Sunday, October 17, 2021

Do I need an Apple Watch?


RHYS BOWEN: We are not exactly in the forefront of technology in our house. John had a flip phone until I finally put my foot down when, for the zillionth time I landed at the airport, called to be picked up only to hear his recording because he hadn’t turned it on! So I bought him an IPhone and guess what—he forgets to charge it for weeks. So I land at the airport and …. Get his recording. 

I’ve never been one for gadgets. Strangely enough that is John. We have the bread maker and the bacon slicer and the onion cooker and the food sealer and the air fryer and the juicer and even the battery powered shoe polisher. 

But I like to be organized. I have always loved agendas. I used to love my Dayrunner. But then something happened: The Dayrunner begat the Compac electronic diary. Which begat the Palm Pilot, Which begat the Blackberry which begat the iPod, which begat the iPad, then the iPhone and the Mac. So now I’m thinking of getting an Apple Watch. I didn’t consider it before because it’s big and I’ve always gone for small watches. 

But events have propelled me toward making the decision: I know nobody needs a watch these days with their phone nearby but I like to glance at my wrist to see when I have to leave. Remember the Jack In the Box commercial when the intern calls Jack’s wristwatch “Your little wrist clock” as if she’s never seen one before. 

 I’ve been a Swatch girl for ages. I love Swatches with their fun patterns and the fact that I can swim without taking them off. But they have silicone bands that have started to irritate my wrist. So I’ve been walking around with a bare wrist for a few weeks, glancing down every now and then to see that the time is two hairs past a freckle. 

So I need a different watch. I have Seikos: four to date. But I don’t like them. The metal bands are uncomfortable and I have to take them off to swim and shower. So I’m seriously looking at Apple Watches. I can see the benefits: I wouldn’t have to carry my phone around with me all the time. I could leave it in a sensible place where I could find it instantly. (yeah, right! I have to call it from my house phone hundreds of times a day because I’ve left it somewhere). And I’d get my texts, and record my steps and laps And it would warn me if my heart started mis-behaving. It hasn’t yet, but who knows?  But it is super-big and clunky and I think it has a silicone strap that would also irritate my wrist. So I'm in a quandry.

Who has an Apple Watch? Who loves it? Hates it?

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Openings and Closings.


RHYS BOWEN: I have never been good at opening things, or closing them, for that matter: Back in the days when I had little children at home and cakes from cake mixes were a regular treat I could never work out how to open the cake mix box. Usually I had to dig a knife in, have a generous amount of mix cascade to the floor before I read the words “Open other end.” Cans, beer bottles all present problems. Interestingly enough I am a whiz at opening champagne, having been taught the trick by my brother. You put a cloth over the cork, hold the cork firmly and twist the bottle. Perfect every time ! 

Perhaps I needed someone in my youth to teach me all the tricks of opening things. And closing them. When I was a student in Germany I worked in a grocery store and sometimes we had to gift wrap boxes of chocolates. Other employees produced these neat and lovely wrapped boxes, tied with ribbon. Mine was—well, sorry looking. 

Let me confess that for Christmas these days I buy bags and tissue paper. So much easier and they can be reused. My daughter actually made a batch of fabric bags one Christmas. I still use them. Another thing I’m useless at is strapping packages with sticky tape. First I can never find the end of the tape, then it sticks to my fingers, curls onto itself and I need at least three tries before I can do any wrapping.

 But this makes me think of my writing. Openings and closings. So vital to know where to come into a story and where to leave it. Too many writers make the mistake of coming in too soon, giving us lots of detail in the first chapter before we get to anything important. Or of introducing too many characters so that we are confused about Paul and Peter and Frank and Richard. Who the hell are they? And where are we? No sense of place. 

I work and rework the opening scene in my head for ages before I actually start a book. Where do we come in to this person’s life? I know many mystery writers start with the dead body. I like to bring a group of characters together, let us watch their interactions and think ‘no good can come of this’ and then one of them is killed. So sometimes I don’t have a murder in the first hundred pages. (It’s against the rules, I know. But the books do win awards so I guess I’m allowed to break the occasional rule). But knowing exactly where to start is important. 

In Murphy’s Law I chose to start AFTER a major event has happened. Molly is fleeing after she kills the landlord’s son when he is trying to rape her. We know she is running away but we only find out the details as the story unfolds. I think it worked well. She says that her dress is sticky at the back, but “about the state of the front of my dress I chose not to think”. I also toy with the first line endlessly until I am satisfied. I don’t think I can ever do better than “That mouth of yours will get you into trouble one day.” 

And definitely not better than Julia’s “It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby!” Brilliant. Brilliant. 

 I also liked the first line from The Tuscan Child: He knew he was going to die. That much was obvious. 

It’s great to tease with the first line.: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might have still been sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood. So instantly the reader asks who is Helen Barton? And they want to know what happened next. 

 That is actually the secret of every novel WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! IT begins when you read to a small child and say “One day a little chicken found the gate open and wandered out into the forest. In that forest lived a hungry fox.” And you have to turn the page… 

Obviously in many of my books setting the scene is important. Our first page captures the essence of Venice in the Venice Sketchbook. We like to know where we are—time and place. 

But when we come to closings, I’ve had readers complain I’ve ended my books too soon. I was satisfied I’d solved the murder. They want to see the characters happy, moving on, going back to normal lives. They need time to process the shocking events they’ve witnessed, just as the characters themselves need time. Sometimes I like to end on a twist, or a provocative thought. IN Evanly Bodies Evan has solved three murders and found three women who met at a shelter for battered women and each provided the alibi for the other. Brilliant as they didn’t move in the same circles or know anybody in common. But Evan solves it. His superior congratulates him. Evan says “But she won’t go to prison, will she? He was abusing her.” And his superior says “Not at the moment she pulled the trigger.” And Evan realizes he’s condemned these women to jail. 

So how do you like your stories? Do you expect a body in chapter one, or can you take the slower pace of setting the scene.  And do you like the book to go on after the crime is solved? Do you need a satisfying ending? How about you Reds? Do you agonize over your openings and closings?

Friday, October 15, 2021

Rhys's Fashion Lament

 RHYS BOWEN:  Have you tried to buy clothes recently? It seems that everywhere is now catering to the young woman—the very young woman.  I was in Macy’s the other day, looking for a pair of tailored black pants. Good luck with that. Leggings, jeggings, beggings…. It is my supreme belief that nobody over the age of 18, or a top-level athlete looks good in leggings unless they are worn with a tunic top over them. Most people’s behinds are not flattering . And most tops now stop at the waist instead of being long enough to hide a multitude of sins.

Even my go-to dress store, Chico’s has started making slimmer and slimmer pants and is clearly going for a younger market. And Talbots now makes its dresses above the knee.  It seems that nobody cares about us oldies, which is stupid because WE ACTUALLY HAVE MONEY TO SPEND AND LEISURE TIME TO SPEND IT.

I was in a London department store once and overheard a very posh British voice saying to the sales clerk “Don’t you have any proper, normal clothes?”  I know how she felt. She was a lady of certain age, wanting to look classic and dignified only to find that all dresses end way above the knee, all waists are now right below the boobs and there is no shaping or tailoring.

And don't get me started on ripped jeans. My granddaughters look as if they are about to go begging on the street in jeans that cost a fortune!

And even the best stores have no idea what looks good on older women. When my mom was shopping for an outfit to wear to daughter Jane’s wedding we were at Nordstroms, in the upscale part and the woman brought out the most unflattering outfits—ballooning tops that were gathered in at the hip, thus giving the impression of Humpty Dumpty, and usually with an enormous silk flower on one boob. My mom, never one to be subtle, put her finger in her mouth and made gagging noises.

I once thought that if I had time I’d open a chain of stores called SILVER FOX, catering only to my peers. There would be a trained advisor for shapewear on hand. A trained beautician to advise of cosmetics, and the clothes would be designed for our age, to flatter a figure that has a few more bulges than it used to. Long draped jackets, tunics, flowing dresses, well cut pants that come up to the natural waist, attractive bright silky blouses to wear with simple suits. We don’t want to look dowdy, we want to look smart, fashionable, businesslike. And we don’t want to be called DEAR by the sales clerk. 

I actually have the means to do this… a nephew who is a fashion designer, who once had his own line but now works for big houses. I’m sure he could design fabulous outfits. It’s just the time and energy I don’t have. But it would be fabulous, wouldn’t it? Do you think it would be a big hit or do you think that oldies don’t shop often enough to make it viable?

So where is your go-to shop? Eileen Fisher but her colors often don’t look good on me. J Jill occasionally. Soft Surroundings?  Otherwise?