Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Hallie's rant... put a leash on it!


FANFARE: Announcing the winner of Emmeline Duncan's FLAT WHITE FATALITY is yesterday's commenter *Denise* - Denise, please contact Emmeline (Kelly) at to let her know where to send your book. Congratulations!

HALLIE EPHRON: Today’s my day for a rant…

Yesterday morning (a gorgeous spring day so clear it made New England feel like Southern California) I took a walk in the woods. It’s spring and we were looking for pink 
lady slippers that bloom early in the spring at the base of trees and listening for birds. (This flower photo is one I took last year -- turns out this year we were too late to catch the lady slippers.)

I recently put an app, MERLIN, on my phone that listens for bird calls and tells you what it’s hearing. There was a tufted titmouse, a red-bellied woodpecker, red-winged blackbirds, a pine warbler, a Baltimore oriole, blue jays, warbling vireos, gray catbirds, plus robins and more robins. A bounteous array.

There were also dogs. 

Turns out an awful lot of people use the hiking trails to walk their dogs, especially in the morning. Understandable since this area is in the middle of my suburban town with homes backing up to its many wooded acres on all sides.

Now I’m not a dog person. And big dogs scare me. So when a group of 5 women walking a pack of dogs off leash came toward us, I moved to the side of the path. Which did not deter the dogs which came racing up to us, barking. 

One of them reared up on its hind legs and slobbered in my face. It was as tall as I am and could easily have knocked me over. I can still smell its breath.

What bothers me isn’t the dog’s behavior. It’s the women’s. Not one of them paused to ask if I was okay, or apologize, or even just call off the dog. They just continued on their merry way and left me physically shaken and in shock. So much so that a day later I'm moved to rant about it.

So here are my questions. Is it reasonable to expect owners to control their dogs on hiking trails? Are dog owners blissfully unaware of the effect their (large, unleashed, out of control) dog can have on others? What should I do (or say) next time a large, unleashed dog (and unleashed owner) comes at me on a hiking trail?

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Emmeline Duncan and her GROUND RULES to Portland, Oregon #bookgiveaway


HALLIE EPHRON: Today we're delighted to welcome Emmeline Duncan, author of the Ground Rules series set in one of my favorite cities, Portland, Oregon. (She also writes young adult novels as Kelly Garrett -- her debut YA (THE LAST TO DIE), was an Oregon Book Awards finalist.)

Emmeline is here to talk about her third Ground Rules mystery novel: FLAT WHITE FATALITY. (The series began with in 2021 with FRESH BREWED MURDER and 2022's DOUBLE SHOT DEATH.)

Coffee. Portland. "Tips on coffee and a touch of romance combine in a mystery with a strong West Coast vibe." (Kirkus Review) What's not to like?!

EMMELINE DUNCAN: When I started writing my Ground Rules mystery series, I wanted to do was showcase the Portland I know and love. My series is set around a coffee cart and food cart pod, which you can find all over the city.
Even Portland dogs, like Emmeline's Waylon, have opinions about coffee.
But I wanted more Portland.
More quirkiness.
More local flavor.

Luckily, I just had to look around me for inspiration.

For example, while writing Flat White Fatality, I was inspired by the time I walked into a bar and found myself surrounded by pirates singing sea shanties. It turned out they had negotiated an agreement with the owner: they'd only sign two songs per night. Which made me wonder: what was the bar like before this arrangement when they'd sung all night? Clearly, the pirates needed to make an appearance in a book.

Another time, a writer friend and I walked into a patisserie and found ourselves amongst about thirty women all dressed up as dolls. Their costumes and makeup were impressive—any self-respecting cosplayer would've asked them for tips. 

So clearly, this group needed to make a pivotal appearance in one of the books!
Portland from Burnside Bridge. Cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to go for a walk on the Portland waterfront. Fun fact: once upon a time, this park was a highway!]

In Double Shot Death, Pickathon, a real-life eco-music festival on a tree farm on the outskirts of Portland, inspired my setting. Although I took the concept and changed it to work within the confines of my novel.

While writing the rough draft, my agent sent me an email after Caesar the No Drama Llama, a local celebrity of sorts, made the national news and said he hoped Caesar would make an appearance. I replied immediately to let him know I'd already worked a fictionalized version of the llama into the story! 

Although in my novel, the llama wears a top hat, and he’s not named Caesar. In Caesar’s real life, with volunteer visits to schools, nursing homes, and similar events, he doesn’t wear clothing. And in case you're wondering, Caesar was not trained to be a therapy llama—he's just a naturally chill dude who doesn't react to loud stimuli, lets kids hug him, and naturally poses for cameras. In short, he's a natural no-drama llama. Double Shot Death has a few other local references, but the llama is my favorite.

These moments of levity add depth of setting to the book and also provide a counterbalance for the times I mention grittier issues, like homelessness and gentrification. 

Because while my book is cozy, it acknowledges the realities of living in a city, even if the camera angle doesn't spend time dwelling in darkness. And some of the series' inspiration, like the Suspended Coffee board at the coffee cart, is based on an actual program that encourages customers to pre-buy coffee or food items for someone down on their luck to claim later. 

So if you visit Portland, there’s a decent chance you’ll drop by Powell’s (and please be aware the downtown location’s coffee shop is now run by Guilder, a local coffee roaster and café with a Princess Bride theme). If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see a group of witches stand-up paddle boarding in the Willamette River (after all, everyone needs exercise!) Or catch a glimpse of the Unipiper as he glides by. (The Unipiper is a man who rides a unicycle while playing the bagpipes . . . in costume. Darth Vader is one of his favorites.)

If you could walk into a bar or coffee shop and find a group of enthusiasts, whom would you like to come across?

HALLIE: We are such big fans of Powell's here on Jungle Red! Great bookstore. Surrounded by a great city.

Emmeline will be giving away a copy of FLAT WHITE FATALITY to one of today's lucky commenters... so pile on, let us know whom you'd like to come across if you walked into a bar of coffee shop to find a grup of enthusiasts...

About Emmeline Duncan: Like her Ground Rules Mystery series, Emmeline Duncan is based in Portland, Oregon. Her series includes Fresh Brewed Murder, Double Shot Death, and Flat White Fatality, which came out on May 23rd. You can track her online at

About Flat White Fatality
To top off her coffee business, Sage is now helping out with her boyfriend Bax’s gaming company. Conveniently for Sage, it’s located next door to her Ground Rules Roastery. That makes it easy for her to pitch in with Bax’s employee team-building event. The plan is to boost morale with a scavenger hunt. And it seems to be going well—until Robbie, a programmer known for being a prankster, turns up dead in Sage’s roastery . . .

There are two suspects so far: Sage, who has no idea how the victim ended up in her space; and Bax, who was allegedly spotted arguing with Robbie the day before. But could it be a disgruntled employee? After all, Robbie’s sense of humor was known to have rubbed some coworkers the wrong way. Now, it’s up to Sage to find the culprit—before another life grinds to a halt.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Characters who surprise us: Bring it on!


HALLIE EPHRON: Decades ago, I was on the upper west side of Manhattan, sitting in the window of a Chock Full of Nuts (that’s how long ago) on Broadway and 116th St., sipping my coffee and eating a cream cheese on raisin bread sandwich, when a man who was walking by and reading a newspaper walked smack into a pole. 

He dropped the paper and punched the pole, immedately cradling his hand and cursing. Then he froze and looked around. Picked up the paper and scurried on.

His reaction revealed a lot about that poor guy. Oblivious enough to walk down Broadway with his head buried in a newspaper. Ready to go to war with a post… 

So much rage! I wouldn’t want to be his wife. Or kid. Or dog. 

And I imagined how someone else might react to running into a pole (as is so easy today with most of us glued to our cellphones instead of the objects and pedestrians and cars around us.) One person might bounce back and apologize to the pole. Or look around to see if anyone is watching and skulk off, pretending nothing happened. Or… done something else that would have revealed the person's mood or circumstances.

Have you had one of those writing moments, when a character you were writing surprised you with an unexpected reaction that showed you something you didn’t know about them?

RHYS BOWEN: when I was writing Constable Evans he had to go to France and they took the Eurostar through the Chunnel. And he came up the other side green and sweating. Until then I had no idea he was claustrophobic. And of course my next thought was: right, my boy. I’m sending you down a slate mine in the next book!

HALLIE: Reminds me of Michael Connelly who sends Harry Bosch, who was traumatized by tunnels in Vietnam, into dark claustrophobic spaces. Interesting how something unexpected in the FRONT story triggers an idea for something that happened to trigger it in the character’s BACK story.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I found out something I didn’t use! In my early books, Rev. Clare Fergusson meets a charming and funny banker who spends time in the summer up in her area, which is a popular resort location. They never even kissed, although he was constantly flirting with her and hinting that she ought to visit him in NYC for some “one-on-one” time away from the prying eyes of her congregation.

She was talking about the relationship with one of her vestry, and I’m transcribing the conversation, as it sometimes feels like the author does, and the vestry member says, “My dear, he doesn’t realize that he’s gay, but surely you do.”

I was SHOCKED! I had zero idea. NONE. I sat with it for a while and wound up deciding to leave it out, because at that point, it would have added another subplot in an already over-laden story. So far, he never has come out, but it definitely affected how I wrote that character, and the relationship, going forward.

First time I found out something I didn’t know about one of my characters - and it was another totally fictional person who pointed it out.

JENN McKINLAY: In my latest book SUMMER READING, Emily Allen, the best friend of the main character Samantha Gale, is a librarian and when we meet her in the book, she’s doing research on cancer for a patron. Or so I thought.

It turns out she’s doing the research for herself – except she doesn’t have cancer. I will say no more to prevent spoilers but it sure surprised the heck out of me! Fear not, her story is completed in LOVE AT FIRST BOOK coming in May 2024.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, every time. Every time. And until it happens, I worry.

BIG shock in TRUST ME. Massive shock in THE MURDER LIST. Even in Prime Time, my first book, I remember it happening, and how surprised I was that my brain was doing something I hadn’t planned or thought of. At one point Charlotte is getting yelled at by her boss for something unfair, and she stands right up to him and defends herself.

Whoa, I thought. Where did that come from? I had thought Charlotte was more conciliatory. But nope.

Even in one scene in my upcoming One Wrong Word, Arden completely goes on a tear, threatening lawsuits and retaliation. It was SO much fun to write, but again, I had not “planned” for that to be her reaction. She came alive, and that was magical. It’s why we write, isn’t it? To be surprised?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Nothing about writing is more fun than finding out these delicious things about your characters as you're writing. 

I had never even thought about why my detective sergeant, Doug Cullen, is a cop until I was writing a scene in A KILLING OF INNOCENTS where he's telling another character that it was assumed he'd get a law degree and join his father's firm when he saw a recruiting ad for the Metropolitan Police and signed up for an interview. 

It was his act of rebellion and I'd had no idea.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hayley Snow’s neighbor, Miss Gloria. I pulled her into the first book to have someone who could be bonked on the head and left for dead on the dock. She has blossomed into the most amazing character, the one whom people talk about and ask for the most. One reviewer called her “the poster child for senior citizens.” I had no idea!

HALLIE: Wondering if that ever has happened to you in real life: someone you think you know does something that feels so completely out of character that you find yourself wondering what else you don't know about them.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Are You Ready for Some Football? What We're Writing: Jenn McKinlay

 JENN McKINLAY: I mentioned last week that I was working on FONDANT FUMBLE (two NFL players buy a Fairy Tale Cupcake franchise and mayhem and murder ensue, natch) and I was reviewing my methods of murder. Now, of course, I'm in research mode and looking at cupcakes with a football themes. OMG, y'all, look at some of these brilliant cupcakes!

Nutter Butter Football Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Reeses Peanut Butter Egg Footballs

Chocolate Football Cupcakes with Coconut Grass and a Truffle Football (Vegan, dairy free, whole grain)

Yes, writing this series is a real hardship. LOL. While these pictures and recipes do inspire, I'll be creating my own recipe for the cupcakes cobbled out of a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

I have my own chocolate cupcake recipe that I like to use, but I am loving the green coconut, so that's a possible add. As for the football, the Nutter Butter ball is genius, so I might be tweaking that as well. I am definitely not someone who follows recipes exactly. I look at them more as guidelines to jumpstart my own creations. 

How about you, Reds and Readers? Do you follow recipes exactly or do you look at them more as suggestions? 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

What We're Writing Week: Structure and Scaffolding

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My writing for my college classes is thankfully over until next September, and, like the proverbial In spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, in May, a college instructor's fancy bemusedly turns to prepping other courses. 

In my case, I'm working up another one of my creative writing seminars. I've done them on creating suspense, on using setting to strengthen your writing, and on developing characters. Now I'm turning to story structure.

Not, mind you, outlining techniques. I'll leave that to authors far more skilled at them than I. But I'm someone who has long been fascinated by structure - by acts and scaffolding and playing with chronology. One of the first things that led me to writing a mystery, when I was a very unfledged novice, was the fact crime fiction had, as it were, a skeleton already provided, something I could drape muscle and skin over.

And yes, the fact that was literally the metaphor that presented itself to me all those years ago probably indicates I was choosing the right genre. 

Here's an example of how I worked on ONE WAS A SOLDIER, which had eight point of view characters (!) whose stories switched between the past and the present. 



I was very pleased with the book, and glad I was so creatively ambitious, but I do have to point out this was where I fell off the book-a-year cycle - this was published three years after the previous novel - and so far I haven't gotten back on that horse. Maybe simpler is better?

This is a fascinating look at screenwriter/director Christopher Nolan's process, which I can across while researching. I encourage anyone interested in structure to click through and read the whole thread, which also includes other examples of mapped story.


The amazing Jennifer Crusie, who is one of my writing goddesses, uses a story-creating technique so far from my comfort zone I wouldn't even know how to begin: she makes collages



And here's what I'm trying out for my current work-in-progress, a combination of Jessica Ellicott's Post-It note plotting on the framework of a classical four-act structure. 

Also, I really need to scrub off that door to my office. Usually the only person who sees that side is me.

Do you notice story structure, dear readers? Or does it get lost in the flow of a good book? And if you're a writer, what scaffolding techniques do you use?


Friday, May 26, 2023

What We're Writing--Debs is Honored to Be Honored

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have lots of fun book-ish stuff going on, but today I want to share something a little different, although it is related. Last Saturday my alma mater, Austin College, awarded me an Honary Doctorate of Humane Letters. I was incredibly, burstingly proud, for all the obvious reasons, and some that are maybe not so obvious. (Austin College in not in Austin, by the way, but is a small Presbyterian college in north Texas, known for its academic excellence. It was founded by a Princeton alum, Dr. Daniel Baker, in 1849, and its charter was modeled after those of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Also, I might add, Austin College admitted women in 1918, so take that, Harvard!)

Here I am in my cap (which very annoyingly wouldn't stay on--I am apparently a pin-head) and gown.

(I envied the faculty in their nice soft medieval-looking caps.) And here's the beautiful hood in my school colors--I hope I have a chance to wear it again someday.

But, a little backstory. You may know that my undergrad degree is in biology. What you may not know is what a struggle it was for me to get there. 

Going into last weekend, I had just finished our Jenn's wonderful SUMMER READING. It made this honor especially poignant because Jenn's dyslexic heroine's story was my story, too. I did okay in elementary school (except for the daydreaming) but when I hit middle school I really began to struggle. By 9th grade I was failing everything. My desperate parents had me tested and I was diagnosed as being dyslexic (no one said "neurodivergent" in those days.) I read fairly well although I scrambled things, but I was severely challenged in math. Things (including a semester's misadventure in boarding school) didn't improve, and at the beginning of my junior year, I dropped out. 

I was lucky in that my parents never stopped trying to find ways to help me. They enrolled me in a sort of prep school that worked with dyslexic kids. I took college prep courses and eventually managed to get my GED. Off I went to a big state university, where I once again FAILED everything. 

I bounced around for a couple of years after that, taking courses at community college, a stint in secretarial school. But I knew I wanted more, and when I was accepted at Austin College as a sophomore, I knew I had finally found my place. It was hard, really hard (it's not called "the Harvard of the south" for nothing,) but I loved it so much that I never wanted to leave. Here I am, revisiting the science building where I spent most of my three years at AC!

And enjoying the new lighting on the beautiful campus.

Kayti and Wren and I found my name on the plaque listing all the college's graduates from 1849 on.

When the college president, Dr. Steven O'Day, called to ask if I would accept the honor, he said that he and the board of trustees believed I was "the poster child for liberal arts" and I have never been so complimented. In these days of book-banning and the devaluation of education, especially liberal arts education, I am more aware than ever of the value of that broad and deep learning. I also know that I would not have been able to accomplish what I have in my writing career without the foundation Austin College gave me.

As I sat on the platform, watching the graduating seniors accept their diplomas, I felt hopeful that these young adults will take that gift and go out and make a real difference in the world.

And of course I'd like to see another generation follow in the Austin College tradition! Here's our Wrennie Roo doing her kangaroo pose!

The really big news of the weekend was the announcement that Austin College has received a $20 million dollar bequest from alumnus Clifford Grum, the late publisher of Fortune Magazine and vice-president of Time, Inc, which will provide full academic scholarships for eligible students. Go Roos!!

Reds and readers, is there an accomplishment that has made you especially proud?

P.S. "Honorary" is the operative word. I can't call myself Dr. Crombie. But if I want to put letters after my name, it's DHL (not to be confused with the shipping company) or LHD. Pretty cool!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Lucy is Remembering Old Friends #amwriting @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm supposed to be working on Key West food critic mystery number 14, as yet unnamed. But I have been distracted by a number of things, including the upcoming launch of The Ingredients of Happiness (July 4.) Last week I was sorting through a pile of old photographs (another form of procrastination) and came across this one of our friend, Dr. Howard Blue, with our daughter, many years ago. 

Howard was a psychiatrist and a tennis player, extremely smart and with a huge sense of humor. For a stretch of years, he went on vacation with our family. He fit right in and the kids loved him. Then we moved a little further away, and I became involved with writing, and we lost touch. It was a big shock a couple of years ago to hear that he had had a sudden heart attack and died in his office. How I wish I had reconnected with him!

 The Happiness book is dedicated to my old friend, which makes me me feel a little better, though it's not the same thing at all as having him over to dinner. I also gave Howard a quirky role in the book. Here’s a little snippet from Happiness, where Cooper Hunziker is showing her sister her new office. (The office is at Yale, which does in fact have decorative gargoyles on many of the buildings.)

My phone chimed and Trudy’s FaceTime picture popped up on the screen. “I know you’re busy with Daniel and all, I wanted to check in and see how it’s going.”

“You’re just in time to get a tour of my office,” I told her, ignoring the not-so-subtle hint about my love life. I walked the phone around the room, explaining what still needed to be done. “Oh, here’s the best part,” I said, hurrying to the window. “My next-door neighbor.” I held the screen up so she could see the gargoyle.

She yelped with delight. “I love him! He’s perfect! What are you going to call him?”

“Howard, I think,” I said, surprising both of us.

“After Dr. Blue,” she said.

I nodded. Howard Blue was the psychiatrist who’d been particularly kind to my mother over her last three years. Under his care, she’d managed to achieve an improved level of calm and balance that made life easier for both of us.

“I love that,” she said. “And here’s another idea. What if you posted a picture of the gargoyle on your Instagram and asked for suggestions for his name? It could go viral. He’s that cute. You don’t have to tell them you’ve already settled on Howard.”

“You’re brilliant,” I said. “When Meeka the publicist fires me, I’m hiring you.” I heard the shrieks of her children squabbling in the background and she signed off to referee. I snapped the photo out of my window, adjusted the lighting, and posted: My new neighbor. How would he introduce himself? #rockthehappinesschallenge #gargoyle #gargoyles #namethegargoyle #theneighborhood #gargoylewisdom #rockyourhappinessjourney. 

The comments began to ding my phone instantly. “Claude!” “Peter!” “Handsome Dan!” “Pierre!” “Orlando!” “He’s adorable!” “Is he single?”

LUCY: Do you have old friends who were an important part of your life whom you haven't seen in a while? Tell us about them!

You can pre-order The Ingredients of Happiness

Or reviewers can request it on Netgalley

Or, ask your local librarian to order!

Finally, I wanted to mention that our friend Elizabeth Varadan was featured in Top Retirements last week in an interview about retirement in Portugal--go have a look!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Rhys on Little Girls

RHYS BOWEN: Please raise a glass to celebrate with me. I have finished my new stand-alone, the one I am tentatively calling IN AN ABANDONED PLACE, but might end up being called THE FORGOTTEN VILLAGE, THE LOST VILLAGE, THE LOST GIRLS, THE LAST LITTLE GIRL  etc etc. Stay tuned!

Anyway, as I've mentioned in previous what we're writing weeks, the story is about little girls in various time periods...three girls who disappeared on their way to be evacuated in WWII, one little girl who has vanished in London in 1968 and a heroine who visits an abandoned village and has a flashback of memory, realizing she's been there before, which starts to unravel everything she knows about her own life.

Probably the most complicated book I've ever tried to write. Every piece of one story fills in a missing piece of another story so there was a lot of juggling about what to tell and when.

One of the vehicles I've used was to show some small random scenes from the point of view of various missing girls in the book. I never say which girl is which. I want to reader to try to guess and then put that piece into the puzzle as we learn more.

Here is one of those scenes:

A Little Girl

 The little girl was finding her suitcase too heavy and the gas mask bumped up and down across her front as she walked. It was warmed than usual and she felt hot and clammy in her good coat. But Mum had insisted she wear it. “You’ll be cold once it’s winter,” she said. “And then you’ll thank me that I made you wear it.” 

 The little girl dumped the suitcase and opened the buttons of the coat. That was better. She stood on the corner, gulping in big breaths of air that blew in from the river. She was quite excited about going to the country. She had only been out of London once, on a school outing to the seaside for the day. That had been exciting. She wondered if they’d be taken anywhere near the seaside now. Her mum didn’t know. “You’ll find out when you get there,” she had said. The little girl could see that her mum was upset she was going. That was why she didn’t want to come to the school with the other mums. She claimed she had to be at work in the factory on time but the little girl suspected it was because she knew she was going to make a fuss and cry. 

 The girl lifted her suitcase again. It weighed a ton. She reckoned her mum had packed every single thing she owned into it. On she staggered, waiting for the traffic light to turn before she crossed the busy street. 

Then she turned into a quiet backroad.Here it was peaceful after the traffic noise. Nobody else in sight. Only the sound of a radio voice giving the morning news from an upstairs window. It wasn’t far to the station now. She could see its roof, sticking up behind the rows of houses. The suitcase handle was making her hand burn. She put it down and spat on her palm. 

She wasn’t aware to begin with, of the big black car that drew up beside her. 
     “Do you need a lift somewhere?” The man inside the car had wound down his window. 
     “It’s all right. I’m only going to the station,” she said. 
     “The station? By yourself? Are you running away from home?” He asked it almost as a joke.
     “No!” She could tell the man was teasing in that annoying way grownups had. “I’ve got to meet my class an we’re getting on a train out to the country,” she said. “We’re being evacuated.” 
     “Well, I’m driving past Victoria Station, as it happens. How about I take you that far? That will save you lugging that heavy suitcase, won’t it?” 
     The little girl hesitated. She had been warned about strangers. But the man looked like someone’s uncle. What’s more he had a posh voice and he was wearing a uniform, so he must be all right. And the suitcase was jolly heavy. 
     “Thank you, sir,” she said. “It’s very kind of you.” 
     “Not at all. We all have to help each other when there’s a war on, don’t we?” He came around and opened the back door. “Put your case in there.” And then the passenger door. “Hop in. That’s right. Off we go, eh?” 

 And off they went.  

Was he a good guy or a bad guy? There are both in the book , in face one aspect of the story is the blurred lines between right and wrong. I'm really pleased with it now I've finished. My agent has seen it. She said she started reading and didn't move until she'd finished, so that's a good sign, isn't it?

I'm off to England in a few days, seeking out more hidden stories like the abandoned village. In fact I'm going to Jersey in the Channel Islands that were occupied by the Nazis during WWII so I'm hoping for juicy details from there. I'll give updates on my Facebook page.

And any brilliant title ideas?

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

What Hank's Writing? Here's a Sneak Peek!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Waiting is the hardest part. You know that from Tom Petty, of course, and you know that from the world of publishing. (Here's me at  Malice Domestic--thank you, reader Ruth Setton, for this very happy-looking photo.)

And in this "What We're Writing"  week, what I’m writing, right now at least, is proposals. And I just sent in two of them. More I cannot say, except to plead with you to send all the good karma and good vibes you can spare.

But I am so thrilled that we have a cover for my new book coming out in February of 2024. Reds and readers, it was a bit of a process, but the fabulous art department at Forge Books has come up with the Hankest of the Hank covers I have ever seen, and I am giving it a standing ovation. I hope you will too, when I finally get to show you. Soon.

But what I can show you, now, is a snippet, just a tiny snippet, of something I HAVE written.  The new book! 

One Wrong Word stars crisis management consultant Arden Ward, who makes her living by shaping and spinning public opinion. Then the power of words gets used as a weapon against her. She's accused of having an affair with a client. It's not true! She would never do such a thing. But she gets fired. Unfairly. And then... stuff happens.

Since the book’s back cover will mention Arden being fired, it’s not a spoiler. Here are a few paragraphs leading up to that.

You will meet Warren Carmichael, Arden’s boss at The Vision Group, a crisis management firm. Warren and Arden have just clinched (they think) a deal to secure a powerful board position for Arthur Swanson, a Boston mover and shaker. Arthur is married to Patience Swanson, a member of Boston’s old-money elite.

One Friday afternoon, Warren arrives in Arden’s office. Bourbon in hand. They chat, and then…


Warren took another sip.

“You okay?” she asked. Might be a little personal, but she thought the Arthur Swanson deal had brought them closer. Warren had been the face of it, and she the supposed ‘associate.’ What Warren didn’t know: throughout the negotiations Arden had endured, and ignored, or pretended to, Arthur Swanson’s advances; the unnecessary touch on her shoulder, the gratuitous hand on her back ostensibly guiding her through a door, the too-personal jokes about her “single-girl” apartment or her weekend plans. The sideways looks, as if they shared some secret, which, indeed, they did not. The dinner à deux invitations she always refused.

In this day and age, she thought. But for men like him, there was only his day and age, meaning now and today. For Warren, too, she had to admit. Who always did whatever was in his own best interest.

“So Arden,” Warren began. “About Patience.”

“Sit,” Arden said. She had a flash of dismay. “Is everything still on? With the deal? Do not tell me she’s—"

Warren settled into the butterscotch tweed club chair. “We should talk.”

“Sure.” Arden calculated the possibilities, speed of light. Why wouldn’t he look at her? She hated surprises, hated them. We don’t like surprises, she taught her assistants. Our job is to stay ahead of the surprises. Now, surprise, Warren wanted to talk.

“So Patience herself barges in last week, like, loaded for bear.”

“And?” Arden heard the bourbon in Warren’s voice. Saw his posture wilt. Alcohol always hit him hard, and he’d powered this drink down.

“And she was—pissed.”

“What? About what?”

Warren looked at the ice in his glass, the bourbon gone. “So you remember Capital Grille?”

“Sure…” Arden couldn’t help but frown.

The week before, the Swansons had invited the two of them, along with Warren’s hoity-toity constantly jet-setting wife and a group of friends, to a closed-door celebration of Swanson’s not-yet-public new position. Dinner at Capital Grille, in a mahogany-paneled private room with flowing wine and hovering waitstaff. Asparagus, hollandaise, filet, caviar. Food and setting as rich and overstuffed as some of the guests themselves.

Arden had noticed Patience seated her as far away from her husband as possible, but she’d been grateful for that. She'd had endured enough uncomfortable and insulting moments of removing his hand from her leg. She would never tell Warren; the deal needed to go through, and some things women had to handle on their own.

“Well, she says the weirdest thing,” Warren went on.

Warren rarely gossiped with her. She was curious about the new tone, but embraced it. It was progress. “What? What’d she say?”

“‘She smells of joy.’” Warren had actually imitated Patience Swanson, that imperious but impossible-to-identify accent that some of her ilk adopted. “I had no idea what she was talking about, you know?”

Arden remembered, in the weird snippets of moments we remember, sensing a kinship with Warren that night at the Swanson dinner, feeling she had finally made it as his equal. She'd perceived, with a glimmer of hope and even confidence, that they were a team.

“Joy the perfume?” Arden guessed. “What ‘she’? And why did that matter?”

Warren's face changed. Hardened. He carefully placed his crystal glass, contents diminished to ice, on her side table. Centered it on a copy of Boston Magazine.

“Yes. Perfume.” Warren nodded, once. “And the ‘she’ is you.”


Oh, Reds and readers, I hope you love this! It’s actually still fun for me to read, and that, I take, is a good thing.

Do you recognize the juggle Arden had to make get this deal done?

Monday, May 22, 2023

Impatient writer to impatient readers

HALLIE EPHRON: It's What We're Writing Week again, and once again I'm going to talk ABOUT writing...

In my experience, writers are either under- or over-writers when they're working on a first draft. 

Some seem to just open a vein (or throw up, pick your metaphor) and let the words and ideas flow onto the page. Write, fast and furious. For them, editing is an act of cutting and shaping. 

I'm one of those people who prefer a jig to a waltz, a stride to a stroll, and like to punch a thought home rather than peel it like an onion. When I'm in the groove, I write in quick brush strokes. I lay down the words and sentences that I like to think are like my hands -- short and stubby, capable of getting work done without a lot of fuss and bother. 

So when I think I’ve outlined most of a 300-page novel, why am I invariably surprised when I run out of plot, writing page 150. Editing, for me, is adding. Reading the manuscript out loud to myself makes it easier to spot the boring, redundant parts, and helps me find where, in my haste to get to THE END I've shortchanged characterization. 

As impatient as I am as a writer, I’m moreso as a reader. I get annoyed with storytellers who double back on themselves, who repeat themselves as I am doing now (saying the same thing twice... make that three times in the same sentence!) I want to whack them upside the head and say, All right already, we get the point.

I remember, years ago I interviewed a bestselling mystery writer for a magazine profile I was writing. I so admired her work, and I was sure that she had some magic formula to share with me for getting it right the first time.

Then she told me about the manuscript she’d finally finished (she'd had to check herself into a hotel for a week to get the final chapters written) and shown to her agent. 

Back from the agent came this directive: “Ditch the first sixty pages.” The agent felt the first sixty pages were all back story, and made for a sluggish beginning. Ditch them, she advised, and feather in whatever the reader needed to know, when the reader needed to know it.

Great advice. And I often give something similar to that to the aspiring writers whose work I am privileged to read. Especially when they’re writing for mystery readers who are notoriously impatient.

The best advice I can give to aspiring writers is: just get the darned thing written. Then worry about making it sing.

So are you an impatient reader, or do you slog on, reading even when the writer insists on telling you stuff you've already surmised or perhaps don’t need to know yet? And does how much you’ll tolerate differ when you’re listening to versus silently reading a book?

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Recipe share from Summer Reading by Jenn McKinlay

 JENN McKINLAY: My latest romcom, Summer Reading came out this week. How any of you may have missed this, I do not know because I have been talking about every single day for months. Seriously, even I'm sick of me! LOL.

As we frequently share recipes on Sundays, and because my heroine Samantha Gale is a chef, I thought I'd share a few pics from the cooking session I spent with my sister-in-law Natalia and her family since she and her family are from the Azores and inspired Sam's culinary inspiration in the book. 

This is the crew, teaching me how to cook Portuguese:

Melissa, Natalia, Vovo (Maria), and Laura

Here are some of the dishes we (they) made: 

Caldo Verde (kale soup) -- very traditional and delicious!

Shrimp Mozambique -- soooo good!

Pastel de Nata (from a Portuguese bakery) and OMG!

Pimenta Moida (from Joe, Natalia's brother) -- 
recipe included in the book!

And lastly, here is Torresmos (Azores Marinated Pork) which is the recipe I am sharing today.

Torresmos (Azores Marinated Pork)

4 pounds pork spare ribs

4 Tablespoons pimenta moida

5 crushed garlic cloves

1 cup red wine

pinch of salt 

1 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cut the ribs into large pieces and set aside. In a large plastic bag, mix the pimento moida with the garlic, wine, paprika, and salt. Add the meat, seal the bag, and mix well.  Put the bag in the refrigerator for 3 hours (minimum) or overnight (even better). To begin cooking, place the meat and the marinade in a large thick bottomed pan on the stove, add the oil and cook on high for 10 minutes. 

Cover and reduce the heat to very low and cook for 2 hours and 45 minutes. The meat should become very tender and fall off the bones. Stir occasionally. Adjust the salt to your taste and sprinkle the meat with the white and black pepper. 

Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 10minutes. Drain the fat and serve. 

Needless to say this was one of the most fun days ever. My sister-in-law and her family have been my family from the day and she married my brother. Nat is the greatest gift he ever gave me and I am ever grateful for her kindness, support, generosity, creativity, wisdom, and amazing culinary talent. Seriously, everyone should have a sister-in-law like her!

Several of these recipes and others I didn't mention are included in Summer Reading - so go grab your copy and join the fun!

Not surprisingly, Portuguese food has become my absolute favorite over the years. What is your favorite type of food?


Saturday, May 20, 2023

FINAL CUT by Marjorie McCown

Jenn McKinlay: One thing I love about the writing community is the introductions from author to author. In this case, our friend Ellen Byron introduced me via email to Marjorie McCown, today's guest, and I was delighted when I read her post (I have a thing for hats, you know). But here's our guest to tell us more. Welcome, Marjorie!

Marjorie McCown: Many thanks to Jenn McKinlay and her Jungle Red colleagues for inviting me to be here today! 

     I began writing FINAL CUT, a murder mystery that takes place behind-the-scenes of a big budget Hollywood film in production, during the second year of the pandemic -- four years after I retired from the film industry. My protagonist, Joey Jessop, is a key costumer who finds the body of a murdered coworker on set and winds up having to investigate the crime in order to save herself. 

     I spent 27 years as a costumer and costume designer for movies, so setting my story within the professional community that I was part of for a quarter century gave me a lot of comfort as a fledgling author. But as I got farther into the process of writing the book, I realized there was a deeper meaning for me in the return to that familiar world than knowing the customs and vocabulary of the film industry back to front. 

Marjorie's Desk

     Writing became my comfort zone during those Covid years, an activity that not only occupied my creative mind but also helped soothe some of my social anxiety about being cut off from direct contact with so many of the people I love. And that's why revisiting my film career, at least in the pages of the book I was writing, became an important lifeline for me not only as creative inspiration, but as a way to console the part of me longing for connection. 

     There is a strong sense of community within the costuming profession. It's a job that requires the collaboration of many talented people working together as a team toward a common goal. That interdependence fosters lasting bonds with colleagues, many of whom become lifelong friends. For me, those relationships are the most enduring benefit from my film career. 

     One of my greatest hopes as I worked to make the transition from costuming to writing was to become part of a new creative community, though I didn't really know what to expect. I'd always viewed writing as a largely solitary profession, and of course there are hours spent sitting at the computer with only imaginary characters for company. But despite my debut author status, I've already been the beneficiary of great kindness from authors who have been welcoming and helpful -- again, many thanks to Jenn McKinlay for the opportunity to post on this wonderful blog and to Ellen Byron, who introduced us. 

     I do see significant parallels between the occupations of costuming and writing that hadn't necessarily occurred to me before I had a better view of both disciplines, beyond the obvious that they're both creative endeavors. Both have similar processes -- a lot of research accompanied by an obsessive quest to select the combination of elements that will produce the best work. 

     For a costumer, that might mean looking at 500 men's fedora hats at 6 different costume houses in addition to an exhaustive online search to find the perfectly proportioned hat for a character in one particular scene of the movie. 

     The writerly version of that quest is the continual hunt for the exact word or phrase that sparks the emotion we hope to stir in our reader or reveals the soul of one of our characters or propels our narrative forward. And that's one of the shared bonds throughout the writing and costuming communities, one of the most basic features that makes us all true colleagues. It is that obsession we all share as artists, that endless search for perfection. 

 Question for Readers: Do you believe you have an obsessive streak that fuels your work or any of your other interests or activities? 

Leave a comment and be entered in the random drawing for a signed copy of Final Cut (limited to the U.S.). 


Every day on a big-budget Hollywood movie in production is full of surprises, but the last thing key costumer Joey Jessop expected to find on the first day of shooting was the body of a murdered coworker. Because Joey found the body, and the victim was seeing her ex, she’s suspected of being the killer. The story soon blows up in the press and social media -- and Joey finds her well-ordered life in shambles. That's when things really start to go wrong for Joey and the movie as a series of dangerous mishaps interrupt the shoot. As circumstances spiral out of control, at work and at home, Joey is forced to take matters into her own hands to try to salvage her career, and to save her own life.

     Marjorie McCown spent 27 years working as a key member of the costume design teams for a string of successful movies that includes Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, The Firm, A Bronx Tale, Wag the Dog, The Aviator, Hairspray, Angels & Demons, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and X-Men Days of Future Past. Her debut murder mystery, FINAL CUT, is set behind-the-scenes of a blockbuster Hollywood movie in production. Marjorie is a member of Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Southern California with her cats Monkey and Max.