Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting Organized

Patty here…

I think of myself as an organized person, not compulsively so but near the top of the methodical scale. My shoes are arranged by color on the shelves in my closet—toes out for easy dusting.

My clothes are separated by color, as well, and by function—blouses, jackets, dresses, and jeans. And don’t even get me started on the Tupperware in my kitchen cabinets. I actually had a consultant come to the house to calculate the size and number of cartons needed to store all of the lentils, pinto beans, breadcrumbs, baking soda, and Gold Metal flour in my cupboard. As a result, my plastic fits together like the stone walls at Machu Picchu.

I apply this same organization when I start a novel. I do it because (1) I having Virgo rising in my astrological chart, which skews toward perfectionism; (2) I have a masters degree in business with an emphasis in strategic planning (see #1), and (3) over time I’ve learned that if you let the little stuff slide, it will eventually become the big stuff.

My books take place in Los Angeles where driving to the neighborhood Vons market may take half an hour. To keep track of time and to avoid squeezing too much activity into a day, I buy one of those pre-computer appointment calendars that dentists used to schedule hygienist appointments. Each page has four columns listed in fifteen-minute increments. The first column is Tucker’s schedule. The second monitors the killer’s movements. The other two columns are for characters whose actions affect the plot.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be organized, especially when I’m away from my computer and brilliant ideas pop into my head, at least they seem brilliant at the time. I know I won’t remember them, so I make notes on anything I can find. This includes the notebook in my purse, the note pad at my bedside, Post-it notes, that paper napkin I spoke about in my chainsaw juggler post, or on a page of the morning newspaper. Sometimes there are too many brilliant ideas in too many obscure places and one slips away.

As of last Tuesday I have the manuscript for my fourth book organized in a three-ring binder. (Which do you think came first? The three-ring binder or the three-hole punch? Just curious.) Ordinarily I wouldn’t do this but I’m sailing to Avalon on Santa Catalina Island this weekend and I don’t want the pages to blow away.

I plan to read the manuscript there, hoping it’s not as bad as I fear it is. Catalina is a good place to think, because I'm away from ringing telephones, the siren call of email, and my least favorite thing—routine.

I finished my first novel in longhand on a lined spiral notebook in Catalina at a place called Cherry Cove. As I recall, the penmanship was messy but the words were on the page. And that's what we're all trying to do—get words on the page so little things don't become big things.

On another note

I’m the Vice President and Program Chair for Mystery Writers of America, Southern California Chapter. Last Sunday afternoon MWA So Cal partnered with the Library Foundation to host an event at the Mark Taper Auditorium in the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. “T. Jefferson Parker in conversation with Christopher Rice.” Our very own NakedReader Groupie was there, along with the lovely Sue, which made the conversation even more intelligent and amusing. Here’s a photo I took of Jeff and Chris with several of the MWA board members.

From left to right: Christopher Rice, Theresa Schwegel, T. Jefferson Parker,
Dianne Emley, and Linda Johnston.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

A Few Observations

From Jacqueline

I’ve heard it said that writers are observant people, that we see connections where others just see ... whatever. I’m not sure I’d put it like that, though for my part I know that I can see something seemingly run of the mill and ponder it all day, then that same thing – the way a man on the train might lift his chin as he runs a finger around his collar, feeling the stricture of the tie that he hasn’t worn all weekend, or the way a child will ask the same question ten times over, and a parent who suddenly snaps, “I don’t know!” because he or she is at her wit’s end already – might be the focus for a paragraph in a book, or an essay. I heard a mother snap at her child on a train recently. The little boy wanted to know everything about everything he saw from the window, his little mind racing ahead with curiosity, then his mother told him – in a very loud voice - to shut up and sit down. My heart ached for him. I wanted to sit down next to him, look out of the window and have him tell me what he could see, because children can even see fairies if we let them.

I was a bit like that, when I was a kid, always had a lot of questions. Every two weeks I’d have to go to the out-patient department of the hospital, which was a two-hour bus ride away (and I am sure I’ve told this story before). The doctors were trying to see whether my lazy eyes - yes, both of them - could be corrected with exercise rather than surgery, and if not, then the exercises prepared the eye for a swifter recovery following that surgery. I was always very tired on the way home, but would never give in to my fatigue until after we’d passed a certain house. You could see a lot from the top of a double-decker bus, and what fascinated me was a certain room in an Edwardian villa close to the bus-stop in the village of Pembury. The room had a big bay window with a desk positioned so that the person who used the desk could look out into the garden. On the desk was a black typewriter, which always had a sheet of paper on the platen, and there were always mounds of books and papers on the desk. The room was book-lined, and had a fireplace at one end. And it always looked as if someone had just left that room. I had lots of questions about that room, and I remember one day asking, “Who do you think lives in that house?” to which my mother replied, “I think it must be a writer.” I coveted that room, wanted a book-lined room, a black typewriter and a desk filled with paper. I wanted to sit beside that fire and curl up with my books. “Then I’m going to be a writer,” I announced. And after that, my mother began buying me a sixpenny notebook every Saturday when we went into the local town to do the week’s shopping, and every week I would fill it with my “whatevers.” Now I buy boxes of laser paper at Office Depot. Heaven knows what I would be doing if my mother had said, “Oh, just sit down and shut up.”

Being a bit of a magazine-aholic, one thing I noticed recently, is the number of “green issues” on the magazine stands. Vanity Fair had a green issue (with Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover), Outside had a green issue, and so did Town and Country. You know things are getting serious when Town and Country goes for green. The interesting thing is that all of these green issues were half-filled with ads (no other way to publish a magazine these days, without that revenue), and were published on high-gloss paper that did not look as if it had been anywhere near a recycling machine. Perhaps the likes of Hermes, or those expensive mountain-bike makers, or the debutantes of Greenwich, Connecticut could not bear to see their wares on paper that has already been around the block, but I do think that if you are going to talk, you have to walk the path that your words just laid out for you – it’s not all about where your diamonds come from. I love Vanity Fair (the investigative journalism, the exposes, not the fluff), but before I even try to read it, I go through and pull out all the big ads, because otherwise I will throw the thing across the room trying to find the next page in the article I’m reading. Now, is that waste, or what? I’m glad the environmental issues that face our world are front and center stage at the moment, but there has to be more than rhetoric, there has to be action, and lots of it.

Another thing I’ve noticed lately, is the number of articles, essays and books out there written by doctors, of the medical variety. There’s Jerome Groopman, Atul Gawande (that’s him in the photo below), and Lisa (whatever her surname is, who writes in the New York Times magazine), all telling their stories of medical cliffhangers, of life and death, and of what it means to have those two things in your hands. Years ago, the only doctors who published were in the problem pages of women’s magazines, then came the vet craze started by James Herriot. The “I can cure your ills” books were around even before Dean Ornish, but now the surgical memoir seems to be the thing of the moment. I recently read Atul Gawande’s new book, “Better,” and thought it an amazing book. I was riveted, not only by accounts of his own “doctoring’ but by his reflections and research. I wondered why these books are drawing an audience – that they are good reading is undeniable – and I have come to believe that it is because of the hope and faith that are contained within. There is so much in our world that seems hopeless, so much death, hatred and such a lack of understanding, that to read about those who struggle to save life, whether that life is in a battlefield hospital in Iraq, a medical center in New York, or a dusty village clinic in India, is inspiring. Gawande, like Groopman and “Lisa,” tell us stories about what it means to get blood on your hands to support life, not to extinguish it. I could read a whole lot more along those lines.

And finally, to end my week’s musings, April marks the anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in the Great War. It was also known as the Dardanelles campaign. It was one of the most tragic of all the battles of the Great War, taking the lives of thousands of men from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and France. And because of the “Empires” those troops also came from places such as Senegal, from Nepal. And there were also the soldiers from Turkey and Germany. Great losses were suffered in particular by the ANZAC troops, and Marianne, one of Naked Authors most faithful fans, has written about the campaign in her blog: Go there, lest we forget.

You could also rent one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made: Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. Keep the Kleenex handy.

See you all next week – and have a wonderful weekend.

I think you all know by now what to do with the envelope icon below ....

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who's laughing now?

I was right. Is there any sweeter phrase in the English language? I was right and by extension someone else was wrong. In this case the three people that were the most wrong were acclaimed writers Jeff Shelby, Bob Morris and Christine Kling. That’s right these three, educated, respected, intelligent people can kiss my ass. They made fun of me and they were mistaken in their ridicule.

These three know a little quirk I have. They’ve made fun of this quirk. Now I’m the one that has to pay the price. You see I’m a little bit of a germ-a-phobe. Nothing serious. Nothing clinical. I just don’t like germs. I’m occasionally, these three might claim, overzealous in my efforts to avoid certain surfaces that could be a harbor for other people’s germs. Places like, bathroom doors, toilet seats, public handrails, inside of taxis, the outside of taxis, buses, elevators, public phones, public pools where the temperature is not over 100 Fahrenheit (or hot tubs under 100 Fahrenheit. Either way).

How do I prove my actions you ask? I got sick. This weekend, while on a trip to Alabama, I let up a little. Just to see what it was like. I didn’t sleep as much as I normally do, no Airborne. I washed my hands fewer times. I went wild. And now I have a cold. I bad one. Every cough, every sneeze is my way of saying “I’m right,” to those critics of my behavior.

Why these three? How did they figure out the Da Vinci code of my hygiene? I travel with them. Not all the time but enough that they picked up on it. The lovely Christine Kling lives near me and it’s convenient for several of us to fly together to Bouchercon or other common events. She’s fun. She laughs at my jokes. Or was she laughing at me? Regardless, she thought my cleanliness was a little more than average. Now who’s laughing?

Shelby spent the night with me in a hotel during my tour. No, not like you’d think. I was tired. Any way, he caught on pretty quick too. I had just started the Airborne addiction our own Jacqueline Winspear had suggested. I’m used to his ridicule but now who’s laughing?

Bob Morris? I just chalked up his distain for soap to being a graduate of the University of Florida. Maybe that is the beginning and end of it.

Any way, I’ve had this cold of vindication since Sunday night and at least emotionally I feel better. I had training on Tuesday where we shot a combat course that involved moving and shooting a shotgun as well as our duty handguns. Then we had a ground fighting class where we were waaaaay too close to each other for most of the afternoon. It only aggravated my cold. But now that I’m back to frequent hand washing and decent night’s sleep, I hope to return to my insulated world of soap, airborne and antiseptic hand wash very soon.

Today’s the day.

Actually tonight. I will be saying a special prayer for our own Cornelia Read and Paul Levine. Is it right to ask God that they crush the competition and emerge victorious? Well, I think it’s great the Edgar committee recognized them and I do hope they win.

We’ll know by this time tomorrow.

I had planned to attend the ceremony as well as other events scheduled this week but I had a nice distraction. Tonight I'm going to my son's student government banquet where he, as president of the student council, will deliver a speech. I don't know what the content is or if he'll speak clearly but I'm proud of him and whatever he says.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Writing and Rejection

By Paul

As our historian and resident sane person Patty Smiley noted yesterday, the Naked Authors are one year old. Hurrah! To put that in perspective, Monday was William Shakespeare's 443rd birthday. He's still in print...which is more than can be said for my Jake Lassiter novels of the early 1990's.

So, let's talk about writing.

I have a good friend who's an accomplished journalist and screenwriter. He's written a syndicated newspaper column, award-winning magazine articles, and worked as a writer-producer of half-a-dozen television shows. Now, he's penned his first novel, a smoothly crafted modern-day noir. He's also landed a big-time New York literary agent...and a box full of rejections. Letters and e-mails and calls praising the writing, the story, the dialogue, but saying the book wasn't right for their list, or didn't seem that commercial. You know...the kind of rejection that both gladdens and stings.

Fearless Paul's Advice: KEEP ON WRITING!

Start your second novel, and let the agent keep hustling the first one. If the first one sells, the second one will, too. If it doesn't sell, the second one might...and that may sell the first one. (That is exactly what happened to me. "To Speak for the Dead," my first novel, had multiple offers in less than a week in 1990). But it wasn't my first novel. That one had several dozen rejections and sold only after I was already published.

We all can take heart in Andre Bernard's book, "Rotten Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent."

Here are excerpts from real rejection letters:
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." --Carrie, by Stephen King

"...overwhelmingly nauseating...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy." -- Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

"I haven't really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny - possibly even satire - but it is really not funny on any intellectual level." -- Catch 22, by Joseph Heller

I could go on, but you get the idea. Don't give up. Glue your butt to the chair, and KEEP ON WRITING.

Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" was rejected by publishers a dozen times. Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" landed back on her desk fourteen times. Mary Higgins Clark, who has more than 30 million books in print, could paper her walls with more than three dozen rejection slips before being published. It's said that Louis L'Amour received 200 rejections before he sold his first novel. (There were obviously more publishers then).

So...KEEP ON WRITING. Something good will happen.

A reader e-mailed the other day, saying she really enjoyed the humor in the Solomon & Lord series and asking who I looked to for comedic inspiration. Maybe she expected me to say Perelman or Twain, Thurber or Benchley, or even my former next-door neighbor, Dave Barry.

Well, sure. They're all wonderful. Unique voices. Instantly recognizable. But I've always loved the snap, crackle, and pop of Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, and Nat Perrin.


Oh, they're the screenwriters who collaborated on the 1933 film, "Duck Soup," starring the Marx Brothers.

The writing was no doubt aided by the flawless rhythm and pitter-patter delivery of Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly and his incomparable foil, Margaret Dumont, as Mrs. Teasdale.
Rufus T. Firefly: "Not that I care, but where is your husband?"

Mrs. Teasdale: "Why, he's dead."

Rufus T. Firefly: "I bet he's just using that as an excuse."

Mrs. Teasdale: "I was with him to the very end."

Rufus T. Firefly: "No wonder he passed away."

Mrs. Teasdale: "I held him in my arms and kissed him."

Rufus T. Firefly: "Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first."

Not that Groucho needed ghostwriters for his humor. He once sent this note to S.J. Perelman: "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

(If you would like to send these words of dubious wisdom to a friend, just click on the envelope icon below).


Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday to us!!!!

Patty here...

It’s our birthday tomorrow!!!!

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since I began blogging with my wacky and wonderful fellow NakedAuthors. It is truly a privilege to be associated with Paul Levine, Cornelia Read, James O. Born, Jacqueline Winspear, and James Grippando. Many heartfelt thanks to all of our fellow writers who have stopped by in the past year to say hello and to our faithful readers who support us with your insights and kind words. We love that all of you are part of our community. Just for fun here is my introductory post from a year ago explaining our name and our mission:

Why NakedAuthors? I’m glad you asked. When Paul Levine first agreed to join me in the blogosphere, I asked him if he had a suggestion for a name. He shot back with “ with a team photo, of course.” I laughed because Paul is a very funny guy. You’ll see when you read his books. Then I became reflective. Not only did the name pop, it followed sterling literary precedent set by The Naked and the Dead, Naked Lunch, and that great literary masterpiece Naked Came the Manatee. The name stuck with us. We hope you’ll stick with us, too, as each day one of us posts words that are funny or profound or downright exasperating. We’re going to talk about the naked truth of literature and life, and we invite you to join the conversation.

And since we're starting another year together, I offer you a reintroduction of sorts...

Paul Levine (the wisecracking lawyer) has worked as a newspaper reporter, a trial lawyer, a TV writer and a novelist. Obviously, he cannot hold a job. He is the author of a series of thrillers featuring Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, squabbling Miami lawyers who, even though they aren’t married, argue every day starting with “Good Morning.” SOLOMON VS. LORD was nominated for the Macavity Award and the Thurber Prize for American humor. THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI is currently nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe mystery award and a Thriller Award. TRIAL & ERROR will be published in June 2007. Levine describes his own work as “funnier than Dostoevsky.”

Jacqueline Winspear’s (the Brit) first novel MAISIE DOBBS, was published in 2003, and subsequently became a New York Times Notable Book 2003, a Booksense Top Ten Pick, was listed as a Top Ten mystery by Publishers Weekly and received seven award nominations, including an Edgar nomination for Best Novel. MAISIE DOBBS won Agatha, Macavity and Alex Awards. BIRDS OF A FEATHER won the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Jacqueline’s third novel, PARDONABLE LIES won the Sue Feder Award for Historical Fiction and her fourth novel MESSENGER OF TRUTH has been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Each of the books featuring Maisie Dobbs, an ex-WWI nurse turned investigator has been a national bestseller. One of the books features a nun, another a debutante, but there are no characters from Florida.

James Grippando
(the guy with good hair) has never won any awards. He did win a sled in a holiday raffle when he was nine, but that was only because he lost his original losing ticket and a nun felt sorry for him and gave him another one. With thirteen novels in as many years, his closest thing to an award is a spot in the New York Times crossword puzzle: "A James Grippando novel" was the clue for #38 across. His wife says he is no longer "clueless." James' next novel, LYING WITH STRANGERS, will be released by HarperCollins in May and has already pre-sold over 230,000 copies as a main selection of Book of the Month Club, Literary Guild, and Doubleday Book Club. WHEN DARKNESS FALLS (HarperCollins, Jan. 2007) is the newest release in the acclaimed series featuring Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck, to be followed by JAZZMAN in 2008. James is also the author of LEAPHOLES for young adults. His novels are enjoyed worldwide in 23 languages.

Cornelia Read’s (the Deb) debut novel A FIELD OF DARKNESS features tough-talking, shotgun toting ex-debutante Madeline Dare, whose “money is so old there’s none left.” FIELD has been nominated for an Edgar Award, an RT Bookclub Reviewer’s Choice Award, an Audie Award, and a Gumshoe Award for best first novel. Lee Child called the book “wry, knowing, hip, intelligent, exciting.” Read just calls it WASP Noir. She has never won a sled. Nuns do feel sorry for her, though.

James O. Born (the cop) is the first recipient of the Florida Book Award for best novel in popular fiction. Born has used his career in law enforcement to write four novels based on his experience. Critics have praised his darkly humorous novels for the diversity of characters as well as the detail and thrills of police work. G.P. Putnam's Sons have published all four novels. If Irish and Canadian are considered separate tongues, his novels are enjoyed worldwide in three languages.

Patricia Smiley (the B-school grad) earned a BA in Sociology from the University of Washington in Seattle. She also holds an MBA with honors from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Her debut novel FALSE PROFITS about a Porsche-driving Los Angeles management consultant was praised by Elizabeth George, “Patricia Smiley and her heroine Tucker Sinclair are two of the brightest starts to light up detective fiction in a long time.” Both FALSE PROFITS and Smiley’s follow-up novel COVER YOUR ASSETS were Los Angeles Times Bestsellers. SHORT CHANGE, the third in the series, is set for release July 3, 2007. Smiley has won many awards, sadly none for her writing. She continues to resist admonitions from everyone, including well-meaning nuns, that she shouldn’t have quit her day job as CEO of the Acme Sled Company.

To Sandra Ruttan, M.G. Tarquini, Tania, Rae, J.T. Ellison, EvilE, Tribe, Louise Ure, Janine, Mark Farley, Nichelle Tramble, Andi, Martha O'Connor, Stephen Blackmore, edgy mama, Angie, H, Paige, Karen Olson, Brett Battles, Daisy, J.D. Rhoades, Susan McBride, Marianne, Kathleen, TerriMo, AZ Cooke, Anonymous, Comment Deleted, Miss Snark, Lee Child, Laura Lippman, Mark Terry, Bob Morris, Paul Guyot, Dustin, Julia Buckley, Paula Benson, Joshilyn, Naomi Hirahara, DJ, Deidra Ann(e), Steve Allan, Jan, Otis, Sharon J, George, Ellen, Robin Burcell, Elaine Flinn, Karen Murphy, David Thayer, Heidi Vornbrock Roosa, Coolshoes, Barbara, James Lincoln Warren, martig, Tom T.O., Groupie, Jeff, Mims, Barb, April, Lori Armstrong, Jeff Shelby, The Deborahs, Gillian, David Terrenoire, Patrick Shawn Bagley, Kathy Fennone, Tom, John Ritter, Jess, Alice, PJ Parrish, Linda L. Richards, Deni Dietz, Counsel, Quiet Writer, Bob, Circuit Mouse, Yvette, Liz Lytle, Sue Hammond, Lesa, fotofinish, Autumn, Rita Larkin, Katherine Howell, Cara, Jake, Billie Bloebaum, Karen Murphy, Bob "Zillabob" Eggleton, stepmomma, Leann, Nancy Martin, Evie Sears, Regina Harvey, Shaz, Robert Barnes, Pam, Jon, Carol, Susan Crosby, Chuck Z, mjoy, and everybody else I didn't mention because my fingers froze on the keys. Thank you for joining our conversation!!!

I love Carol's recent comment explaining why she reads NakedAuthors so much I wanted to repeat it as a birthday present to us.

Paul's wit and politics
Cornelia's unique voice
Jacqueline's poetry
Patty's humor and heart
Jim's inspirational put-your-hands-on-the-computer-and-start-writing-or-you're-under-
arrest posts (not to mention he looks hot in that uniform)
P.S. Starting each morning looking at a photo of Grippando's hair is better than a jolt of coffee.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

A Week To Remember, A Week To Forget

from Jacqueline

I’m goofing off this week, and not a bad week to be running away from everything. I’ve had enough of the news, and I won’t say anything more than that, because so much has been said already about this tumultuous week. Actually, I may yet say something – my posts are a sometimes a bit stream-of-consciousness, so you never know, words may not fail me. But back to my truancy from everyday life - I am in Las Vegas. Now, before you think I have lost my last marble, I am here because months ago I treated myself to tickets to the only event that would get me back to Las Vegas – the World Cup Dressage Championships. It’s where people like me who work so hard at our riding and look a bit like this:

gain inspiration from watching people like this:

And when you watch dressage at this level, you are watching something so graceful and perfect, and yet something that takes more time than you can imagine, a huge commitment and just about sweating blood to achieve – and they make it look so easy. Hmmmm, bit like writing. A bit like when you read one of those books by a favorite author, those wonderful inspiring writers you love, and you think, “This must be like cutting butter with a hot knife for him/her.” But deep inside, you know it isn’t like that, because later, somewhere, you’ll hear that same writer speak at an event, or you’ll read an interview, and you’ll discover that they almost weep in front of the blank page each day, or they’ll go over that one paragraph (word, sentence or chapter) one hundred times before they let it go. And you know that, even though you have always wanted to be a writer, always wanted to do this, at the same time you have to go to the wire for it, if you want to do it well, if you want to hit that bar you’ve just raised on yourself.

Last week I started a class at UCLA with my favorite instructor, Barbara Abercrombie (again). It’s a class on Advanced Non-fiction writing, and it just so happens that I know most of the students in the class, because we’ve all attended Barbara’s classes before and we’re like a gang. Monica Holloway, who’s just published her book, “Driving With Dead People,” calls us the Barbara groupies. As we were going round the class on the first day, doing the introductions, it came to my turn, and Barbara said, “This class is Jackie’s writing gym – she comes here to work out.” Of course, we all laughed, but she hit the nail on the head, the class is where I try out things that I don’t get the chance, or don’t even think to try, in the course of my novel-writing. I flex my muscles in Barbara’s classes, and it hurts.

During yesterday’s class, before I had to zoom off to catch my flight to Las Vegas, I listened to three of my classmates read their work, and I felt a bit like I did while watching those amazing riders go through their paces today – in awe at the elegance, skill and control. This is a great group of writers, and I am just thrilled to be in a class with them for six weeks. The level of writing is striking, measured and honest – and up goes that bar again, out of my reach until I work hard enough to stretch that far.

So, here I am talking about my riding and writing in the same breath again, thinking about the ways in which they mirror each other. At one point today, I was watching a competitor and her horse execute a perfect piaffe – that’s a rhythmic trotting on the spot, a bit like ballet for horses – and I thought, “Oh, I want to be able to do that.” And I know it means hours upon hours upon hours of work, and maybe in a year, or a couple of years my horse and I will be there. Maybe. But it’s something to aspire to, and as the saying goes, “If you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards.”

Anne Lamott, in a class she was once taught, was asked what a writer had to do to be successful (or something of that nature, I can’t remember the exact question), and she simply lifted her arm and mimed opening a vein in her wrist. That struck a chord, because no matter how lightly we might come to our writing, even on the good days, we have to give a bit of blood (yeah, and as mystery writers, we give a bit more, eh?).

I cannot imagine not making that effort. I cannot imagine finishing a piece of work and thinking, “This is it, I’ve gone as far as I can.” I can’t imagine not pushing a bit harder, and thinking with resolve, “I can do better than this.” And then sweating buckets reaching out for something more.

Despite the fact that I am on a mini-vacation in a place where New York and Paris share street-space with Egypt, I can’t stop thinking about the real world out there. This is only my opinion, and as my opinion, I know it belongs to me, but this is my post, so I will say it anyway: This was a crucial week for America. This was a week when we were hit by the two-by-four. Have you ever heard that saying? That when you don’t listen to that little voice inside, God (the universe, the higher power, whatever you’re comfortable with) hits you with the two-by-four? I’m not an American, so part of me thinks that maybe I should keep my nose out of the Amendment that allowes the people of this country to bear arms – arms that were supposed to keep out my Redcoat-wearing ancestors – but I sent in my tax return this week, so I think I’ll go there anyway, as they say.

Every country has its share of angry people, they have their dispossessed, their lonely, their desperate and aggressive souls. And they have their criminally insane, and their desperadoes, their resentful people, and let’s face it, we’ve all had a chip on our shoulder at some point. But not every country allows any person without training or an arms-bearing appropriate job, to buy a machine gun or semi-automatic weapon with just a clean credit history and no previous convictions. I can understand Our Jim needing to bear arms – but I trust that he’s trained and I trust that he is solid and calm under pressure (now then, Paul, I can hear a quip coming). Members of our military bear arms, and I trust they are trained, and sane, even if they are being sent into hell. If you’re a hunter, I know that you don’t need an AK 47, unless you have a real downer on mallards, and, as much as I don't personally like what you do, I hope you learned from your Dad and I hope he learned from his, how to use and not abuse a gun. But there is no reason for anyone else out there to have a gun – unless they are so very scared of every other person out there with a gun, and if they are, then that is admitting right there that this country has a serious problem with itself. Thirty-thousand people killed every year by guns – that is a disaster, a tragedy of unbelievable proportions – especially as most gun-related deaths take place in a domestic environment. If another country killed that many of our people, we would be bombing the you-know-what out of them by now. And instead we’re scared to change things, because a bunch of well-meaning men wrote an Amendment that essentially gave the new Americans the right to tote a musket. If the present-day American bearers of arms had to fill a musket each time they wanted to kill someone, you wouldn’t have over thirty people killed in the time it takes to cook dinner. I paid my taxes, I have a right to say all of that and more. If we don’t take action, if we do not look deeply into the core of what it means to be a decent – and free – citizenry, if there is not heated debate about what happened in Virginia this week, then we must await the real two-by-four. Until we do that soul-searching, until our self-destructive gun laws are changed or adapted, whatever it takes, the people of America will never be free.

Now a different kind of story about weaponry, just to show how strange the world can be. My friend’s son is in the British armed forces, and has been deployed in short order to Bosnia, Africa, the Falkland Islands, and Afghanistan. He’s currently training new recruits, but expects to be sent to Iraq in a year or so. During a recent deployment, he and his men were required to take a commercial flight to their destination, and as soldiers in transit have a dispensation to take their rifles onto the aircraft – after all, they are all trained, and their mothers have said they are nice boys. Before boarding the aircraft, they were asked by security to relinquish their knives. Needless to say, passengers were treated to the sight of a platoon of soldiers in uniform doubled over laughing. They all handed over their knives and boarded the airplane with their guns. As my Uncle Jim, who went ashore in Normandy in 1944 and saw his best friend killed right in front of him, would say, “What’s it all about, eh?”

Now I’m escaping again, back to Las Vegas.

For those of you who live in the Los Angeles area: The Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the Library Foundation would like to invite you to attend "An Afternoon with T. Jefferson Parker and Christopher Rice." It's FREE but we ask that you RSVP. Just call (213) 228-7500 and tell them you're with the mystery group.
THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2007, 2:00 P.M.
Richard J. Riordan Central Library
Mark Taper Auditorium
630 West Fifth Street
Downtown Los Angeles

Parking will be provided at the 524 S. Flower Street Garage. $1 with a library card or $8 flat fee.

T. Jefferson Parker is the author of 14 novels including the New York Times bestseller The Fallen and the Edgar Award-winning novels California Girl and Silent Joe.

To send this post to a friend, click on the envelope icon below. And may you have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Writing conferences and book festivals

Tomorrow I’m off to the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. I’m really looking forward to it even though my only personal memory of Montgomery was someone backing into a car I was riding in and then fleeing the scene. That was in 1984 while I was in graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi and a group of us were on our way to a conference in North Carolina. I hope the guy who hit us has forgiven himself. I forgive him.

I’m happy for the invitation to Alabama but at the same time I’m very sorry I’ll miss the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America’s annual Sleuthfest being held in Miami Beach this year. Sleuthfest is a great conference on writing and all things crime fiction. Paul Levine attended last year and seemed to enjoy himself while winning over a legion of new fans. On a side note I might add that my daughter, Emily, is currently reading Solomon Vs Lord and likes it very much. She’s a tough audience too. She’s on a new kick of reading books from my library. She’s actually not allowed to read several of mine because of the violence and some language issues.

One of the perennial instructors at Sleuthfest is Elaine Viets. As many of you have heard, Elaine suffered a stroke last week and is currently recovering. We all wish her the speediest of recoveries. Her teaching ability will be missed this year at the event.

Sleuthfest was the first event I ever attended, back in the spring of 2004, just before the release of Walking Money. I learned a lot, but more importantly I met many new friends, as I have every year since. As I write this one of those friends, Joe Konrath, called me from the airport in Miami. He had just arrived and wanted to get together for dinner. Like many people from the north he just assumed everyone lives within eleven miles of Miami. Regardless, he made me even more sad that I won’t be down there this year.

The event has attracted some great speakers over the years. Last year, my editor at Putnam, Neil Nyren, was a guest and bowled them over with his insights into the publishing industry and charm. Yes that’s right, he’s still my boss.

Linda Fairstein is the guest of honor this year. She is a very nice person and always takes time to chat and encourage. Jonathon King, the biggest of the Florida writers, and I mean that literally, will be in attendance. I like the panels on writing and plotting that he’s on more than the marketing. I know that promotion is important but you have to respect a guy like Jon who eschews promotion and relies almost solely on the quality of his writing.

Sleuthfest is also where I developed my speaking program on weapons and tactics that writers should include or avoid when writing crime novels. After reprising it at Thrillerfest last year I was invited to make a commercial DVD of the program. I filmed it in Los Angeles earlier in the year and hope to see the final product by Christmas.

Sleuthfest is a great event and I hope many people will attend, not only this year, but in the future.

Another Florida mystery event is titled simply Mystery Florida. It’s held on Lido Key near Sarasota the first weekend in June and is a smaller, more intimate event. It is also one of my favorites. This will be my third year in attendance and I hope they keep asking. In a hotel right on the beach, the event features outstanding writers such as Randy White, Jonathon King, Claire Matturo, P.J. Parrish (Chris Montee) and a host of others who are all first rate.

I’ll miss Sleuthfest this year but feel certain I’ll make new friends in Alabama.

And maybe see some old ones in Sarasota.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flashman Forever!

By Cornelia

Some years ago, in celebration of an online friend's birthday, I was asked to write up an author who has greatly influenced me. As I am finishing my copy edits today, I'd like to share my thoughts on that author with all of you.

At the time of the invitation to write this, thoughts of Ian Fleming, Hunter S. Thompson, and Maya Angelou enjoyed my fleeting consideration. Ditto Eldredge Cleaver, Nora Ephron, P.J. O'Rourke, and Winston Churchill, but in the end it was no contest: George MacDonald Fraser was hands down the author I wanted to be when I grow up--or rather I want to be Flashman, his most beloved and enduring creation.

Let me explain the profound manner in which I have been inspired by Fraser's most well known fictional creation: Harry Paget Flashman, Brigadier-General, VC, KCB, KCIE, Chevalier, Legion d'Honneur; US Medal of Honor; San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th Class, who has been referred to by no less than the Boston Review as "the most outrageous poltroon, liar, bully, blackguard, womanizer, and cad of his or any other age."

You can keep your James Bond, your Scarlet Pimpernel, your Musketeers, your Reilly, Ace of Spies... Flashy leaves 'em all in the dust. Of course, it's because he's running at full tilt away from any hint of danger that he manages to do so, but that's really the point.

Originally penned by Thomas Hughes in Tom Brown's School Days, Hughes' 1857 celebration of the English public school, Flashman was a notorious bully who, Tom Brown himself claimed, "never speaks to one without a kick or an oath."

Hughes went on to call Flashman "a formidable enemy for small boys. [He] left no slander unspoken, and no deed undone, which could in any way hurt his victims." But his sadism is matched only by his cowardice in the face of anyone bigger or stronger than himself, and ultimately he's expelled for getting "beastly drunk" and disappears, so far as Hughes is concerned, from the face of the earth.

But for the tender ministrations of Fraser, the great Flashy might thence have perished unheralded. Thank God it wasn't so, because the readers of the world have been blessed with splendidly ribald and cynical retellings of everything from the Charge of the Light Brigade to the manner in which Queen Victoria acquired the Koh-i-Noor diamond. As a raconteur, Flashman is matched only by Roald Dahl's "Uncle Oswald," and even he is a pale contender for the title.

Of his time at school Flashman says:

I was a miserable fag at Rugby, toadying my way up the school and trying to keep a whole skin in that infernal jungle -- you took your choice of emerging a physical wreck or a moral one, and I'm glad to say I never hesitated, which is why I'm the man I am today, what's left of me. I snivelled and bought my way to safety when I was a small boy, and bullied and tyrannised when I was a big one; how the devil I'm not in the House of Lords by now, I can't think.

Fraser "discovered" the Flashman Papers in a Leiscestershire saleroom in 1966. Acting as "editor," Fraser released the first packet of these papers as the novel Flashman in 1969. Published by Herbert Jenkins, which numbers among its authors P.G. Wodehouse, the series has spawned devoted fans worldwide. Nine more Flashman books were to follow.

There is a touch of Little Big Man to all of this: somehow Flashman, the most amoral coward who ever lived, was up close and personal for every major military engagement of the English-speaking peoples between the Khyber Pass in 1842 and Rorke's Drift in 1879.

The incredible career of Harry Flashman was neatly summarized by Andrew Klavan in his article "Flashman and The Tragic Sensibility":

He rode, farting with terror, in the charge of the Light Brigade, was the only white man to survive Custer's Last Stand... and fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Along the way, he also managed, through lies, luck, betrayal, and a deceptively manly aspect, not only to cover himself in glory, but also to roger every half-willing piece of tail he met, whether monarch or bint, with the (possible) exception of good queen Vic herself.

The man is my hero.

This is also the blackguard who, in Flashman at the Charge, throws a recent amorous conquest from his sled to gain speed while he is being pursued by wolves across Russia, commenting "For an instant even I was appalled -- but only for an instant."

He handles all crises in this same inimitable style: "Blustering hadn't helped me, and a look at Rudi's mocking face told me that whining wouldn't either. Robbed of the two cards that I normally play in a crisis, I was momentarily lost," he reports in Royal Flash. While in Flashman's Lady he complains "if there's one thing I detest more than any other it's these hearty, selfish, muscular Christians who are forever making light of your troubles when all you want to do is lie whimpering."

But Flashman is also an astute and incisive historian who manages to shed light on such characters as Lord Cardigan and General Elphinstone:

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganised enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with a touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.

Coming, as I do, from a long line of military men, I have found in Flashman great reassurance. This because he is the embodiment of my own conviction that I would fold up like a wet house of cheap cards if gunfire were ever to come in my direction. Before making Sir Harry's acquaintance, this was a source of some embarassment to me, but now I take heart in his personal creed:

"That's what you young chaps have got to remember--" he advises, "when you run, run, full speed, with never a thought for anything else; don't look or listen or dither even for an instant; let terror have his way, for he's the best friend you've got."

Truer words were never spoken.

Which writer has most inspired you?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Light My Fire"


From Paul

I received an e-mail yesterday asking me to join the campaign to secure a posthumous pardon for Jim Morrison of The Doors.

What do I have to do with Morrison's 1970 conviction for lewd conduct during a concert in Miami? Well, in those days, I was a wet-behind-the-ears criminal court reporter for The Miami Herald, a once-great newspaper. And the last case I covered before entering law school was the trial of The Doors' lead singer.

The e-mail came from Dave Diamond, a cable TV producer in Dayton, Ohio who at 34 years old, wasn't yet born when Jim Morrison either did or didn't drop his pants and expose himself during the Miami concert. There's more about the pardon effort in The Doors Collector Magazine.

Little Known Fact Number One. The reason our very own Jim Born attended Florida State was to follow in the footsteps of his idol, fellow Seminole, Jim Morrison.

Little Known Fact Number Two. Our Jim tried to start a band made up of fellow cops. He wanted to call it "The Sex Pistols," and was disappointed to learn that someone else was already using the name.

Little Known Fact Number Three. Jim Born formed a band anyway, but simply called it, "The Sex Shotguns."

The Miami Herald a/k/a "The Incredible Shrinking Newspaper" reported on Diamond's efforts last week:

[Florida Gov. Charlie] Crist can't pardon someone by himself. He needs two of the three other members of the Florida Cabinet, which acts as the clemency board. Plus there are no procedures to request a posthumous pardon.

Morrison was charged days after a chaotic concert at Dinner Key Auditorium in Coconut Grove in March 1969. The singer gave rambling monologues, cursed and exhorted concertgoers to have sex with each another. Morrison was also alleged to have pulled down his pants and feigned masturbation, which he denied doing. The trial featured contradictory accounts. He was eventually acquitted of a felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior, but was convicted of indecent exposure and profanity. [Naked Authors are shitfaced with embarrassment to note that "profanity" was a crime back then, Florida coming late to the notion of the First Amendment.]

In his letter to Crist, Diamond noted that former New York Gov. George Pataki pardoned the late comedian Lenny Bruce on an obscenity conviction.

''It's not about Jim Morrison's image as the Lizard King or The Doors music,'' said Diamond. ``It's about a citizen of Florida who was convicted in a case where the law was not applied.''
My fading recollection is that the trial was a travesty, and that the evidence was conflicting and confused as to what Morrison did. The singer died of heart failure in a Paris bathtub before his appeal could be heard. I wonder if he would even want the pardon request pursued.

We got our first taste of the "new" Los Angeles Times Book Section Sunday...which is to say...the disappearing book section. It's being folded into the "Opinion" Section. First to be jettisoned, the "Book Calendar." So, if you want to know where Naomi Hirahara, Diana Wagman, and Denise Hamilton are discussing "Los Angeles Noir" tonight, you have to go to the Times' on-line book pages. (It's the Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica).

On the plus side, the website is being beefed up. Critic Sarah Weinman, who blogs at "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" is writing a monthly crime fiction column. (I wish it were weekly). On Sunday, she probed the phenomenon of ghostwriters in the mystery field. Also promised by Times Books Editor David Ulin are future columns by Ed Park (Science Fiction) and Sonja Bolle (children's books).


I am so out of it, so un-hip, so retro, that I never knew the term “Yo Cos” until reading yesterday’s Washington Post (“In the Dating Scene, the Attraction is a Beautiful Mind.”) The gist of the story is that single “Young Cosmopolitans” are now hooking up at library events, lectures, and museums.

Great. But whatever happened to discos?

By Paul

Monday, April 16, 2007

When you care enough to send the very best

Patty here...

As you all know, shopping a greeting card can be a tricky business. What kind should you buy? Mushy? Funny? Somewhere in between?

I know I can’t give my mother a funny card for Mother’s Day. It has to have cursive script and sappy poetry that makes you burst into tears just reading it in the card shop. When I told her I was writing about greeting cards for my post today, she told me to mention a really funny one she was sending to her son-in-law. I was surprised because my mother doesn’t do funny. Here’s what it said:

Son-in-law—We can’t take credit for your great personality. Good Looks. Intelligence. Or Thoughtfulness…but we’d still like to brag about you if that’s okay.

Oh yeah, that’s a knee-slapper all right.

Sometimes I buy cards for no reason and sometimes I like the cards I buy so much I can’t give them away. I looked through a few in my file the other day. There were several picturing Westies. Gotta keep those. Some cards were yellowed with age. Some seemed funny when I bought them but not so funny now. For example, here’s one I bought for an old boyfriend. Can’t remember which one. It only cost sixty cents so it's eligible for carbon dating by now. Lucy is pictured on the front, mooning over Schroeder.

Love me or leave me!

You open the card and see Schroeder walking away in a huff. Lucy is chasing after him.

Let me rephrase that.

Hmmm. Wonder what was going on in my life back then?

I once read that puns are the lowest form of humor. So sue me. I love them. Here’s a card from a while back. It shows a bunch of yellow bananas next to one green one. It reads:

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be ripe.

Here’s another favorite of mine. Obviously a novice has typed the message on an old typewriter. There are cross outs and letters that are unevenly inked.

DeaR Animal-CracKer PeOple:

I did nOt receive my full complement of zooloGiocal shapes in my most recent purchase of your crackers. NotaBly missing aRe: tHe Deer, the Beaver, aNd tHe Dingo (fOr which I only received tHe head).

PleaSe advise.

Inside, the card reads:

PS: Also nOtably missing: you.

It seems funny on the surface, but there’s an underlying loneliness in the words that makes me picture Eleanor Rigby in a third floor walk-up, pining away for those missing animals. I think I’ll send this card to Our Jacqueline Winspear. Maybe she can ask Maise Dobbs to sort out the psychology and lead the investigation.

Here’s a card that’s a take-off on the old “Badge 714” TV show. I might send it to Jim Born and ask him to consult ATF agent Alex Duarte. Duarte might even have to make an arrest because I believe exposing your small furry creature is illegal—even in Florida. The card reads:

This is the city. 1:37 a.m. The city sleeps. A million weary people lie in bed or sit staring out the window, trying to make sense of it all. Sometimes one of them gets the urge to pet a small, furry animal; that’s when I go to work. My name’s Friday—I carry a badger.

Inside the card is a picture of a man with his trench coat open, exposing this little guy.

Here’s one I’m going to send to Cornelia Read's Madeline Dare. Madeline and Ellis can riff about those "shoulds" and make me laugh—in a noirish sort of way.

Every woman should know how to use a stick shift; a plunger, understand the difference between Don’t tell a soul and Don’t tell a soul I mean it; know her mind; change it; use special china; and special underwear; for no special reason; over commit; come through; refuse to do it again; do it again; be able to discuss first and ten; have better things to do; dance crazy all alone; stare at a phone…

I don’t think I bought this next card for anyone in particular. It just made me laugh and laughter is always a good thing. I've decided to send it to Paul Levine and ask him to pass it along to Victoria Lord. Her relationship with Steve Solomon is getting a little too hot to handle and I want to warn her of the consequences. The front of the card is all flowery and sweet looking. Here’s what it says:

If you love something, set it free.
If it returns, you haven’t lost it.
If it disappears and never comes back,
Then it wasn’t truly yours to begin with.

and if it just SITS there watching television
unaware that it’s been set free,
you probably already married it.

Happy Monday!

P.S. Here's a link to a very cool article from the Los Angeles Times featuring friends of NakedAuthors Denise Hamilton, Naomi Hirahara, and Gary Phillips. It profiles the new "Los Angeles Noir" short story anthology. Click here.

If you can't find the perfect card,
then send this post instead.
You'll make this writer really glad
And save yourself some bread.