drawn on…music.


Your Mother Called You Something Sweet
      By Kimberly Brock

When I began to imagine Eleanor’s Tale, the fable that has been passed down through sixteen generations of Eleanor Dare’s descendants, I knew the most important thing would be to tell a story that would have somehow mattered to each of the women in her line. 

I began with the scant few facts I knew of Eleanor herself, but I had to imagine so much for the women who followed her and as I wrote, the story became a patchwork of what might have been, what they hoped and dreamed for her, for themselves, for their own daughters. I was writing a story for a ghost, for all lost girls, leaving a trail of proverbial breadcrumbs that I hoped would help us all find our way home in one way or another.

That’s when I first heard a song that struck at the heart of the novel I’d worked on for almost six years. The title of the song was Fulton County Jane Doe. The artist was the incomparable Brandi Carlile.

If you’ve never heard the song, it was written for an unidentified woman, sadly given the placeholder name of Jane Doe. All her stories were lost. Even her name. If you know the history of the Dare Stones, the obscure and incredible history that connects my state of Georgia to the Lost Colony of Roanoke, then you know that the story engraved on the rocks found between 1937 and 1942 claim that Eleanor Dare died in a cave in Fulton County, Georgia, the county where I now live. Another woman whose name and stories have been lost to history, lost to Fulton County, Georgia. Until now. Could that be you, Eleanor? Could that be me, I wondered?


The parallels in this song’s story raised the hair on my head. I played it over and over again. I would drive and lose myself in the lyrics and melody. It haunted my dreams. I recognized a truth in these two very separate works of art that rang out like a declaration and it made me cry. She was here. She was here.

That simple fact was important enough that I spent years trying to capture it in this novel and here it was so beautifully encapsulated in a song. To me, it seems like a kind of message from something greater than myself, something in the ether that needs to be expressed about women’s stories, our value, our history and how love means we are never lost if we’ll name one another something sweet.

I listened to that song for inspiration, for confirmation, for sisterhood and because it spoke to everything I was trying to express in my own work, maybe in my own life. And I believe it made my novel stronger, more focused. I believe it was a gift to me in ways that Brandi Carlile could never have expected. She put a song into the world and it found me. It makes me hope that maybe that message will find others in the reading of The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare, and even this little essay. She was here. We were here. She had a name. She was loved.

Do you find inspiration in the work of other artists? Do you feel connections to a greater story in your own work?

HANK: Oh, what a wonderful question…and here is a link to that song again. Have you ever heard it? 

What do you say to Kimberly's question, Reds and readers?




Kimberly Brock is the bestselling author of The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare and The River Witch. She is the founder of Tinderbox Writers Workshop and has served as a guest lecturer for many regional and national writing workshops including at the Pat Conroy Literary Center. She lives near Atlanta with her husband and three children.







The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare

The fate of the world is often driven by the curiosity of a girl.

What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke remains a mystery, but the women who descended from Eleanor Dare have long known that the truth lies in what she left behind: a message carved onto a large stone and the contents of her treasured commonplace book. Brought from England on Eleanor’s fateful voyage to the New World, her book was passed down through the fifteen generations of daughters who followed as they came of age. Thirteen-year-old Alice had been next in line to receive it, but her mother’s tragic death fractured the unbroken legacy and the Dare Stone and the shadowy history recorded in the book faded into memory. Or so Alice hoped.

In the waning days of World War II, Alice is a young widow and a mother herself when she is unexpectedly presented with her birthright: the deed to Evertell, her abandoned family home and the history she thought forgotten. Determined to sell the property and step into a future free of the past, Alice returns to Savannah with her own thirteen-year-old daughter, Penn, in tow. But when Penn’s curiosity over the lineage she never knew begins to unveil secrets from beneath every stone and bone and shell of the old house and Eleanor’s book is finally found, Alice is forced to reckon with the sacrifices made for love and the realities of their true inheritance as daughters of Eleanor Dare.

In this sweeping tale from award-winning author Kimberly Brock, the answers to a real-life mystery may be found in the pages of a story that was always waiting to be written.