Thursday, September 28, 2023

When Research Makes You Cry

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There are always a few different ways to introduce a post. And more about these horses in the photo in a minute.

Here’s one  possible introduction for today:

How much passion do you put into your writing? And how would you feel if the very thing that you were passionate about–had to be deleted?
What would you do then?

Here’s another one for today:

Have you ever cried when you talk about your novels? I mean, like, in public? On camera?

Or how about this one:

Do you know what’s going on with the hearts of wild horses in the United States? It’s a powerful and controversial and heart-breaking situation.

Here’s the good news. Today, you get all three introductions.

On Separating Fiction from Reality: For Real

By Linda L. Richards

I’m a little apprehensive right now. My non-fiction book, Wild Horses: Running Free, is coming out in a few weeks and I’m scared I’m going to have to do interviews. And why does that scare me? Because every time I talk about the subject of this book, I cry.

I cry.

I mean, not ugly cry, but still. (For an example of this, see this interview I did a few months ago for the Sisters in Crime podcast. Note tears. Argh.)

When I started writing the book, I did not realize that the wild horse space in North America is violent and political. The more I knew, the less I knew and the more research I did, the more upset I became.

I went into that book thinking it was going to be as joyful as a similar book I did on Northern Elephant Seals in 2020. A feel-good informational non-fiction book for 9-13 year-olds.

But as I started researching the wild horse book, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — the agency responsible for managing the millions of public acres owned by the United States — was in the process of culling wild horse herds all across the American west. The round ups go on. They say they are doing it because the land can’t support the numbers. BLM detractors say they’re doing it to service the ranchers who own the livestock that graze there almost for free.

It's estimated that there are currently 1.5 million cattle and sheep entitled to graze the 155 million acres the BLM manages. There might be 85,000 head of wild horses left on BLM-managed land in the US, but the number is being cut down fast and, at present, the BLM estimates there are 60,000 American mustangs in holding pens, waiting for an undetermined future. Some of those horses have been in holding pens for years.

The BLM claims they’re doing it for the good of the horses and to keep the herds to manageable numbers. Meanwhile, from the outside, anyway, I’m not alone in thinking it looks like government-sanctioned extermination. It’s heartbreaking stuff and I would set to work each day wondering if, by the time my book came out, there would be any wild mustangs left for kids to learn about.

While I was researching the wild horse book, I was working on the second book in my Endings series, featuring a nameless hitwoman. That book, Exit Strategy, takes place against the backdrop of a Silicon Valley high tech start up, but suddenly I discovered I was writing a subplot that involved wild horses. And, pretty soon that subplot got to be pretty beefy (sorry) and it started taking over the whole book.

After a while, I saw what I was doing and pulled everything related to the horsey subplot. I dropped it into a file and, the next year, with wild horses off my desk, I took the material that had been the subplot and turned it into book three in the series.

That novel, Dead West, came out September 5. Dead West is not about wild horses, but some of the heartbreak and injustices in that space are in there, and I think (hope!) I did a good job of weeding out what would have made you cross your eyes in boredom. That is, it’s not a book about wild horses. It’s about a hit assignment gone wrong and a do-gooder rancher and I honestly think it’s the best book of the series so far.

But what makes it best? Is it because of the passion that got stuffed in there? Or is it because I had to work hard to keep the elements that touched me most deeply out? That, in not wanting to become one of those authors who falls in love with her research, I worked super extra hard to find the story beyond what can be seen on the page?

I’m still working all of this out for myself. Has any of this ever happened to you? Writing something where you had to work doubly hard to make sure you weren’t just repurposing life, but were using what you had been given purely to inspire a story that maybe didn’t even have a lot to do with the thing you’d researched in the first place? And, if you’re not a writer, have you ever read something that made you feel sure that too much non-essential material ended up in the final book?

Hank: So, Reds and readers--shall we talk about research? Or wild horses? Or both?

Linda L. Richards is the award-winning author of over a dozen books. The founder and publisher of January Magazine, a contributing editor to the crime fiction blog The Rap Sheet, and a member of the National board of Sisters in Crime, she is from Vancouver, Canada and currently makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona. Her latest book, DEAD WEST, was published by Oceanview Publishing September 5, 2023. Linda’s 2021 novel, ENDINGS, was recently optioned by a major studio for series production. Richards is an accomplished horsewoman and an avid tennis player.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

In which Hank has A Very Unusual Week

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: In the Putting It Mildly department, it’s been a Very Unusual Week for me.

First, you may not have known this, but many years ago, literally, 50–and let that sink in– I worked for Rolling Stone magazine.

And in that capacity I worked on a story investigating some actions of the CIA. It’s really too long to tell here, but the brief version is that in the process, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA, the response to which was, apparently, the very first time they had used the reply: “We can neither confirm nor deny…” .

Long, long story about that, but fast forwarding in time, a British documentary company decided to do a big feature-length documentary about the whole story…essentially, the CIA’s attempt to secretly retrieve a sunken Russian submarine in the Pacific. The doc was to be called “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”

They interviewed me for the documentary, maybe, six years ago? And that was that. And then! And very recently, they told me it had been sold to Amazon and Apple TV, and was now available for viewing. WHAT?

I got to see it well in advance, and it is spectacular. Absolutely riveting , and total immersion history. I’ve done several interviews about it so far, on NPR in New York, and here is a newspaper article about it.

Isn’t that headline amazing? I burst out laughing. My role in the whole thing was definitely a supporting player, not a star, but it is incredible to see this.

Here is a link to the trailer, it’s absolutely riveting, as compelling and full of intriguing action as any fictional spy story – – seriously, you will say: you could not make this up! 

And speaking of amazing. Listen to this. 

The other day, I went to the UPS store to send back a too-big fall blazer, and there was a woman standing with what obviously was the Make Way for Ducklings statue—a tiny version, which, I figured, was a cute reproduction that this woman was sending to maybe her grandchildren.

So I told her: “I love this, I love the ducklings, that is absolutely adorable.”

And Tom, the UPS guy, says “Oh, Hank! Meet Nancy. She’s the sculptor!”

I said “What what what? You’re the actual sculptor of the Make Way for Ducklings statues?”

And she was! Can you believe it? So we chatted about the statues, and the ducklings books, and all kinds of upcoming events, and her devotion to public art, and cool things that she has in the works. And wasn’t that just the best day in the UPS store ever?

And yes. I told her about Flo and Eddie, and she has ducks that come to her backyard too. Turns out, she lives just several streets away from us. Wow.

Have you ever seen the ducklings statue in the public garden?

Here's the scene in the UPS!

AND she invited me to lunch at her house, and I went, and well, whoa. I got to see her studio and an upcoming AMAZING PROJECT.

AND we were invited to her 95th (!!) birthday party, a Mozart Concert, and here she is in all her birthday glory.

AND speaking of which--later this week on JRW, you'll hear from Nancy Schön herself, and the author who's written a fantastic children's book about her, and about her ducklings, and her life. It's called BE STRONG. So stay tuned!

Pretty interesting week, huh? SO, reds and readers, what do you think about any of that? 

Ducklings, CIA, submarines, documentaries, public art, surprises?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Not All Ghosts Are Bad

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Know what I absolutely love? The days when we have to think–wow, there’s so much we simply don’t know. 

And more about the absolutely wonderfully talented Meredith Lyons below. And about her brand new book GHOST TAMER.

But first…yeah, what can I say. There's so much we simply don’t know.  This is such a heartbreakingly haunting story.

Not All Ghosts Are Bad

   By Meredith R. Lyons

I can’t point to an exact age, but I know I was young. I remember how my bedroom was arranged—and I remember exactly how old I was when I decided to take charge of my own feng shui and shove the furniture into a new position—so I’m going to guess between ten and twelve. 

Often enough that it was unremarkable, I woke up during the night to find a girl pacing near the foot of my bed. Talking. She was always talking. As if I was waking up halfway through her monologue. In full flow, as if she was trying to work out a problem or vent about something irritating. If I ever tried to comment on anything she said, if I tried to enter the conversation at all, she stopped. She stopped walking, stopped talking, looked directly at me, and vanished.

I didn’t ever think much of it. I was tired, I went back to sleep, and forgot about it in the morning. I never remembered these visits, and to this day I can remember nothing that she said.

Except the last thing.

One night I opened my eyes to find she wasn’t talking. She wasn’t walking. And what’s more, she wasn’t by the foot of my bed. She was standing right beside my pillow, gazing down at me with a huge smile on her face. As if something marvelous had happened to her and she was bursting to share the news.

I didn’t feel afraid. 

As soon as I met her eyes she said, “Goodbye!” And slowly faded away.

“Where ya going?” I asked. But she was gone.

The next morning, for the first time, I remembered her. I remembered all the other times, too. But I never saw her again.

At first, I tried to tell people about her, but no one believed me. Adults said I was dreaming. Kids were either skeptical or tried to fabricate their own ghost stories to top mine. Eventually, I just kept it to myself.

One night in my twenties, drunk after a night out in Chicago, I found myself beside my friend Gillian while the rest of our group walked on ahead. I’m not sure why, but I told her the story. 

“Did she look like you?” she asked in her Dublin accent.

“Yeah, I guess she kind of did.” I was ready for her to tell me I was dreaming.

“Did your mum have a miscarriage before you?” 

I was surprised. How would she have guessed that? “She did.” 

“It was your sister checking up on you.”

I can’t describe the feeling that went through me then, but it was a rightness. A joy. Not only had my story not been dismissed as the diaphanous dreams of a sleepy child, but a new possibility had been introduced. 

I still kept this story mostly to myself. It was rare that anyone connected to it in that way and it was a special memory to me. A nice thought that I didn’t care to tarnish with too much outside scoffing.

Years later, I decided to write about a nightmare that I’d had where I was riding the el train and it flew off the rails. “This will be a nice, normal story with normal people,” I thought to myself, having done a lot of writing about aliens and unicorns. But as I was writing it, I thought, “What about a ghost or two?”

And not too far into the writing of it, I remembered my childhood ghost and decided that not all of the ghosts had to be bad.

Maybe some are indifferent. Maybe others actually care about us and want to make sure we’re doing well. Maybe some even protect us from the bad ones.

This story I didn’t hide away. I didn’t keep it quiet or private and it’s turned into a decent book. As I’ve rolled through the different stages of bringing it to life, I’ve thought more about my little ghost visitor than ever before. I hope she’s doing well wherever she ended up. I hope it was as fantastic as she seemed to think it would be. And I thank her for the inspiration.

HANK: I’m so touched that this gives you peace, Meredith. And may it do the same for all of us.

You all, Meredith is an absolute powerhouse, lookit that bio! And her book is terrific–I loved it.

In answer to the question posed by the title, though–I’m not sure I ever thought all ghosts were bad. How about you, Reds and Readers?

Death is one thing, it's what you do afterward that matters. 

Aspiring comedian Raely is the sole survivor of a disastrous train wreck. While faced with the intense grief of losing her best friend, she realizes that someone is following her—and has been following her all her life. Trouble is, no one else can see him. For a ghostly tag-along, Casper’s not so bad. He might even be the partner Raely needs to fight the evil spirit hell-bent on destroying her.

Raely and her friend must learn why this demonic spirit is haunting Raely and how she can stop him before he destroys her life—and her soul. Which, much to her chagrin, means she needs the help of a psychic (although she’s sure they are all charlatans) and must rid herself of the pesky ghost hunter who’s interested in exploiting her new abilities.

Meredith Lyons
grew up in New Orleans, collecting two degrees from Louisiana State University before running away to Chicago to be an actor. In between plays, she got her black belt and made martial arts and yoga her full-time day job. She fought in the Chicago Golden Gloves, ran the Chicago Marathon, and competed for team U.S.A. in the savate world championships in Paris. In spite of doing each of these things twice, she couldn’t stay warm and relocated to Nashville. She owns several swords, but lives a non-violent life, saving all swashbuckling for the page, knitting scarves, gardening, visiting coffee shops, and cuddling with her husband and two panther-sized cats. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. 
Ghost Tamer is her first novel.

Monday, September 25, 2023


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  During the height of the pandemic, (and even now from time to time) we have groceries delivered. I remember the first time it happened, I was so grateful I almost burst into tears. I still am in awe of the grocery delivery people. They are fabulous.
But one day, they dropped off a bag that was not ours. It just got mixed up, I guess.

It was just so clearly not ours!

It had oat milk. It had wheat germ. It had some weird kind of avocado oil salad dressing. It had sriracha. It had white rice. It had individual chocolate puddings. It had some kind of air freshener. Oh, and some kind of sugary cereal called Gorilla Puffs.

Except for the sriracha, I would never have purchased any of those things. My grocery bag would look more like lettuce, lettuce, lettuce, arugula ( for me, at least, JS is not a fan :-)) peanut butter, black olives, Siete chips, soy sauce, brown rice, salmon, broccoli, snow peas, tomatoes of all kinds, green beans. Frozen yogurt bars. When Pigs Fly cinnamon bread. (the BEST!) Pumpernickel. Eggs. Sliced turkey for lunch. Chicken. Too much chicken.

Now, I don’t know what else might have been in the other bags that the mystery shopper had purchased, but whatever. But I did get such an instant picture of who that shopper might be! A health-conscious person with little kids, don’t you think?

Anyway, I called and reported, and the grocery people told me just to keep it, that they could not pick it back up. (My grandson loved the Gorilla Puffs, the avocado dressing was okay, the oat milk and wheat germ went to our next door neighbors.)

But. It made me think about how identifiable our grocery bags are, and how much we could learn from what’s in a character’s grocery bag, right?

What would be in your grocery bag that everyone could identify as yours, reds and readers? Or what would be in your character's grocery bag?

JENN McKINLAY: Well, it used to be that my grocery bag would be identifiable by the cake, pie, ice cream, and cookies that were in it. *sigh* But my doc has me on a strict no sugar, no fat, no iron diet because apparently my body has decided to hoard iron in my tissues and that’s a bad bad thing. So, now my grocery bag has loads of fresh fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy (ugh), and no sugar or red meat to be found. I’m trying not to pout. I have discovered that fresh mango with a sprinkling of Tajin seasoning on top makes a solid sweet-heat bad breakfast choice, so there’s hope. As for my characters, well, if I have to go healthy so do they! I’m actually working on a sugar free cupcake recipe for the next cupcake bakery mystery - not sure how that’s going to work but I’ll give it a go...

HALLIE EPHRON: Great question! Whole milk. Because otherwise, why bother. Haagen Daz rum raisin ice cream. (Don’t say EW. It’s delicious.) Cheese. Eggs. Hard salami or corned beef or something fatty and unhealthy. Mmm bacon.

I wouldn’t ask for produce in a delivery because I’m too picky. Right now, for instance, our local farms are actually harvesting melons which we never get field-ripened otherwise. But I need to see (they get a little velvety sheen when ripe) smell (aromatic!) and squeeze (a little give, not too much) before I buy. Ditto the late summer corn and tomatoes… pick by look and feel. And satsumas are about to come in – some are sensational and some just feh.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was just thinking of this, Hank, because I had to order groceries to go for my brother-in-law, who’s shut in due to his health (here, you have to pick them up yourself.) Canned chili, beef-a-roni, kiddie cereal and juice. Now I’m getting all sorts of weird recommendations when I log onto the grocery site!

Like Jenn, I’ve given up sugar - at least at home, please do offer me dessert if I’m having dinner at your place! - so there’s not much fun in my bag. “Not Much Fun in my Bag: The Julia Spencer-Fleming Story.”

Box of spring greens, box of spinach, root vegetables (I love potatoes, squash and turnips; must be my German ancestry.) Pre-diced garlic, ‘cause I don’t have time for all that mincing. Three kinds of pasta, boneless skinless chicken breasts (again, time-saver) and lots of canned, diced tomatoes and olives to go into the pasta. I have definitely not given up carbs.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, agree with you on the rum raisin–although I don’t actually buy it. And on the whole milk. I don’t think the amount I put in my coffee or tea is going to kill me, and it tastes so much better. Also whole milk plain Greek yogurt. Also really good Irish unsalted butter.

No sugar here, either, and pretty much no processed stuff. (Um, except for Rick’s potato chips…) Always too many fresh fruits and veggies. Lettuces, shredded cabbage, arugula (for me!), sometimes spinach, bok choy, sugar snap peas, haricot vert, cukes, radishes, grape tomatoes, avocados… berries, bananas. Figs! When in season. Apples, ditto. Mandarins, limes, lemons. No-additive smoked turkey breast for sandwiches. Hummus. Salmon, chicken breasts. Olive oil, brown rice, whole wheat pasta. Canned tomatoes, canned beans, cartons of stock. Nuts. Almond butter. It’s astounding how much money you can spend on all this healthy stuff.

We buy our bread from the bakery. My friend Gigi (who makes the Sunday bakery run with me) laughs at me because I can make one chocolate cherry scone last a week. (A little slice with my afternoon tea.)

PS I love watching what other people put in their carts. So interesting. And in so many cases, so horrifying.

RHYS BOWEN: My bag would come from Trader Joe’s or Sprouts and include avocados, tomatoes and plenty of fruits and veggies. European style yoghurt. Selection of cheeses. Sourdough bread. Cinnamon raisin bread ( my treat at tea time). Also always fish of some kind plus TJ frozen goodies like the frozen scallops and mushrooms and tarte d’Alsace. Plus the boring healthy stuff like olive oil, pasta, oatmeal etc (they don’t deliver Prosecco, do they?)

LUCY BURDETTE: Now Rhys and Hank have me craving raisin bread! I still have lots of pandemic habits, so I order meat once a quarter from Butcher Box (mostly organic chicken and a little beef), pet supplies from Chewy, toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, and my new obsession, which is fast becoming an issue, Rancho Gordo beans.  Lots of veggies from the garden and farmer’s market, and that leaves whole and oat milk, great grains cereal, Rao’s arrabbiata sauce, coffee, cold cuts for John from the grocery store…

HANK: SO agree to looking at what other people are checking out. You can instantly know: Lasagna noodles, tomatoes, mozzarella, oregano, basil, prosciutto, melon etc-- Oh! party at your house! Or, for other baskets--YIKES! What are you EATING?

How about you, Reds and readers? How would we recognize you by your grocery bags?

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Anticlimactic? Anti-CLIMATE-ic!


HALLIE EPHRON: With all the bad weather news we’ve had this season, the forecast for Hurricane Lee looked like that last thing we needed.

I moved my car into the garage. Filled the tub with water. Stocked up on potato chips. Assembled candles and batteries and flashlights. Did some serious digging-out around one of my basement windows that has been leaking. Lay the garden chairs on their sides.

Then closed the windows and waited.

And waited.

Saturday morning when we were supposed to be inundated and blown away, the temperature was 60 degrees, it was drizzling out, and winds were blowing from the N/NW (Yay! Falling trees will miss the house) at a mere 15 mph.

I could plan a tomorrow-morning walk, breathe a sigh of relief, and pay attention to more benign seasonal changes like migrating birds and turning foliage (we’re supposed to have a brilliant year because of all the rain we’ve had – time to go to Vermont and Maine!)

Are you in “Phew!” mode with the weather in your neighborhood, or screaming “Aggggh, here we go again.”

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: First, I did nothing. Okay, I plugged in every laptop and phone.

I have no idea about the weather, and seriously, I think (based on absolutely no real knowledge except years of experience in the world) that the change in how the climate is behaving has also changed the way meteorologists should forecast the weather—but I don't think anyone has changed the “weather reporting” rules so it's even more difficult now to predict.

Again, I know nothing real, it just seems that the predictability is far less accurate than it used to be.

I remember once reading that they’d come up with a computer that could forecast, perfectly, exactly, what the weather would be. Problem was, it was so complicated that the computer didn’t finish the program until after the weather had already happened.

We just had new shrubs plants (long story) so I was kinda hoping it would rain. It kinda did.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, I'm just glad it was anticlimactic for you. We joke that we have a rain shield around our house. Lovely, so desperately needed (two months with NO rain, not even a sprinkle, and triple digit temps…) rain was predicted all last week for our area, 80 or 90% chance every day. 

But everything moved north or south of us, as usual, and only one day did we get a gentle quarter inch.

So you can put me in the "disappointed again" category.

LUCY BURDETTE: Never, never, never disappointed when a big weather event fizzles. We’ve been hit in two places, both CT and Florida, plus seen a million disasters in other areas of the country.

So for me, it’s only phew! (Plus I can’t help thinking it’s bad luck to gloat…plus we are only just now getting to the peak season.)

The weather people said this one would be hard to predict and it was. We took a wait and see–did not move all the outside furniture in, but we were poised.

JENN McKINLAY: At the time I’m writing this, our summer house in Nova Scotia is just south of the brunt of Hurricane Lee. Lots of rain and wind but I think it will be okay. Phew!

As for our home in the desert, we’ll take all the rain. All of it. It has been the longest, hottest summer ever and I am over it.

RHYS BOWEN: since I was scheduled to fly into New England on Monday I was watching the weather forecast anxiously.

Big sigh of relief.

Our summer in California has been remarkably cool, so no complaints from me.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I did the complete prep as well, Hallie, because my town had a Tropical Storm Warning. Everything light off the porch, recyclable and trash can and lawnmower in the barn, food and water and everything charged up. I even put down the piddle pads, because I didn’t want my Shih Tzus to have to go out if it was dangerous! (They’re only about 16 pounds each; I could picture them blowing away like Toto.)

Honestly, I am beginning to believe the more you prepare for five days without power, the less likely it is to happen.

We did get some dramatic winds and lots of leaves down, but it cleared up so much by noon, my neighbor was out mowing his lawn!

By the way, the Maine Emergency management Agency had the best explainer I’ve ever seen for those of us struggling to remember the difference between Watch and Warning:

HALLIE: So what about you? When they tell you a storm is a'coming, do you activate your emergency to-do list? Or crawl into bed and repeat: "Show me."

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Crawling out of the TV doldrums...


HALLIE EPHRON: My go-to place for TV diversions is and has always been Public Television. For anyone who's similarly a fan (and too cheap to sign up for BBC), you know that public tv in the summer is the doldrums. Seems like they runs a cavalcade of what they euphemistically refer to as "Viewer Favorites," plus cooking shows and episodes from This Old House and Rick Steves. Zzzzzz.

So I did the happy dance when I saw that they are starting to release new shows for fall 2023. My current favorite, Professor T.

It's a British series (of course) about a obsessive-compulsve (Hello, "Monk"?)curmudgeonly (Hello "House"?) Cambridge University professor--Jasper Tempest--who begins his days ritualistically washing his and donning latex gloves. And has an uncanny ability to interpret crime scenes (Hello "Sherlock").

An added bonus, Frances de la Tour (AKA Madame Maxim from Harry Potter) costars as his (to put it mildly) idiosyncratic mother. 

The show is dark, smart, and has a terrific supporting cast. And I'm thrilled that I've only watched 2 of the episodes from Season 2 and I'm on the hunt for where I can stream Season 1. 

I'm excited that we have a 3-parter with Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix! Princess Margaret!) in "Nolly" to look forward to.

And, the (literal) icing on the cake? A new season of the Great British Bake Off is in the offing. And the producers didn't dump my favorite of the co-hosts, Noah Fielding.

I watched the first two episodes of the new Star Trek show, but (been there, done that) didn't like it well enough to sign up for Paramount. 

 I am going to bite the bullet, however, and sign up for HULU since ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING sounds like one I'll be sorry if I miss.

So do you agree (or disagree) that the offerings on regular TV are looking up this fall, what programs are you looking forward to?

Friday, September 22, 2023

There is nothing like a Broadway show!


HALLIE EPHRON: A few weeks ago I had the great good fortune to see HADESTOWN on Broadway.

The 8 Tony Award-winning play tells the story of two mythical couples--Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. Eurydice has signed her soul to Hades, and a young guitar-playing Orpheus ventures into the underworld to rescue her and (with the help of Persephone) bring her back.

Things don’t go well…

It’s a Broadway musical which, in the tradition of great Broadway musicals, has a moment when the set and the lighting and the actors and the music align and the theatre feels as if it breaks open, revealing some breathtaking real-world truth.

If you’ve seen WICKED, you’ll recognize it as the moment when Elphaba sings “Defying Gravity” (and she literally does, rising off the stage).

In HADESTOWN, that lightning strikes during “Why Do We Build the Wall.” The set literally breaks open and the music pulses, and it feels as if we’re in the belly of an enormous belching furnace and… it left me literally breathless. Shooting to my feet and madly clapping when it ended.

Here are some of the lyrics…

Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children
Why do we build the wall?

Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free
That's why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children
How does the wall keep us free?
How does the wall keep us free?

The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That's why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

And that song was written long before there was… a wall.

Here's a short segment from the beginning, just to give you a feeling for the way it draws you in.
What are the moments when you’ve had an epiphany watching a live performance?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Toying with us: 2023 Hall of Fame nominees

 HALLIE EPHRON: Reporting this week’s big news, on beyond the floods and hurricanes and fires and wars and impeachments and 100+ degree oceans and heatwaves and… (cue Kingston Trio singing The Merry Little Minuet.)

... is that the National Toy Hall of Fame has nominated the Mattel doll Ken to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Barbie was inducted twenty-five years ago. (I'm waiting to see if Ryan Gosling gets nominated for an Oscar for best supporting.)

Here’s who Ken is up against:
Baseball cards
Battle Ship
Bop It
Cabbage Patch Kids
Choose Your Own Adventure Game Books
Little Tykes Cozy Coupe
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Before you ask, Little Tykes Cozy Coupe? Bop It? Choose Your Own Adventure…? I have no idea, either.

And how is it possible that Slime hasn’t already made the cut?

In case you're curious, last year’s inductees were Masters of the Universe, Lite-Brite, and the spinning top. In 2021 the honors went to American Girl Dolls, Risk, and sand.

I do love that plain old “sand” and "spinning top" can make the list. But where’s water? And bubble bath? (And refrigerator box?)

Most years, only two or three make the cut. I’m happy to report that my favorite toy from when I was a kid, Jacks, was inducted in the year 2000.

What toy would you nominate, and which of this year’s nominees would be your top choice?

Here’s the criteria
• Icon-status: the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered.
• Longevity: the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations.
• Discovery: the toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play.
• Innovation: the toy profoundly changed play or toy design.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Dreaming BIG with Joyce Woollcott

HALLIE EPHRON: Joyce Woollcott has big dreams, and why not?

The Belfast-born mystery writer who lives in Canada hit it big with her debut novel, A Nice Place to Die. It won the RWA Daphne du Maurier Award and was short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence and was a Silver Falchion Award finalist at Killer Nashville.

Now she's out with a second novel and even more good news. I'll let her tell it...


Joyce Woollcott: It’s one thing to dream about writing a book, another thing entirely to write two books and have them picked up by a publisher, have strangers read them, and hopefully like them.

My dream came true, and I can now call myself a published author. Although, probably like a lot of new authors I’m a little embarrassed to admit to it when asked. Still, it’s a wonderful thing to have happen and I thought, how amazing, what more could I want?

Well, I admit I did envy those writers whose titles were snapped up by audiobook companies, but I thought, no, no way would I ever get that lucky, imagine having a professional actor read your words––not going to happen.

But it did happen! Both my titles, A NICE PLACE TO DIE and BLOOD RELATIONS were sold to Tantor Audio, a huge audiobook publisher, and now A NICE PLACE TO DIE is out in the world, read by a fabulous LA-based Irish actor, Alan Smyth. BLOOD RELATIONS is coming in the next months. My goodness, how fantastically exciting.

Right then, I actually don’t expect anything else to happen, I’m not James Patterson or Colleen Hoover and I’m not buying a home in the Hamptons or a private yacht anytime soon, but as I said at the beginning, A Girl Can Dream, can’t she?

And, here is my dream—a TV series.

We all want that don’t we? Everyone who has written a mystery I’m sure has fantasized about a movie or tv show. It’s fun to imagine what actors would populate your world.

Now––to be clear, I know this is not going to happen, not a chance, too many fabulous mystery books out there are not on TV, and seriously, how can this be? Dervla McTiernan, Sarah Stewart Taylor, Adrian Mckinty, just to name a few.

Still, it’s fun to pick actors and actresses you would like to play roles in your book.

Since most of you won’t have read my novels, I have just a few main characters to tell you about and who I’d like to cast. My hero/protagonist is Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride––and he’s easy––In more ways than one. Tall, with dark hair and navy eyes. A typical brooding Irishman, as one of my other characters described him.

Let me see… Jamie Dornan? Too obvious? Although, he would be perfect—no? Three years older than Ryan (who was born in 1989). Or another candidate, David Caves, he plays Jack Hodgson in the British crime series Silent Witness. He even, and totally by coincidence, attended the same school as Ryan, Campbell College in Belfast. He is quite a bit older though, ten years. As is handsome Aidan Turner of recent Poldark fame. He was born in 1983. Allowances could be made, seriously.

Ryan’s partner, Billy Lamont, is tall too, and skinny. Light brown curly hair and freckles. A family man to the core. I’d love Domhnall Gleeson to play him, he would be perfect. And Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame would be fabulous too. Eddie Redmayne would work, yes he’s a little older, but he looks young…so, I’ll pencil him in.

As for Ryan’s boss, Inspector Girvan, I’d have to narrow that one down to either Brendan Gleeson or Liam Cunningham. Obviously Kenneth Branagh would work but he’s probably busy. I’ll pencil him in too, just in case…

Detective Constable Maura Dunn. She’s serious, well organised and once she starts an investigation, she’s all consumed by it, she won’t let go. She’s focussed on the job and when she started in the police she cut her long hair to a no-nonsense bob. Aisling Franciosi seems to fit the bill, and Sarah Greene would do nicely too, she’s a little older but a terrific actress.

My latest book, BLOOD RELATIONS, has a couple of secondary characters I would love to see on screen. Gracie and Doris, two older ladies who get into big trouble and then manage to get out of it again. And Chief Inspector Sheila Howells. She swears like a trooper and is outrageously politically incorrect. My pick for her? Siobhán McSweeney. (The headmistress nun in Derry Girls.)

Do you have favorite books you would love to see as a TV series or movie? How would you cast them?


Belfast, Northern Ireland: early spring 2017. Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride and his partner Detective Sergeant Billy Lamont are called to his desolate country home to investigate. In their inquiry, they discover a man whose career with the Police Service of Northern Ireland was overshadowed by violence and corruption. Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past, or his present?

And who hated the man enough to kill him twice?

Is it one of Patrick Mullan’s own family, all of them hiding a history of abuse and lies? Or a vengeful crime boss and his psychopathic new employee? Or could it be a recently released prisoner desperate to protect his family and flee the country? Ryan and Billy once again face a complex investigation with wit and intelligence, all set in Belfast and the richly atmospheric countryside around it.