Monday, July 31, 2006

Flying High

Patty here...

I had dinner with my friend Duffy on Thursday. She's from the East Coast and doesn't get out to Los Angeles very often. She's more apt to be flying into Lima, Peru or Amsterdam or Singapore. And that flying part? I meant that literally. Duffy is a Captain for a major U.S. airline, flying 757s and 767s all over the world. Not only can she land a plane in congested LAX without breaking a sweat (a feat that's getting trickier by the day, I hear), but she's also an accomplished sailor, a great cook, and one of those people who can paint the wall in her bathroom to make it look like a stone column on the Parthenon. I'm just glad she's not interested in writing amusing L.A. mystery novels. I don't need any more competition.

Her husband Andy is the scribbler in the family, at least he could be if he had the inclination. His emails are so beautifully composed they make you weep. At the moment he's too busy being a Captain for a competing major U.S. airline to write, but luckily he's not too busy to come up with the title for my third novel, SHORT CHANGE, which—I just found out—is due on bookstore shelves in July of 2007.

Andy actually came up with two titles. He first suggested Small Change and gave me a compelling argument as to why it was thematic. He added that if the page count ended up more novella-like than novel-esque, I could call it Short Change. What a wise guy, eh? Actually, both titles were thematic, because there are all sorts of changes in store for Tucker in this third book. So SHORT CHANGE it is. Andy-the-title-muse already has a title for my fourth, and it's pretty fabulous. I'm working on the plot at the moment and love the fact that the book and I are on a first name basis. It makes everything more fun.

Titles are tricky. T. Jefferson Parker volunteered to blurb my first book while we were commiserating about titles in the book room at Left Coast Crime a few years ago. I told him that my publisher wasn't thrilled with False Profits, and that I had suggested what seemed like a million alternatives, all of which earned a thumbs down. Jeff gave me a pep talk and advised me to keep the faith. Shortly after that conversation, I suggested Cover Your Assets. I think my bad title suggestions had worn them down by then, because they kept False Profits for the first book and Cover Your Assets for the second.

Just for fun, here are some famous books and their original titles:

Pride & Prejudice was First Impressions
Of Mice & Men was Something That Happened
East of Eden was Salinas Valley
Peyton Place was The Tree and The Blossom
Treasure Island was The Sea-Cook

It feels truly amazing and a bit scary to be talking about the publication date of my third novel, even if it is a year away. Frankly, whodathunkit. I'm ready, though. Right now my seat back is forward, my tray table is in its fully upright and locked position, my personal baggage is stowed, and I'm ready to fly. I hope it'll be a great ride.

How about you? Got any interesting title stories?

It's hard to believe that this is the last Monday in July. Hope yours is full of good books and wise friends.

Cheers! Patty

Friday, July 28, 2006

Okay in YooKay ....

from Jacqueline

Considering the fact that temps were in the 100-110 degree bracket when I flew out of LAX on Monday, it rather takes the cake to say I landed in a place that was even hotter - London! Would you credit it - sweat running down my spine in a tickling rivulet, my hair plastered to my head, feet throbbing - and they still call it Cool Britannia! The London Evening Standard headline this afternoon reads, "Mugged For Water." Stick 'em in the Tower, that's what I say, then hold them over the Millennium Bridge.

Actually, I got out of London at the earliest possible opportunity on Wednesday, and retreated to my parents' home in rural Sussex - cooler, and the food is free. But here I am, up in the Smoke again today (The Smoke - what Londoners called London, in times past). This town rocks, it really does. Everywhere you go there are pavement (sidewalk) cafes, great restaurants, clubs, boutiques with clothes that all but scream, "Be different!" and along with that a hubbub of conversation spiked with a medley of accents from around the world. I may have lost my heart to San Francisco, but there's a root or two still weaving its way into this ground.

When I was a kid, London was in monochrome. I cannot remember color at all. We would come up from our home in Kent (the county to which my parents had run to when they escaped bombed out post-war London)and whether it was by train or bus, the view always seemed the same. Soot-blackened houses and bomb sites, many of which remain to this day, a gray muddy river to cross and then a few days spent in a place where there was not a shred of green.

My memory of London is akin to the images that came to mind when I read Dickens. And there were more than a few Artful Dodgers around.

The City of London was Dickens' domain - no, I don't mean the whole of London, just the area known as "The City" - you'd call it the "financial district" but it was the area surrouded by the old London wall, parts of which still remain. A couple of days ago I visited the Museum of London, close to St Paul's Cathedral, which essentially tells the history of this place from a time before time as we know it began. It's a great place to wander, though for me the whole area seems a bit too modern now. Much of that is due more to the Luftwaffe than to progress, and like many cities around the world, there was too much rebuilding done in the 1960's - a decade that inspired what Bill Bryson calls the "F**k you school of architecture." But the names still remain, like "Paternoster Row" and the world-famous "Threadneedle Street." I made my way around the cathedral - oh, if that building could talk - on my way to the Millennium Bridge, a steel pedestrian walkway across the Thames, built to commemorate the turn of the century. As you walk across, the story of the Thames is told, engraved into the steel, a modern phenomenon with roots in history. On the other side, there's The Globe, the famous theater built as a copy of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre. And if you didn't already know, it was an American, Sam Wannamaker, who spearheaded the project to bring Shakespeare's theater back to life. If the name rings a bell, his daughter is Zoe Wannamaker, the Harry Potter's flight instructor.

As I speak, time is running out on this computer - yes, I'm in an internet cafe, though not Revolver (see my blog last week), and I only bought an hour's worth of time.

I love this city, I love the way you can see the way history coming round again here. In the 17th century, London was known throughout Europe for its coffee shops, for the salons and for its multicultural society made rich by immigration. I think the London of today shows that fashion comes round again, for whatever people say about the mix,I think there's more to be gained than lost. Of course there are things I can't stand about it, but that's true of any city. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, famously said, "if you are tired of London, you are tired of life." I guess I've got a few years left in me yet!"

(I know there are typos in this post, but I have a dodgy computer and cannot make corrections - so here we go, publish and to heck with it!)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hat’s off to Vice

from James

Miami Vice made its premiere this week on Miami Beach. For anyone who lived in Miami (as I did) in the early 80s, this was déjà vu. It’s the movie this time, not the TV show. But the city went crazy all over again. Throngs of people lined Lincoln Road, trying to get a glimpse at Michael Mann and the new Crockett and Tubbs. The Miami Herald reported that it was the biggest movie premiere in Miami’s history. Kind of pathetic, really, if you consider the fact that Jamie Foxx (Tubbs) and Colin Farrell (Crocket) didn’t even show up. They opted for the West Coast (that would be L.A., not Tampa) premiere earlier this week. John Ortiz and Elizabeth Rodriguez did show, however, so fans weren’t entirely disappointed.

I remember when the television show premiered. Miami’s city officials were aghast. The early 1980s in Miami had brought the worst race riots in the city’s history, and they had worked hard to restore Miami’s image as a safe place to vacation. They worried that the drug running image would ruin tourism. Boy, were they wrong. Vice gave Miami (especially Miami Beach) new life, inspiring everything from fashion trends to music. It also inspired a few writers.

I was an associate attorney in a large Miami law firm when Miami Vice premiered on television. At the time, I really hadn’t thought about changing careers. But anyone with a creative bone in his body could see that Miami wasn’t just a setting. It was a character unto itself. Michael Mann exploited that beautifully. So did the crime writers who, like Vice, started in the 1980s—Carl Hiassan, James Hall, Edna Buchanon, and others. Either naively or arrogantly, I thought there was room for me in the club, too.

I soon learned, however, that there’s more to a crime novel than a few tough guys in pastel jackets and some nefarious players who skulk around Miami wearing Panama hats. And if you’re going to last in this business, you have to do more than imitate. Vice the movie even changed its look.

So the south Florida family of crime writers is now incredibly big and diverse, with writing that ranges from Carolina Garcia Aguilera and her tough Latina P.I., Lupe Solano, to Naked Author Paul Levine and his engaging “guy’s guy,” Jake Lassiter, who (trust me), Lupe would never date. I’m leaving many, many writers out, but just look at the number of novelists from Miami (other than yours truly) who have come onto the scene and/or skyrocketed since Vice: Dave Barry, James Born, Tim Dorsey, Tananarive Due, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, James Hall, Carl Hiassan, Jillian Hoffman, Jonathan King, Paul Levine, Brad Meltzer, P.J. Parish, Barbara Parker, Les Standiford, Diane Vogt, Randy Wayne White . . . and I could go on if I thought about it any longer.

So, my hat is off to Miami Vice. Even if it isn’t a Panama hat.

POSTSCRIPT: A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called “I Hate Colons” because I couldn’t understand why my copyeditor had inserted colons at the end of paragraphs. No one else who commented had ever seen this before either. Turns out that I was reading The Magician’s Nephew with my daughter yesterday, and guess what. Colons at the end of paragraphs galore. If it’s good enough for C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, I guess I need to lighten up.

More from The Magician’s Nephew: A certain speechwriter for the fist George Bush was quite famous for the clever turn of a phrase. One of the more memorable ones came in Bush’s 1991 State of the Union Address, which was entitled “Envisioning a thousand points of light.” Bush used that metaphor quite effectively in the address: “We can find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves—a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light.” Now, consider this from Chapter 8 of The Magician’s Nephew: “The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently, one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light.”


James Grippando

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


By Cornelia

Truckin, I'm a goin' home.
Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong....

I am, believe it or not, a native of Manhattan. It is the closest thing I have to a home town, though I've only resided there in scattered and jagged pieces along my personal arc of timeline.

I have been there both when the streets were piled with crunchy toxic brown snow and when August heat enticed forth the bouquet of urine and garbage and old cigar from every sidewalk crack and manhole cover, in shimmering waves. I have served frozen yogurt in the bowels of Grand Central Station and labored in the midtown salt-mines of publishing. I have eaten at Cuban-Chinese diners and "21." Between contractions the morning I went into labor, I argued with the cab driver about whether we should take Sixth Avenue or the FDR Drive to the hospital.

Agatha Christie once said that "It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story." Everything changes, between stops. I was born in a hospital that no longer exists, and carried home from it to a brownstone in which strangers have now lived for some decades.

I got to go back to The City for five days this past week. The last time I'd set foot on my indigenous island, we still used tokens for the subway, and the World Trade Center was a place I didn't think about much unless we had guests from upstate who wanted a bit of touring around.

There is one place in New York, however, that never changes: Ariel's parents' apartment on Central Park West. I have hung out there since I was nineteen, and know it well enough to find my way around in the dark. They've reupholstered the low-slung sofa on which I first had a conversation with the guy I ended up marrying (about FDR's policy of "Farm Parity"), but otherwise it's perfectly intact. There's even still the same swath of bandana-print wallpaper along the punchboard potrack in the kitchen, and the furry revolving loveseat hasn't lost a hair of its cocooning allure.

Last Wednesday night, Ariel threw a party for me there to celebrate my having a published novel at long last. As we were slicing baguettes and laying out platters of crudite and dip hours before people were due to arrive, she said to me, "This is like a wedding... so many people from throughout your life are going to show up, you know?"

The doorbell started ringing, and people piled in to the long, high-ceilinged living room. The juxtapositions were mind-boggling. Over by the piano was Judith Goldiner-- whom I hadn't seen since we graduated from high school twenty-five years ago-- chatting with John DeLalio, with whom I used to play Peruvian Speed Quarters when I was home from college at my mother's boyfriend's house on Centre Island. Freshman-year dormmate David Hutchinson came out into the back hallway to smoke Marlboros with me and Lee Child and Maggie Griffin.

My old boss from The Reader's Catalog, Geoffrey O'Brien, came over to say hi to Peter Riegert, the actor-director dude who's optioning A FIELD OF DARKNESS, since they'd met a few months earlier at some charity thing downtown. My agent Rolph Blythe and his gorgeous wife Rebecca came, celebrating their first night out since the birth of their daughter a month ago. Les Pockell and Celia Johnson and Susan Richman from Mysterious Press sipped wine and chatted with Cousin Winthrop Hoyt.

Uncle Tony Hoyt and I discussed Jonestown, since he was the publisher of New West magazine in LA when they did the first expose on The People's Temple. Curtis Edmonds and his wife Ellen came in from New Jersey, which was the first time I'd met him in person though we've known each other since we both wrote for back in the mid-Nineties.

Somtimes the relationships seemed to be begging for flowcharts and overhead-projector tranparencies to keep the tangles straight: Sarah Weinman was hanging on the sofa with Muffin Humes, whose sister Immy was the reason I ended up working at the Catalog for Geoffrey, since she'd hired my sister Freya to be her assistant photo editor. Ariel knows Immy because Immy went to Radcliffe with HER sister Judy, and Ari ended up working for Muffin and Immy's former stepfather Nelson Aldrich at Lear's Magazine while Freya and I were at the Catalog. The title of my novel comes from a quote from Nelson's book Old Money, and Nelson himself once told me that my Uncle David Read, his English teacher at St. Paul's, was the first person who ever told him he should be a writer.

My pal Candace came from Cincinnatti, bringing along her daughter Hope and older sister Katie, with Katie's daughter Megan. Katie picked up the copy of my audio book from off the top of the piano. She read the blurbs on the back and then cracked up laughing, since it turns out that the summer she was fifteen she was hired to be the mother's helper for Hillary Huber, who did the voice work.

And then there was the contingent from Backspace--the online writers' forum sponsoring the conference at the Algonquin Hotel, which was my reason for the trip--led by the inimitable Karen Dionne and her lovely daughter.

SOOOOOOOO... talk about the whole "what a long strange trip it's been" thing, you know? I wish the party had lasted for three days, so I could've talked with everyone to my heart's content. It's all a blur. Like my wedding, only I didn't have to beg people to bring me beer while I was stuck inside having my picture taken.

Plus which, DeLalio came up right after Peter Riegert said goodnight and went home.

"Dude," asked DeLalio, "was that the guy from Animal House?"

I told him it was.

"So what the hell was he doing here?"

"He wants to make a movie out of the book," I said.

"Dude," he said, holding up a hand to give me a high five, "that is so totally excellent!"

So was the party, and the conference, and especially Ariel.

I miss New York already... even the sidewalk/manhole fragrance of eau de cigar.

I would like to be Eloise when I grow up, only I'd hang out at the Algonquin way more than the Plaza--with Ariel and Candace and DeLalio and Geoffrey and Immy and Muffin and Sarah and Karen and Rolph and Curtis and Peter and David Hutch and Lee and Maggie and Winthrop and Judith and EVERYONE, plus all of Backspace.

I mean, dude, that would just be so totally excellent....

Monday, July 24, 2006

I Blog, Therefore I Am...

By Paul

Why do we blog? Isn’t it an act of towering ego to think that others give a hoot about our musings? Well, yes. But the same is true about writing a novel. It takes some chutzpah to hammer out 100,000 words in the belief that anyone will notice, much less like your work.

I don’t know about my fellow bloggers, but I am always plagued by doubts. Usually, it’s midway through the damn thing that I start to hate it.

I can’t finish it. If I do, critics will hate it, no one will buy it, and my career will be over.

Somehow, at the beginning of the third act, everything comes together. Not always, but usually.

All that is a prelude to what Dave Barry calls “strumpeting” your work. I have a book coming out September 1. It's Kill All the Lawyers, a mass market original from Bantam, the third in the “Solomon vs. Lord” series. Today, "Publishers Weekly" gave the book a starred review, and tonight I’m opening a blue-and-white hand-painted ceramic bottle of Clasé Azul tequila. That’s right, tequila, not champagne. The smooth reposado, liquid silk going down.

And here’s the review that has me sipping the agave:

This clever, colorful thriller from former attorney Levine (The Deep-Blue Alibi, etc.) focuses as much on the age-old conflict between Mars and Venus as on delivering legal wisecracks and page-turning suspense.

Miami defense attorney Steve Solomon and his partner in law and love, Victoria Lord, rarely see eye to eye. He bends the rules, and she plays by the book; he wants to buy a house, but she dreams of high-rise living. Housing is the least of their problems, however, when Steve's former client, convicted killer Dr. William Kreeger, discovers that Steve lost his case on purpose. The threats start with a 300-pound fish dangling from Steve's door and quickly escalate.

But how does one outwit a lethal psychologist with a genius IQ? Levine ratchets up the tension with each development but never neglects the heart of the story-his characters. The wily, rough-around-the-edges Steve, the Manolo-loving Victoria or Steve's anagram-obsessed and utterly endearingnephew are each drawn with a fine hand, making them feel more like friends than figments of Levine's imagination. As a result, readers will leave this series entry with the hope that many more will be forthcoming.

Well, I hope so, too. I've posted the first chapter of Kill All the Lawyers on my website.


Le Tour and Rain on My Parade

Patty here...

I’ve mentioned this before but I’m a huge fan of Le Tour de France, which just ended on Sunday after three weeks and a day, twenty stages, twenty-four hundred miles, and more thrills than nude mud-wrestling.

It was awesome to see American Floyd Landis ride into Paris wearing the yellow jersey. This is the eighth year in a row that an American has stood in front of the Arc de Triomphe wearing the maillot jaune (Lance Armstrong has claimed that honor for the past seven years), but Landis is only the third American to win in the tour’s history. He’s a San Diego boy with a bad hip and a can-do attitude.

He was written off after a bad day in the mountains when he “hit the wall” AKA “bonking,” which is when you fall apart due to lack of food and water. He roared back the following day. He left the main field behind shortly after the start and rode alone across five mountains to win the stage and regain enough time to win the tour in the time trial the next day. His transcendent ride will go down in Tour de France history.

I used to do some cycling myself. I took a couple of bike trips in France and once competed in the Rosarita to Encenada Bike Race in Mexico. I went with a couple of jocks, including my main squeeze, Will. I learned a lot from him that day. One, when a guy tells you there aren’t any hills don’t believe him. Two, you can make it if you want to. Just like Floyd.

The lessons you learn under that sort of pressure are sometimes the best lessons. I just finished editing and proofreading my third book SHORT CHANGE and even though I’m now more mouse potato than contender, I bonked, not from lack of food but from lack of brain cells. I’m done, though. The manuscript is packed and ready to go to my editor. It sort of feels like I’m riding into Paris wearing a yellow jersey right now.

You can blame Paul for all this talk about biking. Last Tuesday (7/18/06 Meyer & Me) he challenged his fellow Naked Authors to post their embarassing photos, so I began searching through my albums to find a few. A few? Sheesh! For one thing I discovered that I seem to take a lot of rain-challenged vacations. Case in point. This is a picture of me on a bike trip in the Burgundy area of France. It was raining. You gotta love the outfit. The picture I’m NOT showing you is from the day before when I poked a hole in a Hefty trashcan liner and slipped it over my head. P.S. There’s shopping in France, too (see Shopping 7/17/06).

This second photo is of me trekking through a pasture dotted with sheep caca on the Island of Mull in Scotland. I had a map. As I recall it said something like, “Unlock the farmer’s gate and walk through the sheep pen…” And I always do as I’m instructed. It rained, but as you can see I came prepared with my Lilliputian windbreaker. The rain was the least of my worries. It was also the opening day of hunting season—who knew?—which is why you see no livestock in the photo, and I look like a deer caught in the flashbulb.

Here’s yet another bad-weather adventure. Me at the helm of a sailboat near San Miguel Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Once you leave the island, there's no landmass until you reach Hawaii. Not many people go to San Miguel on vacation, because the place is deserted and to get there you might have to put on foul weather gear, which makes you look…how can I put this…FOUL.

I’m taking a less inclement vacation this year. A sailing trip off the coast of Maine. Did I choose wisely?

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mystery Writers, Al Gore and 52 Types of Vodka

from Jacqueline

As you already know from Cornelia’s post, we were both at the Book Passage Mystery Writers’ Conference last week, and as co-chair of the event I did not know which way was up – so busy that composing a post for the blog was the last thing on my mind. Sorry I didn't make it to the page.

I won’t reinvent the wheel here, as Cornelia has already told you what an amazing event it is, however, I will throw in a few cents worth. When Judy Greber and Marilyn Wallace first developed the conference, they laid a foundation that remains to this day: It’s all about the attendees – those writers who come clutching an idea, a few paragraphs, an outline, fifty pages or a whole manuscript. And along with their work and their dreams, they come with the whole gamut of emotions – this is, after all, where they go live with their work. The very first thing I asked everyone to do was to applaud themselves, because when you’ve been beavering away on your own, trying to make ten paragraphs or ten pages each day, most likely with a day job, and/or kids, or 1001 other things to worry about, taking that leap, making that investment in your work represents an enormous leap of faith. I think we all take that leap of faith every time we face the blank page – and I confess, it scares the heck out of me every single day – so what’s really great is the way that published authors come together, responding to the call to play a part in helping another writer edge a little closer to first-time publication.

I’ve always believed that a true educational environment is one where everyone learns something. It’s a place where not only the “students” garner some knowledge they didn’t have before – perhaps a nugget of wisdom that jettisons them from the plateau – but where those who teach find that they’ve come away with a gem or two along the way. I remember being at a marketing workshop years ago, and the facilitator kicked off by saying that as he drove home after each course, he replayed the events of the week in his head and always, without fail, came up with ten new things he’d learned from his students. That’s what last weekend was all about: learning together. And that’s why I love the event.

I’m off to the UK on Monday and I’m packing my shorts. This is not something I usually do while in Britain, but then it is 103 degrees there at the moment, and has been pretty much in that range for the past week or so. Next week it may cool down a degree or two, and everyone is just about on their knees praying for a storm to break the heatwave. Which brings me to (Vice) President Al Gore, who appeared for a signing event at Book Passage last Friday – we think he worked it to meet a few mystery writers, if truth be told. I am not one who is usually thrown by the rich and famous, or by celebrity (I did go weak at the knees once, when I met Huston Smith, one of my heroes), but let me tell you, if Al Gore had uttered just a few speeches six years ago, with the passion he demonstrated at Book Passage last Friday, then the world would be a better place today – and we mightn’t be so damn hot! At the end of his 15-minute talk, 1500 people who had come to have him sign copies of “An Inconvenient Truth” would have followed him anywhere. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of a true leader for years – but I saw one at Book Passage last Friday evening.

So, next week my post may not actually get in on time again, and here’s why: My parents live in a very small hamlet in Sussex, England. They have no internet access, so I have to make my way to the nearest internet cafe which is four miles away. The cafe is called “Revolver.” They sell 52 types of vodka along with coffee and tea, and they play only Beatles music from 12 noon to 12 midnight. So my post may actually be a velly late posht.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life Imitates Arts (and Dr. Laura)

from James

I found a new favorite restaurant in Miami. I would tell you the name, but they haven’t named it yet. So let’s call it _________. It’s in a gas station. I’m not kidding. Right off of U.S. on 17th Avenue, next to a place called Casola’s (which, by the way, is the best pizza pie in south Florida). There’s a gas station right on the corner, which expanded to include a mini mart. You now walk through the mini mart to get to a charming little restaurant with bench seats and an impressive selection of wines (French, Australian, Chilean, Italian, Californian, Argentinian, Spanish). The food is Spanish, which means you eat tapas (shared appetizer-sized portions). The best part about _______, however, is the wine. They price their wines very cheap, and no matter how good the bottle is, the corkage fee is ten dollars. Wines that would normally sell for over $100 in even a medium-priced restaurant sell for $40 here. And you can get antacids and a lube job on your way out. Beat that.

I like ________, too, because it is a little bit of life imitating art for me. I write a series “featuring Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight.” (I put that language in quotes because that’s literally what it says in my contract. I wonder how much some lawyer billed HarperCollins to come up with that.) Anyway, Theo Knight owns a bar called Sparky’s, which is a sentimental name for him, since he was once on death row, and in Florida the electric chair used to be called “Old Sparky”. Here’s how I described it in Beyond Suspicion: “Sparky’s was on U.S. 1 south of Homestead, one of the last watering holes before a landscape that still bore the scars of a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 gave way to the splendor of the Florida Keys. It was a converted old gas station with floors so stained from tipped drinks that not even the Environmental Protection Agency could have determined if more flammable liquids had spilled before or after the conversion. The grease-pit was gone but the garage doors were still in place. There was a long, wooden bar, a TV permanently tuned to ESPN, and a never-ending stack of quarters on the pool table. Beer was served in cans, and the empties were crushed in true Sparky’s style at the old tire vice that still sat on the work bench. It was the kind of dive that Jack would have visited if it were in his own neighborhood, but he made the forty-minute trip for one reason only: the bartender was Theo Knight.”

So, I’m guessing that Jack would also make the drive to ______. I know I will—again and again. Any suggestions on a name? Help these guys out, folks. Something catchy. I really want them to make it!
Page Two. (That’s my Paul Harvey imitation). A friend of mine (tenured law professor, Colombia grad, publishes “thought pieces” in the Yale Law Journal—a brilliant guy married to an even more brilliant woman) reads the kind of magazines that won’t even accept me as a subscriber, let alone review my books. I saw Tony swimming laps the other day (oh, by the way, he and his brilliant wife have not an ounce of fat on their forty-something-year-old bodies). He pops out of the pool and says, “Hey, Jim, did you know you’re in the summer issue of Atlantic Monthly?” I told him no, I didn’t, and that it must be another James Grippando. He insists I’m in there, so I go buy the thing ($5.95, almost as much as one of my books, by the way). The first thing I discover is that it’s no longer called Atlantic Monthly. It’s just Atlantic. I’m no Einstein, but I’m figuring that the name change has something to do with the fact that this is the July/August issue. I see that the cover story is “Inside the Jihad,” and I figure my smart friend Tony has a very strange sense of humor. But then I also notice that there is a feature called “Summer Reading: What Some Notables are Stacking on their Beach Blankets this Year.” It includes everyone from Allan Gurganus (“Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”) to Lynda Obst (Paramount Pictures) and Tom Ford (Gucci’s former creative director) and several others. I read on . . . then I get to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who says that she will be reading a book on sailing, a biology book called Genome by Matt Ridley, “and I also intend to read every book by James Grippando (I already have two under my belt.)”

I thought this was very cool and sent her signed first editions of all my books. Thank you Dr. Laura (not just for being a fan, but for getting my name in a magazine that even my most highbrow friends read).

James Grippando

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Senior Year

By Cornelia

Tomorrow I’m flying to New York for the second annual Backspace Writer’s Conference. I still have a lot of laundry to do, and packing, and thinking, and all the usual stuff that backed up over the last few days while I was at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference out here in Corte Madera, California. Plus, I am supposed to be cooking dinner right now.

I remember the first day I attended the Book Passage Conference in 2002. It seemed as though there were over a thousand people there, all of them more knowledgeable about writing and publishing than I was. Everything was blurry and overwhelming, like the cafeteria on the first day of high school. I clutched the hand of my friend Charles King, from writing group in Berkeley.

I took a seat in the store’s events room, notepad ready to write down pearls of wisdom during the introductory session. All the writers were sitting along a high window seat as Book Passage founder Elaine Petrocelli got up to get things rolling.

I was in complete awe, and couldn’t imagine that I’d ever get to be one of those people on the other side of the podium, or even that I’d ever get up the nerve to talk to one any of them: Tony Broadbent, David Corbett, Claire Johnson, Ridley Pearson, Jan Burke, Camille Minichino, Laurie King, Rhys Bowen, Cara Black, Michael Connelly, Sheldon Siegel, George Pelecanos, Ayelet Waldman…

Judy Greber (who writes as Gillian Roberts) and Marilyn Wallace had started this annual gathering of mystery authors, students, and publishing professionals some years earlier. I was in awe of them more than anyone. They were funny and kind and smart and welcoming to one and all.

I had a “finished” manuscript, and had just started querying agents--hoping to get rejection letters that were personalized enough to let me know why they were turning me down, at best. I was generally terrified of everything, and pretty damn certain I’d never be published.

That was four years ago, and I’ve attended this conference every summer since. I can honestly say it changed my life, and if you are interested in writing mysteries, you should try to go even if you have to hitchhike from Pascagoula.

Last week I got to be on the faculty for the very first time, and I hope I’ll be invited back again. I still didn’t sit on the window seat, but took a place on the floor down at one end. It seemed fitting, since I still feel as much like a student as I do one of The Authors.

This summer was my senior year, if you’ll bear with me for continuing the high school metaphor. I think it’s an apt one. I mean, remember what seniors looked like when you were fourteen? They had things like drivers’ licenses and facial hair and stuff. They were often tall. They all knew each other.

Seniors looked, let’s face it, like GROWNUPS. And it’s only when you come back yourself for that final September at your alma mater, aged all of eighteen or so, that you realize maybe they didn’t actually FEEL like grownups, at least all the time.

In real life, I am now old enough to know that most of my teachers in high school probably didn’t feel like grownups MOST of the time. And I also know that those people who were sitting up on the Book Passage window seat behind that dais in the summer of 2002 are actually people, and that just sitting amongst them doesn’t make you feel like An Author, all the time, because nobody does.

You’d implode. It’s a law of nature.

One thing I worried about at Book Passage this year, though, was that people might figure I now knew the Secret Handshake. I wish I did. I wish there were some incantation, some combination of newt eyes and baking powder and gum Arabic you bake at 375 for twenty minutes and voila, you’re published. And happy about it. Because I would like that for EVERYONE who came to the conference, and everyone who wants to get published. Hell, I’d like it for me and my second book.

Here’s the thing: there is no Secret Handshake, and everybody’s nervous. God knows I still am.

And maybe the best thing I heard over those four days this year was something Denise Mina said: we’re all terrified, and if you’re not terrified, you’re not writing as well as you could be. She didn’t mean you have to be leaning over to barf on your shoes every five minutes or so as you type, but that you have to honor your craft and your work--and the people you hope will read that work--with a sense of awe at the responsibility.

I liked that, and I think what she said really is the Secret Handshake of writing. You have to take risks. You have to try harder than you ever thought you’d try at anything. You have to go back again and again to make it better. You have to take criticism gladly. And even if you do all of that, you can’t know how it will turn out.

It’s scary. It should be scary.

It’s also wonderful, and it should be that too.

I got to hang out with amazing people for four days—writers and people who love writing, including Our Jacqueline. Old friends and new friends.

It was nourishment for the soul, and I wanted to bring everyone home with me (except maybe for David Corbett when he read that limerick at the reception, but that’s another story). It was really like getting to be a senior in high school, in the very coolest way.

It reminded me of the Kerouac quote on my high school yearbook page (Class of '81):

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars....

But the main thing about getting to be a senior in high school is, if you’re lucky, that you get to be a freshman again at college the following fall.

And it’s funny how all those seniors in college look like such GROWNUPS, you know? Especially Denise Mina.

Meyer & Me...

by paul

I was minding my own business, sipping Chianco Blanco tequila and watching a DVD from Netflix, “True Stories of the Miami Vice Squad.” (What did you expect, something with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts?)

Turns out, it’s an awful documentary, full of staged police raids that are passed off as the real thing. But there are a few interesting historical news clips, so I keep watching. They cut to a shot of Meyer Lansky, the “Chairman of the Board” of the Mafia. It’s grainy film, black-and-white, a corridor outside a courtroom. In the background is a young man, reporter’s notebook in hand, apparently asking Lansky a question. The young man has a big mop of hair. How big? Looks like he has a muskrat parked on his skull.


Yes, it was 1969. I was fresh out of Penn State, covering criminal court as a reporter for The Miami Herald.

[I’m posting a shot of me here in the hope that my fellow bloggers will also display their embarrassing photos. Prom night. Spring Break. You get the idea.]

As best I can recall, Lansky, the boyhood chum of Lucky Luciano, had come through Customs from a trip abroad and had some heart medicine for which he had no prescription. Yep, a bullshit charge that went nowhere. I covered the trial and tried to interview Lansky about his storied life in crime. No dice. He talked to me about his little yapper dogs...Ike and Bruzzer, I believe. He talked about the corned beef sandwiches at Wolfies. He smiled and nodded and seemed apologetic at not being very helpful to a young reporter who apparently couldn’t afford a haircut. I remember him as a small, soft-spoken, somewhat courtly man.

A few years later, Lansky was indicted in Miami for income tax evasion. Supposedly, he had skimmed millions from the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas. Again, he beat the rap.

“We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” You’ll remember that line from Godfather II. It was spoken by Hyman Roth (played by Lee Strasberg), the character meant to be Lansky. Legend has it that Lansky once said the line at a mob gathering. Lansky died peacefully in 1983 at age 80.

I also covered the Jim Morrison trial (lewd conduct at a concert), but that’s
another story.

NEW BLOG: Bob Morris, the wacky Florida writer (is that redundant?)has a splendind new blog called Surrounded on Three Sides, Florida, get it? Bob is the talented and weirdly humorous author of Bahamarama, Jamaica Me Dead and the forthcoming Bermuda Schwartz.

JUST ASKING: What ever happened to good old chocolate mousse on dessert menus?

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway, where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs." Hunter S. Thompson

The Big Lebowski: "Isn't that what makes a man?"
Jeffrey (The Dude)Lebowski: "Mmm, sure. That and a pair of testicles."


Monday, July 17, 2006

The New Work-Out Craze: shopping

Patty here…

Saturday I went shopping. It was the Nordstrom half-yearly sale and since I hadn’t refreshed my wardrobe for about a million years, I decided to throw all caution to the wind. I will admit to having a soft spot in my wallet for Nordstrom. It’s a Seattle store, and I lived there for many years. I remember when it was Nordstrom Best the shoe store, and I also remember the first pair of shoes I bought there. They were ruby red with an impossibly cool buckle on the toe (think Dorothy and Toto). I still have my original Nordstrom Best credit card, which I’m keeping until I can sell it on E-Bay for a gazillion dollars.

I digress…

I set a budget for my Saturday shopping spree, but what the hell. Budgets are made to be broken. Just ask Michael Jackson. I knew I was in trouble when my personal shopper asked me if I wanted to pull my car around to the loading dock.

All those shopping bags! It seemed like a lot of stuff as I was carrying the bags to the car, but when I got home and compared the sales receipt to the items—yeow!—it seemed more like a little for a lot. When did shoes get so expensive? And why do they seem to go out of style before the credit card bill arrives? I should have kept those platform sandals I bought at Nordstrom in the 1970s. Scary, but they’re back.

As I was carting all those clothes into the dressing room I felt a little like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Trying them on made me feel like Al Roker before the surgery. That’s the problem with the writer’s life. You spend way too much time sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen. I need to find some balance in my life, so I’ve decided that it’s time to activate that gym membership I bought five months ago and have used exactly one time. I’m going to get back in shape—right after I finish this post—and I have the Nordstrom half-yearly sale to thank. Shopping, it's a beautiful thing.

If you want to see one of my new outfits and hear a message in my own voice, please click here.

What I'm reading: Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler

What I'm watching: Le Tour de France. Any guesses who will ride into Paris wearing the maillot jaune?

Thursday, July 13, 2006


From James

I learned something very important on my family road trip last week (see “Don’t Make Me Stop this Car”, 7/6/06). My ten-year-old daughter is biologically incapable of reading in a moving vehicle. You can probably imagine how I learned this. It wasn’t pretty.

Both my wife and I were surprised by this. We figured our children would have very good genes. Tiffany can read anything in the car—even the unbearable first drafts of my novels. I would never have earned a law degree had I not been able to read casebooks while crammed into the back of a Toyota Celica on a Sunday night after a weekend at Crescent Beach. In the summer of 2001, I even wrote a good chunk of Beyond Suspicion, my sixth novel, while cruising home from Martha’s Vineyard in our SUV.

But, alas, even Tiffany finally realized that she is to blame. True, Tiffany can read just fine while cruising down the expressway. The problem is that she can’t DRIVE while cruising down the expressway. She says it gives her Vertigo.

Which reminds me: I do a decent Jimmy Stewart imitation. “My mouth's bleeding, Bert! My mouth's bleed—” See? Pretty good, huh?

Anyway, back to Vertigo. If my wife can’t drive on expressways, you’re probably wondering how I wrote Beyond Suspicion while cruising back and forth from Martha’s Vineyard in an SUV. At the time, my daughter was 5. My son was 3. Hmmmm. Sounds like a riddle to me. Any takers?

And while we’re on the subject of riddles, can anyone explain to me how Brazil did not make it to the finals of World Cup Soccer? I really got into the World Cup this year. I was in Berlin on June 9 presenting a new book to international book clubs, and June 9 was also the first day of World Cup. My wife and I were having dinner atop the Reichstag, looking down on several hundred thousand Germans who were going nuts and watching their team on a huge television screen near Brandenburg gate. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement. And in case you haven’t noticed, my name ends in a vowel. So I was pleased as punch (or should I say “pleased as head butt”) that Italy won it all. Yippee! But poor Brazil. They were ranked #1 in the world going into the tournament, and everyone thought they would win—at least everyone in Miami, that is. They didn’t.

Nonetheless, my hat goes off to the Brazilians, and this has nothing to do with soccer. It actually relates to writing, which, after all, is what this blog is supposed to be about. Last week I received the Brazilian cover for the Portuguese translation of my novel, Last to Die. I have seen many, many covers for my foreign translations. Some of them are just dreadful. This one from Brazil is truly the most artistically beautiful cover of any of my novels, foreign or U.S. edition. I’m not kidding. This thing was sexy, edgy, mysterious, eye-popping. It was so good, in fact, that I wanted my U.S. publisher to buy the whole package and use it as the cover for the U.S. edition of Lying with Strangers, which HarperCollins will release in June 2007. My agent, however, had some question as to whether it would appeal to women. So I asked my wife what she thought. Guess what?

She got vertigo. Passed out right on the spot. But on her way down, she said, “No freakin’ way are you using that cover!”

My apologies, Brazil. You lose again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Highly Recommended Reading: Mary Sharratt's New Novel

Mary Sharratt's third novel, The Vanishing Point, is one of the best books I've read this year--dark, intriguing, and very very fine all around.

The publisher's description:

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory’s smart, transporting fiction comes this tale of dark suspense, love, and betrayal, featuring two star-crossed sisters, one lost and the other searching.

Bright and inquisitive, Hannah Powers was raised by a father who treated her as if she were his son. While her beautiful and reckless sister, May, pushes the limits of propriety in their small English town, Hannah harbors her own secret: their father has given her an education forbidden to women. But Hannah’s secret serves her well when she journeys to colonial Maryland to reunite with May, who has been married off to a distant cousin after her sexual misadventures ruined her marriage prospects in England.

As Hannah searches for May, who has disappeared, she finds herself falling in love with her brother-in-law. Alone in a wild, uncultivated land where the old rules no longer apply, Hannah is freed from the constraints of the society that judged both her and May as dangerous—too smart, too fearless, and too hungry for life. But Hannah is also plagued by doubt, as her quest for answers to May’s fate grows ever more disturbing and tangled.

Sharratt is the author of Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point. She was the winner of the 2005 WILLA Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction

Q: One of the things I was most impressed with in The Vanishing Point was how you portrayed both May and Hannah Powers as women who ultimately kick over the traces of their era's social and moral constraints, without ever making their motivations or actions feel anachronistic.

I get claustrophobic just watching re-runs of Splendor in the Grass, when it comes to the whole female-sexuality-oppression deal. But I still cringe when historical fiction goes overboard with imported lashings of contemporary "I am woman, hear me roar" empowerment schtick.

Diana Gabaldon tackles that by having her protagonist time-travel, but far too many modern novels strike me as having fallen prey to the kind of "If I was a slave, I'd've just got in my Lincoln and drove the fuck away" hindsight-hubris on which Eddie Murphy once did a brilliant standup riff.

Was that difficult to navigate as you were crafting this novel? Did the depth of your research help you succeed at making May and Hannah such credible inhabitants of their times?

A: I'm so happy that my characters, Hannah and May, rang true to you as a reader. Presenting strong women in historical fiction is tricky. On the one hand, some contemporary readers tend to believe such figures are anachronistic, no matter how well-researched the characters might be, because many people do base their concept of women in history on lazy stereotypes and misperceptions that women were always completely helpless and downtrodden. But if you actually sit down and do the research, a completely different image emerges. Throughout history there have always been women who, within the restrictive parameters of their age, managed to carve out daring lives and to achieve extraordinary things.

While writing this book, I became intrigued by the notion of a late 17th century woman who was determined to carve out her own destiny and who demanded the same liberties, both social and sexual, as a man. This was how May's character was conceived. The Restoration era certainly had its share of adventurous women who challenged the status quo.

Nell Gwyn is one of my favorites. Though illiterate, she rose from poverty to become the most celebrated actress of the Restoration and one of the first women to ever act on stage in England.

Previously female parts had been played by men dressed up as women. Eventually she became Charles II's mistress, but she was every bit the master of her own destiny. She earned her living by acting (a highly disreputable profession in that era) and high-class prostitution, yet she was never ashamed or coy about what she was. When her coach driver attacked another man for calling her a whore, Nell reportedly broke up the fight by saying, "I am a whore. Find something else to fight about."

Aphra Behn is another huge idol of mine. She's credited as being the first Englishwoman to earn her living as a writer.

A prolific and celebrated dramatist and poet, she traveled to Surinam and later to Antwerp, where she worked as a spy for Charles II. Although she was briefly married, her husband remains an obscure footnote in her very colorful life.

It's also interesting to note the frequent jokes about cuckolds in Restoration comedies. Although the dearth of reliable birth control put women at a disadvantage when it came to sexual freedom, we're left with a picture of upperclass wives who enjoyed adulterous romps and who used their marital status as a shield for any resulting pregnancies.

So Hannah and May, although fictional characters, were inspired directly by my research into the lives of real women in this era.

Q: Equally impressive to me was the way you wove what your publisher's reading guide for the book describes as "fascinating descriptions of social customs, recipes, and medical practices" into the action, without ever weighing down the narrative's drive. I always want to include every last scrap of research in my fiction--hardest darling to kill. Are there things you wish you could have included but had to scrap?

A: Research is indeed the hardest darling to kill! There's always the temptation to show off your research in a way that hits the reader over the head. I had several long passages about how Maryland started out as a refuge for Catholics and a sanctuary of religious toleration, only to later become a place where the Church of England was in control and Catholics were persecuted, as they had been in England. Since this wasn't integral to my story but more of a potted history lesson, my editor wisely asked me to cut it and I did.

Q: I was captivated by your description of visiting the Philadelphia rowhouse in which two eighteenth-century seamstresses "once lived and plied their trade," an experience you've cited as early inspiration for The Vanishing Point. What was it about that house that first sparked your imagination?

A: When I entered that little rowhouse, I felt immediately drawn into lives of these two women. I was impressed that the two of them had managed to carve out an independent, masterless existence, ruled by neither father nor husband, in an age when nearly every factor in the dominant society and religion herded women into marriage and domesticity. I wanted to learn more about them--the hidden history of how they came to be living together in that little row house. This inspired me to use fiction as a tool to explore women's lives in Early America.

Q: During the ten years of research you did for this book, you lived in California, Germany, and England. How did your sojourn in each place impact your perspective on the evolving story?

A: Germany was where I first started working on The Vanishing Point, way back in the early 90s. At that time, I was studying to become a Heilpraktiker, or naturopath. I was learning about herbalism and also the medical theories that were still widespread in the 17th century, such as plant signatures, the medicine of the humors, and the theory behind "bleeding" the patients and applying leeches. In this course, we also discussed the teachings of Paracelsus, for whom medicine, science, magic, astrology, and religion were inseparably woven together.

I ended up not becoming a professional naturopath for various reasons, but the material I had learned was too interesting not to use, so I wove it into my novel-in-progress.

My husband and I moved to California in 2001. Here The Vanishing Point was on the backburner as I worked on my second novel, The Real Minerva. The agent I was working with at that time didn't like The Vanishing Point and told me to scrap it.

When we moved to England in 2002, The Vanishing Point came alive again for me again. I found a wonderful new agent who sold The Real Minerva as part of a two-book deal and that security allowed me to focus all my energy on The Vanishing Point. Before I'd been a little daunted writing about Maryland, because I'm not from there. Then it dawned on me that my characters were displaced English people, way out of their element, and that was the key to portraying them with confidence and authority.

When we bought a house in the Lancashire countryside, the novel took root and gained a life force of its own. The characters' surnames were lifted from 17th century gravemarkers in village churchyards. The yew trees and hawthorn hedges that May longs for in her American exile grow outside my door. My writing room looks out onto Pendle Hill

where George Fox received the ecstatic vision that inspired him to found the Quakers. The final drafts that I did here in England just seem to flow out of me. The book almost seemed to write itself.

Q: Have you gotten any responses to the book you weren't expecting?

A: I was amused that Publisher's Weekly thought my book was too sexy. My previous books also contain explicit scenes, but this was the first time a mainstream reviewer had a problem with it. I wonder what this particular reviewer would make of Samuel Pepys's diaries? People were quite frank about sexuality in the Restoration era--far less prudish than many people are today.

Q: What's next for you on the writing front? Please tell me we'll be seeing more from you soon!

A: My current novel-in-progress is a ghost story called The Art of Memory.Inspired by the English gothic novel and pre-Raphaelite paintings, the book is set in and around Manchester, England during the Industrial Revolution and the present day. The theme is that the past never dies--the souls lost in the tumult of historical progress keep haunting and exerting their influence on contemporary lives.

The novel concerns a dysfunctional American family that experiences a devastating blast from the distant past when the father, Will, goes to Manchester on business. He encounters a mysterious young woman who calls herself Angel. She lures him into her flat, serves him drugged tea, and then steals not his money or his credit cards but snapshots of his wife and daughter.

When circumstances force Will to relocate to Manchester, his 16-year-old daughter begins to receive mysterious communications from a stranger who speaks to her deepest dreams and desires. It is up to Will to try to disentangle his daughter from this web. In doing so, he must unravel Angel's true identity and purpose.

Thank you, Mary!

Summer Suppers

By Paul Levine

Cornelia’s ruminations about food last week made me hungry and also raised this question. What’s your favorite summer meal? I just had mine last Saturday night.

Cold poached wild Pacific salmon with a tomato fennel salad at Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks. Aaron Robins, (center, above), the inventive chef-owner, serves the dish with a fingerling potato salad seasoned with mustard and spiced with chopped cornichons. For starters, keeping cool, an unusual gazpacho with sliced shitakes and a sweet soy. I also speared forkfulls of Renée’s appetizer, a fire-roasted artichoke filled with cerviche. Mmmm.

Renée (“She Who Must Be Fed...But Not Too Much”) opted for the seared ahi tower as an entree, even though it’s listed as an appetizer. Why do women do that...order two appetizers for dinner? (There’s Renée, pictured with lethal Lee Child and me in Phoenix at Thrillerfest. That night, we enjoyed rib eye steaks with Carol Fitzgerald and Michele Martinez at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale).

But back to last Saturday. It hit 92 degrees in the San Fernando Valley. Did I mention the banana split in a martini glass for desert? The bananas are caramelized.

The Boneyard Bistro is an unusual restaurant, with hip, nouvelle entrees (ancho-chocolate pork tenderloin) on one side of the menu and traditional barbecue on the other. We’re talking St. Louis spare ribs, back backs, pulled pork, brisket, collard greens, and of course, fried macaroni and cheese.

Anybody getting hungry?


Regardless of your political views, doesn’t Ann Coulter debase public discourse with her hateful diatribes?

Is there a more irritating television commercial than “The Video Professor?”

The Big Lebowski gets my vote for funniest movie ever made. Sample dialogue: The Dude (Jeff Bridges), on being forced into a limo while holding his usual White Russian: “Hey, careful man. There’s a beverage here!” Related question: Is Bridges the most underrated actor of our time? Consider his body of work from “The Last Picture Show” to “The Door in the Floor” with “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and nearly 60 other movies thrown in. Then get back to me.


“My father [John Kenneth Galbraith] always said that in the fifth draft he introduced that note of spontaneity for which his writing was well known.” – Peter W. Galbraith, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.


Monday, July 10, 2006


by Patty

I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild Film Society. Saturday night I went to see “The Devil Wears Prada” at the Zanuck Theater at Twentieth Century Fox studios in West Los Angeles. I loved the movie. It was both jocular and moving. Meryl Streep gave her typically nuanced, Oscar-caliber performance. Stanley Tucci was equally as brilliant. In fact, the whole cast was wonderful. I’m not much of a fashionista but the costumes were faboo!

As I was leaving the theater, I suddenly became aware that I was in UBER-hip L.A. on the Twentieth Century Fox lot watching a great movie with a bunch of actors. Could life get any better for a girl from Yakima?

As a matter of fact, yes. It can and did. On Sunday I FINISHED my third novel. Well, perhaps FINISHED is not the best word. It’s more like—finished. I still have a couple of weeks to tinker with it before it’s due on the desk of my editor, the also-brilliant Kristen Weber of exclamation point fame!!!!!!!!! (see May 1, Weekend Mojo)

After I ran off a fresh copy of the manuscript, I actually had time to read a newsletter that had been left on my front porch. It was from a local realtor, but oddly it contained nothing about real estate. It listed a Web site for the national “Do Not Call” registry where you can put those pesky telemarketers on notice not to ring you up during the dinner hour. It also included some filler copy, quotes from famous people on the meaning of success. I was feeling pretty successful about completing my book before the deadline so I read through a few.

J. Paul Getty said, “Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.”

Very funny, J. Paul. Not as funny as our Pauly, but not bad.

Irving Berlin said, “The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success.”

Sheesh! Talk about pressure.

Malcolm Forbes said, “Failure is success if we learn from it.”

Hmm, does that mean we can’t succeed without failing?

Bette Midler said, “The worst part of success is to try finding someone who is happy for you.”

Sort of sad and gloomy, Bette. I just want you to know I think you’re terrific, and I’m happy for your all your success.

My personal favorite is a quote by Lady Astor. “The penalty of success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you.”

You tell it like it is, Lady A.

After considering what all those successful people had to say about success, I went back to my computer and resumed working on my manuscript. I have two more weeks to rise early, work hard, and hope that I strike oil, in the literary sense of the word.

p.s. There was a very cool article in the Los Angeles Times this week about the new generation of L.A. mystery writers. It was written by Anne-Marie O'Connor and features Paula Woods, Naomi Hirahara, Denise Hamilton, and Gary Phillips. Guess who else got a mention? Moi.
...a new cadre of female mystery writers is exploring the noir of upscale Los Angeles. Jerrilyn Farmer's investigator is a party planner; Patricia Smiley's heroine is a management consultant and Susan Kandel's sleuth is a biographer of mystery authors. Michael Connelly, the bestselling writer whose latest Harry Bosch mystery, "Echo Park," comes out in the fall, said the shift in the genre has given birth to new, deeper characters whose brushes with mortality involve deeper meditations on race, gender and class.

I'm honored to be included in such great company. Check it out. Happy Monday!

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Handful of Southerly Wind

from Jacqueline

“... and God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it and created the horse ...” (Bedouin legend)

Well, you’d think I’d have a lot to write about after a week like the one I’ve just had, but clearly the stress has flattened the little gray cells. The week’s main pressure point has been Sara’s sinus infection. Sara (real name “Serendipity”) weighs about 1200lbs and is a fairly large horse, and if there’s one thing that will turn you off your food, it’s something of that size with a sinus infection in a very big nose. It’s not as if you can hold a towel up to it and say, “Blow!” Things finally came to a head on July 4th – and I mean, quite literally, came to a head – and Sara has now been admitted to the equine hospital, trailered off yesterday with the anxious owner (yours truly) following the rig convoy-style, no less concerned than a parent pursuing an ambulance with a sick child inside. Every possible outcome ever encountered in an animal-related film or book went through my mind. Just think of what Seabisbuit went through, or Dreamer. And then there’s Black Beauty.

I’ve always been a sucker for animal books, starting with Anna Sewell’s classic story, which I read as soon as I was old enough to hold up the book, I think. It was probably the first book that had to be taken away from me – I was crying so much it was making me ill. I barely finished the chapter entitled, “Poor Ginger” (and we all know about that chapter, don’t we?), when my mother said that if this was the sort of thing that happened when I read a book about a horse, then she’d put a stop to it. I think Wuthering Heights was shoved into my hand in place of Black Beauty.

I grizzled my way through National Velvet, and had The Call of the Wild confiscated when I woke in the morning with my eyes so swollen I couldn’t see. The same thing happened last year when I read an early copy of John Grogan’s “Marley and Me: Life and Love With The World’s Worst Dog." Amid my sobbing, I pressed my husband to read “this really good book” – to which he had to comment, “If that’s a good book, what do you do with a bad one?” My brother is another complete softie with animals – he had to wait until everyone had left the theater after watching, “Eight Below” so that no one would see that he’d shed more than a few tears. He told me I’d better not see it. And when I saw Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” it was the segment with the animated polar bear desperately searching for a piece of Artic Circle to rest upon that I found absolutely heart wrenching.

But back to Sara. I packed up individual food bags for her, so that the techs at the equine hospital would find it easy to blend her antibiotics with something sweet and interesting, and I added a couple of jars of apple sauce, because it’ll help the medicine go down. I was so nervous when I filled out the admitting papers that my hands were shaking, and then I kept dropping things, left my cellphone in the office and generally gave the impression that my brain was about the same circumference as that of the average thoroughbred – the size of a walnut. Visiting time is at 10:30am, so I’ve packed up some special cookies and a big juicy apple for her. And though I know she needs to be in for a few days to get over this thing, I can’t wait for her to come home. In the meantime there’s Seabiscuit, or I could even finish Black Beauty.

(Yes, I tried to add a photo of Sara, but managed to crash my computer three times. Clearly still technologically challenged.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Don't Make Me Stop this Car

from James

Al Roker wrote a book by that title, and it has always stuck with me. It captures that love-hate relationship we have with the most Ämerican of vacations: the road trip.

I write outdoors and live in South Florida, so I have no choice but to flee my home base when the rain, heat, mosquitos, humidity, thunderstorms, tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis and all forms of biblical peril come ashore, usually about three blocks from my front door. This year we had a short stay in the Bahamas, which unfortunately forced me to miss the first annual Thrillerfest, where Paul Levine demonstrated that he's still got it as a defense lawyer and got Jack Reacher off (not even on a technicality) in a mock trial of Lee Child's famous character. Congrats to Paul!

I was especially disappointed to miss the Thriller conference, because I was one of the contributors to the "Thriller" anthology, a collection of short stories from about 30 thriller writers who are charter members of the organization. My story is called Operation Northwoods, and if you're wondering what the U.S. Government may be forced to do in order to solve the controversy over the ënemy combatants detained in Gitmo, well, let me just say that you need to read Operation Northwoods.

But back to the road trip. We drove from Miami to North Carolina for the 4th of July. This was my first trip with all three of my children (my youngest is must 16 months). We did one long trip in 2000, driving all the way from Miami to Martha's Vineyard, but as my friends point out, that was before I entered the big leagues and had a third child. Still, that trip from 2000 forever imbedded in my subconcious a song called Ïce Cream Crazy by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, which my daughter listened to about 500 times on the trip.

From my childhood I have many roadtrip memories, but the most interesting points for present purposes are the contrasts between those trips I took with my parents and four siblings in an old Pontiac station wagon, and the trips I take now in the big SUV. The fights over the radio were legendary. This was in the day when a rear speaker was an option that only the rich enjoyed, so my parents not only had to endure rock music blasting from some screechy A.M. station, but they would have to play it loud enough so that my older sisters could hear it all the way in the back of the station wagon. Today, my kids watch DVDs in silence from a 10 inch screen while wearing infrared headphones. (We've moved up in the world since the days of the portable TV and VCR plugged into the cigarette lighter in 2000)

I also remember the days of C.B. radio. The cool thing about the radio was that the whole world was everyone else's "good buddy" going down the interstate, looking out for smokies (cops). Burt Reynolds capitalized on this in Smokey and the Bandit, and I guess every couple in America fancied themselves to be Burt and Sally, even if they were driving a Pontiac station wagon instead of a Firebird. But here's what's going through my head this morning. I'm comparing C.B. radios to blogging--total strangers carring on these conversations, probably never to meet in person. The comparison isn't perfect. One difference that jumps right out at me is that the conversations on C.B. radio were always friendly, or at least civil. The same isn't always true about blogs. I guess people are less likely to lose their manners when actually speaking to another human being, as opposed to simply typing on a keyboard. (The irony, of course, is that those polite words uttered on CB radio have disappeared forever, whereas everything that goes on the Internet, including insults that don't reflect well on their "speakers", will probably still be around for centuries). But here's where the imperfect comparison gets interesting. What happens when those speakers meet?

I will share one example with you. I was traveling with my brother in law to college as a freshman, and he had a CB radio dialogue going for at least an hour with another guy who, as it turned out, was also headed from Chicago to the University of Illinois. They were like the world's greatest buddies. Larry (my brother in law) signed off and said he was stopping for gas at some station. The guy responded and said he was stopping off too--at the same station. Now, I expected these two CB radio buddies to get out of their cars and say hello to each other. They didn't. It was the most fascinating thing to watch. Back then you had to go into the station and pay for your gas. The other guy went in and paid. Larry then watched him go to his car and went in and paid. They were CB buddies only. That was just the natural order of things.

Weird. But I wonder what bloggers would do?

James Grippando

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


By Cornelia

Henry Miller once wrote, ``my people were entirely Nordic, which is to say idiots ." I concur fully, if only in the culinary arena.

Your average WASP can boil, overcook, underseason and otherwise torture and mutilate even the most sublime of foodstuffs (from filet mignon to beefsteak tomatoes fresh from the garden) such that they become merely a series of identical, flavor-free, stucco-colored porridges.

What's more, he or she can do this while blindfolded and with a gin and tonic in each hand.

I have long subscribed to the theory that the global Manifest Destiny delusion of the Anglo-Saxon peoples was fueled by their lack of a ``soul food.'' Let's face it, every other culture has at least one dish which qualifies as a tribal identifier-- some exquisite preparation which proclaims a group's unity, tradition, and talent. African-Americans have a panoply: ribs, hot links, magnificently rendered greens such as collards. The sobriquet soul food was justly coined to describe these flavorful contributions to the world's table.

Denizens of the Indian subcontinent have what Westerners mistakenly call "curries" (a corruption of a word describing a dish with gravy), and wondrous regional breads such as idlis, chuppatis, pooris, and naan.

The French have crusty baguettes, wines of great stature, cheeses, and many other offerings instantly recognizable as having a Gallic flair.

Italy is renowned for pasta, China for splendidly wokked preparations by the thousand, Japan for sushi and beyond,

Thailand for pad thai and satay, Korea for heady garlic-spiked mouth "happenings" (little wonder that they are referred to as "Garlic Eaters" by the Japanese, as all James Clavell fans know). Even the Swiss, God knows not the most eccentric people on the planet, have contributed fondue and raclette.

But whither the English, and by extension their culinary partners in crime, the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish? What ex-pat in full possession of his or her mental faculties could possibly yearn for haggis?

How did it happen that one of the only edible things in Eire is bread? Food historian Waverley Root did extensive books on the culinary histories of Italy and France, respectively, but it should come as no surprise that he penned no tertiary volume devoted to the evolution of Brit grub.

I staunchly believe this elemental lack to be what drove Britannia's people to the ends of the earth. The British East India Company, for instance, must credit its success to its every member's burning desire to seek out and find an edible meal, or at the very least to escape the pap masquerading as food back on ``this scepter'd isle, this England.''

Who could, after all, blame Shackleton for preferring roasted sled dog to the average pub lunch, or Sir Richard Burton for disguising himself as a native and journeying into the desert in order to get his hands on some half-decent hummous?

Sadly, this pitiful excuse for a cuisine is what has formed the backbone of American cooking. I hold the British palate, as filtered through the Puritan Ethic of self-denial, as squarely responsible for such travesties as Howard Johnson's, TV dinners, and Miracle Whip--to say nothing of the Mid-Western fantasy that Jell-O is a salad.

But the single greatest evil spawned by centuries of Anglo-Saxon ineptitude in the kitchen is Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, which is to food what Reader's Digest Condensed Books are to literature. This quivering, beige, gelatinous mass has bludgeoned more food into a state of submissive Philboyd Studge-like slop than has the world production of SPAM and catsup combined.

After all, why should any self-respecting WASP try to master the intricacies of a bearnaise sauce, or even a bechamel, when just dumping a can of Campbell's in the pot, tureen, or casserole is so much easier? It's a broad spectrum appetite-o-cide which can be used with equal effectiveness to ruin stroganoff, tetrazzini, swedish meatballs, tuna, or innocent chicken breasts. If only it could be ladled over iceberg lettuce and topped with Chun King crunchy noodles, no other foodstuff would be required by the synchronized swimmers in my gene pool.

Little wonder, then, that Andy Warhol summed up the banality of our cultural ethos by rendering a Campbell's can (though I wonder why he chose tomato--must be that wacky bohemian thing).

If, as a nation, we want to raise the culinary bar, the greatest single action we could undertake would be to ban the manufacture, distribution, and sale of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. Certainly, prohibition has historically given rise to black markets, smuggling, and dealings in unbonded goods, but handing the Mob carte blanche to develop an underground soup economy would divert them from hawking more fully toxic products, at the very least.

I urge you to join me in this worthy crusade by dumping any Cream of Mushroom you or a loved one might have directly down the kitchen sink (don't put your compost pile at risk...). When we build a grassroots groundswell, we can be more direct--grabbing up our hatchets like Carrie Nation and busting into the dens of banality still harboring this Satan's brew. Your children, and their children, will thank you.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jack Reacher Goes Free!

From Paul
“Major Reacher, isn't it true that ten years ago, you shot Francis Quinn three times?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Do you have any regrets about it?”

“Only that I didn’t kill him then.”

Strange questions for your own client, but that's me doing the asking and Lee Child doing the answering. The scene was last week’s Thrillerfest in Phoenix. The case was People vs. Reacher. The charge: first degree murder for killing Francis Xavier Quinn, the rogue Army colonel who sold military secrets to the Syrians and killed two of Jack Reacher’s military police colleagues in Persuader.

Yes, it was a mock trial. And good thing. I haven't tried a real case since 1989. In this one, Lee Child portrayed his protagonist, tough-as-nails Jack Reacher, the violent but decent avenger. The prosecutor was Michele Martinez, who was an honest-to-goodness Assistant U.S. Attorney before she turned to fiction (Most Wanted). M. Diane Vogt (Marital Privilege) served as the judge. James Born (Escape Clause), a real life Florida cop, testified as the investigating officer. Our jury of ten consisted of book critics.

“Major Reacher, did you intentionally shove a chisel into Francis Quinn’s brain?”

“It wasn’t a construction accident.”

The jury deliberated endlessly (ten minutes) before deciding it was time for cocktails. By a vote of 7-3, they acquitted Reacher. I don’t know if it was my closing argument, purloined from Jack Nicholson (“We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.”) or the jury’s fear that a conviction would have ended the Reacher series. Either way, the audience at the Arizona Biltmore seemed reasonably entertained. Michele Martinez is a savvy trial lawyer and a savage cross examiner. Jim Born is a thorough and competent homicide investigator. Diane Vogt is properly judicious. And Lee Child charmed the jury with his British accent and his forceful testimony.

So go forth, Reacher, and kill some more. Bad guys, of course.

By Paul Levine

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Perfect Place to Write

by Patty

Last Monday I confessed that I had misplaced the 1990s. Thanks to all of you who joggged my memory about what was happening back then, including the people who emailed me privately to tell me what I’d been doing. Yeow! More than I wanted to know. My friend Ted reminded me that I had learned to sail in the 90s. I thought it appropriate to write about that today because I’m on a sailing trip.

I’m in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. Catalina may be 26 miles across the sea from somewhere on the mainland to somewhere on the island, but from Marina del Rey to here it is about forty miles. By sailboat that usually means six and a half hours, if the wind is your friend.

The days are balmy here, and you can actually see the Big Dipper at night, unlike the sky over Los Angeles where the marine layer and city lights conspire to mask the stars.

Avalon's semi-circular shoreline is anchored on one end by the ferry terminal and on the other by the world-renown Casino. Palm trees line the walkway at water’s edge. Golf carts are the preferred method of travel on land. The bell in the tower on the hill above town chimes the quarter hour. Small shops, restaurants, and funky bars line the main drag, which is only a few blocks long. Tuesday is the 4th of July and the harbor is full of boats attached bow and stern to mooring balls. There will be a parade on the 4th. People will decorate golf carts, pets, and children in red, white, and blue and cruise down the main street. The USC marching band will perform.

Catalina is full of surprises. Saturday morning I was awakened by a lone trumpeter somewhere in the harbor playing "I Left My Heart in Avalon," a standard jazz tune written by B.G De Sylva, Vincent Rose, and Al Jolson and performed and made famous by Al Jolson. For all you old movie buffs, in Casablanca when Ingrid Bergman walks over to the piano and asks Sam to play the old songs, it is "Avalon" that he has just been playing before she speaks.

I first came to Avalon in the 1980s (a decade I do remember). I’ve been enchanted ever since. I’m happy to say that the place hasn’t changed much over the years thanks to the Wrigley family who turned over the management of the island to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Their mission is to preserve this place for posterity.

I come to Catalina as often as I can, partly because I’m an island girl. I love the cozy self-containment of islands and the feeling of being far away from the frenzy of the mainland. Best of all, I can write here. I sit propped up against a bean bag cushion, away from all distractions except the gentle breezes ruffling my pages or an occasional bee investigating the jam spoon I haven’t washed since breakfast. Words flow here.

I associate Catalina with several milestones in my writing career. I was in Avalon when I finished the first draft of my first novel and at the Isthmus on a glorious July day when I received the phone call from my agent telling me that Mysterious Press had bought that first novel.

I often fantasize about having a retreat on an island somewhere. It would be a cottage on a white, sandy beach with palm trees swaying in the breeze. I’d write in the morning and walk on the beach in the afternoon. There would be a dog there and a man, too. Maybe even a cat but only if he wanted to come along. And there would be margaritas.

That's the locale of my fantasy retreat. Where is yours?