Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sammy and Me

from James

Copyright James Grippando 2006. All rights reserved.

I write outdoors. Writing in my own backyard connects me to the Florida setting that figures so prominently in all ten of my novels. My outdoor office has these essentials: a patio table and chair, a big shade umbrella, a laptop computer, a hammock, a hot tub, and a swimming pool. The cell phone is optional.

For the past nine years, my office mate and principal workday diversion was my Golden Retriever. Sam lay at my feet as I wrote, and every time I stood up for a break, he would dash toward the swimming pool. He loved the pool, which is somewhat ironic. He was born in a puppy mill and never saw a blade of grass until we took him home at twelve weeks. At the time, I wasn’t even looking for a pet, and it was actually my best friend who bought him. After just twenty-four hours, my friend decided that he couldn’t handle a dog and wanted to return him. “He’s not a shirt,” I told him, “you can’t just take him back.” The truth was, I was already in love with Sam, and I couldn’t stand the thought of him going back to that mill. So my wife and I adopted him, even though Tiffany was in her eighth month, pregnant with our first child. Sam would be there for the birth of all three of our children. He was in some ways our “first,” but more like our “fourth,” loyally and dutifully taking his place a notch lower on the totem pole with each new addition to the family. He never seemed to mind when the kids tugged at his ears and tail or climbed up on his back. In fact, I’d say he loved it.

Sam was always good for a diversion, or a laugh. He was so crazy as a puppy that my daughter renamed him “Sammy Cu-koo.” He didn’t discover his bark until he was almost two years old, and that strange sound coming from his own mouth nearly scared him half to death. He brought the newspaper to my “office” every morning, and then, without fail, he would head for the pool. He’d get his toy, drop it at my feet, and lay there until I was ready to break away from my computer and play with him. My job was to toss his toy into the pool. He would wait for it to sink all the way to the bottom. As soon as I said “Get it, Sam,” he’d dive in head first and bring it up from the depths. It was our little “stupid pet trick,” which he never got tired of.

Sam and I did eleven novels in nine years together, all in our outdoor office.

In December 2005 life was finally getting back to normal after all the hurricane clean up. Sam, however, seemed anything but normal. We thought he had a cold. By New Year’s Day he really wasn’t himself, so we took him to the vet. It wasn’t a cold or the flu. It was cancer. His liver was shutting down. Our vet ran tests, but the news just kept getting worse. After keeping him overnight, she said it was time to think about putting him to sleep. She assured us that Sam was not in pain, so we brought him home on Friday morning. He actually perked up a little at home, but we knew he was very sick. By Friday night, we were able to interest him in taking water, Gatorade and chicken soup from a syringe. The soup made his tail wag, our last glimpse of the old Sammy. We feared that on Monday morning we would have to take him back to the vet for the last time.

On Saturday night, Sam wanted to sleep at the far end of the house, where he’d never slept before. We laid him on a blanket, made him comfortable, hugged and kissed him goodnight, and went to bed. At two a.m., I woke suddenly. I went to his spot, but he was gone. I checked around the house but couldn’t find him. Finally, I saw. He had forced himself up and hobbled over to the door to our daughter’s bedroom. He was in one of his favorite spots, close to the children. It was there that he died.

Later that morning, for the first time in almost ten years, I walked to the end of the driveway and got the Sunday newspaper myself. On the front page of the Miami Herald book section was a rave review for Got the Look , my new book. Without question, it the most glowing review I had ever received as an author. My wife read it and wept. “Honey,” I said, “it’s a great review, but it’s just a review .” She pointed to the byline. “The guy who wrote it,” she said. “His name is Sam.”

Tiffany is no Shirley McClain, but she doesn’t believe in meaningless coincidences, either. How could it be that the best review I’d ever received appeared on this morning, of all mornings, and had been written by a reviewer named Sam? I didn’t know what to make of it, but I didn’t dwell on it. I had to take our Sam’s body to the vet for cremation.

When I returned, my son was playing in the yard. He came into the house and asked, “Daddy, what are those balloons doing in our swimming pool?” I had no idea what he was talking about. I went outside. Sure enough, two balloons were floating in our pool, tied together with a long blue ribbon.

I can only surmise that, somewhere around us, there had been a child’s birthday party on Saturday afternoon. These helium balloons had broken free, drifted overnight, and finally come to rest on our property. It seems only fitting that they landed in our swimming pool. In Sam’s pool. On the day he died.
From James

Got the Look was released in paperback today. Couldn't help thinking about Sammy. This article first appeared in the Miami Herald on February 13, 2006 with a huge picture of Sammy and my daughter Kaylee when she was just two years old. Kaylee was wearing a tiarra. Sam was wearing her mouseketeer ears. That's the kind of friend of he was.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


By Cornelia

It's that time of year again: everybody going all feral on each other at the mall, nothing but "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" on the radio, freezing rain... spotlit life-size plastic lawn creches, rollicking nights of dreidels and gelt and latkes, nekkid druids mucking about in solstice-ian groves by moonlight, or various and sundry objets du Kwanzaa. And gift lists.

I am such a huge loser at the organizational part of this season I should probably celebrate Chinese Christmas, which would be sometime in late January, shortly before Chinese New Year. The whole thing pretty much gives me hives. I mean, I like eggnog, joyful children, and hanging stockings by the chimney with care and everything, and I REALLY like latkes, but the piped-in Claus-centric ersatz jollity stuff drives me up a wall.

The thing I fear most about the-tidings-of-comfort-and-joy racket is the likelihood that I will find myself in some Big-Box toy store after dark sometime around the 23rd of December, when everyone still out shopping has taken on the general demeanor of ravenous flesh-eating zombies. Inevitably, I will get shoved screaming into the hot pink torture zone of The Barbie Aisle, where I will be trapped so long by the madding crowds as to be rendered unconscious by the sheer profusion of sparkly fuchsia and lavender accoutrements.

I have loathed Barbie for as long as I can remember. I have never actually owned one, and the closest I ever got to "playing" with anything from the Their Satanic Mattel Majesties was ripping the heads off my sister's Barbies and Kens and exchanging them to put on drag revues.

Apparently, I am not the first person to whom this activity has occured:

Although I am in more awe of the people who switched the voiceboxes on Barbies and GI Joes some years ago so the latter could squeak "Math is hard!" for a change.

I've heard rumors that the first iteration of Barbie was based on a German "pleasure doll," which would not surprise me in the least. Barbie No. 1 looks a lot tartier than her descendants, if slightly less vapid:

And this version from the early sixties had the whole "I'm squintily FRENCH! And all of my clothes just blew off!" routine pretty well memorized (don't get me started on blue eyeshadow, speaking of hives):

Which is not to say I'm in favor of the Islamist backlash version (to crib a joke from Ann Coulter, "Hey Skipper, does this trenchcoat make me look fatwa?"):

Though perhaps Fulla is preferable to this chick:

And to Halle Barbie...

Not to mention Macrame Barbie and "Dry Look" Ken (by Prince Matchabelli, IIRC):

There's a Barbie for everyone, apparently... Lilly-Pulitzer-clad for the Stepford fan (AKA "Palm Bitch Barbie"):
"Art-Deco Bestiality Barbie" (giant gorilla hand sold separately):

You can go Aristo:

Or just Arrest-o:

...NASCAR Barbie...
...Or NCC-1701...
They even have Lord of the Rings sets of B&K, though they're kind of retreads from last year.

The only Barbie I've ever come close to actually liking is also the only one I've ever actually purchased (not for myself, but for my goddaughter Hope on her second birthday):

... complete with wife-beater shirt under her leathers.

If they ever let me design celebrity-theme Barbies, these would be my top ten:

1. "Whatever Happened to Barbie Jane":

2. "Behind-the-Green Barbie":

3. "Fatal Barb-traction":

4. Barbie Riefenstahl:

5. "Bride of FranKENstein":

6. "Barbie 'n' Clyde":

7. "Rosemary's Barbie":

8. Carrie + Barbie = Carbie?

9. Okay, this one is just outright type-casting:

And, of course,

10. Barbie Horror:

Tell me your worst-nightmare Barbie...

And Happy Holidays!

I Love Miami...Ft. Liquordale, Too...

By Pablo Levine

I love Miami.

I love the local color, the Hispanic influence, the sense that you're not in Kansas--or even L.A.--anymore.

I love stone crabs and key lime pie at Joe's on Miami Beach. I love the fish tacos and grilled mahi-mahi at Paul Flanigan's Quarterdeck Lounge on Fort Liquordale Beach.

And I love the Miami Book Fair, a week-long extravaganza of 300 authors, several hundred thousand readers (some estimate close to half-a-million). Last week, I greatly enjoyed serving on a mystery panel with South Florida crime mavens James Grippando and Barbara Parker. Bob Williamson, head of the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, kept the show running. The crowds at the street fair were sidewalk-to-sidewalk. The corn arepas were hot; the mojitos were cold; and as usual, I-95 was closed more than once with fatal accidents.

Lately, Renee and I have begun staying at hotels on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Clean, uncrowded, great for a five-mile walk as the sun comes up over the Atlantic. Water, a clear turquoise and warm enough for a morning swim. Try that in Santa Monica in November!

For serious lap swimming, I always jog down to the International Swimming Hall of Fame for its 50 meter lap pool. The locker room could use some work, but the public pools there are great.

There was a great party for all the "Miami Noir" authors at Scotty's Landing in Coconut Grove...except my flight got in too late...and I missed it!

Wonderful signings at Books & Books in Coral Gables and Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach. Standing room only. (Okay, they're small rooms). Old friends, new friends. Here's a question raised by a reader, a question that's close to my heart. "Why aren't young people reading?"

I looked around the bookstore. The median age of my audience was a suntanned 55. "Good point," I said. "But what about Harry Potter?"

"A one-time deal," the reader replied.

I decided to do a completely unscientific survey on the flight home. I roamed up and down the aisles on the American flight from MIA to LAX. Not very many children aboard...and NONE reading books, at least during my stroll. A three-year-old girl, who sat behind her parents, had a DVD player and watched movies continuously throughout the flight. At least, she stayed quiet.

I expanded my survey to adults. In one section of the plane, there were 63 occupied seats. Some people slept. A few leafed through magazines. Many watched the on-board movie, "You, Me, & Dupree." Lots worked or played on their computers. And two middle-aged men read books. Two out of sixty-three!

A few years ago, it seemed there was an FAA regulation requiring all passengers to carry a book by either John Grisham, Dan Brown, or Mitch Albom on all flights. They must have repealed the rule.

I hate to keep ranting that the sky is falling where reading is concerned. I take heart in all the people who show up at book and library events and who take part in these blogs. But still, I feel a sense of gloom about the future of reading. To paraphrase John D. MacDonald's famous essay on the importance of written word, "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot."

By Paul

Monday, November 27, 2006

Turkey Run with the Porsche Guys

Patty here…

Facts are an important element of fiction. Still, one of my least favorite things about writing is research. I didn’t do much for my first two novels, because I pirated the plot ideas from real-life experiences. My third book involved a considerable amount of investigation and my fourth is going to require even more effort.

The main character in my novels, Tucker Sinclair, drives a Porsche Boxster. Since I don’t have one of my own, I periodically visit dealerships around Southern California, and when nobody’s looking I snuggle into the leather seats and clutch the steering wheel while my head-voice goes Vrooo-om! I know a Boxster S owner who answers arcane questions like “Where’s the clock located?” I also lurk on a Boxster chatroom, which always produces a wealth of attitude and information.

The Boxster S-guy has never offered to take me for a spin in his car, but on Friday I was invited to ride shotgun in a Porsche Cayman for the Zone 8 Cayman Club’s Turkey Run, a road rally to Palm Desert, California.

At O’dark-thirty the morning following Thanksgiving, I was fastened into my seatbelt and ready to roll. Fog shrouded coastal Los Angeles as we raced east on the 10 Freeway. Traffic was relatively light, which meant we could go fast.

The Cayman’s owner had the alarm set to beep when his speed exceeded 82. Trust me, there was a whole lot of beeping going on. The car has a spoiler that deploys at 75 mph and that baby was working overtime. Once or twice I glanced at the speedometer—88, 93. All I could think about was—speeding ticket! Not my problem. Intrepid researcher that I am, I settled back to enjoy the show. It was a kick being in the presence of so much power.

The widely dispersed Cayman Club members agreed to rendezvous at a pre-arranged intersection in Lake Elsinore. On the way there, we traveled down the quaint main street and breezed through the urban sprawl just outside of town. We arrived a few minutes early and pulled into the parking lot of a downtrodden strip mall. The driver turned off the engine and we waited as a molten-butterscotch sun broke through the translucent haze.

A short time later, flashes of color whizzed past my field of vision—yellow, gray, black, yellow—coupled with a familiar melody, Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, Vrooom, Vroooom, Vrooooom, Vooooom! The engine started. We pulled onto the highway and became the eighth Vroom. Eight Cayman’s in a row. Racing through early morning fog on the road out of Lake Elsinore.

The fog burned off as we traveled the back-roads of Hemet and into the rugged desert mountains along State Route 74, a scenic highway that runs from Palm Desert in Riverside County westward to San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. We zipped past stately pines and scruffy chaparral topped by wispy cirrus clouds ambling across an aquamarine sky. We stopped at the summit of a pass that offered a panoramic view of the Palm Desert valley.

A woman from the Navajo Nation was selling jewelry displayed on blankets spread out near the edge of the cliff. I was inspecting a pair of silver dream-catcher earrings when I heard the driver shout, “We have to go NOW or they’ll leave us in the dust!”

Porsche guys have many good qualities, but apparently patience isn’t one of them. I ran for the car and strapped myself in as I watched the Caymans peel out of the turnout and speed down the mountain, one by one.

We stopped for lunch in Palm Desert where I had an opportunity to ask the Porsche-guys questions, like why they’d chosen a Cayman above all other Porsche models. They said she was eye candy. They loved her power, the way she handled, how her wheels gripped the road, and how her mid-engine design is logical and mechanically perfect for performance driving.

We discussed the fine art of airing the tires and how many “fix-it tickets” you could expect to accumulate before you were forced to attach the front license plate, a maneuver that requires holes be drilled into the bumper—a sacrilege to a Porsche owner. They also told me that Tucker had to dump her Boxster and buy a Cayman. They dangled a carrot. If she got a Cayman, they’d let her join the Club. Tucker and a bunch of Porsche-guys. What a sweet deal.

After lunch we headed homeward. By that time I’d taken a lot of notes. Hopefully they’ll help when Tucker and her Boxster get into another scrape.

Research. It’s a tough job but every writer has to do it. Vrooo-om!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Uh-oh ....

from Jacqueline

Due to circumstances beyond my control (guest visiting from windswept Canadian island, wanted to get to post-Thanksgiving sales early), I did not post my already-in-my-head-but-not-on-the-page words yesterday. Instead, I'll tantalize you with the thought of images of luxury travel next week, along with an update on Sara, my breath of southerly wind.

In the meantime, I hope you had a really lovely Thanksgiving, that you have much to give thanks for this year, and in the year ahead. And pity my poor husband - the only Yank sitting down to dinner on Thursday with three Brits, all of whom who are immigrants to their chosen countries. How do you want your sweet potato, pilgrim?

Many blessing to one and all

PS: And guess who scored a really cute and very cheap new jacket at Macy's yesterday ....

Back next week, see you then.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Peace, Love, and Squanto

By Cornelia

May you all have a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, and spend no time whatsoever on the Group W bench.

If you don't know what to do with those turnips, try a little Puree Freneuse:

2 cups milk
1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 cloves mashed garlic
thyme (preferably fresh)
3 to 4 white turnips, peeled and chunked
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Bring milk to simmer. Add rice, salt butter, garlic, and thyme. Cook for ten minutes until rice is partially tender. Stir in turnips, adding more milk if necessary to submerge. Cover and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, until turnips are tender. Liquid should be almost entirely absorbed; if not, uncover and boil, stirring, to evaporate it. Puree through food mill (or Cuisinart) and return to pan. (You can do this much ahead and stop here).

Reheat before serving, stir in cream by spoonfuls. Turn into hot serving dish, garnish with parsley.

(from Julia Child & Simone Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

And remember, you can get anything you want, excepting Alice...

But the dump IS closed on Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Air Paranoia

Patty here...

I just returned from a weekend getaway with four friends. The Gang of Five hadn’t been together in way too long, so to make up for lost time we spent the days eating and drinking and having endless talks about politics, books, movies, and men. We laughed. A lot. We created shared memories and added to our own private vocabulary. Even when we’re eighty, when somebody mentions the Mimsi Suite we’ll all nod and chuckle.

It was a wonderful trip but air travel can be taxing. First you have to make sure your socks aren’t holey, and all contraband has been stripped from your purse. To add to your woes, you never know from trip to trip what you’ll be allowed to take on the airplane. The days of carrying my luggage on board are gone. I have trouble fitting all my cosmetics into a duffle bag, let alone a quart-sized baggie.

The flight coming back to Los Angeles was an hour late leaving the gate. Not even my lucky earrings could control that. I boarded the plane still basking in the afterglow of my girlfriend weekend and settled into my seat. I reached into my bag and took a swig from my bottled water.

The woman sitting next to me stared in disbelief. “How did you get that on board?”

“They changed the rules,” I said. “Water is okay as long as you buy it after you clear security.”

She looked at me skeptically. “They were confiscating water from other passengers.”

For a moment I began to doubt myself. Had I somehow failed to note the reinstated bottled water ban? HAD I BROKEN THE RULES? That’s when I noticed she was shaping her nails with a metal file that looked like a shiv made by a lifer in some maximum-security prison. A moment later, she pulled a contact lens case from her purse, screwed off the top, and dipped her finger into a pool of contraband lip gel.

My turn to look aghast.

“Oops,” she said. “I guess I forgot it was in my purse.”

Like hell. Then I began to wonder: Why was she trying to conceal that gel in a contact lens container? This was followed by a more troubling thought.

How low will our paranoia go?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Waiting for the Prada-Devil's Call

from Jacqueline

My name is Our Jacqueline, and I am a magazine-aholic. Not just any magazine, no, I don’t go for the cheap fix when I can have Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, or even Tatler – take me to a well-stocked magazine stand, and I will show you a woman at home among the glossies. I could lash myself for the indulgence, but on the other hand, I have persuaded myself that this addiction is rooted in three loves: the search for well-written articles and essays, social history and fashion (history of). Which brings me to British Vogue.

British Vogue is 90 years old in December, and the story of why it is younger than it’s American sibling has only one degree of separation from my post last week, if you can believe it. Prior to 1916, the American edition of Vogue was imported into Britain. There was no British edition. However, increased U-boat activity in the north Atlantic during the Great War meant that shipments had to be halted, or end up at the bottom of the sea. Despite the privations of war, women of a certain station did not want to miss their monthly Vogue, any more than the publishers wanted to lose money, so the British edition was born.

And that, in turn, brings me to the special anniversary edition, which hit the newsstands right on target for my return-flight reading matter. Frankly, at almost $7, I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a collection of expensive advertisements, however, copies were plentiful in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class lounge (that got your attention, didn’t it – more on that in next week’s post), so I snaffled one.

I think this magazine-fetish first took hold when I was a child. We didn’t have magazines in our house – only books and newspapers. Occasionally my mother might buy a Woman’s Own (a British weekly that once had circulation figures that most American editors would sell their souls to the devil for), but that was about it. However, Mrs. Penfold, one of the elderly ladies on our street, subscribed to several magazines, and was also a very nosy old girl. So, during school breaks, when my friend, Jennifer, came around to visit while my mother was at work, we would deliberately make a lot of noise so that Mrs. Penfold would come around with a big pile of magazines “for your mother” – but really to see what we were up to. As soon as she’d gone, you wouldn’t hear a peep out of us for the rest of the day – I confess, we always flicked to the problem pages first.

The glossy-Vogue thing began when Mrs. Musgrave came to teach needlework at my school. Now, I could not stand needlework – hated it. I would rather have read War & Peace time and time again rather than try to accomplish a straight line with a sewing machine. But, at this rather traditional girls’ school, we had to do one “practical” subject along with our academic work, and anything was better than two hours with Miss Chapman, the cookery teacher who picked on me mercilessly.

Now, Mrs. Musgrave was not your ordinary needlework teacher. She had worked “in couture” for Hardy Amies, a leading designer in days of yore, and she had the measure of me in an instant. I think I represented a challenge for her after she asked the question in class, “How might we embellish this blouse to make it more interesting?” and I replied, “Rick-rack with a bit of glue.” For those of you who do not know, “rick-rack” (it may actually be “ric-rak” for all I know), is a very cheap wavy braid that is often sewn onto gypsy-style clothing to add color and texture). Well, at that response, Mrs. Musgrave’s right eyebrow went up, her eyes blazed, and out came the latest copy of Vogue. “Let me tell you what ‘couture’ is all about,” she said. And she did. And she taught me not only to sew, but the finer points of true tailoring, and she did it via the doors that were already open to me, the subjects I loved: History, Creative Writing and English literature. She brought in articles from magazines about the social history of clothing (did you know, for example, that in a time of war shoes are pointier than at other times – I know I’ve mentioned this before, but have you seen the shoes lately?), and she drew my attention to those features she considered well-written and that I might appreciate.

So, since then I have had this thing about magazines. Of course, there are aspects of magazines that annoy me (why is it that those articles featuring houses in Tuscany or Santa Barbara or Nantucket always have shots of a large, well-to-do, Ralph Lauren-ish family sitting at a long table on a perfect patio? The table is groaning with a sumptuous feast and wine is flowing, the children are perfect and no one has to brace their knee against the table to stop it wobbling). And to tell you the truth, much of the fashion doesn’t inspire me at all any more – I think I was always more taken with the construction of the Chanel jacket and how it came to be, rather than who was wearing it and how. It was the clothes of the twenties through fifties that caught my imagination, not the frippery turned out by the likes of Stella McCartney. And even though I am a writer of books, my real ambition was to get the call from Vanity Fair, to see my name on a commissioned feature article ( ... by Jacqueline Winspear. Photography by Annie Leibovitz). Oh, gosh, and how would it feel to be published in the New Yorker (more about my near-miss in next week’s blog – that will get you wondering about the connection between Virgin Atlantic and the New Yorker) or The Atlantic Monthly?

So, here I am, wondering whether to keep this mega-tome, the 90th anniversary issue of Vogue, or whether to pass it on to my sister-in-law, who also seems to have a magazine-fetish. I think I’ll keep it, because it’s history, you see ... there’s Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Patou, Worth ... Mary Quant ... Twiggy ... and even an article by Ian McEwan.

And if you ever need to know how to sew the perfect French seam, I’m your woman.

One more thing – at the end of my year in Mrs. Musgrave’s class, I won the school prize for needlework. The prize? A gorgeous book, especially chosen by my teacher – “Fashion: A Social History.” It was a collection of scholarly essays.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Love Letters from San Diego

I still love getting mail. No, not e mail. I’m talking about the old-fashioned stuff that forces people to think before they write, that involves actually licking a stamp and walking to the mailbox. I still get some of that. Yesterday I received a real gem.

It was a big, overstuffed envelope. Inside were dozens of handmade thank-you cards from the 5th and 6th grade kids at Oliver Wendell Holmes middle school in San Diego. I spoke to them a couple of weeks ago about my new young adult novel, Leapholes, and we had a terrific time together.

I’ve gone to schools before, and it’s not unusual to get thank-you letters. But many times you can tell that a teacher wrote something down on the board, each kid was told to copy it down dutifully, and then the teacher gathered them up and put them in the mail. Not these Holmes kids. These thank-yous were handmade all the way—original artwork, each child writing his or her own thoughts.

I knew these kids were special. Even before I arrived, I had a note from a girl named Sierra who wrote "Your book is sooooooo good. It is like eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake. Or better." One card from a boy named Jack came with a picture of Leapholes and a frog. Inside it said: “I’m leaping with thanks.” Nice pun. Another one from Chandler said: “I loved your presentation . . . I wish I could send you something. I can! Look on back of card.” I turned over the card. There was a small, handmade pouch taped to the backside. I opened it. Inside was a miniature teddy bear. Thank you, Chandler. It is now hanging from my car’s rearview mirror.

As Art Linkletter used to tell us, “Kids say the darndest things.” Each of these letters was a total joy that I will cherish. I don’t have space to share them all, so I’ve picked a few samplings. One advance note: Some of these letters will make sense only if you know that it was my daughter Kaylee who inspired me to write Leapholes, and the characters in the book (Kaylee, Ryan, and Ainsley) were named after my kids.

From Cary S:

An author came to my school
He was very cool.
He talked about writing books.
One kid said he could cook.
He told us how he used his daughter
To help make the book.
He said he would have brought her,
But she was at school.
It was very cool
Having an author come to my school.

From Olivia G:

Hi. . . . I thought that your book was awesome. Hear are some more character ideas for your next books for young adults: have some one very WEIRD in your books; have a kid that is like a nerd, have a rich boy or girl and just go for it and see what other kids think. . . . Write sequals to books. Remember these are just ideas and you don’t have to use these in your book.

From Ahmad:

“Thanks, Mr. Grippando. Youve inspired me.”

From Jarah:

“Thank you very much 4 coming. I thought that you were excellent. . . . P.S. I ♥Your book. P.S.S. Letter for Mr. Grippando’s kids: Hey guys! It must be pretty darn cool to be in a book. I wish that I could be in one. Keep on encouraging your dad to write more! Love your big fan, Jarah.

From Jonathan:

“The thing I liked most was how you were inspired. Maybe I could get lucky and be inspired to do something I like to do. So thanks for coming.”

From Tory:

“All of your books sound very good. I believe that you will be a great author. I do not know why but your stories seem to interest me in a strange way. I think that it is great that you will take time out of your busy day just to listen to our not so great questions. I wish to be a writer when I grow up. I usually write fantasy but I like to write horror too. I once tried to write a mystery but it was not very good. I never thought about writing a book about law but I know I am not smart enough to write one anyways. Best of luck.”

[Tory: I have a feeling that someday I’ll be asking you for an autograph. JMG]

From Catherine M:

“I really liked the talk you had with us because I didn’t get bored like most times. Your stories were very interesting and I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to listen to your stories all day. Thank you for coming all the way to San Diego to talk to us. I went home and told my mom the stories and all about the book “Leapholes,” and I am looking forward to reading it. Other friends of mine say the book has been fantastic and also wanted you to write another book for young adults.”

From Andrew F:

“My favorite part was when you answered all of our questions by telling us stories. Some of the questions actually helped me with my writing."

[Andrew: I hope my answers to the questions also helped!]

From Ryan:

“Thank you for coming. I had a very good time because you gave me all the info I needed to know.”

[There you have it, folks: Two hours with me, and that’s “all the info you need to know.”]

From Jeff M:

“I really liked the story about you being almost arrested for cat burglary! It is so interesting. I’m happy you chose to write about it and even more happy you told us. Thank you again for giving me that advice for writing!”

From Kimberly:

“You were great. My favorite part was when you talked about ‘finding money’ or Found Money. I am really enjoying your book Leapholes. P.S. You were Awesome!

[Note: My 4th novel was called "Found Money"].

From Jose H:

“I really like your speech. My favorite part is when you showed the [Powerpoint] slide with the laughing hyena.”

[Jose: That's my favorite part too!]

From Yadee:

I liked it when you talked about Rosa Parks. She’s very interesting.”

From Mariah:

“I like to write stories and one day I might even become an author too. I liked it when you came because I got to know what it is like to be an author. I was surprised to know how long it takes to write one book. I didn’t buy Leapholes but my teacher has it and I am definitely going to read it. Thank you for coming to my school.”

I could go on and on, but I won't. The pleasure was mine. And with these letters, it goes on and on.
James Grippando

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gotcha Covered

By Cornelia

When I got home from LA Monday night, I had a fun piece of mail waiting for me--cover art for the paperback of A Field of Darkness. This is actually the second version I've seen for that edition, and it got me thinking about some previous iterations considered and/or employed as bookly outerwear.

Here's the first design I saw for the hardcover, a little over a year ago:

I love how spooky it is, especially the way everything's tilted, and the Ferris wheel ties in nicely with the New Yorks State Fair being an important setting.

When I first showed this to some pub-savvy pals, several commented that my name being the same size as the title was auspicious--something that had never occured to me.

Then I was told that a big chain's buyer thought this version looked too forbidding and dark for the store's customer base. The title's font color was changed, in hope that it would have a broader appeal to that audience.

Here's the final version:

I've never been a big fan of pinkish hues, so at first it looked odd to me, but even my inner tomboy had to concede that the sum total of what I know about design and marketing amounts to a whole lot less than bupkes, on its best day.

My daughter Grace still thinks it's too girly. Her first comment was, "what next, they're going to call it A Field of Barbie?"

I think the buyer person was right, though. It's flashier with the pink, and I like it better.

I first saw the art for the audio version packaging on Amazon:

I loved that Blackstone had chosen a photograph that looked like something in a cemetery, with all those cool blues and greens (another pivotal setting in the story). That's still the version you'll see on a number of online bookstore sites, but it's not what appears on the actual CD box.

Here's what they ended up going with:

I like it even better than the first version.

Several weeks ago, I got a jpeg of the Australian edition, which will come out in paperback from Allen & Unwin's new Arena imprint:

The Australian editor seemed a bit nervous that I wouldn't like it, since she made a point of saying that they tended to have a different aesthetic for cover art than U.S. publishers do, but I think they did a great job. Knives and roses come into play pretty heavily too, plotwise, and I think it's cool how the petals at first look like blood spatter.

I'll be really interested to see what happens with covers for the French and German paperbacks. My sister just got back from a trip to Austria and Germany, and she found me a copy of Struwwelpeter, a children's book that's mentioned in Field. I wonder if the illustration I reference might make the cut--it's from a poem called "Die Daumenlutscher," a dire warning to children who suck their thumbs:

Scary, no?

I've emailed to ask whether I can post a scan of the American paperback art, but haven't heard back yet... will add it if they give me the okay.

I'm also dying to find out what kind of cover will end up on The Crazy School, which I now hear is due out next winter.

What covers have you guys found most striking, in good and bad ways? I still remember a garish bodice-y bit of art on a paperback of Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, which was horribly "Fabio ravishes Scarlett O'Hara on a big rock somewhere outside Barstow" looking.

p.s. Here's the large-print cover, which came out a couple of weeks ago:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Gunfire for the Entire Time"

By Paul, Rambling Man

I'm headed for the Miami this weekend, so naturally, I check the LAX website for travel advisories. What kind of a nebbish does that? Okay, here's what I found today.


The story goes on to explain that Imperial Highway, one of the main access roads into and out of LAX, is scheduled to be closed in both directions.

Why? Must be major road construction or airport renovations. Nope.

"Airline passengers are advised that a major motion picture production near LAX may cause delays in getting to the airport beginning this week. The film production for the movie "Live Free or Die Hard" starring Bruce Willis received [street closure] permits from the California Film Commission, Film L.A. and the City of El Segundo."

I suppose the filming will be done discreetly so as not to bother the neighbors or distract nearby drivers. Sure.

"The production company will use explosives and gunfire for the entire time of the filming. One helicopter is scheduled to be used during weekend filming, and 'there will be larger explosions' with accompanying smoke."

My flight's not until Friday morning. I think I'll get an early start down the 405. Maybe after lunch today.


Family, friends, and the wonderful Miami Book Fair are in store this weekend. The book fair features hundreds of authors and several hundred thousand fairgoers. It's a week-long event called the "Congress of Authors," which sounds vaguely like something started by Lenin in Moscow. During the week, a major author makes a solo appearance each night, all free to the public. This week, it's Frank McCourt, Isabel Allende, Richard Ford, and Edward P. Jones, among others. Jones won a Pulitzer for "The Known World" and then was awarded a McArthur Foundation "genius grant." Seems like double dipping to me.

Over the weekend, books take to the streets in downtown Miami with hundreds of panel discussions. I'll be appearing on a panel Sunday at 3:30 p.m. with our own James Grippando, and fellow scribblers Barbara Parker and Richard Yancy. We'll be debating legal thrillers and mystery fiction and otherwise dispensing golden nuggets of information at every opportunity.

I'll miss the Saturday event for "Miami Noir," the short-story collection, which some literary type scheduled to overlap with the beginning of the Michigan/Ohio State game.

Next Tuesday, Nov. 21, I'll be at my favorite bookstore, Books & Books in Coral Gables, for an 8 p.m. talk. Then it's on to one of the great names in all the book world,Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, for an event Friday, November 24, at 7 p.m.


As I'm one of the last human beings who does not own a laptop, I won't be blogging next week while I'm on the road. I'll be traipsing the beaches and bookstores of South Florida and reporting back on Tuesday, November 28. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.