Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cornelia, Slightly the Worse for Wear after a Night in Marin County

By Cornelia

I have long been a collector of quotes. I have this yellow blank book I started writing what I consider the juicy memorable ones down in, starting around 1985.

These range from a character of Peter De Vries’s saying, in his Consenting Adults, or The Duchess Will be Furious:

“For the day of vengeance is at hand. ‘Ye are no longer my people, ye fancy schmancy, sayeth the Lord. ‘Wastrels and spoiled, ye eat only the tender tips of the asparagus and throw the rest away, yea, that which is still edible. Lo the lean years will come and ye shall learn your lesson. Yea the entire stalk will ye eat, and glad to get it.”

To an exchange overheard by my sister Freya when she was living in Maui with a bunch of pro sailboarders, during the summer of 1986:

Hawaiian dude: This is a Hawaiian Luau.

Freya’s friend Ralph: Yes, we have something similar in Connecticut. We call them “barbecues.”

Okay, so I stayed up WAY too late last night, hanging out with my buddies Muffy and Daphne and Katie, after we all went to hear the inimitably lanky and charming and achingly hip Lee Child speak at the sublime and lapidary Book Passage in Corte Madera.

I went to boarding school with these guys (not Lee, more's the pity). As my mother once observed, "I sent my daughters to boarding school. They learned to swear and smoke there." Also drink. Last night we proved her right. Again.

The school's motto is "Do it with thy might." It should probably have been "Party like tanker captains. Or Kennedys. Or both."

As a result, my brain is complete oatmeal this morning, so I thought I would share some of my favorite quotes on writing (well, okay, and art generally) with you all, herewith:

“The art of our necessities is strange that it can make vile things precious.”

--King Lear (from Diane Arbus’s noteboard)

“Q. How did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labour?

A. Sheer genius.”

--Philip Larkin, “The Paris Review Interview”

“The biggest lie is the fraud of purview. The illusion of omniscience. This is the basis of the first person in literature, the narrator as the only sensible person in a world of fools. We see it in Voltaire, we see it in William Burroughs. It’s a good way to make your readers think you are a genius.”

--Rene Ricard, “Pledge of Allegiance,” Art Forum

“We have art in order that we may not perish from the truth.”


“Let’s not go too deeply into these things. It’s only a movie.”

--Alfred Hitchcock

“Language is a virus from outer space.”

--William Burroughs

“The difference between a fairy tale and a war story is that a fairy tale starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and a war story starts with ‘This is no shit.’”

--Jim Morris

“If you can describe clearly without a diagram the proper way of making this or that knot, then you are a master of the English tongue.”

--Hillaire Belloc

“Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture. Men do not rise in the morning, grin at themselves in their mirrors, and say: ‘Ah, today I shall torment an intellectual and strangle an idea!’”

--Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

“Every time I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my pistol.”

--Herman Goering

“No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you intended. Or who belittles in any fashion the gifts you labor so to bring into the world.”

--Alice Walker, 1972 Graduation Convocation, Sarah Lawrence College

“The more articulate one is, the more dangerous words become.”

--May Sarton

“You are mistaken, cry’d the Inn-keeper, for admit the histories are silent in this Matter, the Authors evidently thinking it needless to mention Things so evidently necessary as Money and clean Shirts, yet there is no reason to think knights went without either…”

--Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote

“The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not pastime and recreation. But moral. The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality, not a didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind.”

--D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

Last but not least, my personal fave:

“And there is absolutely no evidence that I could write a good book. It might very well be the most awful weasel vomit.”

--Brenda Ueland, Me

What are you guys’ favorite quotes? I would love to add to my collection!

ALSO! I have some signings today and over the weekend that I would love it if you could come to:

Signing 12:30pm
581 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94105


Signing 12:00pm
117 Cherry St.
Seattle, WA 98104
* with Lee Child


Signing 5:00pm
1036 C Broxton Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90024


Signing 1:00pm
348 S. Tustin Ave.
Orange, CA 92866


Signing 1:00pm
2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
* with Lee Child

Hope everyone has a FANTASTIC WEEK!!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Paul the Contrarian

By Paul Levine

I'm feeling ornery and contrary, and here's the proof:

YOU CAN SPELL? I DON'T CARE: Is there anything as meaningless as the national spelling bee? What good does it do kids to spell a word without knowing its meaning and how to use it? A televised spelling bees is just another lousy reality show with manufactured melodrama.

LAY & SKILLINGS, BONDS & SELIG: Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were convicted, in part, because the judge instructed the jury that “conscious indifference” to wrongdoing is no defense for corporate bigwigs. Fair enough. Let’s apply that standard to major league baseball where Barry Bonds is the fall guy for the top brass in the burgeoning steroid scandal. There is no way that Commissioner Bud (Lite) Selig and the owners were unaware of rampant steroid use when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa hit 70 and 66 home runs, respectively, in 1998. [Maguire hit 245 home runs from 1996 through 1999, averaging more than Babe Ruth's near-mythical 60 home runs over a four-year period. In the preceding 10 seasons, Maguire hit 265 home runs, an average of less than 27 per year]. At the very least, Selig et al were “consciously indifferent” to steroid use. So go ahead Barry. Hammer a few more into the bay, and maybe foul a hard one off Selig’s skull should he relent and come to a game.

LAY OFF TOM CRUISE: Why does everyone pick on Tom Cruise? I don’t care if he’s a Scientology crackpot or if does backflips off Oprah Winfrey’s couch. He’s a fine actor with an Oscar nomination (“Born on the Fourth of July”), and he's played an astonishing variety of roles in some damn fine films. Check out “A Few Good Men,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Rain Man,” not to mention the teen classic, “Risky Business.” As for "Mission Impossible 3," it's a helluva roller-coaster ride with a rock 'em, sock 'em pace. Okay, so the dialogue isn't exactly "All About Eve." But in the "Die Hard" genre of action films with heart, it stacks up well.

WHO'S FABIO? No, Jim Grippando, I didn't want Fabio's autograph. I wanted Fabiano Anthony Forte Bonaparte a/k/a Fabian to sign my 45 r.p.m. sleeve of "Turn Me Loose."

DIXIE CHICKS CLICK: I love the smart and sassy Dixie Chicks. But I like corny country, too, including Joe Nichols' rendition of "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off." Even Cole Porter would have to admire these lyrics: "Them panty hose ain't gonna last too long...If the D.J. puts Bon Jovi on."

Paul Levine

Monday, May 29, 2006

On the road again

by Patty

Just after midnight last night I returned home from my grand tour of the Midwest. It started last Wednesday when I flew to Kansas City with Denise Hamilton (award-winning author of the Eve Diamond series and former Los Angeles Times reporter). We rented a car and headed for a 7:00 p.m. book signing in Mission, Kansas at the new home of I Love a Mystery bookstore. BTW, next time you’re there ask Karen and Becci about the mysterious disappearance of the letter “M.”

We chatted with the wonderful group of fans until about nine o’clock and then began a 200-mile journey to Omaha, Nebraska for the Mayhem in the Midlands mystery conference. Denise was the designated driver; I was the navigator. Beware! I have an MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Planning so you must know that before I left Los Angeles I’d printed Yahoo-maps driving instructions for every leg of our journey. I’d even brought along a flashlight so I could follow the map at night in the car without having to turn on the overhead light (am I safety-conscious or what?). The only problem is Nebraska ain’t L.A. No urban sprawl. No freeway lights. No tacky neon billboards illuminating the way. It’s dark out there on the prairie. So dark that I couldn’t find that little flashlight in my carry-on bag. So dark that we couldn’t see beyond the shoulder of the road.

On the flight home last night I was regaling a fellow passenger (and Omaha resident) with highlights from our journey and he told me we could have seen more of the landscape if we’d stopped at the side of the road, maybe spent some time looking up at the stars. Let’s see…dark road…middle of nowhere…two novelists from L.A. who write about crime…alone…unarmed. Perhaps not.

Mayhem in the Midlands was a wonderful conference. It’s a manageable size (180 or so) and the panel and book rooms were close together. The intimacy of the venue gave me the opportunity to spend more time with authors I’d met at previous conferences, especially Lori Armstrong, Twist Phelan, and Pari Noskin Taichert. It also allowed me to hang out with people I hadn’t met before, including Donna Andrews, Sandra Balzo, Sean Doolittle, David Housewright, William Kent Krueger, J.D. Rhoades, Nancy Pickard, Denise Swanson, Anthony Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Jeremiah Healy, and the guest of honor, the witty, intelligent, and charming, Laura Lippman.

Sunday morning toastmaster Denise Hamilton conducted a compelling interview with Laura, and then Mayhem was over…but not for us. Denise and I loaded our luggage and fellow author Susan McBride in the car for more touring. I’d read Susan’s book but I’d never met her before and I’m so glad I did. She is simply wonderful: charming and oh-so-funny (the good kind).

The three of us set off to talk and sign more books at the amazing Lee Booksellers in Lincoln, Nebraska. When we arrived, Linda presented us with a copy of the Sunday Lincoln JOURNAL STAR. When I opened it you could have bowled me over with a feather (as my mother used to say). The paper had devoted an entire page to the three of us: our pictures, the covers of our latest books, and three superb reviews. It was very, very cool. Reviewer George Wright said about COVER YOUR ASSETS: “[Tucker]…captures in picture-perfect detail various areas of L.A. it’s as thought she is at times channeling Lew Archer, the no-nonsense L.A. private eye of the Ross Macdonald mysteries.” BTW, George is now in my will.

Here we are in Lincoln: Denise, Susan, and me

Denise, Susan and I had a rollicking good time on the trip back to the Omaha airport so good in fact that we had to make a pact that “what’s said in the car stays in the car.”

The best part of the trip was getting to know Denise Hamilton. I already knew her as a wonderful writer, but on this trip I got to know her as a witty, kind, and generous human being.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Petula, The Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad

From Jacqueline

Eeeek, it’s Friday! I just sat down to work and thought I’d check in with first, then it struck me – it’s my day and I should have posted by now!

I’ve been thinking about words this week. Yes, I know, that’s what I should be thinking about, being a writer. But I’ve been thinking about the way words sound, the manner in which they have a lyricism that makes you say a given word to yourself all day, a word you come across that you want to use in a sentence. And it’s likely that same word doesn’t hold any interest for another person – they’ve got their own words.

It started when I was walking my dog along a well-used trail, and a woman came towards me in the opposite direction, her dog close at heel. As we bid each other good morning, I asked her about her dog – he had really interesting blue eyes and a dappled coat. “He’s a Catahoula Hound,” she replied. A Catahoula Hound? We chatted for a while and both went on our way, but I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Catahoula Hound. As soon as I arrived home, I told my husband about the encounter, and added, “I think I’d like one of those, just to be able to say, ‘Here’s Dooley, my Catahoula Hound’ or “Meet Petula, the Catahoula Hound.” So we began a conversation about the words that captivate us, with John admitting to his fascination with the word “Jalalabad” though he admitted, “I don’t want to go there, but I’d like to slip it into a sentence every now and again.” I wondered out loud whether there was a children’s book in this, “Petula, the Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad.” John also confessed to liking the word “Passchendaele.” I was horrified. “Do you know what happened there?” I asked, launching into one of my tirades on military incompetence in the First World War. “Yes, but think of it,” he added, “that if you didn’t know anything about history, or even the spelling of the word, you’d think it was Passion Dale.” When he put it like that, I thought of a small village neighboring Tolkein’s shire, a place where hobbit relatives live in an idyllic peace.

Of course, there are words and phrases that have come and gone and with some I am just glad to see the back of them. Did anyone not have a “paradigm shift” about five years ago? And how about “drilling down”? I was in a meeting a couple of years ago, during which someone said, “Are there new learnings here for us?” New learnings? New learnings? I couldn’t help it, I just chimed in and asked, “Do we mean lessons?” Guess I’m not trendy enough. When I worked in London, I had a boss who made regular trips to the US, to the corporate offices of our company. Every time he came back, it was with a clutch of new hip corporatespeak that he would throw into meetings, letters, memos (remember memos?), etc. We would have such sport, repeating those words back to him at every opportunity. “So, Chris, it looks like we need throughput on this one.” Reckon throughput is dead and gone now.

In the 1950’s there was a comedienne in Britain called Hylda Baker, who had audiences in stitches with her malapropisms. She would take all sorts of words and phrases and use them out of context, and I’ve always thought there was humor there, if it’s done well – and she could do it very well. She said things like, “I went to the doctor, who was stood standing there, his horoscope around his neck.” or “I was so surprised, I fell prostitute on the ground.” She was one of those old music hall (vaudeville) stars who just knew how to deliver the patter. Along those lines, whenever I hear some of the “in” words and phrases, there’s a demon in me that will take them and put them in a completely different context. I can see a car dealer, kicking a tire, opening the hood of a new sports car, and informing the prospective owner that, “What makes all the difference with the V8 is the paradigm shift. One flick with the stick and you are zero to sixty in three seconds.” Myself, I couldn’t do without the throughput in the carburetor.

The sad thing about words is that, in America, we are losing so many of them. A study completed a few years ago (and you know the thing about studies, you can never remember the who, where or why, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one), that over a ten year period, American kids were losing words at a rate of 1000 per year. A couple of years ago they (you know, the people who do the research) found that over six hundred languages - whole languages, note - had been lost since the beginning of the 1900’s. When Simon Winchester was on tour with his book The Philosopher and the Madman, which was essentially about the relationship between the man in charge of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary and his most prolific contributor (a convicted murderer), I went to hear him speak at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. He happened to talk about words being lost in American English, and someone asked if that were also true across the pond. According to Winchester, the opposite was happening, because not only are new words entering the lexicon, but there’s an interest in old words, the resurrection of language, if you will. I thought about the phenomenon of word loss for some time. If words are at the root of understanding between people, whether in a familial relationships, in the classroom, a neighborhood, or a country, then there is much to be worried about, with or without a paradigm shift.

Now, about Petula, the Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Book Expo: From Fabio to Dr. Ruth

From James Grippando

It took me eleven novels to get there, but I finally attended my first Book Expo, the biggest book trade show in the country. I don't know how I avoided this event for almost 12 years, but from what every author tells me, I got a distorted view of how much fun it is.

The truth is, I had a blast. And I wasn't even promoting one of my usual adult titles. Perhaps that's the reason I had so much fun. I was promoting my first young adult novel, Leapholes, and a short story I wrote for an anthology called Thriller. I flew into Washington on Saturday morning and hurried over to the convention center. At 10:30 I went straight to the Harlequin booth--Thriller is published by Mira, an imprint of Harlequin--and of course, I was looking forward to meeting Fabio, who has graced so many Harlequin romance titles. He wasn't there. Bummer. My fellow "Naked Author" Paul Levine really wanted an autographed photo.

The good news is that over 400 people were already in line for an 11:00 signing. Reporters from USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly were also there. Now, I wish I could say they were there for me, but I was as star struck as anyone by the group of authors that showed up for this signing. I had met very few of my fellow contributors to Thriller before this event (only Steve Berry and Gale Lynds), so it was a "thrill" (pun intended) to see the others all lined up ready to sign the next hottest book on e bay. I know I'm leaving folks out, but there was David Morrell, Heather Graham, Eric Van Lustbader, J.A. Konrath, Brad Thor, M.J. Rose Denise Hamilton, John Lescoart, and on and on--17 of us altogether). We signed 400 books in 45 minutes for a truly enthusiastic crowd that was, I'm happy to say, even more excited about the book than the "Thriller" T shirts the publisher was giving away (always a good sign).

Here's a shot that gives you some feeling for the event. I'm off to the right, just out of the photo, still searching for Fabio.

From the Thriller booth it was off to my young adult signing for Leapholes. We did the signing at the American Bar Association booth, which I was worried about, since it was located in a separate exhibition hall about as far as you could get from young adult and children's publishers. I ended up signing 320 AREs from 2:00 to 3:30. Lots of booksellers, tons of librarians, and many school teachers made the special trip to visit a booth they never would have gotten anywhere near, but for Leapholes. But here's the best part. When I showed up at a few minutes before 2:00,someone was sitting in my chair waiting for me. It was none other than Dr. Ruth!

I always wondered if that accent was made up or at least exagerrated for her radio broadcasts as a sex therapist. It's not. She talks exactly the way she sounds on the radio. This was hilarious to me, since this is the first children's novel ever published by the American Bar Association, and it is my first young adult title--and who is the first person in line? The world's most famous sex therapist.

I can remember sitting in my college dorm room at night with my buddies and a few of the girls from across the hall listening to Dr. Ruth's radio show. One episode in particular came flashing back to me. A woman called into her show and was describing the somewhat kinky things she likes to do with her boyfriend. Dr. Ruth obviously was not into this kind of stuff, as she simply listened without much commentary as the woman went on and on about her various adventures. Finally, she finished, and Dr. Ruth simply said (in her high-pitched voice) "Thank you for calling, and don't forget to wash the penis. Goodbye." This became like a mantra for us in college. Everytime I bumped into one of those young woman who were in the room with me, be it a bar or a party or a class we coincidentally ended up in together, she would come up to me and whisper in her best Dr. Ruth accent, "Don't forget to wash the penis."

I decided not to share this story with Dr. Ruth, but even though it was a children's book I was promoting, I felt compelled to ask her something sex related. So I told her I have this problem.
"Yes, tell me," she said with interst.
"I've written twelve novels. This is my first one for kids. But every time I say I've written eleven adult novels people think I'm writing porn."
She thought about this for a moment. "You must mention your children," she said.
"Your children. You should say that you wrote the children's novels for your children, and people won't think you're writing porn for adults."
It wasn't foolproof, but for on-the-spot advice, I thought it was pretty darn good. Especially for such a goofy question.
Maybe I'll start listening to Dr. Ruth again.
And don't forget to . . .

James Grippando

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Kindness of Strangers, Part II...

By Cornelia, again

So… let me tell you, to paraphrase Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing --absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about with a bunch of cool people in great bookstores, while on tour with Lee Child.” Seriously. The man is damn funny, and damn kind, and I think we got a pretty decent schtick going, which was a huge relief to me as you can no doubt imagine.

Plus, I did not actually throw up ON him… huge relief numero deux.

Lee is blogging about touring, and very graciously said that in Scottsdale, at the Poisoned Pen, “contrary to prior pleadings [Cornelia] was poised, charming, witty and completely stole the show. She didn't throw up even once.”

(If you look at the posting about Houston on the following day, however, you might notice that he does NOT say I didn’t throw up… more on that to follow).

It was an SRO crowd, and I got to meet up with a bunch of buddies I’d heretofore only been acquainted with online, including the “Ginsu-Tongued” M.G. Tarquini and her magnificent twins, and the witty and erudite Angie. Unfortunately, a great lady named Joan had to leave before we could meet in person, for her daughter's dance recital.

The staff at Poisoned Pen was composed of astonishingly kind and gracious folk, who made me feel wonderfully at home from the get-go, and flogged the HELL out of my book, God bless them every one.

I then bolted from the store with amazing media escort Evelyn, who dropped me at the Phoenix airport for my flight to Houston. One two-hour flight and an $80 cab-ride later, I arrived at the beautiful and achingly hip Hotel Derek, where I was met by my great buddy from college Candace, who’d flown down from Cincinnati with the astonishingly charming and suave “very good friend” Jack, who is a total keeper. I think they bribed the maitre d’ to keep the Derek’s restaurant open for me, and I imbibed the first of many beers. Then we all stayed up ‘til 4:30 in my achingly hip room.

The next day, the two of them drove me to Murder by the Book, all of us feeling a little worse for wear. Unfortunately, we got lost, and I was sitting in the back of Jack’s ginormous car thinking “holy SHIT, I am keeping LEE CHILD waiting, and the bookstore, and the many fans of Lee who no doubt got there on TIME…” and I got more and more freaked out as we made our way down Bissonet Street.

Lee was standing outside when I leapt from the ginormous car, looking suave and debonair as always and coolly smoking a Marlboro Light.

“No worries,” he said. “We’ve still got a couple of minutes."

He was talking with brilliant and charming author Terri Molina, who’d shown up to check us out, having heard about the event on the Backspace Writer's Forum.

I looked at the two of them and realized I was about to hurl, so excused myself for the bathroom. When I had finished getting reacquainted with brunch, the tremendously kind Stancie, who was in charge of the show at MBTB, said “don’t worry, we have a nice thick door on that bathroom, and nobody heard you.”

(and may I add here that the staff of MBTB was composed of astonishingly kind and gracious folk, who made me feel wonderfully at home from the get-go, and flogged the HELL out of my book, God bless them every one. LOVE you guys!)

Then it was time to climb up on another barstool, alongside Lee. I tried not to breathe in his direction.

In the crowd were Terri, Candace and Jack, the gorgeous 39-year-old Deanie from Lee’s Reacher Creature forum, my “new cousin” Chris Read and his wife, and these two amazingly cool dudes from my old days writing for—screenwriter AggieBrett and my good man Dwight/Counsel, AKA “El Jefe.”

Brett had driven up from Corpus, following a sleepover with a troop of Cub Scouts aboard the USS Lexington the previous night.

He described his entrance the following morning on Jefe’s “Cantina,” online hangout of epinions alums:

“Trot in and see... one crowded damned bookstore. Some limey dude is spinning tales, and Cornelia is sitting next to him with this goofy ‘at any minute someone's going to realize their mistake and make me leave’ look on her face. Not discomfort or inadequacy, but more a thrilled yet slightly overwhelmed look of ‘oh shit! this is for real!’

“Apparently this Lee Child fellar has some fans, as there were lots of folks holding teetering stacks of books for him to sign. I elbow my way to Cornelia and lean in and say ‘hey, cuz.’

“She lept -- lept, I tell you -- to her feet and hugged me warmly. I felt badly (well, not really) that all the Lee Child fans had to push around my fat ass to get to mister fancy pants limey writer as I chatted with Our Lady Cornelia. Jefe joined us 30 second later (no doubt his slower approach was due to his use of more socially acceptable means of gathering info about how and where to meet Cornelia).”

I hugged them both, those dear kind men. I’d met Jefe once before, but never laid eyes on Brett, and I am still overwhelmed that they made the time to come out for the signing.

That is what I mean about the kindness of strangers… strangers who become great and cherished friends, if you’re lucky, and I have been damn lucky in that regard.

But I would like to talk about what will be my last signing with Lee, so you’ll know why it means so damn much to me that Terri and Deanie and Mindy and Angie and Brett and Jefe and Candace and Jack and so many other intensely wonderful people have gone out of their way to welcome me into their cities, on the road.

My last signing with Lee will be at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, California—at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 5th. There are two people who are planning to come to that. People I haven’t heard from since October of 1997, the month my daughter Lila was diagnosed with autism. She is a beautiful girl, so smiley and affectionate that our nickname for her is “the Dalai Lila.” But she cannot speak, and she will never ever be able to live on her own.

In October of 1997, my father’s wife told me that he thinks I caused the autism. I hung up on her. That was the last time we spoke, until about a week ago when she emailed me to announce that they’d both read A Field of Darkness, commenting “I’m angry that you’re still so sad, and sad that you’re still so angry.”

My father has not deigned to communicate directly with me, as yet, though he wrote my mother a note a few days ago in which he said that the two of them plan to have “the author” sign their copy in Thousand Oaks.

I am not sure yet what I’ll be writing in that particular specimen of my book, or whether I will sign it at all.

But I think I may end up quoting Blanche Dubois’s final line from A Streetcar Named Desire—the one where she tells the men in white coats how she’s “always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

A Field of Darkness is very much about looking for home, and striving to gain the approval of family. My doppelganger Madeline Dare discovers, as I have, that our families are everywhere, and so is their kindness, if you can only broaden your perspective enough to find the true members of your tribe--wherever you happen to be.

I am so very grateful to the members of my tribe who’ve made that blessing come true for me, and I want you all to know that I’ve ALWAYS got your back.

The Kindness of Strangers

By Cornelia

I’m sitting here this morning in my laundry-strewn living room at the Chateau Ultra-Trashy, listening to a very fine iTunes playlist—Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” and the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out”, and Jerry G crooning “Truckin’,” and Bo Diddley doing “You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover” (“I look like a farmer, but… I’m a lover…”), with Brubeck’s “Take Five” and Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator” now on deck.

The place has kind of gone to hell over the last week or so. In addition to all the clean-but-unfolded laundry, there’s a set of jumper cables under the dining room table, and there’s the pile of crap I took out of my older-by-eleven-minutes daughter’s school backpack after I returned home from the road Sunday, having used the pack for luggage.

Yes, it’s Wednesday. Yes, the pile of crap is still sitting on the floor next to my chair, here. It includes a copy of the most recent New York Times Book Review (in which Marilyn Stasio very kindly says that I have a “spellbinding narrative voice”), and my pair of gold Tony Lama cowboy boots, and the copy of Ace Atkins’ brilliant White Shadow that I bought in Houston. There is also a lot of other detritus crowding every horizontal surface in this room, but I don’t want to scare you.

Not without reason does my Intrepid Spouse call me “the lightning rod for entropy in the universe.” My excuse is that I’m still decompressing from the bestest weekend I’ve ever, ever had.

What I’ve mostly been thinking about since I came home from the road, around midnight three days ago, is the kindness of strangers, and the kindness of dear friends.

And now I have to drive my younger-by-eleven-minutes daughter down to school, but will finish these thoughts upon my return…

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


By Paul Levine

Martin Dardis died last week at age 83.

If you’re from Florida or if you remember Watergate, you may recognize the name. But then again, maybe not. Marty’s role in one of the most significant events in American history has been largely ignored.

Simply stated, without Marty Dardis, the “third-rate burglary” known as Watergate would have remained just that, a little remembered political brouhaha inside the Beltway.

In 1972, Marty was chief investigator in the Dade County State Attorney’s Office. A World War II veteran with a Silver Star, a dapper dresser, and a dogged cop of the old school, Marty traced the sequentially numbered $100 bills found in the Watergate burglars’ pockets. The trail led to a bank in Miami where one of the burglars had deposited a check endorsed by an official of the Committee to Re-Elect President Nixon.

It was the missing link in the investigation of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. With the acquiescence of State Attorney Richard Gerstein, Marty turned over what he knew to Bernstein and soon the two reporters had nailed their story and the President. And while the journalists made their reputations (and their fortunes) from “All the President’s Men” and the subsequent film, Marty went about his job under Gerstein, then State Attorney Janet Reno. He worked undercover drug investigations and was forced to move his family from Florida when their lives were threatened. After retiring from law enforcement, he handled investigations for Sports Illustrated, helping to uncover gambling and point-shaving scandals.

I crossed paths with Marty both before and after his brush with history. In 1970, I was a rookie reporter with The Miami Herald. Fresh out of Penn State, I had never been in a courtroom when my city editor assigned me to cover the criminal court beat. (The previous reporter had bolted to take a job with the National Enquirer at twice the salary). Marty Dardis took me under his wing. He was an excellent source, especially for someone who knew virtually nothing about law enforcement and needed a street map to find the Justice Building.

Several years later, as a young lawyer, I represented Marty (and State Attorney Gerstein) in potential litigation against producers of the film version of “All the President’s Men.” My clients were upset that Woodward and Bernstein had taken credit in their book for discoveries made by the Dade County investigators. Now, they were afraid the movie would do the same and might even ridicule their efforts. I crossed swords with the producers’ Century City lawyers, but was at a distinct disadvantage. We had no access to the script, and the movie had not yet been released. In one letter to opposing counsel, I expressed my “grave concern that the film will portray my clients in a false and defamatory light.”

(Yes, we lawyers always have "grave concerns." It's similar to "grave danger." In "A Few Good Men," you'll remember Jack Nicholson asking if there is any other kind).

The producers' lawyers would not give us access to the rough cut, and we took no action pending release of the film. When they saw it, Messrs. Gerstein and Dardis were not all that displeased. (As I recall, Marty’s biggest complaint was that he was more handsome than Ned Beatty, the actor who portrayed him).

I can’t help but thinking that if Marty were on the case, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby (should a man over 40 still be called "Scooter?"), Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and a couple dozen other politicians and lobbyists would already be in prison...and some journalist would be taking credit.

Paul Levine

Monday, May 22, 2006

A bird's life

by Patty

I’ve never considered myself a bird person. I know only one bird personally. His name is Rocky and he lives with my friends Larry and Sue. It’s a great gig for him, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about wild birds and what their lives are like. Oh sure, on the surface they have it good. They have summer and winter homes, and they don’t have to go through airport security to fly to Omaha (where I’m headed on Wednesday for a mystery conference called Mayhem in the Midlands). On the other hand, birds have to forage for food and they have to deal with that pecking order business, which has to be stressful.

I started obsessing about birds a couple of weekends ago. I was sitting around a breakfast bar eating Danish and drinking lattes with three women friends when the subject of bird flu came up. We had all been born in different states, but two of us had relatives who died in the 1918 flu pandemic. During our discussion, the pharmacist painted a doomsday scenario with the virus spreading from human to human with millions infected and a shortage of vaccine. The former schoolteacher hadn’t been following the story. The executive and I were concerned but not panicked. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a bird person, but it troubled me that bird lives were about to get even more complicated.

I’ve had several bird run-ins over the past few years. The first happened as I was working in my office. I heard a thump coming from the direction of the kitchen. I went to investigate and saw a wispy feather trapped in the middle of a splat mark on the glass of my French door. Outside, a sparrow lay on the deck. His neck looked all wrong, twisted and limp. I opened the door and bent over to have a look. He was stunned but still alive. I ran cold water on a washcloth and pressed it against his forehead, hoping to revive him. When that didn’t work I ran to the telephone and began calling every animal assistance number that I could locate. A woman at a bird rescue agency gave me marginally comforting advice: leave the bird alone. If he’s able to fly away, he will. By the time I’d hung up and returned to the deck, the sparrow was gone. Did he fly away or did the neighbor’s cat…I didn’t want to go there.

A year or so ago I was in the middle of the San Pedro Channel, sailing from Catalina Island to Marina del Rey. It was winter, cold by Los Angeles standards, and I was draped in layers of clothes that made me look like Nanook of the North. I was nibbling on a potato chip when a little yellow warbler landed on the boat’s lifelines. His fragile bird feet grasped the lines in a death grip. He teetered there for what seemed like forever. In a lull between gusts, he flew under the dodger to catch his breath. I looked up to see if his compadres were flying overhead, but he was alone and determined to hitch a ride back to the mainland. I offered him a chip. He declined and flew away, buffeted by the wind. A moment later he was back. For several minutes I spoke to him in my Barry White voice, the one that always made Tigger-boo-the-wonder-cat flutter his eyelids in bliss. The warbler responded by hopping onto my knee.

He sailed with us for a long time before becoming airborne again. This time he didn’t come back. When I got home a bird person told me that warblers were land birds, so if mine was in the middle of the channel he had been separated from his posse and he was probably sick. I imagined him struggling against the wind, looking for land until his little wings...not something I wanted to think about.

A couple of days ago I was stopped at a red light when I saw a pigeon hop off of the curb and into the crosswalk. I laughed, because birds may use crosswalks in your neck of the woods, but even in L.A. that’s an unusual sight.

The left turn signal was due to change at any moment. A line of seven or eight cars waited, with an SUV in the #1 position. I expected the pigeon to tire of the sideshow and fly to the other side of the street, but he just kept marching across the boulevard. I thought hurry up, hoping he could read my thoughts, but he maintained a herky-jerky head-chest-feet kind of steady action. Oh man, I thought. He can’t fly. If he could he would.

The light changed. The SUV began a wide arc to the left toward the crosswalk, picking up speed. The pigeon was barely halfway across the street. He wasn’t going to make it to the other side in time. My heart pounded. I honked my horn, hoping to startle the pigeon into action. No soap. I rolled down my window and shouted “Hurry up!”

Head-chest-feet. Head-chest-feet.

The SUV barreled through the intersection. I gestured toward the crosswalk hoping to get the driver’s attention. She was too busy talking on her cell phone to notice. Her gas-guzzler was now only a few feet away from the pigeon. I wanted to scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’d wanted Tucker to say that in a scene in COVER YOUR ASSETS, too, but a couple of members of my writing group told me it was too corny, so I took it out. But that was writing. This was life.

I slapped by palms to my ears, leaned out the window and shouted, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The bird took one heroic leap onto the curb just as the SUV’s tires brushed his tail feathers. The driver never noticed the near collision, and the bird continued his steady march down the sidewalk as if nothing was amiss. I didn’t want to think about what happens to a pigeon that can’t fly. There were too many bad-news stories in bird land already. It was comforting to know that on that day and at that moment at least one pigeon had dodged the bullet.

ON ANOTHER SUBJECT: a footnote on commenting.
I want to address an important issue that “our Jacqueline” raised in her Friday blog. If you are out there lurking on NakedAuthors and want to comment but don’t know how, here’s how it’s done: (1) at the end of our posts, you’ll see the word “comment.” It’s in red and it’s underlined. Click on it. (2) On the left side of the page you’ll see comments left by others and on the right side a blank text box where you can post your comments. (3) Before you type in a message, click on the phrase “No Blogger account? Sign up here.” It’s located below the text box. This allows you to designate a name to attach to your comment. That’s it. No further obligation. (4) Fill in the requested information. The “display name” is the name that will appear on your comment post. Each time you sign in after that you’ll type in the user name and password that you have set up. Then type your comments in the text box on the upper right side of the page and press “post.” Easy, huh? Try it. It’s fun.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Confessions of a Neo-Luddite

from Jacqueline

Before I go any further with this business of blogging, which sounds so hip and cool, you must have guessed by now that I am the Luddite among the hip and cool here. You know the Luddites, led by good old Ned Lud in the early 1800’s - they were the fogies who didn’t want to move with the times, destroying machines that would render stocking-knitters obsolete. Now, I’m not going to dismantle anyone’s Spinning Jenny, but I am a techno-phobe, though I can talk the talk when I put my mind to it. The reason I am the Friday voice of Naked Authors is that I wanted the others to go first so I could see what I was supposed to do, and I needed time to get to grips with Patty’s excruciatingly simple instructions. Even after my first posting, she had to go in and save me because all sorts of weird things happened to my words.

And you may wonder why I rarely comment on posts by my fellow bloggers. Well, did you see what happened when I tried to send a comment to James the other day? It could have come from anyone calling themselves a naked author. I tell you, I have come so close to crashing the entire internet, I’m a threat to global communications. Every time I turn on my Apple, the web hangs by a mere thread. I have sent Patty so many emails with subject lines that read “Eeeeek” or “Sorry, but... “ or “Just another question ....” that she’s probably close to putting out a contract on me. I was once on hold waiting for the technician at Apple to come on the line to help me with a problem, and continued to fiddle-faddle with my computer just in case I could fix it myself – I know, it beggars belief, doesn’t it? Of course, I compounded the issue, and uttered the all-too familiar expletive appropriate at such times. I was mortified when a voice said, “Yes, we find that word really helps when the chips are down.”

Last year I invested in a UK cellphone because I travel there often and wanted a local number (apparently I can do something with a Sim card to adapt my US cellphone, but please, don’t confuse me ...). As you probably know, Britain is Cellphone Central, however they tend to do more texting than talking. People have whole conversations with you, break bread with you, and all the while they are constantly texting each other, fingers flying across the keys like spider-legs doing the cha-cha. As soon as I procured my cellphone – “mobile” in localspeak – I gave friends, family and my publisher my number, but added, “Whatever you do, don’t text me because I can’t text back.” The children of friends have tried to teach me the rudiments of texting, pressing the point that, “It’s simple, it’s an intuitive system.” Not until I can think my words onto that little screen will it be intuitive enough. I’ll stick to plain old voice-messaging.

Of course, technology delights me at times. I love the fact that I have a code-free DVD player, so that I can watch DVD’s from anywhere in the world, and I love the idea of wi-fi even though my iBook is a bit old to support it (four years – makes you laugh, doesn’t it?). My latest techno-gadget – OK, I know, you’ve had one for ages – is a memory-stick thing. My husband told me that my zip-drive was so “yesterday” and that I really should back up my work when I was traveling, rather than emailing anything important back to him to save for me, so why not buy a memory-stick? Who would have believed that this dinky little do-dad could hold all that information in its little insect body? Heck, I’ve seen bigger termites. And the fact that you can attach it to your key ring is just amazing, though I won’t do that because I have a bit of a problem with finding keys. And please don’t suggest one of those key-locator whatnots, because I am getting really fed up with things that buzz and beep and generally nag me with a tinny sound.

So, fellow naked authors and commentators, I do read everything, and love that I am part of the quintet (so tickled when Cornelia calls me ‘Our Jacqueline’), but you’ll have to bear with me if I don’t appear to be participating in the conversation - it takes every ounce of my techno-skill to send my post on Fridays.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

From Felix Unger to Found Money

From James Grippando

Monday night Sebastian Junger was in town. Books & Books, the best bookstore in the country (which happens to be right here in Coral Gables) asked me to introduce him at his reading/signing for his new book, A Death in Belmont. I've never met Sebastian Junger, but of course I'd read The Perfect Storm, so I said yes. I'm usually not nervous about speaking in public, but for some reason this one made me nervous. It was the name. Sebastian Junger. By the time I walked up on stage, I was convinced that I was going to introduce "the New York Times Bestselling author, Felix Unger."

Growing up, I never missed an episode of The Odd Couple on television. Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all time. So by Monday night this was a total mental block for me.

My speech began smoothly enough. I told the crowd: "Sebastian Junger is the kind of writer that everyone in South Florida would love to have as a neighbor, particluarly during hurricane season. And for one good reason: before he became a famous writer, he was a tree trimmer. As Dave Barry likes to say, 'I’m not making this up.' Not just a tree trimmer, but a high climber for a tree removal company, one of those guys who climbs up all the way to top, and makes you stand on the ground in amazement and say: 'That guy must be nuts.' He did this until a chainsaw injury made him decide to write about dangerous professions (like long-line commercial fishing). So in one respect, Sebastian is very different from those of us who survived Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma last year: his chainsaw injury came BEFORE The Perfect Storm."
Ha ha ha, I'm so funny. At least I didn't lapse into The Odd Couple. But I had a LONG way to go.

I'm not going to tell you how it turned out. You, like most of Mr. JUNGER's fans in south Florida, decided to stay home and watch George Bush on television. Shame on you. At least you could have TIVOed us. (BTW, Sebastian's speech was absolutely riveting, and he's a heck of a nice guy.)

Now, Monday morning had none of the Monday evening jitters. I spoke to my son's first grade class about writing fairy tales. I'm not sure what makes me think I'm an expert qualified to talke about writing fairy tales, but fortunately the lead cross examiner for the first grade was home with the flu, so I was able to wing it withtout serious challenge to my qualifications. I love teaching kids, and I have a routine that involves one of my books that always plays well.

The book is Found MoneyThe spark for Found Money was simple enough. My father's cousin bought a new house. He started renovating the basement, and demolished a wall. Behind it, he found a coffee can. Inside the can was cash — $20,000! He knocked down another wall and found another can. In it, another $17,000. His dilemma was this. Should he tell the former owner that he'd packed up and left without his money? Or should he zip his lip and keep the loot?

I've had this talk with older children before, and you may be interested to know that, the vote was almost unanimous: "finders keepers." But first graders -- God bless them -- still have a heart. About a third said keep it. Another third said call the previous owner. And the biggest third (huh?) said give it to charity to help the poor. Sweet, huh?

Time to get back to writing. Or I might be one of the poor they're trying to help.
Oh, one last bit of good news. FINALLY my publisher put a link to on my website. And it even works!

James Grippando

On NOT Puking, Because I am Such a Delicate Little Flower

By Cornelia

I am a puker. I admit it. Nervous states seem to take up residence in my stomach, but only temporarily.

For many years, starting in my late teens, this condition made itself most apparent when I was required to board an airplane. Like Our Jacqueline, I was not a happy flyer. Shortly after college, I traveled around the world for a year with my sister Freya, our friend Melissa, and Melissa’s boyfriend Peter. My mother joined us for India and Nepal.

During the course of that year, I ran through the entire lexicon for barfing listed in that early Eighties non-fiction masterpiece, The Preppy Handbook: Technicolor Yawn, Worshipping the Porcelain God, &c. Freya and Melissa and Peter and Mom did their best not to sit next to me on the various planes, or even at the departure gates in New York, London, Zurich, Frankfurt, New Delhi, Kathmandu, and on and on.

A month of hypnosis in Boulder ten years ago has helped with the flying thing, but my abdominal cavity can still be fraught with peril on other nervous-making occasions, let me tell you.

Last week I did the first four signings for my book, A Field of Darkness. I am happy to report that I did not barf at a single one, though I worried I would at the outset of each.

The first night was at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, bookstore of the marvelous Ed Kaufman. I figured if I could make it through the initial five minutes, I might be okay—a prediction that proved happily accurate. Cara Black had come down from San Francisco to introduce me, and I think there was something magically soothing about her gracious presence.

The second night saw me at Cody’s on Fourth Street, here in Berkeley. I announced to the inimitable Tova Zeff, who introduced me, how proud I was not to have yakked the night before. One smile from her made it all feel better.

Friday I arrived at Bay Books in Monterey, where I couldn’t quite bring myself to warn glamorous owner Joti Situ about my possibly imminent public reacquaintance with what I’d had for lunch, though I did caution my sister it might be better to sit in the second row.

Saturday saw me at the magnificent Mysterious Galaxy Books in San Diego, for their thirteenth-anniversary “Book Mitzvah” party. By this point, I was so proud of my previous puke-free performances, I dared a wee bit of bragging to the lovely Elizabeth Baldwin.

“I hope you won’t mind if we record you, today,” she said.

“Oh man,” I replied, “I really hope I don’t barf.”

“We can edit it out of the tape,” she said. “Don’t worry. Would you like me to get you one of our special author buckets, just in case?”

“Author buckets?”

“Yes,” she said. “We keep a bunch in the back. We will of course ask you to sign it, after, and then we’ll hang it on the wall. With ‘The Others.’”

“I take it you have the contents bronzed?”

“Of course.”

I love Elizabeth Baldwin.

Yesterday, I got an email from author Susanne Pari, asking whether I’d be interested in joining Our Jacqueline and Cara Black on a mystery panel at the upcoming Book Group Expo on June 17th. I said I’d be honored, and then proudly announced that after my first four signings, I remained happily barf-free.

She wrote back to ask whether I’d ever heard the story of the poor author who bolted offstage to vomit during her interview at the Herbst Theater, but neglected to remove the lapel mike first.

That sounds like something I would do. Seriously.

And I have to tell you that I worry about this coming weekend. On Saturday, I’ll do my first joint appearance with Lee Child, at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. I don’t think I can imagine anything more excruciatingly humiliatory than the prospect of barfing on Lee. I mean, he’s BRITISH. And tall and stuff. And he has been so very kind to me.

Luckily, we will not be on the same flight to Houston for our signing at Murder by the Book on Sunday, so I can puke to my heart’s content on that plane in relative anonymity, should the need arise.

Please keep your fingers crossed that I manage to contain myself once I get to Houston, though. I’m sure Lee would be eternally grateful.

(here is what I'm thinking of wearing...)

Monday, May 15, 2006


By Paul Levine

Journalism, rather than fiction, plasters my desk today.

"What Will Happen to Books?" by Kevin Kelly in Sunday's New York Times Magazine is a must-read piece. The author describes the digital library of the near future. It's a place where everything contained in all the libraries of the world -- 32 million books, 750 million articles, 25 million songs, 500,000 movies and more -- "will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet."

Wow. I just hope the "library of all libraries" includes all the old issues of MAD magazine my Mom threw out around the time of my Bar Mitzvah.

* * *

Highly recommended: "Film's Know-Nothings" in Monday's Wall Street Journal. Joe Morgenstern, the nonpareil film critic, excorciates today's screenwriters, directors, and studio execs for their lack of experience in the real world. "Unworldly though today's Hollywood careerists may be, they are surely to be pitied as well as censured. So many meetings, so many calls to agents and managers, so many studio notes, so much ignorance in high places, such ardent input for such negligible output."

You're right Joe, but you're being far too kind.

* * *

With newspapers on my mind, what a shame that so few dailies still maintain full-fledged book sections. The column inches devoted to books continues to decline in favor of celebrity blather, gossip news, and Hollywood coverage that focuses on which movies make the most money. [The weekly box office charts puzzle me. When's the last time you said, "Honey, I see Porky's 7 did 30 million last weekend. We'd better go see it."] Thank goodness we have specialty publications like MYSTERY SCENE magazine, but still...the failure of major metropolitan newspapes to adequately cover books is scandalous.

So, let's give thanks to the hard-working (and easy reading) folks manning Internet book sites. I'd been away from the book world for several years, writing for television -- yes, that vast wasteland -- and I didn't know how many of these sites existed. But now, I recommend all of the following, and not just because they gave exceedingly kind reviews to SOLOMON vs. LORD and/or THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI. These sites are filling the void. Check 'em out. In no particular order:

Book Loons
Blog Critics
Round Table Reviews
Armchair Reviews
Huntress Reviews
Book-Girl Info
Once Upon a Romance
The Mystery Reader
Mystery Cove
Reading Review
Gotta Write Network
Crime Spree
Book Pleasures
Pop Matters
New Mystery Reader
Reviewing the Evidence

There are more, many more, who still believe in the power and the majesty of the written word. Enjoy them all!

By Paul Levine

Diary of a Naked Author

From Patty

I admire authors who begin writing each morning at 5:00 AM and complete a specified number of pages or hours even if the sky is falling. I want to be one of them, so last week I kept a diary on a typical Wednesday just to see how I stacked up.

8:00 AM: Wake up, read Los Angeles Times in bed, drink coffee. Notice disheartening article about the publishing industry’s response to years of declining sales. Is it possible that 200,000 titles published each year are too many? Apparently so. Number of books published in 2005 dropped by 18,000 from previous year. Downward trend projected to continue. Conclusion: I am very, very lucky.

8:30 AM:
Neighbor calls to inform me that buzz is growing in the ‘hood about my appearance with Harley Jane Kozak at the Palms-Rancho Park library on Tuesday, June 20th. Flyer needed to spread the word. Add “create flyer” to things-to-do list. Shower, get dressed, put on make-up (mandatory).

9:10 AM: Put in first load of laundry.

9:11 AM: Turn on computer. Answer email confirming appearance at Palos Verdes Library on Thursday, May 11 with fellow authors Naomi Hirahara, Marcos Villatoro, Gary Phillips, moderated by Diana James. (BTW, it was a great event. Big crowd, lots of laughs.)

9:18 AM: Check for Cornelia’s post. Not there. Remember that it took my Monday post over an hour to register. Remind myself to check later. Ready to start writing. Doorbell rings. My British housecleaner arrives, an entrepreneurial psychology student who cleans houses to pay tuition. I can so identify. Love his accent, even if he’s telling me that my kitchen floor suffers from waxy yellow buildup. Waylay him by the broom closet just to hear him speak.

9:25 AM: Suddenly realize that I can’t remember last time I paid bills. Find credit card statement, which includes monthly charge for gym membership I have never used. Delude myself that exercise takes too much time away from writing.

9:40 AM:
Where has time gone? Must leave immediately!!!!! Will be late to Pilates class. Abandon bills in disarray on desk. Realize I haven’t eaten breakfast. Rush to toaster. Check time. Toasting takes too long. Grab slice of bread. Eat in car.

9:59 AM:
Despite construction bottleneck at Santa Monica Boulevard, arrive with one minute to spare.

10:55 AM: Cut workout five minutes short to be at Cheesecake Factory for friend’s surprise birthday party. Contributed to group present but real gift will be to tell her that it’s time to start lying about her age. No time to change clothes. Go in sweat suit. Tie silk scarf around neck, careful to hide newly discovered moth holes. Hope nobody notices tacky attire.

11:25 AM:
Arrive at CF five minutes before birthday girl. People-watch in lobby while waiting to be seated. Tell myself I’m not wasting time; I’m doing research. See attractive man with gray hair that belies his age. WAIT! He’s embodiment of character in SHORT CHANGE. I watch his demeanor. He smokes. Who knew? Woman enters with two-seater baby stroller that’s almost as big as a Mini Cooper. Consider including snarky remark about strollers. No. Already covered this subject in COVER YOUR ASSETS.

Finally seated. Everyone at table is a police officer except for me. CF could be safest place in L.A. Discuss who will play Tucker when Hollywood calls. No casting decisions made but remind myself to calculate number of calories used while laughing. May make up for leaving Pilates five minutes early.

1:00 AM:
Go back to police station. Eat oversized piece of birthday cake. Center layer includes strawberries. Rationalize that it’s fruit, a good thing. Tell everybody about They laugh and want to check it out but are afraid. The Department monitors computer use and may get wrong impression. Big Brother is everywhere.

2:10 PM: Return home. Discover message on answering machine about important research interview I’ve been trying to set up for SHORT CHANGE. Return call. Make arrangements.

2:20 PM: Notice pile of unpaid bills on desk from this morning. Finish paying to avoid foreclosure on house. Resume laundry detail.

2:30 PM:
Check email. Nothing. Check snail mail. Find postcard from Weight Watchers: “Last Chance for Free Registration.” Ponder caloric intake from super-sized birthday cake and unused gym membership. Save postcard for future consideration.

2:55 PM:
At last, sit down at computer to write.

2:56 PM: Check email once more. Can’t believe nobody is trying to communicate with me. Put in another load of laundry. Write.

3:50 PM: Feel brain dead. Could be sugar from birthday cake. Call mother. Write.

5:15 PM: One hour and fifteen minutes of uninterrupted writing (except for time spent folding clothes and making bed). Have tickets for play at Ahmanson Theater at eight. The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets. Still wearing sweat suit sans moth-eaten scarf. Change.

5:30 PM:
Leave for theater. Takes one hour to drive twelve miles.

6:30 PM: Dine at Music Center.

8:00 PM:
Show time. For him, play is avant-garde, wildly creative, and edgy. For me, it’s pure torture. We leave at halftime.

10:00 PM:
Finally read Cornelia’s blog post.

10: 30 PM:
Ponder day’s activities. Discover naked truth about writing and life: Both are full time jobs. Set alarm for 5:00 AM.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Finding Amalgam

From Jacqueline

Every writer has a library they love, whether big or small, up-to-date-computerized or with creaky oak floorboards and a card file system. For me it was that tiny library in the town two miles away from my home in Kent, England. My mother and I used to walk to town every Saturday, my mother pushing my infant brother in one of those old-fashioned baby carriages with front wheels that were bigger than the back wheels. It had a grocery rack that was always filled with books, because my mother took the library order for the senior citizens in our small hamlet. I can trace my serious book habit back to that library and the piles of books we took to and fro every week. Since that time, wherever my travels have taken me, I have always sought out the local library - you can tell a lot about a place by the library.
At the end of April I was on a panel at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and before the event was thrilled to be taken on a private tour. Descending into the basement, I imagined librarians in times past tottering up and down those cast-iron spiral staircases, while books chugged back and forth on the old conveyer belt - an amazing piece of machinery, if ever I saw it - when requested by students and researchers who came from far and wide to use the reading room. I was told the story of one of the former librarians, who moved on to teach at a school in rural Nebraska several years ago. Not one child in that school had been out of town, and never expected to. So he set up a fundraising drive, everything from bake sales to sponsorship, and eventually there was enough money to bring the kids to DC. Apparently, when they entered the library, you could have heard a pin drop, as everyone looked up and marveled at the interior of the famous dome and the new world that had just opened up.

My next stop was Wilbraham in Massachusetts, a quintessential New England small town. My novel MAISIE DOBBS had been chosen for their first ever, "One Town, One Read," and I was met by Karen Demers who is responsible for outreach, events and other projects to generate community involvement in the library. Wait until you hear what this town did for MAISIE DOBBS! As we entered the town, there were large sandwich-board notices with my name and the book in very large letters. I was so surprised I could hardly speak. Karen pointed out the signs and went on to tell me what else had been going on. Since March they had organized a veritable festival of events, from cabaret nights where townspeople came to sing songs from World War 1 and the 1920's and 30's (when the book is set), to lectures about the time - professors have come in from UMass Amherst to talk about subjects such as the art of WW1 and the history of the era. As well as lapel pins and brochures, they'd had paper place mats printed with the first few pages of the book, for distribution to local restaurants so that everyone had a taste of the "One Town, One Read" special. To cap it all, the women were gathering to knit helmet warmers and socks for troops in Iraq (trust me, it can be nippy at night in the Middle East - I've been there!), just as they did almost 90 years ago when the first American soldiers left for the Western Front. That evening the library meeting room was packed when I gave my talk, and everyone kept thanking me for making the effort to come to Wilbraham. You could not have kept me away.

In his book, The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson returns to America after living most of his adult life in Britain. He came with the intention of traveling the length and breadth of his native land in search of what he called, "Amalgam" - a town that encompassed everything that was good about America. With all the darkness that seems to have enveloped the world and bears down us everyday on the TV news and in the press, I think I found Amalgam a couple of weeks ago. And I found it in two of America's libraries.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Revenge of the Words

from James

The week started on a bad note. I got a ticket for "failure to come to a complete stop" at a Stop sign. This was my second ticket for the same alleged offense since January, both from the same police department. I'm not one to make excuses, but this is the kind of small town police force that will give you a speeding ticket for doing 31 in an 30 mile per hour zone, and that hovers over your parking meter waiting for the time to run out. So I shouldn't have been surprised when they gave me a ticket for allegedly "rolling" through a stop sign while making a right turn onto a completely deserted road. In truth, I did stop, but what I didn't do is count to ten, have a cup a coffee, make a few phone calls, clean out my console--and then go. That seems to be the law here.
But that's not my point. I went home with the urge to make this certain arrogant cop a character my next novel -- maybe a drug dealer or male prostitute or the victim of some awful murder. But then I realized that I would merely be granting him the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. People actually pay money at auctions to be the next murder victim in Lisa Gardner's novels. Why should I immortalize this chump for free? So I decided not to do it. But part of me still felt like he deserved the "revenge of the words." And then it happened. I was driving in my neighborhood, stopping at every Stop sign, when I saw a sign on the side of the road that I had never noticed before. The city had named that section of the street in honor of a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. My next thought is that the cop who gave me that cheeky ticket probably knew this fallen officer. Maybe they were even friends. And I suppose this is where my Catholic upbringing kicks in, but then I think, boy, wouldn't I have felt guilty if I had maligned this brave officer's best friend and mentor for merely doing his job and giving me a ticket? What's next -- kicking puppies? I guess I'm not cut out for revenge. Tough way to go through life . . . especially in Miami.

James Grippando

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Woolf at the Door

By Cornelia

Yesterday I was chatting by phone with my great pal Ariel, while her five-year-old daughter Eve was trying to simultaneously engage her in conversation about the disappointing quality of snack she had been offered for mid-afternoon sustenance. We were in our respective kitchens—mine in Berkeley, hers in Montclair, New Jersey.

Ariel is without doubt the most well-read woman I have ever met. She’s introduced me to amazing writers over the years—Robertson Davies, for instance, and wonderful children’s books like Half Magic and A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, and Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages. She is in her first year of library school, and has recently taken to re-reading the essays of Virginia Woolf.

“You know the one about ‘the angel in the house’?” she asked.

I admitted that I did not.

“Oh my GOD, Cone,” she said (my sister nicknamed me Cone years ago, because she thinks my head is a little pointy), “you MUST READ it. It is scathingly brilliant. All about how you have to kill the angel in the house if you’re ever going to get professionally serious, as a woman—the Victorian ideal of femininity and everything… well, Evie, if you don’t WANT to eat that, do you want some fruit? We have fruit… It was Woolf’s response to this saccharine poem by Coventry Patmore… Grapes. And Strawberries, I think… Here, Cone, I have to read you part of it… Crackers, then, do you want some crackers?… Where did I leave the book… I think we have cheese too, yes, my darling… Okay, let me just find the right page. I bookmarked it… You don’t want The Yucky Cheese? This wasn’t The Yucky Cheese yesterday. When did this one become The Yucky Cheese? Okay, so… ‘It was she [the angel in the house] who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her...She was intensely sympathetic. She was utterly unselfish. She sacrificed herself daily...’ What kind of juice, sweetie? We have apple or we have white grape… ‘The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. I took my pen in my hand...she slipped behind me and whispered [to me], “My dear, you are a young woman...Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.”

"‘And she made as if to guide my pen...’ No you can NOT have a popsicle, sweetie, I’m sorry. Maybe after dinner.

"‘I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her...’ Yes, you did ask for the popsicle very nicely, but you still can’t have one now. 'Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing...'"

I could hear Eve’s voice piping up in the background. “Mommy,” she said, “I think you burned your lamb chops.”

Ari emailed me later to say that Eve had wanted to know what we’d been talking about, after we’d hung up.

“Cornelia’s book just came out, Evie,” she said, “and I wanted her to know I hoped it would be a bestseller.”

Eve, who’s a big checkers aficionado, pondered that, and then said “So if it’s a bestseller does that mean they will king her?”

Ari replied that she supposed so.

Eve nodded. “Then we’d better hurry up and get her autograph, don’t you think?”

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cornelia Rocks!

From Paul--

I'm bored.

I'm reading galley proofs of my next book, KILL ALL THE LAWYERS, due out in September. I don't know about my fellow bloggers, but by this point in the process, I'm bored silly. I've written and re-written, and re-written some more. I've polished the prose and sharpened the plot, and now it's time to move on before I start to hate my characters so much I kill all of them.

But reading gallley proofs is required. And sure enough, there are the usual typos. "Neiman Marcus" is misspelled. A few pronouns dangle out in space like lost astronauts, unsure of who they are or where they're going. Dialogue that seemed so perceptive and witty months ago needs tweaking. A few lines should be taken out, blindfolded, and shot.

So yesterday I put down my pages and picked up Cornelia Read's A FIELD OF DARKNESS.

Terrific! What an astounding first novel. Vivid characters, a fresh plot, and startling wordplay. That's all I'm going to say. Read it! Cornelia, you pulled me from the swamp of my own making.

And now, back to the mundane task of pouring over my own damn pages. Excuse me. "Poring" over. At this point, the only thing that might "pour" over these words is Blase Azul tequila.

Paul Levine


by Patty

I admire the economy of a language (German) that packs so much meaning into only one word—Schadenfreude—especially when English needs an entire phrase to describe the word’s meaning: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Schadenfreude seems to be on everybody’s lips these days because of author Kaavya Viswanathan.

According to Mark Morford’s Notes and Errata:

It happens to you, it happens to me, and it is apparently spreading like a virulent STD over at Harvard, where ferocious and hyper-competitive superteens are taking unbridled glee in the shockingly fast rise and equally brutal fall of Kaavya Viswanathan, the now-infamous "prodigy" student and burgeoning novelist who, in case you haven't heard, signed a six-figure book deal at age 17 and sold the film rights to her first novel (the now-infamous and eBay-riffic "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life") to DreamWorks before it was even completed -- but who also, it turns out, just so happened to have lifted dozens of passages of her novel -- many nearly verbatim -- from, well, upward of a half-dozen other chick-lit authors. Whoops.

Of course, what Viswanathan did was dishonest and merits censure. Compounding the problem, when her plagiarism was exposed she failed to fall on her sword. Instead, she blamed her parents for putting too much pressure on her to excel. She also claimed that the word theft was unintentional because she has a photographic memory. If your eyebrow is arching in skepticism, you aren’t the only one.

Still, why all the venom from her peers? Did she publicly gloat over her accomplishments or do we humans have a mean-gene that kicks in when success seems too much too soon?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Writing groups,the creativity muscle and Nancy Davenport

It was almost as soon as I completed BIRDS OF A FEATHER, my second novel, that I went into a complete funk. A cloud descended and I wondered what I thought I was doing, thinking I could be a writer. Of course, I later learned from more seasoned authors than I, that “second book blues” is a common phenomenon, a pit of embarrassment and despair in which to wallow while giving thanks that you didn’t give up the day job after all. I knew something had to be done about the malaise, so, in a fit of inspiration, I went online to the UCLA Extension website and began running through the writing workshops – perhaps I could meet some new people and reignite confidence in my writing. As soon as I saw "The Illuminated Writer – a 12-week course for writers of all levels," I traded a few emails with the instructor, Barbara Abercrombie, and signed up. It was everything I wanted it to be. In a group of raw beginners, writers returning to Barbara’s class, and a couple of professional scribes, we launched in, illuminated by Barbara’s teaching and by each other. A core group of us came back in Fall, then again the following Spring, and we’ve kept coming back to class. People often ask why I go to the classes, assuming that because I’m already a published author, I wouldn’t need such a thing. My answer is always the same – creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t use it, it’ll atrophy; if you don’t cross-train, you’ll never go beyond the plateau that comes along time and time again. There’s an athleticism with words to be gained in writing exercises, along with the camaraderie and encouragement of other writers. There are many ways to exercise that creativity muscle – going to a class just happens to be one of mine. Oh, and I never work on my novels in class, instead experimenting with memoir and the personal essay, or poetry, or creative non-fiction.
It was in Barbara’s class that a few of us played a part in publishing a book of which we are all very, very proud. I can only tell a small part of the story here, but I hope it will inspire you. Nancy Davenport came along to The Illuminated Writer as a beginner. At seventy-two years of age, she was past retirement and wanted to tell her story. Each time Nancy read her work, that story unfolded – and we were all absolutely captivated. She made us laugh, cry, shake our heads in disbelief and ask when the next piece was coming. I was just thrilled to see her back again at the next class, and the next. She already had emphysema, so when she began to have trouble speaking, we thought it would pass. We took it in turns to read her work, often penned in her beautiful handwriting.
Last year Nancy was diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease (“And I’ve never even held a baseball,” said Nancy). As she lost the ability to speak, so her voice on the page became louder – and still she came to class until she could walk no more. We knew she was dying, and knew, too, that her dearest wish was to have her work published, to hold her book in her hands. As soon as Nancy delivered the final chapter at the beginning of February, we set to work along with the amazing people at iUniverse, who pulled out the stops so we had early copies one month later. Barbara Lodge, one of our classmates who was helping to care for Nancy, placed a copy in her hands in the first week of March and we had a “publication party” at her bedside on March 12. Nancy died three days later. Her memoir is called, ETERNAL IMPROV, and is available at You will see that my name is listed there too – I had nothing to do with the writing of the book, but when you put a book into production with iUniverse, all the contact names are published on the webpage.
When we walked into class a couple of weeks ago, I felt as if she would come though the door at any time, leaning on her walker, ready to sit down and read another of her stories, or offer words of encouragement to someone else. Her book sits on my desk at home, as if the title itself were there to remind me that life, like writing, is an eternal improv.

Jacqueline Winspear

Thursday, May 04, 2006

And Sometimes we even Sit Down to Write Novels

by James Grippando

I read Paul's blog on Monday (Scottoline, Grippando & Levine, Attorneys at Law), and while my first impression was that I vote to put the firm names in alphabetical order rather than ascending levels of testosterone, my overwhelming impression was when the heck to these people have time to write?

Lately, I'm almost as guilty as Paul on this front, as I was involved in about half the diversions he managed to cram into the week. In my case, however, last week was a definite anomoly. My first novel was published in 1994, and yet the big shindig in New York last week for the 60th Anniversary Edgar Symposium was the first time in my life that I had attended the Edgars. I would file this lapse under the category of I didn't know what I was missing. It was well run, well organized, and of course the panels were excellent and informative. But beyond that, there is a lot to be said for simply chewing the fat (no aspersions cast upon the Grand Hyatt's banquet food)with fellow authors. I love being around people who love what they're doing, and there is nothing like being in a roomful of people who, deep down, not only love it, but realize how lucky they are to make a living doing it.

My wife and I made a mini-vacation out of the NYC trip. We stayed at the Pierre, which has a free Rolls Royce for guests to use if the residents in the building aren't using it. I'm not really into that stuff, but I have to say that just once in your life, you should step out of a shiny new Rolls on Fifth Avenue. My wife and I hammed it up a bit, but it's like being 12 again and playing movie stars. Next time, I'm going to put a political spin on it and see if Paul will play Secret Service Agent for us.

Oh yeah, yesterday, my eleventh novel was published - Lying with Strangers. It won't be in bookstores until 2007, but it is available right now as a Main Selection of the Literary Guild, Book of the Month Club, and Doubleday Book Clubs. This is the first time the book clubs have made an original novel available exclusively to their members, so I'm very excited. It's not in the Swyteck series, but it is a thriller in every sense of the word.

Bookspan, which owns the bookclubs, has been really good to me. The long-term business arrangement (in which "Lying with Strangers" is just the beginning) is the most exciting thing that has happened to me in my career (more about that in future blogs). But it is the personal side that is making this so enjoyable. Tiffany and I had dinner at the home of Cathy and Markus Wilhelm the night before the Edgars (Markus is the CEO of Bookspan). Markus has held this position for 18 years, which is remarkable, since someone in his position usually lasts about 18 months. When I was in NY last November, everyone of course was toasting to the success of the exclusive arrangement for Lying with Strangers but the thing that impressed me most was when Markus said that the most important thing is that we become friends out of this arrrangement. It's great to find someone who values relationships in this business, and that came through at his home. Tiffany and felt immediately comfortable with the Wilhelms. Their children and labra-doodle greeted us at the door. There were 14 people at the dinner table, including Nelson DeMille, Carole Baron (Markus' right arm at Bookspan and former president of Putnam), and Ann Moore (CEO of Time-Warner),and there was not a pretentious bone in the house. Very refreshing.

Enough for now. Time to write. Next week: I found a writer who is not Elmore Leonard and who still writes long hand. Can you guess who it is?

James Grippando

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chanel No. Continued...

By Cornelia

Part the Second: In Which, Lo and Behold, The FREAKISHLY, TERRIFYINGLY, JUST- CLOSE-YOUR- EYES- AND- THINK- OF- ENGLAND SCATHINGLY, HEART-STOPPINGLY *SCARY* but yet STILL (O!- Lifetime- of- Nightly- First- Star- and- Annual- Birthday- Candle- Wishes- Laid- Yearningly- at- the- Altar- of- Fervent- Aspiring- Author- Hopes- Coming- True- at- Long- Sweet- Last {Hosanna Hosannadanna!}) BIG HUGE FAT SPLENDID DAY OF MY PUB DATE--BARRING CATASTROPHE--Approacheth (T minus 114 hours, ballpark, and counting)

Monday, May Eighth, is a day I have been dreaming of for a very very very long time. It is the official publication date of my first novel, A Field of Darkness.

The pub dates we imagine before getting published are, I think, akin to the view of government which P.J. O’Rourke once attributed to the Democratic party--to wit, the belief that “government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn.”

I’ve heard from a number of writing compatriots that the actuality can be far closer to O’Rourke’s take on Republicans, “the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.”

I have often said that the road to publication, for me, has been so unbelievably unbelievable (in a great way) that I keep thinking someone’s put acid in my coffee. Luckily, it’s really good acid. Like, OWSLEY good.

But despite the fantastically amazing luck I have had with the process so far, and the astonishingly kind response the book has gotten so far, there is still a lot of crabgrass in my mental lawn. I don’t think I deserve it, for one thing, and the swings from catbird-seat high to hanging-over-the-abyss-by-my-last-toenail low never go away.

The best thing about getting to know the greater community of writers is that I’ve found I’m not alone, when it comes to that elation-to-terror pendulum. It's part of our makeup. We all have moments when we are CONVINCED everything good is either a fluke or a cruel ruse. That the other shoe is about to drop, and that it weighs more than one of those cartoon bank vaults suspended above the head of Wile E. Coyote as he trots, blithely oblivious to peril, down a cartoon desert highway.

Here is a snapshot of some things that have happened to me, over the last seven days or so, and my psychotropic hi-jinx in the wake of each:

1. An actor/director whom I greatly admire emails my publicist at Hachette Book Group to say he’s interested in optioning Field, “or talking to Cornelia about an original screenplay, should that already have occurred.”

Psychotropic Hi-Jinx: I am elated for about thirty seconds. I call my husband at work. I leave a voicemail for my mother. I then suddenly decide it must in reality be a joke email from some ex-boyfriend MASQUERADING as said much-admired actor/director. Probably the one who gave me crabs.

2. My agent emails to say he’s just read an advance copy of this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, and that it appears to contain a third-of-a-page ad for Field. In COLOR, for God’s sake. He says this almost gave him a heart attack, since no one had told him to expect it.

PJH: I have actual heart attack. Look up ad rate card for NYTBR. Conclude ad costs more than advance for book. Lie on hardwood floor, hyperventilating, convinced that when not a single copy of book is EVER purchased, publisher will grow embittered and cut me loose, so that I will have to take up residence among a pack of ravening ferrets, in whose company I will become the world’s worst real estate agent in order to eke out a living.

3. Joshilyn Jackson, scathingly brilliant author of gods in Alabama, gives me a glowing writeup on her blog, in thanks for my having stepped in as her last-minute-substitute haiku-contest judge. Among other impossibly funny and kind things, she says, “OOOOH CORNELIA! YOUR BREASTS ARE LIKE WHITE GOATS ON THE HILLSIDE AND YOUR VIRTUE SINGES THE EYES OF THE UNHOLY.”

PJH: Examine real-life appalling boobulage in mirror. Front view… side view… Decide rack bears far closer resemblance to “hills like white elephants,” if not twinned Kilimanjaros. Consider full-frontal cosmetic surgery. Wonder if such is obtainable before first scheduled signing, Wednesday May 10th at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, California (7 p.m.). Wonder if emergency de-boobification doctor would accept IOU. Or perhaps signed copy of book. Fret over atrociously ugly and utterly illegible signature. Take oath to invent new handwriting style for self before Wednesday. Not that anyone will buy so much as a single copy of book at signing, obviously.

4. Great friend Andi Shechter emails part of current Mystery News review of Field she has typed up, since I have not yet received a copy. Review apparently closes with “I have seen the future of the crime novel, and her name is Cornelia Read.”

PJH: Weep. Perform Snoopy Dance around laundry-crowded living room. Weep. Experience panic attack over hideous stinking pile of unreadable crap which is manuscript of follow-up novel. Call husband at work, weeping. Rend garments with hand not holding phone. Husband sighs, no stranger to this. Weep more. Wail about impending June 1st deadline for hideous pile of stinking crap. Ask husband whether he thinks I can get Opal Mehta to ghostwrite it. Wonder to self if she’ll take an IOU. Harvard is expensive. Hang up phone. Call sister. Weep.

5. David Thayer posts interview with self on his splendid blog.

PJH: Write him thank-you email, weeping. Re-read interview. Decide I sound like odious windbag. Weep. Return to hardwood floor for hyperventilation purposes, clutching freshly printed pages of first half of the stinking pile of unreadable Work in Progress, as printer broke mid-way through job and ate second half. Consult Hollywood Tarot, online. Get impending-doom Pee-Wee Herman card, “The Fall.” Weep. Try again. Get Sean Connery card. Feel slightly better.

6. Start writing blog post for Naked Authors. Can’t wait for Monday… crabgrass and all.

The Heady Fragrance of Chanel No. DUDE! NO FREAKING BOOK-WITH-MY-NAME-ON-IT WAY!

By Cornelia

Part the First: O Joy! O Rapture! Could These Splendiferous Boxes Just Delivered by the Sainted UPS Hottie-Man Mean I Haven’t Actually Been Completely Hallucinating Whilst Flailing Around Like a Doof-o-Lusional Grinning Maniac for the Entirety of the Last Year-and-a-Half, After ALL (Knock Wood, Kinahora Poo-Poo-Poo, Hey Nonnie Nonnie)?

Two days later, and it still hasn’t sunken in. I think I must be in shock. It is a very NICE sort of shock—kind of simultaneously warm and fuzzy and even a little sparkly, around the edges—but it is shock all the same.

The impetus for my current mental state, the seed crystal precipitating the advent of its burgeoning fractally Fibonacci-ssimal hunka-hunka burnin’ serotonin-up-the-wazoo goodness, yea verily, are the three stalwart shipping cartons which arrived here at the Chateau Ultra-Trashy on Monday afternoon, each one filled to its dear little cardboard brim with copies of my first novel.

I wish I could report that I high-fived the UPS guy, but I would be lying my butt off, pretending to a cool dispassionate restraint not my own.

Here’s what actually happened: I hugged the poor man, little brown Bermuda shorts and all. Damn near knocked him over, too, what with all the leaping and frolicking to which he was subjected while in my vise-like grip.

In other news today, I got pulled over by a cop for taking a left turn at a light where you're not supposed to, between 4 and 6 p.m. (I'd jogged a block out of my usual route to mail some stuff, and didn't see the sign).

I of course had left my license in my top bureau drawer, BUT had a copy of the book on the passenger seat, so he believed it was me once I showed him my name on the front and my picture on the back, and agreed to radio in to have them look up my license number. Still gave me the damn ticket, but I told him it had been such a good day that I didn't mind so much. Total lie, but what the hell.

Maybe he'll buy a copy. Least he could do, considering.

TO BE CONTINUED once I drive the kids to school this morning, after MUCH coffee…

In the meantime, this is the funniest thing I've read in forever: "I am Michiko Kakutani"