Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Not Your Grandmother's Research @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Many eons ago, I did a lot of library research in college, and also graduate school. I studied psychological papers and ran small studies and did data analyses on this work and so on. These days, I do a very different kind of research for my Key West series. Since the books are set in a real place with many real restaurants and people and points of attraction, I like to immerse myself in them during the writing process. (In other words, John and I eat at those restaurants!)

But it’s not only getting the details right that’s important to me. When I am in a place, all kinds of ideas spring up, based on what I’m seeing and hearing. The idea of having to make all of the words up from scratch seems very difficult. I thought you might be interested in some of the experiences, I’ve had while working on Key West Food critic mystery number 15. I will often start a book with an idea, in this case, Hayley Snow and her mother and coworkers are on some kind of a Sunset cruise with important people from Key West. It will go wrong, of course, so I needed to take a boat ride that would go by Mallory Square. John is a very good sport about these kinds of things and this is what we found:

My writing group pal Angelo thought I might get a visit from the FBI when he heard I’d quizzed the captain about ways a boat might blow up.

One of my recurring and very popular characters is Lorenzo, a tarot card reader who works on MALLORY Square. (He is a real person named Ron.) I like to get his take on things, in this case, what sort of person might have been sitting with his fictional tarot card reader character, and what cards would be on his table. We had lunch and he did a reading for my fictional person:

I posted a query on Facebook a couple of weeks ago asking friends and readers What places in Key West they would like to see in the books. One of them mentioned White Crown Pigeon Park, which my sister had also noticed on a previous visit. So I took a ride out there and took pictures and a walk. Until I scared myself, thinking about what might happen here toward the end of this new book…

I’m not sure exactly where this next photo might get worked into a book, but it is an example of the hardships I have to endure: waffles, with fried chicken and sausage gravy at Louies Backyard. (I did walk 4 miles in order to atone for this!)

Miss Gloria has the same weakness for chicken and waffles that I do. Lest you think I’m making all this up, here she’s ordering at the Square Grouper in A POISONOUS PALATE: 

Our waitress came over with menus and water. “Our special

today is fried chicken and waffles.”

“Sold,” said Miss Gloria, slapping the menu on the table.

“Sorry,” she said after the waitress left with our

order. “If you need me to try something, we could call her back.

But that waffle was singing a very powerful siren song.”

Reds, tell us about the kinds of research you’ve either done, or noticed in the books you’ve read!

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

With a Little Help from my Writer Friends and a Giveaway from Barbara Ross

LUCY BURDETTE: We love having our pal Barbara Ross visit the Reds because it means another book is coming soon! She has a giveaway too--that will be happening over at our Reds and Readers Facebook group. So after reading the post, pop over to the group to leave a comment and be entered in the drawing!

BARBARA ROSS: Hello, Jungle Red community! I am so happy to be back here. I’m especially pleased to be celebrating my most recent release, Easter Basket Murder, a novella collection, containing stories by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and me. My contribution to the collection is the novella, “Hopped Along.”

I’m especially pleased because one of the Reds—Julia Spencer-Fleming—was instrumental in the story’s origin.

In the early fall of 2022, I was invited on a weekend writing retreat. The participants included Maine writers Brenda Buchanan, Julia, and our hostess, Robin Facer. The house where we met was spacious with several writing spaces with wonderful lake views. The plan was to work on individual projects during the day, and then meet in the evening for food, wine, and conversation. After dinner we would read from the day’s work, or talk through a knotty plot problem, or discuss, endlessly, the crazy publishing world in which we found ourselves. And as is always the case when crime writers get together, we would laugh and laugh.

One of the reasons I committed to the retreat—besides, you know, fun—was that I was sitting on a time bomb. I had a contract to write a novella. It was due in seven months. At any moment my editor at Kensington was going to ask for my synopsis.

I’d known of the theme, Easter Basket Murder, for over a year at that point. In all that time, I hadn’t come up with a single useable idea. My first thought was, “severed head in an Easter Basket.” I maintain you can do pretty much anything in a cozy if you write it right. In Boiled Over, the second book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series, a foot comes bouncing out of a clambake fire. No one has ever complained. But think as I might, I couldn’t figure a way to make the head in the Easter basket anything but gruesome. That I was getting nowhere told me I wasn’t inspired by the idea.

My novellas are always third in these collections. That means the obvious murder, in this case a murder caused by some item or substance in an Easter basket, will have been used by the time the reader gets to my story. So, I try to come at the theme a little sideways. Another consideration was that Kensington novellas are contracted for between 25,000 and 35,000 words. At that length, only one of my first five novellas was structured like a classic whodunnit. The others were much more like short stories with more of a whatisgoingonhere or whattheheckhappened sort of thrust, and then—twist!

So that is what I knew when I arrived at the retreat. Come at the theme sideways. Surprise the reader with a twist. But I had none of these things, especially not a twist.

When I sat down that first day to write, I found, as writers almost always do, that I knew more about my story than I thought I did. I knew the opening setting—the newly renovated mansion on the island where my protagonist Julia Snowden and her family run their authentic Maine clambakes. I knew the occasion—Easter lunch. And I knew the attendees—Julia’s family and friends, most of the regulars in my cast.

I had one bright image of the opening scene, which I often do when writing, especially when writing a short story. There was a man, an older man, dressed in a morning suit, lying in a vegetable patch, a top hat, and an Easter basket nearby. Julia’s six-year-old nephew finds him while hunting for eggs. He runs to tell the grownups that the Easter bunny is dead in the garden.

Now there was plenty to explore. Why was the man dead in the garden? Why was he dressed like that? I knew he was an old-fashioned butler, not a participant in a wedding for example. I only have one regular character wealthy enough to have ever had a butler, so now that character was in the mix. Complicating things, I discovered as I learned more about the man in the morning suit, I liked him. I wanted Julia to get to know him when he was alive. But how if he was dead in the vegetable garden in the very first scene? Flashbacks? No, because if Julia had met him before, she would recognize him and that would cause all kinds of complications.

It was in this hopeless muddle I reported in that evening. Everyone jumped into the spirit of the challenge, tossing out ideas. (It’s much easier and more fun to write someone else’s book than your own.) We kept going, and in the nature of brainstorming, a lot of the ideas weren’t ones I was going to use. But if you generate enough ideas…Eureka! There it was. My twist. And the solution to the mystery. And the solution to the problem of Julia meeting the man while he was alive. Or did she?

I don’t remember who came up with what. It was definitely a group effort. A very talented group. I am forever grateful.

Readers: Have you ever had a knotty problem someone with an outside perspective helped you solve? Tell us about it. To be entered in the drawing for a hardcover copy of Easter Basket Murder, leave a comment in the Reds and Readers Facebook group.

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara’s Maine Clambake novellas are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in six holiday anthologies from Kensington Publishing. Her twelfth Maine Clambake Mystery, Torn Asunder, will be published on April 23. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Visit her website at

Buy Links for Easter Basket Murder

Easter Basket Murder Book Description

Put on your springtime best and grab a basket, because Easter egg hunting is to dye for in this delightful new collection of Easter-themed capers set in coastal Maine and featuring fan-favorite sleuths from the long-running, bestselling cozy mystery series by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross!


Tinker’s Cove businesses are clashing over a new Easter Basket–themed promotion to boost in-store sales, with tensions boiling over the grand prize—a mysterious golden egg crafted by a reclusive Maine artist. When the one-of-a-kind art piece is stolen, it’s up to part-time reporter Lucy Stone to investigate three struggling entrepreneurs who stick out in the local scene. But a huge town scandal comes into focus when a harmless shopping spree turns deadly, leaving Lucy to stop a murderer from springing back into action . . .


As Bar Harbor’s annual egg hunt approaches, Island Food & Spirits columnist and restauranteur Hayley Powell is thrilled to introduce her grandson, Eli, to local springtime traditions. Turns out, keeping up with a rambunctious toddler isn’t always sunshine and rainbows—especially when a decadent peanut butter treat kills the Easter bunny himself during the festivities! Now, with a clear-as-cellophane case of murder on her hands, it’s up to Hayley to crack the clues and scramble deadly plans before it’s too late . . .


Julia Snowden’s Easter Sunday at Windsholme, a sprawling mansion tucked away on a remote Maine island, looks like it’s been borrowed from the pages of a lifestyle magazine. But when a dead body is discovered in the garden—then vanishes soon after without any explanation—an innocent hunt for eggs becomes a dangerous hunt for answers. With no clues beyond a copy of The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, Julia must find out if April Fool’s Day came early or if she’s caught in a killer’s twisted game . . . 

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Cover Fairies

LUCY BURDETTE: In general, I have been very lucky with the book covers developed by my publishers. My agent refers to these as the good book fairies. Though I don’t have final cover approval, my contracts usually include some initial input. (I’ve talked about how the artwork has changed from the ideas I’ve sent here and here.) they’ve not always turned out exactly as I imagined, but I do expect that the publisher people know more about sales and marketing than I do so unless I really hate it, I go with it. This fall I got word that A SCONE OF CONTENTION, and DEATH ON THE MENU had been selected for Harlequin’s book club. I would get a small royalty and they would put out a new addition with a new cover. That all sounded good! last month the publisher sent the cover for SCONE:

Of course I knew what this was: a Heilan coo, a Scottish breed of rustic cattle indigenous to the Scotland Highlands. However, these animals have a very small cameo in Scone—think background wallpaper. This was cute, but I wasn’t sure this artwork would draw new cozy mystery readers. Ps, what has the animal gored? I think it’s supposed to be scones or baked goods, but I hope it wasn’t… The victim.) in this case I did not have any cover consultation rights so all I could do is think that it would make for a great blog!

RHYS BOWEN: These days I have complete cover input and approval. For my big stand-alones, there is a lot of back and forth and haggling between me, who knows what my book is about and marketing (who are all twenty-something computer geeks who only go by algorithms) but in the end we come up with a good compromise. Sometimes it’s brilliant right away. The Tuscan Child we all loved instantly. The upcoming book, The Rose Arbor, has had many title changes and thus covers before we are all satisfied.

In contrast the Royal Spyness series has had the same illustrator since day 1. I know him. He lives in San Francisco. He asks me what I want and voila. There it is. Perfect.

My very first series, Constable Evans, when I had zero clout, was the artist’s impression of Wales and all the covers had sheep or goats on them. Perhaps this is a requirement for a cozy mystery in the UK. Cozy fans love cats, therefore also have a soft spot for sheep, goats and highland cattle!

HALLIE EPHRON: I got sent two possible cover illustrations for two DIFFERENT books that were nearly identical - a massive steam-punk-looking padlock on a field of blue/black. Perfect if I’d written Bluebeard. The first cover sent me for my updated writing books was a murky green forest. (I said to them, it’s a WRITING BOOK!)

“Please, start over.” And they did.

But I confess I do love Highland cows and if they’d sent me a book cover with one of them, even though my books have none, I’d have been tempted to rewrite the book to shoehorn one in.

Rhys’s book covers are a good study in how the different subgenres are telegraphed by the cover styles. Very effective.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh, Lucy, I am still laughing over that creature–which I will admit when I first saw it, I thought: WHY does Lucy have a buffalo on her cover? Okay, I get it now, but I am distressed by its nose. And the things on the horns. I would ONLY (but instantly) buy this if I knew it was YOUR book.

This is the UK cover of TRUST ME. It’s so UK! First, the publisher did not want me to be Hank Phillippi Ryan, and wanted a more instantly female name. Okay, so much to discuss about this, but here it is.

What I am fascinated by is the cut line. “She may be a bad mother, but is she a killer?”

I’m not sure that’s the way I would have gone with it, but I always try to remember that publishing execs in other countries are aiming for THEIR readers, not for me.

(I did get a wonderful email from the woman who posed for the cover–which is somewhere in my photos and absolutely unfindable.)

As for my current covers, it’s a wonderful collaboration, and truly fun and rewarding and fascinating, and my publisher’s art department is genius. AND I am allowed to say no. So that’s great.

JENN McKINLAY: I am fortunate that I have never had a bad cover, not one, not ever. Like Rhys, I am fortunate that the publisher asks me what I want and then the art department delivers something that’s so much better than my wildest expectations. Now I am going to burn a candle to the cover gods because I don’t want to jinx myself. LOL.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, the more I look at your Highland Cow, the more adorable I think it is. (He? Do the girls have those horns, I wonder?) But I'm not sure that I would instantly get that this is a food-themed cozy mystery.

I've had such a checkered career with the Cover Fairies. I had NO say with the first few books. While the first two were charming, they looked like English historical cozies, not contemporary procedurals. But #3, LEAVE THE GRAVE GREEN, was absolutely awful. Where would you say this book was set?

Not in Henley-on-Thames, where a body is found in a lock. Or in the gorgeous green and mysterious Chiltern Hills, or in the world of the English National Opera, where part of the book takes place. Sigh. I feel fortunate that anyone bought it.

I do have cover approval these days, thank goodness, but it's very much a collaborative process. For a while my publisher used my photos, which was great fun, but then they went for a "bigger book" look. I know we always love our most recent books best, but I do think that my latest cover is my absolute favorite of all of my books.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I’ve been blessed by the cover gods in that none of my published books has had a clunker. After the first book, Minotaur settled on a “vaguely foreboding rural scene” theme which has worked well.

However, when ALL MORTAL FLESH was in the process, someone had the bright idea to rebrand the cover to emphasize the obviously popular romance angle, and I got a couple artists’ concept mock-ups that I refer to as “my vampire covers.” One has the face of a beautiful woman in her twenties, staring toward an off-screen sunset, with a gorgeous guy in his thirties, also in profile, right behind her. This, I understood, was to represent Clare, a 36 year old with a “plain face” “all points and angles”, and Russ, a rugged 50 year old with graying hair and glasses. Huh.

The second one was even worse, if you can imagine it: it took the male model away and had the woman’s face, still in profile, hovering over a very pointy church spire, giving the effect of a giantess about to suffer a horrible injury to her soft palate.

Lucy, I swear, I looked everywhere for these pictures; I think I must have deleted them in horror. The cover they eventually used was based on a sketch I did, after a fairly heated discussion, seated at the St. Martin’s booth at the old BEA (How I miss it! Yes, the Javits Center was awful, but still.)

Question of the day: Reds, tell us about your most unusual (or other adjectives) cover.

Readers tell us about a cover that particularly drew you in or repelled you from reading a possible book.

Sunday, January 28, 2024


RHYS BOWEN: Earlier in the week I shared one of my sketches and got such nice comments about it. 

I took up sketching years ago when a friend showed me his sketches after a trip to Japan and Thailand. He was an eminent chemist and not very good at art but the sketches were so alive and real that I thought I wanted to try. Since then I never travel without my sketch book and tiny paint box. I've filled many sketchbooks and last Christmas I put the best ones into a hardcover book so that the family could all have a copy.

So on this dark and gloomy wintery time of year I go through those sketches and each one brings back a sharp memory of where I was when I painted and exactly what I was experiencing. So much more vivid a memory than a photograph. I'd like to share some now as i lie with one leg propped up, recovering from knee surgery, and dream of where I might go in the summer.

Let's start with one of my Venice sketches, that were part of the inspiration for THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK: This one actually made it to the inside cover of the book (take off the dust jacket if you have a copy).

Then the place I love to be every summer is Cornwall. I've books of sketches but these are a couple of favorites. St Michael's Mount and Cadgwith!

Another favorite place that I dream of on dark winter days is Nice and the beach around the headland in Beaulieu that I would walk to every day from our apartment. 

Two of Italy from the days before I took a paint box with me. Vernazza, one of the towns in Cinque Terre while I was hiking the path and came upon it around a headland to see it lying below me
and Lake Como from a boat.

Sometimes the simplest scenes make the most pleasing subjects. Here is Castellina in Chianti where Hallie and I have both taught writing courses.

And finally from this year one of my sketches that worked out well: the twin of St Micheal's mount, Mont St. Michel in Brittany last summer.

I hope I've given you a little escape from winter and that you might consider taking up sketching too. They don't need to be perfect. You just need to capture the feel of the place.  So who else likes sketching? A Jungle Reds sketching trip in the future?

Saturday, January 27, 2024


 RHYS BOWEN: There’s a commercial on TV at the moment in which a character says “Get out of town!” meaning you’re kidding me, I don’t believe it.  It now sounds antiquated, doesn’t it? But it started me wondering if all the colorful expressions we have inherited will be lost. Children don’t talk much, they text. They don’t read much. And so the language of the future will be spare and efficient but not rich.

 When I think back to my childhood my father was a wealth of proverbs, fun expressions. Favorites were “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” and “don’t cross that bridge before you come to it.” They were usually shortened. “You’re counting your chickens again, aren’t you?”

He had favorite expressions. “Were you born in a barn?” when we left a door open. “Till the cows come home”, meaning you can keep on doing that forever,  And “donkey’s years” meaning a long time.  “Come dung-spread,” was another favorite. Meaning we’ll get it done sometime in the future. Also “ready for the knackers yard and “going to see a man about a dog” (which usually meant going for a pee, or going to do something you don’t need to know about).

 I’m sure many more will come back to me after I’ve written this. The interesting thing about these sayings is that my dad was born and raised in London. Nowhere near a farm. But his parents came from Devon and obviously brought the countryfied sayings with them.

 I still use lots of expressions like “you’re pulling my leg.”  “knickers in a twist”  “Flash in the pan” “Raining cats and dogs.”  Of course none of these things mean anything to the next generation.

 I grew up with my grandmother and great aunt and they were full of sayings. “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out.”  Which meant you kept on your winter clothing.

              If you sneezed it was once a wish, twice a kiss, three times comes a letter.  And spoke with a large vocabulary and complete sentences, a result of a childhood in which reading aloud was the usual Evening pastime.

 Are there any new expressions to take their place, do you think? Or has rich vocabulary been lost along with childhoods of freedom and wonder, playing in the woods, getting muddy and scratched, inventing make believe worlds and all the fun things that we did.

What expressions did your parents use, and do you still use?

Friday, January 26, 2024

I Love My Husband, but...

 RHYS BOWEN: I don’t think human beings were meant to live alone with one person for long years. We are pack animals, society beings. Until now we would have lived with multiple generations in one house, with family around us in one village. This moving off into a house or apartment with just one person is not natural… or easy.

 I’m sure everyone reading this knows that when you go on vacation with a friend and the two of you are alone together for any length of time you find out qualities and traits you didn’t know about that person. Sometimes not so pleasant ones. Imagine then being alone with one man for over fifty years! Luckily I put all thoughts of murder into my books.

  have to say we get along surprisingly well, considering. We laugh at the same things. We have the same set of standards, expectations and morals which is a big help. However after all this time there are things he does that drive me crazy.

 One is that he half-rinses any dishes, cutlery that he uses and leaves them beside the sink. A perfectly good dish washer sits beside that sink but he has never learned to put anything in that dishwasher. So I am constantly finding plates, cooking utensils etc etc lying on the counter.  I bought a rack so that at least he can leave them drying over the sink but he won’t use it. Grrr.

 Since retirement he likes to do the shopping, but he will study the ads and drive to five different supermarkets to get a better deal on avocados. It is no use pointing out that he’s used five dollars worth of gas to save twenty cents. And his economy is sometimes skewed. He’ll drive five miles for those avocados but then came back with spider crab legs at $18 a pound. Never mind. I stay silent because he likes to do the shopping and I have to keep writing.

 But one thing I have learned is that I can’t send him out shopping for a specific item without some sort of surprise. At Christmas we ran out of Christmas napkins. “Go to the store and pick up more Christmas napkins,” I said. He had no idea what Christmas napkins were, never having noticed them beside his plate for the past fifty years. “You know. Santa. Snowmen. Something tasteful and festive.”

                So he came back with this….


“You said green,” he replied peevishly when I pointed out that these were hardly festive.


And over the weekend I mentioned that I had just eaten the last banana if he happened to be in the supermarket.  And. He came back with…


No use mentioning that bananas don’t last long and we can’t possibly eat that many.

As they say in the south, “Bless his little heart.”


So confession time, Reds. What does your spouse do ( or in Hallie and Julia’s case did he do) that made you roll your eyes in despair?

HALLIE EPHRON: My sweet husband did his “shopping” in other people’s garbage. We live at the nexus of 3 garbage-pickup routes so his evening rambles varied accordingly. I still remember when he brought home a steamer-trunk-sized wicker basket that was padlocked shut and pasted with labels written in Cyrillic. 

He hurried out again (maybe they were going to put out more choice stuff!) and sure enough, came back with ANOTHER steamer-trunk-sized wicker basket, slightly larger than the first. 

A nested set. 

And off he went again. Leaving me with visions of Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins (the king orders him to TAKE OFF HIS HAT and when he does a larger/fancier one appears in its place… and a larger one… and). 

There was no third wicker trunk, but it’s an important plot point in NEVER TELL A LIE. Inside are found a bloodstained straitjacket… (The actual trunks contained massive accounting ledgers that even my Jerry willingly threw out.)

JENN McKINLAY: How much time do we have? Kidding. Mostly. Hub and I are cruising up on our 25th wedding anniversary this April and we have come to appreciate and tolerate our idiosyncrasies over the years. I sing all the time, apparently. I didn’t know that I did this until Hub pointed it out. Huh. Luckily, I can sing, it’s just that I get caught in my greatest hits loop (Bobby McGee, etc) that drives him batty. For me, it’s the cap on seat down issues. By all that is holy, do not walk over the cat vomit and then tell me about it like it’s my job. Finders keepers, my dude! Also, when unpackaging whatever, mail, food items, etc., we actually have bins for the remainders be it recyclable or not, you decide but pick one and use it!

I remember when I was attempting to train the Hooligans to be aware of such things as picking up after themselves, and I said to H1, “Put your cereal bowl in the sink. We don’t have house elves.” He gasped in shock and said, “You gave them clothes!” LOL. 

LUCY BURDETTE: after almost 32 years, I really cannot complain. John is a gem. Funnily enough on the cat vomit though, John would simply not see it. He gets very focused on what he’s doing and listening to, so that small things are not on the radar. If we do have an argument, it would be about directions and navigation. (Why ask for help if you’re going to go another way in any case??)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aww, Jonathan is pretty adorable.He makes lunch, does the dishes WAY better than I do, and never complains that I am using the dining room table as a book marketing fulfillment center.  He does, like Lucy’s John, disagree with the GPS direction thing. ”It WANTS you to go the other way,” I say. “ It KNOWS traffic things you don’t know”. He doesn't care. 

Or sometimes  he’ll say: “Okay, you want me to go the GPS way?”  Like it’s MY fault if it turns out to be  a mistake.

Oh, I guess I could say..he cannot find anything. He'll ask: “Where’s the mustard?”  I’ll say: “ Fridge door, middle shelf, last thing on the right.” It’ll be right where I said it was–but he can’t find it.

But you know, who cares. He's the cutest.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: As we are coming up on thirty years this spring–I am gobsmacked at the thought, how could it possibly be that long?--I'm pretty good at ignoring the annoying things. (Especially as the hubby does things like fix my suddenly non-functioning computer keyboard at 1 a.m. last night!) But he does suffer from some of the same husband-itis quirks mentioned above. Leaving rinsed dishes in the sink or on the counter, not in the dishwasher. Leaving the mail I've sorted for him (because I am a "deal with it immediately and everything has a place" person) lying on the kitchen island for two weeks. Oh, and he can't find anything in the fridge either. Not that I can blame him, I suppose, as the contents are a sort of three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle and you risk life and limb when you hunt for things–or at least having a jar fall out and break your toe.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I guess love is when you get to spend 30 years together and it feels way too short. Which is not to say my dear Ross didn’t drive me CRAZY at times. The socks, every night, on the floor on hs side of the bed. Because he was going to “wear them again,” which he never did, because I tossed them in the hamper. 

Like Rhys’s John, he would come back from the grocery proudly displaying the great bargain he had gotten: steaks at only $6.50 a pound. Total: $35. For one meal. For a family of five on a budget.

Like Hallie’s Jerry, he was a bit of a hoarder. I still have his textbooks from law school up in the attic (too heavy for me to lift)  and he graduated in 1986. When he died, I was finally able to get rid of the boxes full of his classroom materials he put away every summer and NEVER reused. Not going to lie - it felt good.

Like Lucy and Hank’s John and Jonathan (I guess we know what name was popular in the ‘40s!) Ross made baffling navigation choices; the most irritating of which was his refusal to just backtrack if he got off the route we had mapped out. He would always insist he could “box the compass” and get us where we wanted to be. Like… how hard is it to pull into a driveway and turn around? It’s not a judgment on your manhood.

Rinsed dishes in the sink? Check. Not finding things in the fridge unless right in front of his nose? Check. I guess Ross was kind of an ur-husband.

RHYS:  Any other husband/partner quirks to share? I guess none of ours can be too bad as we'll stuck it out for quite a long time!

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Hoarders Anon?

 RHYS BOWEN: Following yesterdays post on clothing colors and what they mean I’m taking on storage. I feel as if I’m moving into spring cleaning mode, out with the old and in with the new. Throwing out what I no longer use. Trying to find a place for everything. We have a six bedroom house for two people and every room—almost every room—has too many things in it. (wait till you see tomorrow's post and you'll know who is responsible) The only exception is one of the guest rooms which Clare and Tim tackled last year with a dumpster and threw out the entire contents of the closet. Fabric and stuffed toys and long abandoned clothing and do you know what? I haven’t missed a single thing.

My daughter Jane made me abide by a rule which I’ve kept to. For every one new item of clothing that comes into the closet, two must go out.  It works well. It’s amazing how many things we keep “because they’re still good and I might wear them some day.” I should point out that the photo is only one segment of a very full closet!

 Our big problem is that we have too much, don’t we? When I was growing up each bedroom had a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. Those had to hold all the clothing of a couple, and they probably did. We did not have many clothes. My father had one good suit for funerals and board meetings. I wore school uniform all week and then had a winter dress, a good pair of winter slacks and a few hand knitted sweaters. In summer I had a couple of summer dresses and shorts and blouse. That was it.  For my toys I had one shelf. I don’t want to sound as if I’m whining. I truly never felt deprived and most of my friends had about the same. It was the wars after WWII and things were still scarce. So we didn’t need much storage.

 Go back two more generations to my grandmother and great aunt who lived with us: my great aunt Min (really Sarah Ann) had what she called her Tut bag. I think it must have come from the French tout, meaning everything because that was how she pronounced it. In it she kept all her treasures: a silk scarf, a couple of broaches, a few photographs. Every item that meant something to her was in that little bag. When I was small I used to ask to look at it and she’d lovingly share each item, explaining its meaning to me. She had so much less than we did and yet she also never felt deprived. She grew up sharing a room with two sisters. They had a school dress, over which they wore a white pinafore and a good dress for Sundays. That was it.


At the moment the beds in one of the spare rooms are covered in photo albums while John does some sort of project. I have two big boxes of purses that I rarely use. I know I should buy one purse for winter and one for summer and throw out the rest but I can’t seem to do so. I have given away a lot of good jewelry to the next generation and all the shoes that are not good for my ankles. I suppose that’s a start.

But we won't even mention the garage, which, I have to confess, has never housed a car. Instead it is full of garden furniture, John's various beers, racks of wine, and my excess books that I have no idea what to do with... yes, clumsy sentence. So call the grammar police.

 So I’m very interested to know how you declutter. Hallie, I know you threw out a lot of stuff. Was it hard? The children say “don’t you dare die and leave us with all this.” Good suggestions appreciated!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

My Beige Period.

RHYS BOWEN:  I just ordered a couple of new jackets from Banana Republic. One is oatmeal color, the other camel. And a cream sweater. When I hung them in my closet I realized that I had been buying variations on stone, beige, camel for the past year. 

And I also realized that I suddenly fancy a certain color, never based on what is popular that year. I don’t realize I’m doing it but when I look at the items hanging up I can see that that was my navy blue period, that was my teal, my turquoise and once, God forbid, my mauve. Don’t worry, they’ve all been donated long ago.

I have come a long way on my fashion journey from the Sixties, when I was tres tres fashionable, did some modeling, worked for the BBC, had a Vidal Sassoon haircut and wore Mary Quant to the Seventies when I was flowing and flowery, to the Big Shoulders of the Eighties and then got some idea of the look I wanted: well cut, timeless, professional, I suppose. But I've never really hit upon MY COLOR.  I had my colors done and I was definitely a spring. Pastels, light colors.  I look awful in black, red, anything bright. But this doesn't account for a sudden yearning for a particular color that I'm not even aware of until I can see a whole line of them hanging in my closet.

 So what can it be that makes me decide I have to have a certain color at a certain time? Is it how I’m feeling about life? Was I more upbeat and cheerful in my turquoise year? Sweet and lovable in my pink year? And now, in my beige period, am I more subdued and boring? (But then I saw this pic of Angelina Jolie and she is wearing... so maybe I am fashionable after all)


I know other people decide what their colors are and stick to them—I’m thinking of Hank and her black suits for work, occasional splashes of red. She knows who she is, what she represents and what suits her. Perhaps I’m still looking for who I am? Roberta—psychiatric help needed please.

 Reds and Reddies, did you ever have your colors done?  Do you stick to a few that suit you? Do you follow fashion trends Or do you move between colors like me? What makes you choose?

Tuesday, January 23, 2024


 RHYS BOWEN: I was at a college reunion a while ago when a woman I hadn’t seen since college asked me, a haughty look on her face, “So have you ever had a proper job?”

I had told her I’d been a writer all my life.  I replied that no, but my improper job had paid off a house, put four children through college and enabled me to live a very nice lifestyle.

 After that I thought about this. I’d actually gone to work for the BBC right after college, which was a highly proper job. I’d been an announcer for the World Service before I settled in drama where I started writing plays as well as working on the production team. So it was true to say I’d been a professional writer my whole adult life. After that I had done bits of teaching—drama, dance and then ten years teaching English with a writing emphasis at Dominican University, which had been a joy. But never a full time, nine to five sort of job.

 So I’ve been blessed to have time and energy to spend for my craft. Other people have to find time, snatch odd minutes to write. My daughter Clare, now writing Molly Murphy with me, gets up at 5 am to write. I’d also been lucky that I’d never had the sort of job I hated, that bored me. The sort where one looks at the clock to see when it might be lunch time.

 But the more I thought about it, I realized I had had some pretty awful jobs during my early life. I’d worked for the post office at Christmas as a teen. This involved being given an incredibly heavy bag stuffed full of letters and packages. Walking up and down several streets delivering them and then being met by a truck with another full bag halfway through. So if I wasn’t quick enough with the first half I was landed with two bags.

 My other job during high school was working at a nursery—not babies but plants. It was quite backbreaking work: one of my jobs was to scrape the moss growing on the top of pots of heather. I had to work my way down an incredibly long greenhouse picking up one pot, running my fingers over it to scrape off the moss, put it back, pick up next one. Thousands and thousands of pots. Unheated greenhouse. Freezing cold fingers rubbed raw.

 There was a strange old woman who worked with us. She was a spiritualist. She used to say “They are all around us” in a scary voice. Then she went home at four, while I was left to work alone in an unlit greenhouse until five thirty. In winter it got dark at four. I would glance at the distance doorway ready to make a dash for it if any spirits appeared.

 The only thing good about that job was that it sparked my future career:

 I worked with my school friend Mary and together we created a murder mystery involving all the weird and wonderful people who worked there. We created a victim (Gladys, the spiritualist) , a murderer and a motive. Every day we added more to our plot. The murderer was the owner’s rather arrogant son. Gladys had overheard him doing something he shouldn’t, maybe growing some illegal cannabis plants,  and had to go.  It was great fun and I think we made up quite a good story.

 So that wasn’t my worst job. My very worst was between college and the BBC. I finished college in June and my training at Broadcasting House didn’t start until October. So I had to earn some money for the flat I was renting with friends. I got a job with IBM. That sounds pretty slick, doesn’t it? Except it was as the tea lady.  I had to come in early and make enormous urns of tea and coffee. Then I had to push them around all the floors, dispensing beverages to the staff. There was only one problem. That tea trolley was incredibly heavy. I had a hard time controlling it. I would go flying down a hallway and crash through double doors at the end. Not a pretty sight.  I also found out how people at the bottom of the heap are treated.

                “Two cups of coffee, girl. No sugar. Make it snappy. We’re busy.”  Some people talked to me like that. Snapped their fingers. Were rude if I slopped any into a saucer. Of course, being me I got even. “Would you like one lump or two?” I would ask in my most plummy upper class accent, rivaling the queen’s. Then they realized that I was higher up the social scale than they were and they didn’t know what to do. Most satisfying.

                But I didn’t last long in that job. There were supposed to be two of us. The other girl quit after two days. The work was too much for one person. It involved serving in the restaurant during lunch then rushing back to make the afternoon tea. No break for eight hours. I asked when they’d get a replacement. Nothing happened. I gave it a good shot and then I quit.

 But it was a good learning experience for one who’d had a privileged life. It showed me what some people have to go through, and how to treat everyone with respect. It made me realize that some people have to face boring, backbreaking work every day. I’ve been the lucky one.

 So what was your very worst job?

Monday, January 22, 2024


 RHYS BOWEN: First let me say I loved being part of our Reddies live last Wednesday. To know we are reaching out to so many people across the world is amazing. And I was interested to see how many other people start their day with Wordle!

I confess, I like to play. Call me Peter Pan but I have never grown up. I have been known to sit on one of the swings at the park if no one is watching. I have to remind myself that I am not twenty when I see a chain across the path and think, “I could hurdle that.”

 I once caused a sensation on an Indian beach when I found lots of hermit crabs, lined them up and then let them have a race to get back to the ocean. I looked around to see I was surrounded by a crowd of solemn Indian spectators in saris watching me as if I was performing a religious ceremony.  I can’t go to a beach without finding shells, rocks, driftwood in interesting shapes.

 I also have to have daily play to punctuate a hard working writing routine. My days always begin with Wordle, followed by Letter Boxed and Spelling Bee. I have tried Connections but it drives me crazy. My brain is just not on the same wavelength as the creator. How do I know that these four words are all the middle name of Rappers? Whereas Wordle… I’m on his wavelength. I can often do it in three tries.

 Later in the day I play Scrabble against the computer. I call him Ivan because he is so terrible. He knows all sorts of words that I can’t believe are in any dictionary. So when I put down EXTRA he will come up with XTRYZOTLY or something similar. Or even once HMM. Or GRRR.   How can they be fair? Still I insist at playing at the skilled level and occasionally I do beat him.( You’ll notice I’ve made him male).

 One thing I’m not good at is Suduku. It frustrates me because I find it hard and others zip through it, including an elderly relative I’ve always thought of as rather dim. 

And my other form of play is art. I love painting and sketching, but also making fun little craft projects, like the miniature bookstore and these mice that now adorn my small Christmas tree.(Whoops, it’s no longer a Christmas tree. It’s a winter mouse tree and will stay up as long as I need a twinkle.)

 So how about you, Reds? Do you play? And dare I ask: are you good at Suduku?

LUCY BURDETTE: I’ve done spelling bee on and off but find it frustrating. I do love Wordle and Connections, but I save them for the end of the day as a reward for working! This isn’t really a game, but I also love to play “The Hunt”, which is in the real estate section of the New York Times. Someone is looking for a condo or house, then you read about what they want and how much $$ they can spend, then 3 options are presented. You choose what you would buy, and what you think they bought. I love this! Sometimes (like today) I want to save it for later, but I can’t–it’s too tempting.

I think dancing counts as playing, right? I love dancing and loved dancing with the Reds at Crime Bake. I also love wailing on my ukulele with my neighbor and anyone else we can suck in. We’re not very good, but it’s so much fun!

HALLIE EPHRON: I’ve only recently gotten hooked on games. 

I love the NY Times Spelling Bee which I do every morning and occasionally find the Pangram and bask in being a “GENIIUS”! Also Tiles. And Connections - a new game which is challenging to the point of being annoying. 

And I can usually do the Times crossword puzzles through Wednesday. And the Boston Globe crossword puzzle every day except Sunday.Keyword in the Washington Post is fast fun. And My favorite way to waste time is to play bridge online at Bridgebase. 

(And I wonder why my next book isn’t getting written….) 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: A few years ago I went through a massive games stage: Wordle, Tradle (where you had to identify countries by looking at their major exports) , Artle (where you had to figure out a famous piece of art by just seeing bits of  it) and something I forget the name of where you had to identify movies by looking at one frame of video. Anyone remember?  I LOVED those, passionately, then I didn’t.

Now I’ve moved on to the New York Times Sunday Spelling Bee, where I HAVE to get the palindrome of my day is ruined.  (Somedays I get it instantly! And other times it takes the whole day but I never give up.) AND the NYT weekly news quiz. MUST DO.

The daily Bees I LOVE , but I am afraid to start usually, because I refuse to stop until I get genius, and I start hearing the responsibility clock tick.

Also in The New Yorker, there’s a “can you name that notable person in six clues in 100 seconds.  MUST do those.

Suduku. Not a chance. NO way. My brain will not do that.

JENN McKINLAY: It’s funny you should post this, Rhys. My project for January is to go through the 10,000 pictures on my Shutterfly account and curate the keepers. I am up through 2011 from my account’s beginnings in 2000. Oy! One thing I have discovered is how much playing my family has done over the years. Hub and I are both children, apparently, as we’re skateboarding, boogie boarding, zip lining, and even upside down on the monkey bars right alongside the Hooligans. It’s been great fun revisiting all of these adventures. As for puzzles, Hub is a daily sudoku and crossword person. He never misses a day. I play solitaire and wordscapes on my phone when I am sitting on a plane waiting to take off or in line at the DMV, otherwise not so much for me. I did love Wordle for a while but I just don’t have the time for it on a daily basis - too many critters to corral around here!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Now you have got me hooked on Wordle, which I had steadfastly avoided, figuring I didn't need any more distractions. But it only takes about five minutes and it's really fun. Hank got me into Tradle for a while, too, then it dropped off my radar. I don't do the crossword regularly, because I tend to get obsessed with it and will spend the rest of the day trying to figure out the clues I didn't get.

But, like Lucy, I am addicted to Hunt in the New York Times. I can never save it for the end of the day–it's too tempting.

My grandmother loved Solitaire, and  always had a game laid out on the dressing table in her bathroom. (What a nice memory!) But I never learned to play, and I've never been tempted to try the computer version. It seems like a waste of time when you could be reading a good book (or writing one) but I have to confess that I love Bejeweled and will play it on my phone if I'm stuck somewhere and need to pass a little time.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I don’t think I was much for outdoor play when I was a kid - my favorite way to pass time was to wander hither and thither and pretend I was a part of some elaborate story in my head. Now  do it professionally!

I come from a family addicted to card games, and whenever I get together with my cousins, a deck or two comes out. I also adore board games, and used to joke I had three kids so I would always have enough people to play with. We’ve had so much fun over the years with the old classics like Sorry, Monopoly, Life, and wonderful new ones like 5-Minute Dungeon and Ticket to Ride  - the only one they refuse to join me in is Clue. They say I have an unfair advantage. 

Online, I’m a sucker for Mah-Jongg Solitaire, and Debs, I have Bejeweled on my phone, too! I usually wrap up my evenings in bed with the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle. It makes me sleepy, unlike reading, where I’m likely to stay up until all hours.

RHYS: So how about you, Reddies? What do you like to play? Who is a Suduku whiz?

Sunday, January 21, 2024

In Your Dreams

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How are you sleeping these days? Last week I interviewed an author named Matthew Blake, who wrote a very cool thriller called Anna O. About someone who does (or doesn't) commit murder while they're sleeping.


Our conversation evolved into a discussion of dreams.


And I am always fascinated by recurring dreams, the ones we have over and over, which sometimes we think can be explained and sometimes, we cannot.


One dream I have all the time, I mean all the time! Is that I am in a house, and it is my house, but it's not where I live now or any place I've ever lived, but in the dream, it is definitely my house.


It has a huge open living room, with wall floor to ceiling windows, and it looks out over a lake? Maybe. With mountains behind it. It is absolutely sleek and beautiful.


But upstairs, well, the stair risers are hand painted with gorgeous flowers, and when I go upstairs, I turn the corner and ohh! There's a room I forgot about! How did I forget about that?


And I open the door to the room and there is... well, it's gorgeous. It's full of books, and gorgeous things that I can't quite put my finger on to describe, but one of the things is a big chest of drawers, like map drawers, very thin. And when you open each thin drawer, inside is velvet lined with beautiful cashmere scarves and pearls and things like that. Why did I forget this was all there? I think in the dream.

I love that dream.


I also used to have a dream that I was in a play, a musical, and suddenly, I was about to go on stage and I realized I had never practiced, and I did not know the words, and I did not know the steps, and Oh my golly, what was I going to do? It was absolutely terrifying.


Then, one night, I had the dream, and I was in the midst of it, and in the midst of the dream I said to myself, “Hey. This is a dream, so don't be upset about it. And also,  anyway, you know the steps and you know the words so everything is fine.”


 And then I woke up. And I have never had that dream again.


However. Lest do you think my stress is over. A few nights ago I had a dream that I was giving a dinner party, but it wasn't at my house, it was in some hotel, where the kitchen was incredibly far from the dining area.


And for some reason I was cooking, and for some reason I had forgotten about the whole thing, and guests in glittering outfits were arriving and I had not even started the salmon!

In my dream I ran to the restaurant in the hotel and said: Please! I need 20 salmon dinners right now! Please! And the woman said: "No, we're closing, there's no way can do that."


And in the dream I burst into tears, collapsed into her arms, and said "PLEEEEEASE! I need the salmon!"


And then I woke up.

And I am still laughing.


Reds and readers, how about you? What's your recurring dream? And what do you think those above mean, if you have a theory...

Saturday, January 20, 2024

I Admit It: I Clicked.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN; Are you susceptible to click bait? How you bought things on Facebook and Instagram?

I know I shouldn’t do it, I am well aware, but there are some topics that when the Internet presents them, I cannot resist! For instance, recent topics clicked:

How long can a opened box of chicken broth last in the refrigerator?

What is the best way to store cucumbers?

An easy way to make high protein cauliflower cheese snacks!

Paul Simon reveals who he was talking about in the song The Boxer.

Princess Diana’s hairstyles throughout the years.

The top ten things women wear that make them look older.

These are not made up. I have clicked on these. (Would you?)

If you want to know any of the answers, just let me know in the comments.

(And I’ll put some more click bait answers on the Reds and Readers facebook page–where we’ll have a Saturday giveaway!)

I have also clicked on the emails I get from a certain department store. The headline would say: “We picked this outfit just for you!” 

And I think:  "Awww, you did?  How wonderful, let me see! "

(Of course “they” didn’t. There’s not even a they.)

And I click on it, and it is something so NOT me that I can’t even believe it.  Like this.

 (Sorry, Designer, and I'm sure some younger person will adore this, but um, not me.)

And then, if I click to get a closer look, of course, then I have clicked, and they start sending me emails that say “OH! that dress you loved is now on sale!” 

When I never loved it in the first place. I only clicked on it because I had to see it close up to believe it.

And once I actually bought an item, a stretchy jersey thing, like a headband but that you put around your wrist. It had a zipper pouch. And it was supposed to hold a phone. But… It didn’t. It was completely useless and worthless. And could not be returned. (Grrr. Anyone want a…stretchy wrist thing?)

I know someone gets money, somehow, when you click. But I will admit that I do not understand it.

Are you susceptible to those things online? (How about Cat videos? Come on, you watch cat videos.)

Come on, Reds and Readers.  What did you click on? What did you really need to know?

What is the clickbait that drives you mad?

And have you ever bought anything?

Let us know--so we can beware! Or... join in.  :-) 

And we'll see you on the Reds and Readers page for a giveaway.

Hmm. This seems like a good time to ask.  Are you going to the Facebook page?
 Did you come HERE first, or go there first?
Did you attend our first-ever Happy Hour?