Tuesday, October 31, 2006

MIAMI, Hotbed of (Literary) Crime

By Paul

I have a manuscript due on my editor's desk in New York Friday.

Check that. It's overdue. I've been graciously granted an extension until Friday. After that, the fourth "Solomon vs. Lord" novel will miss its June 2007 publication date.

So, today, I'll be brief. Just a plug for "Miami Noir" (Akashic $15.95), a short-story collection edited by Les Standiford, due out tomorrow. Sixteen crime stories by Florida writers...including me, even though I've been banished to the Left Coast. As readers of the genre know -- from John D. MacDonald and Charles Willeford to Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard -- Miami is fertile soil for fiction.

Standiford describes it this way in his introduction, "The truth is that Miami, though naturally lovely, is a frontier town, perched on the border between the known and the rarely before experienced. We are not only on the edge of the continent, we are to this country what New York was in Ellis Island's heyday, what the West Coast was in the middle of the twentieth century."

James W. Hall, who won last year's Edgar with his short story, "The Catch," opens the book with "Ride Along, a chilling tale of a college professor who wants to experience the dark side. Vicki Hendricks, who raised eyebrows and temperatures a few years ago with her erotic novel, "Miami Purity," has a wonderful story entitled "Boozanne, Lemme Be." W ithout giving too much away, a 4'10" burglar falls for a large, busty femme fatale, and that can only lead to trouble. In "Dead Storage," Christine Kling writes in the voice of a 16-year-old girl who's abused by her father and plots revenge. Classic noir set in the humid remains of a rusty trailer park.

My entry is "Solomon & Lord Drop Anchor." Lawyer Steve Solomon tries to collect a debt for a beloved client. When lawful means don’t work, perhaps a scary trip on a fishing boat will. Victoria Lord hops aboard to make sure Steve doesn’t commit too many felonies.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I loved Patty’s post yesterday on her cars. Perhaps we should all pick one from our past. For me, it would have to be my Bricklin green MGB from the mid-1970's. Can there be any better way to picture lost youth?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Finally, this being Halloween, one more photo. Many readers know I base Victoria Lord's character on my wife Renee. Likewise, Victoria's mother, "The Queen," is based on Renee's late mother Irene Markey. Here's Irene, dressed as a "gold digger" at a 1970's party at the long-gone Palm Bay Club in Miami.

By Paul

Monday, October 30, 2006

All the cars I've loved before

Patty here…

I bought a new car last week. My old car was a convertible—my first and probably my last. The two of us had a great relationship. It was young, good-looking, and it had a great ass. The problem was I wanted more than it could give me. I hated myself, but I needed a sensible sedan with a back seat. It was an agonizing decision to make, but there was simply no choice. We had to part ways.

Breaking up is hard to do, but I’d been through it before. You grieve and then you move on. I told myself that the convertible wasn’t right for me. But when I unloaded all of my personal effects and waved goodbye, all I could think about was the exhilarating feeling the two of us had shared cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, my face tilted toward the sun and the vortex of warm Southern California air churning my hair.

In the days after the separation I was overcome by a debilitating ennui. This breakup wasn’t turning out to be as easy as I thought it would be. I needed counseling, so I unloaded all my emotional car baggage on a friend. She told me she was attached to the first “nice” car she ever owned. All the subsequent ones were just transportation. Just transportation? Could I truly be happy settling for only that? It made me wonder. How many cars had I loved before?

My first car was one of those generic Fords, painted in a shade of green not found in nature. It had a stick shift and got about ten miles per quart of oil. It was the sort of ride you parked six blocks from wherever you were going so none of your friends would even see you near it. Driving it was like making a choice between not going to the prom and going with pimply-faced Calvin Quinn.

My next car was a robin’s egg blue Corvair Monza with wire-wheel hubcaps. It had been around the block a few times, which gave it an aura of heat and danger. People told me the Corvair was bad for me. Even Ralph Nader sent me a letter, warning that gas emissions leaked through the heating system. He told me to dump the car or it would surely be the death of me. Big deal. So I had to leave the window open in the winter when the heater was on. I was young and impetuous. It was a small price to pay for true love.

Then there was the Toyota Celica, my first new car. I wanted so much to love it. It was a four-speed, sort of sensible and sort of sporty. Unfortunately, the car turned out to be a total lemon. I tried to make the liaison work, but I spent most of my time shifting from one heartbreak to another. On hindsight, I stayed in that relationship way too long.

After the Celica I went through a series of auto affairs. None of them lasted very long. The convertible was the first car in years that could light my fire. Maybe I’ll make it with this new one, too. So far we’ve been circling each other in that girl-meets-car mating dance. I’m not pushing any buttons, mostly because I still don't know where they are. Time will tell if we have a future together, but I’m starting to warm to the heady aroma of new leather and the sound of the throaty growl when I turn it on. Who knows? Some day soon we may be racing around curves on the Angeles Crest Highway and I’ll lean over and whisper the words, “I love you, baby.”

So what about you? What cars have you loved before?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Birthday to The Individualist

from Jacqueline

I am not really the world’s worst timekeeper, I am simply on a book tour that has now been in progress for over two months - and being a travel warrior tends to mess with my sense of which day of the week it is. It’s Friday evening and I’m late because I was en-route to Austin and ... so it goes on.

I’m here for the Texas Book Festival where tomorrow the amazing Kate Atkinson and I will be the panelists for a session entitled: Solving The Case of the British Mystery. Seeing as neither of us write what could be called a “typical” British mystery, I think the cat might end up among the pigeons. And at the time of writing, I am already more than a little intimidated at the thought of sharing the stage with Kate (Memo to self: Observe and learn, observe and learn).

I’ll also be racing to the House Chamber at the Capitol building tomorrow morning, to listen to Barack Obama, who is will be making the opening address and also talking about his new book, The Audacity of Hope. I have a coveted red wristband to get me into his session.

Of course, while at the festival I will be shackled with guilt. On Saturday, October 28th, my Dad (the man who still takes my Mum dancing three or four nights a week) will celebrate his 80th birthday. Actually, he is celebrating it this evening – a big party with all their dancing pals, followed by celebrations throughout the weekend. For the actual birthday tomorrow, I have arranged for my parents to have dinner in the Pullman carriage of a local restored steam train service (you can read more about that on my website: http://jacquelinewinspear.com/essay_railway.htm), and tomorrow’s “theme” is the Sherlock Holmes mystery, complete with a murder on board and a sleuth on the case. This will be my mother’s excuse to tell everyone else that her daughter is a mystery writer – Patty, my mother is just like yours!

You may ask why I am not there – ah, well, what can I say? My presence here at the festival was a signed, sealed, done deal before I realized what had happened, and when I broke the news to my Dad he simply said, “Not to worry, Love – all this birthday lark is just for the card companies to make money anyway.” But next Sunday, as soon as my last event for the tour is over, I am flying to the UK to make them celebrate all over again – and I can’t wait.

My dad’s attitude to individuality has been one of his greatest gifts to my brother and I. He was saying “Think Different” long before Apple. In fact, when I was a child I found his army demobilization papers, and in a final report his commanding officer wrote about my father’s achievements, but couldn’t help commenting upon his tendency to do things in a rather individual manner. The fact was that my Dad hated the army, because he couldn’t stand being in any institution where everyone had to dress in the same clothes.

I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was enthralled by the up-to-the-minute clothes worn by my very hip cousin, Celia, who was fifteen at the time. She wore dresses by Mary Quant, she had the “Twiggy dress,” which was an A-line shift with a sort of empire line and three bows at the front. She had a lovely little suit from Clobber by Jeff Banks, and of course, she had clothes by Biba – oh, does anyone else remember Biba? These were all big British names in the 60’s. For a short time it became the “in thing” to wear a t-shirt with your initial taped on the front – and the key was to do the initialization yourself. You bought a plain white t-shirt, some colored tape and then you either sewed or (if you bought the more expensive self-adhesive tape) ironed it into place. Well as soon as I saw Celia, the Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, sporting her bright white t-shirt with the big “C” on the front, I was bound and determined to have one with a great big “J” on the front. And this was something I could afford! So, I took my earnings from babysitting and bought the required white t-shirt, and then purchased a yard and a half of red tape. My father walked into the house after work as I was wrangling the tape into a J while brandishing a hot iron at the same time – I’d decided to go all the way and pay extra not to have to sew.

“What’re you doing, Jack?”
“Um, trying to get this tape to stick.” I probably mumbled. At twelve girls start to mumble when their parents speak to them, even though they can talk for ages to their friends.
“What’s the design?”
“The what?” J looks up, waving hot iron.
“Design. Pattern. Have you designed a pattern?”
(This is the bit where I probably rolled my eyes thinking I hadn’t been seen)
“No, I’m doing my initial. J.”
“Because EVERYONE’s doing it.”

(Now, just to let you know, the words “EVERYONE’S DOING IT” were like a red rag to a bull for my Dad.)

“Why on earth do you want to do something that everyone else is doing?”

No answer from suddenly speechless twelve-year-old crosspatch.

“Come on, let’s go and buy some more tape, then we’ll get some paper and you can design something different, something with your initial, but not like everyone else. Make it a bit individual, a bit interesting. You don’t want to be just like everyone else, do you, love?”

And even though I knew that being the same as everyone else was easier (heck, who wants to be different at twelve?) there was something about my father’s challenge that touched my imagination, even though I was scared stiff when I first wore that t-shirt with its multi-colored loopy design with a J at the center.

So, to my dad, the amateur astronomer (I still remember him waking my brother and I – aged 4 and 8 respectively – in the early hours of the morning to watch a comet cross the sky), the wine-maker (his blackberry liqueur is gorgeous, the orange wine is lethal, as is the wheatgerm and raisin), the dancer, the western afficionado, follower of Bonanza, Rawhide and Gunsmoke, and avid reader of National Geographic: Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Deadline -- YIKES!

from James

As if to remind me how quickly time flies, another deadline is upon me. November 1. Time to deliver the next manuscript “featuring Jack Swyteck and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight.” I put that in quotes because it comes straight from my contract. Funny, I never got to draft language that goofy sounding when I practiced law.

This latest one will be published in January 2008, well after “When Darkness Falls” in January 2007 and about 6 months after “Lying with Strangers” in June 2007. I’d tell you the title, but I’m sure it will change. They always want to change my titles. I waste lots of time trying to come up with the perfect title, and then—bam—my agent or editor gives it the heave-ho. I might as well just call it “Gone with the Wind," turn it in, and be done with it.

The good news is that I’m actually going to meet this deadline. I think. But only if I’m quick about this post. So here’s the best I can do--some odds and ends from last week’s trip to the La Jolla Writer’s Conference and San Diego.

First, some really good news. If you saw last week's post, you read about the private school that told me that its students were “too privileged” to appreciate my book. I wanted to talk to the kids about my new Young Adult novel, Leapholes. They said thanks but no thanks, and referred me to a public school. Well, I took their advice. I went to Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School in San Diego (Clairemont, actually, I think), and spoke to an auditorium of 5th and 6th graders. It was fantastic. What a great and (dare I say) APPRECIATIVE audience. And here’s the kicker. A fifth-grade girl named Sierra gave me a note, which I will cherish. She drew a flower on it, and the note read: “Your book is SOOOOOOO good. It is like eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or better!” You just don’t get those kind of hugs from grown ups. That alone was worth the trip.

I also did a morning show – FOX6 in San Diego. Went great. Here’s the really interesting part. We were in the green room. (I say "we": I was scheduled to go on right after a woman who had written a book with a great chick-lit title—Bicoastal Babe). While we’re sitting there, in walks a blonde who could have actually been the Bicoastal Babe. She has an entourage with her. About five guys, all with cameras, filming her every move. I’m trying to figure out who this is. They’re obviously doing a documentary of her book tour. I just can’t place her. Then an old guy walks in. I don’t recognize him either, but his voice is strangely familiar. He talks, jokes around, and the guys in the studio one by one are all coming up to him and telling him what an honor it is to meet him. So the entourage is obviously for him, not the Bicoastal Babe.

And then it hits me. That voice. It’s 8:15 a.m. and the guy sounds stoned.

It’s Tommy Chong. Yes, from Cheech and Chong. He just got out jail and wrote a book. It’s called “Tales from the Joint.” Another good title, I think.

I wonder if my editor would change that one.

La Jolla Writers Conference was absolutely terrific. Antoinette Kuritz runs a first-rate event, and I can't say enough positive things about it. Spent lots of time with Steve Berry (The Templar Legacy). Steve came to my first signing in Jacksonville in 1994 as a fan. His latest book debuted at #4 on the NY Times list, and he blurbed my last my book ("Got the Look"). How cool is that? Congrats to Steve, who got engaged while in book tour in Venice! He even bought the diamond there. Isn't that romantic? Also got to know Linda Lael Miller, who truly wishes she had been born Annie Oakley, and she has the boots and jacket with the fringe on it to prove it. You have no idea how cool she is.

But it's 12:28 a.m. and I have to go back and write an epilogue. Wish me luck. We'll chat more about La Jolla next week.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bitch at the Switch

By Cornelia

My sister calls me the "bitch at the switch," when it comes to car radios. I have no patience with crappy songs or drive-time DJ blather. I'm as likely to bitch out Al Franken as Rush Limbaugh when I'm behind the wheel, and have been known to indulge in verbal line-edit hissy-fits whenever some NPR pundit says "normalcy" or gets sloppy with adverbs.

When I got in the car to drive my kids to school this morning, the first song to come blaring out of the speakers was "Sweet Home Alabama," which just about put me over the edge. What's with whole the lowest-common-denominator playlist thing? It's like our Gross National Music Output got capped at the same 50 B-sides halfway through my Sophomore year in high school. I just want to take a sledge hammer to the same-old same-old pile of moldering CDs I keep hearing regurgitated on the airwaves, day after simpering day.

And I'm not just whining about oldies stations or classic-rock or the monotonous jack-hammer of hip-hop formats--I want the Jazz Police to stop yammering on about whose second cousin played alto sax at the last minute on some rainy Tuesday session in 1952 because there was a bus strike in Scranton, and I've had it up to here with the tired-ass baroque pablum interspersed with the same two Aaron Copland numbers on every last classical station's "Island of Sanity" hour.

Please God can we start a national petition to ban the broadcast of overplayed dreck, even one day a week? At this point, I'd welcome the return of "How Much is That Doggie in the Window," just to break the aural monotony.

Here is the list of songs I would most like to see eradicated from the collective Heavy-Rotation unconscious:

1. "The Letter."

Look, we know that your baby, she wrote you a letter, already. It was like forty years ago--get over it. Buy the woman an iMac and sign her up for a free Yahoo account. You might learn something.

2. "Riders on the Storm."

Yeah, yeah... into this world we're born. DUH. Every time there's a damn cloud in the sky, somebody has to play this stupid song. It's like the warning that they're about to turn on the lettuce misters in a produce aisle. You wanna light my fire? Slap some marshmallows and half a Hershey bar around this puppy at your next campfire and make a S'more out of it.

3. "Sweet Home Alabama."

Carry your own damn self home to your kin and while you're at it, lay off Neil Young. Watergate still bothers the hell out of me, and y'all suck if your conscience is clean about that whole guv'nor thing.

4. Any song with "Rock 'n' Roll" in the title.

Please stop givin' us that ol' time Rock 'n' Roll. It does not soothe my soul, it gives my soul hives. And that goes for any other song about songs. Ew. Tie them up in a burlap sack with Billy Joe McAllister and some big rocks and throw the whole mess over the mid-span stretch of safety rail on the Tallahatchee Bridge. Buh-Bye.

5. "Leather and Lace."

This is just gross. Let us remember that the world did not need an ballad which brings to mind Stevie Nicks's fashion sense, which is itself an oxymoron. I would rather spend the rest of my life on a desert island with a 45 of "Havin' My Baby" than ever hear this again. And that's saying something.

6. "Havin' My Baby."

Come to think of it, they don't make desert islands big enough. I'll take my chances with the reef-load of sharks.

7. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

This is like going over a bottomless cliff in a busful of drunk cheerleaders. Stop the madness.

8. "Mony Mony."

Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?

9. "My Sharona."

She's all yours, just get her AWAY FROM ME.

10. "Wheel in the Sky."

That Steve Perry guy can't shut up about how it keeps on turnin', so why is it still here? Can we just attach it to the rear axle on that busload of drunk cheerleaders and give it a jump-start off the bottomless cliff?

11. "My Cherie Amour."

Pretty little one that I abhor. Let's put this toxic bonbon in the gladiator ring with "Ebony and Ivory" and hope for mutually assured destruction.

12. "Another Brick in the Wall."

Isn't the wall done yet? Maybe we can start putting a few bricks in the ceiling and soundproof the sucker.

13. "Heartache Tonight."

Two words: Alka. Seltzer.

What songs would you ban, in your perfect totalitarian radio republic?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Booksellers Who Love the Written Word...

By Paul

Fun time last Saturday night at the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. In the acoustically challenged ballroom that hosted the early Academy Awards Banquets, the Southern California Booksellers Association held its annual “authors’ feast.” No, they didn’t dine on the writers...too acidic for most palates. They toasted the writers.

The SCBA is made up of independent booksellers – the backbone of the industry – plus some publishers and wholesalers. It’s a great group, people who really love the written word.

My congratulations to the winners of the SCBA awards. Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack won the fiction award for their remarkable novel, “Literacy and Longing in L.A.,” a sly and witty debut. Here's the opening:

When I was seven my mother drove the family car off a thirty-foot bridge. My sister and I were in the backseat and after the dive, the sky-blue Cadillac Seville flipped over into the craggy ravine and landed on its roof.

I don't know about you, but I'll keep reading.

Tony Kohan won the non-fiction award for “Mexican Days: Journey Into the Heart of Mexico.” T. Jefferson Parker, the bard of Southern California, won the mystery award for “The Fallen.”

Yep. Jeff bested both naked authors, Jacqueline Winspear’s “Pardonable Lies” and my “Solomon vs. Lord.” Also nominated were Denise Hamilton for “Prisoner of Memory” and Barbara Seranella for “An Unacceptable Death.” Hey, it was an honor to be mentioned with these folks. And it was great to see Barbara, who’s been battling health issues.

It’s great to spend the evening with book lovers. For one thing, you learn that the people who sell books often know a helluva lot more about popular literature than you do.
And, you get interesting comments. One of the employees at Pasadena’s famed Vroman’s store said she sensed that my latest novel, “Kill All the Lawyers,” was based on something real from my life. (In the book, Steve Solomon botches a case, and his client, once out of prison, comes back to haunt him). Well, sure, I’ve botched cases. But no ex-cleint ever stuck a marlin in my front door to threaten me.

Still, the reader was half right. The idea for “Kill All the Lawyers” came from a true story. The murder of a lawyer. Two lawyers, actually.

Let’s go back several decades. In 1970, I was fresh out of Penn State journalism school, covering criminal court for The Miami Herald. I got to know a slick Miami Beach lawyer named Harvey St. Jean. He defended some heavyweight criminals and was a colorful character himself. Harvey lived at the Jockey Club, played golf at La Gorce Country Club, dressed like a swell, and, of course, drove a Cadillac Eldorado.

Flash forward to 1974. Harvey St. Jean was found, shot dead, in the front seat of his Caddy in a department store parking lot on Miami Beach. Never solved, the murder was believed to be the handiwork of a disgruntled client. If you practice criminal law, you have lots of them, mostly in prison. Problem is, when they get out, they can become a nuisance. Or worse.

(Readers with long memories may recall that the murder of Harvey St. Jean inspired the title of Edna Buchanan’s journalistic memoir, “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face.” Inspired me, too, as we shall see).

Flash forward another six years. It’s 1980, and I’m a practicing lawyer in Miami, which is bursting at the seams with crime and swashbuckling defense lawyers. George Gold, a brainy barrister, is working alone at night in his law office.

There’s a knock at the door.

Gold answers.

He’s shot and killed by an unknown assailant. Again, the murder is never solved.

Gold’s clientele included South American drug dealers, and it was widely assumed they were involved in the killing. Soon, investigators learned it was a case of mistaken identity. The hit man intended to kill Gold’s law partner, who later spent six years in prison on racketeering charges.

Yes, lawyers were hip deep into cocaine and money laundering in those days. In fact, it was often hard to distinguish lawyers from their clients. I am reminded of the famous line from Carl Sandburg’s “The People, Yes.”

Have you a criminal lawyer in this burg?

We think so, but we haven’t been able to prove it on him, yet.

For a couple decades, the two murders kept coming back to me, along with this question: just what can a lawyer do to make a client angry enough to kill him?

And that’s the inspiration for “Kill All the Lawyers.”

By Paul

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A picture worth a thousand words

Patty here…

Don’t we writers wish it were that easy…

I used the same author picture on the covers of both of my novels, so with the third book coming out next July, it was time for a change. Last week, I had new photos taken. I don’t know if any of you are reluctant to “say cheese” in front of a camera. It never used to bother me, but I’ll admit I was concerned this time around.

My original photo (see above) was taken three years ago. It was in black and white and oh-so-very-small and forlorn-looking on the back flap of the cover. The bad news is that a small black and white author photo probably means that your publisher doesn’t see you as the next Dan Brown. The good news is that very few people can pick you out of a lineup. Another problem. After three years spent worrying that nobody would buy my books and I’d be disgraced, I had more wrinkles than a SharPei. And let’s not even talk about the gravity issue.

So, where to find a photographer. Because of the potent influence of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, there are oodles of them to choose from. But selecting the right one is tricky, so I always rely on word-of-mouth buzz. This time, the buzz grew to a roar at the tripod of Kevin McIntyre.

Kev shoots on location in Sunland. It’s a rural, horsy kind of place in eastern L.A. County so far removed from city life that you'd think you’re on another planet. It was the synchronicity of the locale that made me feel instantly at ease. I’d recently been to the area to do research for a scene that takes place in Short Change. Okay, bad things happen to Tucker there, but she still manages to kick ass and take names. Sunland made the selection of Kev look better and better.

L.A. is a town where even the phlebotomist at the blood bank is still getting residuals for a walk-on part he did in a 1983 episode of “Facts of Life,” so I wasn’t surprised when I learned that Kev was a singer and had once starred in musicals, including one of my favorites, “Forever Plaid.” He didn’t sing during our session, but I’ve heard that he has a fabulous set of pipes. And speaking of pipes, he also plays them, the bagpipes, that is. He’s a member of the LA Scots pipe band. I have Scottish blood trickling through my veins. I'm a Smiley. My great grandmother was a McCoy. So I love the idea of bagpipes. I’d love the idea more if the sound they produced wasn’t so bloody LOUD. Bagpipes aside, I’m a sucker for men in kilts, which turned out to be the tipping point. Kev and I were destined to be together. I emailed him and cemented the deal.

I wanted to give myself a fighting chance with the camera, so Kev referred me to a makeup artist. In her thirty-year career, Rita has applied buckets of cosmetics to the faces of a host of luminaries, including dabbing gloss on Angelina Jolie’s lips and powdering the shine off of Morgan Feeman’s nose. I needed her kind of mojo, so I called to feel her out. During that initial conversation, she confessed to being the owner of a West Highland White Terrier. I’m a Westie aficionado, too! Muldoon, the dog who plays a bit part in my books, is a Westie! The news was too good to be true. And so it was decided, Rita, Kev and I in the hills above Sunland, glossing, shooting, and smiling.

Here are the results.

Happy Monday!

Troubled in California

from Jacqueline

First of all, my apology for the late arrival of my post. I was away for three days (traveling to Newark-Pennslvania- Newark, then home) and, instead of schlepping my laptop with all its lack of wi-fi-ness with me for just three days, I left it with my husband, who tracked down the necessary upgrade card so that I can get onto the net when I travel. Not a moment before time. It may have been just as well, because I read James' post yesterday and almost blew a fuse.

My first thought was pretty much the same as everyone else's - what a bloody cheek! What arrogance! What sheer unadulterated elitism! It brought out my "bring on the revolution" tendencies, and whisked me back in time to my rantings as to why the monarchy should go - because all the time there's a monarch, the people are serfs, and an intolerable elitism reigns. That's why people like me come to America, only to find Animal Farm alive and well, despite the "We the people" - where the elitism is shod in Manolo Blahniks and bathed in San Pelegrino (or is it Voss now?).

But then I thought about the teacher's comment, and tried to imagine myself saying something like that - how would it feel? And it struck me that James might (might) have been on the receiving end of a different kind of teacher burnout. Could this teacher be sick of his/her privileged charges? Might she/he have tried to interest them in the multicultural, multi-socioeconomic blend that is America, only to find that they really were only obsessed with Paris Hilton and Daddy's yacht, or whatever? (Can't you hear the "whatever ..."). And might that teacher have seen a rolled eye or two when the subject of the social history of this country was laid out for them to - with a bit of luck - become inspired? Maybe that teacher suggested a public school because she/he knew the kids there might know a thing or two about overcoming challenges, and be more open to listening, and engaging in worthwhile dialogue. However you cut the mustard, the kids I pity are the those in the rarified atmosphere of that private school, where they know only one way of life, only one way of meeting a need ($$$), and they miss out on a first-class educational experience - a presentation by a terrific writer who is really stoked about the prospect of sharing his understanding of key events in this country's history. A teacher who is inspired ... isn't that what kids really need? Not a teacher who is either a preening snob or who has had the enthusiam drained out of him/her by the "whatever" class of people in that school.

Being a bit of a terrier, I'm not quite ready to drop this bone yet. I'm going to share a story with you of a dinner party I attended some years ago in Marin County, California. It could have been Orange County - I don't think the north and south of it matters, any more than the actual state matters - we've met these people before in different places, and they are not always well-heeled. However, this particular rather wealthy county - which I love, by the way - has a significant Hispanic population, chiefly situated in an area of San Rafael. There's quite the community spirit there, and various organizations have been set up over time to help with issues such as literacy - both child and adult - and programs to ensure that kids have exposure to new technologies, for example. Volunteers are always needed. Anyway, conversation was buzzing along at the dinner party, when the parents of a graduating high school student began going on a bit about their daughter's accomplishments and how she wanted to "do good" - so they were sending her to Brazil to teach English for a month. They said they liked the idea of her being exposed to an Hispanic culture. Now, I'm all for travel - I come from a country where kids travel overseas extensively throughout their schooling and most take a ""gap year" to travel, usually volunteering in a part of the world where they can help others - but without thinking, I opened my mouth (this is not an unusual phenomenon) and said, "Why doesn't she volunteer at one of the literacy programs for Hispanic children here in Marin - that's helping people, and it's something she could do on an ongoing basis ..." Well, you could have heard a pin hit the carpet. Food almost dropped from mouths. The response wasn't positive. Now, I'm not saying all parents are like that in the area - far from it, I believe - and certainly you can find similar attitudes all over the place, however, it came from the same wellspring of attitude as the brush-off that James received.

All that being said - James, keep on taking that presentation into schools. I know schools here in California that would love to have you come and speak to the kids - and some with kids who are all but choking on silver spoons. I know teachers who know an opportunity to broaden a mind when they see it, and they would jump at the chance of having someone like you in their schools. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, as is a golden educational opportunity.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Earth to California

From James

I need help. I just received the most bizarre rejection this week, and somebody is going to have to explain it to me. Preferably, someone from California.

This weekend I will be speaking at the La Jolla Writer’s conference in California. It is a spectacular three-day event for over 200 published and aspiring authors, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. I’ll admit, however, that I was a little nervous about accepting this gig. Past keynote speakers include Michael Connelly, Joseph Wambaugh, Phillip Margolin, Tess Gerritsen, T. Jefferson Parker, John Lescroart, and the like, and I tend to get a little uptight when the collective sales of my predecessors rival such books as, say, the Bible. This will be my first ever appearance as a keynote speaker in the Golden State, and I was just getting over my jitters when—bam—I got blindsided (Californicated, I think they call it). Well, now I’m just flat out puzzled. Here’s why.

Lately I’ve been speaking to school children about my new young adult novel, Leapholes. It’s been a blast to get in the classrooms and interact with kids who are genuinely enthusiastic about the concept of entering into law books, traveling through time and meeting Rosa Parks, Dred Scott, and other real people who were involved in some of our nation’s most important cases. It’s been such a great experience, in fact, that I decided to take this show on the road with me to California. We booked a signing for tonight (Thursday) at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore. Great folks, and I’m looking forward to it. Then I’m scheduled to talk with a group of fifth graders on Friday morning. Another cool event.

Unfortunately, I must have tempted fate once too often. My first commitment at La Jolla isn’t until Friday evening, so my publicist tried to slate another school appearance for Friday afternoon. We figured we’d contact a smaller private school, thinking that they’d be better able to organize something on such short notice. I’m not pushy about these things. I didn’t ask for an honorarium (most authors do), and the school doesn’t even have to buy my books. I just bring my Power Point presentation into the classroom and we talk about people like Rosa Parks or Dred Scott. I like doing these kinds of things. If you don’t believe me, I can prove it with videotape of me taking school kids on research trips to cool places like crime labs, and I even have some embarrassing photographs of me dressed up like everyone from Rembrandt to Salvador Dali at my own kids’ school.

Well, this was the California school’s response: We think our students are “too privileged” to appreciate the book. And they referred me to a public school.

I’m not going to name the school, because I’m hoping that this reflects the attitude of one person and not an entire institution. Still, I’m laughing now as I’m typing this. I’m from Miami, and as we say over here: “Yo no comprendo.” Put aside for the moment that the first school appearance I have slated upon returning to Miami is a private school of 350 middle-school students—that’s well over $7 million in annual tuition alone sitting in one auditorium. So, can someone who speaks Californian please tell me what the heck this response can possibly mean?

Surely no one is “too privileged” to appreciate Rosa Parks, so that can’t be it. Perhaps they are “too privileged” to appreciate the fact that the boy in Leapholes has to visit his father in prison. But I’m guessing—and surely I’m way out on a limb here—that there must be one or two people “of privilege” in California’s jails. So that can’t be it either. I can only surmise that it must be me—not the book—that they are “too privileged to appreciate.” Could they have feared that this Miami author was actually the dreaded Scar Face, dressed in a white leisure suit and draped in gold chains? Or maybe they thought my name was Jed, not James, and that I planned to roll into the school parking lot with Granny and Jethro on the back of the turnip truck.

Oh, well. It’s going to be a busy weekend at the writers’ conference, and some R & R on Friday afternoon will probably do me some good. I’ll read a book, have drink.

Maybe I’ll even catch a little California sunshine down by the cee-ment pond.

P.S. Sorry I can't participate in the give and take Thursday. It's a travel day. I'm loadin' up the truck and movin' in the general direction of Bever-lee.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jacking In

By Cornelia

William Gibson's novel Neuromancer chronicles the adventures of Case, a "cyber-cowboy" who, when the story opens, can't get online because the employers he double-crossed on his last hacking job damaged his nervous system with a Russian mycotoxin as punishment.

No longer able to "jack into the matrix," Case has lost both his livelihood and his raison d'etre, and spends the first few chapters floating around seedy Tokyo bars with a death wish the size of a mid-century Pontiac. Published in 1984, Neuromancer quickly gained a massive following, and proved Gibson's prescience about the culture that would grow up around the Internet in subsequent decades.

This past Tuesday, professor Norman Nie, director of Stanford University's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (IQSS), released the results of an internet-usage study conducted by IQSS. 4113 people were surveyed by phone on the topic, and the resulting statistics have given rise to alarming headlines about the possibility of "Internet Addiction" in journals around the world.

Obviously, if you're reading this, you have access to the Net, but do you see yourself as someone who may be standing up in a church basement sometime soon, confessing your destructive passion for e-mail and chat rooms and, okay, blogs, to a roomful of sympathetic strangers with whom you're bonding over styrofoam cups of bad coffee?

I admit that that image has crossed my mind more than once. I spend a lot of time online, and the relationships I've forged there, especially in the mystery community, have come to mean a great deal to me. So this morning I took an online Internet Addiction Test quiz to gauge the level of my own dependence (which should probably in and of itself be a red flag).

I got a score of 45, which the survey's authors tell me means, "You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage."

I think if I'd been a bit more honest I would've scored in the Fifties--on the low end of the mid-range profile--"You are experiencing occasional or frequent problems because of the Internet. You should consider the full impact on your life." My friends and family might rate me somewhat higher, however. Especially when they're wondering whether dinner is forthcoming.

If you have time, please take the quiz and tell us how you scored in the comment section. Is the Net a problem or a boon for you? Would you say it allows you to be more or less productive? Do you feel you get significant returns from your time spent online, or are you trying to wean yourself off late-night jags playing Mah Jong Solitaire at Gamehouse.com, in between checking your Amazon ranking and Technorati hits?

In the meantime, I'm just hoping I don't run into that guy Case, the next time my DSL goes down and I feel the urge to cruise seedy Tokyo bars....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thug U? Saturday Night at the Orange Bowl

By Paul

I received an e-mail yesterday from Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami.

No, she wasn’t demanding repayment of my student loans. She wasn’t asking for a contribution for a new swimming pool. And she wasn’t rescinding my Law School Alumni Achievement Award, which curiously was presented after I stopped practicing law.

She was trying to explain to U.M. alumni the unexplainable...how the university’s young scholars in shoulder pads and plastic helmets behaved like street thugs Saturday night in their 35-0 victory over outmanned Florida International University.

In case you missed it, a melee, brawl, fracas, or riot (take your pick) broke out in the third quarter. Helmets and spikes were used as weapons, and a phalanx of policemen eventually moved onto the field after several minutes of chaos.

“What happened Saturday night at the Orange Bowl was outrageous,” President Shalala wrote, and she wasn’t talking about the price of Bud Lite. “Regardless of who started it, this was an embarrassing display of unsportsmanlike behavior. Fortunately, there were no injuries.”

True, it was a thoroughly disgusting incident. But why the note from the President? There’s no apology in it. There’s no promise of any disciplinary action, other than what has been imposed by the Atlantic Coast Conference. More about that later.

“We expect the best from our students,” Ms. Shalala wrote, apparently using the term to include football players. “Indeed we hold all of them to a high standard of personal conduct.”

I wonder why President Shalala did not write the alumni after last season’s Peach Bowl debacle. That’s when the Hurricanes engaged in a post-game brawl after getting shellacked 40-3 by L.S.U..

As best I recall, the last time President Shalala wrote the alums was two years ago when the Hurricanes offered a football scholarship to Willie Williams, the most highly touted high school linebacker in the country. The president’s letter was prompted by a newspaper story that Mr. Williams, barely 18, had been arrested eleven times and was on probation at the time he signed his grant to enroll at Nirvana in Coral Gables. President Shalala endorsed offering the young man a scholarship based on his commitment to change the course of his life, not to mention his exceptional time in the 40.

Willie Williams failed to make the starting roster, and in something of a pique, transferred to that football and scholastic powerhouse, West Los Angeles College, which is currently winless in a community college conference. However, I believe that Mr. Williams should get a good citizenship award. He spent two years at the University of Miami without flunking out, getting arrested or shooting a firearm. Over the summer, Willie Cooper, one of his U.M. teammates was shot in the buttocks by an intruder. Another teammate, Brandon Meriweather proved his mettle by returning fire with his own gun. Mr. Meriweather can spend this weekend on target practice. He's benched for the Duke game, after being caught on video using his spikes to stomp on a fallen F.I.U. player.

Now that I think about it, President Shalala’s letter yesterday actually was a plea for funds. Or conversely, a plea not to stop giving. U.M. alumni are exceedingly generous, having been the prime movers and shakers in a recent $1 billion capital campaign. Ms. Shalala is trying to convince the folks to keep those dollars coming.

Good luck, Madam President. Your football team is an embarrassment to the alumni and the so-called Magic City. Coach Larry Coker seems like the nicest guy in town, but he’s clearly lost control of this team.

F.I.U. has suspended 16 players “indefinitely” and booted two of them off the team. So far, Miami has simply accepted the A.C.C.’s decision to suspend 13 players for this Saturday’s game against winless Duke and to suspend one player indefinitely. You want to show you’re committed to those “high standards of personal conduct” you write about. Bench all 13 implicated players for the rest of the season. If not, accept the fact that you’re running a win-at-all-costs football factory, and a fairly mediocre one at that.

Go Canes...Paul

Monday, October 16, 2006

Happy 20th Birthday, Sisters in Crime

Patty here…

Southern California is the largest book-buying market in the United States, and it also has an extensive community of writers. There are many book-related events in town, so after seeing those authors often enough, many begin to feel like family. So it’s always fun when a reunion opportunity arises. Like Saturday at Book Carnival in Orange. Theresa Schwegel and the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime hosted a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the national organization, which was founded by Sara Paretsky and others to raise the profile of women crime novelists.

Just before the event began, Michael Connelly signed his latest Harry Bosch novel, Echo Park, after which a reception was held for Sisters in Crime members and readers. Among the attending authors were Naomi Hirahara, Steve Hodel, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Darrell and Diana James, Eric Stone, Dianne Emley, Robert Fate, John Morgan Wilson, and Taffy Cannon. It was also a pleasure to meet Colin Cotterill whose novel The Coroners Lunch was an Edgar nominee and the winner of the Dilys award at this year’s Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin. Colin is English but he lives in Thailand, so it was interesting to hear his take on various issues including the recent military coup. And check out his Web site. It's handwritten and hilarious. I especially loved his "Dilys" diary.

Also attending the party was intrepid photographer Andrew Klaczak who has chronicled the book signings of many local writers through his pictures. Here are a couple of the shots he’s taken of my events in the past.

At Book Carnival for the signing of Cover Your Assets. There's mom again.

With Ed Thomas, owner of Book Carnival

Thank you Andrew for the great pictures and happy Monday.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Do-oo-by ... do-oo-by ... do ... and more news from my friend Glenda

from Jacqueline

As you all know, I’ve had a more than my fair share of opportunity to listen closely to the language of US airlines in recent months – yes, it’s going on months now, this book tour. I’ve observed, between fighting with seat-backs that won’t stay up, and broken tray-tables, a locution employed by the airlines that is creeping into broadcast news and into our everyday speech, and it’s beginning to annoy me. The annoyance could be due to a general crabbiness with the whole phenomenon of airline travel, however, pay attention next time you’re on a ‘plane and you’ll hear what I mean. Let’s take the word “do.” This is the word most mis-used, followed by “did.”

Sample announcement while taxi-ing: “We do ask that you read the instructions carefully, so that if you do have any reason not to be seated in an exit row, please do inform the flight attendant ... (etc).” What’s the point of adding “do?” Why can’t they simply say: “We ask that you read the instructions carefully, so that if you have any reason ... (etc.).

Another sample from this morning’s news: “We did ask the senator for a statement, however, he did decline at this time.”

What a whopper! No wonder the bloke declined. Wouldn’t the sentence have been more elegant without the added “dids?” (“We asked the senator for a statement, however, he declined.”) And you can leave out the super-annoying “at this time” while you’re about it.

Another over-used word is “that.” You can go through any magazine article and remove about 80% of the “thats” and not only will it still make sense, it will have some grace and rhythm.

I’m so glad I’ve removed that weight from my chest, now on to more important things. First, my friend Glenda, who is back in Darjeeling after a brief sojourn in Europe. I’ve had emails from visitors to nakedauthors.com, asking for an update from me, so here it is. When Glenda left Darjeeling, she was in the midst of rehearsals and costume-making for a production of The Wizard of Oz, and had been working fiercely to create new gardens for the children. Here’s her most recent update:

“I have been in the same place for so long, it seems, that the extraordinary has become ordinary. I am sure many of you can relate to near death experiences in the Himalayas when driven by a drunk/drugged driver at night with the headlights glaring, around hairpin curves and precipices with no guard rails, the streets filled with people, rickshaws, lorries and worst of all cows--it seems they are let out at night to wander.

How mundane is the tale about the tilers throwing cement everywhere including on my newly sodded garden and mixing the same cement in a patch meant for flowers while displacing all the rocks so laboriously placed by size? Frescos made by the children with holes poked in them have become one of many daily trials as I prepare for the Art exhibit by the children and complete the other tasks I have before the 25th.

Father has given me many lectures on patience but I still stress out as the time to complete becomes shorter – 14 days to be exact. Our first dress rehearsal with an audience is this Sunday and the rush to finish costumes and perfect the scenery is on. Now if the kids would just remember all their lines, I would be a happy woman.

I am so enjoying the last minute rituals that I used to practice when I was working – you know that we all work better under stress. I just wish I would stop dreaming up new things to do while I am supposed to be asleep.

Penny , the Irish (ex)ambassador's wife to India, is trying to get a sculpture project done before the big opening and I don't have the heart to tell her that it takes 7 days for a pair of jeans to dry – how long for clay?

All the buildings in town are being spruced up with paint and flowers, people are buying new clothes or having them made and the tailors are working day and night. At Woodcot the same work is being conducted and the kids are so excited by all the activity. This is the Christmas and New Years all rolled into one, with a few birthdays added just for the gifts and good stuff. Food and dry goods are flying out of shops and bazaars for the holiday feasting and that was what we were doing on the day of the drive from hell - shopping. We are all working from 5am until we drop into bed with hoarse voices. The tailors (I use that term loosely) at Woodcot are making new dance costumes for the girls' dance program – it is going to be a fabulous celebration.

Unfortunately, I will only get the tip of it as I have to be in Mumbai on the 30th. But the timing is really great, as we would all be heartbroken if I had to leave during a lull – this way all the kids will be partying for a week after I leave and then school's out for the next two months. TOO COLD.

I guess that's about it – I have 16 hanging baskets to put together (made out of stacked vegetable racks and dog chains) before the weekend, and tomorrow I go to see if any more damage has been done, this time by the painters.”

Glenda will be back in California on December 15th – and I cannot wait to see her. But how long will she bear to be away from the children in Darjeeling?

In the meantime, last weekend I was fortunate to have dinner with a virtual exultation of independent booksellers at the NCIBA (Northern California Independent Booksellers Association) conference in Oakland. Whenever I am with a group of such dedicated booksellers, I am struck by the knowledge, the curiosity and the energy for the business that is represented by our independent booksellers. They are the (often unsung) keepers of our First Amendment, ensuring that a broad spectrum of books are available, and that readers know about them – and fortunately, their encyclopedia knowledge goes way beyond the big names or the “most likely to” authors. I couldn’t say “thank you” often enough.

This time from Seattle on a perfect fall day, here’s wishing you a great weekend.

PS: And thank you to Patty, the techno-hero of nakedauthors.com, who is posting this for me because I’m traveling. I haven’t been able to read posts from my fellow bloggers all week – oh, the inadequacies of hotel dial-up internet service for the non-wi-fied.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


From James

Earlier this week I read that a leading Russian journalist was murdered—shot execution style. Someone didn’t like Anna Politkovskaya’s investigative reporting, which was often critical of some very powerful people in Moscow. Politkovskaya, 48, was known in particular for her reporting on human rights abuses in war-torn Chechnya. She was killed in her apartment building by gunshots to the chest and head after a Saturday afternoon shopping trip.

My first thought upon reading the news of this assassination—which had at least some of the markings of a mob-style hit—was “Mafiya.”

I researched the Russian Mafiya extensively for "Beyond Suspicion." Like most of my Jack Swyteck novels, that story is set in south Florida. You may wonder what the connection between the Mafiya and south Florida is. Truthfully, I happened onto it by accident. I was ordering a bagel at a coffee shop and noticed that the news stand next door had a half-dozen Russian language newspapers to choose from. No, I wasn't in Moscow. I was in Hollywood, Florida, a typical suburban community north of Miami. Naturally, I had to ask: What gives?

It turns out that south Florida - known for its ethnic diversity, though usually with a Latin beat - has a sizeable Russian population. The vast majority are law-abiding, good people. But there's a dark side, too. Take Tarzan, for instance. No, not Johnny Weismüller. This Tarzan is a legendary, muscle-bound Russian mobster famous for the drug and sex orgies on his boat off Miami Beach. He's now even more famous (not to mention incarcerated) for a serious but unsuccessful scheme to buy a nuclear submarine from a former Soviet naval officer and then use it to smuggle cocaine from Colombia.

Miami has a new criminal powerhouse knocking at its gates. Brighton Beach, New York is the only place in America with more Russian mobsters - the Mafiya, as it's called..With a little help from my law enforcement contacts, I was able to find a Ukranian-born undercover agent who was willing to tell me all about it. One meeting with him, and I knew: There had to be a novel in this.

The good news is that the Mafiya is nowhere near as well organized as La Cosa Nostra. The bad news is that what they lack in organization, they make up for in utter brutality. The other interesting thing to me was that the type of illegal activity a Mafiya member might engage in was largely determined by which former soviet state he comes from. Armenians, for example, are into mail fraud. But it was the Georgians who gained my fascination as a novelist. They are the hitmen. And they are so lethal, I’m told, that the Italian Mafiya now contracts out its hits to none other than the Georgians.

So, when I read about Politkovskaya, I immediately wondered if it was a Georgian hitman who’d pulled the trigger. I don’t mean that blithely. Moments like these make you realize that the things a novelist researches and writes about, primarily in the name of entertainment, often have life and death consequences for real people. It’s a healthy reminder. Any responsible thriller writer will ask himself several times during the course of writing a book whether there is too much violence. Is this or that scene really needed? Does it advance the story or define some essential element of a character? Would the suggestion of violence, rather than the actual showing, be enough? In other words, is it merely gratuitous? Those are often hard decisions.

I try to remember people like Anna Politkovskaya when I make them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dear Eleanor...

By Cornelia

I always try to tune it to KALW, one of the Bay Area's NPR stations, around nine a.m. on weekdays. If everything's on schedule, I've dropped off one kid at school and am headed back over the Berkeley hills to school two by that point.

First you get the promo for that day's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and then Garrison Keillor comes on with Writer's Almanac for a few minutes. I like to hear whose birthday it is, with Keillor's little blurb on what they've done. Today is the birthday of Elmore Leonard, which is cool, but I was even more interested to hear about birthday girl Eleanor Roosevelt, whom I've long admired.

I first read about her in a Scholastic paperback biography when I was eight years old or so, and felt an instant kinship. We were both born in New York City (albeit 79 years apart). Her parents were divorced, and she spent time with various relatives around New York state, including her uncle and godfather Teddy Roosevelt, at his place in Oyster Bay--the same town I visited each summer, staying with my mother's parents.

She wrote of herself, "I was a solemn child without beauty. I seemed like a little old woman entirely lacking in the spontaneous joy and mirth of youth."

I remember reading those words in my school's battered beige paperback, and how strongly they struck a chord with me. To discover that serious, self-consciously awkward girls could find the courage to do great things, as she did, was for me a tremendous epiphany.

She went to school in England,

Top row, third from right

where she was inspired by the school's activist headmistress who, according to Garrison Keillor this morning, "was passionately devoted to liberal causes and social justice."

I like to think her school portrait proves the merit of an observation she wrote down at age 14:

that, "...no matter how plain a woman may be if truth & loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her...."

She was brought home to New York from her beloved school, the first place she'd ever truly felt she belonged, in order to "come out" as a deb. Judging from the portrait photo taken to mark her debut, she was not exactly psyched about it:

On a train to Tivoli, New York, to visit her grandmother, Eleanor ran into her fifth-cousin-once-removed Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They began courting secretly, and were married in 1905.

Here she is at the end of her wedding trip, in Venice:

Eleanor and Franklin had six children, one of whom died in infancy.

"I suppose I was fitting pretty well into the pattern of a fairly conventional, quiet, young society matron," she would later write in her autobiography. But she was also a dedicated volunteer for a variety of social causes.

When her husband was named Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, Eleanor began work for the Red Cross, visiting wounded and shell-shocked troops in the Naval Hospital. Appalled by what she found there, she demanded that the government inspect the poor conditions affecting the sailors.

I have to say here that FDR was not exactly admired by my relatives. One grandfather used to whisper, "of course his name was actually Rosenfeld," while the other blamed him for his fraternal twin brother's death in WWI--claiming Roosevelt had purchased defective planes from the French, one of which my great-uncle was, fatally, chosen as test pilot for.

They were the sort of people who, generally, viewed the New Deal as class treachery. That made me like Eleanor even more.

Especially because she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when they refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall, a building they owned in Washington DC.

Eleanor made sure that Anderson was given an even better concert venue: the base of the Lincoln Memorial, and on April 9, 1939, Easter Day, that performance was broadcast across the country.

She once wrote:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

When her husband died in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt told reporters: "the story is over."

But within a year she became the American spokesman to the United Nations, where she was elected the chairperson of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights.

She believed that her work on that commission's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was her greatest legacy, but still said, "I’m so glad I never feel important, it does complicate life!"

By her own definition, she is to me one of the very best examples of maturity:

A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.
Happy Birthday, Dear Eleanor.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Of Pirates and Poets, Pawns and Kings

Paul here...

What’s the best background for a writer?” asked a young woman at a book signing.

“Everything,” I replied.

I wasn’t being flippant. At least, no more than usual.

Arthur Conan Doyle (above) practiced medicine before creating Sherlock Holmes. Dashiell Hammett worked as a Pinkerton before inventing Sam Spade. William Faulkner famously toiled in a post office, creating some sound and fury by losing much of the mail. Elmore Leonard (above, right) was an advertising copywriter who longed to write western novels. Joseph Wambaugh was a Los Angeles cop before he started making up stories about them. And in her first career, Danielle Steele was a plumber.

Okay, I made the last one up. But my point is that writers come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. ALL jobs, ALL studies, ALL travel, ALL relationships (even bad ones) are lethal ammo for the writer.

Here at Naked Authors, we have all worked at REAL jobs before sitting down to sweat blood onto blank pages. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a trial lawyer, a law school instructor, and a television writer, as well as a novelist. Yes, I know. I can’t hold a job. (I have it on good authority that James Grippando has been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king).

So what do we have in common? The love of the written word. An innate desire to tell stories. An aversion to offices, meetings, and power-point presentations with flow charts and profit projections.

One difference between novelists and screenwriters – and sure I’m generalizing here – is that a lot of the latter go directly from college to film school to spewing out spec scripts at Starbucks on Sunset Boulevard. In other words...no real life experiences.

I admire people who’ve actually done things, who take risks and switch careers. People who follow their bliss, to borrow Joseph Campbell’s expression.

I was thinking these thoughts the other day at a book signing at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. (One of the great independently owned stores in the country). A law school classmate of mine stopped by. Tom Derek (below) was born in Czechoslovakia shortly after World War II, his parents having survived German concentration camps. In his late 40's, Tom quit a cushy job as general counsel of the Miami International Free Trade Zone to come to Hollywood to act. For the past 10 years, he’s worked at his craft, pounded the pavement and has built his resúme. Like all the creative arts, acting is hard and filled with frustration, disappointment, and seemingly impossible odds.

I asked Tom why he does it.

“I have this passion to create unique characters that jump off the page,” he said, “that move people to a deeper understanding of their humanity and connection to others. Somehow, because of my background, surely I’d also like to make the world just a little bit better for having been here.”

Tom has a part as a P.I. in an upcoming independent feature. With his lived-in face and lifetime of experience, I’ll bet he knocks ‘em dead.

By Paul

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Shill for Love

Patty here…

My mother is proud of me for writing three novels. I know this because everybody tells me so. Normally soft-spoken and reserved, she nonetheless regales all who will listen about what she sees as my extraordinary talent. This surprises me because she has always taught me that boasting is unseemly. Apparently a mother bragging about her child is not covered under that rule.

My mother hasn’t read any of my books. She has macular degeneration and can’t read much of anything these days. Poor vision is the bane of her existence, because she’s always been an avid reader. She listens to audio books, but somehow that’s not the same as resting a hardback on her lap and feeling the rough edges of the paper as she turns another page.

She is tiny and frail. She navigates the halls of her assisted living facility with the aid of a walker, which she calls “my three wheeler.” When I hear her use that term it always makes me think of an aging motorcycle mama, cruising the highways and byways wearing a jaunty gray beret. In the basket attached to the walker’s handlebars you’ll usually find items related to my books: reviews, newspaper ads, or the latest cover art. Whenever she enters the dining room, her friends prepare for a pitch.

She was recently released from a rehab center after a six-week stay that included two weeks in the hospital. She had suffered a bout of dizziness and had fallen several times. During one of my visits, I found her in the gym working with a physical therapist. The conversation went something like this:

My Mother
“This is my daughter the author. Did you look her up on the Internet?”

Physical Therapist
“Yes. I checked out her Web site just like you told me to do.”

My Mother
“Have you bought her book yet?”

Physical Therapist
(laughing nervously)
“No. Not yet.”

My Mother
“When, then?”

Physical Therapist
(looking sheepish)

Even I was squirming during that interrogation.

My mother is so good at hawking my books that I took her to the Northwest on my first book tour. Here we are at the airport waiting for our flight to Seattle. She looks cool and collected in her wheelchair, while I look as though I just stumbled out of a three-martini lunch.

While we were waiting to board the airplane, we cruised through some shops and came upon a neck pillow that made us snort with laughter. We had to have it. She was wearing the pillow on the flight home when a man approached her in apparent distress. “Excuse me, madam,” he said, “but did you know that you have a large bug on your neck?” Very corny, but we had another huge laugh. Two guffaws for only $14.95. Life is sweet.

Seattle welcomed us with a monsoon. Here we are in the parking lot near the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Undaunted by the rain, I threw a poncho over my mother and her wheelchair and off we went, we two intrepid hucksters.

Publishing can be a tough business, so it’s comforting to know I have a few people in my posse that I can count on no matter what happens. And one of those people is that tiny, frail woman with the bug on her neck.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Book That Changed My Life - and why you should buy it!

from Jacqueline

I can’t imagine growing up without books, can you? Every writer has a story about books, how they came to love the written word. Sometimes there’s a background of a highly literate family to initiate, encourage and support that love, and sometimes not. Money sometimes has something to do with it, sometimes not. My dad left school at the age of twelve and never went back – he was plucked (“requisitioned” might be a better word) from the classroom at the outset of the Second World War because he was the fastest runner in the school, and boys with that sort of talent were needed by the Air Raid Patrol to carry messages between different posts while bombs were dropping. Dad ran his way through the London Blitz before sprinting off to the country to work on a farm. He’s a voracious reader, loves westerns, books on astronomy and thinks his lifetime subscription to National Geographic is the best gift I ever gave him. He is a self-educated man and he loves books.

My mother was one of ten kids, left school at fourteen, but her mother insisted that each of her children obtain a library membership as soon as they were old enough (she read a book a day, despite being partially blind and having those ten kids) and if they didn’t have a job to do around the house, then they had better have their nose in a book. They’re all big readers – and they don’t hold back with their comments either, let me tell you from personal experience. I think my cousins and I all had library cards almost as soon as we could walk. As my Dad knew already, you can escape from hell in a book, and you can open up the world, whether that world is another country, an emotion, a new perspective, or simply a place to while away the time.

But what if you can’t read? Or if you don’t have access to books, or didn’t ever learn to love them? I can accept – just (sort of ... maybe) – the latter, but not the two in the middle.

One more story, then I’ll get to the point.

At the end of 1999, Peter Jennings, together with his co-author, Todd Brewster, came to Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, CA – one of the best bookstores in the world – to talk about their new book, The Century. They could have gone to many bookstores in the area, but what drew them to Book Passage was the fact that the store has a program of philanthropy to support literacy, and a percentage of the profits were going directly to local efforts to bring reading to those who would not otherwise have such an opportunity. Peter Jennings began his talk by asking us to imagine a parent, perhaps a recent immigrant to the country, perhaps someone who dropped out of school, who has taken a sick child to the doctor. The doctor gives a prescription, the parent collects the medication. But the parent can’t read the instructions. (Forget that in recent years pharmacies have provided bi-lingual staff). How does it feel not to know what to do because you cannot read or make sense of the instructions? And what if you have been intimidated because you cannot speak the language, or you cannot afford a doctor, so you just go to the pharmacy to buy something over the counter – what do you do if you cannot read? Never mind War & Peace, that's life and death, sickness and health - and it's all down to literacy.

For my part, I have always wondered about the frustration if you cannot distinguish thoughts, feelings and ideas without distinction. “Sad” just becomes, well, “sad” instead of, say, “bereft”, “wretched” or "melancholy." The way kids are losing vocabulary at the moment, everything will be whittled down to “stuff” – as in (and I’m quoting two recently overhead adult conversations):

What did you do at the weekend?
Oh, you know, stuff

What do you think?
Lots of stuff, you know, coming up.

And as for that broader understanding of the world – heck, you’ve got to start somewhere, and a book provides that starting place. Which is why I was delighted and honored to be asked to contribute to The Book That Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen. You may know of Roxanne, owner of another great bookstore, RJ Julia of Madison, Connecticut. As Roxanne has said of the book, which is garnering starred reviews all over the place (and that sort of stuff ...), “Not only does this wonderful book remind readers of all the ways books can change lives, not only does it give readers a new and exciting reading list, but it also gives us the opportunity to give a portion of the proceeds to the Read To Grow Foundation ... an organization dedicated to providing the books and resources that every child and their family needs to become literate and learn to love reading – because everyone should have the opportunity to find the books that will change their life.”

I’m telling everyone I can about the book, because even though this program is essentially for one state, it will hopefully draw attention to similar programs in other regions, and to the challenges of illiteracy. As writers and readers, we owe it to ourselves and our future to facilitate reading. Reading opens the mind, and we all know what happens to a country when minds begin to close, don’t we?

Here’s the link. Now go to an independent bookstore, preferably one that supports local literacy programs, and buy this book.


Have a lovely weekend, sink into your favorite armchair with a beverage of your choice at your side, and find out about the book that changed the life of Dorothy Allison, or Dominic Dunne, perhaps Kate Atkinson, or Amy Bloom. Sebastian Junger remembers a book that changed his life, so does Anne Lamott. Frank McCourt, Ian Rankin, Anne Perry – every single one of them can point to a book that changed their life. Me too – I’m right at the end, being a “W.”

PS: And thank you all for your congratulatory messages about the Macavity Award. Amazing what can happen, eventually, down the line a few decades, when you let a kid into a library and get them excited about words and letters, phrases and even whole books ....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The McDonald's Awards

From James

First, at the risk of piling on, congratulations to Jackie on her McCavity award. This is a huge achievement and a distinguished award. Now we have at least two award-winning authors in our naked lot. Some years ago, Paul’s Florida-based fiction earned the John D. MacDonald Award—not to be confused with the McDonald’s Award, which is given only to franchise authors who keep churning out novels even after they are dead. Yay, team!

But wait. Maybe I’m on to something with this McDonald’s thing. Lest the world think we writers take ourselves too seriously, I think Jackie and Paul would (perhaps) agree that every serious and prestigious award should be matched by at least one silly and not so prestigious award. So, here’s a proposal. Naked Authors should start the annual “McDonald’s Award in Fiction,” the prize going to the best new work published under the name of a dead franchise author. Any nominees? Harold Robbins' "Heat of Passion" comes to mind. Any suggestions on the prize?

In other news . . .

This week is homecoming at my alma mater, the University of Florida in Gainesville. I’m not going. My wife is a graduate of rival Florida State, and she couldn’t care less that the Gator football team is battling for a national championship. It means nothing to her that this homecoming opponent is not the usual serving of East New Mexico State School for Retired Nuns, which UF usually trounces 72-0. It is ninth-ranked LSU against fourth-ranked Florida, which should be a great game. Oh well. I have my memories. See, a million years ago (1980), I was the “General Chairman” of UF’s homecoming celebration, which is a big deal at UF. Gator Growl, a spectacular pep rally in Florida Field the night before the game, has always featured a big name entertainer, such as Bob Hope, Robin Williams, or Bill Cosby. My year, it was George Burns. (Years later, I discovered that my agent got his start in the entertainment industry doing publicity work for George Burns—coincidence?)

I haven’t gotten back to UF much over the years, but I’m starting to reconnect. Part of that is because the alumni affairs office seems to think that I’m rich and famous enough to pay for a new auditorium, or maybe even a football stadium. I assure them that I’m not, and they assure me that they won’t stop asking. If only they knew how much private middle school tuition was these days. (You’d die if I told you).

Some day I do hope to repay the university in some way. Part of the reason ties directly to my writing, in the person of Sid Homan, an English professor at the University of Florida. For two years I was one of six students in a university of over 30,000 students who was lucky enough to participate in Sid's honors program for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We wrote at least two papers each week, and Sid would select one to read to the class. It was the first time I'd ever heard anyone read my work aloud. It's amazing how embarrassing a bad sentence can be when you actually have to hear someone else trip over it. To this day, I never publish a sentence I've written without reading it first—aloud.

Except for my naked author blogs. I don’t read them aloud. In fact, I don’t read them at all. I do this with my eyes closed. Damn, I’m good. Thanks, Sid.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When Bouchercon Starts in Your Driveway...

By Cornelia

So I wake up at three a.m. last Thursday morning, Bouchercon bound. The Bayporter van is due between four and four-fifteen. I am groggy. I am exhausted. I am hoping I have remembered to pack things like shoes and maybe a pen.

I take a quick shower, then throw on a pair of jeans and my lucky "Lefty's Tattoo and Piercing" t-shirt (from the Palm Springs Goodwill) and hope for the best. It's 3:59, time to drag my Intrepid Spouse's INCREDIBLY ugly black plastic suitcase down our steep weird driveway, so I can wait out on Euclid Avenue in the pitch dark.

Yea verily, I am off to Madison, Wisconsin, the Land o' the Cheesehead:

and the Home of the Bucky Badger:

City between two lakes, yea even more verily:

Now, you might think that Madison, Wisconsin,--and hence, Bouchercon 2006--is some three or four hours by plane from Berkeley, California.

In my case, however, Bouchercon started at the end of my driveway. I had no sooner climbed into the emerald green Bayporter Express mobile than I found myself seated next to my very first fellow Bcon attendee of the year, a really cool lady named Avis Worthington, who writes historicals.

I tell you, you could've slapped my haunches and called me Ballerina Munchkin Cow, right then and there:

Ballerina Munchkin Cow, by Mike Dowdell

Avis and I talked shop all the way to SFO and then split up to go find our seats on the plane.

So then we had a stopover in St. Louis or Minneapolis or something. I do not remember because I had three hours of sleep and had become extremely stupid. Like pretty much exactly as if I had been riding in a bumper cow for too long:

Bumper Cow, by Mark and Kim Rae Nugent

Or like, as James Taylor once so pithily described just such a mental fog, "my wiring was misfiring due to cigarettes and booze":

Cow Chip, by C. Murphy

--despite the fact that you can't smoke in airports and I was not actually drinking anything but guava juice that morning.

But ANYWAY, Avis and I managed to find Concourse F after much flailing and soul-searching in whatever city that was, so that we could get on our NEXT plane, and it was aboard Plane Numero Deux that I met my second fellow Bconner, the I-am-sure-soon-to-be-totally-famous "Medieval Noir" writer Jeri Westerson.

I had the window seat and she had the aisle, so we talked across this poor guy in the middle who had promised to drive his dad to a sixty-ninth high school reunion somewhere around Madison.

Jeri told me the line which won the ginormously buckled Heavyweight Champion Snack o’ Wit Title Belt of my entire Bcon experience this year:

Noir is the new black

Which is, hello, so funny I think she should trademark it or whatever and I want to buy the t-shirt.

So then we landed and the shuttle didn't come for like FOREVER, but when I actually finally got to the hotel, I literally didn't have both feet out of the revolving door before I met up with Bev Irwin and Liz Lytle.

We all first met at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a couple of summers ago, and THEY ROCK, Bev and Liz.

And then I saw Andi Shechter, my Bcon roomie and secret twin--because how many people can you talk about figure skating AND mysteries AND country music AND Black Power Salute raised fists with, in the same conversation--so huge hugs all around and I knew this was going to be a most excellent time from the get-go.

This was Andi's and my favorite cow in Madison, by the way:

Miss Moolah, by Deborah Gerling

This one is pretty good too, though, only I didn't see it in person:

Moo Choo - All Aboard, by Brad Nellis, Distillery Design Studio

Well, okay, and this one cracks me up. Not that I saw actually ever saw it in person either:

Star Fleet Battle Cow, by Richard Springer

But enough about cows. I need to talk about Sandra Ruttan. Who is so NOT a cow.

She is in fact my International Thriller Writers "mentee," if such is a word.

(Sandra is the way more conscious-looking person on the right)

This was taken of the two of us around noon on Sunday when, a la Clockwork Orange, I was "feeling a bit shagged and fagged and fashed, it being a night of no small expenditure."

I'd had about four hours of sleep and had just done my first ever Bcon panel, "Ken Bruen and Four Kickass Writers," with Ken Bruen (duh), Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, and Zoe Sharp--all of whom are funny and erudite and cool people.

And in general I got to meet so many cool great new persons, and catch up with so many other cool great persons whom I'd already met at previous Bcons and Left Coast Crimes and stuff, that my mind is still reeling.

Like for instance Denise Mina, who was at the Hachette cocktail party on Friday night and whom I would never have had the nerve to go up and talk to except that I was standing with Laura Lippman when we spotted her across the room and thank God Laura kind of squeaked and said, "Check it out, there's Denise Mina, and I think I have to walk over and go all fan-girl on her," so I tagged along and swooned and babbled on the poor woman, who was tremendously gracious about it.

Also I got to meet Tribe, who totally cracks me up IRL as much as online, it turns out:

That would be Tribe on the left, Sandra on the right

Plus which he has crazy family stories redlining right up there with mine on the WTF?-meter, which is always a nice thing to bond over, especially in a bar. And DOUBLE especially in a bar where the eminently amazing Jordans are hosting their Crimespree party, where I also got to hang out with Our Patty and Madeleine Butler and Bill Cameron and Karen Olson and Tim Maleeny and Sandra and Rae Helmsworth and Maggie Griffin and Lee Child and Brett Battles and Steven Sidor and a mind-bogglingly huge assortment of excellent people, not least the Jordans themselves, while quaffing Spotted Cow beer to one's heart's content.

And then on Saturday Sandra did this group interview deal with Denise Mina and Laura Lippman and Anne Frasier and Julia Buckley and Sandra Parshall in the hotel back bar, part of which was videotaped by the tremendously patient Bill Cameron, until the music got too loud and weird so we all (except for Laura and Denise, who had a bowling date) kind of bagged the official part and just rambled on for another hour or so like we were hanging out on the Group W bench, avoiding the draft with Arlo or what have you. And the totally weirdest thing about THAT was looking across the table and seeing Julia wearing a button with my book cover on it, right under her pin with HER book cover on it, which still just totally makes me feel faint and want to hug her all at the same time.

Okay, so I am totally babbling like I'm back trying to say something intelligent to Denise Mina, and it seems appropriate to try to wrap this up, so I would like to close with my best thing and the worst thing that happened during this year's Bcon.

Here is the best thing:

Louise Ure won the
Best First Novel Shamus
Forcing Amaryllis

Here is the worst thing:

The publisher's cocktail party
that was not accessible

Which still pisses me off hugely because they invited Andi to attend (I was merely her date for this one), and then when I tried to find someone official who could tell me how to help get "my friend who's using a scooter" up to the thing, the guest-list/gatekeeper woman was not only totally unapologetic about the utter lack of access, but also claimed that Andi (whom I hadn't named) had told her she wasn't coming, which I suppose was a dopy euphemism for "I'm a snippy bitch and it's not my problem."

In light of that, I would like to end this post on a serious note.

I've gone to offsite events with Andi at Bcons and LCCs over the last couple of years. We get the underground tour, more often than not--back entrances and basement hallways and service elevators behind the kitchen. It is a goddamn exhausting way to navigate life, even for a couple of days once or twice a year. I cannot imagine having to do it all the time, as so very many people must. It makes a huge difference when someone working at the restaurant or bar or event room takes the time to show you the way.

I saw a lot of people at Bcon who must rely on scooters and canes and wheelchairs in order to get around. I read in a blog post after coming home that at least one panel held in the building across the street from the main hotel was inaccessible to those people.

I am lucky enough that I don't often have to worry about how I'm going to get to a party or a panel or an airport on my own. It would be a fine thing if no one attending Bouchercon had to worry about it.

We can make that happen for each other. It takes a little extra effort, sometimes. But if you ever doubt that's worthwhile, just think about Zoe Sharp auctioning off breakfast followed by target practice at a shooting range during this year's Bcon.

The winning bid was placed by a woman who happens to be blind. Zoe was stoked about it.

I love that.