JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I have to confess, I thought I "discovered" S.J. Bolton. Last year, I picked up Now You See Me, the first mystery in her DC Lacey Flint series. I ripped through it and went looking for the next, Dead Scared. I was recommending the books to friends, patting myself on the back on being able to introduce people to this great unknown British author... until I found out she wasn't really that unknown. In fact, she's been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger, the Theakston's Old Peculier prize for crime novel of the year, the International Thriller Writers' Best First Novel award and the Mary Higgins Clark award (four times in a row! Her thriller Awakening won that one.)
Okay, I wasn't the first to find out about Sharon Bolton. But - and here we get to today's theme - I wouldn't have discovered her if I hadn't been reading out of my comfort zone. Like a lot of us, I had fallen into the habit of picking up a narrow range of books. British police procedurals (excepting our own Deb Crombie's series) were not on the list. But last year, I challenged myself to dig into books that I normally wouldn't seek out. And you know what? It was a great experience. Here's S.J. (Sharon) Bolton to tell us about her pushing the envelope moments.
Photo: ModernistaOn Mothers’ Day this year (10th March in the UK) I ran a five km race through ankle-deep mud. I scaled hills, fell down slopes, crawled through drainpipes, clambered over hay-bales and waded through waist-deep water. I didn’t cover myself in glory (I finished 4th from last) nor did I behave with great dignity. ‘Feel free to give me a shove up the arse,’ I told the man who was coming up behind me in the pipe. ‘Can’t,’ he replied. ‘My shorts are coming down.’
I’m not a natural runner. But my son runs, and I’ve learned that the key to family cohesion can lie in common interests; even if this invariably pushes parents way beyond their comfort zones.
I run so that I can share something with my son. Physical fitness is a fringe benefit. Another is the emotional growth that comes from the willingness to embracing a new challenge.
Now, life lessons can often be applied to writing, I find. Writers who grow are those who stretch themselves. Not so long ago, I met another writer at a dinner. She described herself, several times, as an ‘unsuccessful writer.’ After a while I asked the obvious - what kind of writer she might consider to be successful? ‘Someone whose books are in shops, not just libraries,’ she replied. I was tempted to feel sorry for her. Until she went on to tell me that for the last twenty years she’d written and published two books a year. ‘Stop it, now!’ I wanted to yell at her. ‘Take a break, clear your head, and then WRITE SOMETHING DECENT!’ This was a writer, forever trapped in her comfort zone, forever doomed to be disappointed.
I will not be one of these, even though, ultimately, I may end up shooting myself in the foot. (I thought my publishers would dump me over my third book BLOOD HARVEST – three major re-writes before it was accepted.)
I didn’t want to be labeled a writer of English rural gothic so with my fourth book I went urban. I wanted to see if I could pull off a credible police procedural, so made all my main characters police officers. I wondered if I could write an engaging series character, so created Lacey Flint. It was a major change and not everyone liked it. A writer friend accused me of going over to the dark side, because of the book’s twin themes of sexual abuse and violence against women.
It’s hard, isn’t it? When you’re living the life you dreamed of, (that plenty of others still long for) when armed with a reasonably successful product, you find yourself on the book-a-year treadmill. It’s hard to step off when you know you might never get back on again. Thunderous applause, therefore, to Gillian Flynn, whose first novel came out six years ago. GONE GIRL followed a four year gap. Flynn took her time. She had confidence in herself. She produced an absolute masterpiece.
I’m not that brave. But I do feel the time has come for a change. I’m finishing off my fifth Lacey Flint story and it’s been an effort. Not that I’m tired of Lacey, but I think I’ve gone as far as I can with this series for now. Time to move on.
What I’m reasonably good at is plotting (although it has been suggested that my readers don’t so much suspend disbelief as throw it gleefully out of the window) and my books are totally story driven. I’m less good at characterization. Most crime writers veer naturally towards one or the other, I find. If they’re character led writers, they write psychological crime. If action led, they write thrillers and action-packed mysteries.
I want to see if I can write a book in which very little happens. A book that’s success hinges on whether the characters work or not.
So, there will be no subterranean chases, no helicopter rescues, no mythical creatures lurking in the shadows and no rural communities haunted by the mistakes and ghosts of their past. There will be three people, whose lives have been destroyed by a single event, and who deal with it in very separate ways.
You know what, I think I’d rather be stuck in a muddy pipe with a half naked stranger.
Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone, dear readers? How have you challenged yourselves in the past year - and in the year going forward? Let us know, and one lucky commenter will win the hardcover of Dead Scared!
Sharon's new Lacey Flint short story, IF SNOW HADN’T FALLEN, is published on 2 April (ebook only) and the new book, LOST, is out in June. You can find out more about S.J. Bolton, and read excerpts from her books, at her website. You can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @authorsjbolton, share reviews with her on Goodreads and enjoy her writing on her blog.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We're very excited here on Jungle Red Writers, because today is publication day for Hallie Ephron's latest mystery, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN. Yesterday's first newspaper review in the Lansing Journal was a rave: "It's a dark, captivating and deliciously creepy tale that’s liable to keep you reading all night long.”
Once upon a time…
…there was an old woman who lived in the Bronx. Ninety-one-year-old Mina Yetner lives in the Bronx neighborhood of Higgs Point where small shotgun houses perch on waterfront with a view marsh grass, birds, and in the distance the Manhattan sky line.
Mina doesn’t like to get into her neighbor’s business, but when Sandra Ferrante, a troubled woman with a drinking problem, is pulled from her home and taken by ambulance to the local hospital, Mina tries to find Sandra’s daughter to convey her mother’s message:“Don’t let him in until I’m gone.”I know, right? You're pressing the 'buy' link or putting on your coat to head for the bookstore as we speak. While you're off getting your copy of There Was an Old Woman, Hallie and I will have a little chat...
JULIA: Every book, I've discovered, has a kernel - an image, a news story, an event that spurs the writer's imagination. What was the kernel for THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN?
HALLIE EPHRON: Ah, the kernel... The idea came to me on a cold January morning a few years ago when firefighters pulled my next-door neighbor out of her house. She'd fallen and had been lying on her kitchen floor, unable to call for help. Her minister alerted the police when she didn't show up for Sunday services.
Firefighters found a house full of cats and piles of garbage and debris so dense it was barely possible to get to the kitchen to rescue her.
My office window is barely ten feet from her living room window, and a year or so before, I'd brought over some mail mis-delivered to us and the interior looked, well, normal. And I thought she only had two cats.
And so, being a mystery writer, I began to What if. What if my neighbor didn't create that mess she was living in? How could her living conditions have deteriorated around her? Who might have orchestrated it. And the all-important: Why?
JULIA: A feisty 91-year-old isn't the sort of heroine one reads every day. How did you put yourself into Mina's head?
HALLIE: Mina. She's the person I imagine I'll become when I've outgrown the need to apologize for having so many opinions. I'm already pretty forgetful, so that part I didn't have to make up.
JULIA: Forgetfulness... I think everyone at JRW can empathize with that! The book is rooted in the location, a small working-class community on a marsh within reach of Manhattan. Is Higgs Point based on a real community?
HALLIE: I set it in the Bronx where the Bronx River meets the Long Island Sound, at the edge of a marsh that Robert Moses didn't fill.
I call it Higgs Point -- Thomas Higgs is historic figure who owned that (once) beachfront property at the turn of the century. But Evie's street, the little store, and everything else about the neighborhood is made up.
JULIA: The unavoidable question: outline? Or organic?
HALLIE: I tried to outline but it kept getting away from me.
JULIA: Part of the story is anchored in the 1945 crash of a plane into the Empire State building (I looked it up in wikipedia when you gave me the manuscript to read and was surprised to find it was all true!) What led you to include this episode in the book?
HALLIE: That crash links Mina and Evie, the other protagonist.
Evie is a curator at a New York Historical society. She's mounting an exhibit about historic New York fires that includes that incident. Mina turns out to be the last survivor of that fire.
JULIA: THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN has a pretty compelling mystery, but it's also very much a story about mothers and daughters and sisters. Do you see yourself as having written a mystery with a family tale embedded? Or a novel with a mystery attached?
HALLIE: Can I have it both ways?
HALLIE: I'm so glad you see the generations of women. Mina and Evie connect across a massive generational gap in part because they are not related to each other. Evie's relationships with her mother and sister are much more fraught.
Questions? Comments? Cheers? One lucky commenter will win a copy of There Was an Old Woman!
April Fools Day may be one of the last little holidays that still rests with kids, untouched by adult enthusiasm. Grown-ups have overrun Halloween. May Day has disappeared, unless you attend parochial school. Fourth of July parades have become professionalized, and forget about St. Patrick's. But as yet, April Fools Day's most enthusiastic proponents are all between the ages of three and thirteen.
When I was a child, my favorite trick was to tell my teachers, in what I believed was a quavering voice, that I had forgotten my homework. Then, when they were frowning at me in what I imagined was concern, I would shout, "April Fools!" Looking back, I suspect my ruse wasn't as cunning as I thought.
My mother was a MUCH better recipient of my fake-bad-news schtick. I would come home and tell her I had been suspended, or the school was closing, or some such canard. She would clutch her breast and gasp and say, "No!" Then when I revealed the truth - she had obviously forgotten it was April Fools Day - she would reel back in relief and assure me she had bought it hook, line and sinker. It was all very gratifying and may have influenced my later career choice to make a living by telling stories.
How about you, Reds? Any memories of April Fools gone by? Do you still participate as grown-ups?
HALLIE EPHRON: I confess, I hate practical jokes unless they are exceedingly gentle. Remember short-sheeting a bed? Putting pepper in the salt shaker? Shampoo in the mouthwash? That's about my speed.
My husband's idea of a practical joke is goofy. When I was getting up one April first, he came into the bedroom all in a lather - "There's a fleet in the toilet! There's a fleet in the toilet."
Sure enough, there was a virtual platoon of origami boats floating in it.
LUCY BURDETTE: Oh too funny Julia! And Hallie--a fleet! What other husband would come up with that? My family's favorite joke was to watch my father as he tried to put his pajamas on when the legs had been sewn shut. That's about your speed, right Hallie?
John got my nephew pretty good a couple of years ago. When our daughter was married, we went home after the party was over and let the younger set carry on the celebration. Later we heard that our nephew bought a round of drinks for a rather large group and charged it to John's account. On April Fool's day, some months later, John emailed him and told him the bill had come in at $900. My nephew was horrified and embarrassed. It took several rounds of emails to the cousins to realize what day it was...
RHYS BOWEN: We pulled off several good ones at school, the best being the whole class of an absent-minded home room teacher switching with another class. Teacher called the roll and 30 girls answered present for girls who weren't there! Teacher didn't twig until much later!
Best one at home--John was on a diet, trying hard to lose weight and monitoring his progress. I crept into his bathroom on April 1 and re-calibrated the scale to show ten pounds heavier. I heard him go in, then an anguished "No! I can't have gained weight!"
I love clever tricks, but not cruel ones.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am SUCH an April Fools wimp. I really really hate to be tricked or humiliated or made fun of--told you I was a wimp--so I don't play tricks on anyone. (I know, I need more confidence.)
My now-very-cool younger brother Chip used to torment us, growing up. Every April Fools, he would say, with great terror in his voice: "THERE'S A SPIDER ON YOU!"
That being the worst possible thing, of course. I fell for it every time.
Years went by. Me falling for it every time. Then we grew up.
One day, when I was in my 30's, Chip called me in Atlanta from where he lived in Colorado. We chatted for a while, then he said--on the PHONE mind you--THERE'S A SPIDER ON YOU! I shrieked and threw the phone.
Totally fell for it. Totally. Now he does it every year. I look forward to it.
JULIA: Hank, we used to tell my sister, "You have garments on you!" Worked every time.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Once again I'm forced to look back and think - I've never had ANY fun, have I??? I can't remember a single AFD joke I've either played or had played on me. And I'm sure if I played one on Bruce he'd just stare at me until I told him and he said "oh, yeah, April fool's."
But, I will try the spider thing on Hank the next time I see her...
How about you, dear readers? What are/were your favorite jokes, tricks or pranks? And do you think April Fool's Day is kid stuff? Or do you, too, call up your sibling and shout, "THERE'S A SPIDER ON YOU!"
About the illustrations: in France, the First of April is Poisson d'Avril (April Fish) because the first fish of Spring are easily hooked!
Remembering back to 2001 when my first book was about to launch and how much I was flying by the seat of my pants. Twelve years later, eleven books... I often still feel just as clueless.
But here are some of the things I've learned.
I’ve learned that...
- My first instinct isn’t always my best idea.
- I hate to write, I love having written.
- Readers don’t have to be spoon fed; write the badda-bing but let the reader discover the badda-boom.
- There’s no one way to get the book written.
- No one (except other writers) wants to hear writers complain.
- Suspense and surprise can be mutually exclusive; sometimes you have to pick.
- There are two kinds of days: the "everything’s great" day and "it’s all a piece of sh-t" day, and neither one is accurate
- Conflict makes dialogue more interesting, but a character who’s constantly arguing gets old fast.
- Complexity can grow out of clashing cliches
- You can triangulate from your own experience to find emotion in a situation you've never experienced.
Because you don't want your next of kin (much as you may adore them) drinking a toast to your memory with the champagne you never broke out.
My favorite foods for celebrating are champagne or prosecco (which seems less likely to give me a headache.) Shrimp cocktail. Lobster. Caviar. Fresh mango. Grilled lamb, served rare with egg-lemon sauce. Or a steak that someone else cooks. Rare. With bernaise sauce.
What are you go-to foods to celebrate and what does it take to get you to pop the cork? Eat out or eat in? And do you get dressed up??
RHYS BOWEN: We always used to go out to celebrate but we are finding it harder and harder to get a meal as good as the one we cook ourselves. Too often we spend a lot of money and are disappointed.
Champagne and oysters are always top of the list. Also I love lobster (but won't cook that myself and actually feel guilty eating it.) Scallops, jumbo prawns when they have flavor. Lamb--rack, leg, tiny chops all fabulous. For dessert--if I'm eating out it's creme brulee. At home something that someone else has cooked, or strawberries flambe over ice cream.
I've had plenty to celebrate this week--apart from leg of lamb on Easter Sunday. I finished the first draft of the next Molly book, City of Darkness and Light, AND my Amazon rank went to #8 in mystery and thrilled and #26 overall. Of course it didn't stay there, but it was good while it lasted.
And Hallie, you'll be celebrating all next week with your fabulous new book!
HALLIE: So fantastic, Rhys! Sounds like it's time to unpack the tiaras! I'll wear one, too!!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm always looking for excuses to celebrate! I do keep champagne in the fridge, or proseco (like you, Hallie, it's less likely to give me a headache.) And like Rhys, I love champagne and oysters, but there's nowhere very convenient at home to get good fresh oysters.
Also, like Rhys, we don't do fancy restaurants much these days, as it's usually both really expensive and disappointing. Maybe I should start stocking caviar...
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yup, I'm a prosecco girl, too! I don't usually think about celebrating with food, for some reason. (Although all your lists sound delicious and I will happily join you.)
I think about this from time to time, because I'm a saver. Oh, we'll save that champagne for...something. But if you save, the line always moves, and nothing is ever important or special enough. So for instance, we got a lot of wonderful wine from my mother's estate. My first thought was to save it for "special occasions." But then I decided--no. We're drinking it NOW--and we do, and we toast my mother every time.
Yes, there's a lot to celebrate. More to come!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Like Hallie and Debs, I love champagne now even more than I did when young, because it doesn't give me a headache. That's worth celebrating right there! When I got onto The List for the first time, Ross pulled out a beautiful chilled bottle of Dom Perignon, which we matched with take-out Greek pizza. For me, the essence of celebrating is a delightful treat you wouldn't otherwise get, which, in my case, is take-out pizza.
The other thing we like to do as a family? Watch movies. The celebratory feeling comes from knowing you've already accomplished X, and therefore can kick back with a film and kill an evening absolutely guilt-free.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: We're a Be Here Now kind of household - and not just because my hubby was instrumental in the publication of that book. The snow has melted! Yippee! We're not sick!! Woo-hoo!! And we tend to celebrate these landmark occasions with champagne or prosecco.
There's something about that pop.. the bubbles and flutes...
On the food front...not so much. All the food I used to think of as celebratory - creme brulee, pate - I don't eat anymore. These days a big bowl of buttered popcorn could do the trick.
But I digress... to go with the bubbly, caviar or smoked salmon with capers on tiny pumpernickel bread works nicely for me.
LUCY BURDETTE: Hooray for you Rhys! such great news...and can't wait for Hallie's book to pop! I'll come to dinner at any of your places, except when you're serving lamb....
For me, it's all about the cake:). Chocolate cake, yellow cake with whipped cream and strawberries, those are the top contenders for a celebration at our house.
HALLIE: This is reminding me that guilty pleasures are another way to celebrate. Bring on the hot dogs and sauerkraut, Cheetohs and barbecued potato chips! And while we're at it, how about a chocolate malted milkshake. Once in a while, why not?
When you're celebratory, what do you do, what do you wear, and most of all, how do you toast your own good fortune?
So I was delighted when email came last week from Pinny Bugaeff telling us her writing won first place (!) in the Connecticut Authors Authors and Publishers Association essay contest.
Pinny's essay, "Tell Me A Story," is about reaching female felons through fairy tales. When I read it, it moved me to tears. No wonder she won!
Pinny, can you tell us just a little about the work you did with female felons?
PINNY BUGAEFF: After working for over twenty years as a therapist with delinquent girls, I thought I’d seen and heard everything. Boy, was I wrong.
The biggest challenge of my career was the five years I spent working as a Clinical Social Worker providing therapy for female offenders who were living in a pre-release half way house. Almost all of the women in the house came from abusive backgrounds. And virtually all of them followed the two rules for living on the street and in prison - “Don’t talk, Don’t tell.”
My goal was to help the women heal by sharing their stories of struggle and pain. Talk about frustration.
HALLIE: Whatever inspired you to try reading fairy tales?
PINNY: I’d like to say it was a brilliant gambit drawn from my years of clinical experience, but that wasn’t how it happened.
One hot night in July, just before group was supposed to start, I was standing on the porch, dreading another hour of sitting under glaring lights and waiting for the women to offer up a few dry crumbs from their lives. My clinical skills bank account was overdrawn.
What could I do to help them feel safe enough to break the old rules, rules that were holding them captive in prisons of silence?
I thought about going into my office, closing the door and doing what I’ve done since I was little - hide in a book. Since childhood, books have been to me what Notre Dame was to Quasimodo. I had a new book in my office -- The Ugly Duckling. I’d bought it that day for my four year old granddaughter.
Since storytelling is an age old practice used by all cultures for teaching and healing, I thought maybe a fairy tale could reach the child trapped inside each of those wounded women. I decided I’d read it to them.
HALLIE: What was your first clue that it was working?
PINNY: As soon as I began to read the story- “Once upon A time…” I felt the tension level in the room go down 20 points. Then I heard a collective sigh of relief. When someone’s reading to you, you don’t have to talk or tell, just listen.
As the women settled back, listening to the story of the Ugly Duckling, they grew quiet and I began to feel more peaceful. When the story ended I closed the book and waited.
Sharone broke the silence. She began to talk about the pain she’d felt because her skin was so much darker than her siblings and they’d bullied her for that.
The women began asking me, ”Are you going to read to us tonight?” They became more eager to tell their own stories. That’s when I knew that fairy tales were working.
One week, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs inspired Charlene to share a graphic story about a week-end she’d spent in Las Vegas with two guys who were… dwarf. I learned waaaay more about how to “get busy” in the boudoir than I’d ever imagined. (I know Hallie-TMI) But she had a story to tell and, for once, a chance to belong.Janeese, the toughest woman I’d ever treated, finally met her match when The Velveteen Rabbit quietly hopped through her defenses.
I discovered that most of the women had never been read to as children, never had the chance to hear or learn from the stories that inform the lives of so many of us. My hope was that they’d carry this new tradition back home to their children.
HALLIE: Well, from all of us, Pinny, CONGRATULATIONS!
Which reminds me, next week Hank and I will be at a fundraiser for an organization that has one simple goal: to encourage parents to read to their children. Raising and Reader. They have programs all across the country.
When I was little, I powered through all of the Grimm's Brothers, the grimmer the better. Donkey Skin. The Tinder Box. Thumbelina.
What is it about fairy tales that strike a chord in all of us, and what are your favorites??
Margaret interviews attorneys, cops, investigators, forensic experts, and writers on her two hour show. The best part is how much fun she seems to having doing it.
Margaret, you've argued cases in courtrooms and written two terrific legal thrillers (UNDER OATH and UNDER FIRE). How did that prepare you to host your own radio show?
MARGARET MCLEAN: As an attorney, I became skilled at interviewing witnesses in preparation for trial. I had to meet with them, listen to their stories, and build trust. I would explain courtroom procedure and how to best present their version of events on the witness stand.
The strongest cases are built on the testimony of witnesses. My novels draw strength from the same skill set. For example, to build solid characters, I had to interview seasoned investigators, a Senegalese Muslim woman, and parents whose children were killed in the Charlestown code of silence murders. In order to get them to open up, I had to build trust and make them feel comfortable. I learned to be a good listener.
Hosting a vibrant radio show boils down to telling a story through an interviewee. Preparation is key. I’ll also ask if they’ve collected any evidence throughout their research. One guest shared his exclusive Ted Bundy murder kit as it was laid out on his dining room table—ice pick and all.
HALLIE: Yikes. Bundy was a truly scary guy.
You've had some fascinating guests talking about some of the most controversial crimes and criminals. Could you share with us something surprising that you learned about...
MARGARET: I never knew much about the notorious 1947 Black Dahlia murder until I interviewed former L.A.P.D. Homicide Detective Steve Hodel. Elizabeth Short’s body had been surgically bisected and displayed at the crime scene and her murder inspired the largest manhunt in Los Angeles history.
In 1999, Steve’s father, Dr. George Hodel, died. As Steve sifted through his father’s papers, he discovered old photographs of the Black Dahlia in sensual poses which were taken while she was alive. Steve was chilled as if the dead Elizabeth Short had reached out to him from beyond the grave.
He immersed himself in an intense investigation, and uncovered extensive evidence that his father was the Black Dahlia killer. Steve also discovered that Dr. George Hodel had been a prime suspect for some time.
In my interview with Steve, he reveals how he felt upon uncovering evidence that his father was a psychopathic killer. He provided exclusive crime scene and personal photos and compared the artwork of Man Ray (Les Amoureaux and Minotaur) with the way the killer had posed Elizabeth Short at the crime scene. Dr. George Hodel and Man Ray were close friends. Steve believes his father had attempted to imitate art through murder.
HALLIE: Fascinating. And it segues nicely to...
ART THEFT AT THE GARDNER
MARGARET: I hosted Anthony Amore live in my studio to discuss the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum heist and his book, STEALING REMBRANDTS: THE UNTOLD STORIES OF NOTORIOUS ART THEFTS.
In preparation for the show, Anthony gave me a private tour of the Gardner museum and explained how in 1990, thieves disguised as Boston police officers stole thirteen pieces of art including works by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet. When Mrs. Gardner opened the museum in 1903, she donated her priceless collection to the public because Boston needed a great museum.
The empty frames hanging on the walls haunted me as I walked through Mrs. Gardner’s rooms. I am now following the most recent developments on the FBI investigation into the Gardner heist and hope they will be returned soon.
Before the show, I barely knew Anthony and now he has become a great friend. In fact, Anthony recently introduced me to Jon Leiberman, who is now my co-author for an upcoming book about the trial of Whitey Bulger.
HALLIE: Whitey certainly is a fascinating character. Can't wait to hear your take on him. On to...
MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS
MARGARET: Another guest, Karen Scioscia, author of KIDNAPPED BY THE CARTEL, shared a personal story about how her close family member, a twenty-two year old American woman, was yanked right out of her car, kidnapped, and held hostage by a cartel for eleven days. Cartel members drugged the young woman and were about to sell her into the thriving sex trafficking trade when Karen’s family hired private security to conduct a daring rescue with guns.
HALLIE: I see you enjoy covering history and crime.
MARGARET: I often view my show as a personal history book.
Certain chapters of American history have always fascinated me. The radio show enables me to call on leading experts in various time periods. It’s like having my own private professor.
For example, Veteran journalist Don Fulsom, author of NIXON'S DARKEST SECRETS discussed his career covering Richard Nixon. He shared recently declassified documents and recordings revealing an even more troubling side of our 37th President, and how he deceived the American public.
William Martin (THE LINCOLN LETTER) enlightened listeners about President Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and civil war Washington.
Sherry Fiester, a senior crime scene investigator and blood spatter analyst, delved into a forensics analysis of the JFK assassination by providing trajectory diagrams for the website and explaining her theory of the assassination.
Boston College History Professor and author, Alan Rogers, discussed the historical impact that the Boston Strangler murders had on Boston and Cambridge, the uncoordinated investigative techniques, and theories that Albert DeSalvo may not have been the real killer.
HALLIE: Finally, tell us who you've got coming up as guests in weeks to come on It's a Crime?
MARGARET: This Saturday, I’ll be joined by Rick Baker, to discuss the McStay family disappearance, and Jenice Malecki, a New York based attorney and Today Show contributor, will inform us about consumer fraud and identity theft.
On April 6th, Hallie Ephron will talk about her new novel of suspense, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, and Scott Raab, writer for Esquire Magazine, will discuss the upcoming HBO documentary on the controversial Phil Spector trial.
Later in the month, I’ll be featuring a panel discussion on the latest developments in the Amanda Knox case, which will include Paul Ciolino, the leading private investigator for the Knox family, and Dan Hale, attorney and author. Casey Sherman will be joining me again to discuss his latest book, ANIMAL: THE BLOODY RISE AND FALL OF THE MOB'S MOST FEARED ASSASSIN.
HALLIE: Utterly fascinating. Thanks for joining us, Margaret.
For more information on upcoming shows, check itsacrimeradio.comhttp://itsacrimeradio.com and follow Margaret on twitter @margaretmclean_
Margaret will be checking in today, so if you have any questions about crimes she may have covered on her show, now's your chance to ask!
I thought: Wow, niche market.
I posted something about it on Facebook and before you can say Bob's your uncle, got a call from Amy Mackinnon, editor at our regional Patriot Ledger, asking if I wanted to write an op ed piece about it.
And here, dear Reds, is the result.
At a time when we have far weightier matters to consider -- such as when Twinkies will be back on store shelves -- comes the news of a major product recall. Lululemon has discovered that some of its yoga pants are experiencing a "sheerness issue."
They look just fine in the store. But put them on and do the downward facing dog, and anyone standing behind you can see all the way to Florida (to quote Carrie Fisher on a similarly problematic though not transparent metal bikini).
Looking on the bright side, maybe this will lead to a new yoga pose -- the one you have to assume in order to tell if your wardrobe is malfunctioning.
Who says Canadians don't have a sense of humor? To a customer who wondered whether the defective pants were still in stores, the Vancouver-based company's tweet offered this: "Anything potentially affected has been removed until we asses [sic] them and are confident they are to our standard." One could almost hear the keyboard snickering.
Even Reuters got in on the act with the headline: "Lululemon stock drops as yoga pants expose problem."
No, this is not in the same league with the 1.5 million Ford Pintos recalled in 1978 because their fuel tanks had a tendency to burst into flames on impact. Or the 730,000 packages of Pop-Tarts recalled in 2002 because they contained undeclared egg.
But it's no joke for Lululemon Athletica, Inc. With the recall affecting 17% of their women’s pants and crop pants (according to the Los Angles Times), the company lowered sales expectations. They warned customers that their basic black luon yoga pant, the little black designer dress of the yoga world, will be in short supply for a while at least.
If you're like me you are probably wondering what's luon? What's the deal with yoga pants? And don't these people wear underwear?
Yoga pants -- stretchy pants that don't get in the way when you're trying to perform the Lotus or Heron or Dolphin pose -- have been around for years. Just as there were bikes long before there were pedal pushers, people have been doing yoga a whole lot longer than there have been special pants to do it in.
Lots of companies make them, but the ones from Lululemon are considered the creme de la creme for suburban fashionistas. They retail for almost a hundred dollars and can be found in their own special stores like the one at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, four doors down from Whole Foods.
Look up LUON and all roads lead to Lululemon. It's their trademark fabric. Approximately seven parts nylon to one part LYCRA, business articles call it the company's "secret sauce." And no, it's not supposed to be transparent when stretched.
The whole flap took me back to a day in junior high when I wore a pair of white capri pants to school. After the third person said something to me about Lollipop underwear, I realized I was experiencing a "sheerness issue." If there had been someone I could have sued for sheer humiliation, I would have.
But I don't think Lululemon needs to worry about lawsuits. They are making super it easy to return the see-through goods. As they tweeted to one customer: "We're happy to return anything that is sheer. We don't require our guests to be in the garment to make the return." That news must have come as a relief.
So I'm wondering, how many customers are hanging onto their pair of defective yoga pants, hoping it turns into a rare, hard to find must-have like the 1965 Beatles For Sale album with a printing error on the cover?
When my daughter posted on Facebook, "Darn it! I totally wanted transparent yoga pants!" a dozen of her friends piled on. Still, when I went to eBay, looking to score a pair of semi-transparent (when you bend over) Lulemon yoga pants, none turned up.
I'll check back In a few months when snow will be gone, Twinkies and Lululemon black luan yoga pants will be back on store shelves, and we'll be ready for our next disaster of comparably epic proportions.
Anyone willing to share their wardrobe malfunctions of the past? Here's your chance!
Today is the launch date for his brand new thriller, ICE COLD KILL. Dana's first thriller, CRASHERS, introduced an unusual cast of leading characters -- unusual, that is, for a male writer. I'll let him tell you about it --
DANA HAYNES: When I came up with the idea for CRASHERS, my first thriller about the people who investigate air disasters, I knew I wanted a large ensemble cast. And one of my earliest decisions was about the female characters.
I’d read thrillers, and like many people, I hadn’t found a lot of female protagonists. The women tend to get saved in thrillers. I’m less interested in reading about the savee than I am in the saver.
So I decided CRASHERS would be populated with strong female characters. Not one or two, but four of them.
The next challenge: How to make them unique individuals. I’m not just a mystery/thriller fan, I’m a journalist by training. So that part was easy: In my day job, I see strong women in leadership roles all the time! So I had a wonderfully bright spectrum to choose from.
For CRASHERS, I got the honor of writing dialog for:
• Kiki, the former Navy officer and expert in the cockpit voice recorder, who has a funky, California vibe and a born gift for hearing audio clues.
• Susan, the Beltway insider and intergovernmental liaison who clears the bureaucratic bramble out of the way of her Crashers.
• Daria, the former Israeli soldier and spy who gets involved in the story not because she’s heroic, but because she’s bored. She goes on to be one of the heroes, but her motivation is questionable. It’s noteworthy that Daria is the breakout star of CRASHERS, with her own debut novel, ICE COLD KILL, hitting the stands this month. Daria is grand fun to write because she’s unpredictable and more than a little crazy.
• And Meghan, the pilot of the doomed airliner. She was the toughest to write because (not giving away much here), she doesn’t survive the first chapter. And yet, Meghan’s heroic effort to save her plane, her passengers and her crew had to be the mortal heart of the story. If the audience didn’t care about Meghan, they wouldn’t care about clearing her name. That was a tough writing nut to crack.
Deciding to open up my story to strong women gave me the luxury of a diverse host of characters to choose from.
It’s a good lesson for all writers. The more we confine our definitions of “hero” and “villain” – be it through the lens of gender, race, age choices or whatever – the more we confine our storytelling and the more we exclude readers from seeing themselves reflected in our stories.
HALLIE: After CRASHERS, Dana came out with BREAKING POINT, and his new novel ICE COLD KILL is out today from St. Martin's.
Daria steps into the lead in this one -- here she is in the novel's opening chapter:
Ray Calabrese looked up from his BlackBerry to see Daria Gibron stride into the Rodeo Drive wine bar in Lycra exercise togs and sneakers, her hair slicked back, sans makeup.
It wasn’t the part of Los Angeles that many people tried to carry off, the I’m-just-back-from-kickboxing look. She used her fingertips to brush still-damp black hair behind her ears. Her togs were two-piece, skintight, abdomen-baring, and black with red piping. She either had been working out or had joined the Justice League of America;Ray couldn’t tell at a glance.
I'm guessing that's her on the cover, too, taking aim at the reader.
Welcome Dane to Jungle Red. His comments have me thinking about strong women in crime fiction, and whether I've ever read a book with four of them.
HALLIE EPHRON: In my new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, one of the two main characters is a 91-year-old woman. When I tell people this, they ask how can you write a character who is so old?
She's based loosely on my mother-in-law, Freda Touger. Freda died when she was 91, a few days after taking one of her routine subway rides from Brooklyn to Manhattan and walking from Lincoln Center to the Donnell Library where there were free events for seniors. She missed the friends who used to go with her and who had mostly faded from her life.
Did she feel old? Sure she had aches and pains and had less patience for foolishness, but she said she felt basically like the same person she was when she was 8, or 28, or 58. What had changed, she said, was that time seemed to pass much more quickly.
I know just what she meant by feeling like I'm the same person (that's me at 8), and that surprise of looking in the mirror and finding that I'm not.
So here's my question. Do you feel you're changing or are you, too, the same person you were when you were eight?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: First off, bless Freda for still taking the subway and wanting to go out at her age. We all should be so active and engaged.
Two answers ( I always hate it when my husband does this, so either I've picked it up from him or there really are at least two answers to every question.) In many way I'm still the same person I was at sixteen. Scary, since most sixteen year olds aren't known for their common sense. Wisdom, good judgment, etc. I will still talk to strangers, dance around the house and start singing in elevators when properly motivated.
I'm probably most like me at thirty. Wise, dignified. Aren't I?
LUCY BURDETTE: Where's the second answer Ro, did I miss it?
Time definitely flies by at this age, that much is certain. But in many ways, I too feel like the person I was at thirty. (Let's not even talk about those teenage years--such agony!)
You know what's changed the most? My time schedule. I chose my classes in college according to how late they allowed me to sleep in--because I was up until one or two in the morning. (Until I reached organic chemistry, where 8 am was the only option.) Now the only reason I'd be up at 2 am would be a trip to bathroom:).
ROSEMARY: Ah yes, the second answer. No. Every day and every way I'm learning more and hopefully turning into a better person.
RHYS BOWEN: I got an email from one of my fans saying"I just saw your photo and until then I thought you were 21 like Lady Georgie." I was flattered that I'd created a twenty one year old so convincingly, but when I thought about it, I still do feel that I'm twenty one.
I have to remind myself not to jump over that chain across the track. But I still swing on swings, slide down the slide and generally behave as if I'm still five. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who put my grandmother's photo there. But time has speeded up. It was Christmas, and now it's Easter and the year is rushing toward next year. And I don't know how to slow it down....
DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the many reasons I so loved Hallie's new book, THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, was her portrayal of Mina, the title character. Mina is ninety-one, but she doesn't feel old.
Well, neither do I, although I have a bit to go before I reach ninety-one. Since I was a child I've wondered if there was a certain point when you began to feel "old." In some ways, I think I feel younger than I did in my thirties. Those were the "mum" years, but once your children are grown there's a sense of liberation. I still feel a tremendous sense of enthusiasm about learning new things, and doing new things.
But there is also that sense of time speeding up, of knowing there are going to be limits to your experience. That's bittersweet.
P.S., Lucy, my body clock hasn't changed. Maybe I have being an "early bird" to look forward to!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Why do we have the sensation that time speeds by as you grow older? Is it because once you're settled into your adult life, the year-to-year touchstones are the same? I mean, my family has had basically the same Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving every year for the past decade. We do many of the same things each summer, year after year.
Or is it because there are so many more memories to access? When you're twenty, you have maybe fifteen springs you can recall. When you're sixty... Perhaps whenn we say, "It's spring again? So soon?" it's because we can so readily envision last spring, and the spring before, and the spring before.
Or maybe, you know, time really DOES speed up. We need a physicist to look into this!
So, Hallie's question: I've changed for the better as I've grown older (my knees excepted.) I feel much more confident, much more comfortable with stating my mind and setting my own needs front and center. That sounds kind of selfish, but all of you know that when you're a young woman, being unequivocally opinionated and putting yourself first is almost unthinkable!
I look forward to becoming a "I-can't-believe-she-just-said-that" old broad. At the same time, in my head? I'm somewhere in my thirties. The weather warms up and I get the urge to strap on the shoes and go running, and I have to remind myself, no, I can't do that anymore.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Time clearly speeds up. Summer used to be forever. A kid could be--"bored." When was the last time you were "bored"? I can't even imagine.
In college, we had forever. (And that t-shirt says "Sigma Chi. THAT was a long time ago.)
I'm in the second half of my life, my husband too. I honestly can't think about it. There used to be "all the time in the world." Now--that feels short. So I dont think about it. Much.
How I'm different? I'm careful with people. I think--five years from now, a week from now--will that matter? If not.. then, so what.
I got hit with the physical part when I decided to take a ballet class several years ago. After all, it's like riding a bike, right? (Another thing I cannot do.) Anyway, ballet. My body simply would not do it. I could envision it, I could imagine it, but I could not do it. Game over.
The good news--I'm a little more confident. A little. But time is FLYING by.
HALLIE: So how about the rest of you? Do you feel as if time is ganging up on you or flying past?
TIM O'BRIEN: Martin Clancy and I are veteran ABC News reporters who very much enjoy sidling up to a good novel whenever the opportunity arises. We have a special appreciation for you novelists who write with such skill and grace as to leave the reader yearning, “wish I had said that.” Strictly bound by given facts as news reporters are, we felt we might at times be at a disadvantage from our fiction weaving friends.
One of the most important aspects of writing a good story, however, is having a good story to tell. And in writing a book about the most important death penalty cases to reach the Supreme Court along with some of the arcane legal issues they presented, we were surprised to come across characters and situations that would make even Hollywood producers green with envy.
Perhaps one of the most important death penalty cases in the last forty years is Gregg v. Georgia. Greg is the 1976 case in which the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment after a four year hiatus. The Justices laid out a roadmap for the states on what is permissible in a death penalty statute and what is forbidden. Their decision set the stage for more than 13-hundred executions in the years that have followed. Troy Gregg himself was a hitchhiker who had robbed and murdered a couple of motorists who had given him a ride. The case had set Gregg up to be the first person to be executed in many years and in a way, he was. Only his execution wasn’t for murder and it wasn’t carried out by the state.
While in prison, Gregg got mixed up with four other Georgia death row residents said to be among the most notorious killers in Georgia history. Together they plotted and succeeded in a daring escape from the state correctional facility at Reidsville, Georgia. It all happened on the eve of Gregg’s scheduled execution. And Gregg himself was so pleased with his accomplishment that within a few hours, he called the news media to boast about it. Charlie Postell, an editor of the Albany Herald, phoned the prison to inquire about the break and was reassured by officials that Gregg and the others were still in their beds. When they found out later that Postell had it right, they were so infuriated they charged him as an accomplice. The charges were later dropped.
Gregg’s freedom turned out to be short-lived. He and his accomplices made it to North Carolina where they reassembled at a local saloon with some long lost girlfriends. Gregg made the unfortunate mistake of insulting one of them. One of the other escapees, Tim McCorquodale, convicted of the rape-torture-murder of a 20-year old woman, took exception even though it wasn’t even his girlfriend who had been slighted. Six feet tall and over three hundred pounds, McCorquodale picked up the somewhat frail Gregg, threw him to the ground and began stomping on him, his chest, his throat, his head. Gregg’s body was found floating in a lake outside Charlotte a few days later. Gregg’s fellow-escapees were apprehended. McCorquodale was charged, but never tried for Gregg’s murder. Reidsville’s electric chair got him first for the murder of the young woman.
Gregg v. Georgia will live on forever in the annals of U.S. criminal jurisprudence. Every student of U.S. law knows about it. But for these two non-fiction writers, this truly landmark case conjures up a few old familiar adages. Truth really is stranger than fiction and as Paul Harvey, one of our old ABC colleagues might have put it, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Post by Tim O’Brien and Martin Clancy. The authors, long-time journalists at ABC News, have just released Murder at the Supreme Court—Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases. Prometheus Books, 2013. http://www.murderatthesupremecourt.comhttp://www.amazon.com/Murder-Supreme-Court-Lethal-Landmark/dp/1616146486/
Can I have this job in my next life? What a fun gig deciding which music has "cultural significance."
Below is this year's list, but you might be surprised at some of the previous inductees - they range from Fanny Brice's My Man to (Janis Joplin and) Big Brother's Cheap Thrills to Aboott and Costello's Who's On First. You can't say the registry isn't eclectic.
Here's a listing of the 2012 inductees to the National Recording Registry in chronological order:
1."After You've Gone," Marion Harris (1918)
2."Bacon, Beans and Limousines," Will Rogers (Oct. 18, 1931)
3."Begin the Beguine," Artie Shaw (1938)
4. "You Are My Sunshine," Jimmie Davis (1940)
5.D-Day Radio Broadcast, George Hicks (June 5-6, 1944)
6."Just Because," Frank Yankovic & His Yanks (1947)
7."South Pacific," Original Cast Album (1949)
8."Descargas: Cuban Jam Session in Miniature," Cachao Y Su Ritmo Caliente (1957)
9.Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, Van Cliburn (April 11, 1958)10.President's Message Relayed from Atlas Satellite, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Dec. 19, 1958)
11."A Program of Song," Leontyne Price (1959)
12."The Shape of Jazz to Come," Ornette Coleman (1959)
13."Crossing Chilly Jordan," The Blackwood Brothers (1960)
14."The Twist," Chubby Checker (1960)
15."Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's," Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, et al. (1960-1962)
16."Hoodoo Man Blues," Junior Wells (1965)
17."Sounds of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel (1966)
18."Cheap Thrills," Big Brother and the Holding Company (1968)
19."The Dark Side of the Moon," Pink Floyd (1973)
20."Music Time in Africa," Leo Sarkisian, host (July 29, 1973)
21."Wild Tchoupitoulas," The Wild Tchoupitoulas (1976)
22."Ramones," The Ramones (1976)
23."Saturday Night Fever," The Bee Gees, et al (1977)
24."Einstein on the Beach," Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (1979)
25."The Audience with Betty Carter," Betty Carter (1980)
- Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"(April 27, 2011) -- The White House released President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
- Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"(May 1, 2011) -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
- Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"(Aug. 2, 2011) -- After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
- Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"(Sept. 20, 2011) -- As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
- Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"(Oct. 21, 2011) -- Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
- Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"(Jan. 20, 2012) -- During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.
- Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" (Feb. 21, 2012) -- Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."
- Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling" (May 9, 2012) -- In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
- Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"(June 15, 2012) -- The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
- Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day" (June 28, 2012) -- After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," Obama said. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Naomi Hirahara: “I wouldn’t be that interested in reading about an old Japanese gardener,” declared a woman in my writing group, who happened to be Japanese American.
At that time, I had been working on my novel off and on for several years. The main character? A man named Mas Arai, an aging gardener and Hiroshima survivor.
Her comment didn’t faze me much (well, on second thought, it must have, because years later, it’s still implanted in my mind). Her comment, at least, didn’t persuade me from abandoning my protagonist. So year after year, I wrote in early mornings before work and during my vacations. My husband still hasn’t forgiven me for bringing my manuscript on our honeymoon. I had forgotten it on the outdoor conveyer belt after going through security check at the Kona airport in Hawaii. I didn’t realize what I had done until we were on the plane. Luckily, due to their aloha spirit, Kona airport security called me when I got home to report that they were going mail me my found work-in-progress. (It was sent cash-on-delivery, but still, what hospitality!)
Mas Arai officially came into the world in spring 2004. The third Mas Arai mystery, Snakeskin Shamisen, won the Edgar Award for best paperback original in 2007.
I do believe that a writer’s experiences and true point-of-view are woven into his or her work. In my Mas Arai books, especially so, because Mas is modeled after my late father, whose nickname was Sam. (Spell the name in reverse and what do you get? It wasn’t intentional, by the way.)
(JR note : This is Sam Hirahara in front of the house in Watsonville that inspired the fifth Mas Arai mystery, STRAWBERRY YELLOW.)
I’ve always rooted for the underdog. For years, I observed my father toiling out in the hot Southern California sun without getting much respect (especially from his teenage daughter). As a result, I had to make him the one man who could solve certain crimes that law enforcement could not.
Of course, although inspired by him, Mas is not my father. Mas is much more of a curmudgeon and nonconformist. There is a large communication gap between him and his daughter, Mari, whereas my own father and I could sit and “talk story” for hours. (Yes, there was still a lot of silence in between the talking, but we still were communicating.) Imagine my personal distress when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010 and finally passed away in 2012. In addition to dealing with everything involved with this kind of loss, would I be able to complete the fifth Mas Arai mystery, which was already in the works?
Surprisingly, the writing process turned into a healing salve. I could continue infusing my series with the essence of my father and other men and women like him. And, let’s face it, whether we are writing thrillers or traditional mysteries like mine, we are engaged in fantasy building. So while mixing truth with fiction, I was concocting something that I hoped would provide some pleasure for readers both inside and outside of Mas’s world.
The resulting book is Strawberry Yellow, released this month and set in the strawberries fields of Watsonville, California. While the writing and publishing community continues buzzing (and I’m part of that buzz, too) about the future of our industry, I can’t help but to exhale deeply. The mystery genre enabled me to create a sleuth who represents “the least of these.” And for that I will be forever grateful.
ROSEMARY: If this isn't one of the loveliest guest posts we've ever had, I'll eat my garden hat. Naomi is on her way to left Coast Crime today but she will be checking in when she can - AND she's offering a signed copy of Strawberry Yellow to one lucky commenter.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Some of us are in the 21st Century...and then again some of us aren't. I spent most of Tuesday with the fabulous Lyndsay Faye, the author of the Edgar nominated The Gods of Gotham. TGOG is set in the mid-19th century. And Lyndsay was my guest speaker at Norwalk Community College because in addition to being a terrific writer, she's an expert on Sherlock Holmes.
The woman is amazing. Total recall of 4 novels, 56 short stories and countless rehashes, copycats, pastiches, movies, television shows, radio programs - you name it - anything related to The Great Detective. It's as if the woman hasn't moved into the 20th century yet, much less the 21st. (In a good way.)
I'm feeling a bit of that myself lately.
MY WIP is historical. I haven't gotten the lingo down yet, I'm sure there are 87 sub-genres, but the point is, it's not contemporary. For the past month I've been living in 1899, with the occasional dip 20 years earlier and 20 years later. I haven't quite decided what the time frame of the story is just yet but it's considerably longer than the 5 days it took the corpse flower to bloom in my second book. (ala High Noon if anyone remembers that movie.)
I'm not too worried that I'll slip up and have someone use a cell phone or watch videos in 1899. Or say "Awesome!" - but I can't seem to stop doing research. Just when I think I have as much background info as I need, I stumble upon something else and think Wow maybe I should include that. And I go off down another road. Last weekend at a tag sale I bought a stash of magazines from 1912. It was as if I'd hit the motherlode. Other people were looking for the Picassso under the kids painting and I was going gaga over some moldy mags.
I don't think for a minute that all my research is going to wind up in the book. For my first 5 books I don't think 10 per cent of it actually found its way to the page. Lyndsay said that about 20-30 percent of her research wound up in her book, which I thought had an amazingly seamless integration of historical detail and storytelling.
Like anything, it's all in the doing. I've read some books where the research hit me over the head - "we get it...you're in Africa, now shut up and tell me a story..." and others where I thought "What a delightful story - and it's set in Africa. I love that!" I guess the trick is to write the latter and not the former.
But I'm enjoying the reading (research) so much there are times when I think I may never get to actually write my story...
How much detail is - as Hallie might say - TMI??
ROSEMARY HARRIS: In the past I've described it as cabin fever. I've even suggested that my first book would never have been written if I hadn't been eager to get back in the garden - even if it was only on paper.
I've reorganized my garden books and rearranged most of the snow-covered garden furniture (News flash - this year it will be dark green at the pool and light green under the deck! Alert the media.) I've started to pot up some of the cuttings I took last September.
Here's the deal - if it doesn't start feeling like spring out there soon I won't be responsible for the consequences.
Years ago I used to start seeds in the kitchen. Inevitably I'd start them too early. They'd rot or get leggy. I'd compost most of them and buy flats instead. And this after turning my kitchen into Luther Burbank's laboratory for a good three months. I'm trying to be patient but...I am itching to put on those garden gloves.
What's new for me in 2013? A new garden shed for one thing. Either it will help me get organized or simply allow me to stash more tag sale purchases (mix-matched garden chairs, wrought iron anything, etc.) Too soon to tell.
Also I've decided to turn my Secret/Meditation Garden into a Whimsical Garden. My two discreet garden goddesses will soon be joined by ornaments, planters and installations which are now crowding the falling down shed (which will remain) and the garage. I used to be of the opinion that three garden ornaments was one or two too many but in this spot, anything goes. It will be a mix of tag sale, Home Goods, rusted tools, Goodwill and whatever else strikes my fancy. Either it will be fun or embarrassingly deranged. I'll keep you posted.
Here are two ideas from the Philly Flower Show. In the meantime, who's going to help me out with some ideas while I wait for it to get warm? Spoon and fork chandelier? Bedsprings trellis? Broken chair planter...? Best garden tip from a commenter will receive a vintage copy of The Women's Home Companion Garden Book. (Sigh..I actually own two.)
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today's guest blogger claims to hide from adventure - but we know better...DANA CAMERON: I had not planned on climbing up the side of a granite outcropping over the very cold and very deep water of the Kennebec River. Four of us had motored to a little island in mouth of the river to identify archaeological sites when the engine developed problems. A storm suddenly was blowing up, and we didn't want to be stranded when it hit. Our friend rowed us, one at a time in the very small boat, over to the nearest spit of the mainland, but the dock was up. We had to climb twenty feet to the top of the cliff, trying to avoid slipping on the rubbery seaweed.
My husband and I reached the top, breathing hard and hands scratched, as our friend rowed back. We were twenty minutes from home by boat—but two hours by car. We sat waiting to be picked up, and my husband looked at me. “This isso going into a book, isn't it?”
I shrugged—well, yeah. We only meant to be out on the river for an hour on a nice day. This was too good not to use. I don't go looking for adventure.
With regards to adventure, I'm strictly with Bilbo Baggins-at-home. A load of strange dwarves talking dragons and gold shows up on your doorstep, on the recommendation of an unreliable, scrape-acquaintance wizard? I would have exactly the same response: Hell no, thank you very much. And please put down my good china.I prefer my danger in books. On graph paper with polyhedral dice. Or in the cinema, with James Bond or Jason Bourne or Lara Croft. I go a long way to avoid adventures in real life. I plan, schedule, make back-up plans.
And yet... “Here, drink this,” said the cultured gentleman I'd known for exactly four hours. He handed me a plastic container of water from a holy spring from under a church in the Golden Horn in Istanbul. The site had been considered a holy place by many religions for millennia. “It's tested every year, clean and safe.”
Scenes from every fairy tale I'd ever read flashed through my brain. When is it ever a good idea to drink from unknown mystical sources? We'd arranged the tours envisioning a good walk and sightseeing. All terribly genteel, with tea and cookies.Our guide was a friend of a friend, highly recommended and very knowledgeable. Quite apart from my caution in drinking water abroad, it would have been extremely rude to refuse him, and in front of one of the church's priests.
I drank. We spent the rest of the day exploring churches, museums, and the famous underground Basilica Cistern—all as planned. It isn't really an risky venture, if you have the assurance of experts. It was a guided tour, after all. But I had a little Buffy Summers swagger in my walk the rest of the day, that bottle of holy water in my pocket. In my mind, I was having an adventure.
Writers have a habit of spinning something harmless and a little unexpected into...swashbuckling. Most of my writing friends haven't experienced all the things they write about: murders, vampires, post-apocalyptic scenarios. They are nice, quiet folks. The difference is, they have the urge to take even the idea of a close-call, add a little imagination, maybe some paranoia, and transform it into an escapade. We're not looking for adventure, but just idea of it inspires our work.
The thing is, adventure's going to find you, as soon as you step out the front door. Something commonplace but unexpected happens and boom! We go running for the keyboard. Or maybe most of us really would run off after the dwarves like Bilbo, given half the chance. Would you?
Whether writing noir, historical fiction, urban fantasy, thriller, or traditional mystery, Dana Cameron draws from her expertise in archaeology. Her fiction (including several Fangborn stories) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination. Dana blogs with the Femmes Fatales www.femmesfatales.typepad.com , and you can learn more at www.danacameron.com, Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.
About SEVEN KINDS OF HELL:The first of three novels set in the Fangborn 'verse, SEVEN KINDS OF HELL, is published by 47North. Zoe Miller's an archaeologist on the run from her father's family. They're reputed to be no good, and her own tendency to violence—and the occasional glimpse of fangs in the mirror—has her worried about her sanity. But when her cousin is kidnapped, Zoe has to come to grips with her powers: She's a werewolf and Fangborn, part of a family of supernatural creatures dedicated to protecting humanity. Zoe must use all of her archaeological talents and supernatural abilities against her enemies—human and Fangborn—who seek an artifact of world-ending power. http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Kinds-Hell-Fangborn-ebook/dp/B00943A8REROSEMARY: Thanks for visiting, Dana! and don't forget JRs, one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Dana's latest Fangborn novel Seven Kinds of Hell!
As much as I love spring - and I will be yakking about garden ideas on Wednesday - I will miss winter. (Although I won't miss even the little bit of shoveling that I do myself. That's my house below and it has far too many paths the snowplow guys can't reach!)
I can't imagine living any place that didn't have four distinct seasons and apart from hosting my birthday, my husband's, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, the Oscars, the Philly Flower Show and Mardi Gras, winter's the time we get to wear great big sweaters and tall boots. Scarves. We can generally eat and drink with reckless abandon since who's going to see it under all those layers?? Thick soups, hot chocolate - go for it! Roberta's cassoulet, Jan's toffee candies - count me in.
But it isn't just the food.
So here they are, The Top Five Things I Will Miss When Winter Finally Ends5 - Wearing my black Uggs around the house. They've been the unofficial signal that I'm home and I aint goin' nowhere.
4 - Collecting kindling and bringing in firewood. I always feel like Olivia Walton when I do this and - go figure - I love it.
3 - Irish Coffee. Where has this drink been all my life? It's probably fattening, right?
2 - Snowshoeing. My new fave activity (to counteract the Irish Coffee.)
..and the top thing I'll miss when winter ends
1 - Sitting by the fire with Max the dog and a good book.
What about you gals?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What I'll miss about winter? Ah, sweaters. Big mufflery scarves. I love my plaid flannel "lounge pants." I love sitting in the big chair with a book and a big fluffy blanket. And yes, indeedy, my black uggs. And no, Irish Coffee can't be fattening. Can it? I mean--it's hot. So any calories would, like, automatically burn off.
Sigh. It is going by awfully quickly, though...
HALLIE EPHRON: I confess, there's not a lot that I will miss about winter.
I'll miss a little:
Homemade soups -- split pea, minestrone, white bean and tomato, black bean and cilantro, whatever's in the refrigerator...
Roast chicken with roasted veggies.
Medium-dry sherry before dinner.
My wonderful warm quilt.
Yes, my Uggs -- like having permission to wear my bedroom slippers in public.
Not having to shave my underarms? I know, TMI.
ROSEMARY: Sherry before dinner...that's so civilized. I saw that in a movie once...;-)
RHYS BOWEN: Winter, what's that? Oh, you mean snow and stuff. I may well experience a tiny bite of it next week when I'm in Colorado Springs. But being a total wimp, we escape to Arizona for the winter where we enjoy blue skies, the pool, desert sunsets, eating outside. Having grown up in England in a huge house with no central heating I could not wait to escape from winter. Even California is too dreary and wet. I don't mind crisp mountain snow and hot chocolate and big roaring fires, but when we were home in December it seemed that every time I wanted a big roaring fire it was a spare the air day.
But we do make soups in the winter months, and I have oatmeal for breakfast. And Irish coffee is good any time!
LUCY BURDETTE: I'm with Hallie and Rhys, there isn't enough appealing about winter to make me want to endure the pain. Yes, the snowstorms that hit New England looked spectacular in photos. And I wished I could be there--for about a day. Otherwise, it's a Key West winter all the way for me--where we whine a little if it drops below 60...I'll stop yakking for fear I'll get stoned:).
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I've got a pair of snowballs with your names on them, Rhys and Lucy.
I'm laughing at all the Uggs - my pair is tan. We New Englanders know Uggs are for wearing inside, not outside! What do I miss about winter? Definitely the stews and soups. I love winter root vegetables in almost every form. I'll miss what I think of as December snow; when it falls in fat flakes and everything looks so beautiful covered in white. Of course, by mid-March it's all gritty and lumpy, and I can't wait for it to finish melting.
I miss our woodstove fires, even though keeping them stocked is a P.I.T.A. Ro, maybe I'll try to think of myself as Ma Walton next time I'm hauling boxes of wood upstairs. And I'll miss my cold bedroom, which necessitates sleeping tucked in close to Ross. You know which state has the lowest divorce rate, right? Massachusetts. I'm convinced it's because New England spouses have to stick together for body heat.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: We had our little Texas experience with real snow over Christmas--it lasted almost a WEEK! And boy, was I tired it... But I do love our fires, and playing outside with the dogs on a crisp day. And I adore soups. The first nip of autumn in the air and I'm making some kind of hearty soup. Wait, I take that back. The first thing I do is get out the fluffy down comforter.
One more thing--bare trees against the backdrop of winter sunsets.
ROSEMARY: I was about to add that like Ross apparently, my hubby also generates a fair amount of heat but Hallie would say TMI!
Besides, body heat seems to be a distant second to - UGGS! What about the rest of you..what will you miss?
She claims not to be adventurous - but we don't believe her for a minute. Make sure to stop by tomorrow when the adventurous Dana Cameron visits. She'll be giving one lucky commenter a signed copy of her lastest, Seven Kinds of Hell.
My husband thinks I'm going through a similar phase, only I'm, ahem, quite a few years older. Maybe it's not quite so adorable? All he can do is shake his head.
You probably read last Wednesday that I'm attending the Key West Citizens Police Academy, which I find fascinating. Having published ten mysteries in the last ten years, you'd think I knew this stuff, right?
Of course, I interviewed experts when I wrote myself into a corner, asking questions like "Would a golf tournament continue if a dead body was found on the course?"
Or I'd call my friend Steve Torrence, the community liaison officer for KWPD, and get a general idea of what real cops would do in certain situations.
But all in all, I fell into the camp of if you don't know something about police procedure, make it up.
But now I'm obsessed with the details.
In our citizens academy, we had a session led by Chief Donie Lee about the particular challenges of "protecting Paradise"--the large homeless population, the enormous influx of tourists (3 million visitors a year!), the wild and crazy events like Fantasyfest and Spring Break and New Year's Eve on Duval Street.
We learned to do traffic stops and DUI investigations. (Yes, that's me with the fake pink gun.) When we came upon the aftermath of a terrible accident early Friday morning, I was able to explain to John what the officers were measuring and why.
In another session, we donned purple gloves and looked for clues in a crime scene that two of the department detectives had set up for us. On Friday, I took one of the detectives to lunch and got what I hope will be a great idea for my plot-in-progress, based on what she called her "white whale." In this case, the one that got away was the brazen theft of a gold bar that had been discovered in a wreck. You can see the video of the theft from the Mel Fisher Museum right here.
And best of all, I had a ride-along with Officer Ryan, including several traffic stops and a trip to the jail with a very drunk woman, under the auspices of the Marchman act.
I don't think I'd make it as a real police officer though. I don't like dangerous situations. And I'm not great at confronting people. And I like to be in bed by ten:).
But it's still fun to imagine...
Do you have a career you'd like to try out if you had the chance?
LUCY BURDETTE: You all know by now that I've got a thing for Key Lime pie. And you probably know I'm addicted to Facebook too--you meet the most amazing people! A couple of weeks ago, a Jungle Red friend, Denise Terry, allowed me to post her gorgeous pie on my FB page. And this led to talk about other recipes. And then I heard about one I had to share. I'll let my new friend Judy Waters tell the story of her famous pie and where she got the recipe.
JUDY WATERS: Back in the lates '60's, we would always stop at this little place in Marathon (FL) called Ted & Mary's. They only served breakfast and lunch, but it was a perfect stopping point on the trip up the Keys to wherever we were going. Directions for making their Key Lime pie were printed on the paper place mat and I cut it out and have had it all these many years.
I thought you would get a kick out of the "recipe" I use. I never worried about salmonella, even without baking the pie. ( If you have concerns, use organic eggs--there's never a worry about it with them.) Just mix it all up and put it in the freezer. Take it out a little ahead of time so you can cut it and top with whipped cream or Redi-Whip. I usually make my own graham cracker crust.
I've always thought this was the original, traditional Key Lime Pie. Before food got fancy.
(If you can't read the small print, it says 1/2 cup key lime juice, 3 egg yolks, 1 can sweetened condensed milk)
Note from Jane: Today’s provocative guest post is by L.L. Barkat (@llbarkat). If this topic interests you, I also recommend reading my older posts, Please Don’t Blog Your Book: 4 Reasons Why and Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers, especially if you think blogging is the right choice for you. While my views don’t mirror Barkat’s (see the comments for my take), her perspective is refreshing and helps to dispel a few platform-building myths that are pervasive in the writing community. Blogging is neither a requirement nor the best marketing and promotion tool for a huge swath of writers, regardless of their experience or level of accomplishment.
I look forward to a lively debate—offer your view in the comments.
“Blogging is a waste of time.”
The panel burst into protestations. Jana Riess, Lauren Winner, Cindy Crosby, and Andy Crouch were at the Calvin Festival, discussing social media in 2006, before it was a foregone conclusion that if you were an author you should have a blog.
Andy Crouch was being a bit bald-faced in making his proclamation. After all, he wasn’t a blogger. He didn’t have much of a social media presence. Remember, these were the days before Twitter, super-charged Facebook, and LinkedIn. And forget about an author claiming to be the Mayor of the Library of Congress in a game of Foursquare. What’s more, nobody was going to pin Crouch’s statement on Pinterest or pheed it to Pheed.
Was Crouch right?
I decided to find out. Especially because I’d recently met the Director of Marketing and Promotion from Simon & Schuster, who’d told me flatly, “We ask all our authors to start blogs.”
So in 2006, I started blogging. Over six years, I wrote more than 1,300 blog posts, garnered over 250,000 page views, helped establish a large blogging network for which I later became the Managing Editor, test-marketed five books and wrote and sold them. I watched blogging colleagues get book contracts. I hired some of these bloggers as editors for the network where I managed. I was a true believer in the blog world.
But on Saturday, November 10, 2012, I suddenly did the unthinkable. I myself stopped blogging.
I had finally decided that Andy Crouch was right. Six years later.
Last spring, an author approached me via Twitter to get my advice about blogging. How could she make it work for her? Was it worth it? Should she move to WordPress, get a new design? What did I think?
I told her to forget about blogging. And one week later, after a Skype conversation about writing and platform-building, I hired her as an Editor for Every Day Poems, a publication of the site where I currently serve as Managing Editor. “How many people are visiting your blog per month? One hundred?” I had joked gently. “Work with us and serve a much larger audience. This will be more worth your time.”
Does this mean I would recommend that everyone stop blogging? No. I encourage new bloggers, just the way I always have. It’s an excellent way to find expression, discipline, and experience. But if writers already have experience, and they are authors trying to promote themselves and their work, I tell them to steer clear. If they’ve already found themselves sucked into the blogging vortex, I suggest they might want to give it up and begin writing for larger platforms that don’t require reciprocity (an exhausting aspect to blogging and a big drain on the writer’s energy and time).
Someone will disagree with me and point to a case like best-selling author Ann Voskamp, and I will point them back to the facts. Yes, Voskamp made it big largely because of the power of her blogging platform, but she had the power of being first. Before blogging was a “thing,” Voskamp was already blogging quietly and steadily in 2003. Before blog networks came of age, she was writing for one of the few women’s sites that also had the power of being first. Time cannot be turned back. Few authors can make of themselves what Voskamp did—not for lack of talent but for lack of timing and sheer cyber-longevity.
If an author shouldn’t be blogging, what should an author be doing? This is up for discussion. It is a current trend to use Facebook as a writing venue. One of my top colleagues just got invited to write for 99U, as a result of her Facebook-writing activity. This same colleague connected with Lifehacker via Twitter and got a regular writing gig as a result. And she is not a writer with an otherwise large platform. As it turns out, intelligence can be expressed in strings of 140 characters, and big outlets will pay attention.
For myself, the same has been true. New writing assignments, some even international, have come primarily through Twitter. Likewise, I myself publish poets I meet on Twitter and Tumblr, while I am far less likely to do the same for bloggers. It’s not a bias. It’s a matter of simplicity. I can see at a glance how a writer expresses. Remember the old elevator pitch? It’s alive and well on Twitter and I depend on it. Apparently others do too.
Is blogging a waste of time? Crouch was ahead of his time in saying so. For the experienced writer, my answer is yes … in 2013.
The post It’s Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging appeared first on Jane Friedman.